Friday, December 20, 2013
SweetWorks, which makes many flavors of the break apart chocolate orange and Sixlets, also makes a wide variety of foil wrapped chocolate pieces and figures for all occasions.
Their holiday range is quite diverse, featuring chocolate balls, disks and semi-solid figures. The company sent me a huge box filled with confections to sample before Thanksgiving, and I’ve finally made it through all of the items before Christmas.
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Ornaments are one of the classics. They’re just a little solid chocolate sphere wrapped in foil.
Foil Colors: Solid Hunter Green, Solid Red, Diamon Silver, Diamond Blue, Diamond Red.
Taste: The milky chocolate is very smooth and has a lot of dairy notes to it. It’s on the sweet side but also has a lot of vanilla notes to it.
Verdict: Very nice, easily munchable. This sort of piece will appeal to kids and adults.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Crisp Balls
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Silver & Red
Taste: The milky chocolate has a nice ratio of crisped rice. It’s creamy, a little softer than the solid chocolate bars but not quite as sweet.
Verdict: This is what I want from my candy in my stocking. It’s comforting and filling but still attractive.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Dark Chocolate Balls
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Gold & Red
Taste: These are extremely dark looking, almost black. I checked and noticed the ingredients list: sugar, chocolate, chocolate processed with alkali, cocoa butter, butterfat (milk), soy lecithin, and vanilla. So this chocolate contains alkalized cocoa, which makes it darker. It also has butterfat in it, so it’s not vegan, which is too bad, because it’s hard to find vegan holiday treats. The flavor profile is a little odd. It’s definitely not overly sweet, but the particle size of the chocolate gives it a slight grain and a dry finish.
Verdict: I liked them well enough to pick them out as something to eat in combination with other things, like nuts, but I didn’t like the dry afterbite.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Solid Milk Chocolate Bells
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Silver & Red
Taste: These are a bigger bite than the balls, about 2/3 bigger, so it’s a lot more chocolate at once. I noticed the smoothness of the melt much more in this shape.
Verdict: These are easier to peel and eat, though one piece is a little bigger than I prefer a bit of chocolate to be. But they don’t roll around, so that’s a plus.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Bells
Foil Colors: Green with Silver Trees & Red with Silver Trees
Taste: These didn’t smell like much in the package, but once unwrapped there was a nice fresh peanut scent. The milky chocolate is really smooth and the peanut center was part meltaway, part peanut butter.
Verdict: They’re not the same texture or peanut flavor profile as Reese’s, so as long as you’re okay with that, these are very satisfying.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Medallions
Foil Colors: White Snowman, Blue Santa, Green Teddy Bear & Red Reindeer
Taste: Milky, sweet and creamy.
Verdict: This was the most disappointing design as far as I was concerned. They seemed dated and missed an opportunity for something a little more splashy. A simple patterned foil or perhaps better artwork for the illustrations would have put these over the top. I like the format of the disks, as they’re easier to bite than bells and something that can be used in S’mores very easily.
Rating: 6 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Santas
Foil Colors: Dominantly Red with Green & Yellow Accents - 4 designs
Taste: Thin and long, it’s an easy two bite piece. They were exceptionally shiny.
Verdict: Like the medallions, the design of the Santa foil is a little dated. But in the case I found it utterly charming, especially since I could walk them around on my desk and set them up in little tableaus as if they were interacting. The bonus here is that the Santa is molded with quite a bit of detail, so even unwrapped they’re beguiling.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Santas
Foil Colors: Dominantly Red with Blue & Bronze Accents - 4 designs
Taste: This has a similar light peanutty flavor to the Bells. It’s not a deep roasted flavor, it seemed a bit saltier and a little thick/stickier in the melt.
Verdict: I didn’t like the ratios as much as the Bells, but I have to appreciate the cute little Santa expressions.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Hollow Foil comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. They have Turkeys in full feather, Santas, Nutcrackers and a Rocking Horse. (I think they also do a Teddy Bear.) These are very sturdy, the foil is thick and well designed. Instead of a bit piece that wraps around to the back, these are crimped. This means that there’s a full front and back design with a large seam where the two sides are pinched together.
The sizes vary, as you can tell from the photos. As an example, the SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Santa is a little shy of 6 inches and weighs 70 grams (2.5 ounces). The base of the Santa is thick, which makes it very stable when standing. They’re all very attractive designs and would be good as either stocking stuffers or as decorations on a cookie plate or as place settings at a table.
The SweetWorks Hollow Chocolate Rocking Horse is 3.5 ounces, so the same as a standard tablet bar, only in a fancier format. SweetWorks uses all natural milk chocolate for their hollow molded figures. The ingredients list only: sugar, cocoa butter, milk, chocolate, soy lecithin and vanilla. They’re also kosher and gluten-free though processed in a facility with tree nuts and peanuts. The SweetWorks Hollow Chocolate Nutcracker is the largest of the pieces they make for Christmas, at 4.5 ounces and is nearly 7 inches tall.
The SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Turkey is only 1 ounce, but seems like a far larger portion. The base, like the others, is mostly solid which keeps the figure upright whether it’s wrapped or not. The chocolate tastes milkier and smoother than the foil covered balls. (My guess is that the formulation is just a little different for the molded chocolate because of the production demands of filling the intricate molds.)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Like the others, the molding details are great, it really is a nicely sculpted turkey and completely recognizable when it’s unwrapped. I liked these much better than the Hershey’s or Dove versions found at Easter, but they’re not quite as rich as the Lindt foil figures. I really liked the Rocking Horse though, I thought its design set it apart from the other offerings on the store shelves. I saw the Turkeys at Dylan’s Candy Bar, and I think they were $2.99 but online they’re a bit less. I just wish they were easier to find. For Easter they make a 3.5 ounce Yellow Chick and 3 ounce sitting Rabbit. It makes me wonder if there are figures that could be more “year round” or generic for parties and decorations since the Teddy Bear seems like a natural item for a baby shower.
SweetWorks can be found in the bulk bins at Dylan’s Candy Bar (and probably other places). Their foil balls actually come in a dozen colors and are also available as hearts year round in a wide color and texture palette. You’re more likely to find these online (you can buy direct from SweetWorks.net) and usually for a pretty decent price for all natural chocolate that isn’t Hershey’s Kisses.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
The Ritter Sport Winter Editions are more prevalent in the United States than they used to be. Webstores like German Deli and Chocosphere have been stocking them and I even found the complete set of the three special bars at Cost Plus World Market.
They’re $2.99 each, instead of the $2.00 or so that the regular non-seasonal bars go for. The Ritter Sport Winter Edition Caramel-Orange is a milk chocolate bar is filled with an orange cream. Like most other Ritter Sport bars, it’s 100 grams or 3.5 ounces and formed as a square with 16 individual sections.
Even though the bars travel pretty far and are packaged minimally, they’re always in great shape. I enjoy the format of the bar, as I like a thick piece, because of how long the melt may take, but I appreciate the deep trough sections that allow them to be broken into easy to eat pieces.
The milk chocolate in the bar is 30% cacao and 18% milk, so it’s a very milky but kind of chocolatey bar. The cream center is made of palm oil, sugar, milk products and actual orange powder (a mix of orange juice and orange pulp). It sounds kind of weird, but this also means that it’s different enough for all the other pumpkin spice and peppermint bar versions on the market right now.
The cream center is a bit darker and though not quite smooth or light enough to be a cream, it’s not grainy enough to be a fudge either. It’s orange, it tastes like orange juice - a little tart note now and then - and a bit like orange zest. There’s a slight grain to it, but it has enough fat in it to have a good mouthfeel without a greasy cling. The milk chocolate is robust enough to give it a cocoa note.
I’m finding that the more I have these cream filled bars, the less I like them. I love nuts and nut butters; I love crunchies and cereal bits; but emulsified palm oil and flavors just isn’t doing it for me any longer. These come in at 164 calories per ounce, which is a lot when those calories are not coming from cocoa butter, but from palm oil. Half a bar has 50% of my daily saturated fat intake. I think I’ll stick to the solid bars or the ones with nuts, but it’s nice to see oranges in a winter confection every once in a while. I’d like to see them do more with their marzipan bars, I liked the orange version they did as a winter edition and think that merits a revival.
Monday, December 16, 2013
A few weeks ago I went to the preview opening of the brick & mortar store for Sugarfina. (More photos here on la.eater.) The evening included tastings of a half a dozen of their favorite candies and of course I got to meet one of the co-owners, Rosie, whom I’ve been corresponding with via email for about a year.
Sugarfina opened earlier this year as a webstore, selling a carefully curated selection of candies from around the world. Many of the gummis are made with all natural flavors & colors and come in extraordinary flavor combinations and shapes. The chocolates are a mix of whimsy and sophistication, with an array of malted milk balls, caramels and cordials.
Sugarfina displays morsels, everything in the shop is morselized, easy for hand-to-mouth sampling and when you’re not eating it, it’s fun to look at. While browsing the store, if you didn’t know it was candy, everything could easily be mistaken for beads or buttons.
Guest were treated to a $10 gift certificate, which I put to good use right away. I even had a shopping list before I got there so I wouldn’t be distracted. I chose to create my own bento box. It’s a sleeve with three slots. It’s exceptionally well designed. The robin’s egg blue and white design is carried through the store and packaging. The inside of the box has blue scalloped concentric circles on white, as does the tissue in the bag it was placed in. The box itself is $4, which isn’t bad when you consider it doesn’t need wrapping and is durable & reusable. The cubes that fit in there were either $7 or $8.
The other change from my previous Sugarfina sampling is that the boxes for the candy have changed. They were a polyester soft plastic, which were not really that secure (hard to keep closed once you took the clear plastic stickers off). The new boxes are acrylic and after you take the labels off, they’re also reusable. They’re airtight, so any leftover candy keeps far longer.
One of the things that got me to actually go over to Beverly Hills after work was the fact that one of the new products is an Italian fruit gumdrop mix called Citrus and Berry Fruttini. They’re little pâte de fruit, coated in crunchy sugar.
The berry is a Wild Blueberry. They’re mild and sweet with a dark raspberry jam flavor and then that hint of black tea that I often taste in blueberries.
The yellow is Italian Lemon made from femminello lemons. I’ve never had a fresh femminello lemon before, but I’ve had limoncello, which is a sweet lemon liqueur that uses the peels. These are quite zesty and reminded me of Meyer lemons. It’s tart, it has a great balance between the sweetness and the oily flavors of the lemon oils.
The orange is Blood Orange. This one was definitely orange, but lacking the zesty notes that the lemon had. If I were to pick these up again, I’d go with the all Lemon selection, which they sell separately. There’s also a Wild Strawberry which I didn’t get to try.
Rating: 8 out of 10
I am quite fond of candies citrus zest, but the Aphrodite Kumquat goes far above and beyond that humble confection.
At the heart (sorry it’s not better depicted) there is a whole kumquat. It’s about the size of a small olive and completely candied. Unlike regular orange peels, the rind of a kumquat is pretty thin but when you eat the whole thing, you’re also getting the pulp inside. So there’s a juicy, tangy orange syrup at the center, along with the very strong clementine-like peel around it. Then it’s covered in a thin layer of chocolate. That chocolate is infused with the orangey oils and then the whole thing is encased in a beautifully treated apricot-colored sugar shell.
One is more than enough. They’re quite intense, the strength of the citrus oils are enough to leave my tongue burning for several hours. Sure, there are only eight of them in the box, but how could anyone eat more than two in a day?
Rating: 8 out of 10
The Chocolate Sparkles are also Greek and another special find. They’re like the smooth and flat little rocks you might pick up on the beach: except they’re an exceptionally unnatural shimmery blue.
The candy shell is thick, like a Jordan almond so there’s a lot of crunch. The dark chocolate center is smooth and creamy with an excellent silky melt and deep cocoa flavors. Unlike many dark chocolate lentils, these truly are made with dark chocolate that has no additional milk or dairy fat in it. (Though there may be traces of milk, wheat or nuts as they’re processed on shared equipment.)
Rating: 8 out of 10
These also came in yellow and pink, also with the shimmery finish. I don’t see them on the website, but they were definitely for sale in the store.
The prices are, well, Beverly Hills. However, unlike someplace like Dylan’s Candy Bar, where you portion out your generic candy into generic bags for $12.99 a pound, many of those products can be purchased at the drug store for a fraction of the price. Sugarfina’s per pound price point is more, about $25.00 per pound, but about 40% of Sugarfina’s candy can’t be purchased anywhere else in the United States and is far better quality than the drug store fare at most pick a mix candy stores. $25.00 per pound isn’t out of range for the chocolate items, but it is steep for sugar candy, even if it’s all natural.
Even though they don’t scoop by the pound, if you stop in the store, they do have little 1 ounce packets you can buy of many of the items to sample or just have a little treat. In true SoCal fashion they also offer a candy concierge.
It’s hard to rationalize it as an everyday candy shop (like I seem to treat See’s now that they’re walking distance from me), but the decadent packaging and precious treatment of the candy elevates it all to a different level. It’s not snacking, it’s sampling. It’s for grown ups.
Friday, December 13, 2013
Though I’ve never seen Noblesse before, the concept is pretty simple. They’re thin disks of chocolate, about two inches around and really wafery. They have a little bit of crunch to them, thanks to some corn flakes. While I might have thought these were copycats of the Belgian Thins I’m seeing everywhere now, the Noblesse version has been around (if Google translate is accurate in this article about the package redesign two years ago) since 1964.
The boxes are simple, though not quite as enticing as some others I’ve seen at this price point. Here in the States these retail for about $6 to $9 for just 5.3 ounces. However, Marabou is working on sustainable sourcing for their chocolate and have the Rainforest Alliance logo on the front with at least 30% of their cacao content from certified sources.
I got my packages from Swede Sweets, which sent me a large selection of candy to sample.
The disks are stacked in four slots in the box, they’re easy to take out and portion (though I’m unsure how much a portion actually is, as the nutrition panel gives me the option of eating 3.5 ounces (100 grams) or the whole box, but not a normal amount, which I’ll guess is one stack or 1.33 ounces.
At about eight thins, it seems like a lot of candy.
The Noblesse Original Crisp comes in light red box and features milk chocolate. The Marabou milk chocolate ingredient list includes milk whey, which is not permitted in products labeled chocolate in the US, though it doesn’t bother me that much. The cacao content is 36%, which is a fairly robust milk chocolate. The flavor, however, isn’t terribly deep or complex. It’s sweet and milky with the little corn flake bits giving it more of a chew than a crunch.
The Noblesse Mork Choklad Crisp (Dark Chocolate Crisp) is very appealing. At only 48% cacao content, it’s not challenging, more comforting than anything else. The flavor is a bit thin, but the texture is nice with a strong coffee note to the whole thing. I finished this box first and if I were to seek these out, this is the option I would go for.
The Noblesse Apelsin Crisp (Orange Crisp) is also the same 36% milk chocolate with a strong orange oil note. This cut the sweetness for me substantially, but it’s a lot of orange. It’s even a bit salty, though the listing only says 100 mg per 100 grams of candy.
They’re a lot easier to serve from the package than the Belgian Crisps (also found at Trader Joe’s in a house brand). They’d be a nice hostess gift and something fun to serve to guests with coffee, tea and cookies around the holidays.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Haviland Holiday Dark Chocolate Nonpareils come in a smart looking brown and red gable box, probably nice enough to tuck into a gift basket, stocking or take with a bottle of wine as a hostess gift. It’s just a little more upscale than a bag of chocolate chips, but pretty much the same thing in the end.
Haviland is a brand owned now by Necco. They’re probably best known for their mints, which are a cross between Junior Mints (a soft creamy center) and York Peppermint Patties (a crumbly fondant in a patty form). The nice thing about most of the Haviland line is that they’re available at drug stores and major retailers but usually use good ingredients without too many artificial things in there.
The chocolate is quite nice, but better than something like SnoCaps (which are more candy than chocolate) or Flicks (which have no sprinkles). The flavor has a little bit of a dusty quality to it, it’s not bitter, just kind of deep. It’s mostly a woodsy chocolate profile, with pretty strong notes of vanilla.
The chocolate contains butterfat, so it’s not considered vegan, there’s also no sustainability or sourcing statement on the box or the Necco website for their chocolate. As far as I know they don’t make their chocolate from bean to drop, so the sourcing is probably done by one of the big agrichocolate companies like Callebaut, Cargill or perhaps Blommer or Guittard.
I plan on setting them out in a bowl and I expect that they’ll be eaten up by some guests without complaint. But I’m more likely to just buy a bag of the Guittard or Ghirardelli chocolate baking drops and set those out instead in the future.
The big problem I have with the colorful sprinkles is a rare one, the red food coloring is extremely bitter. In this case, it was really unpleasant when I would put the disks in my mouth with the sprinkle side on my tongue. The bitterness was lost in the chocolate if I chewed quickly. But that’s no way to enjoy what’s supposed to be a treat. All white sprinkles solve that problem.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
One of the surprising finds in the Christmas candy aisle this year was Pearson’s Mint Patties Creamy Candy Cane. They were expensive at $3.99 for only 6.4 ounces at KMart, but I was really curious to try them. But what are they?
The package says: A stick of creamy peppermint with a layer of candy cane flavored mint covered in delicious dark chocolate. I really don’t understand that, but I’m along for the ride.
The dark chocolate is 66% cacao and aside from the artificial colors, the ingredients are pretty good. Unlike York Peppermint Patties (which are now made in Mexico) which contain egg whites, Pearson’s are vegetarian, using soy protein instead of egg albumen in the fondant center. They do, however, contain milk fat in the chocolate so they’re not vegan. They’re listed as gluten free but may contain traces of peanuts or tree nuts.
The construction is simple enough, they’re a rod of two different layers of fondant covered in dark chocolate. The bottom layer is the same peppermint cream found inside the regular old Pearson’s Mint Patty. As far as that goes, Pearson’s makes a great peppermint patty. Some may say it’s better than York, they’re a little different in their ratios and textures but I’d definitely say they’re both excellent quality.
The bottom layer is smooth and lightly minted, the dark chocolate plays well with a bitter but woodsy cocoa note. The top, pink layer is definitely more minty and possibly a little moister or at least a little creamier on the tongue. It’s not that big of a difference. The stick is a big portion for something I’d consider an after dinner mint. They’re only 90 calories but about .8 ounces. A snack size (those foil wrapped ones) are about a quarter of an ounce - so it’s about the same as three patties. There seems to be more chocolate compared to the filling in the sticks, so that may be a selling point for some.
The price is prohibitive, even for a holiday item. I think I prefer the patties, which I bought recently for about 25 cents an ounce for a big 48 ounce bag (for the jar in my office) while this would be about 62 cents an ounce and look kind of sad in late January if no one ate them yet, even though they’re good until September of 2014.
Crunchies or a chocolate layer or something else to distinguish them more from the regular patties would push these over into a stronger recommendation. As it is, if you prefer a mint stick with a more crumbly fondant instead of the flowing style of After Eight, then go for these for the holidays. Otherwise, just grab the regular patties and call them ornaments instead.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
While other seasonal candies are chasing dessert and pastry flavors, 3 Musketeer’s winter flavor is all about the comfort of a hot cocoa. 3 Musketeers Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Minis were also available last year, but I didn’t realize I missed reviewing them until a Mars representative sent me a package that included them.
The 10 ounce bag holds oodles of the 3 Musketeers Minis, which are tiny cubes covered in chocolate with a frothy nougat center.
The little wrappers come in either silver or a light cocoa bronze. Each piece is about 25 calories, they’re about 124 calories per ounce, versus the 145 calories per ounce for a Snickers (nuts are more calorically dense). The little square are about 3/4 of an inch, though not quite that high.
The flavor is odd. It’s like they took the malt out of the nougat. So, the center is now cocoa flavored. Not chocolate flavored, actually more like cocoa and marshmallows. There’s that sort of empty flavor that cocoa has, a little dusty and unsupported and that has an added note of vanilla. They do remind me of cocoa flavored marshmallows, but not in a good way.
I’m not fond of these. The textures are good, but they’re extremely sweet and lacking the light salty, malted nougat flavor that I appreciate in 3 Musketeers. Other 3 Musketeers flavors have been more to my liking, so I’ll say that this is a personal preference. Other folks must be enjoying them because they’re back again, but I’ll take a pass. Someday we’ll get the Mocha ones back with more Mocha flavor in them.
Monday, December 9, 2013
One of the special items for the holidays would be what I consider the anchor item of a well-stuffed stocking. Usually, a good stocking has a mix of candy, perhaps some small gifts and then a specialty food item. Like the Chocolate Rabbit anchors an Easter Basket, a chocolate orange fills a similar role for Christmas.
There are a few brands out there, though the Terry’s Chocolate Orange is probably the most ubiquitous, it’s also probably the most disappointing for adults as the chocolate quality has declined over the years. It’s fun to see some more upscale versions, but also some that incorporate other flavors and new production techniques to achieve a unique experience.
I’ve reviewed quite a few of the Ovation chocolate oranges, which were also sold under the name Florida Tropics and made by SweetWorks. It’s an American company using all natural ingredients in their chocolate. Today I have two of the holiday versions: Ovation Dark Chocolate Mint Filled and Ovation Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice.
I’m starting with the Ovation Dark Chocolate Mint Filled because I was really excited about the construction. It’s mint filled. So not only is it a chocolate sphere made of 20 sections molded like orange segments, each one of those is filled with a minted white confection. That’s crazy!
The Ovation oranges are wonderfully structured. They’re a bit overpackaged, but it does pay off. All of my oranges were in excellent shape. Though the sticker exhorts the consumer to BREAK then OPEN, I usually choose to pry it apart. This means less chocolate dust, though it’s possible that some sections will still get broken.
This orange is a bittersweet chocolate base (though made with dairy fats) filled with a minted white confection. It smells lightly of mint once removed from the foil. Though there’s not listing on the package, I’d estimate that the chocolate is about 55% cacao.
The snap is excellent and the individual slices have a pretty consistent stripe of minted white confection in the center (not a true white chocolate). The melt is good, very smooth with a silky, cooling note from the mint. If you’re fond of something like Andes Mints, this is a similar product, except much cooler to look at. I wish it was real white chocolate in the center, but it is all natural. It’s made in a facility with peanuts and tree nuts, it contains milk and soy. There’s no statement about gluten. It’s also Kosher, which means it would be a great Hanukkah item as well.
The Ovation Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice is also very well made with all natural milk chocolate and flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cloves and natural pumpkin flavor. The pieces are like the dark chocolate version, 20 segments held together in a spherical form by a dollop of chocolate in the core. They’re easily broken apart by either smacking the whole thing on a hard surface, or just prying it in half.
These smell milky and sweet with a light spice note. The flavor is overly sweet with a lot of milk components and a warm hint of the pumpkin spices. Mostly I got the nutmeg and ginger, not as much of the cloves and cinnamon. It’s a lot sweeter than I like my chocolate, though didn’t quite arrive at the throat searing level. I’m finding now after a couple of years of these spiced chocolates that it’s not my preferred genre. My usual use for chocolate that’s too sweet to eat or bloomed is to make it into hot chocolate or chocolate pudding. I think this is an excellent candidate for that.
Their standard chocolate versions are also very good, and a great value for 6.17 ounces of all natural chocolate. If you have a Trader Joe’s nearby, you’ll also notice that their chocolate oranges are made by the same company under the Trader Joe’s holiday packaging. Ferrara Candy also makes chocolate oranges, which I’ve seen on sale at Walgreen’s.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.