Tuesday, December 9, 2014
During early December, Trader Joe’s becomes a hotspot for decadent hostess gifts. In the store I frequent, there is a table with just gift boxed confections and gift samplers by the dairy case. Many of the items featured are new and quirky treats, but some are tried and true classics.
Since I’m on a cherry cordial kick, I did pick up the Trader Joe’s Chocolate Liqueur Cherries which feature a real boost of alcohol (4.4%). They may not be available in all states, as some areas have stricter alcohol laws. I think you need to be over 21 to purchase these in most places. (Even though you’d need to eat the full 14 ounce box to get the same amount of alcohol as you’d find in a beer.)
The ingredients are quite decent: it’s 49% cacao dark chocolate (with no added dairy fillers) and a filling made of sugar, alcohol, a full cherry, corn syrup and cherry juice. There are no artificial flavors or colors ... and it appears to be vegan. They’re made in a factory that also processed milk, peanuts, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts. There’s no statement about gluten and it does contain soy.
The box is serviceable, with some sort of faux wood grain design on the front that verges on old west instead of elegant Christmas gift. The tray inside is plastic, but because it’s metallic gold along with the gold foil wrapping, it’s a good presentation at that point.
Once the box is open, though, it’s hard to carry it with one hand without tipping the contents out ... but at least they’re wrapped in foil, so they’re easy to retrieve.
They’re small, at about 12 grams each and about 55 calories.
I found the easiest way to eat these is pretty common. I turn over the little hemisphere and pry the bottom off with my teeth eat the chocolate coin. Then sip the cherry syrup cordial and then eat the soaked cherry with the chocolate in one bite.
In this case the cherry cordial syrup is not quite sweet and has a light acidic note, probably from the cherry juice. The alcohol has no clear attributes of its own, except that it burns a little bit and gives the effect of cough syrup at times. The chocolate is passable - sweet and with some woodsy/brownie notes to it. The cherry at the center was usually small, but crunchy and chewy.
I enjoyed these since they were less sweet than others I’ve been sampling. I don’t know if I’d buy them again, I’d probably stick with the Brandy Beans if I have a hankering for alcohol filled chocolates. I applaud Trader Joe’s for making a reliable product, though, with good quality ingredients with no preservatives (well, sugar and alcohol are preservatives) or artificial colors. It’s certainly more expensive than the others I’ve profiled from Cella’s and Queen Anne, but you’re getting more real ingredients instead of preservatives and colorings ... and pretty gold foil.
I’ve purchased liqueur chocolates before, and I have to stress that you can’t freeze them (don’t leave them in the car overnight if you’re someplace cold) and they will eventually evaporate so they should be eaten within 1 month of purchase, especially if you’ve taken off the plastic overwrap.
Monday, December 8, 2014
Since I tried the an array of Queen Anne chocolate cherries, I though it would only be proper to try the best-known cordial cherries. Luckily they were on sale at Target yesterday for only $1.39 for a box of 10 cherries ... less than I paid for the lowest priced version of Queen Anne.
Cella’s Cherries come in a variety of packages, I’m most familiar with the boxes that feature individually foil wrapped versions. They come in both Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate versions. I chose dark.
This box of Cella’s was minimalist and efficient. The box was about half the size (flatter) than the Queen Anne and still held 10 pieces. (Though the total box only holds 5 ounces, not 6.6 ounces, so they’re smaller.) The tray plastic, but it’s easy to pull the chocolate’s out. They were all flawless, though I heard from a reader who also bought some over the weekend and half were cracked.
They’re well molded, shiny and fresh. Cella’s feature a 100% cordial center, which means no sugary fondant, it’ll all syrup and cherry in there. Cella’s are also made in a peanut free and gluten free facility, so these are appropriate for a wide range of sweet-lovers. Sadly, even though this is a dark chocolate product, there is some dairy in there (and soy). It would have been nice to find a vegan cherry candy. The cherries are treated with sulfur dioxide, sodium benzoate and calcium chloride and they add red dye #40.
They do smell like cherry. So much that it really overpowers the chocolate, but in general I consider the chocolate in a cordial cherry to be only a delivery vessel. The syrupy center is sweet, but certainly less so than the Queen Anne. The cherry is firm and crunchy and has just a slight tart note to it and a wholly maraschino flavor.
I was never really a cordial cherry fan, but I’ve been coming around. For the price, I really can’t complain about this product. The chocolate was creamy and had some toasted notes, though could certainly be darker. It was excellently tempered and these would be a lovely treat to serve with dessert to folks at the holidays. Because there’s a lot of water in the center, these are quite low in calories per ounce, so if you’re looking for a little treat without breaking your diet, this is also a nice change as the flavors are intense and linger. There are better looking packages, though, if you’re looking for a hostess gift.
Some people prefer the fondant style center to the syrup cordial, so it’s good to know what kind of person you are going in. SugarPressure did a comparison of Brach’s, Cella’s and Queen Anne and preferred the Queen Anne.
Friday, December 5, 2014
I have nothing against cherries. In fact, I love fresh cherries. I’m not fond of cherry flavored candies, so it stands to reason that I should actually like chocolate covered cherry cordials since they do have a real glace cherry at the center.
So a few years ago I tried the European version of Ferrero Mon Cheri ... which features a whole cherry in alcohol. That went well. But still, I’ve been hesitant to try some other varieties I see at drug store chains.
Though it seems odd, I thought I’d start at the bottom. I picked up the cheapest, but most widely available line I could find: Queen Anne Cordial Cherries which are made by World’s Finest Chocolate.
The boxes varied in price between $1.50 and $2.49 for a box that holds 10 cordial cherries totaling 6.6 ounces. Queen Anne makes cherries in a few versions: Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate as well as newer versions in French Vanilla and Black Cherry Cola. They also make a cordial blueberry, but I’ll save that for another time.
The packaging is far from elegant, but it is serviceable. There are ten candies in the box, each tray has five little plastic cups and the whole thing is sealed with a plastic film on top. The two trays are stacked in the box. The chocolates were in good shape, even though I’m guessing they get tossed around a bit en route.
Queen Anne Dark Chocolate Cordial Cherries were a good place to start. The chocolate can’t be particularly dark, as sugar is the first ingredient and the chocolate itself also contains anhydrous milk fat and PGPR. The cherries are souped up in high fructose corn syrup, citric acid and some extra Red Dye #40. The ingredients also mention another “dark coating” made from partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils and cocoa along with sugar.
They do look quite good and smell like, well, cherries but the cocoa notes of the chocolate do actually come through.
They’re a messy affair if one who likes to bite and not pop. I like to grab the cherry in the first bite to make sure I get it with the least amount of sugar ... leaving the syrup behind in the remaining hemisphere. The cherry is crisp and chewy with only a lightly tart note. But it tastes realistic and not quite as strongly of maraschino as some others.
It’s all overly sweet though, especially if I was going to eat the other half that didn’t have a cherry. The chocolate is passable, not overly sweet but also lacking a good quality creamy smooth note.
Though the nutrition panel says there’s only one more gram of sugar in this version over the dark, it’s astronomically sweeter. It’s pretty much inedible for me, though I’m sure some folks will enjoy the sugary vanilla blast. The cherry flavor is completely lost on me, which is too bad because the texture was spot on.
Oddly enough, this was the version I was looking forward to most. A bit of extra spicy flavor from the cola might help, and it actually did. The textures were the same, the cherries were firm and of good quality. The cola flavor was extremely mild, though. It was a little hint in the smell, and then maybe a whiff of it in the second bite. This one had the most maraschino flavor to it.
None are ever going to pass my lips again, not because they’re necessarily bad candy, but they’re certainly not the candy for me. There are better chocolate covered cordial cherries out there. A starting place will be finding better quality chocolate, as it should not just be treated like a container, but a gateway. So if I’m going to reset my brain to enjoy them, I think I should spend some time finding better ones.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Godiva was founded in Belgium as a premium chocolatier. The company is now owned by a Turkish holding coming (Yıldız Holding) but is headquartered in New York and named after an Old English noblewoman.
The chocolate is reliably of good quality, though the prices are on the high side compared to other brands now available. I love their packaging, but I’m usually disappointed by the products as they tend to be bland.
Still, I was tempted enough by a press release about a new collaboration collection that I stopped by the local Godiva shop and picked up a box of the Chef Inspirations Flavors of the World Collection. It was $18 for a box of eight chocolates in six different flavors.
So, six flavors and eight pieces means that I got two duplicates. The box is nice, a rounded rectangle with a plastic formed tray inside. The whole thing was shrink-wrapped and definitely fresh and flawless when I opened it. It included a little brochure that described both the chef and chocolates themselves. Here’s a little bit from the website:
Banana & Caramelized Coconut: Milk and white chocolate enhanced with caramelized coconut flakes, coconut milk and banana essence topped with the crunch of West African cocoa nibs. The banana flavors are sweet and have a bit of a creamy note. The coconut has a little tropical flavor, the whole thing is soft and chewy. The milk chocolate is smooth, but extremely sweet.
Black Tea Mousse & Sichuan Pepper: Chinese Sichuan pepper flavored ganache blended with an aromatic black tea mousse and wrapped in pure Belgian dark chocolate. The mousse has a very light chocolate note but strong tannins from the black tea. I didn’t catch much of the pepper, which is too bad. But I did enjoy the tea and this one was less sweet than the others.
Sirop de Liege with Speculoos: Classic Belgian Sirop de Liege, a pear and apple syrup, and a Speculoos cookie mousse wrapped in pure Belgian dark chocolate. This is a beautiful piece and an interesting combination. It is by far the most innovative and successful in the assortment. The speculoos is soft and creamy with a hint of gingerbread spices. The syrup is more like a fruit jelly, tart and smooth and bright, it’s really a great pairing with the dark chocolate and cookie butter. They should make this in a bar format.
Japanese Dark Sugar Ganache: Dark chocolate layered with Kuromitsu molasses and Valencia almond praliné mixed with diced hazelnuts and Guerande sea salt. Since I started Candy Blog, I’ve been obsessed with Japanese black sugar, so this was the piece was thinking would be a home run. It’s nice, don’t get me wrong, but lacks any sort of black sugar note at all. The almond and hazelnut notes are great and the touch of sea salt does really balance the piece which gets a bit sweet, but the molasses is just so slight, I missed it. And I had three of these ... the two that came in the box and I bought one on the spot and ate it at the mall.
Brazilian Coffee Nut Praliné: Brazilian coffee and Costa Rican chocolate blended with hazelnut praliné enrobed in white chocolate and decorated with crispy chocolate confetti. As you would expect, this one was sweet with the white chocolate coating. The coffee notes a fresh and bright and the hazelnut flavors really mixed well. The little crisps on top gave it the texture it needed as a finish. Dark chocolate enrobing would have made me a bit more satisfied.
Honey Roasted Caramel: Caramel infused with hints of honey, almonds, brown sugar and condensed milk covered in milk chocolate and crunchy almonds. This sounds rather pedestrian and it really is, but that’s no reason not to appreciate it. It was chewy, but not too sticky. The honey and darker toffee notes were good and the milk chocolate brought it together well with some other dairy notes. The almonds were kind of lost, but at least fresh and crunchy.
Overall ... well, it was too sweet and not intense enough. I liked the attempts and part of the fun was just imagining what the combinations would be like. But I think I’ll stick with my local chocolatiers like Compartes or Valerie if I want to get into that price range, or just stop at See’s and be happy with their caramels.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Pecan Pie is actually just candy in a flaky pastry dough, as far as I’m concerned. The pecan pie filling is a cross between a custard and a fudge, a mix of fats and sugar ... all topped with caramelized pecans. Most pecan pie lacks enough pecans as far as I’m concerned, and I usually want mine in the filling, not just on top.
Even though this traveled about a thousand miles, it did well. The graham cracker base was just a little rounded off and about half of the pecans fell off the top. (But were very easy to just pour into my mouth from the package.) This version of pecan pie has milk chocolate ... which isn’t a bad thing, I often enjoy a chocolate pecan pie, or at least a pecan pie with a hot fudge sauce on it.
Like many pecan pies, the center here has no pecans in it, it’s just a penuche-type fudge center with excellent butter and brown sugar notes. The milk chocolate is actually less sweet than the center, which is nice, and the graham cracker moderates it all even more. The pecans are not integrated into this at all, which is disappointing, because they shouldn’t be the afterthought, they should be the center.
Still, as a confection, it’s quite nice, very sweet but a lot of textural interest. As a candy version of pecan pie, it fails. Don’t worry, I’m willing to eat Russell Stover’s mistakes.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Mars made an exciting announcement earlier this fall that they’re bringing M&Ms Crispy back to American stores starting January 2015.
Some folks at Mars were good enough to send me some samples (though not in the final packaging, so I included the press release version of the package design for reference).
You can read more on Crispy M&Ms in this write up I did a few years ago when I reviewed the European version. Basically, the American version of Crispy M&Ms came out in 1998 and were discontinued in 2005. They had their fans, and current social media allowed them to speak directly with Mars to voice their enthusiasm for the return of the candy.
The Crispy M&M, if you’ve never heard of them, are described as feature a unique, crispy center covered in creamy milk chocolate, enclosed in a colorful candy shell. The center is like a little cereal puff.
The new package will hold only 1.35 ounces, which is more than the Pretzel M&Ms which are only 1.14 ounces but less than the standard Milk Chocolate M&Ms which is 1.69 ounces.
The new version comes in the same color array as regular M&Ms: red, orange, yellow, blue, green and brown.
The pieces are much smaller than I expected, since I’ve had the European versions, which are closer to the size of a Peanut M&M. These are a similar diameter to a Milk Chocolate M&M, but puffy. But they’re also quite irregular. They’re lumpy and sometimes close to spherical, while others are long or pointy in spots.
They’re easy to bite and crunch, and extremely light. The center crunch is kind of like the flavor of a corn flake ... very mild with only a hint of salt and malt. But for the most part they’re neutral. The chocolate is sweet, but otherwise generic. The crunchy shell provides a different sweetness compared to the chocolate and a different more brittle crunchy compared to the centers.
Overall, it’s a pleasant snack that I have no trouble scooping by the handful. But it made me wish for something else ... I wanted a Malted Milk M&M. This is not so hard for Mars to manage, they’d just take the Maltesers they make in the UK and give them a colorful candy shell.
The earlier versions of Crispy M&Ms used a blue wrapper, but that has since been usurped by the Pretzel M&Ms, so the 2015 version will be in lime green packages. I can’t say for certain that these are better or similar to the originals, as it’s been a long time since I’ve had them. They definitely fit into a niche that’s not well served in the chocolate market right now, which is the crossover with snacks. Here’s what the Crispy M&Ms announcement said about it:
M&Ms briefly had Mint Crispy M&Ms as a limited edition.
The European Crispy M&Ms featured mostly natural colors for the shells, which meant a slightly muted palette. Natural colors can sometimes bring their own flavors, though, so some folks can tell the difference between the colors (I can usually pick out the yellows and oranges by taste). It would have been interesting, though, for Mars to make this revival of Crispy M&Ms with the European colors, just to see if that would catch in the US.
I’m curious to see how Crispy M&Ms do this time around. The survival rate for revived candies isn’t great, but the success rates for completely new candies aren’t any better. I have no stats for that, just personal experience paging through the blog at home many candies I’ve reviewed over the past 9 years that don’t exist any longer. Maybe read about M&Ms Premiums or compare the early Mega M&Ms that were discontinued, and the new version.
They are far more consistent (less bumpy) than the samples I used for this review. Though they weren’t any smaller than the smallest from my sample, they were all small pieces. This could just be the way that they were packaged, that the weight difference means that the like sized pieces end up on the bagging platform together. I would need to buy more bags to be sure, but it’s something I’ll keep my eye out for in other reviews. I did eat a whole bag and though it’s not very much at 1.35 ounces, it was filling enough.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
I’ve reviewed a couple of the new Ghirardelli panned chocolate items, but up until now they’ve been pretty standard items. I was intrigued enough with the description of the new Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Spiced Almond to pick them up.
The perfect snack to satisfy your craving for crunchy nuts and smooth chocolate ... with a little spice.
I liked the package. It’s very easy to understand, the images on the front and back are appealing, clear and not too fussy. But mostly I appreciated that the nutrition label and ingredients are easy to read. The ingredients list the allergens in bold, as well as noting them at the end of the list and it was all in a typeface that was large enough for me to read without glasses.
The ingredients are pretty clean with no artificial flavors or colors. They even helpfully list out what the spices are: cinnamon, allspice and cayenne. Instead of just mixing the spices into the chocolate to create something slightly gritty, Ghirirdelli instead made a spiced toffee glaze for the almonds before panning them in chocolate.
These remind me of the Lindt Holiday Almonds that come out seasonally, but are also coated with powdered sugar.
The almonds are big and glossy. They don’t smell of spice, just a light sweet dairy note. They have a great crunch if you bite them. The glaze is crispy and the almond are tougher and have a substantial crunch. The chocolate is soft and combines readily with the elements. It’s all a bit sweet, even with the neutral almonds to balance it out. The glaze has a generous touch of the spices, with quite a bit of cayenne that builds up slowly until there’s a light burn after about five or six.
I didn’t care for the how sweet they were, maybe I just wanted a smidge of salt in them or a darker milk chocolate. But they are less sweet than the Lindt sister confection, so I’ll take that as progress. I have to say that if this trend of mixing the textures of a glazed nut with chocolate takes off, there are a lot of variations that could be quite delectable. The best that I’d tried to date would be the Sconza 70% Toffee Almonds.
Ghirardelli is owned by Lindt & Sprungli. They don’t have a lot on their website about the sourcing of their cacao except for a statement that they’re in compliance with the California transparency act and then point you to the Lindt policies. Now that Lindt owns Russell Stover, they’re the third largest chocolate company in the United States, and will probably have a lot more clout when it comes to insisting on transparency and certification within their supply chain for all ingredients.
Friday, November 7, 2014
House brands are often cheap knock-offs of well known brands. But every once in a while a house brand has some sort of wizard-visionary behind the scenes ... I think Walgreen’s found one and put them to work on their Good & deLISH line of candies and snacks.
Many of these new candies are on trend with flavors like Red Velvet and Caramel Apple but also do a better job than some of the major brands like Russell Stover and Ghirardelli at creating well-priced candies you’d prefer to not share.
One of the items I found on the shelves kind of hidden in with the nuts were these new snack containers of candy or chocolate covered nuts and fruits. This one is Good and deLISH Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds, a name so long it’s a wonder they fit it on the little wrapper.
Those of you’ve been reading for a while or have a Trader Joe’s in your area may recognize these, they’re similar to the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Almonds. They’re an almond, covered in dark chocolate that’s also studded with small sea salt and raw sugar nuggets.
The package is a squat plastic jar that holds 5 ounces. The wide black cap is to be used as a snack cup, perhaps in the car. The jar is wide mouthed, so you can get your fingers in there, if you’re not using the lid as a dish. The overall look of the packaging is utilitarian but not at all appetizing. It looks like something I’d be more likely to find in use to store bolts and fasteners than candy.
They’re kind of homely little nuggets. It’s a crunchy roasted almond covered in semi-sweet chocolate (I’d guess about 50% cacao) with a little dash of salt or sugar sometimes ... then there’s a slight dusting of cocoa on the outside. The chocolate is sweet, not exceptionally smooth and boosted a little bit by some extra butterfat (not a vegan product, sorry). The nuts are crunchy and well roasted, with skins on. This leads to a lingering fiber to the chew. The chocolate has a light bitter note towards the end as well, but the beginning and middle is quite sweet for a dark chocolate item.
The thing is, I didn’t love these the first time I had them at Trader Joe’s, I don’t love them now, though on paper they seem to have all the right qualities. I want to know more about the chocolate in them and I want a little more consistency with the sugar and salt on top. While I found the Trader Joe’s batch I had too salty, these were merely too sweet ... even before the sugar crystals kicked in. I’ll see what else this line has to offer when they’re on sale ... I do like the concept of the package and would probably find this great for car or plane trips. The Walgreen’s site also shows this in an 11 ounce size, which is likely to be a better value.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.