Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Ritter Sport is going over to the dark side.
I picked up three new bars (or newish) while at the All Candy Expo and I have to say that they’re exceptionally good.
First, I found out that Ritter is the #2 imported chocolate brand in the United States. Who knew?
Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts - this bar is studded generously with hazelnuts. Not quite as many as the wrapper implies, but I’ll tell you there are plenty in there. The dark chocolate is a semisweet with good floral notes and a slightly smoky bite to it. A little dry, it highlights the nuts really well. Not at all sticky or cloying like the milk chocolate can be, this bar is incredibly munchable. Of the three that I brought back, this one was gone first.
Amargo Extrafino - Fine Extra Dark Chocolate - 71% Cocoa - this was a gorgeous bar (and featured in that page in the National Post, if I might gush). The scent is intoxicatingly rich. Smoke, tobacco, tea and dark berries all waft from its dark scored squares. It’s pretty quick to melt for such a dense bar and it’s very smooth. The berry and cherry notes are quite evident as well as a sharp immediate bitter/acidic bite that mellows quickly to its more roasted and alcoholic notes of cognac. For an inexpensive high cacao bar, this one is very good. Complex but still edible. It goes great with something with a salty/crunchy bite like dry roasted & salted almonds or pretzels.
Feinherb a la Mousse au Chocolat - the same dark chocolate that’s found in the hazelnut bar is in this one, except this has a softer filling inside the squares. Not a fluffy mousse, more like a firm, creamier center like a Frango. It’s nice, but after the intense, complex darkness of the 71%, this one tasted very sweet (and I tried it on a completely different day than the 71% day).
After the other not-so-tasty things I was eating earlier this week, the Ritter Sport dark bars were quite a treat. I can recommend all of the, but if you’re a dark fan and can find these inexpensively (less than $3), it’s quite a deal for chocolate of this quality (no wonder they’re #2).
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
I don’t think I’m a fudge fan. I know it sounds a little weird, but I find fudge a little too sweet and not chocolatey enough. Every once in a while I’ll come across a piece of fresh fudge that brings that additional fudge element to it - that crumbly melt in your mouth quality. I don’t know if that’s something that’s supposed to be in fudge or if it’s bad fudge, but that’s the way I like it.
That’s one of the reasons I avoid pre-packaged fudge, it just never has that fresh, light and rich feeling to it. But still, I was pretty interested in the Jim Beam Chocolate Bourbon Fudge from Country Fresh Food & Confections of Tennessee - I figured they knew what they were doing. Their booth at the All Candy Expo seemed constantly mobbed. I tried a few pieces of their liquor flavored fudges and found them a little dry and tasteless, but I figured that was because they were sitting out on plates all day.
But the place was packed in there was a bit of a buzz about the liquor fudge, so maybe I’ve got this whole thing wrong (but know that there’s not actually any alcohol in there, just some natural and artificial flavors). Maybe everyone but me loves the stuff.
Here’s the thing: I don’t know much about find Kentucky Bourbon. So when I tried this fudge, it tasted like bubble gum to me. Chocolate, fudgy bubble gum. That bubble gum flavor is hard to pin down, but now I’m pretty sure it’s bourbon or rum or some liquor flavor that kids aren’t sophisticated enough to like yet. The line of alcohol flavored fudges also come in Kahlua, Malibu, Sauza, Tia Maria & Courvoisier.
The texture is a little gummy as well, the melt in your mouth quality just isn’t there. It’s nicely chocolatey and ultra smooth, but it’s just not that wonderful new crystalline arrangement that fresh fudge usually has.
I’ve gotta give this a pass. However, I’m going to try some fresh fudge on Friday night and local folks are welcome to join me at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles (3rd & Fairfax) from 6PM to 9PM to try some Littlejohn fudge (and perhaps toffee while we’re at it).
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
One of the seminars I attended at the All Candy Expo was about the cardiovascular benefits of chocolate. It was very promising (and I’ll try to have more about that when the study is actually published), and it’s clear that chocolate can be added to a healthy diet. What’s a little strange is the boosting of chocolate to nutritional supplement. Some companies are going with extra dark chocolates and Mars/Dove has their proprietary line of CocoaVia chocolate products.
I’ve already covered that with the Adora Calcium tablets, but Botticelli is going far and above that with their new Choco-Omeg line.
The Choco-Omeg line is built around the linchpin of the Omega-3 Fatty Acids that are found in high concentrations in fish and flax seed. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that are used for the body in maintaining healthy tissues. There is some evidence (both supporting and contradictory) that Omega-3s in higher quantities can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and reduce inflammation.
Even if you take the Omega-3 boost out of these chocolate bites, you’ve got a super-nutritious snack because of the addition of trace minerals and vitamins to the bars.
Choco-Omeg - Calcium Formula - Belgian milk chocolate with cookie bits. Label: Excellent source of magnesium, calcium and vitamin D - supports strong bones & teeth. 50 mg of Omega-3 plus 400 mg of Calcium. (I don’t have the full nutrition label on this one.)
Taste - the milk chocolate here is rather bland and sweet and since it has no additional flavor boost like the others do, it’s kind of ordinary. The cookie bits are nice and I always enjoy a little crunchy texture. I suspect these are here to cover the graininess added by the mega-calcium. The milk chocolate in both varieties is rather American tasting, none of that European dairy flavor.
Choco-Omeg - Memory Formula - Belgian milk chocolate with orange flavor. Label: Source of antioxidants - 50 mg of Omega-3 - Excellent source of 15 essential vitamins & minerals. 55 mg of Choline (essential for brain function, possibly aids in weight loss because of its role in metabolism), 25% of the following: Vitamin A, E, B6, B12, C, Thiamin, Niacin, Folic Acid, Biotin, Zinc and 30% of Riboflavin, Magnesium & Iron. 40% RDA of Calcium.
Taste - really nice orange scent and real orange peel in there. It’s sweet and looks and tastes a little grainy. The flavor isn’t bad. The orange is very strong and doesn’t leave much room for chocolateyness. This one also has a pretty high boost of calcium too, with 40% of your daily value, but without the grit I’ve had in other supplements.
Choco-Omeg - Cardio Formula - Belgian bittersweet chocolate with raspberries. Label: Source of heart healthy B vitamins, lycopene & co-enzyme Q10. 400 mg of Omega-3. Also contains 5 grams of fiber and 10% of the following: B6, B12, Vitamin C, Iron and Folic Acid. A serving is either a 1.27 ounce bar or three of the nuggets shown above.
Taste - it’s different, I’ll tell you that. It smells really raspberry-ish. And upon biting into it, you can see the little flecks of freeze dried raspberries. The chocolate isn’t too sweet and the berries pack a good tart punch to boost the flavor. Of course to pack that much Omega-3 in there, they’ve put in whole flax seeds. If you don’t think too much about it, they’re kind of like raspberry seeds. Lots and lots of raspberry seeds. At first I wasn’t keen on them, but after the fifth or sixth one I got used to them and found the texture and sort of nutty flavor an interesting addition.
Of the three, I think the one that I could see myself eating regularly is the orange Memory formula one with the Cardio second and the Calcium last. I could see myself alternating them, but I know that I would never be able to eat three nuggets a day forever and ever. It’s a large calorie commitment at 180-200 calories, but there’s plenty of nutrition in there, especially if you’re a person on the go and don’t always eat right.
They’re not for sale in the States yet, but they are available in Canada right now (where they’re made). American distribution is expected in the next couple of months, with the price points set at $1.99 each for the bars and $11.99 for the tub of nuggets (30 pieces, 10 servings). It’s a bit steep for candy but on par with most nutrient boosted foods. You’ll find them at drug stores in the nutrition aisle, not with the candy. The Omega-3 blend that they use comes in part from fish, so these are not appropriate for vegetarians.
This is the kind of product where you have to know yourself really well. Are you disciplined enough to eat some candy every day as a supplement, or will you get bored? Or are you just looking for a sometime treat that has a few nutritional boosters in it? The candy chefs have gotten much better at removing the compromises - these do taste pretty good and it’s not just a little extra vitamin C in there, there are some substantial nutrients added. I can see myself picking one of these up for a plane ride instead of a chocolate bar, but not eating the little nuggets every day. It is nice that they offer the different sizes so that you can just try a bar before investing in a whole hex box of nuggets.
It took me a while to decide on the rating for these. I find that I’m eating them, which is a good sign considering how many candies I have to choose from at the moment. But I don’t feel like I’m going to restock when I run out except for the odd bar that I may pick up now and again. They’re a bit tastier than the Adora, but the portion size is larger and of course the calorie tally. I ended up giving them an 8 out of 10. Feel free to argue with me because I think I could go with a 7 out of 10 just as easily.
Finally - if you’re interested in seeing more about this (and probably some other All Candy Expo products) check out the Today show tomorrow morning. Sam, from Botticelli, says that they’re doing a piece on new candy products!
(Wow, this was a really long review.)
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:30 am
Thursday, June 15, 2006
It’s hard to believe that I’ve never really had the Lindt Lindor truffles before this. I’ve always looked at them like they’re some sort of compromise ... they’re not a candy bar and they’re not a product of a fine chocolatier. So they never really fit the bill at any given moment.
But let’s just start with me saying that I’m surprised at how good they are, and how glad I am to find their newest one that was sampled at the All Candy Expo was the 60% Extra Dark Truffle.
I’ve enjoyed the Lindt bars for quite a while, as they were always easy to find and a rather upscale pure chocolate indulgence at a time when it was pretty hard to find such things ten years ago.
In order to see how dark this new truffle was, I decided to try the array from white to extra dark.
White Chocolate (yellow wrapper) - sweet and milky smelling with a strong vanilla note. Buttery and light in the middle. No real flavor to it, just sweet and creamy.
Dark Chocolate (blue wrapper) - nice chocolatey aroma, with some fruity notes. The shell is creamy and smooth and of course the filling is buttery light, but perhaps a little greasy feeling. It could use more cocoa solids in it to give it more flavor. A really good, solid performer. I didn’t know what flavors I had, so I checked at the grocery store and these were 44 cents each there (and I’ve seen them cheaper). For a quick, single pick-me-up, they’re quite the bargain.
Extra Dark Chocolate (black wrapper) - rather fruity smelling with a slight note of coconut. The shell was buttery smooth with a rather noticeable bitter and dry bite that really offset the creamy center. Now that I’ve tried them side by side, I much prefer the Extra Dark because the complex flavors of the shell offset the light, creamy, almost-liquid truffle center.
Hazelnut (bronze wrapper - not pictured) - this one got smashed on the way home and I didn’t think it was fair to take its picture in that state. The center was light and buttery and studded with little hazelnut pieces. It was very sweet and light tasting, but missed some of the darker caramelized notes that I enjoy with many hazelnut products.
Overall, I don’t think I’d turn down these truffles as a gift, but the only one I’m likely to buy for myself is the 60% Dark, as the complexity of it balances the rather heavy fat. They’re a good deal as a small indulgence you get at a grocery store since you can buy them as singles. I’m pretty sure if I had a half a pound of them they’d disappear pretty quickly, whether they were my favorite flavor or not.
UPDATE 10/5/2009: I’ve had more opportunities to try these over the past few years. Lately I’ve been finding the flavor to be a bit “empty”. There’s a wonderful texture, but the slick & oily center seems to dilute the rich chocolate flavor I expect. I’m downgrading them to a 7 out of 10, as I’m finding I’m more likely to give them away than eat them myself.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
While on the show floor I came across this booth on the first morning, in one of the first aisles I went down:
Real Espresso! Liquid Center!
I was thinking it’d be the American version of Ferrero’s Pocket Coffee from Italy. And we really need those.
There they were, looking so lovely on the silver platter. I had gotten up at 5 AM, so maybe my judgement was a little clouded by 9:30.
I took one and bit into it. No liquid center! Only a shiny, soft and bitter tar. Like that stuff that’s left at the bottom of a coffee pot when you’ve left it on the heating element overnight.
But in order to be fair about them, I took another on the last day to bring home and trash with photographic evidence.
Well, lo and behold the one I brought home had the liquid center!
The texture might have been more satisfying, but the flavor was no better. Still bitter and acrid, syrupy sweet and without as many of the coffee notes that I would have liked. The chocolate was decent, but completely overshadowed by the center. And the production concerns me as well, if one of the samples I got was sub-par, I wouldn’t be terribly confident about a whole box of them being consistent.
I have no idea where they sell these, or much about the company at all. I hope that they can tweak though, because it’s obviously a good idea if Pocket Coffee has been doing so well. The big difference here is that there was no sugar granules in here like I found with the Pocket Coffee, so maybe it’s a completely different process. I’m wondering what their Espresso Secret is ...
Monday, June 12, 2006
Mars hasn’t been nearly as invested in the limited edition game as Hershey’s but I think that when they do come out with an item, though it’s usually just a simple twist on an existing one, they’re pretty good.
Witness the Snickers Xtreme. It’s a Snickers bar without that pesky nougat. What’s odd about this bar is that Snickers has already released this product in miniature.
I smashed my bar in my bag, so the picture isn’t that pretty. (I cut off the smashed part to give the bar the best chance at looking dead sexy. I tried biting the bar to show off the innards, but all you saw was caramel, not the plethora of nuts.)
The label heralds it as having 5 grams of protein, which is pretty good for a candy bar. Nearly all of that protein is from the peanuts with a trace amount, I supposed, from the milk in the chocolate and caramel.
First, let me tell you about my hopes for this bar. I’ve always been a big fan of the Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews because of the density of the nuts but also because the infusion of molasses gave the chew a real pop of flavor. I was hoping that the Snickers Xtreme bar would fill that niche, only with real chocolate.
What this bar does is reveal how uninspiring the caramel of the Snickers (and I’ll wager the Milky Way) actually is. I could taste the peanuts loud and clear and the milk chocolate made a nice appearance (albeit a sweet one), but the caramel only provided a backdrop of sweet chew, no caramelized sugar notes. (And an odd hint of cinnamon but that could be cross contamination with all the other candy I’ve picked up and stored this with ... Atomic Fire Balls were EVERYWHERE!)
My last quarrel I’m going to mention is the name of the bar. If Milky Way put out a caramel-less bar, you wouldn’t call it a Milky Way Xtreme ... you’d call it a 3 Musketeers. If you took out the nuts in a Snickers, well, you’d have a Milky Way ... see where I’m going here? Changing an item to a different version of the same basic foodstuff, such as dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate does qualify. But taking out a whole item does not allow you to keep them name. Period.
Actually, I liked the bar. Probably more than the regular Snickers bar, because it isn’t quite as sweet (because of the nuts) and if it’s possible, it’s more satisfying that way. It’s a calorie laden bar - 290 to be exact and at over 2 ounces, it’s no wonder it satisfies (that’s only 10 more calories than the regular Snickers bar and one more gram of protein). Now if they decided to make the Snickers Almond bar into an Xtreme, I am so there!
Here’s something I learned last week: The Snickers bar was named after one of the Mars family horses. You can read more about the Snickers history (which is pretty interesting) at the Snickers site.
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
Look, they’re little candy bars shaped like hippopotami! How can you not want one?
The first thing I thought of, of course, is the children’s board game, Hungry Hungry Hippos! Except in this case, you eat the hippos instead of the hippos eating marbles.
Why are they Happy Hippos?The candy is basically a formed wafer shell filled with a hazelnut cream (think Nutella) and partially covered in a white coating. It comes in two varieties - Biscuit (unwrapped) which is all vanilla and milk and Cacao (wrapped and smashed) which is half hazenut/milk filling and half chocolate paste. Wouldn’t you be happy if you were filled with hazelnut paste?
The Biscuit one reminded me a lot of the Kinder Bueno I tried last year, but not quite as chocolatey. The appeal is certainly the little look of the hippo as you bite off his head.
The Cacao has a much richer flavor set with the addition of the chocolate cream. It’s a little sticky and not quite as tasty (at least in recollection) to the Kinder Bueno. The crunch of the wafer shell is pretty awesome though. If you like KitKat’s little wafers and wish there were more in there, this might be a bar to seek out (or its cousins - Kinder Bueno, Duplo or Tronky).
POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:55 am
Monday, June 5, 2006
I had to look up what a praline is, because I’ve seen so many different versions over the years. And it’s really not helped me to figure out what exactly is and isn’t a praline. In Europe a praline is usually a nut and sugar paste, often used as a filling.
But for the purposes of this post, in the American South the praline is a highly nutted fudge - composed of sugar and butter and sometimes cream that’s caramelized to a dry, crumbly, melt-in-your mouth consistency. Some pralines, such as those from Texas are a bit softer like a caramel.
These pralines, in plain and chocolate are from the Charleston Candy Kitchen (they also have a store in Savannah), a gift from my vacationing neighbors. They’re sizable plops filled with plump and sweet pecans. The candy mixture melts in the mouth with a slight cooling feeling. At first there’s a slight grain of the sugar and a moment later it’s all collapsed into a thick and sweet syrup on the tongue with a strong pecan/maple flavor.
The chocolate ones had the addition of cocoa to them, but it wasn’t quite as satisfying as a good chocolate fudge because it lacked that creamy component. They were tasty, but the plain ones were more satisfying in their pure expression of pecan-ness. I ate them all ... it was probably well over a half a pound and it took me about 30 hours, but I wolfed all four pieces down. I’m glad they didn’t come with a nutrition label.
Pralines are kind of like fudge. I don’t often buy them but if I do have them, it’s a regional thing. Kind of like salt water taffy ... it’s the kind of candy you bring home from a trip. Maybe next week I’ll blog about the chocolate covered macadamia nuts from Hawaii.
Does anyone else know of regional candies that folks bring back as gifts? What was the best one you got?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.