Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Departures, the American Express magazine, has an incredible list of The Only 149 Chocolates You Need to Know About. Well, I didn’t count 149 manufacturers on Christine Muhlke’s list, but there’s some good stuff there, not just what to eat, but where to go on vacation for full immersion.
There are also some great quotes from other foodies and this was my favorite:
I happen to love See’s because it’s so dependably fresh and tasty and I don’t need hand painting on something that’s going in my tummy. Of course I’ll have to work my way through the list to see if they stay at the top!
(Link found via Roboppy - thanks!)
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Someone’s gone out and done the legwork for me! The Washington Post published a taste test of Hanukkah Gelt or Chocolate Coins, so if you’re looking for the pretty and tasty stuff, take a look at their list before you hit the store.
The good and unsurprising news is that See’s is at the top of the list along with Godiva as the best (See’s is far more affordable).
Of course there are dozens more brands, but always good to have something to go on.
Name: Dolfin Chocolat: Noir au Gingembre Frais, Au Lait au The Vert Sencha du Japon, Noir aux Fuelles de Menthe
I thought on the eve of the start of Whalewatch Season here in Southern California it was appropriate to review something under the brand name Dolfin (we see more dolphins on whale watching trips than whales anyway). The Man bought these bars for me recently at a wine & spirits store in our neighborhood. The gentrification of our little ‘hood means that the former liquor store now carries a wider selection of wines, beers and of course Belgian chocolate.
What drew him to the bars wasn’t the reviews but the fact that the bars are packaged in these plastic cloaked paper envelopes that reminded him of tobacco pouches. It’s actually a pretty simple and successful idea, a long bag that you fold over several times to keep a good seal. The bars inside are additionally sealed in little plastic sleeves but at 2.47 ounces, I wasn’t going to eat them all in one sitting and I appreciated having a clean and crisp way of carrying them around until I do.
Noir aux Fuelles de Menthe (Dark with Mint Leaves): Instead of being your common dark chocolate bar with mint oils in it, this bar contains real spearmint leaves. This was the least successful bar for me. The mint was nice and it being spearmint was a nice change from the more common peppermint, but the bar seemed a bit more chalky than the others. At first I thought it had bloomed, but the sheen was right and the snap looked good. I can only assume that it’s the interaction of the real mint leaves in there. They also make the bar kind of grainy. The sugar balance is good though and the mint is smooth and has some good tannins in it that mix well with the rich dark chocolate.
Noir au Gingembre Frais (Dark with Fresh Ginger): I’m a ginger nut and many of the ginger/chocolate combinations that I find are with milk chocolate, so finding one that was in dark chocolate is exciting. The bar had a good woodsy mix of scents - the spicy ginger and smoky chocolate. The dark chocolate is only 52% cacao (as is the mint one) but it just felt really rich and dense. It was a little grainy but had a lot of flavors in the mix with a good buttery base to help the ginger and chocolate mingle.
Au Lait au The Vert Sencha du Japon (Milk with Sencha Green Tea from Japan): Wow, this bar smells like green tea ice cream. The wonderful lightly floral and woodsy tea blends wonderfully with the delicately dairy tasting milk chocolate. The bar is smooth and very sweet except for the green tea bits. It makes the bar better for doing a bit of chewing before letting it melt on the tongue instead of leaving a tab of it on the tongue first. This is definitely a bar that I could eat a lot of and I’m hoping that even though it only has 32% cacao, the benefits of both the green tea and chocolate will bring me good health in the new year.
Dolfin has a huge line of these “creation” bars, including Masala (hot spices), aniseed, pink peppercorn and Earl Grey tea. They have boxes with tasting squares that look like they would make for a fun evening.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
There have been articles about this report floating around for the past few days, so I’m assuming most folks have heard that a new Swiss study has found that a little dark chocolate a day could help slow hardening of the arteries. They performed their small-scale experiment on a group of twenty male smokers. For the control group they consumed 1.5 ounces of white chocolate and the other group ate 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate a day. Then they took a look at their blood flow and determined that the dark chocolate eaters had better blood flow.
The article in Forbes magazine details some other reports as well that back this up. However, the article goes on to point out that dark chocolate is notoriously high in calories and fat. As a demonstration they say:
Okay, any idiot who eats candy knows that a dark chocolate Mounds (redundancy, hello?) is not really a chocolate bar, it’s a coconut bar covered in chocolate. The saturated fat in a Mounds bar comes from the coconut just as much the chocolate. Plus, why eat a Mounds bar for the dark chocolate benefit ... you should be eating one of Hershey’s new Extra Dark Chocolate. And while they’re at it they could mention that it contains 3 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, 20% of your RDA of iron and the fat is monosaturated. But really, there are lots of better ways to get your antioxidant boost from dark chocolate and one of them is using cocoa instead of chocolate. The antioxidant compounds are found in the cocoa solids (the control group used white chocolate, so they know it’s not the cocoa butter that’s having the positive effect), so adding cocoa to your sauces or stews might be a good start. Or a little pudding made with skim milk.
I think the next step, however, might be to find out if the same holds true in healthy non-smokers.
When I was a kid there was an amazing candy bar called the Marathon. It was made by Mars and came in a bright red wrapper and was almost ten inches long (the candy was only 8 inches). Inside was a braid of firm caramel covered in chocolate.
The Marathon bar came along at a time when I would guess I was particularly impressionable and it was a marvelous time in candy. New candies were being introduced that seemed to speak directly to my soul. It was at this time that things like Reese’s Pieces, Sprees & Starbursts came out and Pringles (okay, not a candy, but I’d buy them at the Stop ‘n Go). And let’s not forget Pop Rocks.
The Marathon bar was probably not marketed towards me. The commercial campaign I remember involved a square-jawed, white-toothed and practically perfect looking Patrick Wayne (son of John Wayne) who went by the name of Marathon John. This hero of little commerical stories did everything slow, like eating his Marathon bar. He had a nemesis in the commericals, a wirey fellow named Quick Carl. Quick Carl was careless and jumpy and was, of course, always foiled by Marathon John and his candy bar that you can’t eat quickly. (We didn’t have color TV back then, so the whole “red” thing was lost on me ... it’s not that I’m that old that I remember black & white TV, it’s just that we didn’t get one in my family until 1979).
My guess is that this long candy bar that came with a measuring stick on the back was aimed at adolescent boys. You know how obsessed they are with measuring things. And how often do you find yourself at lunch or hanging out at the park with your little paper bag of sweets and wanna measure something with your buds?
Anyway, the candy bar was introduced in 1973 by Mars and discontinued it in 1981. But of course once you discontinue a candy bar the fans come out of the woodwork. The bar has been gone for more than twenty years and still there are rabid admirers who insist that it be returned to the American Pantheon of candy bars. I suspect that one of the issues with it is its non-standard size. It just doesn’t fit on the shelves the same way and slotting is important for the big candy manufacturers. But Cadbury seems to be doing fine with the Curly Wurly ... but for all I know their biggest market may be the United States and these folks in their forties who insist that there is no other candy bar for them than an eight inch braid of caramel covered with chocolate.
A few years ago Mars resurrected the name Marathon but this time gave it to an “energy bar” type candy. I’ve never tried it.
If you’re looking for a fix now that you’ve waxed as nostalgic as I have, pick up the Cadbury Curly Wurly bar. You can find them in the UK or Canada or perhaps in the States at a shop that carries UK imports and of course online. Old Time Candy has a nice page about Curly-Wurly and the Marathon Bar Here’s my review of the Curly Wurly (I gave it an 8 out of 10). The only question that remains (and perhaps you dear readers can help) is who came up with the bar first? Was it a Cadbury product that was licensed by Mars just as Hershey licensed KitKat from Rowntree (well, now Nestle)? Or did Mars come up with it and it was successful enough in the UK to continue?
Dang if these aren’t the cutest candy with a shell to come along in years. Vibrant primary and secondary colors in that familiar Kiss shape only smaller and more “poppable.” When I saw the promo stuff on the internet at first they looked a lot like the tops of crayons and now that I have them in front of me I still think that. The shells aren’t quite as pretty and consistent as an M&M, but the vibrancy of the colors is pretty phenomenal.
Though Hershey’s Kisses are wonderful little candies, Hershey found out long ago that folks only buy them in large bags. Hershey tried for a while to launch smaller bags, but people just don’t buy them that way. Here’s an easier way to take Hershey Kisses to a movie (less unwapping, thankyouverymuch).
But let’s get to the eating, because convenience and color doesn’t mean diddly if it’s not tasty. These are tasty. I bought two bags - one to spill out in front of the unopened package (you actually get more than shown in the photo in the package, I ate or rejected about ten of them). The shell is a lot like the familiar M&M shell, it’s crunchy, sweet and has no flavor of its own like the UK Smarties do. The little fellows are about the size of chocolate chips instead of the large Kisses. The inside is Hershey’s chocolate - very sweet, a little milky and with an overall pleasant smoothness. The biggest issue I have with this is that I can’t eat them quite like M&Ms. When I’m eating a plain M&M, I’ll arrange the candy in my teeth on edge and crack it so that one half of the shell falls away and I get pure crunch, then mostly chocolate. These just don’t cleave that way. But maybe I’ll find some other interesting way of eating them, at the moment biting off the little tips seems pretty fun.
If you like M&Ms, you’ll probably like these. I don’t see Hershey’s coming out with a version with nuts anytime soon, as there’s just no room in there for one (well, maybe a sesame seed). Interesting fact: when M&Ms were first developed they contained Hershey’s chocolate. In fact, one of the Ms in M&M is for Hershey’s sales manager, William Murrie (or his son Bruce who was in business with Forrest Mars during the period they developed the candy-coated chocolate). They were made with Hershey’s up until the late sixties (I can’t find the exact date).
Other Reviews - CandyAddict gives it a positive, Accidental Hedonist’s musings on candy coated chocolates, JunkFood Blog points out that these are made without peanut traces, which M&Ms are not.
Rating - 8 out of 10
UPDATE 8/7/2008: Hershey’s reformulated Kissables sometime in 2008 and they are no longer made with real chocolate. Full review & comparison here.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Name: Jelly Belly Classic Candies - Jelly Belly jelly beans, Fruit Pectin, Jordan Almonds, JBz, Cinnamon Bears, Dutch Mints, Licorice & Berry Mix
At the beginning of December I took a trip to San Francisco and had to stop at the Jelly Belly factory (see that article with pics here). I was lucky enough to have a guided tour of the facility by none other than the publicist for the company, Tomi Holt. At the end of my factory tour she wanted me to try more of the Jelly Belly line than just the jelly beans. She picked out a few items including this box called Classic Candies which includes samples of many of the candy in Jelly Belly’s line (see my review of their Malted Milk Balls). A lot of it was surprising to me, I didn’t know they made pectin fruits or gummis and if you’re looking for some new tastes without buying a full package this is a good option.
Of course the box contains a good assortment of the most popular Jelly Belly flavors incuding Lemon, Sizzling Cinnamon, Cotton Candy, Licorice, Green Apple, Peach, Very Cherry, Buttered Popcorn, Blueberry and Juicy Pear. I have to admit that I’m not fond of all of them, but I appreciate the complexity of the flavors. The peach is a good example. While many “peach flavored” things get one or two notes of peach in there, somehow the Jelly Belly tastes like it has fuzz (I consider that an accomplishment). My favorites are Licorice, Sizzling Cinnamon and Lemon, but some others are growing on me like Cotton Candy and Blueberry. If you’ve never had a Jelly Belly, the first thing you should know is that they contain no gelatin. So if you’re a vegan, you can eat these! (Though the plant uses milk in some products and cannot guarantee that there aren’t traces.) They’re also Kosher.
The Raspberries and Blackberries were another pleasant surprise. I was expecting those German berries that I’ve had before that are nice, but a little sweet and a little chewy. These are tart and flavorful, with a complex combination of the sour, the crunchiness of the sprinkles that mimic berry seeds and then a good aromatic lingering aftertaste. This was much more pronounced in the blackberry, which was downright pungent.
I’m adding this little gem in here even though it wasn’t in the box. They’re called “Champagne Bubbles” and they’re very much like the Raspberries & Blackberries in that it’s a tart fruit jelly/gummi center with a crunchy shell of dots. The flavor here is a rather bubbly white grape juice that actually has a little sizzle. They’re not as aromatic as the berries but they’re easier to eat in large quantities that way. The sassy appearance makes them a good item to use for weddings and showers if you want a little change from Jordan Almonds.
I didn’t even know Jelly Belly made these! They’re gummi bears in a zesty cinnamon flavor. They’re sanded with sugar and not the same gummi we’re used to from Europe. They’re more of a jelly chew but they’re positively hot. I guess that’s why they call them Unbearably Hot Cinnamon Bears.
It’s odd that one of the things that started this Jelly Belly oddysey was an email I got from a former member of the marketing team at Jelly Belly. He complimented me on the blog and then suggested that I give JBz another try (pronounced Jay-Bees) since they’re reformulated them. I’m not really into trying things I didn’t like again, but I’ll have to admit that I wanted to like these and of course free samples never hurts. I’m going to guess, first of all, that the box I got at Bed, Bath and Beyond was probably a little old and perhaps suffered from sitting around with too many scented soaps. The JBz that I tried at the Factory and in this box were actually really good. The chocolate itself is still very sweet and lacks it’s own chocolate punch, but as a medium for delivering the other flavors, it’s very successful. I liked the capuccino and chocolate caramel ones best (but then again I got a lot of those in my assortment).
No company that does panning can call themselves that unless they make Jordan Almonds. I don’t know who thought up making an inpenetrable shell on a rather large nut, but there you have it. Perhaps you’re not supposed to bite them, but I can’t help it. The coating is smooth and crunchy and the almonds are large and top grade.
I reviewed the Jelly Belly Confections Licorice Bridge Mix some months ago and I was pleased by it, but not wowed. I have now found that my mix may have been a little stale (it was on sale), as this stuff was softer and more flavorful. At the time I gave them a harsh 6 out of 10. While I still like a little more licorice inside my pastels, these were very nice since they were soft and chewy. The colorful dots are just so joyfully pretty (I’ve since bought them at a Sweets Factory just because I liked the look of them) and the other black and white dots are nice and mild (think of licorice flavored candy corn).
Another fun thing that Jelly Belly makes is Dutch Mints. They’re a mint fondant-type center covered with a thin layer of chocolate and then given a candy shell. Instead of a high gloss, Dutch mints have a soft, matte finish that always makes them look so soothing. (It also seems to make them nearly impossible to photograph well.) The shell is cool to the tongue and kind of slick, then it releases a huge burst of mint. The chocolate is subtle, really barely noticeable, after all this is all about the mint. The centers are soft without being gooey.
Tomi and I also spend some time in the store while we were there since that’s the one place to see all the candies Jelly Belly makes, not just the ones being produced that week. One of the things she introduced me to were the Pectin Fruits. She pulled out a clear pineapple one for me to taste and can I just use the phrase “bursting with flavor?” It was seriously fruity and had many of the pineapple notes, not just the tart one, but those aromatics and that actual piney taste that a pineapple has. The only thing I was disappointed about was that there was no pineapple one in this box. I did get to try the raspberry and again I have to say that I am usually not a fan of raspberry flavored things, however this tastes like it’s got raspberries in it. The citrus ones are zesty and tart with a well-rounded flavor. The jelly is firm without being too sticky or crusty. I’ve always loved orange slices and spearmints leaves but since tasting these I may never go back. Even the lime was complex, with more than the “household cleaner” smell to it.
I didn’t photograph these, but you know what they look like: Candy Corn. After years of eating old, stale and waxy candy corn this was pretty good stuff. It’s sweet and slightly chewy. Not terribly complex but nice and all the little pieces were wonderfully consistent looking.
One of the newer products (also not in the box) is their Mint Trio. I’m glad Jelly Belly is finally putting out a contender for the pocket mint business. This sassy little trio has peppermint (Jelly Belly sadly discontinued the blue mint years ago), spearmint and wintergreen. I know that a lot of folks don’t like wintergreen but I’m a huge fan. All the beans have a huge boost of mint in them and will easily work as breath mints if you choose. They’re easy to share and I don’t know of many multi-mint breath mint options out there in one package. (Maybe those mint Skittles.) The only problem with them is that I haven’t seen them anywhere but the Jelly Belly store!
Last, I tried a few Bertie Botts while I was at the store. I’m not really into eating gross things, I generally want to like what I eat. But I did try a few that I actually liked and ended up buying a mix of. If you have the opportunity to just do a mix of the “tasty” Bertie Botts, I can recommend Grass (which is just a mellow, fresh flavor), Black Pepper (sweet and hot) and Soap (if you just think of it as a floral bouquet and not like soap it’s tasty).
Whew! That’s a lot of candy. Overall I give the Jelly Belly top marks for consistent quality, diverse flavors and innovation. They’re a little more expensive than most “sugar” candies out there, but I think you’re getting a lot for the money when you consider that you’re getting such consistency and flavor packed into those little beans. However, at those prices, unless you like all the flavors, go for a bulk pick-a-mix where you can get just the ones you like. I’m fond of their citrus flavors so when I was there I made my own mix which was Tangerine, Pink Grapefruit, Lemon, Lemon Drop, and Margarita. Not only are they zesty, saliva-gland-popping flavors, they go really well together. They even had a new flavor there that may not be in wide release yet called Pomegranate (the red one there). It was interesting, rather like a cross between raspberry and cranberry - good tartness but a lot of floral flavors to it. It didn’t taste like pomegranate to me, but it was certainly good.
Rating - 9 out of 10 for general Jelly Belly line of products
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Name: Bits ‘n Fits and Bits ‘n Mints
I got a wondeful package last week from a reader, Michal, in Israel. (I sent her some stuff too, but sadly it has not arrived yet.) It was a huge box of all sorts of goodies that will take me about a month to savor properly (and photograph & review, fear not!).
The first grouping I have is from Hachez, which is a German chocolate company that’s been around since 1880. These (except for the dark chocolate one) are from their Cocoa de Maracaibo line. It’s an exceptionally rich milk chocolate that boasts 55% cacao from Venezuela. In the States the government says that you only need to have 10% cocoa solids to call your concoction Milk Chocolate. In Europe that standard is at least 25% cocoa solids. Even most semi-sweet chocolates don’t have 55% cocoa solids in them!
The most amazingly cool things are their “Bits” tins. The tin shape might be a bit familiar to some folks as it seems to be identical to those that hold “Hint Mints” that can be found at places like Cost Plus World Market and coffee shops everwhere. The neat thing about the Hint Mints is that the curved tin makes it easy to keep in a pocket. You don’t really wanna do that with a tin full of chocolate. But it’s a really elegant way to be social with your chocolate when you pull one of these out and offer a little chocolate nibble to a friend or someone you want to impress.
The dense milk chocolate for the Bits ‘n Mints is a little different. I wouldn’t call it waxy, but it doesn’t yield immediately. It sits on the tongue as it warms than then suddenly melts into a consistent puddle. It’s probably because there’s less fat in it than I’m used to in a milk chocolate. It takes a moment for it to come to body temperature, then it’s very smooth. I mean, really smooth. It’s literally like butter with a wonderful rich chocolate taste (very little milk taste to it) and a good cooling mint essence.
The Bits ‘n Fits are unlike anything else I’ve had before and pure little pebbles of delight. The outside is the same milk chocolate but the center is a mix of amazing roasted flavors. Inside is what I can only call a hazelnut toffee with a huge boost of coffee flavor. A warning though, the package says that not only does it have 1% espresso powder, it also contains 1% guarana, which is a cousin of caffeine except more expensive. I don’t know what that makes the “speed” content of this candy but at a little more than 1 ounce, you probably can’t go too wrong. They’re sweet and have a combination of textures that makes me wish they sold them around here.
Name: Longs - Cocoa de Maracaibo Classic & Espresso and Cocoa d’Arriba Orange
Cocoa de Maracaibo Classic - like the Bits ‘n Mints, this bar was incredibly buttery without being oily. The first ingredient for Hachez’s milk chocolate is not sugar, not butter and not milk solids, it’s Cocoa Butter. My favorite butter! The milk solids come in at 18% so there’s very little room for sugar in there. The milk flavors are much more evident in this bar than the Mints or the Espresso bar below. The milky flavor is very European like a much smoother, refined version of a Cadbury.
Cocoa de Maracaibo Espresso - similarly smooth and slick tasting, this bar has an intense burst of espresso flavor. Actually, don’t think of it as flavor as in something that comes out of a bottle, it tastes like freshly ground coffee smells.
Cocoa d’Arriba Orange - This particular Longs falls under the Cocoa d’Arriba line, which is 77% cacao chocolate from Ecuador. The bar smells like a combination of orange rinds and dark cocoa. With all the cocoa solids in this bar, there’s very little room for sugar. The bar is certainly chocolate with a substantial bitter bite but no real acidity or dryness that some bars have. It has woodsy flavors and of course the intense orange essence. I really liked this bar but probably couldn’t eat as much of it as I could with the Cocoa de Maracaibo bars.
I’ve seen some of the Hachez product in stores before and I hope they make a bigger run at the American market. I think this Cocoa de Maracaibo is unlike most other mid-density chocolate available right now. It’s rich without being too dense and retains all the wonderful qualities of the cocoa butter that so many high-end chocolate seem to sacrafice for that high cacao percentage.
I also have to commend Hachez for their website. Though it doesn’t break out info on all their products individually, they do have an English version and the photography and additional pages are really wonderful.
Ratings: Bits ‘n Mints and Bits ‘n Fits - 9 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.