Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Name: Out of Africa Macadamia Nut Chocolates
I don’t think I’ve had a better story to accompany a candy for this blog than this one. The short story is a friend, Will, went to Africa and brought me this candy.
The long (and great) story that goes with it is one of the internet, passions and following dreams. Will and I met while writing novels (actually we met while drinking coffee and procrastinating writing novels) and have gone on to have many adventures together like walking the Los Angeles Marathon, writing more novels, hiking to the bridge to nowhere and a half a dozen photo safaris.
Well, damn if he didn’t go off and go on a real life safari and take a gazillion photos with his new bride viewing African wildlife. And damn if he wasn’t sweet, and brought me something I’d probably never have otherwise:
Inside this cute little box that looks like something someone would bring back from an African safari, including the name, “Out of Africa.” Inside is a plump macadamia nut covered in sweet milk chocolate. Simplicity itself. Thank goodness those candy makers realize that this will spend its time in a suitcase and they’ve packaged the candies in a little tray. Sweet!
I had three for breakfast this morning (and two when I took the photos). Only one left!
Rating - 7 out of 10
Friday, August 26, 2005
Before I had a candy blog I had trouble getting people to bring me gifts from their travels. Maybe I was too embarrassed to actually ask for candy from other countries, but now it’s a given that if any of my friends (hell, friend’s friends) goes anywhere interesting, they are tasked with bringing something back.
At first the name was kind of scary. Krachnuss sounds like “knuckle cracker” to me. And that hazelnut on the package? It’s bigger than a chestnut. However, open up the wrapper and it’s pure delight.
Those are whole hazelnuts in there. It makes for a rather lumpy bar and the hazelnuts are poorly distributed, but man are they good! Not roasted too long, they have an excellent snap and slightly sweet tinge to their nuttiness. The milk chocolate is sweet and smooth and doesn’t try to upstage the delicate hazelnuts. I love hazelnuts, by the way (or filberts as they’re called in the Pacific Northwest) and love how they’re the peanuts of Europe. Even the packages, which give information about possible allergens only mention soy and almonds - there’s no note about any peanuts.
Over the past few weeks the topic of Ice Cubes has come up a few times. At a party, in my interview on Radio Open Source and when Jay gave me this candy bar. For those of you not familiar with Ice Cubes, they’re a little chocolate cubes made with hazelnut paste. However, the pernicious part about them is that the first ingredient is hydrogenated coconut oil. I’m lucky my arteries are still open. My first year in the dorms in college there was a little store on campus that let you use your meal card to buy food - I bought a tub of 100 of these (probably cost me the equivalent of 10 meals). Though I love them, I’ve been trying to resist them ever since then.
Well, along comes a Ragusa bar, and thank goodness the Swiss have made a more wholesome version. You can’t tell from the photo, but the bar is about 5 inches long, 1 inch wide and 3/4” high, and pretty dense for its volume. This little bar is filled with a smooth and cool truffley filling and studded with whole hazelnuts. (If this sounds good, you might also want to try Perugina’s Baci.) Man, this is a good breakfast. The nuts give it just enough of a protein balance to keep the sugar charged filling from causing glycemic overload.
The bar is a bit messy to eat. It’s wrapped in a thick aluminum foil and the chocolate coating only covers the top and bottom, so the sides get kind of sticky. I still haven’t managed to get to the end of the bar and master popping the last of it out of the wrapper. It’s also been a bit warm here in Southern California the past few days and I wasn’t keeping this in the fridge, so on top of its natural softness, it’s downright limp. I might just go get a spoon.
Ratings - Krachnuss - 8 out of 10
Thursday, August 25, 2005
This is not a new product to me, however, I’ve gotten a couple of notes (one email and one comment) to review this, so here goes. My husband bought a set of three of the unique origins bars one year before vacation and we took them with us to rocky beaches, windswept dunes and rolling oak-dotted hills of the central Californian coast, so any pleasant past associations with the bars must be taken into account.
The bars in question were from the cocoa crop of 2004. The freshness date said they were best before 04/2007.
First was the Guaranda, which is 71% cocoa solids of forastero arriba cocoa from Ecuador. The tasting notes on the back: “Perfumed aroma with fruity, acid notes and floral tones of acacia honey, with milky and exotic wood nuances. Typical personality of the cocoa bean: smooth dark chocolate taste with floral tones of honeyed character.” The ingredients are simple: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter and soya lecithin.
My tasting notes: the scent is woodsy, smoky and a bit like coffee. The surface is smooth and shiny (better than the photo) with a red hint to it. Upon biting into it, it snaps easily and melts quickly on the tongue. The cocoa mass is very smooth, not at all gritty. It’s very dry yet the cocoa butter gives it a slippery, cool feeling on the tongue. I don’t detect much of the honey notes, but the butteryness gives it a sort of empty feeling, like there’s a top and bottom but no middle flavors.
Next was Ocumare, which is 71% cocoa solids of criollo cocoa from Venuzuela. The tasting notes on the back: “Smooth perfumed aroma with tones of exotic wood, nuts and dried fruit as well as spicy nuances. Refined and lasting taste, balanced and round at the same time. Also, aspects of cedar, tobacco and dried plums are particularly noteworthy.” The ingredients are the same as the first: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter and soya lecithin.
My tasting notes: the smell is woodsy with more of a fruit note to it, perhaps apple. The color is a dark and consistent brown with a good snap to the bite. It immediately starts to melt on the tongue. It has a rounder flavor just as the package suggests with more middle notes of sweet apple or apricot (I’m not catching the plum here). It’s a much fuller flavor from top to bottom with absolutely no grain to it. Towards the end there’s less of a dry finish but a nice lingering woodsy note.
For high end 70%+ bars, I think these are the best I’ve tried to date. Though the single origin means that you may never get these bars again, they’re wonderfully balanced with an excellent smoothness. I do think overall that I prefer a blended chocolate to get the full-bodied taste with a multitude of notes (like a chorus instead of a soloist) but if you hadn’t told me that they were single origins, I could still state unequivocally that these are good bars. Where I find so many upscale bars lacking in the cocoa butter/smoothness factor, these bars excel at the melting and without any graininess at all.
I wouldn’t say that they’re worth more than $3.50 per bar though, like you might be charged some places. So if you can get them at a Trader Joe’s or other similar economical location (maybe Cost Plus carries them), they are the best $2 you can spend on a high-cocoa content bar.
Interesting facts from the package: Chocovic is based in Barcelona, Spain and has been in business since 1872.
Rating - 9 out of 10.
Monday, August 22, 2005
I actually had three bars but ate one before I could take its picture (milk chocolate in a saffron yellow wrapper), so pretend there’s a third one in there.
I was excited that Trader Joe’s was carrying these because I was hoping that it meant that they’d be a little less expensive (which they are). Still, I’m not sure I’m on board with this high end chocolate bar movement. Perhaps I’m just looking for a different thing in my chocolate than some other folks.
I think cocoa is great, it’s obviously one of those things that makes chocolate unique, that blend of earthy roasted flavors with those fruity notes that many people compare to wine or coffee. But what makes chocolate so great, for me, is cocoa butter. It’s one of those rare fats that is solid at room temperature and melts at body temperature. It makes it smooth and creamy and portable. Sharffen Berger chocolate bars lack that smooth and lustrous feeling on the tongue.
Scharffen Berger, I think, can be described as sour. There’s a pervasive acidic note in all their chocolates that I’ve tried and I don’t find it pleasant. It does provide a good base (except for the fact that acids are not bases as in alkaline) for the other flavors. In the pure dark chocolate I tasted some fruit notes: grape, apricot and some apple. I also tasted some oaky/woodsy notes and something which reminded me of lichens or wood ear mushrooms.
I know Sharffen Berger has its aficionados, but I don’t count myself among them. The product was definitely consistent and for a high-end chocolate, Trader Joe’s has certainly made it more accessible. I can definitely see this as good cooking chocolate - I wouldn’t hesitate to add some of their cocoa to my chili (yes, I put cocoa in my chili), but for eating it just leaves me, well, unaffected.
Rating - 6 out of 10.
Friday, August 19, 2005
Does this candy bar look familiar to anyone? I picked this up because it looked like a KitKat bar on the package and found that it looked just like it inside too. However, instead of four little bars, there were three. Unfortunately this is no match for KitKat - the first ingredient is sugar, and after opening the package and that sweet smell, it was obvious. The second ingredient is not milk chocolate or even cocoa butter but hydrogenated oil. That means this isn’t real chocolate on the outside? Nope, it’s not. It even gives you a hint to that in the description - “wafer fingers in milk compound chocolate.” Think “cheese food.”
However, the wafers were wonderfully crisp and the chocolate compound ratio to the wafers was nice. There was also a nice hint of hazelnut to it. If I found myself in Turkey and really wanted a candy bar, I might actually seek this one out, if only for its familiarity.
So, as far as DiDo goes, I’ll keep buying her albums, but she can keep her candy bar.
Interesting note - Dido is the Queen (and founder) of Carthage.
Rating - 6 out of 10 (but if they were made with real chocolate it’d be an 8)
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Name: Toffee Crisp
I have to say that I think I am always bound to like candy that comes in orange wrappers. Perhaps it’s that I already associate it with Reese’s which is a fine brand. The package describes it as “toffee and crisped cereal filled milk chocolate” which I’d probably reverse and call it chocolate covered toffee and crisped cereal, but really, they’ve got all the bases filled.
This combo might sound familiar to those who have had a Nestle 100 Grand, which is milk chocolate and crisped rice covering caramel. In this incarnation the crisped rice is mixed in some sort of toffee flavored cream (and not in with the chocolate covering) and then has a stripe of caramel on the top and is then covered in crumbly milk chocolate (it could be that my bar was beaten up).
It’s sweet and really satisfying because it’s so big. (I don’t think the photo conveys the size, think of a fat Snickers bar.) The toffee part of is a bit lost on me, as far as I can tell there is no actual toffee in here. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough. This bar would fit into my list of bars to eat when I’m hankering for a crunchy bar. Much better than a Crunch or Krackle because of the added creamy crisped rice and you know I never argue with good chewy caramel. It’s kind of like the Whatchamacallit, except it doesn’t have a peanut butter component (but if they made one, I’d be down with that).
Rating - 7 out of 10
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Thanks goodness Ikea’s proclivity for sassy names does not extend to their treats at the food section. I have enough trouble buying candy shaped like rats that looks like the felt pulled out from a highlighter pen that I don’t need it to be further called Bjarf, Puke or Funkis.
Name: Licorice Boats
I gave these to Russ to try the other night and he agreed that, “The licorice in my licorice boat had already set sail.” These are definitely sweet - you just open the bag and the sugary smell permeates the air. But there’s no there there. The jelly center has a bit of a licorice perfume to it, but no bite. I think I’ve come to expect molasses with my licorice as it’s a good anchor for the flavor.
Name: Jelly Rats
They’re rather scary looking, and I’m telling you that’s the actual color - some sort of slightly translucent-neon hazard color. They also have a strong sweet smell infused with violet which didn’t thrill me, but biting into them I found a nice, tart and fruity jelly candy. The flavors aren’t complex or strong, but just nice. If I am planning on having a Swedish jelly candy though, I really want some Swedish fish.
Name: Marabou Milk Chocolate with Nuts
This was the positive find in the whole experience. They’re little chunks of milk chocolate with crushed hazelnuts. Really creamy, very sweet with good nuts. The chocolate is smooth and the toasty taste of the nuts infuses it well.
It’s simple and satisfying. The roll is easy to share and I might make a point to pick these up at the start of my shopping experience at Ikea as a little boost. I ate them all before I finished typing this review.
Ratings: Licorice Boats - 4 out of 10
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
I have it on good authority that the translation of this candy is, loosely, Kitten Tongues. I suppose they do kind of look like tongues. Having never eaten a real kitten tongue (or any part of a kitten for that matter), I can’t say that they do or don’t taste like them.
The little tray box slides open to reveal an array of these chocolate tongues in a piece of wax paper. Unfortunately they taste rather like wax paper. They could be stale (after all, they’ve been passed through at least two people before getting to me). But the expiration says they’re good until October ‘05. The chocolate is slightly stale and doesn’t melt quickly. It’s sweet and milky, like most European milk chocolate, but not terribly flavorful otherwise.
It’s too bad too, because the photos of the kittens are as cute as can be (I’ve seen other photos on the ‘net and it seems that there are different kittens for different varieties of the chocolates). I have to say that if I were ever in a position to buy these again, I probably will, if only for the novelty of it. I can’t fathom where I’d be where they’d carry them (besides Prague) but at least now I’ve had them and know what I’d be buying (not like that time I tried to buy saffron in Spain and ended up with a tea for air sickness).
Rating - 5 out of 10.
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