Monday, April 10, 2006
Last year my favorite discovery was Scharffen Berger’s Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs. I think I might be in love all over again with the nibs from sweetriot. For those of you who haven’t been following along, cacao nibs are roasted cocoa beans that are ready to be made into chocolate. Everything that makes chocolate chocolate is inside the bean, the cocoa butter and what becomes cocoa powder. A plain cacao nib is rather sour, kind of grainy and has very little of the buttery crunch we associate with most nuts. It’s more like eating a coffee bean than a peanut. As a solo snack, they’re an acquired taste, but they make a great addition to salads or thrown into muffins or cookies.
Sweetriot sent me this fun little “spring fling” pack, which holds three different little upright tins of chocolate covered cacao nibs - each covered with a different blend of chocolate. 50% cocoa solids, 65% cocoa solids and the masterful 70% cocoa solids (with a hint of coffee).
The little tins are rather small, and to be honest when I first read about these on CandyAddict early this year I thought they were extremely expensive. At $6 each for a tin (regular price), it’s about five times the price of the Scharffen Berger nibs (which I already thought were pricey).
What is especially compelling is the mission of the company and that they’re fair trade (though not certified yet). They’re also Kosher, gluten-free and made with non-genetically modified soy lecithin (also called GMO-free).
What’s also different about these and the Scharffen Berger is that the coating on the nibs is quite a bit thicker. Where the Scharffen Berger nibs were bumpy and craggy, the Sweetriot “peaces” are smooth like little nuggets of tumbled chocolate.
I started with the Flavor 50, and I’m not sure you can make it out in the photo, but they’re more milk-chocolate looking than the rest. They’re actually very sweet and mellow and had a very clean taste to them, that seemed to have more vanilla coming through than most chocolate. Each little tin includes a “fortune” which has a piece of trivia about where the cacao comes from. In this tin it said: “Cacao Country Brazil shares boundaries with every South American country but Chile & Ecuador.”
Next was Flavor 65, which has a very strong acidity and bitterness to it, with notes of cherry and apricot but a very strong scent of rum and cedar shavings. Like a complex wine, these make you want to keep shoveling them into your mouth so you can try to pin down the notes. The trivia snippet here: “The first inhabitants of Cacao Country Peru were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in Peruvian caves.”
The last was Flavor 70, a deep rich experience whole. I was expecting them to be as bitter and astringent as Flavor 65, but they were actually more mellow, but equally dark and complex. The coffee note was not overwhelming and this tin was sweeter smelling. There’s a dry finish and the fruity notes blend together without an overpowering single flavor coming through. The chocolate is smooth and of course the nibs provide an interesting nutty crunch. The geography trivia here: “Together, Cacao Countries Ghana, Cote d’Ivorie, Nigeria and Cameroon produce 70% of the world’s cacao.”
By far the balance of chocolate to nibs is better in the Sweetriot over the Scharffen Berger nibs. The only thing I have trouble getting over here is the price. While I support Fair Trade, I also don’t care for overpackaging of items. Yes, they’re cute and the artwork on the tins is certainly original. The only option for purchase here is in the tiny tin, and maybe I just want to buy a pound of them and keep refilling my individual tin. But the company is young and I’m willing to be patient for more options on purchasing. For now they’re fantastic-tasting and hard to beat on that score, but they cost a pretty penny (and when I say penny, I mean that each little morsel is more than a penny!).
If you’re a true chocoholic, now might be the time to give these a try. They’re on sale through April 14th at 25% off on the website. They are sold at a limited number of brick-and-mortar locations, but check their website for the latest updates.
UPDATE: I found them in the wild! I saw them at a health food store in Greenwich Village - and the going price is only $4.99 ... much better than the expected $6.00 (based on their web price). If you think about how much you’re willing to spend for a latte or ice blended whatever (or hot chocolate), it’s really a comparable treat and of course it’s small enough to tuck in a pocket or your bag.
UPDATED UPDATE (12/28/2006): The prices on the website have come down quite a bit, buying a box of 12 means that tins are only $4 each now. The 3 pack flavor set also has a price reduction (the packaging varies by season).
Friday, April 7, 2006
The Original “Flowing Center” Candy Cups!
I’ve come to realize that about half of how we experience things we eat has to do with experience that we bring to it. A piece of the most amazing cake or the best chocolate during a horrible dinner or at a traumatic time in your life may, actually, leave a bad taste in your mouth. The most mundane sugar morsel might be elevated to ambrosia based on other fantastic associations. Things like candied apples, candy corn and cotton candy all seem to benefit from this phenomenon.
Candy is most often associated with good experiences, as it’s often a reward or an indulgence in the first place. So Valomilks were getting high marks before I even ate them because of my pursuit of them and the lore associated with them.
But really, 2,400 words and four posts later, you’re wondering, what’s all the fuss about? Are they that good?
The chocolate is smooth, a little sugary and has a slight cool feeling when melting on the tongue. The cream is impossibly sticky, though I never had the “run down your chin” experience with them. The flattened marshmallow is sweet, without being cloying or sappy, but it lacks a vanilla kick I was hoping it would have. I was hoping for real vanilla bean essence here, and perhaps it’s my fault for making the candy into something in my head that it would never be. It was smooth, and it’s true that the chocolate and filling go together well, the proportions are just right, but to be honest ... I wasn’t that keen on them.
I’ve given them at least a half a dozen chances now. I’m not a neat freak, but I really don’t like being sticky. It’s just too hard to eat. As I sit here and eat another package of them, I have a moistened washcloth with me to keep wiping my hands and face. I end up taking bigger bites than I want, and instead of thinking about what I’m eating, I’m thinking about what a mess it is. Really, if there were a candy I could advocate for the nude, this would be it (as long as they’re not sitting near an ant hill).
I know there was a lot of build up in this series, but most of that is immaterial to the candy itself. I may end up doing the same for some other coveted bar in the future, though I hope it’s one that’s more transportable. I hope you’ve enjoyed the Saga of the Valomilk and hopefully the actual Valomilks should you get a chance to try them.
While I’m partial to Pocky, I’m trying to open up and try a few of the other dipped cookie sticks from Japan. Last week it was Yan Yan, this week I bring you Lucky Mini Almond Black.
These petite little sticks of chocolate flavored biscuit stucks are covered with a mix of dark chocolate and crushed almonds. Like Pocky, there’s a little bit of uncovered stick so you can grab it and not worry about melting the chocolate as you nibble.
The package holds a brown plastic tray with two sections filled with the sticks. Each stick is about 2.5” long. There are plenty of almonds and it’s got a good mellow crunch to the biscuit without being too sweet.
The ingredients have some oddities, including things like “cheese powder” and “cream powder” but these definitely have no hint of the cheesiness of the Yan Yan.
Overall, as a nuttier version of Pocky, this is pretty good. I actually like the high ratio of chocolate and nuts and the slightly flavored biscuit. It’s no Men’s Pocky, but it’s a great afternoon snack that doesn’t feel too decadent.
Thursday, April 6, 2006
While on that fateful trip to Pennsylvania in February I picked up some Mallo Cups. How could I not? They’re made right there in Altoona by the Boyer Candy Co. Soon, I will have tasted all the marshmallow cups there are. Boyer is known for cup candies, they also have the Smoothie Peanut Butter Cup, which has a devoted following.
The Mallo Cup is the East Coast version of the Cup-o-Gold which consists of a milk chocolate cup filled with marshmallow (of differing consistencies) and a little coconut on the top.
The coconut smell is quite apparent when raising the cup to the mouth. The chocolate is sweet and very creamy with the coconut bits providing a chewy texture. The marshmallow center is soft and runny, but not too flowing as to make a mess.
Like the Valomilk, the Mallo Cup suffers from some structural integrity issues - in this case the chocolate base is too thin, so I was not able to remove either cup in my package from the paper without leaving some chocolate behind - basically bottoming out. (If you look closely at the photo, which you can click to enlarge, you’ll see that there is no base at all as I wasn’t able to peel it off for the photo. Maybe refrigeration would help.) The marshmallow itself has a nice flavor and consistency - it’s not at all foamy but not viscous or grainy like some others marshmallows. It doesn’t have any perceptible flavor of its own so I came away with more of a chocolate/coconut vibe.
I liked it quite a bit better than the Cup-O-Gold, I liked the sweetness of the chocolate, nutty scent of the coconut and mellow filling and the proportions seem better balanced (the Cup-O-Gold seemed to be too much chocolate and of course was single cup in a package).
The unique selling proposition of the Boyer Candies, though, is the “Play Money Rebate Offer”. The tray in the Mallo Cup package is actually a coupon advertising their rebate program - save up 500 Points and you can get a $1.00 rebate. Each Mallo Cup tray is worth 5 points. Yes, you get a dollar for every 100 Mallo Cups you buy! The points are also good for other merchandise such as candy tins, sweatshirts, mugs and caps. I have no idea how long they’ve been doing this, but the copyright notice on the package says 1983.
Other opinions: Writers/Artists Snacking at Work gave it a 7.5, Candy Wrapper Museum just doesn’t like marshmallow, Taquitos.net thinks it smells like coconut and finally, read about the long road back for the Mallo Cup production line.
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
I’m not an energy drink person and I’m not one to start popping caffeine pills either. So what am I to do when I need a little pick-me-up?
A friend of ours who travels in Italy every year suggested Pocket Coffee! Basically it’s chocolate-covered Italian coffee. Because the sweet coffee center is concentrated, it only takes three chocolates to equal a single shot of espresso. Our friends like to get them for traveling as it’s more portable that hot coffee but has the same side effect. I’ve heard that it’s very popular with students, truck drivers and folks on night shifts.
Ferrero is a well-known Italian chocolate brand even here in the United States, with the elegant little Rochers and Nutella as their best-known products. In fact, I’ve never seen Pocket Coffee anywhere in the US before, but not for lack of trying. They’re not even made in the summer, so as a seasonal item it’s likely that getting one out of season means that it’s no longer fresh. But a no-so-fresh Pocket Coffee is just a different experience.
The candy is composed of a syrupy espresso center, then a light sugar crystal shell and then the chocolate. As the candies age the sugar shell will actually grow, taking sugar from the espresso syrup center to create a bigger shell. The ones I tried were a little old (purchased last fall) so they had the extra crystallized shell.
The coffee center is very sweet but smooth with a slightly acidic bite to it. The crystals provide a kind of funky crunch to it, but melt easily if you’re inclined that way. The chocolate is not too sweet and gives a good creamy boost to the whole mix. On the whole the candy is very sweet, a little too sweet for my tastes, but then again, it’s coffee candy. I’m not saying that I won’t eat it again ... though they are messy. If you’re driving, you’re obligated to pop the whole thing in your mouth but if you’re not, feel free to experiment with biting off a corner and sucking out the coffee first.
Finding them in the states may mean ordering online. They’re still being stocked at Capriflavors.com.
If only Cadbury Creme Eggs had a coffee version!
Monday, April 3, 2006
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to participate in the tasteEverything Independent Food Awards, I was thrilled to see the other awards given. But the first one that I made an effort to get a hold of was the Sahagun Salted Caramels. Since I’m not going to get to Portland anytime soon, my husband mentioned it to friends there and they went right out and
bought me some (and some for themselves)!
I’m not quite sure what they all are, but I had to start with the caramels, which I knew were the tall ones with the nuts on top because the one in the back was actually broken in shipping. These are fantastic! The chocolate is smooth and mellow and the caramel filling is unlike most other caramels I’ve ever had. It was dark and complex, with quite a bit of salt in it and a gooey but not flowing texture. I hesitate to say that it was jelly-like or custard-like, but it definitely wasn’t quite caramel. The crunch of the hazelnut on top brings all the textures together.
The real find is that amorphous blob there on the right. I had no idea what it was going to be. It was a dark chocolate shell with a white chocolate coconut center. It’s hard to describe. Instead of the drab sweet center of a Mounds bar, this is a delicate and mild buttery base filled with soft and chewy coconut. I have never experienced coconut like this before.
The coffee truffle (not pictured) was shaped like a big button and dusted with cocoa and very smooth and soft a very strong coffee flavor. It wasn’t sweet at all, just like a cup of coffee without sugar would be. It was quite a refreshing change from many of the “too sweet” Easter candies I’ve been gorging on.
The other sphere there on the left, that’s dusted with a luster powder, is a plain chocolate truffle. Like the coffee one, it wasn’t sugary at all, except this one has a chocolate shell, which adds a touch of sweetness. The center is buttery and dense and quite satisfying.
The little medallions of chocolate we also dusted with that luster powder. I find it a little unappealing, like someone spilled their eyeshadow on my candy. But it doesn’t taste like anything that I can tell. (I know these edible lusters are quite trendy now, but it you haven’t already guess, I’m not really the trendy sort.) The coins were simply dark chocolate and it gave me an opportunity to experience the chocolate used in all of these creations on its own. It’s mellow and only slightly sweet with a dry, bitter bite towards the end, as plain eating chocolate is quite nice, but it really shines when used in combination with the other ingredients here.
The last item I didn’t even take a photo of, it was a what I thought was a nut bark. Oh, I should have known that it wasn’t going to be run of the mill. I have no idea what it’s called, but it’s dark chocolate with spicy corn nuts. The salty, extra crunchy and slight burn of the corn nuts went really well with the chocolate. It hardly felt like a sweet at all, but was entirely satisfying and possibly addictive. Of course it’s probably a good thing
From everything I’ve heard the best part about Sahagun is visiting the shop, so if you’re in Portland, OR, make a point of it. They’re at 10 N.W. 16th Ave. You can read more in this interview at Portland Food and Drink.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:53 am
Friday, March 31, 2006
On one of my recent visits to Mitsuwa, the local Japanese grocery chain, I found this. Even the woman at the checkout thought it was cool.
Basically it’s a blister pack of M&M-style candies. The disc is the size of a regular CD with a larger hole in the middle. The candy coated treats aren’t quite real chocolate, there’s a large amount of vegetable oil in there in addition to the cocoa butter, so I knew before I even got them home that they wouldn’t really rival M&Ms or the fantastic seasonal Hershey’s Candy Coated Eggs.
Still, the sherbet colored candies and super-sealed individuality was compelling. My low expectations were completely met. The candies are well made, the shells are smooth and consistent but freakishly slippery. The taste is sweet and crunchy with a mild chocolatey taste, but of course the texture of the actual chocolate is rather lost.
I suppose blister packs for little candies is extra-hygienic, but I found that just as many of the candies wound up bouncing around and onto the floor as I tried to pop them out through the foil. It’s a fun novelty item, but in my mind if you’re going to go through the trouble of wrapping them up like this, at least do it with something of value.
Note: There are 26 candies in the disc.
A few weeks ago I posted about the darn tasty Milky Way Crispy Rolls from Germany. And of course they’re not available here, but luckily reader TheMatt pointed me to these:
I didn’t see them in milk chocolate, though I doubt that’s the version I would have picked up anyway. They were hidden away in the grocery candy aisle all the way down near the mixed nuts. The package hails that each stick has less than 100 calories (90 each, actually) but the small print underneath that says “not a low calorie food.” Yeah, each stick is also less than two thirds of an ounce. I find an ounce or an ounce and a quarter makes a good portion for me when I’m looking for a little sweet. So I’d be eating two of these. Still, at 180 calories that’d be a nice respite and still not the full 300 I budget for a day’s sweets.
Anyway, I digress from the real topic, which is these little crispy sticks. What we have here is a little tube of crispy, bland cookie - think ice cream cone - filled with a firm chocolate cream. The whole thing smells very sweet and a little like cereal. The chocolate isn’t spectacular. It’s sweet but smooth. The real fun is the flaky tube of cookie which is mostly texture and provides a nice crisp and of course acts as a container for the chocolate cream. The center cream is nice, it’s sweet and smooth and a little buttery.
On the whole, this isn’t the same as the Milky Way Crispy Rolls, but they’re certainly nice. If I were to have any chocolate cookie snack I wanted without regard to trans fats, it’d be the Lu Chocolatiers, but these are far superior in their portability. They’re pretty expensive as non-gourmet candy goes, so keep your eye out for sales if you fall in love with them.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.