Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Last week I profiled the exceptional and hard to find gummis from Sugarfina. They also sent a second Bento box to me with chocolate items. They’re all panned candies but a far more diverse selection from the gummis. Most are made in the US, and like the gummis, Sugarfina doesn’t specify who makes them.
Vanilla Bean Malt Balls: The white chocolate coating is flecked with vanilla bean bits. The pieces smell strongly of vanilla with a hint of toffee and coffee in there. The coating is sweet and milky, but completely overwhelmed by the bourbon-y vanilla. There’s also a fair bit of salt in there, so it wasn’t as sickly sticky feeling as it could have been. There’s a layer below that, perhaps a dark chocolate but mostly it’s there to break up the sweetness. Below that is the crunchy center, which has a mild cereal flavor but not much in the way of malt.
The whole effect is satisfying, but in the sense that I didn’t need to eat more than two in one serving. So even though the package was small and had very few pieces in it, I never felt the need to gobble the whole thing up.
Single Malt Scotch Cordials: are a classic from Koppers. While I love the panned cordials, these raised my expectations a little too high. I’m good with a comforting rum flavored cordial without complaint. But these were labeled as single malt scotch. Though they have a little stronger note of leather or tobacco, they’re not terribly different from the ordinary flavored cordials. I’ll probably stick to the rum or cognac version in the future.
If you’ve never had them, there’s a liquid center, which is a little flavored syrup, then a sugar crusted shell then a layer of dark chocolate. The sugar shell makes it all very sweet.
The Espresso Caramels were very similar to the Trader Joe’s Butterscotch Caramels (which I suspect are made by Marich). They’re wonderfully proportioned with a fair amount of mild semi-sweet chocolate and a nugget of soft, chewy caramel at the center. The coffee notes were not particularly strong, but still created a satisfying candy.
The Marshmallow S’Mores are an extraordinary little construction. At the center is a little marshmallow, then a milk chocolate coating. What sets this apart is the dusting of graham cracker on the outside. The marshmallow is mild and also kind of tiny, so all it does is make the whole thing lighter and easier to chew without giving it the doughy puff of sugar that I usually associate with Smores. The milk chocolate is sweet and very milky which offsets the graham crackers slightly salty and cereal flavors. I didn’t really care for the graham notes, mostly because they seemed a bit on the stale side, for crumbs.
Pastel Malted Milk Eggs are a classic. It’s hard to not like them, even when they’re bad. There were only four of them in the little box, because they were each so big. The malt was good, crunchy and dense. The chocolate was okay, it didn’t add much to it, as is usually the case with pastel eggs because of the crunchy shell. I’d eat a lot of these if I had them.
Peanut Butter Caramels are not new to me. I tried them a few years back after hearing the concept and being intrigued. It’s a caramel center with a peanut butter coating then it’s rolled in powdered sugar. The whole effect is sweet, not peanutty enough and not chewy either. But I still find myself eating them all. I don’t know if they need chocolate or not, but I like the idea of a peanut butter confection that doesn’t have chocolate.
Rainbow Raisins were completely new to me. It makes sense, if a Peanut M&M is just a candy coated Goober, why can’t there be a candy coated Raisinet?
The colors are satisfying and lovely. The shells are crunchy and perhaps even a little floral tasting. The raisins were especially moist and chewy though sometimes I wasn’t sure there was any chocolate in there at all. They’re quite sweet, but the tangy bite of the raisins cuts that a little bit.
On the whole, the chocolates are quite fun and it’s easy to see how the hard to find combinations would make a special gift. They’re also expensive and though the bento boxes are a silly amount of packaging, the regular boxes are actually pretty efficient as they’re stuffed to the brim. The result of the packaging is that the candies don’t roll around a lot and get scuffed up.
I’m giving the whole roundup an 8 out of 10 rating.
Friday, July 12, 2013
I went through my list of candies that I haven’t reviewed and wanted to do a little roundup with at least some basic impressions. Today I have a little theme of Figs, since I had four products with fig as an element still sitting in the review queue.
I have a black fig tree in my back yard, this photo shows what was the best harvest of my 15 years in this home way back in 2006. This year I got one delicious fig off the tree, then returned two days later in hopes that the others were ripe only to find that the critters got them all. So I must turn to candy for my fig fix. (Well, that’s not entirely true, I buy fresh figs from time to time and dried ones as well.)
The packaging is mostly utilitarian but did an excellent job of protecting the chocolates inside. They’re not as decadent as some others I’ve had that might be soaked in liquor or filled with ganache. Instead this is the simple pleasure of dark chocolate and a sugary and crunchy whole, dried fig.
They were tasty, I enjoy the leathery and smoky notes of dried figs and chocolate. The chocolate was a little on the sweet side, I like a rather bitter chocolate with my very-sweet dried fruits. The figs were also a bit tough, but I suppose all that chewing just made them last longer.
For some reason I never documented the wrapper on this one, which is too bad. It’s the Dick Taylor Fig bar. It’s made in Arcata, CA, a place I used to live. It’s another bean-to-bar artisan chocolate company.
In this case the bar was beautifully molded and had all the things I liked about the fig/dark chocolate combo. There were lots of fruit and tannic notes, a bit of wood, tobacco and smoke. It was expensive though (I picked up the bar in NYC at The Meadow), I think about $9.00.
I finally found Liddabit in NYC when I was there last year, then a few months later there were places in Los Angeles selling them and a friend gave me this box of Liddabit Sweets Fig Ricotta Caramels.
The pieces are wrapped in wax paper. I wanted to love them, but there was something that wasn’t quite caramelly enough and not quite cheesy enough and lacking in the oomph and power of figs It could be the balsamic vinegar was too much tangy for a sweet. I love Liddabit’s bars, but I find that I’m very picky about caramels, especially when they have so many elements going on.
Little did I realize the extraordinary packaging within. First, the three ounce package has three one ounce bars. Each is individually wrapped in foil, then has a sleeve with a black and white fashion photos (each is different). They’re all tucked into the envelope style paperboard box. (All using recycled packaging.)
Dove and Seeds of Change (both run by Mars) tried this style of packaging a few years ago, but reverted back to the single bar. Personally, I prefer the inner wrapped portions, because I don’t eat a 3 ounce bar in one sitting and don’t have enough friends who can share one ounce portions at the same time. It’s easy to pull one out and toss it in a lunch bar or purse as well.
The chocolate itself is good, it’s quite dark and Seattle Chocolates definitely did well in their sourcing for this assortment of bars. In the line of bars there are a few quirky hipster sort of versions like Agave Quinoa Sesame but others are classic like Veracruz Orange.
I didn’t think there were enough bits of fig and pistachio in there, or maybe they weren’t distributed well. There’s a bit of salt, I think from the pistachios, that again wasn’t distributed well. On the whole it was good, but I only ate one of the three bars. It’s all Kosher and all natural.
On the whole, I want to give this line another try but they’re not a bean to bar company. So I find myself drawn to other bars that are truly unique and am probably missing out on products like the JCoCo line which is more of what I’d call a curated product - where the chocolatier sources finished chocolate and formulates inclusions and flavor combinations themselves.
Though I don’t think I found a new favorite in this series of explorations, all were good. (I think if I were to go buy a fig and chocolate item right now, it would be the Compartes chocolate covered figs.)
Monday, July 08, 2013
The trend towards mixing savory and sweet has been going on in the confectionery world for quite a while. Combining salty, crunchy pretzels and sweet milk chocolate is not a strange notion. There’s no reason that any number of herbs and spices can’t be combined with chocolate to great effect. It’s great to see different cultural takes on, like curry or smoked chili or lavender.
The Lindt Wasabi bar is certainly not the first chocolate bar to include the Japanese horseradish. But the others I’ve had were from Japan (the KitKat) or from small chocolatiers.
The bar was just introduced, but when I saw it at Target, it already had a Clearance label on it (marked down from $2.49 to $2.11) while the expiration isn’t until the end of November. I believe Lindt already has a successful bar with their Chili and I also liked the Touch of Sea Salt Dark bar.
This bar is not particularly dark, it’s only 47% cocoa solids. And the ingredients aren’t anything special either, the wasabi is artificial.
Though I don’t like a lot of spicy foods, such as those made with chili peppers, I am fond of horseradish and wasabi. (I also enjoy curry and ginger.)
The bar smells sweet and earthy, with notes of horseradish right away. But there’s also a sort of metallic note to that as well, like a bag of pennies. The bar has a wonderfully smooth melt, though it’s quite sweet. It’s smoky and the chocolate is rich but immediately overpowered by the prickly wasabi flavor. It’s not terribly spicy, but has a little mustard seed kick to it and warms my throat.
As far as an enjoyable confection, this is not. It’s a novelty to me, and 3.5 ounces was far too much. I’m fine with the occasional fine chocolate that uses it as an accent for some sort of combination but for the most part I want my chocolate to either challenge me to search my taste archives for flowers, tea, exotic fruits and fine cognacs or to comfort me with the gentle flavor of plain old chocolate.
Monday, July 01, 2013
One of my favorite candy bars as a teen was the Heath Bar. At that time it came as a pair of bars, not yet made by Hershey’s. Each little plank of crisp toffee was coated in milk chocolate. With careful work I could cleave off the chocolate with my teeth leaving a pristine and nearly translucent piece of toffee for slow consumption.
Now that the bars all one piece, I’m not as fascinated by them. Ratios matter as do dimensions.
Flash forward the new century as Hershey’s is making a candy coated piece version of all their favorite candy bars. It’s all part of the Morselization trend. The Hershey’s Heath Pieces feature a milk chocolate morsel studded with toffee and almond bits in a candy shell in muted earthy colors.
The back of the package exhorts buyers to Enjoy Delicious Milk Chocolate Toffee in Pieces ... in the car! ... on the go! ... at home! ...with family & friends!
The package also lists a website, www.piecescandies.com which is nice enough but makes no mention of this product.
They’re lovely and well made little lentils. They’re nearly identical in dimensions to M&Ms, except they’re a little puffier in the center and don’t have the sharp angle around the edges. Quite a few of mine had chipped edges, but that seemed to be the harsh way I treated them on the way home. They come in three colors: cream, medium brown and dark brown.
Inside is an inconsistent mixture of very sweet milk chocolate, toffee and almond. They’re exceptionally sweet and have a less chocolatey experience than the regular Almond Pieces. The crunchy shell and the toffee work well together. They’re both crunchy, but the toffee has a little pop of salt and buttery texture to it. Every once in a while I would catch a chip of almond as well.
The whole effect was sweetness, though not always in a bad way. I think I’d prefer them mixed in with some straight chocolate baubles (though it appears they’re not making the Special Dark Pieces any longer). But what I really found I liked better than these are from Marich and also sold at Trader Joe’s. These would be great for baking and on ice cream.
Like many Hershey’s products, they’re not ethically sourced or certified at this time, though Hershey’s has a published plan. There are a lot of ingredients in there though nothing terribly surprising or disturbing. There was no note on the package about the peanut or gluten status though it does contain soy, milk and almonds. My guess is that it’s made in the same facility as Reese’s Pieces so may contain traces of peanuts.
Monday, June 24, 2013
When some folks love a particular product, they can be pretty specific about it. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate is known worldwide, and because it’s so popular it’s made in several different locations around the globe. I’ve had Cadbury from Australia, South Africa, the UK, the United States and now Ireland.
I picked up these Cadbury Dairy Milk bars that have little crisps in them. The Dairy Milk Golden Crisp is milk chocolate with golden honeycomb granules. It’s a bit bigger than an ordinary single serving bar, at 54 grams, that’s 1.9 ounces.
The Cadbury Dairy Milk in Ireland is much like the UK version I’ve had, it’s made with a dash of vegetable oil. I can’t quite decide if this means that it’s mockolate or still chocolate, as it’s a small amount, but still replaces some of the much better cocoa butter that could have been in there. This chocolate also uses two emulsifiers, PGPR and ammonium phosphatides, which is similar to lecithin but made with rapeseed and glycerol instead of soy.
The bar has a wholesome milky scent to it, not too sweet. There are a lot of little honeycomb bits in there. The honeycomb is also known as sponge candy or cinder toffee. It’s aerated boiled sugar, it’s usually a little salty tasting since it uses sodium bicarbonate to make the foamy texture.
I love sponge candy, so this was definitely a plus. It’s less sweet than other crunchies can be, so it moderated the heavily sugared milk chocolate. Still, the chocolate was more on the fudgy and grainy side of things. It’s candy, not fine chocolate, so I considered it satisfying in that respect.
The ingredients were the same except for the notation for the honeycombed granules, which contain vegetable extracts of spinach, stinging nettle, and Tumeric.
The Cadbury milk chocolate is 23% milk solids and 20% cocoa solids. I guess the rest is sugar and vegetable oil.
The minty bar didn’t seem to have quite as many honeycomb bits in it. What it did have was a lot of mint. The peppermint was strong, though it was flavoring the chocolate, not the honeycomb ...so it’s not quite a Peppermint Bark experience. The milk is sticky sweet and the mint seems to highlight that, instead of diluting it. The chips were crunchy and had that lightly salty note to them. It didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the Golden Crisp, but still found it engaging.
Overall, I didn’t sense too much that was better with the Irish version of Cadbury except that I liked this size of bar better than the large 100 gram tablets. I’m not a huge Cadbury fan, if anything, I’d opt for Kraft’s upscale and ethically sourced Green & Black’s dark milk chocolate. (And comparing the import price I paid for these bars, it’s actually a better deal.)
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
The Bar None, originally made by Hershey’s, was a well-loved candy bar. It was launched nationally in 1987 (I believe I lived in the test market area in California in 1986 and became addicted to them early on). The bar was also introduced in Canada under the name of Temptation.
The candy bar boasted chocolate wafers with chocolate cream and then a layer of crushed peanuts all covered in real milk chocolate. It sounds like a giant KitKat, but the reality was a bit different. The wafers were more aerated, the cream layers were more chocolatey and the crushed nuts were, of course, never found on a KitKat. Later in 1992, in an attempt to overcome some manufacturing issues, the bar was changed from a single piece to twin sticks with the addition of caramel. The wrapper was also redesigned to predominantly yellow and sales fell until the bar was discontinued in the United States in 1997. (More about the bar here.)
The Iconic Candy Company of Carle Place, NY specializes in reviving extinct candies; they picked up the rights to the candy bar and are in the final stages of their planned reintroduction of Bar None. They previewed the Bar None at the Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago last month.
Indulge me for a moment for a little more history, or don’t and skip ahead to the review down there where the candy bar photos start. In addition to one of the early ad campaigns for the bar (which included commercials and the tagline “Tame the Chocolate Beasty”) I also found an intact wrapper online which revealed the original (circa 1990) ingredients for the 1.5 ounce bar (240 calories):
The new bar is 1.6 ounces and 240 calories:
The original bars were made by Hershey’s at their facility in Stuart’s Draft, Virginia (home of Reese’s Pieces). Iconic Candy is also making their bars in the United States.
The bar looks good, though I have to say that it doesn’t look as angular as I remember it. I thought it was a little flatter back in the olden days, but I could be wrong. I rarely took the bar out of the wrapper, instead when I ate it, I opened the end and just pushed out enough of it to take a bite because it was a very messy bar - both the fact that it would melt on the fingers and the fact that biting into it would sometimes scatter bits of the thin chocolate coating. I remember the chocolate coating as a soft chocolate, prone to melting even though I lived in the never-actually-warm Northern California area at the time. The original bar was also fatty, as the calorie count was about 160 calories per ounce, which is very high for a wafer bar.
It smells good, like chocolate with just a hint of roasted peanuts. Again, I don’t remember the peanut element from the original, which was really all about the taste of the milk chocolate and the cream filling between the wafers. The peanuts were for crunch, not flavor.
The bar has a gentle crunch to it. The chocolate gives way well without becoming a flaky mess. The wafers are crispy and light, quite aerated and different from the KitKat wafers, which are more dense. These are like an ice cream cone. Though I would want the wafers chocolate flavored, I think they’re rather flavorless, coming across a bit like malty foam.
The chocolate is sweet and creamy with a good milky flavor. The peanuts taste fresh and have a good crunch and consistent size. There’s a little note of salt, just on the crushed nuts. The wafer stack is good, though not as chocolatey as I would like.
There’s an alternate universe (if you subscribe to the multiverse theory) where Hershey’s didn’t pervert and destroy the original bar with the twin sticks with caramel. But in that universe, in which Hershey’s behaved otherwise identically, the bar would have fallen to the same pressures to use “safe and suitable vegetable fats” instead of cocoa butter like they did with the classic Mr. Goodbar which is no longer a good chocolate bar, or a chocolate bar at all. So even if there were a Bar None today, I doubt I would still like it. Hershey’s simply doesn’t make their products better over time, they just make the more efficiently. We’re lucky if that doesn’t effect the taste and nutritional profile of the product, but it usually does. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Good & Plenty are really their only remaining products that I still enjoy regularly.
So, in a way, I think it was a blessing that Bar None disappeared before it got bad. Because then people wanted it to come back. The new Iconic Candy version of it isn’t quite the same, but then again, the original had its issues. It often slid apart, because the creme between the layers wasn’t held together well enough by the chocolate coating. The sharper corners would get crushed. The chocolate would flake off. I don’t see those as issues with the revived bar. But it’s still lacking that fatty, slick chocolate texture that I remember. So, it may be an uphill battle with the die hard fans of the original. There’s also a case to be made that original fans may have had other qualities about the bar that they liked that are still served by this version.
Tasting this bar today, without the reference point of the original, it’s a very well done effort. It’s airy and light but still very satisfying. The peanuts are a nice crunchy touch that don’t veer off into peanut butter territory as a flavor. But my tastes have changed now, being exposed to fine and dark chocolate from around the world have made me demand more from my candy. Now I think I’d want this in a dark chocolate version over a milk one.
The cross section though did give me pause. It’s purple. Why are the wafers purple? Well, glance back up there at the list of ingredients and you’ll see five artificial colors. I’m not sure why it needed them, but they’re there.
I’ve emailed with Iconic Candy, and the bars aren’t in stores quite yet. I’ll have some more information on that, and of course they’ll have information at their website as they start shipping to wholesalers and stores. If you have a favorite spot for buying candy, you may want to mention to them that you’d like to try the bar so they’ll order it.
Here’s a newsletter from Hershey’s called Chocolate Town USA from back in 1990 that details the launch of the original chocolate bar.
Monday, June 10, 2013
KitKat Minis are unwrapped versions that are only 1 inch long. They’re also solo. Instead of “fingers” of KitKats served up in quads, these are like “pinky toes,” if you have those kind of pinkies that never quite fit in regular sandals and just hang out by themselves.
This isn’t the first time KitKat has attempted a bite sized version, there were KitKat Bites on the market about eight years ago. Those were smaller and more spherical as they were a panned chocolate (the centers were tumbled in a pan and then sealed with a little glaze).
The issue I found with the earlier KitKat Bites violating the interactivity I’d come to love about the KitKat bar is not an issue here. The miniature bars do have all the layers. This means that my process of eating them is the same. I cleave off the chocolate on each, making a melt-free spot to hold the bar while I peel off each layer of the cookie wafers with my teeth.
I enjoyed these, but not quite as much as I would have liked. The ratio of chocolate to wafers is higher now. I wouldn’t mind if it was good chocolate, but it’s not. It’s overly sweet, a little grainy and because it contains PGPR, I always think it has a rancid note to it.
I’m hoping these will come in the dark variety at some point. But the reality is that the Japanese Adult Taste Dark Chocolate KitKat (called Otonano Amaso) version is so untouchably superior, and actually comes in a nugget version, I don’t plan on buying Hershey’s again after this bag is gone.
The price is okay, I got mine on sale for $3.50 for the bag, which is a half of a pound. The wrapped candies can often be less expensive, but these may come down in price over the coming months as the economies of scale kick in. The stand up bag does have a zipper on it so they do store well. I can also see these being a good addition to ice cream or used as an ingredient in baking projects.
Though KitKat bars in the rest of the world, made by Nestle, are becoming fair trade certified, the American made KitKats from Hershey’s are not quite there yet. (Even when they do make it, that doesn’t mean they’ll taste better.)
Friday, June 07, 2013
I’ve visited the Eclat Chocolate shop in West Chester, PA a couple of times when I’ve been in the area. I’ve tried a wide variety of their truffles and a few of their hot chocolate sticks and other items. However, I’d never picked up their chocolate bars before.
When I placed an order with the PA Country Store back before Easter, I decided to rectify that omission by selecting the Eclat Chocolate Caramelized Hazelnuts 65% bar. The packaging is simple, a slim black paperboard box holding a mylar wrapped bar. Sadly it didn’t protect the bar from getting broken (but I was going to break it anyway).
Eclat Chocolate may be best known as the creator of one of the most expensive bars on the market filled with celebrity names, the Good & Evil Bar made from Peruvian Pure Nacional cocoa beans and retails for about $18 for 2.8 ounces. I’m not terribly interested in things that are notable for being expensive though I enjoy a good origin story. So I’ll stick with the Caramelized Hazelnuts for now. Here’s what the online description said:
The bar is attractive, a nice mold with well portioned segments. I prefer a thicker bar, especially when there are inclusions, but there’s something particularly stunning about such a large field of molded dark chocolate.
The scent is sweet, woodsy and a little buttery. The chocolate has a smooth and rather quick melt and an immediate sweetness. I don’t eat a lot of 65% chocolate, so I forgot how sweet it is. The inclusions are crispy and have a great deep toasted toffee and hazelnut flavor. I don’t know if I got the subtle difference of the Spanish hazelnut, but I liked what I was tasting.
I would have preferred slightly larger pieces, I found the ratios a little off, but then again, I think I would have preferred a bit darker chocolate, too. However, if you’re a milk person, this is a great munchable dark bar that doesn’t feel too dense or difficult. I had no trouble at all eating my way through it, especially because of the excellent melt of the chocolate and lack of overall bitterness.
I mentioned I’d been to the shop before. I’ve picked up bonbons there on two occasions, though they weren’t for review, just for eating. They’re well priced for an artisan confection. The boxes are well put together to highlight the chocolates and it traveled very well (first by car around Central Pennsylvania for several days and then flying back to Los Angeles).
I picked out varieties such as Beer, Star Anise and Single Malt as well as the classic 73% Dark Ganache and Dark Caramel. The flavor infusions were not overwhelming to the chocolate and the piece size, though on the small size, meant that I could eat quite a few pieces for maximum variety.
I believe my box was $25.00 in the store. I’ve also bought their hot chocolate sticks, which I find exceptional though expensive. I like making my own hot chocolate, because then I get to control the milk (lactose free, please) and these sorts of “melt it at home” products make for a far richer experience than the powders. At $4.50 each, it’s more than you’d spend at a Starbucks. But sometimes it’s nice for a splurge.
If I’m in the area, it’s a stop I’ll continue to make. It’s a great little pick me up before I get on the Turnpike and is a great place to pick up a few hostess gifts. I posted a few photos of the shop as well.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.