Tuesday, December 23, 2014
I picked up this box of Villars Mini Tasting Chocolates made in Switzerland. It was a bit expensive at $12. The box says it’s “at least” 45 pieces, but I counted 50 in mine. There are four different kinds of chocolate: Milk Chocolate (20 pieces), Milk Chocolate with Caramel 10 pieces), Milk Chocolate with Hazelnuts (9 pieces) and 72% Dark Chocolate (11 pieces).
I used to pick up Villars milk chocolate with hazelnut bars at Trader Joe’s many years ago. I suspect that Villars is still making products for Trader Joe’s under the house label, but I can’t be certain. This is the first time I found them at the local grocery store, though it seems like the kind of package you might see at an airport duty free shop.
Villars is a small chocolate company, according to Wikipedia they’re bean to bar, based in Fribourg, Switzerland and employ about 140 people. They’ve been around over a hundred years.
In my assortment, it was pretty well balanced, with slightly more of the Milk variety than the other three. The little bars are, well, tiny. They’re about 5 grams each, but that also means there’s only about 30 calories in each one.
The pieces are 1.3 inches high and .8 inches wide. The wrappers are made of some sort of mylar type plastic. They’re shiny on the inside but devilishly hard to tear. Each piece is glued shut with a teensy little dot of well-stuck glue.
Just smelling this little Lait bar I was reminded why I liked Villars: they add barley malt to their chocolate. It’s just a little hint of malt that keeps it from being too sweet. It’s a little roasted and the quality of the milk gives it a light yogurt bite. I can’t eat a lot of it, which is why these little bites are just right for me.
The Lait Caramel smelled quite milky. It’s not actual caramel though, it’s more like toffee chips, which is great. I enjoy a little toffee mixed into my milk chocolate and this is a good version. Like the milk chocolate, it’s sweet but wonderfully creamy and rich. The little toffee bits break up the stickiness with a little crunch and hit of caramelized sugar. The thinness of the little bars means that the bits are also small, but Barbie dolls and Star Wars action figures may find them just right.
The little Lait Noisettes bars come in a purple accented wrapper.
The sweetness of this bar is quite strong, but the chips of nicely roasted hazelnuts mellow that out. It’s a little chewy, almost like coconut. It could use a touch of salt, but otherwise, I liked the Noisettes best.
I was looking forward to the Noir 72% quite a bit. It’s hard to find little tasting squares in very dark chocolate. I also noticed that Gelson’s, where I bought these, also has Villars in bulk tubs, so I could buy little callets and disks of their dark chocolate for about $12 a pound. Well, that’s not going to happen, now that I’ve tried this. The chocolate smells good, a little toasty and like coffee. The melt is quite nice ... but the feeling on the tongue is dry and chalky. The finish is far too dry for me, far too acidic and yet it’s quite sweet for a 72%.
I think for baking or maybe as a base for chocolate mousse, this would be excellent. But it’s not my style for straight eating.
For the price, these aren’t phenomenal, I want a lot better dark chocolate for $24 a pound. But the miniature size and variations are just what I needed this week. Now that I’ve had my samples for the review, the rest will be distributed by Santa Claus into the Christmas stockings. I’m hoping for lots of the Noisettes in mine. I also wonder if Villars has also made repackaged items for Aldi, as these were rather similar (though the chocolate moulds were different, the tasting notes are very similar).
Villars is owned by a French company called Bongrain, which bills itself as one of the top transformers of milk in Europe and worldwide. Maybe it sounds better in French. They make cheese and yogurt in dozens of different countries in Europe, North America and Africa ... and chocolate in Switzerland.
Monday, December 22, 2014
Think of them like a hearty petit fours. The base is a gingerbread cake, topped with a layer of fruit jelly then a layer or marzipan. For this particular brand of Schulte Dominos, the fruit jelly is apple and the marzipan is actually persipan, which is made from apricot kernels instead of almonds. Although they seem like an ancient sort of confection, according to this page they were invented by Herbert Wendler in Dresden in 1936.
I’ve had dominos quite a few times, Aldi sells a few varieties in both milk and dark chocolate and of course I’ve had them in while traveling in Germany. This particular version has a nice coating of dark chocolate, which keeps the confection from becoming too sweet. They’re pretty shy on calories, only 50 each, probably because part of it is a little bit of cake.
This package has 10 pieces in it, which fared quite well - only one was cracked on the top. The package holds 4.4 ounces, so each piece is just shy of a half an ounce each. The package says that this is an Authentic Traditional European Recipe. I don’t know if there are a lot of modernized versions or departures from the traditional ... or if other non-Europeans have adopted the confection and have created a competing version.
Each piece is not quite a cute. They’re 7/8 of an inch square and about 3/4 of an inch high.
I’ll start from the top down. The persipan is much like a marzipan. It’s soft and has a good texture that’s not too pasty or sweet. The flavor is much more amaretto infused that many marzipans I’ve had, which makes me wonder if it’s a natural flavor profile for persipan. There is a distinct bitter note to it.
The next layer is a jelly, which is pretty bland. I had to read the ingredients to find out that it must be apple at all. It’s a little tart and has a slight mealy quality that real apple pulp can bring to a jam.
They smell rich, a little like cocoa and molasses and maybe a hint of ginger.
The base layer is called gingerbread. It’s made from a mix of wheat flour and rye flour along with brown sugar and molasses. It’s quite dry, which I think is okay because the jelly and persipan provide a bit of moisture and texture to the whole thing as long as you don’t eat the layers separately. However, there’s not real spice note to it, or ginger flavor at all.
They’re hearty and satisfying. It’s a great mix of textures with the cool tartness of the jelly mixing with the dry cake and slightly chewy persipan. I had no trouble finishing the tray of them over two days.
I have to wonder what a premium version of these would be like. Perhaps with some actually flavored jelly like a good grape, a spiced apple or something more in the citrus marmalade family. I did see that Niederegger makes a version, though I probably can’t find those in the United States. The cake part might be better if it was an actual Lebkuchen with ground nuts in it.
Friday, December 19, 2014
As a little stocking stuffer item, I’ve noticed these boxes of Russell Stover Cake Truffles at drug store chains and places like Target this year.
I picked up a pair of boxes since they were only $1.00 on sale, though often the regular price is about $1.79 for 2 ounces. There are four pieces of candy in the box, one of each of the cake flavors: Red Velvet, Chocolate, Carrot and Wedding Cake.
All of these flavors have been presented in the seasonal shapes, so they’re not new candies, just a different assorted presentation. The ratios do differ slightly from the Egg or Santa versions, though.
Red Velvet - (Dark Chocolate) this first debuted as a Santa piece in 2012, though is also available at Easter and Valentine’s. It’s a dark chocolate shell with a red “creamy” center that has some cake mix in it. Oddly, this could benefit from a white chocolate coating to simulate the cream cheese frosting often found on Red Velvet cake, though this box already has two white coated pieces. The center is less sweet, so that’s a plus, but the batter-like consistency simply tastes like paste to me. (Santa review.)
Carrot Cake - (White Chocolate) this first debuted as an Easter piece in 2014. Like the other cake flavors, this features actual cake mix in the center, which gives it an uncooked flour note ... it’s a little pasty, unlike the experience I had with the Egg version which wasn’t as dense. The flavor profile is actually nice, a good spice mix that fits well with Christmas with a hint of allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon. (Egg review.)
Wedding Cake - (White Chocolate) - this first debuted as an Easter piece in 2014. If you don’t like spice flavors found in Carrot Cake, then maybe Wedding Cake is more your speed ... all fake vanilla, sweetness and PlayDoh. I thought (Egg review.)
Chocolate Cake (Milk Chocolate - might actually be new. I can only find records for Brownie pieces before this. The center here was less sticky and pasty, so that was a plus but the raw flour notes were very distracting as it tasted more like wallpaper paste (yes, I’ve eaten that before, thankyouverymuch). There’s a grainy note, as well, since the sugar isn’t completely combined. So, think of it more like a chocolate cookie dough and you might be pleased.
If you’re frustrated that the seasonal shape items are too big, then these are probably a good idea for you. I’ll stick to the more traditional coconut and pecan delight versions though.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The company sent me a sample of 14 flavors of their current flavors to try. They came in a simple clear bag with the truffles actually stacked in color order. (But I chose to show you a photo of their Christmas mint assortment, because I don’t actually like photographing clear plastic packaging.)
Earlier I called them “truffles” because they’re really meltaways. The chocolates are little rectangular blocks of chocolate coated meltaway centers. The centers are a combination of chocolate, flavoring and coconut oil mixed with palm oil. This means that they melt at a different temperature than the chocolate itself. The centers are solid, unlike Lindt Lindor Truffles, which have similar ingredients, but more tropical oils.
If this sounds like a Frango, that’s because Seattle Chocolates also makes Frangos for Macy’s, but also sells them under their own name but with more colorful packaging.
The box I got at the top of the review contained three mint flavors: Mint, San Juan Sea Salt and the seasonal Candy Cane. Pictured above I have Dark Chocolate, Mint, San Juan Sea Salt, Cool Mint.
I think the first one I should address is the Mint. It comes in a medium green mylar wrapper and is a milk chocolate confection. It smells deliciously pepperminty and takes me back to my childhood and the seasonal boxes of Mint Frangos I consumed (often surreptitiously). The milk chocolate has a strong dairy note and the minty center has a satisfying cool melt along with the peppermint. There are also teensy little pops of salt every once in a while. Often candies like this can be ridiculously sweet, but I didn’t find it that way at all.
The next to profile is a standard, a basic truffle on which so many other flavors are based, the Dark Chocolate. This one is in a medium blue wrapper.
The bite has a satisfying snap, and though the center doesn’t look creamy, it melts well. The dark chocolate has a mild flavor, like the common chocolate chips you’d use for cookies. It’s a toasty flavor, a little the bitter side but with a smoother melt than baking chips.
San Juan Sea Salt is a newer piece, and features a seafoam green wrapper. It’s a milk chocolate piece with little toffee bits and a little extra sea salt mixed into the chocolate center. The salt is a wonderful combination with the very milky chocolate and the little toffee bits are a great textural crunch. I did get some of these in the mint set, and they were actually infused with the mint flavors from the other truffles. Either way, it’s good.
Cool Mint was the last one in this set, a bit of a change from the previous since it features a light blue wrappers and a white center in dark chocolate. It’s quite minty and could use a little bit of that salt that the others seem to have. I enjoyed it, but prefer the other mint varieties.
Ah, things are getting a little nuttier in the next batch which features Salted Almond, Milk, Peanut Butter, Espresso.
I’ll start with Espresso because, we’ll, I’m in charge. The wrapper is brown, the chocolate is dark. The interior is smooth and has good roasted flavor note. The meltaway itself has little crispy bits ... coffee grounds. The flavor profile is good, I liked the coffee and the grounds or whatever they are aren’t too gritty. Out of the mix, this was the first flavor that disappeared. Not too sweet.
Milk looks just like the mint, so must give that a glance again except imagine the wrapper is gold. Since there are no other flavor elements in this one, it’s a little easier to pick out the profile of the milk chocolate itself. It has a strong dairy flavor, almost like the flavor of cream cheese. It’s sweet gets a little oily towards the end. I skipped these after getting the profile.
Peanut Butter sounded fantastic. The bronzy wrapper holds a milk chocolate piece with a peanut butter meltaway center. The interesting aspect is that there are also crushed peanuts in there too. Again, this one is oily like the milk chocolate, though it didn’t bother me as much.
Salted Almond is a bit more trendy and comes in a goldenrod wrapper with a dark chocolate coat. The center is dark chocolate and features a bit of salt and a few almond chips here and there. The toasty flavors of the almonds and dark chocolate were excellent. I’d buy this as a bar, as well.
The last set is a little fruity and contains some different concepts in the meltaway concept: Peanut Brittle, Strawberry Creme, Raspberry Creme, Blackberry Creme.
Peanut Brittle is similar to the Salted Almond, a little crunchy peanut, maybe with some crispy caramelized sugar in there. Since this is a dark piece, it’s far and away different from the Peanut Butter, though far less peanutty.
The Strawberry is a white center with what I think is bits of freeze dried strawberries in there. It has some authentic strawberry flavors but suffers from the same oily feeling towards the end.
The Raspberry and Blackberry Creme were similar, with some nice berry flavors with a tangy pop here and there.
Coconut Macaroon is in a lighter blue mylar and features a dark chocolate coating and center. This is a pure tropical piece, the coconut oils in the meltaway work their magic here along with a few little bites of toasted coconut. There’s a definite coconut smell to it, so much it overpowers the chocolate flavors.
Extreme Chocolate comes in a magenta wrapper (I mistook it for one of the berries when I was photographing). This is excellent. It tastes darker than its reputed 65% cacao, with good bitter notes but still enough sweetness. The meltway qualities are still there, but none of the oily textures I didn’t like. Also as a bonus, there are crunchy cacao nibs in there. All of the nibs I came across were crisp, not fibery like some origins.
Seattle Chocolates also makes a wide variety of Truffle Bars, many in the same flavor profile as the Truffles ... though the ratios differ quite a bit, with more solid chocolate and less meltaway filling in most cases.
Seattle Chocolates Truffles are made with non GMO ingredients and are gluten free. They do contain soy and dairy ingredients and obviously the ones that don’t have peanuts or tree nuts in them were still processed on shared equipment. They sell most of the flavors singly as well as different flavor assortments, like the Mint, just dark and coffee flavors.
As a product line, I give it all a 7 out of 10. For the pieces I liked, such as Salted Almond, Extreme Chocolate and San Juan Sea Salt, I go to 8 out of 10.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Tcho is a bean to bar chocolate maker based in San Francisco. Their early chocolate programs simplified the ideas of single origin distinctions and simply labeled their chocolate bars with the flavor characteristic based on a flavor wheel.
Though their early products were simple dark and milk chocolate bars, they’ve not created some interesting new flavored bars. I picked up two little tasting squares of their Tcho Mokaccino. They’re only .28 ounces, so it really is just a bite or two of chocolate. It’s described as: Serious Milk Chocolate + Blue Bottle Coffee.
Tcho is made with fair trade cocoa beans, organic ingredients and is certified kosher. (They do use soy lecithin in their chocolate and also handle nuts in their facility.)
I happen to enjoy the coffee renaissance that’s been going on for ...oh, the past 30 years. The pre-ground cans of coffee of my childhood are long gone: a time when single origin meant you looked for the Colombian mountain on the can as an indication of flavor.
The little piece has a wonderful Spirograph-style pattern on it. It tastes a little smoky, very milky, with an almost cheesy note. The coffee is intense, but on the sweet side (I don’t take sugar in my coffee, so having it combined with chocolate tends to sweeten it too much for me). The coffee notes blend very well with the chocolate but the most important thing here is the texture. It’s smooth ... there’s now coffee bean grit like so many coffee chocolates end up with (or whole beans) that I don’t care for.
I’ve been watching Tcho since they started up and were in beta. Though I appreciate many of their attributes, I’ve not been impressed with the products themselves, the dark chocolate is gritty and has an odd fat balance to it for me, and often the beans taste burnt. They do some interesting chocolate covered items, like nuts, which are good but not remarkable enough for me to fork over the premium price.
That said, I’m glad I had an open mind and picked up the Mokaccino. The little squares are a bit expensive, but if I bought two of them instead of an actual cappuccino, it’s about the same price.
Monday, December 15, 2014
Just when I think I’ve finished with my chocolate covered cherry experience, I find another.
Perugina is probably best known for their little foil wrapped Baci hazelnut kisses. But they have a similarly packaged cherry treat ... simply called Cherry on the front but then descriptively named Perugina Dark Chocolate Covered Whole Cherries on the side of the box.
The box is only 1.2 ounces, but I found it on sale at Cost Plus World Market for $1.49, which isn’t a bad price for a single serve imported item like this. There are three pieces, wrapped in red foil, with gold cherries on top; so they’re prettier out of the box. Unwrapped, the chocolate shell was shiny and unmarred.
This chocolate covered cherry is in syrup. The cherry is big, as big as the See’s, but in a smaller cup, so there’s not much room for syrup in there. The flavor of the cherry is mild, as is the sauce that comes with it. I found this refreshing, as it meant that it wasn’t as artificial as some, but also a little bland. The texture of the cherry was as firm or crunchy as others I’ve had in the past week either. The chocolate has a more distinct cocoa flavor, but also isn’t as creamy or integrated. So the cocoa notes are a bit chalky.
I liked these, but not because they were great quality, mostly because they didn’t taste too much like maraschino cherries and weren’t really large and sweet ... which in most cases would be attributes folks would seek out. So, they were cute, but not something I would buy again.
Friday, December 12, 2014
Chocolate covered cherries are a broad confectionery art form. They vary quite a bit, from syrupy cordials to sticky fondant. Most contain a whole cherry, though even that varies depending on the maker’s wishes.
See’s Candy sells both a milk and dark chocolate cherry. You can’t buy them online, they’re available only in the stores, as far as I know, as they don’t travel well. (Though I recall seeing them in a foil-wrapped version before in the past.)
They’re big, quite big. I positioned one of the Trader Joe’s Liqueur cherries next to it as a comparison. The Trader Joe’s are about 12 grams and the See’s varied between 26 grams and 29 grams.
The See’s version is mostly a soft fondant, with a small reservoir of syrup. See’s calls them simply Milk Cherry and describes them as, A plump, dipping cherry surrounded by a liquefied soft center covered in milk chocolate.
The milk chocolate is very nice, I enjoy the custom blend that Guittard makes for See’s, it’s milky and has a light toffee note to it. The creamy melt goes well with just about everything, including the first bite of a soft fondant. The fondant has a cherry cough syrup note to it and a strong vanilla flavor. The best part was the truly large cherry at the center ... it as so big that I feared that it still had its pit and I bit into it quite gingerly. The pink coloring is pretty awful, but I take it as a traditional aspect of this candy.
The Dark Cherry was supposed to be less sweet, but since mine weighed more (about 2 grams), I figure they just made the sugary center even larger. It’s simply too much for me. The fondant is a wonderful texture, but it, too, tastes like bubble gum. Bubble gum is nice, but really not as a chocolate item.
Since I’ve had quite a few of these in the past few weeks, I can say that I don’t think I like the fondant, I prefer the liquid or syrup centers. But if you’re a fondant fan, this was exceptionally smooth and imbued with quite a bit of flavor. In the future though, I’ll pass.
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
During early December, Trader Joe’s becomes a hotspot for decadent hostess gifts. In the store I frequent, there is a table with just gift boxed confections and gift samplers by the dairy case. Many of the items featured are new and quirky treats, but some are tried and true classics.
Since I’m on a cherry cordial kick, I did pick up the Trader Joe’s Chocolate Liqueur Cherries which feature a real boost of alcohol (4.4%). They may not be available in all states, as some areas have stricter alcohol laws. I think you need to be over 21 to purchase these in most places. (Even though you’d need to eat the full 14 ounce box to get the same amount of alcohol as you’d find in a beer.)
The ingredients are quite decent: it’s 49% cacao dark chocolate (with no added dairy fillers) and a filling made of sugar, alcohol, a full cherry, corn syrup and cherry juice. There are no artificial flavors or colors ... and it appears to be vegan. They’re made in a factory that also processed milk, peanuts, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts. There’s no statement about gluten and it does contain soy.
The box is serviceable, with some sort of faux wood grain design on the front that verges on old west instead of elegant Christmas gift. The tray inside is plastic, but because it’s metallic gold along with the gold foil wrapping, it’s a good presentation at that point.
Once the box is open, though, it’s hard to carry it with one hand without tipping the contents out ... but at least they’re wrapped in foil, so they’re easy to retrieve.
They’re small, at about 12 grams each and about 55 calories.
I found the easiest way to eat these is pretty common. I turn over the little hemisphere and pry the bottom off with my teeth eat the chocolate coin. Then sip the cherry syrup cordial and then eat the soaked cherry with the chocolate in one bite.
In this case the cherry cordial syrup is not quite sweet and has a light acidic note, probably from the cherry juice. The alcohol has no clear attributes of its own, except that it burns a little bit and gives the effect of cough syrup at times. The chocolate is passable - sweet and with some woodsy/brownie notes to it. The cherry at the center was usually small, but crunchy and chewy.
I enjoyed these since they were less sweet than others I’ve been sampling. I don’t know if I’d buy them again, I’d probably stick with the Brandy Beans if I have a hankering for alcohol filled chocolates. I applaud Trader Joe’s for making a reliable product, though, with good quality ingredients with no preservatives (well, sugar and alcohol are preservatives) or artificial colors. It’s certainly more expensive than the others I’ve profiled from Cella’s and Queen Anne, but you’re getting more real ingredients instead of preservatives and colorings ... and pretty gold foil.
I’ve purchased liqueur chocolates before, and I have to stress that you can’t freeze them (don’t leave them in the car overnight if you’re someplace cold) and they will eventually evaporate so they should be eaten within 1 month of purchase, especially if you’ve taken off the plastic overwrap.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.