Monday, March 30, 2015
While in London last year, I picked up quite a few chocolate bars. One brand that I noticed had good distribution and prices, was Willie’s Cacao. The company direct sources their cocoa beans and manufacturers their chocolate in England. For a small company they make a wide array of chocolate products, like the bars I picked up in single origin varieties like Madagascar, Peru, Indonesia and two different sourcings from Venezuela. In addition they also have a line of single origin cocoas, chocolate pearls and bars with flavors and inclusions.
I picked up the Venezuela Gold Las Trincheras 72% at Waitrose. The package is two little 40 gram bars that are wrapped separately for £2.99, or about $4.50. A lot of other single origin bars are priced at twice that, so it was a gamble that this was going to be passable stuff. The box is quite elegant, dark brown with orange, creamy yellow and gold foiled lettering. The package states that the single estate cacao comes from Hacienda Las Trincheras in northern Venezuela.
The flavor profile is described as smooth nutty notes, which is exactly why I like Venezuelan origin cacao.
The box helpfully gave me both the bar’s origin date and the best by date. It was produced in November 2013 and good until May 2015. I ate one of the bars after I returned from my trip last year, and saved the other in my climate controlled chocolate fridge until last month.
The bars are lovely, the mold, which says Willie’s Delectable Cacao gives the otherwise ordinary 2.75 inch square a bit more flair. The tempering is very nice, there’s a good snap to the bar and no bubbles or voids. The color is a little on the red side of dark brown.
The melt is easy but not too quick. The ingredients are very simple, no emulsifiers. Just cacao, raw cane sugar and cocoa butter. There’s a little dryness early on, and some bright fruit notes. The overwhelming flavor I get is not nutty but raisins. I usually associate strong raisin flavors with Peruvian chocolate. There are some other notes of rosemary, roses and plums, but I didn’t catch more than a fleeting cashew note. It’s a bit bitter at times as well, but not so much that it distracted from the other flavors, just enough to keep it from getting too sweet.
For the price, I think they’re very well done bars, and I appreciate the packaging style that allows me to actually eat some now and really save some for later, as I did here. However, I didn’t love this particular bar enough that I would import it. I am interested enough in the brand that I would pick it up again, especially some of the other origins.
Friday, March 27, 2015
When I was at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January, I picked up a lot of little chocolate pieces, but not full sized bars for review. So here are a few thoughts on some items that are now in stores:
Perugina Baci are perfect little bites of dark chocolate and hazelnut. Of course they had to twist it up a bit and introduce a white chocolate version ... and now there’s Peugina Milk Chocolate Baci.
The wrappers are light blue instead of silver. They’re pretty and look the same in shape and structure as the standard dark. The milk chocolate does change the confection quite a bit. The hazelnut because more of the star, as well as the dairy notes from the milk chocolate coating and creamy filling. I still liked them, but I ate some classic dark at the same time. I still prefer the bittersweet coating because it brings out the roasted flavors. But these are still nice and probably something kids may enjoy more or supertasters who don’t like bitter things.
I enjoy BT McElrath’s Salty Dog bars (which it turns out I haven’t fully reviewed), which are a great sweet/savory mix of creamy chocolate, salt and crunchy toffee bits. So I was very excited to try the new BT McElrath Buttered Toast. It’s described as Toasted artisan breadcrumbs in our proprietary blend of 40% cacao milk chocolate.
It’s sweet and definitely buttery. There’s a soft bite to this and little bits that crunch like panko. There’s a light salt note along with a little toffee and malt to it as well. Even though it’s a very rich milk chocolate, it might be a little too thick and sticky for me ... maybe I’ll wait for the dark chocolate version to come along.
The BT McElrath Super Red is a 70% bar with little flecks of freeze dried fruit.
The tart notes of the berry bits with the rather dark chocolate combine for a lot more flavor intensity than something like a nut chocolate combo would give. The seeds also give a little bitterness, as does the chocolate and dark berry notes.
Vosges calls these Super Dark bars, though they’re only 72% dark chocolate. That’s because the super part isn’t modifying the chocolate, it’s modifying the inclusions, which are all deemed superfoods. It’s like they went out of their way to put bitter things in there. I picked up two samples (they look pretty much the same). Vosges Super Dark Matcha Green Tea features spirulina, matcha (pulverized green tea) and cocoa nibs. The grassy notes of the matcha are immediately forward. I enjoy a lot of green tea, though I don’t have matcha very often because it’s pulverized leaves, not just steeped tea. Though I understand that there’s more flavanol bang per gram in matcha than the brewed leaves, it’s just too intense for me. This bar brings out a lot of that experience, so if you’re a matcha fan, this is a fun bar, especially because there are some cocoa nibs in there for crunch. The bitterness was just too drying for me. I had to follow it with some Hojicha.
The Vosges Super Dark Coconut Ash & Banana features Sri Lankan coconut charcoal coconut ash and Hawaiian Banana. The bar does look much darker, blacker than a usual chocolate bar. It smells like coconut cream. The flavor is bizarre as well. There are the immediate chocolate notes, which are like crispy brownie edges, then the coconut flavors and something, well, umami that I can’t put my finger on. Then there’s the weird banana flavor, which is a little like fingernail polish remover, it’s not an integrated flavor, it’s like it escapes from the chocolate and evaporates immediately into the back of my sinuses - eventually within the chocolate I did come across a few tangy bits of dried banana, which were completely different on the banana taste spectrum. I wouldn’t call this a pleasant bar experience, though I do appreciate the attempt at the unique. The ash notes come out at the end, more as a sort of dry charcoal notes.
I actually love the little sizes of all the bars, and BT McElrath sells theirs in an array of sizes, some with mixed flavors so you can try more of choose to suit your mood. Vosges also sells some of their Super Dark pieces in boxes, but they’re about $80.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
One of my favorite candies is malted milk balls. Easter brings the pastel version, which is egg shaped and has a candy coating. I rounded up four of the most popular versions in stores today for a little comparison.
I have various sized bags from Jelly Belly, Necco, Brach’s (Ferrara Candy) and Whoppers (Hershey’s).
Though there are some size differences in the eggs, and some other sizes available from these brands, pastel malted eggs are usually larger than malted milk balls and less focused on the milk chocolate coating.
They’re generally an attractive candy, but with a large variation on the look and texture of the shell and color palettes.
From left to right: Necco Mighty Malts, Jelly Belly, Whoppers and then Brach’s.
Name: Mighty Malts Speckled Malted Milk Eggs
Verdict: It’s too messy to eat around the awful coating, so I can’t recommend these at all for eating, only decoration.
Name: Speckled Chocolate Malted Eggs
Verdict: The shells are very thick, probably too much shell for me and the flavor was not a good mix for the other flavors. I still loved the colors and have eaten two full bags so far this season. However, they’re also very expensive ... about 5 times more expensive than the Necco Mighty Malts, though imminently more edible.
Name: Whoppers Robin Eggs
Verdict: The unappealing pink shells and less appealing mockolate layer just make these unbearable. I actually find myself doing the extra work on the Necco Mighty Malts instead of eating these, even though they have an excellent malt center.
Name: Malted Milk Pastel Fiesta Eggs
Verdict: Of the four, I prefer these, though they still don’t quite shine on their own merits, only in comparison. I’ve eaten two bags so far this season and do find them comforting, but I only keep eating them on the naive hope that I’ll find “a good one” as if that’s ever happened or will happen.
The result of this tour only confirms that I love the idea of a great Malted Milk Pastel Egg, but I haven’t found it yet.
Monday, March 23, 2015
Peet’s is another chain here in the West that I go to a bit more often. I was pleased to see their Easter themed items when I was there last week and picked up two bags, since I had a few co-workers with me and they were curious to try them.
The most beautiful of their assortment was the Peet’s Caramel Robin Eggs. They’re pastel blue with some small flecks. The bag was $5.95 for 7 ounces, expensive but not much worse than an extravagant drink.
I believe that these are made by Marich, also a California company. They also make an all natural version of these that are sold at Whole Foods as Quail Eggs.
The construction is simple: a soft caramel core is coated in chocolate and then given a beautiful matte shell. The shape is like a chocolate covered almond.
They’re just lovely to look at and have a great cool finish on them. If I dissolve them, the matte outside gives way to a slick and cool sugar shell. But I’m mostly a cruncher and found that the shell had a good texture that gave the right balance of crunch and not too much extra sweetness. The inner chocolate was interesting because it had a smoky, coffee flavor to it. The caramel center is chewy but not tacky at all. The flavor was a lot like toffee or maple, which went really well with the chocolate.
They’re just excellent, I couldn’t have enjoyed them more.
As I was ordering my cappuccino I noticed these. I recognized the Robin Eggs and realized these were Marich. This color reminded me of the Curry Cashews I had at the Fancy Food Show, which used real white chocolate, not some weird oily confectionery coating. From the name, Peet’s Citrus Shortbread Bites, they sounded like they might be good.
Like the Robin Eggs, they were also $5.95 for the bag. The bag is simple, the top is sealed but then has a twist tie featuring the little fabric ribbon bow. So, it can be resealed after you’ve taken a handful out.
The lemon flavored white chocolate is made with plenty of cocoa butter and whole milk. The melt is at first a little tentative, because of the confectioners glaze, but then it does give way very nicely to a soft, citrusy flavor. There’s actually a little pop of tartness in there from time time as well. The cookie center is crunchy and less like a shortbread and almost like a biscotti, it’s very firm and not as dense as a shortbread usually is.
They’re quite refreshing and go really well with cup of tea ... not so much with coffee. I would buy these again. I liked the chunky nuggets and unusual flavor combination for a candy but also the fact that it still used decadent ingredients like real butter in the cookie and cocoa butter in the white chocolate.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
There are now dozens of small-batch chocolate makers scattered around North America. One that caught my eye a couple of years ago won the Good Food Award in 2013. Raaka Chocolate is based in Brooklyn, New York and was founded in 2010.
The team at Raaka says,”We make virgin chocolate from unroasted cacao beans. Our unique process preserves each region’s wild flavors, bringing you closer to the bean.”
The unique style of their bars means that they use organic beans that have been naturally fermented and dried but not roasted. The result is a bar that is like the chocolate that we all know, but with some differences ... not necessarily things that make it better or worse, just different. The cacao is direct sourced while the sugar is organic and fair trade certified. Most of their bars are just beans and evaporated cane juice (no vanilla, no emulsifiers) but the bar I picked out for review was the Raaka Virgin Chocolate Bourbon Cask Aged - Belize 82%. This bar also has some maple sugar in it.
As you can guess from the name, the notable thing about this cacao is that it is first aged in oak bourbon casks from Berkshire Mountain Distilling. I’ve had chocolate that’s been aged in barrels before, but never chocolate made from beans that have been aged in barrels. For roasted cacao that wouldn’t work, because the roasting would probably remove the flavors the casks introduce, but remember Raaka is working with unroasted beans, the way the beans are treated before grinding will definitely affect flavor.
The bar mold is dead simple, just a 1.8 ounce plank with no scoring, no design. There’s a great snap to it, and glossy sheen on the outside, but a little rough looking inside.
The bar smells, well, a little like bourbon. There’s a vanilla note and some light peat along with some other more yeasty bread notes. The melt of the chocolate is not quite as creamy as some bars I’ve had, but certainly not gritty. It’s smoother than Taza, which is also stone ground. The yeasty notes are very strong along with an acidic bite and a light coffee and maple note. It’s undeniably chocolate, but with a kick that is a little more unformed, a little less refined. The bar also changed, as I nibbled on it over several weeks. The bitterness dissipated (oxidation can do that) and I found a few more berry jam notes to it.
For an 82% bar, it’s not as dense as you might expect. I’ve certainly had 70% bars that are more intense. This may be because there’s some extra cocoa butter added in, which counts towards the cacao percentage, but does help mellow its severity.
I appreciate the bar, and enjoyed it quite a bit. I kept in my purse for several weeks, but never felt the need for more than a little half inch square at a time. The rustic melt was not as decadent as bars I usually prefer, so sometimes this felt like it demanded more attention to enjoy, like the different between classic sonnets and some free verse.
Their facility and bars are vegan, nut free, soy free, gluten free and made from all organic ingredients.
Monday, March 16, 2015
Like the other Russell Stover eggs, this one is one ounce. I found mine on sale for 39 cents, though they’re usually two for a dollar and sometimes as much as 59 or 69 cents each.
The Lemon Cake Egg wrapper is just a touch confusing. The picture on the front shows a nice yellow cake with white frosting. But this egg is lemon cake filling with a dark chocolate coating. Not a big deal, but it seems like it would be easy to make it a lemon cake with chocolate frosting in the picture ... or perhaps a white chocolate coating on this egg.
It’s very lemony. Even just opening the package, the zesty lemon scent is strong. Biting into the egg, the yellow center is quite bright, like a cream made from highlighters.
The chocolate shell is bittersweet, which is a nice complement to the lemon cake. Like the other dessert-themed eggs, this is a paste type filling made from actual cake mix. The consistency is thicker than batter and thinner than cookie dough. Though there’s wheat flour in there, it doesn’t taste raw like some cookie dough items do.
The lemon flavor is very well balanced, there are a lot of citrus peel notes, so much that there’s a light bitterness to it, which might also come from the chocolate. The whole thing is far less sweet than some of the other cake-themed eggs, like the Birthday Cake and Red Velvet. It’s rather refreshing, less cloying. I wish there was just a little more of a vanilla note, like a rich pound cake. But I do give them credit for trying something a bit out of the ordinary.
The eggs contain wheat (gluten), milk, soy and actual eggs as well. They may also contain traces of tree nuts and peanuts.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
Easter is the best candy season. The qualities that make a good holiday candy are hard to pin down, but most of us know it when we see it. One quality that’s unique to Easter is the morselization of treats. Part of Easter is the presentation of candy within a basket. Sure, you can put packaged candy in there, but it sure is appealing when the Easter grass sports read-to-eat morsels. The jelly bean is a perfect example of this, since they started as spice drops but eventually someone gave them a more durable shell so that you can put them out in a candy dish.
I bring this up because today’s candy is a great version of a year-round candy getting a unique holiday treatment. Koppers Chocolate Easter Spring Milk Chocolate Marshmallow Eggs come in a box, but you can easily dump them out into a bowl or nestle them in a basket.
The candy construction is simple, though actually rather unique. It’s a small marshmallow at the center, a thick milk chocolate shell and a thin pastel glaze on top.
These have been around for a few years, I first had them in 2011 and posted a photo. That version was a robin’s egg version with a little thicker shell, but otherwise the same.
The box was on the expensive side at $7.99 for 6.5 ounces. It’s a flat, clear box that holds a single layer of the candies. They come in a variety of pastel colors with speckles: green, white, pink and yellow.
They’re ridiculously sweet, which is not ordinarily an appealing element. But at Easter, all bets are off. I go for white chocolate, I eat the super sweet things and I always give the marshmallow items a try.
The sugar shell is extremely light, so much that it doesn’t really give any crunch to the confection. The marshmallow core is soft and foamy and every once in a while I catch a little bit of vanilla from it. For the most part the morsels are just a lot of milk chocolate. The milk chocolate has a good dairy component to it and a very sweet, cool to the tongue effect. It melts readily but doesn’t have a very strong cocoa note, more like a hot cocoa morsel (with the marshmallow) than an intense milk chocolate.
This kind of candy, of course, could be done for other holiday and year-round treating occasions. It seems that there are other opportunities to mix them up as well with, perhaps, a flavored marshmallow (mint, perhaps) and different colored shells, dark chocolate ... even change the shape a bit.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Russell Stover is best known at Easter for their little one ounce eggs that come in over a dozen varieties from the classic strawberry creme to the trendy wedding cake and cookie dough. One of the other items that’s a little harder to find are Russell Stover’s version of Cadbury Creme Eggs that come in chocolate creme and caramel (review).
One of the newer varieties, or at least to me, is the Russell Stover Peanut Butter Egg. Russell Stover first introduced their little foil wrapped eggs in 2008, they came in some interesting varieties like Marshmallow & Caramel and Dark Chocolate with Chocolate Creme. I picked mine up on sale at 2 for 99 cents. The plain blue foil wrapping doesn’t say much other than the fact that it’s peanut butter in milk chocolate.
The egg is 1.2 ounces and is molded to be completely ovoid, not one of those flat-bottomed enrobed eggs. The design on the shell is very simple, with just a few embellishments.
Oddly enough, Russell Stover uses this same mold throughout the year. They have some sports themed hollow chocolates they sell, including a football, which makes lots of sense when covered in a brown texture-look foil. The odder part of that set of chocolates though is that the same shape is used for baseballs, soccer balls and basketballs.
The filling is not a peanut butter, as I mentioned, instead, it’s more like a peanut butter caramel frosting. The texture is smooth, but not quite chewy like a caramel. If you gave me a cupcake with this as the icing, I’d be pretty happy. The milk chocolate is very sweet, but goes well with the filling. The peanut butter flavor is muted by the sugary sauce its within, but it still works.
It’s not quite my thing, but it stands as unique take on this candy genre. I actually might buy these again and would probably include them in an Easter basket for kids if I put something together this year.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.