Thursday, July 6, 2006
Though there’s little reason for me to be buying candy with the huge stockpile I have from the All Candy Expo, I couldn’t help but stop at the 7-11 on Friday on my way home from work. That’s when I spotted these two marshmallow limited edition items: Marshmallow Take 5 and Marshmallow Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
In the Marshmallow Take 5, the marshmallow replaces the caramel that’s normally found in there. Hershey’s has been mucking around with the Take 5 in these limited editions for a while, but none of the newer versions have been very satisfying in my opinion and this one is no different.
The bar smells wonderfully sweet and peanutty, but upon biting into it, it becomes freakishly fake tasting with a strong vanillin component. The peanut butter holds its own and the salty pretzel gives a welcome crunchy component but it still can’t drown out the sickly sweet marshmallow.
The thing I noticed about both of these bars is that the marshmallow isn’t fluffy like I’m used to with the Campfire kind. It’s rather latexy but very smooth.
The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup with Marshmallow was similar to the Take 5 in that it smelled and looked normal until you bit into it. Then there was a bit of flowing and slick marshmallow at the bottom of the cup, similar to the new Reese’s Caramel cup.
I found eating the first cup that I didn’t really like how overwhelming the marshmallow was to the texture of the crumbly peanut butter center. So for the second one I turned it over, so that the peanut butter layer hit my tongue first. Much better, but still, the sweetness of the marshmallow gave me a sore throat and didn’t really add anything to the experience.
I’m wondering, however, what a candy cup with caramel at the bottom and then flowing marshmallow (like a See’s Scotchmallow) might go over. Joanna at SugarSavvy.net also reviewed them yesterday.
In the mean time, I hope Hershey’s has gotten the impulse to add marshmallows to everything out of their system.
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
I first heard about Chuao Chocolatier a couple of months ago but haven’t been able to visit them until this weekend. The main location is in Encinitas and they have other shops in San Diego. But they also have one at the Irvine Spectrum, so on a blazingly hot Sunday afternoon my husband and I stopped by to see what it was all about. Let me just say this, if this is the direction that upscale chocolate is going, I can fully support it.
The shop is spare and simple with lots of dark wood touches and reflects more of a wine connoisseur aesthetic than candy. I greeted the women behind the counter (I’ve never done this before) ... I introduced myself and gave full disclosure that I’m a candy writer and boy did I get the full treatment! But seeing how well Melissa, the manager, did her tour of the company through samples of most of their product lines, I get the sense she does it for anyone who’s interested. She was knowlegable, enthusiastic and completely engaging.
First, a little about Chuao. It’s one of those stories about people who follow their passions. Michael Antonoris (once a biomedical engineer and MBA before he “stopped chasing his ego and started chasing his culinary passion,” and went to Paris for two years to study Pastry and Chocolaterie at the ?cole Lenotre). Born in Venezuela, he brought not only his culinary aesthetic to candymaking, but also the native cacao from the region. His chocolate source is El Rey Chocolate. You can read lots more on their website about the history of the company and other press clippings.
The first sample we tried was their flavor of the month for July, which is a beer (San Diego produced Stout) infused chocolate - with a strong wheat/yeasty flavor to the chocolate ganache, it was intriguing and brought out the best of the beer and the chocolate.
She also let us try last month’s (after all, it was only July 2nd) intriguing little egg which was filled with chocolate, olive oil and sun-dried tomato filling. I really liked the olive essence in there, but I’m not a huge fan of sun-dried tomatoes, but they seem to work in there. I could see those going really well with a wine and cheese assortment.
Other wonderful morsels she gave us to try included:
Chocolate Covered Orange Peel - lovely dark chocolate surrounding soft and intense orange zest. Not too syrupy sweet and not the least bit bitter.
Chocolate Covered Ginger - this is no ordinary candied ginger, the pieces are plump and juicy and have no fibery bits. Sweet and with a gentle burn that lasts long after the chocolate is gone.
Coco Nib Snack - fine little nibs a little smaller than peppercorns and caramelized/tossed with a little salt and chili. Fascinating little morsels, not too sweet but also doesn’t have any of that bitter/acrid flavor that some plain nibs have. No fibery bits either. I’m not sure if I’d eat them straight, but I’d love them tossed on a salad or maybe some ice cream.
Even though it was insanely hot, we still tried a little bit of their hot chocolate. They have two varieties, the traditional Abuela and Spicy Maya. They weren’t as thick and milky as many that I had on my last NY trip, but the flavors were really great. I enjoyed the Maya best, as the spice wasn’t too overwhelming, but supported the floral and wine notes of the chocolate.
But the time eventually came to pick out some things to take home.
I picked out a box of 9 pieces:
Melao - salt butter caramel - this one was quite reminiscent of the Sahgun salt caramel I had earlier this year. Quite soft, almost juicy, with a slight grain to the caramezlied sugar and a round sweet flavor dosed with salt to bring out the flavors.
Candela - spicy macadamia praline - very strange - it’s grainy, but not in an unpleasant way. Salty, crispy and with a soft spicy finish, the center is more like eating a cookie dough than a chocolate. For the record, I love cookie dough.
Cardamom - cardamom infused ganache - fresh and lightly infused with that cardamom note that I love about Indian food. Buttery smooth and rich. I would have liked more cardamom, like the Vosges one I tried in NYC.
Modena - strawberry caramel with balsamic vinegar from Modena - this was just plain strawberry as far as I could tell. Nicely fruity and aromatic, smooth and refreshing with a good balance of notes for the dark chocolate, but I wasn’t really getting the balsamic notes.
Chevre - goat cheese, pear Williams and crushed black buttercream - fascinating and probably addictive. At first the dark chocolate ganache is tangy, like a goat cheese. Then the black pepper infusion coming to the surface. The pear played a minor note, but the black pepper pieces were incredible, as they were softened by the chocolate and more like small, spicy raisins.
Zen - green tea infused ginger ganache - wonderful plump pieces of crystalized ginger in a dark chocolate ganache with only a hint of tea. Not too sweet - a good subtle balance.
Gran Cacao - bittersweet ganache with 73% cocoa - a lovely and rich ganache with a good buttery start and some good floral and berry notes.
Cambur - soft banana and brown sugar caramel - imagine a fried banana, drenched in caramelized sugar and then drizzled with chocolate. Mmmm. Intensely banana, but thoroughly authentic tasting. Rich and sweet. By far my favorite of them all.
Picante - California raisin fondue and Napa Valley cabernet caramel, spiced with pasilla chili and cayenne pepper - tart and with fruity/jammy qualities but with an immediate burn in my throat from some fresh tasting chilis. There are some wine notes, but mostly a grape and chili flavor mixed with the dark chocolate but the caramelized sugar is completely lost. I wouldn’t have minded a little hit of molasses or brown sugar in there.
On the whole, I’d say that the line of uncommon flavor combinations is much like Vosges and of similar quality. Where Vosges seems to angle itself towards women, Chuao seems incredibly masculine. The flavors are bold and uncommon and assertive. Flavors are borrowed from outside the candy realm with excellent results. But when they’re inside the sweets oveure, they’re really at their best. The spiced flavors are wonderful but I really enjoyed the caramelized items like the Cambur.
I’m definitely planning on stopping there again, it’s exceptionally convenient when I’m down in Orange County visiting with my husband’s family and it looks like they will continue to develop new flavor combinations that will keep my tongue occupied. They also offer classes, which I would love to take (but only at the Carlsbad location), so maybe someday I’ll become a master chocolatier, too. If you’re a wine or beer lover, they also have tips and product lines for serving them together.
Tuesday, July 4, 2006
Canada and the UK have Nestle Aero and Cadbury Bubbly bars. Israel has the Elite and Korea and Japan have Lotte Airs. Everyone else seems to have an aerated chocolate bar except for the United States. It’s not like we’ve been completely denied. Nestle did have a chocolate bar called the Choco’lite back in the 70s, but that didn’t go over well.
Maybe we’re just waiting for the right bar.
I was really looking forward to seeing Bubble Chocolate. Mostly because they’re using higher quality chocolate. The cacao content on their dark bar is 60%. There’s apparently a lot of engineering involved with balancing the viscosity and whatnot when doing different things to chocolate, so I’ll leave that to the industrial engineers. Apparently you can’t just foam up regular chocolate and expect a great result - there are a lot of things to take into account.
Bubble Chocolate comes in three varieties: Milk, Coffee Milk and Dark 60% Cacao.
My Coffee Milk Chocolate bar got a bit banged up in the trip back, so that pile above is just of the dark and milk chocolate. Handsome, aren’t they?
They’re huge looking, twice as thick as a normal 100 gram bar but only 80 grams. It’s kind of odd to pick them up, because it’s so surprising how light they are - 50% air ... that’s some lite chocolate. It’s kind of like pumice!
Dark Chocolate - the bar has a nice aroma that mixes berries and smoke. Despite the high cacao content, it’s very creamy and sweet. There’s a fudgy consistency to it as it melts so distinctly different than a regular un-bubbled chocolate bar. The airiness of the bar seems to make the scent of the bar carry better too, as you eat it. There’s a slight grain to the chocolate as it disintigrates, but no trace of the chalkiness I’ve complained about with other aerated bars.
Milk Chocolate - the bar is much sweeter than the dark, but also melts far quicker on the tongue. It’s a little stickier too, but exceptionally smooth. The milk flavors are not at all like the dairy chocolate I usually have from Cadbury or European Nestle. This is much more American tasting. I don’t know the cacao content on this chocolate, but it’s certainly dark looking. I was a little disappointed that there’s vanillin in here instead of real vanilla. However, if they’re keeping the bar under the $2 price point retail, I can see this as an acceptable compromise.
Coffee Milk Chocolate - this one smells like a coffee house - fresh and warm and roasty. There’s real coffee in there, but happily no coffee grounds (which is kinda a pet peeve of mine). It’s especially creamy and has a really nice melt on the tongue. This bar has no vanillin in it at all, and that may be why I’ve gravitated towards it. It’s a tasty bar, totally satisfying. The coffee isn’t fake tasting like some of the Hershey products, and it’s not grainy or too bitter. It is sweet, as it’s the milk chocolate, not the dark. But on the whole, my favorite of the three.
Overall they’re nice, munchable chocolate bars with an interesting texture that highlights the flavors. It’s not the best chocolate in the world, but it’s very tasty and enjoyable. It will never replace a good, high quality bar but I feel like it’s more than a novelty item.
As a serving suggestion, I do not advise that you let the chocolate get too warm. When it gets warm it gets fudgy and pliable and the airyness doesn’t quite hold.
Bubble Chocolate is still completing their first orders to get them in stores, but right now you can expect to see them at Trader Joe’s in September.
Interesting note from label: made in Belarus.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:26 am
Monday, July 3, 2006
Simplicity is a beautiful thing.
Peanuts and chocolate, chocolate and peanuts.
I picked these up at the All Candy Expo. They weren’t sexy, they’re not new ... they’re just milk chocolate peanuts.
The peanuts were fresh and good quality. Not the super huge ones that are all standardized sizes, but I didn’t have a bad peanut in the bag, so I appreciate their ability to screen out the yucky ones. They have a nice, thin coat of milk chocolate, so it’s more peanut flavor than chocolate. They have a glossy sheen, which means that they don’t melt together so easily even on blisteringly hot days like today.
Honestly, I think these are much better than Goobers, they’re not quite as sweet and the peanuttiness shines through. I’ve seen these before in the concession sized boxes at movie theaters and I always passed them by because I thought they were a cheaper version of Goobers (or Peanut M&Ms). But they’re actually really good and fresh tasting.
Because there’s more peanut than chocolate in there, there’s not as much sugar either. So if you’re into a sweet little snack and can handle the fat content of the peanuts this is a good snack with lasting energy because of the protein hit.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Ritter Sport is going over to the dark side.
I picked up three new bars (or newish) while at the All Candy Expo and I have to say that they’re exceptionally good.
First, I found out that Ritter is the #2 imported chocolate brand in the United States. Who knew?
Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts - this bar is studded generously with hazelnuts. Not quite as many as the wrapper implies, but I’ll tell you there are plenty in there. The dark chocolate is a semisweet with good floral notes and a slightly smoky bite to it. A little dry, it highlights the nuts really well. Not at all sticky or cloying like the milk chocolate can be, this bar is incredibly munchable. Of the three that I brought back, this one was gone first.
Amargo Extrafino - Fine Extra Dark Chocolate - 71% Cocoa - this was a gorgeous bar (and featured in that page in the National Post, if I might gush). The scent is intoxicatingly rich. Smoke, tobacco, tea and dark berries all waft from its dark scored squares. It’s pretty quick to melt for such a dense bar and it’s very smooth. The berry and cherry notes are quite evident as well as a sharp immediate bitter/acidic bite that mellows quickly to its more roasted and alcoholic notes of cognac. For an inexpensive high cacao bar, this one is very good. Complex but still edible. It goes great with something with a salty/crunchy bite like dry roasted & salted almonds or pretzels.
Feinherb a la Mousse au Chocolat - the same dark chocolate that’s found in the hazelnut bar is in this one, except this has a softer filling inside the squares. Not a fluffy mousse, more like a firm, creamier center like a Frango. It’s nice, but after the intense, complex darkness of the 71%, this one tasted very sweet (and I tried it on a completely different day than the 71% day).
After the other not-so-tasty things I was eating earlier this week, the Ritter Sport dark bars were quite a treat. I can recommend all of the, but if you’re a dark fan and can find these inexpensively (less than $3), it’s quite a deal for chocolate of this quality (no wonder they’re #2).
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
I don’t think I’m a fudge fan. I know it sounds a little weird, but I find fudge a little too sweet and not chocolatey enough. Every once in a while I’ll come across a piece of fresh fudge that brings that additional fudge element to it - that crumbly melt in your mouth quality. I don’t know if that’s something that’s supposed to be in fudge or if it’s bad fudge, but that’s the way I like it.
That’s one of the reasons I avoid pre-packaged fudge, it just never has that fresh, light and rich feeling to it. But still, I was pretty interested in the Jim Beam Chocolate Bourbon Fudge from Country Fresh Food & Confections of Tennessee - I figured they knew what they were doing. Their booth at the All Candy Expo seemed constantly mobbed. I tried a few pieces of their liquor flavored fudges and found them a little dry and tasteless, but I figured that was because they were sitting out on plates all day.
But the place was packed in there was a bit of a buzz about the liquor fudge, so maybe I’ve got this whole thing wrong (but know that there’s not actually any alcohol in there, just some natural and artificial flavors). Maybe everyone but me loves the stuff.
Here’s the thing: I don’t know much about find Kentucky Bourbon. So when I tried this fudge, it tasted like bubble gum to me. Chocolate, fudgy bubble gum. That bubble gum flavor is hard to pin down, but now I’m pretty sure it’s bourbon or rum or some liquor flavor that kids aren’t sophisticated enough to like yet. The line of alcohol flavored fudges also come in Kahlua, Malibu, Sauza, Tia Maria & Courvoisier.
The texture is a little gummy as well, the melt in your mouth quality just isn’t there. It’s nicely chocolatey and ultra smooth, but it’s just not that wonderful new crystalline arrangement that fresh fudge usually has.
I’ve gotta give this a pass. However, I’m going to try some fresh fudge on Friday night and local folks are welcome to join me at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles (3rd & Fairfax) from 6PM to 9PM to try some Littlejohn fudge (and perhaps toffee while we’re at it).
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
One of the seminars I attended at the All Candy Expo was about the cardiovascular benefits of chocolate. It was very promising (and I’ll try to have more about that when the study is actually published), and it’s clear that chocolate can be added to a healthy diet. What’s a little strange is the boosting of chocolate to nutritional supplement. Some companies are going with extra dark chocolates and Mars/Dove has their proprietary line of CocoaVia chocolate products.
I’ve already covered that with the Adora Calcium tablets, but Botticelli is going far and above that with their new Choco-Omeg line.
The Choco-Omeg line is built around the linchpin of the Omega-3 Fatty Acids that are found in high concentrations in fish and flax seed. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that are used for the body in maintaining healthy tissues. There is some evidence (both supporting and contradictory) that Omega-3s in higher quantities can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and reduce inflammation.
Even if you take the Omega-3 boost out of these chocolate bites, you’ve got a super-nutritious snack because of the addition of trace minerals and vitamins to the bars.
Choco-Omeg - Calcium Formula - Belgian milk chocolate with cookie bits. Label: Excellent source of magnesium, calcium and vitamin D - supports strong bones & teeth. 50 mg of Omega-3 plus 400 mg of Calcium. (I don’t have the full nutrition label on this one.)
Taste - the milk chocolate here is rather bland and sweet and since it has no additional flavor boost like the others do, it’s kind of ordinary. The cookie bits are nice and I always enjoy a little crunchy texture. I suspect these are here to cover the graininess added by the mega-calcium. The milk chocolate in both varieties is rather American tasting, none of that European dairy flavor.
Choco-Omeg - Memory Formula - Belgian milk chocolate with orange flavor. Label: Source of antioxidants - 50 mg of Omega-3 - Excellent source of 15 essential vitamins & minerals. 55 mg of Choline (essential for brain function, possibly aids in weight loss because of its role in metabolism), 25% of the following: Vitamin A, E, B6, B12, C, Thiamin, Niacin, Folic Acid, Biotin, Zinc and 30% of Riboflavin, Magnesium & Iron. 40% RDA of Calcium.
Taste - really nice orange scent and real orange peel in there. It’s sweet and looks and tastes a little grainy. The flavor isn’t bad. The orange is very strong and doesn’t leave much room for chocolateyness. This one also has a pretty high boost of calcium too, with 40% of your daily value, but without the grit I’ve had in other supplements.
Choco-Omeg - Cardio Formula - Belgian bittersweet chocolate with raspberries. Label: Source of heart healthy B vitamins, lycopene & co-enzyme Q10. 400 mg of Omega-3. Also contains 5 grams of fiber and 10% of the following: B6, B12, Vitamin C, Iron and Folic Acid. A serving is either a 1.27 ounce bar or three of the nuggets shown above.
Taste - it’s different, I’ll tell you that. It smells really raspberry-ish. And upon biting into it, you can see the little flecks of freeze dried raspberries. The chocolate isn’t too sweet and the berries pack a good tart punch to boost the flavor. Of course to pack that much Omega-3 in there, they’ve put in whole flax seeds. If you don’t think too much about it, they’re kind of like raspberry seeds. Lots and lots of raspberry seeds. At first I wasn’t keen on them, but after the fifth or sixth one I got used to them and found the texture and sort of nutty flavor an interesting addition.
Of the three, I think the one that I could see myself eating regularly is the orange Memory formula one with the Cardio second and the Calcium last. I could see myself alternating them, but I know that I would never be able to eat three nuggets a day forever and ever. It’s a large calorie commitment at 180-200 calories, but there’s plenty of nutrition in there, especially if you’re a person on the go and don’t always eat right.
They’re not for sale in the States yet, but they are available in Canada right now (where they’re made). American distribution is expected in the next couple of months, with the price points set at $1.99 each for the bars and $11.99 for the tub of nuggets (30 pieces, 10 servings). It’s a bit steep for candy but on par with most nutrient boosted foods. You’ll find them at drug stores in the nutrition aisle, not with the candy. The Omega-3 blend that they use comes in part from fish, so these are not appropriate for vegetarians.
This is the kind of product where you have to know yourself really well. Are you disciplined enough to eat some candy every day as a supplement, or will you get bored? Or are you just looking for a sometime treat that has a few nutritional boosters in it? The candy chefs have gotten much better at removing the compromises - these do taste pretty good and it’s not just a little extra vitamin C in there, there are some substantial nutrients added. I can see myself picking one of these up for a plane ride instead of a chocolate bar, but not eating the little nuggets every day. It is nice that they offer the different sizes so that you can just try a bar before investing in a whole hex box of nuggets.
It took me a while to decide on the rating for these. I find that I’m eating them, which is a good sign considering how many candies I have to choose from at the moment. But I don’t feel like I’m going to restock when I run out except for the odd bar that I may pick up now and again. They’re a bit tastier than the Adora, but the portion size is larger and of course the calorie tally. I ended up giving them an 8 out of 10. Feel free to argue with me because I think I could go with a 7 out of 10 just as easily.
Finally - if you’re interested in seeing more about this (and probably some other All Candy Expo products) check out the Today show tomorrow morning. Sam, from Botticelli, says that they’re doing a piece on new candy products!
(Wow, this was a really long review.)
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:30 am
Thursday, June 15, 2006
It’s hard to believe that I’ve never really had the Lindt Lindor truffles before this. I’ve always looked at them like they’re some sort of compromise ... they’re not a candy bar and they’re not a product of a fine chocolatier. So they never really fit the bill at any given moment.
But let’s just start with me saying that I’m surprised at how good they are, and how glad I am to find their newest one that was sampled at the All Candy Expo was the 60% Extra Dark Truffle.
I’ve enjoyed the Lindt bars for quite a while, as they were always easy to find and a rather upscale pure chocolate indulgence at a time when it was pretty hard to find such things ten years ago.
In order to see how dark this new truffle was, I decided to try the array from white to extra dark.
White Chocolate (yellow wrapper) - sweet and milky smelling with a strong vanilla note. Buttery and light in the middle. No real flavor to it, just sweet and creamy.
Dark Chocolate (blue wrapper) - nice chocolatey aroma, with some fruity notes. The shell is creamy and smooth and of course the filling is buttery light, but perhaps a little greasy feeling. It could use more cocoa solids in it to give it more flavor. A really good, solid performer. I didn’t know what flavors I had, so I checked at the grocery store and these were 44 cents each there (and I’ve seen them cheaper). For a quick, single pick-me-up, they’re quite the bargain.
Extra Dark Chocolate (black wrapper) - rather fruity smelling with a slight note of coconut. The shell was buttery smooth with a rather noticeable bitter and dry bite that really offset the creamy center. Now that I’ve tried them side by side, I much prefer the Extra Dark because the complex flavors of the shell offset the light, creamy, almost-liquid truffle center.
Hazelnut (bronze wrapper - not pictured) - this one got smashed on the way home and I didn’t think it was fair to take its picture in that state. The center was light and buttery and studded with little hazelnut pieces. It was very sweet and light tasting, but missed some of the darker caramelized notes that I enjoy with many hazelnut products.
Overall, I don’t think I’d turn down these truffles as a gift, but the only one I’m likely to buy for myself is the 60% Dark, as the complexity of it balances the rather heavy fat. They’re a good deal as a small indulgence you get at a grocery store since you can buy them as singles. I’m pretty sure if I had a half a pound of them they’d disappear pretty quickly, whether they were my favorite flavor or not.
UPDATE 10/5/2009: I’ve had more opportunities to try these over the past few years. Lately I’ve been finding the flavor to be a bit “empty”. There’s a wonderful texture, but the slick & oily center seems to dilute the rich chocolate flavor I expect. I’m downgrading them to a 7 out of 10, as I’m finding I’m more likely to give them away than eat them myself.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.