Thursday, March 5, 2009
Recently Kohler Chocolates has started selling online and appearing at trade shows to promote their products nationwide. (Which often means an appearance in Oprah Magazine. I’ve never read Oprah’s publications and don’t know much about her taste in candy and don’t usually follow recommendations of talk show hosts.)
Last year I got a hold of one of their bars via All Candy Expo, but it was a cherry one, so I didn’t think that’d be a good introduction so I waited. This year, just a few days before Valentine’s Day I got a nice selection of their boxed chocolates: Garden Ganache Truffles and Dark Mountain Toffees. They also make Terrapins (like Chocolate Turtles), chocolate bars, trail mix and a variety of barks.
The Garden Ganache Truffles are stunning. The box is a large tray with huge dome-molded truffles in bright colors. It’s presented with a clear top for maximum impact. It’s one of the rare instances where the product looks exactly, if not better, than the photos on the website.
The website is a bit vague, however, on the array in their Garden Ganache. The ten piece set features flavors inspired by spices, tea, coffee, nuts and fruits. The package is also maddeningly vague on the ingredients. It mentions the fillings, I believe, but none of them mention the actual chocolate ingredients.
Asian Spice (Burnt Orange) - this was the first piece I tried because it smelled the strongest out of the box. The aroma of star anise was quite overwhelming, so I thought in order to preserve the flavors of the rest, it had to go.
It’s a wonderfully solid truffle, about 1.5” across and wonderfully tempered. The shell isn’t that thick, but has a nice snap and with all the truffles there was no sign of cracking or leaking.
Though this was the first truffle I tried, I didn’t realize at the time that the center was different from the rest. It was thick and almost fudgy or like a dense brownie. Not quite grainy, it was a bit crystalline when I bit into it, but it melted quickly. The five spice was very pronounced, with the licoricey anise and fennel elements at the forefront. There was only a slight hint of cinnamon and cloves to it, and of course the chocolate flavors of smoke, cedar and coffee.
Creme Fraiche (White) - this was a wonderfully light truffle that allowed the flavors of the chocolate to come through. The ganache was very creamy and had only the slightest dairy tang to it.
This was quite vivid. The center has a nice jammy raspberry component - no seeds but a good authentic berry profile with a slight tangy note and strong florals.
Passion Fruit (Light Orange) - this was one of the few white chocolate centers. It had a wonderful musky/herbal scent that reminded me of mango skins. The nice thing about passion fruit candies is that they always seem easier to eat than actual passion fruits.
This was a good mix of sweet and tangy with some strong zesty notes with just a touch of milk. I was really surprised by this, I’m not ordinarily a fan of tropical fruits mixed with chocolate.
Pear (Light Green) - this one seemed to be more themed like a pear liqueur than a pear puree. The center is a chocolate ganache with fragrant & fresh touch of pear flavor, it’s almost fresh fig meets banana.
Chai Tea (Green) - the spice flavors here were strong. It tasted mostly of gingerbread, the dark chocolate flavors subbed for the molasses notes and ginger with a touch of cinnamon & nutmeg dominated.
Earl Grey (Blue) - I’m definitely a bergamot fan. This didn’t disappoint. The chocolate is strong and the dark balsam zest notes blend well with it. The black tea flavors of Earl Grey are kind of missing, but I didn’t really expect them to make a strong showing (as they didn’t appear at all in the chai either).
The coconut flavor was deep and round, though it still had some dark rum notes to it, but it didn’t verge into Pina Colada territory.
Macadamia (Tan) - this was the other white centered piece. It’s also the only one with actual nuts in it. Macadamias remind me a bit of coconut, with its strong oily flavor and crispy crunch, this was rather similar to the coconut in that respect. The nuts were fresh and had a bit of a green banana flavor to them as well. Not too sweet, it was a nice change from the darker and spicier varieties.
Hazelnut Coffee (Brown) - this has a pleasant hazelnut liqueur aroma. The center was just bit firmer than the others, but quite silky once it melted. There is more than a touch of espresso flavors giving this a much better profile than that sometimes artificial quality that hazelnut flavoring can do. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get any real gianduia elements here (but that’ll be later with the toffees).
Here they’ve taken tiny chunks of toffee (most look like little cubes) and molded them with a touch of dark chocolate at the base. They call them Dark Mountain Toffee and they come in six varieties. Like the Garden Ganache, they’re boxed with a clear top to highlight the actual candies. They were a little puzzle to figure out which was which (and I successfully avoided the walnut one).
Tiny little cubes of perfectly toasted sugar & butter toffee is mixed with chopped hazelnuts and candied orange peel and then drenched in dark chocolate with a teensy little snow cap of white chocolate.
While this sound like a riot of flavors, everyone has their part to play and it becomes more like a harmony. The dark and bass tones of the of the toffee and dark chocolate set the stage. Then the high citrus zest of the orange peel comes in followed by the spirited twinkle of the hazelnut crunch.
Cocoa Nibs was a very simple treat. The addition of the buttery crunch of cacao to the sweet toffee gave the whole thing a less-sweet taste, though I didn’t really get a lot of flavor from the nibs themselves because the chocolate is pretty strong as it is. If there was one that could be labeled the “plain” variety, this would be it ... not that there’s anything wrong with just having two elements: toffee & dark chocolate.
Mint - ordinarily I wouldn’t think that toffee and mint would go together. This has dried mint leaves though, which adds a more “tea-like” flavor to it and less like the potent mint-oil blast that many candies employ. While I liked the leafy tannins, the dark burnt sugar flavors and the rich buttery chocolate, the actual leaves in there bugged me a little bit. Not enough that I didn’t finish it, mind you.
Coconut had a very strong tropical taste to it, even though there didn’t seem to be more than a dusting of coconut flakes on the white chocolate drizzle there were more flakes inside. I would have preferred a more toasted coconut vibe to it, as I think that would go better with the darkness of all the other flavors, I wouldn’t kick this out of my cabana.
Hazelnut was radically different than all the rest. Mixed into the tumble of toffee cubes was some soft and buttery gianduia. The hazelnut & chocolate paste was nicely highlighted by the toasted butter flavors and then the extra cocoa buttery chocolate. The bite on this one was much softer, almost like a granola instead of a cluster. (Which makes me wonder if anyone has made a hazelnut paste granola before ... as if granola isn’t fatty enough.)
I’m really impressed with the presentation, the unique styling of the candy that highlights the combinations and the bright flavors.
For folks who are lamenting the loss of Joseph Schmidt (news here), these are definitely truffles that highlight the silky quality of chocolate without being overly sweet or flavored and are generous pieces. (Though they’re also more expensive and can only be ordered online or purchased in a scant few shops in Wisconsin.) The array of Garden Ganache I tried retails for $24.95 for 7 ounces (making them about $57 a pound) . The Dark Mountain Toffees are also quite impressive, though I’d prefer being able to just order the Orange Hazelnut one by the box. The pieces aren’t quite as weighty as the truffles (and probably require quite a bit of handwork) - the box of six retails for only $9.95.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
They’re a long bar of ganache encased in a hand painted chocolate shell that’s meant to be sliced instead of popped in the mouth whole.
The bars come in two sizes, a four inch long/six ounce bar and an eight inch long/twelve ounce bar. Though $14 for the small one sounded like a lot at first, when I thought about it, that’s a little over $37 per pound, which is pretty good for a box of fine chocolates. The small version makes 10 servings.
I got a hold of two bars from a media event called Food Fete (great writeup here): Double Hazelnut Caramel Truffle and Cappuccino with a Twist.
The Double Hazelnut Caramel Bar is A striking, hand-painted truffle with contrasting tiers of milk chocolate flavored with rich hazelnut puree, white chocolate infused with caramel, dark chocolate and a hint of ground hazelnut.
The bar has a simple construction. It’s a rounded prism shape, as described on the package, it’s about four inches long and 2 inches wide/high.
The shell is banded with colored white chocolate and milk chocolate. Inside are three layers of ganache.
First, I have to say, it’s an amazing construction and it looks just like it’s supposed to. I liked the banded coloring, it was appetizing and made an excellent presentation. Slicing the product was pretty easy, I had no trouble at all with the above knife, which I wiped after each slice (they suggest warming it in hot water and then wiping it dry). The bar was at room temp, which may have been a little colder than normal (about 62 F).
I made my initial slices rather thin, about a quarter of an inch is pictured. After a little math later on I realized they should have been over a third of an inch. You can gauge it yourself for the number of guests & how much they want to eat. thicker provides both a good portion and makes it easier to pick up, even if you cut them in half, especially if it gets a little warmer upon serving.
The ganache center was smooth and soft, a little fudgy. The flavors were light but pleasant. The center layer definitely had the caramel notes and the toasted hazelnut flavors while the top and bottom layers were more of the straight chocolate variety.
Personally I might have preferred more hazelnut to it or at least more of a punch of flavors, but it was definitely a decadent little treat.
The second bar was Cappuccino with a Twist. The little tag described it like this: An artfully hand-painted truffle filled with the mingling flavors of milk chocolate, coffee-infused white chocolate, dark chocolate, coffee liqueur and a subtle finish of lemon.
I didn’t care much for the design on the outside of this one, though once cut up it didn’t matter much. But then again, with less design on the outside I wasn’t eating as much food coloring.
The three layers here worked excellently. The bottom was a dark chocolate that had just a hint of strong coffee. The middle layer was softer, sweeter and less intense. The top was a white chocolate with a strong note of lemon zest. Towards the end of it all there’s a slight alcoholic punch.
I liked the layering on all of them, they were distinct and made eating them a bit of an adventure.
The interesting part of all of this is that the ganache is the star here. Once sliced, there’s very little chocolate shell, far less than most truffles, so it’s all about the cream and chocolate concoction.
They make a really nice presentation piece, the only drawback when serving to a small number of people is the lack of variety. So if you’re serving 20 people, two or three of the small bars would mean only two or three choices instead of the wide variety you could do with regular truffles.
However, the ability to control the portion size and the sheer novelty of seeing a huge log of chocolate that you can have a slice of is pretty spectacular.
I took this to an Oscar viewing party and it was part of a buffet of desserts. In the future though I think it would be an interesting bar of a dessert cheese plate, served along with some cheeses, nuts, dried fruits, honey and crackers.
The drawback is mostly that this is a bar for sharing. I can’t see popping this out of the sleeve and chomping into it, well, maybe in some sort of 30 Rock scene with Liz Lemon on a crazed depression-fueled-chocolate-binge. So it’s a special occasion sort of purchase. I’ve only seen them in specialty stores (it might have been Bloomingdales), so web-ordering is probably a necessity. However, it would make an incredible hostess gift or finish to a meal. With economic pressures, this sort of splurge might actually be good - it feels decadent but isn’t as expensive as some artisan chocolates or even upscale bakery products and brings people together, which is part of the magical quality of food.
Monday, February 16, 2009
I actually ordered this set of four boxes of Wine Filled Chocolates made by Bouquet of Fruits Vineyard from Wine Woot! I’ve seen them for sale before, way back around Christmas 2007.
I was a little grumbly because it took so long for them to arrive. I ordered them at the end of January, and though they said that they’d arrive by Valentines, I assumed they’d be shipped out within five days or so (like other items I’d ordered from Woot!). Instead they arrived on Thursday last week. My hope is that they were being made to order, so they’d be extra fresh.
The set is four boxes of 9 pieces each, 4.5 ounces. The flavor array is Champagne (Pink), Chardonnay (Brown), Cabernet (Magenta) & Port (Black). Each little sphere or chocolate is advertised to be filled with wine. All for $29.99 plus $5 delivery.
The boxes are rather large for the amount of chocolate inside, however, since these are liquid filled, a bit of cushion is a good thing. Each chocolate is in a fluted cup, inside a slot in a plastic tray. The sides of the box have a bit of space around them and the whole thing is topped off with one of those cushioned waxed paper pieces. It’s all sealed in shrinkwrap, then a ribbon.
The ingredients are admirable. Chocolate, wine and vanilla. This really didn’t make sense to me, because the wine in the center always seemed very sweet & syrupy ... but I guess that’s the magic of wine filled chocolate.
The chocolate look rustic & hand rolled.
The chocolate shell is very sweet and melts readily, not quite oily but quite soft… but then there’s another shell underneath, a perfectly formed sphere that seems to have a seam. Aha!
That shell doesn’t taste quite the same as the outer shell, maybe a little darker.
Inside though is a syrup of white wine. I wouldn’t call it champagne, as I would assume that it’s not true champagne (from France) and it has no bubbles. It’s a sweet mixture, a lot like a dessert wine. Not quite to my liking, but I ate a few of them.
Chardonnay is a rather varied white wine that can be bold or delicate and it can be pretty confusing because it’s such a common wine but can take on so many different profiles.
Let me just say before I go too much further that I am an excellent wine taster, but I don’t consider myself a wine aficionado. I can enjoy it and drink it several times a week but if I never had it again, I don’t think I’d miss it much. (On the whole I prefer spirits with botanicals or aromatic elements like Gin, Ouzo or Pastis, though again, I don’t really drink that often but when I do, that’s where I go.) So if you want to add to the info here that I’ve mentioned about each of these wines, feel free.
The Chardonnay filled Chocolates were the only white chocolate over the bunch, which was over the functional milk chocolate shell. The ingredients on these were wrong, it made no mention of the white chocolate, which caused me to doubt the accuracy of all of them. (I also started to suspect that perhaps the sugar from the chocolate shell leaches in, to form this syrup.)
These smelled quite milky and a little yeasty (in a good way). The wine center was tangy and fresh tasting like grapes - not quite snappy though.
Cabernet Sauvignon, as a red wine, has a lot tannins in it. So it can be quite striking and sometimes bitter, tart or dry (or all three) and takes on some wonderful oak & tobacco flavors. However, a lot of the bitterness of the tannins can be mellowed by fats when pairing with meals. So pairing it with a good dark chocolate actually makes a lot of sense.
As I went along in this process, I learned that the big charge here is either biting into the sphere and getting a burst of light, wine flavor or letting the whole thing melt until it’s an oozy puddle.
After a few of these I was starting to feel a bit full though (so I did this review over three sessions). I was comforted to see that each piece is about 107 calories - about 110 calories per ounce, which is much lower than most other boxed chocolates.
I was letting the chocolate melt for my tastings of the Cab, there was a definite “butter” taste for the Cabernet. The wine center was fruity but lacking a sort of dry bite that red wine offers when paired with chocolate. Of the three so far, this was definitely winning out.
Port is a sweet, fortified red wine. While at first that sounds dreadful, it’s quite mellow and rich (usually fortified with brandy, not just any old distilled spirit like the long gone Ripple was). It’s sweeter than most wine’s but not quite as rich and complex (or alcohol laden) as something like brandy. It’s usually sipped from a snifter as a dessert wine.
Since Port contains more alcohol (about 19-20%), these actually carried more of the wine scent when I opened the box. (The others just smelled like chocolate.)
This was the most successful for me. The port was much more intense. There were dark brandy notes, woodsy flavors, a hit of alcohol of course and then the subtle notes of the mediocre chocolate shell.
The boxes are color coded, though there’s no actual key. The only place that the variety is indicated is on the little tag on the ribbon. Once you take the ribbon off it’s a guessing game. (The champagne & port were pretty easy to guess by color, but I kept getting the Chardonnay & Cabernet confused, especially since the Cabernet label never actually says Cab on it. )
Overall, the package was still a decent value. It’s over a pound of chocolates (18 ounces) delivered for $35. However, it’s Woot! so you never know when they’ll offer it again. (This is the second time I’ve seen it on there, which is why I ordered it. Thinking this review might be of value to someone in the future.)
It’s certainly a unique product, I’ve seen plenty of liquor filled chocolates and some ganaches flavored with wine, but I’ve never had another wine filled chocolate. I don’t think I’d want a whole box of them, but it might be fun as something to serve with a dessert cheese plate.
Friday, February 13, 2009
I have more candy than I will ever be able to review at my pace of 5-7 products a week. Here are a few items I’ve tasted recently and some notes on them (most gratuitous photos). So here are some small bites of a whole week’s worth of candy. Get ready to scroll!
I visited with Anne Hickey and the Plush Puffs’ crew when I was at the Fancy Food Show. At closing time they gave me a box of their Vanilla Bean Marshmallows. It’s new packaging for them, which I really like. It’s still spare and highlights the product well.
But what I liked best is that they’ve made the marshmallows a bit smaller. Now they’re 1” cubes instead of the larger version I tried several years ago. This means that when toasted the center gets molten before the outside catches on fire. (There are important physical laws that even marshmallows must obey.)
The box has been sitting next to my stove top and some evenings I’ll toast up two or three for dessert on the gas burner. It makes the house smell wonderful.
I visited a few times with Seth Ellis Chocolatier while at the Fancy Food Show. They had a lovely array of samples, but for some reason I eschewed their truffles and became obsessed with their Candied Lemons.
Perhaps it’s because of this little nugget from their website, “We candy the freshest organic lemon slices slowly, over twenty-five days, using a traditional European method to preserve the intense lemon flavors.”
The box contains one full lemon slice plus and extra quarter. Special bonus, the packaging is made with wind power (well, that and some tree pulp).
The candying doesn’t make the peel as soft as some others, but then again, sometimes that makes them gummy and flavorless. This definitely has a bitter bite and because the pulp is also still there, it’s quite tangy. The dark chocolate is creamy and also has a woodsy bite to it.
I must have been obsessed with lemon and lemongrass at the Fancy Food Expo because the other item I knew I had to bring home was L’Estasi Dolce Sweet Ecstasy Lemongrass Ginger Truffles.
Lemongrass is a bit of a strange flavor. I love it in Thai cooking (hot & sour soup especially). It imparts the zesty notes of lemon peel, but it has a soft side to it as well, that I can only compare to bubble gum.
These nicely sized truffles are a real ganache made with lots of real cream.
The center is soft and silky with an immediate soft flavor of lemongrass. Then there’s the warming power of the ginger. The woodsy ginger flavors never come forward, it’s just that little burn in the background. This all combines well with the slight dairy flavor of the cream and the mellow dark chocolate.
One of the Fancy Food Show items I mentioned in my show notes was Rubicon Bakery.
They not only make all natural, wholesome products right here in the United States, their mission is to help people in need by giving job training, jobs placement assistance to work their way out of poverty.
The package pictured here is a mock up used for the distribution of the samples, the real thing is much nicer.
They’re little meringue kisses, a little larger than a Hershey’s Kiss. The center is a crunchy fluffed egg white made flavorful by the addition of gobs of real freeze dried strawberries. To seal in the crispness, they’re dipped in bittersweet Guittard chocolate.
The freaky part about the whole combination is that it’s so tasty & satisfying yet so low in calories. They say that a serving of five is only 90 calories (about 100 calories per ounce, amazing for a chocolate product). So even if you ate a whole box of 15 bites, you’re still under the 300 mark of most king sized candy bars.
SFGate wrote about them last week too, those lucky dogs, it’s a local company for them.
These candies have single-handedly caused me to swear off of all Andes products except for the original Creme de Menthe.
The Mocha Mint Indulgence is a freak product. I don’t even know what it is. The pieces are ugly (sorry, no photo of the interior, this is supposed to be a tantalizing post). Putty brown mockolate over a layer of mint green confection like the center of the regular Andes.
It smells like minted cardboard. The texture is like grainy wax. The flavor is like musty Christmas candles found in a drawer at an estate sale.
To close is something to restore our confidence in nuts: Ococoa Nut Butter Cups made right here in Los Angeles by Diana Malouf. I picked them up from her in person before Christmas but never go around to posting the review.
More than just gourmet peanut butter cups, these are tall cups filled with exotic nut butters & fruits. The flavor array is: Classic Peanut Butter, Pistachio Date, Sesame Fig, Hazelnut Chocolate, Almond Cherry, Cashew Apricot, Marzipan Truffle, Macadamia Guava, and Sunflower Honey.
The box is elegant and substantial.
The cups are about an inch high with a cute ruffle of chocolate around the collar and an inch in diameter at the top.
They were a bugger to photograph the interior, luckily their website has the fantastic and accurate cross sections that you can peruse. This one is Guava jam & macadamia nut butter. Probably the best experience I’ve had with macadamias & guava, which aren’t really my fave, but done very well here.
I was attracted most to the Sesame Fig, which I gobbled up after taking a photo. The sesame paste is combined with chocolate to create a sesame Nutella of sorts, though quite firm. Inside the center was a reservoir of fig jam. The toasted & grassy flavors of the sesame went well with the fresh & slightly tangy notes of the fig. Sunflower Honey was next on my hit list. Sunflower seeds have such a distinctive taste. This center was like a creamed honey with sunflower flavors.
Cashew Apricot was really decadent, as the apricot’s pine-notes were offset by the deep toasted butter flavors of the cashews. The hazelnut was also stellar, the freshness of the nut butter was so different from many other guianduias I have regularly. (I shared some others and didn’t take complete notes on the rest.)
Unlike many nut creations that rely on salt to bring the nut flavors forward, Ococoa lets the sweetness of the nuts come through. The only problem I had with these, if it could be called that, was the construction. The chocolate cap on the top was very thick, so biting the pieces in half wasn’t very easy. While I don’t think it’s imperative that all chocolates be dissected, it meant that there was always a larger reservoir of chocolate at the end when sometimes I really wanted to end on a nut note.
They’ll set you back $22 for a 9 piece box.
Friday, January 30, 2009
I check in with Valerie Confections from time to time, they’re about a mile from my house. The crazy little secret is that I go there for their teacakes. Especially in the summer, when I want something with a touch of chocolate but can’t bear a whole piece, the bottoms are dipped in chocolate. The cakes are moist, dense & lightly infused with flavors.
At the Fancy Food Show, however, Stan & Valerie were excited to show me their new Valentine’s collections. There are three:
The set called Pour Homme is for the gentleman. It has 11 pieces and comes in the dark brown box. Visually it’s dominated by large flat dark milk chocolate hearts that have fleur de sel and little almond toffee bits in them. It’s filled in with dark chocolate hearts with flowing caramel centers.
The set called Pour Elle is geared towards the gals and comes in the classic ivory box. This features large flat white chocolate hearts with rose petals and the small bittersweet chocolate hearts filled with rose petal and passionfruit ganache.
Both have 11 pieces and retail for $30.
For folks who want to share or prefer a different assortment there are boxes of various sizes (9, 18 & 36 pieces) that hold the bittersweet ganache hearts, gianduja rocher, and bittersweet chocolate with almond toffee bits.
I’ll just run down a few of the items I tasted:
Bittersweet Chocolate with Almond Toffee Bits (the smallest dark chocolate hearts shown above) - a simple pleasure. A mix of smooth bittersweet chocolate that has a glossy and smooth melt with little toffee chips and almonds. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t getting enough toffee ... but then again, if I wanted chocolate and toffee, I could just order the chocolate covered toffee, so this piece is more about chocolate.
Bittersweet Chocolate Hearts filled with Liquid Caramel - a little taller and wider than the other filled hearts, this one has a wonderfully thick and gooey caramel. Lightly salted, it has all the flavor of a toffee but the smooth texture of a custard. Lightly salted, the dark chocolate lends the perfect container and dark woodsy sweetness.
Bittersweet Chocolate Hearts filled with Rose Petal Passionfruit Ganache - a little petal graces the top of these pieces, but just sniffing it I could tell from the fragrance that it was the rose. The center is a white butter ganache with the tangy and tropical bite of passionfruit. The slightly soapy rose took some of the passionfruit earnestness away. There is a bit of a lingering aftertaste, kind of like jasmine. I suggest eating these last. Your dessert’s dessert.
Large Rose Petal White Chocolate Hearts (shown in a small version in the picture above) - this one was a little bland for me, and I did eat it first in my tasting session because I know that white can be a bit delicate and finicky. The white chocolate was smooth and not overly sweet, with a slight malty taste of cocoa. But the floral infusion didn’t quite hit me, but did leave a fresh aftertaste.
Gianduja Rocher - a sweet milky explosion of salt, buttery toffee chips and creamy sweet chocolate. It’s not a pasty, sticky gianduia. It’s a solid form that gives a soft and silky melt to the chocolate and a punch of roasted hazelnut flavor. It is sweet though, luckily the toffee chips and the salt cut through that.
Darkened Milk Chocolate Hearts with Almond Toffee Bits and Fleur de Sel - I want this in bar form year round. The “darkened milk chocolate” tastes like a cross between bittersweet and a European dairy milk chocolate. The dairy notes are complemented well by the toffee chips and the whole thing is set off by powerful zaps of salt in liberal reservoirs throughout.
Bittersweet Ganache in Bittersweet Shells Finished with 23 Karat Gold (the picture here is of a round version of the same truffle - the uneaten one is above). Delicate mix of flavors, as this is all about the chocolate. The ganache is soft and smooth. There’s an immediate acidic bite that gives way pretty quick to some dark charcoal and alcoholic notes like fine cognac and tobacco. The gold version has a bit more chocolate to it, because of the geometry ... the gold flakes do nothing for me, except distinguish it from the toffee chip dark heart.
The attention to detail in the items, with their perfectly placed decorations and well tempered chocolate is exquisite. No bubbles or voids, everything glossy and gorgeous. On the personal side of things, I go all weak in their knees for their nougat and am a little disappointed they don’t have it again this year for Valentine’s (as that’s what my Man gave me last year). But I like it when they try new things and enjoyed the darkened milk with toffee chips most of all. (So I guess I’d have to opt for the Pour Homme ... luckily the box doesn’t say anything about it being geared for fellas.)
I like supporting a local business and that everything is made fresh ... not last year and has been sitting in a warehouse. If you go to the store you can get the petits fours and the tea cakes by the piece.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
This year it was from Theobroma Chocolatier, a family run Albuquerque confectionery shop.
There were quite a few items in the bag but this has to be the best among them (and it was hard to chose which one to profile).
The package doesn’t list what they are, but a little note in the bag let me know that this is their Chocolate y Maiz.
For those who don’t know Spanish, that’s Chocolate and Corn.
These rustic looking disks are huge. At about 3.5 to 4 inches across, each weighs over an ounce (I didn’t weigh them, I’m just guessing).
They’re a lovely glossy dark chocolate with a caramel colored chocolate striping which really saves the appearance.
The chocolate is mellow, a semi-sweet it has some nice fruity tones, only a slight dry finish. The tempering and snap is great and the chocolate has a smooth, creamy melt. The star here is the inclusion of corn flakes. That’s it. Just a big plop of dark chocolate with corn flakes in it.
The corn flakes are crunchy and have a great malty flavor with a little salty and corny taste to it.
They’re wonderfully satisfying - so much so that just a half of a disk was plenty. I’ve had these for almost a month and they’re still not gone. (But it was a big bag!) But they also keep exceptionally well and pair with other items easily. They’re a bit of a change of pace from the Ritter Sport Knusperflakes (Corn Flakes) bar which is milk chocolate.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Mitchell’s Candies was founded in 1939 by Chris Mitchell as a classic sweet shop, with a soda fountain right next to a movie theater. Patrons would buy sweets to take into the films and then come by afterwards to share a treat. But as the times changed their core business remained their handmade chocolate dipped candies. The store is now run by the second generation, Bill Mitchell.
Mr. Mitchell was working behind the counter when we came in and was able to answer any questions I had, and more. He also gave me several samples, which is always a plus in my sweet world.
The Gaecia Collection is a departure from the other more traditional offerings at Mitchell’s Candies. The flavor combinations are alluring, some of them are pairings that I’ve never had before. They sound unique and well thought out. The pieces themselves are rather small, about a half an ounce each.
What follows is mostly gratuitous close-ups of the individual pieces.
Pistachio & almond butter white chocolate gianduia. Sweet, grassy, a little nutty and quite buttery.
The little pistachio on top (yes, it was really that green) gives it extra crunch and the bittersweet enrobing keeps it from becoming too sweet. The cocoa butter was a real plus here, the richness of the fat gave the otherwise delicate flavors an opportunity to emerge.
Fresh raspberry pate de fruit with a touch of Chambord. Topped with a rustic styled hazelnut ganache with little crunchies.
This was the only all-milk chocolate piece on the assortment and it was definitely the sweetest. It reminded me (in the best way possible) of a berry laced coffee cake. The mix of the tart and jammy berries, the nutty flavor and the little crunchies was a really comforting mix and completely unique. (I would love this as a bar with a shortbread cookie base.)
A pistachio frappe creme (kind of like a dulce de leche with pistachios) covered with a dark chocolate ganache with notes of roses and cherries.
It sounds kind of freaky and it is a bit of a riot of flavors and textures, but the lilting rose melds so well with the darker musky notes of the cherry, chocolate and almonds.
Perhaps it’s that so many of the fine chocolates I’ve been eating are West Coast and inspired by Asian and Central/South American flavors (chili, green tea, exotic citrus, sea salts, curry, etc.), these combinations struck me as both classic and innovative at the same time.
Milk chocolate ganache with Earl Grey tea and dark chocolate ganache with a whisper of lemon.
This was the smoothest, satiny-est ganache I’ve had in a long time. Not too sweet and super-fatty. The black tea notes here were as noticeable as the bergamot of the Earl Grey.
The chocolate played its role well, too. The woodsy notes mixed with with the slightly acidic citrus zest.
One of my favorite pieces in the mix.
Two different marzipans with pistachios and ginger, dipped in dark chocolate and topped with an orange peel candied with Cointreau.
The top and larger layer is a traditional amaretto marzipan, a very small grain to it which gave it a smooth consistency and strong almond flavor but good buttery notes. The bottom layer is pistachio which is more like a peanut butter, with stark floral notes. Towards the end there was a little spicy warmth of the ginger.
Milk chocolate gianduia with a liberal splash of Ouzo and dark chocolate gianduia with espresso.
This was the piece that sold me on the assortment in the first place. Sweet simplicity. Perhaps a little too sweet but it’s so pungent as well (kind of contaminated the rest of the box with the anise flavors). It doesn’t look impressive, like some sort of block of fudge, but it’s far from bland and chalky. If I have one suggestion for this piece though it’s that it should be wrapped in foil to keep the intense anise from getting into the other chocolates.
While at the shop I also picked up quite a few other chocolates, sold by the pound, to eat during my travels.
First, what impressed me most was that the majority of the offerings were dark chocolate. It was just so enticing to see the intense dark assortments in the case. All of the dark chocolates are covered in a 52% cacao blend, it’s rich and fatty with a good smooth consistency. The enrobing and dipping was also well-tempered. Nothing is more enticing than rows and rows of shiny chocolate.
The chocolates are $45 to $50 a pound and are prepackaged in boxes for easy gifting or you can pick your own mix (take away in a bag or gift box).
I picked up some chocolate covered glace ginger medallions, chocolate covered orange peel, chocolate dipped Australian figs, Italian style nougat. The standouts were the ginger medallions (smooth, woodsy and fresh) and the Rum Toffee, which had a more complex oak, tobacco & molasses flavor than the straight toffee (which was also good). The caramels were buttery and all the pieces with nuts or preserved fruits were really fresh and vibrant. The fig was very sweet and I think needed a much darker chocolate to offset it.
I can definitely say that if my mother moves to Cleveland, this is a spot I’ll be visiting again. (Though the website is pretty tempting as they offer free shipping.)
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
As the leaves start turning and the air becomes crisp in the fall, I love really filling treats like toffee. Of course Los Angeles isn’t cooperating with that right now and it’s 91 degrees at 11 AM, but maybe eating toffee will help change this Indian summer.
Ravensbark intrigued me because they were interesting variations on the same old theme of toffee covered with chocolate and nuts.
Ravensbark sent me an assortment of all their flavors: The Original, The Blondie, The Milkman and The Ravenator. All boast all natural ingredients, hand crafted in small batches in Texas.
Opening the box, it smelled like fresh baked snickerdoodles. Not spicy, just sweet and toasty.
The Original (shown above) is toffee covered in dark chocolate and covered in crushed almonds.
Each piece is nicely formed and with a good balance of chocolate to toffee. The chocolate is rather sweet and complements the toffee’s burnt sugar and creamy flavors well. The almonds add extra crunch.
The planks aren’t extrodinarily thick, like Enstrom’s, instead they’re a bit easier to bite and after chewing they kind of descend into a caramelly combination of the chocolate, nuts and toffee.
The Milkman is the same but with a milk chocolate coating. This one seemed to make the saltiness of the toffee pop, but it was also quite a bit sweeter.
The Blondie (shown above) is a white chocolate coating with almonds. The white does make this a much sweeter treat, but the almonds and salty toffee cut it well. It goes really well with strong coffee.
The Ravenator is the one that I was most interested in. Bittersweet chocolate, toffee and almonds with a spicy kick.
The spicy kick wasn’t overwhelming, just a subtle warmth towards the end of it but it balances it all out very well. Some spiced caramels I’ve had just blow me away and verge on torture. This gave me a bit of a lingering burn after a few pieces, and definitely stood out from the rest.
It’s clear that all the time and effort is going into the product itself, not the packaging. Each portion comes in a simple twist tied bag, nothing fancy. While the price is a bit steep but the same as other premium toffees like Enstrom’s & Littlejohn’s ... the bonus here is you can get assortments and packages less than a full pound. But don’t get the impression that this is just a clone of either of those, Ravensbark is a thinner toffee that provides a bit more balance between the chocolate and the boiled butter & sugar crunch and of course ample nuts.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.