Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Ghirardelli has really expanded their line of chocolate bars over the past five years. Not only that, I see their products everywhere now thanks to the expansion of higher end chocolate into grocery stores and drug chains. They even have a charming chain of ice cream stores.
But I’ve ignored them on the blog for a long time. Probably because my initial impression of them has been that the chocolate bars is waxy and bland. But they’re wildly popular and have been making chocolate since 1852 in the Bay Area, one of my favorite candy destinations, so I needed to put those impressions to the test.
That’s not to say that I don’t use their chocolate chips, I prefer them to Nestle’s Toll House Morsels or Hershey’s Baking Chips and they’re often on sale for a decent price.
So I picked up this assortment of tasting squares after Christmas when they were on sale. They feature the new line of Intense Dark in three different flavors.
The Espresso Escape wrapper says: dark chocolate with finely ground espresso beans in 60% cacao. As usual I was worried about the bits of coffee beans, but in thsi case they really were so finely ground as they matched the particle size of the cocoa solids.
Roasted brewed coffee flavors mixed with the woodsy taste of real beans. Very little chocolate flavor here, it’s all coffee but with a smooth chocolate texture. Good cocoa butter melt, very silky. Light vanilla overtones. But the cedar and smoke is quite tangy.
While I enjoyed the texture quite a bit, the flavor was just a little too, well, Intense (tm).
The Mint Bliss package says: dark chocolate with natural mint in 60% cacao. What the front of the package doesn’t mention is that there’s also some unidentified “artificial flavor” in this as well.
Nice buttery texture, but an incongruous tangy and musty taste along with the peppermint. It’s more of a fresh peppermint leaf taste, not a pure peppermint oil, which is a nice change of pace from their Peppermint Bark that I had over the holidays. But the combination of flavors still doesn’t quite jive for me.
It has a nice buttery melt with a light cool feeling but the flavor is a little thin. It’s a little fruity, on the raisin side of things.
It’s sweet, only the lightest trace of bitterness. Light dry finish.
Ghirardelli has some other versions in their Intense Dark line, including the Midnight Reverie that has 86% cacao, Evening Dream with only 60% cacao and two other flavored 60% called Citrus Sunset & Toffee Interlude. They also have some filled bars that I haven’t tried yet.
Overall, it’s nice stuff, certainly worth the price and a fun little pickup for coffee or after dinner, maybe a mid-day munch. I like the 10.6 gram squares, it’s a good size for a little taste of chocolate.
Note: the Mint Bliss & Espresso Escape have milk fat in them, so are unsuitable for vegans, but the Twilight Delight is milk-free (though made on equipment that processes dairy).
Monday, February 25, 2008
I’ll admit that finding a palatable chocolate bunny at the drug store isn’t easy. Lindt has led the way over the past few years, virtually taking over the high-end bunny domain. Instead of depending on novelty, the Lindt Bunny is the same year after year.
This year was the first time I saw a dark chocolate version, so I scooped it up, even at regular retail of $3.49 for a 3.5 ounce bunny. (But then again a 3.5 ounce Lindt Dark Bar is often about $3 anyway).
The elegant gold foil and dark brown bow is part of the appeal of this confection - it feels timeless but not dated.
Lindt uses their 60% dark blend for this bunny which also features no added dairy ingredients like many other so-called “dark” chocolates from big manufacturers these days. However, it’s not all natural, instead the use vanillin, an artificial vanilla flavoring.
Even out of the wrapper the bunny is quite beautiful. The sheen was pleasant and I was fortunate to get one that hadn’t been nicked & dinged up on the shelf.
It may be billed as a hollow bunny, but this is pretty substantial stuff. The ears are nearly solid and the head pretty thick as is the base. Most other rabbits this size would probably weigh 30% less. (And require additional packaging to protect them.)
The chocolate is pleasant. I don’t think the 60% is Lindt’s best, but is creamy and has a nice robust flavor with some coffee & cherry notes. It has a slightly dry & chalky finish, which makes me feel like I’ve just had a cup of cocoa. Seeing how Easter is in March this year, cocoa is quite welcome.
The Reindeer, like the Bunny, is equally handsome and actually sports the Lindt name on the side (the Bunny doesn’t).
Like the Bunny, the Reindeer had nearly solid ears and a thick base.
Since it’s the same size and has the same recipe as the Lindt Gold Bunny, just substitute that mentally. (Besides, you want to be prepared for Christmas, don’t you?)
Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve ever had Lindt Milk Chocolate before this. I’ve had their Lindor Truffles, but this all milk chocolate, all the time and quite a change for me.
It’s very milky but still maintains a robust chocolate flavor and none of the “powdered milk” flavor that I don’t care for in many European milk chocolates. It has more than a hint of malt to it, which of course I gravitate towards. It’s quite silky on the tongue and not so sweet that it makes my throat hurt.
As chocolate animals go, they’re both real winners. The price is a bit steep ... but if you have a mind to start some sort of new tradition of Easter Reindeer, you could get away with buying them after Christmas (this one was good until 5/31/2008).
The German Lindt website lists all sorts of other versions of the iconic Bunny, including 1,000 gram versions (yowza! that’s almost three pounds!), white chocolate and minis.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
One of the items that I’ve gotten several notes with recommendations to review is the new line called Cocoa Deli out of the United Kingdom. One of the things that I think some folks will find exciting about these little upscale treats is that they’re made in a “no nuts” facility. It’s pretty unusual to find anything other than a plain chocolate bar that can claim that.
The unique selling proposition with the Cocoa Deli Chocolate Heaven collection is that they look like little ice cream pops.
It took me a few months to track down a place that sells them, it turned out to be Walgreen’s. But I really lucked out because this variety package with all four varieties in little tins turned out to be half off. So the original price was $6.99 for 5.1 ounces and I got it for $3.50.
I’ve heard that the variety in the little tubs that they sell year round can vary, but in this case each flavor came in its own color-coded tin with a clear lid. They’re really cute and useful tins that have no actual branding on them, so I could probably re-gift them with other little sweets in them if I felt like it.
While the package says that each tin is “filled with indulgent mini popsicle shaped chocolates” there were three inside each package.
Each chocolate is individually wrapped and clearly marked with the flavor. Each package boasts that the chocolate comes from Belgium and in smaller print on the back of the box it says that the whole thing was packaged in China. So, let’s see ... the cocoa beans are grown in the tropics, shipped to Belgium where it’s made into chocolate, which is then shipped to England where it’s made into the little candies, which are then shipped to China to be put into tins and boxes and then shipped to the United States. No wonder they want $7 for twelve little chocolates (about $22 a pound at regular price).
The little nuggets look like tiny popsicles, though in this version there’s no wooden stick (they do other confections on sticks that are a bit larger ... this one is all edible).
The first flavor, Vanilla Caramel was a lovely little piece. The milk chocolate (30%) is very sweet but seems to be offset very well by the caramel filling. It’s a saucy caramel that feels more like it’s about the texture, which is smooth with only the slightest hint of grain. There’s not much of a burnt sugar flavor but a nice saltiness that keeps the whole thing from being cloyingly sticky.
Citrus Chocolate smelled very orangy right out of the package. The milk chocolate is quite smooth, though also very sweet and a little sticky feeling. It’s a pretty dense milk chocolate, boasting 30% cacao content. But in this case it’s all about the orange flavor. The orange center is a soft, truffle-like thing, though not quite as buttery. The orange notes are all zest and quite strong. It reminded me of what a Terry’s Chocolate Orange should taste like (instead of being grainy and too sweet).
Rasberry Truffle is the only dark chocolate piece in the set. Wow, the center of this was a pretty intense fuschia, but the ingredients only list dried rasperries as an ingredient, so that’s all natural. The raspberry scent is nice, floral and little grassy. The creaminess of the center is interrupted by the actual bits of raspberry. For the most part it’s little tangy bits surrounding seeds. The flavor is nice, but I’m not terribly keen on seeds like this in my chocolate. The dark chocolate is sweet, not terribly complex but stands up well to the berry.
When I got to the Peppermint Crunch Truffle, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a milk chocolate truffle center or a white cream. It ended up being the milky former, which was a nice surprise. The crunch part, as you might imagine, is crushed candy pieces (not polenta or nonpariels). I was glad these were not only individually wrapped but also in their own tins, as this one smelled strongly of mint before even opening the wrapper. It’s nice to avoid that cross-contamination of strong flavors. It was pleasant, super creamy smooth with a light and cool touch of peppermint. The crispy crunch of the bitty mint bits brought some nice texture to it.
I’m curious to try some of their other items in their line but there’s nothing in particular that sets these apart from other comparably priced chocolates (See’s, for one) except for the no nuts part. For someone looking for some help with portion control, each piece has 60 calories (so one of these single-flavor tins has only 180 ... less than most candy bars). As a Valentine’s treat purchased at the drug store, it’s certainly far better than most of the other choices (I’d much rather have these than the Dove Jewels, but at regular price these cost twice as much). The packaging is cute and I’m glad I have a few tins to put other candies in later on for snacking. I’m just glad I didn’t pay full price for them.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
The box is very tasteful and appealing with a tiny cellophane window that shows that they’re nice looking glossy dark chocolate covered almonds. While they’re not the largest almonds in the world (I think Trader Joe’s consistently has the largest chocolate covered almonds I’ve ever seen) I was hoping that they were fresh.
The box is interesting, larger at the top than the bottom, which was kind of odd when I opened it because it means that the opening for spilling out the almonds from the top is pretty wide (and that means easy to fumble).
My experience with World’s Finest Chocolate is limited to the fundraising bars, and since I don’t have any neighbors or co-workers with kids in band, I haven’t had one in about a year (and that was a milk chocolate crisp bar). I never much cared for their chocolate, I always found it a bit sweet and waxy. (Our band in high school sold mostly those boxes of M&Ms ... or at least that’s what I bought.)
Some of the pieces looked about the size of a Peanut M&M and others were the larger almond size you’d expect. They smell very sweet, though not much like chocolate or almonds, more like a vanilla candle.
The chocolate coating is passably creamy, a little on the dry/chalky side with a very strong sweet and fake-vanilla finish. The almonds inside are pretty consistently crunchy, but not very fresh tasting. There wasn’t a bad nut in the bunch, but they just didn’t have a strong nutty taste ... it seemed to be all about the chocolate.
Dark chocolate covered almonds are one of my favorite foods. In fact, I think a handful with some pretzels and coffee are an ideal breakfast. I’ve had these sitting on my desk for a little over a week and I ate less than half the box. They look great, the spare packaging is elegant and the price, even when not on sale, is pretty decent. But the taste just didn’t wow me. These taste more like the box than those two great elements: dark chocolate and fresh almonds. Instead I find myself eating my plain old raw almonds instead.
I may give World’s Finest Chocolate another try at some point, though according to the WFC website, the Continental Almonds are their top seller.
Note: the bittersweet chocolate World’s Finest Chocolate uses contains milk, so is not suitable for vegans. Their website says their Kosher, but the package doesn’t indicate that.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
I wasn’t quite sure what it was (and it was $12) but was led to believe that some in the assortment were nougats (hey, they’re French, I love French nougats!) and jellies. Though they’re kind of a traditional Christmas sweet, they’re actually available year round.
The pretty little wax-paper-wrapped treats had little curly fringes and inside the wrappers are little riddles, quotes or cartoons. In France you can just buy them by the handful, and I must admit they’re so cute I wouldn’t mind finding a Christmas stocking stuffed with them. They’re popular in the Lyon region, the legend says that they originated in a confectionery shop owned by a man named Papillot and were invented by one of his workers who was trying to create something pretty to woo a co-worker. Papillot saw the marketing possiblities of the frilly wrapped treats immediately as did the customers. Of course I’m not sure if this is just legend or not. Papillotes means curly papers if I’m to believe some web translators. Are curly papers in general named for this candy or did the man who own the candy shop bear the name Mr. Curly Papers? (Could someone who speaks French educate me?)
Whatever the origin, they’re cute and come in four varieties:
Red = Pistachio Creme - okay, maybe it’s not pistachio, maybe it’s marzipan. Anyway, it’s a little too floral/medicinal for me. The good news is that there were only two of these in my assortment.
Green = Hazelnut Praline - this one has a dark chocolate shell with a light nutty truffle filling with a strong hazelnut note to it. Creamy, smooth and satisfying.
Blue = Orange Truffle - this one was easy to tell apart, it smelled strongly of orange zest. The milk chocolate was a little sweet, but the pieces of orange peel in there and the creamy texture of the whole thing was quite nice.
Pink = p?tes de fruits - I’m guessing this was a pear jelly, it was sweet and flavorful with that little bit of pearish grit to it. Not really the best flavor for me, but nice enough. I would have preferred a citrus or perhaps a raspberry.
The mix I got favored the green & pink wrappers with the exception of two red and two pink, so I lucked out with getting my favorites in quantity.
The little riddles were, well, like those little riddles you get in candy:
The answer is une armure. Oh, man, that’s funny! (Thanks to Wikipedia I now know that the French also suffer from Knock Knock jokes, which they call Toc Toc.)
They’re a fun traditional treat the would make a nice little cultural exchange or just a bright little display on a table at a party. The chocolates are good, not phenomenal, but the story and interactivity with the little curls and wrappers is what sets these apart. (Here’s another French-filled review from Moko Wants Candy.)
Monday, January 7, 2008
I was at the grocery store and saw these “petite mint chips” on post-holiday sale. At only $1.24 for a 12 ounce bag, I could hardly resist. Sometimes I find myself spending six or eight dollars a pound for these little beauties in pastels at a candy shop when I get one of those strange cravings. They come in two different sizes, the regular which are the size of a squat Hershey’s Kiss and these that I picked up are the petite size that are like little chocolate chips.
What are Smooth n Melty? Sugar, partially hydrogenated oils and mint ... and a few nonpariels thrown in for a little crunchy texture.
While that doesn’t sound good, they’re simply buttery melting mints. They’ve very sweet but not too minty. There’s a milky component to them, but it’s not an overwhelming dairy flavor. They’re completely unsatisfying in the sense that I have to eat them one after another until the whole bag is gone. (Well, there are a few left in the bag right now.)
The only thing I didn’t like about this “baking chip” variety over the pastels is that I had that little bitter taste from the red nonpariels (red dye #40 again).
Back in ‘06 when Hershey’s introduced their Candy Cane Kisses I was so excited. They were Smooth n Melty, only made with cocoa butter instead of partially hydrogenated tropical fats. Sadly Hershey reformulated those seasonal Kisses so they are no longer made with just cocoa butter so I didn’t buy them this year.
Now if the partially hydrogenated thing puts you off, I did talk to Gary Guittard about Smooth n Melty. He said that they are working on reformulating them to include no trans fats. (But Guittard has no plans to make a real cocoa butter version, drat!) You can also get the mint disks without the nonpariels on them (usually for melting & candymaking) but I prefer the little crunch.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
This box of Trader Joe’s Irish Cream Chocolates was suspiciously inexpensive. I was on the prowl for an item they had last year, which were infused vodkas in chocolate. This was the only alcoholic chocolate I could find. When I say alcoholic, I mean that these do contain alcohol, 3.8% by weight. That’s enough for the register to ding when I bought them to make sure that I was of the legal age to purchase an alcohol product (I am).
The dark green box shows the little rectangles in nearly full size. Inside the box are three rows of five chocolates (15 total).
They’re a milk chocolate shell with an alcoholic “Irish Cream” syrup center. It’s quite thick and flowing, very sweet and rather odd. I didn’t care much for it at first, it tasted more like a slightly minty cough syrup, but the alcohol bite is certainly apparent. After a few of them, the creamy notes of the center came forward and I found myself reaching for one after another. (Not before driving.)
The milk chocolate isn’t the highest quality. It’s sweet and has a slight grain to it, but it contains the syrup center well. I only noticed two that had a leakage problem. There are a few ways to eat these. I prefer chomping off a short end and then slurping out some of the throat-blistering goo. But you can also just pop the whole thing in your mouth or probably nibble away at opposite corners to suck out more of the Irish Whiskey laced cream center.
Though they’re called Irish Cream Chocolates, they’re made in Germany.
Interestingly enough, this is the previous format of these chocolates, circa 2004.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
If I bought a product that was simply named Snickers Nutcracker and given no other information, I would assume that it was a Snickers bar in the shape of a nutcracker. And what would I think a Snickers bar is? Nougat covered with a stripe of caramel with embedded whole peanuts and then covered in milk chocolate.
Of course I did buy a product name Snickers Nutcracker and I did not get a Snickers bar in the shape of a nutcracker.
Instead I got a nutcracker chocolate shell filled with caramel creme with crushed peanuts.
This is in stark contrast to the Snickers Egg I had back in March 2006, which was pretty much a Snickers bar in elongated hemispherical form.
But expectations and disappointments aside, this product is a little one ounce bar shaped like a squat nutcracker soldier. Inside is a caramel creme with crushed peanuts in it.
The center caramel is salty and tastes strongly of peanuts, not like peanut butter, but actual roasted peanuts. It’s not quite chewy, instead it’s a bit more flowing but still pretty smooth. The milk chocolate is sweet and contains the caramel well (no broken oozes in any of the nutcrackers I’ve had so far) and in good proportion.
It doesn’t have that “satisfaction” element to it that the heavy nut-ratio a Snickers bar has. I thought it was kind of fun, after all, how many gooey peanut caramel products are there? But I was really hoping for a Snickers.
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