Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Name: Max Brenner Chocolates: Dark Chicao, Waffle & Milk Chocolate Cubes
Here’s a little Hanukkah treat for everyone, some Israeli chocolates! The Max Brenner package says “Creating a New Chocolate Culture” and I’m inclined to hop on board this philosophy. Michal, a candyblog.net reader, sent me these wonderful treats and I’m very impressed by the combination of flavors, textures, the simplicity of ingredients and most of all, the playfulness of the packages and formats.
Dark Chicao: Dark chocolate thins with Ecuadorian cocoa bits. These are rather similar to the Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs I tried and loved recently. I was a little scared when I took them out of the tin because they looked a little chalky, but we can chalk that up to their trip half way around the planet to get to me. They were a little bruised but tasted phenomenal. Dark, dark chocolate with crunchy nibs. The chocolate is buttery with a strong woodsy essence and a slight dry finish. Because there’s so much cacao in there and not much sugar they don’t get me hyped up the same way a chocolate bar does. At 75% cacao though, they’re probably giving me some sort of theobromine high.
Waffle: Crispy Belgian waffle in milk chocolate praline. I’ve had many bars like this and they’ve usually ended up being too much cookie and not enough chocolate or too waxy or greasy. Here’s a wonderful balance of chocolate, soft flavors and crispy waffle with a hint of hazelnut. The box is fun (the size of a pencil box with a tray/sleeve to pull out and reveal the candies) and the size of the little drops is just right, two bites for me. The Max Brenner milk chocolate is very rich, with 52% cacao, it’s darker than many consumer dark chocolates.
Milk Chocolate Cubes: Michal was good enough to translate the boxes for these. They’re minitruffles I’m guessing, one set is “Milk Chocolate Cubes filled with Hazelnut Praline and Caramelized Pecan Bits” and the other is Milk Chocolate Cubes filled with “Caramel Hazelnut Praline and Roasted coconut” (well, those are not really cubes, more like spheroids). The hazelnut/pecan one is sweet and toasty, like a hit of toffee only in a milk chocolate with just a few flakes of crispy to it. They’re very rich and sticky and should probably be consumed with some strong coffee. (Or the Dark Chicaos!). The coconuts were amazing fun. Instead of soft coconut like you’d find in a Mounds of Bounty bar, this is crispy coconut that adds a bit of crunch and chew to the sweet milk chocolate. The boxes are cool because they’re designed to be a greeting card or favor of sorts. You can write a little message on the back like those Valentines boxes of candy that we used to exchange in junior high.
I’m digging Mr. Brenner’s new chocolate culture. Their packaging is interesting and not overdone. The little mylar packs kept everything fresh and the design on them is really inventive, slightly self-deprecating and sets it apart from a lot of other candy that I’ve seen that positions itself in this part of the upscale market.
Rating - 9 out of 10 (now I just need to find a source in the States)
Friday, December 9, 2005
Name: Plush Puffs Assortment
Yes, artisanal marshmallows. And why not? The stuff we’ve been getting from Kraft are not what marshmallows are capable of. And those things that you find in cereal? Please, let’s not even grace them with the name marshmallow. They’re not even marshy!
I was sent a generous sample pack from Ann of Plush Puffs, which is based here in Los Angeles (Sherman Oaks, to be exact). The weird thing is that until I started Candy Blog, I didn’t really think much of marshmallows. Besides the See’s Scotchmallows, there were very few marshmallow things that I would even try. Peeps were never on the menu, but I have been known to toast marshmallows, if only because they’re the only grillable dessert I know.
Instead of just plain marshmallows, Plush Puffs are flavored with intense combinations of spice, nuts and/or fruit essences:
Caramel Swirl - I think I’d rename this one to “sticky toffee” because it had a nice carmelized sugar note to it and it was sticky. It was very sweet and had a little bit of caramelly fudge topping on it.
Chocolate Chipetta - this is the only one that doesn’t feel “sweet” to me. It’s rich and toasty tasting with a good chocolate hit. One of my top three flavors.
Maple Pecan - holy moly! These were really good. The maple flavor wasn’t artificial or chemically like some candies can be. It was a good sweet woodsy backdrop to the sweet, chewy foam. It had almost a toffee-like flavor and I even had a few pecans in mine.
Peppi-Mint - it’s like a fluffy candy cane! Seriously minty, like someone’s made a foam Altoid or something. The color and texture looks more like a cake than a marshmallow but the intense flavor made me want to eat both but I settled for doing a mash-up with the Chocolate Chipetta which was really good. One of my top three flavors.
Toasted Coconut - this one smelled divine and tasted just a good. I love coconut and I love the nutty smell that reminds me of the beach and all the kids that could tan wearing that coconut oil suntan lotion. One of my top three flavors.
Sydney’s Cinnamon - this was not my favorite, though I had high hopes for it. It’s definitely cinnamonny, but it also has cinnamon oil, which gives it more of a candy hit than a spiciness (like eating a cinnamon hard candy). But where this puff really showed itself was in the toasting. (see below)
Vanilla Bean - I know, vanilla, kind of bland. It wasn’t really bland, a little salty and it just didn’t wow me. I think this would be good with something else, like maybe over pie or toasted or in s’mores.
Sam’s Sour Lemon - these had a gorgeous zesty lemon smell and pretty creamy and vivid yellow swirls in them. Calling them “sour” lemon doesn’t work at all for me (in fact, I would call them “zesty” lemon instead) but the flavor is really nice and mellow. I also didn’t care much for the mix of textures wtih the crunchy lemon sugar but it’s not a dealbreaker or anything.
There’s one more flavor on their list that for some reason I didn’t get in my grab bag, which is the one that sadly interested me most - Orange Honey. The honey flavor is not that noticeable in the other Plush Puffs but is one of the things that I’ve always found so intense about the See’s Scotchmallows. (I guess I’ll have to place an order.)
Per the recommendation of Ann at Plush Puffs, I tried some in my tea and of course toasted some of Sydney’s cinnamon:
I brewed a cup of Revolution Lavender Earl Grey tea and and dropped in about a quarter of a puff (I didn’t want to overload). As I took the photos I noticed the marshmallow dissolving into a beautiful aromatic foam. I enjoyed the combination of flavors, the creaminess of the marshmallow, the interaction of the botanicals of bergamot, lemon and lavender was really nice. And of course the sweetness of the puff was a nice change from my usually naked tea. Even after I’d slurped off the foamy dissolved puffiness there was still a nice lingering sweetness and lemony flavor. Definitely a cool way to decorate an ordinary after-dinner or afternoon tea. I still prefer my naked tea, because that’s just the way I am.
The drink marshmallows were invented for, of course, is hot chocolate. I got some amazing Mayan Hot Chocolate mix from Xocoatl from my sister-in-law at Thanksgiving which I made here at the office with some milk in the microwave. In went a half of a Sydney’s Cinnamon. Instead of dissolving in a bubbly foam and spreading across the surface like the lemon one in the tea did, this one hung together really well. But once I tried poking it with a spoon it melted completely. I scooped it up like some sort of dessert soup with some of the hot chocolate and enjoyed that until all I had left was my cocoa broth. The spice of the cinnamon went really well with the Mayan chocolate which already had a hit of spices in it.
I kept a few of the Sydney’s Cinnamon aside for toasting. I loaded one up on a carving fork because I know that a single prong really doesn’t do very well with a marshmallow. I put it over the open flame on the gas burner on my stove and it carmelized so beautifully and left the house smelling so good, I think I’ll just start toasting these like incense. Here’s a tip about toasting them. They’re huge. They’re actually too big to toast whole. There’s no way to get a fully molten center (I do not like medium rare toasted marshmallows) with a marshmallow this size. What is so intense about these is that they melt even at moderate heat, which turns them into this molten, intense foamy sauce with a crispy carmelized shell. In the future I think I’ll slice them in half and then have a greater surface area to center ratio.
I’ve been looking for a summer dessert to have after grilling and this just might be the thing. Everyone can choose their own flavor and I think it’d be really cool to make some grown-up s’mores and drinks with them. They don’t quite fit into the “candy” family for me for some reason. They feel more like food, maybe that’s because they’re so satisfying and slightly saltier (more savory) than an ordinary marshmallow.
I should go back and add them to the gift guide, especially since they have baskets where you can choose the selection of flavors. Also, if you’re dubious about them, you can try their “scraps” which are not quite perfect marshmallows. I love factory stores. Overall this is the kind of thing I’d like to offer guests at a party and I can see myself ordering them for a summer grill or maybe part of dessert a holiday cocktail party. I don’t see myself just ordering them to eat, maybe it’s because they feel kind of precious being handmade and all, I just can bring myself to just wolf them down like so many handfuls of M&Ms or Skittles.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Friday, November 11, 2005
Name: Coconut Slice
I’ve seen this a few times while in the 99 Cent Only store. My neighbor, Robin, won $99 worth of gift certificates to the store, so on our recent shopping trip I was a lot more adventurous with my choices (cuz it was really free).
This candy is basically a coconut slab, kind of like a fruit rollup ... call it coconut leather. The different colored strips might actually be flavored. I detected a little bit of raspberry in the red stripe, but really couldn’t tell the difference between the yellow one and the white one.
The coconut is chewy and not too sweet. If you like coconut and don’t want to bother with all that other stuff like nuts and chocolate, this is the stuff for you. Two grams of fiber in each bar but it does contain about 5 grams of saturated fat (that’s the coconut oil).
Tom’s isn’t really known for their candies, more for their nuts and snacks. They seem like rather a niche company (based in Georgia) and I don’t often see their products here on the West Coast except for the nuts, and those are usually at convenience stores on the highway.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Thursday, October 20, 2005
These have always scared me. I think because they’re called Chick-o-Sticks and look like they could be chicken legs. Not something I’d consider to be a sweet treat. And let’s face it, the orange color is pretty freaky. The Atkinson site doesn’t really say why they’re called that except that that’s what they’ve always been called.
What they really are is a peanut butter toffee crisp covered in coconut. Pretty simple. A lot like the inside of a Butterfinger bar, but a bit more solid (as you can see in the close up if you click on the photo).
The taste is good, sweet with a nice hit of salt and a really good roasted peanut butter flavor. Even though the coconut looks pretty minimal, the taste is pretty significant. Unlike some of the other crisped peanut butter candies, this one contains no trans fats, in fact the only fat in it comes from the peanut butter itself. They’re much easier to carry around than some chocolate candies because it doesn’t melt, so I can see this being a good treat for hiking or shipping long distances (the Atkinson website mentions shipping them to Iraq).
I know, I need to get a hold of a Clark bar and Zagnut to round out my tour of peanut crisp.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Name: Almond Joy Cookies
I know they say they’re cookies, but if something is coated in real chocolate and has a creamy filling, it’s probably a candy. I mean, no one calls Twix a cookie.
I tried the York version of these over the summer and absolutely loved them. They fixed everything that’s wrong with the Girl Scout Thin Mints ... York Peppermint Patty cookies have no trans fats and real chocolate. The Almond Joy cookies aren’t quite as revolutionary, but they’re dang tasty.
It starts with a crisp chocolate cookie on the bottom then is slathered in a lighter coconut cream (not as dense as the center of an Almond Joy) that has some crushed almonds mixed in. The whole thing is dipped in real milk chocolate.
It was very coco-nutty tasting, very smooth. Sweet, but with a lot of different textures including a little hit of salt from the cookie.
They’re really pricey for a cookie, but only slightly more expensive than a regular candy bar. The serving size on the package says all four cookies, but I was pretty satisfied with only two of them.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Name: Peppermint Cup-O-Gold
This candy cup has left me mystified. Is it really from Adams-Brooks? They don’t mention it on their website ... no one mentions it on their website on any of the internets. Have I stumbled across an inter-dimensional 99 cent store that sells candy unknown to us here?
Why is it called Cup-o-Gold anyway? The center is clearly white. The package is silver ... these things trouble me. But not enough to keep me from eating it.
Like the original Cup-O-Gold, this milk chocolate cup sports toasted coconut and almond bits in the chocolate. The ratio of chocolate to the filling is a little off. Upon my first small bite (not pictured), I didn’t hit filling, just chocolate. The second bite, which was sizeable (like the photo) didn’t hit filling. Finally on the fourth bite which by now meant half the cup was gone, I hit a small hidden cavity of filling. Instead of a light, frothy filling like the Cup-O-Gold, this one was a little tacky, a little stiff. The mint was barely perceptible.
I bought this thinking it’d be like a milk chocolate Junior Mint - a gooey minty cream center. Alas, the coconut competes too much with the scant mint. If there were less chocolate and more filling, perhaps it wouldn’t seem so overpowering. However, the package does say thick rich milk chocolate, so who am I to go expecting things not advertised?
Rating - 4 out of 10.
Monday, August 8, 2005
Name: Exotic Candy Bars (Red Fire, Black Pearl & Naga)
A kind reader, flickerfly, emailed me a few weeks ago to point me to Vosges, specifically their Red Fire Bar. Their website is sure sassy but the prices are pretty darn, well, pricey. If you have a moment, browse their website. It’s an odd combination of haute, indulgence, health and yoga. I’m not going to be in Chicago or New York for a while, so I figured I’d see what they had at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills (I’d actually never been to the Neiman Marcus there before).
The woman behind the counter was on the phone pretty much the whole time I was there and all I saw of interest were three of the bars that they offered, and even though they were $6.50 each, I picked up all three. The back of each tells me how to eat an exotic candy bar (which is apparently different than eating other bars). You can read that here.
The first is called Naga Bar and is milk chocolate with Sweet Indian curry powder and coconut flakes. Upon opening the mylar package inside the box, the curry is quite pronounced along with a sugary smell and a slight aroma of chocolate. The chocolate itself is very milky and sweet. After sitting on the tongue for a moment, if bursts with the curry. The milk and the muskyness of the curry is a good blend and the choice of milk chocolate over dark is the right impulse. The curry leaves a little burning feeling on the tongue and throat. The coconut added a nice little texture to it, but I never got the flavor of it.
Next was the bar that I was most looking forward to, Red Fire Bar. It’s Mexican ancho and chipotle chili and cinnamon in dark chocolate (55%). The cinnamon is the top note on this bar. I’ve always enjoyed the combination of cinnamon and chocolate and usually use it in my hot chocolate. The next thing I taste is that it’s a very sweet bar, though buttery smooth to melt there’s a slight grain to it, which I must assume are the spices. Then the chili hits. It’s not so much a flavor as a feeling. A burning on the insides of my lips and my throat. There’s a bit of a smoky note to the bar as well. It’s a really nice combination, though not one I could eat a lot of in one sitting because of the fire element. Of the three bars, this is the one I finished first.
Last was a bar I wasn’t quite sure of. Called Black Pearl Bar, it’s Japanese ginger, wasabi and black sesame seeds in dark chocolate (55%). There was little scent to this bar, a slight woodsy note which I figured was the ginger and of course the chocolate. Upon melting in the mouth, this bar had none of the grain that the fire bar had, just a few sesame seeds (which I could have done without, thank you). The ginger is nice and earthy with a slight burn to it - or was it the wasabi. The horseradish notes didn’t really stick out, but the combination of wasabi and ginger is spicy without a painful throat burn.
As with many of these gourmet bars, I found the price to be a bit prohibitive. As a treat, I certainly plan on going to one of their shops in Las Vegas, Chicago or New York (whichever city I get to first). The Aztec truffle collection would be the first thing I’d try. Of course this riot of flavors has inspired me to try some different things in my own candy next time I whip up a batch of truffles.
Ratings - Naga - 6 out of 10
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Okay, I’ll admit I bought this in an effort to diversify my offerings on the site. I like the idea of supporting some smaller candy companies, and this one is made right here in Los Angeles. I didn’t think I’d like it. I’m not that keen on marshmallow as a rule. I love toasted marshmallows, but for some reason I don’t think of those as candy. Most other marshmallow candies are just to sticky sweet. The only one to date that I like (and buy regularly) is See’s Scotchmallow - which is a marshmallow top on a disc of caramel covered in chocolate. Their mallow has a bit of a honey note to it, which complements the caramel well.
Anyway, this little delightful cup is made with milk chocolate with bits of coconut mixed in and crushed of almonds. Inside that is an incredibly light and foamy marshmallow creamy filling. I also liked the package. The graphics are bold and smooth and appealing.
The complex flavors really blend together well. The bits in the chocolate offset the sweetness of the chocolate and the foamy center gives a smooth texture and lightness to it all. The thing is, I’m still not sure if I’ll buy these again. Maybe if I get a jones for a scotchmallow and I’m not in the mall.
Rating: 7 out of 10
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