Saturday, May 9, 2009
Though I wouldn’t call Los Angeles a candy city, we certainly have our share of sweet spots. I’m more likely to go to San Francisco for candy adventures than the west side, but after promising for several years I finally made it to Compartes Chocolatier to pick up some items for Candy Blog.
This wasn’t actually my first visit to the Brentwood shop, but certainly the first one in this century (I was a D-Girl in the 90s and my office was not far from there). I had to see the place since the new generation, Jonathan Grahm expanded the classic line of stuffed fruits & novelty molded chocolates with truffles & ganaches with inventive flavor combinations.
The shop is compact but has a lovely display area on the wall of the chocolates and the main counter that appears to be divided in to two areas: classic offerings and modern. (My distinctions, not theirs.) They serve gelato so there are a few tables inside and out front. (For those who follow Compartes on Twitter, I did spot Jonathan at his laptop tucked in the corner at one of the tables.)
The classic products are sold by the pound (as fruits & nuts tend to come in various sizes) while the truffles & bonbons are sold by the piece. The classics were $35 a pound and the bonbons were $2 each. I left the shop with $50 worth of chocolate in one rather large & heavy box.
The fig is glossy is and sticky. It looks like a light fig (green) like a Kalamata. I prefer black figs (Mission) mostly because they have darker flavors ... it’s like the difference between golden raisins & regular raisins. It’s very sweet at first, the figgy flavors are tangy, a little grassy from the seeds with some raspberry & floral-like green tea flavors. The dark chocolate offsets this well, especially by bringing in the creamy melt.
It’s definitely show-stopping beautiful. Best eaten fresh & quickly.
These tiny little fingers were wonderfully shiny on the peel edge. It was all peel, too, cooked in sugar syrup to a light and translucent tenderness - no trace of acrid & foamy white pith. The dark chocolate looked silken brown. Each piece was a combination of bitterness from the orange oils and dark chocolate, vibrant zest and sweet citrus & cocoa flavors. The texture was chewy & a buttery creaminess. Perfection.
Hazelnut & Orange in Dark Chocolate (not pictured)
These were simple little dark chocolate cups that could have easily been coconut haystacks. I was hoping that the combo of the chocolate & nuts with those awesome orange pieces would work ... sadly the whole thing tasted a bit “cheesy” and I couldn’t figure out why ... something about the hazelnuts lacking their nuttiness. I’ll pass on these in the future.
The ginger coins are tender and soft, a bit juicy. With citrus notes and a warm woodsy burn, the sweet candied ginger goes well with the bittersweet chocolate that has a slightly dry finish. There’s no trace of sugary grain here, it’s more of a smooth jelly texture. Beautiful to look and and expertly made.
I would buy a pound of these. Ginger is a root vegetable, right?
Mexican Hot - (skull & crossbones)
A strong mix of cayenne & black pepper notes in dark chocolate. The ganache is smooth while the dark chocolate flavors are woodsy with a slight tannin to go with the earthy pepper flavors.
Original - (blue stripes)
I try to buy these wherever I go. It’s always good to try the base for everything else. The chocolate enrobing was perfect, the little design on top was cute and easy to remember. The dark chocolate flavors were mild, the ganache was very buttery with a good smooth and quick melt.
Vanilla & Black Pepper - (stripes with dots)
I should have taken a photo of this, I didn’t realize it would be a white cream center until I bit into it far from the camera. The immediate hit was of vanilla and butter, in a cupcake sort of vibe. Then the peppercorns kicked in, giving the vanilla more of a rum & woodsy moderation. Rather sweet, but with a lingering brightness from the pepper & vanilla pods.
Jasmine Tea (pink flowers & blue lines)
The dark chocolate takes a back seat to the strong & musky floral notes of the jasmine. The tea adds a little pop of acidity to it that gives a fresh lingering feeling to this. The ganache is silky smooth and not too sweet.
Blackberry & Sage (blue & purple square mosaic)
The blackberry is a dark and jammy flavor with a light tangy touch, the sage brings it back around with an herbal splash - a bit on the strong side, so much so that I’m not sure I’d know that it was blackberry without a key. Still, a sage truffle is great.
This little ganache center was topped with some lightly candied (glazed) fennel seeds (instead of the brightly colored candy shells that most of us are familiar with). Fennel on its own has a light sweetness and anise flavor. These brought out the dark licorice and molasses notes of the chocolate. Smooth and satiny with a curious fibery crunch from the seeds.
Lavender Marshmallow in Dark Chocolate
Yes, it’s a bit jarring to see that bright lavender center. The marshmallow was moist, fluffy but dense. Sweet but not sticky, it had a good bite. The flavor was woodsy & floral - but a bit odd combined with the chocolate. The whole thing reminded me of bug spray ... though not in a bad way, just that the floral notes weren’t quite as balsam-ish as I’d hoped.
Coffee & Cacao Nib and Coffee
The ganache in this pair is flavored with real coffee, so there’s a slight grain to the otherwise silky center. The flavor was good, rich & bold. I liked the crunchy nibs but I’m not that fond of eating coffee beans when it messes up the texture of well-tempered chocolate.
Fleur de Sel Caramels
I’ve made it pretty well known that I favor “wet” caramels, that’s the chewy stuff that has a good stringy pull and long, smooth chew. These were the “short” caramel style and have a strong butter flavor. I wasn’t fond of the texture, which was a cross between fudge & caramel and the lack of toasted sugar notes.
Shichimi - (the spice dusted one) this is made of seven spices: red chili pepper, roasted orange peel, yellow and black sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, seaweed, and ginger. The spices here angle towards the toasted sesame and chili peppers. I didn’t get much citrus out of it. The whole thing kind of left my lips burning, but the chocolate & fatty ganache balanced it well. The only issue here was that the spices kind of got out of their cup and I caught a few of these flavors in the other chocolates I ate.
Smoked Salt - (square with black crystals on top) delicate and light chocolate ganache with an earthy & metallic aftertaste to the salt. I’m beginning to think that I don’t care for smoked salts. Often they remind me of a campground in the morning, that lingering scent of a fire gone out mixed with damp sleeping bags from the morning dew & coffee made in an aluminum pot.
Cashew Fruit - (gold sphere) - this wasn’t a ganache but a bit of gooey cream center, kind of like a runny creme brulee. The flavor was a bit like green bananas. Smooth, a touch of grassy brightness and sweet milk.
I loved the classic items. I’d go back and buy the orange peels (some of the best I’ve ever had), figs (though I’d like to have some candied figs too) and ginger medallions in a heartbeat. I thought the price was really competitive and fair ($30 when sold in full pound boxes) for a line that is so labor intensive and requires top quality ingredients.
The truffles & bonbons were good and I enjoyed some of the flavor combos and of course the plain one. The price was a bit higher than I’m willing to do for such small items unless they’re particularly unique. The great option though is that it’s a fun shop to visit, they’re very knowledgeable about their products (they’re made right there, after all). They also have a line of African-themed bonbons called Chocolate for a Cause that are made with African-sourced flavors (mango, coconut, cardamom, plantain, grains of paradise, red rooibus tea). They’re a fundraiser for Relief International and their projects in Darfur and include a bead bracelet. After getting emails about these for year and pretty much going there to pick up a box ... they were sold out.
If I’m in the area, I will definitely visit again. The bonbons change constantly as new produce comes into season & Jonathan experiments with new combinations so I give them a 7 out of 10. I’ll probably continue to taste the bonbons but will go home with the fruits/ginger so they get a 9 out of 10.
Compartes Brentwood Boutique Chocolate Lounge
Friday, April 17, 2009
I don’t know much about fudge. What I do know is that when I accepted an offer of fudge samples from Rosa’s Fudge last month I became the proud recipient of more fudge than I have ever possessed before.
The box pictured is over 6 inches long, 4 and a half inches wide and almost three inches deep. Inside were 24 1.25 ounce squares. Yes, the box weighed about two pounds (counting the weight of the box itself).
This was an ideal time for me to get over my fudge ambivalence. It’s not that I don’t like fudge, it’s that I don’t know fudge.
For the most part I find fudge tasty, but difficult. After all, it usually requires implements to eat ... cutting it with a knife, storing it awkwardly, it dries out easily. Candy should be low fuss.
Their fudge is sold in these little cubes, one serving, each stays fresh and they’re easy to eat, store & share.
They’re made with mostly wholesome ingredients: milk, butter, sugar but also a dash of hydrogenated palm kernel oil (can’t be much based on how far down on the list it comes) plus chocolate or nuts as dictated by the flavor then some potassium sorbate to keep it all fresh.
Chocolate - the bite is soft and the chocolate flavor is immediate (chocolate is the second ingredient in this flavor). It’s rich and has both the cocoa flavors and some nice fatty “melt” going on with the slight sugary grain. It was appealing and went especially well with salty/crunchy snacks like pretzels or plain almonds. *
Peanut Butter - this is a classic flavor and I find that fudge made from peanut butter to be one of the ideal ways to use peanuts in confection (along with peanut butter cups & peanut brittle). It smells dark and a little bitter. The stuff is fatty, but not greasy ... though it did make the little waxed paperboard bottom label a clear translucent. It has a softer and crumblier bite than the chocolate. The nut flavors were wonderful with a mellow not-too-sweet powdery quality that kept it together without giving me that “sticky” feeling on the tongue. *
Chocolate & Peanut Butter - this block is a combination of the first two flavors, about 25% is chocolate on the top and the 75% on the bottom is peanut butter. The variation between the two textures is awesome, and of course chocolate and peanut butter are a natural fit. *
Chocolate Mint - this piece could have gone a few ways. It could have been a vanilla piece flavored with mint and then a layer of chocolate fudge. Instead this is a chocolate fudge with a creme de menthe flavor to it. It was quite cool, not too strong and refreshing with a good authentic peppermint note (it does have peppermint oil in it). The mint made it seem a bit less sweet but the mint wasn’t so overpowering that it infected the neighboring pieces. *
Vanilla - I was a bit lost on what this should be. It’s just butter and sugar, right? Well, this isn’t quite grandma’s recipe. Sugar, milk, butter, partially hydrogenated palm kernel and cottonseed oils, cream, corn syrup, maltodextrins, natural and artificial flavors, invert sugar, soy lecithin, potassium sorbate and salt. Maybe it needs some real vanilla bean in there.
Penuche - I love the idea of penuche and sometimes get a version of it I love at the local shop by my office. Penuche is basically a brown sugar fudge. It’s grainy and maybe even a bit greasy, but I love it. This one was smooth and had the brown sugar notes, but mostly it just tasted like a good cooked buttercream frosting would.
Maple - was much softer than the other pieces. Not so soft that it lost its shape once out of the wrapper, but definitely a little droopy. The flavor also seemed smoother, very strong in the woodsy pecan end of things. Sweet, aromatic and definitely one of my favorites. *
Butterscotch - I wasn’t sure what butterscotch would be like, I assumed it’d be like butterscotch pudding. Instead, when I opened the package I was greeted with an aroma like putting my head into a bucket of butterscotch disks (the hard candy). The fake “flavorishness” aside, I enjoyed it. It was artificial and throat-searingly sugary, but the texture was nice and I really knew that this was supposed to be butterscotch.
Coffee - looked a lot like the Maple or Penuche. Instead the texture was quite different once I bit into it. It has the same grainy consistency that melts in the mouth that I like about fudge. The coffee flavors were mild but sweet and milky. It reminded me of coffee ice cream. This was my top pick of the whole assortment. *
Coffee & Chocolate - this one is rather simple, just a coffee fudge with a layer of chocolate fudge. But I didn’t like the addition of the chocolate much. It didn’t give it a chocolate punch, but did lessen the coffee flavors. The two fudges had a slight consistency difference as well, the chocolate was firmer with a tighter grain (is that a way to describe fudge or hardwood?).
Amaretto - my appreciation of amaretto is pretty shallow. I like almonds but I don’t care for marzipan because of the strong amaretto notes, which I associate with the same fake flavor that butterscotch is to true toffee. This smelled, to me, like a fine bath product. Sweet, a little floral and a lot like amaretto. It was actually pretty good ... nothing I’d eat, but I think amaretto fans would like it.
Irish Creme - is a combination of three flavors: Irish Whiskey, coffee and cream. Instead this tastes like coconut, butterscotch and maple. I’m missing the deep woodsy tones that whiskey can bring ... and I’m definitely not getting any coffee in there, but there’s a creamy flavor. I’d definitely keep eating it, if I didn’t have a bunch of other fruit & nut flavors to get to.
Chocolate & Coconut - looking at the side of this, it was evident that this was more than a coconut flavored chocolate fudge, there’s coconut flakes all through it. It smells woodsy, herby and a little bit like granola. Biting into it, it has a lot of chew from the coconut but the biggest flavor hit here is chocolate. The chocolate tastes deeper, richer and less sweet than the other versions I tried singularly and in combination earlier. This stuff is awesome. It reminds me of a less-sweet Mounds bar. *
This was where I reached a stumbling block. While I usually like bright colors & fun incorporated into my candy, something about these fruit ones just seemed wrong. So I picked around them in the box.
Pina Colada - this was bright yellow. While I was hesitant because of the color and the idea of pineapple and coconut in fudge didn’t sound like a good idea, the chocolate coconut was a pleasant surprise. This one doesn’t have as much coconut in it as the chocolate version, but there’s still a fair bit. It smells sweet and like a floral/peppery pineapple. The bite is soft, dry but with a very small grain (besides the bits of coconut). There’s a lot of pineapple flavor, but no tang to it. The coconut gives a lot of texture and a fair bit of authentic coconut butter flavor. It’s better than I expected, but still far too sweet.
Chocolate Raspberry - the bright pink and malleable texture makes this look something I made with Playdoh. The raspberry flavor is all fragrance and food coloring. I ate that one bite shown and didn’t want to go back for more even if it meant a scathing paragraph here.
Chocolate Strawberry - this smelled like strawberry ice cream and kind of tasted like it too. It was very sugary and the chocolate kind of brought it down a notch, but then the bitter taste of the food coloring kicked in. I know some folks probably like this, but it’s not my thing.
Even though it ended on a down note, the tasting experience with Rosa’s Fudge was fun. I found out that there are some specific flavors that I think go well with fudge. (I also think nuts go great with fudge, so if you’re a walnut person, I wholeheartedly recommend it even though I’ve never tried theirs.)
Rosa’s offers custom packed boxes based on your flavor preferences, so you’ll never end up with a block you don’t want. My choices (marked with a *) now ranked in order: Chocolate & Coconut, Coffee, Peanut Butter, Chocolate, Chocolate & Mint and Maple.
The whole thing gets a 7 out of 10 rating. Good price, spare packaging & excellent shipping. The flavors were distinct, classic and well executed.
Rosa’s Fudge is sold on their website ($12 for 12 pieces - 15 ounces) as well as at some candy counters in the northeastern United States.
Friday, April 3, 2009
For some reason people want Energy. I’m not quite sure why they’re looking for products specifically labeled that way, as my understanding is that all food contains energy. Calories are available energy from food. If it doesn’t have calories, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not food.
But consumers, I believe, have been duped into thinking that stimulants are actually energy. They’re not, they’re just, well, stimulants. Stimulants make you feel like doing stuff, as the general state of humans (if you believe advertising and general laws of physics) is to be inert and bored. Stimulants, though, don’t cure boredom or actually get anything done.
Caffeine is the most common stimulant and is naturally found in a product that masks the bitter and unpleasant taste of it very well: coffee. Caffeine also works as an additive in other products in smaller quantities, usually products with natural alkaloids, like chocolate or perhaps strong fruit flavors.
There are some other compounds which are also grouped into energy products: Taurine and B vitamins (Niacin, B6 and B12). These have their own distinct flavors, often known collectively as the “vitamin burp” taste. (You can read about these at Energy Fiend)
All of this writing, however, is just vamping. After trying my first Beechies Force Chewy Candy, I didn’t want to continue.
Lemon - it looks pretty good and the first crunch of the candy shell was a bright & promising sweet lemon flavor. But chewing it, well, I should probably start posting photos of my facial expressions. The first was something akin to “Wha? Is this really happening? Does this really taste like this?” kind of quizzical look. Then a bitterness set in, which caused me to furrow my brow. Then came a general distasteful look that someone might mistake for “May I spit this out in your hand please? Please! Right now!”
And then I waited for a couple of weeks. I reviewed a bunch of other stuff, even avoided reviewing yesterday by posting a new products announcement list. I carried the bags around with me in my “to review” package. The wrapper does say recharge - refresh - renew so I thought I’d try again.
Green Apple went a little better. The candy shell is tangy and has that comforting artificial apple flavor. Then ... well, it took a turn for the worse. The soft chew of the center, which is rather like a Mentos, had a bit of a bitter tingle. The flavor was that midrange bitterness that reminds me of dirty gym socks. But it was mercifully short
Strawberry was a beautiful red. Much prettier than any Mentos. The shell flavor was soft and sweet. The inner chew was musty and tasted like generic chewable vitamins.
935 mg of Taurine
This combination of chemicals does not give me energy, it gives me angry.
I emailed the company, Richardson Brands, to see if they actually still make these. They never responded. Their website doesn’t list them on a product page but includes them in the ingredients/nutritional section. I found record of them being offered at All Candy Expo in 2006, but under different flavors. The only place I’ve ever seen these for sale is at the 99 Cent Only Store, but I have seen them at multiple stores and the packages appear fresh and current.
The chew itself was odd looking, it’s olive green. Really nicely done olive green, but just not a color I associate with rich, roasted coffee. (But I do associate with unroasted coffee.)
The outer shell is sweet and has a mellow coffee flavor. The inner chew is rather promising. It’s sweet and has a latte taste - both creamy and with some good brewed coffee flavors. The bitterness is there, but rather believable because of the coffee flavor.
I still had the aftertaste of bitter B vitamins, but it didn’t feel as strange because there was no tangy fruit flavor component. I wouldn’t call these great, but compared to the fruit ones, they’re actually edible. They reminded me of the Chewy Coffee Rio.
The other trick I found is to actually chew it all up. When I ate my second Java, I left the candy shell dissolve. Bad idea, because that’s where the extra sugar was. The center chew is not as sweet, but if you let it dissolve like a hard candy, it’s not a bad either. They do end with coffee breath though, so have some real mint Mentos on hand for that (as a side note, there is a caffeinated version of Mentos available in Europe).
An 8 ounce cup of brewed coffee (yes, I actually drink just an 8 ounce cup) contains about 100 mg of caffeine but no calories. Each bag contains two servings (140 calories)... and for only a buck, it’s a pretty good price for an easily metered amount of caffeine. I suppose you can swallow them whole.
I can see these having their place. For travelers, especially those who don’t want to take in a lot of liquids, it’s a nice alternative to coffee or energy drinks. They’re extremely portable (although 14 of them do take up a bit of space).
The package says a serving is 14 pieces, but it holds on 25 ... so it’s just shy of two actual servings. They’re made in
Colombia, which knows a lot about coffee. I’m keeping the Java (4 out of 10) ones on hand for medicinal purposes but I’m throwing out the fruit ones (1 out of 10).
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
I literally stopped in my tracks at the Fancy Food Show in January when I saw that Ferrara Pan had a booth. While I love their Atomic Fireballs and Lemonheads, there’s no way they can be considered “fancy.” Little did I know that Ferrara was actually making fancy candy!
They were at the show to introduce their new chocolate panned line which starts with five products: Dark Chocolate Covered Biscotti, Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds, Milk Chocolate Covered Almonds, Chocolate Covered Mixed Nuts (Macadamias, Cashews & Pistachios) and Dark Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans.
I was drawn to one of the more unique items in the line for my first experience with their chocolate: Dark Chocolate Covered Biscotti.
The box is hexagonal in gold foil with an attractive but simple design to it. I finally saw them in the grocery store (for $3.99 for a 6.25 ounce box) which is usually my signal to get it up on the blog.
Inside the box is a heavy plastic pouch in a similar but matte gold color.
When I cut it open I was met with a nice smoky sweet aroma of coffee, vanilla and cocoa.
The bits are little dome shaped, shiny dark chocolate nuggets. They’re about the size of a garbanzo bean or hazelnut.
I ate a few when I took the photos and thought they were a little odd, a little bitter, a little gritty.
Then I read the box (which, you know, I probably should) and found out what that was:
Oh! That’s real coffee I taste in there! Why didn’t they say that on the front ... possibly even include it in the name of the product?
The biscotti center is rustic, made with oat and rice flour. There’s a slightly salty and malty flavor to it. The crunch is crumbly, but dry and not buttery like some cookie centers (like Twix).
Though the ingredients say that center is coffee flavored, I get it more from the chocolate coating. The chocolate shell is very mild (not a true dark chocolate because it contains some dairy fat). It’s sweet, has a nice melt to it and the proportions keep the flavors on the chocolate end of things.
I had a similar product last year from Albanese Confectionery, their new Cappuccino Biscotti Bites which were milk chocolate, but I’ve never actually seen them in stores or on their website.
For a product available in the grocery store, I thought it was rather well priced for the quality and quantity. The chocolate covered nut mix they have sounds interesting to, since it’s both a mix of dark and milk chocolate and includes the less-common nuts: pistachios, cashews & macadamias.
Nutritionally, I was kind of surprised by these. Yes, they have a fair amount of fat at 11 grams per 40 gram serving (chocolate is like that), but there’s also 2 grams of protein & dietary fiber and only 35mg of sodium.
The other interesting thing about this product that may need some investigation is that they do not contain wheat, just oat flour and rice flour. Though it doesn’t say gluten free on the package, it also doesn’t list wheat as one of the allergens or mention wheat as one of the shared equipment warnings. So for those with gluten restrictions, this might be an interesting line to pursue (please educate me in the comments on how to help by reading the labels). They’re also Kosher.
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.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
For much of my life the prototype in my mind of Belgian chocolates was Guylian’s assortments shaped like sea shells. It was one of my earliest introductions to hazelnut pralines and though I rarely got the opportunity to indulge in them, they certainly fixed in my mind an image of what European fine chocolates were like.
They epitomize the convergence of flavors and design. Cute seashells and seahorse shapes with different cream fillings.
Now that I’ve had more access to a greater variety of confections, I wanted to revisit them with a fresh perspective.
The Guylian Belgian Chocolate Twists are a good way to try out their style without sinking too much money into the effort. For about $4, it’s a 4.51 ounce box with 18 individually wrapped “twists” in six varieties.
Each little piece is color coded and marked, wrapped in mylar. The pieces, I was surprised, are actually sealed and then twists (many other companies just twist the ends, these are actually sealed little pouches that look like twists). They do open easily though.
The little seahorses are striking. Each one was in great shape, even though I toted these around the floor at the Fancy Food Show and then all the way back to Los Angeles in my luggage.
Original Praline is dark and white chocolate with a hazelnut praline center. It has a soft and sweet hazelnut aroma. The bite of the chocolate is on the soft side. The center is lightly grainy with a strong hazelnut flavor. But it’s also very sweet with a touch of milky chocolate to it.
Now I remember why I don’t buy these. They’re very sweet, though I have to say, they are gorgeous.
But this assortment has other flavors, and they’re not white chocolate, so maybe I’ll find something else in there that I like.
Strawberry - this one looked like the classic marbled seahorse. It smelled like Twizzlers. Upon biting it open I saw the construction of the piece. The white cream center was covered in a white chocolate shell which then had the marbled dark chocolate on top of that in a thin veneer. So it’s a mostly-white chocolate piece. The strawberry flavor is more delicate than it smells, with only a slight tangy note in the cream. It’s rather like a chocolate version of strawberry ice cream.
Caramel Crisp (top of the pyramid) - this one didn’t start out well because it had a fake butter smell like buttered popcorn. But the texture combination upon biting it was fun. It’s a sweet milk chocolate shell with a whipped cream center with a butter flavor to it and some caramelized crisped rice bits in there for crunch.
Orange (bottom left of the pyramid) - dark chocolate with a light cream filling flavored with orange. The cream center is light and not too sweet, no graininess. It’s all about the orange, the only chocolate is from the shell, which isn’t strong enough to contribute much more than itself as a container.
Cappuccino (bottom right of the pyramid) is a dark chocolate truffle-like piece. The filling is light and fluffy, a white cream base with a heavy does of ground espresso beans in there. It’s definitely at the other end of the spectrum from the cloying sweet classic praline. Bitter yet still smooth, strongly flavored. The center isn’t quite truffle-like, it’s cool on the tongue, probably because palm oil is the second ingredient in the centers.
Chocolate Truffle is a milk chocolate shell with a milk chocolate ganache center. It’s slick and creamy, not too sweet but like I experience with the palm oil based Lindor truffles, it ultimately tastes empty.
Like the Lindor truffles as well, these are incredibly caloriffic. I clocked them at 192 calories per ounce. (A serving is 5 pieces, 34 grams and 230 calories.)
The craftsmanship on these is undeniable, but I don’t think this is the best that Belgium has to offer. They’re a fun little sweet for the eye, but less satisfying for those with discriminating palates (and who wish to avoid palm oil). I do have some of their Solitaire chocolate tasting squares which I’ll try soon, just as a touchstone for their main ingredient and they do make their chocolate from bean to bar to bonbon.
Terry has a review of the classic shells recently.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
It’s also fun to carry around a little candy in your pocket that emulates that feeling.
I’ve been eating Coffee Rio since I can remember developing a taste for coffee sometime around the age of ten or so.
I think the first time I had one, I thought they were coffee flavored Tootsie Rolls and was a little startled to find a hard caramel (much like Pearson’s Coffee Nips).
Coffee Rio are made by Adams & Brooks, which is based right here in my home city, Los Angeles, California. While they may be hard to find elsewhere in the country, I see them just about everywhere around here.
The candy is pretty simple. A hardened caramel flavored with real coffee. Though it contains quite a bit of milk products, it tastes more like black coffee with a bit of sugar than coffee & cream (which is what Pearson’s Nips are like - but they’re also Kosher and Coffee Rio isn’t).
The little rods are wrapped in a simple twisted mylar. I got this jumbo bag at Trader Joe’s for $2.69 for the bag, which I thought was a pretty good deal. They boast on the package that there are no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. (But there is some lightly hydrogenated soybean oil rather low on the list of ingredients.)
The texture is very smooth. They dissolve nicely and soften a bit as well (yes, you can chew them at some point, but also risk cementing your teeth together). The flavor is rich and like a mellow mocha java. At the start sometimes there’s a hint or charcoal and bitterness, but that fades away as the other woodsy coffee flavors come in.
Rating: 8 out of 10
I have been to the Island of Hawaii (the Big Island) and toured some of the Kona Coast’s coffee roasters. The stuff was fabulous, but you know drinking a cup of coffee from beans that were just roasted is bound to be better than the stuff you get at home.
One of the things I noticed about Kona coffee was its extreme dark acidic punch, even when not given the Italian roast treatment.
As Kona coffee is extremely expensive, most is sold as a blend. In the case of the Kona Blend Coffee Rio it’s only 10% Kona coffee.
These seems to capture that molasses & tangy bite really well. It’s not as sweet but no more bitter than the original Coffee Rio.
I also noticed that these were a bit softer, so much so that I was able to chew them after warming them. I love that! Even better, I got the bag at the 99 Cent Only store for a buck.
Rating: 9 out of 10
There’s pillowy cloud on the front of the package that reinforces that these are soft.
The ingredients, oddly enough, are identical to the other Coffee Rio, so it must be all in the process to create this softer version.
The package outside looks similar, but once I dumped out the pieces I realized that these are a bit different.
First, they’re bigger. They’re the same length, but have a greater girth than their hard brethren.
Second, they’re wrapped in foiled paper. I’m guessing this is to keep them well sealed from moisture.
They have a wonderful sweet & woodsy scent, less milky than the others.
The chew is very soft, softer than a Tootsie Roll, more like a chewy fudge. It’s a little bit grainy and I realized that this is a “short caramel” instead of being a “wet caramel.” Short caramel is slightly grainy, crystals have been allowed to form. It keeps its shape really well and provides an easy “bite”. A wet caramel is stringy and smooth and lacks the crystallization and can be very sticky and possibly runny.
I’d hoped this was a slightly softer Kona Blend.
The chew is soft and pleasant, but the light grain to it interrupted the creamy notes from the milk products. The coffee flavor was slightly acidic and tangy and lacking the coffee punch of the other hard varieties. I give it a pass.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Now I realize that I’d really like Tootsie to make Coffee Sugar Babies with chewy centers like the Kona Blend Coffee Rio.
I don’t know if these have caffeine in them or how much, but I suspect so, since they used to offer a decaf version. I can’t imagine it’s very much though. I sent an email to Adams-Brooks asking about it and I’ll update if I find out.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.