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.
Monday, December 1, 2008
The Hershey’s & Starbucks marriage has moved quietly out of the honeymoon stage. I see the products around quite a bit, though I haven’t been tempted to buy any again since I tried their launch line of items.
Then I saw their new holiday truffles. They have three new variesties that I spotted at both Rite Aid and Target.
The new truffles are: Peppermint Mocha Truffles, Gingerbread Latte Truffles and Eggnog Latte Flavored Truffles.
I stared and stared at the two packages for Gingerbread and Eggnog and I couldn’t figure out the difference. Gingerbread was going to be a little more on the cinnamon side and eggnog was going to be more on the nutmeg side. Both are milk chocolate.
Even though they were on sale, I opted for just the Eggnog ones. I think nutmeg is a hugely underrated spice and I love the combination of milk chocolate and nutmeg. (Frances bought all of them though.)
First let me say that I’ve never had a Starbucks coffee drink before. I’ve had straight lattes and cappuccinos and tried their Chantico hot chocolate before, but I’ve never had any of their flavored drinks. Like my aversion to sodas, I just don’t care much for sweet drinks. So I can’t compare the experience of this truffle to one of their actual hot Eggnog Lattes.
The narrow domed pieces are very attractive. Nicely molded and aromatic. I got an immediate whiff of chocolate and nutmeg with a little hint of rum flavoring.
The chocolate shell is shiny and nicely tempered. The chocolate is sweet but has a slight pop of coffee flavors. The sugar, cream and palm oil ganache center is creamy with a few little bits of spice in it. There’s a very slight hint of coffee from time to time, but for the most part this is a chocolate piece about the egg nog flavors, not espresso.
Overall, as I’ve found with egg nog in the past, this is pretty sweet stuff. The piece is nice, but as I’ve noticed with the other truffle boxes, I kind of want a variety. I did see a gift box at Target that had a mix of Mocha, Peppermint Mocha and Gingerbread Latte Truffles, but at $10 for less than 6 ounces it was a worse deal ounce for ounce than the stand up boxes. So I think I’m just going to keep my eye on it and hope it’s still there after Christmas. Or go to a real chocolatier and get something that’ll really roll my eyes back in my head.
As drug store chocolates go, they are all natural and Starbucks makes a point of saying that their coffee and chocolate are sourced ethically and grown sustainably (doesn’t say anything about the palm oil though). They’re certainly better than most other mass-produced boxed chocolates in that respect. Kosher.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The bar is also 7.05 ounces and is described on the front as Fine coffee flavored milk chocolate combined with a layer of white chocolate.
The box is quite nice, though a little generic (and the cup of coffee there is completely out of scale with the bar shown). The bar is wrapped in an oversized paper-backed foil that is easy to re-wrap around the bar and put back into the box for later. (And yes, at seven ounces I wasn’t eating this all in one sitting, even with help from co-workers.)
Instead of little fingers like the Choceur Luxury Mini Chocolate Bars, this is a full sized bar.
The bottom layer is coffee flavored milk chocolate with little rectangles of white chocolate on top.
The effect is attractive, the bar was nicely molded with nice attention to detail. Each piece was a nice mouthful.
The flavor is immediately a sweet coffee. In fact, it’s almost all coffee. I caught a few notes of chocolate in there, but it’s all about the milk and coffee flavors here. It’s a tangy and woodsy coffee with a strong dairy component, especially from the white chocolate part.
It wasn’t as sweet as I’d feared, so I was pleased that I could eat as much as I could.
It’s a treat for coffee and white chocolate fans and for those who really like the powdered milk flavors of European chocolate. The fact that it’s milk chocolate and white certainly sets it apart from most other bars and it doesn’t have actual pieces of coffee beans in there.
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 22, 2008
Tiramisu is another one of those desserts that I’d always assumed was around forever. That perhaps it originated in Italy, that every valley in Italy had a different regional take on it and every Italian-American grandma put their own twist on it.
Nope, totally invented, perhaps sometime in the 1970s, by a restaurant. But hey, traditions have to start somewhere.
Tiramisu is an odd dessert if you ask me, the recipe reminds me of other strange dessert concoctions torn from women’s magazines that require store bought cookies, flavored gelatins, saltines or pre-made syrups.
The flavors of tiramisu are coffee and sweet creamy cheese with a little cocoa thrown in. So it’s sort of like a mocha cheesecake.
The wrappers on these are more enticing that the day-glo yellow of the Bananas Foster, an attractive bronze with difficult to read gold print.
Caramel: corn syrup, hydrogenated palm kernel and/or palm oil, sugar, skim milk, milkfat, lactose, salt, artificial and natural flavors, potassium sorbate.
The Dove Desserts Tiramisu starts with a dark chocolate shell. It has a pleasant cocoa and light espresso aroma.
The caramel center has a light salty flavor, a custardy smooth texture. So the creamy marscapone aspect is missing, as are the spongy ladyfingers.
Does it scream Tiramisu to me? Nope. Caramel mocha is more like it, not that it’s a bad thing.
Monday, September 29, 2008
The tin describes them as crunchy toffeed espresso bits covered in dark chocolate.
Frankly, I was confused by them. They didn’t look big enough to be espresso beans covered in toffee and then chocolate, which is what the description made me think. And the word “pillows”? They’re the size of dried beans ... and they don’t sound like pillows. Pillows are soft and fluffy. These are pellets.
But I don’t think I’d buy something called Espresso Pellets.
The tin is awesome. The colors are compelling and reinforce the elements advertised: chocolate, toffee and coffee.
The little window let me see what was inside.
Most importantly, it was easy to open and snaps shut securely.
They smell sweet and chocolatey and a little woodsy, like cedar.
They vary greatly in size and shape. Some are the size and shape of a coffee bean, others are teensy little ball bearings (with nothing inside).
At first bite my confusion about what these actually are is completely diffused.
Inside of the panned chocolate shell is a little nugget of rich coffee toffee. Think Coffee Rio, only crispy and crunchy.
The center is rich, a little bitter, buttery smooth and barely sweet. The semi-sweet chocolate coating adds more flavor and makes the whole thing creamier.
This is one of those products I’ve been dreaming about. A really intense coffee candy that doesn’t have grainy little bits of coffee grounds in it.
The price is a little steep for the amount of product. I’d probably want to buy a whole tub of these and just refill my little tin. But then again, it helps with portion control. I can eat the whole tin and it’d only be about 350 calories.
Some of mine had little light colored spots on them, not full blown “chocolate bloom” but more like they got speckled with water or moisture somewhere along the way. All the ones on the shelf looked like that. It doesn’t seem to detract from the flavor or texture though.
This is not only all natural, with no preservatives, it’s also Kosher. However, it’s not vegetarian-safe for those who won’t eat confectioner’s glaze.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.