Friday, March 16, 2007
Charles Chocolates not only makes one of the few marzipans I like, they also have their own line of chocolate bars. They come in sweet looking retro boxes with little line drawings on them. The boxes protect the thick bars very well and allow them to be rewrapped in their foil if you don’t finish them all at once (and at 3.4 ounces, you probably won’t unless you’re sharing).
(for those of you reading via feed, I’m using a flash slideshow for the photos today)
Mocha Java Pieces in 65% Bittersweet Chocolate (blue label) - this is a powerful bar. I’ve been keeping my chocolate bars in a little igloo cooler in my studio (because it protects it from temperature changes, and the dog can’t get to it) and every time I open it up I could smell the coffee in this bar. The 65% cacao dark chocolate is rich but still wonderfully buttery. The bar has plenty of whole espresso beans in it too which dotted the bottom of the bar (and explain why it’s a little titled in the picture). As a personal choice, I don’t like to eat coffee beans, but in this case they worked well in the bar and are paired with the right kind of chocolate.
Caramelized Crisped Rice in 41% Milk Chocolate (red label on caramel) - this bar smells like caramel but tastes like Sugar Pops and chocolate. The milk chocolate is smooth and super creamy and the crisped rice has a deep caramelized flavor with some malty tones to it. The only thing that I had a problem with was the integration of the crisped rice ... it wasn’t in the bottom of the bar, just the top. Sometimes I wanted more crisped rice with my chocolate. But then sometimes I liked finding a spot where it was naked of chocolate and could see it glistening in its coat of caramelized sugar and flick my tongue on it to get just those flavors and textures ... then I’d come across the chocolate, which would melt around it all over again.
Caramelized Crisped Rice in 65% Bittersweet Chocolate (red label on brown) - this bar is quite the opposite of its dairy infused sibling. Instead of being chatty and available, this one was rather standoffish and even elusive. The chocolate is creamy but with a strong astringency that seemed to give it some more vegetable flavors than fruit. This in turn made the crisped rice more reminiscent of pilaf than breakfast. Still, the textures were so wonderful, the chocolate melted easily and the caramelized sugar shatters on crunching, revealing that wonderful malted rice taste.
Crystallized Ginger Pieces in 65% Bittersweet Chocolate (yellow label) - again, a really creamy 65% dark chocolate, it just descends into a delicious fatty chocolate syrup in the mouth. The ginger’s earthy/rooty flavors come forward immediately. They bring a bit of a citrus tang and make the chocolate itself seem a little acidic, but the grainy sugar of the crystallized ginger also dissolves and mitigates that just in time.
Hazelnut and Candied Orange Peel in 65% Bittersweet Chocolate (green label) - this was the first bar I tried and the first bar I finished. Fab-u-lous. The chocolate is creamy and quick to melt. It’s not too sweet and sets off the candied orange rind ... the flavor of the orange zest permeates parts of the bar and then the crushed hazelnuts give a crunch and nutty texture to the whole thing. It’s not a common combination of flavors, which is one of the reasons you might want to seek this bar out.
Charles Chocolates just opened their new retail store in the same building as their kitchen/factory. They offer free samples (see the schedule). For those who can’t find them in store they also have a webstore. Retail vendors are also listed on the site (basically high-end chocolate shops & Whole Foods). See DessertFirst’s visit to Charles Chocolates. Here’s my previous review of some other products in his line.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Theo Chocolate is a new company that makes fair trade, organic chocolate from bean to bar (and bonbon) right in Seattle. Think about it ... they start with the raw materials and create not only the chocolate but go on to craft the fine ganaches and couveture - all without the use of pesticides, hormones or chemical fertilizers and giving the cacao folks a fair price for their beans. There are very few chocolate makers out there that do that, anywhere in the world, let alone here in the states. The only one that even comes close in the bean to bonbon arena Michel Cluizel in France.
I got to try just about everything Theo Chocolates makes at the Fancy Food Show last month including their Confections Collection.
Earl Grey - a beautifully smooth ganache with a rich and dark blend of tea and bergamot flavors in equally rich chocolate.
Ivory Coast - the essential chocolate truffle, dark and smooth with a buttery feel that helps with the woodsy and bitter notes of the chocolate.
Peanut Butter & Jelly - yes, right next to the most upscale of all chocolate expressions is the PB&J except this peanut butter is a praline (kind of crystallized) with a raspberry fruit paste to die for.
Fig Fennel - this has to be the homerun hit of the entire box. Not just because it’s so wonderfully flavorful, but because I’ve never had this combination in quite this way before.
Mint - it’s like it was muddled just for me only moments ago ... the mint tastes that fresh.
Peanut Butter - like the PB&J, this one has a peanut butter praline that’s not sweet at all but has a wonderful woodsy, nutty crunch to it. A little dry.
Scotch - exceptional with its savory smoky notes like tobacco and leather mixed in with the butter and raisin notes of the chocolate.
Burnt Sugar - I’ve had several of these now, the effect is rather like a light creme brulee, with all the flavor of the crusty sugar top and all the creaminess of chocolate and heavy cream in the truffle.
Lemon - the white truffle of the pack, it’s really lemony without being sticky white-chocolate sweet. It has both the tangy notes and the zesty flavors.
Vanilla - very vanilla, with little flecks of it in the ultra-smooth ganache and an overall bourbon note.
(I shared this box with my husband and he ate the Ginger truffle.)
These might be my new favorite chocolates, if only they were easier to get a hold of. I’ve not been to the factory, so I don’t know if you can just go in there and buy singles (or a whole box of one flavor). No compromises ... that’s what it’s all about. It’s still a guilty pleasure, but fewer things to feel guilty about.
I also have a complete assortment of their bars that I’m working my way through, so stay tuned for the reviews of those.
Monday, February 19, 2007
I’m a little sick, just bronchitis, nothing to block my enjoyment of candy but I’m a little tired. I’m spending more time on the computer and just read an interesting article about some of the benefits of gum to help build memory or as a delivery method for supplements. (Link to LATimes.)
So I thought I’d profile a few gums today, just in short because, well, it’s just gum.
I picked this Cool Cola Hubba Bubba up at Munchies here in Los Angeles. I rather enjoy cola flavor, though I rarely drink soda. This gum is from Israel and I can’t tell you what the label says beyond the flavor.
The chew is soft like Hubba Bubba but has a really good rounded cola flavor, complete with a tangy lemon element and the spicy cola notes. The flavor doesn’t last very long, but as it peters out it does taste a bit like old cinnamon gum, which isn’t unpleasant at all. The bubble blowing is pretty good too. I can’t say that the color is as appealing as regular pink bubble gum, but the size of the bubbles can be impressive. While I wasn’t a huge fan of this, I really think it should be marketed in the US, it fills a gaping hole in the flavor range of our bubble gums.
(A little housekeeping note, I like to put on some lip balm before blowing bubbles to keep the gum from sticking to my lips.)
Rating: 6 out of 10
I bought this gum in a Family Guy tin with Stewie on the front last summer at Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. It mostly bought it for the tin and this one was the least offensive of the Family Guy sayings there. (Not that I don’t like Family Guy, but this is a family-friendly blog.)
The little gum pieces are as cute as can be, light orange and shiny. The flavor says it’s orange, but I’d call it a juicyfruit plus orange. It’s not very strong gum and not really that good. It sticks to my teeth (I have fillings) and doesn’t last very long. But I liked the tin and will find something to stuff in there at some point when I bring myself to finish the gum that’s probably all tacky and stuck to the bottom now.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Talk about your unimaginative names. Cafe Coffee Gum! Whee!
I picked this up because I was actually curious about the new Wrigley Kona Coffee gum, but I’m not gonna buy that, because it’s got artificial sweeteners in it. So when I saw this, and that it had sugar, I figured it was destiny. And though I make fun of the name, the package design was rather pleasing.
It’s not strongly flavored, but rather nice and mildly sweet coffee-flavored. The flavor doesn’t last very long and when it peters out along with the sugar it’s rather musty tasting. But swapping for another piece solves that problem. I can go through a pack of gum in a matter of an hour that way.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Friday, February 9, 2007
Dove Jewels are a mid-range Dove confection packaged for Valentines. Inside this little red reflective cube were individually mylar wrapped chocolates. There were six varieties (two of them just solid chocolate). The packaging is attractive and the description of the candies is compelling. I’m not a huge fan of Dove chocolate, but these looked like an interesting option compared to the heart-shaped boxes I already reviewed this week.
Raspberry Truffle (magenta wrapper) - an oval shaped piece in dark chocolate. The truffle center was soft, a bit salty. On top of that (or maybe on the bottom) was a bit of raspberry jam. It didn’t have much zazz, so I didn’t catch more much more that indicated this was raspberry than a few authentic seeds.
Caramel Espresso (gold wrapper) - an oval shaped piece in dark chocolate, this had two components, a flowing caramel on the top of the center and a firm truffle-like espresso chocolate on the bottom.
Chocolate Mousse Truffle (purple wrapper) - an oval shaped piece in milk chocolate. It’s the one pictured above bitten in half. It’s sweet and mellow, not terribly chocolatey. The center has a bit of a salty taste to it that keeps the sticky sweet milk chocolate under control. A little hint of coconut flavor in the center.
Cashew Almond Crunch (green wrapper) - a round jewel piece in milk chocolate. It has a rather firm center with lots of bits of cashews & almonds and some sort of crunchy, perhaps hard nougat, stuff. This was the winner in the package (well, it’d score even higher if it was in dark chocolate), however, by the second one I had a sore throat.
While the packaging was elegant for drug store fare from Mars and of course different from the cheesy and dated heart boxes, I still wasn’t blown away by the Dove chocolate itself. I find it a bit too sweet and waxy without much chocolate bang. I did appreciate that the flavor combinations were a bit more adventurous than the usual mint, coffee, blah.
As an after Valentine’s purchase, getting these for $2 or so is probably a great deal (better than an Elmer’s box) as far as quality goes but at pre-Holiday prices, for less than $10 you can get some really good See’s candies (in whatever assortment you think will please your honey) made with Guittard chocolate and fresh, mostly natural ingredients (I think some of their fruity items use artificial colors).
I know some folks are very fond of Dove but it just doesn’t have that zing for me at this price, this was the biggest ticket item I bought for my grand Valentine’s Week (granted, all those other high-end boxed chocolates were gifts) so it did have some high standards to meet.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
Leonidas is a classic Belgian chocolatier with a Greek name. They make a huge variety of chocolates (their website says 100) and sell at 1,400 shops around the world (many in airports). Their website also has photos and descriptions of all of their chocolates. I wish I’d known that when I got this huge box, I had no clue what was inside here.
No matter, it’s all good!
The Pralines Leonidas assortment has a narrow focus on all things hazelnut with a good balance of dark, milk and white chocolate. There were pralin?s, pastes, truffles, croquants, gianduja and even a marzipan or two. It wasn’t all noisettes, there was also a cherry paste and what I believe is a chocolate covered cherry (that red foil one which is the only thing in the box right now). Some had a nice tickle of rum or coffee tipped into them. There were different textures for the hazelnuts - from a thick paste to a near solid chocolate assembly.
Leonidas runs on the sweet side, but the nut flavors are awesome. The chocolate is smooth and mellow, don’t expect anything strong or vibrant here, just some old fashioned hazelnut goodness. Oh, and the box is pretty cool. It’s a long faux leather box with two lids, the outermost lid locks the box tight with a magnetic strip but when you open it you can still gaze at the chocolate inside through the plastic window on the inner lid.
I haven’t visited a Leonidas store in person (which is odd because there’s one within walking distance of my office), but I imagine they can fix you right up for Valentine’s Day. Personally, now that I’ve tried a wide variety of their product line, I’m going to stick with the dark chocolate items and perhaps try more of the fruit jellies (I actually liked the cherry paste quite a bit and think they’ll do a good job on the others).
I got this fabulous box of from CocoaVino as a Christmas gift. Cocovino is one of those companies that sells the story & the experience as much as the product. The pride themselves on their Eco-Forward ideals (organic ingredients, fair trade, wind powered kitchen and environmentally sensitive packaging).
The collection is simply called BonBons. The array features six different flavors arranged in pairs, each with a different chocolate and spirit/wine combination.
Bacchanal - Malbec and dark chocolate - dark and complex, it has a lot of the fruity raisin and plum flavors you’d expect from a wine grape.
Roman Holiday - espresso and Sambuca - a mild chocolate and coffee mix, nice and smooth without bitterness.
Tango Nostalgico - dulce de leche and Spanish Mintilla Moriles wine - interesting, but I don’t think the tang of the wine mixed well with the caramelized milk.
Raspberry Beret - raspberry, as you’d expect. Fragrant and fruity, a classic combo with chocolate. Not much of a tangy bite, but that’s no problem for me.
Baci al Limone - limoncello in white chocolate. I’m a big fan of limoncello (though I find it a bit too sweet and like to add some extra lemon zest to it) and of course the smoothness of a white chocolate is a great base, especially with the balance of the dark shell.
Queen of the Harvest - Sherry and dark chocolate - even darker than the other chocolates. I wasn’t able to get many of the sherry notes as they blend so well with the normal chocolate flavors. Tasty.
The other item on their site that intrigues me is their Fig Caramel. (Please chime in if you’ve tried them.)
As a Valentine’s gift, these are an excellent idea for a foodie or as a sensual gift to share with someone special. The BonBon box comes with each of the flavors in pairs, so it’s a natural idea that you could both have one and discuss the different textures and notes that you sense. They’re a bit on the expensive side (this box retails for $31) but then again everyone is getting paid a living wage and someone had to build those windmills.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
There were quite a few caramels at the Fancy Food Show. Here are two vastly different caramel products.
Hammond Candies makes a product unlike all their other wonderful twisty/swirly hard candies, it’s a caramel covered marshmallow block called Mitchell Sweets. I have no idea why they’re called Mitchell, but hey, I guess if I had a great caramel and marshmallow product, maybe I’d just start calling it Mitch, too.
The Mitchell Sweet comes in two varieties - plain and chocolate. They’re pretty big, about 2 1/2” long, 1 1/4 inch square and weigh 3/4 of an ounce. They’re a bit messy, but not as messy as you might guess.
The caramel is soft and chewy without being too stiff. The marshmallow, on the other hand, is rather stiff and solid. It still maintains a lightness and bouncy texture which helps it stand up to the caramel.
The chocolate one didn’t smell any different but I have to say I was really pleased with how fudgy it was. The chocolate caramel was even a little salty and set off the otherwise sweet marshmallow really well. This is a real standout candy. I could use a little honey or extra vanilla hit in the marshmallow itself, but Hammond’s has been making these treats for a long time, so who am I to say they need an adjustment?
Notes: you can buy them direct on the Hammond’s Candies website for $17.00 a pound. These are very similar to the Littlejohn Caramel Marshmallows.
I give them a 7 out of 10
If I was looking for a candy that advertised its honey flavor, then Caramoos to the rescue. Caramoos aren’t quite the chewy caramel that we’re used to though they are indeed caramelized sugar. It’s more like a light fudge. They come in two flavors in the Caramel Crumble: Original & Honey and a bunch of others in their Creme Fudge line: Dark Chocolate, Mocha & Vanilla
They’re cute little square rods, perfect to pop in your mouth whole or do it in two bites.
They smell very buttery and have a very grainy texture. The sweetness is mitigated by a little hit of salt and of course the darker flavors of the caramelized sugars. The Honey one smelled like a sweet hand cream instead of a caramel. The fragrant candy grew on me so much that in the end I preferred it to the Original flavor.
The Creme Fudges are a little different. They don’t have the distinct crystallized structure to them. The Dark Chocolate one reminded me of a very good Tootsie roll. Soft, smoky tasting and a little salty. Mocha was rich and milky tasting with a wonderful flavor of rich espresso. The Vanilla one was also chewy and soft and had a nice milky taste to it but not the buttery flavors so apparent in the Caramel Crumble.
They’re an interesting new look at caramelized sugars.
Notes: Caramoos are made in Poland. There’s no ordering info on their website (I emailed but haven’t heard back) but you can get them on Amazon for $14 for 2.5 pounds ($5.60 a pound). Nicole from Slashfood was equally smitten with Caramoos. Quite a few folks also got samples of them from Amazon last year.
I give them a 7 out of 10
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
This stuff, Shaymee’s Aussie Toffee, isn’t actually from Australia, but made right here in California.
They boast about their real, all natural ingredients including organic cane juice and fresh butter as well as their genetic predisposition to great toffee on their website. They also list a long variety of flavor combinations for their bulk toffees: Dark Chocolate Macadamia (shown), Dark Chocolate Espresso, Dark Chocolate Almond, Milk Chocolate Almond and Milk Chocolate Pecan. They also have single serving packages that have three pieces (2 ounces) of the Almond in both Milk & Dark Chocolate.
The wide array of nut combos have one thing in common, a hefty plank of sweet, salty and crisp toffee at their center. A good buttery (and chocolatey) scent combined with a good cleave of the toffee. The pieces were about four bites each for me. The were very buttery tasting with a mellow salty hit that kept everything in balance.
The nuts weren’t overly abundant in any of the varieties, but definitely gave a flavor definition to all of them. My favorite, even though it was milk chocolate, was the Pecan. The Almond was quite good, with a good nutty taste and a slightly crumblier texture than the others. Macadamia reminded me of coconut, it felt a little butterier. Espresso was dark and mysterious and quite tasty to have the bitter bits of coffee in the chocolate to balance out the sweet caramelized sugars. The quality of the chocolate was particularly good - mellow and creamy without even a hint of chalky grain.
I supplied a large assortment of these to the family over Thanksgiving alongside the Charles Chocolates and everyone was duly impressed with both.
I love that the pieces are regular and dipped in chocolate. I much prefer that to the rustic broken planks that always seem to have the chocolate fall off of the last pieces in the box.
The best part about all these toffees is the price. You can pick up a half pound on Amazon for $7.19 ... less than $15 a pound for premium toffee? Sure the packaging isn’t as elegant as some others, but stuff it in a gift basket with some nice coffee or hot chocolate and someone will definitely love you. If I have a criticism it’s that all the toffees look the same when dumped out of the package. Once I mixed them together on a plate for serving to friends I completely lost track of which was which. (Of course as a good hostess I offered to bite everyone’s toffee pieces to discern the nut.)
You can also buy it in plenty of Whole Foods-styled stores all over the West. If you’re in the store and want some toffee, definitely give the single serve package a go.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.