Thursday, August 30, 2007
Though my recent vacation was not as candy-filled as some other trips I’ve taken, I did get to stop at an actual candy factory outlet store. Unlike other “company stores” such as Hershey’s and M&Ms World in Times Square, this store features many factory seconds at hugely discounted prices.
Chocolates a la Carte is located in Valencia, CA in a non-descript industrial park just on the other side of route 126 from Six Flags Magic Mountain and a stone’s throw from I5. The store is only open two days a week and for rather brief hours to boot, but the timing of my trip couldn’t have been more perfect. The company makes a wide variety of chocolate products. Many of them you’d never know were theirs, they make little chocolate pieces that are used as accents on desserts and bakery goods or found served with coffee service at fine hotels and restaurants. Some of their other lines are manufactured for other companies as well as for their own brand called Signature Chocolates by Rena.
Getting into the store is more like a private shopping appointment. We entered the two story reception area and were greeted by the receptionist who called for the marketing person who operates the store. She unlocked the little room which was the sum total of their outlet store. I’m guessing in cooler months it’s probably open more continuously ... it was 98 degrees at 4:00 when we stopped there last week ... not really chocolate weather
The store however, does not disappoint in both its breadth of inventory nor in savings.
The products I was most interested in were the Truffle Tiles (which are so much like the ones at Choxie it makes me wonder) and Truffle Pops (which I saw at Bristol Farms but somehow couldn’t pony up the $6 for the set of 3). But of course there was plenty to choose from.
The truffle tile selection was a little sparse - so I picked up their classic trio collection for $3.50. I was also pleased to find the truffle pops available individually, though only in the Brut Dark Chocolate variety (which I figured was the best anyway) for only $.50 each. Holy Moly! Those puppies are $2 each in stores! So I bought $2 worth (four of them).
Truffle Tiles ($3.50 for a box of 3) - well, I’m never as keen on molded truffles as I am on dipped ones, so there’s a strike there (but hey, I’m the one who bought them so I can hardly hold it against them). The proportion of chocolate to filling in the tiles, as you can see from the photo is heavy on the chocolate coating, light on the filling. This means that either the filling is intense or so washed out that it really only contributes a speck of texture. These were middle of the road for me. Not intense, but certainly fresh and fun.
6 out of 10
Truffle Pops (50 cents each) - here’s a home run at 50 cents each. The shell is much thicker on these than a regular truffle, but the filling is definitely intense and creamy (and not even runny given its exposure to 85+ degree heat in the evening in my house). While I’m not usually keen on “painted” chocolates, especially ones that have sparkles or luminous metallic colors (mostly because I have no idea what I’m eating) this looked edibly appealing and smelled pleasantly of woodsy chocolate.
8 out of 10 at this price, they’d make a wonderful wedding or party favor, but probably down to a 6 out of 10 at four times the price.
Brandy Disks ($2.50 for a bag of 6) - these little dark chocolate disks with white chocolate squiggles were exquisite. If I were to go back there and find a huge bag of them on sale, I’d jump at them. The center is a Florentine-style caramelized cookie thing and then the chocolate coating. The center was crisp and crunchy and a little chewy like toffee can be ... a touch of salt and dark caramelized sugar flavors. The dark chocolate offset it nicely. I ate three in one night after I photographed them.
Seriously addictive ... I give them a 9 out of 10.
Salted Caramel Truffles ($3.00 for a bag of 8 “seconds”) - these little guys may not have been the prettiest thing I purchased, but they were tasty. The center was part truffle cream and part caramel. It was a bit on the custardy side, smooth and creamy but without much flavor but a nice little hint of salt. I wasn’t wild about them, but liked them well enough to eat them after the Brandy Disks were gone.
I give them a 6 out of 10.
As for the prices, they’re sometimes less than half the retail price charged on their own website:
Monet’s Palate(TM) Chocolate Couture $26.95 on website - $12.50 in person
While most of the the prices are great, as an outlet store you never know what you’ll find there. Also, some of the items they sell are retail quality, others are slightly flawed. I was told that the truffle pops weren’t quite up to snuff in their bronzy coating, but they looked fine to me. But the little salted caramel truffles did have some aesthetic and functional problems (some of them had little coverage holes in them), so they’re fine for eating but I don’t know if I’d give them as gifts or use them as a wedding favor or anything.
The chocolate they use for their creations is a combination of Callebaut, Guittard and Valrhona (usually marked as such).
I guess the caveat is if you see something while you’re there, buy it because you don’t know if it’ll be there when you go bag. You could probably buy one and try it right there in order to decide if you want more. (Seeing how the Truffle Pops are only 50 cents, how could that be a bad idea?) I would have bought more of the Brandy Disks if I followed my own advice.
Chocolates ? la Carte
As outlet shopping goes, I give this an 8 out of 10, I’ll definitely go back when the opportunity presents itself.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
No, it’s not German candy week ... it’s purely a coincidence that I bought those Katjes and then my husband picked up this cool box of Ritter Sport Schockowurfel on a recent trip to New York City.
Instead of the regular sized bars, these miniatures are about the size of a regular Ritter Sport “section” ... and they’re filled as well! Kind of like little truffles. The variety is called in 6 pralingen Sorten ... which I’m guessing means an assortment of six pralines.
The bottom of the box is folded in such a way that when I removed the top the bottom expands to make more of a bowl ... which makes it easier to rifle through the assortment to see what they all are. Luckily there was also an inventory with images on the side of the box to guide me through them all.
The wrappers are all distinctive enough in color combos that I got good at telling what they were at a glance.
Creme Coco isn’t something chocolatey ... nope, it’s milk chocolate with a coconut center. The coconut is certainly sweet, as is the milk chocolate, but the small size makes it pretty agreeable. It reminded me a little bit of the limited edition Hershey’s Coconut Creme Kisses, in a good way. This coconut was a little firmer, a little crispier.
Cappuccino & Amarettini was not one I was looking forward to, since I assumed it was going to be heavy on the amaretto (as the marzipan bar is), but it was much more focused on the coffee notes. Very sweet, so sweet it made my throat burn for a bit.
Tiramisu on the other hand had that amaretto flavor, but distinctive marscapone note.
Caramel Crisp was kind of odd ... the filling was light in color but reminded more of the yogurt Ritter Sports. There were some dark caramelized sugar flavors in there and some light crispies that kind of redeemed the cloying sweetness.
Crocant reminds me of the great Knusperflakes that Ritter makes, though I think it’s actually crisped rice ... the little crispy bits are inside a softer cocoa cream center. Simple, fun, tasty.
The assortment had some nice variation and is a pleasant change from the monotony of buying a whole bar and being force to consume it before you can move on to another flavor (okay, maybe no one forces me). It’s easy to share them and they look pretty sassy in their simple little wrappers. I’d love it if some were dark chocolate though, as I think Ritter is making great strides in the dark department for a mass-consumer chocolate company. I have no idea how much my husband paid for this ... I can’t even find it on the Ritter website. I did see that they have another morsel-sized chocolate simply called Rum; if it’s anything like the Rum Trauben Nuss, I’m sold.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Here’s a little fun for the Summer. Some white and some dark.
Ferrero makes quite few different little two bite confections besides their Rocher and Mon Cheri. The one that I’ve kind of avoided all these years is the Ferrero Raffaello. Why? It looks kind of like a snowball, and I was afraid there’d be some marshmallow in there. But a kind reader set me straight.
Each package contains three little coconut covered spheres. Unlike everything else in the Ferrero line, these are not individually wrapped ... unless coconut flakes count as wrapping.
I rather admire Ferrero. They really seem to understand their marketing segment. An upscale chocolate in sophisticated wrappings that you can buy at the drug store or grocer. Not terribly expensive, decent quality and in flavor/texture combinations you just don’t get in other American chocolates.
I bought a single serving package, which is a small tray with three little candies in it, each in a little white fluted cup. They’re a little messy, with a lot of dislodged coconut coming out of the package along with them.
They smell like summer: like coconut and a sweet hit of sugar.
They’re not terribly big, at about a third of an ounce each they don’t feel very dense. I guessed at what they’d be like inside from the ingredients, that there would be a wafer sphere with a cream filling.
Sure enough, I got it right. The coconut gave way to a crisp but bland wheat wafer shell and a milky flavored cream inside (think buttercream frosting). That must be a lot of dairy in there, it contains 6% of your RDA of Calcium!
The cream had some strong dairy flavors and a pretty smooth texture. It wasn’t as sweet as I’d expected. In the very center was a little nut that at first I thought was a hazelnut but then found out was an almond when I read the description on the back of the package that called these: Almond Coconut Treat.
It was a nice little refreshing treat, but I didn’t find them very satisfying on their own. As part of a mix, they’d be nice as a little change of pace, but I don’t see myself sitting down with a package.
Made in Belgium. Rating: 6 out of 10
The item I was really interested in was something that I saw announced on the All Candy Expo website several weeks ago. Ferrero Rondnoir which sounded like a it would be a dark chocolate Ferrero Rocher. Well, they’re not quite that, but still quite a nice extension of the Rocher line.
I didn’t expect to see these until the ACE next month, so imagine my surprise at finding them at the RiteAid (the same RiteAid that seemed to have the Elvis Cups out three weeks early).
The trio of candies are wrapped in an elegant bronze/brown foil with a little sticker on top that confirms that they are the Rondnoir (in case you get them in a mixed box). They’re further packaged in little brown fluted cups ... perhaps packaging overkill, but they’re a little wafer sphere in a skimpy little paperboard tray ... they probably need the protection.
Again, I’m bad at reading directions or press releases, so all I knew was that these were dark chocolate. I fully expected them to be just like the Rocher.
They’re not at all like Rochers. First, the outer coating is a chocolate crumble - think really rich Oreo cookie bits. Inside that is the wafer shell. Inside that is the dark chocolate cream. It’s light and buttery with some nice but not overwhelming chocolate flavors. Think hot chocolate, not quite rich ganache.
Then at the center is not a nut but a little sphere of super buttery dark chocolate. In fact, it tastes very little like chocolate, but it is like a little ball of cocoa butter (or perhaps something worse that I prefer not to think about). Eaten alone, it’s a little too slippery. Eaten with the whole sphere at once, it’s the perfect little creamy burst.
I’m rather fond of this new Ferrero product and I plan to stuff my sample bag with them at All Candy Expo next month and even consider buying them in the future. The small package makes portion control pretty easy and it’s hard to just rush right through them, considering all the packaging (hey, my city takes aluminum foil in the recycling bin!). At 1 ounce it’s 160 calories, so yes, it’s calorie rich for its size, but then again, if you only bought one package you’re safe.
They remind me of the Lindt Lindor Truffles ... which is a good thing.
This variety is made in Germany. Rating: 8 out of 10
Thursday, July 19, 2007
These are from Japan and come in a few different varieties. They’re called Inside Out KitKats. I was calling them Naked KitKats for a while until I found out the real name.
They’re a KitKat without the coating. The bar is longer (about 5.5”) and generally larger. The center filling is lightly flavored. I think the one pictured is Chestnut.
A few KitKat variations out there seem to be breaking the rules of KitKats ... KitKats are supposed to be multi-bars that can be snapped into fingers to share or enjoy slowly. (I’ve never met anyone who just chomps on a whole KitKat.)
But this comes down to the discussion of what should be included under a particular candy “brand”. When I think of Reese’s, the essential element is peanut butter and the secondary element is cups ... the third element is chocolate. You can add things in there, but but taking away more than one of those essentials just mucks with it so much that it ceases to be a Reese’s.
The same goes with KitKat. It has to be fingers (even if the fingers are sold individually), it has to have crispy wafers and it has to have some sort of chocolate coating (be it white, milk or dark). Here we’ve lost the coating and the “fingers” have become as large as rods.
Okay, so maybe they’re not KitKats. What are they? They’re cookies. Cookie wafers with a cream filling and I dare say it, they’re no longer candy. They fall into the confectionery category, but out of my realm of specialization.
Naming and placement on the taxonomic chart of candy aside, these are okay. The wafers are certainly crispy, but they’re also dry. There’s not enough cream filling to give them much of a flavor, and subtle is fine, but there’s so little going on here. I’d say they’re the perfect summer candy bar because there’s no worries about melting, but there’s also so little moisture here I’m worried about dehydration and these sucking what little fluids I have left out of my system.
I tried two flavor sets: chestnut and mango. Chestnut is pleasant because the sweet nutty flavors go with the cream sweetness. The mango was just weird, the pine-type flavors of the cream just seemed to fight with the bar on the whole. Perhaps if it had a bit of a tang to it or recognized more of the juiciness of the fruit instead of just the flavor, it might have worked more. Of course that would be an even larger departure from the KitKat-ness.
I still have a few of these left (and I’ve had them since January - both Amy in Japan and Santos gave them to me) and even when I eat them and find them okay, I keep forgetting I have them and when I see them sitting there I have no impulse to eat them.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
I had really high hopes for the new Nestle Crunch Crisp bar. I found it on Friday while I was filling my gas tank and wandered into the convenience store because it was so freakishly hot. (Okay, maybe it’s not freakishly hot, it was the end of June in Southern California, what should I have been expecting at four in the afternoon?)
The blue metallic wrapper is promising and describes this as “Crispy Wafers, Chocolate Creme.” Sadly, it also doesn’t list chocolate as an ingredient. Which leads me to wonder what the essential element is to be called part of the Nestle Crunch line of products ... apparently it’s not chocolate, it’s crisped rice. I’m sure there are volumes of marketing research that prove this.
The bar consists of sturdy planks of bland wafers filled with a greasy and grainy chocolate cream, topped with some crisped rice and a slurry of thin mockolate (63% of your daily value of saturated fats!).
Here are the ingredients:
While this all comes off as rather negative, I think I might find this tasty when the ambient temperature is below 90 degrees. Even at 85 degrees, however, the bar was a slippery mess (this is one of the differences between mockolate and most chocolate). It was certainly creamy and the crispy wafers were distinct and crunchy. But the mockolate and chocolate creme just weren’t up to delivering any flavor to the mix. It wasn’t too sweet though, as the bland wafer and crispies were a good counterbalance to the mockolates. Honestly, the crispy wafers were good.
This would be an awesome bar if it were real. If there were some sort of real chocolate on there, something with character and depth, I could completely get behind it. In the mean time, I’m going to stick to my also-high-in-full-hydrogenated-oils Chocolatiers.
Candy companies are still getting the hang of this internet thing, so you can go to the website listed on the package, ForTheKidInYou.com, but I couldn’t find any mention of this bar there. On a slightly related note on the mockolate front, here’s an article from Reuters ... that Cebele May they mention, that’s me (plus Emily from Chocolate in Context!).
Monday, July 2, 2007
Twix is one of the most popular candy bar brands in the country (and mighty popular in Europe, to boot). About 43 million are sold each year (source). There are quite a few different versions and limited editions that have come and gone over the years.
It was kind of an odd process. I submitted an email through the Contact page on the Twix website and two days later I got an email (referencing Peanut Butter M&Ms, which really confused me, because if I asked a question about PB M&Ms, it had to be over a year ago when I was trying to find out if they still made Crispy in the States) with a reference number and their toll free hotline. I called the number and gave them the number and they confirmed that there will be no more Peanut Butter Twix once supplies currently in stores and warehouses run out. (This would be the appropriate time to pick up a box at your local grocer when they go on sale for three for a dollar and then sell them for $2 each on eBay.)
The only difference between these two products is the cookie in the center. The original Peanut Butter Twix has a vanilla cookie (like the regular Twix) while the new PB Twix has a chocolate cookie (like the Limited Edition Twix Triple Chocolate).
This is how I feel about this bar ... it’s trying too hard.
I got a hold of the classic Peanut Butter Twix and did a side by side comparison.
I like the Peanut Butter Twix, not a lot, but enough to finish the bar on hand. The peanut butter is definitely the main attraction here. The bar isn’t very sweet and the cookie gives it a nice texture without doing much else. The chocolate, well, keeps things together.
The Twix looks the same from the outside. The cookie isn’t quite as crispy and satisfyingly crunchy. The peanut butter seems to be lost in the Hydrox-style cookie (no, not Oreo, I’m saying Hydrox for a reason). It all tastes like bad frosting. Not like peanut butter, not like chocolate. It has a nice salty balance and isn’t too sweet, but it just doesn’t have much going for it as a candy. I hate to say it, but when I eat this, the word that comes to mind is unctuous. I mean this in both senses of the word ... it’s kind of oily and it’s also kind of insincere and smug.
Now, if you’re a Twix fan, you’ll probably want to ignore everything I’ve written here. I’ve never actually cared much for Twix. Sometimes I’ll eat a miniature as a reminder to myself that I really don’t like them. I don’t know why. All the elements seem like a good idea. Is it just me, or do Twix always become a melted mess in your fingers too? I don’t have that problem with most other bars.
If you’re a fan of the traditional (and you should really try this one before you go getting in an uproar) then you should probably call Mars or send them an email to let them know how you feel.
Monday, June 25, 2007
The first thing I was looking for at the Candy Palace at Disneyland was something unique. Why should I eat something that I can get anywhere? So I scoured the store to find something that was made only for sale at the Disneyland candy stores. Sadly, there really wasn’t anything there like that, so I settled for something that I thought I’d like that had a novel take ... the Dark Chocolate Pretzels in the shape of Mickey Mouse.
They were sold in a couple of different formats, a simple plastic baggie tied with a bow with a stack of four (mostly shopworn though), they had singles in the candy case for $1.25 each and then a nice box with 8 ounces of dark chocolate pretzels for $9.95. The box had all the classic Disney characters on it. Nothing from this century (the most recent characters on there are Beauty & the Beast and The Little Mermaid). The box looked like it protected the contents well (shaking it actually didn’t yield much in the way of sound, which is a good thing).
The pretzels are gorgeous! The dark chocolate is glossy, thick and with cute little scribbles to make it extra dense in spots. They’re in a deep tray, leaning against each other in little slots, eight pretzels total. (So that makes them 1 ounce each.)
Only one was broken.
The pretzels themselves are bigger than I’m used to, at first I thought they were stale but then I realized they were just really crunchy and a bit dense ... which kind of keeps them from being crispy in the way I’m accustomed to. The chocolate is good quality, not too sweet and with a good balance of smoky notes and a dry finish. The pretzel is only lightly salted, so this remains a sweet treat. Unfortunately this “dark” chocolate has milkfat in it, so it’s not for vegans. It is Kosher though (I don’t think anything in the candy case is). 8 out of 10
For the record I also tried a Milk Chocolate Pretzel out of the candy case, which I ate as I left the park. It tasted like, well, candy case. The pretzel was a little stale and the chocolate bland.
The candy case has a huge variety of chocolate treats in it. Nut clusters, caramel patties, peppermint patties, chocolate dipped crisped rice treats, chocolate marshmallow bars on sticks, little cups with white chocolate mixed with cookie bits, milk chocolate with M&Ms, chocolate haystacks, toffee, and of course the chocolate covered pretzels mentioned above.
I was drawn to the Milk Chocolate Caramel Marshmallow Bar. It’s about the size of a Snickers bar, though not quite as dense in hand. I was hoping for something to approach the See’s Scotchmallow.
Inside the bar the caramel and marshmallow are in equal proportions. The caramel is thin, though chewy and smooth (but lacking some deep burnt caramel flavors). The marshmallow is moist and springy and not too sweet. The milk chocolate is okay, sweet and milky and pretty smooth. It’s a sweet bar, but the marshmallow makes it feel both satisfying and light at the same time. $1.95 ... I give it a 7 out of 10.
I had very low expectations for the Small Mickey Turtles. The large ones in the case, though attractive in shape and size were a bit bloomed. The little ones weren’t quite as pretty, but the price was certainly better for someone who was looking for variety.
My expectation for something called a “Turtle” is this: caramel and pecans covered in chocolate. I like my caramel to be soft and chewy, but also flavorful to provide more than a textural counterpoint to the nuts. Pecans are a strongly flavored nut, so a good caramelized caramel is important.
The Mickey Turtle is a huge disappointment. The nuts didn’t taste fresh. The chocolate had more of the flavor of the refrigerator case than of chocolate and the caramel was less like caramel and more like a fudge or pecan praline (a chocolate covered pecan praline would be delightful, too).
Oddly enough the “turtle” pictured here with the white stripes wasn’t a turtle at all. I think it was supposed to be a truffle, but it tasted a bit more like a piece of fudge covered in chocolate. Again, it tasted like refrigerator more than chocolate.
The large (bloomed) Turtles were $3.00 each. The mini versions were 94 cents. Not bad as price goes, but it’s certainly not worth it. I give these (even the accidental “truffle”) a 5 out of 10.
If you’re coming to California and want a special candy treat to take home, go to See’s. The prices are better, the candy fresher and of course it just tastes better. (And I’ll wager you won’t stand in line as long ... most California airports even have a See’s kiosk.)
Next, I’ll try some of the prepackaged candy bars!
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Sometimes I wonder if these energy bars are really better than plain old candy bars. Back in the depression candy bars were meal replacements. Many were packed with nuts and over two ounces, which made them a pretty cheap source of satisfying calories at a nickle.
Of course the object these days is not the maximum number of calories per ounce, but how good the nutrition profile is.
When I want a little lasting energy & snack, I usually reach for some sort of nutty bar, as they tend to have a good amount of protein. Payday bars are always dependable. But I’m also a fan of Lara Bars, which are basically mashed up almonds and dates with a few spices thrown in. At about twice the price though, I often grab the Payday ... and I don’t feel that bad about it.
This sounded familiar. In fact, it looked familiar ... very familiar. The Take 5 features pretzels, caramel, peanuts, peanut butter and milk chocolate. Wow, not much difference there ... even in the ordering of the elements.
Well, Twisted was $1.29 and a Take 5 is $.89 at the 7-11.
I’ve reviewed the Take 5 before and I stand by it. It’s a good bar with a lot of variety of texture in it, not too sweet and because it’s in two pieces, it’s easy to have a little now, have a little later.
The Twisted bar is merely a Tiger’s Milk bar covered in weak chocolate with a pretzel thrown in. It smells like baby formula. It seriously tasted like I was chomping on vitamin leather or something. I often enjoy things that are rather unpalatable, just because I’m fascinated by all the different flavors there are and maybe catty things I can say about it. I didn’t enjoy this, even for the prospect of reviewing it. Luckily the two piece format of the Take 5 meant that I had a palate cleansing second piece at hand.
So you might feel like you’re doing the right thing when you eat this lower calorie version of a Take 5, but you’re certainly not going to enjoy it.
I have to admit that it’s probably unfair to match a candy bar with an energy bar ... but hey, that’s the breaks. They started it by packaging it to look an awful lot like the Take 5.
For some other balanced reviews of snack bars, check out I Ate a Pie’s special roundup from earlier this year.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.