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.
Monday, March 12, 2007
I’m a mochi fan. When I’m down in Little Tokyo here in Los Angeles I like to pop into Fugetsu-Do and buy some wagashi with red bean paste (they do a lemon one with white bean that’s pretty good too). It’s not a mainstream taste for the American market though.
I was pretty excited to hear about the KitKat Azuki, though I had my doubts about how well it’d go with chocolate.
As KitKats out of the package go, this has to be the most unappealing. It has a base of white chocolate but the little sticks are a light pink with some dusty mauve tones, just kind of mousey looking. It smells milky with a little touch of an earthy quality to it.
The first bite is crisp and sweet and it isn’t until later as it’s all mashed up in the mouth that the red bean notes come out. It’s not a loud and obvious flavor, just a light earthy quality, a little like beets or kidney beans. It’s not as unnerving as the Pumpkin ones from last year, but not something I’m terribly interested in again. This experience does not diminish my desire for mochi.
I have to admit that I liked this one. I saw other people chatting about it on the internet and I thought it sounded horrible. The Fruit Parfait KitKat seems to be a mix of banana, melon, orange, blueberry and strawberry flavors if the photo is accurate.
I can’t say I have a lot experience with fruit parfaits ... are they like a fruit tiramisu? (On a vaguely related note, in my youthful ignorance I thought that tiramisu was a Japanese dessert before I’d actually had it.)
It’s another one of those white chocolate KitKats.
The bars really aren’t that attractive with their rippled colors of white chocolate. They smell like a cross between bananas and yogurt. The taste is rather similar. The white coating isn’t too sickly sweet and has some nice berry flavors with an overall banana background. I even got some melon and blueberry flavors in there sometimes. The wafers are crisp and feature a cream filling that’s a little pink and has more of the berry flavors to it.
I liked it. I ate it. I hope I don’t run across any others, it’s one of those candies that doesn’t make me feel good about myself for liking it. (Is it the polka dots on the package? The smell? The word Parfait? Should I run a poll?)
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Japan is known for cars, Japan is known for electronics. Japan is known for cute. Japan is also home to some of the best KitKats in the world (okay, and some of the worst, but this is the price of innovation and an example of the bell curve).
What else can I say except that the KitKat Bitter is what a KitKat should be all day, every day.
Upon opening one of the two packets that have two-finger sticks, it’s obvious this candy is real. The chocolate is dark and glossy and smells like ... chocolate! The package says, in English, “High Grade Cacaomass”, which I’m guessing is their way of saying that’s it’s authentically dark chocolate.
The American dark chocolate KitKats were not nearly as good as these (not that it matters, as they’re long gone). The Canadian dark KitKats are close in flavor but lacking in the high-quality chocolate texture.
The wafers are crisp and have that light touch of sweet filling. Yes, the chocolate here is rich and dark and actually slightly bitter as the label advertises. It’s a little dry as well. But it’s just so real tasting, it just spoils me for any other KitKats.
The White KitKat says that it has Nasu Highland Milk. I’m not sure what that is, but I’m sure it’s a selling point.
It smells very milky and has a light milky look to it. Though it’s sweet, it’s not throat-burningly so. The crispy wafers are good and offset the sweetness of the milky coating. As white chocolate KitKats go, I prefer this one to the Matcha from last year that seemed excessively sweet and a bit greasy feeling.
I can’t see myself eating this regularly, but I finished the bar, which is a good recommendation for anything containing white chocolate for me (I have a tendency to like them at first but lose interest after a serving). The wafers seemed to be more of a highlight than in the Bitter bar, perhaps a little crispier or maybe I’m better able to discern the flavor of them without the overwhelming chocolate.
Monday, March 5, 2007
Kokosowe is a dark chocolate covered coconut center. The center is not at all like a Mounds bar, but more like a coconutty York Peppermint Pattie ... it’s a stiff and slightly crumbly fondant that melts in your mouth and then later the chewy toasted coconut becomes chewy.
I’m a fan of coconut and I enjoyed the more toasted flavors, a refreshing change from the usual sticky chew of a Mounds bar.
Kasztanki is a large chestnut looking piece like the others. This one is a semisweet chocolate covering a center of cocoa cream and crushed wafers. It’s crunchy and has a light rum and perhaps coffee flavor to it. The crunch is really interesting because the bits are so small and the flavor is rather light. It reminded me a bit of some other Eastern European candies I’ve had before, except this is good quality.
Malaga was the one name that I kind of understood, though I’m not sure what the candy is. As far as I can tell it’s a flowing raisin caramel center in semi-sweet chocolate. Or perhaps the center is more like a cordial or marmalade. It’s a rather unusual combination but the flavor reminds me a little bit of the Rum Nougats that See’s makes (but not the texture, of course). There are little bits of raisins and the dark chocolate provides a good complement to the sweet but flavorful center.
Tiki Taki was definitely the most interesting of the bunch with an uncommon combination of flavors. The top layer is a nice mild peanut butter praline, and the bottom layer is a smooth but crumbly fondant of coconut like the Kokosowe. It seems to work pretty well, the roasted nut flavors of the peanut butter go really well with the coconut, which plays it pretty mild here.
Wawel may be popping up more in ethnic and upscale grocers. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see it at places like Cost Plus World Market. Part of what I find interesting is that these chocolates taste different than others. The flavor combinations on both the Tiki Taki and Malaga are unlike others that I’ve had. As long as the price points are consistent with other upscale consumer chocolates, I can see them making inroads here in the states. View their online catalogue. I could only find one online retailer (Canadian) that had Wawel products, but it at least gives the sense that as an imported chocolate brand they’re quite reasonably priced.
Friday, March 2, 2007
In the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Veruca Salt is lured to her doom by her desire for the Golden Egg (after giving a grand performance with her musical number “I Want it Now!”). In her final flourish she stands on the educated Eggdicator and is judged to be a Bad Egg and sent to the incinerator. This particular scene was not in the book (which instead featured squirrels and their ability to detect bad nuts, which I find far scarier, having been attacked by a squirrel before. Well, I’ve also been attacked by geese, but that’s no really relevant here).
The Wonka Golden Creme Egg is taking full advantage of that famous scene some thirty-six years later. But instead of the solid chocolate egg the size of the Elephant Man’s head, it’s a chocolate egg filled with a firm chocolate filling studded with graham cookie bits and then a slight reservoir of flowing caramel. I take issue with the caramel filling being called “creme” but this candy has bigger problems.
It’s only slightly smaller (1.1 ounces) than a Cadbury Creme Egg (1.2 ounces). The outside the egg has no Wonka branding on it, instead some squiggly lines and the Nestle logo on both sides. It makes me wonder if this is sold under different names in different places.
The chocolate creme inside isn’t very different than plain old milk chocolate, a little softer, kind of like a ganache only not as buttery smooth. The whole thing is very sweet - throat-burningly sweet. The chocolate itself isn’t particularly smooth or creamy. I have to admit that I’ve been very disappointed with Nestle chocolate lately and this Wonka sub-brand is no different. I’m not getting those CHOCOLATE flavors here. The crumbly crunches of the graham bits are nice (rather like the little Wonka bars) but the caramel is the only thing that saves these eggs - it’s smooth and salty, with just enough of it to cut through the rest of the sweet mess.
If you’re a Cadbury Creme Egg fan and used to very sweet egg-shaped chocolate products, you may do okay with this. But the chocolate is just substandard.
Rebecca at SugarHog.net also reviewed these and gave them a smidge higher rating that I did (but had them before the Cadbury Eggs).
My next door neighbors went to Peru for three weeks and brought back a huge cache of Peruvian (and South American) consumer candies. (They also brought some cookies, but I’ll try to keep this focused.) I find it quite fun to sample the consumer candies of all countries and regions and Peru was no different. So here are nine candies from Peru:
These little guys probably look familiar. They’re chocolate lentils ala Nestle Smarties. Only they’re not quite Smartie-like ... they’re the same size as M&Ms (Smarties are just slightly flatter and larger than M&Ms). The shell on these is very thick and crunchy. The colors are unbelievably bright.
The chocolate itself is only so so - grainy, too sweet and completely lacking in chocolate taste.
Rating: 4 out of 10.
This bar had a lovely photo of the cloud-wrapped city of Machu Picchu on the box. Inside the box the large chocolate tablet was inside a plastic wrapper that looked exactly the same.
The bar was attractive: a dark looking milk chocolate.
The snap was not as sharp as some dark chocolates can be and it had a rather soft bite as many milk chocolates do. The flavor is rather milky, in a goat-cheese sort of way, with a little tangy note. The flavor of the chocolate was also strongly raisiny. It was very pleasant though completely different than most other milk chocolate bars I’ve had.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
This is one of those bars that looks huge. The package is about the size a set of Twix bars, yet it only weighs 18 grams. This featherweight bar is all wafers with some light mockolate coating. Between the wafers is a little cocoa cream.
The bar, called Cua Cua, I’m guessing is a play on the sound a duck makes.
The bar smells sweet and a bit of chocolate. It’s also a little smoky smelling, though I couldn’t quite figure that out from the ingredients.
The mockolate was of course waxy and unappealing. It often flaked off the bar when I bit into it. I’m a big fan of wafer with cream (I can’t imagine how many pounds of Nabisco Wafers I’ve eaten over the years) but this one just wasn’t quite as ducky as I’d hoped.
Rating: 3 out of 10.
This bar calls itself “barrita ba?ada rellena con crema de chocolate” which I’m guessing means chocolate filling with crisp wafers bathed in chocolate.
The crisp log of wafer was interesting, kind of like a sweet Cheeto. The chocolate filling was like a frosting, with a good chocolate taste and slightly grain. Like the Cua Cua, this was a light bar. Though it’s big it only weighs 26 grams (and is the size of a Snickers ... which are 58 grams). Unfortunately the coating on the outside isn’t chocolate and it’s rather waxy and uninteresting.
Rating: 4 out of 10.
Name: Gomas Eucalypto
These are crazy! Crazy, I tell you.
They’re little gummis covered with granulated sugar. About the size and shape of an incense cone. Nice and soft but with a good gelatin bounce. They look like they could be green apple or lime or maybe even spearmint. But they’re not. They’re mentholated eucaplytus flavored. Just like Hall’s Cough Drops.
It’s rather refreshing to get a cough drop that’s not all crunchy and hard, instead it’s soothing and invigorating all at once.
Definitely a winner in my book.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
The packaging here is pretty, it’s a white thick plastic wrap with a bold brown logo for the name of the bar and pretty little pictures of the nuts in the bar.
The label says, “tableta con sabor a chocolate rellena con mani almendra y cereal crocante” which means “peanut, almond and crispy cereal filled chocolatey bar.”
The nuts were fresh and crunchy and gave the bar a promising aroma, but the mockolate in this bar was waxy, chalky and just so bad. Look at it in the photo ... does that look like something you’re supposed to eat or something I molded out of dung?
Rating: 2 out of 10.
If it weren’t for the Arcor brand on this, I’d be looking forward to this bar. The label says “Oblea rellena cubierta con caramelo y cereal crocante, con cobertura sabor chocolate” ... which translates to (courtesy of the wrapper, thankyouverymuch) “Filled wafer, toffee, crispies, all covered with chocolate flavor.”
Oh Arcor, again with the chocolate flavor? Is that why your company motto is “Le damos sabor al mundo” (translation: We flavor the world)?
The bar looks promising as well, with it’s crunchy studded mockolate. Inside are wafers with creme filling and then a scant covering of glistening caramel (I’m guessing that’s the toffee). The wafers are nice, and the toffee adds some nice flavor to the whole thing, but the bar had a rather chemical taste, like licking fresh dry cleaning. I don’t know if that’s the taste of Carbox/Methylcellulose (the last ingredient on the list), but it made my tongue buzz.
After this series of Arcor products they are now on my list as the Worst Candymakers in the World. (Granted, I haven’t tried everything made by everyone yet.)
This candy bar was made in Chile.
Rating: 2 out of 10.
This is a cute little bar. The wrapper says, “Chocolate Blanco de leche con Mani” which is “white milk chocolate with peanuts.” Doesn’t sound too bad.
And it is pretty cute to look at.
The chocolate is rather sweet, but also has a salty bite to it, which helped the peanut flavors stand out. I’m wondering if this was not de-odorized cocoa butter (most white chocolate is deodorized, so it has no chocolate flavor to it). It just may have been that the milk flavors with the peanuts were strong.
It was actually pretty good white chocolate bar. A little grainy but not the least bit waxy.
This bar was made in Bolivia.
Rating: 5 out of 10.
This is a cute little bar and of course has a upscale appeal of a regal name like Princesa. The ingredients are promising too, real chocolate in there.
The bar says that it’s “chocolate relleno con crema de mani” which means “chocolate stuffed with peanut butter.” Yum!
The chocolate here is dark (though there’s some milk listed in the ingredients, it’s way down the list). It’s a creamy though sweet bar. The peanut butter is very smooth and creamy as well and is completely overshadowed by the chocolate.
There’s a little spicy taste in the background, kind of like cinnamon.
This is a nice bar, not as peanutty as I expected, but as sedate and reserved as you’d expect from royalty.
Rating: 6 out of 10.
Friday, February 23, 2007
The pair I’ll review today are from the Chocolatier line from Japan: Strawberry, Pistachio, Almond and Thyme. These have been around for a few months and as international KitKats go, they’re not that hard to get a hold of, as many eBay vendors, JBox.com and even Amazon seem to have them in stock. They come in a pretty little lift-top box (about the same footprint as a box of tissues) and hold 16 little individually wrapped fingers.
These are slightly smaller than regular KitKats, they’re actually the same size as those minis I tried after Christmas in the Dark Mint Chocolate.
This little morsel smells like milk and sugar. There’s only the slightest hint of strawberry in there, without the tangy berry bite, just a vague floral taste. The nutty flavors are also very subtle. I got no sense of the thyme whatsoever.
That’s not to say that it wasn’t nice, it wasn’t as sweet as some other white chocolate versions of KitKat, such as the Matcha, it’s just so refined it’s beyond me. As fruity KitKats go, I think I liked the Strawberry KitKat from Japan a bit better, mostly because it was more strawberry-y.
The second little box is Ujimaccha, Kinako, Ume by Patissier Takagi. That’s green tea, soybean and sour plum.
The sour plum hits me more as a salty taste, which is good to cut through the sweet white chocolate coating.
The packaging on these is very nice, it’s easy to have one or two little fingers and then reclose the box. It’s also great for sharing, people think it’s a really nice bit of candy I’m offering them. Of course the packaging might be a little extreme, it feels like I’ve eaten a lot when I have three and there’s a huge pile of wrappers next to me and I’ve eaten less than an ounce.
Monday, February 5, 2007
One of the more familiar candies that’s marketed for Valentine’s Day would be the Ferrero Rocher. They’re pretty candies all year round but during the season for lovers they’re placed in clear plastic heart-shaped domes of varying sizes.
I picked up a 3 pack because I was cheap and didn’t really want another heart-shaped box. It’s what’s inside that counts, right?
Ferrero is an Italian company that makes all sorts of hazelnut confections, some under the Ferrero name and others under the Kinder name. Their best known, perhaps, is Nutella, but they also make the Kinder Eggs, Tronky, Pocket Coffee, Kinder Bueno, Kinder Happy Hippos and Tic Tacs. The Ferrero Rocher wasn’t introduced until 1982 and didn’t make it to the US until 1985 but it has quickly filled a niche in the confectionery market as an upscale chocolate available at drug stores and grocers in more than 100 countries.
But what is a Ferrero Rocher? At its center is a whole hazelnut, surrounded by a chocolate hazelnut paste filling which is inside a light chocolate wafer sphere covered in more chocolate and crushed nuts.
These were nice and fresh and had a wonderful sweet chocolatey aroma mixed with the smell of hazelnuts. They’re a bit big, but can fit in your mouth as one bite, though I usually do it in two (to see if I get the whole hazenut in the first or the second). They’re very nutty which helps to keep them from being too sweet. They’re much better, as far as I’m concerned, than Tronky, Happy Hippos or Kinder Bueno. I think it’s that the hazelnuts are so strongly featured. The packaging is also quite smart and classic. If you see them on sale after Valentine’s, this is an excellent product to pick up.
Their caloric density is rather high (169 calories per ounce) so it’s a good indulgence for a special occasion or in moderation. There are no trans fats in them.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.