Friday, April 28, 2006
Every once in a while I get an email with an offer for stuff to review. As much as I want to just accept every offer of free goodies, I had to develop a standard for freebies/samples. They have to offer something no one else does. Robert at Best Regards had me at “Cranberry Orange Craves.”
His line of chocolate barks feature his custom blend of chocolate and he recounts the discussion with his wife during his development of the treats this way:
I’ve never really considered dark chocolate to have an “aftertaste”, I always considered the dry, astringent or bitter carryover notes to be part of the experience. But I can see how the mellowness of milk chocolate alleviates both the good and bad lingering flavors.
Best Regards is located in the Kansas City, Kansas area, which is really one of the last places I would have expected good, distinctive chocolate to come from. Though the bulk of his edibles and gift baskets features cookies, the basket he sent has a large assortment of chocolate barks (called Craves) and even a fun variety of chocolate covered Oreos. So let’s dig in!
This is the star, the Cranberry Orange Craves - smooth dark chocolate flavored with orange essence and generously studded with dried cranberries. It’s an incredible combination and amazingly, I’ve never had it before. The zesty orange goes so naturally with the cranberry’s tart chewy bite and the smooth and mellow chocolate just brings it all together.
The best way for me to judge these sorts of things is to keep track of which package I finish first. This one was gone in the first weekend.
Orange and Oreo Chocolate Craves - the dark chocolate is smooth and creamy, but does lack some of the more subtle chocolate nuances. However, this is a combination bar, with orange essence added into the chocolate, so the rather homogenized background is actually pretty good as a foundation. Inside this thick bar are crushed Oreo cookies, which give it a nice crunch. Personally, I wasn’t fond of coming across the Oreo cream but the chocolate crunch was a good combo. My second favorite.
Premium Raspberry Chocolate - plain dark chocolate bark with raspberry essence in it. It’s not too sweet, ultra creamy and smooth. The raspberry has a good balance of floral nuances and there are bits of raspberry in there (including the seeds) which gives a little tartness and fruitiness to the whole bar.
Margarita White Chocolate - this was the only white chocolate offering and it was really good. I know, I’ve said I don’t like white chocolate and then I keep recommending white chocolate things. This was white chocolate that wasn’t too sweet and had lime essence in it. I would have called it Key Lime, because that’s what it tasted like to me. My third favorite.
Mint Chocolate Cookie - I’ve raved about Harry London Mint Cookie Joys before, and these are essentially the same. Minted dark chocolate with chocolate cookie bits in it. Heaven.
The final set in the basket were these two different kinds of chocolate covered Oreos, chocolate and mint chocolate. The plain chocolate ones had little sprinkles on them, and I have to say, as cute as they are, they’re not really that tasty. It’s fine for cake where you might want a little crunchy texture, but they just interfered with the chocolate and cookies here. The mint ones worked much better - a good, classic combo.
On the whole, the chocolate Craves were top notch. It’s hard to evaluate the whole custom blended chocolate part, because I never tasted the pure chocolate in any of these items, it was always in combination with other flavors and textures. While I really like a good dark chocolate, often the harsher bitterness can overshadow some of the more delicate flavors and textures. Of course that sort of intense flavor also keeps me from eating piece after piece. Maybe it’s the difference between fine wine and a good fruity sangria. Both have their place. So Robert at Best Regards has stumbled upon something - a really addictive dark chocolate that’s more “munchable.” Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I can assure you, it’ll be good for Best Regard’s business.
If I lived in the Kansas City area and needed a gift for someone, I’d absolutely take advantage of the gift basket idea (especially the mixed baskets of cookies) with local delivery and he has lots of options that are more on the savory side (and feature some of the local barbeque themes). If I had one suggestion for the sale of these, it’d be the ability to get a tin of them, maybe even a mixed variety. The packaging in the crunchy clear plastic bags wasn’t as resealable as I’d like. (I know, I rail against companies that have too much packaging, now I want more!) A tin of chocolate barks seems like it’d ship better anyway. However, he does offer some of the chocolate varieties as 8 ounce bars.
UPDATE: Wow! Robert is offering a special sampler package based on the products I reviewed here - at a huge discount off the regular $26.00 price, he’s offering it at only $15.99. Just go to the Sweets & Treats page and scroll down to see the “Cybele Special.”
Friday, April 7, 2006
While I’m partial to Pocky, I’m trying to open up and try a few of the other dipped cookie sticks from Japan. Last week it was Yan Yan, this week I bring you Lucky Mini Almond Black.
These petite little sticks of chocolate flavored biscuit stucks are covered with a mix of dark chocolate and crushed almonds. Like Pocky, there’s a little bit of uncovered stick so you can grab it and not worry about melting the chocolate as you nibble.
The package holds a brown plastic tray with two sections filled with the sticks. Each stick is about 2.5” long. There are plenty of almonds and it’s got a good mellow crunch to the biscuit without being too sweet.
The ingredients have some oddities, including things like “cheese powder” and “cream powder” but these definitely have no hint of the cheesiness of the Yan Yan.
Overall, as a nuttier version of Pocky, this is pretty good. I actually like the high ratio of chocolate and nuts and the slightly flavored biscuit. It’s no Men’s Pocky, but it’s a great afternoon snack that doesn’t feel too decadent.
Friday, March 31, 2006
A few weeks ago I posted about the darn tasty Milky Way Crispy Rolls from Germany. And of course they’re not available here, but luckily reader TheMatt pointed me to these:
I didn’t see them in milk chocolate, though I doubt that’s the version I would have picked up anyway. They were hidden away in the grocery candy aisle all the way down near the mixed nuts. The package hails that each stick has less than 100 calories (90 each, actually) but the small print underneath that says “not a low calorie food.” Yeah, each stick is also less than two thirds of an ounce. I find an ounce or an ounce and a quarter makes a good portion for me when I’m looking for a little sweet. So I’d be eating two of these. Still, at 180 calories that’d be a nice respite and still not the full 300 I budget for a day’s sweets.
Anyway, I digress from the real topic, which is these little crispy sticks. What we have here is a little tube of crispy, bland cookie - think ice cream cone - filled with a firm chocolate cream. The whole thing smells very sweet and a little like cereal. The chocolate isn’t spectacular. It’s sweet but smooth. The real fun is the flaky tube of cookie which is mostly texture and provides a nice crisp and of course acts as a container for the chocolate cream. The center cream is nice, it’s sweet and smooth and a little buttery.
On the whole, this isn’t the same as the Milky Way Crispy Rolls, but they’re certainly nice. If I were to have any chocolate cookie snack I wanted without regard to trans fats, it’d be the Lu Chocolatiers, but these are far superior in their portability. They’re pretty expensive as non-gourmet candy goes, so keep your eye out for sales if you fall in love with them.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Lisa, a former co-worker and fellow blogger, mentioned some months back that I should try Yan Yan (actually, she wanted me to get the Hello Kitty equivalent). It’s like do it yourself Pocky! Well, in theory, anyway.
The little tub is pretty cute and they’ve thought of everything here. You start with a plain cookie stick. It’s not flavored, just a light, crunchy stick like a digestive biscuit. About one third of the little tube is a reservoir of chocolate dip. I thought it would be like frosting.
In fact, it took me about a day to figure out what it was. Then I remembered this article I read last summer. It reminded me of American cheese. A soft, super-emulsified chocolate cheese spread.
Reading the ingredients confirmed this: Wheat Flour, Vegetable Oil & Shortening (Palm & Canola Oils), Sugar, Whole Milk Powder, Skim Milk Powder, Cocoa Mass, Cocoa Powder, Leavenings (Ammonium Bicarbonate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Yeast, Cheddar Cheese (contains Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt), Salt, Emulsifier (Soya Lecithin), Artificial Vanilla & Chocolate Flavorings, Natural Colorings (Beta Carotene, E160 & Caramel E150A), Enzyme (Papain).
You remember those little cheese and cracker snacks, where you spread the cheese with a plastic stick? This is just like that, only with a chocolate cheese. I suppose the idea of chocolate cheese shouldn’t be that odd. We make a lot of desserts with cheese, like cheesecake or even cream cheese frosting. Using cheese as a base makes it super creamy and thick. It could be more chocolatey and there is a slight cheesy tang to it. It’s a very firm frosting too, with no hint of grainy bits like in some frosting candies.
The little biscuit sticks are cute, my sayings included:
I kind of wondered if the sticks are sold in English in Asia and if they are, are they used for learning conversational English. Maybe you go to a first year English class and they engage you in a nice little talk about moles that happen to be in holes and that horses gallop away? They’re like crib notes for small chat!
While I think the idea is pretty cool, this is obviously a very popular treat in Asia, and I liked the biscuit sticks, I didn’t really like the dip. I’ll eat the rest of the sticks, though. The nutrition label says that there’s 1 gram of trans fat in here ... I’m hoping it’s not in the sticks. The label also mentions that this product contains no pig fat.
On a side note, I got an email from a reader, Chris, last week asking about a similar frosting-type treat that was available in the States (and may still be). He described it as this “It came in a small blue plastic container with a foil top and inside was the mixture with a small spoon or stick to scoop out the yummy stuff.” Does anyone remember this?
UPDATE: It’s probably Dunkaroos from Betty Crocker (thanks Elise!). I saw that there’s a Shrek version of them on Amazon, but they may be all but discontinued. I seem to recall another something similar that was just a frosting type snack but I can’t remember the name of that either.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
I’ve been so caught up with Easter candy lately that I’ve been neglecting my regular candy. I couldn’t wait until the Easter rush is over to post about the Limited Edition KitKat Milkshake.
I’ve been looking everywhere for these and was surprised that they weren’t available at my trusty 7-11 that always seems to have new and limited edition products. Instead I found them at the Dollar Tree, which always makes me nervous that it’s old and skanky candy. How could it be old though, it’s limited edition!
The bar is described as: KitKat Milkshake - Crisp Wafers in Extra Creamy Malt Milk Chocolate (naturally and artificially flavored)
The bar was pretty looking, smooth and glossy, it was definitely fresh. But there was something off about it. It smelled a little musty, like an old, damp closet or something. I had a piece of it and decided it tasted musty too. I threw the rest out and started over with a second bar. This one doesn’t smell as musty, but still has a definitely “off” smell to it. I know that malt can sometimes be considered a gamy scent, but this just wasn’t it.
I decided that this was how it was gonna be and I plowed through to the tasting. First I needed to get past what I wanted the bar to be. I wanted it to be a malted KitKat ... I wanted creamy milk chocolate with malt between the wafers. But that’s not what it is, it’s malt flavor in the chocolate and I think the regular old wafers & cream we’re used to. What it does taste like is a milkier version of a KitKat ... with a slight buttery taste, kind of like popcorn and kind of like coconut. These aren’t pleasant combinations in my realm of chocolate candy bars, so I wasn’t really enjoying it. In fact, as I got to the last finger, I was really sick of it and didn’t want to finish it.
I wonder if I just got a bad batch: News You Can Eat liked hers and CandyAddict found it acceptable. Suffice to say I was severely disappointed, especially since I loved the Limited Edition Twosomes Whoppers last year.
Thursday, March 9, 2006
Our friend Matt (the one who brought back the Olympics candy) also picked up a great assortment of mass-market candy bars and I’m going to try to sprinkle those into the CandyBlog.net repertoire in the next few weeks.
This Milky Way bar is nothing like any Mars product here in the States. Each little stick is a tube ala Pirouline but instead of being hollow, these have a wonderful buttercream filling. Then the whole thing is dipped in chocolate. They smell sweet and milky, like walking into an ice cream parlor.
The chocolate is very sweet, but smooth, with that European milk taste. The cookie shell is crispy and flaky with lots of micro thin layers. It tastes like a fantastic ice cream cone. The cream center is firm but still soft. It’s buttery smooth without any graininess to the sugar. There was no English ingredients list, but my German and my tongue is good enough to recognize hydrogenated oils.
Again, here’s a tasty little morsel that you just can’t get in the States and sometimes I wonder why. The package is a scant 25 grams, so even though it’s very high in calories per ounce, the package only has 130 total calories for the two fingers (about 150 per ounce, much less than a pure chocolate bar). Even though they look delicate, I got them in perfect condition, unbroken and unsmashed.
Note: Milky Way in Europe is actually what we know of as Three Musketeers in the United States - it’s a fluffy nougat covered in milk chocolate.
Thursday, March 2, 2006
I’m not sure why Hershey’s is mucking around with the Take 5 bar, but happily these limited edition bars at least mean that they leave the original alone.
In this iteration of the candy they’ve simply replaced the pretzel base with a chocolate cookie (ala Oreos). This created some balance problems for me with the bar. First, the pretzel was the linchpin of the Take 5 - you can’t have a Take 5 without a pretzel ... anything else in that slot and you’ve just made a Twix type bar. I don’t think the selling point of the Take 5 is just any old five ingredients - the pretzel is the unique selling point. This chocolate cookie is crisp and pretty thick, but it lacks a chocolate flavor of its own, and certainly isn’t as crispy as a pretzel and can’t match the salty hit and bland flavor that a pretzel has.
The balance is just all off and the crunchiness is gone, the variation in textures is missing ... it’s just lost its vibrancy and interest. The caramel doesn’t even seem as chewy or even noticeable (I did a double take after eating the first piece to make sure that there’s still caramel in there.)
Hershey’s is also planning a marshmallow version of this bar later this year. Or maybe they’ll read this and realize that there’s nothing wrong with the original Take 5 and just move on to adding different cookie bits to the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar or devising new KitKat flavors (may I suggest a peanut butter KitKat?).
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
I haven’t the foggiest on the name on this one, so I’m gonna call these Chestnut Pocky and if anyone else knows what those alternating Japanese and French words add up to, please let me know. (I know that Mont Blanc means white mountain, but that’s not a flavor!)
This is Super Thick Pocky. There are two coatings, the bottom coat is a milky sweet, kinda caramelly coating. The zig-zaggy top coat is similar, but has more of a nutty taste to it, which I’m guessing is where the chestnut comes in. But after tasting it (well, by that I mean eating half the box) I checked with JBox which always has nice descriptions:
It’s been years since I’ve had chestnuts but I remember them being rather sweet and chewy, unlike other nuts.
These are rich and sweet and not as addictively snackable as many of the other Pocky that I’ve had. They’re nice and all, and maybe in a Pocky mix I’d find them a nice change, but I can’t give them the highest marks as a snack. But I can confirm that there are no hydrogenated fish oils in this ingredients list, so that’s a bonus.
(Sorry for any feed duplication today, I’ve been traveling and I scheduled these reviews to launch but something went screwy.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.