Wednesday, April 10, 2013
It’s great when friends go traveling and bring back candy. My friend Amy (who often spits things out and then gives me her opinion) went to Tokyo and Kyoto. She was lucky enough to be there for the start of Cherry Blossom Season, which means that the limited edition KitKat Sakura are also on store shelves.
Sakura is a popular flavor in Japan. What that flavor is, is kind of a mystery to me. It’s not cherry or the orange blossom equivalent of orange. It’s just a soft flavor that’s more like almond to me, if other candies I’ve had are indicative.
This particular Sakura Matcha KitKat package is a little different from others I’ve had. It’s kind of like a King Size. The box is a little longer, and on the back is a little “to and from” space where you can add a personalize message.
Inside the package are three individually wrapped pairs of KitKat fingers. They’re not large, a bit smaller than the American version, as a matter of fact. They’re only 68 calories each (sorry, I couldn’t figure out the exact weight since it was all in Japanese).
It’s a white confection outside that’s flavored (and colored) with green tea. It’s not a very good white confection, a little greasy and waxy and very sweet. The green tea notes are not as bitter as some earlier varieties of matcha candies I’ve had from Nestle Japan. In this version, the Sakura adds a bit of a cereal flavor to it, maybe a hint of cinnamon and brown rice and a much lighter vanilla note.
As a whole, it was okay. It’s not a KitKat I would buy for myself regularly, even if I was excited that the trees were in bloom. I’ve had a few other varieties over the years, earlier versions were just cherry blossom with no green tea.
This is also what I’d call a gift variety, as I highly doubt people just go out looking for Japanese horseradish flavored candies. I love wasabi, but it belongs in my mashed potatoes and on my tuna and avocado roll.
The box in this version is very presentational, with stylized block print wasabi roots on the front. The box opens up to reveal 12 small, individually wrapped finger pairs of the candies.
Like most Japanese KitKats, the packaging is exquisite.
The flavor is, well, sweet. For the most part it’s a bland white confection, equally greasy and waxy as most other Nestle white KitKats. In this version there’s a peppery bite to it, like arugula or horseradish. It’s mild but noticeable. It was too strange, but also didn’t add anything to the experience. I think wasabi works best with starchy foods (mashed potatoes or rice), not with fatty foods like chocolate (or mock chocolate).
This is a novelty, not an extraordinary new flavor combination. I’m all for the combination of sweet and savory (umami), but this isn’t it.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
I went to Hawaii last month on vacation and picked up a few locally made candies.
There aren’t many candies made on the Hawaiian Islands, but I found a few, including a set of four of the chocolate bars made by Wow-Wee “Maui’s Candy Bar”. All of the bars are made on the island of Maui by hand and include flavors and inclusions that reflect the flavors of Hawaii. The bars weren’t that expensive, I think I paid $2.50 each for them. They’re 1.75 ounces each. My bars were:
The packaging is simple, a foil wrapper with a paper sleeve over that. The bar molding includes a nice version of their logo. They’re not scored to break into specific portions, but breaking the thin and long bar was easy. Folding the foil back up and resealing the bar was also pretty simple (a lot easier than the plastic wrap that comes on most bars these days).
The Wow-Wee Dark Chocolate - Hawaiian Coconut is a simple bar that’s a very easy to eat treat. The dark chocolate is mild, on the semi-sweet level, like some nice chocolate chips. I found it a bit sweet, but it had a nice texture. The coconut flavor dominated the chocolate and the coconut shreds were quite dense. The coconut flavor was tropical but had a fresh grassy note to it that I enjoyed. It tasted real, instead of like it had been soaked in sugar.
The dark chocolate does contain some dairy products and the coconut has the preservative sodium metabisulfite in it. So it’s not appropriate for people with allergies to milk, soy, coconut (obviously) or sulfites.
The Wow-Wee Milk Chocolate - Hawaiian Macadamia Nuts is very simple, it’s just milk chocolate with chips of macadamias in it. The macadamia nuts are dry roasted, and though the ingredients don’t say they’re salted, I detected a little hint of salt in this bar (and the label confirms that there’s 48mg).
The milk chocolate is slightly grainy but pleasant in a fudgy way. It has a woodsy note to it that goes well with the sharp nutty flavor of the macs. It’s a tried and true combination and I can see this being a local favorite over the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds.
The Wow-Wee Chocolate - Kona Coffee - Caramel was the most interesting bar for me just by the listing. It contains real Kona coffee, which is always rich and flavorful. It also contains a different twist, with the addition of caramel.
Again, this is the semi-sweet chocolate, which has a bit of milk in it. The bar smells dark and buttery and whole lot like coffee, kind of like walking into a Starbucks in the morning at the height of the rush. The chocolate has bits of coffee beans mixed in. They’re crunchy and not at all fibery, but still bitter and a little on the oily side. Then scattered throughout the bar are long strips of caramel. The caramel is chewy and stringy and has a distinct toffee note to it. There wasn’t quite enough of it, for my tastes, but I loved the texture.
I’m not usually keen on the coffee beans being mixed into my chocolate, and this bar was no exception. I couldn’t eat much of it in the afternoon or evening because of the caffeine effects, but the balance of flavors and textures was good. It could benefit from darker chocolate, but sometimes you really want something sweet.
The Wow-Wee Maui Kitch’n Cook’d Potato Chip & Milk Chocolate is the last bar and a bit of comfort food. You can see from that cross section that the potato chips are thick crinkle cuts. The potato chips are made in cottonseed oil and have a little touch of salt on them (only 42 mg per serving). The bar does have that chip smell to it, kind of earthy.
The chips are crunchy and have a lot of potato flavor to them. The milk chocolate is very sweet but smooth and well balanced to the chip flavors and textures. I wanted more chips in my bar, but I think that’s how I am with inclusions. They definitely lend a lot of flavor to the bar even when you might not get a bit in every bite.
Wow-Wee Maui makes nine bars in total and all sound like they fit in well with the flavors of the islands. I think they’re a great, inexpensive gift for a friend and a nice treat to eat while you’re visiting.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
There’s rarely anything new to report in the world of chocolate rabbits for Easter. There’s plenty of variation: They come in flat styles and three dimensional. Sitting and standing poses. Hollow and solid. Milk, white or dark chocolate (and sometimes flavored solid confection). The chocolate can also have some inclusions. Until recently this was rather rare, and mostly crispy rice. This year Russell Stover, which already makes a white confection Cookies ‘n’ Creme version, came out with the Russell Stover Kris P. Pretzel Bunny.
I learned of the existence of this tasty sounding bunny on Rebekah’s Obsessive Sweets blog. I did find it at CVS but it was a full 7 ounces and four dollars, I just wanted to taste it. So off to the Russell Stover’s website I go and found out that there’s a 1.5 ounce version out there, so I checked out the 99 Cent Only Store. Success ... and only a buck. (Though the large version is a better value.)
The bunny, at only 1.5 ounces, is not particularly large, but compact. It’s quite thick through the middle, and if it were solid (without the pretzel bits), it would probably be more difficult to bite.
Suspended within the milk chocolate are little bits of pretzel. They’re not chunks, they really are teensy bits. My guess is that they have to be in order to get the molding process to work.
The bite is wonderfully grainy, there are a lot of little bits in there. They don’t create the dry crunch that a whole pretzel piece would. Instead there’s more the malty and salty flavors in there and of course the slight grit of a pretzel dust. The chocolate is creamy and sweet, with a light smoky note. Sadly, it’s very salty. There are 240 mg of salt in there, which the package says is 10% of your RDA, but I think, for me, it’s more like 25% since I eat so little salt. So it could easily be cut in half and I think most people would find it still has that zap.
I liked it and would probably buy this variety again. It’d be nice if it came in a dark variety, but the chocolate here was sufficiently strong enough to stand up for itself with the pretzel flavors and textures.
The packaging is excessive. It’s not a large rabbit, but the box is big and has a useless tray inside. I understand needing to box up hollow bunnies, but the solid variety shouldn’t need more than some foil and/or a box, not the tray as well.
Since this has pretzels in it, it’s not gluten free. The bunnies contain soy and dairy. It’s also made on shared equipment with peanuts, tree nuts and eggs. There’s no statement on the package or on Russell Stover’s website about the sourcing of their chocolate or other ingredients except that their chocolate sourcing partners are members of the World Cocoa Foundation.
Friday, March 15, 2013
Russell Stover is a fixture at American drug stores at Easter with their large variety of single serving Easter eggs. New this year is the Russell Stover Cookie Dough Egg.
This new egg follows the same sort of construction as the Red Velvet Santa first spotted for Christmas (also available as an egg). The center is an actual flour-based dough. Unlike other fondant centers which are just whipped up sugars, this one is a bit more complex. Here’s the ingredient list (forgive me for any transcription errors, it’s green printing on a cream background):
So, instead of a short list, this is long and includes lots of flour, so it’s not gluten free. It also contains high fructose corn syrup a few times, which is disappointing because Russell Stover, while not being top of the line, is usually filled with plain old sugar and corn syrup. This is what happens when candy makers start adding bakery items. Unlike actually cookie dough, this has no egg products.
The egg looks like many of the other milk chocolate Russell Stover varieties. It’s on the flat side, and has two rows of glossy ripples. It’s about two inches long and one and a quarter inches wide.
The bite is soft and the center is, well, doughy. It’s not dry but not quite as moist as I expect. It has a grain to it, with the sugar being noticeable and I might have detected a little salt as well. The flour taste is not noticeable (sometimes real cookie dough can taste like raw flour).
Unlike cookie dough nugget products, this has more of the satisfaction of eating a spoonful of dough. The chocolate chips didn’t do much for me, but the milk chocolate coating was smooth, creamy and a sweet complement to the dough. I’d prefer a dark chocolate version, as I put dark chips in my cookies. It’s similar to their Brownie Egg (which it turns out, I’ve never reviewed), but naturally less chocolatey.
It’s a good rendition of cookie dough as a candy. I don’t know if I’d grab this over something like their marshmallows or the Pecan Delight, but I know there are some folks who will really appreciate this.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Easter is the season for foil wrapped chocolate eggs. They can be solid, they can be filled with things. They can be the size of a peanut or a football. The fun part is when they’re actually made with good chocolate.
I was excited to see Ghirardelli Milk & Crisp Chocolate Eggs at Target. Ghirardelli makes very good chocolate for the price, right here in California. I’ve been searching for the ideal crisped rice and milk chocolate combination, so this was the perfect item for me to pick up.
The yellow bag contains about 15 gold foil wrapped eggs. They’re a rich milk chocolate with crisped rice. They also come in a blue foil version that’s solid milk chocolate.
The bag is on the expensive side. The 3.5 ounces is about the same price as a chocolate bar from Ghirardelli, $3.49 ... one dollar an ounce. It’s a bit steep for chocolate that’s not marked as ethically sourced or organic but it is all natural. (The facility also processes tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and eggs. Contains milk and soy.)
The eggs smell dark and smoky, less sweet than many milk chocolates but still with a dairy note to it. The melt is soft and has that same sort of smoky note to it with a strong malt flavor from the crisped rice. There’s a hint of bitterness to it, but not much. Overall, it’s far less sweet than something like a Nestle Crunch chocolate and thought thick, not quite as sticky as Cadbury.
Overall, it was a bit more grown up than a Nestle Crunch NestEgg, but should probably be reserved for adults since the price is so much steeper. I would buy these again, and of course I’d prefer a half pound bag so I could put them out in a dish.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Mars announced some seasonal candies last year, including Sugar Cookie Twix for Christmas 2012. While they never appeared on shelves, what I did see last week that was a surprise and not included in their Easter announcement was the new Twix Egg.
They’re cute, little Twix bars just for Easter. They had different pastel colors on the the front, though they’re all the classic Twix flavor. (I didn’t see any Coconut or PB Twix versions.)
It’s a Twix! Instead of sticks, it’s one globby egg. It’s just a smidge over one ounce.
I’m not a huge Twix fan, which has always confused me because on paper it has everything I like. There’s a crispy, almost-shortbread cookie base, a dose of chewy soft caramel and it’s enrobed in milk chocolate. Of all the Twix that have been created, I preferred the limited edition Java Twix, which was coffee flavored. The Triple Chocolate Twix, that have also appeared a few times, which feature a chocolate cookie, chocolate caramel and dark chocolate enrobing were also good.
The standard Twix, however, usually leaves me disinterested. I do try them occasionally, as I often end up with a sample now and then and they do show up in Halloween miniature assortments. They’re sweet ... the cookie isn’t big enough and the caramel doesn’t have enough caramelized sugar notes.
None of my comments are intended to get Twix to change for me, there are millions of people who like it the way it is, so I’d say don’t mess with it. But like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, which can support many different sizes and shapes that rebalance the ratios of elements, the Twix can stand a few seasonal varieties.
This particular Twix doesn’t look enrobed, instead it looks like it’s molded, as it says, Twix right on the top and has a more glossy, smooth sheen to the consistent ripples.
The ratios are definitely different here. It feels like the cookie is more prominent. There’s more crunch, I taste the cookie now, instead of just knowing of its crispness. The caramel is also a distinctive part, instead of being mushed into the chocolate. Though the caramel isn’t as flavorful as I would have liked, it was salty and smooth and had a nice chew when combined with the sandy crunch of the cookie. The sweet milk chocolate is, well, far too sweet overall. The chocolate is much more dense on the ends, and it was on the last bite that I was overcome with the throat-searing sweetness. I’m sure if I balanced it with a strong drink like coffee or black tea, I’d be a little more in love with it.
The size is great, I find a one ounce bar to be just the right amount for a little break. It’s more than an individual stick (which are about .89 ounces) so it’s more substantial. The broad, flat shape also makes it feel like it’s more massive than it actually is. I bought three of them and fully intend to eat the final one that’s still in its package. But not today.
Mars did a great thing making a seasonal version. It’s not just a pastel wrapper on the every day item, it’s a special version just for Easter. (I expect there may be Halloween pumpkin ones, like the Snickers and Milky Way Simply Caramel get.)
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The world of gourmet candy bars is not limited to North America. The United Kingdom has The Grown Up Chocolate Company which currently makes four upscale and unique candy bars. I was able to procure two of them on my trip to New York City late last year.
They’re packaged well in boldly graphic boxes with fun typography. Inside the box is a rather large candy bar, made with all natural ingredients. The bars are 65 grams, which is about 2.29 ounces. Inside the box the bars are held within clear trays and then sealed in cellophane. Each had expiry dates of late January 2013.
The bar that I found most intriguing was the Crunchy Praline Wonder Bar. The package said: Caramelised wafer enticingly slathered in sumptuous praline encased in real milk chocolate, a true wonder bar!
The package had two of these little bars, which is great for me, because a little over an ounce is a perfect portion especially for something that seemed so decadent.
The little bar has an interesting center. It’s a milk chocolate ganache filled with crunchy, flaky and malty bits of wafer. There’s a little hint of hazelnut paste in the filling, but there’s not much to it. It’s the kind of wafer that would make up an ice cream cone. The cereal taste to the bar and the milkiness of the chocolate makes the whole thing taste an awful lot like a chocolate ice cream cone.
One little bar is extremely filling. I liked this quite a bit and would likely buy it again if I ever saw it, even though it’s about $6.
The Glorious Coconut Hocus Pocus is a rather interesting bar. It’s not merely a retread of an Almond Joy, instead they’ve done quite a bit of work to create something a bit more uncommon. The description is: Creamy coconut ganache luxuriantly topped with an indulgent fruit and nut jumble enrobed in decadent milk chocolate.
The milk chocolate then has a little zig-zag drizzle of dark chocolate as well.
The first thing I noticed after biting into it, aside from the coconut flavors, was the lemon zest. It’s quite a different profile, it’s sophisticated and cuts the sweetness of everything else. The ganache center is dry, it’s not a chewy coconut but has a good balance of milky and coconut luxury. The jumble of nuts and fruits is truly that. I got a lot of almonds and a few pieces of zest as well as a piece of apricot at one point.
It’s odd and inconsistent. I wanted more of the fruit and for the nuts to be chopped up just a little more. Biting into a big almond just made a mess. The milk chocolate is sweet, but doesn’t have enough counterpoint for all the other sweet things. I would have preferred a little dark chocolate contrast and actual chocolate flavor. Still ... it’s a really promising bar. I had to pick the right time to eat it, late in the day the sweetness was overwhelming and made me sleepy. Mid morning seemed to work better for the second half of it.
According to their website they have mini bars, which are probably more my speed. I don’t know much about the sourcing of their cocoa or other ingredients, as they don’t say on their website or the packaging. The bars contain wheat, soy, dairy and nuts and may contain traces of peanuts.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Ritter Sport, the German chocolate company, has really stepped up its game in North America. Not only do we get a large array of their inventive and good quality bars, they’re also delivering some of the fun limited editions that were once just for their European consumers.
For winter this year they presented the Limited Edition Ritter Sport Amarena Cherry. The bar features Milk chocolate filled with cherry flavored cream and wafer pieces. The wrapper shows a vanilla and cherry ripple ice cream cone and a couple of ripe cherries next to it.
I’ve recently become more familiar with preserved cherries, as I’ve been introduced to Luxardo Maraschino Cherries. They’re quite good and don’t resemble those strange, translucent pink things that come on top of cheap ice cream Sundaes in the United States. These are tiny little nearly black balls of syrup saturated cherries. They taste like fruit, they taste like sugar and there’s a little alcoholic bite to them (well, that could be because I usually find them at the bottom of a Mahnattan). They’ve changed my mind about preserved cherries and even the origin of the fake cherry flavor.
While that’s all delightful fun, the reality was a bit less than enticing. The first ingredient is sugar (not chocolate) which is okay when there’s a lot of filling. But the second ingredient is palm oil. Somewhere down near the bottom of the list is real morello cherry puree and morello cherry juice concentrate, which is comforting.
The actual construction of the bar is rather like the ice cream on the wrapper - it’s a firm cream center that has a light cherry flavor to it and then some little freeze dried cherry bits (that are a bit tangy) and the wafer bits which are like a crumbled up wafer cone.
The bar smells an awful lot like cherry flavor. Good cherry flavor, but still ... not very chocolatey. The milk chocolate shell is smooth and creamy but very sweet. The cream center is less sweet, less smooth but much more cherry. The high point are the little crunchies, which might be the freeze dried fruit or the wafer. Either one is good.
The entire thing is just not for me. Too sweet, too much fat without feeling like it was creamy. Instead it was too cherry. If you’re looking for a very cherry bar, well, this might be yours. I’ll go back to my Espresso bar, which I also bought on the same trip.
Ritter Sport sources their cacao almost exclusively from Central and South America and has several initiatives regarding sustainability for their ingredients and energy usage in manufacturing. The bar itself may contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts and contains soy, wheat and dairy.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.