Thursday, December 22, 2011
Here’s a small selection of what I’d call Christmas chocolate bars. I’ve got to eat them up before the holidays - it may be too late for you to get them by Christmas, but there are some special ones that are worth picking up at the after-Christmas sales.
Hershey’s introduced their Golden Almond Bar in 1977. It’s a thick bar and clocks in at 2.8 ounces. The bar design and packaging has changed little over the past thirty five years. It’s still wrapped in gold foil with a gold sleeve. Bars are sold either singly or in gold gift boxes of five bars (see a 1984 ad here). They’re not that easy to find, I usually see them at the official Hershey’s stores at Chocolate World or the Times Square shop.
The bar is simple, it’s just milk chocolate with lots of whole roasted almonds in it. It differs from the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds bar as it’s supposed to be better quality chocolate. The ingredients do not differ from the Hershey’s standard milk chocolate which includes PGPR but is at least made in the United States and not Mexico as the other supposedly upscale Pot of Gold line is.
The bar is wonderful looking, it’s thick and has a great snap. It’s about 1.7 inches wide, 4.75 inches long and a beefy half inch high. There are some almonds in there though not as many as I feel are promised but they look like they’re fresh and of good quality. The chocolate looks a little darker than the standard Hershey’s but smells like I’d expect. It’s sweet with a slight yogurty tang to it.
The texture is smooth and fudgy, with a sticky melt and a light caramel and woodsy chocolate flavor. It’s not complex and it’s not extraordinary. But if you like Hershey’s chocolate and enjoy the decadence of a thicker piece, this is a good bar to choose. I liked the nostalgia of an actual foil wrapped bar, which is so rare these days. If there’s someone on your list that loves Hershey’s, this is a little bit more elegant way to give them what they desire.
Size: 2.8 ounces
I found this seasonal bar called Niederegger Marzipan Weihnachtsschokolade at the Niederegger cafe at Marktplatz in Lubeck. The front of the package says Saftiges gewurz marzipan mit vollmilch-schokolade. So it’s a spiced marzipan in milk chocolate. The image shows almonds, cinnamon sticks and star anise. The ingredients don’t specifically list anise, just “spices” though cinnamon is a separate item.
Inside the paper wrapper there’s a stiff card (advertising the company and their website) and the foil wrapped bar.
The packaging did a great job of protecting the bar. It was glossy and unscuffed.
The milk chocolate is very light in color (33% cocoa solids and 14% milk solids). The bar smells like milky chai, a little spicy and very sweet. The marzipan is moist and a bit like eating Snickerdoodle cookie dough. The chocolate is smooth, but doesn’t contribute much in the way of cocoa to this, it just nicely encases the marzipan. The texture of the marzipan is a little more rustic than the French style fondant type that’s used for creating figures and shapes. Niederegger is meant for eating and enjoying.
The ratios on the 100 gram bars from Niederegger favor the chocolate more than the enrobed little classic loaves. (I’ll get into that more in my master post.) If you’re looking for a starter marzipan that’s more about the texture and celebrates almonds as the source ingredient, Niederegger really can’t be beat. It’s not too sweet and doesn’t have any fake amaretto flavors to it.
I would prefer a version of this with dark chocolate, but I can’t argue with the traditional recipe they have. It’s a great balance of subtle spice, sweetness, milk and almonds.
Size: 3.5 ounces
I’m no stranger to the Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark. They’ve been making it for years and it comes in a clever little square that’s perfect for some afternoon tea or coffee.
I found this set of bars at Target last month on sale for $2 each. They’re heralded as limited edition and come in milk chocolate and dark chocolate.
I’m not actually a fan of barks. I like my inclusions fully immersed in the chocolate. So the bar version of Peppermint Bark is perfect for my strange fondness for things being hidden in the chocolate.
Unlike most Peppermint Barks, which combine white chocolate with crushed peppermint candies (like candy canes or starlight mints), the Ghiradelli version uses minty, artificially colored corn flakes. I haven’t the foggiest why they did it that way, but honestly, they created something unique enough to be a new genre.
The milk and dark vary a little bit in their coloring. The milk version is sweet and has a lot of dairy notes to it from both the milk chocolate base and the white chocolate top (made with real cocoa butter). The mint is clean and bright, the little cereal bits are crunchy and a little salty and keep it all from being too cloying.
The dark version has two kinds of bits, the red bits and some little dark brown bits, which I think are little chocolate cookie pieces. The dark chocolate has a little smoky note to it which overshadowed the minty layer a bit, which I enjoyed. There’s a definite difference between the Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark and the Dove Peppermint Bark, which can also be found for comparable prices at similar stores. Personally, I prefer the Dove version, because it’s a bit butterier. This one is about the crunch, a grown up sort of crunch.
Size: 3 ounces
The last item I have is not quite a full review. The Hachez Weihnachts Knusper Bar (Christmas Crunchy Bar) is a darling looking bar. The soft white paper wrapper has a classically illustrated scene of a child ice skating on a pond.
Feine Vollmilch-Chocolade mit Zimt, Mandeln und Nussen
My German was getting pretty good, even though I’d only been listening to German podcasts for a week and was only there for a day. The front of the package said Fine milk chocolate with cinnamon, almonds and nuts. The little image also showed all of the above -cinnamon sticks, milk chocolate blocks, almonds and a hazelnut in its shell.
So I was very excited when I got it home and put at the top of my list to photograph and review before Christmas. I took it out of the wrapper, snapped it in half ... it looked and smelled so good:
The bar was glossy and showed no ill effects from the long journey (about 750 more miles on a bus at that point then the 5,700 mile plane ride).
I broke off a little piece of it to try after the photo, I was greeted by wonderfully smooth and milky chocolate and amazingly fresh, crunchy and crushed nuts and a hint of cinnamon. I could taste the hazelnuts and something else ... it wasn’t pecans, it was walnuts. What I didn’t realize was that while Nussen might be a generic word for nuts, it usually meant walnuts. (Walnusse is the more specific word.) So technically, I didn’t eat any of the bar. I had to spit it out and rinse out my mouth (I still ended up itchy and with a sore throat all evening - my allergy has not developed beyond this irritation stage). But I’m going to go out on a limb after eating many of the other Hachez products in the past week (which I’ll have reviews for) and say that this really is a good bar.
Size: 3.5 ounces
Do you have a favorite winter flavor combination? Anything regional or something from long ago that they don’t make any longer?
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I saw the Organic Moo Chocolate bars from Organic Children’s Chocolate, LLC at Whole Foods. It’s a line of chocolate just for kids with fun cereal inclusions like crisped rice, corn flakes, granola and graham crackers.
It’s great to see some organic candy products that are formulated just for kids, because most of them seem to be just for adults, with mature palates. The packaging here is easy to read and appeals to youngsters with cartoon cows and simple formulations. It’s really about time someone came up with an organic version of the Nestle Crunch bar.
But the big question becomes, why organic chocolate? Is it better than traditionally grown chocolate? Well, yes and no. Traditionally grown cocoa is fraught with pests, so most of the cacao grown is treated with a variety of inorganic pesticides. Because of the way the cacao beans are situation with a hard pod, and the fact that most treatments are on the canopy of the tree (not in the soil) means that very is absorbed or becomes a residue in finished chocolate. (For example spot tests in the UK have found very low levels of Lindane at less than .02 mg per kilogram in about 45% of chocolate tested.)
Chocolate is a very small part of our diet (about 12 pounds per person per year in the US), so that’s a very small, very slowly ingested amount. But children are smaller and more susceptible to toxins, so it’s understandable that many parents want to limit their exposure. There’s also the fact that the farm workers who apply the stuff are exposed to it at much higher levels and are for more likely to suffer from side effects than we would be. So you have a choice now, organic chocolate is available. But how does it taste?
The Organic Moo Milk Chocolate with Rice Crisps bar is made with all organic ingredients, including organic crisped brown rice. Even the packaging is made from recycled paper.
The bars are big, 2.1 ounces for this one, and a lot of crisped rice there when I flipped it over.
The bar smells milky and sweet, but has a toasted sugar and malty cereal scent to it ... along with a kind of musty odor, a bit like hot cocoa but also slightly reminiscent of wet paper.
The texture is quite smooth, much smoother than Hershey’s or Nestle. The milk flavors are strong and a little earthier, but that could be the malt of the crisped rice. It’s sweet, much sweeter than other organic chocolates, as this is a chocolate for kids so it’s a little less intense. The flavor reminds me of the Thompson’s Organic I’ve had before. When I contacted Moo Chocolate to ask about the source of their organic chocolate, they wouldn’t say except that it is Swiss.
The crisped rice are crunchy, but also not quite airy and light, as I think many of us might be accustomed to with Rice Krispies. It’s quite satisfying to eat just half the bar (a little over one ounce). The sections (whimsically alternating between a cow and the Moo logo) are easy to break off and small hand friendly.
Overall, it’s a great combination of textures, but the kind of goaty flavor of the chocolate is not to my liking, so I’d probably skip this entire brand line. However, kids are often less discriminating and the packaging here doesn’t make this feel like it’s “special”, just that it’s fun and tasty.
The Organic Moo Chocolate Milk Chocolate with Corn Flakes is also made with the same milk chocolate, though the bar weighs a little more at 2.7 ounces (I guess corn flakes are denser than crisped rice).
The ingredients are all organic, except for the sea salt. The package has a pleasing yellow color coding, which actually helped me make the natural assumption for corn.
This bar was not as amusing to look at as the Rice Crisps. The mold is generic, and only breaks into fourths instead of eighths. The breaks were messy, as the corn flakes were big and would keep the cleavage irregular. I didn’t get as much of the musty taste in this bar as the Rice Crisps one, but it tasted much sweeter.
The corn flakes are thick and a little rustic. I didn’t find them as light and crispy as the commercial brands though I’d probably love them in actual milk. I wanted to like this bar, because of my deep devotion to the Ritter Sport Knusperflakes (milk chocolate and corn flake bar), but the textures, chocolate flavor notes and ratios just weren’t there. Plus it cost more than twice as much.
I did a little research about organic chocolate versus traditionally grown for this post. It’s hard to find independent information on the subject, as most publishers of information freely available are biased one way or the other (usually in favor of selling their own product). This article was well researched with plenty of citations, if you want to read more on the subject. As far as my opinion, it would be good to reduce pesticide use through sustainable methods that both preserve the ecology of the plantations, are safe for the workers and the final consumers. For the latter folks though, chocolate is such a small part of our diets, there are far better places to spend your money to reduce pesticide residue exposures. I would advise prioritizing the “dirty dozen” and working from there.
If you’re a parent looking for something a little more wholesome for your kid, the Moo Chocolate brand is well rounded and a good bet. Of course with all things organic you’re going to pay more. Ultimately, I’d like to see Fair Trade go with that and maybe some diversity of package sizes (little one ounce bars are more appropriate for kids). A great stocking stuffer, they’re available at Whole Foods and other stores that sell natural products.
They’re Kosher and contain milk and soy. Also made in a facility that processes wheat, peanuts and tree nuts.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
A couple of years ago Trader Joe’s started carrying something called Chocolate Crisps. They’re thin pieces of chocolate, slightly bent with a few little bits of crisped rice in them.
As with many of Trader Joe’s products, they’re actually a much larger product line. I started seeing a nearly identical product in stores like Cost Plus World Market and Target called Belgian Chocolate Thins. In this case they’re made by a company called Royal Chocolates who actually patented their machine process for making these little thins. It’s underUS Patent 6,303,171. The process is kind of simple, according to the patent, deposit a little disk of chocolate on a flexible surface, then before it cools completely bend the sides up. (I’d hazard that Pringles are made in a similar fashion - but are fried while in their little forms.)
The package describes them as Luscious, milk chocolate filled with crispy rice puffs. Simply irresistible!
They come in a tray, which is sealed in cellophane. The tray holds three stacks of approximately 12 pieces. Each little flick is two inches long and an inch and a half across, so a bit smaller than a Pringles potato snack.
The package exhorts buyers to enjoy them all year round and suggests serving them with ice cream, coffee or decorating cupcakes. I think it’s safe to say that simply eating them is also a good year-round option. But I can imagine that they melt much quicker in the summer heat than more solid bars.
The milk chocolate is rather dark, much darker than UK and American style dairy milk chocolate. The smell as much like sweetened cereal as they do like chocolate. They break easily and melt pretty well too. The first thing I got was a caramelly sweetness. The cocoa notes do come out and are quite woodsy. The rice crisps are crunchy, but not overly present as a texture as they disappear quickly. It does give a little malty flavor to it though.
Overall, a good little treat. It’s very easy to manage portions, because each piece is so light but takes a while to consume. They suggest a full stack of 12 pieces (1.5 ounces) but I found that about 8 or 9 was plenty and stretched out the package for four portions. I feel like it’s priced rather expensive, but a Belgian chocolate bar that actually weighs less often costs more. There’s a lot of packaging, but it’s well engineered since every single piece was whole and nothing was melted or bloomed.
They come in a variety of flavors: Caramel, Almond, Hazelnut, Dark and Mint. They’re not the first company to make this sort of thing. For a few years Hershey’s made a version called Swoops, which were pricey and didn’t catch on. Fast Company recently did a brief profile on the product line.
Belgian Chocolate Thins contain gluten, dairy and soy plus may contain traces of other tree nuts. (There’s no statement about peanuts, but they are made in Belgium where peanuts are less common.)
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
The package is easy on the eyes, a soft robin’s egg blue and mellow orange-brown. The package shows the product, which is exactly what you’d think from the name: potato chips covered in milk chocolate. The reality of the candy once out of the bag was a bit different, as you’ll see with my pictures.
The ingredients list is short (milk chocolate and potato chips, basically) but sadly enough their list of allergens is long: milk and soy are ingredients but also may contain traces of wheat, egg, peanuts and tree nuts. So this crunchy confection may be off limits to gluten free friends. They are Kosher.
I’ll let Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer do the description here, since they went through so many drafts and have an approval process:
My chocolate covered potato chips were rarely flat and even more rarely single. Most were big, fused lumps of chips. Some were easy to pull apart but sometimes that meant that the chocolate went with the other piece and I ended up with an open faced chocolate covered chip.
By far the biggest proportion of my bag was made up of folded chips covered in chocolate. This was an interesting predicament, because it meant less chocolate and more chip. They were also messier, as they were more likely to flake off chip bits (or sometimes have other chips within the fold).
The milk chocolate is soft and sweet, very milky and sometimes a little greasy feeling. The chips are thick and have a very strong potato taste to them, they’re crunchy for the most part. There’s a lot of salt taste to the candy, though in reality it’s not that bad at 140 mg per serving. The chocolate is sweet in comparison to the chips, more sweet than it needs to be.
I really wanted to like this, as I’m a huge fan of savory and sweet combinations like chocolate covered pretzels. It could be that the potato chips are just a little too greasy for me along with the fat content of the chocolate itself. I might give them another try, when I think that a different lot is available at my store - maybe I just got the dregs - little pieces that got coated and then stuck together. Or maybe I’ll just stick with chocolate covered pretzels, they’re a tried and true favorite. It’s a real shame that these aren’t gluten free.
Monday, October 3, 2011
Ritter Sport makes dozens of different chocolate bars. A few are seasonal varieties, such as their new Milk Chocolate with Strawberry Creme which debuted last fall in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (Some packages feature the pink ribbon, others do not.)
The picture on the front of the package along with the name of the bar gave me most of what I needed to know: Milk chocolate filled with a cream of low fat yogurt, strawberry and crispy rice.
The ingredients don’t quite match up with that description. The first ingredient is sugar, which is fine with me as I fully expect my candy to be mostly sugar. The second ingredient is palm kernel oil. Nowhere in my chocolate, low fat yogurt or crispy rice do I ever expect to find palm kernel oil. So, its dominating presence here is unwelcome but the bar is at least redeemed with its third ingredient, cocoa butter, one of my favorite butters.
The bar is a familiar format for Ritter Sport. It’s 100 grams and comes in a square bar made up of 16 sections (four by four). The recommended portion is six pieces, which of course doesn’t create a whole number of portions. (I found for this review one bar was a portion, which means that it replaced my breakfast calories and all my snack calories for the day.)
The cream inside the bar is a faint pink with spots of actual dried strawberries. In addition, there are little bits of crisped rice. The chocolate outside is sweet and milky, like the Alpine Milk variety (though I’m not certain which version of the many Ritter Sport chocolates they used for this bar). The cream inside is sweet and mostly smooth without being greasy. The crunchies in the cream were interesting, sometimes they were the crisped rice, so they were a little salty and a little malty. But other times they were freeze dried strawberry bits so they were tangy and would soften into a slick reconstituted fruit mush. I liked the different pops of tartness or saltiness to go with the cream and milky chocolate background.
It’s a good quality bar (though not great, since a large portion is palm kernel oil) and is different from other American chocolate offerings. I found it on sale at Target for $1.66 over the weekend. For a 3.5 ounce bar of this it’s a good deal. Other bars are a bit lower in fat and have no palm kernel oil, but this is a limited edition item so it’s not as if I’m going to eat them all year round.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Flix Candy has introduced two flavors of the frozen treat known as Dippin’ Dots. Today I have the Ice Cream Flavored Dippin’ Candy - Cookies ‘n Cream for review. I can say from the start that these are better than the Ice Cream Flavored Dippin’ Candy Banana Split variety I reviewed last week.
The candy is made up of little spheres of vanilla, creamy confection (fake white chocolate) and little nuggets of chocolate cookies.
The “white coating” ice cream flavored spheres are made of sugar and a large amount of partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, and hydrogenated palm oil along with some nonfat milk powder and whey powder with a smidge of sorbitan monostearate and polysorbat 60 tossed in. The cookies bits are actual cookie bits with an enriched wheat flour base, sugar and a fair amount of cocoa.
Like my experience with the Banana Split variety, the texture is not terribly creamy and doesn’t have a smooth melt. It’s simply sweet. Taken on their own, they’re really quite horrible and equal to the rating of 2 out of 10. However, the little cookie bits are great. They’re crunchy and salty (there’s 160 mg of salt in a package) and crumbly and with a charcoal cocoa darkness. If I mistakenly got a bag that was all cookies and no cream, I’d have no complaint. In fact, if they did a 90% cookie with 10% cream, I think I’d actually buy these. But that’s not the case. My package was probably 50/50 and that’s too much of the fatty, greasy and sweet balls.
If you like Cookies ‘n Cream candy, I don’t think you can get much better at the mass market stores than the Hershey variety, and if you’re looking for the bite size version, try the Hershey’s Cookies n Cream Drops. (But it would be nice if someone would do an upscale version with real cocoa butter white chocolate.)
I really need to find out where to buy the little cookie bits in bulk. That’s the real find in this instance.
Monday, August 22, 2011
I’ve been on a roll with the Cookie Dough Bites line of products lately. This box of Cookies ‘n Cream Bites says it’s new, but the product was announced back in January 2010.
New! From the Makers of Cookie Dough Bites - Creamy White Chocolatey Balls with Crumbled Pieces of Cookie.
One of the wonderful things about the Oreo type cookies is the deep, charcoal flavor of the cookie itself. It’s not terribly sweet, crisp and with a sandy, crumbly texture that’s just had to beat either as a cookie or as the base of a cream pie. Crumble those cookies up and put them inside other things? Pure brilliance. Some ice creams put in the cream centers of the cookies, but this is completely unnecessary, the vanilla ice cream base takes care of the “cream” part of the Cookies ‘n’ Cream name.
Another dreamy component of the mix of ice cream and cookie pieces is the chaos of it all. In any bite you might get grainy crumbs or a large, dry piece of cookie, so big you can actually crunch it. The texture is inconsistent in the best way possible.
Now that you can see the cross section of these nuggets, you can see where this review is going to go. The center of the candy is a dough ball made up of a white “cookie” base with a few grains of the chocolate cookie. Then it’s all coated with the palm oil, sugar and milk “cream” along with a smattering of cookie bits.
What should have happened was the center should have been the dark cookie and the outside the mix of the cream and more cookie bits.
But I have to review what’s in front of me.
The Bites vary in size, from the size of a Milk Chocolate M&M to the size of a Peanut M&M. They’re kind of grey with little speckles of black from the cookie bits. They smell sweet and milky. The cream coating is fudgy and sweet, but with very little in the way of “melt in your mouth” qualities. The center of the bites are a little on the dough-side, not moist and with a light taste of raw flour. The center isn’t as sweet as the outside and sometimes I detect a little salt in there. The hint of cocoa and true cookies is completely missing. Sometimes I’d get a little sense of them, but only as some sort of rest from the overt sweetness of the cream.
I can say with confidence that these aren’t the worst thing that I’ve had in the Cookie Dough Bites line. But they’re also far from the best. The center of the Brownie Bites would have been far better in this instance. If you’re looking for a chocolate cookie candy without all that pesky chocolate flavor, then step right up. These are sweet and have only a smidge more flavor than the Cupcake Bites (and no artificial colors) so they get a 4 out of 10.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Taste of Nature has nugget-ized many favorite sweet snacks with their line of Cookie Dough Bites. One of their new offerings is Cinnamon Bun Bites which promises bite size cinnamon bun pieces in a white chocolatey coating.
The box for Cinnamon Bun Bites is eye catching, I spotted it quite easily at Cost Plus World Market as a new item that I was seeking. The front of the box says that they’re new and have fresh from the oven taste. It’s been quite a few years since I had a fresh cinnamon bun, but I admit that enjoy the hot ones with the white sugary glaze (though the pecan sticky rolls are still one of my favorites). The essential elements of a cinnamon bun would be the chewy, yeasty dough, the cinnamon and the sticky, sugary glaze that pulls it all together.
The nuggets vary quite a bit in size but most are disk-like and about a half an inch around. They do actually smell like sweet cinnamony rolls. The waxy and greasy white coating is made of sugar and palm kernel oil with some other stuff thrown in, but basically it’s nothing like real white chocolate or even a vague approximation except for the fact that it’s white. The doughy center has a slight texture of a batter with distinct undissolved sugar and the flavor of cinnamon and raw flour.
I found it much better than I expect. I fully thought they would be disgusting and inedible. I’m not saying that they’re great or something that I’m even interested in eating, but I found the cinnamon flavor and sweetness level (which was rather moderate) to be passable. The white coating is simply terrible though, a real white chocolate might actually make these into a unique candy. Since I reviewed these after the Cupcake Bites, they really couldn’t fare much worse by comparison.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.