Cost Plus World Market is an American chain of stores with a specialty area of imported and domestic candies.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
The combination of sweet and savory is nothing new. Peppers and chocolate were traditionally mixed together in Central America. Here in North America we’ve come full circle again with the new craze of adding spicy peppers to everything.
One of the classic hot pepper sauces is McIlhenny Company’s Tabasco sauce, made in Louisiana from tabasco peppers. Tabasco sauce was first produced in 1868, so it’s a wonder that it’s taken this long for it to be combined with chocolate. (Though I do recall a strange hot pepper chocolate fudge someone gave me in the 90s.)
I picked up this little tin of McIlhenny Co Tabasco Brand Spicy Chocolate that holds 1.75 ounces at Cost Plus World Market. Right now they’re featuring it in their Christmas area with the stocking stuffers, but I think they carry it year round.
Like other Chocolate Traveler products, it’s a disk of chocolate divided into eight “slices”. The circle of pieces is about three inches in diameter, so each little slice is about 1.5 inches long and about one inch wide.
The portioning is great, each piece is only 30 calories and less than seven grams.
The pieces are thick, easy to grasp and pull out of the tin and bite. The chocolate is semi-sweet (55% cacao), not terribly smooth and any graininess I noted was probably from the peppers. There are no milk products added, so this can be considered a vegan product (though it’s processed in a shared facility with dairy, peanuts and nuts if it’s an allergy issue).
The sweetness is a little distracting, but gives way to a well rounded woodsy chocolate flavor. The spicy burn of the red pepper comes in slowly but is quite noticeable, especially as a cumulative effect over several pieces. The pepper has a distinctive and notable Tabasco note to it, as there is a little bit of distilled vinegar in there.
As someone who’s not overly fond of Capsaicin heat, this was probably about as hot as I can take. So if you’re craving something really hot, this is probably not going to do much for you. The tin is absolutely lovely and would probably be useful to hold small things like jewelry, maybe some earphones or sewing items. It’s a great gift item for less than $5 mostly because of the packaging, but since Christmas can be a hard time for gift giving, this might fit the bill for a gift basket for a pepper fan or a stocking stuffer.
Monday, November 21, 2011
In the world of fair trade chocolate, it’s hard to find a balance between the ethical sourcing of the ingredients and the actual likeability of the finished product. One brand that has struck a good, mass appeal approach is Divine Chocolate. They’re based in the United Kingdom, but the chocolate is made in Germany.
Their product range in the United States is primarily 3.5 ounce tablet bars, with a few holiday items each year. The ingredients are Fair Trade certified as much as possible.
I picked up the Divine 70% Dark Chocolate with Ginger & Orange at Cost Plus World Market. I like the idea of a chocolate bar with a little bit of flavor and maybe even a candy-like flair to it.
I really like their new bar mold. The old one was simple and generic. The new one is the same format, but with little icons in each of the pieces. I like the thickness of the bar and the divisions - easy to snap apart and ideally sized for a bite.
The bar has an excellent and crisp snap. The scent is a bit woodsy, mostly from the ginger but with a well rounded cocoa note to it. The ingredients were not simply candied orange and candied ginger though. Instead it was something called Orange Granules which were made from orange juice, apples, sugar, rice flour, fructose, pectin, citric acid and orange flavor. Seems odd to make something that’s normally considered garbage (orange peels). The ginger is also just natural ginger flavor, no actual pieces.
The result are little sticky, slightly tacky orange bits. They’re good in the sense that they taste fruity, a little zesty and tangy with a lot more juice taste than orange peel. They’re not at all fibery, though they did get stuck in my teeth.
The dark chocolate is smooth with a silky melt and well rounded flavor. There’s a little hint of bitterness to it, but it’s tempered by the woodsy but slightly drying ginger. I was hoping for a little warm kick from the ginger, but that never really formed.
Overall, it’s a very good bar, it’s also a crowd pleaser, in the sense that most folks will go for a fruity bar over a straight 70%. I like the package design and the added design elements on the bar mold now. It would be nice to see fewer ingredients on the list, but at least they’re all real things.
Though the bar gets high marks for being fair trade, Kosher, non-GMO and vegan, it is made on shared equipment with wheat, milk, almonds and hazelnuts.
Friday, November 18, 2011
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a candy origin story quite like this before: The Original Harrogate Toffee was designed to clear the palate of the putrid taste of Harrogate’s Sulphur Water, famous in the 19th century for it’s healing properties.
Think about that for a moment. A candy was invented to cover up the taste of a drink that most of us would consider poison. (I’ve lived in an area with sulfur water before, we didn’t drink it.)
There’s no mention on their history page about the disposition of the Harrogate’s Suphur Water.
I bought my first tin of Farrah’s Original Harrogate Toffee (the larger of the two tins) back in 1995 when I first visited London. I picked up a few varieties of British-style toffee and this was the closest to what American’s think of as English Toffee. (That’s another long and convoluted thing I’m not going to get into right now.)
The tins are classic and honestly why I bought the candy both times.
The smaller tin holds 3.5 ounces, which ended up being 10 pieces of candy. The little toffee blocks were inside a cellophane pouch and wrapped individually in waxed paper twisted at the ends. Each piece is a little over a third of an ounce.
The ingredients are natural except for the flavoring. It includes lots of different kinds of sugar: sugar, glucose, cane sugar, demerara sugar, brown sugar, butter, soy lecithin and artificial lemon flavor.
The candy is a cross between hard candy and toffee. It’s mostly sugar but has a nice note of butter to it, which also gives it a cloudy appearance and interesting “cleave” when crunched. It’s sweet and has mild burnt and toasted sugar notes and a light kiss of lemon zest. It’s quite different from most other toffees or butterscotches.
The price is a bit much, but I assume I was paying for the tin. It was $5.99 for the teensy thing with its handful of candy in it. But it’s nostalgic and classic and the tin has a hinge on it and will likely find a spot in my desk for binder clips or flash drives once the candy is gone.
My desire for this may change if I find myself drinking a lot of sulfur water.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
I mentioned in an earlier Candy Tease that Lindt has some new holiday items. In addition to their new hollow chocolate figures of Teddy Bears, Snow Men and Santa they also have some holiday new Lindor Tuffles in Holiday Spice plus their usual holiday offering of Peppermint.
I also spotted this coppery bag of Lindt Holiday Spice Almonds.
It’s a tiny bag. It’s a cute bag, but it really is tin, especially when you consider that 1/3 of the height is just empty “flair.” But still, it’s dense. Jam packed with 3.5 ounces of roasted almonds in milk chocolate with holiday spices. Ah, the vague holiday spices. They’re so vague that on the ingredients list, they’re not even specified as holiday. They’re just spices.
The almonds vary widely in size, some as small as a Peanut M&M and some appear as large as a peach pit.
The candies are a little more complex that what was described. The almond at the center is lightly toasted. Then there is a little sugar shell on top of it. That is then dipped in milk chocolate and finally finished with a dusting of powdered sugar.
They smell a bit like amaretto and custard. The sugar on the outside is a little dusty, a little messy. The milk chocolate coating is smooth but quite sweet and with a strong dairy note. The spice flavor there is mostly the amaretto, but perhaps a little touch of cinnamon. The sugar shell on the inside is lightly crunchy but not thick at all. The almonds at the center were fresh and overall good quality. They work well either chewed for the combination of textures and flavors or slowly melted and dissolved through the layers.
I don’t usually care for amaretto, and in this case it wasn’t very strong. It’s a very sweet combination but also rather different from so many other chocolates and holiday items, I found it refreshing. I would have preferred a better, more specific description on the package though. Amaretto is not a spice and I don’t expect my real almonds to also be flavored with it unless we’re in the territory of marzipan.
While I may make fun of the packaging, I did like how efficient it was. There are two layers, an inner waxed paper and then the decorative metallic mylar. It had a sturdy, flat bottom and didn’t take up an excessive amount of space.
They’re made with wheat, dairy, almonds and soy plus they’re processed on shared equipment with peanuts and other tree nuts. Their cocoa is sourced responsibly and sustainably though not certified fair trade but also sourced from a wide range of locations (many not associated with slavery or brutal unrest). Read their statements here which specifically state that no supplier, anywhere in their chain can use forced labor.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
A few years ago I picked up a Big Bite Gummy Bear. It’s not the biggest gummi bear available on the market, but they’re easy to find and pretty well priced for a novelty item.
This year the Big Bite family of gummis is expanding with holiday themed shapes. For Christmas they have three: a Tin Soldier (red cherry), a Christmas Tree (green apple) and a Rocking Horse (red cherry). I found the Big Bite Gummy Rocking Horse charming and well designed so I picked that one from the display at Cost Plus World Market. They’re not as big as the Big Bite Gummy Bear (which is 12 ounces), they’re about half that weight at 5.82 ounces.
First, as a Christmas tree ornament, this is a colossal failure. It’s weight makes it too heavy and big to put on a normal tree. But as a party favor, stocking stuffer or table decoration, it does pretty well.
The gummi is constructed of two molded halves that are bonded together. They’re packaged in a clear plastic form (which could actually be the mold) that works as an excellent storage container for the partially eaten candy and also as a more appropriate ornament when you’re done.
Even though it’s not as big as the original Big Bite Gummy Bear, it’s still pretty large for a single portion of candy. (Come on, this is at least three portions.) The texture is soft, the surface is smooth but a little greasy because of the carnauba wax coating.
Out of the package, the Rocking Horse stands well on its own, though she’s (yes, I checked) a little head-heavy and tips forward.
I was disappointed in the flavor selection, but I understand with novelty candies they have to go with what’s most popular. (I would have preferred raspberry or strawberry or maybe something truly holiday themed like cranberry or cinnamon.)
Once I cut off the head, the halves of the candy pulled apart quite easily. The texture is pliable with a smooth flavor. It’s cherry and though not the best cherry gummi I’ve ever had, it was passable. It was light, a little tart and had a nice overall balance. It wasn’t too dark, not black cherry or wild cherry but more of the stereotypical cherry of most candies. (I think Tootsie Pop Cherry is as close as I can think of.) However, the edges of the product were tough and leathery, while the center was a bit softer. I also got a bit of an aftertaste and slight burning in my mouth ... this could be my reaction to the red food dye or just simple paranoia.
The tag lists the ingredients (contains gelatin and not Kosher/Halal) as well as the nutritional information. It was printed so small I had to photograph it and blow it up. The serving size is the whole candy but the calorie count for the whole thing was a rather modest 592 calories. (That Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte with the whipped cream at Starbucks has 520 calories.) But the really surprising part is consuming the whole thing is 10.7 grams of protein.
The candies are imported by a company called Novelty Specialties and are manufactured in China. I’m not enthusiastic about candy (or any food product) made in China because of their lack of accountability when it comes to food safety, though the United States and United Kingdom have their share as well. If I weren’t writing this blog, I never would have purchased, let alone eaten this product (but that goes for a lot of the candies I’ve tried, and sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised).
The price was $3.99, which was the same price as the twice-as-big Big Bite Gummi Bear. $3.99 could buy some very nice, American or German gummis that you could put in a holiday themed package. Just saying. If you’re not planning on eating it and want to dispose of it in the garbage disposal, well, this is better than plastic.
Since writing the review of the Big Bite Gummy Bear, which seem to be widely available, the company’s website has disappeared. (Here’s the page I got when I went to NoveltySpecialties.com.)
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Last year Ritter Sport sent me a one of their Europe-only bars, Ritter Sport Espresso. I even bought one when I was in Germany in February. Now they’re selling them in the United States, which only makes sense since we’re the largest coffee consuming country in the world (source).
The bar is Fine Quality European Chocolate made with Natural Ingredients. The bar isn’t explained or teased much on the front, just with robust Arabica coffee and the back just gives the description as Milk chocolate with a coffee cream filling. It also has snowflakes on it, which leads me to believe that it’s a limited edition winter bar and might not be available year round.
The ingredients list is short, but not as pure as I’d like it to be when it’s advertised as being made with natural ingredients. (Just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean I want it in my chocolate bar.)
There’s a caution about shared equipment for peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, other nuts and wheat. (Plus it contains soy and dairy ingredients.)
It’s real milk chocolate for the bar part, but the filling is primarily a sugar and oil paste. Palm kernel oil doesn’t have quite the same political reputation that palm oil does, nor the trans fatty content that partially hydrogenated oils. Still, I do not consider that to be a cream, even if cream is added to it. But let me set aside my ingredient rantings for a little tasting. Because I was really looking forward to this bar.
I don’t know what it is about the way that Ritter Sport bars are packaged or handled, but they’re always pristine when I open the package. (Sometimes the bars are broken, but not scuffed.)
The scent is dreamy. There’s a milky dairy note (a little caramel and butter) but the perfect level of coffee to it - rich and woodsy.
The chocolate is a little soft, and the center is even softer. The chocolate melt is cool and smooth, the center is a little grittier because of the coffee powder. The milk chocolate is quite sweet and the filling is less so, with a light salty note to it though there’s not actually any salt in it.
The espresso flavors are not quite ... because of all of the milk notes. It’s more like a dry cappuccino than an espresso, which would be made with a dark chocolate (dairy free would have been great for vegans). I expect there’s a bit of caffeine in here, since there’s real espresso powder, I made sure to eat mine early in the day.
It’s not the perfect coffee chocolate bar, but for about $2.00 or so, it’s achingly close I had to give it a 9 out of 10. The coffee flavors are pure, not flavored, and it’s not junked up with other caramel or hazelnut flavors. I wish it was really a ganache cream made with butterfat in there, but then it wouldn’t be $2 and probably wouldn’t be a shelf stable. Next step would be fair trade (but they do have a pretty good track record for ethical sourcing).
Friday, August 26, 2011
I picked up a couple of these little licorice ropes at Cost Plus World Market simply because I loved the package.
These little Gatos Licorice (Gatos Extracto de Regaliz) were pretty cheap for imported candies (these are from Spain), only 50 cents for a little .39 ounce bar. There’s slimmer and lighter than a Panda Licorice (Finnish) bar and perhaps a little drier.
The little bars are about 4.25 inches long and are actually thick tubes. They have a light anise and licorice scent with a few hints of charcoal and molasses. Each package has only 35 calories.
The texture is stiff, it’s a wheat base so I expected it to be like a Twizzler Nib. Instead it was dry though not completely crumbly. The flavor took a bit of chewing or dissolving to release but then I really enjoyed the strong licorice notes, which are soft and sweet, woodsy and herbal and a little acidic twang to it all. The molasses wasn’t strong, the toasted caramel flavors were mellow. It’s not a sweet candy at all, there’s even a bit of a bitter burnt note. There was a bit of a stale cereal vibe to the whole thing that I didn’t care for, but it was mostly at the start of the chew and dissipated as the licorice grew, sometimes wheat based products can be like that.
These are fun to pick up and keep tucked away in a pocket, since they’re so small. Of course the bold and distinctive wrapper with the yellow, red and grey tones were what attracted me (logo & more photos here), so it’s a bit of a conversation piece. I don’t think I’d buy them on a regular basis, but I’m curious to try some more of their products.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.