Cost Plus World Market is an American chain of stores with a specialty area of imported and domestic candies.
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.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Their tins are always quite smart looking and I rather liked the simplicity of this one, just a smaller version of the standard set by Altiods. The embossed top flips open to reveal the candies inside.
The tin says that the “mints” are made with real Canadian maple sugar. The full ingredients are: pure cane sugar, maple sugar, natural flavor, calcium stearate and malic acid. There are thirty in a tin, which holds less than an ounce, .85 ounces.
The candies have a polished yet rustic look. They’re shiny and sharply stamped with a little maple leaf in the center. But the texture and color of the candies is a little mottled, it’s not a bright white and has little caramel colored flecks in it.
The scent is definitely smoky and like toasty maple syrup. The flavor of the candies though was a bit different from what I was expecting. It is a combination of all the flavors that are listed in the description, they are mint, they have maple sugar in them and blueberry flavor. It’s a riot of flavors. Not a “burn my tongue down” riot, but the kind that pulls off my backpack and steals my books kind. The blueberry is tart and floral, the maple is rustic and woodsy ... so far so good. But the mint is cool and minty with a little note of eucalyptus. It’s like a blueberry cough drop made in some sort of colonial re-enactment apothecary shop.
I liked the straight ahead Maple Ice Mints, so I’ll have to stick with those, because these are just not for me. But I’m also not very happy with the combination of mint, lime and white rum that are used to make a Mojito. So if you’re down with mojitos, maybe you’ll be down with Wild Blueberry Maple Ice Mints.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
I know there are a lot of blogs out there that review candy these days, but somehow I feel alone in my obsession for licorice. (And I feel sometimes that I’m alienating my non-licorice loving readers by featuring something black every week.)
I picked up this cute little can from Van Slooten called Flowers & Butterflies Mix of Sugared Liquorice. It’s Dutch and as far as I could tell, was a mix of salted and sweet licorice much like the previous little can I picked up and reviewed of Licorice Figures. It seemed a bit pricey, something the size of a can of beans that cost $3.99, but they really packed the candy in there, it’s over a half a pound at 8.82 ounces.
The mix inside was as described, at least six different shapes and as far as I could tell, three different varieties.
Gummi Flower & Tulip is chewy and dense but with a very mild flavor. It was mostly a toasted sugar flavor, sort of like a marshmallow and some light anise. That was it. I liked it and I ate them all. At first I didn’t realize that the tulip was the same as the flatter 10 petal flower. But once the tulips were gone (yes, I ate them first), I figured it out.
Butterflies are a great medium brown color with sparkly grains of sugar. There are two shapes for the butterflies, but I found the texture and flavor to be the same with them. I expected a griotten flavor and texture, which is a light and airy gummi with a salted licorice flavor. These did have that brown sugar and salted licorice flavor but with instead the texture was sort of tacky and chewy. I can’t say that it as quite a gumdrop, but it definitely wasn’t a gummi marshmallow. I enjoyed these, the salt was quite noticeable but not so much of the ammonia aftertaste taste that I don’t care for.
Gumdrop Flower is really chewy and has a strong molasses flavor. Aside from the grainy sugar coating, it’s quite smooth. I enjoyed it at first, but then there’s a tangy element that creeps in along with something metallic, then I got a hit of the ammonia. As long as I alternated them with the other versions, I found them passable. Ultimately I was left with a dozen of them in the bottom of the can.
I would eat these again, especially for the milder gummi varieties. They’re also pretty and I like the compact, easy to open and close package.
Candy Gurus tried their Fruit Gums called Fun & Sun Fruit Gum
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
The company also introduced a line of sugar free, all natural mints called Minteas recently that come in these attractive leaf shaped (or surfboard, take your pick) tins. They’re also expensive, but a little more affordable considering the number of servings in the $2 package. I picked out the Minteas Retreat: Lemongrass Yuzu.
The bottom of the tin says: Get away with the soothing calm of wild-crafted lemongrass and the comforting citrus of Japanese yuzu. Relaxing chamomile offers the perfect antidote to stress. A sanctuary for the senses.
The tin says that they use organic botanicals and fair trade certified, organic white tea. (The fair trade tea is a minor component in the ingredients, the second to the last element, right before calcium stearate. There is also some plain old organic green tea in there.) They’re sweetened with sorbitol and xylitol, natural sugar alcohols that feel cool on the tongue and have fewer calories per gram than regular sugars.
The scent of the candies is quite nice, if you like Murphy’s Oil Soap or other citrus based cleaning products and candles, you’ll love this. Each little leaf shaped piece is a little longer than a half an inch. The pressed tablet candy dissolves or crunches, depending on your eating style.
The first thing I get is a sharp, bitter zest note. It’s not quite lemon and not quite grapefruit. It’s yuzu, which is a Japanese citrus similar to a grapefruit in its flavor components, only it’s usually the size of a lemon or orange and costs about $30 a pound here in Los Angeles. There are more floral blossom notes to it than just oily zest.
The little mint has a slight lemongrass note as well, which is kind of gingery and soft. There are other herbal and tea flavors in there, some green tea, which might also contribute some of the bitterness and soapy notes and chamomile, which always reminds me of catnip.
As far as “mints” go, these do have a long lasting flavor, a sort of jasmine freshness that lingers after the candy is gone. But the flavor while it’s in my mouth is a bit bitter, a little too much for me.
The package says that the product was designed in the USA but made in China. However the website says that the “source” of the ingredients is Egypt for the chamomile (ingredient #5 on the list) and Japan for the yuzu (not specifically listed as an ingredient, but probably is part of the “natural flavors” of ingredient #3. I feel misled about their transparency. If they’re going to say that something contains fair trade and/or organic ingredients, I also want to know where all the other ingredients come from. The website says they’re gluten free but makes no mention of their vegetarian/vegan status or any nuts or other allergens.
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.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
In the world of trends in sweets, one of the biggest has been the rise of cupcakes. There are hundreds of blogs devoted to the various iterations of the small baked goods. Of course the trend is not limited to actual cupcakes, there are all sorts of merchandising opportunities as well as spin-off products like Cupcake Bites from Taste of Nature, the same company that makes Cookie Dough Bites.
The box is actively ugly with a mix of styles and cultural references that make little sense to me. First, the color yellow (background) with the pink “frosting” top with sprinkles is The Simpsons (see the movie poster) and the text style isn’t an exact copy but there are definite similarities. Other than that, the fonts are a mess, at least five different ones from different font families, a mix of serif, san serif and handwriting.
The description on the back (which is even uglier as they introduced green drop shadow text in yet another font) says: Bite sized cupcake morsels coated with sprinkles and white frosting. They’re egg free, kosher and made in the USA.
The concept is the same as the Cookie Dough Bites, a little moist nugget of some wheat based, sweet nodule is then covered in a confectionery coating. Here are the ingredients:
I’m just amazed that the White Kreemy Coating product doesn’t have a trademark notice associated with it. And no, that’s not a typo on my part with the listing of the first two ingredients for the white cake nor the lyrics to an Archies song.
The nuggets are unappealing. They look like white molding clay that’s been rolled around in other little bits ... it looks like the aftermath of a Mr. Bill clip.
The matte exterior is soft and has a light sweet scent, like inhaling a cake mix. The Kreemy Coating doesn’t even rise to the level of fake white chocolate, it’s just a stiff, sweet and slightly greasy coating. The cake center is a little doughy with a faint raw flour flavor to it. The whole effect is an absolute replication of bad grocery store sheet cake. Very sweet, mushy textures and no actual flavor to speak of.
The timing of the product is a little late for the trend, but I’m sure the company will still get some mileage out of it, as they’re the only product like it on the shelves. But if you get a chance, maybe try the cupcake bites on sticks that started this craze.
Like the other Cookie Dough Bites products, the theater box comes with a clear plastic bag inside that actually holds the candy (so eating it at the movies involves opening it before the show starts unless you want to make a lot of noise). Though the package notes that it’s egg free, it’s actually made in a shared processing environment so they have an allergen notice for soy, wheat, milk, peanuts and tree nuts.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.