Cost Plus World Market is an American chain of stores with a specialty area of imported and domestic candies.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
A few months ago I reviewed Darrell Lea Soft Eating Liquorice from Australia. I enjoyed it quite a bit and now that the weather should be turning chillier (though we’ve had our ups and downs in Los Angeles lately), I was keen to try more chocolate covered licorice varieties.
The Kookaburra variety I tried used milk chocolate, the Darrell Lea Dark Chocolate Covered Liquorice is made with dark chocolate. (Well, it’s not vegan, as it does have butterfat in it.)
Anise and chocolate are a natural pairing, quite common in Italian and Greek confections but pretty rare here in the United States.
There are not a chocolate covered version of the Soft Eating variety I reviewed before. Instead these have artificial colors in them, which makes even less sense since it’s covered in chocolate. They’re also a bit thicker and have a twisted band to the shape.
The scent is nice, a mix of the woodsy and coffee notes of the chocolate and the mellow molasses and anise of the licorice.
The bite is soft and the chocolate melts easily. The overwhelming flavors are of molasses with those hints of sweet licorice, fennel and some cedar and spice notes. It’s not at all like the Indian curry and coriander I noticed with the Soft Eating variety.
Overall, even though these have the senseless addition of my nemesis Red 40 food coloring, it’s satisfying stuff. The price difference for the addition of chocolate is substantial. The regular bags are $2.99, the chocolate variety at Cost Plus World Market are $4.99.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I also like the packages. They’re simple, but the striped color coding makes it pretty easy at a glance to tell which is which (and this is the fifth package of Darrell Lea I’ve had).
Like the Licorice, this strawberry variety is also not all-natural like the Soft Eating variety. But it’s still a generous 7 ounce bag with a clear expiration date, which I always appreciate.
I found these much more attractive than the black licorice counterparts. The pieces are slightly smaller, just narrower, but still have the little twist in them. The chocolate was glossier, but that could simply be attributed to handling.
The bag smelled like bubble gum and chocolate. Sweet and summery. The strawberry flavor of the licorice is mild with a good combination of the floral notes and the light tangy berry flavor. The chew is a bit stickier than the black variety, leading to some glops stuck to the sides of my molars.
The chocolate sets off the sweet elements well and melts smoothly to a creamy syrup to go with the strawberry chew. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
They were on sale for $9.99, but going further into the store to the Christmas displays (yes, already out) they had several Christmas mixes that weren’t on sale ... for the same price.
The bag is big, as this is hollow chocolate, and holds 14.1 ounces of actual confection. Not a bad deal for 30% cacao milk chocolate, if it’s good quality.
There were two shapes and seven designs.
Each piece is rather light, weighing approximately 12 grams (about the same as a tasting square).
The designs are cute, the little figures come in ghost, witch, monster and jack-o-lantern ghost. The spheres are just different varieties of jack-o-lanterns.
The figures look like of like board game pieces, little pegs with flat bottoms (though much bigger, about the size of a meaty thumb). The spheres are about the size of a golf ball.
The chocolate itself is glossy and well molded. It smells, well, a little like parmesan cheese and caramel. Not entirely sweet or chocolatey. I’m guessing this is the high milk content (14% minimum) that comes from dried whole milk.
It takes a little getting used to, it’s rich and creamy, rather smooth but still has a strong dairy component that is less confectionery tasting and more like something I’d expect in a bechamel.
The foils are very pretty and nicely done. They’re a bit thin and I had to pick my package carefully as it’s easy to break these (I’m guessing some thumbs poked through two of mine before I got it home).
The ingredients include PGPR and whey (not allowed in the American definition of real chocolate) but also natural vanilla. But the package was fresh, which I think makes a big difference. (Expiration is July 2009.)
They’re well worth it on sale after Halloween if you can find them, but I think that the Christmas ones are a bit nicer. There’s more variety to the shapes, the balls come with little strings so that you can hang them as edible ornaments and I found the Santa to be quite attractive and would make a great centerpiece accent. But I wouldn’t buy a bar of this chocolate.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Since I knew I was going to be traveling, I thought I’d pick up some easy to carry chocolate for my trip a few weeks ago. I know that I’m guilty of ignoring Godiva here on the blog, even though it’s a major upscale brand of chocolate here in the United States, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to give some of their chocolate a go.
Godiva introduced their Chocoiste line which features all sorts of fun goodies that are convenient to carry for a little pick-me-up and sold at lots of stores, not just their outlets.
I chose the Godiva Chocoiste Dark Chocolate Pearls as a way to experience their dark chocolate without any of the muss of fuss of their fancy boxes.
The tin is lovely, tall and narrow with an elegant simplicity and holds 1.5 ounces.
I ran into trouble quickly though. I couldn’t and still can’t get the frelling thing open. Once I did get it open, my thumbtips were sore and this experience repeated each bowb-bowb time I wanted to try a little more. (I even thought it’d losen up, but after three weeks with this frakking thing, I feel like I’m demonstrating my inability to learn from my ficky-fick mistakes and I should just dump them into a ziploc.)
Each of the little pearls are the size of garden peas. Glossy and dark, they are attractive and ready to prove they’re spherical by rolling around the airplane tray table. (Yes, I put down a napkin first, I do have some standards of sanitation.) Luckily they also sit easily on my keyboard near lesser used keys.
The dark chocolate isn’t particularly dark (and contains dairy products like butteroil and milk) but is mellow and rich with a smooth melt. It’s certainly a step up from M&Ms, but at this price ($3.95 a tin) it’s hardly worth it. I would enjoy the tin if it weren’t so expletively frustrating.
Though I tried the dark chocolate first, I spent more time with the Godiva Chocoiste Dark Chocolate Pearls with Mint simply because the tin worked. It opened easily but stayed snapped shut firmly during all my travels.
The pearls looked exactly the same as the plain dark chocolate ones. They smelled like freshly crushed peppermint and spearmint leaves. The chocolate was smooth and had a cool touch of mint that tasted absolutely fresh and authentic.
Both pearl varieties use a resinous glaze, so are unsuitable for strict vegetarians.
Godiva also makes a Mandarin Orange version of the Dark Chocolate that I think I would like very much. Their other versions include Milk Chocolate Pearls, White Chocolate Pearls and Milk Chocolate Caffe Latte Pearls. Other items in the Chocoiste line include chocolate panned nuts & fruits, and solid chocolate bars.
I can see these being a nice gift item or stocking stuffer and the tins are wonderfully shaped and reusable (you could stuff your iPod earbuds in there or just refill with some other treat of your choice). As an everyday item, in this economy and most others I’ve experienced, I’d have to pass.
Friday, October 17, 2008
I’m still on my quest to replace the Krackel bar and have been finding all sorts of chocolate and crisped rice bars that area actually better than I remember the Krackel ever being.
Not to spoil the ending of this review but I’ll say right now that the Ghiaradelli Luxe Milk Crisp bar vaults to the second slot on that list. Not that there are a lot of bars on the list at the moment. (Seeds of Change Isle of Skye is above it, seeing how it’s similarly priced and organic.)
This bar is new, part of Ghirardelli new expanded line of gourmet bars. It comes at a gourmet price though, I paid $2.99 for this 2.81 ounce bar. It is all natural, Kosher and made in the USA.
This rich and creamy milk chocolate made from the finest cocoa beans is perfectly complemented with lightly toasted crisped rice. Take in the heavenly aroma and let the ultimate chocolate pleasure linger.
(Bold emphasis theirs, really!)
The bar certainly does look awesome. It was near perfect, without the scrapes and nicks that many of the bars I pick up have.
What pleased me most at first glance was how many crispies there are in the bar.
So I took a photo of the bar flipped over so you could see it, too. Instead of those little engineered ball bearing sized ones that Nestle uses for their Crunch bar these days, these look like actual crisped rice grains (made with millled rice, sugar, salt and barley malt).
There’s another thing that this photo also shows, how thin the bar is. What I like about the Hershey’s Miniatures and the World’s Finest W.F. Crisp bar was how thick they were, it allowed the rice to be completely enveloped by the chocolate. Here the rice floats almost as a separate layer from the chocolate, not blanketed by it instead just a thin sheet of chocolate.
It smells more like breakfast cereal or toast than chocolate. Kind of like milk or mozzarella and fresh baked bread.
That aside, this crisped rice is insanely crispy and fresh. Rarely do I have a chocolate bar that makes so much noise in my head.
The milk chocolate is exquisitely smooth and creamy with a strong powdered milk flavor (whole milk powder is the only dairy ingredient). It’s hearty and sweet at the same time. Notes of caramel, yeast and malt.
I was all set to give this an 8 out of 10 because of the price, but then I looked it up on the Walgreen’s website and they list it at $2.29 ... which I find much more reasonable. I’d be torn at that price though between eating this and the Ritter Sport Corn Flakes (Knusperflakes) bar. This milk chocolate is better, but I love the malty crisp of the corn flakes. I prefer the thicker bite of the Isle of Skye as well. The other option for the same price is the Wheat Chocolate I found in Little Tokyo. What a happy day to have so many choices!
I do hope that Ghirardelli comes out with these in the little individual squares, since no one else is making a single bite version of a crisped rice & milk chocolate these days.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Way back in the ancient days of the 1920s the Stark Candy Company of Milwaukee (well, Pewaukee to be exact) made an innovative little candy called the Snirkle (photo here). There were a couple of varieties but it was basically a swirled caramel & taffy pop. (They were also sold as individual pieces without the stick.)
Later in the 60s, when the whole world was going day-glow with color TV, Stark came out with the Slap Stix. It was based on the original and popular Snirkle, only this pop was a swirl of vanilla, cherry & banana taffy inside a caramel pop. The Slap Stix are made to this day and come a variety of sizes, a little .7 ounce variety and this attractive 2 ounce version.
Stark, who also made a conversation heart product, sold their company to Necco in 1990. Necco recently closed the Pewaukee Stark Candy Factory but transferred production to their Revere, Mass plant.
The pop is about the size of a business card and doesn’t really make a slapping sound when thwapped against a hard surface. But it does okay when smacked against the palm.
The pop smells sweet and caramelly. The caramel outside is rather firm, like a Milk Maid Caramel but has slightly more “pull” to it. Once bitten there’s a strong banana flavor. I didn’t really notice the cherry layer at first, but later on there’s a slight bitter aftertaste and a slight cherry flavor. The banana and caramel go well together, the chew is substantial and not too sweet. I could use a little hint of salt in there and would probably prefer strawberry to cherry. It’s not a slick & smooth caramel like a fresh Sugar Daddy, more like Laffy Taffy on a stick.
It’s a fun and really attractive treat. I found it a bit overpriced at $1.25 at Cost Plus World Market, but I’m sure they’re around for a bit less if you look carefully.
I don’t know why Necco doesn’t make the Snirkle any longer. It’s such a great name.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
This is the fourth Scharffen Berger Milk Nibby Bar I’ve gotten a hold of. The first one was a sample from a trade show last year. Unfortunately I stored it next to something minty and it was absorbed into the bar. I didn’t think it was fair to review it that way ... but I ate it and it was tasty enough for me to put it on my list. But I couldn’t find another one!
The second one I bought earlier this year when I was in San Francisco. I needed to get my parking validated at the Ferry Terminal so I figured the Scharffen Berger store there was the perfect place to make my $5 minimum and try this bar again.
And I did! I just, well, ate it, without making any notes.
So then I had to find it yet again. Luckily after my dismal experience with the Krackel bar, I went on the prowl at Cost Plus World Market’s high end chocolate shelves to console myself and grabbed one.
And then I ate it. Remember, I was depressed about the Krackel, grief makes you do strange things.
Now I’m feeling better (3 ounces of real chocolate is one of the lesser known 5 Stages of Grief) and thought I should give it another go.
The Milk Chocolate Nibby Bar is much darker than most milk bars. At 41% cacao, it’s almost as dark as the middling Hershey’s Special Dark (which is 45%). So the color is like coffee with only a dash of milk.
It doesn’t smell particularly sweet. More like wood chips and of course chocolate.
Snapping the bar, it’s pretty solid and crisp. Inside there are the little nibs, not as many as a crisped rice bar, but a great many of them dotting the chocolate base. The chocolate is smooth but still a little rustic. The notes are a strong caramelized flavor, the cocoa and lots more woodsy scents. The nibs are crunchy and buttery, almost like they’ve also been caramelized before adding to the chocolate. The texture is like a macadamia nut and perhaps a little of the soy bean’s malty flavors.
It’s a very dark bar for a milk chocolate product. The tangy bite that I didn’t care for in their straight bar is moderated well by the dark and bitter punch of the nibs.
I’m in love with this bar. I can’t say that it’s a replacement for the Krackel, because, well, it was $3.99. But it sure makes me smile when I eat it and it’s pretty rare for me to go out and keep buying the same bar over and over again when I have so many new ones at home.
The package has full nutritional labeling but also helpfully tells me that the whole 3 ounce bar has 410 calories. A quick calculation also tells me that this bar contains 100% of the my saturated fat for the day. Oops, I guess I’m eating pretty wholesome for the rest of the day. (But also 24% of my daily fiber in the whole bar plus 10 grams of protein!)
UPDATE 4/11/2009: I’ve had two more of these since the review, including comparing it to the new 68% Dark Milk and have bumped this up from the original rating of 9 out of 10 to a perfect 10 out of 10.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
There are literally hundreds of makers of candied almonds, also known as confetti or dragees, around the world. But the candy is pretty much the same everywhere, a single almond coated with a hard sugar shell. Some are colored and tumbled to a bright sheen, still others have a soft and smooth matte surface.
The process is rather simple though time consuming. Nuts are tumbled in a large rotating drum as sugar syrup is slowly added and allowed to dry, then added again until a thick shell is built up.
Sconza started in 1939 in the Bay Area and has been making distinctive panned candies since 1948. The company is expanding rapidly now, poised to take over the former Hershey’s Chocolate facility in Oakdale California later this year.
I was eyeing some of their Jordanettes a while back, but figured they were just Jordan Almonds and everyone pretty much knows what they are. Well, they just came out with their fall version and I simply couldn’t resist. Even though they came in a two pound bag.
The colors and matte shell was just so festive - it says harvest but it wasn’t all dark colors. Instead they’re pretty muted pastels in peach, yellow, green and terra cotta.
They looked pretty big too, but as is often the case with candy coated almonds, I didn’t know if it was that the almonds were big or that the candy shell was thick.
As is often the case with Jordan Almonds, I never know how thick the shell will be and sometimes I secretly suspect that there won’t even be a nut at the center - that it might be a rock.
Happily every single one I’ve eaten so far has had a fresh almond in the middle.
The bag smelled like vanilla pudding. Soft and sweet with just a hint of vanilla (fake vanilla actually).
The dragees are soft and smooth and after in the mouth for a moment they’re pleasantly slippery and fun to chase around with my tongue.
There’s not much flavor, just sugar-sweetness.
After a while I usually crunch. I find the best way to crush the shell is to put the candy between my rear molars and gently bite down on one of flatter sides. If it doesn’t yield, I try do dissolve a bit more and try again.
Jordan Almonds aren’t like M&Ms, unless you have some sort of super-strong teeth and fearless disposition, there’s no popping them in your mouth and chewing. Of course I never see them served that way and I honestly never see people simply eating them. (I know they’re a popular wedding favor, but I never recall getting any at a wedding either.)
The almond on the inside is soft and not as sweet as the sugar-shell, but still pretty sweet (not a crisp toasted almond either, they appear to be raw or merely blanched). These had only a hint of almond flavor. Mostly the whole thing was fresh-tasting.
I can’t say that I’d just buy Jordanettes again for munching, but I do foresee finishing the bag ... and when I say finishing, I mean I’ve already eaten a half a pound. These are certainly a good deal, high quality and beautiful to look at.
Monday, September 1, 2008
While I’m a big fan of excess in the right circumstances, I was puzzled about what could be so great about a giant gummi other than the fact that it weighed over 12 ounces and was four inches tall. One of the great things about gummi bears is the variety and the fact that you can put a whole one in your mouth, or several at a time for flavor combos.
But this had a lot going for it, first, the price wasn’t bad. At $3.99 for 12.3 ounces (350 grams) it was at least what I considered a fair deal. Yeah, it’s made in China (not one of my favorite gummi-producing countries) but the ingredients looked decent enough to get this just for the sheer joy of photographing it.
They come in five flavors: Cherry, Blue Raspberry, Grape, Green Apple and Orange. Obviously I chose orange, mostly because I thought it would photograph best but also because I think orange is a good flavor.
The packaging is spare and still great. It’s basically the mold for the bear, a hard clear plastic shell, sealed with cellophane tape all around. When done with the bear, the little plastic box can be re-filled and closed up and even has a little loop hole at the top for hanging.
The nutrition facts are a little odd. They think this package holds only one serving, which is 1120 calories.
He’s a little shiny and filmy on the outside, as many gummis are. (This one has carnauba wax.)
The gummi itself is very soft and pliable, quite bouncy and stretchy.
The big question after opening it was serving suggestions.
I trotted out the giant gummi yesterday when we had friends over for the block party on our street. Ernessa is a huge gummi fan, so she was quite smitten with the idea of a large gummi. Her husband, Christian, is one of my few licorice buddies (though he’s a fan of the salted stuff) ... it’s good to have candy friends.
So I served it up on a paper plate and we debated whether to cut him down the middle (there’s a seam) or across. I decapitated him. (There was talk of just picking him up and taking a bite but that’s the candy-equivalent of double dipping.)
A few slices of the head and we were all enjoying a piece of the gummy. It’s very soft, more like a piece of firm Jell-O than a gummi bear. It smelled great, like fresh orange juice. The texture as very smooth and melted in the mouth better and didn’t require a lot of chewing, it was almost like a piece of intensely flavored Turkish Delight. It had a lot of zesty notes to it, a good tingly tartness and of course a sweet and mellow background flavor.
I was pretty impressed with this bear. I was expecting nothing more than flash and style and no substance. I can say that at least in the orange flavor they delivered a really good gummi bear experience. The ingredients list both pectin and gelatin, which is what I owe the even texture to. I’m not sure how well this would do sitting out of its little clear plastic housing. It sat up well for the photos, but I don’t know how it’d do in humid or really hot conditions.
They’d be a fun hostess gift, a great addition to a gift basket or Christmas stocking or if you could find a good deal in bulk, a party favor (and maybe place card holder). As something for one person to eat, it seems a little silly, but it’s definitely a fun thing to share with others. On the whole I prefer the variety and look of the regular-sized ones.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.