Friday, January 10, 2014
A couple of years ago I was treated to a small tasting of a new line of candy bars. They’re from Amy’s Kitchen, which already makes vegetarian convenience foods. I finally started seeing them on store shelves at the end of last year, even at major grocery retailers like Von’s, not just Whole Foods or Mother’s Market. I’ll have reviews of all four of the bars, but I thought I’d start with their unique offering first, the Amy’s Organic Andy’s Dandy Chewy Candy Bar.
The package says Soft caramel with pecans covered in chocolate. Well, that not only sounds good, it doesn’t sound like any other candy bar on the shelves.
All the bars in the line are color coded and feature the name large and in the middle of each wrapper.
As you’d expect with an organic candy, they’re expensive. I didn’t see them selling for less than $2.29 a bar, and as high as $2.79.
They’re 3/4 of an ounce each, about 2.25 inches long and one inch wide.
The bite is excellent, it’s soft and chewy, with a stringy pull to the caramel that’s not too sticky. The pecans are small, but provide a lot of texture and maple-flavor. The milk chocolate is robust and stands up well to the rest of the ingredients. The whole thing isn’t too sweet, though it is rather milky.
There’s a lot of information on the wrapper. I love transparency. But it’s poorly organized. So here’s all the info provided, in order for people who read left to right, top to bottom. (I don’t, but I’ll list them that way.)
0 g of trans fat
So when I went looking for the peanut statement it wasn’t with the gluten free statement (which may or may not be contradicted by the wheat in the facility statement), it was on a separate line in different type. It’s a big old mess. Some are marketing statements, some are transparency statements, some are FDA mandated inclusions.
My issues with the back of the package aside, this is a no-compromise bar when it comes to taste and ingredients. It tastes like candy, but I feel like someone is putting a lot of thought and consideration into it behind the scenes. For this bar, the fact that it’s not even something that I can get in GMO form means that I’m more likely to reach for an Andy’s Chewy Bar in the future.
Thursday, January 2, 2014
Justin’s White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are a limited edition version of their dark and milk chocolate peanut butter cups. They’re available only at Whole Foods this winter.
What sets these apart from other white peanut butter cups is the fact that Justin’s not only uses real white chocolate, it’s also fair trade cacao butter.
All of the ingredients are organic except the sea salt,which is an inorganic item anyway. The palm oil is sustainably sourced and the cacao comes from Rainforest Alliance certified growers. Justin’s is gluten free as well.
Still, with all those qualifiers, they’re still a white chocolate candy, which has a pretty narrow band of fans.
The cups are beautiful, a creamy yellow white with a little dollop in the center. The white chocolate has a lot of milk in it (the third ingredient) and has a lot of dairy flavors to it. The peanut butter center is salty, with a grainy crunch but also a smooth roasted flavor to it. From my early taste tests of Justin’s peanut butter cups, they’ve really come a long way in balancing out the texture of the center without being too oily or too dry. The white chocolate bring a lot of creaminess and vanilla flavors, the overall effect is like eating peanut butter cookie dough.
I’m a fan of good white chocolate (and will eat bad white confections against my better judgement) and this is some very well made stuff. Since Reese’s switched to a white confection, as far as I know, these are the only nationally distributed white chocolate peanut butter cups available.
I did notice one odd thing on the package. The cups are 1.4 ounces total and it says that it’s 180 calories. But the rest of the nutrition panel does not support that. There are 16 grams of fat (9 calories per gram) and 19 grams of carbs (4 calories per gram) then 4 grams of protein (4 calories per gram) all tallies up to 236 calories, not 180. (Reese’s Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter cups are 210 calories for 1.5 ounces.) So if these calculations are correct, that’s 169 calories per ounce. Mmm, high fat density.
I like these and I’d probably pick them up again. But Justin, where are those dark chocolate hazelnut butter cups I’ve been longing for?
Friday, December 13, 2013
Though I’ve never seen Noblesse before, the concept is pretty simple. They’re thin disks of chocolate, about two inches around and really wafery. They have a little bit of crunch to them, thanks to some corn flakes. While I might have thought these were copycats of the Belgian Thins I’m seeing everywhere now, the Noblesse version has been around (if Google translate is accurate in this article about the package redesign two years ago) since 1964.
The boxes are simple, though not quite as enticing as some others I’ve seen at this price point. Here in the States these retail for about $6 to $9 for just 5.3 ounces. However, Marabou is working on sustainable sourcing for their chocolate and have the Rainforest Alliance logo on the front with at least 30% of their cacao content from certified sources.
I got my packages from Swede Sweets, which sent me a large selection of candy to sample.
The disks are stacked in four slots in the box, they’re easy to take out and portion (though I’m unsure how much a portion actually is, as the nutrition panel gives me the option of eating 3.5 ounces (100 grams) or the whole box, but not a normal amount, which I’ll guess is one stack or 1.33 ounces.
At about eight thins, it seems like a lot of candy.
The Noblesse Original Crisp comes in light red box and features milk chocolate. The Marabou milk chocolate ingredient list includes milk whey, which is not permitted in products labeled chocolate in the US, though it doesn’t bother me that much. The cacao content is 36%, which is a fairly robust milk chocolate. The flavor, however, isn’t terribly deep or complex. It’s sweet and milky with the little corn flake bits giving it more of a chew than a crunch.
The Noblesse Mork Choklad Crisp (Dark Chocolate Crisp) is very appealing. At only 48% cacao content, it’s not challenging, more comforting than anything else. The flavor is a bit thin, but the texture is nice with a strong coffee note to the whole thing. I finished this box first and if I were to seek these out, this is the option I would go for.
The Noblesse Apelsin Crisp (Orange Crisp) is also the same 36% milk chocolate with a strong orange oil note. This cut the sweetness for me substantially, but it’s a lot of orange. It’s even a bit salty, though the listing only says 100 mg per 100 grams of candy.
They’re a lot easier to serve from the package than the Belgian Crisps (also found at Trader Joe’s in a house brand). They’d be a nice hostess gift and something fun to serve to guests with coffee, tea and cookies around the holidays.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Original Beans is a small chocolate company that starts with carefully selected, direct-purchased beans and makes them into single-origin bars. They take special care with all aspects of the sourcing, manufacturing and packaging, as their name might imply. The bars are not easy to find in the United States, but luckily a very good chocolate source has developed walking distance from my office, so you’ll be seeing more of these interesting finds in the coming months and years.
The selection of bars from Original Beans is very small, but quite specific. I chose to review their Original Beans Piura Porcelana 75% as my first. You can read up on the Peruvian Porcelana beans on the Original Beans website and on other chocolate aficionado sites. The history of chocolate is fascinating and many people have become interested in the generic diversity of the trees and their distribution. The Porcelana beans, as a variety of Criollo, are characterized by their white color and distinctive flavor. They’re quite rare and grown in a few small areas in South America, so single origin bars are not common and often limited editions.
The bar features all organic ingredients and is made only exclusively with white Criollo cacao from the Pirua River Valley in the Peruvian Andes. The cacao is 75% and the package says that it’s a 22 hour conch. The ingredients list is simple and short: Direct-trade cacao beans, cacao butter, cane sugar. There’s no soy and it’s vegan and gluten free.
The tasting notes for the bar online are: Vibrant, luscious with kumquat, lime, apricot, raspberry flavours and notes of toasted pecan; wonderfully balanced acidity and lingering finish.
Though the beans are white, the chocolate is brown. The fermenting and roasting of the beans makes them indistinguishable at first glance from any other bean.
The bar is simply and beautifully molded. The segments have a great snap and neutral medium-brown color. The scent is mild, it has some smoky vanilla notes
The flavor is an interesting balance of acid like citrus and tannins, for the most part the flavors I got were black tea and roasted nuts. The texture was smooth and has and excellent melt and lack of grit. It still has a bit of a dry finish that’s sharp from the tannins.
I loved this bar, this is the third one I’ve eaten, I bought the first two over the summer but found they weren’t doing well in the heat so I ate them and waited for it to cool off to do a proper review. The flavor is not too intense but still very satisfying after three or four squares. The cocoa butter balanced out the clean but sweet sugar to make it very munchable for a high cacao bar.
The next bar I picked for review is Original Beans Esmeraldas Milk, which is a 42% cacao bar with a touch of fleur de sel. Like the dark bar, it’s made with organic ingredients. From the photo above you can see that it’s a dark looking bar for milk chocolate, but compared to many commercial milk chocolate bars, I’m inclined to call it a dark milk.
Original Beans is in The Netherlands, and the packaging is largely in Dutch (though the website also in English) while the chocolate is made in Switzerland.
The ingredients list is a little longer than the dark bar, but still short: direct trade cacao, sugar, cocoa butter, milk and sea salt. The tasting notes suggest: Exceptionally velvety with salted caramel, hints of summer red fruits and spice.
The Original Beans website has a feature where you input the batch code from your bar into their website that says:
Unfortunately that feature just takes you to the same page you could browse to based on the name of the chocolate bar. For true transparency and education, I kind of wanted specifics about the harvest that made my bar. What was that year like? Were there special issues that would distinguish that vintage from the previous year or the coming year? Or even just things like how many pounds of beans were harvested, how many bars were made in that batch.
The bar has a roasted, caramelized scent that has a bit of a cheese note to it, something a little more savory. The melt is great, it’s soft and fudgy without feeling too sugary or sticky. The flavor has molasses notes, maybe even a little fennel but a lot of milk. The hint of salt does keep it from tasting too much like sugar, but it doesn’t jump out. There’s a sharpness to the bar, again, that powdered milk cheese-ness that doesn’t quite satisfy me. I’m not a big fan of the powdered milk flavors in some milk chocolates; it’s a personal preference, not an indication of quality.
I also tried the Bolivian Beni Wild Harvest bar, as I was a big fan of Lillie Belle’s Wild Thing, also from wild beans, but found the 66% far too sweet for me.
Friday, August 16, 2013
A solid layer of crunchy peanut butter topped with caramel and coated in creamy ‘milk’ chocolate. Vegan
It’s made with dairy-free rice “milk” chocolate which can’t actually be called chocolate according to the FDA, which has strict standards about such things. However, there are no other fillers in it, just cacao, cocoa butter and some evaporated cane juice. It’s an actual vegan candy bar that’s also fair trade and organic. That’s a rare thing. Of course, feeling good before you eat the candy is nice, but not really very productive if it doesn’t actually taste good. Now that I’ve tried all three of Eli’s Earth Bars multiple times, I’m ready to say that they’re actually good, but a little funky.
There’s really no comparison for this bar to a commercial bar on shelves today. The center is like a crushed Butterfinger bar (or if you prefer, the vegan version would be an Atkinson’s Chick-o-Stick) mixed in with some peanut butter and then a layer of caramel then covered in chocolate.
It smells peanutty and sweet and a little like Cap’n Crunch. The rice milk chocolate coating is a little greasy and thin tasting, it’s more like a chocolate milk taste than an actual chocolate taste. The soft center is sweet peanut butter with a bunch of crunchy, peanut crisp lumps. Then there’s a stripe of caramel on the top that gives the whole thing a chew.
It’s odd, not quite successful but still compelling enough that I always eat the whole bar. (I’ve tried this bar three times now.) If you don’t or can’t eat dairy, this is a very tasty approximation of a dairy bar (but it’s made on equipment that does use dairy, so not for those with true allergies). But I’d prefer to just eat Chick-o-Sticks if I need a vegan peanut candy fix.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
I often think of chocolate making as a northern activity, though the advent of climate control means it can be done anywhere. Still, it’s rare to hear about chocolate factories, even bean to bar establishments, south of the line of the Missouri Compromise. This is why I was so delighted to hear about Videri Chocolate Factory, based in Raleigh, North Carolina. It’s the kind of story that makes me think that small batch chocolate may become as common as small batch coffee roasting.*
Videri offered me some chocolate bar samples a few months back, and I’ve been munching on them ever since. They make bean to bar chocolate in their factory that also serves as a coffee bar and cafe. They make a small range of bars, about five at any given time, the varieties I got were Classic Dark, Dark Milk Chocolate, Sea Salt and Pink Peppercorn.
All the bars come in a small box that holds two stacked bars. Though the box packaging is color coded, the bars, wrapped only in foil, are not distinguished in any way from each other. (But once you get to know the product line, it’s easy to tell milk from dark from sea salt.)
I’m starting with the Videri Dark Milk Chocolate mostly because that’s the one that I have the best photos of from wrapper to bar. Each box holds two 1.5 ounce bars. This is genius. I don’t want 3 ounces at one time, even 1.5 ounces is a bit much when it comes to fine chocolate, but at least when you’ve eaten half, it wraps up better. The foil is thick, generous and durable.
Videri Dark Milk Chocolate is 50% cacao. They didn’t mention where the beans were sourced, they are organic and Videri does ethical sourcing and wherever possible. They plan to do more direct trade as they grow, but for now they buy through brokers within the Americas (no African beans were mentioned in their materials).
Videri Dark Milk Chocolate has an odd smell to it, more like a fine smoky cheese than chocolate. The flavor is immediately deep, with a pretty good melt, though it has some more fudgy moments that seem grainy but not chalky. The milk flavors are forward, toasted and toffee-like with the woodsy flavors of the actual chocolate rounding it out. It’s a little tangy, like a goat cheese; there’s a sharpness that lingers for quite a while.
Videri Dark Chocolate is a blend of American beans from Central and South America. It’s 70% and has a light red hint to the brown color. Their ingredients are simple, in the case of the dark chocolate, it’s: Roasted Organic Cocoa Nibs, Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Cocoa Butter. There’s no lecithin in their ingredients and everything is organic.
The bar smells lightly fruity, like raisins with a little woodsy note. The taste is immediately sweet on the tongue, which was a little odd for a 70% bar. It’s smooth but has a lightly dry and acidic finish. The overall flavor profile is similar to the smell, some raisin and berry notes with a more rounded oak flavor and a hint of vanilla. The melt is a little thin on the tongue, not at all sticky. It definitely had the notes of Peruvian chocolate for me, which is not a bad thing and I know that these are blends of beans anyway. It was good, but not extraordinary
I threw the pieces of the Videri Dark Milk Chocolate & Dark Chocolate together to show how close in color they are. After all, the milk chocolate is 50% cacao, as dark as a commercial semi-sweet chocolate you might use for chocolate chip cookies.
Both have interesting traits to them and both are pleasing. Yet even after months of sitting with these bars (I ate the first set of the pairs of bars back in March and April and the second set in July and August), I still don’t find myself drawn to these to.
Videri Pink Peppercorn is made with 60% cacao. The back of the bar is sprinkled with the crushed actually pink peppercorns. The scent is immediately forward with the peppercorn brightness - a sort of mix of balsamic pines and pencil shavings.
The woodsy notes of the beans Videri uses are complemented by the pink peppercorns. The small particle size of the peppercorns was appropriate, I didn’t find myself gagging or crunching on one and wondering about my teeth. They’re lightly spicy and warming with an earthy note without lighting up my throat or covering up the cocoa notes.
Videri Sea Salt Dark Chocolate is 60% cacao, so just a little less cacao and more sugar than the Classic Dark. And then it has the addition of a little sea salt mixed into the bar (it’s not sprinkled on, like the Pink Peppercorn). The flavor profile is similar to the Dark. It’s woodsy, though less fruity. The salt actually moderates the sweetness well. The melt is quite good, I preferred this bar of the set and found it the most munchable.
* Regarding small batch chocolate coming as common as small batch coffee ... I see the issues of scale and customer base within that statement. People generally drink one or two or even three cups of coffee a day, but rarely eat more than one chocolate bar a day.
I like where Videri is going, though I could use a bit more distinctiveness and richness in the bar. I don’t know if that’s the beans themselves, they way they’re roasted or the level of cocoa butter. But that’s just a personal preference, what I enjoyed about the bars was the fact that they were blends and tasted very accessible and easy to eat. I would love to visit their shop and watch the chocolate being made, as that sounds like half the fun of the chocolate being made in small batches. (My bars were marked Batch 134.)
Monday, August 5, 2013
Boiled candies, or hard candies, are considered kind of ordinary in most situations. They’re not most people’s first choice, in fact, in most lists of candies, they’re often down at the bottom along with raisins and toothbrushes (basically, not even qualifying as candy). It’s sad, because there are good hard candies and boiled sugar candies can be some of the most beautiful of all candies out there.
Cut Rock is a tradition of candymaking that goes back at least 150 years. It’s a simple concept, different colors of hard candy are layered together and then pulled or rolled out to shrink the design and then cut into easy to eat pieces. (To make swirled lollipops, the centers are plain but the ropes of candy are wrapped into a disk and a stick is inserted.)
Raley’s Confectionary in Florida is one of the new artisan companies to bring this tradition back, and their twist is to use natural colors, flavors and organic/fair trade sugar. (I’m not sure about the glucose syrup that’s mentioned in the ingredients label, but not on the website.) Since all he makes is hard candies, it’s vegan and gluten free (though he does make some nut items, so check before you order if you have an allergy).
If you want to see more about how it’s made, Raley did an educational video that addresses how scaling is important when creating the designs to make cut rock. And of course here’s a more generalized video that shows the whole process from start to finish:
Wes Raley (seen in action above) offered me some samples and since it’s summer, which I high season for hard candies, I accepted them. It then took a long time to get through the whole set: Emoticon Mix, Root Beer, Cappuccino, Pomegranate,
The SA Emoticon Mix is a good place to start because it demonstrates the array of forms and designs that can be created and also includes a wide variety of flavors. Of course I don’t know what those flavors were supposed to be, since there was no key, so I can only guess. I know one was lime, and another was blueberry. The interesting thing about this version was how the diameter varied.
The center, as you may have seen in the video, is an aerated hard candy. This makes it white and the pulling of the hard candy also allows Raley to incorporate the flavors. It makes it crunchy without any of those annoying sharp voids that some hard candies get.
Each piece is a mere half in across, yet the wire thin brown “steam” coming from the little mugs is perfectly proportioned to the little cups of coffee.
The flavor on this particular candy is a little milder than the vivid and fruity Emoticons.
The coffee flavor is a bit mild and thin for my tastes. It was toasty and less sweet, but more like a brown sugar candy than a true coffee with a bit of foamed milk experience. That said, it was one of the first bags I finished.
Grapefruit is one of several citrus flavors from Raley’s. The pieces are well made, a yellow rind and a pink sectioned interior sell the look. The outside is sweet and mild, but the aerated fruity center is tangy and nicely flavored. It’s a little zesty, only a slight hint of bitterness and quite tart at times.
Here’s the real gem of all the varieties I tried: Lemon. This piece was yellow with a shiny yellow rind, white pith and yellow sections. Unlike the grapefruit, which was flavored on the inside, the outside was also flavored. So the rind was a gentle and sweet lemon, but the inside was extremely tart, zesty and juicy.
These were absolutely adorable. The design is unlike most of the others that cut rock makers create, it has no jacket. Instead the flag’s stripes go right to the edge. It’s a complicated design, enough of the elements, colors and ratios are there for it to say “American Flag” even though it’s round.
The flavor is fun, the blueberry is sweet and has a good berry flavor and the strawberry is light and floral.
Root Beer was one that I was truly looking forward to, mostly because Raley doesn’t use artificial colors and one of my complaints about Root Beer Barrels is the aftertaste from the dye known as Red #40. This definitely did not have any aftertaste, but it didn’t have much of a forward taste either. It was exceptionally mild, like the Cappuccino. There was a hint of wintergreen bite, but not bite of tartness, no earthy ginger rooty flavors either. It was toasty but not like Root Beer.
But the candy was adorable, with the frosty mugs on a crunchy background. So I may have been disappointed that it wasn’t like I wanted it to be, but I still managed to eat the whole bag.
I give the fruity flavors a 9 out of 10 and the drink flavors an 8 out of 10 (they designs on those were especially good). The packages were stand up, zippered gussets. Each came with a little silica gel package inside, so even though I opened them (and resealed) they all stayed pristine. Some hard candies can melt and deform in the humidity or high heat, but these looked as good today as they did about a month ago when I got them.
Friday, April 19, 2013
Theo Chocolate is the first organic and certified ethically source chocolate company in the United States. I first tried them when they launched in 2006 and have been pleased with the diversity of confections. They make solid chocolate bars, smaller “candy bars” with inclusions and flavors as well as a line of bonbons and caramels. It’s a great fusion of classic chocolate making with new flavors and social responsibility.
One of their new bars is Theo Chocolate Salted Almond Dark Chocolate (with 70% Cacao). It’s a simple blend of dark chocolate beans and almonds with a touch of sea salt.
Note that the bar packaging has changed in the past few weeks, so the new ones won’t be bright pink, look for these. The bar is organic, vegan, soy and gluten free though it’s manufactured on shared equipment with products containing milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts & other nuts. The cacao and sugar is sourced through Fair for Life (which assures the social responsibility of the sourcing).
The bar is simple, just a series of long segments, there’s no splashy custom molded design here. From flipping the bar over, I can see that the almonds in pieces, not whole (which is fine with me).
The scent of the chocolate is deep and woodsy with notes of coffee. The snap is good and the molding is excellent without any bubbles or voids (which can be an issue with inclusions).
The flavor of the chocolate is strong, it’s a little acidic and has strong coffee notes along with some smoke. The sugars are forward (along with a little of the salt note) and the chocolate has a slightly dry and olive finish. The almond bits are well distributed, fresh and crunchy with a nicely roasted flavor.
Overall, an extremely satisfying bar. The cocoa profile was a little dryer than I like, not quite as buttery as I prefer my texture, but the nuts and just the right hint of salt make this exceptionally easy to eat for a 70% bar.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.