Monday, September 26, 2011
While on vacation on the central coast earlier this month I made my regular stop at Sweet Earth Chocolates in San Luis Obispo to pick up some rations for our vacation rental.
I bought some turtles and some other items for immediate consumption and then a few items to bring back to Los Angeles for review. One item that I sampled in the store is their Fair Trade Certified & Certified Organic Bittersweet Chocolate Drops. Yup, I went on vacation and I brought back a bag of chocolate chips.
It’s 12 ounces of 65% dark chocolate with only three ingredients - organic cacao (liquor, cocoa butter & cocoa powder), organic sugar and organic vanilla.
I love the bag. It’s simple, the same sort of wax lined kraft paper bag with a wire-fold closure that you get fresh roasted coffee beans in. It has the same bean bag heft and satisfying crunch when squeezed.
The pieces are small, some as large as a dime but most the size of a flattened standard baking chocolate chip (2/3 of an inch). The smooth disk shape makes them easy to eat and melt in the mouth, no spiky top.
There’s a light tangy note to the pieces upon melting with a slightly dry finish. It’s much sweeter than I would have expected for a 65% chocolate. The flavors are woodsy and smokey with notes of figs and molasses, they’re on the coffee side of the rich flavors. In fact, the package was sitting on my desk one morning and a co-worker said “Your coffee smells really good today.” I didn’t actually have any coffee, it was the open bag of chocolate that smelled like that. On another day the smell was so distracting, I had to close the package up and put it away.
I’m sure this would be great for baking, hot chocolate or pudding. But I was content to just snack away on them. It was no compromise, in the sense that these were organically grown, fair trade certified and not overpackaged. It was $9.50 for the bag, but for 12 ounces, I thought it was a pretty good deal compared to some of the chocolate bars that I buy for the same price but only get 3.5 ounces.
They’re made without soy or dairy (so they’re vegan) but are processed in a facility that has both.
As more of a novelty item I tried their new caramels. They’re like gourmet milk duds. I picked out the Coffee Caramel. The little quarter pound bag is very simply done. A cellophane bag sealed with a little twist tie. (They had samples in the store, I tried the orange and chili one and found it a little too spicy for me, so I opted for the coffee.)
Instead of a glossy coating of chocolate on the house-made caramel nibs, these are coated in chocolate and then rolled in cocoa. They’re lumpy and mis-shapen, some are flat and others are rustically spherical.
The chew is smooth and sweet with some good flavors. The primary flavors are woodsy, a combination of the dark chocolate and cocoa coating plus a little note of coffee. The caramel itself is interesting, the toasted and burnt sugar flavors are missing, are are the butter notes, but still it doesn’t end up tasting like syrup. There’s a little note of cinnamon and coconut in there, but that could be my imagination.
As a gourmet Milk Dud, I was happy, though they are certainly more expensive, don’t have quite the shelf life and are kind of messy with the cocoa coating.
I will continue to visit the Sweet Earth Chocolate shops in San Luis Obispo when I’m in the area. It’s easy on and off the 101 if you’re traveling through the area. My previous review of the shop is here (with photos).
UPDATE: Sweet Earth changed the name of their company to Mama Ganache.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
I found them at the Baywood/Los Osos Farmer’s Market where Danna J. Dykstra Coy sells them in all sorts of formats. She makes her vegan/gluten free cups from mostly organic ingredients and whenever possible, from locally grown produce. (The chocolate is from Guittard.) For a handcrafted confection, I found them very affordable. The peanut butter cups come in three different sizes. I opted for a box called the JoybittyBox 16 which has the medium sized cups with four each of the four different flavors. I paid $13.00 for my box of goodies, which I thought was pretty fair. I also picked up two of the large sized cups (like a traditional Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup size) for $3.00 for a pair.
The cups are tucked into the rather small, unbleached kraft paper box, stacked two deep. There are Traditional Peanut Butter, Olallieberry/Raspberry, Blueberry/Lemon and Local, Raw Honey. The design on the tops of the cups are just decorative, the only way to tell them apart is the color or design on the fluted paper cup.
Each little cup is about 3/4 of an inch across on the bottom, which is about the same as a foil wrapped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup miniature. However, the top is like a spilled over, generous muffin top.
The most notable flavor of the set is the Peanut Butter & Olallieberry/Raspberry. The Olallieberry is very popular on the central coast. It’s a curious hybrid berry that’s best illustrated by this genealogical chart on Wikipedia. I’m going to start with that, because all of them effectively tasted like raspberries were somewhere nearby, even if some cups were seedless.
The peanut butter is soft and creamy, not at all dry. The seeds are large and a bit distracting, but at least tell me which variety I’m eating. The chocolate is smooth and creamy and a little cool on the tongue; though dark chocolate, it’s not too dry or intense for the combination. There are a few little crystals of sea salt in there too, which provide a strange little crunch a pop of flavor.
Traditional Peanut Butter lives up to the reputation of a tried and true comfort candy. The creamy chocolate, the salty peanut butter is all just about balanced. If I had any complaint, it was that biting into the pieces was difficult because the tops always smashed the rest of the cup, whether bitten right side up or upside down. If you find there’s too much chocolate for your ratio preference, it’s pretty easy to either pop the top off or nibble around the edges for an added treat.
Peanut Butter & Blueberry/Lemon is fresh tasting, the little hint of zest just gives it a little pop that goes well with the sea salt. The blueberry could easily be mistaken for the scent of the raspberry, as I didn’t notice any actual blueberry bits in this one but the slight note of iced tea was there that I always associate with blueberries.
Peanut Butter & Local, Raw Honey - honestly, I’m not sure which one this is. I tried two that were what I’d call plain. The one I think is the honey cup is much smoother. I didn’t get any honey notes on any of them but there was a buttery, beeswaxy note to it.
The big issue I had was figuring out what I was eating. The first few I knew what cup color I picked out, but later as there were fewer in the box, they tumbled out of their cups. It would make much more sense if the designs on the top said what they were.
I don’t know if I’d order these via the web, but that’s mostly because I have such issues getting chocolate in good condition in Los Angeles (it’s hot here and every delivery company seems to insist on driving my packages around in a hot vehicle for about 6 hours before delivering, even if it’s an overnight package). If I’m back in the area, I’d definitely find a way to hit the local shops or farmers market that carry these cups. They’re just different enough from the commercial fare and the fact that they’re ethically sourced makes the price tag seem inconsequential.
I’m going to say that these are all natural, however, I’m not certain about the colorings used in the transfer designs on the tops, so if you’re sensitive, ask first.
For the record, as far as the raspberries go, I’m most fond of Black Raspberries.
Monday, August 29, 2011
In my recent travels abroad I picked up a lot of chocolate bars. Here’s a brief little run down of three of them:
As a little reminder, I went to Amsterdam and Cologne earlier this year. There are flavors there that just aren’t very well known in North America. One of the new flavor trends that I noticed was Absinthe (I’ve seen a little of it in the United States but its influence in The Netherlands was a lot more ubiquitous).
So when I spotted this bar from the Chocolatier Marc Antoine called Edelbitter Absinth Truffle, I though it would be a perfect item to pick up as it would probably travel very well.
The box was stiff and nicely designed with the sickly green swirls of anise & wormwood liqueur. Inside the bar was in a simple cellophane sleeve but remarkably unscathed by its journey.
The bar was big and the pieces were chunky. The dark chocolate was glossy with large reservoirs of the dark chocolate truffle filling inside. The truffle was smooth and creamy and very soft, almost like a caramel sauce. The scent was definitely on the grassy fennel side of things, even before I bit into it. The dark chocolate was smooth and bitter though had a lot of cocoa notes mixed with a sharp and tangy anise. The truffle center had a lot of licorice flavors, very soft and fluffy notes that were sweet along with a little hint of eucalyptus and some other botanicals.
I wouldn’t call it a hallucinogenic experience, but it was a wonderful, strong herbal bar that I enjoy quite a bit. There as a little alcoholic burn to it but it was more like tequila.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The package was a big, flat square, about 4.5 inches. The box was pretty and featured raised and gold embossed lettering for the logo and the image on the front of a clay oven. The chocolate is described on the front a little more puro ciccolato fondente con fichi affumicati or “pure dark chocolate with smoked figs” - so it’s the figs in it that are smoked, not the chocolate itself.
The back of the package is in a bunch of different languages and featured notices about recycling but most importantly that Cuorenero does not use any dairy products other other major allergens, that means no gluten, no eggs, no soy, no peanuts, no nuts with hard shell (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, etc.), no celery, no mustard, no sesame seeds, no sulfur dioxide, no lupines, no shellfish and no fish. On top of that, all their ingredients are GMO-free.
The ingredients were: cacao mass, sugar, cocoa butter, smoked fig pieces, sunflower lecithin and flavours.
The bar is beautiful, a thick circular slab sectioned into 16 wedges. The bar smelled like molasses, deep and sweet with a lot of notes of smoke, leather and pipe tobacco. The chocolate flavors were tangy and had notes of coffee and charcoal. The figs were little bits with the occasional seed. There were notes of dark rum, raisins and the grassy fresh notes of figs. The smoke flavors were like cognac and fine whiskey.
If you’re a chocolatier and looking for a new flavor combination, please try smoked, dried fruit in dark chocolate. Then let me know how I can buy some from you.
The bar was 60 grams (2.1 ounces) and I think I paid about $6 for it at the Cologne Chocolate Museum Gift Shop (I think it was 4 Euros). Cuorenero Website.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Zotter is a popular maker of fair trade candy bars in Austria. They’re crazy. If you think smoked figs are off the beaten path, you have not explored the uncharted wilderness of Zotter. I’ve had two of their bars before, Banana Curry and Zitrone Polenta. They’re fair trade and organic.
This was another bar that I picked up at the Cologne Chocolate Museums Gift Store (which was a phenomenal chocolate store, if you hadn’t figured that out). It’s Zotter Mandel - Rosen which is almond and rose. (I passed up the Peanuts & Chocolate bar.)
The bar is about 4.5 inches long and about 2 inches wide and weighs 70 grams (2.47 ounces). It’s thin, for a filled bar but rather dense.
Inside there are two fillings layers. The base is a creamy but rather solid almond paste and sandwiched in between two layers of that is a rose petal jelly (which seemed to have a touch of raspberry in it). This was a great flavor combination, classic and sure, a bit Victorian in sensibilities. I liked the delicate almond flavor (no screaming Amaretto here) and even the rose was light and had less of a soapy taste than some other floral flavors I’ve tried. It was fragrant and sweet with that light touch of berry to it.
It wasn’t as crazy bar but like the others I’ve profiled here, it’s unusual for American tastes. It’s not the kind of candy you can get addicted to, it’s hard to find and the flavors come in and out of production. Check out their website.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Wednesday, August 03, 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, June 10, 2011
The final Angell Organic Candy bar in my series is probably the most mainstream, it’s the Crisp Angell Organic Candy Bar. The bar is not only organic but also made with fair trade ingredients, kosher and contains no preservatives, hydrogenated oils or genetically modified organisms.
The bar is milk chocolate with a crispy creamy chocolate center according to the package. The best way I can think to describe it is a creamy milk chocolate fudge with brown rice crispies covered in milk chocolate.
The bar, like the others in the line, is a little small at 1.23 ounces but that also means it’s pretty slim on calories at only 170.
The scent is quite milky and maybe even a little malty. The creamy milk chocolate enrobing is quite nice, though definitely on the dairy side of the milk chocolate flavors, not much of a chocolate punch. The center is, as I mentioned earlier, a creamy fudge consistency. It’s not at all grainy except for those little crispy rice bits. The rice though isn’t as crispy and crunchy as I would have liked though, it was a little on the chewy side - so not quite stale tasting but still not my desired texture. If you’re a lover of the the milky flavors, this is a good bar to satisfy those cravings (it even has 4% of your daily value of calcium).
Like the other bars, this isn’t just an organic knock off of another bar that’s already on the market, it’s an original. It uses some common construction formats, but creates a taste and texture experience all its own. I appreciated that the grain of choice here was rice instead of oats, but the texture was still a problem in creating a wholly decadent experience. In the case of this bar though it’s gluten free, so those folks will appreciate a chocolate bar with some crunch. Still, they’re a bit on the expensive side, I paid $2.69 for mine, but that was at Erewhon, where everything is expensive - you should be able to get these for $2 or so.
Angell Bars website says that they have another bar called Angell Classic coming soon. There’s no description of it, but it does have a few peanuts next to it in the picture ... so I’m hoping for the ultimate peanut butter bar.
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
The Snow Angell Organic Candy Bar is white chocolate sweet and creamy coconut center. Like the previous bar I reviewed, the Dark Angell, it’s a smallish bar at 1.41 ounces which means that it’s less than 200 calories (190). It’s not vegan like the dark counterpart, but it is free from GMO products, corn syrup and artificial colors & flavors.
The white chocolate coating is real, made only five ingredients: cane sugar, whole milk, cocoa butter soy lecithin and vanilla. The center is made from tapioca syrup, oats, dried coconut, honey and coconut extract along with some other natural flavors and sea salt. (The salt isn’t organic because, well, salt is inorganic.)
The white chocolate coating is soft and creamy, more like a pudding than a chocolate. I really liked the texture and the fact that it wasn’t so sweet. The overriding flavor though is the coconut from the center. The middle isn’t quite white, it’s a little more creamy and well, oat colored. In fact, the texture is more oaty at times than coconutty. While I found the oat flavor in the Dark Angell a bit off-putting, I think the combination of oats and coconut is fantastic. The coconut absorbs any of the pasty or gummy texture that oats can bring and brings all the light nutty flavors together.
If you’ve ever wanted a white chocolate Mounds bar, this might be a good option. The center isn’t quite the same coconut experience as the usual candy store fare though, it’s far more flavorful and less sweet. It’s nice to see a line of organic bars doing their own thing instead of imitating others.
Thursday, June 02, 2011
At last there are some niche companies out there starting to make quality candy bars. Real ingredients, ethically sourced but still retaining the essence of what a candy bar should be - deliciously indulgent. Jungell Inc has introduced a new line of candy bars that still fit the mold of candy, but with a bit of a twist on the ingredients. Their new line includes three candy bars, but I’ll go with the one that I was most interested in first, the Dark Angell Organic Candy Bar.
I picked up an array of samples at ExpoWest earlier this year, but I didn’t want to write about them until I bought a real set of bars in a store.
Here’s how they describe it: Dark Angell, sophisticated and perfectly balanced. A refined combination of luxurious organic dark chocolate, wrapped around a smooth cocoa center with organic almonds for crunch. For those who prefer a more complex chocolate, the Dark Angell is the candy bar for you. Grab it. Eat it. Love it.
So let’s have a look at the self-declared specifications of this bar: made with fair trade ingredients, organic, vegan, kosher, no artificial colors or flavors, non-GMO ingredients, no preservatives, no corn syrup, low sodium and 0g of trans fats. What it does have in it is real chocolate, the first ingredient is real dark chocolate. So it looks good so far. Then it goes on: tapioca syrup, oats, almonds, dutch cocoa powder, sea salt and almond extract. That’s it!
It’s not a big bar, if you’re accustomed to Snickers or Milky Way. It’s about 3.5” long and about an inch wide. It clocks in at 1.31 ounces, which doesn’t sound like much, but nuts tend to be very filling for me.
The sheen of the bar is nice, the dark chocolate ripples and shines. It smells like chocolate, rich and deep. The flavors are quite woodsy when I bit into it. The first time I tried it, a few bites at the ExpoWest natural products expo, I didn’t know what was in the bar, so there was a cereal flavor and a sort of chew to it I couldn’t put my finger on. The center of the bar is a bit of a moist but firm truffle sort of thing, it’s chocolatey but is also studded with big almonds. In addition there’s a bit of rolled oats in there. The thing is, it’s not like they’re toasty and crisp, but more like they’re raw and can taste a little pasty.
I feel like the center of the bar would have been interesting without the oats, kind of like a creamy truffle, but maybe more like a fluffy, more chocolate nougat thing.
I love most of the bar, except for that lingering flavor of raw oats. It brought the whole thing into the realm of “nutrition bar” when I’d firmly decided that I was going to eat a candy bar that just so happened to be made with good ingredients.
The nutritional panel shows some surprising nutrition to this bar as well: 90% of your daily value of iron, 3 grams of protein, 3 grams of dietary fiber. Vegans should be excited that this is a bar that’s really no compromise, it tastes like a candy bar, there’s nothing faux about it.
So aside from the texture/taste contribution of the oats, my other misgiving about the bar is the price. I paid $2.69 for my little bar. That’s $32.85 a pound. That’s a pretty fancy chocolate price. And for that price and that many calories I really want decadent.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Tony’s Chocolonely is a rather funny name for a chocolate company. They make fair trade chocolate in the Netherlands and can be found in much of Western Europe. (I saw them in department stores in both Amsterdam and Cologne.)
The packaging is eye catching with its bold use of primary colors and large friendly typefaces.
The issue of slavery, particularly child slavery, in cacao growing regions of Africa has been well documented. You can read more on Tony’s website. The aim of Tony’s Chocolonely is to source their cacao directly in Ivory Coast and Ghana from fair trade plantations in order to create a more responsible supply chain model and provide living wages for farmers. But really, it can’t happen overnight and this sort of widespread change needs more than just niche producers, it requires the involvement of the price-conscious, major chocolate buyers like Hershey’s, ADM, Mars, Kraft, Nestle and Cargill.
The packaging of Tony’s Chocolonely is friendly and casual, and probably a lot more attractive to children than many other fair trade options out there. So it’s a great choice around a holiday when you want to give kids a treat that might include a lesson but also include, well, the actual goodness of the treat they expect. The chocolate levels are not as intense, I’d say we’re close to the family chocolate range instead of the gourmet intense end of things.
The Easter Egg range that they gave me as a sample comes in this cute little egg carton that holds a full dozen eggs, which are about 1.5” inches high - a little larger than the size of a quail’s egg.
The Milk Chocolate Eggs are quite decadent. The chocolate is definitely kid friendly, but not without its appeal to candy lovers of all ages. The bite is soft, like a Cadbury though the cacao density is much higher at 30%. The milky flavors are in the Belgian style, clean but rather thick and sticky.
The Dark Chocolate Egg has a great snap, though in this size it’s a little hard to bite. (So just let the whole thing melt in your mouth.)
The flavor profile is very mild. There are light fruity and woodsy notes, but it’s overall a very sweet chocolate. It’s a dark chocolate for children who can’t have milk products or perhaps vegans.
The Milk Chocolate Praline Eggs are probably the most luxurious of the bunch, perhaps it’s just me because this style is not as common in the United States. The milk chocolate shell looks the same but is easier to bite. They’re filled with a hazelnut paste, which is sweet and nutty ... there’s a light and fresh floral note, a little like the fresh feeling from jasmine tea. I like them, though they were really very sweet and I couldn’t eat more than one at a sitting.
For every day consumption Tony’s Chocolonely also makes milk chocolate and dark chocolate bars. It will be a wonderful day when there are more holiday and special occasion options available and this set is a good start. I’m still a little more inclined towards Green & Black’s for my ordinary chocolate needs, but for folks who want something a little sweeter or kid friendly, this might be the stuff.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.