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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Candy Bites: The Sweet, Crunchy & Creamy

Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate & Peanut ButterMilk & Peanut Butter from Ghirardelli

This was a sample from All Candy Expo that I kind of ate before finishing the photo shoot. (I got the box obviously, but never did the unwrapped version.) I also shared most of it, even though I could have easily eaten it all by myself.

It’s a handsome light milk chocolate bar that lives up to the illustration on the package. It’s thick, each little section in the bar has a creamy peanut butter meltaway center (with crushed nut chunks).

I was dubious. But this won me over. Extremely creamy, so much so that it was like the milk chocolate and peanut butter were one. It didn’t feel greasy at all, even though it was thick and rich.

I have a bunch of other Ghirardelli filled bars (from the last ACE) that I still haven’t tried, this might push me to start opening them (I promise full photography on those though).

Rating: 8 out of 10

Red Bean White RabbitRed Bean White Rabbit from Shanghai Guanshengyuan Food, Ltd

I hadn’t had any White Rabbit in a while, so when I saw that it was on sale at Cost Plus World Market, I figured when it’s $1.50 a bag is the time to give it another go. Instead I spotted this Red Bean (Azuki) version and scooped that up instead.

The wrapper has little dark red stripes on it. Inside it still has the same delicate rice paper wrapper that melts in the mouth to form a slick, gelatinous good. The milk taffy inside is a slight & natural looking pink. The red bean flavor is light and woodsy and pleasant. It seems to mellow out the sometimes sweet taffy and mixes really well with the milk flavors.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Honey MintsHoney Mints from Honey Acres. 

I picked these up at the Fancy Food Show. They look like just about any other peppermint pattie. The interesting proposition here is that the center is creamed honey with a touch of mint instead of a sugar-based fondant.

The other interesting bit about this is that the dark chocolate shell is completely unsweetened. The sweetness of the center completely balances out the could-be-bitter coating. I tried a few times to just nibble off the chocolate bits, but these are pretty small (about the size of the York Peppermint Pattie minis) and I wasn’t getting a bit enough chunk to really tell. (And as I’ve found, 100% chocolate doesn’t have to be unpalatable.) The center is smooth and a little cool on the tongue, with that beeswax taste & texture added to the mix.

It’s a great little mint. Artisan Sweets is the only place I’ve seen them for sale. But if you do come upon them, especially if you can buy only one or two, it’s an interesting combination of the musky honey tones with the mellow mint and the pop of creamy dark chocolate.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Jungle ChocolateJungle Chocolate from Yachana Gourmet

I don’t know if this is considered candy. It’s called Jungle Chocolate and I’d probably put it in the trail mix or snack category. It’s just cacao nibs, lightly glazed with sugar cane juice and then mixed with some other jungle-grown edibles. The four varieties I tried were:

  • Jungle Chocolate with Pineapple - the tangy and sweet pineapple pretty much overpowered the tender and crunchy cacao nibs. But pineapple is good fresh, canned or dried and I ate all of this.
  • Jungle Chocolate with Macadamia Nuts - as nuts go, macadamias are pretty low on my list, but there’s something about how they go with the tropical butter within the cacao nib that worked here. I still might prefer pecans, but I doubt they grow in the Amazon.
  • Jungle Chocolate with Brazil Nuts and Essence of Coffee - right below macadamias are Brazil nuts. I don’t know if I’m sensitive to them or if everyone gets a sort of buzzing feeling on their tongue & gums after eating them. But the crunch of the Brazils is the perfect complement to the cacao nibs. The coffee wasn’t too strong and gave the whole thing a refreshing feeling like a well-brewed cup of coffee.
  • Jungle Chocolate with Raisins and Coconut - this felt like the most traditional trail mix out of the bunch. I love coconut and chocolate, and this coconut was buttery and crunchy at the same time. The raisins, while small, packed a lot of flavor in there.
  • While the mixes themselves didn’t wow me, I think I’d like to just try a plain old box of lightly sweetened nibs. (Or maybe lightly caramelized.)

    The selling point here is that they don’t melt. I’ve put these through the paces. They’ve sat in the car, they’ve been in my house in the 100 degree heat. It doesn’t melt, instead, like a stew, it just makes all the flavors even better. This is chocolate that goes places that chocolate can’t go. It has all that stuff that you crave, even if it doesn’t quite have the texture.

    It’s all fair trade, vegan and all natural. It’s a little expensive, but then again, knowing that the money goes right to a sustainable project in Ecuador may make it taste even sweeter. I wouldn’t call this a replacement for chocolate, but perhaps a replacement for other snack mixes. Retail is about $3.00 to 3.50 for a 2 ounce bag (that’s well packaged - protects the product, but not overpackaged).

    Rating: 7 out of 10

    New York Cheesecake KissesLimited Edition New York Cheesecake Kisses from Hershey’s

    I finally found these at Target, hiding on the backside of a display in the Valentine’s area (well, it was the Valentine’s area, but was then the Easter area). The package looks a heckuva lot like the Vanilla Creme Kisses that I might have seen them already and just passed them by.

    Cheesecake as a “flavor” seems a little odd, but then again, so does Buttered Popcorn, Apple Pie and Chili & Chocolate, so never judge a flavor by its name.

    New York Cheesecake Kisses

    They’re, I dunno, like the Vanilla Creme, a little more tangy. I think they’re more like yogurt. Or yellow birthday cake.

    It doesn’t matter much to me, this Kiss has brought back that limited edition weariness that I experience from time to time. I haven’t been fond of any of the more subtle filled Kisses. While I like subtle and respectful balances in my haut chocolate, I kind of like my mass manufactured stuff loud & proud. I’ve had them sitting in my desk for months and I think that pretty much sums up how I felt about them. I could take them or leave them, but mostly I left them.

    Rating: 5 out of 10

    Related Candies

    1. Ghirardelli Intense Dark
    2. Hershey’s Mint Truffle Kisses
    3. KitKat Tsubu Ichigo and Hershey’s Strawberries ‘n’ Creme
    4. Scharffen Berger - Cacao Nibs
    5. York Pinkermint Patties
    6. White Rabbit

    POSTED BY Cybele AT 11:01 am     All NaturalCandyReviewGhirardelliHershey'sCaffeinatedChocolateCoffeeEthically SourcedLimited EditionNibsNutsPeanuts5-Pleasant6-Tempting7-Worth It8-TastyUnited StatesTargetComments (9)

    Thursday, April 3, 2008

    3400 Phinney: Fig, Fennel & Almond and Hazelnut Crunch

    Theo 3400 Phinney - New BarsTheo Chocolate, the only all Fair Trade and Organic chocolate company that makes their confections from bean to bar in the United States is growing. This year they added two new bars to their 3400 Phinney line, bringing the total to four milk chocolate bars and four dark chocolate bars.

    They are all a standard format of two ounces in four sections and feature artwork on the wrapper by Kitten Chops.

    3400 Phinney - Fig, Fennel & Almond in 65% Dark

    I picked my full-sized samples of the new bars at the Natural Products Expo last month. The Fig, Fennel & Almond in 65% Dark was the one I was most looking forward to.

    Let’s see, favorite things:

    Figs? I never knew fig love until I had my own tree. Check!

    Fennel? Love it in salads, prefer licorice in candy. Check!

    Almonds? I eat them every day. Check!

    65% Dark Chocolate? Not too dark, not too dry is the way I like it. Check!

    Upon first bite this was too dark, too complex, kind of a mess. But like some Philip Glass piece, the spareness of each note eventually started making music.

    It took about half the bar, but I started liking it more and more. The fennel stands out in the scent of the bar, a light and grassy licorice or anise note. Upon letting a bite melt it becomes a bit acidic, a little tangy and rather like raisins, but fresher. Not quite figgy but the seeds help. Later the little bits of crushed almonds pull it all back together.

    The chocolate is dry and not quite as buttery as I’d like for a “candy bar” but for a chocolate bar, it has a nice bitter component that keeps the figs from feeling to sticky sweet. Still, it requires a bit too much effort for me to just eat the bar.

    Rating: 6 out of 10

    3400 Phinney Hazelnut Crunch in Milk Chocolate

    I had a very hard time with this bar ... I have a very hard time not eating it all before I finished writing this review.

    It’s simply called Hazelnut Crunch Milk Chocolate.

    It smells hazelnutty, and has little bits of crushed hazelnuts and a toffee crunch mixed into the creamy and rather dark milk chocolate.

    The toffee bits are what makes this really fabulous. They’re very salty (in fact, there’s a lot of salt in this bar: 140 mgs) but man, each little milligram makes a little jolt of electrical energy delivering those flavors right to the pleasure centers of my brain.

    Rating: 9 out of 10

    Where I had trouble with the FF&A, the Hazelnut Crunch was one I couldn’t believe I ate the whole thing when it was gone. It’s a perfect afternoon bar, not too filling, not too sickly sweet and the little dose of nuts makes it feel very satisfying. In fact, I’d probably eat it anytime, anywhere ... but the Fig, Fennel & Almond would definitely need to be the kind of bar where I’d need to be in the mood.

    Theo’s 3400 Phinney line is now Kosher (dairy).

    Related Candies

    1. Zotter Candy Bars
    2. Theo Confections
    3. Vosges Haut-Chocolate
    4. Figamajigs
    Name: 3400 Phinney: Fig, Fennel & Almond and Hazelnut Crunch
      RATING:
    • 10 SUPERB
    • 9 YUMMY
    • 8 TASTY
    • 7 WORTH IT
    • 6 TEMPTING
    • 5 PLEASANT
    • 4 BENIGN
    • 3 UNAPPEALING
    • 2 APPALLING
    • 1 INEDIBLE
    Brand: Theo Chocolate
    Place Purchased: samples from ExpoWest
    Price: $3.25 retail
    Size: 2 ounces
    Calories per ounce: 140 & 165
    Categories: Chocolate, Nuts, Toffee, United States, Theo, Kosher, Fair Trade, Organic, All-Natural

    POSTED BY Cybele AT 11:22 am     Comments (10)

    Friday, February 29, 2008

    Upscale Hollow Chocolate: Michel Cluizel & Hotel Chocolat

    Jacques Torres BunniesThough the standard big item in an Easter basket is a chocolate bunny, there’s nothing in the books that says that is must be a bunny. In fact, many companies make things like eggs (often filled with other chocolate or confectionery items), chicks, ducks, filled baskets, geese and some folks even do crosses.

    This week I looked at four different options that could be purchased at just about any drug store or discount retailer: R.M. Palmer, Wonka, Russell Stover & Lindt, though this isn’t the first time I’ve reviewed hollow chocolate items.

    Two years ago I visited Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven, and if you were ever looking for a Tiffany-style experience for Easter baskets, that’d be the place. You can get a hollow chocolate bunny the size of a toddler. (Well, toddlers aren’t hollow.)

    imageOddly enough at this writing there’s nothing on the Jacques Torres website that mentions anything about the impending holiday (I always figured Lent was the classic time to display Easter goodies).

    So I thought I’d wrap up the week with two other devilish hollow chocolate items, though they’re not exactly for Easter, they give a good sense of some more pricey items that are out there.

    Michel Cluizel Chocolate GnomeMilk Chocolate Gnome by Michel Cluizel with a white chocolate beard - I was sent this as a sample a few days before Christmas along with some other items that I’d already tried (the single origin tasting kit, being one of them).

    Cluizel is known as one of the few bean to bar to bonbon companies in the world, so they have exclusive control over everything from the quality of the beans to the molding and packaging of the product. This fellow came in a flat bottomed clear bag and in perfect condition. He’s made with a dark milk chocolate that is tempered to perfection. It has a nice milky scent and perfect snap when I bit the top of his hat off.

    The chocolate itself isn’t very thick at the top but moreso as I got down to his little feet. The chocolate is sweet, perhaps a little too much for me, but extremely creamy with a well balanced chocolate flavor.

    I also had a white chocolate flat snowman with a candied orange peel scarf and a nose and buttons made from chocolate pearls. The white chocolate was indeed buttery and sweet with wonderful vanilla notes.

    I don’t know what you can get from Cluizel in the States via the web, but a visit to their NYC shop or any of their French locations would probably be divine. The closest item I can find online right now is in the Chocosphere “Bargain Basement”.

    Rating: 7 out of 10

    Hotel Chocolat - PenguinChocolate Penguin from Hotel Chocolat - again, just before Christmas I got a package of some items from Hotel Chocolate which included some things that I couldn’t eat because of walnuts (okay, I actually ate one of them and besides being very uncomfortable from a swollen throat I was mostly cross).

    The mostly milk hollow figure is a bit thicker than the Cluizel. It’s nicely formed and decorated in the shape of a penguin with both dark and white chocolate accents.

    The Hotel Chocolat dark chocolate is 40%, which is really high in cacao for a milk. It’s very creamy with a strong dairy component, good malty tones and a mellow chocolatey base.

    Hotel Chocolat is new to the States, but has a strong following in the UK (see the coverage at Chocablog for more reviews). They source their chocolate ethically and use natural ingredients. They don’t actually have any chocolate bunnies here in the States, but a really attractive “engraved egg” that’s either hollow or filled with an assortment of their chocolates. Their UK assortment is much wider (and has a great mix of elegance and casual kookiness.)

    Rating: 7 out of 10

    My hollow chocolate adventures are not over, I’m still planning on getting some from See’s (which uses Guittard milk and dark chocolate), Vosges, L.A. Burdick, Lake Champlain among others.

    Related Candies

    1. Hotel Chocolat Crostini Fruit & Nut Slab
    2. Godiva Easter Eggs
    3. See’s Egg Quartet
    4. CocoaBella “World’s Best Box”
    5. Michel Cluizel Les 1ers Crus de Plantation

    POSTED BY Cybele AT 8:53 am     CandyReviewEasterMichel CluizelChocolateEthically SourcedNovelty/Toy7-Worth ItFranceUnited KingdomComments (10)

    Thursday, January 3, 2008

    Candy Dump 2008 part 2

    KitKat Peanut ButterI have lots more candy to tell you about that I haven’t done full reviews for. Here’s a half dozen of them.

    First is the Nestle KitKat Peanut Butter from Canada. The format on this bar is the single chunky finger. This is actually larger at 1.76 ounces than the American single finger bar which is 1.59 ounces. I found this bar at Mel & Rose’s Wine & Liquors on Melrose Ave a month ago.

    The bar is thick and chunky but follows the standard KitKat formula.

    Peanut Butter KitKat

    There are wafers with cream filling then a thick stripe of peanut butter all covered in milk chocolate.

    The package smelled strongly of raw peanuts when I opened it. Roasted peanuts have a deep and smoky tone to them, this was that higher octave scent, like freshly snapped peas mixed with peanuts.

    The crunch of the bar was good, but there’s definitely a lot of chocolate in operation here. The peanut butter stripe is great. It’s very flavorful despite being so thin. It’s not sweetened at all, in fact it’s pretty salty. I preferred eating this bar like I eat most KitKats. I nibble off both ends of chocolate, then all the chocolate off the sides. Then I eat the less-chocolatey remains.

    It was really good and I think I’d buy this if I could find it at my local store. Far more satisfying than a regular KitKat (4 grams of protein - one more than a regular) and not nearly as sweet.

    Rating: 7 out of 10

    Das  Caramelini - Ginger & CoffeeDas Caramelini has a couple of new flavors. Most of the other candy bloggers also go free samples from Katie Das and covered it far quicker than I did, so I didn’t put down my thoughts right away.

    She sent me Ginger & Pistachio which I already reviewed and loved last spring. The new-to-me flavor was Cafe Cortado. It’s a vanilla caramel with coffee.

    Unfortunately I’m not keen on coffee beans in my food. It might be that I have a problem with caffeine or it might be that I don’t care for the texture, but these just didn’t do it for me. I tried a few, but I was very aware that I needed to eat them before noon (as I don’t drink coffee after that) which always made me feel pressured.

    The great news though is that the wrapping of the caramels has been changed to a heavier waxed paper. They no longer stick to the paper and are far easier to keep popping in your mouth. The box looks deceptively small but holds a quarter of a pound of rich, boiled sugar & butter. You can order direct on their website for about $6.99 a box (less if you order more).

    Rating: 8 out of 10

    Kaon CitrusI ordered these Meiji Kaon Citrus from JBox.com last fall. I wasn’t quite sure what they were, but citrus and gummi combined with a brand like Meiji and I figured I could take a chance.

    They’re not a transparent gummi, instead they’re opaque and matte. They’re still very soft and bouncy. They have a distinct bite, not a rubbery as a German gummi. The thing that was most clear was that this is a real fruit product. The texture feels a bit like pear, there’s a slight grain to it. Then there were a few bits of zest in there.

    The flavor is predominantly tangerine with a little dollop of grapefruit & lemon in there for good measure. Completely addictive, I ordered two bags and ate both. They’re small bags though at only 35 grams each. I can’t remember how much I paid for them and of course JBox doesn’t have them on their site right now. (Here’s the official webpage.) See Sera’s review.

    Rating: 8 out of 10

    HalvaI picked up these little beauties at the All Candy Expo as samples, but I still haven’t found them in stores.

    The Traditional Halva bars from Sultan’s Finest Foods are little .71 ounce bits of plain halva. They’re smooth and creamy with a strong sesame flavor to them.

    It’s the perfect portion size, if only I can find them somewhere. These are made in Tunisia, and may be the first Tunisian candy mentioned on the blog! They’re imported by Agora International and come in a sugar free version as well. I think these sorts of sesame snacks are ideal, especially for hot weather. It’s creamy and filling, not too sweet and of course does better in hot weather than chocolate.

    Rating: 7 out of 10

    Sencha Green Tea MintsI’ve seen the Sencha Green Tea Mints at stores for years. I just couldn’t get my brain around them for the longest time. I like a mint that has some zazz to it, and the idea of green tea in a mint seemed to defeat the purpose.

    These were sample packages that I picked up at ExpoWest which is for natural products. They’re usually sold in little maroon or dark colored tins with a clear top. These compressed candies are made from xylitol & sorbitol, which are natural sugar alcohols. They have a cool feeling on the tongue (and shouldn’t be consumed in large quantities because of some digestive troubles they can cause) and a subtle flavor.

    The three flavors I got were: Delicate Pear, which is just slightly fruity and sweet. Green Tea was subtle and while fresh tasting, didn’t leave that minty burn.
    Lively Lemongrass was, well, lightly lemon, but not quite lively.

    The tea ingredients are fair trade and xylitol is supposed to be a pretty good base for gum & mints (not bad for your teeth, but bad for dogs). It’s hard to find sugar free mints that don’t have artificial sweeteners in them, so if you’re looking for something that fits that niche, these might be for you.

    Rating: 5 out of 10

    Stained Glass Candy

    I’m very late with my write up on Stained Glass Candy. I ordered it online about a year ago. I expected it to be pretty little hexagonal disks of candy (about the size of a quarter), but the photography on their website didn’t prepare me at all for how lovely this stuff was.

    Though it’s expensive for hard candy at $12.95 a pound (when you order 2 pounds), I figured I’d give it a try. The cool thing is that you can custom design your flavor mix, so I chose one pound of herbs & spices: cinnamon, hot cinnamon, wintergreen and anise. The second pound I did as fruits: banana, orange, lemon and pineapple.

    Each piece came sealed in a little clear plastic sleeve with the name of the flavor printed on it. This was helpful as I’d ordered both cinnamon and hot cinnamon (definitely a difference!). The shapes were lovely, the colors clear (except for banana), distinctive and tasty. I loved the pineapple and anise especially.

    The downside is that they’re a little softer than some hard candies, so they either need to be stored in a fridge to keep them from losing their shape eventually or just eaten quickly. The softness also means that they stick to teeth and can’t be crunched. But I kind of like slowly shaping them to the roof of my mouth.

    I probably wouldn’t order these again unless I had a special need for them like a party or something. They’d make nice wedding favors or for a shower or something. But at five times the price of regular hard candy, it’d have to be a very special occasion or a very special flavor.

    Rating: 6 out of 10

    Related Candies

    1. VerMints
    2. Shigekix Aha! Brain (Citrus)
    3. St. Claire’s Organic Mints & Tarts
    4. HiCHEW Yuzu & Valencia
    5. KitKat Caramel
    6. Halvah and Turkish Delight

    POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:09 am     All NaturalCandyReviewMeijiNestleCaramelChocolateCinnamonCoffeeCookieEthically SourcedGingerGummi CandyKitKatMintsNutsPeanuts5-Pleasant6-Tempting7-Worth It8-TastyCanadaJapanUnited StatesComments (9)

    Wednesday, January 2, 2008

    Zotter Candy Bars

    Zotter BarsSomewhere between the candy bar and the fine boxed chocolates is a strange no-man’s land known as the gourmet candy bar. Austria’s Zotter is one of those companies occupying that niche. They not only make innovative flavor combinations, but their products are also organic and Fair Trade certified.

    I love the idea of Fair Trade. Everyone should get a living wage (or more!) for making candy. No one needs candy, so if we’re going to spend money on it, we certainly shouldn’t be contributing to sweat shops or slavery. That said, these are very expensive at $8 a bar, so it’s nice to know that the wealth I’m imparting to Zotter is being spread around.

    Zotter Citron & Polenta BarThe packaging is simple. The bars are wrapped in foil and have a nicely designed sleeve. Each bar has its own distinctive artwork. On top of that there are a lot of different bars. At any given moment there could be 60 listed on their website. I found these at Fog City News in San Francisco, but have also seen them in the Bay Area at The Candy Store, Miette Confisiere and Bittersweet Cafe in Oakland. (Each store had a slightly different selection.)

    The bars are absolutely gorgeous. I was afraid mine would be dented or nicked from the trip, but right out of the package they were pristine and fresh.

    They’re rather flat and the chocolate enrobing is very thin (but glossy). The proportions of the filling and the chocolate is ideal ... these bars are about the filling not the chocolate.

    Zotter Citron & Polenta BarThe first bar I tried was the Zitrone + Polenta. I love polenta/grits/cornmeal mush and of course anything citrus is a bonus in my book.

    I was worried that the center would be stiff and grainy, instead it has a creamy snap to it with a slight semolina grain to it. The citrus is tangy and not very zesty. The chocolate coating is 70% and provides a good bittersweet counterpoint to the center.

    Zotter Banana & Curry Bar

    The second bar I picked out was Banana Curry. The banana notes were strong and tasted like a fresh mash of super-ripe bananas. It was sweet and rich and almost like a pudding or creme brulee, but a little thicker with a slight chew. I never did get much of a curry note from the whole thing but I honestly didn’t miss it. Yes, I was promised curry, but what I got was pretty yummy in its own right.

    If you’re looking for adventurous and inventive flavor combinations with your politically correct candy, well Zotter might be for you. At $8 for a 2.5 ounce bar (over $50 a pound), it’s like buying a couple of fine upscale chocolates from Recchiuti, Vosges, Charles Chocolates, CocoaVino, Chuao or Kee’s. They’re not easy to find in person but they do have a huge variety of flavors. I’m glad I gave them a try, but perhaps I’m more cheap than socially responsible, I just can’t spend that much on a candy bar without rationalizing it as being “for the blog.”

    Related Candies

    1. Sjaak’s Vegan Chocolate Assortment
    2. Theo 3400 Phinney Bars
    3. Valerie Lemon Hazelnut Nougat
    4. Endangered Species: Eco-Rounds
    5. CocoaVino
    Name: Zitrone + Polenta and Banana Curry Bars
      RATING:
    • 10 SUPERB
    • 9 YUMMY
    • 8 TASTY
    • 7 WORTH IT
    • 6 TEMPTING
    • 5 PLEASANT
    • 4 BENIGN
    • 3 UNAPPEALING
    • 2 APPALLING
    • 1 INEDIBLE
    Brand: Zotter
    Place Purchased: Fog City News (San Francisco)
    Price: $8.00
    Size: 2.5 ounces
    Calories per ounce: unknown
    Categories: Chocolate, Fair Trade, Organic, Fair Trade

    POSTED BY Cybele AT 10:12 am     Comments (7)

    Friday, December 21, 2007

    Sjaak’s Vegan Chocolate Assortment

    Sjaak's Organic & Vegan Chocolate AssortmentThere’s hardly anyone who can argue politically with the qualifications of Sjaak’s Organic Chocolate Assortment. It’s organic, it’s fair trade certified and even vegan! (For locovores, it’s also made in California.)

    I first visited Sjaak’s chocolate shop when I lived in Eureka, CA back when I was in college. (I didn’t frequent the shop since I worked for a rival shop down the street.) My brother even lived in an apartment above the shop for some years and ended up becoming a friend of the family.

    Flash forward eighteen years and now I see what I thought was just a little local chocolatier at the Fancy Food Show ... and then at Whole Foods!

    Sjaak's Vegan Chocolate Assortment

    The packaging isn’t the most exciting part about these chocolates, it’s an ordinary green box with gold lettering and a little window so you can peek at half of the chocolates. Inside is a gold plastic tray with each of the candies in its own fluted paper cup. Out of the box they’re quite attractive.

    The key on the back reveals what each is. In my assortment I had: Coffee Truffle, Almond Creme, Raspberry Truffle, Pecan Caramel, English Toffee, Solid Dark Chocolate, Almond Truffle, Hazelnut Creme and Peanut Caramel. Instead of dairy fats Sjaak’s opts for soy milk, palm oil and sunflower oil.

    I shared this box with Bronwen, my local vegan taster, so she may pipe up down in the comments with her thoughts.

    Solid Dark Chocolate - I thought this was a good place to start. Most good dark chocolate is vegan, so this is a no brainer. There were two little medallions molded with a daisy on the front and wrapped in foil. The chocolate is rather sweet and not terribly rich and dark. If you’re a milk chocolate fan, this is probably a good place to start with dark.

    Peanut Caramel - I was curious what a caramel would be without butter and milk and while this didn’t have that buttery smooth taste, it was very nice. It reminded me of a good quality Goldenberg’s Peanut Chew (which also has no butter in it). The peanuts and the dark chew of the caramelized sugar and the sweet chocolate went well together. It was kind of a charcoal note to the roasted peanuts, but that brought a richness to it, almost like coffee.

    English Toffee - I thought this would be an actual hard toffee, instead it was a truffle creme with little caramelized sugar bits in it. It was an enjoyable texture combination, like many of the pralines that I’ve had lately. The creme of the center was a little thin feeling on the tongue, mostly because there’s nothing like butterfat for a rich taste (mmmm, cholesterol).

    Pecan Caramel - pretty much a pecan version of the Peanut Caramel, this was pretty darn good. I could eat a whole box of these. The lack of butter was more than made up for with the woodsy pecan flavors and crunch.

    Almond Truffle - this was the first truffle I tried. The powdered sugar coating kind of put me off, as I thought it started the whole thing off very sweet. The truffle center is very smooth, but again, it feels thin and watery when it melts, it’s just missing some deep complexity that the dairy brings to the combination.

    Coffee Truffle - the stronger flavors and the cocoa dusting made this a darker and richer tasting truffle. The center was smooth and melted quickly, thus giving up the coffee notes very quickly but dissipating. I could have used a stronger coffee kick or a dark chocolate.

    It’s really nice to see someone trying to get all the elements into their chocolate line. The box was fresh and each piece looked great. They were also very generous pieces, oddly enough, one of the better values at Whole Foods when it comes to their politically correct candies ($41.25 a pound). If you’re lactose intolerant but enjoy fine chocolates, this might be the best option out there (though beware, the box warns that they do share equipment that processes dairy so it’s not for those with severe allergies). I think I’d still opt for butterier cousins, so I’ll have to give their regular line another try here sometime.

    Related Candies

    1. Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Chocolate Truffles
    2. Pure Fun & Yummy Earth Organic Hard Candies
    3. Theo Confections
    4. Rice Milk Chocolate Bars
    5. Equal Exchange Chocolate
    Name: Sjaak's Organic & Vegan Chocolate Assortment
      RATING:
    • 10 SUPERB
    • 9 YUMMY
    • 8 TASTY
    • 7 WORTH IT
    • 6 TEMPTING
    • 5 PLEASANT
    • 4 BENIGN
    • 3 UNAPPEALING
    • 2 APPALLING
    • 1 INEDIBLE
    Brand: Sjaak's
    Place Purchased: Whole Foods (Pasadena)
    Price: $11.99
    Size: 4.65 ounces
    Calories per ounce: 151
    Categories: Chocolate, Nuts, Peanut, Chew, United States, All Natural, Organic, Fair Trade, Chocolatier

    POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:05 am     Comments (7)

    Wednesday, December 12, 2007

    Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Chocolate Truffles

    Trader Joe's Fair Trade TrufflesTrader Joe’s always has an interesting assortment of candies and sweet goodies around the holidays. But without brand names (and previous years) to guide you, how do you know what’s good ... or even what’s inside the box? I’ll devote the rest of the week to the Trader Joe’s hostess gifts.

    First up is Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Chocolate Truffles because nothing says thank you for having me in your home than not oppressing people six thousand miles away. It frees you up to drink in celebration instead of out of guilt!

    This box is certified by Equi-Trade as commerce equitable! The box looks kind of like a take out container, with pretty amber and brown African designs. Inside are two layers. There are 14 truffles in five flavors (Spicy Hot Chocolate gets shorted with only two of those, three of each of the others).

    Trader Joe's Fair Trade Truffles

    Double Dark - these were quite nice looking. The 70% dark chocolate coating is a little on the acidic and “high note” side, but is buttery smooth and on its own has a slightly dry finish. The ganache center is melty-smooth. It’s firm when bitten in half, but melts quickly. It has similar flavors as the shell, giving the whole truffle a consistent flavor, with the only difference in the textures.

    Trader Joe's Fair Trade TrufflesField Raspberry - this one was easy to pick out from the rest, the dark chocolate shell had little raspberry bumps on the top. I was kind of surprised at the pink color of the filling. It’s a light ganache, not quite white chocolate. Sweet, tangy and very much an authentic raspberry flavor. It overpowered the dark chocolate, but there were other, more chocolatey experiences in the box.

    Cappuccino - has a milk chocolate shell with a little cap of white chocolate. It’s sweet and has a nice creamy milk chocolate ganache center. It’s more firm than the raspberry one. The coffee notes are a little, well, coffee-ish instead of true rounded coffee. But then again cappuccino is often as much about hot milk as it is about espresso. This has nice milky flavors in it as well.

    Spicy Hot Chocolate - it’s a very pretty truffle. A glossy dark chocolate shell and a spiced dark chocolate center. However, the spices gave this more of a woodsy flavor reminiscent of cupboards and cardboard than warm chili. It was smooth, but I was glad when I got rid of these two and they stopped infecting the others with that kind-of-sour spicy note.

    Creamy Milk - the milk chocolate shell has a strong dairy component reminiscent of fine Swiss chocolate. It’s a creamy smooth shell with an achingly silky ganache center. There’s not a hint of grain in here, though it is a bit sweet it never becomes sticky or cloying.

    As a gift, the packaging is okay, it does communicate the fair trade aspects, which I’m guessing is one of its biggest selling points. It’s nice and compact, but not as easy to just open it up and dig in because it’s double-deckered (and the plain truffles are on the bottom, not all mixed up). The cream “label sleeve” in the center of the box slides off and then it actually looks much better (that’s where all the nutrition facts are). As far as price goes, $7 for six ounces of fair trade chocolate with all-natural ingredients is pretty freak-tacularly good. They’re not the best truffles I’ve had, but for the price (less than $20 a pound) they’re certainly an incredible value and should get you kudos when given as a gift or served to guests.

    These were made in Canada. (I suspect that they’re made by Terra Nostra, seeing how there aren’t that many Equi-Trade chocolate companies in Canada.)

    Related Candies

    1. Terra Nostra Pocket Bars
    2. Endangered Species: Eco-Rounds
    3. Theo Confections
    4. CocoaVino
    Name: Fair Trade Chocolate Truffles
      RATING:
    • 10 SUPERB
    • 9 YUMMY
    • 8 TASTY
    • 7 WORTH IT
    • 6 TEMPTING
    • 5 PLEASANT
    • 4 BENIGN
    • 3 UNAPPEALING
    • 2 APPALLING
    • 1 INEDIBLE
    Brand: Trader Joe's
    Place Purchased: Trader Joe's (Silverlake)
    Price: $6.99
    Size: 6 ounces
    Calories per ounce: 157
    Categories: Chocolate, Canada, Trader Joe's, Christmas, Fair Trade

    POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:32 am     Comments (9)

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007

    Hotel Chocolat Crostini Fruit & Nut Slab

    Crostini Fruit & NutFor at least a year I’ve been reading about Hotel Chocolat on Chocablog. The products seemed inventive, if a little over the top. But the company story, the fact that they’re bean to bar and pride themselves on sourcing their chocolate ethically is pretty compelling. While I love many of the fair trade chocolates that I try, I really want some chocolate candy sometimes.

    Hotel Chocolat contacted me a couple of months ago with the news that they were opening a webstore in the US. So I could get my own taste of their product line. At first they offered to send me a sample package with their Peepsters, which were little slabs of chocolate with items mixed in. For some reason that wasn’t possible and they up and sent me the Crostini Fruit & Nut Slab and a bag of Macadamia Turtles. (Neither of these items are available on their website.)

    The American website focuses on images of folks with great skin using chocolate as seduction (probably successfully since by the time you get to the Christmas chocolate there’s one image that shows the “couple” with a small child). Their products seem designed to entice with sensuality and abundance. Instead of teensy pieces with cute little images molded into them or imprinted on the top, Hotel Chocolat goes whole hog with clear plastic packages that show off vast real estate of chocolate. Images on the website reinforce this with couples sharing bites of bars of chocolate larger than their head.

    Crostini Fruit & Nut (Milk)

    While the marketing of their products doesn’t quite mesh with my demographic, I am certainly interested in quality and flavor/texture combinations. I also enjoy innovative styling and packaging.

    The Slab of Chocolate comes in a black paper package with a clear plastic front and a carrying handle (though be aware that the package opens on the bottom ... so reseal it completely before swinging it around). A little longer than a size of A4 paper, this is a substantial piece of chocolate. Clocking in at 500 grams (17.5 ounces) the abundance is a selling point.

    This beefy slab had some uneven distribution of the mix-ins. It includes: cranberries, sultanas, crunchy crostini, almonds and hazelnuts. (You can see in the photo that the corners are sadly lacking in inclusions. While this gives it an artisan quality, it also meant that sometimes I had to break off more pieces in order to get to the ones with the “stuff.”

    At first I was disappointed that they sent me milk chocolate products, but this is pretty dark milk. According to the package it’s 50% cocoa solids and 20% milk. It has an authentic milkiness to it (none of that powdered dairy tastes). It’s middle of the road as chocolate flavors go, not terribly complex, just good chocolatey-chocolate. My candy dream! A nice melt, not too sweet and a good complement to the tangy sultanas & cranberries. The hazelnuts were great, the almond slivers were few and far between but the crostini were fun when I encountered them.

    The retail on this product is $25 plus shipping. Not too bad for an upscale chocolate bar.

    Macadamia TurtlesThe other product they included was a bag of these cute little Macadamia Turtles. I love turtles! Caramel and nuts are a fantastic combination.

    But wait a second ... these aren’t American-style turtles. There’s no caramel in there. Just a macadamia nut at the center and some crisps in the milk chocolate. The whole thing does look rather like a turtle though.

    After I got over my resistance to them because of the name, they were fun. The same high cacao milk chocolate, a good bit of crunch and then the fresh macadamias. (I would probably opt for another nut in the future though.)

    I’m certainly curious to give some of the other Hotel Chocolat items a try, their gift packages look especially interesting. (They’ve timed their launch for the winter Holidays.) I don’t know if I’d buy the slab though, it’s an awful lot of one thing and I gravitate more towards variety when trying a new brand. It’s certainly an impressive looking gift though! The shipping box was great, nicely packaged for the warmish weather, I have to mention that because some companies just don’t “get” how to ship chocolate products to Los Angeles.

    The package says that the product is suitable for vegetarians and is alcohol free.

    More on the Hotel Chocolat expansion into the US market here.

    Related Candies

    1. Charles Chocolates Bars
    2. Chuao Chocolatier
    3. Jacques Torres
    4. MarieBelle Chocolates
    5. Scharffen Berger - Cacao Nibs
    Name: Crostini Fruit & Nut Slab of Chocolate
      RATING:
    • 10 SUPERB
    • 9 YUMMY
    • 8 TASTY
    • 7 WORTH IT
    • 6 TEMPTING
    • 5 PLEASANT
    • 4 BENIGN
    • 3 UNAPPEALING
    • 2 APPALLING
    • 1 INEDIBLE
    Brand: Hotel Chocolat
    Place Purchased: samples from Hotel Chocolat
    Price: $25
    Size: 17.5 ounces
    Calories per ounce: 156
    Categories: Chocolate, Nuts, Cookie, Cookie, United Kingdom

    POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:36 am     Comments (9)

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    Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.

     

     

     

     

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    • 10 Candies that Shouldn’t Be So Disappointing

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