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Ethically Sourced

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)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Terra Nostra Pocket Bars

imageTerra Nostra is a favorite chocolate brand of mine. I know, I’ve never written about their bars before. I’ve been buying the Organic Dark Chocolate with Pecans and Raisins since I first saw it at Trader Joe’s ... I’m guessing at least six years ago. I was never a fan of chocolate and raisins until I met Trader Joe and he changed my mind with his wonderful dark chocolate covered raisins in a tub. With that in mind, I gave that bar a try, drawn by the pecans and dark chocolate and pretty well sold on the addition of the tangy, chewy raisins.

It’s not the most complex bar in the world, but it’s a good all around contender when it comes to satisfaction. My biggest problem with it? It’s too big. Yes, I know that the 3.5 ounce size is pretty popular when it comes to premium bars, but it’s just too big for me to finish in one sitting and I want a lot of variety in my life.

Terra NostraImagine my pleasure at seeing that Terra Nostra is bring out a new line of “Pocket Bars”. At only 1.5 ounces, which means a nice sized portion of chocolate, and they even come with a little zazz to make them more like candy bars.

Each bar is four sections, slightly domed, for most of them to accommodate a filling of some sort.

Creamy Caramel in Satin Milk Chocolate - this was an excellent bar, far superior to most other single-serve caramel bars I’ve had. The milk chocolate is rich, creamy and has a lot of the complex dairy flavors to it. The caramel, though rather syrupy is salty and smooth with a pretty good hit of butter to it. (7 out of 10)

Creamy Caramel in 60% Dark Robust Chocolate - this was a nice bar! The dark chocolate is robust, just like they say, with some coffee notes that set off the salty, sweet and gooey caramel center. I’d prefer a caramel that wasn’t quite so gooey (think Caramello) and it does have a little bit of a grain to it. The whole thing comes together nicely. (7 out of 10)

Terra NostraGoji Berries and Pink Himalayan Mineral Sea Salt in 73% Dark Chocolate - this one took away all the fun of being a candy bar and injected a bunch of trendy items. Goji berries are also known as wolfberries; they’re little red berries (related to tomatoes and deadly nightshade) about the size of a peanut, they’re always sold dried. Goji berries tangy, kind of dry and leathery; though they do have some distinctive flavors, but they’re also really fibery. I’m often left with some piece that feels like a wad of chewed paper - really, I shouldn’t have to spit bits of my chocolate bar out. The chocolate itself doesn’t taste salty, just less sweet (but it’s hard to do a one for one comparison with the others since this is the only 73% dark bar in the range). Honestly, this bar just clicked with a bunch of my pet peeves about trendy foods ... if you want to read something really fun, try this piece from the Sydney Morning Herald about the goji berry. (5 out of 10)

Pomegranate Truffle - a base of 60% cacao dark chocolate has a rich chocolate truffle filling flavored with pomegranate. The dark chocolate is creamy, but not too dark or dry. The truffle center is a light and creamy truffle, not greasy but smooth and of course with a tangy & berry bite of pomegranate. The pomegranate kind of overwhelms most of the chocolate flavors, but blends so well with the texture. (8 out of 10)

All the bars are certified organic ... not that it makes them healthy or anything. The Pomegranate Truffle and Goji Berry dark bars are suitable for vegans, however they are made on machinery that also processes dairy (and peanuts, soy and tree nuts). Terra Nostra also participates in Equi-Trade programs, though their bars are not specifically certified Fair Trade. They’re fun little bars and if presented with an array of commercial mass-produced bars and these, if price is not the deciding factor, you might want to give them a try.

(Top photo of Robust Dark with Raisins & Pecans courtesy of Terra Nostra)

Related Candies

  1. Theo 3400 Phinney Bars
  2. Rice Milk Chocolate Bars
  3. Equal Exchange: Espresso, Mint & Nibs
  4. Dagoba Hazelnut
  5. Thompson’s Organic Chocolate
Name: Creamy Caramel, Pomegranate Truffle & Goji Berries with Pink Himalayan Sea Salt Bars
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Terra Nostra Chocolate
Place Purchased: samples from All Candy Expo
Price: unknown
Size: 1.5 ounces
Calories per ounce: 127-154
Categories: Chocolate, Caramel, Canada, Terra Nostra, Organic, Kosher

POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:42 am     Comments (4)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

VerMints

The mint market is well, full of mints. So what’s a company gonna do to distinguish themselves from the crowded field? Ver thinks it’s hit on the right balance of novelty, quality and qualifications. Their line of six different flavors are vegan, Kosher and gluten free, nut free and all-natural (and featuring many organic ingredients).

vermints-peppermintVer containers are cute little steel tins that are easy to open and close and feature eye-catching designs that reflect the flavors inside.

The blue tin was predictably Peppermint, their original flavor. Unlike a mint like Altoids, these aren’t blindingly strong. Just simply, well, mints. The texture is pleasant. Not chalky, but a little crumbly but sufficiently dense. The intensity of the mint grows (though sometimes one mint may be stronger than another) as it dissolves and leaves a breath-freshening coolness when it’s gone.

vermints-wintermintWinterMint is what I’m guessing is wintergreen since it features wintergreen oil in the ingredients. I think wintergreen flavor is undervalued in our culture and I blame Pepto Bismol for giving us the association of wintergreen with being sick. (Some additional blame goes to Ben Gay for making us think of locker-rooms and old people.) Upon reading a little more on the subject, wintergreen is not to be taken lightly as it can be toxic in very large doses, which you really can’t achieve with a tin.

This was like one of those big Canada pink mints (wintergreen is also called Canada mint), but not as chalky. Smooth and peppery, I enjoyed these quite a bit. There were also little bits of real peppermint leaves in the pastilles.

vermints-gingerWith my motion sickness difficulties I tend to eat a lot of Ginger candies. I like to strike a balance between their spiciness, the amount of actual ginger in the candy and of course the overall taste. Too much spice and I can’t maintain my intake (though fanning my mouth often takes my mind off of nausea ... so that’s effective).

These crazy mints have a lot of ginger flavor in them and burn on my tongue right away. It dissipates after a moment and I forget about the inital scalding by the time I eat another one.

They have two kinds of ginger in them: ground ginger root and ginger flavor. I think ginger goes particularly well with Maple Syrup.

vermints-cinnThe bright red tin is hard to miss and easy to guess the flavor is cinnamon (well, they call it CinnaMint).

It’s definitely cinnamon, completely spicy, kind of woodsy and a little sweet. There are peppermint leaves in this one too, but I think it would have been better to throw a few little bits of cinnamon in there while they were at it. But they didn’t ask me.

For a while I was pronouncing this as Very Mints ... not realizing, first that they were spelled Ver with no I in there after the Ver. It wasn’t until I got the VerMONT connection that I understood the name. I still think Very Mints is a good name, too. I might start calling the state it Very Mont.

vermints-chaiThe two flavors that set this set apart are the flavor combos. This one, Chai features Fair Trade teas from Honest Tea. Of course this means that this ingredients simply say that it contains “Organic Chai Tea” which is a pretty vague thing, kind of like “cake mix”. I can taste a bit of the black tea background, some cinnamon and strong clove, a little nutmeg. I’d have liked, of course, more cardamom and perhaps vanilla notes. And less clove. Just make a clove mint and leave clove out of the other candies.

It’s pretty good and a nice change of pace from the others. The spicy notes are refreshing and I think gives me pleasant breath.

vermints-cafeThe last flavor is Cafe Express which features Fair Trade coffee from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. The ingredients list both coffee and natural coffee flavor and they certainly smell like sweet, sweet coffee. The flavor is a little less intense, mellow and coffee-ish. On the good side of that, there’s no coffee breath afterwards. On the bad side, they feel more like candy than a breath mint. Not that there’s anything wrong with that since they’re pretty much gone now.

Overall I prefer the texture of these to Altoids, they’re a little smoother and the binder gums in there give them a very slight slippery feel on the tongue as they dissolve. The flavors are more pleasing than the similarly-textured Pastiglie Leone and completely different from the also-vegan friendly St. Claire’s Organic Mints.

Curiosities & other facts associated with these mints:

  • The mints are made in Canada.
  • The tins are made in China.
  • They contain “pure Vermont spring water” as an ingredient ... which means they must be shipping it up to Canada.
  • They contain two thickening gums - agar (derived from seaweed) and gum tragacanth (which I sometimes think is related to the coelocanth but is actually from some legume plant - okay, I’ve made that joke before ... but you may have missed it the first time!).
  • They contain organic tapioca syrup instead of the usual corn syrup (which is often GMO) and organic maple sugar syrup.
  • They’re Kosher.
  • Each mint contains 5 calories - there are approximately 40 in each tin.

  • Related Candies

    1. Hot Tamales Ice
    2. St. Claire’s Organic Mints & Tarts
    3. Anis de Flavigny
    4. Chocolate Dipped Altoids
    Name: VerMints Variety
      RATING:
    • 10 SUPERB
    • 9 YUMMY
    • 8 TASTY
    • 7 WORTH IT
    • 6 TEMPTING
    • 5 PLEASANT
    • 4 BENIGN
    • 3 UNAPPEALING
    • 2 APPALLING
    • 1 INEDIBLE
    Brand: VerMints
    Place Purchased: free samples
    Price: $2.50-$3.00
    Size: 1.41 ounces
    Calories per ounce: 130 (I think it's lower than that)
    Categories: Mint, Ginger, Coffee, Canada, Kosher, Fair Trade (some ingredients), Organic (some ingredients)

    POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:49 am     Comments (12)

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