Monday, March 30, 2015
While in London last year, I picked up quite a few chocolate bars. One brand that I noticed had good distribution and prices, was Willie’s Cacao. The company direct sources their cocoa beans and manufacturers their chocolate in England. For a small company they make a wide array of chocolate products, like the bars I picked up in single origin varieties like Madagascar, Peru, Indonesia and two different sourcings from Venezuela. In addition they also have a line of single origin cocoas, chocolate pearls and bars with flavors and inclusions.
I picked up the Venezuela Gold Las Trincheras 72% at Waitrose. The package is two little 40 gram bars that are wrapped separately for £2.99, or about $4.50. A lot of other single origin bars are priced at twice that, so it was a gamble that this was going to be passable stuff. The box is quite elegant, dark brown with orange, creamy yellow and gold foiled lettering. The package states that the single estate cacao comes from Hacienda Las Trincheras in northern Venezuela.
The flavor profile is described as smooth nutty notes, which is exactly why I like Venezuelan origin cacao.
The box helpfully gave me both the bar’s origin date and the best by date. It was produced in November 2013 and good until May 2015. I ate one of the bars after I returned from my trip last year, and saved the other in my climate controlled chocolate fridge until last month.
The bars are lovely, the mold, which says Willie’s Delectable Cacao gives the otherwise ordinary 2.75 inch square a bit more flair. The tempering is very nice, there’s a good snap to the bar and no bubbles or voids. The color is a little on the red side of dark brown.
The melt is easy but not too quick. The ingredients are very simple, no emulsifiers. Just cacao, raw cane sugar and cocoa butter. There’s a little dryness early on, and some bright fruit notes. The overwhelming flavor I get is not nutty but raisins. I usually associate strong raisin flavors with Peruvian chocolate. There are some other notes of rosemary, roses and plums, but I didn’t catch more than a fleeting cashew note. It’s a bit bitter at times as well, but not so much that it distracted from the other flavors, just enough to keep it from getting too sweet.
For the price, I think they’re very well done bars, and I appreciate the packaging style that allows me to actually eat some now and really save some for later, as I did here. However, I didn’t love this particular bar enough that I would import it. I am interested enough in the brand that I would pick it up again, especially some of the other origins.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
There are now dozens of small-batch chocolate makers scattered around North America. One that caught my eye a couple of years ago won the Good Food Award in 2013. Raaka Chocolate is based in Brooklyn, New York and was founded in 2010.
The team at Raaka says,”We make virgin chocolate from unroasted cacao beans. Our unique process preserves each region’s wild flavors, bringing you closer to the bean.”
The unique style of their bars means that they use organic beans that have been naturally fermented and dried but not roasted. The result is a bar that is like the chocolate that we all know, but with some differences ... not necessarily things that make it better or worse, just different. The cacao is direct sourced while the sugar is organic and fair trade certified. Most of their bars are just beans and evaporated cane juice (no vanilla, no emulsifiers) but the bar I picked out for review was the Raaka Virgin Chocolate Bourbon Cask Aged - Belize 82%. This bar also has some maple sugar in it.
As you can guess from the name, the notable thing about this cacao is that it is first aged in oak bourbon casks from Berkshire Mountain Distilling. I’ve had chocolate that’s been aged in barrels before, but never chocolate made from beans that have been aged in barrels. For roasted cacao that wouldn’t work, because the roasting would probably remove the flavors the casks introduce, but remember Raaka is working with unroasted beans, the way the beans are treated before grinding will definitely affect flavor.
The bar mold is dead simple, just a 1.8 ounce plank with no scoring, no design. There’s a great snap to it, and glossy sheen on the outside, but a little rough looking inside.
The bar smells, well, a little like bourbon. There’s a vanilla note and some light peat along with some other more yeasty bread notes. The melt of the chocolate is not quite as creamy as some bars I’ve had, but certainly not gritty. It’s smoother than Taza, which is also stone ground. The yeasty notes are very strong along with an acidic bite and a light coffee and maple note. It’s undeniably chocolate, but with a kick that is a little more unformed, a little less refined. The bar also changed, as I nibbled on it over several weeks. The bitterness dissipated (oxidation can do that) and I found a few more berry jam notes to it.
For an 82% bar, it’s not as dense as you might expect. I’ve certainly had 70% bars that are more intense. This may be because there’s some extra cocoa butter added in, which counts towards the cacao percentage, but does help mellow its severity.
I appreciate the bar, and enjoyed it quite a bit. I kept in my purse for several weeks, but never felt the need for more than a little half inch square at a time. The rustic melt was not as decadent as bars I usually prefer, so sometimes this felt like it demanded more attention to enjoy, like the different between classic sonnets and some free verse.
Their facility and bars are vegan, nut free, soy free, gluten free and made from all organic ingredients.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
It’s hard to resist a pretty bit of packaging, especially when, as I mentioned in last week’s review of the Theo’s Love Crunch, a chocolate bar is far better than a greeting card. The bubbly design in reds and pinks is a bit feminine, but the flavors should suit anyone who likes their milk chocolate on the deeper side of the pool.
This Theo bar delivers on the promise of the package, for me. The wrapper for the Theo Chocolate My Cherry Baby bar says, Fall in love with cherries in dreamy 45% milk chocolate - tangy, sweet and yummy.
The bars are made in Seattle with ethically sourced, non GMO, no soy, gluten free, Kosher and in this case, at a darn affordable price. For some reason they weren’t $4 a bar, which Theo is usually priced, but I got mine for $1.50 each.
The bar is a dark milk, which is a nice place to start for a high end bar. The flavor is quite deep with rich coffee notes, but also quite a bit of malt and even a hint of yeast in there. The cherry pieces are tiny and a bit on the leathery side. They’re tangy and chewy, but not freeze dried crispy bits either. The flavor combines well, though both seem to bring out bitter notes in each other - I got the cherry skin bitterness on one hand and the roasted acrid notes from the chocolate.
It’s a tasty bar, easy to eat, but I felt no need to eat more than a large square at a time, even though a half of a bar is the recommended dose.
I do enjoy Theo Chocolate’s seasonal bars quite a bit, much more than their standard just-chocolate. The gold standard for them will probably always be the Dark Chocolate Salted Almond ... but toss in a few cherries for a holiday version, and I might be inclined to revise my opinion.
Friday, February 6, 2015
I’ve reviewed quite a few mint patties here on Candy Blog over the years. It’s a good candy category and allows for a different variations in size, ratios and fondant/filling styles as well as ingredients.
Today I have the Seely Dark Chocolate Mint Patties which are made by hand with Fair Trade certified 70% chocolate and locally harvested mint.
I first tried some Seely products at the Fancy Food Show last month. The family run farm grows peppermint and spearmint in Oregon. They sell both packaged dried mint for tea and a few confectionery specialties made with their mint oils.
The patties are made by hand. It’s a curious little process, because they’re made like a sandwich, one side at a time. So the bottom is created by creating a puddle of dark chocolate and allowing it to set, then it’s flipped over and a mint cream center is deposited on top of it, then another layer of dark chocolate. Like an Oreo that has a flat unmarked inside and an embossed outside, this pattie has the swirls of the chocolate on both sides.
The box holds only 5 patties, which are one ounce each and packaged in an ordinary thick cellophane sleeve. They’re expensive, the box was $7.99, so each pattie works out to about $1.60 each.
The dark chocolate is creamy and well tempered, it has a good snap but no real flavor of its own in combination with the peppermint center. The cream center is made from confectioners sugar (which contains corn starch), tapioca syrup and egg whites along with their own peppermint oil for flavor.
The center has a wonderful melt. It’s smooth and creamy, not dry but not moist or sticky like a York Peppermint Pattie. The pattie is mostly filling, only the thinnest of chocolate on either side. It’s not an overwhelming mint, but it is quite sweet. Though the chocolate is bittersweet, it could be just a little thicker or a little less sweet on its own. Otherwise, this is a true peppermint pattie.
The patties contain egg whites and soy. There are no other allergen statements on the list.
The other item I tried, but don’t have a photo for, are their Ivory Mint Melts. I’ve been curious about these, conceptually, for a long time. The Ivory Mint Melts are just little white chocolate disks flavored with box peppermint and spearmint. Peppermint and white chocolate is quite common, but the use of spearmint is pretty rare. Spearmint is easy to grow, and the most common mint found at the grocery store in the produce aisle. But when it comes to confectionery, nearly everything mint is going to be peppermint. The Ivory Mint Melts are a combination of white chocolate, made with real cocoa butter, and both peppermint and spearmint flavors.
The white chocolate has its own milky flavor, so it’s an interesting combination because its not a blank canvas. The melt is quite good, very smooth and with an immediate hit of the spearmint notes. It’s peppery and has a grassy note to it, then there’s the peppermint in the background. It’s really refreshing but took some getting used to as it is just so unusual. I would definitely buy these, though they’re expensive and I’d prefer to find them in a store instead of paying both the high price (it’s artisan) and the shipping.
Thursday, February 5, 2015
Valentine’s Day candy is disappointing because it’s usually about the packaging. So, I was pleased at Whole Foods when I spotted two limited edition varieties from Theo Chocolate for Valentine’s Day ... and on sale at 2 bars for $3 (they’re usually $4 each). I’ve often said that a fine chocolate bar is better than a greeting card and in this case, far cheaper. There’s even a “To” and “From” spot on the back of the bar. (But the ideal touch would be to include at least a personalized post it note.)
It’s called Theo Red Hot Cinnamon Love Crunch. The description on the back said: The red-hot crunch of cinnamon brittle in smooth, rich, 70% dark chocolate - spicy and sweet.
Sounds amazing: for $1.50, I was getting a unique bar that combined cinnamon and chocolate, that was also fair trade certified, non-GMO, organic, vegan, soy-free, Kosher and made here in the USA. Goodbye, ordinary candy in a heart shaped package! (The other bar I picked up was the milk chocolate My Cherry Baby.)
On the tongue at first it’s a little tangy. The melt is a little grainy, I wasn’t sure if it was the crunchy bits or not at first, but it seems that some of it is spices. It became apparent very quickly that this was not just a cinnamon and chocolate bar. My bad for not reading the label fully.
Here’s the deal: the package is pink, the printing on the back is brown. In full light and my reading glasses, I can read it. But not in the dim light and glassesless state I was in at Whole Foods. (My usual trick when I don’t have my glasses and the print is tiny is to take a photo with my phone and then blow it up, but I read the description and thought that was the extent of the flavors.)
The ingredients of interest here are (after you get through the chocolate stuff): cayenne, cinnamon leaf essential oil, black pepper essential oil, nutmeg essential oil and clove essential oil.
I actually like spicy things (curry, cinnamon, black pepper and ginger), but the one I can’t do is red pepper. Capsascin is one of those compounds that people experience differently because of genetic differences. For me, cayenne isn’t fun, there’s a lot of heat that doesn’t seem to dissipate and in higher concentrations it just induces nausea. So, I avoid anything other than mild chili items. While there’s a proliferation of chili peppers in confection, and for the most part they’re tolerable, though not always enjoyable for me.
This was freakishly hot for me. I got the different sensations from the various spices, I could actually discern the difference between the black pepper and the cayenne and the cinnamon. (Clove actually has a bit of a numbing effect.) The cinnamon really only came in at the beginning as a scent. The tangy bite of the chocolate did help to mellow the pepper at first, but once it hit my throat, the one-two punch of black and red pepper was too much. The little brittle crunch pieces were supposed to be cinnamon, and maybe some of them were, but other larger bits seemed flavorless.
I tried this bar twice, eating only one of the large squares each time in small bits. The warming effect from the spices lasts a long time, well over a half an hour. Though it didn’t upset my stomach, it really didn’t please me either and I don’t plan on finishing the bar.
If your loved one is partial to the extremely spicy side of things, this might be a good option, especially if you’re looking for something without dairy or soy (the Lindt dark chocolate products contain milk and soy ingredients). The bar is made in a facility that also handles peanuts, wheat, milk, eggs and soy.
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Marabou is now owned by Kraft/Mondelez, so they can use real Oreo cookies and call them that on the package. I’ve had quite a few bars over the years that have Oreos in them, as Kraft also owns Cadbury, Toberlone, Terry’s and Milka. (Well, I’ve had the Cadbury and Milka Oreo bars, I’d love to try a Terry’s Chocolate Oreo-orange, once they invent that.) The bars that I’ve had were cream filled bars, that is, they were milk chocolate bars with a palm oil cream center with cookie bits mixed in. This bar is just what you’d think a cookies & chocolate bar should be.
The bar is made with Rainforest Alliance certified cacao, and contains at least 30% cacao. As a European “family chocolate” it also contains whey, which is considered a filler in the US, but then again, the US products with far less cacao mass to be called milk chocolate. Whey is just milk protein, it adds bulk without sweetness or extra fat, so as additives go, it’s not detrimental, though it can make the texture a bit more gummy.
It’s a big bar, at 185 grams, which is 6.53 ounces ... about twice the size of the usual large tablet bar.
The look of the bar is good, it’s large, so it was broken in a couple of places, but along the segmentation lines. The bar isn’t particularly thick, which means that the inclusions weren’t going to be very dense.
The segments aren’t quite square, they’re about 1 inch on the longest side. There really aren’t that many big pieces of cookies, but a bit of cookie crumb/grit to the whole bar. Marabou chocolate is quite milky, though some of it’s flavor has that powdered milk note to it, but it’s also marked by some good notes of malt and a generic sweetness.
The cookie bits are good, less sweet than the overall milk chocolate. The bits aren’t numerous enough for me, which led to a moreish quality that kept me eating it ... hoping I’d stumble upon the piece where all the cookies were.
I think a single serve, thicker bar, might mean better proportions if they continue with this. The Hershey’s density of cookie bits in their Cookies N Creme bars is a good target (it’s easy to see how much is in there because it’s a white confection with dark cookie bits). I wouldn’t pay the premium to import this if I were ordering on the internet, but if I stumbled upon this in an airport, in a regular size, I might pick it up again.
As near as I can figure, this bar contains milk, soy and wheat (but your Google Translate experience will vary, as will your ability to find the umlaut key). There’s no statement about peanuts or tree nuts.
Monday, January 12, 2015
The box is very simple and reminiscent of the Lindt Lindor range of truffles. They’re quite similar in many ways. The back of the box notes that this is a classic redefined. Then it goes on to mention the filling is made with nourishing coconut oil. It’s no wonder then that I think these are the fattiest fat bombs I’ve ever reviewed, at 180 calories per ounce (note: I think the Ferrero Raffaello ended up at the same calculation in review, but newer packaging has it down to 170).
The ingredients are 97% fair trade (probably the milk ingredient is keeping it from 100%) and all organic (except for the natural flavors). The cacao is only 58%, which seemed a little paltry for something called black. There’s also milk in there, which is disappointing as well, since I thought maybe these were vegan. (The top of the box says “made with pure coconut oil” which I guess is just to distinguish it from Lindt’s Lindor line which uses palm kernel oil in addition to coconut.)
There are a lot of little symbols on the back: fair trade certified, non-gmo, organic, gluten free and carbon neutral. There’s no soy in there, either, though the chocolates are made on shared equipment with soy, hazelnuts and almonds. They’re not kosher (though Lindt Lindor truffle range is.)
They look like Lindor, little chocolate spheres, with a small seam around the center where you can press carefully to separate the sides if you wish. Alter Eco has a little fluting on it. They’re glossy dark and smell quite rich.
The Ecuadorian chocolate shell is dreamy smooth. There are lots of berry notes like dark cherries, blackberries and a little hint of coffee and tobacco. There’s an acidic finish to the shell, but it’s moderated by the filling if you eat them together. (I seemed to end up with more shell than filling at some point, either at the beginning or the end of each piece.)
The center is smooth and varies in texture depending on the temperature. It was quite cold in Los Angeles when I prepared this review, so the centers were very firm and almost fudgy to the bite. (My little candy studio was about 62 degrees.) At a more normal room temperature like 70, the center is like a whipped cream, quite soft to the bite but not flowing. The flavor is a thinned out version of the shell. The milk doesn’t do much, it’s mostly coconut which doesn’t provide any additional flavors here, except to keep the berry flavors muted.
These are very expensive, I think about $7 or $8 a box. I got mine on sale, and think that $5 is about as high as I’d go for a package, even though they’re fair trade and all that. The good news is that a couple of stores near me sell these individually, I think for 75 cents each. So, I don’t have to commit to a whole box, just a little fix now and then.
Monday, December 29, 2014
barkTHINS won the Most Innovative New Product award at the Sweets & Snacks Expo for the Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut variety. I can’t see quite what’s so innovative about that. I picked up a package of the barkTHINS Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Seed because it was on sale. The stand up package holds 4.7 ounces and was on sale for $3.99.
The top of the package says that it’s a serious twist on snacking. Which is a grandiose statement for a bunch of seeds in chocolate, which is one of the oldest forms of chocolate inclusions. Perhaps the twist they’re referring to is the fact that the chocolate and the sugar in the chocolate is Fair Trade certified. And the soy lecithin is non-GMO. There are no dairy ingredients, though it may contain traces of peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat or eggs. The FAQ on their website explains that their innovation is the fact that the bark is thin enough to snap into pieces.
All my grumbling aside, I like what I saw on the ingredients label and the concept of simple, ethically sourced dark chocolate with some fresh toasted seeds in it.
I’ve never quite understood the appeal of bark as a product. I understand why I make it, because I have leftover chocolate from a kitchen project and then just mix up some stuff I have sitting around and call it a tasty mess. I can’t imagine selling it. I want my pieces consistent and I want my seeds integrated.
The good news is that the pumpkin seeds (pepitas) are actually integrated into the chocolate. The pieces are pretty consistent in size and thickness and with a good amount of pepitas. The general size of the pieces is what I’d call, “too large.” They’re about 2.5” by 1.5”. This is a nice portion, however, I found them a bit large and wanted more small pieces. Luckily, I could make my own ... while providing lots of small pieces would mean that large piece lovers would have some assembly to do.
The chocolate is nice, a little on the fatty side which means that there’s a nice silky melt, but also that the calories per ounce on this were 164 ...quite high. (Pepitas have between 145 and 160 calories per ounce, depending on the variety.) The cocoa flavors have a lot of toasty toffee notes and a little hint of grassy olives (or maybe that’s the pepitas). There’s a hint of salt, which offsets the sweetness very well. The pumpkin seeds are crunchy and crisp with no really flavor of their own, just a clean chew with maybe a hint of pistachio.
I enjoyed it, though I do find snacking on bark to simply be difficult. The inconsistency of the sizes and the inclination for me to want to pick through and find the right size and density of seeds is problematic. I’m not sure why they can’t be little bars or puddles. The use of pumpkin seeds is different enough, though the price on these is a bit steep. I’ll finish the bag and probably consider the salted almond and coconut version in the future if I see them on sale again.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.