Friday, April 15, 2011
Crispy M&Ms are made by Mars and are considered an extirpated variety of the popular candy. I know, it’s Friday, and here I am comparing species conservation with candy. But I find it interesting ... so here’s a brief digression after a tantalizing photo.
In Northern California there used to be a small sub-species of Elk called Tule Elk. They were exterminated, either hunted for their meat & hides or simply killed by ranchers to keep them from competing for food with the newly introduced domesticated grazers. Eventually they were all gone ... or so folks thought. Except a local rancher back in the late 19th century took a liking to the slightly smaller elk and took a small herd to a ranch in southern, inland California where they survived quite nicely. In 1978 a small breeding group was reintroduced to the area, thus ending their local extinction.
Perhaps North American Crispy M&Ms (shown above in their Canadian version circa 2006) were a flash in the pan, a evolutionary dead end. They were introduced in 1998 and had pretty much disappeared in the wild by 2005. But they’re still around in Australia, the Southeast Asia and Europe. In fact, in my visit earlier this year I saw them in both Amsterdam and Cologne and bought them in both locations. All the packages were identical and list France as their origin.
If you remember the Limited Edition Mint Crispy M&Ms that were released in conjunction with the last Indiana Jones movie, you might recall that they were larger than regular M&Ms, larger than Peanut M&Ms even.
The European version is about the same diameter as a regular Milk Chocolate M&M, but puffier, closer to being spherical.
The package is more square, just like bed pillows in Europe are more square than pillows in the United States, it’s just the way they do things. The packet holds only 1.27 ounces (36 grams) instead of the more calorically imbued 1.69 ounces of the American Milk Chocolate.
The colors are a little more muted than the American version and I expected this was because these were all natural. Well, some of them are, such as carmine (sorry vegetarians) and tumeric, but they also use Blue #1.
They’re sweet and crunchy and oddly nutty. I had to read over the ingredients (translating as I went, as it was in French) twice to reassure myself that there were no hazelnuts. There was something about the crispy center, it’s like a brown rice nuttiness. It’s lovely. Though there’s less chocolate than the old Crispy M&Ms, it’s still quite a cocoa punch. There is no malt flavor, but a light touch of salt.
They’re still more of a sweet snack than a chocolate candy for me. The crunch is great but there’s not quite enough chocolate satisfaction if I was looking for chocolate. It really is too bad that Mars doesn’t still make these in the United States because they do fill a certain void that the Pretzel just can’t quite touch.
But it’s still possible, that a small breeding population of Crispy M&Ms could be reintroduced to the United States, say only at M&Ms Stores or online. Just to see if the conditions are right for them to thrive.
Strangely enough, when I was traveling, I saw the Pretzel M&Ms rather often as well as the Peanut M&Ms, but less of the plain Milk Chocolate variety. In a vending machine in Amsterdam and at the grocery store.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Milka is a chocolate confection brand that originated in Switzerland and is now made by Kraft at several factories in Europe. Since Kraft is a global food giant, it makes sense that they’re going to make as many of their brands global as well.
You might notice that I said chocolate confection brand. The reason Milka doesn’t qualify as actual chocolate is a little complicated. In the United States (and many other countries), chocolate can only contain cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar and milk (the standards of identity). If there are any other vegetable oils or solids in there (aside from inclusions like almonds or crisped rice), then it has to be called chocolate flavored or a confection. Milka contains both hazelnut paste (that’s certainly not a bad thing, but there’s not enough to kick it into giauduia territory) and whey, which is a milk protein. I like Milka. As a confection alternative to pure chocolate, I prefer the addition of nut paste and a milk sugar/protein elixir instead of partially hydrogenated palm oil.
Kraft doesn’t seem at all concerned about the technicalities of Milka, it’s spreading the bars and candies worldwide on the strength of the milk part of the product, not the cocoa. In the past five years I’ve seen them in stores in the United States quite a bit more, not just at import themed stores like Cost Plus World Market, but also at big box retailers like Target. I found this little Easter treat called Milka L’il Scoops at my local grocery store, Ralph’s.
The candies are described as Milk chocolate confections with creamy mousse filling.
The packaging is precious. It’s a real egg carton, in the sense that it’s made from recycled pulp though it’s bright purple instead of a muted color. The carton has four little sections that hold the foil wrapped egg confections. At the center of the package is a little stack of two purple spoons for eating the filling. Yes, it’s a lot of purple. (Kind of confusing, as many Cadbury items are also identified with purple which is also owned by Kraft.)
The eggs themselves are actually egg sized. I threw a Grade A Large Egg in there for comparison. I’d call these medium eggs, they’re about 2.3 inches high and 1.2 ounces though a little lighter than an actual chicken egg which are about 1.5 ounces.
The foil is thin but not wrapped so tight that it’s hard to get off, like I sometimes find with Cadbury Creme Eggs. The egg inside the wrapper is scored with a thinner shell at the top.
The eggs are to be eaten like a soft boiled egg. The top of the egg shell (chocolate confection) is removed and the little spoon is used to scoop out the filling. This actually works just as advertised. It was easy for me to either bite it off cleanly, or pinch the top gently and pull it off. (I suppose the spoon may be a useful tool as well, since the shell is quite soft and who cares if you get a little chocolate in the filling like you would with a real egg.)
The Milka chocolate confection is sweet and a little nutty, it’s soft and has a good fudgy melt. The cream center is frothy and buttery, almost like a buttercream frosting or whipped topping. It’s made of sugar and fractionated palm kernel oil so it’s a little oily on the tongue.
Overall, I preferred breaking the chocolate up and eating it with the creamy center instead of eating the center straight. Maybe if it was flavored, like a frothy hazelnut paste cream I’d be happier to eat it straight.
I liked this far better than I thought. I was fully expecting them to be another version of Cadbury Creme Eggs. Instead I found that the quality of the shell was better and the creme was actually not so sweet.
These are super calorie & fat bombs. Each one has 190 calories (158 per ounce) which is far more than a CCE. They’re really overpackaged, but at least everything is recyclable. (Well, maybe not the spoons, but I plan on reusing those for quite some time.) They’re expensive, at least twice the price of most other holiday eggs, so make it special. These are also called Milka Loeffel Chocolate Filled Eggs and sell for about $8.00 online, so I was fortunate to get mine for only $4.99. For that price I’d prefer something with a little bit better quality ingredients. However, if this is a favorite of someone you love, then it’s all worth it.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Chuao is a small village in Venezuela, but to chocolate aficionados is the name for criollo cocoa beans from the area. Casey at The Chocolate Note has some wonderful coverage and photos.
For many years Amadei (Italy) had an exclusive deal for the beans from the region, so the only chocolate made from them was Amadei’s Chuao bars. The bars were hard to find and of course quite expensive (though bars from Chocolat Bonnat existed, that’s kind of another story). And of course there was just the one company’s concept of what was best about the beans (from the fermentation to the roasting & conching). Amadei is no longer the only purveyor of the coveted beans. I picked up three different bars from three different countries to see how they created a chocolate bar from the esteemed cacao: Chocolat Bonnat (France), Amano (USA) and Coppeneur (Germany).
The Chocolat Bonnat Chuao bar is the largest of the group, a generous 100 gram bar (3.5 ounces). It’s 75% cacao and Kosher. There are only three ingredients in the bar: cacao, cocoa butter and sugar. No emulsifiers like soy lecithin and no vanilla.
The packaging is simple and the same as all the other Bonnat bars I’ve had. It’s a large bar with petite but thick rectangular segments. It’s wrapped in a simple paper-backed foil which is then covered in a simple glossy, embossed paper sleeve.
The bar has a beautiful sheen, a light touch of red to the brown color and though the photo makes it look a creamy color, it’s really quite dark.
The scent is rather earthy with a few green notes like olives. The melt is exquisite, smooth and thick without being chalky or dry. The chocolate is flavorful, angled mostly towards the deep flavors like smoke, coffee, dried cherries and molasses. There are some slight mineral notes, like iron. While it sounds like this would be heavy and rich, it still comes off a little lighter than that, mostly because of the texture and a lighter acidity. There’s a trace of bitterness towards the end but nothing distracting, more like a finish of a citrus marmalade.
I’m already quite fond of Coppeneur. From the packaging, which is this smart little matte black “wallet” that’s sealed with a dot of wax to the beautiful design of the bar’s mold. I’ve bought several of their Ocumare bars in the past (straight dark chocolate and Mit Chili & Cacao-Nibs) but never wrote about them. They’re difficult to find in the United States, I’ve been buying my bars at Fog City News in San Francisco.
Like the Bonnat bar, the Coppeneur Chuao Dunkle Schokolade is made only with cacao mass and sugar. There is no added soy lecithin or vanilla. This bar is 70% and comes in a 50 gram tablet (about 1.76 ounces).
The bar has a similar red hue. The format of the bar is different from both the Bonnat and Amano, so I photographed them together. It’s quite thin but has an excellent snap to it.
The initial melt is quick and smooth but the thing I noticed first was the raisin flavors and light tangy notes. Though it’s only 70% instead of the 75% of the Bonnat, it’s not sweeter though perhaps a little more acidic and has a dry finish. Though most of the flavor notes were overwhelmingly fruity, like prunes and raisins and dried cherries there were some light roasted notes of pecans. Towards the end, the flavors got deeper with notes of toffee, leather and tobacco.
There were a couple of little gritty bits, this bar is a 70 hour conch. I have another set of bars from Coppeneur that I got in Germany that are paired: a 70 hour conch and a 100 hour conch. I’ll be trying those soon.
This bar comes in the same package style as the other Amanos, a slim and glossy box. The bars are 2 ounces (56 grams) and wrapped in a sturdy gold foil. This bar differs from the other two in the ingredients: cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla beans. So I was curious what the vanilla beans would contribute to the profile of the Chuao cacao. The cacao content is 70% and is Kosher (note that it’s also made in a facility with nuts, peanuts, dairy & soy present).
I find the size and format of the bar to be ideal for the way that I like to each dark chocolate. The bar is thick, but not so thick that a lot of chewing is necessary. The segments are a great size for a single taste and the foil is of good quality for rewrapping and saving for later.
The first flavors I got were woodsy and green with a little citrus peel twang in there of grapefruit. The melt is smooth but a little more gritty and sugary than the previous two bars ... and when I say gritty, that’s just a comparison. Taken by itself I don’t know if many folks would notice. The vanilla is noticeable in the flavor profile, I definitely got some oak cask and cognac flavors in there and the finish has that vanilla note and the freshness of white tea. There are more floral notes, like orange blossom and jasmine. But there’s also a kind of volatile quality, a sort of burn like orange oil can give after a while.
I’ve been nibbling and formulating my tasting notes for these bars for about two months. I traveled with the bars, taking them all the way to Europe and back. The Venezuelan Chuao beans are extraordinary and very expensive. They create a wonderful chocolate, apparently every chocolate maker is able to do something extraordinary and unique with the beans. The price is prohibitive though and in some ways it makes me question spending that much on a bar ... the Chuao bars are usually priced 20-25% more than the other bars in that company’s line - so my Coppeneur bar was $8, where a regular single origin bar from them would be $6 and these are only 50 grams to begin with.
My final conclusion is that everyone makes a wonderful chocolate bar from these beans. But I’ve also been very impressed with each of these company’s chocolate bars made with other less expensive beans, they’re simply good chocolate makers. I’m not convinced that the chocolate bars are worth the premium for these beans in particular, but fans of chocolate in general should try at least one of the bars made from Chuao beans as a point of reference. Personally, I’m not afraid to go back to blended bean bars, which offer a good balance of consistency of flavor over they years and affordability. But with some folks, once you go Chuao you never go back.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
The box says they’re Light and Fluffy Peppermint Marshmallows Drenched in Smooth, Dark Chocolate. They’re made in France and the box holds about 9 marshmallows (though the nutrition label says there are 10 in the package).
Last week I reviewed the new Peeps Chocolate Covered Peppermint Marshmallows and several people mentioned that I should try the new Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Minty Mallows. Believe me, I was right there with them. The first set of Peeps I bought, which was before Thanksgiving, were $1 each (1 ounce), so when I saw the price for the Trader Joe’s version was $2.99 (for 7 ounces), it made these a great value in comparison. I’ve since purchased additional Peeps at only 50 cents each, that’s still more expensive per ounce than Trader Joe’s.
Inside the trapezoidal box is a silver mylar pouch. The dark chocolate covered marshmallows are just tossed in there. So you can imagine that on their voyage from France they’ve gotten quite scuffed and tumbled. Some were cracked but all were intact and there was surprisingly little chocolate dust at the bottom of the bag.
Each piece is about 1.5 inches square (they’re really more rectangular, so maybe a smidge more than 1.5 on one side than the other) and about an inch high. They feel a bit heavier than I would have expected for a chocolate covered marshmallow.
It’s not that the photo above is lacking detail for the marshmallow. They’re not light and foamy like Peeps. They’re dense and quite moist, more like a cross between aerated gelatin and a gummi bear.
The texture, though not as meringue-like as I’d expected is still quite smooth. It’s like memory foam latex, chewy and lightly minty.
The chocolate outside is smooth and maybe little chalky but has enough dark chocolate punch to stand up to the strong mint. At 55% cocoa solids (and no milkfat) its strongest flavor component is woodsy and though not as creamy as I would have hoped, it still has a very smooth melt that complements the marshmallow. The chocolate also adheres nicely to the marshmallow, so even though it cracks a bit when biting, it sticks to the marshmallow to prevent messes and deliver every possible morsel of chocolate with the marshmallow.
For the most part I found these odd. One is rather rib-stickingly satisfying, so a box of 9 or 10 of these goes a long way. I didn’t try melting them for S’mores or in Hot Chocolate. I don’t know if I’ll buy them again, but I found them far superior in ingredients, satisfaction and even presentation from the Just Born Peeps. I can see these being a fun product in the future with alternate versions with different flavored marshmallows (orange, strawberry, cinnamon, licorice). I might like to see them packaged in trays, in little fluted cups or something that keeps them from tumbling around, because I bet they’re stunning right off the confectionery line.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Last year I picked up a few Krema Batna in San Francisco at the charming Miette Confiserie. I never thought I’d see them again in the states. There I was a few weeks ago, walking through the Glendale Galleria on my way to See’s and there was a tiny kiosk that had a variety of French gourmet foods. There were Jordan almonds, capers and various spreads and oils… plus a few bags of Krema Batna.
I recognized it immediately by the package, a large leopard with the French words Le bonbon tendre au gout sauvage which means the tender (chewy) candy with the wild taste. Even though it was $6.00 for 150 grams (5.29 ounces), I scooped it up without a second thought. I really wanted to have these creamy licorice caramels again.
The scent is only lightly sweet and herbal - a note of molasses and anise. The chew is soft and easy, kind of like a smooth Starburst. The caramel is silky and has a strong licorice note - that light and lingering sweetness with a darker smoky note to it as well. It’s creamy as well, a little like coffee with Ouzo. It had a lot more true licorice to it than many other licorice candies and not so much of the anise/fennel notes. Of course that makes it very sweet, a sort of strange throat coating sweetness that doesn’t burn in the same way that sugar does.
I would buy another bag of these in a heartbeat. They’re an excellent pocket candy as well, since they’re durable in the summer but the creamy component makes them feel much richer than they actually are.
I did a little bit of web searching and saw on a French website that Krema is a whole line of chews that come in other flavors like Tender Cherry, Lemon, Raspberry, Caramel, Cola, Green, Orange Apple. Definitely something I’m going to try to find, though I’m pretty sure the Batna is the one for me.
They have gelatin in them, so are unsuitable for vegetarians. The package says that they’re made by Cadbury France.
Friday, June 4, 2010
This bright yellow box holds a bar of Pierre Herme Chocolat Noir Pure Origine Sao Tome a la Fleur de Sel. I got it from my friend Ernessa, who was traveling in France and never forgets to pick me up something special. This is a special bar.
The bar is slightly smaller than the usual 100 gram (3.5 ounce) tablet. It’s 80 grams and 2.82 ounces, which in my book is two perfectly proportioned servings. Inside the box the bar is presented in a simple cellophane sleeve that’s a little oversized so putting the bar back in it is easy.
The chocolate ingredients are simple. It’s a 75% cacao bar made from single origin beans, sugar, cocoa butter, hand-harvested French sea salt, non-genetically modified soy lecithin and natural vanilla extract. The beans of Sao Tome are known for their bold and rich taste, which has echoes of charcoal, roasted nuts and coffee.
The bar has a good bit of cocoa butter in it so it has a nice melt on the tongue. The flavor is intense and just barely sweet, even before the little bits of sea salt come out to play.
The flavor is deep and woodsy with a light coffee note and scent of baked brownies. The salt give it a little pop and actually makes it seem sweeter at times. The buttery texture is a little bouncy but keeps the dry finish from going bitter.
I’ve tried a few other Sao Tome bars before and found them rather intense but lacking nuance and buttery texture. This bar is nothing like that - it’s soft and approachable and incredibly munchable for a 75% bar. If I’m ever in Paris or Tokyo, I’ll definitely sample more of the Pierre Herme chocolates (and of course the macarons they’re known for).
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
One of the crazier purchases I made in San Francisco last month was this tube of Pralus Chocolatier Creme de Noisette. If you’re thinking that I’ve started reviewing beauty products, it’s okay, this is candy.
The only other tube candy I’ve reviewed before were some Wonka (Nestle) items that simply couldn’t be much more different. (And they probably don’t have a single ingredient in common.)
First, Pralus is known by experts as one of the best chocolate makers in the world, right up there with Amadei, Michel Cluizel, Domori and Guittard (see a rankings list here at SeventyPercent). The company is one of only three remaining French chocolate masters to make chocolate from bean to bar. Their line of single origin bars are highly prized (I’ve tried many of them, but for some reason I’ve never reviewed them) and their Patisseries in France are known for their wide variety of sweet delights including their Pralulines.
The tube is quite heavy, clocking in at 8.8 ounces (250 grams). I spent a pretty penny on it, $14.99 at Bi-Rite Market. But I rationalized that it’s over a half a pound, which is a lot of confection for 15 bucks, especially for something imported from France.
The ingredients are dead simple: Grilled Hazelnuts and Almonds, Sugar, Chocolate and Vanilla. It’s basically a decadent Nutella. Now I must admit that I had a long affair with Nutella once. I was introduced to the stuff in Toronto in 1986 and though I had little money, I took home two jars (well, I started with three only two made it to the border). Whenever I was able to find it, I certainly bought it. I didn’t spread it on toast or use it in recipes, I simply ate it by the spoonful.
As years went by Nutella became more accessible in the big city (Los Angeles), but I found I didn’t like it as much. It seemed sweeter and greasier than I remembered. I’m told the stuff in Italy is actually better, but I kind of gave up on it and switched to straight gianduia by then. (The ingredients in Nutella sold in the USA go like this: sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, soy lecithin and vanillin.) I’ve actually seen commercials for Nutella on TV now, highlighting its nutritiousness but for something that’s mostly sugar and palm oil, I have trouble believing it’s anything other than nutty frosting.
I can say this, Pralus Creme de Noisette is nutty and it can be used as frosting but it’s oh so much better.
The texture at room temperature is like brownie batter, in fact, it looks rather like brownie batter. It’s much darker out of the tube than in it. It smells like toasted hazelnuts, quite dark and caramelized. The flavor is immediately hazelnut as well, quite deep and slightly bitter. The cocoa notes are rich and on the smoky and coffee side. I’m not getting anything out of the almonds but that’s fine with me if they’re just filler.
The texture is also a little like a batter, it’s mostly smooth but every once in a while there’s a little sugar grain or nutty grain to it. Sometimes the sugar is quite a toasted flavor, like the whole thing was roasted together. It’s decadent and great for just squeezing onto a spoon or finger as a treat.
I also tried it a few other ways:
I fully plan to repeat the last two (with some variations) until the tube is gone. So far it’s been lasting quite a long time. It’s easy to keep in my desk drawer as well and is rather easy to keep neat.
My only other issue, besides price and availability, is spreadability. I can’t really blame the product but in the winter I have a bit of trouble squeezing it out of the tube. My house isn’t completely heated, so at anything below about 70F the tube becomes rather stiff and hard to squeeze the stuff out. (Something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of taking it camping - but the solution is just stick it under your arm for a while.)
Friday, October 9, 2009
The use of salt in candy is as old as toffee, caramel, & licorice but now it’s popping into chocolates. Lindt just released their newest, an Excellent Dark with a Touch of Sea Salt bar.
The package is quite pretty and elegantly simple. The standard paperboard sleeve with a cool dark blue background for the chocolate square sporting a little sprinkle of salt.
I usually like chocolate bars that come in paperboard sleeves, they protect the chocolate well, and should make it easy to keep the leftovers. Lindt has designed theirs so that once you open it, there’s no tab to tuck back in, instead it falls apart completely without a little piece of tape or a rubber band.
My bar was fresh and has a wonderful sheen. Smelling it, it’s not quite as complex as I’d hoped. The package doesn’t say how chocolatey it is, but it turns out that this simple dark-named bar is only 47%. The ingredients also list butterfat, which I don’t mind in milk chocolate, but feel it tends to make dark chocolate a little less potent.
Smell aside, the texture is quite nice. Silky smooth until, oh, a little pop of salt grains.
The flavors are deeper than the smell. A little coffee & woodsy notes along with a lighter chocolate cake flavor. The salt kind of sends me off into the realm of freshly baked chocolate chips cookies. There’s a bit of a dry finish that keeps it all from feeling like the experience was too sweet or too salty.
It’s a pretty well balanced bar and a nice example of salt & sugar being used together. It’s not quite as deep and satisfying as the darker offerings from Lindt and of course the fact that they’ve used butterfat means it’s off the list for vegans.
Lindt just relaunched their Excellence Chocolate website and I have to say that they did a nice job as far as I’m concerned. Big images, lots of information about the products, including ingredients & nutrition label. And most importantly it’s not done in all flash so no crazy sounds/music & I can link directly to a product page if I wanted to.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.