Thursday, April 17, 2014
One of the most popular luxury chocolate brands is Valrhona, which is made in France. Though you may not know the name or the label, chances are you’ve had their chocolate because they’re used so widely in the pastry and confectionery trade. Though I rarely buy their bars, I am fond of their feves, which are little oblong chocolate disks which are great for baking or simply eating.
Since it’s Easter, I thought I’d review one of the iconic confections of the season: White Chocolate. Valrhona introduced a new white chocolate bar last year called Valrhona Blond Dulcey 32%. It’s like a dark white chocolate, if such a thing could exist. It’s 32% cocoa butter, which is more cocoa butter than some chocolates have for all of their combined cacao content. The next ingredient by percentage (32%) is then whole milk (in the form of whole milk powder, skim milk powder, butter and whey), then there’s sugar and some vanilla, soy lecithin and salt.
If you think that sounds rich, it is. That’s 50% of your saturated fat in half a bar. When I calculated the calories per ounce, it came out to 195 (that can’t possibly be right). But it’s also 3 grams of protein and a full 15% of your daily RDA of calcium.
The bar is thick, which is nice considering that it’s only 2.46 ounces, smaller than the usual 3.5 or 3 ounce tablet that I’ve become accustomed to as a premium bar. The diagonals score the bar well enough that it can easily be broken into these irregular but perfect bite-sized pieces.
The color is just what you see here, a butterscotch color instead of the creamy yellow-white or most cocoa butter confections. The literature about the Blond Dulcey makes note of the biscuit flavors along with a touch of apricot. They’re not wrong, it does have a rich cereal note to it, along with some toffee and maybe a light hint of lemon.
The bar has a good melt, though I admit that it’s a little fudgy at the start. I’d say that’s more from the milk solids than any sugar-grain. It’s lightly salty at first, there’s over 100 mg of salt. It is like a digestive biscuit flavor, just lightly toasted, sweet but not so much that it hurt my throat. There was no slick or greasy coating in my mouth afterwards as many white confections made with tropical oils can leave.The vanilla note is overpowered by the sort of toffee and burnt sugar flavors, though I would have enjoyed some bourbon or tobacco in there.
I found my bar when I was in London, though they do sell them in the United States. It was about $8, which it’s pretty steep for a smallish bar like this. I’ll probably stick with the Green & Blacks or the Ritter Sport if I can find it.
This may be one of those white chocolate bars that converts people who don’t like white chocolate. Or just something for those who do like white chocolate to munch on. It’s a lot more satisfying than many other white bars that I eat, I didn’t feel the need to eat the whole thing. That may be a function of the high protein content as well.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
My European candy blogging friends latched onto a new product last year, the Peanut M&Ms Intense 65% Cacao which are made in France but sold in quite a few European countries. When I had the opportunity to do a candy swap with Kristian at CandyBrain.de, this was on my wishlist of items.
I have to admit that the United States has the most diverse selection of M&MS, and we’ve even had Dark Chocolate Peanut M&Ms in stores before. So, I was mightily surprised to see that France got 65% cacao M&Ms before we did.
The bag is pretty big, with 9 ounces in a stand up gusset package. Instead of the zip top that many snack sized packages are getting the US, this on has a little sticker on the back you can peel off to use to hold it closed after you roll the top down.
The color variety for these is interesting. I looked at the ingredient panel to check if these were all natural, and it appears that it’s nearly so. I looked up all the colorings and found the following listed:
e100 is Turmeric, a yellow-orange dye (derived from plants)
Here’s the weird thing about the coloring used on the shells. I could tell what some of the colors were without looking by the taste. The red one had a banana note and the orange one had a hint of curry.
The shell is quite the same as in the US version. It’s crunchy and not too thick but doesn’t crack easily. They smell nicely of cocoa and a hint of roasted peanuts. The chocolate inside is quite dark, with an immediate bitter note and a little bit of a dry undertone. It’s creamy and a little chalky but not in a grainy way. The peanuts however, were weird. I found most of mine were over-roasted, too dark, bitter and just plain ... well, not right. Maybe they’re not American peanuts, which I admit I’m quite acclimated to.
I wanted to like these more than I did, though I had no trouble eating them all. Of course the fact that they’re not available in the United States solves any issues I’d have if I did love them a little too much. Now ... maybe if they started putting Marcona almonds or Hazelnuts in there along with the dark chocolate ... then we might have something that would drive me to order from eBay regularly. I would be even better if the M&Ms World Stores would stock these international versions.
Monday, July 8, 2013
The trend towards mixing savory and sweet has been going on in the confectionery world for quite a while. Combining salty, crunchy pretzels and sweet milk chocolate is not a strange notion. There’s no reason that any number of herbs and spices can’t be combined with chocolate to great effect. It’s great to see different cultural takes on, like curry or smoked chili or lavender.
The Lindt Wasabi bar is certainly not the first chocolate bar to include the Japanese horseradish. But the others I’ve had were from Japan (the KitKat) or from small chocolatiers.
The bar was just introduced, but when I saw it at Target, it already had a Clearance label on it (marked down from $2.49 to $2.11) while the expiration isn’t until the end of November. I believe Lindt already has a successful bar with their Chili and I also liked the Touch of Sea Salt Dark bar.
This bar is not particularly dark, it’s only 47% cocoa solids. And the ingredients aren’t anything special either, the wasabi is artificial.
Though I don’t like a lot of spicy foods, such as those made with chili peppers, I am fond of horseradish and wasabi. (I also enjoy curry and ginger.)
The bar smells sweet and earthy, with notes of horseradish right away. But there’s also a sort of metallic note to that as well, like a bag of pennies. The bar has a wonderfully smooth melt, though it’s quite sweet. It’s smoky and the chocolate is rich but immediately overpowered by the prickly wasabi flavor. It’s not terribly spicy, but has a little mustard seed kick to it and warms my throat.
As far as an enjoyable confection, this is not. It’s a novelty to me, and 3.5 ounces was far too much. I’m fine with the occasional fine chocolate that uses it as an accent for some sort of combination but for the most part I want my chocolate to either challenge me to search my taste archives for flowers, tea, exotic fruits and fine cognacs or to comfort me with the gentle flavor of plain old chocolate.
Monday, April 30, 2012
Here’s one of those weird purchases I made at a liquor shop called Mel & Rose that sells imported candies. There, within sight of the Hollywood sign, I bought Hollywood Chewing Gum: Chlorophylle. But it’s not a quaint local brand or even American. It’s made in France, by Cadbury (now owned by Kraft). It’s not even one of those original gum brands from the final days of the Victorian era.
The gum is simple and pleasant. It’s the classic style of stick, right down to a real foil wrapper on each piece. The flavor is spearmint and it’s quite mild but with a good enough punch to make me feel refreshed and clean without a sticky or artificial feeling. The package also boasts that it has chlorophyll in it, you know, that stuff that allows plants to photosynthesize. I remember it was popular in gum and mints in the seventies, but hadn’t seen it on a package in quite a long time.
I like that it was made with real sugar, so few stick gums are these days. So if you’re looking for something to remind you of the classic Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum, this is probably the closest you can find since Wrigley’s went to artificial sweeteners. The sugar isn’t terribly grainy, but the flavor and sweetness does go away pretty quickly, much quicker than Chiclets, but this is a more adult gum than Chiclets.
Friday, September 23, 2011
Before I started Candy Blog there was a rather short but significant list of candies that I had never tried before. One of them was Licorice Allosrts. This is mystifying for regular readers, I’m sure, who already know that I love licorice. But I didn’t quite understand what it was and as Allsorts are often sold in bulk bins, there was no package (or blog) to explain it to me.
Allsorts are various shapes and combinations of licorice mixed together. The most common items within a variety bag would be rockies (cream filled tubes), twists, nibs, sandwiches (layers of licorice with layers of either fondant cream or coconut fondant), buttons (jellies or gummies covered in colorful nonpareils) and possibly licorice flavored mellocreams.
Trader Joe’s Allsorts -a- Licorice is a very conservative and safe assortment of little licorice shapes, perfect for those who are shy of strong licorice and want to dip their toes into the anise waters.
The bright and moderne fifties style design on the packaging does a decent job of demystifying its contents. It says that it includes a fun and colorful variety of licorice shapes and sizes including sandwiches, tubes and swirls. The ingredients boast that there are no artificial flavors or colors, though as is the case with most licorice, it’s not gluten free and also contains milk and gelatin ingredients. Though there is no coconut in the sandwich creams, there is coconut oil.
The assortment consists of: tubes filled with pink, orange or yellow cream; sandwiches with pink, orange or yellow cream; twisted nibs and licorice wheels.
The cream element is very soft and though it’s not sticky it does like to stick to the other pieces and gets dented and malformed easily.
They’re made in France, so they’ve had a long trip (but they’re well within their expiry date - good until July 2013).
The texture is soft and chewy without being doughy like some Australian styles can be. It’s also not crumbly or waxy like Twizzlers can get. The addition of gelatin gives it a good bounce and helps it keep its moisture. The licorice flavors are mild. There are some nice bitter molasses notes, it’s sweet and lightly salty and only lightly anise-y. The cream is sweet and only slightly grainy, it’s soft and dissolves quickly, almost like frosting. The flavors are what you’d expect: yellow is sweet lemon, orange is a little bit like orange and pink has a floral strawberry sweetness.
I enjoyed the different shapes, though the sandwich pieces were the least successful because they were so malformed. It was interesting to have a cream licorice sandwich that didn’t have coconut, as so many do. I missed the chocolate flavored cream though, that would have been fun.
I found the mix very munchable. It didn’t really satisfy any deep cravings for licorice, but it was a great snack. As a die hard licorice fan I don’t think I’ll be picking this up, but if you’re looking for something that kids and adults can enjoy together, this has some features that both will appreciate.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.