Wednesday, June 22, 2011
In the United States there are only a few options for candy coated chocolate morsels. There are M&Ms, and let’s face it, they’re ubiquitous and come in so many varieties, it’s hard to fathom why anyone else would try to make them. But there are Koppers Milkies and Hershey’s Pieces (though not in milk chocolate), and every once in a while you can find a store that carries Nestle Smarties.
In Europe things are a little different. There are M&Ms, though fewer varieties, and their main competitor, Nestle Smarties. And then there are all the other lentils. I picked up a few of them in Germany, today I present the Choceur Choco Dragees. For those who are familiar with Aldi, you’ll recognize the name Choceur as one of their house-brands of chocolate confections.
The package says (in German), multicolored full milk chocolate pieces with natural colors. I picked up the smallest bag I could find, which is 400 grams (14.11 ounces). I liked the package, it’s pretty compact and features a gusseted bottom so it stands up.
The shells were crunchy and shiny. The chocolate inside, well, it’s very German tasting. There’s a strong milk taste to it, a little tangy but not spoiled like Hershey’s. It’s smooth and rather sweet as well, but has a discernible caramel note to it as well.
They’re very different from M&Ms. The crunch of the shell is more pronounced and there’s no faint bitterness from any artificial flavors like I get from brown or red M&Ms. They’re sweet, but in a more muted, perhaps honey flavored way.
I’ve never seen these at Aldi in the United States, though they might have them in the seasonal stuff for holidays and I missed it. They’re worth picking up if you do see them and if I lived in Germany, I’d probably get these quite often.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Scho-Ka-Kola has a cult following, especially in Germany. The concept is simple, it’s a caffeine enhanced chocolate. They use both coffee and cola nut to boost the stimulant content which is where the name comes from, Schokolade (chocolate), Kaffee (coffee) and Kola (cola) . It was introduced at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin by Hildebrand as a “sport chocolate”. Later it was used during the war, especially by German pilots. Today it’s made by Sarotti, which is owned by Stollwerk which itself is now owned by international chocolate giant, Barry Callebaut. It’s still made in Berlin and the packaging has changed little over the years.
The tin is easy to carry in a roomy pocket (though I’d worry about melting). It’s about 3.5 inches in diameter and one inch high. There’s a helpful little thumb-print impression on one side of the lid, press it and the tin opens easily.
The round tin holds little “slices” of the chocolate disk. There are eight slices on each layer of the tin, separated by a stiff piece of waxed paper. A serving which would contain the equivalent caffeine as a cup of espresso. My guess (and part of this is from translating the package) is that a serving is four pieces and the actual caffeine content is about 50 mg. So it’s not a lot, but it’s a mild and even boost. It says to me that munching a few pieces an hour would be a good way to keep a steady dose of caffeine in your system without getting all jittered up.
The chocolate isn’t very intense or dark, it’s 52.5%, but the rest of the content isn’t all sugar either. It’s 2.6% coffee and 1.6% cola nut powder. Kola nuts (or cola nuts) are closely related to cacao and have a fair amount of theobromine as well as caffeine in them but far less fat.
The pieces are thick (just shy of a half an inch) and have these great ridges that make it easier to hold them without getting too warm from your hands and bite. (One piece is less than a quarter of an ounce, so it’s a fine mouthful if you won’t want to bite.) The flavors are quite deep and on the woodsy side. There’s a dry and bitter note to it in the flavor, but it didn’t leave me wanting a lot of water. The coffee flavor is muted, it’s mostly a roasted and charcoal sort of chocolate. Not intense but also not pansy. There were no acrid caffeine flavors for me, so the fact that the caffeine was still integrated into their natural sources probably helped. It probably also means that the caffeine is metabolized a little slower.
I picked up this little tin for 2 Euros, but in the States these things sell for about $6 retail. For $6 I could buy a truly extraordinary bar of chocolate. But if I were traveling in Europe and wanted an alternative pick-me-up to the sub-par coffee that’s found in far too many places, then this is the way to go. Easy to carry and share and with a reliable dosing scheme.
There is a little milk in there, so it’s not a vegan product. The tin also says that it may contain traces of almonds, hazelnuts and gluten.
Friday, April 22, 2011
The Choceur Milk Chocolate Flame Egg is 12.4 ounces of chocolate for only $3.99. It’s an impressive presentation of chocolate. The packaging is a paperboard sleeve over a huge blue or pink mylar wrapping. The egg is about six inches high and made as two separate hemispheres. Each side is wrapped in gold foil then taped together with a pretty sticker with red butterflies on it. Inside the egg is a little cellophane bag with candies. In the Pink Flame Egg is a bag of milk chocolate eggs with vanilla creme wrapped in gold foil. In the other egg is a little assortment of hazelnut chocolates.
The candy is made in Germany. The package says that it’s all real milk chocolate and has no artificial flavors or colors
They traveled quite well, considering the fact that my mother bought them in Ohio, then took the train to Philadelphia then all the way back to Los Angeles. One of the eggs had a little dent in it, like someone put a thumb through it, though none of it damaged the packaging, so I felt it was still good to eat.
The milk chocolate shell is, well, milky and sweet. It’s European style milk chocolate, so the milk flavors echo that of dried milk a bit, so there’s a little malty note. It’s smooth, but not silky like Dove or Lindt. The tempering is good, everything was shiny and crisp.
The Pink Sleeve version had a small assortment of chocolates inside. There were four different candies with an elegant presentation. They were a little scuffed up here and there, since they were inside a bag inside the egg instead of a little tray.
The dark chocolate faceted piece is Nougat in Milk Chocolate. It was a milk chocolate cream with hazelnut paste and hazelnut pieces in a very mild dark chocolate shell.
The star for me was the Soft Caramel Covered with Crisp Rice and Milk Chocolate piece that looks kind of like a miniature 100 Grand bar. And it was rather similar. The center was a milk chocolate cream nougat which was covered in caramel then the crisped rice mixed into the milk chocolate. It was sweet but had a lot of texture, a little chewy and a little crunchy.
The Hazelnut Trio was a little row of hazelnuts inside what looks like a mountain range. The white chocolate topping was sweet and quite milky while the fresh but small hazelnut at the center of each mountain lent a large crunch to the whole thing.
The red foil wrapped chocolate is Milk Chocolate with Apricot Flavored Center. I didn’t read the package before I ate the first one, so I really didn’t know what it was. The center is a very soft and creamy ganache with a fruity flavor that I thought might be some sort of fruit liqueur, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It’s sweet but has a light melon or actual apricot note to it.
The second egg in the Blue Sleeve had more than a dozen large gold foil wrapped eggs inside. The package calls them Cream Filled Milk Chocolate Eggs.
The eggs are very long and narrow, a little over 1.5 inches long. The matte foil is quite pretty and I have to say that nestling the eggs into the half of the chocolate shell and placing it on a platter is a lovely presentation.
The center is soft and creamy with only a slight grain to it, like a good vanilla buttercream frosting. The flavors aren’t intense though the milky notes of the chocolate do take over. It’s a lot of sweet at all once, but thankfully there’s a light salty note to it as well. The center is made from palm fat, so I’d suggest a little moderation on that front and perhaps stick to the milk chocolate egg shell.
While I don’t think I’d just buy these for eating, I loved the look of them and for less than $4 for 3/4 of a pound of actual chocolate, I’d call it an excellent value. It’s a great option for a household with children, who are more likely to dig into the sweeter sides and of course everyone like gigantic versions of everyday items.
The Choceur Milk Chocolate Bunny is 5.29 ounces and made of German chocolate. It resembles the Lindt chocolate bunny quite a bit, though when unwrapped it has some little molded details that the Lindt rabbit lacks. At $1.99, it’s an excellent deal. It’s sizable and easy to eat, as it’s a hollow bunny.
The foil decorating is charming and nicely done to accentuate the shapes like legs, ear contours and mouth.
It’s absolutely charming as well, and by that I mean the little collar it wears has an actual metal charm with a rabbit silhouette on it. The elastic gold band is sized about right for a child or small adult (I had it around my wrist for a few hours this morning without any loss of circulation).
A Lindt Rabbit is about twice the price (I saw them for $3.99 this season) and weighs only 3.5 ounces. This rabbit is 5.29 ounces. It should be noted that this is not Lindt chocolate. Choceur, Aldi’s house brand of chocolate, is made in Germany. It’s the same, as far as I can tell, as the egg shells of the Flame Eggs. It’s sweet and milky and with only the slightest cocoa notes to it. Still, it’s pleasant and if you’re presenting this to a child, they will not be disappointed. It’s a beefy looking, rotund little rabbit with thick walls and a good shape. So if you’re going for true chocolate quality and flavor, go for Lindt (or even more upscale with Lake Champlain or See’s). The value here is certainly better than the American options but the flavor profile is certainly in the European style.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
While I was in Europe earlier this year I made a point to sample as much licorice as I possibly could. What I found is that the world of licorice products varies greatly by cultural tradition, price point and intensity. Here are a dozen items I found, in descending order of my affection.
I meant it when I said I’m starting with the high point of my European licorice adventures. I loved this stuff.
When I was walking the exhibits at ISM Cologne (the largest candy trade show in the world), I knew that I wanted to visit the Amarelli Licorice booth. They sell wonderful little tins of intense licorice pastilles. I’ve been buying their minty coated version called Bianconeri for about 10 years, though not very often because each tin is about $6 and holds about an ounce.
I was not disappointed by their booth. They had so many different products I had never tried. The ones that impressed me the most were little glycerine pastilles that were rose or violet along with the intense and smooth black licorice. (I don’t know how they sell those, they just said that they didn’t come in tins.)
I tried their pebble looking candy coated licorice called Sassolini which I was enchanted immediately.
They’re much bigger than their other products, most of these are larger than a Peanut M&M. They’re irregular and do a convincing imitation of an actual little rock. The thickness of the soft cream and blue colors have a pleasing heft to them.
The flavor of the candy shell is vanilla, soft and with a hint of the anise underneath. The center is a chewy black licorice that has an intense flavor of both licorice and anise. They’re really strong and the dense chew of the center means they last a long time, though they do get stuck in my teeth if I chew them up instead of letting them dissolve. The flavor lingers as a dull buzzing feeling on my tongue long after its gone. I like this so much I found that Licorice International carries the nuggets in bulk, so I ordered two 6 ounce packages to refill my tin.
The tin shows a child at the beach (or perhaps just a lakeshore) with a big red pail and sail boats in the background. Of all the designs of their tins, this is my least favorite, perhaps because the design is less focused on the typography.
I first read about Lakrids by Johan Bulow on Chocablog last year. I was hoping to sample their line at ISM Cologne, so I wasn’t disappointed when I found their booth and got to try everything. They sent me home with a few packages of their line of gourmet licorice using real licorice root. The whole line comes in these chic little plastic jars. The products are all named with numbers of letters. The Choc Coated Liquorice is A.
They’re gluten free, which is pretty rare for a licorice product as most of the American and Australian styles are wheat based.
They’re also really expensive at about $8 to $10 per 165 gram (5.8 ounces) jar. (I see a trend already with my licorice leanings, I like the quality stuff.)
They smell a little woodsy and milky. The powdery coating on the outside isn’t cocoa, it’s ground licorice. True licorice is very sweet, and this stuff definitely was real and potent. A little touch to my tongue and it was a sweetness that has no thick or sticky quality like sugar. There’s a deep woodsy note to it as well. The chocolate is sweet and milky, and provides more a texture to the candy than a chocolate flavor. Most of what I got was milk, not chocolate. The licorice center isn’t very sweet but also not quite a salty licorice. There were strong molasses and toffee notes, burnt flavors and dark mossy notes.
It’s more of a savory treat than sweet. It’s incredibly munchable but at the same time, very satisfying to have two or three and be done.
Johan Bulow makes a wide variety of products already, including Habanero Chili Licorice and Chili Cranberry Licorice. I was also taken with the simplicity of the Lakrids 1: Sweet Licorice.
The glossy little nibs hardly look like real edibles, but they are. The flavor is rich and actually creamy. The flavor has a backdrop of roasted notes that come from treacle. It was sweet and bitter. The texture was a little gummy, and did stick to my teeth a bit. Like the chocolate covered version, I didn’t feel the need to keep eating it after a few pieces because they actually satisfied me.
So I got back to Los Angeles with this sample and I was confused and kind of embarrassed by my assumptions. I thought it was Italian. The name is Carletti but I found out it’s a Danish company.
I also picked up some other items they make, such as Dutch Mints (or as they call them Mintlinser Drage) which were also nicely packaged and featured (as far as I can tell with my limited knowledge of Danish) all natural colorings. (See website.)
The little pieces of firm licorice are covered in colorful (naturally colored) candy shells. They’re a little narrower than a regular Chiclet and a bit thicker. The chew was a bit dense but had an excellent flavor profile. It wasn’t salty but also not terribly sweet. The shells seemed to have a light flavor of their own, the orange being notably orange and the purple possibly violet. The center was a bitter and had some good molasses to it.
I was put off by the bitterness, but drawn to the other flavors within, something like charcoal and burnt toast and licorice. But the intensity kept me coming back.
Mentos Lakrits Mint
I’ve purchased Lakrits Mint Mentos a few times before, but I think this is the first time I’ve actually included them in a post.
They look rather watery, not very intense. But don’t let the fact that they’re not full of caramel coloring or molasses fool you. They’re quite licoricey. The flavor does have some of the deep woodsy notes and they’re oddly creamy when chewed. The mint is mostly in the crunchy shell and fades away quickly. The salty tones are very mild, for folks who have never tried salted licorice, this is a good starter.
Mentos Drop Citroen & Drop Aardbei
A more unusual version I found in Amsterdam is the roll that mixes Drop Citroen and Drop Aardbei. Drop is the generic name for licorice in Dutch.
The package may have made it look like one half was Lemon and one half was Strawberry, but they were just a random mix. Mine had about 2/3 aardbei.
The curious structure is revealed ... at the center is a little core of licorice inside the normal fruit chew.
The combination? Well, I wouldn’t say that I loved them, but I did end up eating them all. The center wasn’t so much about licorice, it was more of a salty and molasses flavor, a bit more savory than the bland fruity outside. The lemon was mild and only sweetness. The strawberry was a bit more nuanced, with some more floral and cotton candy notes to it.
This is also made by Perfetti Van Melle, the same folks who make Mentos. What I learned a little bit late in my Dutch adventure was the difference between Zoet and Zout. Drop Zoet are sweet licorice and Drop Zout are salty licorice. One little letter ... so much meaning.
A mix of griotten shaped like large hemispheres and salty rockies. Rockies are a tube of licorice filled with a grainy but slightly less intense licorice cream. They’re sanded with a bit of sugar. They were rooty and earthy. The texture was a bit more doughy than the other brands I’ve been buying and less of a licorice punch with slightly more ammonia salt.
I really bought these because of my curiosity when it came to the little domes. I didn’t know what they were. Turns out, as I mentioned above, they’re like Griotten, a small and dense licorice marshmallow.
It’s a little doughy and spicy. The griotten texture is like a firm, dense marshmallow with a sugary crust. The flavor is deep and not as intense as others I’ve had. There’s a vague ammonia salt note to it, but a strong licorice flavor with a hint of molasses. The molasses gives it the taste of a spice cookie, which is what they look like to me.
Katjes Fruit Tappsy (Germany)
I’ve had the mild licorice Tappsy before. They feature a panda face with different flavors for the ears or other contrasting color parts.
The Fruit Tappsy are gummis with a strong and stiff chew. The licorice portion is mild and the fruity portions are actually quite vibrant. The combination of licorice and fruit, though, is really not to my liking. I think the texture of the Tappsy with the marshmallow base might give a creamier component to these that might bringing it all together for me.
I’m not saying that they’re bad, just not really my favorite of the Tappsy versions out there.
I’ve tried AutoDrop candies before, based solely on the name. The entire brand of AutoDrop candies, made by Van Slooten, are based around the theme of cars and their drivers. Some are winegums but most are licorice. This bag certainly caught my eye, with its matte black background and blue foil line art.
Inside are five different candies, each with a different shape, texture and flavor profile. I don’t actually know what the name means. Donder means thunder, but maybe Donders means crashes.
Megpiraat - one eyed, grinning face - a stiff but smooth chewing molded licorice piece. The flavor has a nice mix of molasses and licorice, which is a light sweetness. A little touch of anise and some deep toffee notes.
Spookrijder - looks like a rustic piece of chalk. I was hoping it would be like Skoolkrijt (a tube of licorice filled with cream and covered in a minty candy shell). The shell is minty, but also a little crumbly. The interior looks like grainy brown sugar and has a pleasant molasses undertone and a faint licorice flavor and a hint of salmiak.
Zondagsruder - a smooth licorice gummi, I quite liked this one. It wasn’t very strong on flavor, more like a light anise with a sweet marshmallow & vanilla note.
Brokkenpiloot - this was the saltiest of the bunch and one that I pulled out of the mix. Unfortunately, it’s also the one I had the most of.
Bumperklever - caramel colored piece that has a light toffee and licorice flavor. This had a bouncy texture that was almost a marshmallow gummi. Sweet but a little salty as well but without the bitter metallic aftertaste.
Overall, kind of a losing situation for me. Out of duty I ate all the Zondagrsruder and a few of the Spookrijder and Bumperklever, but the rest have just been sitting around.
Haribo Lakritz Parade
This mix was like a German version of All Sorts. It included cream licorice (made with fondant) and other panned candies in addition to molded salted licorice pieces. I picked up the peg bag at the grocery store, again, for about a Euro ($1.40).
The little colored pieces were lovely, what’s more, the package said that they only use all natural colorings. There were licorice rods covered in a candy shell, covered in fondant (like All Sorts without the coconut) and larger diamonds of salty licorice covered in a shell (I reviewed those already). There were also little M&Ms which were a crumbly molassesy sugar mixed with licorice and salt.
They looked great, but I can’t say that my problem was with the flavor as most were just bland. The pastilles were bland, just kind of earthy and chewy. The little lentil thing was just grainy and a little bitter, the colorful licorice tubes were just sweet.
The molded licorice shapes were enchanting to look at. I can’t say that their attention to quality control was great. These were the best in the bunch. The salino is like a Zout, it was doughy and yes, a little bland except for the strong ammonia quality. The others were, again, watery and tasteless except for a dirt and vague anise note. The chew was smooth.
This is another licorice I bought in Amsterdam. It was pretty cheap, I’d say less than $2 American. I wanted just a simple licorice pastel. I’ve had Venco products before, I buy their Skoolkrijt all the time. So I thought their version of Good & Plenty would be great as well. I also lucked out that I chose a zoet licorice (unlike that Haribo Sali-Kritz)
I was worried about the word hard in the description, but at least that part turned out not to be true.
First, I’m not keen on dark colored candies, they tend to need more coloring, which displaces actual flavors and textures that should be there. So the blue and the black ones were not ones I ate with much interest.
The little rods of licorice are covered in a thin but crunchy shell. The licorice at the center is actually overpowered by the flavor of the shell. The shells, in some cases were flavored. I don’t know if they were supposed to be flavored, but the blue/purple ones were definitely floral, like violet. Not heavily licorice flavored, these just left me bored. Even the color assortment didn’t thrill me. Half of the fun of candy coated candy is the look of it.
While I was traveling in Germany I mostly when off of how things looked, but every once in a while, I pulled out my Android phone (which didn’t work as a phone) and used the German-English dictionary to look things up. So I knew that this was a black licorice bar. The character on the front says that it’s soft licorice. So at least the words were helpful.
The package is creepy. I like the boldness of it, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of the graphic work that Haribo does. But this anthropomorphic character of a string of licorice palling around with a boy is just weird. Go ahead, look at it closer. But hey, it’s what’s inside that counts, right. I didn’t even flinch at the insulting Asian caricature in the previous mix.
It’s a hefty bar, at 125 grams (4.41 ounces) for about a buck.
The bar pulls apart into licorice rods quite easily. Each is about the size and shape of an unsharpened pencil. It is soft and pliable, glossy and really looks so promising.
But it tastes so bad. The chew is dense and has a strong wheat flavor to it, yes, it actually tastes a bit like flour or al dente pasta. But there’s more, it’s a bit tangy, in the way that weak coffee can be tangy. And it has a weak licorice flavor to go with that. It’s only vaguely sweet and not quite salty. It’s not overtly earthy but tastes a little musty.
This has pushed me over the edge to proclaim that I don’t wish to ever eat another Haribo licorice product again.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
One of the most popular chocolate brands in Europe is Milka. It’s currently distributed by the international food conglomerate Kraft but began its existence as a family chocolate brand made by Suchard back in the early 20th century. I tried the version that’s available in the States about four years ago.
Milka is, of course, known as milky chocolate, very similar in profile and price to Cadbury. However, instead of putting vegetable oil in the chocolate, Milka uses just a touch of hazelnut paste.
Milka is now widely available in the United States but I wanted to pick up some while I was in Europe, just in case it was a little different. I did find this assortment called Milka NAPS Mix in Germany. It features four different varieties of tiny bars: Alpenmilch, Crunchy Caramel, Erdbeer & Creme au Cacao.
The little bars are about 4.25 grams, individually wrapped and easy to identify your favorite. The bars are about 1.5 inches long.
The traditional Milka is just as I remember it. Milky, sweet, smooth and not very chocolatey. They’re a good candy and at this size, and excellent little tough-covering pick me up. The hazelnut is just a light hint of roasted nuts, not like a thick gianduia. It’s much creamier than I recall the American packaged bar I tried, though as someone who likes a lot of either chocolate in my chocolate or hazelnuts in my gianduia, this didn’t quite fit my personal profile.
The Milka Crunchy Caramel is the same little bar with some toffee chips in it. (Not Daim chips, for some reason.) I liked the crunchy texture and light salty hint, though sometimes they tasted a bit like butterscotch and not quite like toffee. This was my favorite of the mix, now I’m sorry I didn’t pick up the Daim version of Milka.
The Milka Erdbeer is the milk chocolate with dried strawberry bits in it. The strawberry bits taste real, but have a grainy quality to them that kind of ruins the texture of the chocolate at time. Still, the milk and strawberry flavor was great, it reminded me of neapolitan ice cream.
This was the only filled bar in the mix. The center was a thin little strip of chocolate creme. It really didn’t taste that much different than the standard Milka Bar, mostly because of the proportions. It had more of a chocolate frosting flavor to it though. It was my least favorite of the mix.
I like that Milka comes in so many different varieties and that the European versions also come in different sizes and seasonal variations. This box of chocolate though was a bit on the expensive side, compared to the large 100 gram (3.5 ounce) tablet bars at 3 Euros (about $4). Basically, I could have bought one of each of these varieties as a full sized bar for about the same amount of money, but had more than 3 times as much candy.
I have a dark chocolate version of a Milka bar at home, I’m hoping that’s a bit more to my personal liking, but mixes like this always have something to please most folks. (And I did finish most of the box without any help from anyone else.)
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
During my travels in Germany I was enchanted by the extraordinary selection of Haribo products. In some stores they took up an enormous amount of shelf space with dozens and dozens of items. Their products spans a much larger range in Germany where they have gummies, jellies, licorice, chews and marshmallows.
In the United States the only licorice items I see from Haribo are the Licorice Wheels, which are competent starter or snacking licorice. I was hoping to find the more exotic stuff. I was excited to find this bag of Haribo Sali-Kritz which was both beautiful and an interesting product idea.
The candies are described on the package as Lakritz Dragee, basically licorice pastilles. They’re large soft slightly salted licorice diamonds covered in a flavored candy shell.
The lozenge shape pieces are large - about 1.25 inches long with soft rounded edges. They come in seven colors, all pastels: pink, green, yellow, soft red, blue, orange and white. They’re also flavored to match those colors, though I could find no code and kind of had to figure it out for myself.
The candy shell is a little thicker than a Good and Plenty rod. The colors are muted (they’re all natural) and sometimes a little less than consistent looking. The shell is crisp but grainy, but does a good job of keeping the licorice inside soft and chewy. The flavor of the shell was light, like the outside of a jelly bean ... and the inside was a very mild ammonia salt licorice. The most difficult thing I’m experiencing now as I’ve probably tried about 50 different kinds of licorice in the past month is that I don’t even know what I like any longer. But that’s something I can keep working at.
Some flavor combinations worked well for me, like lemon (yellow) or strawberry (pink) but others like pineapple (white) or apple (green) were just a little too different. But mostly what was a problem for me was the salted licorice center. The ammonia part wasn’t particularly strong unless I ate two or three, then I felt like every time I exhaled, I smelled like I needed to change the cat litter (which is alarming since I don’t have a cat). I think the salt level would have been moderated nicely by some stronger licorice, toffee and molasses flavors.
I find that I can just eat one of these and be happy. The more I eat in one sitting, the less pleased I am. The novelty of a flavored shell is a plus, but the ammonia level on the licorice is a negative. For a starter licorice for those who want to experience salted licorice, this might be a good start.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
While in Germany a couple of weeks ago I scoured the store candy aisle for products that were either unique or perhaps just like ones we get in the United States. I was excited to find this boxed selection in an Aldi Süd market in Cologne called Die Besten von Ferrero. It’s a dark chocolate mix of the best of Ferrero, makers of the famous Ferrero Rocher. This mix contains a luxurious sampling of their dark chocolate items: Dunkel Kusschen (10x), Mon Cheri (10x) and Rondnoir (6x).
The exciting part for me was twofold. First, I’ve never had the European version of Mon Cheri (more on that later) and second, that I found the Küsschen in the new dark chocolate version.
The box was nicely organized and though it felt like a bit of over-packaging from the viewpoint of someone who had to lug everything back to the States on the train/plane, it did the job very well. Each little compartment held its pieces in place. The whole box was shrink-wrapped, each piece was individually wrapped and the Mon Cheri has an additional sealed, plastic sleeve. All emerged un-scuffed and shiny. The package says that it’s a limited edition item, but it’s just this assortment and format, each of the items are available independently.
A few years ago I reviewed the American version of the Mon Cheri. It was a little nugget of milk chocolate filled with crushed hazelnuts and a hazelnut paste. People loved it, but it was confusing because in Europe the Mon Cheri is actually a liquored up cherry in dark chocolate. Slowly the hazelnut Mon Cheri disappeared from American stores. However, I noticed overseas that there was a product that was like the American version, the Küsschen. The Küsschen was introduced in 1968 but this dark chocolate version is a little more recent.
The Küsschen wrapper is a light paper foil with the name clearly marked (though hard to tell from the milk version) and a little image of the candy on the front with some hazelnuts.
The Küsschen is a little piece, about the same size as the Mon Cheri or Pocket Coffee. It’s a hard chocolate shell filled with a thick, nutty chocolate cream filled with crushed hazelnuts and a whole nut at the center. It’s exactly one inch wide at the base and about 2/3 of an inch high.
The piece smells much sweeter than it actually is. The scent is a combination of hot cocoa and dark roasted hazelnuts. The bite is crisp; there are a lot of crunchy nut pieces in the filling. The filling, however, is not like I would have expected. I thought it would be a bit of a Perugina Baci clone. Instead the center isn’t sticky or sweet, just a bit of a firm ganache type filling. The nuts take front and center, and by center I mean the middle of the piece is one large, perfectly roasted hazelnut. It’s crunchy and has wonderful toffee and pecan notes with no fibery chew that I get sometimes with the Oregon variety. The filling is airy, which promotes the hazelnut flavors mixing with the dark chocolate shell. The chocolate is smooth with a light bitter trace to it.
Overall, a not-too-sweet and satisfying little nugget.
The Mon Cheri was a bit of a mystery to me. As far as I knew, it was a cherry centered chocolate candy. There was no need for me to try it, because I knew what it was, something that by its very conception and design was not something I could like.
Each piece is a similar format to the Ferrero Pocket Coffee (in fact, I think they use the same mold). It’s a whole cherry and some liqueur encased in a dark chocolate shell. They’re wrapped in foil and an extra piece of clear cellophane. (I bought them once before last year and was disappointed to find them either oozing a grainy syrup or looking a bit hollow so I never even bothered to photograph them.)
The pieces are messy if you’re the type who likes to bite things open, then place them on a table to shoot with a camera. In fact, I recommend not biting them unless the whole thing is in your mouth.
The cherry is firm and crunchy, with an authentic Bing or Rainier cherry flavor. It’s tart and sweet with some deep raisin or fig notes. But the part that sells it is the liquor. This isn’t just a dash of the stuff or something within a sticky fondant. This liquor syrup is, well, all liquored up. There’s a slight alcoholic burn with some light rum notes to it. (The package and Ferrero website don’t specify the alcohol type.)
I loved the combination, the cherry brings a fruity sweetness, the chocolate has a creamy and slightly dry finish while the liquor syrup give it a decadent appeal of a cocktail. I’m not a big fan of harsh spirits (though I love a really herby Gin and Tonic sometimes) but there’s something about what a liquor does when it infuses a piece of real fruit.
I reviewed the Ferrero Rondnoir when it was first introduced in the United States in 2007.
At its heart is a small dark chocolate pearl floating in a mass of chocolate paste inside a crunchy wafer shell. That is covered in a crispy chocolate sprinkling. They’re wrapped in an elegant, textured brown foil and packaged in a little fluted cup.
I see them sold in the US, unlike the other two components to this box, at drug stores and discount chains like Target or KMart. They come in a little single serve package of three or in full boxes and sometimes in mixes, especially around the holidays.
As I’ve already reviewed them, this is just a little review for myself to confirm that they’re not only a unique product, they’re also quite tasty. In fact, I think my original review pegged them as tasty (8 out of 10) but I’m upgrading them to yummy (9 out of 10). That could just be the liquor talking though.
I feel like Ferrero is preparing to release the Küsschen in the United States, though I have nothing more to go on than the fact that they discontinued the hazelnut Mon Cheri. The big issue would be to find a name for it that doesn’t require an umlaut or resonates more with Americans. The fact that it means little kiss might be a trademark issue because of both the Hershey’s Kiss and possibly the Italian Perugina Baci (also means kiss).
This was the perfect sort of box of chocolates for me. It contained adventure (I tried something new), tried and true comfort and a conclusion to the search for a replacement for a discontinued product. The fact that they’re also all dark chocolate and less sweet than some other Ferrero products was a bonus for me. Some of these assortments can be purchased online as well as in Duty Free shops at airports around the world - the family of Ferrero Rocher products are quite popular in Asia.
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.