Tuesday, May 29, 2007
As a kid the best caramels I ever had were the ones that my grandmother would make every holiday season. They were large, two bite caramels usually studded with nuts. She’d make them fresh in large batches and give our family a large tin of them. They were the size of my thumb (my adult thumb, not my child-sized one) and wrapped in twisted wax paper.
Dense, firm and chewy they were the perfect combination of sugar and butter. Later, for my sixteenth birthday my grandmother gave me the recipe (along with a candy thermometer, which I still have). A simple concoction of sugar, corn syrup, evaporated milk and butter, it was the careful boiling that made all the difference. I’ve made a lot of caramels since then. No two batches are the same (though hers were always consistent).
For years I looked for a mass-manufactured version that would satisfy that desire for some chewy burnt sugar and dairy fat. The closest thing I ever found were See’s caramels, but those weren’t easy to come by when I lived in the far recesses of Northern California. Kraft caramels, while interesting don’t have that chewy pull and a rather bland flavor. Marathons were long gone, Rolos are too runny and don’t even get me started on the sauce bar known as Caramello.
Enter the Storck Chocolate Riesen, a popular candy in Germany and later covered in chocolate and introduced in the United States. Sure Grandma’s caramels were plain and these were chocolate, but the essential texture was there. I found them for the first time at the Canned Foods Warehouse in Eureka, CA. Those were the days where I was on a limited budget but still found some discretionary cash for such indulgences. Riesen put me over the moon when they had them in stock.
The caramels are individually wrapped, a dark and chocoatey caramel covered in dark chocolate.
They smell luxurious, like sweet chocolate. One bite and there’s a soft and slow chew as the chocolate melts and the dark burnt flavors the caramel start to burst through. The caramel is smooth and rich and not even terribly sweet.
Riesen are still made by Storck in Germany, who also make the indulgent Toffifay, creamy Werther’s, sassy Mambas and elusive Merci. In case you’re wondering, Riesen means “giant” in German. I wonder if they also make a plain caramel, I’d love to try it.
If you’re someone with a real chocolate jones but on a limited diet, this might make a good indulgence. The candies are individually wrapped, so it’s easy to parcel them out for portion control. Yes, three of them have 170 calories, but only 6 grams of fat that belie the deep and satisfying chocolate experience. Instead of gnawing on something that just leaves you unsatisfied, why not have a long-lasting creamy chew?
They should really make these in single stack-packs like they do with Mambas. I would probably buy these much more often if I could find them with the other candy bars instead of the peg bags at the grocery/drug stores. The caramel is above and beyond anything that you’d get in a Milk Dud (and these have real chocolate on them) or Snickers bar.
These caramels do have whey in them (and other dairy products) so I’m not sure if it’s processed in a vegetarian manner. Yes, I bought these at the 99 Cent Only store, but they have an expiration date of 2/2008 on them ... they were definitely fresh.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Ritter Sport is going over to the dark side.
I picked up three new bars (or newish) while at the All Candy Expo and I have to say that they’re exceptionally good.
First, I found out that Ritter is the #2 imported chocolate brand in the United States. Who knew?
Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts - this bar is studded generously with hazelnuts. Not quite as many as the wrapper implies, but I’ll tell you there are plenty in there. The dark chocolate is a semisweet with good floral notes and a slightly smoky bite to it. A little dry, it highlights the nuts really well. Not at all sticky or cloying like the milk chocolate can be, this bar is incredibly munchable. Of the three that I brought back, this one was gone first.
Amargo Extrafino - Fine Extra Dark Chocolate - 71% Cocoa - this was a gorgeous bar (and featured in that page in the National Post, if I might gush). The scent is intoxicatingly rich. Smoke, tobacco, tea and dark berries all waft from its dark scored squares. It’s pretty quick to melt for such a dense bar and it’s very smooth. The berry and cherry notes are quite evident as well as a sharp immediate bitter/acidic bite that mellows quickly to its more roasted and alcoholic notes of cognac. For an inexpensive high cacao bar, this one is very good. Complex but still edible. It goes great with something with a salty/crunchy bite like dry roasted & salted almonds or pretzels.
Feinherb a la Mousse au Chocolat - the same dark chocolate that’s found in the hazelnut bar is in this one, except this has a softer filling inside the squares. Not a fluffy mousse, more like a firm, creamier center like a Frango. It’s nice, but after the intense, complex darkness of the 71%, this one tasted very sweet (and I tried it on a completely different day than the 71% day).
After the other not-so-tasty things I was eating earlier this week, the Ritter Sport dark bars were quite a treat. I can recommend all of the, but if you’re a dark fan and can find these inexpensively (less than $3), it’s quite a deal for chocolate of this quality (no wonder they’re #2).
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
Look, they’re little candy bars shaped like hippopotami! How can you not want one?
The first thing I thought of, of course, is the children’s board game, Hungry Hungry Hippos! Except in this case, you eat the hippos instead of the hippos eating marbles.
Why are they Happy Hippos?The candy is basically a formed wafer shell filled with a hazelnut cream (think Nutella) and partially covered in a white coating. It comes in two varieties - Biscuit (unwrapped) which is all vanilla and milk and Cacao (wrapped and smashed) which is half hazenut/milk filling and half chocolate paste. Wouldn’t you be happy if you were filled with hazelnut paste?
The Biscuit one reminded me a lot of the Kinder Bueno I tried last year, but not quite as chocolatey. The appeal is certainly the little look of the hippo as you bite off his head.
The Cacao has a much richer flavor set with the addition of the chocolate cream. It’s a little sticky and not quite as tasty (at least in recollection) to the Kinder Bueno. The crunch of the wafer shell is pretty awesome though. If you like KitKat’s little wafers and wish there were more in there, this might be a bar to seek out (or its cousins - Kinder Bueno, Duplo or Tronky).
POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:55 am
Thursday, May 4, 2006
This has to be one of the oddest “candy bars” I’ve tried in a long time. Balisto is a Muesli Mix bar. For those of you not familiar with Muesli, it’s like granola - a mix of whole grains. The same friend, Matt, who brought me the Caffarel Guanduia also included this in the package of European candy goodies.
This bar was kind of like a Twix ... well, not really. There’s a cookie base, but the cookie isn’t tender and flaky, instead it’s kind of grainy and has a distinct oats and wheat flavor. In fact, it tastes just like a hay bale smells.
On top of the cookie is a stripe of cream that had raisins in it every once in a while. The whole thing is covered in milk chocolate. It’s not bad, but it definitely doesn’t feel like a treat. It feels like a rock in my stomach. The wholesomeness of it is just too much for me! I can’t stop chewing the little chewy bits of grain in it!
The label also mentioned hazelnuts, but I didn’t find anything particularly hazelnutty. It seems like a really unlikely bar for Mars to put out, even for Europe, but hey, they’re the big successful candy corporation, not me. I’m sure this bar has its fans, so if you’re one of them, maybe you could explain it to me. As for the healthy part of this bar, the second ingredient is hydrogenated vegetable oils ... you decide.
Thursday, March 9, 2006
Our friend Matt (the one who brought back the Olympics candy) also picked up a great assortment of mass-market candy bars and I’m going to try to sprinkle those into the CandyBlog.net repertoire in the next few weeks.
This Milky Way bar is nothing like any Mars product here in the States. Each little stick is a tube ala Pirouline but instead of being hollow, these have a wonderful buttercream filling. Then the whole thing is dipped in chocolate. They smell sweet and milky, like walking into an ice cream parlor.
The chocolate is very sweet, but smooth, with that European milk taste. The cookie shell is crispy and flaky with lots of micro thin layers. It tastes like a fantastic ice cream cone. The cream center is firm but still soft. It’s buttery smooth without any graininess to the sugar. There was no English ingredients list, but my German and my tongue is good enough to recognize hydrogenated oils.
Again, here’s a tasty little morsel that you just can’t get in the States and sometimes I wonder why. The package is a scant 25 grams, so even though it’s very high in calories per ounce, the package only has 130 total calories for the two fingers (about 150 per ounce, much less than a pure chocolate bar). Even though they look delicate, I got them in perfect condition, unbroken and unsmashed.
Note: Milky Way in Europe is actually what we know of as Three Musketeers in the United States - it’s a fluffy nougat covered in milk chocolate.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
I’ve seen these bars in Cost Plus World Market and other stores that sell UK sweets and it looked like a very complicated bar. Michal, my generous reader who sent me a huge package of candy that I’ve been slowly posting here, was good enough to include this one.
A Lion bar is creme filled wafers, caramel and crisped rice covered in milk chocolate. I don’t know if the photo does it justice (you can click on it for a larger version). It’s a very sweet bar with quite a bit of texture to it. The package exalts that it’s “Dangerously Better” but doesn’t say what’s better about it or what else it might be better than. It reminds me a great deal of the other Nestle bar, the 100 Grand, which doesn’t have the wafers in the center but the same sort of caramel and crisped rice.
It’s quite a tasty bar and because of the variations in textures, the different crisps, the saltiness of the caramel, it’s a really satisfying bar.
I’m glad I’ve had a chance to try it because I figure now it’s an easily identified bar no matter where I may be in Europe when I’m on the metro and need a little candy boost. It’s a solid, middle of the road choice for snacking.
I haven’t the foggiest why it’s called a Lion bar, but there are a lot of incongruously named bars out there and I shouldn’t start picking at them now. The official website for the bar is German, but the bar says that it’s manufactured in France.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
I hardly thought it was possible, but I found a marzipan I actually like. (See, I didn’t give up.)
The chocolate is good quality, slightly bitter but smooth and the center is a different kind of marzipan. It’s not the ultrafine paste that you find in some of the sculpted varieties. Instead this one has palpable bits of almond in it and a darker color (because of the coffee flavoring). There’s also only the slightest hint of amaretto, which is the actual thing I don’t like about marzipan. I love almonds, I just don’t like the “flavor” of almonds.
The bar doesn’t really have much of a capuccino flavor, but a pleasing scent and creamy quality that I found really compelling.
I doubt these are widely available, but I noticed that Cost Plus had quite a variety of this brand (they were on sale for the After Christmas clearance) so I might give their actual plain marzipan a try in the future or perhaps the Orange I saw on this site.
Interesting fact: Niederegger was founded by Johann Georg Niederegger on March 1, 1806 ... that means they’re going to celebrate their bicentennial of marzipan in a few scant months. Happy Birthday Niederegger!
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Name: Bits ‘n Fits and Bits ‘n Mints
I got a wondeful package last week from a reader, Michal, in Israel. (I sent her some stuff too, but sadly it has not arrived yet.) It was a huge box of all sorts of goodies that will take me about a month to savor properly (and photograph & review, fear not!).
The first grouping I have is from Hachez, which is a German chocolate company that’s been around since 1880. These (except for the dark chocolate one) are from their Cocoa de Maracaibo line. It’s an exceptionally rich milk chocolate that boasts 55% cacao from Venezuela. In the States the government says that you only need to have 10% cocoa solids to call your concoction Milk Chocolate. In Europe that standard is at least 25% cocoa solids. Even most semi-sweet chocolates don’t have 55% cocoa solids in them!
The most amazingly cool things are their “Bits” tins. The tin shape might be a bit familiar to some folks as it seems to be identical to those that hold “Hint Mints” that can be found at places like Cost Plus World Market and coffee shops everwhere. The neat thing about the Hint Mints is that the curved tin makes it easy to keep in a pocket. You don’t really wanna do that with a tin full of chocolate. But it’s a really elegant way to be social with your chocolate when you pull one of these out and offer a little chocolate nibble to a friend or someone you want to impress.
The dense milk chocolate for the Bits ‘n Mints is a little different. I wouldn’t call it waxy, but it doesn’t yield immediately. It sits on the tongue as it warms than then suddenly melts into a consistent puddle. It’s probably because there’s less fat in it than I’m used to in a milk chocolate. It takes a moment for it to come to body temperature, then it’s very smooth. I mean, really smooth. It’s literally like butter with a wonderful rich chocolate taste (very little milk taste to it) and a good cooling mint essence.
The Bits ‘n Fits are unlike anything else I’ve had before and pure little pebbles of delight. The outside is the same milk chocolate but the center is a mix of amazing roasted flavors. Inside is what I can only call a hazelnut toffee with a huge boost of coffee flavor. A warning though, the package says that not only does it have 1% espresso powder, it also contains 1% guarana, which is a cousin of caffeine except more expensive. I don’t know what that makes the “speed” content of this candy but at a little more than 1 ounce, you probably can’t go too wrong. They’re sweet and have a combination of textures that makes me wish they sold them around here.
Name: Longs - Cocoa de Maracaibo Classic & Espresso and Cocoa d’Arriba Orange
Cocoa de Maracaibo Classic - like the Bits ‘n Mints, this bar was incredibly buttery without being oily. The first ingredient for Hachez’s milk chocolate is not sugar, not butter and not milk solids, it’s Cocoa Butter. My favorite butter! The milk solids come in at 18% so there’s very little room for sugar in there. The milk flavors are much more evident in this bar than the Mints or the Espresso bar below. The milky flavor is very European like a much smoother, refined version of a Cadbury.
Cocoa de Maracaibo Espresso - similarly smooth and slick tasting, this bar has an intense burst of espresso flavor. Actually, don’t think of it as flavor as in something that comes out of a bottle, it tastes like freshly ground coffee smells.
Cocoa d’Arriba Orange - This particular Longs falls under the Cocoa d’Arriba line, which is 77% cacao chocolate from Ecuador. The bar smells like a combination of orange rinds and dark cocoa. With all the cocoa solids in this bar, there’s very little room for sugar. The bar is certainly chocolate with a substantial bitter bite but no real acidity or dryness that some bars have. It has woodsy flavors and of course the intense orange essence. I really liked this bar but probably couldn’t eat as much of it as I could with the Cocoa de Maracaibo bars.
I’ve seen some of the Hachez product in stores before and I hope they make a bigger run at the American market. I think this Cocoa de Maracaibo is unlike most other mid-density chocolate available right now. It’s rich without being too dense and retains all the wonderful qualities of the cocoa butter that so many high-end chocolate seem to sacrafice for that high cacao percentage.
I also have to commend Hachez for their website. Though it doesn’t break out info on all their products individually, they do have an English version and the photography and additional pages are really wonderful.
Ratings: Bits ‘n Mints and Bits ‘n Fits - 9 out of 10
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