Monday, May 25, 2009
Ghirardelli Chocolate introduced their new Luxe Milk line of premium milk chocolate late last year. I started seeing it on store shelves in last fall, especially at Cost Plus World Market, which usually has a great selection of both their bars and the bags of the squares.
I already tried the Luxe Milk Crisp late last year while on my search for the ideal crisped rice bar (it’s pretty good!).
Now I have a full bag of the Premium Assortment which includes Milk Chocolate, Milk chocolate with Almonds, Milk Chocolate with Hazelnuts and the Crisp.
The package explains how Ghirardelli is different, because they control all steps of production, from bean selection, roasting, refining and conching. I’m pretty sure even subpar chocolate goes through controlled steps ... just that the raw materials and standards are a little different.
The all natural formula for Ghirardelli’s Luxe Milk does sound promising: sugar, whole milk powder, cocoa butter, unsweetened chocolate, soy lecithin and vanilla.
The color is creamy and light, much lighter than I usually take my coffee with cream.
The scent is less like chocolate and more like caramelized sugar and meringue (a kind of toasted protein smell).
The bite is rather soft, but not as fudgy as lesser chocolate such as Hershey’s.
The flavor is, well, quite milky. The texture is very smooth and silky and the melt is creamy. However, the flavor has a distinct dried milk taste to it. There’s also a little sour tang to it, not as pronounced as Hershey’s but certainly it leans towards that end instead of the hot chocolate flavors of Dove or Nestle’s Milk Chocolate. The saving grace is that they’re not overly sweet or cloying.
I’ve had quite a few of these squares over the past few months, starting with some sample squares at the Fancy Food Show and I have to say that I don’t care for it much. It worked very well with the malty notes of the Crisp and the texture is certainly great.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The Luxe Milk Almond has crushed almond bits in it. The square is a bit thicker and it’s actually bigger than the plain square (.528 ounces versus .375).
The almonds are pretty big and do go well with the milk flavors of the chocolate. The smooth texture is highlighted well by comparison. The nuts have a dark roast to them so the toasted almond flavors come out well and stand up to the strong dairy component.
Rating: 8 out of 10
This piece is also .528 ounces. The hazelnuts are wonderfully toasted and have that grassy and buttery crunch to them that goes so well with milk chocolate. No hint of stickiness.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Overall, I like the fact that someone is paying attention to milk chocolate, which has a rather bad rap as being some sort of starter chocolate instead of valid gourmet confection. The plain isn’t my style, but certainly not bad quality ... but it’s also possible that I’m just not a plain chocolate persons ... most times I feel like a nut.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
I checked through plenty of stores and found Walgreen’s had the best selection by the time the 75% off discount came around. This is when I jump on items I only eye at full price and then hem and haw over at half off. One was this Ghirardelli Squares Limited Edition Holiday Chocolate Assortment. Full price was $8.99, so $2.24 for over nine ounces of chocolate sounded like a great deal even if it was seasonally themed.
The assortment includes Peppermint Bark, Egg Nog and Chocolate Pecan Pie.
Ghirardelli, I think, is known for their Peppermint Bark. It’s one of the few brands that dependably makes the stuff and actually uses cocoa butter for their white chocolate.
The construction of the square is pretty simple. A milk chocolate base layer is covered with a minted white chocolate studded with little crunchies.
The scent isn’t overpoweringly minty, which probably saves the other chocolates in the bag from tasting like mint, too.
The texture of the chocolates is smooth and silky, very sweet but not achingly so. The little crunchies in the white chocolate aren’t crushed candy canes though, they’re corn flake bits (colored red). The crunch is a bit more cereal than hard candy but still puffy.
It’s kind of odd that this sort of confection isn’t available year round, but since Ghirardelli has been bringing it back faithfully each winter, I shouldn’t complain.
Of the three flavors in the bag, this was the one that sold me on it: Egg Nog.
It’s just extra vanilla-y white chocolate (with real cocoa butter) and a visible dash of nutmeg.
I love the flavors of egg nog, but never really cared for sweet or thick drinks so the idea of a solid, melt-in-your-mouth version of it is ideal for me.
The square is a creamy yellow color and smells like nutmeg.
The white confection is sweet but pretty smooth and has the woodsy blast of nutmeg and tastes, like, well, Egg Nog. It could use a little more vanilla and maybe a slight hit of rum.
A real winner, if only because no one else makes a plain old white chocolate with nutmeg bar. Truffles, yeah, but not just a block of white chocolate. Great idea, well done, bring it back next year and I’ll probably buy it before it goes on clearance.
One of the reasons I thought that this review, even at this late date, would still be of value is that the Chocolate Pecan Pie is not a limited edition item. It’s available now as an individual bar or in single-flavor bags of the Squares. (Also, I don’t think Pecan Pie has a season.)
This little milk chocolate square smells wonderful, like maple, hot chocolate and caramel.
The milk chocolate is smooth, though plenty sweet. Mixed in is a light crunch of toffee coated pecan bits. They have a little salty hit and of course the caramelized & buttery crunch of pecans.
(The photos make it look like the chocolate is bloomed, I don’t think it was, I think it was the fatty pecans messing with the sheen of the chocolate. Mmm, fatty pecans.)
Overall, the array is fun and something I feel comfortable eating out of season at the moment. Especially because I love individually wrapped squares. A bonus is that a sandwich of the Egg Nog & Chocolate Pecan Pie actually go pretty well together. (But the Peppermint Bark doesn’t work with either.)
The only thing that really bugged me was that the ingredients weren’t listed separately for each of the squares. I was able to get the ingredients for the Peppermint Bark because it’s sold separately, but I really like to know what’s in items that I’m able to choose from a dish.
Friday, October 17, 2008
I’m still on my quest to replace the Krackel bar and have been finding all sorts of chocolate and crisped rice bars that area actually better than I remember the Krackel ever being.
Not to spoil the ending of this review but I’ll say right now that the Ghiaradelli Luxe Milk Crisp bar vaults to the second slot on that list. Not that there are a lot of bars on the list at the moment. (Seeds of Change Isle of Skye is above it, seeing how it’s similarly priced and organic.)
This bar is new, part of Ghirardelli new expanded line of gourmet bars. It comes at a gourmet price though, I paid $2.99 for this 2.81 ounce bar. It is all natural, Kosher and made in the USA.
This rich and creamy milk chocolate made from the finest cocoa beans is perfectly complemented with lightly toasted crisped rice. Take in the heavenly aroma and let the ultimate chocolate pleasure linger.
(Bold emphasis theirs, really!)
The bar certainly does look awesome. It was near perfect, without the scrapes and nicks that many of the bars I pick up have.
What pleased me most at first glance was how many crispies there are in the bar.
So I took a photo of the bar flipped over so you could see it, too. Instead of those little engineered ball bearing sized ones that Nestle uses for their Crunch bar these days, these look like actual crisped rice grains (made with millled rice, sugar, salt and barley malt).
There’s another thing that this photo also shows, how thin the bar is. What I like about the Hershey’s Miniatures and the World’s Finest W.F. Crisp bar was how thick they were, it allowed the rice to be completely enveloped by the chocolate. Here the rice floats almost as a separate layer from the chocolate, not blanketed by it instead just a thin sheet of chocolate.
It smells more like breakfast cereal or toast than chocolate. Kind of like milk or mozzarella and fresh baked bread.
That aside, this crisped rice is insanely crispy and fresh. Rarely do I have a chocolate bar that makes so much noise in my head.
The milk chocolate is exquisitely smooth and creamy with a strong powdered milk flavor (whole milk powder is the only dairy ingredient). It’s hearty and sweet at the same time. Notes of caramel, yeast and malt.
I was all set to give this an 8 out of 10 because of the price, but then I looked it up on the Walgreen’s website and they list it at $2.29 ... which I find much more reasonable. I’d be torn at that price though between eating this and the Ritter Sport Corn Flakes (Knusperflakes) bar. This milk chocolate is better, but I love the malty crisp of the corn flakes. I prefer the thicker bite of the Isle of Skye as well. The other option for the same price is the Wheat Chocolate I found in Little Tokyo. What a happy day to have so many choices!
I do hope that Ghirardelli comes out with these in the little individual squares, since no one else is making a single bite version of a crisped rice & milk chocolate these days.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
This was a sample from All Candy Expo that I kind of ate before finishing the photo shoot. (I got the box obviously, but never did the unwrapped version.) I also shared most of it, even though I could have easily eaten it all by myself.
It’s a handsome light milk chocolate bar that lives up to the illustration on the package. It’s thick, each little section in the bar has a creamy peanut butter meltaway center (with crushed nut chunks).
I was dubious. But this won me over. Extremely creamy, so much so that it was like the milk chocolate and peanut butter were one. It didn’t feel greasy at all, even though it was thick and rich.
I have a bunch of other Ghirardelli filled bars (from the last ACE) that I still haven’t tried, this might push me to start opening them (I promise full photography on those though).
Rating: 8 out of 10
I hadn’t had any White Rabbit in a while, so when I saw that it was on sale at Cost Plus World Market, I figured when it’s $1.50 a bag is the time to give it another go. Instead I spotted this Red Bean (Azuki) version and scooped that up instead.
The wrapper has little dark red stripes on it. Inside it still has the same delicate rice paper wrapper that melts in the mouth to form a slick, gelatinous good. The milk taffy inside is a slight & natural looking pink. The red bean flavor is light and woodsy and pleasant. It seems to mellow out the sometimes sweet taffy and mixes really well with the milk flavors.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I picked these up at the Fancy Food Show. They look like just about any other peppermint pattie. The interesting proposition here is that the center is creamed honey with a touch of mint instead of a sugar-based fondant.
The other interesting bit about this is that the dark chocolate shell is completely unsweetened. The sweetness of the center completely balances out the could-be-bitter coating. I tried a few times to just nibble off the chocolate bits, but these are pretty small (about the size of the York Peppermint Pattie minis) and I wasn’t getting a bit enough chunk to really tell. (And as I’ve found, 100% chocolate doesn’t have to be unpalatable.) The center is smooth and a little cool on the tongue, with that beeswax taste & texture added to the mix.
It’s a great little mint. Artisan Sweets is the only place I’ve seen them for sale. But if you do come upon them, especially if you can buy only one or two, it’s an interesting combination of the musky honey tones with the mellow mint and the pop of creamy dark chocolate.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Jungle Chocolate from Yachana Gourmet
I don’t know if this is considered candy. It’s called Jungle Chocolate and I’d probably put it in the trail mix or snack category. It’s just cacao nibs, lightly glazed with sugar cane juice and then mixed with some other jungle-grown edibles. The four varieties I tried were:
While the mixes themselves didn’t wow me, I think I’d like to just try a plain old box of lightly sweetened nibs. (Or maybe lightly caramelized.)
The selling point here is that they don’t melt. I’ve put these through the paces. They’ve sat in the car, they’ve been in my house in the 100 degree heat. It doesn’t melt, instead, like a stew, it just makes all the flavors even better. This is chocolate that goes places that chocolate can’t go. It has all that stuff that you crave, even if it doesn’t quite have the texture.
It’s all fair trade, vegan and all natural. It’s a little expensive, but then again, knowing that the money goes right to a sustainable project in Ecuador may make it taste even sweeter. I wouldn’t call this a replacement for chocolate, but perhaps a replacement for other snack mixes. Retail is about $3.00 to 3.50 for a 2 ounce bag (that’s well packaged - protects the product, but not overpackaged).
Rating: 7 out of 10
I finally found these at Target, hiding on the backside of a display in the Valentine’s area (well, it was the Valentine’s area, but was then the Easter area). The package looks a heckuva lot like the Vanilla Creme Kisses that I might have seen them already and just passed them by.
Cheesecake as a “flavor” seems a little odd, but then again, so does Buttered Popcorn, Apple Pie and Chili & Chocolate, so never judge a flavor by its name.
They’re, I dunno, like the Vanilla Creme, a little more tangy. I think they’re more like yogurt. Or yellow birthday cake.
It doesn’t matter much to me, this Kiss has brought back that limited edition weariness that I experience from time to time. I haven’t been fond of any of the more subtle filled Kisses. While I like subtle and respectful balances in my haut chocolate, I kind of like my mass manufactured stuff loud & proud. I’ve had them sitting in my desk for months and I think that pretty much sums up how I felt about them. I could take them or leave them, but mostly I left them.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Before I took on this challenge of the all-chocolate chocolate bars, I did take a test to find out if I’m a “supertaster”. People are divided into three categories: nontasters, regular tasters and supertasters.
Our tongues can detect five tastes: sweet, salt, bitter, sour & umami (savory). Nontasters (about 25% of the population) tend to enjoy more intensely flavor things such as super sours and liberally salted products, enjoy fatty & sweet foods while regular tasters (50%) shy away from intensity but sample liberally from all the major tastes & textures equally. Supertasters (25%) dislike stronger bitter & sour things and even high fat content foods. There are all sorts of scientific studies about evolution and how each of these types can be beneficial or detrimental to your ultimate longevity ... or enjoyment of that long life.
Although I have a very keen sense of smell, I am a regular taster. (I like coffee, super sours, broccoli & used to drink pickle juice - though I really like chocolate & cheese, I’m not that keen on other types of fatty foods.) So I figured I might be a good candidate for appreciating the more authentic tastes of the purest chocolate.
Dagoba makes one of the few 100% chocolate bars and the only one that I could find that was organic. It’s called Prima Materia which means, literally, prime matter. It’s usually used to refer to alchemical ideas about the base matter that makes up the universe, that all matter can be changed back into and then reformed. Kind of like stem cells are for living creatures.
In this case, this is the essential chocolate - just beans from Madagascar, ground up and made into a bar.
At only $2.75 retail, it was about the same price as a baking bar (though smaller of course). I got this one as a sample at the Fancy Food Show in January.
The Prima Materia is a dark looking bar, nicely glossy with a solid snap.
The melt on this was a little sticky, I can’t really explain it. Whatever it is, it’s not terribly dry. The melt lets the flavors come out slowly. I taste a bit of cherries and raspberry at the very start, but once it melts a bit more it’s all about the dark mulch of the forest floor.
There’s a light yeasty note in there that reminds me of dark beer. The bitterness is noticeable, but not enough to keep me from eating more pieces. By far this is the most edible of the bars I tried. I wouldn’t say that I’ll be eating a lot of it, but with some almonds or cashews nearby, it’s an acceptable form of entertainment for a while.
It really doesn’t take much to satisfy my chocolate craving either. (Of course then I start craving something else, like a glass of water & some sweet caramels.)
2 ounces - 185 calories per ounce - Kosher
After Christmas this bar, Ghirardelli 100% Cacao Unsweetened Chocolate, was on sale for only $1.25, and found in with the baking products, I thought I’d throw it into the mix as a way to see if I was just being overly picky about what eating chocolate is in the first place (besides a fancy way to charge two or three times as much as chocolate chips).
The wrapper is very simple, but still quite compelling. The bar is large and flat, a little larger than the regular bars in the candy aisle, in this case it’s 4 ounces instead of 3.17 of the current Intense Dark line.
To their credit, Ghirardelli is clear that this is a baking bar. So this is an off-label application of the confection.
As lovely as it was, and it is a lovely bar, nicely tempered, perhaps a bit stiff but a deep red-brown, they are correct in not promoting this as an eating bar.
The smell was quite woodsy, like cedar and a bit grassy. It tastes like olives and asparagus. Bitter, moisture-sucking, mulchy and green.
Looking at the nutrition label it’s easy to see why this is so chalky, it has less fat than the Prima Materia, a whopping 40 calories per ounce less fat. (Have i mentioned lately that I love cacao fat ... sometimes I wonder what it’d be like if donuts were made by frying them in cocoa butter.)
4 ounces - 145 calories per ounce - Kosher
Meiji is a good consumer brand in Japan. They make all sorts of candy, not just chocolate products. (My favorites are their Gummy Choco and Chelsea.)
It’s a pretty bar with 15 nicely shaped scored pieces. The package is also good, an easy to open paperboard box that fits back together pretty well to hold the leftovers (and there’s gonna be leftovers, who eats the whole thing?). I was encouraged that it had a pretty high fat content, too.
The bar wasn’t expensive ($1.99), which is probably a pretty good indication of what I should expect for a chocolate without any sugar. The scent is of the dark roasted cocoa flavors, a bit of charcoal. There’s a very abrupt high-note of the vanilla flavoring in there as well.
On the tongue it melts pretty nicely, but it’s quite bitter and dry. Keeping it further back on the tongue seems to help to recognize the other flavors that included a bit of a yeasty note of baking bread, wood smoke and burnt sugar.
I should note, in case you haven’t noticed so far, these are not low-calorie bars. In fact, this “sugarless chocolate” is some of the highest caloric density reviews I’ve ever done. (It’s the cocoa butter.)
But note that chocolate has a good amount of iron (10%), and about 3 grams of protein per ounce and 4 grams of fiber per ounce. That doesn’t even go into the positive effects that all those antioxidants have for your heart and circulatory system.
1.58 ounces - 161 calories per ounce (contains soy lecithin & artificial flavors)
I was so excited when I bought the Chocolat Bonnat 100% Cacao. I’ve never had Bonnat before, the only experience I have with it is reading this exhaustive series at DallasFood.org about Noka and seeing the bars at several upscale stores. At $8 a bar (granted it is a big bar at 100 grams), I was hoping for some sort of miracle. I’ve come to realize there’s a reason that chocolate with sugar is so widely available ... it’s just better that way.
The wrapper, I admit, is lovely. The regular Bonnat bars have white wrappers with similar lettering, but the 100% gets the special brick red treatment, which should be a good indication that you should stop and think about it. 100% Cacao. No sugar, not even lecithin or vanilla. Stop. Hazard. Danger.
The bar was wonderfully tempered. (As wonderfully tempered as I was ill tempered when I was done.)
When I first unwrapped it, it smelled strongly of green olives. Later when I tasted it, I kept getting the strong, puckering flavor of green olives, grassy matcha and artichokes. These are all good things as far as vegetables go, but I don’t like them together and I don’t like them as the primary notes in my chocolate.
Here’s the thing, I hear my flavors. Well, not quite hear ... they have wavelengths in my head (and kind of colors that go along with them). Flavors create vibrations. And different kinds of flavor combinations create different combinations of these vibrations & wavelengths. It’s called synesthesia and many people have it to some degree.
So when I talk about things being harmonious, it’s not just a metaphor, it’s an actual description of my experience. In this case the bar was screechy. It was unripe, unrehearsed, stuttery, weak and tinny.
I’ve had the bar for a couple of months and have unwrapped it a few times to see if it was just that I’d had the flu, the lights in the house were at the wrong level, the moon was in the wrong phase or was in a bad mood. No, this is like Phillip Glass & Stephen Sondheim collaborating on some sort of atonal opera about database programmers performed by deaf alley cats in a poorly ventilated auditorium with squeaky chairs that pinch. It’s probably a wonderful intellectual experiment, but it’s not an enjoyable physical one. (But again, this may be an experience colored by the way that my brain processed certain things and might be just glorious to folks who don’t get the cacophony of wavelengths.)
3.53 ounces - unknown calories
The best news is that I have a deeper appreciation of my blended chocolates now and single origins even more so. As far as pure chocolate as being a “sugarless” alternative to regular sweetened chocolate, I think a very small quantity of sweetened chocolate will be more satisfying than a larger portion of one of these. But your mileage may vary. I definitely recommend the Dagoba if you’re itching to try just one. (The fact that it has a reasonable price is also a selling point.)
All of the remaining bits of these bars will be taken next door to the neighbors this evening where I will donate them to Amy in the hopes that she’ll create some awesome and rich brownies out of them so that I may love this chocolate again.
Casey at Chocolate Note has far more appreciation for the most concentrated chocolate bars. For other deeper appreciations for these bars try the Seventy Percent for: Michel Cluizel Noir Infini & forum discussion about Bonnat & Cluizel.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Ghirardelli has really expanded their line of chocolate bars over the past five years. Not only that, I see their products everywhere now thanks to the expansion of higher end chocolate into grocery stores and drug chains. They even have a charming chain of ice cream stores.
But I’ve ignored them on the blog for a long time. Probably because my initial impression of them has been that the chocolate bars is waxy and bland. But they’re wildly popular and have been making chocolate since 1852 in the Bay Area, one of my favorite candy destinations, so I needed to put those impressions to the test.
That’s not to say that I don’t use their chocolate chips, I prefer them to Nestle’s Toll House Morsels or Hershey’s Baking Chips and they’re often on sale for a decent price.
So I picked up this assortment of tasting squares after Christmas when they were on sale. They feature the new line of Intense Dark in three different flavors.
The Espresso Escape wrapper says: dark chocolate with finely ground espresso beans in 60% cacao. As usual I was worried about the bits of coffee beans, but in thsi case they really were so finely ground as they matched the particle size of the cocoa solids.
Roasted brewed coffee flavors mixed with the woodsy taste of real beans. Very little chocolate flavor here, it’s all coffee but with a smooth chocolate texture. Good cocoa butter melt, very silky. Light vanilla overtones. But the cedar and smoke is quite tangy.
While I enjoyed the texture quite a bit, the flavor was just a little too, well, Intense (tm).
The Mint Bliss package says: dark chocolate with natural mint in 60% cacao. What the front of the package doesn’t mention is that there’s also some unidentified “artificial flavor” in this as well.
Nice buttery texture, but an incongruous tangy and musty taste along with the peppermint. It’s more of a fresh peppermint leaf taste, not a pure peppermint oil, which is a nice change of pace from their Peppermint Bark that I had over the holidays. But the combination of flavors still doesn’t quite jive for me.
It has a nice buttery melt with a light cool feeling but the flavor is a little thin. It’s a little fruity, on the raisin side of things.
It’s sweet, only the lightest trace of bitterness. Light dry finish.
Ghirardelli has some other versions in their Intense Dark line, including the Midnight Reverie that has 86% cacao, Evening Dream with only 60% cacao and two other flavored 60% called Citrus Sunset & Toffee Interlude. They also have some filled bars that I haven’t tried yet.
Overall, it’s nice stuff, certainly worth the price and a fun little pickup for coffee or after dinner, maybe a mid-day munch. I like the 10.6 gram squares, it’s a good size for a little taste of chocolate.
Note: the Mint Bliss & Espresso Escape have milk fat in them, so are unsuitable for vegans, but the Twilight Delight is milk-free (though made on equipment that processes dairy).
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Name: Ghirardelli Squares - Milk Chocolate with Carmelized Almonds
I couldn’t resist picking up this bag of sweet treats. I was originally plowing through the clearance table at the drug store because they had Hershey’s cookies for 50 cents a package (and it was one of the few times I’d seen the York ones) and I was hoping for some Halloween finds but then I thought, $2 bucks for Ghirardelli? I’ll take it!
I suspect that this flavor is being discontinued because it has no page of its own on the site (well, there’s a link, but the page has a 404 error on it). Anyway, these are cute little 1.75” squares of milk chocolate with little crunchy almond bits in it.
The milk chocolate is smooth and creamy, not too milky tasting but a bit sticky. The almonds are nicely roasted and have a good carmelized bite to them. Mellow and a little bit zippy, there are really nice little sweets to have around.
Rating - 8 out of 10
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