Monday, December 16, 2013
A few weeks ago I went to the preview opening of the brick & mortar store for Sugarfina. (More photos here on la.eater.) The evening included tastings of a half a dozen of their favorite candies and of course I got to meet one of the co-owners, Rosie, whom I’ve been corresponding with via email for about a year.
Sugarfina opened earlier this year as a webstore, selling a carefully curated selection of candies from around the world. Many of the gummis are made with all natural flavors & colors and come in extraordinary flavor combinations and shapes. The chocolates are a mix of whimsy and sophistication, with an array of malted milk balls, caramels and cordials.
Sugarfina displays morsels, everything in the shop is morselized, easy for hand-to-mouth sampling and when you’re not eating it, it’s fun to look at. While browsing the store, if you didn’t know it was candy, everything could easily be mistaken for beads or buttons.
Guest were treated to a $10 gift certificate, which I put to good use right away. I even had a shopping list before I got there so I wouldn’t be distracted. I chose to create my own bento box. It’s a sleeve with three slots. It’s exceptionally well designed. The robin’s egg blue and white design is carried through the store and packaging. The inside of the box has blue scalloped concentric circles on white, as does the tissue in the bag it was placed in. The box itself is $4, which isn’t bad when you consider it doesn’t need wrapping and is durable & reusable. The cubes that fit in there were either $7 or $8.
The other change from my previous Sugarfina sampling is that the boxes for the candy have changed. They were a polyester soft plastic, which were not really that secure (hard to keep closed once you took the clear plastic stickers off). The new boxes are acrylic and after you take the labels off, they’re also reusable. They’re airtight, so any leftover candy keeps far longer.
One of the things that got me to actually go over to Beverly Hills after work was the fact that one of the new products is an Italian fruit gumdrop mix called Citrus and Berry Fruttini. They’re little pâte de fruit, coated in crunchy sugar.
The berry is a Wild Blueberry. They’re mild and sweet with a dark raspberry jam flavor and then that hint of black tea that I often taste in blueberries.
The yellow is Italian Lemon made from femminello lemons. I’ve never had a fresh femminello lemon before, but I’ve had limoncello, which is a sweet lemon liqueur that uses the peels. These are quite zesty and reminded me of Meyer lemons. It’s tart, it has a great balance between the sweetness and the oily flavors of the lemon oils.
The orange is Blood Orange. This one was definitely orange, but lacking the zesty notes that the lemon had. If I were to pick these up again, I’d go with the all Lemon selection, which they sell separately. There’s also a Wild Strawberry which I didn’t get to try.
Rating: 8 out of 10
I am quite fond of candies citrus zest, but the Aphrodite Kumquat goes far above and beyond that humble confection.
At the heart (sorry it’s not better depicted) there is a whole kumquat. It’s about the size of a small olive and completely candied. Unlike regular orange peels, the rind of a kumquat is pretty thin but when you eat the whole thing, you’re also getting the pulp inside. So there’s a juicy, tangy orange syrup at the center, along with the very strong clementine-like peel around it. Then it’s covered in a thin layer of chocolate. That chocolate is infused with the orangey oils and then the whole thing is encased in a beautifully treated apricot-colored sugar shell.
One is more than enough. They’re quite intense, the strength of the citrus oils are enough to leave my tongue burning for several hours. Sure, there are only eight of them in the box, but how could anyone eat more than two in a day?
Rating: 8 out of 10
The Chocolate Sparkles are also Greek and another special find. They’re like the smooth and flat little rocks you might pick up on the beach: except they’re an exceptionally unnatural shimmery blue.
The candy shell is thick, like a Jordan almond so there’s a lot of crunch. The dark chocolate center is smooth and creamy with an excellent silky melt and deep cocoa flavors. Unlike many dark chocolate lentils, these truly are made with dark chocolate that has no additional milk or dairy fat in it. (Though there may be traces of milk, wheat or nuts as they’re processed on shared equipment.)
Rating: 8 out of 10
These also came in yellow and pink, also with the shimmery finish. I don’t see them on the website, but they were definitely for sale in the store.
The prices are, well, Beverly Hills. However, unlike someplace like Dylan’s Candy Bar, where you portion out your generic candy into generic bags for $12.99 a pound, many of those products can be purchased at the drug store for a fraction of the price. Sugarfina’s per pound price point is more, about $25.00 per pound, but about 40% of Sugarfina’s candy can’t be purchased anywhere else in the United States and is far better quality than the drug store fare at most pick a mix candy stores. $25.00 per pound isn’t out of range for the chocolate items, but it is steep for sugar candy, even if it’s all natural.
Even though they don’t scoop by the pound, if you stop in the store, they do have little 1 ounce packets you can buy of many of the items to sample or just have a little treat. In true SoCal fashion they also offer a candy concierge.
It’s hard to rationalize it as an everyday candy shop (like I seem to treat See’s now that they’re walking distance from me), but the decadent packaging and precious treatment of the candy elevates it all to a different level. It’s not snacking, it’s sampling. It’s for grown ups.
Friday, October 11, 2013
Lindt has a new line called Hello, but I also noticed this array of single serving bars at several drug stores and Target over the past few months. I picked up a full set (or at least I think it’s all of them - at the time I wrote this, I couldn’t find them on their website).
The packaging is very simple with a color coding that made it easy to check that I had all of them. (I had to go to two stores.) They’re small portions, at 190-230 calories per bar, they’re not too filling.
The Lindt Wafer Bar is described on the package as Milk chocolate with wafer and creamy hazelnut filling.. The little picture shows that the wafer part is like a flattened tube inside the hazelnutty center.
The actual bar I got wasn’t as much like the picture as the others, which were exactly as depicted. In this case, the first section contained only hazelnut paste (so the photo is of the second section). The wafers do not take up nearly as much volume as I’d hoped, so the effect is milk chocolate bar with a lot of hazelnut (nothing wrong with that) and a little bit of wafer.
The wafers are malty and less sweet than the rest of the bar. The milk chocolate is very sweet as is the filling, so it’s kind of throat searing at first. The mix of textures and flavors is quite good though, I like the Lindt milk chocolate in small bites, it’s very creamy and though it has a dairy note to it, it tastes fresh, not like dried milk. Perhaps I’m looking at the wrong brand, but I wanted more hazelnut in there, it seemed more cream than hazelnut. (But maybe I’m just used to the Ferraro style.)
The bar is: Milk chocolate with hazelnut cream filling and pieces of almond brittle.
This bar is bigger than the first one, at 1.3 ounces. It feels hefty as well.
The milk chocolate bar looks the same as the Wafer bar, glossy and light milk chocolate. There’s a whiff of cereal about it and a hint of hazelnut but mostly it smells sweet.
The chocolate is smooth and has a milky melt to it, kind of like pudding. The center is very crunchy, with little bits of almond in the hazelnut cream. It’s not terribly nutty, but very sweet with just a hint of salt to it. Overall, the filling was good, the textures nice and the proportions very well done ... but I wanted it to be less sweet.
The package says that the bar is Dark chocolate with hazelnut filling and whole hazelnuts. And so it is.
It’s the biggest bar of the assortment I picked up, as well, at 1.4 ounces. It’s also the fattiest, at 164 calories per ounce. If I’m going to spend twice as much on the bar, I’d better be getting something high quality in there.
The bar is stunning. Three molded hazelnut sections in glossy dark chocolate. The dark chocolate looks great and smell a lot like roasted hazelnuts and coffee.
The chocolate is buttery and has a good melt, although like many Lindt chocolate, it might be a little too slick on the tongue and not enough chocolate flavor in there.
The hazelnut center is fantastic. The hazelnut paste is soft and has a great fresh flavor and though it’s sweet, it’s not too sticky. The whole hazelnut is crisp and crunchy and I believe blanched to remove the skin, which keeps away some of those bitter notes.
Of the three bars, this was my favorite, though it could benefit from darker chocolate.
I don’t see myself picking them up again, as interesting as I thought they were. They’re overpriced, though my guess is that perhaps in Europe they’re more economical. It’s odd, because the Hello Crunchy Nougat was a very similar bar to the Wafer, but twice the size for the same price. They also don’t use natural vanilla, it’s artificially flavored, which makes me wonder if there may be cut corners elsewhere. I think I’ll stick with Ritter-Sport’s Knusperflakes and Dark Chocolate Whole Hazelnut but if I feel like spending a little more, I’d step up to the Gardini Bitter Chocolate and Gianduia with Sea Salt.
Friday, February 1, 2013
Since I’m traveling I thought I’d feature a photo today of another chocolate I tried because a friend brought it back from a trip. I don’t know much about these little Rivoire Chocolate pieces from the Rivoire Caffe in Florence, Italy.
They’re rich and smooth and just the right size to eat with a cup of coffee.
Friday, January 4, 2013
When I was shopping at The Meadow, a quirky store in New York City that sells carefully curated selection of three things (salt, bitters and chocolate), I asked what was the best bar for munching. The gal at the counter suggested Gardini Extra Fondente Gianduia Salata. The bar was pricey at $12 for 3.5 ounces, but I’d come all that way and we’d already talked quite a bit about the glory of Venezuelan beans, so I was ready to trust her. It certainly sounded good: Bitter Chocolate and Gianduia with Sweet Sea Salt.
I’ve become spoiled over the years, though I love hazelnut paste (gianduia), I don’t care for the sticky sweetness of some of the cheaper varieties. This bar boasted a robust 54% cacao chocolate shell with hazelnuts as a the next ingredient after the chocolate (not sugar or oil). There is no listing of the nutritional value on the package, but I’m going to guess that there’s lots of fat in there to make up for the lack of sugar.
The bar is made by Gardini Chocolato in Italy and has won a few awards. If I might tease the end of this review, they’re well earned.
The bar is impressive and feels large and substantial. The segments are domed and shiny and even though the packaging is pretty much just a cellophane wrapper, it’s largely unmarred.
Each domed section is filled with a salted hazelnut paste. The paste, according to the ingredients, is made from ground hazelnuts, whole milk powder and sea salt.
The dark chocolate is in the semi-sweet range, it’s not terrifically dark but still has a lot of oomph to it. The melt is smooth and creamy with its own woodsy profile and a light hint of figs or cherries. The hazelnut center is fascinating. It’s also buttery and very smooth without that sticky feeling that some gianduias can have. The salt provides little sparks of flavor as well. The roasted profile is perfect.
This is an incredible bar, very well made and presented with nothing fussy about it except for the price. I could see eating these regularly as it’s a great combination in the perfect ratios. I would like to try other bars in the Gardini range, but part of me wonders what else could be better than this?
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
I was excited to see this Nestle Crunch Noisettes bar in New York at Zabar’s. I scooped it right up from the display basket by the cheeses (and looked in the same basket to see if there were any other exotic flavors).
The bar is made in Italy by Nestle and is a twist on the classic Crunch bar, which is a milk chocolate bar with crisped rice. The exotic twist here is the inclusion of noisettes ... hazelnuts.
This bar is very attractive.The mold design is inventive and practical. The sections break easily but instead of a typical grid they’re faceted polygons in a vaguely rectangular format. Even though I carried this all the way across the country, it still came out looking practically pristine.
The back of the bar reveals a bit more about the contents. The crisped rice is large and classic looking, unlike the newer cereal rice flour bb’s that are in the current American Crunch bar. There are also a far number of crushed hazelnut pieces.
The bar smells comforting, a mix of sweet milk, cereal and toasted nuts.
The snap is crisp and the melt of the chocolate is a little sticky but overall smooth. The texture is on the fudgy side with a lot of milk and a slight grain to it. The milk flavors predominate along with a hint of malt and the fresh and crunchy hazelnuts. The chocolate recipe is a little different from the American Nestle Crunch, this version has whey in it, which is not allowed in American chocolate (if it is to be labeled chocolate), but at least it keeps the mouthfeel similar and adds protein to the bar ... which keeps it from being overly sweet. I wanted more crisped rice, but feel like the ratio of hazelnuts was just perfect.
I liked it and had no trouble eating the whole bar over the period of several days. Given a choice, I’d probably opt for a Ritter Sport bar, as I prefer their milk chocolate profile and more transparent ethical sourcing though they don’t actually have a crisped rice bar (but an excellent milk chocolate with corn flakes will do).
This bar has wheat gluten in it, along with dairy, soy and tree nuts.
Friday, June 22, 2012
But I realized that if I didn’t review them, I couldn’t get rid of them.
The marshmallows have a lot going for them in the concept department. They’re fruity marshmallows shaped and colored like the fruits they emulate. Green Apple is an uncommon flavor in marshmallows, so it has that unique selling proposition going for it as well. Plus, this marshmallow has a jelly filling.
The price wasn’t bad, they were $1.99 for a bag that was over 5 ounces and held about 18 marshmallows. They’re cute and great for decorating or garnishing any number of things. I was thinking these might be fun on the end of a long toothpick in an Apple Martini served in a lowball glass.
They smell slightly of old beer or hard apple cider. Of course it’s just my brain confusing artificial flavors with alcohol. Silly brain.
The sugary coating in this case is also tart, so there’s an immediate pop of flavor to go with the quite aromatic marshmallow. The fluff is soft and chewy, not quite latexy or overly gummy.
It’s really all over the map. The marshmallow is sweet and only lightly flavored, but the sour sugar coating gives it a strange texture and of course an unwelcome tartness. The jelly center is less jelly and more of a sap. It’s sticky and also strangely flavored, it’s a little tangy but also quite heavily flavored (and colored) with a less-artificial apple flavoring.
It’s just weird. They’re not as attractive, I think, as the Strawberry Mallo-Licious. The color is strange, a bit on the blue side and the jelly inside is overly colored, so much that I could taste it and it made my tongue blue-green.
It’s just not my thing, not that I’m opposed to fruity flavored marshmallows (the only ones I’ve found I like are the Japanese Eiwa ones sold in the US under the Hello Kitty brand). I’m still wondering if these can be toasted, though I have my doubts about the sour coating doing well near a flame. Right now, after eating only two, I’ve found I have a stomach ache.
Monday, June 11, 2012
American marshmallows are not as interesting as those that are found in Europe and Japan. It’s sad, because I would think that the United States has the capacity and the desire to eat really good marshmallows.
So I was surprised and pleased to find this bag of Mallo-Licious: Strawberry filled with Chocolate on display at the end of the candy aisle at Walgreen’s. They come in other flavors as well. I saw Green Apple (filled with green jelly) there and the package says they also come in Sour Peach.
I’ve had quite a few Frankford candies over the years, which is not a very well known brand. They make licensed candy and have another sub-brand called Kandy Kastle. Much of their candy is made in China, though Frankford has a small chocolate factory in Pennsylvania (where they started) that makes mostly novelty foil wrapped molded pieces. For the most part, their stuff is sub-par, some of it actually horrible. But I saw that this candy was made in Italy, so I thought it might be different.
They are shaped like real strawberries, and are actually sized like an average strawberry as well. They’re over two inches tall from the tip of the berry to the top of the green “stem”. It’s a standard marshmallow but instead of the campfire style, these are covered with fine granulated sugar. It gives them a little sparkle and in the case of the strawberry flavor here for review, it gives it a slight grainy crunch that vaguely mimics strawberry seeds.
The marshmallow berry is filled with a little dollop of what is called chocolate on the front of the package, but the ingredients are probably more on the order of sugar, palm oil, milk powder and fat reduced cocoa.
The ingredients as a whole are pretty substandard (though what I’d expect from Frankford). It starts with sugar and high fructose corn syrup. See, here’s what so surprising about that. There are a lot of people who assume that candy has a lot of HFCS in it, but in reality there are very few candies that do. This is, though, the second candy I’ve had in the past month that does, and marks only the fifth since I’ve been keeping the database that I’ve noticed it.
The marshmallow is soft and has a pleasant strawberry scent, a combination of toasted sugar like cotton candy and a light floral note of pineapple. The bite has the slight grain and the marshmallow is bouncy and melts quite easily, more like a meringue than some latexy gelatin-rich marshmallows. The chocolate inside is more like a soft paste that has a cake batter flavor to it and very little actual chocolate flavor.
It’s not horrible, but much better to look at than actually eat. Honestly, I think they’re charming and wouldn’t be afraid to use them to decorate a cake or put amongst some home baked cookies on a tray for dessert without ever telling people they’re edible. (Lest the eat them.) I’m sure children will enjoy them. I’m thinking about trying to toast them.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
The bag is expensive. It was 3.5 ounces and cost $3.99. There are only 10 little eggs inside. However, I liked the spare packaging which did the job of protecting the foil wrapped eggs as they were all fresh and unmarred.
The package says that they’re Crispy bite size eggs smothered in milk chocolate with luscious cream. Each egg is about 1.5 inches long.
The chocolate shell is extremely light in color, the ingredients bear this out, with sugar as the first ingredient in the shell and milk as the second with cocoa butter and cocoa mass pulling up the third and fourth slots.
It smells extremely sweet, a little like pudding and nutella. The bite is soft, the construction is similar to a Ferrero Rocher. There’s a nearly liquid hazelnut cream center, a crisp cookie shell and then the chocolate coating on the outside. (There are no crushed nuts in this item.)
The creamy center is sweet, sticky and quite slick. The smoothness gives up the roasted hazelnut flavors easily, and matches the sweetness of the chocolate shell very well. The light wafery crisp of the inner shell is the only thing that breaks it up and gives a little malty corn flake note to it (it’s made with wheat flour).
Ferrero Cocoa Eggs are like Ferrero Rondnoir. There’s a dark chocolate shell, a wafery light shell under that and a creamy dark chocolate filling. There’s only a touch of hazelnut in there, according to the ingredients, and I really didn’t catch any of the flavors.
Like it’s hazelnut buddy, there’s also a bit of palm oil in the center, which is a little disappointing, but expected. The Ferrero group has pledged to sustainably source their cocoa and palm oil by 2015. They also say that they don’t purchase cocoa from slave farms, but don’t have a formal certification process yet.
The dark chocolate is well rounded, with a strong fudgy flavor like brownies. There’s even a slight bitter note to it that’s balanced out by the much sweeter creamy filling and more bland wafers.
I liked the Cocoa Eggs a bit better than the Hazelnut. They’re both different from their year round versions as well, which means that they are a little more “special” than just a reshaping and some pastel packaging.
They contain nuts, milk, soy and gluten. The only artificial ingredient was vanillin. They’re filled with fat (delicious fat) and clock in at 163 calories per ounce, on the very high side for candy.
I found them expensive for the amount and quality of the product. They were good, but not fantastic. For the same money, I’d probably be happier with See’s Scotchmallow Eggs.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.