Friday, March 27, 2015
When I was at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January, I picked up a lot of little chocolate pieces, but not full sized bars for review. So here are a few thoughts on some items that are now in stores:
Perugina Baci are perfect little bites of dark chocolate and hazelnut. Of course they had to twist it up a bit and introduce a white chocolate version ... and now there’s Peugina Milk Chocolate Baci.
The wrappers are light blue instead of silver. They’re pretty and look the same in shape and structure as the standard dark. The milk chocolate does change the confection quite a bit. The hazelnut because more of the star, as well as the dairy notes from the milk chocolate coating and creamy filling. I still liked them, but I ate some classic dark at the same time. I still prefer the bittersweet coating because it brings out the roasted flavors. But these are still nice and probably something kids may enjoy more or supertasters who don’t like bitter things.
I enjoy BT McElrath’s Salty Dog bars (which it turns out I haven’t fully reviewed), which are a great sweet/savory mix of creamy chocolate, salt and crunchy toffee bits. So I was very excited to try the new BT McElrath Buttered Toast. It’s described as Toasted artisan breadcrumbs in our proprietary blend of 40% cacao milk chocolate.
It’s sweet and definitely buttery. There’s a soft bite to this and little bits that crunch like panko. There’s a light salt note along with a little toffee and malt to it as well. Even though it’s a very rich milk chocolate, it might be a little too thick and sticky for me ... maybe I’ll wait for the dark chocolate version to come along.
The BT McElrath Super Red is a 70% bar with little flecks of freeze dried fruit.
The tart notes of the berry bits with the rather dark chocolate combine for a lot more flavor intensity than something like a nut chocolate combo would give. The seeds also give a little bitterness, as does the chocolate and dark berry notes.
Vosges calls these Super Dark bars, though they’re only 72% dark chocolate. That’s because the super part isn’t modifying the chocolate, it’s modifying the inclusions, which are all deemed superfoods. It’s like they went out of their way to put bitter things in there. I picked up two samples (they look pretty much the same). Vosges Super Dark Matcha Green Tea features spirulina, matcha (pulverized green tea) and cocoa nibs. The grassy notes of the matcha are immediately forward. I enjoy a lot of green tea, though I don’t have matcha very often because it’s pulverized leaves, not just steeped tea. Though I understand that there’s more flavanol bang per gram in matcha than the brewed leaves, it’s just too intense for me. This bar brings out a lot of that experience, so if you’re a matcha fan, this is a fun bar, especially because there are some cocoa nibs in there for crunch. The bitterness was just too drying for me. I had to follow it with some Hojicha.
The Vosges Super Dark Coconut Ash & Banana features Sri Lankan coconut charcoal coconut ash and Hawaiian Banana. The bar does look much darker, blacker than a usual chocolate bar. It smells like coconut cream. The flavor is bizarre as well. There are the immediate chocolate notes, which are like crispy brownie edges, then the coconut flavors and something, well, umami that I can’t put my finger on. Then there’s the weird banana flavor, which is a little like fingernail polish remover, it’s not an integrated flavor, it’s like it escapes from the chocolate and evaporates immediately into the back of my sinuses - eventually within the chocolate I did come across a few tangy bits of dried banana, which were completely different on the banana taste spectrum. I wouldn’t call this a pleasant bar experience, though I do appreciate the attempt at the unique. The ash notes come out at the end, more as a sort of dry charcoal notes.
I actually love the little sizes of all the bars, and BT McElrath sells theirs in an array of sizes, some with mixed flavors so you can try more of choose to suit your mood. Vosges also sells some of their Super Dark pieces in boxes, but they’re about $80.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
There’s more to hazelnuts and chocolate than Nutella. There are quite a few makers of gianduia, the paste made from combining chocolate and ground hazelnuts, in Italy. Pernigotti is one of the finest, creating lovely little foil wrapped treats since 1860.
You can read some previous reviews of their product line here.
Monday, December 15, 2014
Just when I think I’ve finished with my chocolate covered cherry experience, I find another.
Perugina is probably best known for their little foil wrapped Baci hazelnut kisses. But they have a similarly packaged cherry treat ... simply called Cherry on the front but then descriptively named Perugina Dark Chocolate Covered Whole Cherries on the side of the box.
The box is only 1.2 ounces, but I found it on sale at Cost Plus World Market for $1.49, which isn’t a bad price for a single serve imported item like this. There are three pieces, wrapped in red foil, with gold cherries on top; so they’re prettier out of the box. Unwrapped, the chocolate shell was shiny and unmarred.
This chocolate covered cherry is in syrup. The cherry is big, as big as the See’s, but in a smaller cup, so there’s not much room for syrup in there. The flavor of the cherry is mild, as is the sauce that comes with it. I found this refreshing, as it meant that it wasn’t as artificial as some, but also a little bland. The texture of the cherry was as firm or crunchy as others I’ve had in the past week either. The chocolate has a more distinct cocoa flavor, but also isn’t as creamy or integrated. So the cocoa notes are a bit chalky.
I liked these, but not because they were great quality, mostly because they didn’t taste too much like maraschino cherries and weren’t really large and sweet ... which in most cases would be attributes folks would seek out. So, they were cute, but not something I would buy again.
Friday, April 18, 2014
A classic item for wedding favors are little parcels of confetti. Confetti is a generic Italian term for panned candies such as Jordan almonds, coated nuts, mints and of course chocolate. Tradition is a little sachet of five pieces, symbolizing health, wealth, fertility, happiness and longevity for the couple and their guests.
Another style of presenting the panned sweets is to wrap the little pieces up and form them into flowers and other shapes. I’ve seen these for years, I remember seeing a display of them in New York City’s Little Italy in a deli by the counter. They were so pretty, I’m not sure I even understood that the petals were edible. This photos shows them made with Jordan almonds and tucked into crepe paper. I’ve seen them made with cellophane which can be clear or tinted as well as tule mesh, which can also be uncolored or tinted (but probably isn’t sanitary).
I picked up this little bouquet in London at Harrod’s in their Easter display. It was expensive for so little actual candy, £3.50 for about 15 little pieces (about $5.85 USD). It’s made by Confetti Pelino of Sulmona, Italy. They were established in 1783, in a region of Italy that’s well known for this traditional and painstaking method of confectionery.
This isn’t as much a review of the candy as it is a deconstruction of the assembly of the five stems of flowers.
The bouquet is held together by green floral tape and decorated with green crepe paper leaves of the same color. It’s pretty top heavy, as the candy petals are thick and will tip over the little bouquet when placed in a water glass or wine glass (so be careful if you’re playing with these at a wedding reception). Each little flower is on a stem of wire, held together with tape and string. Floral tape isn’t exactly sticky, so there’s no issue of excessive adhesive with these. It unravels quite easily.
Each little piece of candy is a small, circular disk covered in cellophane. The cellophane is twisted together, the pointed, twisted ends are then tied together with a bit of string, and then taped onto the wire stem.
The candy at the center of these isn’t a Jordan almond, just a little sugar disk. It’s kind of bland, and as far as I can tell, unflavored. It dissolves and tastes like, well, sugar.
As candy, it’s expensive and darned difficult to eat because of all the string and wire and tape and wrappers. As a favor or decoration is classically charming. There are a lot of different ways to achieve these with different colors of candy, different sizes, different tape and leaves or flower shapes. Harrod’s is a fine place to buy one bunch if you’re curious, but if you’re interested in using them as favors or centerpieces, do some research on which will suit you best.
Though chocolate candies could be used, I would advise folks to stick to centers that are more weather-tolerant. It’d be fun to make them with M&Ms or Reese’s Pieces, but I can’t imagine anything with a lot of oil in it would do well with the heat of being handled a lot or possibly sitting in the sun or a hot car. I looked around to find a tutorial for making these but didn’t have much luck (if you know of one, please leave a link in the comments). I can imagine that the same techniques could also be used to make candy wreaths, garlands and other styles of centerpieces.
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?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.