Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Seeds of Change makes chocolate bars that are both organic and donate a portion of their proceed towards sustainable agriculture. Unlike many other niche chocolate makers, they don’t have straight chocolate bars, instead each is an eclectic mix of flavors like blueberries with walnuts or mango, coconut & cashews.
I didn’t have to look very hard to find Seeds of Change, it was at Long’s Drug, along with jumbo Hershey’s bars, Dove, Lindt and Cote d’Or. Happily it was also on sale for $2.69 for a 3.5 ounce bar.
I picked up the Isle of Skye which boasts dark milk chocolate blended with crispy puffed grains. I thought this might be the answer to the gaping hole in my candy life, a really good crisped rice bar.
This one starts with 40% cacao milk chocolate with crisps made from oats, wheat, rice, barley and millet.
The wrapper is beautifully designed with lovely engraved flourishes. It illustrates the origin of the name of the bar, the Isle of Sky is an agricultural area in Scotland that grows the various grains featured in the bar (well, maybe not the ones that are actually in the bar, but you get the idea).
The bar does look pretty dark. It smells deep and smoky and a little like milk and malt.
The crispies aren’t quite as dense as I would have liked, but they’re still plentiful, making up the bottom third or half of the bar.
The chocolate is smooth and creamy, deep and complex. It blends the milky tastes of dairy in a European-style along with some noticeable burnt notes and a little hint of raisins.
The crunchies are crispy and hold up well. They have a distinct cereal taste of breakfast cereal, though not at all sweet there’s a bit of hint of malt and salt.
While I often characterize myself as a dark chocolate lover, this sort of very dark milk chocolate might be my true passion. The more I try these sorts of bars, the more I fall in love with the combination of dairy notes and smoothness with the complex flavors of the cocoa bean. (I do take a little milk in my coffee, so maybe it’s just the way I roll.)
It’s a really tasty bar and for an organic bar the price is pretty stunning, about the same price as many other mid-range brands and socially and environmentally responsible to boot. (They’re only $2.45 on the Seeds of Change webstore.) I’m accustomed to paying about this much for Ritter Sport’s Knusperflakes (Corn Flakes) bar. I wish it came in a single serve size, it could definitely out-compete Nestle Crunch even at twice the price.
Made in Italy and Kosher.
The bar is not 100% organic (the label is pretty clear about this) the soy lecithin is the only item in the ingredients that isn’t.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Even though I adore high end chocolate, I have a hard time plunking down $5 to $12 without knowing what I’m going to get. So I’m often quite happy to fork over for tasting square versions even though they’re even more expensive when you figure out the cost per ounce. (And hey, it helps with portion control, too.)
I was happy to find some tasting squares from Amadei, one of the most highly reviewed chocolate makers in the world at Mel & Roses. Even though they were 85 cents each for the 4.5 gram squares, I at least got to sample a broad spectrum of their product line which will help to guide me when I decide to finally buy one of their bars.
As a little bonus I decided to try Amadei’s milk chocolate offering as well:
Overall, I was most pleased with the Madagascar and Porcelana but all were exceptional. I’m still not quite convinced enough to spend $11 for one of their bars, but I’m leaning in that direction. But for now the little selections in this format are enough for me and well worth the pocket change.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Called Perugina Nero, it looks like a pretty direct import, as the package was all in Italian except for a sticker on the back with the ingredients & nutrition facts in English. The sticker covered up the native descriptions though, so all I could glean was that they were thin tablets that appeared to be a little smaller than business cards made of chocolate.
The chocolate leaves come in three varieties: 70% Cacao, 85% Cacao and Gusto Arancia (Orange Flavor). I went for the Arancia because I really love the touch of orange essence combined with dark chocolate.
Inside the box is a tray sealed in cellophane. Four little compartments hold stacks of three little chocolate cards. It feels like a bit of overkill on the packaging, but I have to admit that it did a nice job, all my cards were pristine.
The pieces are 2.75” by 1.75”. Each piece is far thinner than a regular chocolate bar as well, even the tasting squares that I’ve picked up before, each is only 8 grams (most tasting squares are 7-12 grams but only 1” square at most).
The little leaves are quite pretty, with the stylized Pegasus emblem on each.
They smell of woodsy, smoky chocolate and quite strongly of orange.
Biting into a piece, it sits on the tongue and melts right away, releasing its flavors quickly. I got a rush of rich chocolate, bitter tones, woodsy flavors that combine bark, coffee and Popsicle sticks along with the bright notes of orange essence and then a low bitterness that echoes the orange zest and dark chocolate.
Even though the chocolate itself isn’t particularly buttery, the quick melt because of the format gives it a creamy component I often find difficult to tease out of big chunks of chocolate without chewing it a bit.
Since the box is essentially the equivalent of the large 100 gram tablet bar, this is a great solution to sharing. It’s a great option for serving with coffee or tea or even an aperitif. The pieces are lovely to look at, though serving right from the tray isn’t quite elegant, neither is cracking up a regular bar and flattening out the foil wrapper.
For those who are watching their calories, each leaf has 42 calories. The impression of a large portion if you were to eat two leaves would still only deliver 84 calories, a decadent treat without busting your diet. (Though they’re not individually wrapped or anything, so nothing to stop you from eating the whole box.)
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Stainer is an Italian chocolate maker based in Pontremoli. They’re known for their vast collection of chocolate bars that range from traditional to single origin to alcohol infused to organic and even a line of six different chili infused bars. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Stainer is moving into the North American market, so you can expect to see these more often at high end grocers and chocolate shops.
They come in smart little boxes with 50 gram bars tucked into orange-tinted cellophane wrappers.
I wanted to taste what Stainer’s dark chocolate was like without any other additions. I was drawn to this lovely box with a little hummingbird on the front. 65% Cacao Peru says it’s intenso & fruttato which I translated as cognates to mean intense and fruity.
The back of the box has no purple prose setting the stage for the tasting, it’s just the ingredients in four different languages (Italian, English, Spanish and German).
The bar is lovely. It’s rather thick, with easy to break domed segments. The color is a bit on the red side of brown. The scent is woodsy and sweet.
It has a slightly chalky bite, it has a very distinct snap. But it’s quite smooth and melts easily. The first notes are fruity, like figs and raisins. Later it becomes more woodsy, like cedar with some light coffee notes. Not sweet, but pleasant, there’s a light bitter tone over the finish but very little dryness.
Though it gives the regional origin of the beans, it doesn’t mention the types of beans in the bar or where in Peru they’re from, so I’m hesitant to call it a single origin bar.
I’ve had quite a bit of chili infused chocolate over the past couple of years, but this may be the first time I’ve had a white chocolate with pepper.
This bar, Cioccolato Bianco Peperoncino e Vaniglia Bourbon features red chili and bourbon vanilla (in case you couldn’t figure that out from the name). It has a 30% cacao content, and since this is white chocolate that means all that cacao is just cacao fat. (The king of vegetable fats.)
The squares are dotted with chili bits and vanilla seeds. It smells less sweet than many white chocolates, a little milky and kind of cheesy.
It’s also not terribly soft to bite, so it has a nice temper and breaks easily instead of bending like some heavily milky white chocolates do.
The first taste, however, is overwhelmingly hot. The burn of the chili comes out right away, then a smooth and creamy sweetness with a touch of vanilla, then a throat searing heat. Letting it melt instead of chewing it up a bit seems to mellow out the heat, but it’s still a lot hotter than I expected.
I don’t think it’s really my thing, I tempered it with some pretzels and almonds just to get through half the bar. I liked it, but it was kind of throat choking at times. (I must admit that I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to anything that’s hotter than “medium” in the chili family, I do great with curries & wasabi/horseradish, but pepper really gets me).
The boxes are compelling and I want to cute them apart and make the fronts into trading cards or something. But at about $8 for a 50 gram bar, it’s among the most expensive chocolate bars I’ve bought to date ... I won’t be making a habit of it. I do plan to try a few more of the vast collection before I make a final determination about them. I picked these up at Chocolate Covered in San Francisco’s Noe Valley. I haven’t seen them at any of my regular chocolate suppliers (but they may be coming soon as chocolate weather returns this fall).
Here are some other thoughts on Stainer’s bars: Chocablog tasted Curry & White Chocolate and Honey & Ginseng Dark, Talkalota Chocolate has Scotchbonnet Pepper and Rum & Masai Spice and finally, Lissbliss tried the 100% Venezuela.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
As the temps are climbing here in Southern California, I need to eat up all my chocolate before it melts. So instead rolling these little goodies out one at a time, here’s a few bites in brief:
I picked up these cute little cubes at Lucca, an Italian deli/grocer in San Francisco a couple of months ago. The graphic design of the little wrappers with bold FIAT logo and variations was just irresistible. They’re made by Pasticceria Majani, founded in 1796 and one of the first confectioners to make actual solid chocolate in Europe. The Fiat line of chocolates were introduced in 1911 and actually named in honor of the Italian car.
They’re all layered. They’re a little shy of one inch on the longest side and about 3/4 of an inch tall and wide (so they’re not quite cubes).
FIAT Classico: two medium layers alternate with two light colored hazelnut paste layers. It’s extremely sweet, very hazelnutty. But really too sweet that it burns my throat. The only way to cut this is with a strong cup of coffee or espresso (which may be the way they’re intended to be eaten). I didn’t finish my second one.
FIAT NOIR: this is the one shown here, it’s a dark chocolate layer with a thick medium gianduia center. Even the dark chocolate layer is a hazelnut infused chocolate, but it’s the center that’s packed with a hazelnut punch. The combo is spot on perfect. A little difference in the texture, a little difference in the sweetness and nuttiness and a perfect bite.
FIAT CAFFE: the caffe looks a lot like the Noir, but has a darker center than the top and bottom layers. It’s sweet though, and has a light coffee flavor and a slight bitter tang. What sets this one apart from the other two is that it has almonds in it as well as hazelnuts. At first I thought it was too sweet, but once the bitterness and a dry finish kicks in, I came to appreciate it more, just as I did with unsweetened coffee as a teenager.
I give the line an 8 out of 10.
If I thought the Fiat cubes were a good deal, I guess I didn’t realize what a value my Caffarel find was.
I got these little Caffarel foil hazelnut flower buds at Chocolate Covered in San Francisco. The little package had five pieces for four dollars ... so eighty cents each (and Jack, who runs the store, also gave me one to eat while I was there).
I love Caffarel’s little bites, no matter what shape they are. These are rather small, they’re obvious built in halves and mushed together to create the three dimensional bud, I kind of like pulling them apart with my teeth.
The milk chocolate shell is sweet and milky. The center is creamy and thick, a little fudgy and has tiny crushed hazelnut bits. It’s super smooth otherwise and slightly cool on the tongue. If you’re a fan of Perugina Baci, consider these a tiny milk chocolate version.
They’re just so adorable. I don’t know where to find them for sure, but if you’re a hazelnut fan scoop a few up.
Rating: 9 out of 10
What clued me in that this was a hazelnut bar (since it’s not obvious) was that it was called a Smooth and intense MILK chocolate confection which is a coded way of saying, “there’s something else in this bar.”
The hazelnut paste is pretty far down on the list of ingredients, after the major chocolate ingredients and whey & milkfat but before the soy lecithin.
Like the dark bars I tried last week, the bar is big and thin, with the logo elephant on each segment.
It smells a little malty and very milky. It’s a softer bite than the dark bars (as is usually the case with milk chocolate). The bar has a smooth but fudgy consistency. The hazelnut flavors aren’t readily apparent, but there are some nice smoky and toasted notes to the bar.
It’s not too sweet, has a dash of malt and even a little burnt sugar bitterness to it that I find appealing. I can’t see myself buying one of these (I rarely buy milk chocolate unless it’s for a review) but knowing that Cote d’Or does a very mellow milk does intrigue me ... I may find myself experimenting with more of their product line.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Friday, June 6, 2008
I’m not reviewing those. (I will someday, but I’m afraid that trying the best chocolate in the world would be like flying first class, I’d never want to go back to coach.)
Instead of I got a hold of these lovely little 8 gram tasting squares of Domori’s 70% Cru single origin chocolates at the Fancy Food Show back in January. Besides being made from extremely rare beans, Domori also uses no soy lecithin in this line - it’s all cacao and pure cane sugar at work here, a fascinating experiment in flavor.
As I often do with tastings, I did my notes blind and then later looked at the descriptions & origin information. You can read along to see how I did. But I’ll save you the suspense, this is good stuff and lives up to its hype. The consistency of every piece was silky smooth on the tongue - incredible melt & quick release of flavors then a lingering revelation of more notes.
Origin: Venezuela - It is a trinitario-type cacao grown in the Barlovento area of Venezuela.
I say: Mild with some light blueberry notes and peppery carnation. Smooth, as were all others.
They say: It has notes of dried figs, raisins and cashews with great character, smoothness and finish.
Origin: Peru - It is a recent hybrid (trinitario-type cacao).
I say: So buttery smooth. There’s a bit of a bitter high note to it, kind of reminiscent of asparagus. But the texture is so dreamily silky, it’s rather staggering. Cool on the tongue.
They said: It has notes of flowers, caramel and cream. It is very mild with a nice sourness.
Origin: Venezuela - It includes more trinitario-type cacaos with a high content of criollo genotype.
I say: Dark olive notes rise to the top, it’s sweet but has a tangy bite. Silky, caramel.
They say: It has mild notes of almond and coffee, excellent finesse, smoothness and finish.
I say: One of the more mellow pieces. It has some tangy elements and most notably a dry finish.
They say: Notes of nuts, ripe fruit, raisins, tobacco and chlorophyll. It has a nice acidity, a great smoothness and a long finish.
Origin: Ecuador - It is a Nacional-type cacao.
They say: It has notes of hazelnut, banana and citrus. It is very fresh and mild.
I say: This one was a bit more bitter, with coffee notes and flavors of sweet cashews. A weird chalky feeling to it, even though it was actually quite smooth. Dry, acrid.
I say: Strong tangy & raisin notes, lemon and bitter orange.
They say: It is a light-colored cacao with unique notes of berries along with a very pleasant sourness. It has a long finish, great sweetness and smoothness.
Overall, my notes weren’t far off from theirs, though sometimes I think it’s like the astrology column from the newspaper. With some single origin kits I’m not always able to distinguish the different bars blind, but these were quite distinct. Though the chocolates are available as single bars, you can also get assortments of these individually wrapped tasting squares in boxes. They’re still quite expensive, over a dollar a piece from Chocosphere. Though these don’t have nuts in them, they are made in a facility that processes nuts, milk and soy. Domori also does a version of these that are 100% (no sugar).
Friday, February 1, 2008
Last year I ordered some wonderful products from Artisan Sweets which included this Nougat aux Figues: Cuit au Chaudron. I promptly took a photo of the product and then ate it.
Made by Suprem’ Nougat G. Savin in Montelimar, France it is much like the Arnaud Soubeyran Montelimar Nougat that I’ve had previously, meaning it has wonderful lavender honey in it along with a generous embed of almonds. Of course it also has bits of figs in there too, as you might have guessed from the picture and name.
The figs gave the nougat a bit of texture, with the crunchy little seeds and combined well with the musky notes of the lavender honey. It seemed to make the whole thing a little sweeter, but it was a fresh taste. It’s expensive stuff, so it’s a sometimes-indulgence for me. ($8.00 for 3.52 ounces.)
This particular nougat has full macadamias in it. It’s a light nougat, it actually felt lighter than many nougats in the hand. The scent was a light vanilla, almost like toasted marshmallows. Wow, the marshmallow comparison was evident once I bit into it. The nougat is fluffy and completely smooth ... there’s no hint of sugary grain to it at all.
While I was completely missing any honey notes and macadamias aren’t my favorite nut, this was fantastic. Sweet without being sticky or cloying and just the right balance with the neutrality of the macadamias.
Walters is a South African company (which explains the macadamias) and besides these samples and a store I found in the UK online, I don’t know where else to get this. I guess I’ll just have to keep hitting Keller’s booth at the trade shows. Here’s a review from Our Adventures in Japan of the Almond variety.
I’ve been on the prowl for good sources of Caffarel in the United States. Besides picking up those few pieces at The Candy Store in San Francisco and seeing them at trade shows, I’m completely at an impasse on how to find them besides hyping them on Candy Blog in hopes that more shops will carry them.
And why? Their products are good quality and in most cases so freaking cute I want to put a leash on them and buy them squeaky toys.
Above is one of the new items they were showing called Conetto, which is like a teensy Drumstick Ice Cream Cone (warning, sound on that site).
The little confection is about 3 1/2” tall. The waffle cone holds a firm guanduia that is then rolled in little toasted cereal “nuts” with a few little chocolate chips tossed in there. The hazelnut paste is soft enough to bite like ice cream with the added bonus that it doesn’t melt. So take your time.
It only weighs .9 ounces, so it’s probably not a show-stopper when it comes to calories and since indulgence is partially about appearance, this might be an excellent calorie controlled treat. (Of course the wrapper doesn’t say how many calories, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s not more than 150.) Now the only things holding me back are where to get them and how much do they cost?
BruCo makes wonderful flavored chocolate bars. I’ve had their orange one and rum one and thought they were quite nice with an attractive package. Last year at the Fancy Food Show I also tried their spiced chocolate and found it far too spicy for me. This year that had some other items that were definitely to my liking: BruCo Salt Tasting Chocolate, Ciocc’Olio & Cabosse.
Ciocc’Olio: The firm white chocolate center has a quick buttery melt. The taste is not strongly of olives. I was expecting a sort of grassy quality to it, but instead it was more nutty. It was definitely smooth and set off by the equally smooth and slippery melt of the dark chocolate shell.
Cabosse: I wasn’t quite sure what this was supposed to be. At first I thought it was a dark chocolate guanduia, but later I thought it was simply a firm ganache with cacao nibs in it. Strong and fruity, this was a nice piece, the perfect size and really attractive.
I also tried a Salt Tasting Chocolate set. I’ll probably have a full review of that at a later date. Basically it’s two different versions of a salted chocolate in one package. Hooray for variety.
One of the other companies that I see at the trade show a lot is Marich. They’re known for their fine panned chocolates, especially their Holland Mints and produced the first gourmet malted milk balls in flavors like Espresso and Peanut Butter.
They’re based in Hollister, California (which seems to be a hotbed of panning with other confectioners like Jelly Belly, Sconza and Gimbal’s nearby) but seem rather hard to find. Part of it is that they sell in bulk to many shops that repackage the product without reference to the supplier or they end up in bulk bins. In this case I found this little package of their Triple Chocolate Toffee at Ralph’s in Glendale after trying them at the All Candy Expo.
They were absurdly expensive considering everything else in that aisle, $2.89 for that handful pictured above. But they are lovely to look at. They smell great too, like burnt sugar.
I didn’t know at first if the triple was referring to how much chocolate was on the outside or the fact that there were three different kinds. But suffice to say that either title works, because there is a lot of chocolate on each of these ... a pretty precise proportion that matches well with the chunk of butter toffee at the center. The toffee itself is wonderfully crisp and has that great cleave that very buttery toffee has. A little salty, it balances well with the not-so-dark but also not-too-sweet chocolates.
I’d probably pick these up again, but not at this price. Luckily Marich has a webstore.
Everything here gets an 8 out of 10 but no further specs as I don’t know retail prices (unless otherwise noted), calorie profile and often not even the ingredients.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
As we head into December, I start looking at candy with an eye towards Christmas stockings. What makes good stocking candy? Well, small individually wrapped portions are a good start. Seasonal flavors, pretty packaging and some sort of exotic selling point also help.
When I was up in San Francisco, these little Caffarel Fig and Chestnut chocolates. I wasn’t quite sure what they’d be, they were sold at The Candy Store out of a pretty jar. There were several varieties (I think something walnut and a bunch of others that I’d tried before) so I went for these that were new to me. The pretty foil showed a green fig, a cut fig and a ripe fig bursting at the seams. Everything I got at The Candy Store was fresh and perfect, these were no exception.
At the bottom they have a little sticker with the Caffarel logo. The fig ones all say fico and the chestnut one says castagna. I was expecting a gianduia center with a fig flavor or chestnut flavor.
Upon biting into the first fig one for this photo, I found that it was not a chocolate or nut paste center. Instead it was a molded dark chocolate piece with a flowing fig filling. Kind of like a syrup with real fig in it, it’s a pretty intense fig flavor like a jam. A little like honey, it’s a fresh taste of raisins and similar in smell as sitting next to a fresh pile of firewood.
I never cared much for figs as a kid. I had to make a very concerted effort to “like” Fig Newtons. It really wasn’t until I moved to my present house that has a fig tree and I started eating them fresh off the tree that I understood the appeal of them. (And the fact that the tree is so wonderfully fresh and fragrant nine months out of the year.)
There were little bits of fig in there, a few seeds to really sell the fact that it’s figs. I love these. I really, really love these. I love the shape, I love the size, I love the foil wrapping and the fact that they come in three different versions. I’ve eaten them all. I didn’t love the price, but I’m trying not to think about that ... I’m trying to figure out where to buy more of these. (I don’t recommend them for kids who haven’t already expressed a strong desire for figs though.)
The chestnut one also had a flowing center, though not quite as thin and gooey as the fig. This one was slightly textured, like a caramel or dulce de leche (but no cream, per se). Sweet and a little roasted, it tasted like a marron glace but without that worry that it’d be a tough one. It didn’t really thrill me, but I’m not a huge chestnut fan.
Now I have to apologize to everyone who now wants to try these and is in the same position as I am ... outta luck! If you know of another place (The Candy Store does not do web orders) that sells them online, please post!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.