Saturday, November 11, 2006
Yesterday I told you about the Night of a Thousand Chocolates. Today it’s all about the “World Geatest Box of Chocolates” and the Artisan Picks of 2006 from CocoBella.
The box is interesting. It has a heavy focus on nuts with half of the offerings featuring nuts in them (hazelnuts as the top favorite). Here’s the lowdown:
- Marquise de Sevigne Praline Noisette - France (Hazelnut paste enrobed in Chocolate) - mellow with a sweet and smooth paste center with a healthy dose of hazelnut but really not a sugary sweetness (or so it seemed). It balanced really well with the thin coat of rich chocolate. The nicely toasted nut on top gives this candy my pick as the candy I would most like to wear as a hat.
Marquise de Sivigne Orange Amer - Belgium (Orange ganache in Dark Chocolate) - This one was fascinating. It tasted like orange juice - more like a whole orange than a caramel or ganache. It was kind of like the custardy filling of a lemon meringue pie (only orange) because of the tart bite to it. The mellow dark chocolate with its bitter bite pulled it all together.
Knipschildt Chocolatier Hannah - US (Liquid Caramel with Pink Hawaiian Sea Salt) - this one doesn’t look like much. I’d never had a Knipschlidt chocolate before, so I thought this would be interesting. It truly was. Lately I’ve been eating a lot of salted caramels and this one was interesting. The center was a soft, custardy caramel with a good rounded sugar flavor, maybe with a hint of molasses. The salt was not too much and did actually have a little mineral hint to it.
Michel Cluizel Vesuve - France (Madagascar Dark Chocolate Ganache) - A simple single origin dark chocolate truffle. It was soft and had a good mix of bitterness, acidity, dry finish with smoke and woodsy notes. I realized that my less than stellar experience with the Cluizel nibby bar last year should not dissuade me from trying more of their truffles.
Corne Port Royal Rocher Noir - Belgium (Hazelnut Praline in Dark Chocolate) - another hazelnut chocolate, this one was more like a hazelnut halvah. It had an interesting crystallized texture. The nutty flavors combined really well with the shards of sugar, though I would have preferred a little more toasty caramel flavor to it. The chocolate was nice and mild and set off the sweetness really well. It was a good chocolate, but I don’t know if it’s among the best hazelnut chocolates I’ve ever had. (And I’m the girl who likes Perugina Baci.)
Charles Chocolates Almond Cluster - US (Lightly Salted Roasted Almonds in Milk Chocolate) - it’s not the most elegant looking piece of chocolate, in fact, there’s very little chocolate here at all. Everyone keeps going on about how nicely Chuck Siegel roasts his nuts, and though I agree, the milk chocolate just isn’t doing anything for me here. Too sweet. (Have no fear, I’ll say nice things about Chuck’s nuts in a few days when I get to that review!)
Cary’s Toffee - US (English Toffee topped with Almonds) - I was surprised to see toffee there. I was also pleased. This generous bar has a wonderful caramelized scent with an immediate hit of butter. The toffee itself had a wonderful gentle cleave, breaking into shards when bitten. The dark chocolate really helped to bring out the darker smoke notes of the sugars. The extra nuts on top could stay or go as far as I was concerned, in fact, they kept falling off.
Marcona ones I’ve had at tapas bars, and the different flavor of them and density of oils really set off the slightly salty zing of the cocoa outside.
Christopher Elbow Strawberry Balsamic - US (Strawberry Puree with Caramel and Balsamic Vinegar) - a lovely looking candy with an inventive design that really screams balsamic vinegar. But here goes ... I’m not fond of vinegar and chocolate. I’ve tried a few in the past year and maybe there’s one out there that will make me happy, but this one isn’t it. The center was a little too tart for me and the white chocolate a little too sweet. I think I would have preferred everyone compromising a bit in the middle. Perhaps a milk chocolate and a caramel with more butter to balance the acids.
Christopher Elbow Aztec Spice - US (5 Spice Blend with Ancho and Pasillo Chilis) - this one was lovely, one that I’ve actually had several of now. The spice is mellow and robust at the same time. I could make out the caramelized flavors of the roasted chilis and the cinnamon and allspice gave it a good woodsy boost.
Christopher Elbow Rosemary Caramel - US (Caramel infused with Rosemary) - The caramel in here is the slow flowing kind with a slight grain to it and a strong infusion of rosemary. However, the white chocolate added no vanilla balance but a pure sweetness that just drowned out the balsam qualities. This chocolate with its eighties style gemtone brushstrokes of color gets my pick as the one that I would least like to wear as a hat.
Valentino Framboize - Belgium (Whole Raspberry with Raspberry Buttercream) - I was really looking forward to this one. I have to say that it didn’t look very appealing to me, but the thought of a whole raspberry made me look past its bulging belly like a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Aside from that, it was nice and floral with a really good raspberry flavor, but again too sweet for my tastes. I wanted more chocolate and less of the buttercream, I guess.
Marquise de Sevigne Creme Brulee - France (Caramelized Butter Ganache) - More like a praline than the custard I was expecting (like the Kee’s one I tried in NYC). Caramelized, a little grainy but rather light. Tastes a bit like coconut but not in a bad way. It kind of grew on my after I got past my expectations. It was more like the sugar crust of a creme brulee than the custard itself.
Amadei Supremo - Italy (Milk Chocolate Espresso Ganache) - simple and divine. I’d leave it at that, but the way I’ve laid out this page I kind of have to go on about each one the same amount. It’s not the prettiest one of the bunch, being from a rather common stock mold, but the milk and mellow ganache go well.
Maglio Stuffed Fig - Italy (Almond and Lemon with Fig) - when Michael Freeman was presenting the box and he got to this one I was just itching to bolt across the room to wolf one down. Billed as a dried fig stuffed with candied lemon and almonds, I was pretty much sold. Upon trying it was I in love with the figs and chocolate (as I’d already been downing the Trader Joe’s ones in my motel room earlier in the day) but didn’t get the lemon and almond notes I was promised. Don’t worry, I didn’t demand my money back. The dark chocolate was absolutely wonderful. I am surprised that I actually shared this with the neighbors (it’s pretty big and easy to cut into pieces) but I felt bad because someone pointed out that Amy spits out a lot of stuff I give her.
Michel Cluizel Champignon Caramel - France (Caramel Mushroom with Almond Praline Cap) - Were you wondering if I was saving the best for last? There actually aren’t in any particular order (I think the order I took the photos in). I didn’t know what it was, I think my mind was still on the fig thing when it was mentioned in the presentation. It looks like a mushroom. The stem is a wonderful firm caramel covered in mellow white chocolate. The cap is a little half-sphere cup of almond praline (like the florentine cookies) filled with a truffle ganache and then coated in chocolate. Genius. Cute and absoutely an incredible combination.
There was another walnut item in the box which I didn’t try.
On the whole, the box isn’t my favorite. However, after sampling the wares at CocoaBella, I know that Michael Freeman has good taste. I find boxed chocolates frustrating on the whole, because there’s usually such an assortment, as in this one, once you hit on a favorite you’ve eaten it and have to move on. The good thing is that it’s a great cross section of a lot of different chocolatiers that I probably never would have recognized before that are now on my “seek out” list.
So, my tip is, if you have the money, dive in and take a chance. If you don’t and you still want to explore, try the CocoaBella “Build a Box” feature on their website (or go into the store). The pre-selected boxes don’t actually tell you what’s in there but do have some good indicators (Dark Chocolate, Exotics, Milk Chocolate, Truffles and Wine Pairings). I think if I had to pick a box out for myself, I’d try either the exotics or the truffles.
Friday, September 8, 2006
Coffee is one of my favorite flavors. I’ve been searching for the perfect coffee chocolate bar, so when Green & Black’s offered to send me some chocolate to try (including some bars I’d had trouble getting a hold of around here), I jumped at it.
Green & Black’s basically offers two different formats for their chocolate, the big 3.5 ounce bars and these boxes of 27 little tablets. I really like the boxes because I can have just a little chocolate and save it for later or share it. But it’s a lot of packaging, too, so I’m torn.
Unlike other coffee infused bars that use whole beans to flavor the chocolate, Green & Black’s doesn’t have discernible grounds in the chocolate. Here’s what the package says:
Thank goodness someone realized that I don’t want coffee grounds in my chocolate!
The overwhelming scent of these little pieces is coffee, strong black coffee. On the tongue the chocolate melts readily with no graininess but some bitter notes of espresso with flavors of licorice and sandalwood apparent as well. Just as advertised on the package the chocolate flavors emerge later as a support for the espresso, kind of like cream does in your coffee.
It’s not for the faint of heart, this is high octane stuff and I imagine there’s a good hit of caffeine in there, too. I’ve had to be careful not to eat them too late in the day lest they keep me up. I enjoyed it but the price for the box of tablets is a bit up there, for a better value grab the 3.5 ounce bar at Target (here in LA they’re selling them at Ralph’s now).
If you’re a reader from the UK, be sure to check their site for current competitions to win chocolate prizes.
UPDATE: I grabbed the retail price from Chocosphere, which as them at $13.99 a box. If you find it in stores it should be $8.99.
Thursday, September 7, 2006
How many hazelnut crispy bars does Ferrero make? How many of them have wacky names? So far I’ve had the Happy Hippos and Kinder Bueno. This one is called Tronky.
The package says, “lo snack leggero e croccante.” Which means something about it being a light snack. Which is odd, because I think it’s supposed to look like a log.
Tronky is a crisp shell filled with a chocolate & hazelnut cream with chopped hazelnuts. It’s pretty darn good. The shell is crunchy though a little bland, but the filling is rich with a slight chocolate flavor and a good crunchy from the fresh hazelnuts. The size is great, it’s easy to eat a whole one, you don’t want to eat half and save it for later, it’ll get stale very quickly. Besides, it’s very messy if you don’t just wolf the whole bar down in three bites. Each bar is less than 100 calories, so it’s a nice treat but not too much of an indulgence. (Of course you can buy them in six pack bags.)
If you’re traveling in Europe and are sitting around in an airport, pick one up and give it a try.
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
One of the great things about my trip to New York, long before the All Candy Expo was that I got to visit Economy Candy, which was great prep. It gave me a chance to look at the huge array of candy, including may European ones that just don’t get distributed here in the states.
There’s quite a difference in candies here and there. But part of the charm of the imported ones is that they’re so different from what we have here.
I thought these would be tiny Altoids, but aside from the appearance of looking like inconsistent pieces of chalk, they’re quite the opposite of Altoids.
One of the main ingredients besides sugar are the gums and thickening agents. One of these is called Tragacanth (which, I found out is not at all related to the living fossil fish the coelocanth). Besides having a cool sounding name, it seems to be add a rather interesting texture to the mints. They’re not chalky but very smooth when they dissolve. They have an almost gooey consistency as they dissintigrate that feels like a glycerine syrup or gelatin.
The fruit ones are pretty and look kind of like little, lumpy conversation hearts discards. They’re about the size of an eraser you’d find on the end of a pencil. The Green Tea ones, not pictured, are a bland brownish-red but have a radically charged bitter tea taste to them. They don’t taste anything like green tea in my mind. More like black tea, but without the wonderful complex aromas. There’s also a strong component of mint at work here. They’re not terribly sweet, more flavorful and long after the bitter taste on the front of the tongue is gone, there’s a pleasant, refreshing taste left in the mouth. (Not at all like lingering tea breath.)
The other interesting thing about these pastilles is that the boxes are identical. There’s a paper overwrap (as shown on the Green Tea one) but once you take it off it looks like the one on its side, you don’t know what’s in there if you have more than one box!
The mixed flavors one went something like this:
Lavender - Violet. It reminded me of flowers, of course, it’s sweet without being sticky. There’s an American version of this from C. Howard which is very similar.
Yellow - Lemon. Very pleasant. An equal mix of the essence of lemon but with a slight tart bite to it that reminded me of a conversation heart, only about 10 times the price.
Green - Lime. Sweet and also with a slight tangy edge to it. It didn’t have any of the associations with disinfectants, which is good!
Pink - Strawberry. Beautifully fragrant, with nice floral overtones, like standing at the edge of a strawberry field, but with fewer bees. Only a slight tangy element here and it didn’t feel artificial at all.
White - Vanilla? I’m not quite sure on the flavor on this one. It was pleasant and bland, but no real flavor. I couldn’t tell if I’d burned out my tongue with the other flavors.
Pastiglie Leone has a beautiful, if strangely programmed website. The products flash by or you scroll horizontally (one of my least favorite directions to scroll) but there are so many different varieties.
Overall, I loved the texture and the way that the pastilles dissolved. But I never really loved any of the flavors. The tartness or tang to some of them was refreshing, but I found the flavor overall to be a little washed out like the colors. Not something I’d buy again unless one of the flavors really caught my eye. (I’m a sucker for a classic package like this.) In a world where everything has become blisteringly strong, it’s kind of nice for a little mellow.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
After my rave review of Green & Black’s White Chocolate (which surprised even me) I got an email from a representative of Green & Black’s asking if I’d tried their Ginger bar. They were reading the blog and knew how much I loved ginger! Of course when I said I hadn’t seen it in the store yet (Target has a rather limited selection), she offered to send me some. (And some other bars which I’ll review in the coming weeks.)
It’s a beautiful bar, with the same simple foil wrapping cloaked in a paper wrapper. The bar was shiny with small sections that gave a good snap. It smelled distinctly smoky and earthy. The dark chocolate is 60% cocoa content.
The first flavors I noticed when letting the chocolate melt on my tongue were a rather tart lemon and then a lingering burn of black pepper. Later the rooty, earthen flavors emerged, giving the bar more of a ginger flavor than a chocolate one.
The crystallization of the ginger gives the bar a more distinct graininess. It’s also rather sweet. I liked the spicy burn, and I found it very munchable, but the acidity kind of bothered me after a while. (But I have been eating a lot of pineapple lately and may be working with a disadvantaged tongue.)
The integration of the two flavors and textures isn’t quite right for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tasty, but I really wanted more essence of ginger and less graininess and of course more of the creaminess and flavors of the chocolate. I do like how generous they are with the ginger, much better than the ratios in the Dagoba chocolate bars I’ve had (their Chai bar has scant ginger content). I still favor the panned ginger chocolate pieces that I’ve been getting at Trader Joe’s, but if you don’t have access to those, this would be a good fallback treat.
I have a few more bars that they sent me to try, so I’ll be adding those to the site within the next couple of weeks. On my list is their Caramel, 70% Dark, Hazelnut & Currant and Espresso.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
One of my favorite treats we’d get in our Christmas Stocking were Baci. If you’ve never had this little Italian chocolate, you’re missing something. It’s a hazelnut nougatine with chopped nuts topped with a whole hazelnut and covered in a thin shell of rich dark chocolate. They’re wrapped in silver foil with blue printing and wrapped around the chocolate is a little piece of glassine with a saying about love or kisses in four languages, after all, baci means kiss in Italian.
Instead of individual morsels, the Baci Bar is a thick semisweet chocolate bar with domed sections filled with a mix of chocolate, hazelnut paste and crushed hazelnuts.
Holy moly, it’s good.
Seriously good. The chocolate is rich and buttery with a slight bitter and dry hit to it - which offsets the super-sweet and nutty, thick filling. The little bits of nuts give it a wonderful crispy crunch. There wasn’t a bad nut bit in the bunch.
If there’s anything at all wrong with it, it’s that it’s kind of soft. It’s getting warm here in Los Angeles, and eating a bar like this mid-day is just plain messy. No matter, I’m having the rest of it for breakfast ... see, I’m flexible! I miss the whole hazelnut you get the with traditional Baci, but the chocolate ratio here is amped up a little, which I like just as well.
Now that I’ve raved about this bar, I fear I will never have another one. I’ve looked around on the Perugina/Nestle site and find no reference to this bar. It was generously transported directly from Italy to me by uber-blogger, JozJozJoz. Maybe if you’re in a European airport you’ll spy one.
Perugina is an Italian company, started in the 20s but was bought out by Nestle in 1985, which explains their wider distribution in the United States late in the last century.
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
I’m not an energy drink person and I’m not one to start popping caffeine pills either. So what am I to do when I need a little pick-me-up?
A friend of ours who travels in Italy every year suggested Pocket Coffee! Basically it’s chocolate-covered Italian coffee. Because the sweet coffee center is concentrated, it only takes three chocolates to equal a single shot of espresso. Our friends like to get them for traveling as it’s more portable that hot coffee but has the same side effect. I’ve heard that it’s very popular with students, truck drivers and folks on night shifts.
Ferrero is a well-known Italian chocolate brand even here in the United States, with the elegant little Rochers and Nutella as their best-known products. In fact, I’ve never seen Pocket Coffee anywhere in the US before, but not for lack of trying. They’re not even made in the summer, so as a seasonal item it’s likely that getting one out of season means that it’s no longer fresh. But a no-so-fresh Pocket Coffee is just a different experience.
The candy is composed of a syrupy espresso center, then a light sugar crystal shell and then the chocolate. As the candies age the sugar shell will actually grow, taking sugar from the espresso syrup center to create a bigger shell. The ones I tried were a little old (purchased last fall) so they had the extra crystallized shell.
The coffee center is very sweet but smooth with a slightly acidic bite to it. The crystals provide a kind of funky crunch to it, but melt easily if you’re inclined that way. The chocolate is not too sweet and gives a good creamy boost to the whole mix. On the whole the candy is very sweet, a little too sweet for my tastes, but then again, it’s coffee candy. I’m not saying that I won’t eat it again ... though they are messy. If you’re driving, you’re obligated to pop the whole thing in your mouth but if you’re not, feel free to experiment with biting off a corner and sucking out the coffee first.
Finding them in the states may mean ordering online. They’re still being stocked at Capriflavors.com.
If only Cadbury Creme Eggs had a coffee version!
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
I don’t know what came over me. I bought a bar of white chocolate. I know there are purists out there who don’t think that white chocolate is chocolate at all. But if the stuff that is called mockolate (cocoa solids and hydrogenated or palm oils) can’t be called chocolate because it’s lacking cocoa butter, then this stuff that has cocoa butter but not the cocoa solids can at least be called white chocolate.
Each year, as Easter gets closer, against my better judgment I want white chocolate. I don’t actually like white chocolate, it’s usually so sweet it makes my throat hurt and has some sort of electrical effect on my fillings so as to give me a jolt. But there it is, I get to craving it.
I know it has to do with those molded chocolates that my paternal grandmother used to put out on display at Easter. Little bunnies and molded white chocolate baskets filled with different colored white chocolate lollipops. It always smelled of vanilla, sugar and jelly beans ... far sweeter than anything had a right to be. It was like it was some sort of super-dense sugar confection. I’ve mentioned candy season before, and it’s important to note that Easter is the final holiday in Candy Season - so it’s probably the reason that I felt the need to gorge on the highest sugar content products available to me.
But I’d heard that the Green & Black’s Creamy Vanilla White Chocolate Bar was different. So, I bought one at Whole Foods. Rationalizing the whole time that I was doing it for you, dear readers. I was taking the white chocolate bullet for you, so that you might avoid it.
I opened the wrapper and instead of being greeted by something that looked like paraffin, it was creamy colored and flecked with real bits of vanilla. It smelled milky and sweet, but not sticky. A mix of cognac, butter and honey.
The first ingredient is still sugar (well, organic raw cane sugar), but it boasts 30% cocoa content and 28% milk. If you like the dairy milk flavor of European milk chocolates, like Cadbury, then I think you’ll like this bar. It’s sweet, but flavorful, with a good hit of bourbon notes in the vanilla. The bar melts smoothly and velvety on the tongue and leaves me wanting more.
I ate the whole bar yesterday at work, which is saying a lot. I don’t usually consume something this big in one sitting. (Even an eight hour sitting.) Something about a rainy day makes me want to snuggle up with a nice bar of sugar, dairy and fat. Mmmm.
This bar has done something dangerous, it’s changed my mind about white chocolate. Luckily, I’ve only come to the conclusion that I like Green & Black’s White Chocolate. I can’t give it a ten ... let’s face it, I’m prejudiced ... I just can’t do it. If I cave in and buy another one, I’ll come back here and update the rating. The true test is whether I want it after Easter is over.
Note: Though Green & Black’s is a UK company, the bar was made in Italy. Green & Black’s is now owned by Cadbury Schweppes. This bar is organic, but not fair trade certified.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.