Thursday, September 4, 2014
They source their chocolate from an organic, family run farm in the Dominican Republic and appear to take equal care after the selection of their beans. Cacao Prieto also uses centuries old technology to roast, and then has innovated some new machinery to winnow the cacao before processing it with reproduction melangeurs. (You can see the process with photos here.)
I’ve seen these bars around for the past few years but was scared off by the price. The time was right, perhaps because of the name of this bar: Cacao Prieto Pecan & Sour Cherry in 72% Dominican Dark Chocolate. The thought of dried sour cherries and pecans had my mouth watering right away.
The bars from Cacao Prieto even have interesting packaging. The whole package is in a cellophane sleeve, and the window on the back of the box shows the bar with its inclusions. Even with the little peek, the packaging protects it well as for the most part they’re displayed with the window facing down. The front of the package also features a little postcard with similarly charming artwork designed by Brooklyn artist Sophie Blackall.
The bar is a slab, rather like a bark. The inclusions are really just scattered on top of the bar, not mixed into the chocolate. Personally, I prefer mine mixed in. I think a full coating protects nuts and fruits from oxidation (so they don’t get stale) very well, and usually means that you get a consistent taste of chocolate and nut/fruit in each bite. But Cacao Prieto says that each bar is hand-created, so I trust that this means that each of those inclusions was placed their by an artiste ... so who am I to argue. I’ll just leave myself in their expert hands.
The bar is nicely thick and quite robust. It’s 5.5” inches by 3.5” inches and weighs in at 4.2 ounces. Of course, the larger size is welcome considering the price of the bar at $13.
The chocolate itself has a crisp snap but yields well to the tooth even though it’s rather thick. The melt is buttery smooth. The flavors are rich, with a lot of toasty brownie notes, woodsy coffee and a note of toffee and cherry (but that could be the cherries themselves). The pecans are expertly chosen and placed. Crisp, mapley and crunchy, they went very well with the chocolate. The cherries were very soft, chewy and tangy.
I loved the bar. Usually I get bored after about 2 ounces of intense chocolate, but this was so well done. The chocolate itself is dreamy, the nuts and cherries are absolute perfection. I noticed that Cacao Prieto actually sells couveture drops of the 72% Dominican ... which I’m pretty tempted by at the moment.
There are a few other interesting features for the bar, first is that it’s Kosher. That’s pretty rare for bean-to-bar chocolate. The bar is made from organic beans and contains no soy lecithin as an emulsifier. There are also no milk products and is considered vegan.
I picked up this bar at Lolli & Pops, a newer and still small chain of candy stores. I got a private tour of the shop before they opened one Sunday morning last month from one of their salesfolk, Jaz. It’s an interesting selection, very wide. They have the standard sugar candy offerings of gummi bears, Skittles and Jelly Belly by the pound. Those are pretty expensive at $15.00 a pound, which is standard mall pricing these days. But what sets Lolli & Pops apart would be their selection of lesser known candies. They have imported mass-produced bars, a good cross-section of Japanese gummis and chews and then they have chocolate bars. Their chocolate room has a lot of candy by the pound (that’s where I got the Chocolate Covered Banana Gummi Bears reviewed last week) but also bars.
They have chocolate from most of the fine bean-to-bar chocolate makers: Amano, Theo, Lillie Belle, Marou, Blanxart, Poco Dolce, Chuao, Scharffen Berger, Taza, Dick Taylor and Dandelion… just to name the ones that I can remember. Though the other candy was priced a bit high, the bars here were at about the same price as if I’d ordered them right from the chocolate makers themselves ... without the shipping. Now, all the chocolate is expensive, most bars are between $5 and $10 a bar, but that’s just the going rate for many of the small batch companies. I don’t know of any other shop in Glendale that carries such a wide variety, so it’s a nice addition to the area.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Back in 1995 Cadbury introduced a hollow, molded chocolate novelty called Yowie that included an animal toy in the center in Australia. They were wildly successful not only in Australia but in Oceania, as well, even outselling the more globally known Kinder Surprise Egg in those territories. Then about 10 years ago some disputes between Cadbury and the product line’s creators, they were discontinued (more about that here).
There are plenty of hollow chocolates out there filled with little candies, but it’s not easy to find them with a toy surprise. In the United States they are banned because in most cases the toy inside qualifies as a choking hazard. Even though the toy is enclosed within a plastic egg that is far too big to be swallowed, it’s the tiny toys (often requiring assembly) that have American regulators on watch for them. (I’ve brought back the toys from Kinder Eggs from Germany, but never the intact candy.)
The Yowie Group has found a way around all of this regulation by simply making the toy inside too big to be a choking hazard and are reintroducing the Yowie line of toys enclosed in chocolate ... starting this time with the United States.
Yowies also have a few other features that Kinder Surprise Eggs do not. The chocolate is considered real chocolate (all natural) and is Rainforest Alliance certified. They’re shaped and molded not like a simple egg, but in the form of different characters. Inside the molded chocolate is a plastic capsule (also kind of a toy itself) that holds the toy. The toy is actual decent quality and are themed as little animal figurines with information inside the capsule about them.
The chocolate is formed in halves, fully designed on both sides (though the back is less interesting). It comes apart rather easily to reveal the capsule inside. They’re rather large, about 2.75 inches tall.
I bought two of them at Lolli & Pops in Glendale (I can’t even find anywhere online to buy them as I write this). They were expensive, $3.75 each. Sadly, one of them was badly bloomed and inedible. They had the same expiration on them, and none of my other chocolate I purchased had any texture/blooming issues, so I’m going to have to say that it happened somewhere between manufacturing and the checkout counter. (So, I staged the photo below to make sure you’d see both of the toys.)
The chocolate itself is pleasant. It’s very thin, so once I put a piece in my mouth, it melted very quickly. It has a fresh “dairy milk” flavor, a rounded cocoa note and a smooth texture. It’s not the best milk chocolate I’ve ever had, but it’s certainly very good for a chocolate novelty item.
You’re not buying it for the chocolate anyway, and as far as candy indulgences go for kids, it’s only one ounce (most chocolate/candy bars are 1.5 to 2.5 ounces) so it’s pretty low in calories overall (153). The little toys are solid and good quality for something considered a novelty ... though certainly not a product I’d be willing to pay more than 50 or 60 cents for, let alone $3.75, even if it does include an ounce of chocolate. But this is for kids.
It’s difficult to read the foil for the ingredients and other information. The press release from the company says that the chocolate is ethically sourced and their website shows the Rainforest Alliance logo. The chocolate is gluten and nut free and Kosher certified. The novelties are made here in the United States at Whetstone Chocolate of St. Augustine, Florida.
Monday, August 18, 2014
It seems odd that I picked up Jelly Belly jelly beans while I was in London, but this particular box isn’t available here. I bought this cute little pocket-sized flip-top box of Jelly Belly Beanaturals: 14 Flavors at Selfridges.
These beans are made in Thailand. In fact, if you see Jelly Belly candy in a store outside of North America, it’s probably going to be the Thai-made version. Many European countries have strict rules about genetically modified ingredients, the factory there uses non-GMO sugar and non-GMO glucose syrup (from tapioca instead of corn. (You can read more about that here.)
So, in addition to being free of any GMO ingredients, the beans are also made with all natural flavorings and colorings. They’re kosher, made in a nut free facility and gluten free. This is actually not that different from many of the jelly beans and other candies that Jelly Belly offers ... except for that GMO thing. Jelly Belly has plenty of beans mixes that are all natural ... so what I’m really trying out here is the European version.
The box is not large and only holds 1.59 ounces, so there were not even that many beans in there considering there were going to be 14 different flavors. In my assortment I had six Lime. Only one Barbecue Banana, but six Lime beans. These are the hazards of random distribution.
The first thing I noticed was how quickly the beans lose their freshness. The box was shrinkwrapped, and when I photographed them over the weekend, the beans I ate were soft and normal. But later in the week, oh, about Wednesday, when I worked on this post in earnest, they were suddenly hard. They were kept in the flip top box, closed, out of the sun and within a reasonable temperature span. Yet they were stiff and, well, stale.
Lime (light green) is nicely rounded, a little bitter towards the end and missing more of the juicy tartness.
Plum (dark maroon) is sweet and sort of like actual plum ...maybe just the plum skin but not much of the fruity, juicy notes.
Barbecue Banana (speckled yellow) is quite nice. Very sweet but the banana does have more of a baked sweetness to it, instead of the artificial vanilla note. I actually thought I only had one of these until I realized later that I had a bunch of opaque yellow ones that weren’t lemon leftover that were banana. Yum.
Orange (orange) is sweet but with a zesty note towards the end. It reminded me more of an orange jelly slice than a jelly bean as it lacked that tart bite.
Tangerine (orange) was really similar to the orange, so much so, I wasn’t sure they were different except that there were several of those and they were definitely a lighter orange. I wanted something intensely orange with that hint of lemon that real tangerines have. They were fine, but I really had my hopes up.
Lemon (yellow) was in the citrus zone that I hoped Tangerine would be. It was both sweet and tart and had a strong lemon peel bitterness at the top.
Cherry (red) was good. It was fruity without any hint of the bitterness that artificial colors can bring. The flavor also lasted a while, with a sort of jasmine floral finish.
Strawberry Jam (light pink) was actually more like jam than fresh strawberries. This left it more on the sweet side, without that delightful cotton candy floral note, but still good and nice in combination with my many Lime beans.
Juicy Pear (medium green) was weird and grassy and maybe even a little garlicky ... to the point where I was wondering if I got a Bernie Bott’s bean by mistake. But I only had one of these beans, so there was no way for me to get someone else’s opinion.
Pineapple (uncolored) was bland overall, like canned pineapple instead of the fresh stuff. Too much syrup and not enough acid.
Passion Fruit (speckled orange) is okay, it actually didn’t taste like much except for that generic “tropical candle” flavor.
Coconut (white with small speckles) tastes undeniably like coconut. It just does. Sometimes I thought there were actually coconut bits in it. You’d think it would go well with Pineapple ... and you’d be right.
Yup, there’s one missing here ... I didn’t get any Fruit Punch in my box. I’m okay with that.
I don’t think I’ve had this issue with the beans getting really hard so quickly before. Jelly Beans are one of those candies that is intended to be put in an open container for serving ... a bowl of jelly beans. If they can’t take being in a closed but not sealed box for several days without losing their freshness, I’m not sure I can commit to eating the full box (I know, it’s less than 2 ounces) within a day.
Friday, July 25, 2014
For many years I have chronicled the demise of once-great candies that were cultural touchstones for generations of Americans. The usual trajectory of a candy like this is that the company making it compromises too many times with cheaper ingredients and formulas until consumers lose interest in the product entirely and it is quietly discontinued. No one misses it much, because it broke their heart before it died.
It’s rare to see a reversal. I’m glad to be here to tell you about it. Hershey’s Krackel bar was one of the last candy bars that Milton Hershey personally developed before he passed away. It was introduced in 1938 (and had nuts in as well, for a time). When the Hershey’s Miniatures were developed, it was one of the bars chosen to represent the favorite of the Hershey bar assortment. The single-serving bar always stood out at the candy counter, in a bold red wrapper and large letter with a made-up word for the name.
In 2006 Hershey’s discontinued the single-serving, king-size and larger sizes of the Krackel bar. It was still included in the Hershey’s Miniatures ... but with a substantial change to the formula, it was now “made with chocolate” but also adulterated with other vegetable oil fillers. (What they were, I can’t say, because Hershey’s would not disclose the ingredients at the time, though later packaging did list each bar separately.) At the same time Mr. Goodbar continued to be produced in all sizes, though they did move to the mockolate recipe.
With some small fanfare Hershey’s announced the return of the Krackel bar, citing shareholders as part of the reason for the return. The change to real chocolate was made in miniatures early this year and the bars returned in May. The current ingredients are:
I can’t exactly recall the actual Krackel bar any longer. I know I liked it as a kid and I know that I preferred it in the miniature version, because the chocolate was thicker. But other than that, I’ll have to judge the Krackel on its current merits without any comparisons because I don’t have a time machine and if I did, I probably wouldn’t use it to taste old candy recipes.
The bar smells sweet and lightly milky. It’s not like the regular Hershey’s chocolate that has that yogurty tang. Instead it’s just sort of fudgy, like cheap frosting. The crunches are good, they’re spaced out a bit, so it’s not terribly airy, just crunchy. Crisped rice often has malt in it, as this does, which usually gives Krackel a sort of malted-milk-ball-in bar-form vibe. Sadly, there’s not much going on here, though the hint of salt keeps it from being too sweet.
It’s much better than the previous mockolate version, though a far cry from being a good chocolate bar. It’s simply a passable candy bar.
I did pick up a Nestle Crunch bar at the same time, which has gone through a few formula changes over the years as well. The ingredients are similar, they’re both 1.55 ounces, though the Nestle has 10 more calories.
The ingredients on the Nestle Crunch are actually a bit better, with no preservatives or PGPR. When I tried the bar last time, I found it much better than previous versions, but not something I was likely to seek out.
As you can see from the comparison of the bars, the Crunch is on the bottom and has a lot more crisped rice in it. I did prefer the airy texture and crispy rice, but the chocolate flavor was nearly impossible to discern. As a piece of candy, it was passable. As a chocolate bar with crisped rice, it was very disappointing.
The Hershey’s chocolate texture was a bit better, but that could be that there was just a slightly higher chocolate ratio, since there were fewer crisped rice bits.
Neither comes out a huge winner, really. I like both package designs. Both are made in the United States. Neither Nestle or Hershey’s are using ethically source chocolate yet. (Though Nestle does have a “Cocoa Plan”, its little seals are just to direct you to information about its plan, not as a notation that this bar is actually using traceable cacao.)
You can see more examples of classic Krackel wrappers here.
I’m still going to say that the Trader Joe’s Crispy Rice Milk Chocolate is my favorite. Though the ingredients don’t differ that much, there are no preservatives and no PGPR and it has 18% cacao content (about 1.5x the amount of Hershey’s). Still ... even though it’s made with Belgian chocolate, I don’t know the sourcing of it, but would like to see Trader Joe’s give some assurances about the ethical sourcing in the future.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
DeMet’s may have invented the name Pecan Turtle, but they haven’t done much to exemplify the greatness of the combination. They’re mediocre, but at the very least, easy to find at many major drug store chains.
The bags are on the expensive side, mine was $3.79 for only 5 ounces, which is over $12 a pound.
My first bag, purchased at a Walgreen’s not far from my house was bloomed slightly, as you can tell. It didn’t seem to affect the texture, but after I saw heard from a neighbor that stopped by to pick up a prescription a week later that Walgreen’s was shut down by the health department for vermin infestation, I decided to source another bag. (I really wasn’t concerned, it was fully sealed, but figured the candy deserved a chance to shine - but I was pretty miffed about the condition of the chocolate from Walgreen’s, so I’m unlikely to buy chocolate from that location again.) I didn’t re-photograph, though, since it was oppressively hot in my home and just as likely to bloom the new bag.
Even the new bag with its well-tempered pieces was still scuffed, so they didn’t look that dissimilar.
They’re mini turtles, so it’s not a complicated concept. What I was hoping was that each turtle would be a single pecan.
They’re cute and bite sized, a great concept really when it comes to this type of candy, which can get flaky and messy when eating in several bites.
The chocolate is marginal, to the point where I had to re-read the ingredients several times to make sure it was real. It’s sweet and not overly smooth or with much of a chocolate intensity. That said, it’s a good companion to the caramel, which is nicely chewy without being too sticky. The caramel didn’t have much of a salty or toffee flavor pop to it, but held everything together. The biggest disappointment is the shortage of actual pecans in my turtles. It’s like the turtle had only two or three legs, not a full four plus a head and tail.
If given a choice, and no budget, I’d probably seek out See’s Pecan Buds. They’re about twice the price and slightly larger, but so obviously fresher with whole pecans and higher quality chocolate. But, if I were trying to find something a little more on the decadent side for watching a movie or perhaps traveling, these might fit the bill.
Turtles, of course, contain milk, tree nuts and soy ingredients. They’re also processed on equipment with wheat, other tree nuts and peanuts. There’s no information about the sourcing of the chocolate itself.
Monday, July 14, 2014
Ghirardelli has a very large and varied line of chocolate bars and individually wrapped squares. This year they also introduced a new line of Ghirardelli minis in five varieties: Milk & Caramel, Milk Chocolate Sea Salt Almond, Milk Chocolate Toffee Crisp, Dark Chocolate minis and Sweet Dark Chocolate Cookie Bits minis.
The package explains that “minis are the sweet way to share your love of chocolate ... anytime, anywhere.” The bag is rather slight at only 4.1 ounces but is priced comparably (per ounce) to the bars. I chose the Sweet Dark Chocolate Cookie Bits because it was a flavor I’d never seen in the bars or the standard squares before. Unfortunately the package doesn’t detail the cacao percentage.
The packaging is a beautiful matte, medium blue that I found very appealing. The wrappers are also easy to open, which I appreciate when spending a little more on my candy.
I have to say that I don’t understand the point of these. They squares are 7 grams each, while the regular Ghirardelli Squares are 10.75 - so they’re about 2/3 the size of the original version. They’re a little thicker, but not unwrapped like so many Bites and Minis are these days. (Not that I think they would fare well jumbled in a bag, they’d probably break and get scuffed up instead looking incredibly charming.
The little squares are about one inch on each side. The smell is odd for a chocolate product, it reminds me of frosting in a can, overly sweet with more of a cocoa and vanilla extract scent than the complex smell of chocolate.
The bite is easy, and the thickness of the chocolate means that the little cookie bits have space to stack up and provide some texture. The cookie pieces are crunchy and less than sweet overall, which is a welcome change from the chocolate itself. The chocolate is smooth, but like the smell, tastes a bit on the fake side. I know it’s not, that it’s probably the cookies giving off that smell, but it just turned me off from the experience. I was hoping for some sort of deluxe version of the Limited Edition Hershey’s that come out from time to time, but here I found it no better.
I’m still keen to try some of the other flavors, this minis line seems to be a bit more on the comfort candy side of flavor combinations than the regular line, which I think is fun. This one just didn’t work for me.
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
In the category of licorice-free extruded starch gels, Twizzlers are at the top of the heap. Though they’re known mostly for the standard hollow Strawberry twist, Twizzlers come in a vast array of flavors, color and formats. One of the newer versions Twizzlers has been expanding is the Pull n Peel varieties. Pull n Peel is basically the old fashioned laces, but formatted in a way that makes them easier to portion and package.
I picked up this king size version of Twizzlers Mixed Berry at Walgreen‘s, mostly because it came in the king size instead of the big nearly-a-pound bag. There are six twists in the package, a mix of three flavors: Cherry, Black Raspberry and Strawberry.
The twists look kind of like a swollen version of what you’d find if you stripped the insulation off a phone cable. There are nine different colored “wires” in each bundle. The effect is quite appealing, as they twist gently and stick together lightly in the package. It’s kind of like a wheat-based package of mozzarella cheese sticks.
The texture is much more smooth and pliable than the regular Twizzlers, which I find a bit on the stuff and crumbly side of the plastic realm. My twists stuck together quite a bit, so it was hard to just pull off a single lace to eat separately. Cherry was the most discernible of the flavors. It had a deep medicinal note. It was smooth, not too sweet but also had a hint of salt to it. Strawberry was very mild and more sweet than Cherry. It didn’t have any tangy note, which I didn’t expect, but was also missing that fresh floral hint that usually evokes cotton candy in many other strawberry candies. The Black Raspberry (the blue strand) didn’t do much for me, it wasn’t distinct as a raspberry flavor on its own, but it definitely wasn’t the same as the other two.
Eaten as a whole bite of multiple strands, it works well. None of them stand out, it’s just a generic fruity-berry flavor. There’s a bitter note towards the end though, which I’d guess are the artificial colors or flavors.
I could say that one twist is satisfying enough (about .7 ounces), since I didn’t want to eat another after that. But if you’re the kind of person who misses that period of life known as kindergarten when it was socially acceptable to eat PlayDoh, then the Twizzlers Pull n Peel are probably right up your alley. (I’m not making that up, either. The ingredients of Play Doh are also largely starch based, though it’s not sold as a food item and Hasbro dissuades people from eating it, it’s really the salt that might make that a bad idea and the fact that it contains wheat so it’s not gluten free.)
Monday, July 7, 2014
I’ve often wondered why more confections weren’t made from roasting and conching. What would happen if you roasted and conched almonds or hazelnuts in the same way we make chocolate? What about coffee?
Since coffee doesn’t have its own natural oils like cocoa that are solid at room temperature, it only makes sense to add a dash of them to make a chocolate-like confection to create these Morning Rush Coffee Bites. These are from the Walgreen’s store-brand called deLISH, but I did see a review of a product called Coffee Thins on Candy Bar Review that sounds like it might be the maker.
They came in three varieties, I picked out the simplest version, the plain coffee bites (Elegant Hazelnut and Vanilla Delight were the others). There are 14 in the package, but the serving size is a little strange to decode. There’s 4.9 ounces in the package and it holds 3.5 servings. So a serving is 4 pieces. Though the package doesn’t say anything about caffeine, the Coffee Thins website does say that one piece equals a quarter of a cup of coffee. (I’m unclear if they mean an actual fourth of an 8 ounce cup and how much caffeine that cup had, as it does vary quite a bit but I’ll stick with the estimate that even eating the whole bag will probably not result it an overdose of caffeine. The front of the package is no help either, as it shows one piece equaling a cup of coffee ... though the cup is the same size as the chocolate piece.)
They’re packaged just like a Ghirardelli Square. The pieces are about 1.6 inches square. The molding is nice, it’s a generic mold but a good thickness for biting and getting a nice aroma off of it while eating.
The ingredients are a little vague:
The oils are a blend of cocoa butter, palm oil, illipe butter, shea butter, mango butter, sunflower oil and/or safflower oil. It’s also unclear if the coffee is the whole bean or brewed coffee. (I’m guessing whole bean.)
The mouthfeel is pretty good. It’s not quite the silky melt of a good dark chocolate, but it’s passable. The coffee flavors are very strong and well rounded, more on the woodsy and cocoa end of the flavors than the nutty, toffee or berry notes that some beans have. The sugar is quite prominent, which is too bad, because I don’t mind a strong coffee. If it were less sweet, I’d be a lot happier, but when you remove sugar, it has to be replaced by something else. There’s a buttery, cream note to the whole thing too that I thought was a little strong for something that I didn’t think was in the milk drink zone. It’s a balancing act, if you take out sugar, do you put in more milk solids or more coffee? More coffee would make it much stronger, but that might not make it better because the bitterness or perhaps even the caffeine would be too high.
The end result is that I’m satisfied with these as a curiosity. I don’t see myself buying them again ... unless they were actually blended in with dark chocolate. However, if your a sweet coffee fan, these might be the ticket.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.