Monday, August 13, 2007
It may come as a surprise to some candy eaters, but there really aren’t that many different chocolate sources in the United States. Did you know that there are only 16 chocolate factories (actual factories that make chocolate from bean to bar) in this country? Everyone else who makes products that contain chocolate get it from someone else. Usually a big someone ... someone in “Big Chocolate.” But every once in a while a little guy comes along and says they’re going to start with some beans and some sugar and and make some chocolate bars. Of course it’s hard to do that because chocolate making, in some ways, is about large scale. Large batches of chocolate mean lots of blending of beans goes on and then the product is consistent from batch to batch. An artisan maker can either attempt to create a cookie cutter product every time or embrace the individuality of the variety of the bean and the growing region.
Amano Chocolate‘s Art Pollard said just that. His chocolate-making techniques are more like a classic vintner than a candy maker. As a small company he chooses his beans personally and supervises the roasting and blending of the single origin sources to create hand crafted, small batch bars. Each bar is marked with a lot number and a molding date.
The ingredients are simple: cocoa beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter and Tahitian vanilla beans. Note that there’s no added soya lecithin here. (The only other bars that I’ve tried that have no lecithin in them are Theo and Michel Cluizel.) The packaging is equally simple but also appropriate. The bar is inside a nice matte paperboard black tab-top box and the bar is wrapped in a medium weight gold foil. (I’ve had plenty of bars that come in a microthin foil that is impossible to reseal around the bar because it’s torn to shreds.)
Madagascar Premium Dark Chocolate - 70% Cacao Minimum
Madagascar - tart with strong licorice and citrus tones. The tanginess seems to give the chocolate a very crisp finish, it’s smooth, but not as full feeling on the tongue as the Ocumare. Eventually it settles into a flavor rather like golden raisins. (Lot no: 3/4/59 date: 1/14/2007)
Ocumare Grand Cru Dark Chocolate - 70% Cacao Minimum
Buttery and rich with a strong woodsy component. A little peppery bite as well as a little rosemary note. The flavors are thick and resonant, with a deepness and complexity that was good for savoring but also extremely pleasant to mindlessly eat. (Lot no: 3/4/61 date: 3/8/2007)
I have a feeling that I just plain old like Ocumare. It’s my favorite single-origin bar from Chocovic.
I had several of these Amano Ocumare bars and found that they were much better, richer and more buttery after sitting for at least a month. So while “fresh from the factory” is good for some products, so is aging in the case of chocolate.
Brian from Candy Addict reviewed these bars and found them Awesomely Addictive. He notes a strong mint flavor in the Ocumare which was in a single molding of bars. Art Pollard dispatched a newer set of bars that did not have that hint of mint in them, hence the differing descriptions between our reviews (and more Ocumare for me!).
Amano’s been getting a lot of press lately, especially since their good showing at the Fancy Food Show in New York earlier this summer. Here’s a roundup of other reviews: The Art of Tasting Chocolate, David Lebovitz and Chuck Eats.
The final thing to note is the price. The bars run about $7.00 each and weigh 2 ounces - that’s over $55 a pound and isn’t a purty truffle or anything. In my middle-class existence that price makes these bars a “rare indulgence” but certainly for any chocophile is something that should be experienced. You can buy directly from Amano or possibly at Amazon (out of stock right now).
Monday, July 30, 2007
I pretty much love PayDay bars. They’re the original energy bar as far as I’m concerned. Long before I knew about glycemic indexes it was obvious that PayDay contained a lot of calories, but they’re slow and sustained. A nice hit of sugar and quick glucose and then along protein boost that keeps the tummy from growling and prevents that “I need a nap” feeling.
A PayDay bar, as the advertising tagline used to say, is mostly nuts. At its center is a log of inert and dense nougat. Covering that is a layer of usually firm caramel and then the whole thing is rolled in lightly salted peanuts.
The PayDay is one of the older candy bar brands in the country, first produced by Hollywood Brands, Inc. in 1932. During the depression bars like PayDay, that had both a hopeful name and high calorie count (mostly from fat and protein) were actually eaten as meal replacements. The brand has switched hands a few times (as shown in the Hershey’s timeline) but still remains unchanged, now made by Hershey’s.
The bars contain about 3.8 grams of protein per ounce, which is pretty high for a non-protein fortified bar. You can credit the high proportion of peanuts for that.
In the case of the Fresh from the Factory PayDay bars, they were in the fun-zie of .7 ounces (regular bars are 1.8 ounces). I like fun size bars, so this was a nice way to get the bars. (Kind of like the FFTF Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.) I’ve never had such a soft bar before, which is indeed a treat. I don’t mind the firmness of the usual bars, but the caramel is really much more present here than in any other bar I’ve had before. The nougat is soft and has a pleasant sweet fudgy texture. The peanuts taste like fresh roasted nuts and were all good quality (though not huge or anything).
PayDay bars currently come in a few different versions, including the Chocolatey Avalanche which replaced the limited edition real chocolate covered bar. I’ve tried the Honey Roasted PayDay and found it distractingly flavorful ... less about the nuts and more about the honey flavor. The original has survived for a reason, it’s good. It’s really one of the best Summer Bars there is. No chocolate so no worries about melting, long lasting energy to keep you going between meals.
The important thing is that the regular PayDay bar is just fine when it’s not factory fresh (a little time in a pocket or in a hot car to warm up and you can pretend).
You can order now for shipment the week of August 13, 2007. It’s $20 for a tub holding 2 lbs and 14.4 ounces. Not a bad price for nearly three pounds of fresh candy (however, the shipping, I believe is an extra $10 depending on where you live).
PayDay bars contain both milk and egg products, so are not suitable for vegans. Kosher.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Last year M&Ms introduced a limited special tin of eight new gourmet flavors. They were sold only through their website. They were absurdly expensive (I think it was $49 for the set in a tin) and I never saw anyone review them.
Flash forward to a year later and I was reading on Chocolate Bytes that Heather found what I think are individual bags of some of those gourmet M&Ms. She picked up Cherry Almondine and Vanilla Crisp at the Las Vegas M&Ms World. Since my husband was off to NYC, I sent him to the M&Ms World in Times Square to see if he could find the Vanilla Crisp for me. Sadly, all they had were Cherry Almondine, which he picked up anyway.
The stand up bag announces these as a Special Edition (not limited edition, I’m not sure of the difference). The package also describes them, “freshly roasted almonds wrapped in cherry flavored white chocolate.” Sounds enticing (if you like white chocolate, cherries and almonds).
The M&Ms come in two colors, a dark marooon and a creamy beige. They smell an awful lot like cherry cough drops. The crispy shell is great and the almonds, though small, are truly fresh and tasty. The white chocolate with cherry? Well, it is strong. It’s not too sweet, but the cherry is quite a kick in the head. There’s no tangy bite to it, it’s just all sweet and nutty and of course cherry.
I do have to admit that I’m coming around on my dislike of cherry things and found these pleasant and they were certainly a hit on a long bike ride that I took on Sunday. (I got the empty package back from my bud and our ride organizer, Will, at the end of the trip.)
At $6 a bag, I don’t think these are special enough to warrant buying them again. Koppers does far better interesting flavor mixes and on the whole if I were looking for a quick almond treat, I’d pick up the Milk Chocolate Almond M&Ms which have never disappointed me.
There’s no word if M&Ms is making any of the other gourmet Special Edition flavors like Crunchy Cookie Mint. Keep your eye out if you’re in an M&Ms World store.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
I’ve always loved Jujyfruits, but probably for the wrong reasons. I never particularly enjoyed eating them, but they’re stunning to look at.
What’s particularly odd about Jujyfruits is that they’re less fruit flavored and more vegetable-oriented: asparagus (which I always thought was a little corncob), banana (the one that says Heide), grapes, pea pod, pineapple, raspberry and tomato (which I thought was the bottom of a bell pepper or just a flower). The shapes, further, have nothing to do with the flavors and are randomized so that all shapes come in all flavors.
And the flavors? Lemon, Lime, Cherry, Orange and Licorice. (Kind of like Chuckles which are also made by Farley’s & Sathers now.)
At the end of the last millennium, a customer survey revealed that the original spearmint green Jujyfruit was not popular enough and was replaced with lime. I rather miss that ... I liked being able to get a licorice and a spearmint candy in one package. Jujyfruits are rather soft when fresh, though not quite as soft as Dots in my experience. They’re chewy and pretty flavorful, though lacking in any tangy notes, it’s all sweet. They’re sticky and can leave big hunks congealed to the sides of molars. I really like the licorice one, which has very nice anise notes and a very clean flavor.
Candy Wrapper Museum has a nice image of an earlier version of the Jujyfruits box, which I much prefer. The current box is rather, I don’t know, primitive looking. (Keep clicking around at the other old Heide products there at the CWM, quite fun to see they had a Good & Plenty knock-off called Hi-D-Ho that were also pink and white.)
A little more history: The Heide company that invented the Juju candies was started by Henry Heidi, a German immigrant in 1869. The company introduced Jujyfruits and Jujubes in 1920. Heide continued as a family run company after Henry Heide died and was then run by his son Andrew and his grandson Philip. But in 1995 they sold out to Hershey’s. Hershey’s then sold Heide (along with their other famous candies Red Hot Dollars and line of gummis) to Farley’s & Sather.
While the Jujyfruits have remained relatively unchanged over the years, the Jujubes have gone through some substantial changes.
According to the Food Network show Unwrapped, the difference between Jujubes and Jujyfruits is really only that Jujubes use Potato Starch instead of Corn Starch as their primary thickener. Add to that, Jujubes are “cured” longer, so they’re firmer.
When I was a kid, Jujubes were always hard as rocks and only a fool would try to chew them. (We were all fools back then. Of course the cool part was to soften them up enough to chomp down and glue your teeth together ... what fun!)
The Jujube that both the Jujyfruits and Jujubes are named after is a little tropical berry that really has nothing to do with the candy, it was probably just a romantic sounding name and in the early part of the last century many candies tried to adopt such exotic names. Both candies actually used something called Ju-Ju Gum at one time as an ingredient (it’s similar to many of the other vegetable gums like Gum Arabic, Acacia, Agar or Guar).
Today Jujubes are a little softer, kind of like stale Jujyfruits. They also have a bit more range in their flavors which are: Lemon (yellow), Violet (purple), Lilac (orange), Lime (green) and Cherry (red). So they’re basically little floral pastilles that are slightly soft. (Think of them like the Grether or Doolittle pastilles.)
I haven’t had them in years and was actually rather pleased with them. I don’t think I really need a box of 6.5 ounces, a little tin filled with an ounce or two might do me for a week. All of the flavors, even the fruity ones, are rather delicate and floral. I wish they did still make the spearmint ones (but it’s okay if there’s no rose in there, I think two flowers is enough).
They’re just lovely to look at and because of their durable and inert nature, I feel fine leaving them sitting out on my desk without worrying about anyone eating them or them getting any staler. If you do find them inedible, a fun craft project is to stick an ordinary sewing pin through them and use them as push pins!
Overall, neither are candy I’m likely to buy or consume, but it was fun to revisit them and I’m glad they’re still around and have their ardent admirers.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
One of my favorite chocolate treats since I was a teen are Koppers’ Cordials. They’re little dark chocolate spheres, about the size of a hazelnut that hold a crystal sugar shell inside filled with a “cordial” of some sort. They’re just flavored, not real alcohol. The easiest flavor to find is Rum, but I’ve picked up Cognac, Mandarin Orange, Mint and Sambucca (Anise). In fact, Koppers has at least 40 different varieties.
Most of the time I find them at the chain bulk candy stores like Candy Station or Sweets Factory. They’re usually rather expensive (being a chocolate item and also rather difficult to make), most of the time approaching $20 a pound. But I was happy to see them at the Jelly Bean Factory over the weekend. They’re a great movie candy because they’re easy to eat and easy to savor, so that’s what I did with them.
The bonus to buying them in a pre-packaged bag is that you’re pretty sure you’re getting the flavor your want. The problem I have getting them in bulk sometimes if they have a large assortment is that they all look the same and can get jumbled up by a careless employee or a devilish customer. There are a few flavors that I find really unpleasant (Amaretto), so it’s no fun to get one of those by accident.
I’m positively spellbound by everything Koppers makes. They’re all so beautiful to behold. They’re always so shiny and perfect. It’s one of the things I’m looking forward to about the All Candy Expo ... that huge wall they do of all of their products with little spoons so that you can taste each and every morsel.
The dark chocolate is sweet and mellow. Not too bitter or complex. It’s really just there to hold the cordial. The sugar shell is crunchy if you like to bite yours in half or just chew the whole thing. The cordial filling is like a hit of rum extract. I felt very sophisticated as a kid when I’d go to the candy counter at the department store and get a quarter pound of these (and a half a pound of gummi bears).
It’s also kind of fun to dissolve the chocolate slowly to get to the sugar sphere. It’s pretty durable, until of course enough of that to dissolve and out comes the little trickle of the cordial center.
Rum Cordials are the easiest to find, but I have to say that I prefer the darker flavors of Cognac and Whiskey or the real flavor zaps of Mandarin Orange or Sambucca.
If you want to feel really sophisticated, you can try real cordials from K Chocolatier in Bevery Hills (I know I was kind of harsh about the price, but they were $40!) for a real vodka martini inside of a chocolate sphere. Now that’s a sophisticated indulgence.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
I’ve been holding onto the news since January and the Fancy Food Show that Jelly Belly is coming out with a line of all natural jelly beans. This means no artificial colors, preservatives or flavors (the colors I know are a big concern with some parents and hyperactivity in their children). Jelly Belly is currently test-marketing the new beans on the west coast at Whole Foods. The new line includes ten flavors at the moment. I picked up a package of Tropical Fruit Blend Jelly Belly.
This blend has six flavors: banana, coconut, lemon, orange, pineapple and strawberry. The flavors are actually from real fruits (the ingredients list things like coconut flakes, banana puree, pineapple concentrate, etc.). The colors are created using natural colorings like annatto extract, cabbage juice and curcumin.
The standout flavors for me were banana, which tastes like a really ripe banana and pineapple, which has a nice tangy bite to it and then a smooth sweetness.
If I have a complaint it’s that the color combination made it nearly impossible for me to tell the beans apart. The pineapple was kind of a colorless bean as was the coconut and the lemon on the yellow side and then the orange was more of a light peach but I still got them confused in dim lighting situations. The unmistakable beans were strawberry (though I didn’t care much for the flavor on this one, it tasted a little canned and metallic) and banana (the mottled one).
If I were looking for this blend of flavors and I had a choice between the all natural and the regular ones, I’d absolutely go for the all natural. They taste great and I already get confused about the color keys for Jelly Belly anyway.
The package also says that Jelly Belly - All Natural are gluten free and Kosher. They do contain beeswax so may not be suitable for vegans.
For those of you who don’t get the JellyBelly.com newsletter, they’re running some pretty awesome sales in their outlet. For some bizarre reason they’re clearing out their Christopher’s Fruit Gems at insanely low prices ($2.99 for a box of 2 lbs unwrapped or $14.99 for 9 lbs in a basket of the individually wrapped ones). They also have something for licoricians (licorice-lovers) with their 15 ounce licorice assortment at only $9.99. And finally, for fans of games of chance, from now until Monday, July 23, 2007 or while supplies last, if you order 2-4 bags of Belly Flops you pay only 6.00 each. But if you order five or more bags, the price is slashed to only 5.00 per bag! (That’s $2.50 a pound for Jelly Belly, not gonna do better anywhere else.)
Monday, July 2, 2007
Twix is one of the most popular candy bar brands in the country (and mighty popular in Europe, to boot). About 43 million are sold each year (source). There are quite a few different versions and limited editions that have come and gone over the years.
It was kind of an odd process. I submitted an email through the Contact page on the Twix website and two days later I got an email (referencing Peanut Butter M&Ms, which really confused me, because if I asked a question about PB M&Ms, it had to be over a year ago when I was trying to find out if they still made Crispy in the States) with a reference number and their toll free hotline. I called the number and gave them the number and they confirmed that there will be no more Peanut Butter Twix once supplies currently in stores and warehouses run out. (This would be the appropriate time to pick up a box at your local grocer when they go on sale for three for a dollar and then sell them for $2 each on eBay.)
The only difference between these two products is the cookie in the center. The original Peanut Butter Twix has a vanilla cookie (like the regular Twix) while the new PB Twix has a chocolate cookie (like the Limited Edition Twix Triple Chocolate).
This is how I feel about this bar ... it’s trying too hard.
I got a hold of the classic Peanut Butter Twix and did a side by side comparison.
I like the Peanut Butter Twix, not a lot, but enough to finish the bar on hand. The peanut butter is definitely the main attraction here. The bar isn’t very sweet and the cookie gives it a nice texture without doing much else. The chocolate, well, keeps things together.
The Twix looks the same from the outside. The cookie isn’t quite as crispy and satisfyingly crunchy. The peanut butter seems to be lost in the Hydrox-style cookie (no, not Oreo, I’m saying Hydrox for a reason). It all tastes like bad frosting. Not like peanut butter, not like chocolate. It has a nice salty balance and isn’t too sweet, but it just doesn’t have much going for it as a candy. I hate to say it, but when I eat this, the word that comes to mind is unctuous. I mean this in both senses of the word ... it’s kind of oily and it’s also kind of insincere and smug.
Now, if you’re a Twix fan, you’ll probably want to ignore everything I’ve written here. I’ve never actually cared much for Twix. Sometimes I’ll eat a miniature as a reminder to myself that I really don’t like them. I don’t know why. All the elements seem like a good idea. Is it just me, or do Twix always become a melted mess in your fingers too? I don’t have that problem with most other bars.
If you’re a fan of the traditional (and you should really try this one before you go getting in an uproar) then you should probably call Mars or send them an email to let them know how you feel.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
One of the things that I was attracted to at the counter of the candy store were these pretty and classic chocolate bars. They came in four varieties: Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate with Almonds and Sugar Free Milk Chocolate (on a different display).
They’re all 1.8 ounces and the ingredients are promisingly short: sugar, milk, cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, soy lecithin and vanillin. They were all priced $1.25 each.
The other bar (not pictured) was the Milk Chocolate with Almonds bar (it looked just like the Milk Chocolate bar). It’s similarly sweet and has a wonderful scent of almonds. The almonds are whole, if a little small. Crunchy and a good counterpoint to the very sugary chocolate. The pieces are nice though, easy to break off a third and chomp it whole or maybe three bites.
The Mickey Dark Chocolate Bar was stunning when I took it out of the package. The glossy squares and nicely detailed relief of Mickey’s head definitely has appeal. It smells nice, a little more on the cedar side of woodsy than coffee. The ingredients on this one lists butterfat. It’s pretty smooth but very sweet for a dark chocolate. It’s kind of “watery” on the tongue, reminding me of the Royal Dark Cadbury Mini Eggs that came out this year ... kind of like a pleasant cup of hot chocolate.
The sweetness leads me to believe that some kids may enjoy this, and if they don’t their moms or dads won’t complain about having to eat the leftovers themselves.
I give the whole set of bars a passably good 7 out of 10, good portion control at 1.8 ounces, easy to share, decent price for a branded item and Kosher for those who are looking for that. I appreciate that the candy has the Mickey brand on the inside and the outside.
Much of the candy is rather mainstream fare, and though I couldn’t find any chocolate mint patties or minted chocolate, I did find the Mickey Mouse Creamy Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Patties. They were a little more than the other pre-packaged candies at $1.50, but they were also 2.7 ounces. The packaging is kind of retro, kind of islandy. The Mickey on the package is the old-fashioned Mickey who is all pupil and has no whites in his eyes.
Inside is a little plastic tray with two chocolate dipped coconut patties in the shape of Mickey’s head.
These are hefty huge patties! Each weighs approximately 1.35 ounces, a good sized portion of candy on its own. The chocolate doesn’t coat the top, but you can’t tell from the photo that it does cover the bottom.
The star here is the soft coconut pattie itself. It’s creamy and soft and of course coconutty. It smells like summer. The coconut is chewy and only slightly fibery, a bit smoother than a Mounds bar, but also a bit sweeter.
The chocolate takes a back seat, which is fine. It’s not great chocolate like that on the Chocolate Dipped Pretzels, but it makes the candy attractive and it’s real, which is always a selling point.
The package does say that they were made in a “nut free environment” (except for those coconuts, which I guess are technically a fruit). Not Kosher. I give them a 7 out of 10.
These little M&M-like candies are called Chocolate Spots and came in a peanut variety as well. I went for the traditional “candy-coated Milk Chocolate”. As I was looking for a package that wasn’t crinkled and sticky, I noticed that all the bags felt like the contents were “grainy” instead of smooth.
I did my best to pick one from the bottom that looked crisp and had the best feeling contents, but when I got home and dumped them out, it was quite apparent that my attempt was not successful.
I know that many small children aren’t particularly choosy about their chocolate, and bless them for that. If I were a child and told I could only pick out one item from this store and this is what I got, I’d be in tears. The chocolate tastes like the wrapper smells, like plastic. The candy shell is crispy, yes, but only masks the burnt flavors of the chocolate. Think of those awful burnt unpopped kernels of popcorn and maybe the filling of a futon that’s been stored in a damp basement for the past few decades. I should have known that they were going to be bad when I read the list of ingredients ... which included PGPR (granted, I still love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, which now include PGPR, but it’s certainly in spite of it that they’re good, not because of it).
Honestly, I think I’m going to package these up and send them back to Disney. I might accept such quality from the 99 Cent Only Store at a fifth of the price, but not from a big company that prides itself on the experience of the brand. 1.8 ounces. I’m giving them a 2 out of 10. Not Kosher.
How difficult would it be to simply have a Disney branded M&M? The candies would have little characters on them instead of Ms (like the Pirate Pearls had little skulls and swords). Or ... don’t bother with M&Ms and get some GOOD candy maker to do two different sizes and kids could make their own Mickey heads with large and small candy lentils.
I’d kind of hoped, as with the Disney Spots, that this Pecan-Caramel Cluster would have a cutesy name, like Lion King Paws or Chewy Manes ... But clarity is always a good thing. In fact, besides the image on the package of Simba and Nala, it doesn’t say a single thing about The Lion King. I guess in a few years these could be branded for a more popular Princess or perhaps some tie in with Ratatouille.
The package says they’re “Crisp Pecans drenched in Creamy Caramel, smothered in delicious Milk Chocolate.”
And so they are.
These were far better than the Nestle Pecan Turtles I had earlier this year. Fresh nuts, the right texture for the caramel. The chocolate wasn’t the best in the world, but at least it didn’t detract. A winner.
2 pecan clusters, 1.5 ounces total. Not Kosher. $1.25 9 out of 10
Overall, the packaged stuff was pleasant and by theme-park standards, a good value. Just stay away from the Chocolate Spots.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.