Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Theo Chocolate makes organic and fair trade chocolate from bean to bar in their factory in Seattle. They have a selection of seasonal bars in addition to their regular items, this year I picked out their Theo Chocolate Nutcracker Brittle because I liked their Salted Almond bar. It features almonds, hazelnuts and sugary brittle chunks in smooth, rich 70% dark chocolate
The most notable quality of this seasonal bar is that it’s vegan. That’s right, the brittle is not made with any dairy, so the bar is free from any animal-derived products. (Though it is made in a factory that also processes milk, eggs and wheat, so it may contain traces of gluten or dairy as well as peanuts or other tree nuts.)
The wrapping is nice, a simple paper over-wrap with the chocolate bar enclosed in foil underneath. The bar is made with 88% fair trade ingredients and all organic products (except for the baking soda and salt). The corn syrup is also non-GMO and they do not use soy lecithin (or lecithin of any kind).
The bar looked great and smells wonderful. It’s a woodsy cocoa blend, it smells like toffee and fresh brewed coffee and toast. For a 70%, it’s well balanced. The cocoa flavors are a little on the acidic side with some bright sour cherry notes along with the other woodsy components mentioned earlier. It’s sweet, at first, but the baked brownie flavors dominate towards the end. The nuts are kind of separate as a flavor and texture. The almonds and hazelnuts are crunchy and fresh (though hard to tell apart) and the little brittle pieces are crunchy without being tacky or chewy. I missed the little hint of salt from the Salted Almond bar, but that’s not what was promised here.
It’s a nice seasonal bar, but I have to wonder why it’s not a year round offering ... no reason not to have this for Valentine’s.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The company sent me a sample of 14 flavors of their current flavors to try. They came in a simple clear bag with the truffles actually stacked in color order. (But I chose to show you a photo of their Christmas mint assortment, because I don’t actually like photographing clear plastic packaging.)
Earlier I called them “truffles” because they’re really meltaways. The chocolates are little rectangular blocks of chocolate coated meltaway centers. The centers are a combination of chocolate, flavoring and coconut oil mixed with palm oil. This means that they melt at a different temperature than the chocolate itself. The centers are solid, unlike Lindt Lindor Truffles, which have similar ingredients, but more tropical oils.
If this sounds like a Frango, that’s because Seattle Chocolates also makes Frangos for Macy’s, but also sells them under their own name but with more colorful packaging.
The box I got at the top of the review contained three mint flavors: Mint, San Juan Sea Salt and the seasonal Candy Cane. Pictured above I have Dark Chocolate, Mint, San Juan Sea Salt, Cool Mint.
I think the first one I should address is the Mint. It comes in a medium green mylar wrapper and is a milk chocolate confection. It smells deliciously pepperminty and takes me back to my childhood and the seasonal boxes of Mint Frangos I consumed (often surreptitiously). The milk chocolate has a strong dairy note and the minty center has a satisfying cool melt along with the peppermint. There are also teensy little pops of salt every once in a while. Often candies like this can be ridiculously sweet, but I didn’t find it that way at all.
The next to profile is a standard, a basic truffle on which so many other flavors are based, the Dark Chocolate. This one is in a medium blue wrapper.
The bite has a satisfying snap, and though the center doesn’t look creamy, it melts well. The dark chocolate has a mild flavor, like the common chocolate chips you’d use for cookies. It’s a toasty flavor, a little the bitter side but with a smoother melt than baking chips.
San Juan Sea Salt is a newer piece, and features a seafoam green wrapper. It’s a milk chocolate piece with little toffee bits and a little extra sea salt mixed into the chocolate center. The salt is a wonderful combination with the very milky chocolate and the little toffee bits are a great textural crunch. I did get some of these in the mint set, and they were actually infused with the mint flavors from the other truffles. Either way, it’s good.
Cool Mint was the last one in this set, a bit of a change from the previous since it features a light blue wrappers and a white center in dark chocolate. It’s quite minty and could use a little bit of that salt that the others seem to have. I enjoyed it, but prefer the other mint varieties.
Ah, things are getting a little nuttier in the next batch which features Salted Almond, Milk, Peanut Butter, Espresso.
I’ll start with Espresso because, we’ll, I’m in charge. The wrapper is brown, the chocolate is dark. The interior is smooth and has good roasted flavor note. The meltaway itself has little crispy bits ... coffee grounds. The flavor profile is good, I liked the coffee and the grounds or whatever they are aren’t too gritty. Out of the mix, this was the first flavor that disappeared. Not too sweet.
Milk looks just like the mint, so must give that a glance again except imagine the wrapper is gold. Since there are no other flavor elements in this one, it’s a little easier to pick out the profile of the milk chocolate itself. It has a strong dairy flavor, almost like the flavor of cream cheese. It’s sweet gets a little oily towards the end. I skipped these after getting the profile.
Peanut Butter sounded fantastic. The bronzy wrapper holds a milk chocolate piece with a peanut butter meltaway center. The interesting aspect is that there are also crushed peanuts in there too. Again, this one is oily like the milk chocolate, though it didn’t bother me as much.
Salted Almond is a bit more trendy and comes in a goldenrod wrapper with a dark chocolate coat. The center is dark chocolate and features a bit of salt and a few almond chips here and there. The toasty flavors of the almonds and dark chocolate were excellent. I’d buy this as a bar, as well.
The last set is a little fruity and contains some different concepts in the meltaway concept: Peanut Brittle, Strawberry Creme, Raspberry Creme, Blackberry Creme.
Peanut Brittle is similar to the Salted Almond, a little crunchy peanut, maybe with some crispy caramelized sugar in there. Since this is a dark piece, it’s far and away different from the Peanut Butter, though far less peanutty.
The Strawberry is a white center with what I think is bits of freeze dried strawberries in there. It has some authentic strawberry flavors but suffers from the same oily feeling towards the end.
The Raspberry and Blackberry Creme were similar, with some nice berry flavors with a tangy pop here and there.
Coconut Macaroon is in a lighter blue mylar and features a dark chocolate coating and center. This is a pure tropical piece, the coconut oils in the meltaway work their magic here along with a few little bites of toasted coconut. There’s a definite coconut smell to it, so much it overpowers the chocolate flavors.
Extreme Chocolate comes in a magenta wrapper (I mistook it for one of the berries when I was photographing). This is excellent. It tastes darker than its reputed 65% cacao, with good bitter notes but still enough sweetness. The meltway qualities are still there, but none of the oily textures I didn’t like. Also as a bonus, there are crunchy cacao nibs in there. All of the nibs I came across were crisp, not fibery like some origins.
Seattle Chocolates also makes a wide variety of Truffle Bars, many in the same flavor profile as the Truffles ... though the ratios differ quite a bit, with more solid chocolate and less meltaway filling in most cases.
Seattle Chocolates Truffles are made with non GMO ingredients and are gluten free. They do contain soy and dairy ingredients and obviously the ones that don’t have peanuts or tree nuts in them were still processed on shared equipment. They sell most of the flavors singly as well as different flavor assortments, like the Mint, just dark and coffee flavors.
As a product line, I give it all a 7 out of 10. For the pieces I liked, such as Salted Almond, Extreme Chocolate and San Juan Sea Salt, I go to 8 out of 10.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Tcho is a bean to bar chocolate maker based in San Francisco. Their early chocolate programs simplified the ideas of single origin distinctions and simply labeled their chocolate bars with the flavor characteristic based on a flavor wheel.
Though their early products were simple dark and milk chocolate bars, they’ve not created some interesting new flavored bars. I picked up two little tasting squares of their Tcho Mokaccino. They’re only .28 ounces, so it really is just a bite or two of chocolate. It’s described as: Serious Milk Chocolate + Blue Bottle Coffee.
Tcho is made with fair trade cocoa beans, organic ingredients and is certified kosher. (They do use soy lecithin in their chocolate and also handle nuts in their facility.)
I happen to enjoy the coffee renaissance that’s been going on for ...oh, the past 30 years. The pre-ground cans of coffee of my childhood are long gone: a time when single origin meant you looked for the Colombian mountain on the can as an indication of flavor.
The little piece has a wonderful Spirograph-style pattern on it. It tastes a little smoky, very milky, with an almost cheesy note. The coffee is intense, but on the sweet side (I don’t take sugar in my coffee, so having it combined with chocolate tends to sweeten it too much for me). The coffee notes blend very well with the chocolate but the most important thing here is the texture. It’s smooth ... there’s now coffee bean grit like so many coffee chocolates end up with (or whole beans) that I don’t care for.
I’ve been watching Tcho since they started up and were in beta. Though I appreciate many of their attributes, I’ve not been impressed with the products themselves, the dark chocolate is gritty and has an odd fat balance to it for me, and often the beans taste burnt. They do some interesting chocolate covered items, like nuts, which are good but not remarkable enough for me to fork over the premium price.
That said, I’m glad I had an open mind and picked up the Mokaccino. The little squares are a bit expensive, but if I bought two of them instead of an actual cappuccino, it’s about the same price.
Monday, December 8, 2014
Since I tried the an array of Queen Anne chocolate cherries, I though it would only be proper to try the best-known cordial cherries. Luckily they were on sale at Target yesterday for only $1.39 for a box of 10 cherries ... less than I paid for the lowest priced version of Queen Anne.
Cella’s Cherries come in a variety of packages, I’m most familiar with the boxes that feature individually foil wrapped versions. They come in both Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate versions. I chose dark.
This box of Cella’s was minimalist and efficient. The box was about half the size (flatter) than the Queen Anne and still held 10 pieces. (Though the total box only holds 5 ounces, not 6.6 ounces, so they’re smaller.) The tray plastic, but it’s easy to pull the chocolate’s out. They were all flawless, though I heard from a reader who also bought some over the weekend and half were cracked.
They’re well molded, shiny and fresh. Cella’s feature a 100% cordial center, which means no sugary fondant, it’ll all syrup and cherry in there. Cella’s are also made in a peanut free and gluten free facility, so these are appropriate for a wide range of sweet-lovers. Sadly, even though this is a dark chocolate product, there is some dairy in there (and soy). It would have been nice to find a vegan cherry candy. The cherries are treated with sulfur dioxide, sodium benzoate and calcium chloride and they add red dye #40.
They do smell like cherry. So much that it really overpowers the chocolate, but in general I consider the chocolate in a cordial cherry to be only a delivery vessel. The syrupy center is sweet, but certainly less so than the Queen Anne. The cherry is firm and crunchy and has just a slight tart note to it and a wholly maraschino flavor.
I was never really a cordial cherry fan, but I’ve been coming around. For the price, I really can’t complain about this product. The chocolate was creamy and had some toasted notes, though could certainly be darker. It was excellently tempered and these would be a lovely treat to serve with dessert to folks at the holidays. Because there’s a lot of water in the center, these are quite low in calories per ounce, so if you’re looking for a little treat without breaking your diet, this is also a nice change as the flavors are intense and linger. There are better looking packages, though, if you’re looking for a hostess gift.
Some people prefer the fondant style center to the syrup cordial, so it’s good to know what kind of person you are going in. SugarPressure did a comparison of Brach’s, Cella’s and Queen Anne and preferred the Queen Anne.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Mars made an exciting announcement earlier this fall that they’re bringing M&Ms Crispy back to American stores starting January 2015.
Some folks at Mars were good enough to send me some samples (though not in the final packaging, so I included the press release version of the package design for reference).
You can read more on Crispy M&Ms in this write up I did a few years ago when I reviewed the European version. Basically, the American version of Crispy M&Ms came out in 1998 and were discontinued in 2005. They had their fans, and current social media allowed them to speak directly with Mars to voice their enthusiasm for the return of the candy.
The Crispy M&M, if you’ve never heard of them, are described as feature a unique, crispy center covered in creamy milk chocolate, enclosed in a colorful candy shell. The center is like a little cereal puff.
The new package will hold only 1.35 ounces, which is more than the Pretzel M&Ms which are only 1.14 ounces but less than the standard Milk Chocolate M&Ms which is 1.69 ounces.
The new version comes in the same color array as regular M&Ms: red, orange, yellow, blue, green and brown.
The pieces are much smaller than I expected, since I’ve had the European versions, which are closer to the size of a Peanut M&M. These are a similar diameter to a Milk Chocolate M&M, but puffy. But they’re also quite irregular. They’re lumpy and sometimes close to spherical, while others are long or pointy in spots.
They’re easy to bite and crunch, and extremely light. The center crunch is kind of like the flavor of a corn flake ... very mild with only a hint of salt and malt. But for the most part they’re neutral. The chocolate is sweet, but otherwise generic. The crunchy shell provides a different sweetness compared to the chocolate and a different more brittle crunchy compared to the centers.
Overall, it’s a pleasant snack that I have no trouble scooping by the handful. But it made me wish for something else ... I wanted a Malted Milk M&M. This is not so hard for Mars to manage, they’d just take the Maltesers they make in the UK and give them a colorful candy shell.
The earlier versions of Crispy M&Ms used a blue wrapper, but that has since been usurped by the Pretzel M&Ms, so the 2015 version will be in lime green packages. I can’t say for certain that these are better or similar to the originals, as it’s been a long time since I’ve had them. They definitely fit into a niche that’s not well served in the chocolate market right now, which is the crossover with snacks. Here’s what the Crispy M&Ms announcement said about it:
M&Ms briefly had Mint Crispy M&Ms as a limited edition.
The European Crispy M&Ms featured mostly natural colors for the shells, which meant a slightly muted palette. Natural colors can sometimes bring their own flavors, though, so some folks can tell the difference between the colors (I can usually pick out the yellows and oranges by taste). It would have been interesting, though, for Mars to make this revival of Crispy M&Ms with the European colors, just to see if that would catch in the US.
I’m curious to see how Crispy M&Ms do this time around. The survival rate for revived candies isn’t great, but the success rates for completely new candies aren’t any better. I have no stats for that, just personal experience paging through the blog at home many candies I’ve reviewed over the past 9 years that don’t exist any longer. Maybe read about M&Ms Premiums or compare the early Mega M&Ms that were discontinued, and the new version.
They are far more consistent (less bumpy) than the samples I used for this review. Though they weren’t any smaller than the smallest from my sample, they were all small pieces. This could just be the way that they were packaged, that the weight difference means that the like sized pieces end up on the bagging platform together. I would need to buy more bags to be sure, but it’s something I’ll keep my eye out for in other reviews. I did eat a whole bag and though it’s not very much at 1.35 ounces, it was filling enough.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Dove Chocolate, a Mars brand, often skirts a line in their marketing and products between being a healthy indulgence and pure decadence. The new line of chocolate covered fruit goes for the former but still accomplishes the latter.
Mars sent me some of their new products, including this amazingly large bag of Dove Whole Dried Cranberries in Dark Chocolate. It’s 26 ounces of chocolate covered sugared dried cranberries.
The package makes it look like these are plump cranberries, but they’re the ordinary dried variety. There’s a little bit of sugar added, which is fine, because I’ve had unsweetened cranberries before and they were too puckery,even with a chocolate coating.
The pieces are quite large, and cutting them in half reveals why. They aren’t strangely large cranberries. Instead they’re covered with a lot of chocolate. Often chocolate covered cranberries are flat, but these are very appealing looking. These a plump and a little chew reveals that they’re pretty moist, not leathery. They’re tangy and have a sort of bitterness to them that cranberries are known for, but it’s offset well by the chocolate.
I often find Dove’s chocolate a little bland, but dark chocolate here has a lot of flavor. It’s a rich chocolate pudding vibe, a little woodsy. It’s creamy without being too slick, though Dove does use dairy fats in their dark chocolate, so this is not vegan. (There’s 5 mg of cholesterol in here, which serves as an indication of the level of dairy fats.)
They’re expensive. But there aren’t that many higher quality choices at grocery stores for chocolate covered cranberries. I did find Ghirardelli’s new Dark Chocolate Cranberries are just as good as these but are likely to be harder to find. Steer clear of the Nestle version in their Raisinets line as they’re just terrible.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
What Theo Chocolate is offering in their new line of peanut butter cup are the following qualities: organic ingredients, ethically sourced chocolate, kosher, no palm oil or soy ingredients and free from genetically modified organisms. The new cups come in two varieties, milk and dark chocolate, and the dark chocolate is vegan. Though they’re Theo Chocolate branded, they’re actually made in Canada.
The Theo Chocolate Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups were $2.25 a package, I picked them up at the factory store in Seattle (I’ll have a write up about the factory tour after Halloween) but they should be available at stores that carry Theo Chocolate soon as well. The packages are 1.3 ounces, so they’re only .2 ounces smaller than the usual Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup packages. Theo uses peanut butter from CB’s Nuts, a small batch nut roaster and butterer.
They’re not your ordinary round cups, nope, these are little heart shapes. They’re .65 ounces each, a nice size with a more even proportion of chocolate to peanut butter than some cups with thinner chocolate shells. There’s no oily puddle on the top, but my cups were probably extremely fresh since I bought them at the factory store.
They smell very toasty, the chocolate is crisp and has a good snap to it. The peanut butter is not fatty or oily, but also not quite crumbly. The overall roasted notes of both the chocolate and peanut butter are very strong. For a milk chocolate product, this is only very barely sweet. If you’re a fan of the more savory elements of peanut butter and chocolate, this is probably a good match for you.
The texture of the peanut butter is similar in particle size to Reese’s ... it’s not whipped smooth, there are little crunchy bits and a dryness to it that keeps it from feeling to slick on the tongue. The chocolate is lightly bitter as well but has a milky note and smooth melt.
There’s no notation as to the percentage of cacao, but this photos shows that the milk chocolate cups are very dark looking compared to the dark ones.
The Theo Chocolate Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are packaged so similarly to the milk chocolate variety, the sales staff at the factory store would let each customer know as they rang up their order that they’d chosen a particular variety ... so I sense that there may be a change in the future to help distinguish them.
The cups are beautiful, again, a little smaller than the Reese’s Peanut Butter version, but lacking the little fluted paper cups. Instead they just sit on a little paperboard tray. The mold detail includes the Theo logo on the bottom of the cups, if you’re so inclined to actually look at them before you gobble them up.
These have the same deep roasted scent as the milk chocolate, but without the light dairy note to it. The dark chocolate is immediately bitter and creamy, with a very silky melt but a strong coffee flavor. The peanut butter balanced the intensity of the chocolate with a lightness, a little hint of salt and a comforting peanut flavor.
Just one cup was exceptionally satisfying.
These are much pricier than the traditionally produced peanut butter cups on store shelves, but have none of the additional ingredients that give many folks pause. However, they’re still made in a facility that processes wheat, tree nuts, egg and soy so they’re not for those sensitive folks.
Though Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups were first to market with ethically sourced ingredients, I think I prefer these for the texture and intensity. (But I’ll probably still hand out Justin’s for Halloween since they’re available in singles.)
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
The new bite sized version of the Mint 3 Musketeers is dark chocolate and features a minty nougat center. The Mint 3 Musketeers Bars were introduced in 2007, and though it’s not the powerhouse that Twix or Milky Way represent for Mars, it still fits neatly into the candy bar selection from Mars in a unique way. The regular 3 Musketeers bar only got the mini treatment earlier this year.
The dark chocolate covered mint nougats are about 3/4 of an inch square, a little shorter than that. The sharing size package holds two servings, which seems like a lot, considering the fluffy nature of the pieces. (Even if you went on a binge and ate the whole bag, it would only be 360 calories.)
The pieces are easy to bite. The nougat is soft and airy, the chocolate is thin but doesn’t flake off easily. The nougat is almost marshmallowy, it’s fluffy but doesn’t quite have that latexy bounce. Instead the peppermint flavor and smooth dissolve gives it all a fresh feeling.
I liked them. I didn’t feel the need to overeat or stuff myself. Each piece was nicely sized, the proportion between nougat and chocolate was balanced. I’d probably buy these again ... I’m not sure how they stack up to the York Minis, which are a little denser, but also have their pleasing textural qualities. I’d say I’m just as likely to eat those, although I think the York Minis fare better in transit to the Mint 3 Musketeers Bites.
3 Musketeers items contain dairy, soy and eggs and may also have traces of peanuts. There’s no statement about gluten on the package or about the sourcing of the cocoa.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.