Monday, February 13, 2012
Over the past seven years or so I’ve been very hesitant to do reviews of toffees. I’m not certain why, because I love the stuff. But when it’s offered as a sample, I usually decline. Perhaps I know that I can’t be even slightly objective because it’s pretty hard to make bad toffee. And if you like toffee like I do, you probably don’t need a review. (It’s also possible that all toffee is actually good.)
So that brings me to Poco Dolce, an artisan style toffee maker in San Francisco. I’ve bought their toffee quite a few times. (The photo at the right here is from a package I picked up in 2008. I’m pretty sure I also picked up a similar box in 2009, and have certainly sampled their products at every Fancy Food Show they’ve exhibited at. Other mentions on the site here with a photo, here in 2010 and here in 2008.)
While in San Francisco at the Fancy Food Show last month, I sampled Poco Dolce’s Popcorn Toffee. There’s no better place to pick it up than at their store, which is in an area known as Dogpatch. (Also home to Recchiutti’s candy kitchen and Dandelion Chocolate.) I popped in and they had exactly what I wanted, a beefy tin jam packed with little toffee squares covered in dark chocolate.
Their Toffee Tile products are molded pieces with little toffee centers. They’re gorgeous and usually individually wrapped in glassine sleeves or tucked into boxes. Their regular toffee square are a bit more rough and tumbled, enrobed and maybe a little more scuffed.
Inside the tin the toffee was protected in a cellophane sleeve. But it was completely full, not like some packages. Yes, it’s expensive stuff, too. It was $16 for the tin which holds a half a pound. So $32 a pound.
The toffee construction is simple. A light toffee, with a good buttery cleave to it, with a few pieces of popcorn in each piece. The pieces are each about one inch square, though some aren’t completely square. The toffee pieces are a little lofted in the center, especially if there’s a big piece of popcorn in there. But most of the popcorn is smaller bits. The flavor is really popcorny, though still there’s not a l of the actual stuff in there. It’s quite amazing how the buttery, salty notes of the toffee combine so well with the toasted corn flavors of the popcorn. The chocolate is dark and silky and does a great job of sealing in all the crunchy toffee goodness so that it doesn’t get soft and tacky.
This is a brilliant idea, wonderfully executed. I love the size of the pieces, the chocolate is excellent quality. Their toffee tiles are also great, but feature a much darker toffee and more chocolate by proportion. I like the more rustic style like this, but still with plenty of chocolate. The tin is great for serving, I would be happy to serve this to friends over to watch either Downton Abbey or a football game.
They also make a sampler package of their different varieties, so you can find your favorite. (The Double Shot Espresso is great but too strong for me to eat in the evening, the Burnt Caramel Toffee are sure to please everyone in a crowd.) Poco Dolce uses Guittard’s fair trade and sustainably grown chocolate in their products and all natural, locally sourced ingredients (wherever possible).
Friday, February 10, 2012
My new favorite gummis, Haribo Ingwer-Zitrone, might be pretty hard to find, but at least they’re rather inexpensive. My other new favorite might be Kanro Pure Lemon Cola from Japan.
The pieces are little, flat hearts, about the size of a quarter.
The first flavors are definitely citrus - the bitterness of the zest is front and center on the sour coating. The gummi center is stiff and chewy and quite juicy after getting through the almost-crunchy sanding. The cola flavors are subtle, spicy and earthy with a little hint of honey and that cinnamon-cola flavor. The lemon really gives it a sparkle.
The gummi uses a few gelling agents in addition to gelatin. There’s pectin and something translated as collagen peptide. (Japanese functional foods often contain collagen, as if you can get more collagen into your skin by eating it.) So they’re just a little less bouncy and rubbery than some gummis, but not quite as sticky as most jelly candies. (Think of them as a cross between the Haribo Grapefruit Slices and Swedish Fish.)
I liked the mix of textures and flavors, and appreciated that the bag had a little zip top to keep them fresh. But 1.6 ounces is hardly a lot for the price, when the Haribo I’ve been buying is less than that for over 6 ounces. I do prefer this cola combination to the Haribo Fizzy Cola though, and I don’t need to gobble up too many to be satisfied.
The Kanro website helpfully provides dietary info about their product in pictogram form. There are no shellfish, wheat, eggs, dairy or peanuts in the product. So it sounds like they’re fine for those with nut and gluten issues ... but of course the collagen/gelatin means they’re off limits for vegetarians. There was another pictogram on the list ... but I didn’t know what it meant, it was either coffee or soy.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
One of the seasonal imported candies I looked forward to as a kid were Perugina Baci. They were one of my earliest recollections of hazelnut candies. It’s a simple construction, a chocolate cream filling with crushed hazelnuts, topped with a whole hazelnut and then dipped in dark chocolate.
They’ve been made since 1922 and were very successful from the start. The hook with Baci though isn’t just the hazelnut textures and chocolate, it’s the packaging. Each little chocolate is individually wrapped, and inside the wrapper is a glassine paper that has quotes about love, now in multiple languages.
I ate plenty of these as a kid. They used to come in larger boxes, I think they had either three or four chocolates in them. Now they’re only available in this duo box or in the larger gift size versions (which change depending on the season). They were first introduced to American consumers in 1939 when Perugina opened their own shop on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1939. But then they went away. Nestle bought Perugina in 1988 and the brand was less emphasized. Perugina concentrated their sales efforts on Italy and Europe. Baci weren’t as easy to find, though still turned up in Italian delis and import shops. When internet sales came along, it was a bit easier, but still, the impulse of buying a little tube of Perugina Baci was long gone.
That supposed to change now, as Nestle has an agreement with Colavita olive oil (not a Nestle product) to handle imports for Baci and other Perugina products. They made a big splash at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, so perhaps they’ll be easier to find now.
The pieces are about a half an ounce each and have about 75 calories in them. It’s a rich mix of dark chocolate on the outside, a filling of hazelnut paste and cream along with crushed hazelnuts. Then there’s a large, whole hazelnut on top.
The ingredients list for a complicated candy like this is very short: sugar, hazelnuts, chocolate processed with alkali, cocoa butter, milk, milkfat, soy lecithin and vanillin.
Baci are only for chocolate eaters who love hazelnuts. There’s a lot of hazelnut in there. The filling is jam packed with crushed hazelnuts (the chocolate was invented to make use of excess crushed nuts in the chocolate factory) but the real appeal here is the fantastic whole hazelnut on top.
They smell sweet and nutty. Bite is easy, the center is soft enough to give easily, but not sticky or syrupy. It all melts well together, with a lot of woodsy and roasted nut flavors. Personally, I like biting off the bottom and consuming that first, leaving only the chocolate covered whole hazelnut at the end.
One is satisfying, two is downright indulgent. I think a box of three would be the perfect serving and put a fourth in to at least create the illusion of sharing.
While Caffarel are still my favorite Italian hazelnut chocolates, I do love Baci and I’m glad they’re going to be more available.
There’s no statement about the ethical sourcing of the chocolate on the package or Perugina Italian website. (The US website hasn’t launched fully yet.) The product contains hazelnuts and possibly traces of other tree nuts, plus soy and dairy. There is no statement about gluten on the package.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
The new Valentine’s version of Peeps has a little decadence going for it. The Peeps Strawberry Creme dipped in Dark Chocolate come individually cradled in a tray, each just lightly dipped in dark chocolate, like a fresh strawberry.
The package is a bit small, each weighs only a half an ounce, so the whole package is 1.5 ounces and are priced around $2.00 if you can find them. However, if you’re watching your calories but still want a treat, it’s an appealing choice since the whole package has only 170 calories (or 57 calories each). Far less calorie-laden than a box of truffles.
I had my doubts about these. They are a rather unnatural shade of red. Well, I’ve seen camellias this color, but I’ve never felt the desire to eat them.
However, they smell quite appetizing; like strawberry shortcake, a sweet scent with a light creamy note to it. The dark chocolate dipped foot sets off the color well, but doesn’t smell of chocolate on its own.
The semi-sweet chocolate, when bitten so that its on the tongue, is quite strong and rich. It’s woodsy enough to stand up to the rather artificial notes of the strawberry. The big problem comes with the marshmallow’s grainy sugar coat. It’s sweet, I expected that, but the artificial colors have a very noticeable aftertaste for me that’s far too bitter to be outshone by the interior.
The center is also lightly and unnecessarily colored. (Regular colored Peeps are always uncolored in the center.) The marshmallow center is sweet and rather like a very mild strawberry ice cream.
If the artificial colors don’t bother you, these are actually a very good combination of chocolate and flavored marshmallow. I prefer this style to the completely coated version that Peeps are also coming in lately (those marshmallows are too moist and lack the visual appeal that the true Peep shape provides).
Monday, February 6, 2012
Mint and Chocolate is a classic combination and one that M&Ms has brought back seasonally with their Milk Chocolate Mint M&Ms in the winter for the past few years.
This year they’ve introduced a new item with a little twist, Mint Dark Chocolate M&Ms. Like other Mars dark chocolate products, it’s not a true dark chocolate, just a semi-sweet chocolate with a bit of dairy fats thrown in.
I found them in this stand up bag, which was a bit pricey at $3.39 per 8 ounce bag at Target. I expect they go on sale often, so keep an eye out. But I’ve heard tale that they’re also available in single serve packages.
They come in two colors. Green and Green. Maybe there are three shades, it’s hard to tell. But they’re green, and they’re beefy. They’re much larger than regular M&Ms.
Because they’re bigger, there seems to be more chocolate than shell, so it felt like there was more chocolate flavor.
They’re lightly peppermint, not so much that it completely overpowers the chocolate. The chocolate is smooth and buttery, though a little grainy ... kind of hard to tell if you chew up the sugar shell though. Overall, a very nice rendition of minted chocolate in candy. It does remind me quite a bit of Peppermint Bark. It’s much less sticky tasting than the milk chocolate variety. I’d definitely chose the Dark Chocolate over Milk Chocolate. So much that I’d kind of like to downgrade the Milk Chocolate variety.
They’re also satisfying. M&Ms, by design, are engineered to be unsatisfying. You eat some, and then you want some more. Otherwise folks wouldn’t keep eating a whole bag and then buying more. The dark chocolate variety has a lot going for it with the textures, but the mint is light and reminds me (because I still taste it in my mouth) that I just had some and that I enjoyed them. So no need to keep shoveling them into my maw.
Mars made Premium M&Ms for a while, they were M&Ms without the shell, instead something more like a thick layer of latex paint (okay, it was really just food coloring and edible wax). The flavor that seemed to make it the longest on store shelves was their mint version, and this hard shell variety does emulate that flavor profile quite well.
Last week Mars introduced a new M&Ms character, Ms. Brown. She’s voiced in the current campaign by Vanessa Williams (Ms. Green is voiced by Cree Summer) and characterized as a bit brainy (because she has glasses) and chic. It seems odd that all the M&Ms are “candies of color” in name only, their arms and legs are actually rather pale and lead me to believe they’re Caucasians. None of this has anything to do with Mint Dark Chocolate M&Ms, I was just thinking about it over the weekend.
Friday, February 3, 2012
While in San Francisco I made sure to pick up some chocolates from Michael Mischer Chocolates which is based in Oakland. I’ve been to the shop before and have picked up both bars and bon bons. But it’s about time I did a full review.
For All Alcohol Week, I have Michael Mischer Kentucky Bourbon Whisky Truffles which is a set of six dark chocolate truffles filled with a soft bourbon infused ganache and dusted with cocoa.
The box is simple, just a set of truffles in fluted cups sealed up with a transparent plastic top. If I had one complaint, it was that most of the truffles touched the lid and got a little smashed against it. It didn’t break the shell, but did make smudges on the lid and take off some of the cocoa.
The truffles are exquisitely formed and picture perfect. The dusting of cocoa was exactly the right amount. It coated the surface, but not so much that it came off on me as I ate it. It was like a coating of velvet.
The center is a soft but not quite flowing ganache. It’s almost like a pudding, it was thick and rich with a silky melt. The bourbon flavors were not as strong in this truffle as some of the other alcohol infused confections I’ve had this week. The bourbon flavors are well rounded, a little on the rummy side with notes of leather, vanilla, toffee and cedar. The chocolate is also excellent, some of the best chocolate of all the confections I’ve had with the alcohol. It was dark, a little bitter, absolutely slick and smooth on the tongue and well matched with woodsy and coffee notes to the bourbon.
Michael Mischer Chocolates are available in a few locations in the Bay Area and on the web. His assortments are interesting, with a lot of influences from Asia and classic confectionery with a little bit of an amusing American twist with flavors like Root Beer. Like most fine confections, they’re pricey. There’s no statement on the website about the ethical sourcing of the chocolate itself, but Mischer notes that he uses only the finest premium beans, many sourced from the Americas, not Africa where slavery issues still exist.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
While in San Francisco for the Fancy Food Show, I was introduced to Twice the Vice Spirited Chocolates at a PR event called Food Fete (photo).
The confections are made with Callebaut chocolate from Belgium with an extra helping of premium spirits. In fact, there’s so much alcohol in there that they can’t be sold to folks under the age of 21 and are prohibited in most states.
I got to try about six different varieties while chatting with the founder and chief chocolatier, Craig Boreth. The two varieties I have for review are from different chocolate collections.
The big selling point with these infused chocolates is the specificity of the spirits. For example, it’s not just Scotch, oh no, the Single Malt collection has The Macallan 12 Year, Glenlivet 15 Year, Lagavulin 16 Year and Tomatin 18 Year.
The Glenlivet 18 Year Single Malt Scotch is a lovely piece. I like that they’re clearly marked on the tops. (Well, they’re clear when you’re sober.)
They’re very large pieces, probably 1/3 larger than I’m accustomed to these days. (1.25” square and .75” high and about .7 ounces.) That’s not a bad thing, think of them as the generous pour.
The ganache is creamy and soft at room temperature. That helps the aromatics and volatiles come to the nose much quicker. The first notes I got were smoke and a lot of leather. There are also some rather unpleasant aspects of the smoke that I notice, a little like burnt broccoli. But that’s Scotch for you. There’s a lot of vanilla and a little touch of honey as well. It’s an intense piece of chocolate and really does warm my throat, without the searing medicinal heat that straight Scotch can provide.
The Chocolate Martini bonbon is from the The Chick Drinks Collection (gah, what a terrible name) and features vodka and chocolate liquor in the rich chocolate ganache. The Chicks collection is all about those sweet things that are so popular on Sex and the City and reality shows. The others in the box would be Cosmopolitan, White Russian and Margarita.
It’s a nice looking piece and as far as a chocolate it’s quite good. The alcohol was much more sedate and the filling had a lot of chocolate notes. Part of it was a strong vanilla as well as a sort of chocolate frosting flavor, like it was a flavoring (probably a chocolate liqueur) instead of the actual chocolate. The texture is wonderfully smooth and mercifully less sweet than an actual chocolate martini. There’s still the light burn of alcohol in the back of my throat from it.
They’re a little on the pricey side (the equivalent of $71 a pound for their small box) and I’d suggest that they have a short shelf life, since alcohol tends to evaporate even from chocolates within about 3 months. The source chocolate, Callebaut, can be purchased by chocolatiers with certifications about sustainability and ethical standards, but there was no indication on the website about that type of sourcing.
The other current collections are The Kentucky Bourbon Collection, Top Shelf Spirits Collection and The Classic Cocktails Collection. The cocktails don’t interest me much, but the idea of going with high quality chocolate and then infusing it with distinctive Bourbons and Scotch Whiskeys is quite intriguing. From my tastings at the event, I really could tell the difference between the flavor profile of a 16 and an 18 by different makers. If you’re looking for a gift for Valentines or really for anyone that enjoys the hard stuff, this might be the thing. Just be sure to check if they ship to your state.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Here’s a little shift of gears in my All Alcohol Theme Week. I have a couple of rolls of Mentos that are inspired by mixed drinks:
Mentos Pina Colada & Mojito is available in Europe right now, but should be sold in the United States shortly.
The pieces are divided, each flavor is on the advertised side of the roll. But if you get them confused, they’re all white with either green or yellow speckles.
Pina Colada tastes a little different than the standard Pineapple that’s available in the Rainbow and Japanese Pine Fresh rolls. That’s because it is actually a pineapple and coconut combination. The coconut here is less of the toasted variety and more of the creamy coconut milk flavor. The pineapple is floral and only slightly tart. On the whole it’s a rather sweet chew, but has a satisfying combination that keeps it from getting too sticky.
Mojito is not one of my favorite mixed drinks. It’s weird. I don’t know who decided that citrus and mint are supposed to be good together, but I guess if you put in enough rum, no one will care. I’ve had a few citrus and mint combinations, so I’m not coming into this candy unaware of good and bad versions. The mint here tastes like dried spearmint leaves, like a spearmint herbal tea. The lime is tart but has no zest to it. Some lime and mint combinations can taste a bit like cough drops, but that’s not the case here. Instead this just tastes a little old. I didn’t get anything even remotely like rum, but that wasn’t there in the Pina Colada either.
On the whole, I liked the idea of two flavors in one roll. But I didn’t care much for the Mojito, so half of the roll was suddenly off the table for eating.
Mentos Duo only seems to be sold in Europe. I tried them last year in a licorice version. Those were like the version above where there were two flavors in the roll. The added bonus on top of that was that the outside was one flavor and then the center of the chew was another. Mentos Drop Citroen & Drop Aardbei
I wanted to be fair to the poor lime after being so harsh on the Mojito, and the good news is that this version called Mentos Duo (Strawberry & Lime) is like a Strawberry Daiquiri.
All of the pieces are the same, a strawberry outside with a center of lime. The outside is a soft pink and smells like cotton candy. The initial strawberry flavor was light and fragrant, a little floral and sweet. The chewy center gets a little more intense with a tangy lime note. It’s not very sour, but different enough from the strawberry layer that it creates a counterpoint. Lime can be too sour and sometimes bitter; strawberry can be bland and too sweet. But together they make a great flavor combination that I think is all but ignored in candy.
Both European versions of Mentos are made with natural flavors and natural colors.
I’m more likely to buy the Duo than the Pina Colada/Mojito, but both are great additions to the range.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.