Thursday, December 8, 2011
Single origin chocolate and single origin coffee sound like an excellent fit. Askinosie Chocolate, one of America’s few (but growing) number of bean to bar craft chocolate makers has paired with Intelligentsia one of America’s fair trade, artisan and single origin coffee roasters.
As with all of Askinosie’s creations, the bar is thoughtfully packaged. It comes in a glassine sleeve that’s tied shut with a little loop of twine from the bags that the cocoa beans arrive in. Inside there’s a folded sleeve label over the cellophane sealed bar. It all fits back together pretty well, which is good because I can’t eat this bar in one sitting.
It’s three ounces and cost $9.50, which is a bit steep, except compared to everything at Intelligentsia. I’ve only had their coffee twice, both times was a dry cappuccino and both times it was intense but brewed nicely - not burnt, not too acrid or acidic. (I don’t go for the darkest roast of the day, either.)
The bar has 18 squares, spelling out Askinosie Chocolate. The color of the bar is exceptionally dark, glossy and has a clear snap to it.
The scent is quite strong with more of a woodsy, coffee grounds scent than a brewed note. The texture of the bar is noticeably stiffer too. The melt is smooth but slightly chalky and dry at first. There’s plenty of cocoa butter to thin it out after a few moments, kind of like the crema on a cup of espresso.
The coffee flavors are strong, bitter and rather overwhelm the chocolate. The ingredients are cocoa beans, cane juice, coffee beans and cocoa butter. So there’s no vanilla in there, no emulsifiers.
I found myself returning to bar, even though I had to be very restrained in my portions because of the strength of the coffee. I appreciated how well blended it was, that the bar wasn’t just a superior chocolate bar with a bunch of coffee grounds thrown in like so many other companies seem to do. The flavors linger, with more mild notes of licorice, apricot, fig and molasses.
The package says there are two servings, I was much happier with six pieces over the full nine, but I’m the kind of gal that just has a small cup of coffee in the morning (an actual 8 ounce cup). Lest you feel bad about the calories (154 per ounce), there’s also almost 4 grams of protein, 4% of your calcium and 14% of your RDA of iron in that ounce. I can’t hazard a guess on the caffeine.
It’s not an every day bar, which is fine because it’s hard to get a hold of (at Intelligentsia cafes or their website) and pretty expensive. But as a substitution for three coffee drinks, it’s mighty fine, just as satisfying, far more portable and ready when I am. Now ... when is a white chocolate/coffee bar coming out?
Monday, November 7, 2011
When I saw a tweet from The Impulsive Buy that there was a new kind of M&Ms, I was on the case. Marvo tracked them down, they’re called Cinnamon M&Ms and they’re an exclusive to Target stores right now (though some folks have them on eBay as well).
The bags are slight, with only 9.9 ounces compared to the standard 12 ounce bag of Milk Chocolate M&MS for the same price.
The package features the Green M&M in a white knit cap & scarf holding some cinnamon sticks. The illustration shows that the candies come in three deep red colors.
The pieces vary in size and slightly in color. The deep red and maroon are almost indistinguishable in lower light situations.
The pieces are larger than the regular Milk Chocolate M&Ms. The color is not quite as dense or shiny as the regular M&Ms. They’re a little dusty colored, like the color coating isn’t as thick or they aren’t as polished. It appears that the shade of brown and red are identical to the standard Milk Chocolate red and brown, but the maroon is new.
The flavor, as Marvo pointed out in his review, tastes like it’s concentrated in the shell of the candy, not in the milk chocolate. Some shells taste more cinnamony than others, but the red tastes the most like cinnamon. It’s not a “red hot” sort of flavor, it’s more of the ground spice flavor. It’s woodsy and rich with a slight heat to it, but nothing that’s too warm.
The largest pieces feel like they’re layered; as if they start out as a regular sized M&M, then get another layer of chocolate to supersize them. (They used to make Mega M&Ms, maybe this is just the same equipment being put to use.)
The flavor is different but not radical. It’s subtle and pleasant, but masks the also mild chocolate flavors from Mars very sweet milk chocolate. The candy shell is fun to crack and the textures work exceptionally well in this instance because of the ratios with the larger chocolate pieces.
I can’t say that I’ve been longing for these all of my life; and I can’t say, especially at this price, that I’d buy them again. Like the Coconut M&Ms, they’re only vaguely different but the cinnamon, like coconut, is a polarizing flavor. Either you like it or you don’t. So there will be folks out there that won’t.
I can say that these go very nicely with coffee, the cinnamon adds that fall, harvest essence to the whole event. So settle down with the morning paper and toss a few Cinnamon M&Ms onto your saucer for a little extra bump.
For traditionalist, the Milk Chocolate Mint M&Ms are also returning for Christmas.
Monday, October 3, 2011
Ritter Sport makes dozens of different chocolate bars. A few are seasonal varieties, such as their new Milk Chocolate with Strawberry Creme which debuted last fall in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (Some packages feature the pink ribbon, others do not.)
The picture on the front of the package along with the name of the bar gave me most of what I needed to know: Milk chocolate filled with a cream of low fat yogurt, strawberry and crispy rice.
The ingredients don’t quite match up with that description. The first ingredient is sugar, which is fine with me as I fully expect my candy to be mostly sugar. The second ingredient is palm kernel oil. Nowhere in my chocolate, low fat yogurt or crispy rice do I ever expect to find palm kernel oil. So, its dominating presence here is unwelcome but the bar is at least redeemed with its third ingredient, cocoa butter, one of my favorite butters.
The bar is a familiar format for Ritter Sport. It’s 100 grams and comes in a square bar made up of 16 sections (four by four). The recommended portion is six pieces, which of course doesn’t create a whole number of portions. (I found for this review one bar was a portion, which means that it replaced my breakfast calories and all my snack calories for the day.)
The cream inside the bar is a faint pink with spots of actual dried strawberries. In addition, there are little bits of crisped rice. The chocolate outside is sweet and milky, like the Alpine Milk variety (though I’m not certain which version of the many Ritter Sport chocolates they used for this bar). The cream inside is sweet and mostly smooth without being greasy. The crunchies in the cream were interesting, sometimes they were the crisped rice, so they were a little salty and a little malty. But other times they were freeze dried strawberry bits so they were tangy and would soften into a slick reconstituted fruit mush. I liked the different pops of tartness or saltiness to go with the cream and milky chocolate background.
It’s a good quality bar (though not great, since a large portion is palm kernel oil) and is different from other American chocolate offerings. I found it on sale at Target for $1.66 over the weekend. For a 3.5 ounce bar of this it’s a good deal. Other bars are a bit lower in fat and have no palm kernel oil, but this is a limited edition item so it’s not as if I’m going to eat them all year round.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I consider myself an expert on candy, not just an expert on eating it, but actually what’s going on with candy and the people who make it. I’m on oodles of mailing lists and I read news feeds and trade magazines voraciously. So I’m always a little surprised and slightly disappointed to see a new candy on the shelves that I didn’t know was coming. Really, why would you sneak a candy onto store shelves without at least including it on your own website or a list that you publish in a trade magazine?
I was at Walgreen’s over the weekend (at regular circuit where I also stop at RiteAid and sometimes 7-11) checking to see if there were any new candies to review. Imagine my surprise when I found Limited Edition Twizzlers Pull ‘n’ Peel Grape actually hiding underneath the Watermelon Pull ‘n’ Peel. Not only was it on sale, but there was also a little coupon dispenser, so the regular price of $2.79 was ultimately $1.65.
The package is about 12 inches long, but the Twizzlers themselves are less than 9.5 inches long ... so there’s a lot of useless and deceptive space in the package.
The color is strange and matte, like the other Pull ‘n’ Peel varieties of Twizzlers. (The classic Twizzlers twists look like they’re made of some sort of pliable acrylic.)
Each cable of Pull ‘n’ Peel has nine strands and weighs about an ounce. It’s also only 100 calories, so it’s a lot of candy to indulge in for a very low calorie cost. They’re soft and easy to pull apart (though every once in a while I’d break a string while peeling it from the others). The surface is soft and not at all greasy or sticky unless you get it wet, then it sticks very nicely to itself.
Imagine a product that takes the most memorable qualities from PlayDoh and Grape Pixy Stix. You’re thinking, “What fun! It’s candy you can play with!” But it’s not quite an even contribution from its parents, apparently candy genetics has some ideas about which traits are dominant. It has the mild and soft texture of a pliable molding clay but also some of the scent of it. (PlayDoh is also made of a wheat flour base.) But still, it smells like grape drink or Pixy Stix, but the flavor is less grape and more purple. There is some fake grape in there, but mostly the flavor notes come from the strong bitterness and strange inky qualities of the artificial colors. There’s no hint of tartness or anything else, just a mild sweetness.
The chew is good, though the lack of tang gives it a doughy flavor overall. Eventually it dissolves into a pasty puddle in my mouth along with some larger bits that stick to the sides of my molars. There’s a long-lingering aftertaste: a metallic, aluminum flavor.
American Licorice, the West Coast rival of Twizzlers recently re-issued their Grape Vines. I happened to have some sitting around to compare. The flavor of the Grape Vines is actually authentic, it tastes like raisins and concord grape juice, if only slightly. Even eating a few of those couldn’t push that aftertaste of the Twizzlers out of my mouth though.
Twizzlers did a great thing when they made the cinnamon-flavored Twizzlers Fire Pull ‘n’ Peel. Those need to come back and these need to be retired forever. (Except in cases where parents are trying to wean their children off of eating PlayDoh and need these as a positive substitution, but perhaps by prescription from a pediatrician only.)
Friday, July 1, 2011
Tic Tacs come in more than mint flavors. Those flavors also vary, depending on where you are in the world. I picked up this package of Zitrone Honig Tic Tac in Germany. They’re honey-lemon flavored.
One of the key differences between European Tic Tac and the American ones are the colors. In the US, the Tic Tac candies are different colors. In Europe the package is colored; the Tic Tacs are all white.
The flavor is quite intense, there’s a lot of lemon oil flavor to it, so much that it’s a bit too zesty at time and feels a little medicinal instead of soothing or refreshing. The honey notes are quite subtle and oddly enough, remind me of Murphy’s Oil Soap. It’s a sort of flavor that’s clean but a little nostalgic.
They’re a little tangy and a little tingly because of the bitter citrus oils. I liked them quite a bit and will be sad when I finish them in about five minutes. I’d buy these if they sold them in the States, but they supposedly sell the Pink Grapefruit ones here and I can rarely find those either.
Link: Ferrero press release about the flavor (German).
Friday, February 25, 2011
It seems like a natural extension, since they also made a Coconut version of M&Ms as a limited edition that went over so well they added them as a regular item.
The Twix package will be easy to spot, it has a white background but features the gold metallic background and red Twix logo in the center.
The coconut scent is convincing, it’s rich and buttery with that inimitable tropical note. The cookie is crunchy and sandy giving a great textural counterpoint to the chewy pull of the caramel. The chocolate is passable, it’s creamy and sweet but doesn’t pack much chocolate punch overall. The coconut flavor permeates all parts of the bar but actual coconut is nowhere to be found. So for fans of the Coconut M&Ms, these will be of equal fascination. For folks who were hoping for something more like a cross between a Mounds Bar and the old Cookies n Creme Twix (in this case the cream would be a real layer of coconut), well, you’ll be disappointed.
The first stick I ate, I wasn’t really that impressed. Twix really aren’t my favorite candy bar, I find them too sweet. But by the time I ate the second bar (which was admittedly months later), I really enjoyed how the coconut flavor moderated the sweetness and brought the textures together.
Like other limited edition Twix products, this was made in Russia. They are not Kosher and of course contain dairy, soy and wheat but also traces of peanuts, tree nuts and eggs. They’ll be available in stores in April 2011 (and sometimes these things pop up a little sooner due to eager store owners putting out the inventory early).
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
While in Germany a couple of weeks ago I scoured the store candy aisle for products that were either unique or perhaps just like ones we get in the United States. I was excited to find this boxed selection in an Aldi Süd market in Cologne called Die Besten von Ferrero. It’s a dark chocolate mix of the best of Ferrero, makers of the famous Ferrero Rocher. This mix contains a luxurious sampling of their dark chocolate items: Dunkel Kusschen (10x), Mon Cheri (10x) and Rondnoir (6x).
The exciting part for me was twofold. First, I’ve never had the European version of Mon Cheri (more on that later) and second, that I found the Küsschen in the new dark chocolate version.
The box was nicely organized and though it felt like a bit of over-packaging from the viewpoint of someone who had to lug everything back to the States on the train/plane, it did the job very well. Each little compartment held its pieces in place. The whole box was shrink-wrapped, each piece was individually wrapped and the Mon Cheri has an additional sealed, plastic sleeve. All emerged un-scuffed and shiny. The package says that it’s a limited edition item, but it’s just this assortment and format, each of the items are available independently.
A few years ago I reviewed the American version of the Mon Cheri. It was a little nugget of milk chocolate filled with crushed hazelnuts and a hazelnut paste. People loved it, but it was confusing because in Europe the Mon Cheri is actually a liquored up cherry in dark chocolate. Slowly the hazelnut Mon Cheri disappeared from American stores. However, I noticed overseas that there was a product that was like the American version, the Küsschen. The Küsschen was introduced in 1968 but this dark chocolate version is a little more recent.
The Küsschen wrapper is a light paper foil with the name clearly marked (though hard to tell from the milk version) and a little image of the candy on the front with some hazelnuts.
The Küsschen is a little piece, about the same size as the Mon Cheri or Pocket Coffee. It’s a hard chocolate shell filled with a thick, nutty chocolate cream filled with crushed hazelnuts and a whole nut at the center. It’s exactly one inch wide at the base and about 2/3 of an inch high.
The piece smells much sweeter than it actually is. The scent is a combination of hot cocoa and dark roasted hazelnuts. The bite is crisp; there are a lot of crunchy nut pieces in the filling. The filling, however, is not like I would have expected. I thought it would be a bit of a Perugina Baci clone. Instead the center isn’t sticky or sweet, just a bit of a firm ganache type filling. The nuts take front and center, and by center I mean the middle of the piece is one large, perfectly roasted hazelnut. It’s crunchy and has wonderful toffee and pecan notes with no fibery chew that I get sometimes with the Oregon variety. The filling is airy, which promotes the hazelnut flavors mixing with the dark chocolate shell. The chocolate is smooth with a light bitter trace to it.
Overall, a not-too-sweet and satisfying little nugget.
The Mon Cheri was a bit of a mystery to me. As far as I knew, it was a cherry centered chocolate candy. There was no need for me to try it, because I knew what it was, something that by its very conception and design was not something I could like.
Each piece is a similar format to the Ferrero Pocket Coffee (in fact, I think they use the same mold). It’s a whole cherry and some liqueur encased in a dark chocolate shell. They’re wrapped in foil and an extra piece of clear cellophane. (I bought them once before last year and was disappointed to find them either oozing a grainy syrup or looking a bit hollow so I never even bothered to photograph them.)
The pieces are messy if you’re the type who likes to bite things open, then place them on a table to shoot with a camera. In fact, I recommend not biting them unless the whole thing is in your mouth.
The cherry is firm and crunchy, with an authentic Bing or Rainier cherry flavor. It’s tart and sweet with some deep raisin or fig notes. But the part that sells it is the liquor. This isn’t just a dash of the stuff or something within a sticky fondant. This liquor syrup is, well, all liquored up. There’s a slight alcoholic burn with some light rum notes to it. (The package and Ferrero website don’t specify the alcohol type.)
I loved the combination, the cherry brings a fruity sweetness, the chocolate has a creamy and slightly dry finish while the liquor syrup give it a decadent appeal of a cocktail. I’m not a big fan of harsh spirits (though I love a really herby Gin and Tonic sometimes) but there’s something about what a liquor does when it infuses a piece of real fruit.
I reviewed the Ferrero Rondnoir when it was first introduced in the United States in 2007.
At its heart is a small dark chocolate pearl floating in a mass of chocolate paste inside a crunchy wafer shell. That is covered in a crispy chocolate sprinkling. They’re wrapped in an elegant, textured brown foil and packaged in a little fluted cup.
I see them sold in the US, unlike the other two components to this box, at drug stores and discount chains like Target or KMart. They come in a little single serve package of three or in full boxes and sometimes in mixes, especially around the holidays.
As I’ve already reviewed them, this is just a little review for myself to confirm that they’re not only a unique product, they’re also quite tasty. In fact, I think my original review pegged them as tasty (8 out of 10) but I’m upgrading them to yummy (9 out of 10). That could just be the liquor talking though.
I feel like Ferrero is preparing to release the Küsschen in the United States, though I have nothing more to go on than the fact that they discontinued the hazelnut Mon Cheri. The big issue would be to find a name for it that doesn’t require an umlaut or resonates more with Americans. The fact that it means little kiss might be a trademark issue because of both the Hershey’s Kiss and possibly the Italian Perugina Baci (also means kiss).
This was the perfect sort of box of chocolates for me. It contained adventure (I tried something new), tried and true comfort and a conclusion to the search for a replacement for a discontinued product. The fact that they’re also all dark chocolate and less sweet than some other Ferrero products was a bonus for me. Some of these assortments can be purchased online as well as in Duty Free shops at airports around the world - the family of Ferrero Rocher products are quite popular in Asia.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Chuao is a small village in Venezuela, but to chocolate aficionados is the name for criollo cocoa beans from the area. Casey at The Chocolate Note has some wonderful coverage and photos.
For many years Amadei (Italy) had an exclusive deal for the beans from the region, so the only chocolate made from them was Amadei’s Chuao bars. The bars were hard to find and of course quite expensive (though bars from Chocolat Bonnat existed, that’s kind of another story). And of course there was just the one company’s concept of what was best about the beans (from the fermentation to the roasting & conching). Amadei is no longer the only purveyor of the coveted beans. I picked up three different bars from three different countries to see how they created a chocolate bar from the esteemed cacao: Chocolat Bonnat (France), Amano (USA) and Coppeneur (Germany).
The Chocolat Bonnat Chuao bar is the largest of the group, a generous 100 gram bar (3.5 ounces). It’s 75% cacao and Kosher. There are only three ingredients in the bar: cacao, cocoa butter and sugar. No emulsifiers like soy lecithin and no vanilla.
The packaging is simple and the same as all the other Bonnat bars I’ve had. It’s a large bar with petite but thick rectangular segments. It’s wrapped in a simple paper-backed foil which is then covered in a simple glossy, embossed paper sleeve.
The bar has a beautiful sheen, a light touch of red to the brown color and though the photo makes it look a creamy color, it’s really quite dark.
The scent is rather earthy with a few green notes like olives. The melt is exquisite, smooth and thick without being chalky or dry. The chocolate is flavorful, angled mostly towards the deep flavors like smoke, coffee, dried cherries and molasses. There are some slight mineral notes, like iron. While it sounds like this would be heavy and rich, it still comes off a little lighter than that, mostly because of the texture and a lighter acidity. There’s a trace of bitterness towards the end but nothing distracting, more like a finish of a citrus marmalade.
I’m already quite fond of Coppeneur. From the packaging, which is this smart little matte black “wallet” that’s sealed with a dot of wax to the beautiful design of the bar’s mold. I’ve bought several of their Ocumare bars in the past (straight dark chocolate and Mit Chili & Cacao-Nibs) but never wrote about them. They’re difficult to find in the United States, I’ve been buying my bars at Fog City News in San Francisco.
Like the Bonnat bar, the Coppeneur Chuao Dunkle Schokolade is made only with cacao mass and sugar. There is no added soy lecithin or vanilla. This bar is 70% and comes in a 50 gram tablet (about 1.76 ounces).
The bar has a similar red hue. The format of the bar is different from both the Bonnat and Amano, so I photographed them together. It’s quite thin but has an excellent snap to it.
The initial melt is quick and smooth but the thing I noticed first was the raisin flavors and light tangy notes. Though it’s only 70% instead of the 75% of the Bonnat, it’s not sweeter though perhaps a little more acidic and has a dry finish. Though most of the flavor notes were overwhelmingly fruity, like prunes and raisins and dried cherries there were some light roasted notes of pecans. Towards the end, the flavors got deeper with notes of toffee, leather and tobacco.
There were a couple of little gritty bits, this bar is a 70 hour conch. I have another set of bars from Coppeneur that I got in Germany that are paired: a 70 hour conch and a 100 hour conch. I’ll be trying those soon.
This bar comes in the same package style as the other Amanos, a slim and glossy box. The bars are 2 ounces (56 grams) and wrapped in a sturdy gold foil. This bar differs from the other two in the ingredients: cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla beans. So I was curious what the vanilla beans would contribute to the profile of the Chuao cacao. The cacao content is 70% and is Kosher (note that it’s also made in a facility with nuts, peanuts, dairy & soy present).
I find the size and format of the bar to be ideal for the way that I like to each dark chocolate. The bar is thick, but not so thick that a lot of chewing is necessary. The segments are a great size for a single taste and the foil is of good quality for rewrapping and saving for later.
The first flavors I got were woodsy and green with a little citrus peel twang in there of grapefruit. The melt is smooth but a little more gritty and sugary than the previous two bars ... and when I say gritty, that’s just a comparison. Taken by itself I don’t know if many folks would notice. The vanilla is noticeable in the flavor profile, I definitely got some oak cask and cognac flavors in there and the finish has that vanilla note and the freshness of white tea. There are more floral notes, like orange blossom and jasmine. But there’s also a kind of volatile quality, a sort of burn like orange oil can give after a while.
I’ve been nibbling and formulating my tasting notes for these bars for about two months. I traveled with the bars, taking them all the way to Europe and back. The Venezuelan Chuao beans are extraordinary and very expensive. They create a wonderful chocolate, apparently every chocolate maker is able to do something extraordinary and unique with the beans. The price is prohibitive though and in some ways it makes me question spending that much on a bar ... the Chuao bars are usually priced 20-25% more than the other bars in that company’s line - so my Coppeneur bar was $8, where a regular single origin bar from them would be $6 and these are only 50 grams to begin with.
My final conclusion is that everyone makes a wonderful chocolate bar from these beans. But I’ve also been very impressed with each of these company’s chocolate bars made with other less expensive beans, they’re simply good chocolate makers. I’m not convinced that the chocolate bars are worth the premium for these beans in particular, but fans of chocolate in general should try at least one of the bars made from Chuao beans as a point of reference. Personally, I’m not afraid to go back to blended bean bars, which offer a good balance of consistency of flavor over they years and affordability. But with some folks, once you go Chuao you never go back.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.