Thursday, February 7, 2008
I’ve been following Nina Wanat’s blog Sweet Napa for a couple of years now. Mostly because she was writing about making gourmet candy bars but the post that really got me was her details of making a Malted Caramel Bar. If I wasn’t already married, I’d be engaged to the recipe for that bar!
I was further excited when I saw that she’d moved to Los Angeles ... just within my reach. Oh, so close.
And finally, at the beginning of December she launched her company, called BonBonBar and webstore with her first gourmet candy bar creations. These are not knock-offs of consumer bars, these are unique combination bars with fresh ingredients. So fresh that it’s recommended that you eat your bars within two weeks of them leaving the kitchen.
I vacillated on whether or not to try them. (I know, it sounds weird.) The bars are not cheap, at $5 each the price makes me feel like I’m promised a transcendent experience. But she had only two items ... the Malted Ganache & Shortbread Bar (slightly different than the initial malt bar that caught my attention) and a Caramel Nut Bar which sounded fabulous all except for the walnuts. (Drat!) So I thought if I was going to go through the trouble of ordering, I should get an assortment ... I didn’t want to judge this nacent company on a single product.
Luckily I read that she was going to add a Valentines item (and I even voted on her blog) ... a Single Malt Scotch Bar.
I put my order in as soon as I saw it in her webstore. She even had a cool Valentine’s sampler package that included all of her bars: 3 Scotch, one Milk Malt and one Dark Malt plus the Caramel Nut Bar. I made a request to swap out the walnut-laden Caramel Nut Bar with another Dark Malt and they were made to order over the weekend.
Since we’re both in Los Angeles, it took only a day for the package to get here! (And of course the cool weather meant that they were in perfect conditions ... I admit that I get very nervous about chocolate deliveries, even in February.)
When I opened the box I though, this is it? The box is so teensy! But hefty, as I found when I picked it up. Inside were two layers, the top layer had the three Scotch Bars and the bottom layer had the three Malt Bars. (It’s like she planned out all these sizes fitting into things or something ... genius!)
The bars are each packaged in their own cellulose sleeve with a simple label. Through the clear plastic it’s evident that they’re perfectly formed, that the enrobing is well tempered. The only thing missing was the smell.
Honestly, I was happy to see that the bars were enrobed. Some of Nina’s earlier exploits on her blog showed molded bars, which are necessary with certain ingredients, but I prefer an enrobed bar, there’s something about the way the chocolate sits on the center, the way that it falls into place, like a blanket instead of walls.
Biting into the narrow bar, the ganache is soft and yields quickly until I got to the dense and buttery shortbread. Crispy, crumbly. The mix of flavors the immediate hit of dark malt, the cookie and the distinct saltiness ... it was all quite dreamy.
This is what I always wished a Twix would be, super smooth milk chocolate, strong cookie flavor ... well in this case instead of caramel it’s a ganache.
I tried both the dark and the milk chocolate varieties, and to be honest, I prefer the milk. I think milk chocolate and malt are just natural companions. Also, because the ganache and shortbread are a bit on the salty-sweet side, the milk chocolate’s sweetness really balances it all out.
In this bar the caramel is on top and the ganache is the base.
Upon first bite, the caramel is the perfect consistency of stringy and smooth but not too sweet. The first flavor is of a dark single malt scotch ... it’s kind of like tobacco and leather with that ultra-buttery base of deep chocolate truffle ganache. The chocolate shell is sprinkled with a little flaked salt, so it gave little additional hits of salt to the otherwise incredibly consistent experience.
The dark chocolate shell is creamy and not too dry or chalky for the rest of the bar.
Just to check my own opinion (and the fact that I still had three bars and that ticking clock of freshness) I took two bars over to the neighbor’s last night (it was just Robin, Amy’s out of town and will probably be quite mad to miss this as she’s the one I usually give the terrible candy to). Robin said, “This is one of the best things you have ever given me to try.” (The other thing that she really liked was the Nutpatch Nougat, so you know she has great taste.)
For the record, Nina did offer me free samples, but I really wanted the whole experience of knowing that I just ate a $5 candy bar so that I could report it authentically here. This is one of the reasons I didn’t have an early review like Serious Eats and Candy Addict (who both loved it too!). I did try a bite of the Malt Bar at the Fancy Food Show last month, as Chuck Siegel of Charles Chocolates had just met up with Nina and I guess Chuck remembered my prediliction for malt and shared. So it’s not like I was going into this order completely on trust & faith in my fellow bloggers.
Basically, they’re not candy bars at fine boxed chocolate prices. They’re fine chocolates in bar format ... which is why they’re named BonBonBar. Though $5 a bar sounds like a lot, the price per pound is about $51, which is on par with most other fine chocolatier. (And honestly, if these were in little bon bon sizes and I was in some haut chocolatier, I wouldn’t flinch at that price.) Right now you have to order online if you want some (her list of stores is rather short at the moment).
Many of her ingredients are organic and all are all natural (no high fructose corn sweetener either).
It’s not an everyday treat, but if I was given this set for Valentine’s Day, I’d know someone loved me.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Back when I could eat all the dairy I wanted, I loved milkshakes. Thick, chunky milkshakes with lots of malted milk in them. I prefered chocolate shakes, but my second favorite was strawberry. There’s something about the creaminess of ice cream and the fresh taste of strawberries and then that extra dark kick of malt that got my tastebuds-a-tingling.
But I admit that I didn’t just swoop into the nearest store and pick up the new Whoppers Strawberry Milkshake.
I mean, it’s not like Whoppers are fantastic to begin with, they have that greasy, waxy fake chocolate on what is an otherwise decent malt ball (see review of the candy coated holiday version). But I figured if I was going to eat fake chocolate, it may as well be fake strawberry confection.
I admit they smelled nice. Kind of like summer & shortcake, cotton candy & carnival midways. And they are quite pretty. Instead of an unnatural fuschia as I thought they might be from the image on the box, they were actually a lovely soft pinkish/peach color.
The candy coating was a little waxy, but sweet and had a nice creamy but mild strawberry flavor to it. No tartness that I’d associate with the berry which is often present in ice cream that uses berry pieces.
The malt center is crisp and mellow, it doesn’t have a super-strong malt hit, but still a very nice salty counterpart to the sugary outside.
I wish they used a real white chocolate compound with real cocoa butter in them, but Hershey’s is having other troubles and can’t be bothered with quality at the moment. But for what they had to work with and for 99 cents, they came up with a pretty good item here that actually delivers what they say on the package.
They’re a bit fattier than the Sno-Balls I had over Christmas (I haven’t compared them to Robin’s Eggs, which haven’t hit the stores yet) so I’ll probably stick to the sugar shell ones if I need a cheap malt fix and can’t fine real milk chocolate covered ones. Whoppers has also introduced a Reese’s Peanut Butter themed one. But to be honest, I think that a chocolate malt ball is just fine the way it is.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Sometimes I really want some malted milk balls. I’ve never liked Whoppers much though, the mockolate coating simply ruins it for me. On the other hand, their Robin’s Eggs at Easter are pretty good. The mockolate layer is minimized by being far thinner, covered in a hard candy shell and of course a larger center for more malt.
Those sorts of candy coated malted milk balls used to be limited to Easter availability, but like many other items that are becoming more common for the Christmas holiday season (Cadbury Mini Eggs & Creme Eggs), Whoppers has their Sno-Balls.
But I will.
First, on the package there’s a penguin in front of an igloo. There’s also a polar bear and walrus ... which is fine, they’re arctic animals. The penguin, however, is a southern hemisphere animal. Why not just put a lion on there or a kangaroo?
Second, mockolate. Why, oh why, can’t Hershey’s put some real chocolate on here? It’s not even that much of a chocolatey coating here. The good thing, though, is that the Sno-Balls have less fat in them than regular Whoppers. A 41 gram serving of Whoppers has 7 grams of fat ... all of them saturated. The Sno-Balls have 5 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of them are saturated. Okay, still not great, especially when it’s coming from Partially Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil. (Honestly, I can’t figure out how they both have the same 180 calories per serving though with 30% less fat in the Sno-Balls. Fat is twice as caloric as carbs or protein ... maybe there’s more fiber in regular Whoppers?)
But all that ranting aside, these are quite cute. The white spheres are speckled to various degrees with red and green. The crackly candy shell has a thin layer of mockolate below it. Both have a soft, cool effect on the tongue. The malt center is dense and crispy. It doesn’t have a huge malt or salt punch like some others, but a nice texture that melts in the mouth well.
I’d love it if they were a little bigger so I’d get more of the malt proportion I crave. What’s particularly nice about these over the Robin’s Eggs is that there’s less artificial coloring. I never cared for the pink Robin’s Eggs because they taste bitter to me. In this assortment there is no bad egg.
I’ve been eating them for a couple of days, and as long as I don’t think about how much I’d like them to be Chocolate Covered Malted Milk Balls, well, we’re getting along fine.
Monday, April 2, 2007
The full name on these is Brach’s Pastel Fiesta Malted Milk Eggs which of course made me wonder if they have another product that is perhaps primary colors or just black and white. Malted milk eggs at Easter were a particular favorite of mine. They were one of those interactive candies, you can lick the shell and then color your lips with the coral pink or white chalky edible makeup. (That white lipstick was quite the look when I was very little.)
Now of course I’m much more interested in the “real milk chocolate” part of the wrapper. Brach’s has been owned by Barry Callebaut since 2003, so maybe they were teaching Brach’s a thing or two about chocolate. They don’t need to be taught how to make boiled sugar candy, they do that just fine.
The Fiesta Eggs are big and bold. They make a satisfying clacking sound in the bag when you roll them around. They can be eaten whole (or applied liberally over the face) but I prefer to bite them in half and have a look. I don’t know what I expect to find, as it has always been the same ... malt center, chocolate layer and then hard colored shell. But you never know! (Actually, I’ve eaten very old malt balls before and every once in a while I’ve gotten ones with “melted” centers but shells that are intact or just a little dented.)
Fiesta Eggs smell like Easter. They’re sweet and have a slight vanilla hint to them. This bag was very fresh, the shells were super crisp and the centers were light and airy.
Unlike the normal chocolate covered malt balls, the Fiesta Egg is more about the combination of the texture of the hard sugar shell and the light crunch of the malted center. The chocolate layer provides a little bit of a creamy texture, but not much flavor. In the Brach’s chocolate, as far as I can tell, is too too sweet.
These still aren’t my ultimate malted egg. I’m not sure I’ve found it yet. I wasn’t blown away by the Jelly Belly ones either and I picked up some more vibrant colored ones (but I don’t know the brand) a the Sweet Factory a few weeks ago in the bulk bins. They tasted too much like food coloring and not enough like malt. Perhaps such a candy doesn’t exist.
But you can be sure that I’m going to finish these! How do I look with lilac lipstick?
UPDATE: 3/30/2011 - The pastel ones are hard to find, but I did run across a white version. They say they’re made with real milk chocolate, but they’re still not very chocolatey.
UPDATE 3/2/2012: Another newer version has appeared on store shelves. They are much, much larger, but have a more flavorful malt center and perhaps better chocolate. Check out the new review here.
Monday, March 19, 2007
I found a great new candy store over the weekend. At the suggestion of a reader (thannks Jenny!) I journeyed to City of Commerce to visit Garvey Nut & Candy. It’s a warehouse, mostly wholesale, but they also sell retail. The bulk (and I mean bulk) of their products are sold in full cases, but it’s cash & carry, so no shipping costs incurred.
They had a small selection of items that were sold from open boxes. Just about all of it was from their Easter inventory. At FANTASTIC prices. One of the finds was the Jelly Belly Deluxe Easter Mix ... at $2.35 for a 9 ounce bag, it’s unheard of. The Jelly Belly online sells the same bag for $4.99 (in a prettier store, I’ll admit). If you’re planning a big party or wedding and live in the LA area, this might be just the place for you. High end chocolates and mints to bulk wrapped candies to nuts and nut mixes. For the Easter goodies they had the large packages of Peeps of all kinds for 99 cents, jelly beans (all sorts of Jelly Belly seasonal products), deluxe chocolate eggs (fudge, peanut butter, vanilla), baskets, tins and foil eggs by the kilo (some by Madelaine, which are quite tasty).
You may have to ask them for prices on many items and you may need help finding things. (Their website isn’t very good, so don’t bother.) They have funky hours too: 8AM - 4:30PM on weekdays and Saturday 9-2 (until Easter, then they’re closed on Saturdays until August). I’ll probably head back down there for a look at their Halloween goodies in the fall.
Garvey Nut & Candy
Okay, enough of that, you came here for some candy, didn’t you?
The Deluxe Easter Mix contains assorted pastel Jelly Bellys, bunny corn, mellocremes, gummi eggs and malted chocolate eggs. (It’s also supposed to contain chocolate eggs, but I picked through the bags to find one that had more malted eggs ... which I promptly ate. If you want a full account of them, check out Sera’s review at Candy Addict.)
The bulk of the mix seemed to be populated by these friendly fellows: Mellocremes. (Click on the photo for the full shape assortment.)
They’re flavored lightly: grape, lemon, lime, strawberry and vanilla. The flavors are light (especially light for a company that built itself on extra flavor). I didn’t care for lime at all, but the lemon and strawberry were quite nice. I don’t know which color was supposed to be vanilla (maybe there are white ones, I didn’t have any in my mix).
This is the Bunny Corn, and it’s pretty much the same recipe as the Mellocreme but a different shape. They tend to be a little firmer and as you might guess, they’re just like Candy Corn. They’re not flavored.
If the Mellocremes in white taste like this, I might be more fond of them. I rather like candy corn, in small doses.
There are only two colors on these, which seemed a little skimpy. Candy Corn usually has three colors (orange, yellow and white). But I guess Bunnies travel light.
The Jelly Belly website calls these Orange Creme Non-Pareil Eggs, which doesn’t really sound like much fun. So I’m going to call them Crunchy Gummi Eggs. They’re super-cute, with pastel colored crunchy spheres (non-pareils) on the outside and a tangy orange gummi on the inside. They’re larger than a jelly bean, about the size of a foil wrapped chocolate egg that you can often find in Easter baskets.
They’re much like the Crunchy Bears I reviewed a while back, except these only come in orange, which is fine by me. The gummi is super-soft and the crunchy coating gives it some fun ... it’s the crunchiest thing in the bag. Jelly Belly also makes a slightly related product with the Champagne Bubbles and Berries.
There were also some Jelly Belly scattered in, they came in Berry Blue, Cantaloupe, Cotton Candy, Island Punch, Lemon, Lemon Lime, Pi?a Colada, Pink Grapefruit, and looked oh-so-coordinated with everything else. (I picked out all the pink grapefruit while shooting the photos.)
Overall the mix was very pretty, and attractiveness is important with holiday candy. But I wasn’t really that keen on some of the elements (the Mellocremes, especially). It was a good introduction to the whole line of Easter treats, so now I know what to buy in a solo bag - the Orange Creme Non-Pareil Eggs. At normal mortal prices of $4.99 a bag, I’m not that wild about the whole shebang (so they get a 6 out of 10) as a sub-$2.50 find, they’re a 7 out of 10.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
These malt balls are Maple flavored and from Naked Chocolate in Philadelphia, PA. I don’t know that much more about them. In fact, I’m not even sure that they are Maple flavored, there’s no label on them that says one way or another, but they taste maple-y (or maybe pecanish?) and that’s good enough for me.
They’re stunning to look at from the outside. Wonderfully glossy, these milk chocolate covered balls have a secret inside, a second inner shell of dark chocolate. This may be where the flavor is.
The malted center doesn’t pack the malty punch that I usually look for, but the woodsy smell and taste along with the crunchy center was pleasant enough for me to eventually eat the whole package.
These orange beauties are Pumpkin Spice. Again, I’m guessing here, because there were no labels. They definitely had a good pack of spice in them, some mellow nutmeg, a little allspice and a light hit of cinnamon & clove (not so much as to bother me).
The orange color took a while getting used to, as did the sweetness of the white chocolate (that looks orange). There were no pumpkin notes, but that’s okay with me (I’d already had my fill of Pumpkin KitKats before I got these).
I can’t say that I liked these as much as the maple ones, at least that’s what the evidence of me still having the Pumpkin ones around and no more Maple says. They do make my desk drawer smell fresh and woodsy. Perhaps it’s that the center of the ball isn’t malty but more like a graham cracker flavor. Which probably goes with pumpkin spices better but left me wanting my malt fix.
I’ve seen a lot of different flavored malt balls out there, peanut butter, espresso, toffee crunch, mint ... the list goes on and on. And though some of these iterations are good, they lack the malt delivery that I’ve come to expect in a sphere of chocolate with a crunchy center. So either I have to adjust my thinking about what I’m about to eat or I need to stop picking these up and hoping to get my malt on. Then they’re pretty good.
UPDATE: it looks like these are actually made by Koppers.
Monday, November 6, 2006
When I went to San Francisco earlier this summer I was eager to try out Recchiuti chocolates. They have a lovely little shop in the Ferry Building where all the most expensive and exclusive fresh foods are sold in the city but it was packed so I just looked and figured I’d buy another day (instead I bought some stuff at Miette Patisserie).
This time I went there at lunchtime on a weekday and found things a lot easier to handle. I had a lovely chat with both the women behind the counter (one was wearing devil horns, I’m thinking because I made my purchase on Halloween).
Recchiuti is the concoction of Michael Recchiuti with the tagline on their website of “Indulgence on the verge of Obsession”. That sounds just like me! He’s been making chocolates since 1997 with special emphasis on flavor combinations and herbal/fruit infusions.
The chocolates are positively lovely. In the store they’re laid out on little plates in beds of crushed cocoa beans. The staff was knowledgeable about all the chocolates and helped to guide me towards the ones I knew I’d like.
They sell in two different ways. You can get a gift box with a set number of chocolate pieces in it or you can buy by the pound ($55 a pound). As it was just for me, I didn’t need the spiffy box and seeing how the candies varied so much in size, I wanted to be free to choose without worrying about whether one flavor was a better value than another. I ended up with a quarter of a pound, which ended up as a large selection (I got quite a few doubles, so only about 2/3 of my booty is shown here - 22 pieces plus one free taste there on the spot with my purchase).
Cardamom Nougat - a rich chocolate ganache infused with cardamom and studded with honeycomb bits (a hard nougat) and cocoa nibs. One of the nibs was just terrible in the two pieces of this flavor that I ate (it was bitter and acrid) but the rest of it was phenomenal and left a fresh feeling in my mouth.
Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn - the anise zings to the front of the flavors here, then the chocolate comes in then that woodsy note of pink peppercorns without any of the burn. The flavors blend nicely and ended up feeling much lighter than I expected.
Rose Caramel - this is the little foil wrapped one there. The caramel was positively liquid and had a pleasant burnt flavor to it with a slight bitter note and a strong rose geranium scent. The rose and bitterness didn’t please me much.
Fleur de Sel Caramel - a great soft and chewy caramel with grains of salt in it. The caramel has a strong bitter and burnt quality to it the salt, of course, is quite strong. I really liked the texture of the soft caramel, but it was just too salty for me.
Honeycomb Malt - the filling is rather like butter with a bit of a grain to it like crystallized honey. The malt flavor is rather mild but the whole thing feels a little greasy and overly sweet.
Bergamot Tea - mellow and zesty with very strong notes of both tea and bergamot. A real favorite of all of them.
Candied Orange Peel - wonderful moist and chewy pieces of orange peel, candied without being sickly sweet.
Cinnamon Malt - very sweet and with a mild cinnamon flavor. Really too sweet for me, a little grainy and not much in the malt arena to compel me.
Mandarin - the smallest of the truffles. I wasn’t against buying it because I was paying by the pound instead of the piece. Sweet and dry with a nice zesty taste of fresh orange.
Force Noir - a simple dark truffle. They have another line that’s all single origins, but I wanted to try a simple dark truffle. The vanilla notes are very strong, the ganache is light and slightly acidic and super smooth.
Burnt Caramel - oddly, I didn’t get much of a difference between this one and the Force Noir.
Lavender Vanilla - mellow and round chocolate flavors with a strong balsam quality with a very noticeable lavender flavor and a honey finish.
Overall the ganache on most of the truffles is a little greasy for my tastes, it’s more on the butter side than the chocolate side. It keeps them super smooth and provides a good background for the flavor infusions, but the oiliness of them makes me feel fuller faster.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 5:55 am
Friday, September 29, 2006
I’m not quite sure what possessed me to do this array of bars, but here it is. Readers write in and ask what sorts of American candy they should take with them as hostess gifts or ship to friends overseas as quintessential American bars. The Milky Way is right up there, as one of the earliest bars that Mars developed (1923).
It’s a bar that I should love, after all, it’s supposed to be a malted milkshake in a bar.
There are several iterations of this bar both here and abroad. I got a hold of the American versions of both the milk chocolate and dark versions and the UK Mars (milk chocolate) and Canadian Mars Dark (dark chocolate).
The bar is called Milky Way in the United States but everywhere else on the planet it’s known as the Mars. (There was once an American Mars bar, but that’s since been renamed Snickers Almond ... there is a bar called Milky Way in the rest of the world too, but that’s like the American 3 Musketeers bar.)
I haven’t had a Milky Way bar in about 10 years. I’ve always thought they were too sweet, but after breaking one open the smell of malt was really compelling, making me doubt the wisdon of my embargo. The nougat here is the highlight, a medium color of fluffy, slightly grainy nougat covered with a stripe of caramel and covered in milk chocolate.
The flavors go nicely together and the caramel has a slight salty note to it that balances out the very sweet and only passably smooth chocolate. The malt is earthy and brings flavor to the bar.
The UK bar known as Mars has a similar cocoa colored and grainy, fluffed nougat covered with a stripe of glossy caramel and then milk chocolate. The caramel here was noticeably smoother, but the maltiness was much more subdued and replaced with a milky flavor.
The American bar is on the left and the British on the right. There was a difference in size, the British slightly larger at 62.5 grams over America’s 58.1 grams. The UK bar as slightly longer and a little taller.
Recently the standard bars started to appear in darker coats. Back in 1936, based on the success of the Milky Way bar, Mars introduced the Forever Yours bar. It remained in the Mars product line until 1979 when it was discontinued. Customers complained and the Milky Way Dark bar was introduced in 1989 and then the name changed to Milky Way Midnight in 2000.
Milky Way Midnight - beautiful dark bar with little folds of chocolate on the top. The dark chocolate has a little reddish tone to it. Inside is a fluffy white (with a yellow tone) nougat and a stripe of caramel. Smells slightly smoky and very sweet. The caramel dominates in this bar and its sweet stickiness isn’t completely offset by the smooth but otherwise flavorless dark chocolate.
Mars Dark - a stunning dark bar with glossy dark brown chocolate. Inside is a fluffy white nougat (with a slight yellow tone) and a stripe of caramel. The nougat on this one seemed slightly grainier but still sweet and only slightly less overwhelmed by the caramel. The chocolate, though pretty still doesn’t add much of a flavor counterbalance for the whole bar just a smooth texture.
The wrapper on the Mars Dark bar is a bit of a blunder, if you ask me, as it seems to indicate milk chocolate by its lighter, creamy color over the black package of the Mars bar.
So, you’re wondering what the difference is? The American one is on the left and the Canadian on the right. The Canadian bar is larger, by .1 grams. The ingredients list is virtually identical as well. The only difference on the labeling is that the Canadian one lists the true trans fat content at .1 grams (American food does not have to be labeled if it’s less than .5 grams).
The important thing to note is that the milk chocolate and dark chocolate versions differ in more than their coats. The nougat is markedly different. The dark bars are missing the malt component, and instead have the vanilla nougat (that’s found in the American Snickers Almond bar). The difference between the American and foreign bars isn’t that marked and I think that fans should be happy with either when they’re traveling. I give all bars a 6 out of 10.
Overall, I wish that the Milky Way Midnight or Mars Dark really was just a dark chocolate version of the Milky Way/Mars bar - I think the combo of dark chocolate and malted goodness would be great. But Mars must not believe that (I’m not sure if the Forever Yours had the malted nougat or not ... honestly I think it’s wrong to muck with too many ingredient variations and try to stick the same name on it). I might pick one of these out of a bowl of miniatures, but I’ll stick to the See’s Awesome Nut & Chew Bar as my favorite nougat candy bar for now.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.