Wednesday, June 7, 2006
One of the great things about my trip to New York, long before the All Candy Expo was that I got to visit Economy Candy, which was great prep. It gave me a chance to look at the huge array of candy, including may European ones that just don’t get distributed here in the states.
There’s quite a difference in candies here and there. But part of the charm of the imported ones is that they’re so different from what we have here.
I thought these would be tiny Altoids, but aside from the appearance of looking like inconsistent pieces of chalk, they’re quite the opposite of Altoids.
One of the main ingredients besides sugar are the gums and thickening agents. One of these is called Tragacanth (which, I found out is not at all related to the living fossil fish the coelocanth). Besides having a cool sounding name, it seems to be add a rather interesting texture to the mints. They’re not chalky but very smooth when they dissolve. They have an almost gooey consistency as they dissintigrate that feels like a glycerine syrup or gelatin.
The fruit ones are pretty and look kind of like little, lumpy conversation hearts discards. They’re about the size of an eraser you’d find on the end of a pencil. The Green Tea ones, not pictured, are a bland brownish-red but have a radically charged bitter tea taste to them. They don’t taste anything like green tea in my mind. More like black tea, but without the wonderful complex aromas. There’s also a strong component of mint at work here. They’re not terribly sweet, more flavorful and long after the bitter taste on the front of the tongue is gone, there’s a pleasant, refreshing taste left in the mouth. (Not at all like lingering tea breath.)
The other interesting thing about these pastilles is that the boxes are identical. There’s a paper overwrap (as shown on the Green Tea one) but once you take it off it looks like the one on its side, you don’t know what’s in there if you have more than one box!
The mixed flavors one went something like this:
Lavender - Violet. It reminded me of flowers, of course, it’s sweet without being sticky. There’s an American version of this from C. Howard which is very similar.
Yellow - Lemon. Very pleasant. An equal mix of the essence of lemon but with a slight tart bite to it that reminded me of a conversation heart, only about 10 times the price.
Green - Lime. Sweet and also with a slight tangy edge to it. It didn’t have any of the associations with disinfectants, which is good!
Pink - Strawberry. Beautifully fragrant, with nice floral overtones, like standing at the edge of a strawberry field, but with fewer bees. Only a slight tangy element here and it didn’t feel artificial at all.
White - Vanilla? I’m not quite sure on the flavor on this one. It was pleasant and bland, but no real flavor. I couldn’t tell if I’d burned out my tongue with the other flavors.
Pastiglie Leone has a beautiful, if strangely programmed website. The products flash by or you scroll horizontally (one of my least favorite directions to scroll) but there are so many different varieties.
Overall, I loved the texture and the way that the pastilles dissolved. But I never really loved any of the flavors. The tartness or tang to some of them was refreshing, but I found the flavor overall to be a little washed out like the colors. Not something I’d buy again unless one of the flavors really caught my eye. (I’m a sucker for a classic package like this.) In a world where everything has become blisteringly strong, it’s kind of nice for a little mellow.
Friday, April 28, 2006
I picked these up last December and have been munching on them.
There are some things that I really like about Scharffen Berger chocolate, but few of them have to do with taste. I like the idea of them. I like their design aesthetic, I like their vibe, I like their factory. I, unfortunately, don’t care much for their chocolate. Of course there are exceptions, such as the Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, it just goes to show, you can’t judge all products by their brand.
Try as I might, I just can’t like their plain chocolates.
Extra Dark 82% Cacao - yes, it’s very dark lookin’ stuff. Lustrous and glossy, it has a nice snap and a strongly chocolatey smell. The immediate burst on the tongue is an astringency that just sucks you dry. There are some anise notes and even some basil all laced with an unpleasant bitterness. The chocolate itself is smooth but very sour. It’s great for making sauces though and this is the stuff I used at Thanksgiving for making a hard sauce for pecan pie.
Mint 62% Cacao - really, really minty. No, seriously ... you’ll take a bite and look at it the little bar and wonder why it even resembles chocolate. Kind of sweet, there’s a strange smoky quality to it that doesn’t really go with the mint.
Semisweet - after tasting the Extra Dark, this was more than semisweet, it was very sweet. It’s got a very strong woodsy base to it that reminds me of cedar. It’s slightly grainy, like the sugar isn’t completely emulsified with the chocolate or something. There is only the slightest indication of the acidity and astringency of the darker chocolate but it does have a hint of black pepper that I find very nice. Still, the mix of sweet, butter and chocolate flavors just isn’t right for my palate.
Milk Chocolate 41% - again with the tartness. Even the creamy dairy notes are missing, it’s smooth but it’s missing the fullness of flavor. There are lots of flavors at work here, but none of them particularly chocolatey.
Mocha - the coffee notes here are well rounded and feel much more honest than most coffee chocolates that I’ve tried. But it’s not as smooth and has both the acidity of the chocolate and the coffee that just combines in a way that in a way is tasty, but keeps me from eating a lot. But really, why would I want to keep buying a chocolate just because I don’t want to eat it that much?
I know I send some pretty mixed messages when it comes to Scharffen Berger. I raved about the Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, but I don’t like the chocolate that they make them into. I can’t explain it, so I’ll just let it be what it is.
Every once in a while I get an email with an offer for stuff to review. As much as I want to just accept every offer of free goodies, I had to develop a standard for freebies/samples. They have to offer something no one else does. Robert at Best Regards had me at “Cranberry Orange Craves.”
His line of chocolate barks feature his custom blend of chocolate and he recounts the discussion with his wife during his development of the treats this way:
I’ve never really considered dark chocolate to have an “aftertaste”, I always considered the dry, astringent or bitter carryover notes to be part of the experience. But I can see how the mellowness of milk chocolate alleviates both the good and bad lingering flavors.
Best Regards is located in the Kansas City, Kansas area, which is really one of the last places I would have expected good, distinctive chocolate to come from. Though the bulk of his edibles and gift baskets features cookies, the basket he sent has a large assortment of chocolate barks (called Craves) and even a fun variety of chocolate covered Oreos. So let’s dig in!
This is the star, the Cranberry Orange Craves - smooth dark chocolate flavored with orange essence and generously studded with dried cranberries. It’s an incredible combination and amazingly, I’ve never had it before. The zesty orange goes so naturally with the cranberry’s tart chewy bite and the smooth and mellow chocolate just brings it all together.
The best way for me to judge these sorts of things is to keep track of which package I finish first. This one was gone in the first weekend.
Orange and Oreo Chocolate Craves - the dark chocolate is smooth and creamy, but does lack some of the more subtle chocolate nuances. However, this is a combination bar, with orange essence added into the chocolate, so the rather homogenized background is actually pretty good as a foundation. Inside this thick bar are crushed Oreo cookies, which give it a nice crunch. Personally, I wasn’t fond of coming across the Oreo cream but the chocolate crunch was a good combo. My second favorite.
Premium Raspberry Chocolate - plain dark chocolate bark with raspberry essence in it. It’s not too sweet, ultra creamy and smooth. The raspberry has a good balance of floral nuances and there are bits of raspberry in there (including the seeds) which gives a little tartness and fruitiness to the whole bar.
Margarita White Chocolate - this was the only white chocolate offering and it was really good. I know, I’ve said I don’t like white chocolate and then I keep recommending white chocolate things. This was white chocolate that wasn’t too sweet and had lime essence in it. I would have called it Key Lime, because that’s what it tasted like to me. My third favorite.
Mint Chocolate Cookie - I’ve raved about Harry London Mint Cookie Joys before, and these are essentially the same. Minted dark chocolate with chocolate cookie bits in it. Heaven.
The final set in the basket were these two different kinds of chocolate covered Oreos, chocolate and mint chocolate. The plain chocolate ones had little sprinkles on them, and I have to say, as cute as they are, they’re not really that tasty. It’s fine for cake where you might want a little crunchy texture, but they just interfered with the chocolate and cookies here. The mint ones worked much better - a good, classic combo.
On the whole, the chocolate Craves were top notch. It’s hard to evaluate the whole custom blended chocolate part, because I never tasted the pure chocolate in any of these items, it was always in combination with other flavors and textures. While I really like a good dark chocolate, often the harsher bitterness can overshadow some of the more delicate flavors and textures. Of course that sort of intense flavor also keeps me from eating piece after piece. Maybe it’s the difference between fine wine and a good fruity sangria. Both have their place. So Robert at Best Regards has stumbled upon something - a really addictive dark chocolate that’s more “munchable.” Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I can assure you, it’ll be good for Best Regard’s business.
If I lived in the Kansas City area and needed a gift for someone, I’d absolutely take advantage of the gift basket idea (especially the mixed baskets of cookies) with local delivery and he has lots of options that are more on the savory side (and feature some of the local barbeque themes). If I had one suggestion for the sale of these, it’d be the ability to get a tin of them, maybe even a mixed variety. The packaging in the crunchy clear plastic bags wasn’t as resealable as I’d like. (I know, I rail against companies that have too much packaging, now I want more!) A tin of chocolate barks seems like it’d ship better anyway. However, he does offer some of the chocolate varieties as 8 ounce bars.
UPDATE: Wow! Robert is offering a special sampler package based on the products I reviewed here - at a huge discount off the regular $26.00 price, he’s offering it at only $15.99. Just go to the Sweets & Treats page and scroll down to see the “Cybele Special.”
Thursday, January 26, 2006
I got the Cookie Joys from Crate and Barrel through their excellent post-Christmas sale. The Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Mint were acquired at Sav-On at a lackluster post-Holiday sale (basically the nuggets were on the sale table heralding they were 50% off, but they didn’t ring up that way and were put there “by mistake”).
Harry London makes the Cookie Joys, but sells them under a few different names, including Botticelli Bites. They also make it in a few different formats, including the Harry London Mint Cookie Bar. A Cookie Joy is minted milk chocolate with chocolate cookie bits. The shape is a little dollop of candy, not really the most attractive or appealing candy shapes, but it gets the job done. I find they’re usually two bites. The bonus in the Crate & Barrel tin is that they were individually wrapped. When I get them in a little tub at Trader Joe’s (it looks like a pint of ice cream) they’re loose and can go stale if not eaten quickly.
A Hershey’s Mint ‘n’ Cookies is also minted milk chocolate with chocolate cookie bits. The chocolate is rather milkier, as you can see in the color difference bewteen these two. The cookie bits are also slightly more regular, like little dots of cookies instead of rather irregular crushed cookie bits.
Now that I have them side by side, I’m able to really compare the two. The Cookie Joy is smooth and not terribly milky, which I like. There are already quite a few flavors going on here, I don’t need some sort of dairy taste intruding. As long as the milk is providing a creamy backdrop I’m happy. The cookie bits give it some crunch and they’re a good dark, toasty flavor (they’re pretty much the cookie part of an Oreo).
The Hershey’s has that familiar Hershey’s milk chocolate tang to it. Think yogurt. It’s not unpleasant, but doesn’t go as well with the mint and cookies. There’s a noticeable grain to the chocolate, but again, it works with the crunchy cookies. The cookie bits seem to be distributed rather unevenly, just on the top of the nugget, but since you’re going to bite it the other way, it probably doesn’t matter much. A Nugget could be eaten whole as well.
In this Head to Head, I’m going to have to go with the Cookie Joys. The chocolate is just better and the even though they look like glossy cow pies, the name Cookie Joys is dead on perfect. They’re joyful little mixes of cookies and minted chocolate. If you like the Girl Scout’s Thin Mints, you may like this chocolatier version, too. There’s no benefit to either in availability either. The Hershey’s are Limited Edition (though they seem to return rather faithfully) and the Harry London’s are only sometimes available at Trader Joe’s and a seasonal item for Crate & Barrel. (Sadly, it seems they are sold out on the C&B website.) The Hershey’s are usually cheaper, but the Crate and Barrel sale puts this one over the edge for me. At 28 cents per ounce for the Cookie Joys versus the 24 cents per ounce on the Nuggets, I’m willing to pay the premium (and I have a tin, too!).
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Chocolate oranges are a holiday favorite. We used to get them in our Christmas stocking when I was a kid, though not this brand. The chocolate orange is simply chocolate pieces shaped like orange segments assembled into a sphere. The Terry’s Chocolate Orange has a chocolate stem in the center and all the pieces are joined to it. They tell you to “whack and unwrap” to separate the pieces. (The ones I got as a kid had a plastic stem, so there was no need for whacking.)
The sphere is between the size of a handball and a tennis ball. The slices are textured to look like citrus fruit on one side, the other is smooth.
I’ve reviewed the Terry’s Chocolate Orange bar, and I find this chocolate to be similar. It’s not great quality, a little grainy and very sweet. The mint is quite overpowering in this version of Terry’s chocolate (just as I found Hershey’s Mint Mix).
It’s damn cute though and since it was half off, I don’t feel at all bad for plunking down $2 for it. $4 would be another matter.
Notes: This peppermint chocolate orange was made in Poland. Terry’s is credited with creating the first “Chocolate Orange” in 1932.
Thursday, January 5, 2006
I saw these mentioned on the Junk Food Blog a while back and then noticed them at the 7-11 and thought, what the hey, I’ll give them a try! I’m generally not into eating things with extra caffeine, especially not sweets as I have sleep problems, but I figured I could sample them before noon.
I love the tins, I think the color and design is great. The text on the tin is a little odd “Finally some mints with BAWLS. Spiked with the same high-caffeine guarana that fuels our BAWLS soft drink, these fizzy sweet mints are the first candies that help you stay up all night. Feel the power of BAWLS mints. Because regular candy is for babies.” First, this is far from the first caffeinated candy. Penguin Mints jump to mind. And if that’s too recent, how about any number of coffee candies. Including those Italian ones with real espresso in them that truckers use called Pocket Coffee. Oh, and the old standby, chocolate covered espresso beans.
Okay, so let’s just step away from the assertion that they’re the first “stay-awake candies”. How about the fact that they keep calling them mints. Now, I understand how sometimes names get co-opted. Like white chocolate isn’t really chocolate, but because it shares some of chocolate’s qualities and ingredients, we call it that. I don’t think that just because your candy is pellet shaped that it can be called a mint. These are not mint flavored. They’re some sort of punch flavored. And that’s fine, but when I’m expecting mint and I get razzleberry, I’m annoyed.
So, let’s take this candy as if no one showed me the package or told me what it is:
It’s a strangely speckled aqua-blue tablet, about the size of a baby aspirin and the color of a toilet bowl freshener. They don’t smell like much, but once on the tongue there’s a very pleasant tingly sensation, especially if you keep it on the tip of the tongue where the sour zap enhances it. Crunching it or splitting it makes it foam a little more. The flavor is rather bland, something sour and perhaps berry. There’s no indication of what flavor it is (I’ve never had BAWLS soda) but a little search on the web calls it a cross between lemon/lime and cream soda. It’s kind of fun, but gives me the burps. (One of the reasons I avoid sodas.)
I don’t know how caffeinated these little buggers are, but to be safe I only ate about five a day during the time that I was evaluating these. As a candy they’re rather disappointing. I want more flavor out of them, like Pop Rocks. But then again, I’d rather have the fizzy and no caffeine. Way too expensive for candy, but as a caffeine supplement to keep on hand when I have a coffee withdrawal headache, they probably rival that pack of Black Black that I keep at the office. But maybe if they were gonna call them mints they might have wanted to make them, well, mint flavored.
Further reading: Wikipedia on Guarana, Guarana.com on Guarana, for sale at ThinkGeek, review of BAWLS mints by Eugene at pbworkzpc.com (he gives it a 4/5) and death by caffeine - how many BAWLS mints will it take to kill you?
For those of you wondering, Wikipedia pegs the caffeine content at 5 mg per tablet.
Friday, December 30, 2005
The Man picked up some new stuff for the stockings this year. Besides the typical hard candies (Brach’s) and Hershey’s Kisses (in red and green foils) we got two new items:
Butterfinger Jingles (Nestle) - you know what’s great about these? They’re made with real milk chocolate. Instead of that waxy “chocolate coating” on the Butterfinger bar, Jingles start with real milk chocolate and then put little crunches of Butterfinger centers. They’re a bit bigger than a Hershey’s Kiss, which is a little too big in my opinion, but I’ll survive with a larger bite.
The other thing is, these made me realize is how clever Milton Hershey was when he decided how to wrap the Kisses with the foil wrapping “up” the Kiss, instead of putting the edges of the foil on the bottom. This is evident with the Jingles because all the foil edges are folded to the bottom of the Jingle so that it doesn’t have a flat bottom ... they wouldn’t sit straight for my photo.
The other new candy for us was the Hershey’s Mint Mix Miniatures. There are three different bars, Milk Chocolate with Mint, Semisweet Chocolate with Mint and White Chocolate with Mint and Candy Bits.
The Milk Chocolate with Mint is positively blasted with mint. Seriously minty. Not Altoid-level, but for a chocolate product, I’m surprised it was brown it was so minty. I had to sequester these bars from the rest of the stocking mix because they were contaminating the Jingles. No one wants minted Butterfinger Jingles. The dark one was nice, nothing to write home about and maybe a little sweet but I did actually enjoy the White Chocolate one. I know, white chocolate, most people go, “ew.” But I do have a fondness for misty mints and let’s face it, that’s all this is. The good news is that Hershey’s uses actual cocoa butter in their white chocolate, so at least it’s not jam-packed with trans fats. They are actually the best thing in this mix, smooth, not too sweet and not too artificially vanilla tasting.
If you see any of these on sale after Christmas, they’re well worth picking up to keep around for snacking. I really don’t care what my candy is dressed in, as long as it’s good.
Rating - 7 out of 10 (but if you can find them for 75% off, then it’s a 10 all the way)
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Name: Dolfin Chocolat: Noir au Gingembre Frais, Au Lait au The Vert Sencha du Japon, Noir aux Fuelles de Menthe
I thought on the eve of the start of Whalewatch Season here in Southern California it was appropriate to review something under the brand name Dolfin (we see more dolphins on whale watching trips than whales anyway). The Man bought these bars for me recently at a wine & spirits store in our neighborhood. The gentrification of our little ‘hood means that the former liquor store now carries a wider selection of wines, beers and of course Belgian chocolate.
What drew him to the bars wasn’t the reviews but the fact that the bars are packaged in these plastic cloaked paper envelopes that reminded him of tobacco pouches. It’s actually a pretty simple and successful idea, a long bag that you fold over several times to keep a good seal. The bars inside are additionally sealed in little plastic sleeves but at 2.47 ounces, I wasn’t going to eat them all in one sitting and I appreciated having a clean and crisp way of carrying them around until I do.
Noir aux Fuelles de Menthe (Dark with Mint Leaves): Instead of being your common dark chocolate bar with mint oils in it, this bar contains real spearmint leaves. This was the least successful bar for me. The mint was nice and it being spearmint was a nice change from the more common peppermint, but the bar seemed a bit more chalky than the others. At first I thought it had bloomed, but the sheen was right and the snap looked good. I can only assume that it’s the interaction of the real mint leaves in there. They also make the bar kind of grainy. The sugar balance is good though and the mint is smooth and has some good tannins in it that mix well with the rich dark chocolate.
Noir au Gingembre Frais (Dark with Fresh Ginger): I’m a ginger nut and many of the ginger/chocolate combinations that I find are with milk chocolate, so finding one that was in dark chocolate is exciting. The bar had a good woodsy mix of scents - the spicy ginger and smoky chocolate. The dark chocolate is only 52% cacao (as is the mint one) but it just felt really rich and dense. It was a little grainy but had a lot of flavors in the mix with a good buttery base to help the ginger and chocolate mingle.
Au Lait au The Vert Sencha du Japon (Milk with Sencha Green Tea from Japan): Wow, this bar smells like green tea ice cream. The wonderful lightly floral and woodsy tea blends wonderfully with the delicately dairy tasting milk chocolate. The bar is smooth and very sweet except for the green tea bits. It makes the bar better for doing a bit of chewing before letting it melt on the tongue instead of leaving a tab of it on the tongue first. This is definitely a bar that I could eat a lot of and I’m hoping that even though it only has 32% cacao, the benefits of both the green tea and chocolate will bring me good health in the new year.
Dolfin has a huge line of these “creation” bars, including Masala (hot spices), aniseed, pink peppercorn and Earl Grey tea. They have boxes with tasting squares that look like they would make for a fun evening.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.