Monday, April 30, 2012
Here’s one of those weird purchases I made at a liquor shop called Mel & Rose that sells imported candies. There, within sight of the Hollywood sign, I bought Hollywood Chewing Gum: Chlorophylle. But it’s not a quaint local brand or even American. It’s made in France, by Cadbury (now owned by Kraft). It’s not even one of those original gum brands from the final days of the Victorian era.
The gum is simple and pleasant. It’s the classic style of stick, right down to a real foil wrapper on each piece. The flavor is spearmint and it’s quite mild but with a good enough punch to make me feel refreshed and clean without a sticky or artificial feeling. The package also boasts that it has chlorophyll in it, you know, that stuff that allows plants to photosynthesize. I remember it was popular in gum and mints in the seventies, but hadn’t seen it on a package in quite a long time.
I like that it was made with real sugar, so few stick gums are these days. So if you’re looking for something to remind you of the classic Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum, this is probably the closest you can find since Wrigley’s went to artificial sweeteners. The sugar isn’t terribly grainy, but the flavor and sweetness does go away pretty quickly, much quicker than Chiclets, but this is a more adult gum than Chiclets.
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Though the company is celebrating their 100th year, the Ritter Sport square bar, as we’ve come to know it, is not quite as old as that. The Sport bars were introduced in 1932 ... so in 20 years you can look forward to another centennial.
The bar is a simple one, just milk chocolate with a blend of crushed nuts: almonds, cashews & macadamia nuts.
I picked up my bar in Germany at Kaufhof in December, but they may be available at import shops in North America and airports during the year.
The bar is lovely and really quite tasty. It’s odd, the milk chocolate is sweet and smooth, as usual. The nuts are crunch and plentiful. But the flavor is quite interesting. For a while after munching on the bar I was convinced there was honey in it, it has that same sort of toasted almond and honey flavor that Toblerone has. But there was none in the ingredients, so I can only credit the toasting of the nuts that give it that soft, sweet and nutty flavor.
I would buy this bar regularly. It doesn’t quite dethrone my favorite, the Knusperflakes (Corn Flakes) bar, but it’s terrific in its own right.
When I was at the Ritter Sport factory store I was excited to pick up some of their “not quite ready” test bars. Some of these are out on the market now, or will be later this year. But when I was in the store, they were offering the 100 gram bars in their generic white wrappers for half a Euro.
Ritter Sport Dunkle Pfefferminz is a dark chocolate bar with a peppermint flavored dark chocolate cream center. It also features a dash of alcohol, giving it a creme de menthe sort of blast.
The bar looked great.
The cream center was smooth and had a strong peppermint flavor, but not so strong as to overpower the dark chocolate notes, which were slightly acidic and woodsy. It’s pretty decadent and silky, I didn’t feel the need to eat more than two or three sections at a sitting.
I hope this comes to the United States at some point, it’s a keeper and unlike anything else we have on the market.
One other item I picked up in the back room was a bag of these little bon bons. They were simply called Pfefferminz and in a clear plastic bag. Each individual piece was wrapped in an unmarked aqua wrapper. I have no idea what their purpose was, but the center was not quite the same as the Dunkle bar. They were good, but milk chocolate and a little more fudgy and firm.
The test version of Ritter Sport Kakaosplitter must have gone well, because I saw this one on World in Chocolate as a spring limited edition.
I believe kakaosplitter (kakaokernstuckchen) is the German word for cacao nib. The bar is milk chocolate and features a firm chocolate cream filling studded with crispy cacao nibs.
The bar is quite milky and has a good nutty flavor overall. The nibs are toasted in a way that seems to have caramelized them. So instead of being chewy or dense, they’re quite light and crispy, but with a sort of uneven chocolate flavor, depending on the bite.
I liked the treatment of the nibs, but I didn’t care for the overall sweetness of the bar. It makes me wish I’d found this hazelnut and nib solid bar.
The last bar I picked up looked just like the others on the outside, a generic white with the simple name of Ritter Sport Kokosmakrone. Honestly, I didn’t know what I was picking up because I didn’t know what Kokosmakrone was, I thought it was another cocoa nib confection.
Instead it’s a coconut cream. How fun! Aside from the Mounds and Almond Joy bars, there’s not much in the real coconut realm in candy bars in the United States.
The bar is milk chocolate again with a white cream filling with both toasted coconut and rice flakes for crunch.
It smells an awful lot like coconut, the chocolate is infused with it to the point that the chocolate flavors are lost. I had to sequester the bar in its own ziploc bag before I finished it because I was afraid it was going to make my 100 Jahre bar taste weird. The filling is sweet and milky with a little salty hint. The coconut is more of a flavor than a texture, the crispies add a new dimension of texture that you don’t really get in American coconut candies.
Mostly I like this because it’s not like anything else you can get for less than $2. But, if I want coconut, I’m probably going to go for a Mounds bar.
In all, I love Ritter Sport’s sense of adventure.
The bars are made in a factory that processes a lot of different nuts, soy, dairy and products that may contain gluten. The Ritter Sport company sources much of their cacao from South and Central American and says it’s committed to ethical sourcing.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
The drug stores and big box discounters are in full Easter mode right now. But I found a little display of St. Patrick’s Day items at Target on an endcap near the party supplies. It included the Hershey’s Kisses filled with Creme de Menthe in a very green bag accented with green shamrocks.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I’d had these before, I had to pull out my droid phone and look it up. Even then, I still suspected that these were another limited edition Hershey’s Kisses item, the Mint Truffle Kisses (reviewed in 2007).
The Kiss packaging is to the point. They’re green folk. Whoop de doo. The little flags say Creme de Menthe, which is a bit generic in a way, I was hoping they’d have little shamrocks on them instead of dots to separate the text.
The molded Kisses are sharp, consistent and shiny. They smell quite minty and a little chocolatey. The semi sweet shell is mild and imbued with quite a bit of mint, whether it started that way or not. The melt is good, for a Hershey’s chocolate item, not terribly smooth, but not chalky or fudgy either. The center is a little more like a smooth fudge, not grainy but not like a flowing fondant like a cordial. It’s a bit salty, which balances the sweet well and gives the peppermint a little bit more dimension.
I liked them well enough. It’s easy to eat just a few of them as a little refreshment. I didn’t find myself reaching for them over and over again after three or so. The mint flavor is clean and not too sickly sticky.
The ingredients list is long and features a lot of vegetable oil for the center (the second ingredient for the filling) which includes palm oil. The allergen statement only lists peanuts (and of course it’s made with dairy products and soy) but says nothing about tree nuts or gluten. Hershey’s is far behind the rest of the chocolate world with its ethical sourcing of cocoa, so if you’re looking for a nice minty treat without enslaving children, try Seth Ellis Mint Sun Cups or the Divine After Dinner Mints.
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.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Here’s a small selection of what I’d call Christmas chocolate bars. I’ve got to eat them up before the holidays - it may be too late for you to get them by Christmas, but there are some special ones that are worth picking up at the after-Christmas sales.
Hershey’s introduced their Golden Almond Bar in 1977. It’s a thick bar and clocks in at 2.8 ounces. The bar design and packaging has changed little over the past thirty five years. It’s still wrapped in gold foil with a gold sleeve. Bars are sold either singly or in gold gift boxes of five bars (see a 1984 ad here). They’re not that easy to find, I usually see them at the official Hershey’s stores at Chocolate World or the Times Square shop.
The bar is simple, it’s just milk chocolate with lots of whole roasted almonds in it. It differs from the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds bar as it’s supposed to be better quality chocolate. The ingredients do not differ from the Hershey’s standard milk chocolate which includes PGPR but is at least made in the United States and not Mexico as the other supposedly upscale Pot of Gold line is.
The bar is wonderful looking, it’s thick and has a great snap. It’s about 1.7 inches wide, 4.75 inches long and a beefy half inch high. There are some almonds in there though not as many as I feel are promised but they look like they’re fresh and of good quality. The chocolate looks a little darker than the standard Hershey’s but smells like I’d expect. It’s sweet with a slight yogurty tang to it.
The texture is smooth and fudgy, with a sticky melt and a light caramel and woodsy chocolate flavor. It’s not complex and it’s not extraordinary. But if you like Hershey’s chocolate and enjoy the decadence of a thicker piece, this is a good bar to choose. I liked the nostalgia of an actual foil wrapped bar, which is so rare these days. If there’s someone on your list that loves Hershey’s, this is a little bit more elegant way to give them what they desire.
Size: 2.8 ounces
I found this seasonal bar called Niederegger Marzipan Weihnachtsschokolade at the Niederegger cafe at Marktplatz in Lubeck. The front of the package says Saftiges gewurz marzipan mit vollmilch-schokolade. So it’s a spiced marzipan in milk chocolate. The image shows almonds, cinnamon sticks and star anise. The ingredients don’t specifically list anise, just “spices” though cinnamon is a separate item.
Inside the paper wrapper there’s a stiff card (advertising the company and their website) and the foil wrapped bar.
The packaging did a great job of protecting the bar. It was glossy and unscuffed.
The milk chocolate is very light in color (33% cocoa solids and 14% milk solids). The bar smells like milky chai, a little spicy and very sweet. The marzipan is moist and a bit like eating Snickerdoodle cookie dough. The chocolate is smooth, but doesn’t contribute much in the way of cocoa to this, it just nicely encases the marzipan. The texture of the marzipan is a little more rustic than the French style fondant type that’s used for creating figures and shapes. Niederegger is meant for eating and enjoying.
The ratios on the 100 gram bars from Niederegger favor the chocolate more than the enrobed little classic loaves. (I’ll get into that more in my master post.) If you’re looking for a starter marzipan that’s more about the texture and celebrates almonds as the source ingredient, Niederegger really can’t be beat. It’s not too sweet and doesn’t have any fake amaretto flavors to it.
I would prefer a version of this with dark chocolate, but I can’t argue with the traditional recipe they have. It’s a great balance of subtle spice, sweetness, milk and almonds.
Size: 3.5 ounces
I’m no stranger to the Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark. They’ve been making it for years and it comes in a clever little square that’s perfect for some afternoon tea or coffee.
I found this set of bars at Target last month on sale for $2 each. They’re heralded as limited edition and come in milk chocolate and dark chocolate.
I’m not actually a fan of barks. I like my inclusions fully immersed in the chocolate. So the bar version of Peppermint Bark is perfect for my strange fondness for things being hidden in the chocolate.
Unlike most Peppermint Barks, which combine white chocolate with crushed peppermint candies (like candy canes or starlight mints), the Ghiradelli version uses minty, artificially colored corn flakes. I haven’t the foggiest why they did it that way, but honestly, they created something unique enough to be a new genre.
The milk and dark vary a little bit in their coloring. The milk version is sweet and has a lot of dairy notes to it from both the milk chocolate base and the white chocolate top (made with real cocoa butter). The mint is clean and bright, the little cereal bits are crunchy and a little salty and keep it all from being too cloying.
The dark version has two kinds of bits, the red bits and some little dark brown bits, which I think are little chocolate cookie pieces. The dark chocolate has a little smoky note to it which overshadowed the minty layer a bit, which I enjoyed. There’s a definite difference between the Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark and the Dove Peppermint Bark, which can also be found for comparable prices at similar stores. Personally, I prefer the Dove version, because it’s a bit butterier. This one is about the crunch, a grown up sort of crunch.
Size: 3 ounces
The last item I have is not quite a full review. The Hachez Weihnachts Knusper Bar (Christmas Crunchy Bar) is a darling looking bar. The soft white paper wrapper has a classically illustrated scene of a child ice skating on a pond.
Feine Vollmilch-Chocolade mit Zimt, Mandeln und Nussen
My German was getting pretty good, even though I’d only been listening to German podcasts for a week and was only there for a day. The front of the package said Fine milk chocolate with cinnamon, almonds and nuts. The little image also showed all of the above -cinnamon sticks, milk chocolate blocks, almonds and a hazelnut in its shell.
So I was very excited when I got it home and put at the top of my list to photograph and review before Christmas. I took it out of the wrapper, snapped it in half ... it looked and smelled so good:
The bar was glossy and showed no ill effects from the long journey (about 750 more miles on a bus at that point then the 5,700 mile plane ride).
I broke off a little piece of it to try after the photo, I was greeted by wonderfully smooth and milky chocolate and amazingly fresh, crunchy and crushed nuts and a hint of cinnamon. I could taste the hazelnuts and something else ... it wasn’t pecans, it was walnuts. What I didn’t realize was that while Nussen might be a generic word for nuts, it usually meant walnuts. (Walnusse is the more specific word.) So technically, I didn’t eat any of the bar. I had to spit it out and rinse out my mouth (I still ended up itchy and with a sore throat all evening - my allergy has not developed beyond this irritation stage). But I’m going to go out on a limb after eating many of the other Hachez products in the past week (which I’ll have reviews for) and say that this really is a good bar.
Size: 3.5 ounces
Do you have a favorite winter flavor combination? Anything regional or something from long ago that they don’t make any longer?
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
I went to Germany last week on a Candy Junket sponsored by German Sweets, part of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. Our group consisted of 10 American journalists & writers and covered 1,500 kilometers and in only five days we saw seven confectionery factories (map).
Though the weather was rather dismal (but expected) with temperatures in the forties and rain the whole week, we still braved the brisk and damp weather to take advantage of the famous Christmas Markets in as many towns as we could. The first one we stopped at was Lubeck, Germany, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmarkt) feature mostly food and hot alcoholic beverages but also a small smattering of seasonal tasties like confections and some giftware like Christmas ornaments, hats, leathergoods and other small items.
One of the most common confectionery stalls that I saw at all three markets was the one that sold fresh candies nuts and gingerbread cookies. The cookies are for gifting and many were decorated garishly with frosting and had little affectionate sayings on them (photo). Most were heart shaped and came in a variety of sizes. Of course they’re horrible for bringing back in a suitcase, so I just looked at them.
The nuts were really appealing, just toffeed nuts of all kinds (photo). Almonds were the most common but each booth had a good assortment of walnuts, cashews and some peanuts. Some had more exotic flavors, the most common was a Christmas spice, but others had licorice or Nutella. The prices were pretty good, a little 100 gram (3.5 ounces) was 2.50 Euro and I believe they would mix if you asked.
The market in Berlin at Alexanderplatz near our hotel also had a small assortment of booths, again, most selling drinks and hot food and a more international fare of gift items (Russian nesting dolls, Indonisian carved bowls) as well as one confectionery stall with a rather large range of traditional candies from Germany and a few that looked more Nordic or Dutch.
The booths that sold Krauterbonbons, and I saw at least three of them in Lubeck, all smelled quite strongly of anise. It was as if they were using aromatherapy to attract customers. Two of the booths looked like they produced the candy right there. They had a copper kettle, a large counter of marble and a small pressing machine that can either cut the little candy pillows from a pulled rope of the hot sugar mixture or mold press them into individual pieces. However, we walked through the Lubeck market twice, once on the night we arrived around 8 PM, then again the next day when we visited the Niederegger cafe at lunchtime. Neither time did I see them making any candy, nor any of the other booths. Perhaps it was all theater, and perhaps it was just something they did in the morning to make their inventory for the day.
As it was my first visit to a Christmas Market, I picked up a small bag of their Krauterbonbons Mischung (Herbal Sweets Assortment), which fit easily in my pocket and I thought would travel well.
Inside the homely little plastic bag were 28 pieces in about ten different varieties. The shapes varied, some were just little pillows, others were rather rustic but pressed lumps and then there were the gems with their ornate patterns. They’re lightly sanded to keep them from sticking.
I can’t say what the flavors were supposed to be, as there was no key and many of the flavors I purchased were not sold separately (so I couldn’t match them up with the photos I took of the varieties in the jars at the booth).
Some were completely foreign to me. The little red puff was at first rather like raspberry, but there was a note of cola and maybe even Dr. Pepper (whatever that flavor is).
The light green flattened rod was pure peppermint. It was quite strong and fresh.
The black one that looks like a stylized corn cob is dark and sort of like molasses but lacking much else in the herb or spice area.
The brown rock looking thing was like a chocolate flavor, it tasted like black bread (Schwarzbrot with an hint of malt. If I had to find an American analogue, it’d be a chocolate Tootsie Pop. I actually liked this one quite a bit, it’s weird getting the flavor of dense, fresh bread in a hard candy.
The amber piece with a bee on it was honey, naturally. It was lovely. It tasted like honey and I wanted a whole jar of these, if not to eat, then just to look at.
There was also a single clear pillow with some black specks in it. It was a light anise and the exact flavor of the smell they were using to attract folks to the booth.
The light green flower with the cross in the center (back right) was rosemary. It was really refreshing, a little like pine and menthol but without any hint of bitterness.
The ribbed one with the cross in the center was like a cough drop, a mix of flavors similar to Ricola. It was minty but not completely peppermint, there was a menthol component and maybe a little touch of honey. The shape was fun to look at, as I kept an example of each on my desk lined up while tasting.
The black one with the hammers on it was like the one that I thought was like black bread, but with a strong note of licorice to it. It wasn’t overly sweet and I found it very soothing, especially with some bland, black tea.
If I had more time and was able to scope better, I probably would have gone back and picked up the flavors that were missing from my assortment. Lubeck definitely had the best assortment of these little lozenges and of course I would have loved to have seen them making them. (Mental note, next time, add “When do you make the candies” to my list of phrases I might need.)
If you’re going to be in Germany in the winter, the Christmas Markets are definitely something you should see, if only for a few hours. I think they’re probably more appealing to folks who eat sausage and drink alcohol but the one we saw in Schmalkalden actually had some fantastic looking cheese and cured meats. The architecture of many of these cities is lit up so I really felt like I was part of the place.
I was hoping to see more of a variety of sweets, but I fully understand the 90% of the Christmas Market is about tradition and the time warp of walking around a square in the dark with pretty lights and a cacophony of sounds and smells. There were no chocolates anywhere, though some of the stalls sold long ropes of flavored licorices and I actually got a giant Smurf gummi at one of them. The smaller the town we went to, the more they felt like they were true community events, not just something made up for the tourists. Their Christmas celebration through Advent, though front and center at every town, felt less commercial and more about community, even if it was temporary.
(Disclosure Note: The trip to Germany was sponsored, so I did not pay for my airfare, ground transportation, accommodations or food while I was there. At the factory tours we were given generous samples to consume on site as well as some to bring home. Any reviews of those products will be noted as to that fact. But I also brought a couple hundred Euros with me and spent them liberally and almost exclusively on candy both from the companies we were introduced to as well as many other Germany/European products that I found in my prowlings of grocery stores, department stores and the factory outlets.)
Monday, November 28, 2011
Their new Trader Joe’s Minty Melts sound a bit on the classic side. Dark chocolate squares with a festive minty stripe.
The box holds 7.5 ounces and was $4.99. They’re Kosher and gluten free. There is no ethical statement about the origin of the chocolate.
The box is long (11.5 inches) but opens easily to serve. The inner box bottom is actually fully printed so you can pull it out and put it on the table or buffet if you don’t want to put them on a plate. The pieces are stacked, two high and two wide.
I was pleased with the ingredients, it’s real dark chocolate at the semi-sweet level of 56% cacao. The mint stripe is made of real white chocolate as well, with cocoa butter and real peppermint oil. There’s a touch of coconut oil in there, but it’s very low on the list, falling into the less than 2% area.
They’re almost perfect cubes, about 3/4 of an inch all around, though just a little shy on the height. The stripes aren’t equal. The base layer is thicker than the top and mint white chocolate middle. The appearance is a little rustic. They’re a bit scuffed on the edges and the sides aren’t always straight/square/plumb.
The dark chocolate is rich and has a good cocoa flavor. There are little gritty moments every once in a while. The white chocolate center is a little dry and chalky feeling, just not quite a fully chocolate smoothness that I was hoping for. The flavor is very well balanced, milky sweet but not throat searing, with an appropriate touch of peppermint that doesn’t overwhelm the dark chocolate.
The texture doesn’t quite hit it for me, but perhaps that’s because I was hoping for something a little creamier. However, I like the fact that it’s a Peppermint Bark without the crushed peppermint candies. While that’s a nice candy, too, I wanted to taste the smooth textures together. The name Minty Melts led me to believe that these were meltaways, but they’re not, they’re a solid chocolate product. Nothing wrong with that ...
These are sure to go over well in social settings, just the right size portion for guests or for snacking.
Friday, November 4, 2011
When I heard that Jelly Belly was making chocolate covered jelly beans, I simply assumed that mint would be in the initial mix. But when I tried my first box of them, it was all fruity. It makes sense that mint would be sold separately, as they can overpower other flavors.
I found the new Jelly Belly Mint Jelly Bean Chocolate Dips on sale at TJ Maxx. They were a much better deal than I usually see for the Dips, only $1.69 for the bag. They look like an ideal candy for snacking at the movies. The fact that they’re a chocolate covered jelly candy means that they’re a bit lower in calories than a regular chocolate bar. It’s only 106 calories per ounce, instead of the typical 140-160 calories per ounce for straight chocolate products.
The Dips are rather interesting because they’re just the center of a jelly bean covered in chocolate, there’s no candy shell. This creates a smoother experience, but there is a more subtle experience. Gourmet jelly beans are usually constructed of two parts - the lightly flavored center and the intensely flavored shell.
They’re beautifully panned, the chocolate coating is consistent and shiny. They smell like dark chocolate: deep and slightly smoky. The chocolate turns creamy very quickly when I chewed the beans. The center is firm and chewy, but has not hint of the grainy coating that typical sugar shelled jelly beans have. The mint comes out quickly, it tastes like a peppermint and spearmint mix. But the longer I chewed, I started getting another flavor - the sweetness of the chocolate dissipated and suddenly it was tangy. The jelly center has citric acid in it, so instead of being like the a chocolate covered Spearmint Leaf, there’s this weird tartness. It’s like there’s a mojito note to it, without the citrus zest. Or a cough drop.
I just didn’t like it. If I kept eating them, the aftertaste didn’t get a hold of me until the last one was left ... but that’s no way to enjoy candy. I’ll stick to Junior Mints or for this candy, the fruity flavors.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.