Monday, December 29, 2014
barkTHINS won the Most Innovative New Product award at the Sweets & Snacks Expo for the Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut variety. I can’t see quite what’s so innovative about that. I picked up a package of the barkTHINS Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Seed because it was on sale. The stand up package holds 4.7 ounces and was on sale for $3.99.
The top of the package says that it’s a serious twist on snacking. Which is a grandiose statement for a bunch of seeds in chocolate, which is one of the oldest forms of chocolate inclusions. Perhaps the twist they’re referring to is the fact that the chocolate and the sugar in the chocolate is Fair Trade certified. And the soy lecithin is non-GMO. There are no dairy ingredients, though it may contain traces of peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat or eggs. The FAQ on their website explains that their innovation is the fact that the bark is thin enough to snap into pieces.
All my grumbling aside, I like what I saw on the ingredients label and the concept of simple, ethically sourced dark chocolate with some fresh toasted seeds in it.
I’ve never quite understood the appeal of bark as a product. I understand why I make it, because I have leftover chocolate from a kitchen project and then just mix up some stuff I have sitting around and call it a tasty mess. I can’t imagine selling it. I want my pieces consistent and I want my seeds integrated.
The good news is that the pumpkin seeds (pepitas) are actually integrated into the chocolate. The pieces are pretty consistent in size and thickness and with a good amount of pepitas. The general size of the pieces is what I’d call, “too large.” They’re about 2.5” by 1.5”. This is a nice portion, however, I found them a bit large and wanted more small pieces. Luckily, I could make my own ... while providing lots of small pieces would mean that large piece lovers would have some assembly to do.
The chocolate is nice, a little on the fatty side which means that there’s a nice silky melt, but also that the calories per ounce on this were 164 ...quite high. (Pepitas have between 145 and 160 calories per ounce, depending on the variety.) The cocoa flavors have a lot of toasty toffee notes and a little hint of grassy olives (or maybe that’s the pepitas). There’s a hint of salt, which offsets the sweetness very well. The pumpkin seeds are crunchy and crisp with no really flavor of their own, just a clean chew with maybe a hint of pistachio.
I enjoyed it, though I do find snacking on bark to simply be difficult. The inconsistency of the sizes and the inclination for me to want to pick through and find the right size and density of seeds is problematic. I’m not sure why they can’t be little bars or puddles. The use of pumpkin seeds is different enough, though the price on these is a bit steep. I’ll finish the bag and probably consider the salted almond and coconut version in the future if I see them on sale again.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Theo Chocolate makes organic and fair trade chocolate from bean to bar in their factory in Seattle. They have a selection of seasonal bars in addition to their regular items, this year I picked out their Theo Chocolate Nutcracker Brittle because I liked their Salted Almond bar. It features almonds, hazelnuts and sugary brittle chunks in smooth, rich 70% dark chocolate
The most notable quality of this seasonal bar is that it’s vegan. That’s right, the brittle is not made with any dairy, so the bar is free from any animal-derived products. (Though it is made in a factory that also processes milk, eggs and wheat, so it may contain traces of gluten or dairy as well as peanuts or other tree nuts.)
The wrapping is nice, a simple paper over-wrap with the chocolate bar enclosed in foil underneath. The bar is made with 88% fair trade ingredients and all organic products (except for the baking soda and salt). The corn syrup is also non-GMO and they do not use soy lecithin (or lecithin of any kind).
The bar looked great and smells wonderful. It’s a woodsy cocoa blend, it smells like toffee and fresh brewed coffee and toast. For a 70%, it’s well balanced. The cocoa flavors are a little on the acidic side with some bright sour cherry notes along with the other woodsy components mentioned earlier. It’s sweet, at first, but the baked brownie flavors dominate towards the end. The nuts are kind of separate as a flavor and texture. The almonds and hazelnuts are crunchy and fresh (though hard to tell apart) and the little brittle pieces are crunchy without being tacky or chewy. I missed the little hint of salt from the Salted Almond bar, but that’s not what was promised here.
It’s a nice seasonal bar, but I have to wonder why it’s not a year round offering ... no reason not to have this for Valentine’s.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
I picked up this box of Villars Mini Tasting Chocolates made in Switzerland. It was a bit expensive at $12. The box says it’s “at least” 45 pieces, but I counted 50 in mine. There are four different kinds of chocolate: Milk Chocolate (20 pieces), Milk Chocolate with Caramel 10 pieces), Milk Chocolate with Hazelnuts (9 pieces) and 72% Dark Chocolate (11 pieces).
I used to pick up Villars milk chocolate with hazelnut bars at Trader Joe’s many years ago. I suspect that Villars is still making products for Trader Joe’s under the house label, but I can’t be certain. This is the first time I found them at the local grocery store, though it seems like the kind of package you might see at an airport duty free shop.
Villars is a small chocolate company, according to Wikipedia they’re bean to bar, based in Fribourg, Switzerland and employ about 140 people. They’ve been around over a hundred years.
In my assortment, it was pretty well balanced, with slightly more of the Milk variety than the other three. The little bars are, well, tiny. They’re about 5 grams each, but that also means there’s only about 30 calories in each one.
The pieces are 1.3 inches high and .8 inches wide. The wrappers are made of some sort of mylar type plastic. They’re shiny on the inside but devilishly hard to tear. Each piece is glued shut with a teensy little dot of well-stuck glue.
Just smelling this little Lait bar I was reminded why I liked Villars: they add barley malt to their chocolate. It’s just a little hint of malt that keeps it from being too sweet. It’s a little roasted and the quality of the milk gives it a light yogurt bite. I can’t eat a lot of it, which is why these little bites are just right for me.
The Lait Caramel smelled quite milky. It’s not actual caramel though, it’s more like toffee chips, which is great. I enjoy a little toffee mixed into my milk chocolate and this is a good version. Like the milk chocolate, it’s sweet but wonderfully creamy and rich. The little toffee bits break up the stickiness with a little crunch and hit of caramelized sugar. The thinness of the little bars means that the bits are also small, but Barbie dolls and Star Wars action figures may find them just right.
The little Lait Noisettes bars come in a purple accented wrapper.
The sweetness of this bar is quite strong, but the chips of nicely roasted hazelnuts mellow that out. It’s a little chewy, almost like coconut. It could use a touch of salt, but otherwise, I liked the Noisettes best.
I was looking forward to the Noir 72% quite a bit. It’s hard to find little tasting squares in very dark chocolate. I also noticed that Gelson’s, where I bought these, also has Villars in bulk tubs, so I could buy little callets and disks of their dark chocolate for about $12 a pound. Well, that’s not going to happen, now that I’ve tried this. The chocolate smells good, a little toasty and like coffee. The melt is quite nice ... but the feeling on the tongue is dry and chalky. The finish is far too dry for me, far too acidic and yet it’s quite sweet for a 72%.
I think for baking or maybe as a base for chocolate mousse, this would be excellent. But it’s not my style for straight eating.
For the price, these aren’t phenomenal, I want a lot better dark chocolate for $24 a pound. But the miniature size and variations are just what I needed this week. Now that I’ve had my samples for the review, the rest will be distributed by Santa Claus into the Christmas stockings. I’m hoping for lots of the Noisettes in mine. I also wonder if Villars has also made repackaged items for Aldi, as these were rather similar (though the chocolate moulds were different, the tasting notes are very similar).
Villars is owned by a French company called Bongrain, which bills itself as one of the top transformers of milk in Europe and worldwide. Maybe it sounds better in French. They make cheese and yogurt in dozens of different countries in Europe, North America and Africa ... and chocolate in Switzerland.
Monday, December 22, 2014
Think of them like a hearty petit fours. The base is a gingerbread cake, topped with a layer of fruit jelly then a layer or marzipan. For this particular brand of Schulte Dominos, the fruit jelly is apple and the marzipan is actually persipan, which is made from apricot kernels instead of almonds. Although they seem like an ancient sort of confection, according to this page they were invented by Herbert Wendler in Dresden in 1936.
I’ve had dominos quite a few times, Aldi sells a few varieties in both milk and dark chocolate and of course I’ve had them in while traveling in Germany. This particular version has a nice coating of dark chocolate, which keeps the confection from becoming too sweet. They’re pretty shy on calories, only 50 each, probably because part of it is a little bit of cake.
This package has 10 pieces in it, which fared quite well - only one was cracked on the top. The package holds 4.4 ounces, so each piece is just shy of a half an ounce each. The package says that this is an Authentic Traditional European Recipe. I don’t know if there are a lot of modernized versions or departures from the traditional ... or if other non-Europeans have adopted the confection and have created a competing version.
Each piece is not quite a cute. They’re 7/8 of an inch square and about 3/4 of an inch high.
I’ll start from the top down. The persipan is much like a marzipan. It’s soft and has a good texture that’s not too pasty or sweet. The flavor is much more amaretto infused that many marzipans I’ve had, which makes me wonder if it’s a natural flavor profile for persipan. There is a distinct bitter note to it.
The next layer is a jelly, which is pretty bland. I had to read the ingredients to find out that it must be apple at all. It’s a little tart and has a slight mealy quality that real apple pulp can bring to a jam.
They smell rich, a little like cocoa and molasses and maybe a hint of ginger.
The base layer is called gingerbread. It’s made from a mix of wheat flour and rye flour along with brown sugar and molasses. It’s quite dry, which I think is okay because the jelly and persipan provide a bit of moisture and texture to the whole thing as long as you don’t eat the layers separately. However, there’s not real spice note to it, or ginger flavor at all.
They’re hearty and satisfying. It’s a great mix of textures with the cool tartness of the jelly mixing with the dry cake and slightly chewy persipan. I had no trouble finishing the tray of them over two days.
I have to wonder what a premium version of these would be like. Perhaps with some actually flavored jelly like a good grape, a spiced apple or something more in the citrus marmalade family. I did see that Niederegger makes a version, though I probably can’t find those in the United States. The cake part might be better if it was an actual Lebkuchen with ground nuts in it.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The company sent me a sample of 14 flavors of their current flavors to try. They came in a simple clear bag with the truffles actually stacked in color order. (But I chose to show you a photo of their Christmas mint assortment, because I don’t actually like photographing clear plastic packaging.)
Earlier I called them “truffles” because they’re really meltaways. The chocolates are little rectangular blocks of chocolate coated meltaway centers. The centers are a combination of chocolate, flavoring and coconut oil mixed with palm oil. This means that they melt at a different temperature than the chocolate itself. The centers are solid, unlike Lindt Lindor Truffles, which have similar ingredients, but more tropical oils.
If this sounds like a Frango, that’s because Seattle Chocolates also makes Frangos for Macy’s, but also sells them under their own name but with more colorful packaging.
The box I got at the top of the review contained three mint flavors: Mint, San Juan Sea Salt and the seasonal Candy Cane. Pictured above I have Dark Chocolate, Mint, San Juan Sea Salt, Cool Mint.
I think the first one I should address is the Mint. It comes in a medium green mylar wrapper and is a milk chocolate confection. It smells deliciously pepperminty and takes me back to my childhood and the seasonal boxes of Mint Frangos I consumed (often surreptitiously). The milk chocolate has a strong dairy note and the minty center has a satisfying cool melt along with the peppermint. There are also teensy little pops of salt every once in a while. Often candies like this can be ridiculously sweet, but I didn’t find it that way at all.
The next to profile is a standard, a basic truffle on which so many other flavors are based, the Dark Chocolate. This one is in a medium blue wrapper.
The bite has a satisfying snap, and though the center doesn’t look creamy, it melts well. The dark chocolate has a mild flavor, like the common chocolate chips you’d use for cookies. It’s a toasty flavor, a little the bitter side but with a smoother melt than baking chips.
San Juan Sea Salt is a newer piece, and features a seafoam green wrapper. It’s a milk chocolate piece with little toffee bits and a little extra sea salt mixed into the chocolate center. The salt is a wonderful combination with the very milky chocolate and the little toffee bits are a great textural crunch. I did get some of these in the mint set, and they were actually infused with the mint flavors from the other truffles. Either way, it’s good.
Cool Mint was the last one in this set, a bit of a change from the previous since it features a light blue wrappers and a white center in dark chocolate. It’s quite minty and could use a little bit of that salt that the others seem to have. I enjoyed it, but prefer the other mint varieties.
Ah, things are getting a little nuttier in the next batch which features Salted Almond, Milk, Peanut Butter, Espresso.
I’ll start with Espresso because, we’ll, I’m in charge. The wrapper is brown, the chocolate is dark. The interior is smooth and has good roasted flavor note. The meltaway itself has little crispy bits ... coffee grounds. The flavor profile is good, I liked the coffee and the grounds or whatever they are aren’t too gritty. Out of the mix, this was the first flavor that disappeared. Not too sweet.
Milk looks just like the mint, so must give that a glance again except imagine the wrapper is gold. Since there are no other flavor elements in this one, it’s a little easier to pick out the profile of the milk chocolate itself. It has a strong dairy flavor, almost like the flavor of cream cheese. It’s sweet gets a little oily towards the end. I skipped these after getting the profile.
Peanut Butter sounded fantastic. The bronzy wrapper holds a milk chocolate piece with a peanut butter meltaway center. The interesting aspect is that there are also crushed peanuts in there too. Again, this one is oily like the milk chocolate, though it didn’t bother me as much.
Salted Almond is a bit more trendy and comes in a goldenrod wrapper with a dark chocolate coat. The center is dark chocolate and features a bit of salt and a few almond chips here and there. The toasty flavors of the almonds and dark chocolate were excellent. I’d buy this as a bar, as well.
The last set is a little fruity and contains some different concepts in the meltaway concept: Peanut Brittle, Strawberry Creme, Raspberry Creme, Blackberry Creme.
Peanut Brittle is similar to the Salted Almond, a little crunchy peanut, maybe with some crispy caramelized sugar in there. Since this is a dark piece, it’s far and away different from the Peanut Butter, though far less peanutty.
The Strawberry is a white center with what I think is bits of freeze dried strawberries in there. It has some authentic strawberry flavors but suffers from the same oily feeling towards the end.
The Raspberry and Blackberry Creme were similar, with some nice berry flavors with a tangy pop here and there.
Coconut Macaroon is in a lighter blue mylar and features a dark chocolate coating and center. This is a pure tropical piece, the coconut oils in the meltaway work their magic here along with a few little bites of toasted coconut. There’s a definite coconut smell to it, so much it overpowers the chocolate flavors.
Extreme Chocolate comes in a magenta wrapper (I mistook it for one of the berries when I was photographing). This is excellent. It tastes darker than its reputed 65% cacao, with good bitter notes but still enough sweetness. The meltway qualities are still there, but none of the oily textures I didn’t like. Also as a bonus, there are crunchy cacao nibs in there. All of the nibs I came across were crisp, not fibery like some origins.
Seattle Chocolates also makes a wide variety of Truffle Bars, many in the same flavor profile as the Truffles ... though the ratios differ quite a bit, with more solid chocolate and less meltaway filling in most cases.
Seattle Chocolates Truffles are made with non GMO ingredients and are gluten free. They do contain soy and dairy ingredients and obviously the ones that don’t have peanuts or tree nuts in them were still processed on shared equipment. They sell most of the flavors singly as well as different flavor assortments, like the Mint, just dark and coffee flavors.
As a product line, I give it all a 7 out of 10. For the pieces I liked, such as Salted Almond, Extreme Chocolate and San Juan Sea Salt, I go to 8 out of 10.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Godiva was founded in Belgium as a premium chocolatier. The company is now owned by a Turkish holding coming (Yıldız Holding) but is headquartered in New York and named after an Old English noblewoman.
The chocolate is reliably of good quality, though the prices are on the high side compared to other brands now available. I love their packaging, but I’m usually disappointed by the products as they tend to be bland.
Still, I was tempted enough by a press release about a new collaboration collection that I stopped by the local Godiva shop and picked up a box of the Chef Inspirations Flavors of the World Collection. It was $18 for a box of eight chocolates in six different flavors.
So, six flavors and eight pieces means that I got two duplicates. The box is nice, a rounded rectangle with a plastic formed tray inside. The whole thing was shrink-wrapped and definitely fresh and flawless when I opened it. It included a little brochure that described both the chef and chocolates themselves. Here’s a little bit from the website:
Banana & Caramelized Coconut: Milk and white chocolate enhanced with caramelized coconut flakes, coconut milk and banana essence topped with the crunch of West African cocoa nibs. The banana flavors are sweet and have a bit of a creamy note. The coconut has a little tropical flavor, the whole thing is soft and chewy. The milk chocolate is smooth, but extremely sweet.
Black Tea Mousse & Sichuan Pepper: Chinese Sichuan pepper flavored ganache blended with an aromatic black tea mousse and wrapped in pure Belgian dark chocolate. The mousse has a very light chocolate note but strong tannins from the black tea. I didn’t catch much of the pepper, which is too bad. But I did enjoy the tea and this one was less sweet than the others.
Sirop de Liege with Speculoos: Classic Belgian Sirop de Liege, a pear and apple syrup, and a Speculoos cookie mousse wrapped in pure Belgian dark chocolate. This is a beautiful piece and an interesting combination. It is by far the most innovative and successful in the assortment. The speculoos is soft and creamy with a hint of gingerbread spices. The syrup is more like a fruit jelly, tart and smooth and bright, it’s really a great pairing with the dark chocolate and cookie butter. They should make this in a bar format.
Japanese Dark Sugar Ganache: Dark chocolate layered with Kuromitsu molasses and Valencia almond praliné mixed with diced hazelnuts and Guerande sea salt. Since I started Candy Blog, I’ve been obsessed with Japanese black sugar, so this was the piece was thinking would be a home run. It’s nice, don’t get me wrong, but lacks any sort of black sugar note at all. The almond and hazelnut notes are great and the touch of sea salt does really balance the piece which gets a bit sweet, but the molasses is just so slight, I missed it. And I had three of these ... the two that came in the box and I bought one on the spot and ate it at the mall.
Brazilian Coffee Nut Praliné: Brazilian coffee and Costa Rican chocolate blended with hazelnut praliné enrobed in white chocolate and decorated with crispy chocolate confetti. As you would expect, this one was sweet with the white chocolate coating. The coffee notes a fresh and bright and the hazelnut flavors really mixed well. The little crisps on top gave it the texture it needed as a finish. Dark chocolate enrobing would have made me a bit more satisfied.
Honey Roasted Caramel: Caramel infused with hints of honey, almonds, brown sugar and condensed milk covered in milk chocolate and crunchy almonds. This sounds rather pedestrian and it really is, but that’s no reason not to appreciate it. It was chewy, but not too sticky. The honey and darker toffee notes were good and the milk chocolate brought it together well with some other dairy notes. The almonds were kind of lost, but at least fresh and crunchy.
Overall ... well, it was too sweet and not intense enough. I liked the attempts and part of the fun was just imagining what the combinations would be like. But I think I’ll stick with my local chocolatiers like Compartes or Valerie if I want to get into that price range, or just stop at See’s and be happy with their caramels.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Pecan Pie is actually just candy in a flaky pastry dough, as far as I’m concerned. The pecan pie filling is a cross between a custard and a fudge, a mix of fats and sugar ... all topped with caramelized pecans. Most pecan pie lacks enough pecans as far as I’m concerned, and I usually want mine in the filling, not just on top.
Even though this traveled about a thousand miles, it did well. The graham cracker base was just a little rounded off and about half of the pecans fell off the top. (But were very easy to just pour into my mouth from the package.) This version of pecan pie has milk chocolate ... which isn’t a bad thing, I often enjoy a chocolate pecan pie, or at least a pecan pie with a hot fudge sauce on it.
Like many pecan pies, the center here has no pecans in it, it’s just a penuche-type fudge center with excellent butter and brown sugar notes. The milk chocolate is actually less sweet than the center, which is nice, and the graham cracker moderates it all even more. The pecans are not integrated into this at all, which is disappointing, because they shouldn’t be the afterthought, they should be the center.
Still, as a confection, it’s quite nice, very sweet but a lot of textural interest. As a candy version of pecan pie, it fails. Don’t worry, I’m willing to eat Russell Stover’s mistakes.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
I’ve reviewed a couple of the new Ghirardelli panned chocolate items, but up until now they’ve been pretty standard items. I was intrigued enough with the description of the new Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Spiced Almond to pick them up.
The perfect snack to satisfy your craving for crunchy nuts and smooth chocolate ... with a little spice.
I liked the package. It’s very easy to understand, the images on the front and back are appealing, clear and not too fussy. But mostly I appreciated that the nutrition label and ingredients are easy to read. The ingredients list the allergens in bold, as well as noting them at the end of the list and it was all in a typeface that was large enough for me to read without glasses.
The ingredients are pretty clean with no artificial flavors or colors. They even helpfully list out what the spices are: cinnamon, allspice and cayenne. Instead of just mixing the spices into the chocolate to create something slightly gritty, Ghirirdelli instead made a spiced toffee glaze for the almonds before panning them in chocolate.
These remind me of the Lindt Holiday Almonds that come out seasonally, but are also coated with powdered sugar.
The almonds are big and glossy. They don’t smell of spice, just a light sweet dairy note. They have a great crunch if you bite them. The glaze is crispy and the almond are tougher and have a substantial crunch. The chocolate is soft and combines readily with the elements. It’s all a bit sweet, even with the neutral almonds to balance it out. The glaze has a generous touch of the spices, with quite a bit of cayenne that builds up slowly until there’s a light burn after about five or six.
I didn’t care for the how sweet they were, maybe I just wanted a smidge of salt in them or a darker milk chocolate. But they are less sweet than the Lindt sister confection, so I’ll take that as progress. I have to say that if this trend of mixing the textures of a glazed nut with chocolate takes off, there are a lot of variations that could be quite delectable. The best that I’d tried to date would be the Sconza 70% Toffee Almonds.
Ghirardelli is owned by Lindt & Sprungli. They don’t have a lot on their website about the sourcing of their cacao except for a statement that they’re in compliance with the California transparency act and then point you to the Lindt policies. Now that Lindt owns Russell Stover, they’re the third largest chocolate company in the United States, and will probably have a lot more clout when it comes to insisting on transparency and certification within their supply chain for all ingredients.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.