Tuesday, February 20, 2007
I’ve been more pleased with Russell Stover over the years. It could be that my tastes have mellowed or it may be that Russell Stover is making better quality product, but they’re still not a go-to brand for me. What really surprised me is their move into organics. So I picked up their Organic Pecan Delights just before Valentine’s Day. They come in a peg bag that’s all green and matte looking with a little burst of rich gold for the “organic” banner. It’s also heralded as “gluten free” which I would love to hear if I were someone who was hunting in the candy aisle for something I could eat.
Pecan Delights are a pecan cluster with caramel covered in milk chocolate. All ingredients are organic, except maybe the sea salt and it’s unclear if the soy lecithin is.
These are upside down. The caramel is on the bottom, the nuts (in pieces, not halves) are on the top and the whole thing is covered in chocolate. Don’t worry, it’s not that big of a faux pax as candy constructions go.
They’re a little small but a nice barely two bite piece of candy. The nuts are fresh and the caramel is decent. It’s chewy and not too soft or sweet. The chocolate on the outside is a little odd, it’s not quite the European powdered milk taste, but close, with a slight gamey quality to it. (It reminds me of the Thompson’s Organic Milk Chocolate.)
Overall they’re not my favorite pecan caramel cluster I’ve had, but I did finish the bag (it was only 3 ounces total), which is a testament to their freshness. The ingredients label is much more comforting than some other Russell Stover goodies, so there is that consolation. I wish they came in dark chocolate, but for a first step into organics they’re no-compromise. They also have their rather good coconut bar available in their organic line (also only in milk chocolate). If price is the object and not the organic status, stick with See’s.
On a completely side note, Russell Stover is having a big clearance sale on their Valentine’s candies on their website. So if you’re ga-ga over their Coconut or Strawberry Hearts, this might be the time to stock up.
Everybody has a different name for caramel nut clusters covered with chocolate. Sanders Candy, the Detroit-based candy and fudge sauce company, calls theirs Cashew Titans. Pretty good name, if you ask me.
These are compact candies with a nice layer of cashews on the bottom, a dollop of caramel and milk chocolate enrobing the whole thing.
The cashews are fresh and crunchy, though I could use a hit of salt on them and perhaps a few more. The chocolate was okay, very sweet but nice and creamy. The caramel has a good chew, soft and not too sticky but lacking a dark caramelized flavor that would match so well with the buttery crunch of the cashews.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Sanders also sent me some of their Caramels to try as well (and some other goodies that I’ll cover in a few weeks). This box of milk chocolate covered caramels were absolutely lovely. Yes, the plastic tray that anchors them in the box isn’t as classy looking as pretty little fluted cups, but I have admit that they looked glossy and flawless when I opened it.
It’s only your imagination that these look darker than the Cashew Titans, I think it’s the dark chocolate striping that makes it look darker. It certainly tastes like the same chocolate.
The caramel is smooth and without the cashews does hold up well on its own. The chocolate is sweet and I find it just a little too much for the caramel, but some careful nibbling around the edges creates a more ideal ratio (I do this with a lot of candies, as far as I’m concerned the coating on a Heath bar is disposable).
I can’t eat many of these at once, so far two has been my limit. But with a few pretzels as a crunchy and salty complement make for a tasty dessert. The price on these, for handcrafted candies is pretty good though and I’d certainly want to try one of their dessert shops if I were in the area.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Friday, February 9, 2007
Dove Jewels are a mid-range Dove confection packaged for Valentines. Inside this little red reflective cube were individually mylar wrapped chocolates. There were six varieties (two of them just solid chocolate). The packaging is attractive and the description of the candies is compelling. I’m not a huge fan of Dove chocolate, but these looked like an interesting option compared to the heart-shaped boxes I already reviewed this week.
Raspberry Truffle (magenta wrapper) - an oval shaped piece in dark chocolate. The truffle center was soft, a bit salty. On top of that (or maybe on the bottom) was a bit of raspberry jam. It didn’t have much zazz, so I didn’t catch more much more that indicated this was raspberry than a few authentic seeds.
Caramel Espresso (gold wrapper) - an oval shaped piece in dark chocolate, this had two components, a flowing caramel on the top of the center and a firm truffle-like espresso chocolate on the bottom.
Chocolate Mousse Truffle (purple wrapper) - an oval shaped piece in milk chocolate. It’s the one pictured above bitten in half. It’s sweet and mellow, not terribly chocolatey. The center has a bit of a salty taste to it that keeps the sticky sweet milk chocolate under control. A little hint of coconut flavor in the center.
Cashew Almond Crunch (green wrapper) - a round jewel piece in milk chocolate. It has a rather firm center with lots of bits of cashews & almonds and some sort of crunchy, perhaps hard nougat, stuff. This was the winner in the package (well, it’d score even higher if it was in dark chocolate), however, by the second one I had a sore throat.
While the packaging was elegant for drug store fare from Mars and of course different from the cheesy and dated heart boxes, I still wasn’t blown away by the Dove chocolate itself. I find it a bit too sweet and waxy without much chocolate bang. I did appreciate that the flavor combinations were a bit more adventurous than the usual mint, coffee, blah.
As an after Valentine’s purchase, getting these for $2 or so is probably a great deal (better than an Elmer’s box) as far as quality goes but at pre-Holiday prices, for less than $10 you can get some really good See’s candies (in whatever assortment you think will please your honey) made with Guittard chocolate and fresh, mostly natural ingredients (I think some of their fruity items use artificial colors).
I know some folks are very fond of Dove but it just doesn’t have that zing for me at this price, this was the biggest ticket item I bought for my grand Valentine’s Week (granted, all those other high-end boxed chocolates were gifts) so it did have some high standards to meet.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
There are quite a few small confectioners based in LA and one that I’ve visited (and reviewed) before is Boule. They have great ice cream (I love the banana) and sorbets as well as caramels, nougats and of course chocolates. Of all the things I’ve had there, the one that blew me away was the Pate de Fruit in Calamansi flavor.
Imagine my delight when one of my fellow bloggers, Joz, handed off this awesome hatbox from Boule courtesy of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The box contained quite a few treats, including some cookies, a package of chocolate covered almonds rolled in cocoa, a box of the Pate de Fruit (which I opened and devoured the Calamansi before offering the other pieces around to my husband and neighors) and a wee little purse/box with some caramels. There were also two small boxes (6 pieces each) of Truffles.
The chocolates themselves look more like coat buttons than confections, with stripes and splashes of color and in some cases edible irridescent dustings.
While I find that attractive in a pair of earrings or beads, I don’t really find it that enticing as chocolate. No matter, they were still tasty.
As much as I admire the flavor combinations in theory, they just didn’t thrill me in practice. Some were kind of muddy and most of all they didn’t have a big chocolate boost to them - the chocolate shells were more of a delivery device for the novelty of the colors and exotic names.
I’ll continue to vist Boule for a special treat, but I’m probably going to stick to the pate and perhaps a little dish of ice cream every now and then. I have to, the retail value on this little hat box? $85.00. If you’re looking to dazzle someone for Valentine’s Day, the hatboxes are certainly splashy looking, but make sure that everything in the assortment would be appealing, otherwise it’s a waste of money. Ordering a la carte may be the way to go to assure that whatever you pick out there is exactly what you want. (If you live in the Los Angeles area they do offer local delivery with more ordering options, and I’m sure if you call them they can help you pick out a real custom fit.)
As a whole gift, this one gets a 6 out of 10.
Leonidas is a classic Belgian chocolatier with a Greek name. They make a huge variety of chocolates (their website says 100) and sell at 1,400 shops around the world (many in airports). Their website also has photos and descriptions of all of their chocolates. I wish I’d known that when I got this huge box, I had no clue what was inside here.
No matter, it’s all good!
The Pralines Leonidas assortment has a narrow focus on all things hazelnut with a good balance of dark, milk and white chocolate. There were pralin?s, pastes, truffles, croquants, gianduja and even a marzipan or two. It wasn’t all noisettes, there was also a cherry paste and what I believe is a chocolate covered cherry (that red foil one which is the only thing in the box right now). Some had a nice tickle of rum or coffee tipped into them. There were different textures for the hazelnuts - from a thick paste to a near solid chocolate assembly.
Leonidas runs on the sweet side, but the nut flavors are awesome. The chocolate is smooth and mellow, don’t expect anything strong or vibrant here, just some old fashioned hazelnut goodness. Oh, and the box is pretty cool. It’s a long faux leather box with two lids, the outermost lid locks the box tight with a magnetic strip but when you open it you can still gaze at the chocolate inside through the plastic window on the inner lid.
I haven’t visited a Leonidas store in person (which is odd because there’s one within walking distance of my office), but I imagine they can fix you right up for Valentine’s Day. Personally, now that I’ve tried a wide variety of their product line, I’m going to stick with the dark chocolate items and perhaps try more of the fruit jellies (I actually liked the cherry paste quite a bit and think they’ll do a good job on the others).
Monday, February 5, 2007
One of the more familiar candies that’s marketed for Valentine’s Day would be the Ferrero Rocher. They’re pretty candies all year round but during the season for lovers they’re placed in clear plastic heart-shaped domes of varying sizes.
I picked up a 3 pack because I was cheap and didn’t really want another heart-shaped box. It’s what’s inside that counts, right?
Ferrero is an Italian company that makes all sorts of hazelnut confections, some under the Ferrero name and others under the Kinder name. Their best known, perhaps, is Nutella, but they also make the Kinder Eggs, Tronky, Pocket Coffee, Kinder Bueno, Kinder Happy Hippos and Tic Tacs. The Ferrero Rocher wasn’t introduced until 1982 and didn’t make it to the US until 1985 but it has quickly filled a niche in the confectionery market as an upscale chocolate available at drug stores and grocers in more than 100 countries.
But what is a Ferrero Rocher? At its center is a whole hazelnut, surrounded by a chocolate hazelnut paste filling which is inside a light chocolate wafer sphere covered in more chocolate and crushed nuts.
These were nice and fresh and had a wonderful sweet chocolatey aroma mixed with the smell of hazelnuts. They’re a bit big, but can fit in your mouth as one bite, though I usually do it in two (to see if I get the whole hazenut in the first or the second). They’re very nutty which helps to keep them from being too sweet. They’re much better, as far as I’m concerned, than Tronky, Happy Hippos or Kinder Bueno. I think it’s that the hazelnuts are so strongly featured. The packaging is also quite smart and classic. If you see them on sale after Valentine’s, this is an excellent product to pick up.
Their caloric density is rather high (169 calories per ounce) so it’s a good indulgence for a special occasion or in moderation. There are no trans fats in them.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:01 am
Sunday, February 4, 2007
The companion product to the Ferrero Rocher is the Mon Cheri. For a long time I though these had something to do with cherries, so I avoided them. But it turns out that only the European versions are cherry ... the American ones are simply a milk chocolate shell over a whole hazelnut surrounded by hazelnut paste and crushed hazelnuts.
These little morsels are the same size and shape as Ferrero’s devious little Pocket Coffee (well, the little lines on the top of the chocolate are diagonal on the Pocket Coffee).
During Valentine’s Mon Cheri are sold in all sorts of different heart shaped boxes but still not as prevalent as the Ferrero Rocher. But come on, the name alone means it doesn’t need special packaging! I did see a few assortments at the drug store that included Mon Cheri, Raphaello (an almond paste with crushed almonds in a cookie sphere covered with coconut and white chocolate) and, of course, Rochers.
I’m not quite as keen on these as I am on the Rochers, probably because it’s milk chocolate. If anything, they’re a milk chocolate version of Perugina’s Baci.
However, create a heart shaped box with a mix of these, Pocket Coffee and Rochers ... now we’re talking!
Note: though these are very high in calories and fat (44% of your RDA of saturated fat in every serving!) they also have 9% of your RDA of calcium and 5% of your RDA of iron.
UPDATE 2/15/2011: For those of you who miss the discontinued Ferrero Mon Cheri in the United States.
In Europe there is a candy made by Ferrero called Kusschen that is basically the same thing. They’re available in both milk and dark chocolate versions. See my update on this here with the review of a selection of Ferrero dark chocolate items, including the cherry version of the Mon Cheri.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
My mother lives in a neighborhood where, without fail, every time I visit there’s a kid at the door at some point either trying to sell her something or delivering something she bought. This time it’s the One Dollar Bar. (Actually, I’d never seen these before, I’d only seen the World’s Finest Chocolate bars.)
The bars are sizeable - at 2.25 ounces it’s like a king size bar and at a buck, it’s a pretty good deal as consumer chocolate bars for a cause go. (I remember buying single boxes of M&Ms from the band kids when I was in high school, the boxes were probably a buck but had less than a similar king sized snack pack ... and that was, um, a few years ago.)
The Roasted Almond bar comes in a red wrapper and like all the One Dollar Bars, it’s certified peanut free. The little domed segments smelled nice and sweet with a bit of a milky boost. The chocolate is very sweet but creamy and has a good nutty note from the almonds. The almonds were fresh tasting and extra crunchy. One the whole, the milk chocolate was far too sweet for me to eat, even with the nuts cutting it. I think with some extra almonds on the side or maybe some salty pretzels I could make do with this bar.
The Mint Chocolate bar is milk chocolate with a flowing mint fondant filling. The bar was beautifully glossy, smelled sweet with a light hint of mint. Though the chocolate here was identically sweet to the Roasted Almond bar, the creamy consistency of the filling and mint hit seemed to moderate it well. I’m guessing part of the reason for that is the filling is a sugar and condensed milk concoction with some salt in it as well. (The Almond bar has 20 mg of sodium, the Mint bar has 140 mg!)
I’m not sure I’d ever buy these just because I wanted one, but if some kids were selling them in front of the grocery store (where I buy all my fundraiser candies ... the just don’t seem to go door to door in Los Angeles as much) I might pick up a couple since they’re decent quality. They come in a few other varieties as well - Crispy Rice, Creamy Caramel, Dark Chocolate & Tasty Truffle.
Van Wyck Confections, who makes the One Dollar Bar is based in Denver, CO, but the bars were made in Canada. I’m not quite sure who makes the chocolate for them.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.