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Thursday, December 7, 2006

Valerie Toffees & Nougats

Part of the fun of Candy Blog is going around town buying sweets because it’s, you know, for the blog. But even with my wide travels, there are still things in my very own city that I’ve never heard of. And shame on me for not seeking them out! I got an email from a blogging friend of mine who wanted to hook me up with a candy making friend of his. (Any candy making friends of yours are always welcome as friends of mine.)

imageThus I was introduced to Valerie Confections. I’ll skip right to the point. It’s freaktastically good.

I’ve been introduced to a lot of toffee and I wasn’t that keen on finding yet another toffee company, but they currently have a seasonal Holiday Nougat. The nougat is in the soft French style, with a mellow flavor, soft chew and intense orange flavor and then studded with crunchy almonds. It’s all covered in excellent bittersweet chocolate and dusted with some flakes of real gold.

The nougat is firm but very soft with small candied orange pieces that give a burst of zest to it all over again.

The pieces are large and generous (about 1.75” square) and drop dead gorgeous.

I was so excited at how beautiful and tasty they were that I invited over my neighbor who has been around the world and shared a piece with her, saying that it was “really, really, really good.” She instead corrected me saying that it was “really good, really good, no, really good.”

I shared half that box of Holiday Nougat, which is often the way I feel about great candy. Part of me wants to hoard it and gobble it up and part of me wants to give as many people as possible the same experience I’ve had. The latter usually wins out. The nougat experience, however, was also encouraging for the toffees that were still sitting in my studio.

image

Like the Holiday Nougat the toffees were just lovely. The packaging is amazing. The boxes are soft looking and the simple grossgrain ribbon give an air of sophistication that is seldom imparted to the pedestrian toffee.

The toffee assortment that engaged me most, of course, was the The Debut which was all bittersweet chocolate - Almond, Almond Fleur de Sel, Ginger, Mint, Orange and Classic Toffee.

Let me just say this about the the toffee itself. Imagine butter that’s been sweetened to the point that it’s crisp and caramelized. That’s this toffee. It cleaves in the front teeth in a way that almost crumbles, but without all those flecks that toffees sometimes leave.

The pieces are thin, unlike many rustic toffee planks out there. It’s incredibly buttery. Each of the toffee squares is a different flavor. They were all perfectly balanced with the Ginger as a special standout in my mind because of the way the earthy notes of the ginger blend so well with the burnt sugar flavors.


image

The Peanut Assortment was rather different from the toffee. It was crunchier and less obviously sweet. Half the pieces were milk and half dark, all were sprinkled with fleur de sal and topped with a single red-skinned peanut. The salt dominated here and brought out the very smoky and roasted notes of the peanuts. It was like a peanut brittle that was completely integrated (the nuts were crushed so it was more the flavor than texture). It’s little grainier than the regular toffee but very satisfying.

Valerie Confections also features a Milk Assortment which is more than just a milk chocolate version of the Debut, it features two flavors unique in this set: Hazelnut Toffee - plus Gianduja Rocher as well as the Almond, Almond Fleur de Sel, Mint and Classic. Nut fans may also be intrigued by the The Almond Assortment, Gianduja Rocher Assortment or Hazelnut Assortment.

High quality ingredients, attention to detail, freshness and spectacular presentation all mark these as premium candies. They’re expensive at $20.00 for a six piece box (96 grams) of Toffee and $50.00 for the insanely delicious Holiday Nougat. Great presents or hostess gifts. Also keep them in mind if you’re one of those people who are angling for a high-end wedding favor since they do custom orders and packaging. I can definitely see myself buying the Holiday Nougat again, but I think I’d only pick up the Toffee as a gift or for a special occassion ... unless I found a store that let me buy just one piece (then I’m in trouble).

Name: Assorted Toffee and Holiday Nougat
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Valerie Confections
Place Purchased: samples from Valerie Confections
Price: $20 & $50 a box
Size: 96 grams
Calories per ounce: unknown
Categories: Chocolate, Nougat, Nuts, Toffee, Peanuts, United States

POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:22 am     Comments (7)

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Charles Chocolates

imageOn my last San Francisco visit, after the night of the chocolate induced coma, I went to visit a chocolate factory. Unlike the Scharffen Berger factory that I saw last year around this time, I went to a place where they make more than just bars. Charles Chocolates in Emeryville makes heavenly concoctions under the direction of Chuck Seigel composed of fine chocolate, premium nuts (roasted on the premises), fresh fruits, teas and of course lots and lots of sugar & butter.

What sets Chuck apart from some other chocolatiers I’ve met is his lack of pretension (he admits not only to eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Snickers, but he likes them!) but also his conviction to make candies to his standards and no one else’s. By example, we were talking about the new craze for salted caramels. He makes his own (chocolate and plain - review below) but doesn’t bother with the little salt crystals on top because he thinks that the texture gets in the way of the pure caramel and salt experience. He also makes his own marzipan from scratch and infuses it with citrus. I watched as they made a batch of lemon marzipan, and if I ever said here that I didn’t like marzipan, it was because I hadn’t tried Chuck’s. It’s sweet, mellow, nutty and zesty without that bitter medicinal taste of amaretto that so many others have.

imageChuck is known for his nuts, which are roasted a little darker than others, he says to bring out more of their intrinsic flavors. I’m actually a big fan of raw nuts, so I was worried that these would be burnt and acrid tasting.

My problem with roasted nuts up until Charles Chocolates has obviously been quality control. His Triple Chocolate Almonds were divine. Instead of being just dark or milk chocolate, it’s both. There’s a rich milk chocolate layer and a dark chocolate layer (or maybe two, who knows, I couldn’t be bothered with dissecting them) and then they’re rolled in cocoa.


imageThe Triple Chocolate Hazelnuts were gone long before the Almonds. These darkly roasted nuts remained crunchy and sweet and still managed to assert themselves under the luxurious coatings of chocolate.

The little tin they come in is pretty fun too. They’re sealed in not only with a plastic wrap around the whole cylinder, but there’s also a little plastic cap inside the metal one. Air is the enemy of nuts, so Chuck has done his utmost to keep rancidity at bay. Not that I had them long enough. Of the haul that I left the factory with, this was gone within the first week ... and I only begrudgingly shared.

image

One of the other items sold in a tall clear tube are one of Charles Chocolates signature items, the Orange Twigs. It’s a milk chocolate ganache infused with orange and then dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in confectioner’s sugar. They look a bit like little twigs, I guess.

I wasn’t that keen on them. They were sweet and yes, the orange flavor came through, but I didn’t get a lot of chocolate to the whole thing.

imageIf you’re curious about the box shown above, yes, that’s made entirely of chocolate. The bottom is made from fine dark chocolate and the lid of white chocolate. Inside were two layers of salted caramels. The caramels are small and soft, then covered in a thin layer of dark chocolate and decorated with a lightly embossed design.

The soft chew of the caramels was definitely buttery and creamy, but also had a slight grain to it. The salt hit was mild and pleasant and set off the chocolate well. But I didn’t care that much for it. Though the flavor was there, something a little off to the texture. It was like the whole thing wasn’t properly emulsified.

imageThe chocolate caramel was interesting, but an intense buttery mouthfeel and a dark smoky taste to it. It also had less chew to it than the salted caramel and while I enjoyed the flavor, the texture just wasn’t for me.

The chocolate box itself was very good. I was afraid it was going to to suffer from being “functional first” but the chocolate was so good that over Thanksgiving the family busted up the box pretty quickly while there were still caramels inside. (Yes, I was sharing!) The white chocolate top wasn’t quite as notably tasty, I’m not sure why, but it tasted a little musty. White chocolate is tricky stuff, because the cocoa butter will absorb nearby scents and odors. I transported and stored the chocolate box in a cooler that also had some coffee infused bars, and I think there might have been some “contamination” there.

Other items that I tried and can heartily recommend are the Pate de Fruit (both fruit and wine flavors, so true to life), The Tea Collection (flavors that complement and rival the chocolate without overpowering it) and of course the boxed chocolates (many of which I sampled at CocoaBella - post #1 & post #2).

Charles Chocolates aren’t cheap at $54 per pound, but comparable with other high end chocolatiers. Some chocolatiers (like Recchiuti, another Bay Area chocolatier) are very focused on spices or fruits, Charles Chocolates seems to do a great job at raising mundane and common ingredients to gourmet levels, giving the ordinary like almonds luxury treatments.

You can order from their website, some of their products are carried at CocoaBella and at many local stores in the Bay Area and beyond.

Name: Triple Chocolate Nuts, Orange Sticks & Fleur de Sel Caramel
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Charles Chocolates
Place Purchased: samples from Chuck Siegel
Price: varies
Size: varies
Calories per ounce: unknown
Categories: Chocolate, Caramel, Nuts, United States, Bay Area

POSTED BY Cybele AT 3:08 pm     Comments (3)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Caffarel Chocolate Truffle Mushrooms

Early this year I fell in love with guanduia. A friend brought back some Caffarel Guanduia from Torino (a special version to commemorate the Winter Olympics). It was smooth, creamy, nutty and utterly addictive. And of course it’s also long gone.

So I jumped at a handful of samples of another Caffarel product, these are called Chocolate Truffle Mushrooms.

image

These cute little chocolates would be excellent, edible motivation in a game of checkers or chess. They’re taller than a Hershey’s Kiss, but weigh about the same (they’re narrow). The little foil wrap on them is cute and detailed. Each one has a little root and grass coming up around the sides and then the mushroom cap is a different color. The milk chocolate shell had a little Caffarel script logo emblazoned on it to match the one printed on the foil wrap. Inside there were two different varieties to go with the four different color combos.

Red Cap with White Speckles and Tan Cap - a light hazelnut cream filling with crunchies (like those bland wafer cookies) and crushed hazelnuts - very sweet, exceptionally smooth with a great caramelized sugar flavor throughout.

Black Cap and Brown Cap - light and sweet milk chocolate on the outside, rich smooth guandujia on the inside. This one was the closest in taste and texture to the Caffarel Gundujia hats from the Olympics early this year.

These puppies are freakishly expensive (as were those Torino ones), but the effect of getting them in a premium holiday basket or you Christmas stocking would be well ... exquisite.

Let me know if you find them anywhere else in smaller quantities, but if you’re looking to do a big buy for your Christmas needs, they’re sold in bulk pack weighing 1kg (2.2 lbs) for $59.50 (that works out to $27.05/lb).

Name: Chocolate Truffle Mushrooms
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Caffarel
Place Purchased: samples from CandyWarehouse.com
Price: $59.50
Size: 1 kg (2.2 lbs)
Calories per ounce: unknown
Categories: Chocolate, Nuts, Cookie, Italy, Caffarel

POSTED BY Cybele AT 5:16 pm     Comments (8)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I Miss: Bar None

There once was a fantastic chocolate bar that surpassed KitKat in crispiness, that exuded such a creamy sweet experience that Hershey promptly mucked around with the formula and then discontinued the bar.

I’m talking about the Bar None.

It was a cocoa wafer, chocolate filling, peanuts and a milk chocolate coating and was introduced nationally in 1987. It was a wide bar, about the size of the current Whatchamacallit bar. The series of light chocolate wafers were filled with chocolate cream, covered with a light coating of crushed peanuts and then a coating of darker than normal milk chocolate.

I was irritated at the time that Hershey had just mucked up the Whatchamacallit bar by adding lame caramel to it. I’m faithful to bars that are faithful to me.

With Bar None I was immediately smitten.  I would buy them at the convenience store just over the bridge from campus where I was going to college. I would buy them in vending machines, I would buy them in the six pack at the grocery store. I would buy them whenever I could. If there was a reason that they didn’t succeed, it couldn’t be attributed to my lack of evangelical devotion.

Later in 1993 Hershey’s reformulated the bar and added caramel but also divided them into two bars (kind of like the Reese’s Sticks). While they were tasty, they weren’t the same and I lost interest in them entirely.

I wasn’t alone and at some point they stopped making them in the United States. The retooled version is still made in Mexico.

image

I’ve heard that they’re okay, and I’m actually curious to try the Mexican version, because maybe I was wrong about the new Bar None. But I’m not curious enough to take that drive south of the border in search of it.

Instead, sometime in the late eighties I also discovered the Le Chocolatier cookies made by Pim’s.

image

These are flavorless wafers with a chocolate cream and covered in real chocolate. What’s even better is they’re sold in boxes so while they weren’t wide and ample bars, there was an ample supply of them. If you were a fan of Bar None and have pined for it all these years, try the Le Chocolatier. Or take a trip to Mexico and let me know how those are.

UPDATE 2/6/2009: Look what I found! This is exactly what I remember, it’s a magazine ad from 1988 or 1989. Also, check in here with this photos set I have of a fan newsletter I used to get called Chocolatetown USA! from 1990 that profiles that launch of the Bar None.

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UPDATE 2/18/2009: I think I found a pretty good replacement for the Bar None. It’s called the Q.Bel Crispy Wafer Bars. They come in Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate & Milk Chocolate with Peanut Butter and have no artificial ingredients or hydrogenated oils. I love the dark chocolate version. They’re currently being sold at Whole Foods. Though they don’t have the crunchy peanuts in them, they do have some crisped rice in the chocolate enrobing!

Bar None (Revived by Iconic Candy)

UPDATE 6/12/2013: The Bar None has returned, made by Iconic Candy Company, it’s a pretty good replica of the original. You can read the full review here.

Related Candies

  1. Q.Bel Crispy Wafer Bars
  2. ReeseSticks (Revisit)
  3. Hershey’s Miniatures
  4. Nestle Crunch Crisp
  5. Elvis Reese’s Peanut Butter and Banana Cup
  6. I Miss: Marathon

POSTED BY Cybele AT 8:12 pm     CandyI MissHershey'sCaramelChocolateDiscontinuedNuts10-SuperbMexicoUnited StatesComments (174)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Ethel Holiday Assortment

Lest you think that my upscale chocolate heart is only in San Francisco, I was recently sent a box of ethel’s chocolate from Chicago by, you know, some of ethel’s peeps.

image

They sent along the new Holiday Collection, just in time for a Thanksgiving review. The sassy half pound + box includes four each of six flavors, all with a holiday sugar and spice theme.

imageCinnamon & Sugar -A dark chocolate shell with a cinnamon and sugar spiced butter cream. Though all the chocolates look a little “manufactured” to me because they were so crisp and regular, the tastes were definitely authentic with all natural ingredients as far as I could tell. The dark shell was silky smooth and mellow. It had a slight bitter bite with offset the supersweet but superbuttery center well.

imageCranberry - a milk chocolate shell with a cranberry buttercream center. I was surprised at how “cranberry” the center of this one looked when I bit into it. The buttercream has an immediate and sharp berry bite, but the heavily dairy milk chocolate balances is pretty well. Though the flavors feel realistic, milk chocolate doesn’t feel like a good match for cranberry, maybe it’s because the dairy flavors and the tartness of the cranberry make me think of spoiled milk.

imageDreamy White - I don’t know what this one is, I couldn’t quite figure it out from the brochure that came with it. As far as I can tell it’s white chocolate with a milk chocolate center. The center wasn’t up to the sweetness of the shell and felt a little greasy and flavorless.

imageEgg Nog - dark chocolate with a egg nog flavored white chocolate ganache. I’ve always been a sucker for egg nog, it’s like drinkable spiced butterscotch pudding. It’s usually too sweet as a drink and I used to cut it with milk (or sometimes half and half) but I love the nutmeg on top. The dark chocolate shell here combines wonderfully with the rum and spice of the center.

imagePecan Pie - a milk chocolate shell with a pecan and spice filling. This one worked surprisingly well. I was afraid with a milk chocolate outside it would be too sweet, but it’s not. The filling isn’t as sticky sweet as a real pecan pie is, this instead has a great pecan taste to it, with that nutty feel on the tongue and woodsy hit.

imagePumpkin Pie - white chocolate with a spiced pumpkin buttercream. As with the other pie chocolate this was surprisingly good. The buttercream wasn’t just those pumpkin spices (nutmeg, clove, cinnamon) but it also had that real pumpkin taste to it (pumkin is on the ingredient label) that gave it more of a custardy feel than a ganache.

Of the whole set it was just the Dreamy White that bugged me, the rest I ate without complaint with the first to be devoured Egg Nog, Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Pie.

ethel’s chocolate is part of the Ethel M company, which in turn is the upscale boxed chocolates company founded by Mars. The new line of shops and chocolate lounges are less fussy and perhaps more fun than the Ethel M company. Their aesthetic is spare but with a great deal of attention to detail and attempt at brand unification. The selection in this box bodes well for my actual visit to one of their Lounges (right now just in the Greater Chicago area and Las Vegas). Their other selections include traditional spherical Truffles, a set called American Pop which appears to take comfort candy to a new level, Cocktail which feature mixed drinks and wine, Fruit which contains chocolate and fruit combinations and Nuts and Caramel which appears to eschew walnuts, much to my pleasure.

If I can make an observation, it seems that many of the new chocolatiers are chefs of one sort of another. Instead of coming out of a candy manufacturing tradition or perhaps baking, I feel like there are more chefs out there dipping their toes into the chocolate pools. I don’t know if this was always so, or if it’s just the publicity machines make more of the culinary curriculum vitae of the creators. ethel’s chocolate creative voice is Jin Caldwell.

The price of ethel’s chocolates is kind of up there, at $27.00 for the assorted box of 24 pieces (8.5

lbs

ounces). More than See’s, less than CocoaBella or Vosges. I was pleased enough with this box to want to give the Nuts and Chews a go next time the opportunity presents itself. I also desperately want a chocolate lounge in my neighborhood.

Name: ethel's Holiday Collection
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: ethel's chocolate
Place Purchased: samples from ethel's
Price: $27.00
Size: 8.5 ounces
Calories per ounce: 143
Categories: Chocolate, United States, White Chocolate

POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:17 pm     Comments (12)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Reese’s Big Cup with Mixed Nuts

Oh, the Limited Editions ... I’ve been searching for the fabled Elvis Peanut Butter Cups (with banana creme). When I didn’t see those I picked up this new LTD offering called Reese’s Big Cup with Mixed Nuts.

image

My luck was that it contained lots of nuts and none of them were walnuts. The tall peanut butter cup contains peanuts, pecans, almonds and cashews.

It was just like the Big Cup with Nuts, which isn’t bad on its own. This one was actually improved by the variation in the nuts. I don’t think I ever got a cashew in there, but I did have a few almond and pecan bits. The pecans went especially well as they add their own sort of maple/woodsy essence to the toasted peanut butter taste.

The whole thing was a little greasy, the little fluted paper cup was oily as I removed it for consuming. I suppose I should be glad that the fats were in the cup and not my tummy. It could simply have been that the hot light I use for taking the photo made it a little melty (but I don’t really think that).

The big cup products are also a little smaller than buying the double cup pack and even three grams smaller than the regular Big Cup. There’s nothing wrong with that, I guess. They’re throwing in more expensive ingredients (premium nuts) ... even Snickers Almond has resorted to padding their product with peanuts instead of just adjusting the portion.

(Yes, I’m aware that three out of five of the reviews were of Hershey products this week, I don’t know what came over me.)

Name: Reese's Big Cup with Mixed Nuts
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Hershey's
Place Purchased: 7-11 (Hollywood)
Price: $.89
Size: 1.3 ounces
Calories per ounce: 154
Categories: Chocolate, Peanuts, Nuts, United States, Hershey's, Kosher, Limited Edition

POSTED BY Cybele AT 8:30 am     Comments (4)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

CocoaBella “World’s Best Box”

Yesterday I told you about the Night of a Thousand Chocolates. Today it’s all about the “World Geatest Box of Chocolates” and the Artisan Picks of 2006 from CocoBella.

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The box is interesting. It has a heavy focus on nuts with half of the offerings featuring nuts in them (hazelnuts as the top favorite).  Here’s the lowdown:

DSC05028r - Marquise de Sevigne Praline Noisette - France (Hazelnut paste enrobed in Chocolate) - mellow with a sweet and smooth paste center with a healthy dose of hazelnut but really not a sugary sweetness (or so it seemed).  It balanced really well with the thin coat of rich chocolate. The nicely toasted nut on top gives this candy my pick as the candy I would most like to wear as a hat.

DSC05038rMarquise de Sivigne Orange Amer - Belgium (Orange ganache in Dark Chocolate) - This one was fascinating. It tasted like orange juice - more like a whole orange than a caramel or ganache. It was kind of like the custardy filling of a lemon meringue pie (only orange) because of the tart bite to it. The mellow dark chocolate with its bitter bite pulled it all together.

DSC05025rKnipschildt Chocolatier Hannah - US (Liquid Caramel with Pink Hawaiian Sea Salt) - this one doesn’t look like much. I’d never had a Knipschlidt chocolate before, so I thought this would be interesting. It truly was. Lately I’ve been eating a lot of salted caramels and this one was interesting. The center was a soft, custardy caramel with a good rounded sugar flavor, maybe with a hint of molasses. The salt was not too much and did actually have a little mineral hint to it.

DSC05036rMichel Cluizel Vesuve - France (Madagascar Dark Chocolate Ganache) - A simple single origin dark chocolate truffle. It was soft and had a good mix of bitterness, acidity, dry finish with smoke and woodsy notes. I realized that my less than stellar experience with the Cluizel nibby bar last year should not dissuade me from trying more of their truffles.

DSC05019rCorne Port Royal Rocher Noir - Belgium (Hazelnut Praline in Dark Chocolate)  - another hazelnut chocolate, this one was more like a hazelnut halvah. It had an interesting crystallized texture. The nutty flavors combined really well with the shards of sugar, though I would have preferred a little more toasty caramel flavor to it. The chocolate was nice and mild and set off the sweetness really well. It was a good chocolate, but I don’t know if it’s among the best hazelnut chocolates I’ve ever had. (And I’m the girl who likes Perugina Baci.)

DSC05022rCharles Chocolates Almond Cluster - US (Lightly Salted Roasted Almonds in Milk Chocolate) - it’s not the most elegant looking piece of chocolate, in fact, there’s very little chocolate here at all. Everyone keeps going on about how nicely Chuck Siegel roasts his nuts, and though I agree, the milk chocolate just isn’t doing anything for me here. Too sweet. (Have no fear, I’ll say nice things about Chuck’s nuts in a few days when I get to that review!)

DSC05003rCary’s Toffee - US (English Toffee topped with Almonds) - I was surprised to see toffee there. I was also pleased. This generous bar has a wonderful caramelized scent with an immediate hit of butter. The toffee itself had a wonderful gentle cleave, breaking into shards when bitten. The dark chocolate really helped to bring out the darker smoke notes of the sugars. The extra nuts on top could stay or go as far as I was concerned, in fact, they kept falling off.

DSC04999rMaglio Tartuffini - Italy (Caramelize Dark Chocolate Almonds) - chocolate covered almonds rolled in cocoa. Simple. The nuts were more like the buttery

Carmona

Marcona ones I’ve had at tapas bars, and the different flavor of them and density of oils really set off the slightly salty zing of the cocoa outside.

DSC05009rChristopher Elbow Strawberry Balsamic - US (Strawberry Puree with Caramel and Balsamic Vinegar) - a lovely looking candy with an inventive design that really screams balsamic vinegar. But here goes ... I’m not fond of vinegar and chocolate. I’ve tried a few in the past year and maybe there’s one out there that will make me happy, but this one isn’t it. The center was a little too tart for me and the white chocolate a little too sweet. I think I would have preferred everyone compromising a bit in the middle. Perhaps a milk chocolate and a caramel with more butter to balance the acids.

DSC05015rChristopher Elbow Aztec Spice - US (5 Spice Blend with Ancho and Pasillo Chilis) - this one was lovely, one that I’ve actually had several of now. The spice is mellow and robust at the same time. I could make out the caramelized flavors of the roasted chilis and the cinnamon and allspice gave it a good woodsy boost.

DSC05006rChristopher Elbow Rosemary Caramel - US (Caramel infused with Rosemary) -  The caramel in here is the slow flowing kind with a slight grain to it and a strong infusion of rosemary. However, the white chocolate added no vanilla balance but a pure sweetness that just drowned out the balsam qualities. This chocolate with its eighties style gemtone brushstrokes of color gets my pick as the one that I would least like to wear as a hat.

DSC04993rValentino Framboize - Belgium (Whole Raspberry with Raspberry Buttercream) - I was really looking forward to this one. I have to say that it didn’t look very appealing to me, but the thought of a whole raspberry made me look past its bulging belly like a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Aside from that, it was nice and floral with a really good raspberry flavor, but again too sweet for my tastes. I wanted more chocolate and less of the buttercream, I guess.

DSC04997rMarquise de Sevigne Creme Brulee - France (Caramelized Butter Ganache) - More like a praline than the custard I was expecting (like the Kee’s one I tried in NYC). Caramelized, a little grainy but rather light. Tastes a bit like coconut but not in a bad way. It kind of grew on my after I got past my expectations. It was more like the sugar crust of a creme brulee than the custard itself.

DSC04982rAmadei Supremo - Italy (Milk Chocolate Espresso Ganache) - simple and divine. I’d leave it at that, but the way I’ve laid out this page I kind of have to go on about each one the same amount. It’s not the prettiest one of the bunch, being from a rather common stock mold, but the milk and mellow ganache go well.

DSC04988rMaglio Stuffed Fig - Italy (Almond and Lemon with Fig) - when Michael Freeman was presenting the box and he got to this one I was just itching to bolt across the room to wolf one down. Billed as a dried fig stuffed with candied lemon and almonds, I was pretty much sold. Upon trying it was I in love with the figs and chocolate (as I’d already been downing the Trader Joe’s ones in my motel room earlier in the day) but didn’t get the lemon and almond notes I was promised. Don’t worry, I didn’t demand my money back. The dark chocolate was absolutely wonderful. I am surprised that I actually shared this with the neighbors (it’s pretty big and easy to cut into pieces) but I felt bad because someone pointed out that Amy spits out a lot of stuff I give her.

DSC04979rMichel Cluizel Champignon Caramel - France (Caramel Mushroom with Almond Praline Cap) - Were you wondering if I was saving the best for last? There actually aren’t in any particular order (I think the order I took the photos in). I didn’t know what it was, I think my mind was still on the fig thing when it was mentioned in the presentation. It looks like a mushroom. The stem is a wonderful firm caramel covered in mellow white chocolate. The cap is a little half-sphere cup of almond praline (like the florentine cookies) filled with a truffle ganache and then coated in chocolate. Genius. Cute and absoutely an incredible combination.

There was another walnut item in the box which I didn’t try.

On the whole, the box isn’t my favorite. However, after sampling the wares at CocoaBella, I know that Michael Freeman has good taste. I find boxed chocolates frustrating on the whole, because there’s usually such an assortment, as in this one, once you hit on a favorite you’ve eaten it and have to move on. The good thing is that it’s a great cross section of a lot of different chocolatiers that I probably never would have recognized before that are now on my “seek out” list.

So, my tip is, if you have the money, dive in and take a chance. If you don’t and you still want to explore, try the CocoaBella “Build a Box” feature on their website (or go into the store). The pre-selected boxes don’t actually tell you what’s in there but do have some good indicators (Dark Chocolate, Exotics, Milk Chocolate, Truffles and Wine Pairings). I think if I had to pick a box out for myself, I’d try either the exotics or the truffles.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 8:05 pm     Bay AreaCandyChocolatierReviewCharles ChocolatesMichel CluizelCaramelChocolateNutsWhite Chocolate8-TastyBelgiumFranceItalyUnited StatesComments (8)

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Rice Milk Chocolate Bars

It seems kind of weird to want to find milk chocolate without milk in it, but I know that there are some folks that are dairy free and are looking for that creamy consistency of a milk chocolate without the milk in it. If you’re a vegan it’s not like you can’t have chocolate, after all, the cacao bean is just another seed. But in this day and age, you’d be amazed at how often dairy products are put into even what should be plain old dark chocolate.

Enter Terra Nostra which offers a non-dairy line made with Rice Milk which is also organic to boot!

imageRicemilk Choco - 57% cacao solids. The plain Ricemilk Choco has a pleasant sweet smell with a light chocolate aroma. The look of the bar is also pretty becoming, light and glossy with a good snap. On the tongue it has a good buttery melt, but it’s extremely sweet. There’s also a nutty taste to it, and upon looking at the ingredients I understand why, there are ground hazelnuts in there! It’s kind of like a super-mild guandujia.

The thick sweetness wasn’t quite to my liking, but I had high hopes for the rest of the line.

imageRicemilk Choco with Almonds - 57% cacao solids. The almonds make a huge difference in the flavor of this bar for me. The mellow nuts balance out the sweetness. There’s a more noticeable hit of salt in this bar too, even though I know it’s the same chocolate, the sweetness of the almonds gives it a great balance.

The almonds are just slivers and pieces, not full nuts, but I kind of prefer mine that way. They were rather light in color, not a toasty brown, so they added more texture than flavor.

imageRicemilk Choco Dark Truffle Center - 56% cacao solids. This bar has a ricemilk chocolate outside and a dark truffle inside. The truffle center is rather solid, though slightly softer than the chocolate itself. The light bar here is sweet and the filling is a little less so, but still very buttery. Most truffles are made with the addition of dairy fats (cream or butter) to chocolate to create that hyperfatty tongue-feel. Instead this truffle uses unknown vegetable fats, which I don’t usually care for, since they have a different melting point than dairy fats and of course cocoa butter (yes, cocoa butter is a vegetable fat, but it’s a very special vegetable fat).

Of the three bars, my first favorite was the Almond one, second is the Truffle. I really didn’t like the plain one at all, it was just too sweet without any interesting texture or other notes to it.

Overall, I have to say that I’m impressed and pleased with this vegan line. I usually approach dietary substitutions with trepidation - I’m the type of person who would rather drink their coffee black than use non-dairy creamer. When it comes to choosing between a mock product or nothing at all, I usually go for nothing and wait until I get get a hold of the real thing. But Terra Nostra has done a good job here of bringing the creaminess to their already great organic dark chocolate that emulates the milk chocolate experience pretty well. I’m guess the fact that rice milk is already pretty sweet is what makes the plain bar a little over the top for me.

All the bars are certified organic an stamped with the Equi-Trade fair trade symbol.

Name: Ricemilk Choco - Plain, Almond & Dark Truffle
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Terra Nostra
Place Purchased: samples from Terra Nostra
Price: unknown
Size: 3.5 ounces
Calories per ounce: 163
Categories: Chocolate, Switzerland, Organic, Fair Trade

POSTED BY Cybele AT 10:08 am     Comments (5)

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Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.

 

 

 

 

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These candies will be reviewed shortly:

• Russell Stover Big Bite Marshmallow

• Candyology 101 - Podcast Episode 9 -  House Brands

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