Saturday, November 18, 2006
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.
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.
Cinnamon & 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.
Cranberry - 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.
Dreamy 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.
Egg 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.
Pecan 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.
Pumpkin 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
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.
Friday, November 17, 2006
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.
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.)
Saturday, November 11, 2006
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.
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:
- 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.
Marquise 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.
Knipschildt 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.
Michel 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.
Corne 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.)
Charles 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!)
Cary’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.
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.
Christopher 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.
Christopher 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.
Christopher 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.
Valentino 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.
Marquise 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.
Amadei 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.
Maglio 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.
Michel 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.
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
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!
Ricemilk 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.
Ricemilk 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.
Ricemilk 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.
Sunday, November 5, 2006
Recently my husband went to Chicago and called me from the Vosge homeworld asking what I’d like to have. I was really hoping for a Cardamom truffle (they call them Ellateria) but it turns out that flavor is part of a seasonal set and not made at the moment.
The new seasonal assortment is sold under the banner of Collection of Zion and features lots of freaky ingredients and flavors. I kind of enjoy such things, so I was curious to see what my mouth thought of these intellectually stimulating combinations of flavors.
Instead he brought home some other delightful chocolate spheres. Here are a few I tried:
Selassie (shown there in the center) - allspice + pumpkin = a mellow spice and soft chocolate ganache center gave it a custardy feel. The cloveness wasn’t really to my liking, but pleasant.
Ital - Blue Mountain coffee + fresh coconut = acidic, dark and bitter but wonderfully complex and nutty.
Zion - Red Stripe Beer + cocoa nibs = bitter and a little on the yeasty side with a dark complex and acidic crunch.
Budapest - Hungarian paprika + chocolate = mellow with a subtle spicy note that brings out some of the woodsy flavors of the chocolate.
Wink of the Rabbit - soft caramel + New Mexican pecan = milk chocolate is a nice change but a little sweet here, the pecan gives it a maple/woodsy flavor. The caramel is thick and a bit custardy.
It was a nice evening with my box of chocolates. They were all gone, lickety split. Never fear, I just got back from San Francisco and have lots of other exciting haut chocolates to talk about.
Thursday, November 2, 2006
Botticelli is an upscale chocolate brand in Canada that makes nice bars at reasonable prices. I’ve never seen them in stores, but last year my husband brought me one that he got a London Drugs, so they’re pretty easy to find.
Sam, whom I met at All Candy Expo earlier this summer sent me some excellent bars to try in their Signature line. I want to post about all of them, but I have to finish tasting them all. I had to post about this one first because he sent me TWO bars and both are gone now. The listing of quality ingredients on the label alone made my mouth water.
The Cashew Butter Truffle is a milk chocolate bar with a filling of cashew butter. It’s not quite truffle-like in my estimation, more on the nut butter end of things, but that suits me just fine. The smooth and nutty butter has a good salty hit (though it says there’s no added salt) and a true-to-life flavor of cashews that just sends me over the moon.
My only disappointment about the bar was there were some “unfilled” squares on one end of the bar that were just chocolate. I like chocolate and all, but I really wanted more of that cashwey goodness.
Cashews are so rare in consumer branded chocolates it’s so refreshing to not only find a bar, but find it to be good. If you’re a nut fan, this might be the bar for you. If you’ve seen them in stores in Canada, do let me know where they’ve turned up.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
There were people who wanted me to do this. There were readers commenting that I should be covering Halloween goodies. So here goes. I went to the drug stores over the weekend and found all the pumpkins, most of them marshmallowy.
I did a roundup earlier this year of Easter eggs from Russell Stover and I was pleasantly suprised by the taste and quality of them, so it wasn’t hard to purchase these (though they were only on sale for 50 cents each).
This one really appealed to me because it reminded me of one of my favorite candies ever, the See’s Scotchmallow (always best in the dark chocolate single pieces, not the milk chocolate “bar” thing). The pumpkin shape out of the package is actually pretty good. It has some shape and definition, which I enjoyed quite a bit.
It smelled sweet and not a bit like chocolate. The caramel is soft and flowing and the marshmallow firm and bouncy but very moist. The combination of all the textures is nice, but the caramel doesn’t quite have that toasted sugar taste and it’s not quite salty enough to balance out all the other sweetness.
I have to say, after staring at the packaging for Russell Stover for the past couple of days, I’ve decided I don’t really like it. It has a sort of faux Peanuts feel to it that I find a little sad. Maybe it’s that the colors are too much like Easter and I feel like Charlie Brown and this might be the equivalent of getting a rock in my Trick or Treat bag.
This was certainly the best looking pumpkin of the whole bunch. It was thick and had a well-defined and easily recognizable shape. The bite was nice, with the soft and fluffy marshmallow center, but it lacked a vanilla punch. It just lacked flavor. The chocolate couldn’t carry it, because it didn’t have much flavor of its own, though it’s not like it was bad, just sweet and without any sort of dairy component to even give it a little kick.
I love the purple package. I really do, but it kind of confused me. Hershey’s is positioning purple as their color for dark chocolate (they use it on the Dark Kisses and those dark jewel tones on the Special Dark packaging). But no, this is milk chocolate.
I figured if I was disappointed with the lack of flavor in the Russell Stover marshmallows, Hershey’s would pick up the slack. After all, Hershey’s is known for their distinctive milk chocolate. This one was packaged nicely, a much bigger package than the Russell Stover even though it was slightly lighter. The marshmallow is nice and lofty and has a more firm latexy quality to it. Dryer and with a distinctive fake vanilla flavor, the marshmallow certainly had some personality. The chocolate on here was not really up to the challenge though. Too grainy, too sweet and just not creamy enough for me. I kinda scraped it off with my teeth so I could have more uninterrupted marshmallow. (This pumpkin was made in Canada.)
Everyone’s well aware of my love of Reese’s but this has to be the ugly duckling of the pumpkin bunch. It barely even looks like a pumpkin, it was difficult to extract from the wrapper and has a plain old greasy appearance and feel.
Now, all that aside, it’s a Reese’s Egg ... and I love Reese’s Eggs. They’re different from Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the ratios are different and though they tried to recapture this difference with the Reese’s Limited Edition Bars earlier this year, I think these unattractive lumps offer something compelling enough to warrant making them seasonally. The center is firm and a little crumbly, a mix of salty, grainy and sweet with a thin and sticky milk chocolate coating that adds a little more sweetness to the mix.
I’ve saved the best for last. Last spring I tried my first Snickers novelty item, it was a Snickers Easter Egg. I actually liked it quite a bit and found it different enough from a regular Snickers bar to put it in the same class as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg (ratios and all that). For some reason the Snickers Pumpkin might have a slight edge on the Egg. It might have been because I couldn’t easily re-wrap the pumpkin in its foil wrapper, I had to eat it right away. Well, it might not technically have been eaten ... it might have been gobbled.
There aren’t as many whole peanuts in the pumpkin, but there’s a definite nuttiness to it. The nougat seems moister and flavorful and the soft caramel is smooth and has a little toasted salty hit to it that helps out the whole thing. The chocolate is merely adequate, but smooth enough to support the whole (and of course give it the lovely pumpkin shell).
If you’d like more opinions on the other pumpkin shaped goodies, coincidence has it again that Rebecca has posted on the Hershey’s orange pumpkins and Joanna has both orange flavored ones that I couldn’t bring myself to purchase.
All of the pumpkins I listed were 50 cents each on sale. If you’re looking for stuff to throw into the Trick or Treat bags, stick with the tried and true candies, they’re less expensive (when on sale most fun sized bars can be 10 cents each). If you’re looking for a little treat for yourself, it’s not a bad gamble. Overall I’m giving them all a 4 out of 10. They’re benign ... they’re not the epitome of their genre, but they’re not embarrassments either.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Hershey is hopping into the upscale chocolate venue with their new Cacao Reserve line.
Much creamier and less grainy than regular Hershey’s chocolate. They’re not kidding about the premium hazelnuts, they are fresh and crunchy with a wonderful malty/nutty flavor. It’s sweet but dense and satisfying. A 1.3 ounce portion is rather puny considering my desire to eat more.
Extra Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs (65% cacao dark chocolate) - the description from the website says, “Deep, rich chocolate profile with cacao nibs ‘the heart of the cacao bean,’ for a lively textural crunch.”
The bar has a deep smoky scent with berries and cherries as added notes. A little bitter on the tongue at first, it has a nice melt (65% is a nice compromise) with some strong charcoal and woodsy elements dominating. The nibs have an excellent crunch without the fibery chew that they sometimes add. This may be the first “consumer” nibby bar, and it’s pretty good at that.
The ingredients are a little odd for a “reserve” dark chocolate bar: Semi-sweet chocolate (chocolate, sugar, cocoa, milk fat, cocoa butter, organic soy lecithin, vanilla beans), cacao nibs, milk. What’s with putting the dairy in there?
Overall, Hershey has created a high quality product. I prefer these to the Extra Dark line. The portion size is smaller than a normal candy bar, and of course the price is a little high, but the quality of the bar is evident. There other two bars in the introductory line are plain milk chocolate and dark chocolate, which I wasn’t as interested in as these two, so I was glad these were the two that the 7-11 had in stock. I would definitely pick both of these up again as a quick, upscale treat, especially for traveling or to put in a lunch.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.