Tuesday, September 5, 2006
I’ve avoided Cocoavia since it was introduced last year. There’s something disconcerting about selling candy as health food in my mind. I don’t disagree that things like chocolate can have beneficial elements in them, but the fat and calories and lack of other positive characteristics makes it seem like we’re kidding ourselves when we believe that chocolate is good for us.
But all things in moderation, eh?
I’ve only seen the bars at the store, so I wasn’t particularly interested in what appeared to be a Dove bar with a lot of health benefits. But then I found a product I hadn’t seen before, Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds. Inside this large but light box are five one ounce packets of dark chocolate covered almonds. I usually buy Trader Joe’s mix of dark & milk chocolate covered almonds, but these were in individual packets, which is a nice feature and a quick glance at the box showed that they were even fortified with extra vitamins and minerals.
Each packet has an ounce, which is about 13 chocolate covered almonds. The package is appealing, with luxurious dark colors and some sassy photos of the candy within. The chocolate is glossy and dark though it doesn’t really smell very compelling. It melts readily on the tongue and though the package says semisweet, it’s not sticky, sickly sweet at all and buttery smooth. It has a nice smoky and complex flavor without much acidity. There’s a little floral note to it that gave it a little lightness. The almonds are superb, crunchy and fresh and a decent size.
I was really surprised at how good these were. Though I still don’t subscribe to the whole “eat these for a healthy heart” thing, I will definitely finish the box. The packages provide a good degree of portion control and each bag is only 140 calories. It also offers 3 grams of fiber and protein, 20% of your calcium, 4% of your iron and 10% of your Vitamin E, Folic Acid, B6, Vitamin C and B12. The almonds contain essential fatty acids and of course the chocolate has cocoa flavanols that recent studies are showing can have a positive effect on cardiovascular disease risks. Even though there are all these things on the box and the marketing that are saying how healthy these are, I’d prefer to think that they’re at least not a detriment to your health when eaten in responsible quantities.
So, if you’re on a restricted diet and are looking for a little treat that won’t throw you off whack, I’m a huge believer in the nut and chocolate combo as a satisfying sweet. (Not nearly as bad for you as, say, a dish of ice cream.) The benefit over any old chocolate covered nuts is this proprietary Cocoapro (tm) process that’s supposed to pack more flavanols in there that can lower bad cholesterol levels. The price is, well, pricey (about $16 a pound) but try to find them on sale.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
I picked up a couple of little Choxie items at Target over the weekend while I was getting my new bike tuned up.
The first one was an impulse buy, the lines were very long and I was scouring all the checkout areas for limited edition items when my husband pointed out this bar. It doesn’t have a very sexy name: Choxie Peanut Butter Pretzel Bar, but the package was certainly cute and all the elements were compelling.
It’s like a combination of a peanut butter meltaway and a chocolate covered pretzel.
The bar is thick and has an ultrasmooth peanut butter filling. Mixed into that are pretzel bits and peanuts. The whole thing is cloaked in milk chocolate.
The pretzels and nuts are unevely mixed and the first two squares I ate didn’t have anything in them but peanut butter. The peanut butter filling is nice and as far as I can tell from reading the ingredients label it’s so freakin’ smooth and sweet because it’s blended with white chocolate.
The real distraction here are the pretzels. They’re stale. They’re not crispy, they don’t add a satisfying crunch. Color me disappointed.
I don’t have much to say about these Choxie Caramel Pecan Nesters. They’re basically milk chocolate turtles: pecans, caramel and chocolate. They came in a little box and there were only two of them, each individually wrapped.
I took the photo and I gobbled both of them up!
High praise, I’m usually the model of restraint. It’s not that they were so divinely delicious, but they smelled awesome, that sweet pecan smell and chocolate, I wish I could bottle it. Though the caramel wasn’t anything more than sweet and the chocolate was just ordinary, the pecans were fresh and tasty.
Even on clearance (are they discontinuing them?) they were $1.40 for this wee box that had only two in them (one ounce). If you’re looking to torture yourself with a very small portion, this might be the way to go. At the regular price of $2 a box, pass this up and go straight to See’s.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
There’s a favorite candy here in the United States, it’s called M&Ms ... or maybe they’re called M&Ms, I’m never quite sure about how to make implied plurals singular.
M&Ms are not unique, they have a similar candy product in the UK and other former parts of the crown called Smarties. And of course there are plenty of knock-offs, including Hersheyettes, Jots, Rocklets, Sun Drops and Garfield’s Chocobites. There are quite a few legends about how M&Ms and Smarties were invented, but suffice to say that they exist and that’s the important part.
Milk Chocolate M&Ms
You’re not crazy, they were once called Plain M&Ms, but in 2000 they shifted their name to Milk Chocolate M&Ms.
A little bit of trivia and history. The Ms in M&M stand for Forrest Mars and R. Bruce Murrie. Forrest Mars left his fathers candy company and partnered with Murrie to create the M&M. It took some help, which came from Murrie’s father, who ran the Hershey Chocolate company at the time. The technology behind the manufacture of M&Ms and even the chocolate itself came from Hershey’s factories. In the 60s Mars starting making their own chocolate and no longer needed to order it from Hershey.
Red M&Ms were discontinued in 1976 because of a scare with a food dye called Red Dye #2 (which was not used in M&Ms). At that time the colors in the M&M pack were: Green, Orange, Yellow, Light Brown & Dark Brown. The Red M&M returned in 1985, at first as part of the Holiday color mix then in the regular mix.
Overwhelmingly consistent in size, which is a credit to M&Ms production line choosing peanuts that are all the same size. The crunchy candy shell and slightly smoky tasting nuts combine well but overshadow the chocolate a smidge. But the chocolate provides a mellow sweetness and a creaminess during the final stages of chewing. I do get a bad peanut every once in a while, but usually not one every bag.
M&Ms were not a blazing success when they were launched, though they were well received. The trick for Mars was to figure out how to reach both their intended consumers (children) and the decision makers (parents). M&Ms were initially sold to the military during WWII, but Mars thought they were the perfect kids candy. Kids loved them, they just couldn’t convince their parents to buy them. It wasn’t until they hit upon their slogan, “melts in your mouth, not in your hands” that parents caught on that it was a less messy chocolate candy for kids. The rest is history.
Really, this is the perfect M&M, as far as I’m concerned. They almonds might not be top notch as they’re often small, but they’re fresh and crunchy and provide a good backdrop to the very sweet and slightly grainy chocolate.
Peanut Butter M&Ms
These are very nice and satisfying, but I find them a little greasy and smoky tasting.
One of the interesting bits of trivia about M&Ms Peanut Butter is that there was a large lawsuit between Hershey & Mars when they first came out. Hershey accused Mars of trying to make them look like Reese’s Pieces - the packaging was the same color, the format of the bag, the type was in brown, etc. Now you’ll notice that the color is slightly shifted away from the Reese’s Orange (tm) to a reddish color.
The look of these is terribly inconsistent, which strikes me as a little odd since you’d think they’d have more control over how big the crisp centers are than peanuts. The colors also weren’t quite the same, the green was a little light and the red was a little thin looking. I wasn’t able to find the American Crispy M&Ms, so I bought some Canadian ones. So the chocolate on these is slightly more milky tasting, which is an interesting, malty complement to the crispy center. A little sweet, a little bland.
Dovetailing with the earlier issue with Reese’s & Peanut Butter M&Ms, you’ll notice that the Crispy M&Ms are positioned to rival the Nestle Crunch Bar, which is really all they are, a little Crunch bar in a shell. The light blue and use of the Red M&M echoes the Nestle Crunch colors.
Dark Chocolate M&Ms
These have a smoky and darker flavor than the milk M&Ms, but also a little note of coconut. The ingredients also list skim milk, milkfat and lactose, so I’m not sure how they’re considered “dark chocolate.” They’re gorgeously shiny and consistent, so consider me tempted when they’re sitting in front of me. There’s currently an additional reward of 2 million Dark M&Ms being offered for the return of The Scream.
White Chocolate M&Ms “Pirate Pearls” (Limited Edition)
Yup, white chocolate in a candy shell. They’re nice enough, but just too sweet for me. They’re okay when you eat them in combination with other M&Ms (especially the Dark ones), but I’m not sure I’ll buy these again and I won’t protest if they don’t end up as a permanent item.
Other versions of M&Ms over the years: Dulce de Leche (2001), Mega (still around), Minis (still around), Spec-tacular Eggs (seasonal), Mint (seasonal) and of course many color promotions and movie tie ins. Then there are other M’azing things done with them that I’ve never gotten on board with.
There has never been an M&Ms gum ... but I’m not saying it won’t happen.
Have you had enough of M&Ms? If not, check out these scans of knock-offs, Brad Kent’s wrapper collection (you’ll have to search for M&Ms to find them all), how they’re made, some more history, Candy Critic’s M&M Destruction Project, a Century of Candy Bars (there are pictures of M&Ms wrappers through the years) and if you’re still obsessed, join the M&M Collectors Club (they collect the merchandise, not the actual candies).
The product line gets a 9 out of 10. I might not like every variety, but they’re a great product and really do make snacking fun.
Friday, August 18, 2006
My recent shopping spree at Mel & Rose’s has a little story attached to it. A commercial was recently shooting on our street and the production crew paid us $300 for the inconvenience of having other people park in our driveway and the fact that they were going to wake us up 90 minutes earlier than they told us. I vowed to spend $100 of that on import/upscale candies (I consider it an investment in Candy Blog!). So off to Mel & Rose’s while the crew was making a ruckus and fouling the air with their diesel generators.
I was very tempted to get the Nougat de Montelimar again, but they had quite a few other import varieties, so I thought since someone else was footing my experimentation bill, I’d branch out to other continents.
Massam’s Deluxe Nougat is about as far flung as I could find, made in South Africa. It’s a lovely chunk of nougat, about the size of half of a Snickers bar. The white inside wrapper on it is actually a potato starch paper that’s edible. The nougat itself is not quite hard and not quite soft. The almond distribution is a little uneven. I had two bars, the first one had a great balance of them, but the second one had a complete void of almonds on one half and then a nice amount in the other half.
The taste of the nougat is sweet and smooth and the starch of the potato wrapper gives it a rather cereal quality. It’s odd, as I get to the end of the chew it reminds me of Cheerios. The honey notes weren’t as rich as I’d hoped, but these bars are pretty good in their own right. I had a little trouble biting them, so for the second bar I started cutting it with a knife and it worked a bit better.
At a dollar twenty-five a piece for an imported nougat (they’re a little over an ounce each when I weighed them, but there’s nothing on the label) they’re pretty good. I might pick them up again, especially for the novelty of the potato paper.
For the record, I only spent $50 on candy that day, including a tasting kit of Michel Cluizel that I’ll have a review of soon. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I guess you should never go to a candy store AFTER lunch. I bought a new bike with the rest of the money.
This nougat is both Kosher (Parev) and Hallal.
Friday, August 4, 2006
I don’t know if I would have noticed, except that the Sav-on had both the old version of the bar (sans peanuts) and the new one side by side and I was curious why the packaging was suddenly different and what made the new one “more satisfying.”
So I purchased both and went off to the Candy Blog labs to do some analyses. First, the bars say they weigh the same, but when placed on the trusty postal scale the More Satisfying with Peanuts version came in at exactly 2.0 ounces and the Less Satisfying with just Almonds clocked in at 1.9 ounces. What’s even more puzzling about this is that the label says that they weigh 1.76 ounces ... at least Mars is generous.
The original version shown above was easier to slice and seemed more “solid”. There weren’t copious amounts of almonds, but a fair amount. The bar was rather bland, as I mentioned in my review before. But there is something missing here, a toastiness, some sort of flavor.
So the big thing I noticed right away was how difficult it was to slice this bar easily. It was kind of mucky ... not melted or anything, just not as structural. I think there may be more caramel now. Instead of just going back to a better tasting nougat, the Mars folks created the hybrid Snickers/Mars Frankenbar. It’s a Mars bar that tastes like a Snickers. Really, why buy this? It doesn’t taste like almonds ... if anything, it’s just a Snickers bar that’s a little smaller.
As a touchstone I went out and bought/consumed a standard Snickers bar. It really tasted no different except the Snickers Almond was a little crunchier because almonds are bigger than peanuts.
This got me to thinking about the ingredients, so here’s a run down of the top contents of the Less Satisfying Snickers Almond, More Satisfying Snickers Almond and the Satisfying Snickers (Peanut):
LS Snickers Almond…...MS Snickers Almond…..Plain Old Snickers
But let’s go back to that statement on the new Snickers Almond bar ... what exactly makes satisfaction?
Less Satisfying Snickers Almond: 230 Calories & 1.76 ounces (that’s 131 calories per ounce)
Could satisfaction be another word for caloric density?
While I find the More Satisfying Snickers Almond a little more tasty than before, its resemblance to the classic Snickers Peanut makes it superfluous. There are so few almond choices out there, why take this one away? I’m giving the Now More Satisfying Snickers Almond bar the same rating I gave the original.
(I’m also a little miffed that I consumed about 750 calories for this one review! I just hope none of them contained mouse droppings.)
Note: I looked at the Snickers website and they still list the old ingredients for the Snickers Almond bar.
UPDATE 9/2/2008: Well, the old new Snickers Almond is back. Here’s a brief revisit with the bar:
I like the bar (though I prefer the dark chocolate version) and I’m glad they brought it back.
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
Part of the reason for the stop in San Francisco on my recent vacation was to experience the Ferry Terminal Marketplace. It’s home to a bunch of artisan food companies, restaurants and other people associated with the food crafts. Plus, on Saturdays there’s a farmers market.
There are a couple of sweets locations in the Ferry Terminal including a Scharffen Berger store and Recchiuti Confections but for this trip (I’ll be going back again in September) I thought I’d look at Miette Patisserie.
The store is drop dead cute and reminds me of a forties/fifties-era cookbook. They had a huge selection of cakes and hand-held pastries. But I was interested in candies, of course. There was a large display of handmade lollipops which looked gorgeous and came in sassy flavors like cotton candy, grape and pink lemonade. None of the flavors were marked and the colors weren’t enough for me to discern the code so I passed them by for now.
Instead I was attracted to their Parisian Macaroons (which are not the coconut ones we’re most accustomed to in the States). These macaroons are a hazelnut or almond and egg white based cookie with a filling of some sort. Like a super decadent sandwich cookie. They were $1.50 each ... a little on the pricey side so I didn’t taste one of each flavor (I think there were six varieties).
I picked out:
Hazelnut: a vanilla cookie with a rich nutella-style filling. Sweet and rich but still light and flaky.
Rose Geranium: a delicately floral flavored cookie with a buttery light cream filling in the sandwich. My favorite.
Vanilla: a little sweeter because there was no strong flavor to balance it, but quite nice after a long walk and pleasant lunch.
By the register they also had three large jars of handmade caramels wrapped in wax paper. They were two for $1 so I had two of each.
Vanilla & Lemon - the wrappers were identical and I’m sorry to say that they all tasted the same. The caramels were nicely soft and sweet and of course had a wonderful slightly burnt sugar taste.
Fleur de Sel - a little darker tasting and with a nice warming sensation of instant salt. Instead of a regular caramel with a little series of grains of salt on the surface as I’ve had at other places, here the salt is completely integrated. The salt really brings out the caramelized notes, but it’s also a bit strong and made my throat sting.
UPDATE: A kind reader, Dan, has informed me that these are made by the Little Flower Candy Company, which makes sense based on the flavor array.
I’m sure their cakes are great and there’s the added bonus that they use organic ingredients whenever possible. Not that something like that makes a pastry more wholesome or anything! The macaroons can be ordered on their website, but not the caramels or lollies. The items are pricey, as is usually the case with labor intensive items. Overall I think I prefer the caramels and macaroons from Boule but since San Francisco doesn’t have a Boule, I can see myself stopping in here on my next trip for a little something to eat. I’m especially interested in trying their Lavender Shortbread (I know, I’ve totally diverged from candy all of a sudden ... I was on vacation!).
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
I first heard about Chuao Chocolatier a couple of months ago but haven’t been able to visit them until this weekend. The main location is in Encinitas and they have other shops in San Diego. But they also have one at the Irvine Spectrum, so on a blazingly hot Sunday afternoon my husband and I stopped by to see what it was all about. Let me just say this, if this is the direction that upscale chocolate is going, I can fully support it.
The shop is spare and simple with lots of dark wood touches and reflects more of a wine connoisseur aesthetic than candy. I greeted the women behind the counter (I’ve never done this before) ... I introduced myself and gave full disclosure that I’m a candy writer and boy did I get the full treatment! But seeing how well Melissa, the manager, did her tour of the company through samples of most of their product lines, I get the sense she does it for anyone who’s interested. She was knowlegable, enthusiastic and completely engaging.
First, a little about Chuao. It’s one of those stories about people who follow their passions. Michael Antonoris (once a biomedical engineer and MBA before he “stopped chasing his ego and started chasing his culinary passion,” and went to Paris for two years to study Pastry and Chocolaterie at the ?cole Lenotre). Born in Venezuela, he brought not only his culinary aesthetic to candymaking, but also the native cacao from the region. His chocolate source is El Rey Chocolate. You can read lots more on their website about the history of the company and other press clippings.
The first sample we tried was their flavor of the month for July, which is a beer (San Diego produced Stout) infused chocolate - with a strong wheat/yeasty flavor to the chocolate ganache, it was intriguing and brought out the best of the beer and the chocolate.
She also let us try last month’s (after all, it was only July 2nd) intriguing little egg which was filled with chocolate, olive oil and sun-dried tomato filling. I really liked the olive essence in there, but I’m not a huge fan of sun-dried tomatoes, but they seem to work in there. I could see those going really well with a wine and cheese assortment.
Other wonderful morsels she gave us to try included:
Chocolate Covered Orange Peel - lovely dark chocolate surrounding soft and intense orange zest. Not too syrupy sweet and not the least bit bitter.
Chocolate Covered Ginger - this is no ordinary candied ginger, the pieces are plump and juicy and have no fibery bits. Sweet and with a gentle burn that lasts long after the chocolate is gone.
Coco Nib Snack - fine little nibs a little smaller than peppercorns and caramelized/tossed with a little salt and chili. Fascinating little morsels, not too sweet but also doesn’t have any of that bitter/acrid flavor that some plain nibs have. No fibery bits either. I’m not sure if I’d eat them straight, but I’d love them tossed on a salad or maybe some ice cream.
Even though it was insanely hot, we still tried a little bit of their hot chocolate. They have two varieties, the traditional Abuela and Spicy Maya. They weren’t as thick and milky as many that I had on my last NY trip, but the flavors were really great. I enjoyed the Maya best, as the spice wasn’t too overwhelming, but supported the floral and wine notes of the chocolate.
But the time eventually came to pick out some things to take home.
I picked out a box of 9 pieces:
Melao - salt butter caramel - this one was quite reminiscent of the Sahgun salt caramel I had earlier this year. Quite soft, almost juicy, with a slight grain to the caramezlied sugar and a round sweet flavor dosed with salt to bring out the flavors.
Candela - spicy macadamia praline - very strange - it’s grainy, but not in an unpleasant way. Salty, crispy and with a soft spicy finish, the center is more like eating a cookie dough than a chocolate. For the record, I love cookie dough.
Cardamom - cardamom infused ganache - fresh and lightly infused with that cardamom note that I love about Indian food. Buttery smooth and rich. I would have liked more cardamom, like the Vosges one I tried in NYC.
Modena - strawberry caramel with balsamic vinegar from Modena - this was just plain strawberry as far as I could tell. Nicely fruity and aromatic, smooth and refreshing with a good balance of notes for the dark chocolate, but I wasn’t really getting the balsamic notes.
Chevre - goat cheese, pear Williams and crushed black buttercream - fascinating and probably addictive. At first the dark chocolate ganache is tangy, like a goat cheese. Then the black pepper infusion coming to the surface. The pear played a minor note, but the black pepper pieces were incredible, as they were softened by the chocolate and more like small, spicy raisins.
Zen - green tea infused ginger ganache - wonderful plump pieces of crystalized ginger in a dark chocolate ganache with only a hint of tea. Not too sweet - a good subtle balance.
Gran Cacao - bittersweet ganache with 73% cocoa - a lovely and rich ganache with a good buttery start and some good floral and berry notes.
Cambur - soft banana and brown sugar caramel - imagine a fried banana, drenched in caramelized sugar and then drizzled with chocolate. Mmmm. Intensely banana, but thoroughly authentic tasting. Rich and sweet. By far my favorite of them all.
Picante - California raisin fondue and Napa Valley cabernet caramel, spiced with pasilla chili and cayenne pepper - tart and with fruity/jammy qualities but with an immediate burn in my throat from some fresh tasting chilis. There are some wine notes, but mostly a grape and chili flavor mixed with the dark chocolate but the caramelized sugar is completely lost. I wouldn’t have minded a little hit of molasses or brown sugar in there.
On the whole, I’d say that the line of uncommon flavor combinations is much like Vosges and of similar quality. Where Vosges seems to angle itself towards women, Chuao seems incredibly masculine. The flavors are bold and uncommon and assertive. Flavors are borrowed from outside the candy realm with excellent results. But when they’re inside the sweets oveure, they’re really at their best. The spiced flavors are wonderful but I really enjoyed the caramelized items like the Cambur.
I’m definitely planning on stopping there again, it’s exceptionally convenient when I’m down in Orange County visiting with my husband’s family and it looks like they will continue to develop new flavor combinations that will keep my tongue occupied. They also offer classes, which I would love to take (but only at the Carlsbad location), so maybe someday I’ll become a master chocolatier, too. If you’re a wine or beer lover, they also have tips and product lines for serving them together.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Ritter Sport is going over to the dark side.
I picked up three new bars (or newish) while at the All Candy Expo and I have to say that they’re exceptionally good.
First, I found out that Ritter is the #2 imported chocolate brand in the United States. Who knew?
Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts - this bar is studded generously with hazelnuts. Not quite as many as the wrapper implies, but I’ll tell you there are plenty in there. The dark chocolate is a semisweet with good floral notes and a slightly smoky bite to it. A little dry, it highlights the nuts really well. Not at all sticky or cloying like the milk chocolate can be, this bar is incredibly munchable. Of the three that I brought back, this one was gone first.
Amargo Extrafino - Fine Extra Dark Chocolate - 71% Cocoa - this was a gorgeous bar (and featured in that page in the National Post, if I might gush). The scent is intoxicatingly rich. Smoke, tobacco, tea and dark berries all waft from its dark scored squares. It’s pretty quick to melt for such a dense bar and it’s very smooth. The berry and cherry notes are quite evident as well as a sharp immediate bitter/acidic bite that mellows quickly to its more roasted and alcoholic notes of cognac. For an inexpensive high cacao bar, this one is very good. Complex but still edible. It goes great with something with a salty/crunchy bite like dry roasted & salted almonds or pretzels.
Feinherb a la Mousse au Chocolat - the same dark chocolate that’s found in the hazelnut bar is in this one, except this has a softer filling inside the squares. Not a fluffy mousse, more like a firm, creamier center like a Frango. It’s nice, but after the intense, complex darkness of the 71%, this one tasted very sweet (and I tried it on a completely different day than the 71% day).
After the other not-so-tasty things I was eating earlier this week, the Ritter Sport dark bars were quite a treat. I can recommend all of the, but if you’re a dark fan and can find these inexpensively (less than $3), it’s quite a deal for chocolate of this quality (no wonder they’re #2).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.