Thursday, May 25, 2006
Instead of just the normal fundraising candy bars, Smiles by Joanie’s Smiles are are chocolate bars infused with tea and other natural flavors that stand on their own as tasty treats. The hook here with the fundraising aspect is that money from the sale of each bar goes to Operation Smile which sends volunteer medical teams all over the globe to repair facial deformities in kids and adults. I was approached to taste the bars a couple of months ago, so I’ve had a lot of time with them (I was waiting for their website to be up and for them to be more widely available).
The bars were very simply produced - two ounces each, wrapped in foil and then a paper overwrap. The bar is pre-scored into 12 little pieces with each embossed with the smiles script logo. No gimmicky packaging, just tried and true presentation. It’s the flavors that count here ... so let me count off the flavors to you:
Rosemary Hibiscus Tea - I was certain I wouldn’t like this one before I even tried it. I’m not a big fan of hibiscus, so how could combining it with rosemary (a rather savory and strong herb) and white chocolate be a good idea? Frankly, after the first bite I didn’t like it. The hibiscus gave the white chocolate a yogurt tang but without any satisfying fruit flavor to go with it. Then I took a few more bites and the rosemary flavor really grew on me and took center stage. It’s not terribly sweet and doesn’t give me a sore throat like bad white chocolate does ... it was smooth and creamy and had a little sass to it.
Cranberry-Ginger Tea - mellow milk chocolate with a smooth and creamy consistency with a spicy, lowgrade burn of ginger. Later the tannin and cranberry notes come out in a lingering berry bite. The bar has the woodsy, rooty smell of ginger. There are the occasionally grainy bits from the tea, but this is a pretty smooth and zesty bar.
Wild Raspberry Tea - it smells like raspberry and has the floral flavor to it. The milk chocolate, which can often have a tart bite also helps to bring out the fruitiness and berry notes here. There are also the occasional fruit bits in there, giving it a chewy tart burst. The chocolate has not dairy milkiness that I usually associate with milk chocolate, instead it’s smooth and a little fudgy.
Coconut-Green Tea - this bar smells like summer. Profuse wafts of coconut emanate from this bar, just sitting next to it reminds me of those girls who would come to the pool but never swim. They’d sit together with their sunkissed hair and lanky bodies slathered with tanning oil ... something I could never use. (If there were a freckle oil, well, then we might have something.) That toasted, glossy association translates well to this dark bar. Smooth and buttery, the tea takes a backstage to the coconut, which brings only flavor here, there are no chewy bits.
Herbal Chai Tea - this bar smells like I’ve stepped into a spice shop. It’s all warm and woodsy: cinnamon, fennel, orange and a little rooty waft of ginger. A little bit grainy because of the real spices in there, it’s still quite smooth and bursting with different flavors. The cinnamon dominates, but the fennel and black pepper are still discernible. The tea here is the Amber Roobios, which brings its own floral/fruity notes. It’s quite a riot of flavors in there.
My favorites in order (as determined by which I finished first) were the Pistachio-Green Tea White Chocolate, Herbal Chai Dark Chocolate, Coconut-Green Tea Dark Chocolate, Rosemary Hibiscus White Chocolate and last the Wild Raspberry Milk Chocolate.
I have to congratulate Joanie for coming up with such interesting flavor combinations but I think if there’s one thing that I find a drawback to them, it’s the price ... however, unlike many high-end bars, there is nowhere else to get a Hibiscus Rosemary White Chocolate or Coconut Green Tea Dark Chocolate bar, so they’ve cornered that end of the market.
The bars are now on sale at Whole Foods and soon at Bristol Farms and Gelson’s (SoCal) markets as well as through Amazon (click through on their website). Amazon doesn’t seem to offer an assortment pack or sales by the box, which is too bad because I really didn’t know which I was going to like by the description. They were just introduced last week, so they may be adding more purchase variations.
Monday, May 22, 2006
It seems like some parts of the country are known for different confections. The South does wonderful things with pecan pralines, San Francisco has a wonderful way with dark chocolate, the Jersey Shore has its salt water taffy. Now I’m noticing that Colorado is attracted to toffee. My neighbor got this as a gift at the office from a co-worker returning from Colorado. It’s, apparently, the thing that people bring back from Colorado.
These thick slabs of almond toffee are described thusly on their website:
Instead of pieces of almonds dotting the toffee, this toffee has generous whole almonds. The slabs are extra thick and the chocolate coats both sides with an extra dusting of powdered almonds. The toffee has a crisp bite with a strong buttery taste to it. It cleaves well and melts on the tongue with a good salty bite and caramelized sugar flavor.
I can see why Enstrom’s is so highly regarded. This is tasty toffee. The only thing that bugs me about is the whole slab idea. I’d prefer my toffee to be in regular pieces that I can pick up and bite or pop in my mouth whole. But if that’s my biggest complaint, well, I don’t have much to complain about. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with any of the toffees I’ve had from Colorado (see Silver Bear).
Friday, May 19, 2006
This version of the Cafe-Tasse bars are long and thick and frankly, I prefer this format to the flat ones. It’s more compact and I like a good thick piece of chocolate.
The design on these is quite lovely too. Soft, matte paper with some stylish engraved designs. Easy to read and color coded, too!
Extra Noir this super dark 77% cocoa bar is quite rich. Instead of sacrificing buttery smoothness for high cacao, I think they’ve lowered the sugar content, which is just fine with me. The bar has a strong smoky flavor with many hints of tobacco and vanilla. It has a rather dry finish that’s not exactly astringent, but leaves a rather chalky feeling in the mouth. Still, it has a fantastic melt on the tongue, just slipping around in all it’s cocoa-butter goodness. It’s not sweet, but at the same time, it’s not blisteringly bitter - just dense.
Noir Praline this bar smelled much sweeter than the others, and had a rather fruity aroma as well. The dark chocolate shell looked the same as the other bars, but inside it was as sweet. After having the creamy richness of the Baci bar, this one really can’t compare. It’s missing that buttery lightness and depth of flavor. I’m not saying it’s not tasty, it’s just had more sugar and sweetness than hazelnuttiness.
Noir Orange after sampling the super dark bar, this one seemed quite sweet at first. This bar is only 54% cocoa, so there’s plenty of room for that cocoa butter base as well as sugar and an ample supply of little candied orange bits. The candied orange peels threw me, they’re kind of crystallized, so a bit more sharp and hard than pliable and forgiving. The texture mix aside, the orange infusion is intense and profuse. This is nothing like the Terry’s Chocolate Orange. This is a full chocolate experience with a little fruit essence thrown in. After a while I was hoping for the chewy bits of orange peel. This was by far my favorite of the three.
These were a gift but I’ve seen them for sale at Cost Plus World Market, Economy Candy in NYC and online at Chocosphere (the chocolate covered lemon peel looks divine).
Thursday, May 18, 2006
One of my favorite treats we’d get in our Christmas Stocking were Baci. If you’ve never had this little Italian chocolate, you’re missing something. It’s a hazelnut nougatine with chopped nuts topped with a whole hazelnut and covered in a thin shell of rich dark chocolate. They’re wrapped in silver foil with blue printing and wrapped around the chocolate is a little piece of glassine with a saying about love or kisses in four languages, after all, baci means kiss in Italian.
Instead of individual morsels, the Baci Bar is a thick semisweet chocolate bar with domed sections filled with a mix of chocolate, hazelnut paste and crushed hazelnuts.
Holy moly, it’s good.
Seriously good. The chocolate is rich and buttery with a slight bitter and dry hit to it - which offsets the super-sweet and nutty, thick filling. The little bits of nuts give it a wonderful crispy crunch. There wasn’t a bad nut bit in the bunch.
If there’s anything at all wrong with it, it’s that it’s kind of soft. It’s getting warm here in Los Angeles, and eating a bar like this mid-day is just plain messy. No matter, I’m having the rest of it for breakfast ... see, I’m flexible! I miss the whole hazelnut you get the with traditional Baci, but the chocolate ratio here is amped up a little, which I like just as well.
Now that I’ve raved about this bar, I fear I will never have another one. I’ve looked around on the Perugina/Nestle site and find no reference to this bar. It was generously transported directly from Italy to me by uber-blogger, JozJozJoz. Maybe if you’re in a European airport you’ll spy one.
Perugina is an Italian company, started in the 20s but was bought out by Nestle in 1985, which explains their wider distribution in the United States late in the last century.
Monday, May 15, 2006
I couldn’t resist picking this Pocky up last week when I was in Little Tokyo. I promised myself that I wouldn’t buy any candy because I already have a huge backlog, but everyone kept saying how good the Almond Crush Pocky is.
Each of the four little silver/clear pouches hold six sticks, which is a nice portion size - a little under 3/4 of an ounce. The nutrition label says that three packets is a portion, but I’ve been pretty happy with a single packet at a time.
The snack smells like freshly made waffle cones. Sweet, a little caramelized, a little nutty and thoroughly chocolatey. The chocolate is rich and dark and has a nice glossy sheen. The almond bits aren’t really that noticeable as a distinct crunch, but they provide a good bit of texture (and a whallop of protein - there are 2.5 grams of protein per ounce). The slight sweetness and crisp of the biscuit stick pulls it all together and keeps me munching all the way down to the uncoated nubbin.
The ingredients on these don’t list any hydrogenated fish oils, but the last ingredient on the list is MSG (monosodium glutamate), which is a little disappointing, but caused me no ill effects. The sodium content overall for this snack is high though - at about 220 mgs per ounce.
All that aside, it’s not too sweet, it’s not too dry, it’s not too bland. It’s just right.
See all the other Pocky posts here.
Thursday, May 4, 2006
This has to be one of the oddest “candy bars” I’ve tried in a long time. Balisto is a Muesli Mix bar. For those of you not familiar with Muesli, it’s like granola - a mix of whole grains. The same friend, Matt, who brought me the Caffarel Guanduia also included this in the package of European candy goodies.
This bar was kind of like a Twix ... well, not really. There’s a cookie base, but the cookie isn’t tender and flaky, instead it’s kind of grainy and has a distinct oats and wheat flavor. In fact, it tastes just like a hay bale smells.
On top of the cookie is a stripe of cream that had raisins in it every once in a while. The whole thing is covered in milk chocolate. It’s not bad, but it definitely doesn’t feel like a treat. It feels like a rock in my stomach. The wholesomeness of it is just too much for me! I can’t stop chewing the little chewy bits of grain in it!
The label also mentioned hazelnuts, but I didn’t find anything particularly hazelnutty. It seems like a really unlikely bar for Mars to put out, even for Europe, but hey, they’re the big successful candy corporation, not me. I’m sure this bar has its fans, so if you’re one of them, maybe you could explain it to me. As for the healthy part of this bar, the second ingredient is hydrogenated vegetable oils ... you decide.
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
I talk about Trader Joe’s a lot as a candy source; the store opening in Manhattan was big news. But on my trip to NYC, I found that they already have an extraordinary store, Fairway. We pretty much stumbled upon the market while walking back from the Upper West Side to our hotel in Times Square.
Like Trader Joe’s the store focuses on more gourmet, upscale or wholesome fare, with many items sold with their private label but at super-delicious prices. The best part, of course, was their candy section. They had a huge aisle of pre-packaged bulk nuts and panned chocolate goods, most of which made by Koppers.
The first thing that caught my eye were these little M&M sized dark chocolate goodies called Cayenne Pepper Savory. It was just what I was looking for all these years, a peppered chocolate in easy to eat morsels. But when they say Cayenne Pepper, they really mean it. It’s far too spicy for comfort. I might try putting them in cookies or something, but it’s too bad, the chocolate is really nice, but the afterburn is serious. ($5.99/lb)
Of course I have a hard time believing that they really were that hot, so after a couple of days I try another one. Same result ... whoo! I don’t know, it’s growing on me.
This was by far the best of the Koppers finds. It’s little cubes of dried apricot covered in dark chocolate. So simple. The chocolate has a nice smoky, dark bite. It’s sweet but doesn’t overpower the natural sweetness and tart chewy bite of the apricot.
It’s nice to find an affordable version of the glace apricots that I’ve seen at the upscale chocolatiers. Of course these don’t replace them, but they’re portable and high quality. ($5.99/lb)
Oh, I had such high hopes. Look at them, they’re gorgeous! Dark and glossy and sweet smelling. But there’s something so wrong about the taste and even though I’ve been sampling these for weeks, I can’t quite put my finger on it. They chocolate is sweet, but bitter. Smooth but a little waxy and it has this odd dairy taste to it, even though it’s dark chocolate. The malted center is not really malty or maybe the chocolate is overpowering it. I was just so disappointed. ($4.99/lb)
And here’s the big secret - Fairway sells Lake Champlain! Only it’s their house brand and it’s far cheaper. I picked up two 5 Star Bars and they were only $2.19 each! I picked up the Caramel one, just to make sure the Fairway house brand was truly the same as the Lake Champlain, and I also got this one, the Fruit & Nut Bar.
This stunning 2 ounce brick ‘o chocolate is dark chocolate on the outside, filled with a hazelnut praline (think Caffarel’s Guanduia) studded with pecans and dried cherries. Now I know I say that I don’t like cherry flavored things, but I have no problem at all with the real ones. This bar was really nice, the dark chocolate was bold and reigned in the thick flavor of the hazelnut praline quite nicely.
The nuts weren’t as numerous as I’d hoped, but the bite of the sour cherries and the chewy texture was a nice mix. I do like the inventiveness of mixing pecans and hazelnuts - two sadly neglected nuts in American candybars. Of the two that I’ve had now, I still prefer the Caramel bar, but this one is certainly interesting and I’m wondering how it compares to the 5-Star Hazelnut bar.
Fairway had a large selection of candies, both in their own packaged bulk items like the Koppers, upscale brands like Scharffen Berger and Valrhona. I also saw a huge variety of imported candies like European brands like Cadbury and Nestle (not the American versions).
Saturday, April 29, 2006
I didn’t do a very good job of finding a lot of stuff at the end of Candy Season with the post-Easter sales. I think I did much better on the post-Valentines front and here’s one of the items I picked up at that time.
I’d never heard of Stephany but the side of the box said “always the perfect gift” which must also mean, “always the perfect after holiday bargain.” Though the box had hearts on the outside, nowhere did it say Valentines Day or love or anything like that, so I thought it could just be their regular design. It also had a smart little label that said that the candy was good until June 1, 2006!
Inside the box were four pieces of almond toffee covered in chocolate and rolled in crushed almonds. The chocolate was thick and sweet and the toffee hard but with a good toothsome cleave to it. The toffee had a good salty bit to it and the chocolate far outweighed the toffee in sweetness. The ample nuts were good and fresh.
What was also nice was the price and the fact that I could get something from Colorado (what is it about Colorado and toffee?) at my local Target.
But I guess the big news here is that Stephany’s Chocolates is no more. They closed down their factory and retail stores about 10 days ago according to news reports. I considered not posting anything at all about this candy, but I figured I bought it and took a photo and then ate it, I may as well document it so that other candy fans will know what happened.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.