Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Oh, some dear readers (and neighbor) have led me astray ... they’ve raved about the Black Sesame Pocky and I believed them! (See comments in this post.)
Now, I’m a huge fan of halvah and those sesame snaps (like a sesame nut brittle). Sprinkle a little on my sushi rolls too, while you’re at it. But there’s something about toasted sesame, specifically that sesame oil that I’ve just never liked. It’s actually banned from my house (well, my husband sneaks in deli sesame noodles sometimes). It smells like something wrong, something burnt, something rancid or perhaps something toxic. A combination of burnt hair and plastics.
This is just like that: a crunchy and mild cracker stick covered with milky sweet white coating and mixed with every vile black seed known to create an acrid tasting treat. (Okay, I overstated that. I actually ate one of the four packets in the interest of giving a full-featured review, so it can’t be all that bad.)
But there are other things that cause me to hesitate to recommend this, and they involve reading the label. Here are the ingredients: wheat flour, sugar, palm oil, powdered (black sesame, black rice, black bean, black pine seed, black Chinese quince), lactose, whole milk powder, shortening (hydrogenated fish oil), nonfat dry milk, malt extract, salt, yeast, butter, soya lecithin, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), artificial flavor.
Maybe there are some omega3 fatty acids in there.
Besides my innate displeasure for toasted sesame, the Pocky were nice. This variety comes in four smaller packets instead of the two large packets like the Men’s and traditional chocolate (so that you may give them away more easily without being offended by the smell).
I am happy to report that this bad review is just because of my personal tastes - it has nothing to do with this being a good product. Feel free to defend the Black Sesame Pocky. If you like toasted sesame, you’ll probably be ga-ga for this, too. I know some folks think I’m nuts for liking the stuff I do, and I think it’s great that the planet affords such a variety of products. And I will be passing along the rest of this package to my dear neighbor how does happen to like the stuff. I’m also happy to report that I picked up several other varieties at the same time and they’re all delightful and you can look forward to nice statements about them.
Wednesday, February 1, 2006
Toffee is a strange thing. It’s like caramel gone too long on the burner, but it becomes its own special delight. In the United States, toffee is generally hard caramel: a mixture of sugar and butter. It’s boiled slowly to “hard ball” stage and then cooled, usually as flat pieces. What’s so wonderful about it is the way it cracks. It’s completely irregular. It flakes, it crumbles and it fractures. It’s buttery and sweet and often has a nice salty twang to it that cuts through the stickiness. (In the UK they also have soft toffees, which confuses the heck out of me, until I start eating them and then I get distracted. Mmm, toffee.)
I got these full-sized samples directly from Brian at Silver Bear Toffee in Colorado. The first indication of their decadence is that the label says “refrigerate,” now that’s fresh toffee!
The ingredients are pretty compelling too: chocolate, almonds, butter, sugar and corn syrup. Each package was a little white box with planks of broken up toffee. The toffee was then covered in chocolate on top and sprinkled with more almonds. The dark chocolate one was my favorite as the smoky and smooth chocolate matched the sweet and salty toffee perfectly. The toffee was so buttery though that sometimes my chocolate fell off the slab. No matter. Toffee is casual; toffee is jeans and a tee.
While I may have said I preferred the dark chocolate one, the milk chocolate one disappeared first (it could have been that toffee snitching elves were visiting my kitchen). The toffee crumbles wonderfully on the teeth and becomes a smooth and buttery experience on the tongue. There are lots of nuts in both versions but not in huge pieces, which I prefer (otherwise it’d be nut brittle).
When I eat commercial toffee bar, like a Heath bar, my usual custom is to eat the chocolate off first and then eat the toffee slab by itself. I have no desire to do that with this stuff, I want to eat the whole thing: the chocolate, toffee and nuts all at once.
The webstore isn’t open yet (I was hoping it would be in time for Valentine’s) but you can still order by phone:
Silver Bear Toffee
Toffee is $15 a pound and
$8.00 by the half pound. Mine came boxed well with a cold-pack to keep it from melting (not really an issue in the winter).
Monday, January 23, 2006
Pesek Zman means “Time Out”, kind of like the tagline for KitKat bars is “Give me a Break”. They are, in fact, a nice little respite from a busy day and like the KitKat, easy to break off a piece and share (if you must). The shape of the bars and packaging is really cool, too.
The Black bar is dark chocolate with crispy wafers with a chocolate nut paste filling (hazelnuts and cashews). This is a pretty sassy bar. It has the light crisp, the nutty flavor of the nuts and the smooth creamy combination of the cream and the smooth dark chocolate. It’s lot of flavors and textures all at once, but very successful. It’s very sweet, but the hazelnut has a strange cooling sensation on the tongue that keeps it from being cloying and sticky.
The Peanut Butter bar is pretty much the same as the Black bar, only it has milk chocolate instead of dark and instead of hazelnut cream, it has peanut butter. It’s a good thing I’m typing this review, because I wouldn’t be able to talk while eating this bar. The peanut butter is very sticky, as in “sticks to the roof of your mouth.” My solution to this was to turn each piece upside down before I ate it, meaning that the peanut butter layer was on my tongue instead of the top of my mouth. It was much more successful that way, but the peanut butter in this bar is quite overwhelming in its texture and flavor dominance.
I have to say that this is a unique bar. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It reminded me of the Kliks, in that it’s a toasty cookie rolled up, but this one was far more delicate and had some more complex flavors going for it. The center of the bar is a loose, flattened roll of crisp waffle cookie (like a ice cream sugar cone). Then it’s covered with chocolate that can be sectioned off. When you break the sections, you can see right through the middle of the bar, just like the photo shows. The caramelized wafers are crispy and flavorful and there’s a good hint of hazelnut in the chocolate itself. It’s a very tasty bar with no real equal in any other brand I’ve seen. Of the three bars, it’s the one I finished first. The bar is slightly smaller than the others at only 42 grams instead of 45, but I wasn’t missing a thing.
If I were at an airport or international market and saw these, I’d definitely grab a few of the Reds. Even though the center was delicate, the bar traveled extremely well, making it all the way from Israel and then I carried it around in my “tasting bag” for weeks and it still looked factory fresh when I unwrapped it.
Friday, January 20, 2006
At my visit to Scharffen Berger last month I gave their full line another try. It confirmed for me that the bars I’ve tasted are fresh and true to the Scharffen Berger style. They’re complex and dark, with a lot of woodsy notes and a pretty overwhelming acidity that I don’t care for. There are exceptions in their line of course. The Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs are one. And one of their newer bars, the Gianduja is another.
I haven’t a clue how to pronounce it. I had the tour guide say it twice for me when she did the tasting and it still didn’t stick in my brain. (Perhaps JHEE-an-du-JHAH.) I want to pronounce it JHWAN-doo-jha ... hmm, how about I call it the Nutella bar? That’s what this is, a creamy combination of dark chocolate and hazelnuts. Only without the hydrogenated oils. It’s like a gourmet version of Ice Cubes.
This is a ridiculously fantastic bar. Really. It’s insanely smooth and nutty and melts so well on the tongue with a cooling effect that’s just stunning.
The price is also similarly ridiculous, but I’m guessing there’s a whole tree’s worth of hazelnuts packed into each bar, so that’s likely what you’re paying for. There’s 4 grams of protein in the bar alone. The bar is more soft and pliable than the others that I’ve had, again owing to the nut oils in there that have a lower melting temperature than the cocoa butter. It’s not too sweet and happily doesn’t have nary a trace of that acidic/dry bite that the other Sharffen Berger bars have. There’s still plenty of flavor, this is not just a Nutella bar. It’s woodsy and nutty with some smoky notes and a slight dryness.
Of course there are a lot of calories in it and a lot of it comes from fat. It’s candy, I know, but I think maybe they ought to suggest that the portion is not 1.5 ounces, but simply a single ounce instead. I responsibly took about a month to eat it, sampling a few pieces and then wolfing the rest of it today. It’s also pretty expensive and I haven’t seen it at Trader Joe’s. If not for that, I think it would have been a straight 10.
Friday, January 13, 2006
While up at the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, CA last month I discovered that there was another factory in the industrial park: Thompson’s Brands. I’d never heard of their chocolate before but Tomi, who gave me my tour at Jelly Belly said it was worth the stop. I realized when I got into the little shop that I’d probably seen and had their products dozens of times. They seem to specialize in foil wrapped chocolates and have a HUGE selection of them for all occasions at the factory store.
What caught my eye though were these cute little 1 ounce bars of organic chocolate. It’s getting easier to find organic chocolate these days, but it is pretty difficult to find them in smaller portions (most bars come in the 2.5-3.5 ounce size). They also had a large variety at 89 cents each I picked up one of each. I’m all about getting wholesome food that doesn’t pollute the planet. The big challenge has always been getting it at a price that’s reasonable (I’m willing to pay more, but not that much more) for a good quality product. Luckily Thompson has found a solid middle ground with price and taste.
70% Dark Chocolate: their darkest bar, this one has a nice sheen and good snap. The smell is chocolaty and slightly fruity. Upon tasting it there’s a distinct cherry note to it and some other woodsy qualities. A little bitter, but smooth. It also has a smoky charcoal note to it, that I detected in all the bars; it’s not an unpleasant taste, just a little different. Their website says that all their beans are from South America and I understand that a smaller variety of source beans can give chocolates a very distinctive taste (as witnessed by the single origin bars I’ve tried). It’s an exceptionally buttery chocolate and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
50% Dark Chocolate: this bar was very sweet, though had the same buttery quality of the others. The melt was a little less smooth with a more detectable grain. I didn’t care much for the “chocolateness” of it, it felt a little watered down by the sugar.
Milk Chocolate Almond: the Thompson milk chocolate is sweet, not terribly sticky feeling and has that European dairy flavor to it from using powdered milk. The combination of nuts and this style of chocolate gives it a rather twangy series of notes that are compelling and satisfying.
Milk Chocolate Caramel: this was the only bar that I think I could shovel down like “candy”. The caramel center isn’t terribly big, not a large reservoir like I’ve had in bars like the Caramello or Hershey’s with Caramel, but the caramel is nicely caramelized with a slight grain to it. Not runny but not quite chewy, it’s a nice balance for the milky bar because of the good hit of salt.
Milk Chocolate Truffle: when I think truffle, I think buttery smooth, soft centers. That’s not this. This is a firm truffle, more like a Frango. It’s not bad, smooth and lighter than the milk chocolate outside, but I prefer the plain dark, caramel or almond bar to this.
If you’re looking to indulge your children with chocolate but with an eye towards keeping organic, you also might want to explore their line of novelty items that include foil wrapped chocolates. Their pandas are pretty ding-dang cute. Unfortunately I don’t know what stores carry these items. Pop a comment here if you’ve seen Thompson’s in your stores. GroovyCandies.com seems to carry quite a bit of their traditional line. Thompson is also the company that makes the Adora Calcium Tablets.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Before CandyBlog came into my life, I was completely unaware of the wonders of flaked and aerated chocolate. How can this be? I’m the kid who seemed to have as much fun blowing bubbles into my chocolate milk as I did drinking it.
It seems that the UK does not have the corner on the market when it comes to bubbly chocolates, I’ve now discovered these from Israel and Japan:
Elite Aerated Bittersweet Chocolate: This is the first semi-sweet bar I’ve tried that’s bubbly. I’m not even sure if Nestle or Cadbury make one anymore. This bar is large, about the size of a 100 gram one, but weighs only 85 grams. The pieces are oddly light in the hand and melt quickly on the tongue. The bubbles are very consistent and I think a little smaller overall than the ones in the Aero bars. Very sweet at first and with a nice sweet smell but perhaps a little too much fake vanilla to it. It’s very buttery on the tongue, though with a little grain towards the end but a nice crisp finish. This bar is 48% cocoa solids.
Lotte Airs: This isn’t a bar at all. Inside the box, after opening the plastic pouch you’ll find a tray with little pieces. (12 in all.) Kind of like the Dars I tried before. The Airs bar is milk chocolate but what’s really different about it is that there’s also hazelnut paste in there. It gives the bar a wonderful nutty aroma that mixes well with the dairy milk taste that might make it a little too sticky otherwise. The bubbles in them are very small, which gives it less of an airy feeling on the tongue, but it still has a good cool sensation. I love that it’s in pieces, which makes it easy to share. Also, the other aerated bars tend to be a little messy when you break off a piece. Lotte is so clever.
It looks like a bar of the future. Something that robots would eat. Or maybe robots would bring them to us. They’d enter the room through the shooshing automatic door with a tray full of snacks that we munch on while watching TV beamed directly into our optic nerve.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a Zero bar before, but I know I’ve seen them. They haven’t been a Hershey’s product for very long and if you go to the page on Hershey’s site you’ll see a long and detail history of who’s made the bar over the years.
It’s a fascinating bar, billed as “Caramel, Peanut and Almond Nougat covered with White Fudge.” But that really doesn’t describe it properly. The nougat is malted and there are peanuts and almonds and possibly soy nuts in there. But it was the malted part that surprised me. If you want me to buy this bar, you might want to mention that!
So, you’ve got this nougat that has an assortment of crunchy nuts in it with a dash of malt. On top of that is a caramel stripe and the whole bar is enrobed in “white fudge” which I’m guessing is like “white chocolate.”
It’s a very pretty bar.
And I was surprised to like it as much as I did. There must be a reason that it’s survived to this day and I’m guessing it’s partly its originality. I’m guessing the other reason might be its packaging and name. If you were to alphabetize your candy display, the Zero would be there with the Zagnut. The malt really stands out because there isn’t any chocolate to overpower it. I think I can taste the soy nuts in the nougat, which doesn’t upset me or anything, but it is a little odd for a “candy bar” (but expected in a nutrition bar).
If Hershey’s has a mind to improve the bar, I’d say a real “white chocolate” that has cocoa butter on it instead of the slightly chalky “white fudge” would make this one a real winner. (I just can’t get into all those hydrogenated oils.)
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
I hardly thought it was possible, but I found a marzipan I actually like. (See, I didn’t give up.)
The chocolate is good quality, slightly bitter but smooth and the center is a different kind of marzipan. It’s not the ultrafine paste that you find in some of the sculpted varieties. Instead this one has palpable bits of almond in it and a darker color (because of the coffee flavoring). There’s also only the slightest hint of amaretto, which is the actual thing I don’t like about marzipan. I love almonds, I just don’t like the “flavor” of almonds.
The bar doesn’t really have much of a capuccino flavor, but a pleasing scent and creamy quality that I found really compelling.
I doubt these are widely available, but I noticed that Cost Plus had quite a variety of this brand (they were on sale for the After Christmas clearance) so I might give their actual plain marzipan a try in the future or perhaps the Orange I saw on this site.
Interesting fact: Niederegger was founded by Johann Georg Niederegger on March 1, 1806 ... that means they’re going to celebrate their bicentennial of marzipan in a few scant months. Happy Birthday Niederegger!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.