Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Name: Max Brenner Chocolates: Dark Chicao, Waffle & Milk Chocolate Cubes
Here’s a little Hanukkah treat for everyone, some Israeli chocolates! The Max Brenner package says “Creating a New Chocolate Culture” and I’m inclined to hop on board this philosophy. Michal, a candyblog.net reader, sent me these wonderful treats and I’m very impressed by the combination of flavors, textures, the simplicity of ingredients and most of all, the playfulness of the packages and formats.
Dark Chicao: Dark chocolate thins with Ecuadorian cocoa bits. These are rather similar to the Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs I tried and loved recently. I was a little scared when I took them out of the tin because they looked a little chalky, but we can chalk that up to their trip half way around the planet to get to me. They were a little bruised but tasted phenomenal. Dark, dark chocolate with crunchy nibs. The chocolate is buttery with a strong woodsy essence and a slight dry finish. Because there’s so much cacao in there and not much sugar they don’t get me hyped up the same way a chocolate bar does. At 75% cacao though, they’re probably giving me some sort of theobromine high.
Waffle: Crispy Belgian waffle in milk chocolate praline. I’ve had many bars like this and they’ve usually ended up being too much cookie and not enough chocolate or too waxy or greasy. Here’s a wonderful balance of chocolate, soft flavors and crispy waffle with a hint of hazelnut. The box is fun (the size of a pencil box with a tray/sleeve to pull out and reveal the candies) and the size of the little drops is just right, two bites for me. The Max Brenner milk chocolate is very rich, with 52% cacao, it’s darker than many consumer dark chocolates.
Milk Chocolate Cubes: Michal was good enough to translate the boxes for these. They’re minitruffles I’m guessing, one set is “Milk Chocolate Cubes filled with Hazelnut Praline and Caramelized Pecan Bits” and the other is Milk Chocolate Cubes filled with “Caramel Hazelnut Praline and Roasted coconut” (well, those are not really cubes, more like spheroids). The hazelnut/pecan one is sweet and toasty, like a hit of toffee only in a milk chocolate with just a few flakes of crispy to it. They’re very rich and sticky and should probably be consumed with some strong coffee. (Or the Dark Chicaos!). The coconuts were amazing fun. Instead of soft coconut like you’d find in a Mounds of Bounty bar, this is crispy coconut that adds a bit of crunch and chew to the sweet milk chocolate. The boxes are cool because they’re designed to be a greeting card or favor of sorts. You can write a little message on the back like those Valentines boxes of candy that we used to exchange in junior high.
I’m digging Mr. Brenner’s new chocolate culture. Their packaging is interesting and not overdone. The little mylar packs kept everything fresh and the design on them is really inventive, slightly self-deprecating and sets it apart from a lot of other candy that I’ve seen that positions itself in this part of the upscale market.
Rating - 9 out of 10 (now I just need to find a source in the States)
Friday, December 23, 2005
Name: Italian Soft Almond Nougat
When I was a kid we got rather eclectic Christmas stockings filled with candy treats that we never got any other time of the year. Christmas candy was unlike any other in our house or for any other holiday, it was a trip around the world in an oversized sock. English hard candies, Swiss & Belgian chocolates and Italian Torrones. I’ve been having a hard time finding Torrones the past few years here in Los Angeles, I used to get them at Cost Plus World Market, but haven’t seen them for quite a while. This is why I was so excited to see that Trader Joe’s had these when I was there last weekend.
Torrones are soft nougat usually flavored Amaretto, orange, vanilla or
lemon. Most European countries have their own version of the Torrone, the French do nice nougats, in both the soft and hard varieties and the Swiss Toblerone bar has hard honey nougat bits in it and the Spanish are well known for their version, the Turron. The European nougat is rather different than what you find in the American candy bar trade. Trader Joe’s has carried nougat in the past in long bars, but I’d never seen these Christmas classics before. They’re individually wrapped pieces in its own little box and gives a little history:
There are 18 of these little individually wrapped packages, boxed together. The torrone is soft and pliable white nougat that is and is sheathed in an edible, tasteless wafer to keep it from sticking. The slice of nougat has a lot of nuts but is not as “fluffy” as some others, in fact, it looks downright flat. The pieces are ample, like one of those big block pencil erasers. The scent is very nice, sweet and with a good
dose of honey in there. It’s good and soft, so it’s not going to remove any dental work, sweet and it dissolves quickly and mixes with the delicate almonds. The flavoring is a little odd. Most Torrones are one flavor but this one seems to be a mix of lemon and amaretto. But neither is very apparent so it just ends up being a subtle essence.
Overall, they’re not quite satisfying my jones for a good Torrone, but they are fresh and here so they’ll do for now for the stocking stuffers. They’re certainly cheaper than some others I’ve bought but I miss the fanciful pictures of Italian royalty on the individual boxes. The biggest drawback of the overpackaging (plastic wrap, boxes inside bigger box) is that it’s quite obvious how many you’ve eaten when there’s a huge pile of torrone detritus next to you on the couch.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Monday, December 19, 2005
Name: Jelly Belly Classic Candies - Jelly Belly jelly beans, Fruit Pectin, Jordan Almonds, JBz, Cinnamon Bears, Dutch Mints, Licorice & Berry Mix
At the beginning of December I took a trip to San Francisco and had to stop at the Jelly Belly factory (see that article with pics here). I was lucky enough to have a guided tour of the facility by none other than the publicist for the company, Tomi Holt. At the end of my factory tour she wanted me to try more of the Jelly Belly line than just the jelly beans. She picked out a few items including this box called Classic Candies which includes samples of many of the candy in Jelly Belly’s line (see my review of their Malted Milk Balls). A lot of it was surprising to me, I didn’t know they made pectin fruits or gummis and if you’re looking for some new tastes without buying a full package this is a good option.
Of course the box contains a good assortment of the most popular Jelly Belly flavors incuding Lemon, Sizzling Cinnamon, Cotton Candy, Licorice, Green Apple, Peach, Very Cherry, Buttered Popcorn, Blueberry and Juicy Pear. I have to admit that I’m not fond of all of them, but I appreciate the complexity of the flavors. The peach is a good example. While many “peach flavored” things get one or two notes of peach in there, somehow the Jelly Belly tastes like it has fuzz (I consider that an accomplishment). My favorites are Licorice, Sizzling Cinnamon and Lemon, but some others are growing on me like Cotton Candy and Blueberry. If you’ve never had a Jelly Belly, the first thing you should know is that they contain no gelatin. So if you’re a vegan, you can eat these! (Though the plant uses milk in some products and cannot guarantee that there aren’t traces.) They’re also Kosher.
The Raspberries and Blackberries were another pleasant surprise. I was expecting those German berries that I’ve had before that are nice, but a little sweet and a little chewy. These are tart and flavorful, with a complex combination of the sour, the crunchiness of the sprinkles that mimic berry seeds and then a good aromatic lingering aftertaste. This was much more pronounced in the blackberry, which was downright pungent.
I’m adding this little gem in here even though it wasn’t in the box. They’re called “Champagne Bubbles” and they’re very much like the Raspberries & Blackberries in that it’s a tart fruit jelly/gummi center with a crunchy shell of dots. The flavor here is a rather bubbly white grape juice that actually has a little sizzle. They’re not as aromatic as the berries but they’re easier to eat in large quantities that way. The sassy appearance makes them a good item to use for weddings and showers if you want a little change from Jordan Almonds.
I didn’t even know Jelly Belly made these! They’re gummi bears in a zesty cinnamon flavor. They’re sanded with sugar and not the same gummi we’re used to from Europe. They’re more of a jelly chew but they’re positively hot. I guess that’s why they call them Unbearably Hot Cinnamon Bears.
It’s odd that one of the things that started this Jelly Belly oddysey was an email I got from a former member of the marketing team at Jelly Belly. He complimented me on the blog and then suggested that I give JBz another try (pronounced Jay-Bees) since they’re reformulated them. I’m not really into trying things I didn’t like again, but I’ll have to admit that I wanted to like these and of course free samples never hurts. I’m going to guess, first of all, that the box I got at Bed, Bath and Beyond was probably a little old and perhaps suffered from sitting around with too many scented soaps. The JBz that I tried at the Factory and in this box were actually really good. The chocolate itself is still very sweet and lacks it’s own chocolate punch, but as a medium for delivering the other flavors, it’s very successful. I liked the capuccino and chocolate caramel ones best (but then again I got a lot of those in my assortment).
No company that does panning can call themselves that unless they make Jordan Almonds. I don’t know who thought up making an inpenetrable shell on a rather large nut, but there you have it. Perhaps you’re not supposed to bite them, but I can’t help it. The coating is smooth and crunchy and the almonds are large and top grade.
I reviewed the Jelly Belly Confections Licorice Bridge Mix some months ago and I was pleased by it, but not wowed. I have now found that my mix may have been a little stale (it was on sale), as this stuff was softer and more flavorful. At the time I gave them a harsh 6 out of 10. While I still like a little more licorice inside my pastels, these were very nice since they were soft and chewy. The colorful dots are just so joyfully pretty (I’ve since bought them at a Sweets Factory just because I liked the look of them) and the other black and white dots are nice and mild (think of licorice flavored candy corn).
Another fun thing that Jelly Belly makes is Dutch Mints. They’re a mint fondant-type center covered with a thin layer of chocolate and then given a candy shell. Instead of a high gloss, Dutch mints have a soft, matte finish that always makes them look so soothing. (It also seems to make them nearly impossible to photograph well.) The shell is cool to the tongue and kind of slick, then it releases a huge burst of mint. The chocolate is subtle, really barely noticeable, after all this is all about the mint. The centers are soft without being gooey.
Tomi and I also spend some time in the store while we were there since that’s the one place to see all the candies Jelly Belly makes, not just the ones being produced that week. One of the things she introduced me to were the Pectin Fruits. She pulled out a clear pineapple one for me to taste and can I just use the phrase “bursting with flavor?” It was seriously fruity and had many of the pineapple notes, not just the tart one, but those aromatics and that actual piney taste that a pineapple has. The only thing I was disappointed about was that there was no pineapple one in this box. I did get to try the raspberry and again I have to say that I am usually not a fan of raspberry flavored things, however this tastes like it’s got raspberries in it. The citrus ones are zesty and tart with a well-rounded flavor. The jelly is firm without being too sticky or crusty. I’ve always loved orange slices and spearmints leaves but since tasting these I may never go back. Even the lime was complex, with more than the “household cleaner” smell to it.
I didn’t photograph these, but you know what they look like: Candy Corn. After years of eating old, stale and waxy candy corn this was pretty good stuff. It’s sweet and slightly chewy. Not terribly complex but nice and all the little pieces were wonderfully consistent looking.
One of the newer products (also not in the box) is their Mint Trio. I’m glad Jelly Belly is finally putting out a contender for the pocket mint business. This sassy little trio has peppermint (Jelly Belly sadly discontinued the blue mint years ago), spearmint and wintergreen. I know that a lot of folks don’t like wintergreen but I’m a huge fan. All the beans have a huge boost of mint in them and will easily work as breath mints if you choose. They’re easy to share and I don’t know of many multi-mint breath mint options out there in one package. (Maybe those mint Skittles.) The only problem with them is that I haven’t seen them anywhere but the Jelly Belly store!
Last, I tried a few Bertie Botts while I was at the store. I’m not really into eating gross things, I generally want to like what I eat. But I did try a few that I actually liked and ended up buying a mix of. If you have the opportunity to just do a mix of the “tasty” Bertie Botts, I can recommend Grass (which is just a mellow, fresh flavor), Black Pepper (sweet and hot) and Soap (if you just think of it as a floral bouquet and not like soap it’s tasty).
Whew! That’s a lot of candy. Overall I give the Jelly Belly top marks for consistent quality, diverse flavors and innovation. They’re a little more expensive than most “sugar” candies out there, but I think you’re getting a lot for the money when you consider that you’re getting such consistency and flavor packed into those little beans. However, at those prices, unless you like all the flavors, go for a bulk pick-a-mix where you can get just the ones you like. I’m fond of their citrus flavors so when I was there I made my own mix which was Tangerine, Pink Grapefruit, Lemon, Lemon Drop, and Margarita. Not only are they zesty, saliva-gland-popping flavors, they go really well together. They even had a new flavor there that may not be in wide release yet called Pomegranate (the red one there). It was interesting, rather like a cross between raspberry and cranberry - good tartness but a lot of floral flavors to it. It didn’t taste like pomegranate to me, but it was certainly good.
Rating - 9 out of 10 for general Jelly Belly line of products
Friday, December 9, 2005
Name: Plush Puffs Assortment
Yes, artisanal marshmallows. And why not? The stuff we’ve been getting from Kraft are not what marshmallows are capable of. And those things that you find in cereal? Please, let’s not even grace them with the name marshmallow. They’re not even marshy!
I was sent a generous sample pack from Ann of Plush Puffs, which is based here in Los Angeles (Sherman Oaks, to be exact). The weird thing is that until I started Candy Blog, I didn’t really think much of marshmallows. Besides the See’s Scotchmallows, there were very few marshmallow things that I would even try. Peeps were never on the menu, but I have been known to toast marshmallows, if only because they’re the only grillable dessert I know.
Instead of just plain marshmallows, Plush Puffs are flavored with intense combinations of spice, nuts and/or fruit essences:
Caramel Swirl - I think I’d rename this one to “sticky toffee” because it had a nice carmelized sugar note to it and it was sticky. It was very sweet and had a little bit of caramelly fudge topping on it.
Chocolate Chipetta - this is the only one that doesn’t feel “sweet” to me. It’s rich and toasty tasting with a good chocolate hit. One of my top three flavors.
Maple Pecan - holy moly! These were really good. The maple flavor wasn’t artificial or chemically like some candies can be. It was a good sweet woodsy backdrop to the sweet, chewy foam. It had almost a toffee-like flavor and I even had a few pecans in mine.
Peppi-Mint - it’s like a fluffy candy cane! Seriously minty, like someone’s made a foam Altoid or something. The color and texture looks more like a cake than a marshmallow but the intense flavor made me want to eat both but I settled for doing a mash-up with the Chocolate Chipetta which was really good. One of my top three flavors.
Toasted Coconut - this one smelled divine and tasted just a good. I love coconut and I love the nutty smell that reminds me of the beach and all the kids that could tan wearing that coconut oil suntan lotion. One of my top three flavors.
Sydney’s Cinnamon - this was not my favorite, though I had high hopes for it. It’s definitely cinnamonny, but it also has cinnamon oil, which gives it more of a candy hit than a spiciness (like eating a cinnamon hard candy). But where this puff really showed itself was in the toasting. (see below)
Vanilla Bean - I know, vanilla, kind of bland. It wasn’t really bland, a little salty and it just didn’t wow me. I think this would be good with something else, like maybe over pie or toasted or in s’mores.
Sam’s Sour Lemon - these had a gorgeous zesty lemon smell and pretty creamy and vivid yellow swirls in them. Calling them “sour” lemon doesn’t work at all for me (in fact, I would call them “zesty” lemon instead) but the flavor is really nice and mellow. I also didn’t care much for the mix of textures wtih the crunchy lemon sugar but it’s not a dealbreaker or anything.
There’s one more flavor on their list that for some reason I didn’t get in my grab bag, which is the one that sadly interested me most - Orange Honey. The honey flavor is not that noticeable in the other Plush Puffs but is one of the things that I’ve always found so intense about the See’s Scotchmallows. (I guess I’ll have to place an order.)
Per the recommendation of Ann at Plush Puffs, I tried some in my tea and of course toasted some of Sydney’s cinnamon:
I brewed a cup of Revolution Lavender Earl Grey tea and and dropped in about a quarter of a puff (I didn’t want to overload). As I took the photos I noticed the marshmallow dissolving into a beautiful aromatic foam. I enjoyed the combination of flavors, the creaminess of the marshmallow, the interaction of the botanicals of bergamot, lemon and lavender was really nice. And of course the sweetness of the puff was a nice change from my usually naked tea. Even after I’d slurped off the foamy dissolved puffiness there was still a nice lingering sweetness and lemony flavor. Definitely a cool way to decorate an ordinary after-dinner or afternoon tea. I still prefer my naked tea, because that’s just the way I am.
The drink marshmallows were invented for, of course, is hot chocolate. I got some amazing Mayan Hot Chocolate mix from Xocoatl from my sister-in-law at Thanksgiving which I made here at the office with some milk in the microwave. In went a half of a Sydney’s Cinnamon. Instead of dissolving in a bubbly foam and spreading across the surface like the lemon one in the tea did, this one hung together really well. But once I tried poking it with a spoon it melted completely. I scooped it up like some sort of dessert soup with some of the hot chocolate and enjoyed that until all I had left was my cocoa broth. The spice of the cinnamon went really well with the Mayan chocolate which already had a hit of spices in it.
I kept a few of the Sydney’s Cinnamon aside for toasting. I loaded one up on a carving fork because I know that a single prong really doesn’t do very well with a marshmallow. I put it over the open flame on the gas burner on my stove and it carmelized so beautifully and left the house smelling so good, I think I’ll just start toasting these like incense. Here’s a tip about toasting them. They’re huge. They’re actually too big to toast whole. There’s no way to get a fully molten center (I do not like medium rare toasted marshmallows) with a marshmallow this size. What is so intense about these is that they melt even at moderate heat, which turns them into this molten, intense foamy sauce with a crispy carmelized shell. In the future I think I’ll slice them in half and then have a greater surface area to center ratio.
I’ve been looking for a summer dessert to have after grilling and this just might be the thing. Everyone can choose their own flavor and I think it’d be really cool to make some grown-up s’mores and drinks with them. They don’t quite fit into the “candy” family for me for some reason. They feel more like food, maybe that’s because they’re so satisfying and slightly saltier (more savory) than an ordinary marshmallow.
I should go back and add them to the gift guide, especially since they have baskets where you can choose the selection of flavors. Also, if you’re dubious about them, you can try their “scraps” which are not quite perfect marshmallows. I love factory stores. Overall this is the kind of thing I’d like to offer guests at a party and I can see myself ordering them for a summer grill or maybe part of dessert a holiday cocktail party. I don’t see myself just ordering them to eat, maybe it’s because they feel kind of precious being handmade and all, I just can bring myself to just wolf them down like so many handfuls of M&Ms or Skittles.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Thursday, December 1, 2005
Name: Extra Dark with Cranberries and Macadamias
It took me a long time to actually like Hershey’s milk chocolate. I was never fond of their Special Dark, but I ate it quite a bit when I was younger because it was often the only dark chocolate I could get my hands on easily. Sometimes a girl just needs dark chocolate. Call it medication.
I was curious when I saw this at Target a couple of weeks ago. I know that all the major chocolate companies are into this whole “chocolate as a health food thing” (which by the way, I’ve been saying for about twenty years) so it’s only natural that they start packaging stuff with that sort of market in mind.
If I were to create the ideal fruit and nut bar, I would definitely start with dark chocolate and cranberries are a good choice. I think I’d prefer cashews or pecans over macadamias (especially if we’re going healthy - pecans have a load of good stuff in them). Check out the site I link to up there, they talk about the benefit of antioxidants, which can be found in many fruits (especially dried ones), wine, tea and of course chocolate.
The bar itself was nice. A good woodsy flavor, the nuts were barely perceptible for me as a flavor but added good texture. The cranberries were a good tart, chewy snap. The chocolate was crisp, not bitter with a decent creamy melty quality and good flavor. Not the best chocolate I’ve ever had, but if this were as available as a regular Hershey bar, I’d probably pick it up as a less-sweet snack with 60% cocoa solids. The price is just right as well, a good value for less than $2.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Friday, November 25, 2005
Name: Awesome Nut & Chew Bar
If you’ve ever had a box of Nuts & Chews from See’s or gone into the store and selected the Dark Nougat, you’ve pretty much had this bar. It’s a dense, chewy honey nougat with almonds covered in dark chocolate. I was reading the November issue of Los Angeles magazine, where they explain this new candy bar. Apparently the staff at See’s had been making these candy bars for quite some time, for their own enjoyment. I guess the See’s higher-ups decided the rest of us might enjoy them. (They’ve been selling the Scotchmallows in milk chocolate for as long as I can remember and to good success as far as I can tell.) The story should be up on their website next month, I’ll link to it then, as it was a great article.
The Dark Nougat has always been one of my favorite See’s candies and I often picked them up when I was at the mall.
This is a beautiful looking bar. Long and with glossy dark ripples of chocolate enrobement. It smells wonderful, chocolatey with a touch of honey. It’s jam packed with almonds. Crunchy, smooth, chewy and sweet with a good pop of semi-sweet chocolate.
Fabulous. Mmm. I wish I’d bought more. You can buy them singly or in a box of eight of them for $7.50, which brings them into the price range of plain old Nestle, Mars or Hershey bars. I think these might end up in some Christmas stockings this year.
Rating - 10 out of 10
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Name: Ghirardelli Squares - Milk Chocolate with Carmelized Almonds
I couldn’t resist picking up this bag of sweet treats. I was originally plowing through the clearance table at the drug store because they had Hershey’s cookies for 50 cents a package (and it was one of the few times I’d seen the York ones) and I was hoping for some Halloween finds but then I thought, $2 bucks for Ghirardelli? I’ll take it!
I suspect that this flavor is being discontinued because it has no page of its own on the site (well, there’s a link, but the page has a 404 error on it). Anyway, these are cute little 1.75” squares of milk chocolate with little crunchy almond bits in it.
The milk chocolate is smooth and creamy, not too milky tasting but a bit sticky. The almonds are nicely roasted and have a good carmelized bite to them. Mellow and a little bit zippy, there are really nice little sweets to have around.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Monday, November 14, 2005
Name: Snickers Cruncher
I thought this was going to be a different bar. I was expecting it to be a regular Snickers bar but instead of just a chocolate enrobing, I thought that it would have crisped rice mixed in with the chocolate. (I didn’t really read the wrapper.) It’s not quite like that, as you can see from the photo.
Instead it’s a completely different bar. It’s crisped rice mixed with crunchy peanuts with a stripe of caramel on the top and then covered in sweet milk chocolate. Think a Hershey’s Whatchamacallit, only with whole peanuts in it.
It’s definitely crunchier and less sweet than a Snickers bar. It has an overall toffee taste to it because of the caramel and the nuts are very good (not gamey tasting like I’ve found in some cheap candy bars from time to time). It’s not as filling as a regular Snickers (you know they’re all about that “satisfying” thing). It felt lighter and left me wanting more (could be that it has 50 fewer calories). In fact, I’m probably more likely to buy this one than a regular Snickers in the future.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.