Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Poco Dolce is a small confectioner based in San Francisco known mostly for their lovely toffee tiles (really, take a look). A few years ago they started making specialty chocolate bars as well.
The one I picked up in San Francisco was one I was particularly looking forward to. It’s simply called Hazelnut Bar made with bittersweet chocolate. The ingredients are exceptionally simple, chocolate, hazelnut butter and sea salt. Since it’s a dark chocolate, it’s also vegan (though processed where it may have come in contact with milk proteins, other tree nuts or peanuts and there’s no statement about the sourcing of the sugar).
Poco Dolce sources their chocolate from nearby Guittard Chocolate Company, choosing from their Rainforest Alliance certified chocolate. The hazelnut butter comes from Oregon.
The bar is not that large, though the box makes it seem like it would be close to one of those 3 ounce tablets. Instead this one is 1.763 ounces ... or what I’d consider a very generous single portion.
The dark bar is nicely tempered and the smooth hazelnut butter is well integrated. The texture is smooth, no hint of hazelnut bits but a strong hazelnut flavor. The bar is bitter, but in a roasted way. The melt is good, though a little firmer than a regular dark bar at first, but has a lighter feel on the tongue than a straight chocolate. It’s lightly sweet and lightly salty, deeply chocolatey and nutty. It’s also exceptionally filling. About two pieces were a great pick me up. So while the bar was expensive and small, I felt like it lasted a long time.
One of my complaints about hazelnut paste (gianduia) as I’ve gotten older is that it’s too sticky and too sweet. This bar has none of those issues, yet still remains decadent.
Friday, August 10, 2012
Most bars are the standard tablet of 100 grams (or 3.5 ounces) but several years ago Valor came out with this handier single serving version. It’s thicker and easier control portions with only 1.59 ounces in the bar.
The bar is pretty and one of my favorite formats. For bars with nuts, I enjoy a thicker bar that’s not too wide so it’s easy to snap off a piece or bite it without mess.
The Valor bars, being from Spain, use Marcona Almonds. Marconas are a cultivar of almonds that are not as common in the United States. Here in California we grow about 80% of the world’s almonds, and nearly all are the nonpareil variety. Marconas are more rounded, rather flat and usually quite smooth. They’re also quite crunchy and less fibery than nonpareils.
The nut distribution was a little off. The first section had one almond (shown). The middle two sections had six almonds. The last section had none at all.
The milk chocolate is rather high in cacao, at 34%. There’s a little whey in the ingredients list way down at the end, which is forbidden in US chocolate by labeling standards (it’s really just a harmless filler). The chocolate is barely sweet, has a deep rich and malty flavor to it and has an almost salty note to it. It’s missing complex vanilla notes, which is probably because they don’t use real vanilla in the bar. It’s a very firm bar, even in this heat (I kept it in an air conditioned room though it’s still often 80 degrees in there) but I still found that it took longer in my mouth to melt than the standard Hershey’s, Cadbury or Dove.
The nuts go really well, they’re a more delicate flavor and that superb crunch is satisfying. The milk flavors are less sticky and more fresh tasting than the Swiss or British style, but almost goaty.
It’s a great bar when you want a less sweet chocolate that’s not too overpowering and difficult like a dark bar. The almonds make it much more filling, but I wanted a few more in there. This is something I’d definitely chose over a Cadbury Fruit & Nut or Hershey’s with Almond. I don’t know what the source of the cacao for Valor is, their website is vague (“all over the world”) so I can’t comment on the ethical policies of the company.
Monday, August 6, 2012
The stand up bag has a little banner across the top that says “now more chocolate in every bag.” I did a little research and it appears that the regular bags used to have 5.25 ounces and now they have 5.58 ounces. Not exactly noteworthy, especially when they don’t spell out the exact amount.
Milk Chocolate with Hazelnut Crisp Filling sounds pretty delicious to me. I wasn’t sure what a hazelnut crisp would actualy be, though the front of the package shows a little bowl of crisped rice and a few hazelnuts. So in my head it was going to be a mix of some sort of hazelnut paste and the crunchies inside the milk chocolate squares.
The mylar sealed squares are actually aqua, one of those colors that doesn’t photograph well and turns out more like light blue. Even with the heat in Southern California, these were still looking fantastic right out of the package. The chocolate squares are glossy and perfectly molded with the Ghiradelli eagle on top.
The ingredients aren’t great. It’s not a simple hazelnut paste center, instead there are lots of extra ingredients I don’t much care for like palm and palm kernel oil, distilled monoglycerides (well, I ‘m not sure how I feel about those), partially hudrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed & soybean) plus TBHQ, a preservative. There’s no mention of gluten, other tree nuts or peanuts as possible allergens.
The squares smell very buttery, less sweet than I expected with a light hint of hazelnuts. The bite is soft, but it’s summer and the chocolates were still tempered well enough that they hadn’t bloomed. The milk chocolate is sweet and sticky but has a good milk and toffee flavor to it. The creamy center is also sweet with more of a milky and malty flavor to it and only a hint of the promised toasted hazelnuts. The crisped rice is in the form of little ball, like bbs. It’s a nice texture, the whole this in very satisfying though doesn’t have quite enough of an intense or defined punch for me. Overall, I liked them, but not enough that I feel like finishing the bag. (I’ve eaten five though, just to be sure.) Something in a darker chocolate might be better suited to me, but if you’re into a sweet that has a bit of texture, this might be your thing.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
They’re also usually expensive for anything other than plain old peanuts. So the decadence comes with a pricetag that helps to moderate any overindulgence. But I saw this box of Superior Nut & Candy Chocolate Covered Cashews not in the candy aisle at RiteAid, but their “bargain” aisle. It was only a buck and looked to be of good quality.
The bargain price can be explained by the miniscule portion. I knew when I bought it that the box was only 2.75 ounces. The box is 6.5 inches long, 1 inch thick and 3.5 inches wide.
The large volume of the box is wasted. There is no “product may have settled during shipping” notice. The little packet inside is little, was always little, was made little. It rolls around in the box, can stand up, turn around and perhaps even invite two friends over.
But amounts aside, they look good. The packet protected them well, they’re sealed and smell fresh and look glossy when opened.
The cashews are good, they’re large and well chosen. Some are over one inch long, though most are slightly less. Some are whole, some are halves and a few are pieces.
The chocolate is sweet and has only the thinnest veneer of confectioners glaze to keep them from sticking together. It’s rather fudgy and though not grainy, I wouldn’t say it’s a silky smooth melt either. The nuts are good quality, fresh and only lightly toasted.
Overall, they’re good and it’s uncommon to find chocolate covered cashews at the drug store. The price is actually pretty good if you ignore the expectation of more candy because of the size of the box.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Milka is an old German chocolate candy brand that dates back to 1901. The Milka brand fell under Suchard, a popular chocolate bar maker which also made powdered cocoa. The bar was their milk chocolate and named by combining the German words milch (milk) and kakao (cocoa). The earliest chocolate bars sported the lavender wrapper that is still one of the distinguishing marks of their branding.
Milka is now owned by multinational conglomerate Kraft, which also makes Toblerone, Marabou, Cadbury, Cote d’Or, Freia and here in the United States, Baker’s Chocolate. Milka bars are known for their high milk content, soft and sweet melt and favoring of hazelnuts.
They’re far more available in the United States in the past 5 years than I think any other time in history. I’ve been seeing Milka products reliably at discounters like Target. This particular Milka Chopped Hazelnut bar was purchased at the 99 Cent Only Store. For only a buck, for a 3.5 ounce bar. Not a bad deal.
Now I must state that Milka is not chocolate by current American definitions, because it contains additional dairy whey. But the coolest additive they use is hazelnut paste, which more than makes up for it.
The bar is soft and extremely sweet. The only thing that moderates that sweetness are the crushed hazelnuts. They’re well distributed though I’d probably want more of them (but I understand that this is a bargain bar). The nuts are fresh and crunchy. The dairy flavors are on the toffee and toasted sugar side, instead of tasting like powdered milk Cadbury sometimes can.
Overall, this is one of the more satisfying bars I’ve had from Milka. I prefer the use of palpable nuts in addition to the hazelnut paste and of course the price can’t be beat. Though Kraft and Milka may have sustainability and ethical sourcing plans, they’re not noted on the package or their website.
I’m a fan of good quality white chocolate. I like cocoa butter a lot and this bar does use the real thing. Again, the only reason it’s not considered true white chocolate in the United States is the use of additional dairy whey.
The bar is nicely sized and the little domed pieces are easy to break off.
In the world of white chocolate, this is probably the best deal you’re going to find for a dollar that doesn’t include other fats besides cocoa butter and milk products. The use of whey doesn’t actually bother me that much. I understand it’s a filler but it allows things like chocolate to maintain their texture without becoming overly fatty or too sweet.Of course I would only endorse it for “candy” type applications, not fine chocolates.
It’s a sweet bar, but not very complex. It’s a bit grainy and fudgy, not a lot of vanilla flavors and the even the fresh dairy taste isn’t that distinctive. I found this wasn’t very interesting eaten plain, but went well with other candy. It’s best with a good chocolate cookie (like an Oreo) or a salty item like nuts or pretzels. (Even tortilla chips.)
While in Germany last December I also picked up a few other Milka items, because of their novelty. One of them was this box of Milka Schoko Drops. I know I’ll probably never see these again, which is too bad because they’re certainly a distinctive product. I think they were about one Euro but the little box only has 25 grams (.88 ounces). It’s a rather different price point for a brand that’s usually dirt cheap.
The pieces are large, almost the size of a quarter in diameter and a beautiful purple or pearly white.
The center is Milka’s hazelnut milk chocolate, the outer layer is white chocolate and then a crunchy shell. The box didn’t hold much, but I didn’t need much. I liked them quite a bit. They’re not better than M&Ms, just different. BTW - why doesn’t Mars make Hazelnut M&Ms?
My favorite of the European Milka Bars was this one I picked up at a Kaufland grocery store (on a big sale display that I think was .59 Euro, or about 80 cents American) in Schmalkalden, Germany. It’s the Milka und Oreo which is a natural combination, since Kraft owns both brands.
If there was a disappointment with this bar, it was the use of that cream in the center instead of just more Oreo Cookies. The cream was okay, more on the yogurt side, though less sweet than the actual filling of Oreos. But without the filling, I suppose there’s nothing to distinguish it from regular Chocolate & Cookies bars.
I would buy this again, though I’m not sure if they’re sold in the United States.
I was pretty excited to see these Milka L’il Stars bags at the 99 Cent Only Store on a more recent visit. The reignited my interest in Milka, and spurred me to dig out these photos from earlier this year and finish this write up.
Again, for only a dollar, it’s a great deal for a chocolate hazelnut product. Think of them as giant, shell-less Crispy M&Ms.
The Milka L’il Stars Crispees look completely different than anything else on the American market and fill that hole I often have for a cereal and chocolate combination. The bag is a decent deal for a buck, it holds 3.88 ounces of little spheres of wheat crisps covered in Milka chocolate coating.
The pieces are a bit rugged and uneven. The good part about that is that they don’t roll around as well as a Malted Milk Ball would.
The crispy center is airy and light. It’s a little crunchier and less honeycomb/foamy than a malted milk ball. The flavor is also delicate and cereal-like. It’s a rice puff, made with rice malt and malted barley syrup. It’s not very malty, not like a malted milk, but has the hints like Corn Flakes do.
Of course there’s gluten in there and hazelnuts, dairy and soy. They’re made in Slovakia.
They’re just single, whole roasted hazelnuts covered in the Milka chocolate which has hazelnut paste in it.
This bag (also made in Slovakia) also has 3.88 ounces in it, though not as much volume as the Crispees because of the density of the nuts.
They’re crazily simple, but really well done. The nuts are well chosen, good quality and lightly roasted. The coating is soft and sweet, a little on the fudgy side but the dairy flavors come out more than I noticed them in the bar. The roasted hazelnuts are crunchy and satisfying.
Since chocolate covered hazelnuts are so hard to find, I can see myself picking these up again, especially if I wanted to combine them with the Crispees and some other savory items for a little bit of trail mix to create the perfect movie snack.
The touch of hazelnut paste in Milka products distinguished them from other dairy milk chocolate products like Cadbury. Though it’s not great quality chocolate, it is satisfying candy.
Friday, June 1, 2012
All share the use of M&Ms chocolate candies and pretzels, but then have slightly different elements from there. The basic mix, based on the Milk Chocolate M&Ms is Milk Chocolate M&Ms Snack Mix Salty & Sweet.
The bags are eight ounces and I got mine on sale for $3 each at Walgreen’s, but I have to believe that they’re going to be priced less than that on a regular basis for them to catch on.
First I have to say that the packaging is well done. The stand up bag does stand up and the zip lock closes easily and securely enough to both keep contents from spilling and protect from moisture. The bag also will sit “open” well enough to serve from.
The items within the Milk Chocolate mix are: Roasted Peanuts and Crunchy Pretzels from the salty side and mini Chocolate Chip Cookies and Milk Chocolate M&Ms from the sweet side.
In the case of my bag, things appeared to be packaged in tiers, so all my peanuts were at the bottom and all my pretzels were at the top. So when I first dumped it out for photographing, I missed the peanuts entirely. (See below.)
The pretzels are barely an inch across and just lightly salted, which I thought was perfect. They’re not so big that they took up a whole bite, allowing me to combine elements for a customized flavor/texture profile.
The little chocolate chip cookies are like Chips Ahoy!. A bland vanilla cookie with teensy little chocolate chips. They’re about .8 inches around and reminded me of Cookie Crisp Cereal in shape, but actual chocolate chip cookies in flavor. They’re a little salty, very sweet and nicely crunchy.
The M&Ms are, well, Milk Chocolate M&Ms. They’re a bit dusty with crumbs or salt, but otherwise fresh and crunchy, the sweetest thing in the bag.
The peanuts, well, this is where things took a bad turn. I didn’t like the peanuts at all. I thought they were roasted too dark, they were bitter and sometimes chalky. Since everything else in the bag was perfectly fresh, it made very little sense to me why they were consistently so unappealing. (One or two bad peanuts are understandable, but they were all the same color, uniformly small in size and rather lifeless.) I have to wonder if they were a bit on the over-roasted side as a way to stabilize them, especially the fats in peanuts that can make everything greasy.
As long as I ate the peanuts in the same bite as something else, I didn’t mind the. But on the whole, I prefer a snack mix with a strong protein component (usually from nuts).
This bag features a mix of salted roasted almonds and pretzels along with mini shortbread cookies and Peanut M&Ms.
The little shortbread cookies are similar to the chocolate chip ones in size, but actually more successful in this application. The flavor is quite good, I got a great sense of the toasted shortbread cookie with its vanilla flavor. But what was really interesting was that the salt from the almonds had rubbed off on the, so there was an excellent contrast going on. They’re dense and crunchy and not too sweet.
The pretzels were again nicely layered in, a good crunch with a mild flavor.
The almonds were tiny, but roasted perfectly thought slightly over-salted for my tastes. (The overall sodium level for the snack mix is 125mg for a 1/3 of a cup portion which is about 190 calories.
The Peanut M&Ms were, well, exactly like Peanut M&Ms. They were big and had a lot of crackle going on and added a buttery element to the whole mix.
All of the items went with each other. An almond with a Peanut M&M was great. A cookie with a pretzel was also really satisfying. I was surprised at how much I liked this mix, though it does combine some of my favorite items. It was the cookies I was hesitant about, but they really did add to the satisfaction level.
The mix contains salted, roasted almonds and pretzels along with raisins and Dark Chocolate M&Ms.
This is the “healthiest” of the mixes, if you go by calorie load. There are 132 calories per ounce, slightly less than the milk chocolate mix with a half a gram less saturated fat but still 16 grams of sugars. But it does have a bit of iron at 6% of your daily recommended allowance and two grams of fiber.
Of course all of that relies on eating the exact proportions of each element in the mix. If you pick out the M&Ms and almonds, well, all bets are off.
The mix is attractive and has a good salty note to it from the pretzels and the almonds. The raisins were pretty big, soft and juicy without being sticky. The Dark Chocolate M&Ms pair well with any of the elements. Part of me would like to see a more interesting dried fruit in the mix, like dried cherries or cranberries (which do suffer from being sweetened) but this version does fit the bill by adding in a little tangy chew.
These are not candy. There’s very little candy in there, by most accounts, about 25% of it is actually M&Ms, the rest of snack foods. Mars has made a nice mix and chosen each element pretty well and balanced them expertly.
It’s a good mix for a lot of different purposes. Easy to share you can take it on an airplane, a car trip or a movie theater (of course you’d pay concession prices ... probably about $8 a bag). I prefer to make my own mixes, but if I have to grab something already made a store, this is a fair value.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
While at Aldi last month I picked up a few tried and true favorites as well as a few new things. The candy selection at Aldi, a German grocery chain with locations in the east and mid-west of the US, is a bit lighter during the non-candy-season months.
I picked up this slim box that holds 11 small candy bar sticks. They package describes them this way, Dark chocolate bars with hazelnuts and rice crisps in a chocolate creme filling,
For only $1.99, it’s a pretty good deal and I like the little portions inside.
Inside the light, paperboard box are 11 small candy bar sticks. They’re wrapped in a matted printed foil and individually marked (in case you wanted to put them in a bowl or candy dish but still be able to identify them). Each is a little shy of 2/3 of an ounce and about 105 calories. Two is a very nicely portioned treat.
They smell lightly sweet with a note of toasted nuts and cereal.
The little bars have a hazelnut cream filling studded with little crisped rice spheres. That’s all inside a molded dark chocolate shell. The dark chocolate isn’t terribly dark, I’d say about 55%. The flavor is woodsy, overshadowed by the hazelnut flavors from the chocolate hazelnut cream center. The crisped rice provides only a slight crispy texture that mostly keeps the center from being too sickly sweet or sticky. Still, I found it all a bit sweet after the second little bar.
I’ve had quite a few of these Choceur bars over the years and they’re always quite good and extremely well priced. This particular one is note quite on the level of a Perugina Baci, but still a nice little treat especially in the afternoon when you want something more sophisticated than a Twix or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
There’s no statement about the ethical sourcing of the ingredients on the package. The product contains soy, dairy, nuts and gluten and may also contain traces of peanuts.
Friday, April 20, 2012
I’m always scouring Trader Joe’s for new candy and was rewarded with this little tub of Trader Joe’s Almondictive Bits. It’s the familiar stackable clear plastic bin, this time with a name and design worthy of the Fearless Flyer.
A compulsively, compelling candy, caramelized almond morsels covered in dark chocolate
I often complain that Trader Joe’s doesn’t take the time to name their products beyond a description of what it actually is. So kudos to them for coming up with something original (so original that all google searches lead back to Trader Joe’s references). But most of all, I appreciate that Trader Joe’s used the slightly more proper addictive as their source instead of addicting. Of course since it’s a made up word, it also reminds me of the vindictive, and I don’t like mean almonds.
The pieces vary in size, some as large as a peanut but most about the size of a garden pea. The 45% dark chocolate coating is quite deep looking and glossy. There’s a slight coating of glaze on it, but it melts very quickly. The chocolate is a bit on the bitter side with lots of brownie batter and coffee notes to it. The centers are crispy caramelized chunks of almonds. Some pieces were pretty much all toffee while others were very nicely roasted almonds with a hint of crunchy toasted sugar.
The nuttiness made these just a little different from their chocolate covered toffee bits they also sell in the small bags by the register. It’s a satisfying combination of sweet, salty and bitter along with a creamy chocolate coating and different textures of crunch in the center. I wish the pieces were just slightly larger or more consistently large. The little bits at the bottom, which were like ball bearings and mostly chocolate weren’t doing much for me. These would be a great ice cream topping or added to a nuts & pretzel trail mix.
As with many of Trader Joe’s products, I don’t know where these were made or the ethical sourcing of the chocolate within. They are Kosher, contain dairy, almonds, soy and might have traces of wheat, peanuts and other tree nuts
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.