Monday, February 11, 2013
I went to Hawaii. I brought back some candy and chocolate while I was there.Yes, they grow chocolate in Hawaii, even a little on the garden isle of Kauai. But today I’ll review something that’s a little more mainstream, Hershey’s Kisses with Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts.
The special Hershey’s Kisses are studded with Mauna Loa macadamia nuts. They’re sold only in Hawaii (and a few other spots, I believe I saw them at Hershey’s Chocolate World) alongside other “local flavor” items like Coconut M&Ms.
The bags are small, only 8 ounces, and Island Expensive as they’re imported. The bag was $4.49 at the grocery store called Big Save. They also sold them at Hilo Hattie.
Macadamia nuts have the most monounsaturated fats of all nuts and are low in protein. They’re also extremely high in calories, coming in at 210-215 calories per ounce. (Almonds are about 165 calories per ounce and walnuts are about 185 calories per ounce, for comparison.) Though they were once very expensive, macadamia nuts are more widely grown and more affordable. They’ve found their way into American diets as a nut inclusion for baked goods, a cooking oil and in island inspired cuisine (like macadamia nut crusted mahi mahi).
They’re a molded Kiss, like the Almond Kisses. The chocolate is smooth and though the package said that January 2013 was their best buy date, they were in great shape. Smooth, glossy and creamy. There were a lot of macadamia pieces in most. In some it seemed like the center was all nuts and others seemed to only have a few chips.
On the whole, macadamias aren’t my favorite nut. They’re a bit on the coconut side and don’t fill me up in the same way, could be that the protein is missing or that they veer a little too close to Brazil Nut flavor territory. I liked their crispness and fatty chew, and I have to say that they go really well with Hershey’s chocolate. Sometimes I really love the stuff, I know it’s not good chocolate, it’s just candy, but I enjoy it. So I no trouble eating much of this bag by myself.
When it comes to a little taste of the tropics... the macadamia inclusions really do it for me. Of course the jet lag has worn off and I miss the warm ocean breeze instead of this walking the dog thing at sunrise in 48 degree weather ... so it could just be the vacation glow.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
A few weeks ago I got a note from a Starbucks rep who let me know that they had some newish chocolate items by the register at the coffee shops. (Launched last Fall.)
I picked out their Starbucks Salted Almond Chocolate Bites since some of the other varieties looked like they were a bit melted. They also have Salted Caramel and Almond, Caramel Brûlé, Creamy Peanut Pretzel, and Berry Medley.
The package describes them as, “Triple chocolate covered almonds with gray sea salt.” They’re made with milk chocolate, though it’s a very dark milk chocolate both in appearance and flavor. The tube is about 3.75 inches tall and 1.5 inches around. So it fit easily in my purse but still holds a hefty 2 ounce single portion.
The thing I noticed is that these are small. In a way, that’s a good thing. They fit well in the tube and they are consistent in size. But they’re barely the size of a Peanut M&M. So I knew that either the chocolate was very thin or the almonds were very small ... or a bit of both.
The chocolate is good quality and has a soft and smooth melt. The salt is in the chocolate, and also may be clinging to the almond. The salt is integrated, not in little flakes or crystals. So the whole thing had a salty note. Honestly, too salty for me. There’s more than 200 mg per package, which is far too much for something that’s supposed to be sweet. Often the salted caramel items that I get have 60 mg or so ... this is just too much.
The almonds are perfectly roasted so they’re crunch and have a toasty flavor (I usually eat my almonds raw) and balance well with the ratio of chocolate. But I can’t buy these again because of the over-salted flavor. I’m still up for giving the other varieties a try. It’s a pretty good value for a premium-styled product sold at a store where this is an average price for a good. The portion is more than fair, especially if you’re in the mood to share.
They’re made on shared equipment with peanuts, other tree nuts, wheat and eggs. There’s no statement about the sourcing of the chocolate, which is disappointing because Starbucks makes such a bit deal about their sourcing of their coffee.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The world of gourmet candy bars is not limited to North America. The United Kingdom has The Grown Up Chocolate Company which currently makes four upscale and unique candy bars. I was able to procure two of them on my trip to New York City late last year.
They’re packaged well in boldly graphic boxes with fun typography. Inside the box is a rather large candy bar, made with all natural ingredients. The bars are 65 grams, which is about 2.29 ounces. Inside the box the bars are held within clear trays and then sealed in cellophane. Each had expiry dates of late January 2013.
The bar that I found most intriguing was the Crunchy Praline Wonder Bar. The package said: Caramelised wafer enticingly slathered in sumptuous praline encased in real milk chocolate, a true wonder bar!
The package had two of these little bars, which is great for me, because a little over an ounce is a perfect portion especially for something that seemed so decadent.
The little bar has an interesting center. It’s a milk chocolate ganache filled with crunchy, flaky and malty bits of wafer. There’s a little hint of hazelnut paste in the filling, but there’s not much to it. It’s the kind of wafer that would make up an ice cream cone. The cereal taste to the bar and the milkiness of the chocolate makes the whole thing taste an awful lot like a chocolate ice cream cone.
One little bar is extremely filling. I liked this quite a bit and would likely buy it again if I ever saw it, even though it’s about $6.
The Glorious Coconut Hocus Pocus is a rather interesting bar. It’s not merely a retread of an Almond Joy, instead they’ve done quite a bit of work to create something a bit more uncommon. The description is: Creamy coconut ganache luxuriantly topped with an indulgent fruit and nut jumble enrobed in decadent milk chocolate.
The milk chocolate then has a little zig-zag drizzle of dark chocolate as well.
The first thing I noticed after biting into it, aside from the coconut flavors, was the lemon zest. It’s quite a different profile, it’s sophisticated and cuts the sweetness of everything else. The ganache center is dry, it’s not a chewy coconut but has a good balance of milky and coconut luxury. The jumble of nuts and fruits is truly that. I got a lot of almonds and a few pieces of zest as well as a piece of apricot at one point.
It’s odd and inconsistent. I wanted more of the fruit and for the nuts to be chopped up just a little more. Biting into a big almond just made a mess. The milk chocolate is sweet, but doesn’t have enough counterpoint for all the other sweet things. I would have preferred a little dark chocolate contrast and actual chocolate flavor. Still ... it’s a really promising bar. I had to pick the right time to eat it, late in the day the sweetness was overwhelming and made me sleepy. Mid morning seemed to work better for the second half of it.
According to their website they have mini bars, which are probably more my speed. I don’t know much about the sourcing of their cocoa or other ingredients, as they don’t say on their website or the packaging. The bars contain wheat, soy, dairy and nuts and may contain traces of peanuts.
Friday, January 4, 2013
When I was shopping at The Meadow, a quirky store in New York City that sells carefully curated selection of three things (salt, bitters and chocolate), I asked what was the best bar for munching. The gal at the counter suggested Gardini Extra Fondente Gianduia Salata. The bar was pricey at $12 for 3.5 ounces, but I’d come all that way and we’d already talked quite a bit about the glory of Venezuelan beans, so I was ready to trust her. It certainly sounded good: Bitter Chocolate and Gianduia with Sweet Sea Salt.
I’ve become spoiled over the years, though I love hazelnut paste (gianduia), I don’t care for the sticky sweetness of some of the cheaper varieties. This bar boasted a robust 54% cacao chocolate shell with hazelnuts as a the next ingredient after the chocolate (not sugar or oil). There is no listing of the nutritional value on the package, but I’m going to guess that there’s lots of fat in there to make up for the lack of sugar.
The bar is made by Gardini Chocolato in Italy and has won a few awards. If I might tease the end of this review, they’re well earned.
The bar is impressive and feels large and substantial. The segments are domed and shiny and even though the packaging is pretty much just a cellophane wrapper, it’s largely unmarred.
Each domed section is filled with a salted hazelnut paste. The paste, according to the ingredients, is made from ground hazelnuts, whole milk powder and sea salt.
The dark chocolate is in the semi-sweet range, it’s not terrifically dark but still has a lot of oomph to it. The melt is smooth and creamy with its own woodsy profile and a light hint of figs or cherries. The hazelnut center is fascinating. It’s also buttery and very smooth without that sticky feeling that some gianduias can have. The salt provides little sparks of flavor as well. The roasted profile is perfect.
This is an incredible bar, very well made and presented with nothing fussy about it except for the price. I could see eating these regularly as it’s a great combination in the perfect ratios. I would like to try other bars in the Gardini range, but part of me wonders what else could be better than this?
Thursday, December 20, 2012
While I was shopping at Whole Foods outside of Philadelphia back in September, I spotted these Nectar Nuggets Peanut Butter Cups. I’d never seen the before, but there was a little tag next to them that said “They’re Back!” so I figured they must be a local favorite.
There were three varieties on the shelf, and I picked up one of each: Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup and Almond Butter Cup.
The name Nectar Nugget didn’t ring any bells for me, but with the little picture of a bee in the corner of the wrapper and the word nectar in the name, I thought perhaps these were honey sweetened. That would definitely be interesting!
The cups are of the same proportions that we’re all accustomed to, two inches wide at the top and only one half an inch high.
The chocolate used for Nectar Nugget is Rainforest Alliance certified, so it’s sustainably grown and audited to assure that no child labor or slaves are used.
It smells a bit grassy, like real peanuts but not dark roasted ones. The chocolate has a nice sheen. There’s a little bit of a cloudy spot on top of the center, but I forgive that with real peanut butter, as the natural oils tend to migrate.
The peanut butter in the Nectar Nuggets is extremely smooth but also quite thick. It has a nice melt, like chocolate or fudge. The salt is light and gives the peanut butter a sort of warm feel as it melts. The milk chocolate is quite sweet but has a much quicker melt than the peanut butter and creates a good backdrop. It’s not particularly milky, but also not very chocolately, just a nice sweet texture.
The package says that it’s Giant Size, which is 1.2 ounces ... a bit bigger than a standard Reese’s, but not what I’d call a King Size. The thick texture of the peanut butter makes it quite filling for me, so much so that I had to space out my review of this set of cups over several days (and I’ve been known to eat a lot of candy in one day).
The ingredients include milk, so it’s not a true dark chocolate (nor vegan) item. Like the other cups, the package says that there are 5 grams of protein in each cup. This makes them rather filling without that too-much-sugar crash later.
The dark chocolate cup is tough, but in a way it’s worth it. The dark chocolate is smooth and buttery, though it starts a little waxy and stiff if it’s cold. The peanut butter feels drier than the milk chocolate version. The melt of the dark chocolate is quick and really fatty, it rolls around on the tongue quite a bit. The cocoa flavors are very deep, nutty and on the bitter side. It brings a whole smoky flavor to the cup.
I was wondering if this actually was a nut butter or a marzipan, but it’s definitely nut butter.
The Almond Butter cup is interesting. Most notably, the nut butter interior is quite salty, especially compared to the sweet and smooth chocolate. It’s 80 mg of sodium (same as the peanut butter ones) which is actually less than a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Like the peanut butter varieties here, the nut butter is a little on the dry side, but not crumbly, quite smooth and fresh. Instead of the roasted and grassy flavors of peanuts, the almond butter is a bit less vivid. Instead, the textures were the focus and the milk chocolate was more noticeable.
It still lacked a pizazz for me, but that’s probably because I was indoctrinated as a child into the peanut butter culture of North America. Even so, since they’re made in a facility with peanut butter, they’re not suitable for those with allergies to peanuts.
They were good and I appreciate the attention to details with the ingredients and the portioning. The ratios are good. They’re not my ideal cup but the fact that they’re ethically sourced and have no artificial preservatives tip my opinion in their favor. So I think I might pick them up again even though they were pricey (I think they were $2.00 each or something close to that) but probably wouldn’t seek them out at a special store. (They contain soy, milk and peanuts or almonds but there’s no statement about gluten.)
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
I was excited to see this Nestle Crunch Noisettes bar in New York at Zabar’s. I scooped it right up from the display basket by the cheeses (and looked in the same basket to see if there were any other exotic flavors).
The bar is made in Italy by Nestle and is a twist on the classic Crunch bar, which is a milk chocolate bar with crisped rice. The exotic twist here is the inclusion of noisettes ... hazelnuts.
This bar is very attractive.The mold design is inventive and practical. The sections break easily but instead of a typical grid they’re faceted polygons in a vaguely rectangular format. Even though I carried this all the way across the country, it still came out looking practically pristine.
The back of the bar reveals a bit more about the contents. The crisped rice is large and classic looking, unlike the newer cereal rice flour bb’s that are in the current American Crunch bar. There are also a far number of crushed hazelnut pieces.
The bar smells comforting, a mix of sweet milk, cereal and toasted nuts.
The snap is crisp and the melt of the chocolate is a little sticky but overall smooth. The texture is on the fudgy side with a lot of milk and a slight grain to it. The milk flavors predominate along with a hint of malt and the fresh and crunchy hazelnuts. The chocolate recipe is a little different from the American Nestle Crunch, this version has whey in it, which is not allowed in American chocolate (if it is to be labeled chocolate), but at least it keeps the mouthfeel similar and adds protein to the bar ... which keeps it from being overly sweet. I wanted more crisped rice, but feel like the ratio of hazelnuts was just perfect.
I liked it and had no trouble eating the whole bar over the period of several days. Given a choice, I’d probably opt for a Ritter Sport bar, as I prefer their milk chocolate profile and more transparent ethical sourcing though they don’t actually have a crisped rice bar (but an excellent milk chocolate with corn flakes will do).
This bar has wheat gluten in it, along with dairy, soy and tree nuts.
Monday, October 15, 2012
As a kid, a Toblerone bar was a special treat reserved for holidays, partly because they were expensive and partly because they were difficult to find year round. The bar was different from anything else on the market from the shape of the box and the exotic name to the interesting combination of flavors and textures.
The Toblerone company was bought from Jacob Suchard in 1990 by Kraft and is still made in Bern, Switzerland. The bars are much easier to find now, and easily located any time of the year. Their newest bar released in the United States is the Toblerone Crunchy Salted Almond and features Swiss milk chocolate with salted caramelized almonds and honey and almond nougat.
Rosa at ZOMG Candy gave the bar pretty high marks, so I was eager to find one in the wild. I spotted them at Walgreen’s over the weekend, though not on sale. It’s $2.99 for the 100 gram (3.5 ounce) bar, which is what I’d expect to pay for something from Kraft that’s in their Green & Black’s range of ethically sourced and all natural chocolate.
The serving size is 1/3 of the bar, and it would be nice if they just said how many peaks that is (there are 12 in the bar, so 4 is a serving). But I did like the packaging. The snug triangular box protects the bar, even though it’s just in a thin foil wrapper inside. I liked the color and the bold, simple design. The nutrition panel, otherwise, is really easy to read.
The look of the bar is the same as the classic milk chocolate bar. Inside I expected to see more almonds, as they’re both in the nougat bits and included as the salted pieces as well. The bar smells milky and sweet. The bite is soft and has a lot more crispy bits in it than I was accustomed to. The chocolate is fudgy and has a lot of milky flavors to it, mostly it holds together the inclusions. The nougat pieces are crispy ... unless they’re a little bigger which may mean that they’re a little tacky if chewed. The almonds are a little larger and have a nice, fresh crunch to them. As for the salt promised, I didn’t really taste it. There’s only 55 mg per serving, so it’s not a liberal dose. Though I can’t say that I perceived it, I will say that this bar seemed less sweet than the standard Toblerone. I actually prefer this to the Classic.
Kraft and Toblerone have scant information on the sourcing of their ingredients except to say that the chocolate is not Fair Trade on their website in the FAQ section and the the cocoa is sourced from around the world (well, at least it’s Earth chocolate). The bars contain milk, soy, almonds and eggs plus are manufactured on shared equipment with other tree nuts.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Taza Chocolate makes their chocolate from bean to bar in Somerville, Mass. What sets them apart from the many other small batch chocolate makers that have sprung up in the last 10 years is that they stone grind their chocolate in the rustic, classic Mexican tradition. Taza sources their cacao through direct trade sources to assure quality and ethical practices.
They make a wide variety of products but the ones of most interest to me are the Mexicano Discs. They make 10 different varieties, but I got samples of two that I thought would represent the style best: Cacao Puro Chocolate Mexicano 70% and Taza Salted Almond Chocolate Mexicano. I also noticed recently that Trader Joe’s has started carrying a strikingly similar set of chocolate discs, so I’ll throw in some notes about that.
The Taza website describes the Taza Discs as Rustic, round dark chocolate discs with a distinctively gritty texture, some sweet, some savory, some spicy. The packages have two discs in them, 2.7 ounces total (1.35 ounces each).
The discs are either for eating straight from the package or making into a drink by mixing with a whisk (or molinillo if you want to be authentic) and some hot milk (or water).
The Cacao Puro Chocolate Mexicano 70% is organic, gluten free, soy free and dairy free plus Kosher and made with only two ingredients: organic cacao beans and organic cane sugar.
The process for making the chocolate is very simple. The roasted cacao is placed in the stone mills and ground, then ground a second time with the sugar added. As noted on their website, it’s not a lot of processing, no conching and no emulsifiers are used. The chocolate is then tempered and molded into the discs.
(My photos for the Puro turned out poorly, so just imagine this Salted Almond is the Puro. It really looks the same, just a smidge darker.)
The look of the bars is a little dusty, less than glossy. The snap is solid, these are tough and dense bars. The melt is, well, not very smooth. It’s described as rustic and rustic is what it is.
The overwhelming flavor note I had was green wood, it’s a little like black tea, with other notes of lemon peel, raisins and a hint of figs and leather.
The texture is grainy, there are grains of sugar, which are interesting because they dissolve quickly. Then the is the grit of the large cacao particles. This gives the overall flavor of the chocolate a sort of variation, there are parts where the flavors might start as citrusy but then after chewing (yes, later because of the grit, there is more chewing than a really smooth dark chocolate might obligate me) some other flavors come out, like the tobacco and tea.
The chocolate here is only 40% cacao, with a larger proportion of sugar plus the almonds and salt taking up the other 60%. I really expected the cross section of this one to look more rustic, with more bits of almond in there, but it’s really well integrated.
It’s quite sweet, the graininess is taken up with the sugary grains with a hint of salt. I didn’t catch much from the almonds, except that they gave it a more creamy and mellow flavor that moderated the bitterness of the cacao better than the sugar. The chocolate flavors were also evened out, so I just got a sort of fudge brownie flavor from the whole thing.
I tried making a hot chocolate with this, since that’s part of the appeal of the Mexican-style of rustic chocolate. I didn’t put a lot of chocolate into it - about half of a disc for about 6 ounces of whole milk, I’ll probably add more next time. It’s best to use a whisk for this, all I had was a fork, so there was a lot of stirring (and a good thing that I didn’t fill up the cup all the way). The flavor is much more nutty and the sugar dissolves completely. The grittiness of the cocoa part goes away (until you get to the sludge at the bottom which is then a mix of almond bits and cacao nibs, which is also great).
I prefer this as a hot drink to a bar for eating, but that’s just me. It’s a bit expensive and requires a lot more work than just dumping a powder into some hot water, but I appreciate good ingredients and can take that extra minute for the stirring. (And now that the weather is getting cooler, I need a sort of whisk that’s ideal for one cup of chocolate.)
The final one I have notes on is the Trader Joe’s special version, Organic Salt & Pepper. It has 54% cacao, so it’s a bit darker than the Almond version. The only real difference between this disc set and the Taza branded ones is the fact that there are no little letters T A Z A on the molded sections.
It smells dark and peppery with some rum notes. The salt is much more forward than the Salted Almond. The gritty texture seemed to go well with the rustic flavors of salt and pepper and the grainy sugar. The cocoa flavors were a bit lost though did remind me of brownie batter. Of the three that I tried, this was my least favorite, but mostly because of the overall sandiness. The heat of the black pepper takes a while to warm up, but lends some nice tones.
The style of chocolate is interesting and definitely different from the standard fare and novelty chocolates these days. Really, I think this chocolate will shine as a drinking product, not for straight eating. But that’s a personal preference. If you’re looking for a chocolate that’s easy to portion, made with vegan ingredients, that has no GMO ingredients, emulsifiers or gluten or added vanilla bean then this is a fantastic option.
Update 10/29/2012: Per the suggestions of readers that I should drink this as hot chocolate, I did just that with one tablet of the Salted Almond. I found it a little bland, but very rich. So for the remaining discs, I made chocolate pudding. The recipe was 1/4 cup of corn starch, 3 cups of milk and three discs (about 3.5 ounces) of chopped chocolate. I warmed the mixture on the stove over low heat while I used a whisk to completely incorporate the corn starch, then as the chocolate melted to emulsify it. Then turned it up to medium heat, stirred constantly until it just started to thicken and boil. I added some vanilla extract (optional). It’s very rich, not at all sweet.
For my mix I had one disc of Salted Almond and two of the Cacao Puro. I wasn’t interested in the Salt & Pepper as pudding.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.