Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Back around Halloween when Mars introduced their Candy Corn flavored White Chocolate M&Ms, I mused what it would be like if they made Egg Nog M&Ms.
Well, Trader Joe’s has gone over the top with their iteration of white chocolate with nutmeg with their Trader Joe’s Eggnog Flavored Almonds covered with Creamy White Chocolate.
They’re sold in a very simple plastic tub that holds 11 ounces and sells for $3.99 ... about the same price as Almond M&Ms ... but they’re all natural (but have no candy shell, unless you count confectioners glaze as a shell).
Trader Joe’s starts with premium almonds. I’ve noticed that a lot of other almond candies (Almond M&Ms) use the smaller almonds about the size of peanuts, but these are big, fresh nonpareil almonds at the center. The coating is real white chocolate with oodles of nutmeg. The combination is convincingly like egg nog. It’s sweet but tempered with strong vanilla and earthy/balmy nutmeg. The almonds are crisp and keep the whole thing from being too sweet (like actual egg nog tends to be). The white chocolate has an excellent melt, not quite silky but quite creamy without being sticky.
I love them, but I fully understand that they’re not for everyone. If you don’t love nutmeg, you’re not going to like these. However, if you do, the combination with the almonds is stellar. I can only hope they’ll have these year round, but I know that they’ll disappear in a few weeks.
It’s all natural and there’s not even any food coloring in there. There is dairy, soy and almonds in the ingredients plus it’s made on shared equipment with wheat, tree nuts and peanuts.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
I was pleased to see that Trader Joe’s managed to give this candy a name, as so many of their other holiday treats end up with nothing more than a functional description of ingredients or assembly.
The Merry Mingle is described as Cranberries, pecans and caramel don their dark chocolate apparel, creating a heaping helping of holiday candy. The box is large, holding 11 ounces, so it’s a good portion, and should be for the price.
The packaging is interesting, the box is sturdy and the graphics are clear and attractive. The inside is a little less posh: a plastic tray insert with four sections filled with four to five pieces each. While I may not have found the inside very nice to serve from, it did protect the pieces well, as they were all in very good condition when removed from the box. The chocolate was glossy and the pecans and cranberries were intact.
The pieces varied rather widely in size. Some were as small as one and a half inches while others were a full two and a half inches in diameter. The construction is interesting. The nuts and cranberries are held together with a little bit of caramel then they’re partially dipped in dark chocolate. There are a few zags and dribbles of chocolate on top of the pieces as well.
The base is mostly caramel, and it does a good job of keeping everything together. The caramel flavors (salt, burnt sugar) are lost in the toasty maple flavors of the pecans and the tart cranberries. The textures are great though, the caramel is smooth and chewy without being sticky or flowing. The chocolate, as the bottom, hits the tongue first, so it makes a bold impression on me as being deep and dark. There are coffee notes and probably some others but they’re lost in the flavor riot of the turtle.
Everything tasted fresh, each element was distinct (though the caramel a little lost). It also felt lighter then a traditional fully enrobed turtle (which actually do clock in at about 20 more calories per ounce). I get the impression from readers that they don’t look so good in the photos, but I thought they were great. If you’re a fan of Trader Joe’s trail mix but would like it dressed up for company, this might do the trick.
It’s Kosher but with so many ingredients, there are a lot of potential allergens: soy, milk, pecans plus traces of wheat, eggs, peanuts and other tree nuts.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
I mentioned in an earlier Candy Tease that Lindt has some new holiday items. In addition to their new hollow chocolate figures of Teddy Bears, Snow Men and Santa they also have some holiday new Lindor Tuffles in Holiday Spice plus their usual holiday offering of Peppermint.
I also spotted this coppery bag of Lindt Holiday Spice Almonds.
It’s a tiny bag. It’s a cute bag, but it really is tin, especially when you consider that 1/3 of the height is just empty “flair.” But still, it’s dense. Jam packed with 3.5 ounces of roasted almonds in milk chocolate with holiday spices. Ah, the vague holiday spices. They’re so vague that on the ingredients list, they’re not even specified as holiday. They’re just spices.
The almonds vary widely in size, some as small as a Peanut M&M and some appear as large as a peach pit.
The candies are a little more complex that what was described. The almond at the center is lightly toasted. Then there is a little sugar shell on top of it. That is then dipped in milk chocolate and finally finished with a dusting of powdered sugar.
They smell a bit like amaretto and custard. The sugar on the outside is a little dusty, a little messy. The milk chocolate coating is smooth but quite sweet and with a strong dairy note. The spice flavor there is mostly the amaretto, but perhaps a little touch of cinnamon. The sugar shell on the inside is lightly crunchy but not thick at all. The almonds at the center were fresh and overall good quality. They work well either chewed for the combination of textures and flavors or slowly melted and dissolved through the layers.
I don’t usually care for amaretto, and in this case it wasn’t very strong. It’s a very sweet combination but also rather different from so many other chocolates and holiday items, I found it refreshing. I would have preferred a better, more specific description on the package though. Amaretto is not a spice and I don’t expect my real almonds to also be flavored with it unless we’re in the territory of marzipan.
While I may make fun of the packaging, I did like how efficient it was. There are two layers, an inner waxed paper and then the decorative metallic mylar. It had a sturdy, flat bottom and didn’t take up an excessive amount of space.
They’re made with wheat, dairy, almonds and soy plus they’re processed on shared equipment with peanuts and other tree nuts. Their cocoa is sourced responsibly and sustainably though not certified fair trade but also sourced from a wide range of locations (many not associated with slavery or brutal unrest). Read their statements here which specifically state that no supplier, anywhere in their chain can use forced labor.
Monday, October 24, 2011
I picked up this cheap box at Rite Aid a few weeks ago because it was on sale for 75 cents but it’s not the first time I’ve purchased them. I picked them up on sale before, about three years ago when I took these photos. No, the packaging hasn’t changed. In fact, the copyright on the box says 1999 (but the expiration date for this box was December 2011).
I’ve never heard of the brand La Pone which is a division of Kings Candy Company. But I figured Jordan Almonds are all kinda the same.
I was encouraged that these were Thin Shell, as sometimes the sugar coating is so thick as to scare me that it’s really a candy encased rock.
The sugar coated almonds come in a variety of soft pastel colors: pink, yellow, orange and green plus a bright pink. They’re shiny and huge. At first I thought it was because the almonds were really big, but it turns out that the shell is really thick. So thick that I have to wonder what their regular non-“Thin Shell” version is like.
They were hard, definitely not something to just mindlessly crunch away at. The shell is sweet, but not sticky or sickly. The nuts are fresh and chewy but not quite crunchy. I didn’t get any fake flavors like a lot of vanilla or almond extract, though an unnamed artificial flavor is on the ingredients.
The shell made me nervous, and I’m not good at sucking on things until I can crunch them. They’re pretty cheap, even at regular price which seems to be about $1.25 when I’ve seen them. It’s a nice snack that cuts down on the overall calorie load of plain nuts (almonds area bout 160 calories per ounce, these are 127 calories per ounce). The shell definitely kept me from gobbling them up too quickly.
The colors are inoffensive. This sort of packaging isn’t quite right for weddings or favors, but as a sort of way to bring back that wedding feeling they’ll do in a pinch.
(Also of concern in the ingredients is flour, so this is off limits for gluten free folks. They’re Kosher and otherwise vegan as long as you’re good with artificial colors and titanium dioxide.)
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Abdallah Candies was founded in 1909 by Albert Abdallah in Minneapolis. The company still run by the family using traditional recipes and focusing on classic candy products like caramels, dipped fruit and chocolates.
I picked up an assortment of Abdallah’s Wrapped Caramels while on vacation here in California. They’re cute little two bite pieces that I thought were reasonably priced at 60 cents each.
Their varieties go beyond the typical vanilla, chocolate and nut versions. They offer about a dozen different kinds. They’re wrapped in clear cellophane, which shows of the candy very nicely.
I tried three different varieties:
Vanilla Caramels I started with the classic, as this is the base of the other caramel candies. The color is a pleasing creamy brown. The pull of the caramel was good, stringy without being too tough or grainy. The flavor was sweet with milky notes ... I tend to prefer a little more salt in my caramel these days, but this was still a great classic vanilla caramel.
Pecan Caramel Nougat is, as you can probably tell from the photo, a layer of pecan nougat sandwiched between two layers of the vanilla caramel. The pecans were soft but crunchy with a woodsy maple flavor. The nougat didn’t do much for me in the way of actual flavor (no honey notes) but the chewy and denser texture was interesting compared to the softer, quicker dissolve of the caramel.
I wouldn’t call it a complete win for me, but I loved the addition of the nuts.
Pecan Alligator Caramels are another layered caramel. The top is a chocolate caramel and the bottom is a pecan vanilla caramel. It’s great. It’s soft and chewy, the chocolate gives it a little smoky and salty edge, the nuts are fresh and ample, the caramelized sugar notes are perceptible ... I loved this one. It was a little grainier, could have just been that I ate them last of my little set, so they might have gotten a little humid.
I’m absolutely intrigued by Abdallah now. I want to order more of their candy directly but I’m a little hesitant as I sent them an email with a question on Monday and they still haven’t responded. But their prices are very reasonable. I had no trouble plunking down 60 cents for each of these.
The other items on their website include other caramel and nut combinations called Alligators (completely chocolate dipped nut caramels) and Grizzlies (caramels with whole nuts and dollops of chocolate). The confectioner has a factory store in Burnsville, Minnesota that you can get fresh candy and even watch the factory floor where they dip their chocolates (photos on their facebook page).
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
The Ghirardelli family owned and ran the company until the 1960s when the company was sold to the Golden Grain Macaroni Company (makers of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat), then in the 1980s Golden Grain was swallowed up by Quaker Oats (the Pennsylvania treat). About 6 years later Quaker sold Ghiradelli off and it was once again an independent entity, if only for about six years when in 1998 it was bought up by Lindt and Sprüngli of Switzerland (which was making chocolate only seven years longer than Ghiradelli).
I mention all of this because there was something vaguely familiar about this bar called Ghirardelli Intense Dark Sea Salt Soiree when I picked it up and it took me a while to figure it out. A couple of years ago I reviewed Lindt Excellence Dark with a Touch of Sea Salt. While I found Lindt’s a good bar, it’s either the quality of the Ghirardelli chocolate or the addition of almonds that really make Ghirardelli’s bar special.
The bar’s mold is nicely designed. Each of the eight sections include the Ghirardelli eagle logo. The molding is overall good, though there are some voids and bubbles on the front of the bar, I didn’t notice anything else amiss when I snapped the bar in half or inspected the bottom of the bar.
I didn’t think it smelled particularly special, like brownies, which in itself is a tantalizing scent, but really didn’t do the rest of the bar justice.
The bar is called Intense Dark but I can’t find anything that says what the percentage of cacao is for the bar. The appearance is dark like coffee with a light reddish hue to it. The bar has a liberal sprinkling of crushed almonds in it and of course large flakes of sea salt.
The flavors of the chocolate are very mild, but a good blend of hot cocoa, coffee and woodsy tobacco. The almonds give a fresh crunch and the light sprinkling of salt doesn’t overwhelm any of the other elements.
It’s an extremely munchable bar, not too dark for a snack but still more sophisticated than a standard Dove or plain Ghirardelli bar. I didn’t expect to like the bar so much since it’s such a simple idea and construction, especially since I had the nut-less Lindt version before. The freshness of the elements and well executed format just come together so well here. I wish that Ghirardelli didn’t feel the need to use dairy (milk fat) in their dark chocolate though, it would make this a much more accessible bar. (It’s also made in a facility that processes peanuts as well.)
Monday, August 29, 2011
In my recent travels abroad I picked up a lot of chocolate bars. Here’s a brief little run down of three of them:
As a little reminder, I went to Amsterdam and Cologne earlier this year. There are flavors there that just aren’t very well known in North America. One of the new flavor trends that I noticed was Absinthe (I’ve seen a little of it in the United States but its influence in The Netherlands was a lot more ubiquitous).
So when I spotted this bar from the Chocolatier Marc Antoine called Edelbitter Absinth Truffle, I though it would be a perfect item to pick up as it would probably travel very well.
The box was stiff and nicely designed with the sickly green swirls of anise & wormwood liqueur. Inside the bar was in a simple cellophane sleeve but remarkably unscathed by its journey.
The bar was big and the pieces were chunky. The dark chocolate was glossy with large reservoirs of the dark chocolate truffle filling inside. The truffle was smooth and creamy and very soft, almost like a caramel sauce. The scent was definitely on the grassy fennel side of things, even before I bit into it. The dark chocolate was smooth and bitter though had a lot of cocoa notes mixed with a sharp and tangy anise. The truffle center had a lot of licorice flavors, very soft and fluffy notes that were sweet along with a little hint of eucalyptus and some other botanicals.
I wouldn’t call it a hallucinogenic experience, but it was a wonderful, strong herbal bar that I enjoy quite a bit. There as a little alcoholic burn to it but it was more like tequila.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The package was a big, flat square, about 4.5 inches. The box was pretty and featured raised and gold embossed lettering for the logo and the image on the front of a clay oven. The chocolate is described on the front a little more puro ciccolato fondente con fichi affumicati or “pure dark chocolate with smoked figs” - so it’s the figs in it that are smoked, not the chocolate itself.
The back of the package is in a bunch of different languages and featured notices about recycling but most importantly that Cuorenero does not use any dairy products other other major allergens, that means no gluten, no eggs, no soy, no peanuts, no nuts with hard shell (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, etc.), no celery, no mustard, no sesame seeds, no sulfur dioxide, no lupines, no shellfish and no fish. On top of that, all their ingredients are GMO-free.
The ingredients were: cacao mass, sugar, cocoa butter, smoked fig pieces, sunflower lecithin and flavours.
The bar is beautiful, a thick circular slab sectioned into 16 wedges. The bar smelled like molasses, deep and sweet with a lot of notes of smoke, leather and pipe tobacco. The chocolate flavors were tangy and had notes of coffee and charcoal. The figs were little bits with the occasional seed. There were notes of dark rum, raisins and the grassy fresh notes of figs. The smoke flavors were like cognac and fine whiskey.
If you’re a chocolatier and looking for a new flavor combination, please try smoked, dried fruit in dark chocolate. Then let me know how I can buy some from you.
The bar was 60 grams (2.1 ounces) and I think I paid about $6 for it at the Cologne Chocolate Museum Gift Shop (I think it was 4 Euros). Cuorenero Website.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Zotter is a popular maker of fair trade candy bars in Austria. They’re crazy. If you think smoked figs are off the beaten path, you have not explored the uncharted wilderness of Zotter. I’ve had two of their bars before, Banana Curry and Zitrone Polenta. They’re fair trade and organic.
This was another bar that I picked up at the Cologne Chocolate Museums Gift Store (which was a phenomenal chocolate store, if you hadn’t figured that out). It’s Zotter Mandel - Rosen which is almond and rose. (I passed up the Peanuts & Chocolate bar.)
The bar is about 4.5 inches long and about 2 inches wide and weighs 70 grams (2.47 ounces). It’s thin, for a filled bar but rather dense.
Inside there are two fillings layers. The base is a creamy but rather solid almond paste and sandwiched in between two layers of that is a rose petal jelly (which seemed to have a touch of raspberry in it). This was a great flavor combination, classic and sure, a bit Victorian in sensibilities. I liked the delicate almond flavor (no screaming Amaretto here) and even the rose was light and had less of a soapy taste than some other floral flavors I’ve tried. It was fragrant and sweet with that light touch of berry to it.
It wasn’t as crazy bar but like the others I’ve profiled here, it’s unusual for American tastes. It’s not the kind of candy you can get addicted to, it’s hard to find and the flavors come in and out of production. Check out their website.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Friday, August 12, 2011
Gianduia was invented back in the late 19th century during a time of chocolate shortages, confectioners put hazelnut paste into milk chocolate to preserve the texture but conserve chocolate solids. The resulting product became a wonder all of its own and actually more expensive these days than straight chocolate when made without oil fillers. The Piedmont area of Northern Italy is also known for its prized and unique tasting hazelnuts (nocciola). Gianduia has a lower melting point than chocolate because the oils in hazelnuts are not solid at room temperature so it’s quite creamy and slightly cool on the tongue.
The Pernigotti Orogianduia Gianduiotti comes in little hat shaped morsels wrapped in textures, matte gold foil. They smell quite sweet but have a note of the toasted hazelnuts. The ingredients are superior to most imitators - sugar, hazelnuts, cocoa paste, cocoa butter, milk powder and no additional vegetable oils.
They’re quite firm at room temperature, which is good because it’s been warm this summer and hard for me to store my large chocolate reserves. These have been sitting in an insulated cooler (no freezer packs, just enough protection from the daily swing of temperatures in my un-air-conditioned house.
They’re sweet and have a slight sugary grain. The melt is cool on the tongue and has a deep roasted hazelnut flavor. There wasn’t much of a chocolate punch to it, more of a milk note for me. It wasn’t the richest chocolate and hazelnut experience I’ve ever had, but a great little evening treat and excellent with dark coffee.
The item that I was most excited about from Pernigotti was their new Nerogiandua Crema Fondente. If you think the package looks a bit like a beauty product, it’s no accident. The marketers wanted to capture women looking for a little decadent pick me up. Think of it as Nutella for grown ups.
As I found the standard Orogianduia a little on the sweet and milky side, was hoping the Nero (black) would be a little richer. The package for this version was all in Italian, but I was able to figure out what everything in there was. The first ingredient was sugar, then Piedmont hazelnuts (20%) then cocoa powder (19%) and then it went on to list refined vegetable oil (of unknown origin), soy lecithin and vanilla. There was no dairy in there at all.
The look of it is dark and glossy, like a fine frosting, not like fudge or a rustic paste. The texture is smooth and the flavor was immediately sweet and nutty. After the sugar dissolved away there were wonderful charcoal flavors of chocolate and toasted hazelnuts. It’s definitely decadent. For a while I was eating it by the spoonful, but I also found that it was great on pretzels or the more traditional Belgian waffles.
I haven’t seen this in stores in the United States yet, but did find it online for about $6.00 a jar. Since it’s already a spreadable product there’s less of an issue of melting if you get it shipped (I would probably never order gianduia via the mail any other way). I tried a similar product from Pralus (France) called Creme de Noisette which was spectacular but about twice the price.
I keep my jar in the fridge and just bring it to room temperature at the time of consumption.
The last product is kind of a mini hazelnut cream chocolate bar. This version of the classic gianduia is called Orogianduia Nocciogoie and is encased in a chocolate shell and has two large, whole hazelnuts inside.
They come in a similar bag that holds only 5.25 ounces and each is individually wrapped. The prices run about the same, again, these are not easy to find in the United States unless you see them at an import store or specialty grocer. I’ve had trouble finding a source online for them.
Each piece is nicely packaged and protected in a gold mylar wrapper. Inside they smelled wonderful. They were a bit more chocolatey than the straight gianduia hats, as there was the small bit of milk chocolate shell. What really made these spectacular was the large and crunchy hazelnut inside. They were fresh and aromatic and provided a great offset to the very sweet Italian gianduia.
Just as there are a oodles of varieties of milk chocolate in the world, there are quite a few different versions of the classic hazelnut paste in chocolate. Once you get past the ingredients, the rest is up to personal preference. I missed the sticky, milky and nutty flavors of Caffarel in the milk chocolate versions from Pernigotti, but their Nerogianduia was really spectacular and something I would be happy to keep on hand.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.