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.
Monday, October 8, 2012
Last month I visited Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania, as I often do when I’m in the area. The themed space is open year around and adjacent to Hersheypark. It’s free to visit and is mostly a Hershey themed mall with a food court and a ride the includes the story of how Hershey’s makes their chocolate.
One of the new attractions at Chocolate World is Create Your Own Candy Bar. It’s a real, mini candy factory where you can customize a single, large candy bar from an array of options. It’s $14.95, so it’s not cheap, but it is an engaging way to spend 30 to 45 minutes, especially if you love to watch machines.
When buying the ticket, you’re asked for your first and last name plus your zip code. I didn’t realize that this was how the bar was customized as you go through the factory experience (though you’re only addressed by your first name and last initial, in case you’re visiting with your AA group). If I knew this, I could have given my name as CandyBlog as you’ll see later.
The tickets are for sale in the main lobby, patrons are given a ticket with a scheduled start time. Folks line up and are given hair nets and aprons, asked to remove all visible jewelry (rings and watches) and hopefully washed their hands. (You don’t actually come into contact with any of the equipment or ingredients.) I don’t know what the limit for a group is, but I would guess about 15-18 people.
The event starts with a quick video which shows you how each stage of the process will work. The basic steps are: choosing your formula, the production of the bar, the cooling of the bar, creating a custom wrapper and then the boxing of the bar.
The customizations are:
You simply scan your ticket’s bar code at the screen and make your selections.
Through a set of swinging doors, the set up is a real mini factory line with a continuous conveyer through a series of stainless steel machines. It extends along a long exterior wall, so it’s well lit and you can view it from the outside (though a real candy factory wouldn’t allow so much sunlight directly on the process). You can follow along and witness every step of the manufacture. Everything is well within view just behind a plexiglass divider and well marked with what’s going on at each step.
The process starts with a chocolate base. It’s like a little, short walled box of a bar. I chose dark chocolate and the suction arms picked one up and dropped it onto the conveyer to start. Along the conveyer are the six possible inclusions, when the bar arrived at an inclusion for your bar, the hopper or screw feeder opens up and drops in your items.
At each station, the items are marked and a little bit about the reasons for the type of dispensing is explained. Screw feeders work well for items that might be sticky, like toffee bits and gravity feeders are for dry items like nuts and pretzels.
Once my inclusions, pretzel bits, almonds and butter toffee bits, were inside the little chocolate box, the bar proceeded towards the enrober. All bars were coated in milk chocolate. No choice. My bar, though, was filled unevenly. The corners had nothing in them and the center had a too-high mound. I would have preferred that my bar go over some sort of vibrating bar that would level things before the enrober.
The enrober is a thick curtain of chocolate on an open mesh conveyer. The video above is short, but gives you an idea of the process. The chocolate that isn’t used gets filtered and recycled back into the system. (So do not eat these bars if you’re sensitive to gluten, tree nuts or peanuts, even if you didn’t pick those items.)
After enrobing, bars that get sprinkles will. I didn’t select those. Then the bars go into a cooling tunnel. The cooling process takes about 8 minutes, so it’s off to waste time in the design and marketing department.
Just off the “factory floor” is a room with more touch screens. Waving the little bar code on my ticket got a new series of options. First, I could design my wrapper. (Well, it’s actually a sleeve, it’s not well explained before you get in there that the chocolate bar comes in a box, which is then inside a tin which gets a customized sleeve.) The design options are not extraordinary. You can choose your background as either a solid or gradient of color or a pattern. Then there are the added items - Hershey Logos, Your Name and some icons (mostly Autumnal and Halloween). I made what struck me as a pretty ugly design and pressed print.
After that the screens give you marketing data about your candy bar. All sorts of different graphs that say how popular or common things are and what other people have done.
That process took me about three minutes, and I tried to rush through it since there were only five screens and plenty of people (including some kids which probably wanted more time on the design). Then it was back to watching the cooling tunnel ... which is a tunnel and only had a few little windows to check on the progress of the bars.
Once the bars came out of the cooling tunnel they were loaded into little slots and dumped into boxes. The boxes got a little laser printing on the end with everyone’s name, then went down to the wrapping stations. This was the only part of the process that was hands-on with any of the factory workers. They had already printed our labels and were waiting for the bars to come out. They popped the bars into a tin, closed the tin and put on the sleeve wrapper.
The factory experience gives people the ability to walk through with their own bar, but also enough time to go back and really look at the equipment if they desire. I don’t know how large the groups can get, but it appears that Hershey’s keeps the manageable so that you have enough room to move around and see everything. Photography is permitted. Children are welcome though everyone has to have a ticket (except toddlers under 2) and everyone makes their own bar. They are ADA compliant, and I saw no reason that folks in wheelchairs wouldn’t be able to get the full experience. (Chocolate World as a whole seemed to be very accessible and actually well attended by folks of all abilities.)
It’s extremely clean, as you’d hope. It’s very well run and each person you meet on the Hershey’s staff is eager and seem knowledgeable. (Especially once you get in the factory room.)
I was at the front of the line and ended up being the first bar (I already scoped what I wanted and was ready at the bar selection process). For me it was about 35 minutes, but if you’re slower or at the back of the line, this might be 45 minutes or more. So allow ample time, as well as the fact that once you get there and they issue the ticket, your start time may be more than a half an hour away.
So there’s my lackluster wrapper. Under the stiff printed sleeve, the chocolate bar is inside an embossed tin with the Hershey’s logo on it. It’s a nice tin, one that I can see myself keeping and using for storing small items.
The tin is 7.5” by 4.5” and 1.25” high with rounded corners. There’s a plastic tray inside that holds the boxed chocolate bar with the generic packaging.
The bar is pretty big. It’s 5 inches long and 2.75 inches wide and maybe 2/3 of an inch high. I don’t have an approximate weight on it, but it’s well over 6 ounces.
As I noted from the production line while watching it being made, the base is dark chocolate and though the chocolate tray had room, the inclusions didn’t make it into the corners. So it takes a while of biting to get to the interesting part of the bar.
I broke my bar open and just as I suspected, the contents spilled out. What’s more, I felt like I was missing the actual inclusiveness ... then enrobing didn’t actually cover my center. So I had my filling adjacent to chocolate, but not actually covered.
Aside from the physical mess, I didn’t like the taste. The fillings were dry and even though it was only a week later that I ate it, it was stale. The pretzel pieces weren’t crisp and were really small so had less crunch to them and were more of a grainy texture. The almonds were nice, small pieces but still fresh and crunchy. But what I was really disappointed about was the butter toffee bits. I was hoping for little Heath toffee chips. Instead I got some sort of artificial butter flavored thing that just stunk up the bar.
Though I chose a dark chocolate base, the majority of the chocolate in the bar is still the milk chocolate. It’s rich and sweet, but does have that Hershey’s tang to it. (Some don’t like it, but if you don’t ... why are you at Hershey’s Chocolate World?) The dark chocolate notes came in a bit, especially when I was eating the sides, but really didn’t nothing in the middle.
On the whole, I give myself 5 out of 10. I blame my inexperience and ingredients.
The problem with my fillings is that they’re dry. What I would suggest is either squirting a little chocolate in the base first and then putting the inclusions into it, or putting layers of chocolate into the center between the dispensing of the inclusions. Then do a little jiggling to get it all evened out and get the air out. This solves two problems.
The other thing I might suggest is that the “candy makers” get to try the inclusions first. There should be a little tasting table, maybe after you’ve bought your ticket before you get the “orientation” portion. That way we can really get a sense of what we’re putting in there instead of $15 experiments. The other thing I’d like to see is the ability to go through the process just accompanying someone who bought a ticket. I can see this being a huge expense for a family with many kids. It would be nice if the parents weren’t obligated to also get a ticket and bar.
Chocolate World is fun, and though it’s billed as free, there are some interesting attractions making this a good rainy-day destination for family, friends and couples who live nearby or are traveling through the area.
The stores there carry a huge array of branded merchandise and candy. The candy selection, though there’s a great quantity, isn’t really that diverse. For Hershey’s Dagoba and Scharffen Berger line they carry only three or four items. The prices are about what you’d pay at the drug store or grocery store when the items aren’t on sale, which is too bad. I heard more than one person lamenting that they could do better and not have to haul the stuff home if they just stop by Target or Costco. So I’d suggest focusing on the hats, tee shirts, playing cards, keychains and mugs.
What I would want from a “factory store” is a section where you can get special preview items, items out of season and of course super discounts on factory seconds. Something that I couldn’t get anywhere else. I’d also want better prices, after all, you’re buying direct so if there are no middle men, why are the prices so high? The only item I saw that rose to that level of specialness were green & red Hershey-ets.
Hershey’s Chocolate World
Free parking, free admission. Fees for most special activities. Wheelchair accessible. Their hours vary wildly, so call or check their website. Open every day (except Christmas).
More photos from PennLive of the Create Your Own Chocolate Bar.
Hershey’s Chocolate World gets a 7 out of 10 from me as an adult, I think kids would rank it higher.
My ticket for this experience was comped by Hershey’s. I have not done any of the other classes or movies at Chocolate World, only the free ride and shopped at the stores.
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.
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