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.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
I mentioned this bar a couple of months ago in a candy tease. It’s called Frey Chocobloc AIR and as you might guess from the name, it’s an aerated chocolate bar. Frey is a large Swiss chocolate company (I used to see their bars at Target and often at airport duty free shops) but they’re not as well known in North America as some others.
Now that I’ve had the Hershey’s Air Delight Kisses, I thought it was a good time to compare it to another newly introduced product.
Frey makes a line of bars called Chocobloc which have a similar format to the Kraft Toblerone bar. They’re a long, chunky block that has little divided, angular sections. The regular Chocobloc bars are 100 grams, the aerated AIR bar is only 70 grams. But what’s really different about this bar from all the other aerated chocolate out there right now is that this is a milk chocolate bar with honey nougat and almonds. The milk chocolate does have a lot of cocoa content, 34% according to the label.
I know it seems odd to note it, but there are a lot of bubbles in the bar. I’m not calling your attention in this case to the ones in the center, but the edges of the bar, the peaks and corners have a lot of voids. A well molded bar, even one with inclusions will have an even surface.
The bar does feel light and the color is also on the creamy milky side of things. The pieces cleave off easily, much better than some other blocky bars (like the Toblerone). It smells quite milky and a little like malt and honey. There are little hard nougat bits in there, just tiny chips.
The bar melts quickly and has a very strong, sweet flavor to it. There are caramel and honey notes and quite a bit of the powdered dairy taste that Swiss chocolate often has. It’s not very chocolatey but still the melt is velvety enough.
As far as its performance as an aerated bar, it was light and did have a bit of a foamy melt with all the air included. About 30% of the mass of an ordinary bar was missing because of the air bubbles. But it also tasted a lot sweeter. Perhaps a dark chocolate version of this would be more to my liking.
The comparison to the other bars I’ve tried to so far is similar. The texture of this one in particular felt a bit smoother and I liked the notes of honey. But aerated still isn’t a trend I’m hopping on. There’s really nothing here that’s perceptibly better than solid chocolate. If you’re looking for something that gives the appearance of more to trick yourself that you’re eating lots, well, maybe this will do the trick for you but be warned that ounce for ounce, this is some pretty high calorie stuff. But the sugary flavor couldn’t match the satisfaction of slightly bitter, very dark chocolate for me.
(I used a photo from Frey for the package image. In the case of the review bar I received, it was in the Swiss packaging, which is sold there as Mahony Sweet Air - photo.)
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
KitKat candy bars in the United States are made by Hershey’s under a licensing agreement. Everywhere else in the world, they’re made by Nestle. The most vibrant culture for KitKats is undoubtedly Japan, but Europe has their share of KitKat variations.
I found this KitKat Hazelnut Cream at a grocery store called Golden Farms in Glendale, CA. There’s a large Armenian population there, so the local grocers in the area tend to carry a lot of Eastern European and Middle Eastern confections. This particular bar, though in English on the front, was made in Bulgaria. The bar is the single, chunky version of the bar which clocks in at 1.48 ounces (42 grams).
Hazelnuts are much more popular in Europe and Eurasia than in the US, in part, I think, because they do not have the far cheaper peanuts in such ready supplies as we do in North America. Italy has made the chocolate and hazelnut combination world-famous with the innovation of gianduia.
First, I’m not a fan of the big, single finger chunky KitKat style of bar. There ratios are completely off, the chocolate is too thick and the cookie wafers are less delicate. Now, don’t get me wrong, thick chocolate and wafers are still a great combination. They just lack the essential properties that define the classic KitKat, the lightness and balance.
The construction of this bar is a little odd in and of itself. It’s about 4.5” long and a little over an inch wide at the base. There’s a little stack of thick, light wafers in the center with a milky cream between them. Then it’s all topped with another layer of hazelnut chocolate and then encased in milk chocolate. The thick hazelnut topper is what’s odd here, it’s a lot of chocolate flavor and texture and much less wafer.
The bite is, well, thick. It breaks easily, the milk chocolate is well tempered and this was definitely a fresh bar. The three layers of wafer cookies are crunchy and airy, and the cream between then just slightly grainy and cool on the tongue. The centerpiece of this bar is the thick cap of hazelnut chocolate on top of that though. It’s not a pasty giandiua or Nutella style hazelnut chocolate though, it’s more solid, like Milka. It’s sweet but not sticky, there’s a light toasted nutty note to it, but it doesn’t scream hazelnut to me. The chocolate overall is much creamier with more milk flavors than the American version.
It’s an admirable bar and has a lot more flavor depth with some richer caramel notes and of course the light touch of hazelnut. But my hopes were rather above that, I wanted a powerful punch of hazelnut in there, thick ribbons of cream inside those wafers. But for folks looking for a more decadent KitKat, this is actually much better than the plain KitKat Chunky bar. It’s been around for a few years, so it shouldn’t be that hard to find if you’re in the right area.
See review from Rosa at ZOMG Candy.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
At last there are some niche companies out there starting to make quality candy bars. Real ingredients, ethically sourced but still retaining the essence of what a candy bar should be - deliciously indulgent. Jungell Inc has introduced a new line of candy bars that still fit the mold of candy, but with a bit of a twist on the ingredients. Their new line includes three candy bars, but I’ll go with the one that I was most interested in first, the Dark Angell Organic Candy Bar.
I picked up an array of samples at ExpoWest earlier this year, but I didn’t want to write about them until I bought a real set of bars in a store.
Here’s how they describe it: Dark Angell, sophisticated and perfectly balanced. A refined combination of luxurious organic dark chocolate, wrapped around a smooth cocoa center with organic almonds for crunch. For those who prefer a more complex chocolate, the Dark Angell is the candy bar for you. Grab it. Eat it. Love it.
So let’s have a look at the self-declared specifications of this bar: made with fair trade ingredients, organic, vegan, kosher, no artificial colors or flavors, non-GMO ingredients, no preservatives, no corn syrup, low sodium and 0g of trans fats. What it does have in it is real chocolate, the first ingredient is real dark chocolate. So it looks good so far. Then it goes on: tapioca syrup, oats, almonds, dutch cocoa powder, sea salt and almond extract. That’s it!
It’s not a big bar, if you’re accustomed to Snickers or Milky Way. It’s about 3.5” long and about an inch wide. It clocks in at 1.31 ounces, which doesn’t sound like much, but nuts tend to be very filling for me.
The sheen of the bar is nice, the dark chocolate ripples and shines. It smells like chocolate, rich and deep. The flavors are quite woodsy when I bit into it. The first time I tried it, a few bites at the ExpoWest natural products expo, I didn’t know what was in the bar, so there was a cereal flavor and a sort of chew to it I couldn’t put my finger on. The center of the bar is a bit of a moist but firm truffle sort of thing, it’s chocolatey but is also studded with big almonds. In addition there’s a bit of rolled oats in there. The thing is, it’s not like they’re toasty and crisp, but more like they’re raw and can taste a little pasty.
I feel like the center of the bar would have been interesting without the oats, kind of like a creamy truffle, but maybe more like a fluffy, more chocolate nougat thing.
I love most of the bar, except for that lingering flavor of raw oats. It brought the whole thing into the realm of “nutrition bar” when I’d firmly decided that I was going to eat a candy bar that just so happened to be made with good ingredients.
The nutritional panel shows some surprising nutrition to this bar as well: 90% of your daily value of iron, 3 grams of protein, 3 grams of dietary fiber. Vegans should be excited that this is a bar that’s really no compromise, it tastes like a candy bar, there’s nothing faux about it.
So aside from the texture/taste contribution of the oats, my other misgiving about the bar is the price. I paid $2.69 for my little bar. That’s $32.85 a pound. That’s a pretty fancy chocolate price. And for that price and that many calories I really want decadent.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.