Thursday, March 8, 2012
The bag is expensive. It was 3.5 ounces and cost $3.99. There are only 10 little eggs inside. However, I liked the spare packaging which did the job of protecting the foil wrapped eggs as they were all fresh and unmarred.
The package says that they’re Crispy bite size eggs smothered in milk chocolate with luscious cream. Each egg is about 1.5 inches long.
The chocolate shell is extremely light in color, the ingredients bear this out, with sugar as the first ingredient in the shell and milk as the second with cocoa butter and cocoa mass pulling up the third and fourth slots.
It smells extremely sweet, a little like pudding and nutella. The bite is soft, the construction is similar to a Ferrero Rocher. There’s a nearly liquid hazelnut cream center, a crisp cookie shell and then the chocolate coating on the outside. (There are no crushed nuts in this item.)
The creamy center is sweet, sticky and quite slick. The smoothness gives up the roasted hazelnut flavors easily, and matches the sweetness of the chocolate shell very well. The light wafery crisp of the inner shell is the only thing that breaks it up and gives a little malty corn flake note to it (it’s made with wheat flour).
Ferrero Cocoa Eggs are like Ferrero Rondnoir. There’s a dark chocolate shell, a wafery light shell under that and a creamy dark chocolate filling. There’s only a touch of hazelnut in there, according to the ingredients, and I really didn’t catch any of the flavors.
Like it’s hazelnut buddy, there’s also a bit of palm oil in the center, which is a little disappointing, but expected. The Ferrero group has pledged to sustainably source their cocoa and palm oil by 2015. They also say that they don’t purchase cocoa from slave farms, but don’t have a formal certification process yet.
The dark chocolate is well rounded, with a strong fudgy flavor like brownies. There’s even a slight bitter note to it that’s balanced out by the much sweeter creamy filling and more bland wafers.
I liked the Cocoa Eggs a bit better than the Hazelnut. They’re both different from their year round versions as well, which means that they are a little more “special” than just a reshaping and some pastel packaging.
They contain nuts, milk, soy and gluten. The only artificial ingredient was vanillin. They’re filled with fat (delicious fat) and clock in at 163 calories per ounce, on the very high side for candy.
I found them expensive for the amount and quality of the product. They were good, but not fantastic. For the same money, I’d probably be happier with See’s Scotchmallow Eggs.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
I was shopping for candy downtown at Jack’s Wholesale Candy and found these brittle disks. They’re made by a local company named Las Trojes which is based in Anaheim. I’m not quite sure what the name means, as troje is a granary or barn but could also be a storehouse.
The packages are quite simple, and do a fantastic job of showing off the product. They’re all extremely simple: a mix of sugar and seeds and/or nuts. They were also very inexpensive, at only $1 each for a two ounce package.Seed brittles are a beguilingly good snack but they’re also a great way to bind together vexing little seeds into something easier to transport and consume.
I picked up all three varieties they had at the store.
The packaging features a thick piece of cellophane folded over the round disk and held in place by the label sticker on the back (or is it the front?).
Las Trojes Pepitoria Mixed Seeds Brittle is quite a gorgeous little find. There are peanuts, sesame seeds, almonds, coconut and pumpkin seeds (pepitas) with only the addition of sugar to hold it all together. There are no added oils or partially hydrogenated fats or gelatins. It’s a vegan snack.
The disk is easy to snap apart for eating. It’s firm and crisp, but if you live in a humid area, they can become a sticky mess quite quickly. I don’t expect these would do well in parts of Texas or Florida for that reason.
The distribution of nuts and seeds is pretty even, I didn’t find parts that seemed to be all one nut, though peanuts were by far the largest bulk. The plank smells quite toasty, with a little note of toasted sesame and perhaps even a bit of burnt nuts. The sugar has a honey note to it but doesn’t add a whole lot of sweetness to the brittle, as there really isn’t much more than is needed to bind everything together. The pepitas, peanuts and sesame seeds have the strongest flavor, I didn’t catch much of a contribution from the almonds or coconut.
Las Trojes Pepitoria Coconut Brittle is a great looking disk. It’s thick and crisp and doesn’t look like anything you’d make at home with store bought coconut flakes. These look fresh and rustic.
The brittle has a little bit more bend to it, probably because the coconut is more fibrous and makes breaking it a little harder. The toasted coconut scent is incredible, the caramel and creamy tropical notes all swirl together. Though there’s a lot of crunch at first, it turns very chewy after that. The toffee flavor of the burnt sugar is great and again, it’s far from being too sweet, though it is the sweetest of the three products.
Las Trojes Pepitoria Pepita Brittle is a great mix of greens and browns, the pumpkin seeds are glossy and toasty. I love pepitas in trail mixes, but I never eat them on their own. It smells like toasted pumpkin seeds, just like you’d expect. The seeds are crunchy and a little grassy tasting. This is the least sweet of the entire set and for the most part it’s about the pumpkin seeds. Though some of the seeds looked a bit burnt, I didn’t get the same sort of bitter toasted note from this that I did with the mixed brittle.
They’re all beautiful and wholesome snacks that barely qualify as candy. That’s not to say that they’re not laden with calories. The Pepita one is the leanest at 260 calories for the 2 ounce portion, but it also has 7 grams of protein and only 16 grams of sugars. The Mixed Brittle is 300 calories but packs 8 grams of protein and only 15 grams of sugar. The fat in there is from the nuts and seeds, which are generally regarded to be better for you than dairy or animal fats ... though still watch the calorie count. The Coconut one comes in as full on candy, even with only two ingredients with 310 calories, 200 of them from fat and only 3 grams of protein.
All the nutrition aside, I find these sorts of snacks more satisfying than many candies. There’s a great mix of textures and flavors, plus they’re really beautiful to look at. I’d definitely pick these up again, but I’d probably try to share them. They work far better when consumed right after opening and of course I find it hard to keep from eating the whole package anyway.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Bees & Beans is a Portland, Oregon artisan candy bar maker. Faith Dionne says, “These are candy bars that you can feel great about eating.” I found the bar at BiRite Market in San Francisco’s Mission District, one of the best places I know to find artisan candy.
The Honey Bar is Honey caramel, salted filbert and honey nougat, hand dipped in dark chocolate with a sprinkling of sea salt.
Many of the ingredients are organic and, as much as possible, they are sourced locally in Oregon.
Based on the ingredients list, I believe this chocolate is sourced from Scharffen Berger. The Bees & Beans site says that they use both Theo Chocolate, which is fair trade, and Scharffen Berger, which is not, and is owned by Hershey’s. (Theo does not use soy lecithin.)
The construction of the bar is interesting, the caramel is on the bottom, the nougat on the top, then a coating of very dark chocolate sprinkled with sea salt. It looks just like a candy bar.
The nougat is almost marshmallowy. It’s soft and fluffy and has a bit of a pull when bitten, a silky sort of chew without any hint of sugary grain. The caramel is soft, not too chewy as to make the bar fall apart when bitten. There’s a sprinkling of salt on top, but also a fair amount of salt, as far as my tongue can detect, in both the caramel and the nougat. The filberts are only lightly toasted but have an excellent crunch, almost like a macadamia nut instead of like a hazelnut.
There is no perfect analogue to this in the mass-manufactured candy bar offerings in the United States. (Perhaps the European Nestle Nuts would be similar.) The textures are great and the ingredients are top notch. The prevalence of the honey flavors also sets this apart from so many other candies that might use honey but not enough to make it part of the texture and flavor profile to this degree. The short shelf life is an issue for folks like me who like to stock up (they sell the bars online in quad packs), but I was lucky to pick mine up a month ago and still eat it within its 2 month window of freshness. If I had to chose between this bar and the See’s Awesome Nut & Chew bar (which is all nougat and no caramel), it’d be hard. Bees & Beans makes several other bars that all sound fantastic, including a seasonal Malt Bar that I’ll have to order soon.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Ferrara Pan which is known for Lemonheads and Atomic Fireballs got into the chocolate business a few years back making very good domestic versions of segmented chocolate oranges (with Belgian chocolate) and panned nut treats. This new Ferrara Chocolate group is also creating some new holiday items, I was excited to see these fun speckled eggs called Candy Coated Chocolate Covered Almond Eggs at Walgreen’s.
The bag is priced pretty well, at $2.49 for a half a pound, it’s about what I will pay for Almond M&Ms on sale.
The eggs are a nice size, indicating that they either have a lot of chocolate in there or start with very large almonds. They’re a milk chocolate product with a lot of milk in them. The first ingredient in the chocolate coating is sugar, the second is whole milk. So, that’s some milky chocolate. The coatings are attractive. They start with a pastel base and have little speckles on them. Some are quite speckled, others have barely a burnishing of color.
The ratios are great, the chocolate is thick and the almonds are nicely sized and well roasted to a crunch. The milky chocolate is sweet, but not that Easter-cloying sweetness. The level of milk in it gives it a cool melt on the tongue and a light toffee and dairy finish. The other notes are a bit of smoke, either from the chocolate itself or the almonds and maybe a hint of cinnamon (they are the makers of Red Hots). The shell is a little thinner than M&Ms so it has a lighter crunch.
They’re good. Good enough that I ate the whole bag in three days. They’re different from M&Ms, the melt of the chocolate is less sweet and less fudgy and a little smoother, but the flavor isn’t quite as intense. I prefer the look of the Ferrera to M&Ms and the consistent shape of the candies.
The candies are Kosher and made in the United States with Belgian chocolate. No gluten statement. There’s also no statement about the sourcing of the cacao and ethical concerns on the package or their website.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
One of the seasonal imported candies I looked forward to as a kid were Perugina Baci. They were one of my earliest recollections of hazelnut candies. It’s a simple construction, a chocolate cream filling with crushed hazelnuts, topped with a whole hazelnut and then dipped in dark chocolate.
They’ve been made since 1922 and were very successful from the start. The hook with Baci though isn’t just the hazelnut textures and chocolate, it’s the packaging. Each little chocolate is individually wrapped, and inside the wrapper is a glassine paper that has quotes about love, now in multiple languages.
I ate plenty of these as a kid. They used to come in larger boxes, I think they had either three or four chocolates in them. Now they’re only available in this duo box or in the larger gift size versions (which change depending on the season). They were first introduced to American consumers in 1939 when Perugina opened their own shop on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1939. But then they went away. Nestle bought Perugina in 1988 and the brand was less emphasized. Perugina concentrated their sales efforts on Italy and Europe. Baci weren’t as easy to find, though still turned up in Italian delis and import shops. When internet sales came along, it was a bit easier, but still, the impulse of buying a little tube of Perugina Baci was long gone.
That supposed to change now, as Nestle has an agreement with Colavita olive oil (not a Nestle product) to handle imports for Baci and other Perugina products. They made a big splash at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, so perhaps they’ll be easier to find now.
The pieces are about a half an ounce each and have about 75 calories in them. It’s a rich mix of dark chocolate on the outside, a filling of hazelnut paste and cream along with crushed hazelnuts. Then there’s a large, whole hazelnut on top.
The ingredients list for a complicated candy like this is very short: sugar, hazelnuts, chocolate processed with alkali, cocoa butter, milk, milkfat, soy lecithin and vanillin.
Baci are only for chocolate eaters who love hazelnuts. There’s a lot of hazelnut in there. The filling is jam packed with crushed hazelnuts (the chocolate was invented to make use of excess crushed nuts in the chocolate factory) but the real appeal here is the fantastic whole hazelnut on top.
They smell sweet and nutty. Bite is easy, the center is soft enough to give easily, but not sticky or syrupy. It all melts well together, with a lot of woodsy and roasted nut flavors. Personally, I like biting off the bottom and consuming that first, leaving only the chocolate covered whole hazelnut at the end.
One is satisfying, two is downright indulgent. I think a box of three would be the perfect serving and put a fourth in to at least create the illusion of sharing.
While Caffarel are still my favorite Italian hazelnut chocolates, I do love Baci and I’m glad they’re going to be more available.
There’s no statement about the ethical sourcing of the chocolate on the package or Perugina Italian website. (The US website hasn’t launched fully yet.) The product contains hazelnuts and possibly traces of other tree nuts, plus soy and dairy. There is no statement about gluten on the package.
Friday, January 13, 2012
The new Hershey’s Pieces - Milk Chocolate with Almonds isn’t as innovative as some of the other candies, such as the Almond Joy Pieces or the initial Reese’s Pieces. But they fill a void in Hershey’s offerings and I was looking forward to them.
The first big stumbling block I had, though, was the price. 8 ounces for about four dollars. Other stores sell them for $4.50. I have a hard time paying 8 or 9 dollars a pound for Hershey’s candy in bulk quantities.
They also don’t reinvent the niche with some new quality. They’re not low in allergens, the list on the back says that they may contain soy, wheat, other tree nuts and peanuts. A great selling point would have been a nutty candy that is actually peanut and/or gluten free.
The Pieces look like the package illustrates. They come in three colors: dark brown, brown and cream. They vary widely in size, based on the core of almond. Some are as small as a Peanut M&M, others are huge, sometimes over an inch long.
They’re a standard construction of a well-roasted almond, a milk chocolate coating and then a colored candy shell. The colors are pleasing. I actually enjoyed their muted tones more than the loud and artificial M&Ms Almond. Of course these are also artificial, with Red 40, Yellow 6 and Blue 1 & 2 ... just less bang for the coloring.
The almonds are roasted to a very dark color, roasted in cocoa butter and/or sunflower oil). This is a good choice. I found them all crunchy and fresh tasting, not a single fibery or bitter one in the bag.
The shell is thin enough to crunch easily and provide only a modicum of sweetness. The milk chocolate is only marginally acceptable. It has the Hershey’s sour note to it, which I actually like sometimes, especially when mixed with more savory elements. Here it was such a back seat to the large almonds, it worked.
I prefer this, by far, to the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds bar. But I don’t like it better than M&Ms Almond, because of the difference in the chocolate flavor. What I’d really like to see is a Heath Pieces at this point, that’d really set the Pieces line apart from their current iteration as an M&Ms clone.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
In the history of candy, I’m pretty confident that some of the earliest boiled candy sweets created were nut and seed brittles. The genre of sesame brittles fit in nicely as one of those candies that I think has been around for a thousands of years. Early versions probably used date sugar and honey instead of refined sugar.
The Joyva Sesame Crunch is a dead simple candy, made well and without much fuss or fanfare. It’s sold in two formats, the large single serving plank (1.125 ounces) and little individually wrapped snaps.
It has only four ingredients: sesame seed, sugar, corn syrup, honey. It’s packaged equally simply, a small paperboard card to keep the slab from breaking and then inserted into a cellophane sleeve. The logo may not be a thousand years old, but certainly looks like it could be from the 1970s.
I’ve been eating these candies for years, and they seem to fall into the genre of healthy, judging by the number of natural food stores that carry them. They’re exceptionally durable too, since there’s no chocolate they don’t melt and the coating of sugary candy over the sesame seals them up so they don’t oxidize (get rancid).
The brittle base is just boiled sugar and some honey, the flavor is mostly from the sesame seeds themselves, which are nicely toasted and have a good oily, nutty balance with a light grassy and bitter note. The sweetness is mild, and the overall crunch and chew is long lasting. I find that when I buy these, I have a hard time not eating whatever quantity I have in one sitting. Still, my ideal version would probably have a little more candy to it, and a little more honey flavor.
Since sesame seeds are the main ingredient, there’s a fair amount of fat in the bar, though I’ve read that sesame oil is quite healthy as far as vegetable oils go. The bar is filling, but not too sweet, so it straddles the line of snack and candy very nicely. It’s filling and even has a little bit of protein, so it will probably keep blood sugar levels from spiking like other pure sugar candies might. The calories on the label say 180 for the bar, but I think that’s steep for a sesame candy that’s only 1.125 ounces. (Tahini is about 160 calories per ounce and has no sugar in it, which is lower in calories per ounce than sesame oil.)
The bar is Kosher, naturally, as well as being marked as gluten free. It may contain traces of almonds or pistachios. The package doesn’t say anything about peanuts. It’s not vegan, unless you’re the kind of vegan who’s okay with honey.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
You may notice a lot more about German candies on the blog in the coming weeks. I went there for a week of candy factory tours earlier this month and have lots of fascinating adventures to share. (I’ll try to focus on candies you can either get in the United States or are worth seeking out.)
Ritter-Sport is a large German chocolate brand with a unique selling proposition, its chocolate bars are square. Their standard 100 gram (3.5 ounce) bar comes in 23 varieties with another 3-9 promotional and seasonal variations throughout the year. In the United States there are about six core varieties on shelves, but some stores like Target will sell about eight. Even in Germany, I still only found about 14-16 of the versions at the stores (which included the Bio and Winter Kreation varieties). The best place in Germany to find everything Ritter Sport sells, naturally, is at their factory store.
The Ritter family started making chocolate in 1912, but didn’t introduce the Ritter Sport square bars until 1930. They’re becoming better known around the world as 35% of their total sales (over 20,000 tons of the 60,000 they produce) are now for export. (Russia is their number one customer, then Italy, then the United States.) The quality for a consumer bar (sold for less than one Euro) is excellent and the company prides itself on its innovation, ethical sourcing of their raw materials and quality of their products.
For the past two seasons in the United States I’ve actually been able to find the Ritter Sport Winter Kreations in stores. (Mel and Rose Wine and Liquors and a really good 76 gas station in Glendale on Glendale Blvd & Glen Oaks.) Last year the Winter Kreations limited edition set was Orangen-Marzipan (orange marzipan), Nuss in Nougatcreme (hazelnuts in gianduia) and Vanillekipferl (vanilla cookie cream). This year the Nougatcreme did not return but was replaced by Gebrannte Mandel (burnt sugar almonds).
The Ritter Sport Orangen-Marzipan bar is pretty special. When I got to Germany back in February of this year, this was one of the first bars I sought out and bought. After eating some of it, I bought the little assortment above plus an additional full size bar. Then when I was there earlier this month, I again bought a full size bar, since I think it’s the right proportion of chocolate and marzipan.
The bar is a little different from the classic Ritter Sport Marzipan bar in that it has a milk chocolate shell (sorry, it’s not vegan). It smells like fresh orange juice, almost like an orangesicle, actually, because of the sweet and milky chocolate. The chocolate is quite sweet and so is the marzipan center, but it all works swimmingly together. The orange flavors are both juicy and zesty, without being bitter. The marzipan is moist and sticks together like a cookie dough instead of being dry and crumbly. There’s a light hint of amaretto to it as well.
It’s terribly sweet, which is usually a turn off for me, but I enjoyed the decadent sticky quality, probably because it’s cold out and I usually want more sugar when I’m chilly.
I do wish that it was the dark chocolate shell though, but since this is the only other marzipan bar that they make regularly, I can understand wanting to hit the milk/marzipan market at least seasonally.
I don’t think I would have appreciated this flavor in the same way without my visits to the Christmas Markets in various cities. The Gebrannte Mandel stalls were ubiquitous (photo), sealing this confection as a definite seasonal fixture. It only makes sense that Ritter Sport would create a Winter Kreation that includes some toasted almonds with a caramelized sugar coating.
The base of the Ritter Sport Gebrannte Mandel is milk chocolate. Ritter Sport makes eleven different chocolate bases for its different bars, including several varieties of milk chocolate. This version has a cacao content of 30%, so a richer milk chocolate than most American consumer brands.
The bar is light in color, silky and smells much like the stalls at the Christmas Market, like toasted nuts and sugar. The nuts in this case are crushed (I’m not sure they’d fit well in the bar otherwise and might end up a little too crunchy). It’s sweet and the sugar coating on the nuts gives it more of a grainy crunch, but also adds more toasted flavor. There might be a hint of cinnamon in there as well.
Ritter Sport Vanillekipferl is based on the classic Austrian cookie called the Vanillekipferl or vanilla crescent. They’re rather like a Russian Teacake or shortbread cookie with nutmeal in it. (There are no eggs in the traditional recipe.)
The bar is like many of Ritter Sport’s, a milk chocolate shell with a cream filling. In this case the cream filling was slightly sandy with a very sweet vanilla flavor. I can’t say that I got much of the shortbread or nutty qualities out of it. It was decent, but not really different enough from Ritter Sport’s non-seasonal offerings.
The Ritter Sport Nuss in Nougatcreme was a 2010 flavor and was nicely done. It was a milk chocolate bar with a milky hazelnut paste center with a bit of a crunchy, crushed nuts. I didn’t think much of it one way or the other. Again, like the Vanillekipferl, it wasn’t that different from the regular nougatcreme bar.
All of the above bars, oddly enough, I bought at the grocery stores (Rewe and Aldi for the bars in February and Kaufhof for the most recent marzipan and candied almonds). Our tour group visited the Ritter Sport factory campus on our last full day in Germany on our way to Stuttgart. The factory is in the small town of Waldenbuch, which has less than 10,000. But it’s about a half an hour outside of Stuttgart (which has about 600,000 people and over 5 million in the metro area) which is the center of Germany’s auto industry.
The Ritter family created a museum on the factory campus. Not just a chocolate museum that shows how cocoa is grown, harvested and processed into chocolate, there’s actually an art museum there. The building houses four areas: an interactive chocolate museum (upstairs to the right), a cafe (in the back left), a factory store for chocolate (on the lower right) and the front half to the left is the art museum.
The exhibit while I was there fits well with the aesthetic of the square chocolate bars. They were selections from the Marli Hoppe-Ritter Collection in a variety of media. Most were paintings but a few sculptures as well.
All of the pieces had geometric elements and either bold use of color (in primary and secondary palettes) and rarely representational.
The space isn’t large, but is well laid out in four areas with tall ceilings and awash in light.
The Ritter Sport Factory Store is exactly what I want from a factory store. First, the prices are excellent. They are below the standard price for the bars (except for what you may find on sale) and they carry everything. There were no varieties or shapes that they make that I could not find on the shelves. The standard price for all 100 gram bars was .69 Euro (about 90 cents US). They were all fresh and in pristine condition and a pleasure to browse.
In the back corner was the spot that I love factory stores for. It was where the seconds and over-runs were for sale. If I lived in the area, I’d be sure to visit often to see what turned up. There were plenty of bulk items, such as the Schokowurfel in bags. Far off there in the corner were piles on the shelves of plain white wrapped bars. They were test bars of new flavors, so I picked up a few of those for later investigation and indulgence. They were only a half a Euro each.
The branded merchandise was nice. I liked the continuity of the themes, the colors and use of either the cross sections of the bars or the square shapes. However, the prices on these items were definitely premium retail. A little back backpack was 85 Euro. There were also large tins with the chocolate cross-section design - quite large and useful for only 7.50 Euro, but that largeness thing would have been an issue for getting them home. (But what a great gift idea to buy one of those tins, then one of the bulk bags of the minis and fill it up- the whole gag would be less than 20 Euro.) I picked up the coffee mug for my husband and filled it with minis for Christmas.
So, if you’re in Stuttgart and tired of looking around at the cars or just swinging through the area, it’s a worthy diversion to Waldenbuch. There’s also a Ritter Sport shop in Berlin (which I doubt carries the factory over-runs) that has its own merits for it’s interior design.
Maybe you’ll also catch sight of their company cars in the area: these were parked in front of one of the factory buildings. When we first arrived in our tour bus, there was a third. It was canary and said Knusperflakes on it.
Full Disclosure: My trip to Germany was sponsored by German Sweets, a government funded trade organization. While this provided me with excellent access to people in positions at the candy companies, in this case all of the products featured here were bought and paid for by me. Of course being at the factory store with its excellent prices which were a fraction of what I pay for the products in the United States probably prompted me to buy things I might not ordinarily. The Ritter Sport factory was not actually on the tour set up by German Sweets (though they’re members), but since it only took our tour bus 15 km out of our way on the last day of our travels, they agreed to stop at my request.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.