Friday, February 17, 2012
Double Dutch Sweets in Oakland, California makes an artisan confection called The Ramona Bar. Think of it as a Snickers made by hand.
The bar is set apart from other mass-manufactured fare at first glance. It’s wrapped by hand in foil with a lively printed sleeve that gives the simple description: layers of buttery caramel and honey nougat with roasted peanuts dipped in dark chocolate and finished with sea salt.
The tall and beefy bar is quite a portion for an artisan product. It’s 1.8 ounces packed into barely 3.5 inches.
The ingredients are mostly organic and all natural. The construction of the bar will seem familiar. A nougat base studded with peanuts, topped with a generous layer of caramel, then coated in Venezuelan origin dark chocolate with a sprinkling of maldon sea salt.
A Snickers bar is 2.07 ounces, so just a little larger and features a milk chocolate coating. There are so many other differences though, it’s hard to even compare the bars. The Ramona Bar has a similar bite, it’s thick and has a mix of textures. There are far fewer peanuts in the Ramona than a Snickers, and the nougat tastes more like a plain nougat while a Snickers has a peanut flavor to its nougat.
The caramel was really the star here; for me it was the ideal texture - chewy, stringy, smooth and with a dark toasted flavor and notes of salt. The addition of the salt on top of the chocolate though was sometimes just a little too much. The nougat was not as good for me. It was less of a French style nougat or Italian torrone, which has a mostly smooth texture, kind of like a dense marshmallow. This was more like the fluffed stuff of Snickers or Milky Way fame. It was like a fluffy fondant. It did have a less-grainy texture that was almost cool on the tongue as it dissolved. The textures worked well together, just as they do in a Snickers, but I was missing a flavor component from the nougat and the strength of lots of peanuts. (Or Almonds, if they wanted to go that way.)
The bars cost $6.00, which is about a little more than $53 a pound. (A Snickers bar, at $1 a bar would be about $16 a pound.) Is it six times better? Well, I feel better because the ingredients are great and someone really cared about the bar and it’s made with Venezuelan chocolate, so I wouldn’t be worrying about child slavery. But it’s not my perfect candy bar. For $6, I want my perfect candy bar. For $1, I can accept less than perfect. But it might be your perfect candy bar, and you might not know until you try. (I’m still happy to try all other bars that Double Dutch Sweets comes up with.)
The bars are gluten free.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
This Zotter Scotch Whisky bar has everything that I would want in the perfect decadent candy bar. It’s made by Zotter in Austria from fair trade, bean to bar chocolate. The ingredient list is mercifully short and virtually all organic with more than a smidge of Scotch Whisky (9%).
The things that make it hard to give the bar my fullest recommendation would be how difficult it is to actually buy it (I picked mine up while in Germany) and when purchased in the US, it’s rather expensive at about $6 to $8 for the 2.47 bar. (There’s also a little bit of a question about one ingredient, fructose-glucose syrup, which sounds like high fructose corn syrup, though since it’s organic it’s not from GMO sources.)
I’ve had a few Zotter bars over the years and have read plenty more reviews of their products as well. They have a weird twist to a lot of their flavors, some that I think work well in unexpected ways, and others that seem strange simply for the sake of it. I’m talking about combinations like Coffee-Plum with Caramelized Bacon or Cheese-Walnuts-Grapes to just a little unorthodox like Pear Cardamom to the downright unthinkable like Cornelian Cherries and Pig’s Blood. Think of them as the Jones Soda of fair trade candy bars.
The bar is the same format as all the others I’ve ever had. It’s about 5 inches long and about 2.3 inches wide. It’s not a thick bar but it is filled. They call them hand-scooped bars but they’re rather angular and always rectangular. This bar is enrobed, which is my preferred construction method. (My second favorite is panned, third is molded - that’s the kind of lists Candy Bloggers keep.)
The full name of the bar on the front is Scotch Whisky “Highland Harvest”. There’s no other information on what kind of Whisky it is. The bar is glossy and has the slightest ripples across the top. The chocolate is 70% for the shell, the center uses the same but with he addition of the whiskey, milk, cream and fructose-glucose syrup.
It smells a lot like Scotch, leathery and smoky with notes of vanilla, tobacco and of course the deep cocoa flavors.
The coating is thin, but still has a bold flavor, a smooth melt and woodsy flavor profile with a touch of coffee notes. The center is like a truffle, soft and with a silky melt. It’s barely sweet, with more than a touch of salt to it as well. The whiskey is quite evident, with a light burn on the tongue and throat. There’s a dryness and sort of acidity to the filling that’s unlike the profile of the chocolate in the coating. The leathery and smoky notes are strong and for some, probably, repulsive. I enjoy the pipe tobacco flavors to it, the mix of vanilla, red berries, oak and a touch of black walnut.
I loved the bar. It’s completely decadent and I found it difficult to eat more than a third in one sitting. The 9%alcohol is pretty intense, too. I would buy this bar again, most definitely. I think I prefer Zotter’s more traditional formulations. I like their spirit though I don’t care much for the pork products in my chocolate, even if they’re not in this particular bar. (I know, I’m a hypocrite since I eat gummis, which also contain gelatin.) I haven’t been able to find Zotter bars in Los Angeles, so there’s little hope of these becoming my weekly habit.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I saw the Organic Moo Chocolate bars from Organic Children’s Chocolate, LLC at Whole Foods. It’s a line of chocolate just for kids with fun cereal inclusions like crisped rice, corn flakes, granola and graham crackers.
It’s great to see some organic candy products that are formulated just for kids, because most of them seem to be just for adults, with mature palates. The packaging here is easy to read and appeals to youngsters with cartoon cows and simple formulations. It’s really about time someone came up with an organic version of the Nestle Crunch bar.
But the big question becomes, why organic chocolate? Is it better than traditionally grown chocolate? Well, yes and no. Traditionally grown cocoa is fraught with pests, so most of the cacao grown is treated with a variety of inorganic pesticides. Because of the way the cacao beans are situation with a hard pod, and the fact that most treatments are on the canopy of the tree (not in the soil) means that very is absorbed or becomes a residue in finished chocolate. (For example spot tests in the UK have found very low levels of Lindane at less than .02 mg per kilogram in about 45% of chocolate tested.)
Chocolate is a very small part of our diet (about 12 pounds per person per year in the US), so that’s a very small, very slowly ingested amount. But children are smaller and more susceptible to toxins, so it’s understandable that many parents want to limit their exposure. There’s also the fact that the farm workers who apply the stuff are exposed to it at much higher levels and are for more likely to suffer from side effects than we would be. So you have a choice now, organic chocolate is available. But how does it taste?
The Organic Moo Milk Chocolate with Rice Crisps bar is made with all organic ingredients, including organic crisped brown rice. Even the packaging is made from recycled paper.
The bars are big, 2.1 ounces for this one, and a lot of crisped rice there when I flipped it over.
The bar smells milky and sweet, but has a toasted sugar and malty cereal scent to it ... along with a kind of musty odor, a bit like hot cocoa but also slightly reminiscent of wet paper.
The texture is quite smooth, much smoother than Hershey’s or Nestle. The milk flavors are strong and a little earthier, but that could be the malt of the crisped rice. It’s sweet, much sweeter than other organic chocolates, as this is a chocolate for kids so it’s a little less intense. The flavor reminds me of the Thompson’s Organic I’ve had before. When I contacted Moo Chocolate to ask about the source of their organic chocolate, they wouldn’t say except that it is Swiss.
The crisped rice are crunchy, but also not quite airy and light, as I think many of us might be accustomed to with Rice Krispies. It’s quite satisfying to eat just half the bar (a little over one ounce). The sections (whimsically alternating between a cow and the Moo logo) are easy to break off and small hand friendly.
Overall, it’s a great combination of textures, but the kind of goaty flavor of the chocolate is not to my liking, so I’d probably skip this entire brand line. However, kids are often less discriminating and the packaging here doesn’t make this feel like it’s “special”, just that it’s fun and tasty.
The Organic Moo Chocolate Milk Chocolate with Corn Flakes is also made with the same milk chocolate, though the bar weighs a little more at 2.7 ounces (I guess corn flakes are denser than crisped rice).
The ingredients are all organic, except for the sea salt. The package has a pleasing yellow color coding, which actually helped me make the natural assumption for corn.
This bar was not as amusing to look at as the Rice Crisps. The mold is generic, and only breaks into fourths instead of eighths. The breaks were messy, as the corn flakes were big and would keep the cleavage irregular. I didn’t get as much of the musty taste in this bar as the Rice Crisps one, but it tasted much sweeter.
The corn flakes are thick and a little rustic. I didn’t find them as light and crispy as the commercial brands though I’d probably love them in actual milk. I wanted to like this bar, because of my deep devotion to the Ritter Sport Knusperflakes (milk chocolate and corn flake bar), but the textures, chocolate flavor notes and ratios just weren’t there. Plus it cost more than twice as much.
I did a little research about organic chocolate versus traditionally grown for this post. It’s hard to find independent information on the subject, as most publishers of information freely available are biased one way or the other (usually in favor of selling their own product). This article was well researched with plenty of citations, if you want to read more on the subject. As far as my opinion, it would be good to reduce pesticide use through sustainable methods that both preserve the ecology of the plantations, are safe for the workers and the final consumers. For the latter folks though, chocolate is such a small part of our diets, there are far better places to spend your money to reduce pesticide residue exposures. I would advise prioritizing the “dirty dozen” and working from there.
If you’re a parent looking for something a little more wholesome for your kid, the Moo Chocolate brand is well rounded and a good bet. Of course with all things organic you’re going to pay more. Ultimately, I’d like to see Fair Trade go with that and maybe some diversity of package sizes (little one ounce bars are more appropriate for kids). A great stocking stuffer, they’re available at Whole Foods and other stores that sell natural products.
They’re Kosher and contain milk and soy. Also made in a facility that processes wheat, peanuts and tree nuts.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Single origin chocolate and single origin coffee sound like an excellent fit. Askinosie Chocolate, one of America’s few (but growing) number of bean to bar craft chocolate makers has paired with Intelligentsia one of America’s fair trade, artisan and single origin coffee roasters.
As with all of Askinosie’s creations, the bar is thoughtfully packaged. It comes in a glassine sleeve that’s tied shut with a little loop of twine from the bags that the cocoa beans arrive in. Inside there’s a folded sleeve label over the cellophane sealed bar. It all fits back together pretty well, which is good because I can’t eat this bar in one sitting.
It’s three ounces and cost $9.50, which is a bit steep, except compared to everything at Intelligentsia. I’ve only had their coffee twice, both times was a dry cappuccino and both times it was intense but brewed nicely - not burnt, not too acrid or acidic. (I don’t go for the darkest roast of the day, either.)
The bar has 18 squares, spelling out Askinosie Chocolate. The color of the bar is exceptionally dark, glossy and has a clear snap to it.
The scent is quite strong with more of a woodsy, coffee grounds scent than a brewed note. The texture of the bar is noticeably stiffer too. The melt is smooth but slightly chalky and dry at first. There’s plenty of cocoa butter to thin it out after a few moments, kind of like the crema on a cup of espresso.
The coffee flavors are strong, bitter and rather overwhelm the chocolate. The ingredients are cocoa beans, cane juice, coffee beans and cocoa butter. So there’s no vanilla in there, no emulsifiers.
I found myself returning to bar, even though I had to be very restrained in my portions because of the strength of the coffee. I appreciated how well blended it was, that the bar wasn’t just a superior chocolate bar with a bunch of coffee grounds thrown in like so many other companies seem to do. The flavors linger, with more mild notes of licorice, apricot, fig and molasses.
The package says there are two servings, I was much happier with six pieces over the full nine, but I’m the kind of gal that just has a small cup of coffee in the morning (an actual 8 ounce cup). Lest you feel bad about the calories (154 per ounce), there’s also almost 4 grams of protein, 4% of your calcium and 14% of your RDA of iron in that ounce. I can’t hazard a guess on the caffeine.
It’s not an every day bar, which is fine because it’s hard to get a hold of (at Intelligentsia cafes or their website) and pretty expensive. But as a substitution for three coffee drinks, it’s mighty fine, just as satisfying, far more portable and ready when I am. Now ... when is a white chocolate/coffee bar coming out?
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Seth Ellis Chocolatier of Boulder, CO makes an interesting line of candy cups called Sun Cups. They’re nut free, gluten free, use all organic ingredients plus ethically source chocolate, no soy, no peanuts and is Kosher. They do contain dairy.
The first set of products they introduced were sunflower butter cups (hence the name Sun Cups) in milk chocolate and dark chocolate. This cup is accurately described by the name, they’re chocolate cups with a peppermint cream filling. They package is the same size and weight as Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups - 1.5 ounces (so 3/4 of an ounce per cup).
Their most recent addition to the line is their Sun Cups Dark Chocolate Mint Cups.
The packaging is dark and honestly looks a little more foreboding than most mint and chocolate candies I sample. The package is also compostable.
The cups are nicely made, perfectly level and with no cracks, scuffs, blemishes or oozing. The proportions inside the chocolate cups are very nicely done. Unlike some other cups I’ve had where there’s a strange chocolate hump on the bottom of the cup or too much top crust, these are consistent throughout.
The chocolate is crisp and nicely tempered. It’s deep and rich and only barely sweet, in fact, it’s downright bitter compared to the sweet center. The fondant filling is kind of strange. It’s not a smooth gooey sauce like the center of a Junior Mint or the crumbly slightly airy center of a York Peppermint Pattie. It’s soft, though stiff enough that it doesn’t flow. It’s grainy, but in a smooth and consistent way that frosting can be. The color is like turbinado sugar, natural but still clean looking. The filling is made from cream, sugar, peppermint oil and white chocolate. So there’s a light, creamy butter flavor to it along with a clean flavor of peppermint.
The mint doesn’t overpower the dark chocolate. Nothing can overpower the darkness of this chocolate, it has a slight dry bite to it that’s hard to overcome even with what feels like a pure sugar center.
I want to love these and I had no trouble eating both for the review, but I don’t feel like I’ll find myself in the right mood for something so intense again. I’m sure that there are some folks out there who have been longing for a really bitter peppermint pattie experience, so hopefully they’ll find these and keep the product line in business.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
I found them at the Baywood/Los Osos Farmer’s Market where Danna J. Dykstra Coy sells them in all sorts of formats. She makes her vegan/gluten free cups from mostly organic ingredients and whenever possible, from locally grown produce. (The chocolate is from Guittard.) For a handcrafted confection, I found them very affordable. The peanut butter cups come in three different sizes. I opted for a box called the JoybittyBox 16 which has the medium sized cups with four each of the four different flavors. I paid $13.00 for my box of goodies, which I thought was pretty fair. I also picked up two of the large sized cups (like a traditional Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup size) for $3.00 for a pair.
The cups are tucked into the rather small, unbleached kraft paper box, stacked two deep. There are Traditional Peanut Butter, Olallieberry/Raspberry, Blueberry/Lemon and Local, Raw Honey. The design on the tops of the cups are just decorative, the only way to tell them apart is the color or design on the fluted paper cup.
Each little cup is about 3/4 of an inch across on the bottom, which is about the same as a foil wrapped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup miniature. However, the top is like a spilled over, generous muffin top.
The most notable flavor of the set is the Peanut Butter & Olallieberry/Raspberry. The Olallieberry is very popular on the central coast. It’s a curious hybrid berry that’s best illustrated by this genealogical chart on Wikipedia. I’m going to start with that, because all of them effectively tasted like raspberries were somewhere nearby, even if some cups were seedless.
The peanut butter is soft and creamy, not at all dry. The seeds are large and a bit distracting, but at least tell me which variety I’m eating. The chocolate is smooth and creamy and a little cool on the tongue; though dark chocolate, it’s not too dry or intense for the combination. There are a few little crystals of sea salt in there too, which provide a strange little crunch a pop of flavor.
Traditional Peanut Butter lives up to the reputation of a tried and true comfort candy. The creamy chocolate, the salty peanut butter is all just about balanced. If I had any complaint, it was that biting into the pieces was difficult because the tops always smashed the rest of the cup, whether bitten right side up or upside down. If you find there’s too much chocolate for your ratio preference, it’s pretty easy to either pop the top off or nibble around the edges for an added treat.
Peanut Butter & Blueberry/Lemon is fresh tasting, the little hint of zest just gives it a little pop that goes well with the sea salt. The blueberry could easily be mistaken for the scent of the raspberry, as I didn’t notice any actual blueberry bits in this one but the slight note of iced tea was there that I always associate with blueberries.
Peanut Butter & Local, Raw Honey - honestly, I’m not sure which one this is. I tried two that were what I’d call plain. The one I think is the honey cup is much smoother. I didn’t get any honey notes on any of them but there was a buttery, beeswaxy note to it.
The big issue I had was figuring out what I was eating. The first few I knew what cup color I picked out, but later as there were fewer in the box, they tumbled out of their cups. It would make much more sense if the designs on the top said what they were.
I don’t know if I’d order these via the web, but that’s mostly because I have such issues getting chocolate in good condition in Los Angeles (it’s hot here and every delivery company seems to insist on driving my packages around in a hot vehicle for about 6 hours before delivering, even if it’s an overnight package). If I’m back in the area, I’d definitely find a way to hit the local shops or farmers market that carry these cups. They’re just different enough from the commercial fare and the fact that they’re ethically sourced makes the price tag seem inconsequential.
I’m going to say that these are all natural, however, I’m not certain about the colorings used in the transfer designs on the tops, so if you’re sensitive, ask first.
For the record, as far as the raspberries go, I’m most fond of Black Raspberries.
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, June 10, 2011
The final Angell Organic Candy bar in my series is probably the most mainstream, it’s the Crisp Angell Organic Candy Bar. The bar is not only organic but also made with fair trade ingredients, kosher and contains no preservatives, hydrogenated oils or genetically modified organisms.
The bar is milk chocolate with a crispy creamy chocolate center according to the package. The best way I can think to describe it is a creamy milk chocolate fudge with brown rice crispies covered in milk chocolate.
The bar, like the others in the line, is a little small at 1.23 ounces but that also means it’s pretty slim on calories at only 170.
The scent is quite milky and maybe even a little malty. The creamy milk chocolate enrobing is quite nice, though definitely on the dairy side of the milk chocolate flavors, not much of a chocolate punch. The center is, as I mentioned earlier, a creamy fudge consistency. It’s not at all grainy except for those little crispy rice bits. The rice though isn’t as crispy and crunchy as I would have liked though, it was a little on the chewy side - so not quite stale tasting but still not my desired texture. If you’re a lover of the the milky flavors, this is a good bar to satisfy those cravings (it even has 4% of your daily value of calcium).
Like the other bars, this isn’t just an organic knock off of another bar that’s already on the market, it’s an original. It uses some common construction formats, but creates a taste and texture experience all its own. I appreciated that the grain of choice here was rice instead of oats, but the texture was still a problem in creating a wholly decadent experience. In the case of this bar though it’s gluten free, so those folks will appreciate a chocolate bar with some crunch. Still, they’re a bit on the expensive side, I paid $2.69 for mine, but that was at Erewhon, where everything is expensive - you should be able to get these for $2 or so.
Angell Bars website says that they have another bar called Angell Classic coming soon. There’s no description of it, but it does have a few peanuts next to it in the picture ... so I’m hoping for the ultimate peanut butter bar.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.