Monday, October 22, 2012
I’m quite fond of Chuao Chocolatier’s bars, which are made in Southern California. The packaging is spare but eye-catching and distinct. I’ve come to know the brand well enough to be able to spot a new bar on the shelf easily because of the color-coding. One that I’d been looking forward to finding is the Chuao Honeycomb 60% Cacao. The bar is a Dark Chocolate Bar with Caramelize Honey.
I was excited about this bar because Chuao used to make a fantastic item for local Whole Foods markets. It was a thick bar with large chunks of sponge candy (here they’re calling it honeycomb). I haven’t seen it in the market for several years, so I was hoping this bar would be a more widely available version.
The back of the package has a more enticing bit of marketing copy: The Honeycomb bar is a sweet bouquet of silky dark chocolate and crunchy, caramelized honey. Its pleasing layers of tropical flavors and contrasting textures seduce chocolate lovers like bees to a flower.
Chuao uses non-GMO ingredients, including the soy lecithin and the corn syrup for the honeycomb. chuao also sourced their chocolate through a project called Aguasanta Growth Initiative in Venezuela.
The bar has a wonderful decorative design for its mold. They’re changing their packaging yet again, so keep an eye out for the newer designs. Here’s a peek at the ChocoPod version. (Here’s what they looked like back in 2006 when I first tried them.) While it’s fun to look at, it is a little more problematic for portioning. The bar doesn’t break evenly around the “pod” pieces and of course it’s harder to tell how much of the bar you have eaten. (Besides all of it. That’s easy no matter the shape.)
There were a few little voids at the bottom where the mold didn’t fill properly and the same on the bottom of the bar where there were bubbles.
The bar is deep and toasty. The chocolate has a coffee note to it but is complemented by the burnt sugar flavors of the sponge candy. It’s a clean toffee note, with no hint of butter, just the scorched honeycomb. There are some hints of minerals and an earthiness to it. The honeycomb provides a little texture, though it has a bit of a crunch, it also dissolves quickly, like shards of cotton candy.
I was hoping for a bit more differentiation between the chocolate and the honeycomb, at least as far as the textures.
It’s funny that I had to go all the way to Pennsylvania to find a bar that’s made right here in California (and that I’ve been looking for in local stores). But it makes sense that Pennsylvania would be the target market, they’re the folks that make such fantastic pretzels and have innovated so much in the sweet and salty combination. I think I found the Chuao Potato Chips in Chocolate 41% Cacao bar at Wegman’s, and it was even on sale.
The package says that it’s an Ultra Premium Milk Chocolate Bar with Kettle Cooked Potato Chips.
The bar is made from all natural ingredients, the potato chips are made with sunflower/corn and/or canola oil and this wrapper does not say anything about GMO ingredients.
This is an odd bar. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Part of it may be the inclusions. As you can see from the photo, the bits of the potato chips are quite small, I’d call them potato slivers or shards. So the texture doesn’t allow for a full bite of potato chip, but more of the flavor without the crunch. The chocolate smells milky and has a wonderful, silky melt. The chips are at once light and dense. They have a strong crunch, even for their small size. They’re salty and earthy, with a rooty, potato skin flavor to the that’s common to the kettle cooked variety of chips.
In both bars I wanted more of the inclusions ... but it’s hard to fault these bars when the chocolate is so good as well. Chuao never disappoints me with their chocolate. I think my favorite bars are still the Chinita Nibs and their Coffee and Anise bars, which are both rather hard for me to find as well.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
While cruising around for Christmas candy at the grocery store after a dentist appointment I spotted these Norfolk Manor Crunchy Nuggets. They’re British, I know this because there’s a Union Jack flag on the front of the box. (Which leads me to believe that this is not a product or brand that’s actually sold in England.)
The candy is similar to the Cadbury Crunchie or Violet Crumble bars, a chocolate covered nugget of sponge candy. I can find sponge candy at local candy shops that make their own candy, like Littlejohn Toffee, but they usually do big hunks of the stuff covered in either milk or dark chocolate. The appeal with this product is that they’re just little nuggets in various shapes and sizes, easy to grab by the handful and snack on.
The box says that they’re Milk Chocolate Covered Honeycomb Pieces but in reality the coating does not actually meet the American standard for chocolate, as there is whey in there (considered a substandard filler). So, it’s actually mislabeled.
Inside the rather large box is a much smaller packet of candy. I’d say that this is also misleading, there’s no need and no expected settling for this much candy, which took up about half of the volume of the box. Even if the cellophane pouch that held the candy was completely full, it wouldn’t have filled more than 2/3 of the volume.
The nuggets are cute and appealing. They’re shiny and well coated. None of them were left with little bald spots, which with sponge candy can allow moisture to deflate them.
The honeycomb or sponge candy texture was not as foamy or flavorful as I’d hoped. It was more like Violet Crumble’s dense texture than the Cadbury Crunchy’s pumice type of foam. The flavor of burnt and toasted sugar was missing for the most part, which is too bad because the mediocre, fudgy and milky chocolate-style coating isn’t good enough to make up for it.
I’d find these passable in a mix of other better candies, like some plain nuts, pretzels and chocolate covered nuts. The texture is definitely good but lacks the best qualities of sponge candy and actual good milk chocolate.
I’ve had the package for over month and only managed to finish them up while playing video games after Christmas. (Which is to say, mindless eating.) My opinion of Norfolk Manor isn’t very high after tasting their knock-offs of other iconic British standards like Wine Gums and Jelly Babies.
The package says that it’s made in a plant that processes peanuts and tree nuts. Contains soy and dairy. But it’s gluten free.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Easter, along with most candy holidays, is a time to go big. Candies come in jumbo sizes like chocolate rabbits the size of real rabbits, filled chocolate eggs the size of ostrich eggs and of course larger than normal malted milk balls.
It was fun to see a micro about-face from Russell Stover with their new 42 Chocolate Mini Bunnies.
It’s just what it says, a bag of mini chocolate rabbits, at least 42.
I spotted the package at the check out stand at Ralph’s. In fact, I never would have spotted it and bought it if I hadn’t ended up making such a mess of my self-check out and had to get into a regular shopping line. (The self-check lines have no impulse buying area.) I was surprised to see it because I looked over the Russell Stover website at the beginning of the season to see what was new, but this doesn’t even exist there.
My bag had 47 Mini Bunnies in it. I don’t know if it’s because it’s by weight or because they just wanted to call them 42 Chocolate Mini Bunnies, as if the number 42 had some literary significance.
The smell sweet and little milky and perhaps a little musty (but chocolate can do that when left out in the air for a while, especially milk chocolate).
They’re quite small and cute. They do get a little scuffed up tumbling around in their bag, so it’s not a glossy molded bunny. Each is about three quarters of an inch.
The bunnies are soft and a little crumbly. At first they didn’t melt well, but it has been a bit chilly lately so it could have just been temperature. There’s a waxy feeling to them when I first chewed them. Letting them melt without chewing gave a pretty smooth melt though. It’s very sugary but has a strong dairy and roasted cocoa flavor to it. Honestly, they were quite tasty. I was surprised because I don’t really buy Russell Stover candies expecting good chocolate. It’s more on the candy end of chocolate but at least it’s real.
My biggest problem was how hard it was to just bite off the ears.
For parents looking for a little treat without artificial colors in it, this is a fun seasonal item. It also might be a good idea for Russell Stover to sell these in the baking aisle in larger bags for decorating cupcakes or as an ice cream topping for Easter Sundaes.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Milka is a chocolate confection brand that originated in Switzerland and is now made by Kraft at several factories in Europe. Since Kraft is a global food giant, it makes sense that they’re going to make as many of their brands global as well.
You might notice that I said chocolate confection brand. The reason Milka doesn’t qualify as actual chocolate is a little complicated. In the United States (and many other countries), chocolate can only contain cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar and milk (the standards of identity). If there are any other vegetable oils or solids in there (aside from inclusions like almonds or crisped rice), then it has to be called chocolate flavored or a confection. Milka contains both hazelnut paste (that’s certainly not a bad thing, but there’s not enough to kick it into giauduia territory) and whey, which is a milk protein. I like Milka. As a confection alternative to pure chocolate, I prefer the addition of nut paste and a milk sugar/protein elixir instead of partially hydrogenated palm oil.
Kraft doesn’t seem at all concerned about the technicalities of Milka, it’s spreading the bars and candies worldwide on the strength of the milk part of the product, not the cocoa. In the past five years I’ve seen them in stores in the United States quite a bit more, not just at import themed stores like Cost Plus World Market, but also at big box retailers like Target. I found this little Easter treat called Milka L’il Scoops at my local grocery store, Ralph’s.
The candies are described as Milk chocolate confections with creamy mousse filling.
The packaging is precious. It’s a real egg carton, in the sense that it’s made from recycled pulp though it’s bright purple instead of a muted color. The carton has four little sections that hold the foil wrapped egg confections. At the center of the package is a little stack of two purple spoons for eating the filling. Yes, it’s a lot of purple. (Kind of confusing, as many Cadbury items are also identified with purple which is also owned by Kraft.)
The eggs themselves are actually egg sized. I threw a Grade A Large Egg in there for comparison. I’d call these medium eggs, they’re about 2.3 inches high and 1.2 ounces though a little lighter than an actual chicken egg which are about 1.5 ounces.
The foil is thin but not wrapped so tight that it’s hard to get off, like I sometimes find with Cadbury Creme Eggs. The egg inside the wrapper is scored with a thinner shell at the top.
The eggs are to be eaten like a soft boiled egg. The top of the egg shell (chocolate confection) is removed and the little spoon is used to scoop out the filling. This actually works just as advertised. It was easy for me to either bite it off cleanly, or pinch the top gently and pull it off. (I suppose the spoon may be a useful tool as well, since the shell is quite soft and who cares if you get a little chocolate in the filling like you would with a real egg.)
The Milka chocolate confection is sweet and a little nutty, it’s soft and has a good fudgy melt. The cream center is frothy and buttery, almost like a buttercream frosting or whipped topping. It’s made of sugar and fractionated palm kernel oil so it’s a little oily on the tongue.
Overall, I preferred breaking the chocolate up and eating it with the creamy center instead of eating the center straight. Maybe if it was flavored, like a frothy hazelnut paste cream I’d be happier to eat it straight.
I liked this far better than I thought. I was fully expecting them to be another version of Cadbury Creme Eggs. Instead I found that the quality of the shell was better and the creme was actually not so sweet.
These are super calorie & fat bombs. Each one has 190 calories (158 per ounce) which is far more than a CCE. They’re really overpackaged, but at least everything is recyclable. (Well, maybe not the spoons, but I plan on reusing those for quite some time.) They’re expensive, at least twice the price of most other holiday eggs, so make it special. These are also called Milka Loeffel Chocolate Filled Eggs and sell for about $8.00 online, so I was fortunate to get mine for only $4.99. For that price I’d prefer something with a little bit better quality ingredients. However, if this is a favorite of someone you love, then it’s all worth it.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
For over eighty years folks enjoyed a simply little candy called Flicks. They were disks of chocolate (or mockolate) like large chocolate chips sold in foil wrapped tubes. Great for munching at the movies or sharing with the kids.
They were originally made by Ghirardelli starting in 1904 and over those decades they never changed. Seriously, never altered the manufacturing equipment at all. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that eventually the machines broke down and couldn’t be easily repaired. Instead of developing a new process Ghirardelli simply stopped making them. But folks missed them, so after sitting idle, in 2004 the Tjerrild family bought the trademark and rights to the candy and set about repairing the old machines. Though the actual machinery is no longer in Racine, Wisconsin, but now in Fresno, California - they still use the same Ghirardelli mockolate formula.
The package is simple. It’s a cardboard tube covered in foil that wraps around and into the ends to close them up. Then they’re covered in plastic wrap to protect the freshness. (I believe they’re change it this year and putting the candies inside into a plastic baggy and getting rid of the overwrap.) The tube is about 5.25 inches long and about 1 inch in diameter, about the same as half of a paper towel core. The foil comes in four colors, for no particular reason I guess: red, blue, gold and green.
I admit that I’ve been hesitant to review these. I’ve had Flicks before, probably 30 years ago and recall them being cheap tasting (even then I knew the difference between real chocolate and substitutes). But enough people were pining for them that they were brought back after 15 years out of production, so the narrative of something being brought back from the dead is compelling.
The disks are between 1/2 and 3/4 of an inch in diameter.
The pieces don’t smell like much at all and look rather waxy. The texture at first isn’t very encouraging, it’s waxy and immediately gives off sweet and powder milk notes. But then it gets a little creamier as it melts, it’s a little malty, a little bit of salt in there. It’s very sweet. They’re not so much a chocolate as a simple kind of mockolate tablet. I can’t say that I love them, but didn’t mind eating them as much as I thought.
Overall, I have very little interest eating these when there are so many better things I can do with 220 calories and $1.39 that don’t contain palm oil. Ghirardelli makes such nice baking chips, it’s a shame these can’t just be those.
Here’s a little factory video, which is so utterly charming that I forgot I didn’t like them that much.
Friday, March 05, 2010
They’re the third item in the new launch of the better quality Wonka chocolate products hitting store shelves now. The ingredients are all natural, the packaging revamped and the quality vastly improved.
Now that I’ve tried all three varieties I can say that they’re right, the quality of the chocolate is much better. The chocolate is smoother, has a bolder flavor and of course the fact that the ingredients are better should make it easier for families to choose Wonka. I’ve compared them before to Dove and Hershey’s Bliss - but what these have going for them is that the packaging is all about imagination - the bright striped foils are going to appeal more to kids than the sedate and elegant positioning of Dove or Bliss.
The pieces themselves aren’t quite as stunning to look at as the other two Exceptionals. The little domed blocks don’t stack either. I was hoping for some glossy dark chocolate, and while it’s tempered properly, the piece looks like well worn coat button instead of a sumptuous piece of dark chocolate.
The dark chocolate flavors are quite sharp. It’s acidic without being tangy, not quite chalky but a little dry. It’s smooth but I wouldn’t characterize it as the same silkiness as the milk and white chocolate from the Waterfall version. There are berry and raisin notes to the cocoa but nothing overtly complex. It’s toasty but not so dark that it’s roasty and too bitter like black coffee. The sweetness is pretty overwhelming, sugar is the first ingredient on the list.
As a dark chocolate, it’s very accessible, and probably won’t dissuade children from eating them. They remind me of eating chocolate chip cookies - the melt is similar to that in a fresh cookie.
I think Nestle has done a great job of reinvigorating the brand. It takes more inspiration from the original books and taps into the dreamy quality that Wonka has evoked in every kid who every kid who’s read it.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
The new line of Wonka Exceptionals are better quality chocolate candies. Nestle calls them The world’s most incomparably imaginative chocolate. The initial launch includes three chocolate products and to increase consumer interest a Golden Ticket giveaway for 5 trips around the world valued at $40,000 (that’s 5 different prizes, not 5 circumnavigations for one person).
Since the products are just being rolled out, they may not be on shelves everywhere yet. I found the Wonka Exceptionals Chocolate Waterfall Pieces at Ralph’s at a rather shocking price point of $4.99. The bars, which are 3.5 ounces are supposed to retail for $2.49. The package is gaudy and rather befitting the proud Willy Wonky tradition. The back of the package has the fun quote from the original Golden Ticket text from the book and exhorts folks to read the original book by Roald Dahl. (How many candies encourage that?)
The Waterfall chocolate is logged on the package as Bar No 99: Delectable combination of swirled milk & white chocolate.
The pieces are wrapped in blue and purple striped foil. They’re a nicely sized block of one or two bites (9.25 grams or 1/3 of an ounce). They’re 1.25” long, 1” wide and about .33” high.
The package (which is sometimes hard to read because of how busy it is) says that it’s truly amazing chocolate made with natural ingredients and then says refer to the ingredients list. The list is then asterisked with only one ingredient not flagged as all natural - the soy lecithin. I’m guessing it’s because it’s from genetically modified (GMO) soy. Still, it’s all real chocolate - basically sugar, milk and cacao with a little vanilla & emulsifiers (lecithin - no PGPR).
The milk and white swirl is nicely done, usually in three expertly centered spokes.
The pieces smell milky and sweet. The bite is quite soft, but still has a good snap to it for a high-milkfat chocolate. The texture does not disappoint. It’s very smooth and silky with a good fatty melt. The chocolate flavors are eclipsed by the dairy, but it’s still a comforting cocoa note that sticks to the woodsy and malty side of things. It’s very, very sweet though. They’re quite different from the Hershey’s Bliss White Chocolate Meltaway, which is not as sweet but of course doesn’t have the milk chocolate component.
There aren’t that many milk and white combination chocolates here in the United States, so this is a fun and original option. It’s probably not one I’d choose for myself but I don’t see the folks at the office complaining about them. (I’ve had the selection of all three versions in a jar for about a week on my desk.)
Monday, March 01, 2010
The Wonka brand of candies was launched shortly after the release of the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. They were originally made by Sunline but Nestle bought up Sunline (also the maker of SweeTarts and Pixy Stix) in 1988. At that time the Wonka brand consisted of a combination of candies mentioned in the book, such as Everlasting Gobstoppers but mostly fanciful original creations such as Peanut Butter Oompas (picture here), Super Scrunch (picture here). They later focusing more on profitable and successful sugar candies such as Wacky Wafers (picture here), Dweebs, Runts, DinaSour Eggs (picture here) and of course Nerds.
The early Wonka Scrumdidilyumptious bar was a “chocolately caramel crisp” - the format was rather long, thick and narrow. (See this counter display.)
Nestle is reinvigorating the brand, both the sugar candy side (new gummis like Sluggles & Puckerooms, sour filled licorice like Kazoozles and chocolate popping candy like Tinglerz). Their chocolate line called Wonka Exceptionals capitalizes both on the imaginative side of the Wonka character from the Roald Dahl books as well as the quality aspect which has been largely lacking in previous chocolate products. The launch is with three different bars and foil wrapped pieces: Scrumdiddlyumptious, Domed Dark Chocolate & Chocolate Waterfall.
This new version of the Wonka Scrumdiddlyumptious Bar is spelled slightly differently: diddly instead of didily. It’s listed on the back of the package as Bar No. 17 and described as Milk chocolate with scrumptious toffee, crispy cookie & crunchy peanuts. Sounds good! No one else is making a bar quite like this, so it’s exciting to see them creating something original instead of a different packaging format of an existing product.
The little foil wrapped pieces are cute. They’re 1.25” long, 1” wide and about .33” high. They smell lightly chocolatey, but not as peanutty as I expected. The texture of the milk chocolate is super smooth and silky - a far cry from the waxy stuff in other Nestle products. It’s exceptionally sweet though, so too much of it and it burned my throat. The inclusions were little bits of graham cracker like cookies (digestive biscuits is perhaps more appropriate for comparison), little buttery toffee nuggets and peanut bits.
The variations in the nuggets meant that some pieces and bites were more interesting than others. The toffee had a good crunch to it and a salty note. The peanuts were not deeply roasted and were more grassy but still gave a different chew. The cookie pieces were mild and gave a malty cereal note to it.
The chocolate quality is a huge upgrade from the Wonka Bar (which is now discontinued - these will replace it). I don’t think I’d spend the premium for this in a bar format mostly because the Green & Black’s Peanut bar is truly scrumptious, similarly price but also organic & soon to be Fair Trade). However, foil wrapped pieces are different enough to warrant consideration.
Each piece is less than 50 calories, so if you have trouble controlling portions with a large bar, these are a nice option.
The packaging is fanciful, though definitely cluttered and not that easy to read as most of the colors are the same value. The holographic plastic is a bit of overkill as far as I’m concerned (and probably resource intensive) but I’m guessing the bags without the “Golden Ticket” giveaway will be a bit clearer. I was most impressed with the fact that they were even creative with the bar code on the package.
The product line is expensive, we’re talking Dove or Hershey’s Bliss level, not the ordinary Nestle Crunch prices. The bags I picked up hold 9.5 ounces and were $4.99 each. (The press release from the company said retail is $4.49 and I’m guessing there will be sales where you can find them for about $3 a bag.) The bars are 3.5 ounces and retail for $2.49 each.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.