Thursday, May 25, 2006
Instead of just the normal fundraising candy bars, Smiles by Joanie’s Smiles are are chocolate bars infused with tea and other natural flavors that stand on their own as tasty treats. The hook here with the fundraising aspect is that money from the sale of each bar goes to Operation Smile which sends volunteer medical teams all over the globe to repair facial deformities in kids and adults. I was approached to taste the bars a couple of months ago, so I’ve had a lot of time with them (I was waiting for their website to be up and for them to be more widely available).
The bars were very simply produced - two ounces each, wrapped in foil and then a paper overwrap. The bar is pre-scored into 12 little pieces with each embossed with the smiles script logo. No gimmicky packaging, just tried and true presentation. It’s the flavors that count here ... so let me count off the flavors to you:
Rosemary Hibiscus Tea - I was certain I wouldn’t like this one before I even tried it. I’m not a big fan of hibiscus, so how could combining it with rosemary (a rather savory and strong herb) and white chocolate be a good idea? Frankly, after the first bite I didn’t like it. The hibiscus gave the white chocolate a yogurt tang but without any satisfying fruit flavor to go with it. Then I took a few more bites and the rosemary flavor really grew on me and took center stage. It’s not terribly sweet and doesn’t give me a sore throat like bad white chocolate does ... it was smooth and creamy and had a little sass to it.
Cranberry-Ginger Tea - mellow milk chocolate with a smooth and creamy consistency with a spicy, lowgrade burn of ginger. Later the tannin and cranberry notes come out in a lingering berry bite. The bar has the woodsy, rooty smell of ginger. There are the occasionally grainy bits from the tea, but this is a pretty smooth and zesty bar.
Wild Raspberry Tea - it smells like raspberry and has the floral flavor to it. The milk chocolate, which can often have a tart bite also helps to bring out the fruitiness and berry notes here. There are also the occasional fruit bits in there, giving it a chewy tart burst. The chocolate has not dairy milkiness that I usually associate with milk chocolate, instead it’s smooth and a little fudgy.
Coconut-Green Tea - this bar smells like summer. Profuse wafts of coconut emanate from this bar, just sitting next to it reminds me of those girls who would come to the pool but never swim. They’d sit together with their sunkissed hair and lanky bodies slathered with tanning oil ... something I could never use. (If there were a freckle oil, well, then we might have something.) That toasted, glossy association translates well to this dark bar. Smooth and buttery, the tea takes a backstage to the coconut, which brings only flavor here, there are no chewy bits.
Herbal Chai Tea - this bar smells like I’ve stepped into a spice shop. It’s all warm and woodsy: cinnamon, fennel, orange and a little rooty waft of ginger. A little bit grainy because of the real spices in there, it’s still quite smooth and bursting with different flavors. The cinnamon dominates, but the fennel and black pepper are still discernible. The tea here is the Amber Roobios, which brings its own floral/fruity notes. It’s quite a riot of flavors in there.
My favorites in order (as determined by which I finished first) were the Pistachio-Green Tea White Chocolate, Herbal Chai Dark Chocolate, Coconut-Green Tea Dark Chocolate, Rosemary Hibiscus White Chocolate and last the Wild Raspberry Milk Chocolate.
I have to congratulate Joanie for coming up with such interesting flavor combinations but I think if there’s one thing that I find a drawback to them, it’s the price ... however, unlike many high-end bars, there is nowhere else to get a Hibiscus Rosemary White Chocolate or Coconut Green Tea Dark Chocolate bar, so they’ve cornered that end of the market.
The bars are now on sale at Whole Foods and soon at Bristol Farms and Gelson’s (SoCal) markets as well as through Amazon (click through on their website). Amazon doesn’t seem to offer an assortment pack or sales by the box, which is too bad because I really didn’t know which I was going to like by the description. They were just introduced last week, so they may be adding more purchase variations.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
I found a new candy store and they have everything! (I can’t remember who suggested this, but I thank you most wholeheartedly!) Mel & Rose, which is on Melrose Blvd near La Cienega (just north of the Beverly Center).
Well, maybe they don’t have everything, but a lot of the things I’ve been looking for and a good assortment of things I didn’t even know existed. They didn’t have KitKat bars from around the world, but they had Kinder Eggs.
Mel & Rose is a liquor store, wine store (in a separate space) and deli with a large selection of fine chocolate bars. They also have a huge selection of imported consumer candies, such UK imports like Flake, Cadbury, Aeros and Bassett’s. There are German candies like Ritter and a whole line of Haribo bagged treats. Australian brands like Cherry Mash, Life Savers and Aussie licorice.
If you’re into high-end chocolate bars, I think that’s probably what they do best. Vosges, New Tree, Michael Cluizel, Dolfin, Cafe-Tasse, MarieBelle, Cote d’Or, Hachez, Dagoba, Green & Black’s, Americi, Santander, Divine, Galler, Chocovic, Chocolat Bonnat, El Rey and Guittard. (The only chocolate I thought was missing was Scharffen Berger.)
The prices aren’t rock bottom, but they’re on par with places on the web like Chocosphere when you factor shipping and you get to read the labels and sniff them before you buy.
Check out this Flickr set of photos that I took in the store ... until the fellow behind the counter told me there were no cameras allowed in the store.
Mel & Rose
I picked up a couple of other exciting things that I’ll be posting about soon.
After my rave review of Green & Black’s White Chocolate (which surprised even me) I got an email from a representative of Green & Black’s asking if I’d tried their Ginger bar. They were reading the blog and knew how much I loved ginger! Of course when I said I hadn’t seen it in the store yet (Target has a rather limited selection), she offered to send me some. (And some other bars which I’ll review in the coming weeks.)
It’s a beautiful bar, with the same simple foil wrapping cloaked in a paper wrapper. The bar was shiny with small sections that gave a good snap. It smelled distinctly smoky and earthy. The dark chocolate is 60% cocoa content.
The first flavors I noticed when letting the chocolate melt on my tongue were a rather tart lemon and then a lingering burn of black pepper. Later the rooty, earthen flavors emerged, giving the bar more of a ginger flavor than a chocolate one.
The crystallization of the ginger gives the bar a more distinct graininess. It’s also rather sweet. I liked the spicy burn, and I found it very munchable, but the acidity kind of bothered me after a while. (But I have been eating a lot of pineapple lately and may be working with a disadvantaged tongue.)
The integration of the two flavors and textures isn’t quite right for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tasty, but I really wanted more essence of ginger and less graininess and of course more of the creaminess and flavors of the chocolate. I do like how generous they are with the ginger, much better than the ratios in the Dagoba chocolate bars I’ve had (their Chai bar has scant ginger content). I still favor the panned ginger chocolate pieces that I’ve been getting at Trader Joe’s, but if you don’t have access to those, this would be a good fallback treat.
I have a few more bars that they sent me to try, so I’ll be adding those to the site within the next couple of weeks. On my list is their Caramel, 70% Dark, Hazelnut & Currant and Espresso.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
I’ve been looking for this kooky little novelty chocolate item for a while. Kinder is a widely distributed confection brand that also makes the intensely addictive Kinder Bueno (which is a must-try for any hazelnut lover).
I found a new candy source in Los Angeles (posting tomorrow about that) called Mel & Rose’s on Melrose Avenue. They have EVERYTHING that you might want from Europe or Australia. It’s not a big shop, but they had an excellent selection and decent prices. In fact, my little Kinder Eggs were less than a dollar each. I was led to believe that these were not permitted to be sold in the US because of the “choking hazard” of the toy surprise inside, but after opening one, I’d have to wonder what child could (or would want to) eat that toy-filled capsule.
Think of these as those toy eggs that you get in the gumball machines at the mega-marts. Except instead of being a plastic egg, it’s a chocolate egg.
The egg is pretty much the size of a regular chicken egg. Inside the white and red foil it’s a rather lack-luster milk chocolate with a distinct seam. I wasn’t quite sure if there was a way to open it, so I just pressed my finger into the top and sort of tore it open. On my second egg I found that if you sqeeze about halfway along the seam the whole thing pops apart rather neatly.
Inside the egg it’s “white chocolate” (I say in quotes because it says on the label that it’s actually a “milky white lining” which doesn’t even sound edible). It smells sweet and rather like powdered milk. Inside the egg is a yellow plastic capsule that contains the Kinder Suprise (kinder means children in German and is pronounced with a short i). The chocolate is passably edible, nothing I’d want to buy by itself.
The yellow capsule holds a little plastic toy (usually one you have to put together). I’m not really sure what the one is in the picture. It’s a little baby in a crow’s nest with a crab crawling up the mast ... I think. There’s a little wheel on the bottom of it and if you roll it around it wiggles the mast and crow’s nest. The second prize (in the other egg) was a little metronome on a wheel with a funny little anthropomorphic musical note riding on it.
As a candy/toy, I find these much more compelling than Pez. I have poked around and have seen that some prizes can be rather sophisticated and you can collect theme prizes. (See other prizes in this flicker kinder pool.)
If you’re traveling someplace where you can pick these up, they’re usually pretty cheap (about 50 cents) and make great little stocking stuffers or gifts. It’s too bad they can’t sell them in the States.
If you’ve had Kinder Eggs before, what sort of prizes did you get in yours?
Monday, May 22, 2006
It seems like some parts of the country are known for different confections. The South does wonderful things with pecan pralines, San Francisco has a wonderful way with dark chocolate, the Jersey Shore has its salt water taffy. Now I’m noticing that Colorado is attracted to toffee. My neighbor got this as a gift at the office from a co-worker returning from Colorado. It’s, apparently, the thing that people bring back from Colorado.
These thick slabs of almond toffee are described thusly on their website:
Instead of pieces of almonds dotting the toffee, this toffee has generous whole almonds. The slabs are extra thick and the chocolate coats both sides with an extra dusting of powdered almonds. The toffee has a crisp bite with a strong buttery taste to it. It cleaves well and melts on the tongue with a good salty bite and caramelized sugar flavor.
I can see why Enstrom’s is so highly regarded. This is tasty toffee. The only thing that bugs me about is the whole slab idea. I’d prefer my toffee to be in regular pieces that I can pick up and bite or pop in my mouth whole. But if that’s my biggest complaint, well, I don’t have much to complain about. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with any of the toffees I’ve had from Colorado (see Silver Bear).
Friday, May 19, 2006
This version of the Cafe-Tasse bars are long and thick and frankly, I prefer this format to the flat ones. It’s more compact and I like a good thick piece of chocolate.
The design on these is quite lovely too. Soft, matte paper with some stylish engraved designs. Easy to read and color coded, too!
Extra Noir this super dark 77% cocoa bar is quite rich. Instead of sacrificing buttery smoothness for high cacao, I think they’ve lowered the sugar content, which is just fine with me. The bar has a strong smoky flavor with many hints of tobacco and vanilla. It has a rather dry finish that’s not exactly astringent, but leaves a rather chalky feeling in the mouth. Still, it has a fantastic melt on the tongue, just slipping around in all it’s cocoa-butter goodness. It’s not sweet, but at the same time, it’s not blisteringly bitter - just dense.
Noir Praline this bar smelled much sweeter than the others, and had a rather fruity aroma as well. The dark chocolate shell looked the same as the other bars, but inside it was as sweet. After having the creamy richness of the Baci bar, this one really can’t compare. It’s missing that buttery lightness and depth of flavor. I’m not saying it’s not tasty, it’s just had more sugar and sweetness than hazelnuttiness.
Noir Orange after sampling the super dark bar, this one seemed quite sweet at first. This bar is only 54% cocoa, so there’s plenty of room for that cocoa butter base as well as sugar and an ample supply of little candied orange bits. The candied orange peels threw me, they’re kind of crystallized, so a bit more sharp and hard than pliable and forgiving. The texture mix aside, the orange infusion is intense and profuse. This is nothing like the Terry’s Chocolate Orange. This is a full chocolate experience with a little fruit essence thrown in. After a while I was hoping for the chewy bits of orange peel. This was by far my favorite of the three.
These were a gift but I’ve seen them for sale at Cost Plus World Market, Economy Candy in NYC and online at Chocosphere (the chocolate covered lemon peel looks divine).
Thursday, May 18, 2006
One of my favorite treats we’d get in our Christmas Stocking were Baci. If you’ve never had this little Italian chocolate, you’re missing something. It’s a hazelnut nougatine with chopped nuts topped with a whole hazelnut and covered in a thin shell of rich dark chocolate. They’re wrapped in silver foil with blue printing and wrapped around the chocolate is a little piece of glassine with a saying about love or kisses in four languages, after all, baci means kiss in Italian.
Instead of individual morsels, the Baci Bar is a thick semisweet chocolate bar with domed sections filled with a mix of chocolate, hazelnut paste and crushed hazelnuts.
Holy moly, it’s good.
Seriously good. The chocolate is rich and buttery with a slight bitter and dry hit to it - which offsets the super-sweet and nutty, thick filling. The little bits of nuts give it a wonderful crispy crunch. There wasn’t a bad nut bit in the bunch.
If there’s anything at all wrong with it, it’s that it’s kind of soft. It’s getting warm here in Los Angeles, and eating a bar like this mid-day is just plain messy. No matter, I’m having the rest of it for breakfast ... see, I’m flexible! I miss the whole hazelnut you get the with traditional Baci, but the chocolate ratio here is amped up a little, which I like just as well.
Now that I’ve raved about this bar, I fear I will never have another one. I’ve looked around on the Perugina/Nestle site and find no reference to this bar. It was generously transported directly from Italy to me by uber-blogger, JozJozJoz. Maybe if you’re in a European airport you’ll spy one.
Perugina is an Italian company, started in the 20s but was bought out by Nestle in 1985, which explains their wider distribution in the United States late in the last century.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
I saw these new limited edition Reese’s Bars and I grabbed one over the weekend.
The new Reese’s Bar seems to answer the call for the Reese’s Egg to be made year round. But for some strange reason it’s a pale imitation of the Reese’s Egg. I can’t quite figure out why, it is basically an uncupped peanut butter cup.
The bar is a little messier to eat if you take it out of the package. The oiliness of the peanut butter and the softness of the milk chocolate make it especially soft for handling.
The peanut butter center crumbles and melts nicely in the mouth, but the proportion of the chocolate to the peanut butter just isn’t right for me. I think I want a smidge more chocolate or lots more peanut butter.
The other new limited edition addition is this Fudge Reese’s Bar. I was thinking, “Hey, I’d like some peanut butter fudge right now!” But that’s not what I got. In fact, I was wondering if this was ANY different than the Reese’s Bar shown above. The crumbly and cool peanut butter center was just as I remembered eating just a few minutes earlier.
I looked at the labels:
Reese’s Bar...............................Fudge Reese’s Bar
It continues identically to the very end. The difference appears to be within the ingredients of the Milk Chocolate itself. The coating on the Fudge Reese’s Bar is, well, fudgy, instead of chocolatey. The Fudge Bar has more milk in the chocolate enrobing.
While that sounds like it’d be nice, it makes for a mess. It’s not that warm here today (in the high seventies) and it’s rather hard to keep this thing from losing its bar-shaped coherence.
It doesn’t taste as good either, it tastes more like cardboard and less like chocolate.
Whatever the difference, I reject these bars because there’s nothing wrong with the plain old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. These give you 1.3 ounces, the regular cups give you 1.5 ounces. They cost the same price ... and because they’re leaving out the little paper cups, I get shafted for .2 ounces? Maybe if you’re on a diet and want to trim those extra, um, 31 calories this would be a good deal. I’m not saying these are bad bars. If Reese’s Peanut Butter cups had never been invented and this was my first introduction, I’d be all for them. But they’re far from an improvement on the existing cups, so they get a poor score and can sink into the dark recesses of Limited Edition history.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.