Thursday, December 15, 2005
Name: Bits ‘n Fits and Bits ‘n Mints
I got a wondeful package last week from a reader, Michal, in Israel. (I sent her some stuff too, but sadly it has not arrived yet.) It was a huge box of all sorts of goodies that will take me about a month to savor properly (and photograph & review, fear not!).
The first grouping I have is from Hachez, which is a German chocolate company that’s been around since 1880. These (except for the dark chocolate one) are from their Cocoa de Maracaibo line. It’s an exceptionally rich milk chocolate that boasts 55% cacao from Venezuela. In the States the government says that you only need to have 10% cocoa solids to call your concoction Milk Chocolate. In Europe that standard is at least 25% cocoa solids. Even most semi-sweet chocolates don’t have 55% cocoa solids in them!
The most amazingly cool things are their “Bits” tins. The tin shape might be a bit familiar to some folks as it seems to be identical to those that hold “Hint Mints” that can be found at places like Cost Plus World Market and coffee shops everwhere. The neat thing about the Hint Mints is that the curved tin makes it easy to keep in a pocket. You don’t really wanna do that with a tin full of chocolate. But it’s a really elegant way to be social with your chocolate when you pull one of these out and offer a little chocolate nibble to a friend or someone you want to impress.
The dense milk chocolate for the Bits ‘n Mints is a little different. I wouldn’t call it waxy, but it doesn’t yield immediately. It sits on the tongue as it warms than then suddenly melts into a consistent puddle. It’s probably because there’s less fat in it than I’m used to in a milk chocolate. It takes a moment for it to come to body temperature, then it’s very smooth. I mean, really smooth. It’s literally like butter with a wonderful rich chocolate taste (very little milk taste to it) and a good cooling mint essence.
The Bits ‘n Fits are unlike anything else I’ve had before and pure little pebbles of delight. The outside is the same milk chocolate but the center is a mix of amazing roasted flavors. Inside is what I can only call a hazelnut toffee with a huge boost of coffee flavor. A warning though, the package says that not only does it have 1% espresso powder, it also contains 1% guarana, which is a cousin of caffeine except more expensive. I don’t know what that makes the “speed” content of this candy but at a little more than 1 ounce, you probably can’t go too wrong. They’re sweet and have a combination of textures that makes me wish they sold them around here.
Name: Longs - Cocoa de Maracaibo Classic & Espresso and Cocoa d’Arriba Orange
Cocoa de Maracaibo Classic - like the Bits ‘n Mints, this bar was incredibly buttery without being oily. The first ingredient for Hachez’s milk chocolate is not sugar, not butter and not milk solids, it’s Cocoa Butter. My favorite butter! The milk solids come in at 18% so there’s very little room for sugar in there. The milk flavors are much more evident in this bar than the Mints or the Espresso bar below. The milky flavor is very European like a much smoother, refined version of a Cadbury.
Cocoa de Maracaibo Espresso - similarly smooth and slick tasting, this bar has an intense burst of espresso flavor. Actually, don’t think of it as flavor as in something that comes out of a bottle, it tastes like freshly ground coffee smells.
Cocoa d’Arriba Orange - This particular Longs falls under the Cocoa d’Arriba line, which is 77% cacao chocolate from Ecuador. The bar smells like a combination of orange rinds and dark cocoa. With all the cocoa solids in this bar, there’s very little room for sugar. The bar is certainly chocolate with a substantial bitter bite but no real acidity or dryness that some bars have. It has woodsy flavors and of course the intense orange essence. I really liked this bar but probably couldn’t eat as much of it as I could with the Cocoa de Maracaibo bars.
I’ve seen some of the Hachez product in stores before and I hope they make a bigger run at the American market. I think this Cocoa de Maracaibo is unlike most other mid-density chocolate available right now. It’s rich without being too dense and retains all the wonderful qualities of the cocoa butter that so many high-end chocolate seem to sacrafice for that high cacao percentage.
I also have to commend Hachez for their website. Though it doesn’t break out info on all their products individually, they do have an English version and the photography and additional pages are really wonderful.
Ratings: Bits ‘n Mints and Bits ‘n Fits - 9 out of 10
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
I bought these at a natural food store. I think the reason people interested in they kinds of food they eat like these is that they have no refined sugar in them. The ingredients list is pretty short (with some variation based on the flavor): molasses, wheat
flour, licorice extract, natural flavor (aniseed oil). Pretty simple. The interesting part is that these are Finnish. Just like the Lemon Lakritsi only without the racially insensitive packaging. Who could be offended by Panda bears? Actually, I’ve passed over these bars for years because I had them confused with Australian licorice I bought in bulk. I mean really, who expects a Panda on a product from Finland of all places? (Okay and I guess it wouldn’t belong on an Australian product either, that should have a Koala or Kangaroo on it.)
The bars are rather simple. A bit thick rope of not quite soft candy.
Licorice: Nice and glossy/dark on the outside. It has a good smokey, woodsy smell that gives off a lot of anise scent. The bit itself is pretty soft and the molasses flavors are pretty evident. Molasses has always been a good base for spicy flavors and licorice is a natural to combine with it as it offsets the very sweet aftertaste true licorice has.
Raspberry: Fragrant without being too perfumy this raspberry bar doesn’t really have much berry flavor to me. The chew isn’t as molassesy, not as woodsy tasting. It’s tart and of course has a nice robust chew but the flavor doesn’t really match the texture and I wanted more berry in there.
Strawberry: Sweet smelling with an immediate tart bite to it, it definitely feels more like a berry bar. No woodsy hints from the molasses here either.
The licorice bar has to be my new favorite. Easy to bite, mellow and with a strong pop of flavor. It’s a bit pricey for licorice and I’ll probably stick with licorice pastels now and in the future, but if I’m in the store and need a little sweet fix, this might do the trick.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Name: Frolic Bears
I picked these up at the 99 Cent Only Store a while back and was rather scared of them. I don’t know why I’d pick up candy I was afraid of, maybe it’s a way of facing demons. I’m not afraid of Manischewitz products in general (except for their sweet wines) and of course I love lollies. Maybe it was the name Frolic Bears. Maybe I don’t want my candy to be active and enjoying itself before I chow down on it.
After opening the package I figured out why they were at the 99 Cent Only Store at a fraction of their grocery store price. The bears were missing their ears. You can see from the photo above that the lollies are made by pouring the molten chocolate directly into the trays and inserting the sticks. This tray was a little short on chocolate and some of my bears were deformed.
Once I got over their appearance I decided to eat a few. First, the sticks are a little short for adults. Maybe they’re not made for adults. Okay, they’re not made for adults. The chocolate itself was very sweet and the rather American style of being creamy without milky. It was kind of crunchy at first (it’s kinda cold today and my office isn’t heated at night so it may as well have been refrigerated) but melted easily after that. They don’t have a lot of flavor other than that, no chocolate nuances. The vanilla isn’t real, so that note is a little lost too. However, this is certainly something I’d be happy to give to a kid. They’re Kosher and of course are meant for Passover. The price is great, but I just can’t get over the bland chocolate. If I had kids coming over to the house I might be slightly more inclined to purchase them again.
Rating - 4 out of 10
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Name: Xocoatl Venezuelan 73.5% Dark Chocolate Bar
My sister-in-law brought this for Thanksgiving (she brought a lot of stuff and we didn’t get to this that evening). It’s part of the whole trend in authentically flavored chocolates in the Aztec tradition. This bar is from a company called Xocoatl - A Master Chocolatier (which I still haven’t quite figured out how to pronounce, though I excel at saying Huitzilopochtli ). Here’s a list of Aztec Gods in case you were wondering about their names. Xocoatl was the fire god, which only makes sense that so many folks are naming their spicy chocolate after him. As Chocolate is a New World discovery, it’s natural thatchocolatiers investigate the roots of the food and its original preparation. Though few people drink it as it was originally made as a peppered, salted and spiced drink mixed with milk or water, we can learn a lot from the original preparations about the complex flavors inherent in the beans.
The gold wrapper not only makes this bar look precious, it’s actually really good protection from odors and probably reflects a little hit that might come its way in an ordinary day. It’s a pretty big bar too, rather flat and about the size of a 3x5 card. The bar I got was exceptionally fresh, with a good snap and wonderful aroma. The major smells from the bar are woodsy and with a big pop or rum/vanilla. The bar is smooth, but not terribly buttery. Not at all grainy, the spicy part doesn’t hit until the morsel has melted completely on the tongue. There’s a dry finish that helps to deliver the slight heat from the spice andcinnamon.
I wish it were just a little smoother, a little more buttery, but at 73.5% cocoa solids, they packed a lot in there. It’s not overly sweet and very flavorful. If you are in the area and check out the shop, I actually recommend their Mayan Hot Chocolate, which has a wonderful Mexican style like Ibarra hot chocolate mixed with some spice but most notably almond bits which give it a bit of nuttiness and smooth everything out. I’m also curious to try their fruit and nut bars sometime. They do a violet and rose petal that sounds right up my alley.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Monday, December 12, 2005
The Detroit Free Press has a fun article about the candy most commonly associated with Christmas: Candy Canes.
It includes sources for sugar-free candy canes and other candy cane merchandise.
But here are the fun facts from Candy USA about the twisted sticks:
Name: Chocolate Malt Balls Assortment
I ate all of these. The last three for breakfast this morning. I picked them up courtesy of my trip to the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, CA back on December 2nd. Nothin’ like fresh from the factory candy. The balls had a beautiful glossy sheen and smelled sweet and toasty upon opening the bag.
I didn’t see these specific candies available on the Jelly Belly site, but they have some fun Christmas color mixed ones (kinda like those Easter ones that we’re all probably familiar with).
If there’s one thing I learned on my trip through the factory, it’s that Jelly Belly knows how to pan candies. You’re wondering what panned candies are? Picture a small cement mixer (one of those little ones, not the truck). They take a nugget of a candy, be it a nut, a jelly center or a sphere or malt crisp and toss it into this tumbling pan. Then they add stuff to it, liquids that coat every surface of the center. Sometimes the coatings are just sanding sugar, sometimes they’re chocolate like these malt balls and sometimes they’re sugars that make a crisp shell like on a Jordan Almond. And they keep doing it, until they’re coated to the proper depth. Then they get a spiffy shine and are packaged up.
The chocolate was nice, sweet without being sticky and milky with a good snap. The centers were crispy and crumbly and melt in your mouth. The malt was nice and strong, providing a toasted taste to the centers which goes nicely with the mild milk chocolate. They’re less “dairy” tasting than the Wilbur Milk Chocolate Malt Balls which I’m also mad for.
I don’t know of many places that carry the full line of Jelly Belly’s “Confections” line, but they’re worth picking up when you do find them. I’ll have lots more reviews when I get my factory tour review up this weekend. They’re about twice the price of the Wilbur balls. But, if you’re ordering from Jelly Belly already, I also recommend their Chocolate Dutch Mints (and their mint lentils, which don’t seem to be on their site).
Rating - 8 out of 10
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Here’s another item to add to the list if you’re looking for something to bring the hostess this holiday or maybe just a stocking stuffer.
No, not shotglasses for Peppermint Schnapps, these are shot glasses that are made from peppermint sticks.
I saw them today at both Urban Outfitters (you can order online) and Cost Plus World Market (a dollar cheaper). As a side note, I’ve also seen plenty of chocolate liqueur cups which are great for serving dessert cognac. If you’re looking for a way to add candy to a mixed drink (besides a lemon drop to a lemon martini or cinnamon imperials to a sweet martini) you might want to check out the new Twizzler Strawz.
They’re made for Slurpees and are just regular Twizzlers that are bigger so you can use them like a straw and get added flavor (and eat them). For cocktails, just snip them in half for a martini glass or lowball.
Friday, December 9, 2005
Last weekend I went to San Francisco for important candy and novel writing business (the best of both worlds). On our last day, Robin insisted that we visit Tartine (18th & Guerrero). She said they were reputed to have the best chocolate croissants. So before I scrambled off to my meeting and she went to explore the Ferry Terminal we went over there. We were determined enough to give them a try that we made three ever-widening circles around the place in search of a parking spot. We ended up two and a half blocks away and found the place to be mobbed when we entered. But it looked good from the back of the line. It looked even better when we got up to the bakery case which was filled with amazing heaps of cookies, tarts, pastries and cakes.
I bring this up because that’s where I saw the Rochers. Rochers are basically soft chewy meringues, usually with nuts in them. At Tartine they had them in two varieties: almond and cacao nibs. Gah! Heaven! I wish I’d taken some photos of them, but suffice to say they were little glossy dollops of delight. I bought a half a dozen. Now I wish I’d brought more.
So, the reason I bring this up is that it sparked me to try my own mashup this afternoon. I’ve got these Plush Puffs “leftover” and of course I’ve had this tube of Scharffen Berger chocolate covered cacao nibs on my desk. too. The vanilla marshmallow was just crying out for a little something. Cacao nibs. That’s what it wanted.
So, I tore the marshmallow in half, revealing it’s sticky interior and mashed it into the nibs. Yum. Repeat as necessary (it’s my mess o’ nibs, I can double dip!). Vanilla bean and cacao was a great combo. The bittersweetness of the chocolate and crunchiness of the nibs was a nice combo with the sweety chewiness of the marshmallows. I also tried it with the cinnamon one and though not quite as pure a combo because of the spice of the cinnamon, it was very tasty. Maybe I’ll try the peppimint next. (click photo for larger version)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.