Friday, June 10, 2005
Name: Caffarel (Finissimo cioccolato fondente con croccante gentile)
This adorable square bar is from Italy with 57% cocoa content. Unfortunately somewhere along the way it was not stored properly and got a bit of a bloom. In fact, this is a good time to talk about chocolate bloom.
Chocolate is make up for cocoa solids and cocoa butter (and sugar). Sometimes if the chocolate is not tempered properly, or stored improperly (variations in heat) the chocolate will become unstable. This will cause some of the cocoa butter to separate from the cocoa solids and migrate to the surface of the chocolate as “bloom”. It looks like some sort of chalky powder or something, but it’s just the fat. It’s not dangerous, chocolate that’s bloomed is edible, though it will probably end up tasting a bit chalky because the cocoa butter is no longer emulsified with the cocoa solids and sugar. Most importantly, it’s not mold, though it often looks like it.
The best way to prevent this is to buy fresh chocolate that’s been stored properly (stable climate conditions) and then treat it right. When you bring you chocolate home, this gets to be a bit of a tougher proposition. I don’t like storing chocolate in the fridge or the freezer because the variations in temperature and humidity when you take it out can be just as bad. So, if you have a cool spot in your kitchen (usually in a lower cupboard or the back of the closet), it should be okay. In my case, I don’t have air conditioning and live in Los Angeles, so you can see how even in a protected location, some of my chocolate is going to get melty on the hottest of days. In that case, stick it in the fridge, inside it’s packaging and inside a plastic bag of some sort. This will keep the fridge odors from being absorbed and keep it from drying out. Even better, devote a plastic container (good) or glass container (better) with a tight fitting lid for keeping your chocolate. You also might consider throwing a plain old charcoal briquet in there (not one that has added lighter fluid) to absorb odors and any excess moisture). Allow the chocolate to come to room temp before opening and consuming. Otherwise if you open it and there’s any humidity around the chocolate will sweat.
The other (best) option is to get a wine fridge. I know, this seems like a large expenditure, but wine fridges are good for more than just wine. You can keep chocolate in there, some cheeses and vegetables. A dorm sized one won’t set you back more than a couple hundred. This is where I’ve taken to keeping my best chocolate. A wine fridge is usually set at about 58 degrees and of course is climate controlled for humidity. A little humidity is okay for chocolate. Really dry air, especially if you have nuts in there will make the chocolate taste chalky, too.
But now, onto the review of the Caffarel bar.
I ate around the bloomed pieces (which was about half the bar). The bar had a very strong vanilla scent to it and though billed as bitter chocolate, I found it much sweeter than many other bars I’ve tried lately. There are hazelnuts and nougat bits, which gave it a nice crackly component and infused the whole bar with a pleasant toasty tone.
The chocolate was smooth, without a trace of grittiness. Overall, a good bar and a nice portion. Not as waxy as other Italian bars I’ve had in the past, and I’m eager to try other Caffarel chocolates when I come across them. I’m a fan of the Italian tradition of pairing hazelnuts and chocolate (Perugina’s Baci).
Rating: 5 out of 10 (hard call because of the bloom, I’m willing to re-review it if I come across a fresh bar).
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
From the back of the package:
This is fine Belgian dark chocolate (73% cocoa) infused with black currant and grape flavors. Instead of just candy or a sweet treat, New Tree seems to be pushing the health benefits of chocolate, because it contains more antioxidants than a glass of red wine and 10% of your daily vaulue of vitamin D and phosphorous, 6% of the RDA for zinc and E, 15% of your iron and 20% of your magnesium. In addition, there’s a whopping 5 grams of fiber - 22% of the daily requirement!
But health benefits and nutrition aside, unless you want to call these chewable vitamins and make them a chore (and expensive vitamins at that!), taste is what it’s all about…
The scent of black currant and grape is quite evident upon opening the inner mylar pouch. The chocolate was a dense, glossy black and heavy for its size. While the scent of the currants is there, the taste isn’t. The taste is all chocolate. A strong bitter start with a good melt on the tongue yields a slighly grainy feeling to the chocolate, but not an unpleasant one. Then the grape essence returns as the sweetness develops. It has a very dry finish, much like wine, but sometimes (not always) a bitter lingering note.
The snackability of such a rich combination of flavors isn’t really there. I can’t see myself munching on this bar, but definitely sampling it, probably in combination with some nuts or pretzels. It would probably go well with an after dinner plate of cheese and dried fruits as well (and wine or cognac).
The New Tree site heralds the other versions of their chocolate, all with enigmatic power names and functions. Pleasure is just pure chocolate. Vigor is chocolate with a boost of coffee and caffeine with guarana. Forgiveness is chocolate with lemon essence and added fiber and purports to halt absorption of fat. Tranquility is milk chocolate (more sugar than the other chocolates) with lime and lavender. Rejoice is milk chocolate flavored with orange and lime and crisped rice added.
They sell these in 2.8 oz bars or in little boxes with 3 x .9 oz bars of the same flavor. What I’d like to see is one box that has one of each for tasting. You can’t buy from their website and I haven’t seen them anywhere in the stores yet, but I’ll keep my eyes open. If you’re interested you can email them from the website about availability.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Name: Chocolate Sunflower Seed Drops
These were a huge surprise. I was in Trader Joe’s over the weekend, enjoying the fabulous views of candy in the frozen foods aisle and these little fellows just screamed “buy me!” and I did. They’re just so adorably cute, with their sunny colors and perfect sunflower seed shapes.
First, I’m a little curious about the actual production of these guys. I mean, it seems like a lot of engineering went into these. The sunflower seeds have a consistent, thin coating of sweet milk chocolate on them and then over that is the thinnest sheath of candy shells. They’re all glossy and still have the little point at one end like a bare seed does.
Because the shell is so thin, they crunch immediately and release that familiar sunflower seed taste along with the sweet balance of the light chocolate. The snackability of these is amazing - I could just shovel them into my mouth all day. Whoops, I think I have!
If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, these, available from Candy Warehouse may be similar. I’m not keen to find out on my own, as the last thing I need is FOUR POUNDS. But I’ll keep my eye out for the little packages.
As candy goes, they are a bit more wholesome than some other choices. A single serving (about an ounce) boasts 2 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein and 4% of your daily value of calcium and iron. No trans fats at all.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Monday, June 06, 2005
Name: BruCo Rum and Vanilla
This is some lovely packaging. The box is matte cardboard with gold embossed names and a beautiful artisan quality to it. Inside the box is a mylar package with the bar with scoring for four servings. There’s also a little booklet in there, one side in English, the other in Italian. The brochure details the mission of BruCo which is to mix the finest chocolate with the finiest spices and essences to produce innovative combinations.
The Man brought this back from Portland, Ore as a gift. He picked it up in a gourmet deli (more review to come of the other gifts this week). This bar has a wonderful rich, roasted and sweet aroma upon opening the mylar. It’s followed by a lingering rum essence that compliments the alcoholic finish of chocolate. The bar is very dark, nearly black. The chocolate is a little sweet, but yields quickly in the mouth, melting easily. It has a slight fluffy grain to it (hard for me to describe) - the bar feels light on the tongue, where some feel heavier than they look. This chocolate has a cooling effect in the mouth and the rum flavor is very pronounced. However, I could not get beyond the taste of egg nog as the most overpowering element. It’s odd because nutmeg is a spice that I associate most with egg nog and this is purported to be vanilla flavored.
Overall, the bar is nice and I found myself gravitating towards it all weekend (it’s gone now). I don’t know if I would buy it again, with the price being the prohibitive part of this. However, if offered to me, I would certainly eat it again. I’ll have a review of their Arancio Cannella one later this week, which might prompt me to seek out this manufacturer again.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Friday, June 03, 2005
Dovetailing with my earlier post about revisiting classics with new interpretations, Hershey’s recently launched “Candy to Go!” It’s just smaller packaging of their previously introduced Bites, but what I found interesting is that I thought most candy was packaged for going ...
These are perfect little bites of candy bars. I picked up three at the store on the lot today. Kit Kat Bites, Reese’s Peanut Butter Bites and York Bites. Each is about the size of a small marble, more or less. The York bites are exactly what you’d expect, dark chocolate covering a mint cream center. The Reese’s bites are covering a peanut butter cup filling (not that waxy Reese’s pieces stuff) and the Kit Kat bites are like little Kit Kat cubes.
Here’s my thing: I like appropriate ratios. In the case of the Reese’s bites and the York bites, the ratio of chocolate to filling is appropriate. Though the chocolate in these little poppers is slightly different - because it’s in a spherical shape, I think they toss a little resinous glaze on it. This makes for a slight waxy coating, which in one respect is good, because you can actually hold them in your hand for a moment without getting melty all over you, but it also means that you’re eating this resin and that you need to kind of get past that when you put it in your mouth.
In the Kit Kat bites, it feels like too much chocolate (Kit) and not enough crisp wafers (Kat).
The other odd thing about these are the portion size: 2.75 oz and that’s a full serving. Most candy bars are about 1.5 oz and have about 200 calories. The Reese’s bites have 410 calories! If you can control yourself and not eat them all at once, you’ll make it to fifty without a coronary. Me? I ate the whole York Bites and then moved on to the Reese’s and of course had to open the Kit Kat for a taste. Sadly, all that’s left now are some of the Kit Kats.
Name: York Bites
Good chocolate, nice mint, pretty much a tiny spherical peppermint patty. The only problem I had with these was the variation in quality. Some were soft and fresh, but others were rather hard. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they’re spoiled, maybe the chocolate didn’t seal in the filling completely and they dried out.
Name: Reese’s Peanut Butter Bites
Okay, of the three, these smelled absolutely divine when I opened the package. A wonderful roasted peanut scent with the sweet overtone of chocolate. Really, these smelled awesome. They taste good, and I think I’d buy them again, especially as something to eat when at the movies, but I still prefer the miniatures for the ratio of chocolate to peanut butter.
Name: Kit Kat Bites
My least favorite of the three, but I’ve always been fond of Kit Kats and buy them often. But my favorite thing about Kit Kats is deconstructing them while I eat, which means prying off each layer with my teeth. That’s not really feasible with this iteration, so I’d just have to eat them and where’s the fun in that?
I’m not always fond of miniatures or giganto bars, but I think that Hershey’s really did a nice job of inventing these as candy that stands alone without the other versions. As always, freshness helps, if these were old and had bloomed or something, I’d find them absolutely unappealing. But I find these to be the perfect movie food or good to tuck in your bag to share with others.
UPDATE: It looks like these didn’t go over very well and have been discontinued. The remaining inventory can still be found at discount stores like 99 Cent Only. (But be sure to look at the expiration date before you take a chance.)
Thursday, June 02, 2005
Name: Sweet Dark Orange and Sweet Dark Espresso
I probably shouldn’t buy chocolate bars called “sweet” and expect something other than sweet. And this being a candy blog, I should probably stop mentioning that I find candy sweet. I’m just calling them like I taste them.
These bars are of excellent quality. Smooth and without grain. The chocolate has good flavor, not much vanilla essence, mostly a roasty, robust chocolate flavor. Each has a flavor added to it. The Espresso has an excellent rich coffee flavor and of the two, I liked the mix of flavors best. It’s not as sweet, and stays true to espresso’s smoky vibe.
The orange one has a wonderful orange peel aroma to it, but the chocolate flavor gets lost in it and of course, I found it a little too sweet.
The chocolate yielded well, melting smoothly on the tongue. Of course it helped that it was very hot over that weekend that I picked them up. I took the bars next door and Amy and Robin agreed that the espresso was the best.
It should probably be mentioned that Newman donates all proceeds from sales to charity and the products are, to the best of their ability, fair trade and organic. But for a high priced “gourmet” bar, I expect just slightly better flavor balance and meltiness.
Rating: Espresso - 7 out of 10
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Wednesday, June 01, 2005
I can’t fault the candy manufacturers trying to tweak their most popular candies instead of reinventing the wheel. Sometimes they arrive at something that’s as good or even better than the original.
In the spirit of my recent review of the White Chocolate Reese’s, I picked up a few other reduxes.
Name: Nestle Crunch Dark
Very fresh, the crisps were crunchy and the bar was glossy and smooth. The chocolate was not waxy, but didn’t really have the melt-in-your mouth feel. The chocolate content was pretty good, but not quite enough to soothe me completely. Maybe it was a little sweet.
On the whole, I think crunch bars are perfect the way they are. Milk chocolate and crisped rice are perfect together. Why mess with it?
Name: White Chocolate Kit Kat
Again, there was nothing wrong with the original Kit Kat. This white Kit Kat seems a bit saltier, which helps to balance the bland sweetness of the white chocolate. It’s not something that I’d be interested in again.
Name: Milky Way Midnight
First, I congratulate them for spelling midnight correctly. This bar was very fresh but reminded me that I never cared much for Milky Ways because they’re too cloyingly sweet. I like Snickers, mostly because they mixing sweet and savory. Also, I don’t like candy bars that are too much sugar and not enough fat (and maybe a little protein thrown in). So, in that respect the dark version is much more successful. The richer taste of the chocolate balances the caramel and bland nougat much better.
I have to say, after having plenty of imported candies and things from the remainders at the 99 cent stores, having fresh candy really makes a difference. Even a middle-of-the-road candy like Hershey’s Kisses are better when they’re fresh. Candy’s a treat - if you are going to use those “discretionary” calories on something with no nutritional value, choose something fresh and satisfying. Life too short for bad dessert.
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