Wednesday, October 8, 2008
As the leaves start turning and the air becomes crisp in the fall, I love really filling treats like toffee. Of course Los Angeles isn’t cooperating with that right now and it’s 91 degrees at 11 AM, but maybe eating toffee will help change this Indian summer.
Ravensbark intrigued me because they were interesting variations on the same old theme of toffee covered with chocolate and nuts.
Ravensbark sent me an assortment of all their flavors: The Original, The Blondie, The Milkman and The Ravenator. All boast all natural ingredients, hand crafted in small batches in Texas.
Opening the box, it smelled like fresh baked snickerdoodles. Not spicy, just sweet and toasty.
The Original (shown above) is toffee covered in dark chocolate and covered in crushed almonds.
Each piece is nicely formed and with a good balance of chocolate to toffee. The chocolate is rather sweet and complements the toffee’s burnt sugar and creamy flavors well. The almonds add extra crunch.
The planks aren’t extrodinarily thick, like Enstrom’s, instead they’re a bit easier to bite and after chewing they kind of descend into a caramelly combination of the chocolate, nuts and toffee.
The Milkman is the same but with a milk chocolate coating. This one seemed to make the saltiness of the toffee pop, but it was also quite a bit sweeter.
The Blondie (shown above) is a white chocolate coating with almonds. The white does make this a much sweeter treat, but the almonds and salty toffee cut it well. It goes really well with strong coffee.
The Ravenator is the one that I was most interested in. Bittersweet chocolate, toffee and almonds with a spicy kick.
The spicy kick wasn’t overwhelming, just a subtle warmth towards the end of it but it balances it all out very well. Some spiced caramels I’ve had just blow me away and verge on torture. This gave me a bit of a lingering burn after a few pieces, and definitely stood out from the rest.
It’s clear that all the time and effort is going into the product itself, not the packaging. Each portion comes in a simple twist tied bag, nothing fancy. While the price is a bit steep but the same as other premium toffees like Enstrom’s & Littlejohn’s ... the bonus here is you can get assortments and packages less than a full pound. But don’t get the impression that this is just a clone of either of those, Ravensbark is a thinner toffee that provides a bit more balance between the chocolate and the boiled butter & sugar crunch and of course ample nuts.
Monday, September 29, 2008
The tin describes them as crunchy toffeed espresso bits covered in dark chocolate.
Frankly, I was confused by them. They didn’t look big enough to be espresso beans covered in toffee and then chocolate, which is what the description made me think. And the word “pillows”? They’re the size of dried beans ... and they don’t sound like pillows. Pillows are soft and fluffy. These are pellets.
But I don’t think I’d buy something called Espresso Pellets.
The tin is awesome. The colors are compelling and reinforce the elements advertised: chocolate, toffee and coffee.
The little window let me see what was inside.
Most importantly, it was easy to open and snaps shut securely.
They smell sweet and chocolatey and a little woodsy, like cedar.
They vary greatly in size and shape. Some are the size and shape of a coffee bean, others are teensy little ball bearings (with nothing inside).
At first bite my confusion about what these actually are is completely diffused.
Inside of the panned chocolate shell is a little nugget of rich coffee toffee. Think Coffee Rio, only crispy and crunchy.
The center is rich, a little bitter, buttery smooth and barely sweet. The semi-sweet chocolate coating adds more flavor and makes the whole thing creamier.
This is one of those products I’ve been dreaming about. A really intense coffee candy that doesn’t have grainy little bits of coffee grounds in it.
The price is a little steep for the amount of product. I’d probably want to buy a whole tub of these and just refill my little tin. But then again, it helps with portion control. I can eat the whole tin and it’d only be about 350 calories.
Some of mine had little light colored spots on them, not full blown “chocolate bloom” but more like they got speckled with water or moisture somewhere along the way. All the ones on the shelf looked like that. It doesn’t seem to detract from the flavor or texture though.
This is not only all natural, with no preservatives, it’s also Kosher. However, it’s not vegetarian-safe for those who won’t eat confectioner’s glaze.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
The large format bars come in a smart black box with a spare and enticing design and the further promise that this is a product of Switzerland.
The dark chocolate is 64% cocoa solids and features pieces of “crunchy caramel” (what US-folks would call toffee). The dark chocolate recipe contains butteroil (milkfat), so don’t expect a pure experience.
The bar is lovely to look at, with nicely molded segments, glossy sheen and crisp snap. In addition, the caramel bits look like they’re nicely distributed.
The chocolate is dark and rich, not complex but rather robust. There’s a bitter tone to it that seems to come more from the caramel bits than the chocolate itself and it’s rather nice. The caramel bits remind me of sponge candy - very dark burnt sugar notes. They’re crispy and pop with quite a bit of flavor considering they’re so small.
I was shunning this bar for months but now that I’ve tried it, I think it’s a really good effort. I wouldn’t spend more than $2 for it, but for something found at the local drug store, the caramel bits really make this one stand out from the crowd of syrupy filled bars.
Rating: 7 out of 10
But then I read the ingredients. Yes, it’s 64% cocoa solids too and has butteroil but it also has real cherries in it. But in addition there are apples and pineapple and later in the listing some artificial color & flavor (though it appears far more color than flavor). It’s a fruit salad in a bar of chocolate. Curiosity wins.
It smells woodsy and rather like maraschino. Oh, and then biting into it, it was apparent that it was more of a cherry-flavored bar than a cherry-studded bar.
The fruit bits are soft and chewy, kind of tangy, a little grainy (as some dried fruits can be when the sugars crystalize) and a rather noticeable shade of pink. They don’t taste like much of anything though. The flavor seems to come from the chocolate itself.
No, this doesn’t work for me at all.
Rating: 5 out of 10.
I’m still curious to try their caramelized nib bar. This 64% chocolate base is a bit firmer and smokier than the Cacao Reserve that Hershey’s came out with, so I’d like to compare the two nibby bars.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Dove has been adding quite a few new items to their line. Not only do they have the Dove Bites and Caramels plus the little chocolate covered almonds, they’ve expanded their line of bars to include Single Origins, Organics and new flavor inclusions for their standard dark and milk chocolate. None of this new stuff, oddly enough, is included on their website.
I have a huge cache of 9 different bars that I’ve been making my way through for the past two weeks. Today I’ll cover their 3.52 ounce packages of Milk Chocolate products: Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate, Extra Creamy Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate, Blueberry Almond Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate and Peanut Toffee Crunch Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate.
While many of the flavor inclusions items are new, the biggest change is the packaging redesign. The large bars used to come in a simple foil wrap with paper sleeve design. The new version is a radical and welcome change.
The bars come in a paperboard box that opens like an envelope. Inside are tucked three individually foil wrapped bars, each a little over 1 ounce (the total weight for the package is 3.53 ounces).
My consistent complaint with the large 3 plus ounce tablet bars is that they’re not made for “eat some now, save some for later”. I usually end up putting my partially eaten bars into a ziploc bag because the foil wrapper is usually not enough, and of course the paper sleeves are often glued to the foil and are trashed when opening.
All of that is solved here. The box closes and opens easily, the bars are simple enough to pull out and unwrap ... and even if you don’t finish one, it’s easy to tuck it back into the package. It also helps with portion control. The 33 gram servings come to about 180 calories (a regular candy bar is usually around 50 grams and clocks in at 220-280 calories) so you feel like you’re getting a lot, especially since it’s presented so nicely.
I’ve had the Dove Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate before, but I thought I’d give it another try.
The format of the bar is really pleasant. The pieces are thick enough to give a good snap, but not so thick as to make you feel like you’re gnawing on the bar to bite off a piece. The squares break easily, each little bar has six.
The bite is far softer than a dark chocolate, but true to its name it is silky smooth. It doesn’t give up a lot of flavor at first, it’s mostly the texture and sweetness that I noticed.
A little later, on the second piece the more subtle notes of mild cocoa and caramel toasted milk came out. It’s still extremely sweet - so much that I really can’t eat it straight. Some coffee or plain almonds do a nice job of cutting it.
Still, it’s not for me. It’s not chocolatey enough, not roasted enough and reminds me of the difference between skim milk and whole milk when it comes to density.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The first thing I noticed about the Dove Extra Creamy Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate was how light in color it is. The second thing I noticed was the smell. It’s very sweet and smells more like a toasty hot coffee cake than a chocolate bar. It’s milky and sugary with only a faint whiff of cocoa.
The bite is also soft, like original Silky Milk Chocolate. But this one has a much stickier melt. It’s smooth, don’t get me wrong, they haven’t led anyone astray, but it’s also thick and slightly fudgy.
Oddly enough, because of the lightness in color I was expecting this to be sweeter than the original, but it wasn’t, it was actually less sweet tasting.
The milk flavors were much stronger here, but mostly it was just an experience in sweet and silky texture.
So I turned over both boxes and tried to figure out what the difference was. Before tasting them I just assumed it was sugar. What I found is that it’s actually milk. The Extra Creamy, doesn’t have more “cream” as the name implies, it’s actually more skim milk.
The ingredients list goes like this:
Silky Smooth .................. Extra Creamy Silky Smooth
Even though they both have the same 11 grams of fat per mini bar and it’s really only the skim milk that’s more plentiful in the Extra Creamy, the Extra Creamy has twice the cholesterol (10 mg versus 5 mg for the regular Milk). Extra Creamy also has 50% more calcium ... 6% of your daily RDA.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Beyond the choices in levels of milk chocolate, Dove has added some more decadent “candy bars” to the line now. The Peanut Toffee Crunch Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate pretty much had me loving it before I even opened the box.
The Peanut Toffee Crunch is simply crushed Munch bars (a great candy bar!) mixed into the milk chocolate. If you’ve never had a Munch bar, it’s just a thick slab of peanut brittle. The peanut toffee crunch is very simple, adds a wonderful texture, a hint of salt and the toasty flavors of both burnt sugar and roasted peanuts.
This is a great tasting bar. It’s creamy, it has the right proportion of crunchy bits and has pretty much real ingredients (some artificial flavors).
Rating: 9 out of 10
The final bar is the Blueberry Almond Silk Smooth Milk Chocolate. The package says: pairs the sweetness of blueberries and perfectly roasted almonds with Dove Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate.
The almonds are crushed into little bits, but quite abundant. The blueberries, on the other hand, are not as plentiful and not spaced as evenly. The big thing I got out of this bar was a sore throat. I don’t know how it ended up tasting so much sweeter than the other bars but it did. There is an addition of sugar on the label after the blueberries (perhaps sweetened dried blueberries?). It’s totally unnecessary and really I wish there were more berries, with some sort of tart chewy component (but I have their Cranberry Almond in Silky Dark Chocolate to compare it to). Even weirder, a close reading of the nutrition facts says that this has less fat and less sugars but the same level of carbs (must be the almonds) than the three other bars.
It’s also the only one in the group that uses a preservative in it, TBHQ (I’m guessing for the blueberries).
Oh well, it doesn’t matter. Given the choice of this and the Peanut Toffee Crunch, I know what I’m grabbing every time.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Patti at CandyYumYum has a review of some of the other bars that I haven’t seen yet (Hazelnut) and mentions some Dessert Bars (she has the Bananas Foster which sounds right up my alley). I need to recover from this seriously sweet chocolate binge and then I’ll do a roundup of the Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate offerings plus the nutritionally enhanced Beautiful & Vitalize bars.
Friday, May 30, 2008
This short work-week has been a bit of a round-up period, I’m doing a lot of these short reviews in long posts to try to cover a lot of the candy I have.
I first had these a couple of years ago, at a time when I was gobbling up every Japanese black sugar candy I could get my hands on. Japanese black sugar (kuro sato) traditionally comes from Okinawa and is similar to molasses or muscovado sugar.
I couldn’t resist buying a few boxes of the Morinaga Black Sugar Caramel (Kokutou) in my last order from JList, mostly because I was also ordering other black sugar items and wanted to remind myself.
They don’t look like much, but the little bullion cube sized morsels are packed with dark creamy flavor. Not too sweet and just slightly rummy at the end. They come in oodles of other flavors. I’ve tried the original Milk Caramel, Matcha, Black Sesame and Azuki, but I always come back to the Black Sugar.
Rating: 8 out of 10
While Morinaga has their line of milk caramels, Meiji has their toffee squares called Chelsea that similarly come in many varieties: Yogurt Scotch, Butterscotch, Matcha, Azuki and even mixes like Dessert.
When I saw that the Black Sugar Chelsea variety was available in the single flavor box, I jumped and ordered three packs.
The design aesthetic of the Chelsea line can’t be beat. The little box with it’s slide tray & bronzy flower design is easily distinguished from the other flavors, yet easily identified from a distance as Chelsea.
The flat pack box is easy to stash in a pocket as well, and the individual wrappers keep it all fresh.
The smooth tile of candy has no voids. Though it’s sweet, it’s pretty mellow and milky, kind of like a chai without the spice. There’s a background of woodsy flavors like brown sugar. It’s not as intensely “black sugar” as I’d like, but these are really refreshing. They don’t feel heavy and have a sort of jasmine tea finish that feels so fresh.
Chelsea also comes in bags with plastic wrapped pieces. I don’t like those as much, I really like the foil wrappers (though they’ve done a nice job of designing the sealed wraps).
Rating: 9 out of 10
Even though I already had two packs of Banana HiCHEW sitting around from a trip to Mitsuwa Marketplace earlier this year, I just had to order the Tropical Mix along with the Pineapple.
The Tropical Mix package seems to promise peach, white grape, banana and pineapple. I’d assumed that this was a mixed flavor package. But when I opened it I found that each piece was identically wrapped. Sadly (well for me and my silly expectations) it was a fruit punch and not a mixed pack. The flavor of the fruit punch is actually quite nice, I can actually detect the peachy and banana flavors in there.
My Pineapple HiCHEW were backordered (probably because I bought three packs). I was certain they were good and I wasn’t disappointed. They have a light yellow center and were extremely fresh and soft.
They start sweet then build with a tangy and kind of woodsy pine essence. The flavor lasts all the way to the end and still leaves a fresh feeling in the mouth.
Banana Rating: 7 out of 10
I bought these on a lark. Last year I picked up something called UHA Puccho Baked Custard, which sounds dreadful but it was pretty dreamily good. Of course I wanted to buy it again and have had no luck finding it. (It probably said limited edition on the wrapper, but I don’t read Japanese.)
So when I saw this Tsubu Tsubu HiCHEW Chocolate Banana, I thought that sounded something like a custard-like chew. For $1.25 I could take a chance.
It’s a HiCHEW banana base, soft and bouncy and included in the chew are little things that look like large nonpariels (sprinkles). I guess that’s supposed to be the chocolate part. It’s not really. The crunch is nice but not as well defined as the Puccho does with their gummi & crunchy inclusions.
While I think that HiCHEW is made for people of all ages, my guess is that the Tsubu Tsubu is probably for kids and my grown-up palate just couldn’t get into it.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Thursday, May 22, 2008
I knew the Roca Buttercrunch Thins were coming out, but I still haven’t seen them in stores. There are four varieties, milk chocolate, 60% dark, dark truffle & caramel truffle. Luckily I got this sample box of the 60% Cacao Roca Buttercrunch Thins from All Candy Expo (the one that I was most interested in!).
While I love the toffee center of Almond Roca (and the Mocha Roca), I’m not fond of the greasy mockolate coating and messy crushed almonds. (Yes, I sometimes scrape them off and just eat the center.) Isn’t it nice that Brown & Haley finally recognized that they can use better ingredients.
The 2.8 ounce box holds 8 pieces, each in their own little slot in a divided tray. It’s about the size of a VHS box (maybe a little thinner), but it seems like a lot of packaging and protection for what are probably pretty durable little candies.
The initial description of them as Thins was intriguing, I was picturing little toffee tiles like Valerie Confections sells. Instead I saw a post on Chocolate Traveler that showed that these are little sticks, which is fine with me.
The smell like toasted nuts, burnt sugar and dark chocolate. The dark chocolate coating, in my case, was slightly bloomed (and I blame myself for that, as it started to get absurdly hot in Los Angeles and didn’t follow my own precautions). The texture was just fine though. (And the last two got really bloomed, so I know what bloomed chocolate is in this case.)
I love the Roca toffee, it’s crispy and buttery at the same time. It has wonderfully complex burnt sugar flavors and the added nutty bits of almonds. The dark chocolate was also a smooth and creamy, adding a little more dimension with its own dark palate of flavors.
While I consider this a very successful confection, I find the packaging a little overdone. Does it really need to have both the fold over flap (hand purse style) box, plus the tray? The whole thing is then overwrapped in cellophane.
The price point, as far as I can tell from the Brown & Haley website is $3.95 a box, which puts it at over $22 per pound. For that price I’d either go up a notch and have some Carey’s of Oregon, Poco Dolce or Valerie Confections, or go down a notch and have a Heath Bar (why oh, why won’t they make them in dark chocolate?).
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Theo Chocolate, the only all Fair Trade and Organic chocolate company that makes their confections from bean to bar in the United States is growing. This year they added two new bars to their 3400 Phinney line, bringing the total to four milk chocolate bars and four dark chocolate bars.
They are all a standard format of two ounces in four sections and feature artwork on the wrapper by Kitten Chops.
I picked my full-sized samples of the new bars at the Natural Products Expo last month. The Fig, Fennel & Almond in 65% Dark was the one I was most looking forward to.
Let’s see, favorite things:
Figs? I never knew fig love until I had my own tree. Check!
Fennel? Love it in salads, prefer licorice in candy. Check!
Almonds? I eat them every day. Check!
65% Dark Chocolate? Not too dark, not too dry is the way I like it. Check!
Upon first bite this was too dark, too complex, kind of a mess. But like some Philip Glass piece, the spareness of each note eventually started making music.
It took about half the bar, but I started liking it more and more. The fennel stands out in the scent of the bar, a light and grassy licorice or anise note. Upon letting a bite melt it becomes a bit acidic, a little tangy and rather like raisins, but fresher. Not quite figgy but the seeds help. Later the little bits of crushed almonds pull it all back together.
The chocolate is dry and not quite as buttery as I’d like for a “candy bar” but for a chocolate bar, it has a nice bitter component that keeps the figs from feeling to sticky sweet. Still, it requires a bit too much effort for me to just eat the bar.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I had a very hard time with this bar ... I have a very hard time not eating it all before I finished writing this review.
It’s simply called Hazelnut Crunch Milk Chocolate.
It smells hazelnutty, and has little bits of crushed hazelnuts and a toffee crunch mixed into the creamy and rather dark milk chocolate.
The toffee bits are what makes this really fabulous. They’re very salty (in fact, there’s a lot of salt in this bar: 140 mgs) but man, each little milligram makes a little jolt of electrical energy delivering those flavors right to the pleasure centers of my brain.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Where I had trouble with the FF&A, the Hazelnut Crunch was one I couldn’t believe I ate the whole thing when it was gone. It’s a perfect afternoon bar, not too filling, not too sickly sweet and the little dose of nuts makes it feel very satisfying. In fact, I’d probably eat it anytime, anywhere ... but the Fig, Fennel & Almond would definitely need to be the kind of bar where I’d need to be in the mood.
Friday, February 1, 2008
Last year I ordered some wonderful products from Artisan Sweets which included this Nougat aux Figues: Cuit au Chaudron. I promptly took a photo of the product and then ate it.
Made by Suprem’ Nougat G. Savin in Montelimar, France it is much like the Arnaud Soubeyran Montelimar Nougat that I’ve had previously, meaning it has wonderful lavender honey in it along with a generous embed of almonds. Of course it also has bits of figs in there too, as you might have guessed from the picture and name.
The figs gave the nougat a bit of texture, with the crunchy little seeds and combined well with the musky notes of the lavender honey. It seemed to make the whole thing a little sweeter, but it was a fresh taste. It’s expensive stuff, so it’s a sometimes-indulgence for me. ($8.00 for 3.52 ounces.)
This particular nougat has full macadamias in it. It’s a light nougat, it actually felt lighter than many nougats in the hand. The scent was a light vanilla, almost like toasted marshmallows. Wow, the marshmallow comparison was evident once I bit into it. The nougat is fluffy and completely smooth ... there’s no hint of sugary grain to it at all.
While I was completely missing any honey notes and macadamias aren’t my favorite nut, this was fantastic. Sweet without being sticky or cloying and just the right balance with the neutrality of the macadamias.
Walters is a South African company (which explains the macadamias) and besides these samples and a store I found in the UK online, I don’t know where else to get this. I guess I’ll just have to keep hitting Keller’s booth at the trade shows. Here’s a review from Our Adventures in Japan of the Almond variety.
I’ve been on the prowl for good sources of Caffarel in the United States. Besides picking up those few pieces at The Candy Store in San Francisco and seeing them at trade shows, I’m completely at an impasse on how to find them besides hyping them on Candy Blog in hopes that more shops will carry them.
And why? Their products are good quality and in most cases so freaking cute I want to put a leash on them and buy them squeaky toys.
Above is one of the new items they were showing called Conetto, which is like a teensy Drumstick Ice Cream Cone (warning, sound on that site).
The little confection is about 3 1/2” tall. The waffle cone holds a firm guanduia that is then rolled in little toasted cereal “nuts” with a few little chocolate chips tossed in there. The hazelnut paste is soft enough to bite like ice cream with the added bonus that it doesn’t melt. So take your time.
It only weighs .9 ounces, so it’s probably not a show-stopper when it comes to calories and since indulgence is partially about appearance, this might be an excellent calorie controlled treat. (Of course the wrapper doesn’t say how many calories, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s not more than 150.) Now the only things holding me back are where to get them and how much do they cost?
BruCo makes wonderful flavored chocolate bars. I’ve had their orange one and rum one and thought they were quite nice with an attractive package. Last year at the Fancy Food Show I also tried their spiced chocolate and found it far too spicy for me. This year that had some other items that were definitely to my liking: BruCo Salt Tasting Chocolate, Ciocc’Olio & Cabosse.
Ciocc’Olio: The firm white chocolate center has a quick buttery melt. The taste is not strongly of olives. I was expecting a sort of grassy quality to it, but instead it was more nutty. It was definitely smooth and set off by the equally smooth and slippery melt of the dark chocolate shell.
Cabosse: I wasn’t quite sure what this was supposed to be. At first I thought it was a dark chocolate guanduia, but later I thought it was simply a firm ganache with cacao nibs in it. Strong and fruity, this was a nice piece, the perfect size and really attractive.
I also tried a Salt Tasting Chocolate set. I’ll probably have a full review of that at a later date. Basically it’s two different versions of a salted chocolate in one package. Hooray for variety.
One of the other companies that I see at the trade show a lot is Marich. They’re known for their fine panned chocolates, especially their Holland Mints and produced the first gourmet malted milk balls in flavors like Espresso and Peanut Butter.
They’re based in Hollister, California (which seems to be a hotbed of panning with other confectioners like Jelly Belly, Sconza and Gimbal’s nearby) but seem rather hard to find. Part of it is that they sell in bulk to many shops that repackage the product without reference to the supplier or they end up in bulk bins. In this case I found this little package of their Triple Chocolate Toffee at Ralph’s in Glendale after trying them at the All Candy Expo.
They were absurdly expensive considering everything else in that aisle, $2.89 for that handful pictured above. But they are lovely to look at. They smell great too, like burnt sugar.
I didn’t know at first if the triple was referring to how much chocolate was on the outside or the fact that there were three different kinds. But suffice to say that either title works, because there is a lot of chocolate on each of these ... a pretty precise proportion that matches well with the chunk of butter toffee at the center. The toffee itself is wonderfully crisp and has that great cleave that very buttery toffee has. A little salty, it balances well with the not-so-dark but also not-too-sweet chocolates.
I’d probably pick these up again, but not at this price. Luckily Marich has a webstore.
Everything here gets an 8 out of 10 but no further specs as I don’t know retail prices (unless otherwise noted), calorie profile and often not even the ingredients.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.