Tuesday, December 14, 2010
For years I’ve seen references to La Higuera Rabitos Royale. They’re a decadent creation, a whole fig is dried and then stuffed with a brandy infused chocolate ganache, then the whole thing is dipped in another layer of chocolate.
The box is big though weighs very little. It’s an elegant 7 inch square with an appealing photo of the freshly dipped figs against a black background and then a sparely designed front that describes the product.
We select the best mediterranean [sic] figs, we stuff them with our truffle cream, we cover then with a thin layer of chocolate and then ... you get the most delightful experience..
I’ve seen them in cheese shops from time to time, but I’m hesitant to buy fresh chocolate products there as I’ve had a few bad experiences in the past and these are often very expensive (about $10 for a box of 9 figs). So when I saw them at Trader Joe’s for only $7, I figured this was the time to try them.
Inside the sleeve of the box is a tray that holds each individually wrapped bonbon. It’s a lot of packaging, but I understand the impulse to seal each one up, as the alcohol in infused chocolates can easily evaporate on store shelves. The package also warns that the nature of the real fig means that there might be some bloom on the product but that it would still be tasty and edible.
The little matte silver mylar protects the candies well, all were uncracked, though all had a few little moisture bloom speckles. (It looks more like sugary moisture is migrating from the filling instead of the cocoa butter moving out of the chocolate itself.) One of the things I noticed on the ingredients list is that the chocolate coating has a little fractionated vegetable oil in it, so it’s not a true chocolate shell. I didn’t notice that it affected the flavor profile or the texture. They smell sweet and woodsy with a definite brandy note to them. The pieces are firm but give way to a bite very easily. If they’re cold then the shell can crack a little, but at warmer room temperatures (in the 70s) they’re soft and the chocolate coating sticks. I like to bite mine in half.
The ganache center is strongly alcoholic - brandy liquor is the third ingredient in the filling after cream and glucose syrup. The brandy mixes well with the deep leathery and raisin flavors of the fig. The ganache is smooth and melts easily in the mouth. The chocolate shell is a thin veneer, so all it’s really doing is holding it all together, so I mostly forgive the splash of oil in there.
These are quite good and I found one or two to be more than satisfying. But it helps that the packaging is a little daunting, so I didn’t find myself eating the whole box at once like I might if they were just in fluted cups.
I don’t think you have to like figs to enjoy these, but it certainly helps. The seedy part of the figs aren’t a textural element, just the deep berry flavors of the dried fruit, which is pretty soft after being stuffed with liquor & cream. I liked that it wasn’t honey-sweet like some glace fig products can be. The chocolate is good quality and the rest of the ingredients are top notch - the chocolate flavors are well matched with good berry, woodsy and a little smoky note to them.
They’re a nice hostess gift though may present an etiquette problem as she may not want to share them with everyone. I don’t see myself picking these up often, but for an intimate cheese course or small treat after a meal with coffee they’re just the thing to replace a heavy dessert. I don’t begrudge the price, I imagine there’s a lot of labor involved in stuffing actual real figs, but they’re still expensive and hard to rationalize for more than the most special occasion or recipient.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
The box says they’re Light and Fluffy Peppermint Marshmallows Drenched in Smooth, Dark Chocolate. They’re made in France and the box holds about 9 marshmallows (though the nutrition label says there are 10 in the package).
Last week I reviewed the new Peeps Chocolate Covered Peppermint Marshmallows and several people mentioned that I should try the new Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Minty Mallows. Believe me, I was right there with them. The first set of Peeps I bought, which was before Thanksgiving, were $1 each (1 ounce), so when I saw the price for the Trader Joe’s version was $2.99 (for 7 ounces), it made these a great value in comparison. I’ve since purchased additional Peeps at only 50 cents each, that’s still more expensive per ounce than Trader Joe’s.
Inside the trapezoidal box is a silver mylar pouch. The dark chocolate covered marshmallows are just tossed in there. So you can imagine that on their voyage from France they’ve gotten quite scuffed and tumbled. Some were cracked but all were intact and there was surprisingly little chocolate dust at the bottom of the bag.
Each piece is about 1.5 inches square (they’re really more rectangular, so maybe a smidge more than 1.5 on one side than the other) and about an inch high. They feel a bit heavier than I would have expected for a chocolate covered marshmallow.
It’s not that the photo above is lacking detail for the marshmallow. They’re not light and foamy like Peeps. They’re dense and quite moist, more like a cross between aerated gelatin and a gummi bear.
The texture, though not as meringue-like as I’d expected is still quite smooth. It’s like memory foam latex, chewy and lightly minty.
The chocolate outside is smooth and maybe little chalky but has enough dark chocolate punch to stand up to the strong mint. At 55% cocoa solids (and no milkfat) its strongest flavor component is woodsy and though not as creamy as I would have hoped, it still has a very smooth melt that complements the marshmallow. The chocolate also adheres nicely to the marshmallow, so even though it cracks a bit when biting, it sticks to the marshmallow to prevent messes and deliver every possible morsel of chocolate with the marshmallow.
For the most part I found these odd. One is rather rib-stickingly satisfying, so a box of 9 or 10 of these goes a long way. I didn’t try melting them for S’mores or in Hot Chocolate. I don’t know if I’ll buy them again, but I found them far superior in ingredients, satisfaction and even presentation from the Just Born Peeps. I can see these being a fun product in the future with alternate versions with different flavored marshmallows (orange, strawberry, cinnamon, licorice). I might like to see them packaged in trays, in little fluted cups or something that keeps them from tumbling around, because I bet they’re stunning right off the confectionery line.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Red package describes it as crunchy toffee and roasted California almonds, covered in premium dark chocolate. Like the other packages, it includes a couple of properly scaled images of the candies. They’re about the same diameter as a nickel or a quarter (they varied) and were thick.
These remind me a lot of Marich Triple Chocolate Toffee, which were a mix of milk, white and dark chocolate covered toffee bits. They remind me so much of them that I’m going to guess that Marich is the maker of all three of these candies.
The pieces are lovely. They’re dark and glossy and have a light buttery scent.
The chocolate is a little softer than some other panned dark chocolate candies. The chocolate is only 50% cacao and contains some butter so it’s not a very dark chocolate. It’s in the semi sweet range with some nice fruity notes and goes well with the dairy and nutty notes of the toffee. The melt is silky and smooth.
The toffee centers are perfect, they’re crunchy and buttery without being sticky or tacky. Sometimes there were little bits of almond in them, but not all the time. The toffee was rather salty and the overall sodium for the package was 170 mg, which is a lot for a candy. But I do have to say that the salt provided a really nice pop to the flavors, it came first then the buttery notes and burnt sugar came forward.
The ratios of a panned piece of toffee mean that these had a lot of chocolate. The chocolate was easy to cleave off and eat or allow to melt off to get to the toffee center. Or of course there’s the “crunch it all together” method of consumption. All have merits.
If you’ve ever hoped for a more decadent version of Heath Bars or Skor, these may be for you.
The package says no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It’s also gluten free. May contain traces of peanuts and of course has dairy, nuts and soy ingredients.
Trader Joe’s has done a nice job with all three of these products. They’ve balanced the portion size (a new area for them) with a product line that uses better ingredients than the products more widely available.
I see all three of these as great snacks for watching a movie. They’re large portions at two ounces, but still only $1.49 which is a more than respectable for indulging in the new Harry Potter. They’re not overly packaged, but each is bold and different enough to catch the eye, they’re easy to tear open and did a good job of protecting the product and kept it fresh.
If only they also made those Espresso Toffee Pillows in these bags, too.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Trader Joe’s has tried a few new things in the past two years or so with their single portions of candy that they sell near the checkout with the house label. First it was a gourmet version of candy bars with their Lumpy Bumpy Bar and PB&J (with potato chips). Earlier this year I tried Trader Joe’s take on consumer candies with their Classic Chocolate Bars.
The three new items are somewhere in between. Yesterday I covered the Dark Chocolate Tahitian Caramels. Today I have the Dark Chocolate Mints. (Later this week will be the Dark Chocolate Almond Toffee.)
If this looks a little familiar to you as a Trader Joe’s shopper, you may have tried the previous incarnation of the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Mints which were sold in a little tin.
I can’t say that my feelings on these have changed at all. They’re a firm, crumbly fondant center flavored with peppermint, then coated in a thin shell of dark (50%) chocolate with a crunchy candy shell to seal it all up.
The mint is mild and goes well with the sweet fondant and crackly shell. The chocolate isn’t a powerful element, but still it’s a good semisweet variety that sadly has butter in it otherwise this would be vegan. I could eat oodles of these.
This tin used to cost $2.99 and held 2.45 ounces. The new bag isn’t quite as cute or appropriate as a stocking stuffer, but it’s a far better deal at only $1.49 for 2 ounces. (And if you still have that tin, you can refill.)
The Dark Chocolate Caramels I reviewed yesterday were interesting because they filled a hole in the world. We really needed something that’s better quality than Milk Duds or Junior Caramels. But Dutch Mints aren’t that hard to find and I can’t say these are much better (or a better value) than Junior Mints or York Peppermint Patties. Still, sometimes I really want this kind of mint and for a Holland Mint (or whatever the generic name of this style of mint is) and being able to pick them up in a single portion size is something new.
The package says no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It’s also gluten free. May contain traces of peanuts or tree nuts (and of course has dairy and soy ingredients).
Monday, November 15, 2010
The little bite sized caramels come in a two ounce bag. I appreciate Trader Joe’s making more small single-serving packages available. The little tubs of candy are often a good value, but tough to portion. This one is a medium lavender and a simple design featuring a very accurate depiction of the candies on the front. The package describes them as Creamy vanilla caramels covered with premium dark chocolate. The ingredients appear to be all natural, though I never know quite what to think about “fractionated palm kernel oil” except that I’d probably like it better if it was spelled “butter.”
The ingredients also list two different kinds of vanilla, the advertised Tahitian Vanilla (Vanilla tahitensis) and Bourbon Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia). Both have different flavor profiles.
The pieces are about the size of a shelled hazelnut. The chocolate isn’t particularly dark, in fact when I was eating them during the photo shoot I thought they were milk chocolate because of the dairy flavors of the caramel.
The chocolate shell is nicely panned, thick and glossy with a snap upon biting. The caramel center is chewy and soft without being gooey. It has a good pull to it, which is the way I prefer my caramel, just slightly stiff. It’s a smooth chew, especially when combined with the creamy chocolate. The caramel has a lot of buttery notes to it along with a strong vanilla flavor, sometimes I even detected vanilla seeds in there. It’s a well rounded vanilla flavor, sometimes with extract notes (a bit alcoholic) and sometimes more on the raisin and banana side. The chocolate is very sweet but has an excellent slick melt.
Overall the texture combination is great and they look fantastic. The light salty hit and complex flavors aren’t quite enough to offset the overt sweetness of both the caramel and the chocolate. I found eating these slowly and with other items like nuts or pretzels was the way to go.
If you’ve ever hoped for a more decadent version of Milk Duds, these may be for you.
The package says no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It’s also gluten free. May contain traces of peanuts or tree nuts (and of course has dairy and soy ingredients).
Friday, May 7, 2010
Trader Joe’s is getting its “summer candy” on the shelves. Summer candy is usually sugar candy, or candy that bears the heat well. The great thing about summer candy is that it often reflects the taste of summer fruits.
One product is Trader Joe’s Gourmet Jelly Beans in 18 natural flavors. The jelly beans are even naturally colored with vegetable and fruit sources. (They’re not quite vegan though, since they use beeswax for the final polish.)
At first I thought that they might be actual Jelly Belly, but without the Jelly Belly stamp. But then I thought maybe they were Marich, who makes Green Beans for Whole Foods. Then flipping over the box I saw that they’re made in Ireland ... which really doesn’t make much sense to me because there are so many great jelly bean makers here in California.
The flavor mix is almost all fruits, except for liquorice, which is really essential for any mix. The box is a nice size at 5 ounces and $1.99 they’re cheaper than Jelly Belly ($6.40 a pound versus about $9 a pound for most Jelly Belly).
The citrus flavors included: Lemon, Lemon & Lime, Tangerine and Pink Grapefruit. All were sunny and zesty, though sweeter and not as intense as Jelly Belly. The zest was a little uneven as well, some were rather bitter from the peel oils but the same flavor another time wasn’t at all.
The berry flavors included: Strawberry Smoothie, Strawberry, Blueberry, Raspberry and Blackberry. These flavors had good combinations of both tartness, sweetness and the fragrant floral notes that accompany berries. I liked the raspberry quite a bit, it wasn’t quite jammy but still the best rounded (and possibly the most ubiquitous flavor in my box) but on the other end blueberry was completely lacking in any flavor at all.
Traditional fruits were Cherry, Apple and Grape.
Cherry was weird, in fact, I wasn’t sure for a while that it was the cherry, but process of elimination meant that it couldn’t be anything other.
Apple was dark green, not the light green shown on the package. It’s mild but convincing.
I can’t say that I remember eating the grape.
Exotics were Banana Split, Coconut, Mango, Passion Fruit, Liquorice and Pomegranate.
Coconut was watery and sweet but still had a “coconut flavor” to it. I didn’t care much for it on its own but combined with other flavors like pomegranate or banana split it was a nice pop.
Pomegranate was sweet and a bit like cotton candy and raspberry.
I was quite fond of Liquorice, mostly because it was the first all natural licorice jelly bean that I think I’ve had. It had all the anise and licorice flavor - very sweet but a balanced woodsy and spicy character - but didn’t have any of the food coloring bitterness.
Mango was like peach for me, a little too much like the peel (or fuzz in the case of peaches) and not enough of the luscious tangy and custardy flesh.
Passion Fruit was similar to mango in that it didn’t quite get the fresh fruit for me, but it was a good mix of sweetness and toasted sugar flavors.
I loved Banana Split. It was sweet but still a good rounded banana flavor that made it taste creamy.
The texture overall is firmer than Jelly Belly and other gourmet beans. They’re smooth and very well made but chewy. Some folks may prefer that texture but I thought they were lacking punch and many didn’t taste different enough to warrant 18 flavors over 12 or 8.
Like the Jelly Beans, these are all natural and vegan. They’re also Kosher.
They’re also a better value, at 8 ounces for the same $1.99 price tag. I was hoping they’d be as good as the Starbucks teensy gum drops or the comparably priced but huge Whole Foods Gourmet Gum Drops.
The gum drops fit right in as gum drop sized. Like a thimble of firm jelly candy. The sugar sanding is fine grained and stuck well, so there’s not a lot of dust.
Lemon - spectacularly well rounded, more like a marmalade than lemonade. Very zesty and only lightly tangy. The citrus oils are very pronounced and have a bitter aftertaste that I love until I’m done eating them and I have a bit of a burning tongue.
Pink Grapefruit - I had high hopes for these but they were a bit blander than I’d hoped. They’re more about the juice flavors than the peel. So they’re not bitter but just lacking a well rounded citrus punch but did have a bit of a caramelized sugar/honey smoothness.
Key Lime is subtle and quietly peppery. A little tangy and zesty but much deeper than the usual lime.
Tangerine - it says tangerine but it tastes simply like orange, perhaps even like Tang. Sweet and juicy, but not zesty or tart.
The gum drops were so well suited to my preferences, it’s like Trader Joe’s has been reading the blog. I liked the size and of course the price was great for a premium item. They’re not pate de fruits but they’re more vibrant than Dots.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Trader Joe’s usually markets house branded products that are a bit upscale. Their candies usually emulate something you’d find at Whole Foods or the imported bars you’d find at a gourmet shop. This is the first one I can recall that seeks to compete head-to-head with a mass-produced consumer product. In this case they’re going up against Hershey’s, the most popular plain chocolate bar in the United States.
Their new Trader Joe’s Classic Milk Chocolate Bar has some nice looking lines. The plastic/mylar packaging is a comforting shade of milky brown with silver swirls and the word CLASSIC emblazoned across two thirds of the face. It’s 1.55 ounces and retails for 69 cents ... that’s identical to the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar.
While Trader Joe’s doesn’t carry any Hershey’s products, they do carry Scharffen Berger, which is owned by Artisan Confections, which is a subsidiary of Hershey’s. I find it a little odd that they’d make a product that’s supposed to be better than the Hershey Bar, but it’s nothing Hershey’s should feel threatened about since Trader Joe’s aren’t ubiquitous and never sell their products at other stores.
Here’s what the Fearless Flyer had to say:
The bar looks pretty good. The sections are easy to break and it has a satisfying snap. It’s not as fudgy or bendy as the Hershey Bar tends to be, but the molding design isn’t quite as compelling.
It smells like sweet cocoa, not rich and not much of a dairy note at first. Biting into it, it’s soft and creamy but very sweet. There’s a nutty and caramel note to it with a light milk flavor. But the chocolate punch is missing for me. While Hershey’s doesn’t have much of a chocolate punch either, it does have a strong tangy, chocolate cheesecake flavor. This just tastes like Easter chocolate to me.
I bet this would make great S’mores and because it’s all natural and Gluten Free, there are a lot more options for who can eat it. I can’t see myself buying it again when they have so many other great chocolate options in the store.
If Trader Joe’s is competing with the Hershey’s Special Dark Bar, it’s not much of a competition. I knew this was going to be better before I even opened the wrapper, I just can’t imagine Trader Joe’s seeking to duplicate a Special Dark. The Trader Joe’s Classic Dark Chocolate Bar has a similar wrapping to the Milk Chocolate version, the color is just a little darker and has pink text instead of citrus colors.
They missed the boat here with the ingredients. Though it’s marked as gluten free, like the milk bar it’s processed on equipment that handles wheat, peanuts and tree nuts - so this is not a solution for folks with allergies. But the substantial issue I have is that it has dairy in it. Way down on the list, after cocoa butter and before the soy lecithin there’s some butterfat. If that wasn’t there, this would be a dairy free and vegan bar. What an awesome achievement that would be.
The back of the package says that it’s a 53% cocoa solid bar. So we’re not talking extra dark, we’re in the realm of sweet chocolate or perhaps semi-sweet. The bar isn’t as attractive as I’d hoped. Though the top looks pretty good, the bottom is swirly and has an inconsistent color. There are quite a few air bubbles. The snap is good, though softer than many dark chocolates I usually eat.
It smells like hot cocoa and marshmallows, the vanilla scent is strong. The snap is good, but a little bit softer.
The cocoa profile is hard to discern. It’s a bit fruity and has a touch of coffee. The finish is clean - it’s not bitter, chalky or dry. It melts well - though not entirely silky it has a satisfying mouthfeel. It has a much fattier melt, in fat there’s more fat in here than a Special Dark bar (14 grams of fat versus 12 grams in a Special Dark).
The package doesn’t say where the chocolate is made, though it doesn’t say that it’s Belgian or French, so I’m going to assume that it’s American. It’s Kosher. If I’m at Trader Joe’s though, I would still go for something else of theirs before this (usually the dark chocolate almonds) and probably these Belgian 3-bar stacks if they still had them.
If Trader Joe’s set out to make a better bar for less than 70 cents than Hershey’s, I’d say that they succeeded. They didn’t actually make one that I’d want, but I’m sure these will appeal to lots of folks.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
A good malted milk ball is hard to find. Even worse, the good ones are hard to get. I don’t know why I expect to get some tasty malted milk at my nearest drug store or grocery, perhaps it’s because so many other quality candies are available these days.
But the mass-produced malted milk balls have been getting worse and worse while the gourmet styles seem to have branched out into novelty flavor combinations to the point that the classic is hardly available. There is a season for malted milk balls and it’s Easter.
Trader Joe’s has a milk carton package of Milk Chocolate Malted Milk Eggs that gave me hope. I also loved the price: $2.49 for 10 ounces of real chocolate malt balls.
The carton is cute, it’s the same base dimensions as a half gallon, but obviously shorter (I’m guessing it’d hold a quart). It’s 10 ounces of beefy malted milk eggs made with real milk chocolate. They lack the outer candy coating that most Easter varieties have, but that’s not the end of the world. It’s the center and the chocolate that count.
These eggs are large, about the size of a shelled pecan. They’re glossy and consistent. When I stick my nose into the spout of the carton they certainly smell like a sweet chocolate malt.
I think they have the perfect ratio of malt center to chocolate coating, so that’s a good start. The chocolate is soft but not gummy and though there’s a glaze on the outside (to keep them from sticking together) it doesn’t make the chocolate waxy.
But then there’s the center. The center is a good density - not too dense so that it feels like I’m eating styrofoam insulation and not too flaky so it feels like I’m eating yeast sprinkles. It’s crisp and has a mild malty and milky flavor ... but it also tastes like smoke to me. It’s as if all the air bubbles have some sort of burning plastic smoke trapped in them. Maybe I got a bad batch, but I just can’t get over it. I’ve tried, and I figure the fact that I’ve had these for about 10 days and haven’t finished them is a sign.
I might pick them up again (or have you tried them?) but since they’re seasonal I might just let it go. No sense falling in love with something that’s not going to be around.
I’ve often lamented the fact that I can’t just eat the center of the malted milk balls. After all, I don’t need the chocolate, that’s not what attracts me to them. So after years of looking I found a place online (via some helpful readers) that sells the uncoated malted milk ball centers.
I ordered two one pound bags from Nuts Online. (The shipping got a little screwed up and I had to wait ten days to get them, apparently there was some sort of snow storm back on the Eastern Seaboard in February, they really should have said something in the papers about it.)
These are quite lovely. They’re crispy and dissolve quickly on the tongue. The malt flavors are intense and well rounded with a bit of a yeasty note and a little salt. I went through a one pound bag in the matter of a week. I still have a second bag that I’m hanging onto for those severe cravings that come after Easter.
They’re probably great for baking or desserts. They’re definitely good for munching. I can see them as a great movie treat because they’re not too sweet. Like most crispy candies you have to be very careful not to leave them out in humid conditions, they deflate and get tacky (I think we’ve all gotten the malted milk ball that’s just a gooey puddle inside.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.