Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Trader Joe’s is usually right on target when it jumps on a trend. They seem to know when it’s too early to hop on (and customers will be too scared) or too late (customers will be weary of over saturation). Salt and caramel, salt and chocolate and of course, the combination of all three is right up there on the trend meter. Artisans and high end chocolatiers started the international push about eight years ago, and Trader Joe’s has introduced some fine salted caramels along the way.
Today I have one of their new bars, a 70% Dark Chocolate Bar - Caramel with Black Sea Salt. The design of the box is reminiscent of the Fearless Flyer’s clip art designs with fanciful sailing ships and airships and seaweed. The package mentions that the bar is gluten free.
The package describes the bar thusly:
Inside the box the bar is sealed in a tough silver mylar package. There’s no design flair to it, but something much more practical. There’s a little stamp that says not only when the bar was made, but also the best by date. (It’s pretty rare for a product to give you both pieces of information.)
I had two of these bars. The first, pictured here, I bought myself. The second was one my husband picked up, not realizing that I’d already procured one. This one was in good shape, glossy and unbroken. The color of the chocolate was a little dead - a little on the coffee ground brown side. The bottom of the bar is studded with sea salt crystals. They weren’t black, they were white and translucent. Some grains were small and well spaced, but others were clumped together or just downright large - like something you’d toss on an icy sidewalk.
The center of the bar is a gooey, near liquid caramel. It’s creamy and silky smooth with a light milky flavor with a strong salty note. The combination of salt from the dusting and the center was sometimes pretty intense. (The package says that there’s only 95 mg of salt here, but I think that’s a little off.)
The chocolate is a little bitter but strong with a fruity and woodsy note to it, kind of like smoked raisins. It’s quite decadent all together, sweet, salty, creamy and a little crunchy if you hit a salt patch.
My big complaint about this bar is the filling at times. The second bar was broken in one place, which unleashed the caramel into the package. Also, if you start the bar, you’re kind of obligated to finish it right away, because the caramel will escape within a half an hour of placing it horizontal. (I guess propping it upright might help.)
Trader Joe’s always makes a good quality product. The packaging was good, the label gave me all the info I wanted to know and the quality was excellent for the price. I don’t think this is my favorite bar, mostly because of the overly-salty spots and the mess factor.
There’s another bar in this set that I saw on the shelf, Trader Joe’s 70% Dark Chocolate - Toffee with Walnuts and Pecans - has anyone tried that as well?
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
One of the new introductions that I saw on the shelves isn’t seasonal. It’s called Trader Joe’s Soft Peanut Brittle. At first I didn’t even know what that meant. Soft peanut brittle? Is it more like toffee, which means more butter than the traditionally less fatty brittle? The package simply says covered in milk chocolate, a flaky, crispy peanutty treat. The image looks like little mini bars of peanut brittle, but it looks like the peanuts are crushed instead of whole. So maybe that’s what makes it soft.
After opening the package and biting into one, I know what this is, and it isn’t “soft peanut brittle.”
They’re like Butterfinger or Clark Bars. Flaky layers of peanut butter crunch. It’s all covered in chocolate and striped with some darker chocolate.
I have nothing against Clark Bars (I love the new ones) but that’s not what I was expecting here.
The milk chocolate coating is a bit scuffed on all of them. The stand up pouch is economical, it holds a half a pound, but the bars aren’t well protected. Each little bar is about an inch and a quarter long and three quarters of an inch wide. It’s one big bite or two small ones.
The crispy layers are soft and have an kind of melt that’s like halva and a bit like cotton candy, with spindly & spiky shards of hard candy infused with the flavor of peanut butter. It’s a little sweet, a little salty and a lot nutty. There’s no molasses in there, which often helps to support the deep roasted flavors of the nuts and the woodsy notes of the chocolate. They’re quite munchable, definitely something I’d like to have while watching a movie.
The price is decent, especially because this version uses no artificial colors or flavors and has a real chocolate coating (unlike Butterfinger or Fifth Avenue). But Clark Bars are now all natural and come in milk or dark chocolate ... so I’m kind of torn. The back of the package suggests using it in desserts, like chopping it up and crumbling it on top of a cake or ice cream. No wrappers makes that infinitely simpler. But no wrappers also encourages endless munching. So just remember, you’ll have to control yourself once you open the bag (which has a zipper top).
The package says that they’re gluten free and Kosher.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.