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.)
Friday, March 12, 2010
I don’t know what pieces of juice are, but the package makes them look like dark chocolate M&Ms that are packed with powerhouse antioxidants.
The stand up zip pouch is actually quite attractive. Often with Trader Joe’s products I look at them a couple of times in the store over several weeks before I buy them. Maybe it was the lavender background or the font that made me feel like a Jane Austen novel. What was especially pleasant was that the product inside looked exactly like the package showed them on the outside.
They are stunning. They’re glossy little obloid spheres - some the same size as M&MS, others smaller or larger. The dark chocolate is nearly black though it’s only 41% cacao. Sniffing the bag did not yield a chocolatey aroma, instead it was deep berry. It smelled like blueberry yogurt and maybe a little coffee.
Though it says on the package that it’s dark chocolate, there’s actually milk products in there, so this is out right away for vegans. Further reading and I saw that there’s confectioners glaze, so it’s out for vegetarians as well. They’re gluten free and low sodium (50mg per serving) but made on equipment that processes tree nuts and in a facility that handles peanuts and wheat.
There’s no crispy coating on them, it’s chocolate (with the light glaze to keep them from sticking together). The bite is soft and immediately I got fruity flavors. Even when I let the chocolate melt first, I got fruity flavors.
The center isn’t a jelly like I’d expected, but more like a grainy berry fudge. At first I was disappointed, but then I kept eating them. The berry flavors are sweet but really well rounded with blueberry and pomegranate having the best flavor notes. Blueberry gives it a tannic quality like strong tea and the pomegranate and cranberry have good tart and dry flavors. The chocolate does little more than give some body to it, the cocoa notes are overshadowed.
I had no trouble eating the whole bag within a week - I’m not sure if I’ll buy them again though. They might make a fruity alternative to M&Ms for Easter though or a really elegant chocolate candy for favors for a wedding or party.
I suspect that these are made by
Terra Nostra, but that’s only because they’re made in Canada and the package says that the dark chocolate contains 100mg of natural flavanoid antioxidants in each 40g serving. Trader Joe’s has a long track record of selling not only Terra Nostra’s products but also repacking them in their house brand.
It appears that I was incorrect, these are made by Brookside Foods.
Another review of them here on Danica’s Daily also shows the extremely long but all natural ingredients list.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
If the statistics braniacs are correct, you’re less likely to receive chocolate this year than a year when Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday. This is because the major heart-shaped confectionery purchasers are men and when the holiday falls on a weekend the celebrations are more likely to be date-related than object-related.
I picked up this box of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Hearts with Rich Truffle Filling on a weekend (long before Valentine’s Day though). The box holds 7.05 ounces and 16 Belgian truffles. Well, the package calls them truffles, I’m not convinced as you’ll see in a moment.
The flat and simple box has a stylized cartoonish design on the front though the overall format is similar to the Belgian Fancies I bought before Christmas.
I like the overall design, it’s simple and spare and not so precious or frilly that it couldn’t work for either gender or as a gift between friends or family. The box does and excellent job of protecting the candies, which were all shiny and flawless.
The hearts are nicely sized for a single bite. They’re about one and a half inches at the widest, about three quarters of an inch high.
The ingredients list for these non-flavored bonbons is extremely long. In my perfect world the definitions of things like ganache and truffle are pretty strict. A truffle is chocolate mixed with extra dairy fats like butter or cream. That’s it. There can be flavorings, inclusions and maybe even nut butters but then it becomes a bonbon with a truffle ganache base filling. The Belgian maker of these has things in here like corn syrup (third ingredient) vegetable oils (fourth ingredient) and some other things like glycerin, crystalline fructose, mono & diglycerides and citric acid.
The result of those ingredients is not so much of a mock ganache but something that I think of as really good chocolate frosting. The thing is, the reason to put all that extra fat into ganache is to make the melting point lower, so that it actually melts in your mouth quicker than chocolate. (Cocoa butter has a higher melting point than dairy butter.) Putting all those different oils in there just isn’t the same and things like corn syrup add moisture, which makes it chewy and gives it an almost-caramel like pull when it’s bitten.
Now, all that aside, they’re not bad to eat. The chocolate shell is rather sweet but very smooth. The flavors are berry and a little bit on the woodsy spice side. The semi-sweet shell plays well with the very sweet center. There’s a slight fudginess to it, I hesitate calling it a graininess but it simply tastes sugary instead of chocolatey. For a store bought box of chocolates, they’re not bad, but at $5 for a box I expect a little better. In fact, I wouldn’t mind paying an extra dollar for fewer ingredients and a more intense chocolate punch.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The box sports a modular and moderne design created by someone who liked to show off their typesetting skills. They’re:
On the back it goes on in all caps:
I had a headache from all the shouting and exclamations.
The chocolates are quite pretty to look at, like a selection of gaudy bakelite coat buttons. The five flavors are naturally colored domes with a similar construction. Inside is a ganache with a little dollop of fruit jelly. The top is a shell of chocolate or white chocolate and the base is sealed up with more chocolate of some sort.
They’re one inch high and about one inch and a quarter in diameter. For the most part they’re one bite, but of course I did a lot of biting in half and peeking so perhaps I wasn’t eating them the way those fancy Belgians intended.
Cranberry (white chocolate) - a white chocolate shell with red blush filled with a milk chocolate ganache and a cranberry jelly all sitting on a white chocolate base.
You know what I think about when someone says cranberry jelly? I think tart. I think cheek drawing tartness. What I got here was something a little less startling. The milk chocolate ganache was a rather dairy, which is not a flavor I think goes particularly well with cranberry, I think a dark chocolate would join with the acidity and berry notes better. It was sweet and set off well by the slightly tart cranberry jelly, but the white chocolate shell & base just made to far too sweet in the end.
This was another bland floral jelly with no real note that came through the white chocolate, it was all overshadowed by the dark chocolate base. Not that it was a bad thing, but a pom white ganache truffle sounded pretty good.
Cherry (milk chocolate) - a milk chocolate shell with brownish red hue filled with a white chocolate ganache and a cherry jelly sitting on a milk chocolate base.
The scent on these is an overwhelming woodsy-cherry with some medicinal maraschino thing. It’s quite distracting and swamps the box every time I open it. The jelly itself is rather mild and sweet with an authentic flavor of cherry. The sweet milk chocolate has a little dairy going on, a little creamy party that’s actually rather good. So though I didn’t like the bad influence the cherry had on the box, they were one of the better cherry chocolates I’ve had in a long time.
It seemed like the orange ones got a more liberal heaping of the jelly, so the flavor was more intense right away. The jelly is tangy and zesty, smooth and not a trace of grain. I would buy a whole box of these.
Raspberry (white chocolate) - a white chocolate shell with red/brown stripes filled with a white chocolate ganache and a raspberry jelly all sitting on a dark chocolate base.
The ganache is soft, creamy and sweet, a little fluffy and generally unflavored. The raspberry jelly does nothing, not even a tangy bite or a floral note. The dark chocolate base actually does a lot of heavy lifting here with a bittersweet overtone in an otherwise “cherry infused” piece.
So my ultimate reaction to these was that I was torn. They’re good quality, I appreciate that they’re beautiful and have some uncommon flavors. The ingredients may be all natural (including the colorings) but there’s also canola and palm oil in there (good quality ganache is made with butterfat). In the end each piece wasn’t distinctive enough and the colors weren’t well defined so I couldn’t even tell what I was eating. They just didn’t satisfy any craving within me for either chocolate or creamy.
Belgian Chocolate Fancies are marked gluten free and say that they’re processed on equipment with tree nuts & eggs (and of course contain dairy and soy). So it may be a lovely hostess gift for a chocolate-loving peanut-allergic pal.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.