Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Trader Joe’s has some great summertime themed candies in their tubbed goodies. The Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate Smashing S’Mores with graham cracker and marshmallow have been around for at least a year. I looked for them a few times and couldn’t find them and assumed that they were another one of those transient Trader Joe’s products. On my visit over Independence Day weekend though, there were stacks so I grabbed one immediately.
My tub held 12 Smashing S’mores and the label said that it was 7 ounces. (The nutrition panel said that a serving was 2 pieces and there were 8 servings in the package - I can understand there being one or so plus or minus in the average package, but I can’t understand how they could even cram 16 of these little S’mores into the tub at all.)
The ingredients are interesting. It’s real milk chocolate for the coating, the marshmallow uses Kosher gelatin (basically non-pork derived) and the graham cracker part is almost all organic (except for the vanilla and arrow root flour).
The little squares are about an inch to an inch and a half cubed.
The base is a rustic and thick graham cracker coated with a little milk chocolate then a square of marshmallow on top of that. The whole thing is then enrobed in milk chocolate with a decorative drizzle of dark chocolate.
The bite is soft, the marshmallow, which occupies most of the volume is soft, spongy and moist. It’s not that flavorful and not that sweet, so it offsets the other levels of sweetness well. The milk chocolate coating is creamy and better than average though very sweet on its own. The graham cracker was thick and more rough, like a digestive than the sort of grocery store graham cracker I’m accustomed to. The flavor was wheaty with a little touch of honey. The effect of all of it together is great, the pieces are not too big that an adventurous person couldn’t pop it all in their mouth at once, and the marshmallow grabs the chocolate well enough that it doesn’t all crumble apart when bitten in half.
The tub advises popping it into the microwave for 4 to 6 seconds for the traditional S’more treat. The effect of this is to create a completely gooey and soupy interior though the chocolate amazingly doesn’t melt completely. The thing I like best about toasted marshmallows is the toasted part. I could probably just eat the toasted outsides and leave the gooey stuff for someone else, so the microwave option doesn’t really do much for me, but I certainly can see others really digging it.
The big bonus here is that these are Kosher. It’s pretty rare to find Kosher marshmallows, and even harder to find Kosher marshmallow candy products.
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).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.