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.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
These new Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Crisps aren’t exactly a holiday item. They look like an all-year round treat and perhaps more appropriate for an upscale football watching party than a Christmas get together.
The package says: We’ve got a delectable sweet treat. Our Dark Chocolate Crisps are wisps of rich, Belgian chocolate, curved for visual interest, and infused with crunchy bits to add some texture. These Crisps are definitely in! (Honestly, I don’t know what they’re talking about, it’s like the regular Fearless Flyer crew was on vacation and they let some word-mashing robot put this together. Curved for visual interest? Just to make it interesting? That’s one of those politically correct ways of saying “compelling but not attractive”. Infused with crunchy bits? Ever try to infuse something with a crunchy ingredient ... that’s not how infusing works.)
I found the tray odd because it doesn’t sit level very easily. Also, for some reason it reminds me of little amusement park train cars. I want to take a series of them and hook them together and put them on some HO Scale train tracks. Make of that what you will.
Even without wheels, I enjoyed driving the tray around on my desk, it did a great job of protecting the candy in question. All of my chips were in great condition. Not only were they whole, but they were barely scuffed by rubbing against each other in transit. The only issue I had with them was putting them back in the cellophane and then into the box ... which went fine initially, but sometimes when I pulled it out of the box it was upside down or I got it turned around. This known as a chip loss level event in the HO Train Candy Train world.
Each little flick is two inches long and an inch and a half across, so a bit smaller than a Pringles potato snack. They smell fantastic, like deep cocoa, smoke and a little like dried mushrooms. The little crunches of rice cereal make the surface a bit bumpy, not quite as much crisp as I was hoping for, but still of interest. The chocolate itself has a nice snap and melt. It’s quite dry and a little bitter as it’s 57% cocoa solids but the malty and crunchy rice bites add a little mouth interest.
They’re quite rich so even though a full stack was the supposed serving, I found five or six was quite enough for me. (Well, then about an hour later I’d want some more.)
Oddly enough, these Dark Chocolate Crisps aren’t such a bad choice as a snack if you’re going to compare them to actual Pringles.
Pringles Serving Size: 1 oz (approx 14 crisps); Calories: 160, Total Fat: 11g, Carbs: 14g, Protein: 1g
The price difference between Pringles and Dark Chocolate Crisps isn’t even that big. They’re a fun item to snack on, I like how they make a portion seem so large. Dieters may find it helpful when they want a treat and want to make it seem huge. Six chips are just 110 calories. I also thought they were pretty cute and would make excellent garnishes for ice cream, cupcakes or even a creme brulee.
Dark Chocolate Crisps are all natural and appear to be vegan (though made on shared equipment with milk products). However, they’re not Kosher. They also come in a Milk Chocolate Crisps variety.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I like to cruise the aisles and look at all the great new and returning items. This year my eyes lit on the Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Delights.
The box describes them as a crunchy hazelnut treat surrounded with praline, crispy wafer and milk chocolate. While I assumed that they are like Ferrero Rocher, the image on the box didn’t quite show whether they were flat or round (maybe the wafer is just that, a little disc). The box is also rather deep, and though it holds 7.05 ounces, I wasn’t sure how the items were packaged. Were they individually wrapped and just tossed in there? How many came in a box? Were they in a tray or just stacked up?
When I got the box home and opened it, most of my questions were answered.
Inside the trapezoidal box are two trays. Each tray is sealed in cellophane and has eight sections. (16 candies total in the box.) Each little spot holds a Hazelnut Delight. At this point I confirmed that there were a heck of a lot like a Ferrero Rocher. They’re also made in Germany, which is one of the locations that Ferrero has manufacturing facilities.
The ingredients are impressive at first. The first item on the list is hazelnuts. After that it gets a little less enchanting. Ingredient #2 is sugar, which is absolutely expected in candy. #3 is vegetable oil (palm, rapeeseed and sunflower) and only after that do we get to the cocoa butter, wheat flour, chocolate liquor, whole milk powder, nonfat dry milk and cocoa ... then a bunch more stuff including more oils.
The pieces are slightly larger than one bite. It’s a lumpy, bumpy ball and most had a little drizzle of white chocolate across them. What’s nice is that they’re not individually wrapped in foil, so it smells amazing, like roasted hazelnuts and hot chocolate.
Biting into one, the construction will seem similar. It’s a milk chocolate shell covering crushed hazelnuts stuck to a hollow wafer sphere. Inside is a chocolate and hazelnut paste ... somewhere in there is a whole hazelnut.
The amazing part though is the hazenuttiness. It’s just packed with them. It’s a sweet treat, but there’s both the whole hazelnut at the center plus the crushed hazelnuts then that hazelnut paste in the middle. There must be the equivalent of three or four hazelnuts in there.
The chocolate coating is sweet and melts easily. The paste in the center is, well, pasty. It’s sticky and has a good cocoa flavor but not much on the hazelnut side, not a problem there, because the whole hazelnut pretty much takes care of that at some point. (In the photo cross-section I obviously hadn’t found it yet.) The wafer is crunchy and has a light caramelized sugar note to it, like good ice cream cones do. The crushed hazelnuts steal the show though, so crunchy and with such a distinctive roasted nut flavor I was quite enamored of these little delights.
The price is a bit steeper than Ferrero Rocher (which I’ve seen on sale at drug stores for less than 1/2 the price from time to time). But there are far more hazelnuts here and of course they were extremely fresh. I might buy them again as a hostess gift for someone I was certain is a hazel-nut. I think I’d prefer a dark chocolate version for myself.
Other items returning for 2009:
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Last year Trader Joe’s introduced what I think was their first original candy bar. The Lumpy Bumpy Bar did not live up to my Trader Joe’s expectations (and they rarely disappoint me).
This year they have the new PB&J Bar which features peanut butter, milk and dark chocolate and raspberry jam.
The box is hot pink with eye-numbing blue & orange text. It in no way reflects my expectations for what’s inside. Again, I think it’s some sort of medicated soap or analgesic.
Like the previous bar, it’s much smaller than the box (well, I can’t name a candy bar that isn’t smaller than the volume of the packaging) - the box is 4.5” long and 1.5” high & wide. The actual candy bar is about 3 inches long and about 1 inch high. But then, you know, it was easy to get back into the box after taking the picture.
But still, what is it?
The bar is quite interesting to look at, though I couldn’t figure out where the dark chocolate is ... maybe there’s a slim layer between the jelly and peanut butter.
The peanut butter is quite dark and has a deep roasted flavor. It’s not terribly sweet and of course is not only salted but has little bits of potato chips in there for additional texture and salt.
The bite of the bar is interesting. The peanut butter has an easy give, but the jelly bottom layer is quite firm. However, it is very jelly like in that it doesn’t stick to the teeth like gumdrops do. The flavor doesn’t come out right away, there is a berry note, but it isn’t until I chew it up that I got the nice, deep jammy raspberry flavors (seedless).
The two ounces felt like quite a lot of food, and I actually ate the bar in two sittings - 1/3 when I took the photo and the other 2/3 while doing the review. The calorie total is 300, a smidge more than I like in a single portion.
Since there are no other readily available bars like this, I give it high marks for filling a niche. I’m definitely more likely to pick it up over the Lumpy Bumpy ... but there are so many other items at Trader Joe’s that I prefer, I’m not sure it’ll ever happen.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
The idea of a liquid burst inside a gummi candy is nothing new, but seems to have made a bit of a comeback lately. (Starburst GummiBursts & LifeSavers Fruit Splosions.)
Trader Joe’s has a twist on this in their new Trader Joe’s Gummy Tummies Penguins. The flavor array in the package is pretty small: Strawberry, Lime and Cherry. They’re made with natural flavors, have no preservatives and no artificial colors. (They also state that it’s pork gelatin in them ... so they’re safe to eat for non-vegetarian Hindus.)
They’re much larger candy pieces than other versions and are made in such a way that you can actually see the goo inside their tummies.
Oh, I’m sorry, did that scare you?
These things are freaky looking, and what’s worse, they smell. For a couple of days I thought there was an old apple core hiding somewhere in my office (I even crawled under my desk looking for it), turns out that’s what the combination of cherry, strawberry & lime Gummy Tummies smells like.
The shapes are nicely defined, though I wouldn’t call them nicely designed. I didn’t really get the whole “penguin” thing. I asked around and everyone pretty much agrees they look like Grimace from McDonald’s or one of the lesser ghost characters from Casper.
They’re very soft and have a bulbous belly that’s even softer to the touch. They remind me of blisters ... the cherry one (on its side up there) is even worse, because the gummis rather uncolored (like my skin) but has a dark red filling (like a blood blister). I’ll spare you the graphic photo of that and let you just imagine it instead.
Lime is easy to tell from the others, as it’s transparent yellow. The flavor is rather mellow, just a light touch of lemon/lime zest and then a mix of tangy & sweet. The filling is smooth and sticky and just a repeat of the above flavors in a form that needs no chewing.
Strawberry is the pink bellied one. (Though I had to hold them up to the light to tell them apart from the cherry.) The flavor is floral and tangy. The goo doesn’t do much for it and that’s probably a positive.
Cherry has the darkest belly and smells like wild cherry LifeSavers. The liquid center is a lot more flavorful, like a dense syrup of cough suppressant or Cepacol.
This whole tasting has made me realize that I don’t like goo filled gummis.
For those of you who have a Trader Joe’s nearby, you may enjoy this little video.
Friday, December 19, 2008
I’m buried in mints! So here’s a huge roundup of all the mint items in my queue that I wanted to get through before Christmas.
Like the Trader Joe’s Espresso Pillows I picked up a few months ago, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Mints come in a cute round tin and hold 2.45 ounces. Unlike the Espresso Pillows, these are not a very original product.
Inside the tin is a fluted liner that holds a large handful of soft, white candy-shelled mints. Each is about the size of a kidney bean. The tin says that there are no artificial flavors or preservatives. I think they shy from the “all natural” part because the white shell is created with titanium dioxide.
They reminded me of the classic Dutch Mints and luckily I had some of those around for comparison.
Jelly Belly makes a large variety of Dutch Mints. They come in different colors, these are all hot pink and individually wrapped, though you can also get them in the stark white, pastel mint colors or right now in the Christmas assortment of red, green and white. (And they’re Kosher.)
The Dutch Mint is the size of a garbanzo bean but my guess is the same mass as the TJ’s.
They’re both the same construction, a soft mint fondant with a thin layer or dark chocolate then a crispy candy shell.
Both are lovely and addictive. The Trader Joe’s retails for $1.22 an ounce. The Jelly Belly can go for anywhere from $.70 an ounce for the small 2.9 ounce bag to $.56 for a one pound tub (check out Cost Plus World Market).
Jelly Belly Dutch Mints get a rating of: 8 out of 10
These also closely resemble the York Mints that also come in a tin.
The previous are great for toting around and especially nice if a restaurant gives you a few with the check. But if you’re entertaining, you might want to provide some other more chocolatey mint morsels.
I’ve always loved After Eight Mints, which are a flowing mint fondant in an ultra thin square. I used to love how they came in individual glassine envelopes, like a little file box of deliciousness.
Of course After Eights are made by Nestle now and not nearly as good as I remember them on top of the controversies that they’re made from questionably sourced chocolate. The Fair Trade movement has been working to bring families and communities out of poverty through fair payment for goods & services.
Divine Chocolate has been doing this since 1998 in the United Kingdom and recently expanded into the United States. Not only do they have tasty bars they also have addition treats like these Divine After Dinner Mints.
The mints are nicely sized for two bites at about 1.5” square. The mild semi-sweet chocolate is crisp and cracks well. The mint fondant center is creamy and minted only slightly so as not to overpower the chocolate. The dark chocolate has some berry and fruity tones that combine well with the cool peppermint flavors.
I’ve seen these at Whole Foods (at an endcap display for hostess giving), so they should be pretty widely available this season.
Divine After Dinner Mints get a rating of 7 out of 10.
Creme de Menthe Altoids have been out for a few months, though it took me a while to find the variety that isn’t covered in chocolate. I realized that I might have seen them before, the green of the package is only slightly lighter than the Spearmint boxes. These were on sale for $1.50 to boot!
Basically the flavor of these is like a Peppermint TicTac. It has a powdery vanilla scent, softer than a harsh peppermint and perhaps just a hint of licorice.
But these are Altoids. Though they might start out mild, they do pack a much stronger kick later on. I like the flavor a bit better than the straight Peppermint if only because of the mix of aromas.
Creme de Menthe Altoids get a rating of 8 out of 10.
Quite a few folks have been lamenting that Trader Joe’s discontinued their English Soft Peppermints. I’m pretty keen on the generic & mild butter mints I find at the drug store, but those were some pretty good mints.
Around this time of year, however, I see a lot of these See’s Peppermint Twists in candy dishes around the office. It took me a while, but I think I found out who makes them. There were two contenders: King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy or Bob’s Sweet Stripes.
I saw this box of King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy at the 99 Cent Only Store and thought I’d give them a whirl. They were a dollar for 3.5 ounces.
I thought they were “butter mints” and read through this to see how I came to that conclusion:
So I was expecting a soft mint. Either crumbly soft or mushy soft.
These were neither. They’re soft as in rounded and smooth, but after that they were not butter mints until I sucked on them for a while. Which is kind of the opposite of “soft from the moment you open the box”. Annoyance aside, they’re peppermint candies. They are airy and dissolve nicely and of course none of those hard candy sharp edges. They’re sweet and a bit less intense than a starlight mint and really pretty to look at. Like those English Soft Peppermints that were really made in the Netherlands, King Leo are made in Mexico. Kosher.
King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy gets a 6 out of 10.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
When I was in Pennsylvania visiting my brother he took me to the Lancaster County Farmers Market as one of the stops on a candy adventure. There I found Nancy’s Candy Corner (not really a corner as it was in a center aisle). This vendor has everything covered in chocolate. Their specialty seemed to be pretzels. Pretzels dipped in chocolate. Pretzels dipped in chocolate and then rolled in things (toffee chips, chocolate chips, Oreo bits, sprinkles). Lots and lots of pretzel options. There were more traditional options like peanut butter straws. I bought a variety including some Milk and Dark chocolate covered German Spice Cookies.
They were fabulous. The cookies were dense and crunchy, the chocolate was sweet and creamy and then they were gone.
This is why I was so pleased to see these at Trader Joe’s, something I could buy locally, even if only temporarily. At 5.99 for the 10 ounce tin, it was one of the pricier confectionery items I’ve bought at Trader Joe’s lately.
The decription on the bottom of the tin makes my mouth water.
Molasses, ginger, cloves and vanilla ... these aromatic ingredients are the hallmark of gingersnap cookies. We’ve taken it one step further by gliding tiny gingersnap cookies with dark chocolate. For a sophisticated treat that mixes the creamy richness of chocolate with crunchy, spicy cookies.
Inside was a cellophane bag of shiny chocolate nuggets:
They smell of cloves, cinnamon and chocolate.
The pieces are irregular, ranging in size from a garbanzo bean to a hazelnut in the shell. The chocolate coating is glossy.
The chocolate is creamy and sweet, really has a silky mouthfeel. The spices of the cookie are overpowering, so the chocolate flavors aren’t as forward, but the texture makes a huge contribution here.
The cookies are fabulous. The woodsy molasses sets the stage for the immediate clove flavor and then the warming spices really kick in. I found they warmed my throat after two or three with both a gingery kick as well as a black pepper burn.
Trader Joe’s doesn’t have clearance sales after the holidays, so there’s no way to get these cheap or regularly. I can only hope they’ll sell them in the little tubs all year round and I don’t have to create a collection of these tins.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.