Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Last time I was a Trader Joe’s, I was on the prowl for new candies. Usually October is a great time to find new things on the shelves. I completely missed this Trader Joe’s Lumpy Bumpy Bar. Not because there weren’t a lot of them on display, but simply because I thought it was house brand pain reliever.
I can’t quite put my finger on why it doesn’t look like a candy bar, perhaps it’s a bit more long cube shaped than bar shaped. Perhaps it’s the red background with yellow text and blue accents which remind me of those visual disturbances that accompany migraines.
But now that I’ve found it (thanks to a phone call from my husband at the store asking me if I wanted to try it), I have to set aside all that and look at what’s on the inside.
The box does seem like a bit of overpackaging, inside is a mylar wrapper around the bar as well. The wrapper itself is stupidly huge, about one and half times the length of the bar, so it’s folded over inside the box. Perhaps that keeps the bar from moving around.
But once out of all of that it’s obvious why they call it the Lumpy Bumpy Bar.
It’s pretty beefy looking and feeling. It clocks in at two ounces even, so about the same as a Snickers. And the description of it is also similar: creamy caramel and peanut nougat drenched in dark chocolate.
The first bar (pictured) had a rather liberal lump of peanuts on top. The second bar (the one I’m actually basing this tasting on) had only four.
The bar smells smoky and rich, like toasted sugar, peanuts and chocolate.
The textures are extreme. There are the deep crunches of the nuts - both on top and inside the nougat. The strip of caramel on the top of the nougat but under the chocolate is firm and stringy. The nougat is mostly soft and grainy, until I got to the bottom where it was more like a tough caramel.
When chewed up together the peanuts have a definite dark and burnt taste that pushes over everything else in its way. The thin chocolate coating doesn’t contribute much besides holding the rest of it together in its cloak. The nougat is mostly disappointing. I was hoping when I heard the $2 price tag, that the nougat would be Italian, Spanish or French style. Instead it’s more like a Milky Way Midnight with peanuts.
The only part I liked was the part that I think was a mistake - the chewy nougat at the very bottom was stringy and smooth and had a light touch of toasted marshmallow flavor to it. But since only one of my bars did this, I can’t even be sure that it was on purpose. The caramel on the top barely registers as a flavor or texture.
The good news for candy fans though is that this is a certified gluten free product and the ingredients are all natural. There are milk, soy and egg products in it though.
This bar is coming in all over the map from other reviewers (and from the photos, it appears that the bars are actually different in the amount of each element): Futile Sniff loves it (but had no peanuts on top and far more caramel), Gigi Reviews had a similar experience to mine except I found both of mine rather salty, Diana Takes a Bite found it too chewy and big while Patti at Candy Yum Yum wrote it a love letter. (Yes, it appears that all reviewers are women, I’m guessing the package looks too much like Midol for men to have taken notice yet. I must note that I’ve never purchased Midol, so if this is the kind of analgesic that comes inside that box, please let me know what I’ve been missing!)
So after all that, I’m still stuck on the See’s Awesome Nut & Chew Bar, it’s half the price (though not quite as large) and more responsibly packaged though it does have almonds instead of peanuts.
Monday, September 29, 2008
The tin describes them as crunchy toffeed espresso bits covered in dark chocolate.
Frankly, I was confused by them. They didn’t look big enough to be espresso beans covered in toffee and then chocolate, which is what the description made me think. And the word “pillows”? They’re the size of dried beans ... and they don’t sound like pillows. Pillows are soft and fluffy. These are pellets.
But I don’t think I’d buy something called Espresso Pellets.
The tin is awesome. The colors are compelling and reinforce the elements advertised: chocolate, toffee and coffee.
The little window let me see what was inside.
Most importantly, it was easy to open and snaps shut securely.
They smell sweet and chocolatey and a little woodsy, like cedar.
They vary greatly in size and shape. Some are the size and shape of a coffee bean, others are teensy little ball bearings (with nothing inside).
At first bite my confusion about what these actually are is completely diffused.
Inside of the panned chocolate shell is a little nugget of rich coffee toffee. Think Coffee Rio, only crispy and crunchy.
The center is rich, a little bitter, buttery smooth and barely sweet. The semi-sweet chocolate coating adds more flavor and makes the whole thing creamier.
This is one of those products I’ve been dreaming about. A really intense coffee candy that doesn’t have grainy little bits of coffee grounds in it.
The price is a little steep for the amount of product. I’d probably want to buy a whole tub of these and just refill my little tin. But then again, it helps with portion control. I can eat the whole tin and it’d only be about 350 calories.
Some of mine had little light colored spots on them, not full blown “chocolate bloom” but more like they got speckled with water or moisture somewhere along the way. All the ones on the shelf looked like that. It doesn’t seem to detract from the flavor or texture though.
This is not only all natural, with no preservatives, it’s also Kosher. However, it’s not vegetarian-safe for those who won’t eat confectioner’s glaze.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Several readers have emailed me telling me that I must try Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Pretzel Bites. I usually avoid the tubs of TJ’s chocolate goodies in the summer, but things have cooled off and I was hot on their trail.
The tub describes them as Crispy, crunchy, salty pretzels covered with rich dark chocolate and natural sprinkles. Okay, I’m curious what natural sprinkles are. A peek at the ingredients shows that they’re, well, sugar, corn starch and confectioners glaze. I’m guessing that unless sprinkles have some sort of artificial colors, they’re all natural.
The 7 ounce tub sounds generous, but let me just say right now, it’s not enough.
Many of my bites were fused together (enough in different linked chains that I wondered if I could create a Tetris layout). Instead of being panned (tumbled in a drum and coated with chocolate and then a sealing glaze) these are simply dipped so they have a flat spot on the bottom. This is helpful, as it keeps them from rolling around when I pull out a handful and put them on my desk. Each little bite is about the size of a plump garbanzo bean or hazelnut.
The chocolate looks especially dark and the ingredients shows that this is pretty good stuff; it even has real vanilla in it but does have some milk fat (sorry vegans, the confectioners glaze already spoiled this as a treat for you).
The tub smells smoky and sweet with a little hint of malt from the baked pretzels.
The chocolate melts easily and is smooth and creamy but has a dry and slightly bitter finish. The pretzels are crunchy and have a liberal dose of crunchy salt on them that’s echoed by the sweet crunch of the nonpariels.
At first I thought the sprinkles were silly, that they got in the way of the simplicity of the crunch and creamy components. But then I picked out some that had fewer crunchies on them and didn’t find them as satisfying ... maybe it’s just the little extra bit of sugar that puts it all together. Something about hitting a little crunch in your mouth and having this anticipation - will it be sweet or salty?
I love chocolate covered pretzels and this format is great. The issue I have with larger pretzels covered with chocolate is biting into it can make a mess, the pretzels make crumbs and the chocolate can crack and flake off. These go straight in the mouth whole, either one at a time or two or three even to make a mouthful. As a chocolate treat for someone who’s minding calories, the fact that there’s a large pretzel component there keeps the calories per ounce much lower than most chocolate candies.
My only major misgiving here is that it’s easy to eat the whole tub at once, so mind your portion control - maybe put a small handful in a little baggie or else you’ll find yourself mystified that there’s an empty tub sitting on your lap at the movies. (But is that really Trader Joe’s fault?)
UPDATE 2/9/2009: Trader Joe’s has stopped carrying these but I tracked down the manufacturer. They’re at Chocolate Potpourri and called Chocolate Pretzel Balls and are available in milk, dark and white.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
This box of Trader Joe’s Irish Cream Chocolates was suspiciously inexpensive. I was on the prowl for an item they had last year, which were infused vodkas in chocolate. This was the only alcoholic chocolate I could find. When I say alcoholic, I mean that these do contain alcohol, 3.8% by weight. That’s enough for the register to ding when I bought them to make sure that I was of the legal age to purchase an alcohol product (I am).
The dark green box shows the little rectangles in nearly full size. Inside the box are three rows of five chocolates (15 total).
They’re a milk chocolate shell with an alcoholic “Irish Cream” syrup center. It’s quite thick and flowing, very sweet and rather odd. I didn’t care much for it at first, it tasted more like a slightly minty cough syrup, but the alcohol bite is certainly apparent. After a few of them, the creamy notes of the center came forward and I found myself reaching for one after another. (Not before driving.)
The milk chocolate isn’t the highest quality. It’s sweet and has a slight grain to it, but it contains the syrup center well. I only noticed two that had a leakage problem. There are a few ways to eat these. I prefer chomping off a short end and then slurping out some of the throat-blistering goo. But you can also just pop the whole thing in your mouth or probably nibble away at opposite corners to suck out more of the Irish Whiskey laced cream center.
Though they’re called Irish Cream Chocolates, they’re made in Germany.
Interestingly enough, this is the previous format of these chocolates, circa 2004.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
This is one of those times where I missed the boat when photographing a selection of chocolates. This eentsy-weentsy box holds 1.76 ounces of chocolate. The box itself is about 3 1/2 inches square. There are nine pieces of molded Belgian chocolates.
So for the same calorie count that you’re used to with a candy bar, you can indulge in these cute little bon bons. They’re a perfect little stocking stuffer, especially when you see that the price is $1.99.
There’s even a little guide to each of the pieces (I’ll go kinda clockwise starting at the top with the biggest piece):
Though you could just pop each piece into your mouth whole, I bit each in half while eating them, so there are 18 bites total ... a nice way to slow down and enjoy such a small portion.
The selection is a little sweet and hazelnut-focused for an assortment for me. I wanted a bit more dark chocolate (and the dark ones were good). As a change from the normal Toblerone or tube of Droste as a stocking stuffer, party favor or office gift, these are pretty spectacular. As something I’d grab to satisfy me, they don’t quite make it.
Friday, December 14, 2007
I’m not sure what the precise name of this item is, as there are lotsa different things on the package, different sizes, different fonts. I’m going to go with Trader Joe’s Peppermint Bark White Chocolate Bar. The description clears this up, “White chocolate covers a bar of dark chocolate & peppermint bits.”
Though the bar looks kind of like some sort of yogurt-covered meal replacement bar, it’s actually high-density candy. It’s pretty hefty at 2.25 ounces. It’s all-natural, with the pink coloring coming from beet juice. The white chocolate is real, with the first ingredients being sugar and cocoa butter. So be prepared, this is a fatty, fatty bar. The recommended dosage for some reason is 2/3 of the bar which clocks in with 36% of your daily RDA of saturated fats (though none of them trans).
But it’s the holidays!
The core of the bar is a solid plank of semi-sweet chocolate with a light peppermint essence in it. Then it’s coated in a generous layer of white chocolate studded with crushed peppermint candies.
If you’re a fan of peppermint bark, this is a good, portable option. High quality ingredients. Nice packaging (the bar is sealed in plastic/foil wrapper inside) and a decent price at $1.49 (this works out to about $10.50 a pound). I wanted more texture difference, more crunch, maybe not quite such a thick chunk.
It’s a good stocking stuffer or just a little treat for yourself when you don’t want to buy a huge tin of peppermint bark.
The box heralds that there are “Six Stylish Varieties” and that they’re “Imported from Belgium.” While I like my chocolates to be attractive (and perhaps even stylish), I’m much more interested in them tasting good. The back of the little sleeve goes on to say, “Our hand-decorated chocolates are crafted by a European chocolatier who was among the first to create designs directly on the chocolate’s surface. Our collection contains six distinctive styles with exotic fillings such as Grand Arabica and Cardamom & Orange.”
Like most of the other chocolates at Trader Joe’s, these are nestled in a plastic tray with no fluted cups for the candies. While the tray does a great job of protecting each piece, it does make it a little harder to just pluck the pieces out and put them on a plate for serving. I guess we’re supposed to bring the whole box to the table or something.
The inside of the lid provides the key for the chocolates. The varieties include: Cardamom & Orange, English Toffee, Winter Spice, Grand Arabica, Yucatan and Double Hazelnut. While half of them feature a dark chocolate coating, all have a milk chocolate center of some sort. This was not communicated on the exterior of the package, so I was a bit disappointed. However, the pieces are a generous “two bite” size. Not too big so that you can’t have a nice variety to taste and not too small that you don’t get a good burst of the flavors.
I’ve always preferred enrobed or dipped chocolates to molded ones, so these win on that mark. The flavors aren’t as adventurous as some others that look similar and they’re not really that distinctively different from each other. I’d love to have some darker experiences (or at least know that it wasn’t to be).
The packaging is by far the most appealing at Trader Joe’s as well. Just slip off the little sleeve and it’s a sassy looking presentation box. As far as value goes, at $6 for 7 ounces ($13.59 per pound), this is nice stuff with real ingredients. If you know you’re never going to be able to afford the stuff at thrice the price (well, more but saying quintuple doesn’t rhyme) such as MarieBelle, Recchiuti or Richart, this is fun “pretend” chocolates to simply enjoy but not necessarily savor. They definitely come in on the winner side of hostess gifts.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
As disappointed as I was that the Peppermint Peep Stars had artificial sweeteners, I was just as excited to see that Trader Joe’s has Peppermint Marshmallows that are not only all natural, but also Kosher! (Which basically means that they’re using Kosher gelatin, which is non-porcine.)
However, Nicole at Baking Bites already had a review of them, which didn’t say they were bad, just that she wasn’t thrilled with the flavor. I still really wanted to try them, especially because it was Hanukkah.
The large marshmallow cubes come in a little tub and weigh a hefty 7 ounces. The packaging was a bit, well, feminine with all its pink and green-ness. But it was refreshingly un-holiday, which might mean that they’d be an all-year product. When they say that they’re all natural, they’re not kidding. The pink swirls are created with red radish juice.
They’re only vaguely pink with some little streaks of darker pink inside some of them. They were very hard to get out of the tub. The first one I mangled (but put back together for the photo) so I just dumped the whole tub out and lightly teased them apart. (Perhaps some waxed paper between them in the future?)
They felt very strange and fleshy in the hand. A little bouncy, a little latexy and not terribly light for a marshmallow. The outer texture was a little grainy, I’m guessing where the moisture of the marshmallow mixed with the sugar and dusting of corn starch. They smell like peppermint, but on the medicinal side somehow. Like toothpaste. And maybe mentholated rubbing alcohol.
The first time I bit into one I was puzzled and repulsed. I made my husband and a neighbor try it. They were both, well, not thrilled (and I had to give them something nice to eat after that). I waited a couple of days and dug around into the bottom of the tub to see if that was just a bad couple of squares.
It’s like eating toothpaste. They’re kind of fluffy, but not light. The texture is grainy, like a sugar paste. I can only imagine this is a bad batch because Nicole’s looked more like marshmallows and less like wads of chewed bread dough.
I went back and looked at Nicole’s photo and realized that this must be a bad batch. My best indication for this is that the tub weighed over 10 ounces (the marked weight is 7). So I went back to the store on Hyperion in Silverlake. All of the others on the shelf looked the same and were the same lot number, so I passed (and obviously picked up a bunch of other goodies you’ve been reading about this week). I also told the manager on duty that there was something wrong with them. I figured another store would have a different batch. So today I went off on my lunch break to the location on Third and La Brea. Sadly I didn’t memorize the lot number and ended up buying the same lot (1101071730 exp 01/26/2008) and finding the same grainy consistency (and this package weighed 9.8 ounces according to my postage scale).
I shouldn’t have to work this hard. (I haven’t decided if I’m going to take these back. At $4, I want something that’s at least the intended quality, even if I don’t like it.)
As far as buying artisan marshmallows, I’d say stick with either one of the actual artisan companies (Plush Puffs, Little Flower Candy Company & Boule are some good Los Angeles-based ones) or go for the French ones from Arnaud Soubeyran or the Williams Sonoma house brand (I tried them last year but never got around to reviewing them, they’re very dense and latexy but really satisfying). Or just get some Jet Puffed. It’s sad, because these are the first Kosher marshmallows I’ve found.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.