Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Long ago there were LifeSavers Sweet Story Books. They were just a folded box that looked like a book that had a bunch of LifeSavers rolls inside. They still make them, every few years the graphics and the rolls included inside change with fashion.
Trader Joe’s has their own house-branded version of this, called Trader Joe’s Sweet Story. There are six no-artificial-anything, vegan, kosher and gluten-free hard candy rolls inside.
The package design is pretty straight forward, it’s a box with a front flap that reveals a “story” on the inside, which is a little poem about the candies. (Probably not so fun for kids.)
The box is well constructed (and is even printed on the inside). The rolls aren’t revealed inside the box flap though, you have to open it at the top to reveal them, all sealed together inside a cellophane bag.
Each roll is about the size of a LifeSavers product, 1.1 ounces. The rolls themselves are a bit more demure, a color-coded monochrome array.
Opening them was a disappointment and exercise in frustration.
Though it was not humid on Sunday when I bought these and photographed them, the paper-lined foil was stuck to the candies.
I resorted to picking the bits of foil off the candies before consuming (though still got a fair bit of paper in my mouth). Some rolls were better than others, but all had some degree of issues.
Cherry - Sucrets. Without the throat numbing properties.
Orange - really zesty, to the point of being slightly bitter at times. Sweet and tangy.
Pineapple - mild, more like those “low acid” pineapples these days that have a nice floral and strawberry cotton candy flavor but not that tart.
Raspberry - pretty much tasted like raspberry flavoring. A lot of sweet floral “flavor” and some tangy berry notes.
Pomegranate - a combination of raspberry and those winterberry scented candles. It’s trying too hard.
The package was $1.99, which breaks down to 33 cents a roll. Not really a bad price. And the flavor assortment was better than the current LifeSavers array. For those who need something that’s gluten free or all-natural, yeah, it’s a nice way to go. But I sure hope yours aren’t stuck to the wrapping like mine were, because that completely ruined it for me. And bumped my fiber intake.
Other remembrances of the LifeSavers Storybook: The Joy Of ..., Jason Liebig has an actual photo of an old one with the rolls still in it, Candy Critic, and of course The Imaginary World has some (I like this one).
Monday, December 8, 2008
I’m kind of a truffle purist. In my world, a chocolate truffle is chocolate with extra butterfat added to it and sometimes, if you wish, egg yolks. My recipe for truffle ganache is pretty simple: combine 1 cup of heavy cream and 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler on low simmer. Allow to melt over the lowest possible heat, blend well - cool completely before refrigerating to solidify. (I usually double or triple that, but those are the proportions.)
Flavorings like mint extract or orange oil might be added. I usually make raspberry truffles by combining the ganache with seedless unsweetened jam or cognac ones by tipping in some cognac (then keep warm a while longer so some alcohol can evaporate to keep it from getting runny). But the list of ingredients is brief.
They can be rolled in cocoa or crushed nuts but I usually dip them, just because they keep better that way, are generally more attractive and are of course, neater than all that cocoa powder all over the place.
Trader Joe’s has been selling French Truffles for years (though the package changes design from time to time). I tried them once, many years ago and thought something was off about them and never touched them again. Even though they’re an impossible price, at $2.99 for 8.8 ounces. And French! Because, you know, if it’s imported, it has to be good! (That was sarcasm.) I still didn’t buy them and avoided them when offered.
But I was on the prowl this weekend for Trader Joe’s holiday offerings and decided it was time to give these their due on the blog.
Now, I understand how price and mass manufacturing techniques can change a time-tested recipe. So here’s what it’s done to the venerable French Truffle:
Ingredients: Palm kernel oil, sugar, low fat cocoa, whey powder (milk), cocoa powder, soy lecithin, natural vanilla flavor.
If you gave me this list and asked me what that was, I’d say that was mockolate. There is no chocolate in here. No cocoa butter. There isn’t even any milkfat in here. Just palm kernel oil. (And there must be a lot because these clock in with a caloric density of 177 calories per ounce.)
Now, to be fair, Trader Joe’s does not state on the box that they’re chocolate truffles. Nope, they’re just French Truffles. (In fact there’s nothing else on the packaging to describe them except for some little lines that say that it’s all natural and contains no preservatives. Oil is actually a good antioxidant.)
Inside the red box is a tough, gold mylar pouch. The French Truffles are just in there. No tray, no fussy packaging, just in an un-resealable bag.
The little domes of these French Truffles look like flattened spheres of pig iron we used to pick up on the railroad tracks when I was ateen. They look like little rusted bells.
They smell a little woodsy, a little like Elmer’s glue and a bit like cocoa.
The bite is smooth, they’re soft and yielding, but not at all chalky or crystallized like fudge can be.
The melt on the tongue is instantaneous. It becomes runny and slick. The sugar isn’t completely combined as it would be if chocolate was used, so there’s a bit of a grain to it. The cocoa flavors are mellow and rich with a strong smoky component.
They’re not terribly sweet, almost salty (as cocoa can taste sometimes) though there’s no additional salt added to them (the natural sodium is 30 mg per serving). The buttery texture is really compelling and they don’t feel greasy on the tongue or waxy.
All that said, after eating one or two, I don’t feel like I’ve eaten chocolate. I don’t get that same kick.
As a confection, they’re certainly worth the $3 for the box. But to get 80% of my saturated fat in five pieces, especially when that saturated fat isn’t of the non-lethal cocoa butter variety, I think I’ll give these a pass now and in the future. There are far better real chocolate products from France or Trader Joe’s.
Though it’s sometimes hard to tell who makes Trader Joe’s products, I’m quite convinced that these are made by CHOCMOD.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I think chocolate covered almonds but great and probably don’t need to be mucked around with. However, it’s 2008 and it’s not an innovative product unless it contains evaporated cane juice or sea salt. But wait, Trader Joe’s has it all wrapped up here with Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Almonds made with Belgian chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt and turbinado sugar. Could they be more on top of trends? I think not!
What’s turbinado sugar? That’s the large crystal unfiltered stuff you’ve seen before, often sold as Sugar in the Raw or in the UK, it’s called demerara.
They smell woodsy, a little astringent. I expected them to be messy like the cocoa rolled version of chocolate covered nuts, but these were mercifully neat, only bearing a scuffed appearance but not powdery residue.
Without the waxy glaze on the outside, the flavor and melt of the chocolate was readily accessible - and the chocolate was tasty and smooth.
The deep crunch of the nuts were balanced with the high pitched staccato interruptions of the salt and sugar crystals. Not knowing if that little nugget was going to be sweet or salty was kind of fun. But some nuts were extremely salty, to the point where the neighbors and I made faces from time to time. But it wasn’t so bad that we didn’t keep eating them.
I think I’ll probably stick to the plain ones from now on, the Russian Roulette is just to stressful, or if I need an additional salty pop, I’ll go for Sconza’s Toffee Almonds.
Monday, November 10, 2008
They come in two varieties: 100 Calorie Milk Chocolate Bars and 100 Calorie 70% Dark Chocolate Bars.
There are only five in the box, which I’m guessing means these are weekday treats. Priced at $1.99, on the surface it sounds like a decent deal for 3.17 ounces of chocolate that’s from Belgium. But you know what? Belgium is not a factory, it’s not a company, it’s not a brand. It’s just a country. Just because the country has a great history and a good reputation for producing good chocolate doesn’t mean that just because it’s Belgian that it’s better, or even good.
I have gripes with the packaging. First, the bars themselves are 4.75 inches long and 1 inch wide. But the wrapper is inexplicably 6.5 inches long though the box is just shy of 6 inches, so the little ends have to be tucked over in order to fit. The box is simply too big and useless. It could be half the size. Think of how much more shelf space they’d have.
After I got over the insane box and mylar wrappers, I had a small pile of chocolate bars (that traveled nicely intermingled in a zip lock bag with me).
The Milk Chocolate is made from 34% cocoa solids and 18% milk solids, leaving by my guess about 45% or more “sugar solids.” All my jests aside, the ingredients look impressive: real vanilla and for some reason they mention that they use beet sugar.
I liked the shape of the planks, easy to break into pieces for sharing or bite easily without melty crumbs.
The chocolate is silky and sweet. The chocolate flavor isn’t intense but pleasant. The dairy flavors were limited to an ordinary background complement of caramel notes ... no strong powdered milk element here.
It’s not like this is diet chocolate, it’s no less caloricly dense than any other normal chocolate, just molded into a piece that’s exactly 100 calories ... some sort of magic number for the calorie counters. (It does make the math easier, I’ll give them that.)
The 70% Dark is a true dark chocolate which also uses beet sugar and natural vanilla. So it’s extra safe for vegans (some avoid cane sugar which can be purified using bone char).
This bar looked dark and intense, like Italian roasted coffee beans. It smelled like freshly sawn wood. The melt on the tongue was rather slow and a little chalky (as high cocoa content bars can often be). The flavors were smoky and bitter with some coffee and charcoal notes.
Though it wasn’t as candy-like as the Milk Chocolate variety, the 70% was certainly satisfying in the sense that one was more than enough for me.
I like the portion control element and the flat stick shape. I don’t think I need more than 2/3 of an ounce (well, a bit less in this instance) as a little pick me up or treat with some coffee. The price compared to Trader Joe’s other house-branded chocolate offerings though is ridiculous. Even the little 3 Packs of Belgian Chocolate bars are half the price per ounce. And then the Pound Plus bar that goes for about $3.50 brings it down even more with far less packaging (but not an identical product as those are made in France).
I don’t think I’d buy these again simply because there are better values at Trader Joe’s. The Milk Chocolate was the nicer of the two, if I was going simply by which one I ended up finishing first.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.