Friday, December 29, 2006
Here’s another trend among cooks that’s filtered into the candy world: artisan salt. The most common place to find this in confections is in caramels. Sometimes it’s grains of sea salt sprinkled on top, sometimes it’s just a saltier caramel. It’s not like caramels didn’t always have salt in them. When I make my own caramels I usually use both salted butter and a pinch of salt because I think it brings out the caramelized flavors better.
But of course the gourmets weren’t satisfied with plain old table salt or the more upscale Kosher flake salt, now they insist on curiously-colored and super-expensive sea salt crystals from Hawaii, France or New Zealand. They like to remind us of the grand history of salt and how our word for salary comes from the same root and why that means we should pay oodles of money for dried sea water. Frankly, it all looks like the stuff that we used to throw on the sidewalk when it got icy.
All that said, I welcome the new attention to salt as a way to bring out natural flavors. And I welcome Trader Joe’s foray into the salted caramel market because it’s actually affordable. The Shaker-style box that they come in is cute. Inside the box are two plastic bags with 7 ounces of caramels each. Not really as pretty on the inside as I might have hoped for $6.99 a box (maybe a little wood shavings or excelsior?).
The caramels are beautiful. Luminous and even looking, they’re smell like butter and burnt sugar. They’re individually wrapped in neatly folded clear cellophane. They’re sizeable morsels as well, each is two bites in my estimation. They’re firm to the touch but easy to bite apart.
While some salted caramels have grains of salt sprinkled on top, these are completely incorporated (like the Charles Chocolates and unlike the Fran’s) The salt is very apparent on the tongue but the smooth chew and the buttery mouthfeel come through loud and clear.
I liked them. I’m not sure I really want to eat all 14 ounces of them (that’s what’s good about the two packets in there instead of a large single one), so I might come up with some interesting things to do with them, like making a hard sauce for bread pudding.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
I know it’s Halloween, but I’ve decided to cover chocolate covered fruit today. I’ve just had a craving for it, maybe it’s because it’s fall or maybe it’s because I’m lacking some micronutrients or something. I’ve also discovered that chocolate covered fruit is great for snacking on while writing. Especially when mixed with a few nuts like plain raw almonds and pretzels.
Trader Joe’s and their wonderful panned candy supplier have done it again. I just spotted Figments a couple of weeks ago and picked them up immediately. They’re dried black mission fig pieces covered in dark chocolate.
The pieces are quite variable, some as large as the tip of my finger and others the size a sunflower seed. The big ones, of course, were the best because there was a high density of both chocolate and fig. The figness got lost in the smaller pieces.
Dried figs have a wonderful earthy flavor to them, less sweet and tart than raisins. There’s the added bonus of the texture of the seeds, which some people don’t care for, but I think of as tree caviar.
Sometimes the chocolate overpowered the figness and sometimes the figness just wasn’t very powerful. This is definitely an excellent treat to have by your side when writing a novel. (Which I plan to start tonight at midnight, but have sadly eaten all my Figments already.)
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Every great candy has variations in size. Of course shrinking or enlarging a candy doesn’t necessarily make it better, in fact, it usually makes it different. Same components, just different ratios.
Trader Joe’s has gone and mucked around with their Peanut Butter Cups. These are made by the same manufacturer but are wee-tiny. Seriously, you can hardly call them cups. They look like knobs. Little peanut butter and milk chocolate knobs.
The little knobs don’t have flat tops, so they don’t sit quite right, they roll over easily. The easiset way to line them up is to have the top of the cup facing down ... which makes them more knob-like.
The ratio on these definitely leans towards chocolate over peanut butter. The chocolate is cool and sweet and slightly grainy, but matched well with the dash salty peanut butter.
It’s quite easy to just grab a handful of these out of the tub. And of course being chocolate they start to melt in your hand and you have to pop them in your mouth ... then you’ve got an empty hand and need to repeat. So the tub can go quickly. I know it’s tempting to want peanut butter cups with out the little fluted paper cup so that you can shovel them into your maw faster, but really no one needs anything to improve the efficiency of gobbling Trader Joe’s candy.
In the end I kept eating them because I wanted more peanut butter. I think I’ll stick to my Reese’s miniatures.
Note: Yes, I’ve been eating a lot of peanut-heavy candies lately, I credit it to the change in the weather. Some people think fall is all about spice, I think it’s all about nuts.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
If you’ve ever been in a Trader Joe’s, you’ve probably found the candy overwhelming. You may also have found that they have a lot of house-branded products. Luckily they’re inexpensive enough for you to shrug and throw it in the cart and give it a whirl. I’ve had a few bad experiences, but most are pretty darn good.
I’ve resisted these lilac foiled bars for a long time. They looked a little dowdy to me, and I’m all about the hot new candies. They come in a three pack - each bar is a single portion, so it’s easy to stockpile them, but also to have an immediate fix.
The Dark Chocolate bar is smooth and shiny and smells a little smoky and sweet. It has a nice melt, but a smidge of grain/chalkiness. It’s not too sweet and has a slight dry bite to it.
Overall, it’s a good deal and the size of the bars (1.75 ounces) makes it easier to tuck them in your bag for later indulgence instead of a larger 3.5 ounce ones that you often see. Still, if I were looking for fully satisfying indulgence I’d still go for a Chocovic and I also enjoy the Trader Joe’s Organic Dark Chocolate with Pecans and Raisins.
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
I do love banana chips, but I gave up eating them quite a while back when I realized how much fat they had in them. I’m not saying fat is a bad thing, but somehow I figured a piece of chocolate was probably better for me than a banana chip.
Enter the Milk Chocolate Covered Banana Chip.
They’re not the most appealing looking treat, in fact, if you put these in a bowl and offered them to me, I’d probably decline. They look kind of like deformed chocolate ears. (I’m not sure, for the record, that I’d want to eat candy that looks like perfectly formed chocolate ears either.)
I don’t know what possessed me to buy these, but I am glad I did. It took a few bites to get used to them.
The chips themselves aren’t quite crisp, they have a little oily bite to them, but it goes oh, so well with the mild milk chocolate coating. The banana chip is thin and has that extra banana punch to it, the milk chocolate is super sweet but balanced by the cracker qualities of the chip. The chips also have this strange “cool” feeling on the tongue that just makes me want to keep eating them.
What’s even better was the price. At $1.69 for 10 ounces, it’s not bad at all for a chocolatey treat. Don’t kid yourself that chocolate covered dried fruit is in any way good for you - one serving of this has half your day’s ration of saturated fat ... and um, I’m not sure how many servings is in half the tub, but I think I’m on a restricted diet for the rest of the week to make up for this. After all, candy is a sometimes food.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Name: Italian Soft Almond Nougat
When I was a kid we got rather eclectic Christmas stockings filled with candy treats that we never got any other time of the year. Christmas candy was unlike any other in our house or for any other holiday, it was a trip around the world in an oversized sock. English hard candies, Swiss & Belgian chocolates and Italian Torrones. I’ve been having a hard time finding Torrones the past few years here in Los Angeles, I used to get them at Cost Plus World Market, but haven’t seen them for quite a while. This is why I was so excited to see that Trader Joe’s had these when I was there last weekend.
Torrones are soft nougat usually flavored Amaretto, orange, vanilla or
lemon. Most European countries have their own version of the Torrone, the French do nice nougats, in both the soft and hard varieties and the Swiss Toblerone bar has hard honey nougat bits in it and the Spanish are well known for their version, the Turron. The European nougat is rather different than what you find in the American candy bar trade. Trader Joe’s has carried nougat in the past in long bars, but I’d never seen these Christmas classics before. They’re individually wrapped pieces in its own little box and gives a little history:
There are 18 of these little individually wrapped packages, boxed together. The torrone is soft and pliable white nougat that is and is sheathed in an edible, tasteless wafer to keep it from sticking. The slice of nougat has a lot of nuts but is not as “fluffy” as some others, in fact, it looks downright flat. The pieces are ample, like one of those big block pencil erasers. The scent is very nice, sweet and with a good
dose of honey in there. It’s good and soft, so it’s not going to remove any dental work, sweet and it dissolves quickly and mixes with the delicate almonds. The flavoring is a little odd. Most Torrones are one flavor but this one seems to be a mix of lemon and amaretto. But neither is very apparent so it just ends up being a subtle essence.
Overall, they’re not quite satisfying my jones for a good Torrone, but they are fresh and here so they’ll do for now for the stocking stuffers. They’re certainly cheaper than some others I’ve bought but I miss the fanciful pictures of Italian royalty on the individual boxes. The biggest drawback of the overpackaging (plastic wrap, boxes inside bigger box) is that it’s quite obvious how many you’ve eaten when there’s a huge pile of torrone detritus next to you on the couch.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Friday, November 4, 2005
Everyone’s talking about Choxie. Probably half of you reading this right now are here because of a Google search for Choxie. Under a huge marketing blitz, Target is running national commercials that feature go-go dancers extolling “Cha-cha-cha Choxie. Chocolate with Moxie!” They’re having free tastings this weekend (Sunday, November 6th from 1-5 PM at all locations).
A couple of weeks ago my husband picked up some new candy at Trader Joe’s called “Slate of Bliss.” Very cool, I thought. Then I went to Target and saw the SAME thing under their Choxie label called simply “Thin.” As Trader Joe’s is well known for their repackaging of food under its own label, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. The Choxie is $2.50 a package, the Trader Joe’s is $1.99 ... a 20% savings. The biggest question is who makes the candy for both Target and Trader Joe’s? Actually, the biggest question is ... is it any good?
Since the packaging is identical (a clear cellophane inner wrapper and a matte cardboard box) and the sizes (2.5 ounces) and flavors are similar (Trader Joe’s carries only two flavors, both are included in the Choxie line, but Target has added selection on top of that) I’m going to treat them all the same.
Slate of Bliss - Espresso and Milk Chocolate: I’m not sure why I’m starting with this one, because I was most disappointed with it. The milk chocolate base is sweet (32% cocoa solids) and has that European milk chocolate taste. On top are crushed Arabica espresso beans. The beans are crunchy and of course taste like coffee. They’re not bitter, but definitely have a lingering taste to them and oodles of caffeine. 7 out of 10.
Choxie - Toffee Ginger Thin: I’m a ginger nut, and I love toffee too, so I had high hopes for this. I was a little leery of the milk chocolate base though from the description, as I thought the sweet toffee and crystallized ginger would be set off better by semi-sweet chocolate. The label does not say how much cocoa solids are in the chocolate, and it’s definitely a different chocolate blend than the espresso Slate of Bliss. The milk chocolate is not as dairy smooth, but very sweet and lacks a chocolate punch. The toffee is nice, but I didn’t think there were enough bits on it and the ginger chunks were few and far between (when breaking the whole thing into 8 pieces, two ended up without ginger). 7 out of 10.
Slate of Bliss - Cacao Nibs and Dark Chocolate: I’ve had a few premium bars this year that have cacao nibs in them, and I really enjoy them. They’re like nuts, only chocolate! This bar has a wonderful cocoa aroma to it. Smoky and roasted with a slightly fruity fragrance. The chocolate here is only 54% cocoa solids, but instead of being overly sweet, it has a wonderful creamy cocoa butter melt. The chocolate is smooth with no hints of grainyness and the nibs give it a punch to highlight the nice apricot and cherry notes to the chocolate. 9 out of 10.
Choxie - Peppermint Marbled Crunch Thin: The sassiest of all the packages, this one is exactly what you’d expect from looking at it. A rich semi-sweet chocolate with a little marbling of white chocolate on top and some crushed peppermint candies. There’s no indication of the cocoa solids on this one, but with Sugar as the first ingredient of the chocolate, I suspect it’s less than 50%. The chocolate is slightly more astringent than the chocolate in the Slate of Bliss Cacao Nib one, but the light bitter/dry finish helps to buoy the lighter note of the mint. Though the bar smells mostly minty, it’s definitely chocolatey on the tongue. 9 out of 10.
Now, there’s been some talk in the comments section of this blog about BruCo being one of the company’s that’s making Choxie (I suspect that Choxie is made by several different candy manufacturers to Target’s standards). I don’t know BruCo well enough to comment on that. The two BruCo bars I’ve tried were not at all similar to anything that I’ve seen as part of the Choxie line. I’ve also heard that Vosges is making some of the candy (specifically the chocolate bars and some of the truffles - especially since the flavor of Vosges’ Red Fire Bar is similar to the Choxie Hot Chocolate Bar), but again, I have no confirmation on that. No matter who makes the stuff and my opinions on the flavor combinations, it’s all good quality with fresh and real ingredients.
UPDATE (11/15/05): I got an email from a very helpful reader that pointed me to Veritas Chocolatier who makes something called True Flats which looks EXACTLY like the Trader Joe’s Slate of Bliss packaging shape and of course the flavors.
Monday, September 26, 2005
I’ve seen these tins at Trader Joe’s for about a year. While I was fond of the idea of a tin of chocolate instead of a foil wrapped bar, I just didn’t get a good feeling from the package. I was worried that the chocolate would taste tinny or perhaps be chalky.
Happily, as you can see from photo the wedges are shiny dark chocolate with a good snap to them. They’re simply bittersweet Belgian chocolate that’s been repackaged here in the states in Chinese made tins.
The chocolate is 70% cocoa solids but it’s still rather sweet for bittersweet. The sugar is most apparent upon first resting a bit on the tongue. Then it melts pretty easily with only a slightly uneven grain to it. It’s got good chocolate notes, mostly in the lower, earthy range without the higher acidic and fruit notes. The smoky quality is there as are the woodsy tones. The cocoa butter is really nice and light and allows the flavor to spread easily, there is only a slightly dry finish to it.
The grain is a little distracting and the sugar a little too apparent. However, I did just what the package shows, I traveled with this chocolate, putting it in my bag and taking it on a humongous two-day road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back and it not only weathered it well, it was a welcome treat.
Rating - 7 out of 10 (I’m keen on trying the flavored chocolate wedges, too)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.