Thursday, October 9, 2014
Ah, the classic box of chocolates. Each little piece is like a gift unto itself, the chocolate wrapping holds a sweet treasure inside.
These are Thornton’s Classics, a mostly milk chocolate assortment from the United Kingdom. They’re tasty, but sadly the high heat of Southern California has not been kind to them, so I’ll need to get a hold of more someday for a proper review.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
One of the fun things about candy is that it makes a great gift. But it’s not terribly special to grab some pick-a-mix at the local candy shop and drop the twist-tie plastic bag on someone’s lap and consider it a present. Churchill’s Confectionery recognizes that half and sticks their candy in decorative tins.
The company offered to send me a sample of their line. I’ve actually had Churchill’s before, I have a little red London bus tin that doubles as a bank on my desk at work. So when they offered, I thought it would be good to have some fresh candy to try.
They sent two tins, one was this classic looking embossed Carousel tin that holds English Toffees and Vanilla Fudge and another tin that held three trays of biscuits (cookies). I don’t review cookies ... but I did eat them. The tin holds 14 ounces, which is separated into two 7 ounce bags of candy. So it’s not quite the lush look of a tin full of candy until you dump the cellophane bags into it, but they do stay fresh.
I’ve never quite understood fudge, and this version does little to help me out. Fudge is basically a mixture of sugar and butter ... though modern versions use more advanced ingredients. Many candies have the same ingredients; it’s the texture of fudge that differentiates it from caramel or toffee. Fudge has a slight grain to it, on purpose, which is reintroduced by carefully heating it to a precise temperature and then allowing it to cool partially before stirring. Stirring too soon will make the sugar crystals too large and not stirring enough just makes the texture incomplete. (More in this excellent and slightly technical explanation.)
The great thing about fudge is that it’s a wonderful blank slate for so many other flavors, including chocolate or pecan penuche. As this is Vanilla, it’s actually a blank slate. You can see that the ingredients are decent enough. The pieces are well formed and the color is of a camel-colored coat. Churchill’s has mastered the smooth texture style of fudge (I actually like mine a little grainy). It smells sweet and buttery but has no browned sugar notes (And has no brown sugar ingredients, either.)
The pieces are nice little rectangles, wrapped in silver mylar. This vanilla fudge is extremely sweet with only a slight note of actual vanilla bean. A little note of the woodsy bourbon would be nice, or some deeper toasted sugar notes would have pleased me. Overall, this is too sweet. And coming from a person who actually eats sugar lumps from time to time, that’s saying a lot.
I could really only eat these with a very strong cup of coffee or some salted nuts. They’re just too sweet straight.
Rating: 6 out of 10
One of the oddities in the confection world is how the same candy is called different things in different places. What’s even more vexing is when the new word means something else completely. Take toffee. In the United States we know toffee as a hard, crunchy, caramel brittle. But in the United Kingdom, for the most part, toffee is actually what we call caramel. However, I didn’t need anyone to tell me what this was ... I know a caramel when I see one.
They’re nice rounded pieces wrapped in gold mylar, with a soft milky scent. They’re about the size of Coffee Nips, and if Coffee Nips were chewable, that’s what they’d be like. They’re extremely smooth. The chew is stiff but not sticky or tough. The flavor is a bit salty with burnt sugar notes. It dissolves away to nothing with very little left stuck to my teeth.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Both recipes include milk and soy ingredients and may contain traces of nuts. The glucose syrup is also from wheat, so I don’t think it’s gluten free.
There are a wide variety of tin designs available from Churchill’s. They’re very traditional but do feature a few classic tourist items (like the double decker red bus). I don’t think it’s something I’d buy for myself, but with the right contents and design, I could see them as a good quality hostess gift or thank you item.
Monday, August 4, 2014
While in London earlier this year, I made sure to visit some of the finer chocolate shops. One I wanted to go to in particular was one of the Hotel Chocolat locations known as Roast+Conch, where they actually make some bean to bar chocolate. The location in the Borough Market in the Bankside district of London and includes a full restaurant that features cacao as an ingredient in every dish.
After eating a wonderful lunch, my mother and I browsed the store on the ground level. The cacao of the day was Trinidad, with the beans being served before lunch and some pieces of freshly made chocolate served at the end of the meal. So I was sure to pick up a bar of that. Then I also wanted to try another bar from their Rabot 1745 line. Though Hotel Chocolate uses Callebaut chocolate in their other confections, their Rabot line is made in conjunction with Coppeneur in Germany (one of my favorite chocolate makers). I didn’t know that at the time, but now it doesn’t surprise me at all.
I picked out a Venezuela Chuao 70% bar. Chuao cacao has a strong reputation as some of the best beans in the world (here’s a sampling of some bars I tasted a few years ago).
Hotel Chocolat gives extensive information about the handling of the beans and making of the cacao. The bar itself is 70% cacao with just three ingredients: cacao mass, cane sugar and soy lecithin.
The description of this bar from Hotel Chocolat goes something like this: Prima Donna with talent. She’s good and she knows it – an interplay of cream and caramel with malt and raisins, roast nuts and plenty of elegant poise.
Roasting time: 35min @135 C.
Refining & Conching: 72hrs
The bar is wonderfully dark with an interesting texture from the mold. Though it’s rather thick, it’s quite easy to snap.
The scent is woodsy with some green notes like jasmine and olives. The melt is smooth, though it has a bitter note right away, a sort of dryness that gives it an acidic bite. But the buttery texture makes that all quite palatable. I caught a burnt note to it, a sort of smoke but nothing that’s unpleasant. It doesn’t have some of the other nutty notes I enjoy in other Venezuelan chocolate, mostly those from Ocumare. But I’d definitely eat this again, mostly because the texture is so nice, especially since it’s such a high cacao content.
The bar itself just came in the cellophane sleeve with a label, there was no box. The label also didn’t say anything about the conch time or the harvest, just the date the bar was best by. The Hotel Chocolat website says that they use Trinitario beans (which makes sense, since they’re from Trinidad where the varietal originated).
It’s a 75% bar, so it’s only a little bit darker than the Chuao. The texture is far and away different, it’s grittier and sort of rustic in its overall flavors. It’s woodsy with some coffee and black pepper notes, a little toffee and brown sugar as well. It’s kind of bitter, but not overly dry at the finish. The meal we had in the restaurant started with these beans and then later finished with little medallions of chocolate also from Trinidad beans. I like the idea of buying chocolate that’s made right before my eyes, but the reality is that I prefer to eat the chocolate that’s been carefully crafted ... and I don’t have to witness it to enjoy it.
I’ve found that I like a long conch on my chocolate, part of what I like about a good chocolate bar is the texture. In most cases a long conch gives the cacao not only the time it needs to become smooth, but also for the flavors to develop. I did a taste test a few years back with some Coppeneur Chuao that had been conched 70 hours and 100 hours. Much of the mass-market chocolate we consume is conched for less than a day, some for two days ... I found that a 3 day conch is fine for me, anything over that gets kind of muddy in the flavor department but does create an amazingly smooth texture.
The Rabot 1745 line from Hotel Chocolat is a worthwhile way to experience single origin chocolate along with a lot of information about the making of the bar itself, as few chocolate makers include the origin, harvest date, roasting and conch time.
Monday, May 5, 2014
In the battle for marketshare in the confectionery sector, it seems that some candy companies are more interested in getting our business by eliminating competition than gaining brand loyalty with exemplary products.
The latest battle involves old rivals Hershey and Mars, this time over malted milk balls. Mars makes Maltesers and Hershey’s makes Whoppers. But Hershey’s is also trying to assert the exclusive right to also make something called Malteser in the United States.
I don’t have the figures, but I’m going to guess that Hershey’s holds more than 70% of the market in malted milk balls with their Whoppers brand, but not necessarily because they’re the best but because they’re ubiquitous. Though I don’t have current figures, I’d estimate the brand is worth about $40 to $50 million in sales a year.
Here’s a little history. Mars Maltesers were first sold in the United Kingdom in 1937. They were created as a diet candy; a chocolate candy with less chocolate and therefore less fat and calories. They’re also sold in Canada, New Zealand and Australia and exported to many other European countries. They can be purchased in shops that specialize in UK imports. Based on the number of brand extensions I’ve seen for Maltesers on my recent trip to London, I’d say that the candy is a much more important brand to Mars than Whoppers are to Hershey’s. Which may make them appear a threat.
In 1939 an American candy company called Overland, introduced a malted milk ball candy sold under the name Giants, as they were larger than earlier versions called Malt-ettes. In 1949, two years after the company was sold to Leaf Inc, they were renamed Whoppers. There were many other companies that came and went that sold malted milk balls, but Whoppers have been made continuously ever since, even if their corporate overlords have changed.
Leaf Inc was once a formidable sugar candy company, the fourth largest in the US. They acquired many favorite American candy brands, including Jolly Rancher, Hollywood Brands (maker of Payday bars), Heath Bar, and Now and Later. Sometime in the 1960s Leaf started making something called Malteser and even registered a trademark for the name in 1962. I doubt they were widely distributed or advertised, as I can’t find any record of them . In 1983 Leaf was bought out by Huhtamäki Oyj, a Finnish company, which maintained the trademark registration. Mars sued Leaf over this trademark in 1993 and later settled out of court (so we don’t know the details) but Leaf retained the trademark.
For reasons I don’t quite understand, Leaf Inc divested and sold off many of its best brands, most to Hershey’s: Whoppers, Payday, Jolly Rancher and Heath Bar.
Fast forward and lately Hershey’s has been releasing a product called Matleser: a malted milk ball that in all ways except packaging is identical to Whoppers. Though it’s a singular in the name, not Maltesers as the Mars product is, it’s also packaged in red.
The way trademarks work, not only do you need to register the trademark in all territories you plan to exercise it, you also need to use it. So if Hershey’s wanted to keep Mars from using Malteser in the US, by claiming it was an abandoned trademark, they had to demonstrate that Hershey’s wasn’t using it. I was able to find Hershey’s Malteser for sale on both the Hershey’s site and Amazon. I bought a box to confirm that they are just Whoppers in a different package. (They are.)
Mars contends that not only is Hershey’s squatting on the trademark in the United States, but that their packaging is intentionally confusing consumers to think that they’re purchasing the Mars version. I admit, they do look similar and even though I’m the candy blogger, I couldn’t remember of the top of my head if the Mars version was plural or singular until I started this research.
American trademark law is governed for the most part under the Lanham Act which covers trademark infringement and false advertising. The act was also revised in 1999 to encompass cybersquatting, the practice of registering domain names and then sitting on them or directing them to a competitor.
While Hershey’s practices up to the point where they created similar packaging were probably within the letter, though not the spirit of the law, my opinion after looking at the history, reading Mars’ brief on the case leads me to conclude that Hershey’s is just acting scummy. Whoppers are known by 300 million people in this country ... and if it’s not a favorable brand then Hershey’s should improve their quality, price point or packaging to the point where people are loyal to them.
I tried both again, just to check. Neither is great, but the do differ. Both have a mockolate coating, though the Mars version does have some cocoa butter in there. The centers, though both malty, have different textures. The Mars version is more honeycombed and has a easier crunch. The Hershey’s version is more milky tasting with a firm crunch that dissolves nicely. Both are excellent centers ... both have disappointing coatings. I prefer the Mars Maltesers.
I’m a extremely curious if Mars were to introduced Maltesers in the United States if they would change the coating to real chocolate, as they do not make any mockolate products for the American market. However, Mars does not have a good track record for introducing the European candies to the US when there is another similar candy already on the market. They tried this with the Bounty bars, which are similar to Mounds and Almond Joy and they never took hold. Twix was a European launch that was then introduced in the US, but is a unique candy construction, which is how it established itself in its niche.
This is not an isolated issue in the candy business. Many candy companies go head to head in the courts instead of on the store shelves.
- The UK the courts have been deciding whether Cadbury should have exclusive rights to their shade of purple. Currently, the answer is no.
For more reading on the issue, here are some other trade articles on the case:
Friday, May 2, 2014
The trend of making little poppable versions of popular candies extends to Europe, so when I saw these new Cadbury Dairy Milk Pebbles in London, I picked them up. Cadbury already makes several morsel versions of their popular Dairy Milk chocolate. They make Buttons, which are little disks and of course the Easter version, the Cadbury Mini Eggs which have a shell.
Now Cadbury has a shell candy for all year round consumption, completing their entry into the world of morselization. I’ve also seen that Cadbury’s parent company, Mondelez (once part of Kraft) has created bagged mixes that include the Pebbles, mini Oreos, and Maynard’s gummi candies. Kind of like the M&Ms Sweet & Salty Snack Mix that came out from Mars.
Like most Cadbury chocolate products in the United Kingdom, this is not real milk chocolate. It’s what’s commonly called “family chocolate” which is a nice way of saying, “We don’t need to waste expensive cocoa butter on children, we’ll substitute some oil in there.” So it’s a quasi-mockolate product that uses some cocoa butter and some vegetable oil. Still, it’s not like it’s R. M. Palmer mockolate, it’s made from 23% milk content and 20% cocoa content ... then, you know, some sugar and a few oils, natural colors and shellac.
Instead of going with the typical lentil shape, the pieces are like flattened Cadbury Mini Eggs. They’re kind of like guitar picks. The colors are plain, for the most part when I dumped them out of the bag they were a little chalky looking but polished up pretty easily with a paper towel. (I figured they deserved a little spa treatment after being carted partway around the world.)
The yellow ones are a bit strange though, because of the all natural colorings, the ingredients on this particular one is a little odd. It’s kind of like curry ...a little grassy. The chocolate center is smooth, a little malty but with a thin punch of chocolate flavor. The shell is wonderfully crunchy, outside of the odd yellow one. The whole combination is really a great candy, I enjoyed eating them, though it certainly didn’t satisfy my desire for chocolate. I would be interested in trying these in some sort of mixed bag with mini Oreos and perhaps a few nuts.
I doubt that Cadbury will attempt to license this to Hershey’s for production under their deal. So American’s will have to content themselves with imports or just stocking up in the Easter version.
They contain milk, corn and soy. There’s no statement about nuts or gluten. Though Cadbury has started certifying some candies with sourcing information, the Dairy Milk Pebbles did not have a the Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance stamp.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
There was a time when the only choice for candy-coated chocolate eggs for Easter was Cadbury Mini Eggs. Times have changed and there are many versions, ranging from fair trade and all natural to tiny versions with Belgian chocolate to Hershey’s.
The the United Kingdom, there are also plenty of varieties available from store brands. I picked up some from Marks and Spencer, a department store with a chain of grocers. Marks and Spencer is already known for many unique confections, like their line of gummis featuring Percy Pig. I picked up the Marks and Spencer Chicky Choccy Mini Eggs.
They’re pretty bit eggs, at about one inch long. They come in three different speckled colors. The colorings used are all natural, derived from vegetable sources, making the end of the ingredients label look more like the contents of a green smoothie. The ingredients state that the cocoa solids make up 30% while the milk solids are 20% minimum. (The rest is sugar, you know, because it’s candy.)
The shells are quite thick and crunchy. Some natural colors can give a faint flavor to candy shells, but I didn’t notice that here. The shells are shiny and slick (not matte like Cadbury Mini Eggs).
The milk chocolate center is sweet and very milky. The melt is good, a little cool on the tongue with a mix of toasted cereal flavors, a little hint of malted milk and cocoa. The intensity of the chocolate is quite weak, though it’s still a pleasant profile. I found them very satisfying to eat, but definitely not high in chocolate content.
The allergy information is very easy to find. It contains soy and milk and is not suitable for people with nut allergies because of manufacturing methods. Suitable for vegetarians (not vegans) with all natural flavors and colors.
The #1 reason why I love Easter candy: the crunchy candy shell.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
One of the things that I’ve always been surprised about British confectionery is that they’re not terribly interested in malt. They do have one malted milk ball brand, called Maltesers made by Mars. But that’s it. No Easter varieties with pastel speckled candy shells, no snowballs, no jumbo double dipped. It’s just not in their list of classic candies. However, even though Mars hasn’t tried to extend their malted milk ball range, they have done some wonderful and unique things with their malted milk flavors. They make a hot cocoa mix and for Easter they make MaltEaster Bunnies.
There are two versions of the bunnies on the market. They come in the standard single serving size of 29 grams (1.02 ounces) and also in a mini version of 11.6 grams each (.41 ounces) that come in this bag of five. (I think I paid £1.50 for it, which is about $2.50 US.)
The little bunnies are, well, just the epitome of perfection. They’re about two inches high with tall ears and little round bellies with huge feet make them very attractive. The tiny size makes them about two bites each.
Though Mars prides itself on only using real chocolate in their candy in the United States, they’re not afraid to use “family chocolate” in the UK for their confections. Basically, it’s chocolate that contains fillers and cannot be called milk chocolate under the current USDA definitions of chocolate. In the case of MaltEaster Mini Bunnies, the ingredients include extra vegetable fat instead of cocoa butter and whey, which is a milk byproduct.
I’ve had Malteser malted milk balls before, and though I like the centers, I found the milk chocolate coating a little lackluster though certainly better than the Whoppers in the US (made by Hershey’s).
The center of the MaltEaster bunnies is actually a crunchy & creamy Maltesers center. I wouldn’t exactly call it creamy, it’s just a thick sort of malty fudge thing that holds the crispy bits together. The malty bits are crunchy and fresh and have a good malt note to them.
The chocolate is very sweet and matches the center. There’s a milky malt note to the whole thing and a sort of greasy aftertaste in my mouth. They’re a lot fattier than regular malted milk balls, as they do have about 152 calories per ounce compared to about 130 for regular chocolate malted milk balls.
Of the two versions I tried, the mini and the regular, I prefer the regular one. The mound of the bunny’s belly was a much larger reservoir of malt and cream, so the proportions change as you eat it. With the mini, there was a far greater proportion of chocolate, which would be great if I thought the chocolate was good enough to eat plain.
Even though I didn’t think these were as good as they could be if they were made with better ingredients, I’d still buy them again. They’re a unique item and suit my malt leanings very successfully. I’d be curious to see Mars bring this whole line to the United States, though I understand they’ve tried to compete before with existing brands. Back in the 80s they tried going head to head with Peter Paul with their Bounty Bars which are similar to Mounds and nutless Almond Joy.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Nestle Mini Smarties Filled Chick are little hollow chocolates wrapped in yellow foil. Inside is a small handful of mini Nestle Smarties. I kind of made up the name of the candy, the name on the sticker on the base of the foil is
Hollow milk chocolate figure containing mini Smarties. Seems like they could have named them something like Nestle Nestling.
The idea of a hollow chocolate figure filled with other treats is nothing new, but is a fantastic idea that’s utilized much better in Europe since these overprotective Americans think that we’ll all choke on the fillings. Nestle has many different sizes they do for Easter, as well, including a foil wrapped hen filled with Smarties as well, and often sold in a box that looks like a chicken coop with a bunch of the little chicks.
There were a lot of displays of these in grocery stores and drug stores while I was in London, so it was easy to pick up both. Most were priced at about two for one pound, which I thought was a bit steep for 30 grams (about 1.06 ounces) when you factor in that it’s Nestle chocolate.
The milk chocolate isn’t stellar, as it is Nestle; the ingredients are subpar. It wouldn’t qualify as real milk chocolate in the United States, as they use milk whey as a filler. However it’s 25% cacao content and they do use sunflower lecithin instead of soy, so if your kid has a soy sensitivity, you might want to seek the UK Nestle confections. The Smarties also use all natural colors for the shells and rice starch. Still, the label states that it may contain traces of soy, gluten, peanuts and other tree nuts.
For those of you not familiar with them, Nestle Smarties are little chocolate lentils. Unlike many of Nestle’s global brands, they’re not sold in the United States very often, as they have the same name as a pre-existing candy. Instead of renaming them, Nestle just doesn’t compete with M&Ms in the United States. (They do in Canada, though.)
The little chick is rather thin. The chocolate is rather soft, so it was easy to stick my thumb through it to break it up. Inside were 15 little Smarties lentils, far smaller than the regular Smarties. They come in pleasant pastel colors.
The chocolate is bland and sweet and sort of fudgy-thick. It doesn’t taste like something that should be eaten, more like packaging. The texture is decent enough, but I admit I’m spoiled from the Rococo Chocolate I had yesterday, so perhaps the proximity of the reviews is unfair. The Smarties don’t use the same chocolate. They taste nutty, like unroasted peanuts and porridge. The thin, crispy shell is fun. They’re about as good as Sixlets.
Even though I thought this was a marginal product, they’re inexpensive enough to buy and use as place settings for a dinner or give to a child. The interactivity of the candy inside is really what makes this special along with the attention to detail in the foil wrap and mold.
Milkybar is a Nestle white confection bar. It’s made with natural ingredients, but like the Smarties chick, it contains extra whey as filler and some vegetable oils ... but there is real cocoa butter in there. It does seem to have a mix of sunflower and soy lecithin. The other allergens listed on the label were traces of peanuts and tree nuts. While I may complain about the use of vegetable oils, this is 26% dairy, so they’re not kidding when they say milky.
This fellow clocked in a little shy of a full ounce, my guess is the difference in weight between the two is the little Smarties. (Why this one doesn’t get Smarties, I don’t know. They don’t make a white confection Smarties at the moment.)
It smells okay, very “dairy” though I’d also say slightly rancid or just not quite fresh. The texture is good, not as silky as, say, the M&Ms White Chocolate, but still not terribly grainy. The dairy flavors are thick and just unpleasant overall. The whole thing has a bit of a plastic note to it, as if I was eating a foam egg carton, not a white chocolate.
I’m not a white chocolate snob, I actually like the stuff, but this is not good white chocolate. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a Milkybar (I haven’t review them before) but it never impressed me since there are many excellent true white chocolate bars available these days. It’s still fun to look at, and for a child who doesn’t care for the milk chocolate stuff, if this is what they ask for, it couldn’t be cuter, and on top of that, the portion is already controlled.
Nestle has been doing a lot to source their cacao through verified sustainable sources, however, their Easter novelty line does not seem to have any of those certifications.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.