Friday, January 15, 2010
Rococo is a small chocolatier and chocolate maker based in London. They grow their cacao in Grenada, in a partnership with the Grenada Chocolate Company. They grow organic Trinitario beans which are then turned into bars and fine chocolates at founder Chantal Coady’s space in London.
The design of the packaging and candy itself is charming, quaint and distinctive from other chocolatiers. The flavors she employs are also a distinctive palette of aromatics, spices and florals.
The chocolate is sold primarily in Great Britain, though there are a couple of shops that have mostly the bars in North America. When I was in San Francisco last time I found the line of Bee Bars at Miette Confiserie. The bars are expensive, so I opted for the petite versions - these are only 20 grams each but cost $3.50 (that works out to $39.50 a pound). The bars are about three inches long, so really just one portion.
The packages are beguiling with reproductions of antique French chocolate mold images lined up and printed in pastel colors like purple and olive green in the case of my bars and navy blue, pink and orange for other bars. I picked up Organic Plain Lavender (dark), Organic Milk 37% Cocoa and Organic White Cardamom.
I was a bit surprised when I got home and opened my boxes that there is no inner wrapper. No foil, no cellophane, no overwrap for the box or even glue or tape for the tabs.
Still, my bar was in exquisite condition - glossy and beautifully molded. The bee bar, my guess, is named for the mold that has a little bee with outstretched wings on each segment. There are no honey ingredients.
The Milk 37% Cocoa Bee Bar is quite simple. It’s a little softer than a dark chocolate, though certainly doesn’t bend like a Cadbury bar.
It has the light scent of milk and sugar and a little musky hint or malt. It’s quite dark for a milk which appeals to me, though it still has that light cooling effect on the tongue that’s common in milk chocolate. The melt is silky and smooth though on the sticky side because of the sugar and 17% milk content. The chocolate notes are overshadowed by the milk for the most part, but it’s still a great texture and the fresh dairy flavors are a highlight.
The Lavender Bee Bar is made from 65% cacao and uses no vanilla, instead it’s organic lavender essential oil that gives this bar its pop. The fact that they use oil instead of flowers is different here. I’ve had other bars that use whole flowers to flavor the chocolate and while that does a nice job of imparting complex flavors, lavender buds really aren’t that tasty or smooth.
The dark chocolate is smooth, a bit dry and bitter. The lavender is woodsy with a hint of pine and a whiff of aromatics like menthol. I like the flavor of lavender, it reminds me a lot of rosemary - both go well with all kinds of chocolate.
The bar that was most compelling to me was the White Cardamom Bee Bar. This one was wrapped - both in foil and then a paper-overwrap. The mold of the bar is also slightly different - it’s four sections instead of six.
The bar is beautiful, a light and creamy yellow with specks of spice. The ingredients list 28% cacao (that’d be cocoa butter) and 22% milk.
I love cardamom and love tasting it in candy. This bar utilizes it perfectly, it’s like a rich rice pudding. It’s a little sweet, but the deep nutty flavors of the cardamom, which is kind of like nutmeg, coriander and saffron all in one. I could eat this bar regularly. I wouldn’t mind a little vanilla in it, to give it some bourbon notes, but this is fabulous as it is.
Other flavor combinations I’m eager to try are Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh; Arabic Spices; Basil & Persian Lime; Orange & Geranium and Peppered Mint. For web orders in the US, it appears that Miss Del’s General Store in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At these prices they’re certainly not an everyday indulgence, more of a way to explore the world of flavors.
Monday, September 21, 2009
There’s been a bit of chatter about Cadbury over the past few months. First, Cadbury is going Fair Trade with their most popular product, the Dairy Milk bar. Since the bar is the United Kingdom’s #1 selling bar with $852 million in sales buying only fair trade cocoa will make a huge difference for cocoa growing regions. (It’s also #1 in Australia and India.)
The second bit of news is that Kraft, the global food powerhouse that owns not only a large corner of the cheese food world but also Toblerone, Terry’s Chocolate and Cote d’Or, made a bid for Cadbury.
Cadbury has chocolate factories all over the world and each one has slightly different local takes on the product. Here in the United States the Cadbury Dairy Milk products aren’t even made by Cadbury, they’re made by Hershey’s under a licensing agreement. (But it’s not like Hershey’s even makes it from scratch, the major raw material of the chocolate crumb - a mixture of dried milk and chocolate - is shipped to Hershey, Pennsylvania to be combined on site with sugar and other ingredients to form the end product.)
I found a nice single serve block of Cadbury Dairy Milk from the UK. It was in marvelous condition and looked like it had been stored well at the India Sweets & Spices where I shop - it’s kept at the end of the produce section in the refrigerated area - so it’s climate controlled.
I also picked up a few of the super cute Dairy Milk Buttons, which are little chocolate disks.
For the American version I found a nice back of Dairy Milk Miniatures from Hershey’s Signatures line.
It’s apparent when putting them side by side like this that the American made (on the left) is darker than the UK made one (on the right). What I liked about these two products is that they single pieces of each were similar shapes & thickness.
Both have a nice sheen and are well molded.
I liked the deeply segmented bar that broke easily into pieces. Each is beveled, so it’s easy to snap off and easy to bite.
The bar smells sweet and rather cheesy, like cottage cheese or maybe yogurt. The cocoa notes are sweet, more like chocolate cake than cocoa. In fact, but those together and the closest I can get is this smells like a rich chocolate cheesecake.
The melt is thick and sticky; it’s sweet at first but then gives way to some deep toffee and caramel sugar notes. Then it gets sweet again ... a bit too sweet for me. After two pieces my throat was burning and I had to drink some water and eat some plain crackers.
The melt is consistent. Quite smooth but not silky or buttery. It didn’t feel fatty, it felt fudgy - like the sugar wasn’t quite integrated with the cocoa.
The dairy notes were decent, a little thick in the back of my throat but not as powdery tasting as some other European style milk chocolates.
Overall I would have preferred a much smoother & more chocolatey punch. However, that’s not what the Dairy Milk bar is about, it’s about the milk component as much as the chocolate, since there are near equal proportions. Milk solids clock in at 23% and cocoa solids are 20%. There are also about 5% vegetable fats in there taking the place of cocoa butter.
This is why the front of a Dairy Milk bar doesn’t even say chocolate - they’d have to put the vegetable statement on the front along with it by their current labeling standards.
I wanted to be as thorough as I could, so I also tasted a package of Dairy Milk Buttons which are kind of like Hershey’s Kisses in that they’re little nibbles of chocolate.
They’re about the diameter as pennies (though some were dime or nickel sized). The bottom has a little embossed Cadbury logo.
Each little piece is rather thin, so melts quickly on the tongue. They release the flavors quicker and taste more milky to me. There’s also a slight cool effect on the tongue.
I liked them, and the little shapes are probably very easy to combine with other items like nuts, popcorn or candies for a more varied mix of textures.
The American has a sweet, slightly tangy milk scent with a hint of toasted cocoa. The bit is soft but has a good snap to it. The melt is a bit on the sticky side but not overly sweet.
It has a bit of a fudgy flavor and texture, though much creamier. I wouldn’t go so far to call it silky, in fact parts of it were downright gritty. It had a good toasted & smoked taste to it, much darker in taste than the traditional Hershey’s or Mars.
The overt flavors are definitely of the dairy products, not of the chocolate.
It is Kosher ... the UK bar has no Kosher mark.
Okay, so they’re similar but not quite the same. I did some investigating on the labels:
First, it’s the ingredients.
Cadbury Dairy Milk from Bournville, UK
Cadbury Dairy Milk from Hershey, USA
Since the portions & packages were so different, I did a little Excel magic on them and standardized it to compare:
From what I can tell, there is a just a smidge less fat in the American but slightly more sugar ... now these are tiny, tiny amounts. Not enough, as far as I know, to account for the color difference. Also, the UK labels are more precise - American standards allow rounding, UK measures in tenths.
I have no preference, except to say that I don’t care much for plain Dairy Milk. I prefer it with nuts in it and they do have an ample variety of bars that have nuts. It’s just too sweet and doesn’t have enough of a cocoa punch. I’ve become spoiled by the high cocoa content of products like Scharffen Berger and Amano when it comes to just eating by the piece.
For those in the United States, the British made bars can be found at import shops and places like Cost Plus World Market. For those in the UK, I’m sure it’s near impossible and pointless to get the American made stuff.
So it all comes down to personal preference. There are lots of folks who prefer the American made because it’s what they’ve grown up on. It’s a little bit firmer because of the all-cocoa-butter content but not quite as milky as the classic British made bars. Have you had both? Which do you prefer?
Friday, September 11, 2009
When I was in college at Humboldt State University one summer I house-sat for a friend and as a thank you they gave me some tickets to see Twelfth Night at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. So my best friend and I packed up her rabbit puppet in her yellow Dodge Dart and we hit the road for the journey to Ashland to see the show.
The theatre was in the classic outdoor Elizabethan-style, except for the electric lights and assigned seating. The show was fantastic. In addition they also had an amazing selection of treats and sweets to consume during the show. At an intermission I picked up a roll of Callard & Bowser Licorice Toffee. The roll was long and had individually wax-wrapped pieces. I was ill informed what they were, I was expecting buttery hard candy with a licorice note to it. Instead it was what we call a caramel here in the States and it had a pleasant spicy & woodsy flavor. I ate the whole roll right there during the show.
Over the years I found them here and there but the last time I had some was when I was in London sometime late in the last century.
Callard & Bowser was a British founded in 1837 and the maker of toffees but most notably to Americans are their Altoids mints. They were swallowed up by Kraft, which later spat them back out in 2004 to Wrigley’s ... which in turn was bought out by Mars last year. Somewhere along the way they discontinued the Licorice Toffee. So I no longer look for it. Instead, I’ve been on the prowl for alternatives and found a few promising options to suggest to readers. Today, I present to you the Walkers’ Nonsuch Liquorice Toffee.
Unlike the other Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffees I’ve reviewed so far, these are individually wrapped in twisted paper-backed foil. The wrapper is cute & easy to identify as licorice since it’s a simple black & white design with a checkerboard pattern and red text.
Each little nugget is a little bigger around than a quarter and a lovely lump of sugar, sweetened condensed milk and treacle. It also features real liquorice extract as well as oil of aniseed.
They’re softer than the bar toffees; it’s an immediate stiff chew that softens with heat & mastication. The flavors are buttery and dark - not so much licorice but a soft anise with deep woodsy tones that reminded me of pumpernickel bread and spice cake. It’s smooth and satisfying.
I found the 150 gram (5.3 ounces) package to be completely inadequate (but it’s partly my fault for sharing these with my other licorice loving friends). The good news is that I got them at India Sweets & Spices and have also seen them listed online at The British Food Shop down in Orange County and if I get really desperate I can order online at Licorice International (though more than twice the price I find them locally).
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
It’s odd how I look back into the Candy Blog archives when I pick up a new candy and see how seasonal some of my finds are. Over the weekend I went out to India Sweets & Spices for a tasty & dirt cheap vegetarian Indian lunch. The restaurant (which serves cafeteria-style) is also a grocery store. In their refrigerated section, right next to the yogurt & kefir is where they store their candy. I was pretty pleased to see a large selection of Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffee which I really enjoyed two years ago this week.
They carried the nutted varieties, both Roasted Hazelnut and Brazil Nut plus the Fruit & Nut (raisins in caramel?). I opted for the Roasted Hazelnut Toffee.
The package looked pristine. The last packs I got, and everything I’ve seen on other candy review sites show the bars mushed. This one still had its sections intact - I’m guessing since it was stored in the cooled boxes.
The bar is a big slab weighing 3.5 ounces but only about 4 inches long and 2 inches wide - so it’s a dense mass of boiled sugar and milk. It’s scored into 10 pieces and whacking it on the side of the table seems to split it along those marks ... for the most part. (I hit it one time on one of the nuts and got, well, nutmeal for my troubles.)
The hazelnuts are pressed into each piece - one per piece ... there aren’t more hiding within.
While it’s called toffee in England, here in the United States I consider this caramel. It’s firm but softens easily in the mouth or warmth of your hand and makes a satisfying stiff chew. It stays completely smooth until it’s gone - no graininess at all.
The hazelnuts were roasted to perfection - crunchy, buttery and nutty. The combination of the texture and the burnt sugar notes & butter of the caramel was amazing. I wanted to gobble the bar up, but of course it has a limiting factor on it ... the caramel must be chewed and it takes time.
I wish there were twice as many hazelnuts. But still, pieces without nuts were awesome. No hint of rancid butter or nuts (which I do get sometimes with caramel products). Even better - I got this bar for $1.09 (I paid $1.77 for the last ones I bought). It’s a great deal for a quality product.
If I can’t get this again soon, I might just make my own hazelnut caramels.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
While wandering around Mel & Rose’s wide selection of imported mass-produced candies I finally found Galaxy Minstrels in single sized packs.
The package seemed light and didn’t seem to have a lot of candy in it, but I’m always game for something new to me.
Galaxy is a chocolate brand made by Mars and sold in the UK and selected parts of Europe (if the languages on the back of the package were any evidence, I’d say Greece/Cyprus and Spain). Though many folks consider Dove to be the American equivalent of Galaxy, there are a few subtle differences. (My previous Galaxy review.)
Minstrels are big, about .75 inches in diameter. They’re like giant M&Ms but the proportions are more like Nestle Smarties - a bit flatter.
All of the candies are dark brown ... no color varieties here. These are serious candies, somber and easy to pick up.
The flavor is like chocolate milk, slightly weak but sweet & rich chocolate milk. It’s not strongly chocolate ... it doesn’t even have a distinct cocoa flavor, it’s more about milk. The crunch of the shell is good - crispy and without any additional flavors (like I experience with Smarties, which have a bit of a Cheerios flavor).
They’re completely different from M&Ms as far as I’m concerned, they’re more like white chocolate than milk chocolate. Looking at the ingredients list I can see that they’re not even qualified to be called chocolate in the United States, which has more stringent standards than the UK, which allows vegetable fat and whey - though it still has a strong proportion of cocoa butter as it is the second ingredient. (I’m lumping this in both the mockolate and chocolate categories.)
They’re really nice, I had two packages and ate both. There’s a slight malty tone to it, it’s milky without being sticky sweet like Cadbury and of course the bold disks make them fun to play with. If these were widely available, I’d certainly pick them up regularly, especially to pair with pretzels, Sugar Babies and almonds for a summer trail snack.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
This tray of Limited Edition Easter Mallows is huge. Even though it only weighs 5.29 ounces, the large tray made it look like there was a lot of candy in here.
The clear tray holds the 10 chocolate covered marshmallow domes. They’re cradled well, and though a few of mine were cracked (could have been me treating the package roughly), none of them were leaking.
The candy construction is simple. A round cookie (biscuit) base with a dollop of Jaffa orange jam, then a heap of marshmallow, all covered in Cadbury milk chocolate.
They’re about 1.75 inches in diameter and about .75 inches high. The bite is soft and the chocolate shell is crisp and adheres pretty well to the marshmallow.
They smell like dairy milk chocolate before biting, but after biting through to the jam center, it’s definitely orange. The flavor of the jam is rather like marmalade, with a strong zest component along with some sweet syrup and tangy juice to it. The cookie base is soft and crumbly, like a graham cracker. The marshmallow, though soft and passable didn’t do much for me one way or the other. The milk chocolate coating is very sweet and has a dried milk flavor to it.
On the whole, these are very appealing. I really liked the flavorful punch of the center much better than the filled marshmallows I’ve had from Asia.
They were expensive though, at $2.99 for the tray (but I felt like I’ve been leaving my UK reader friends out lately). I’m not quite sure what makes them an Easter candy (maybe if they were egg shaped) or if there’s a non-Easter version that these are based on. The Cadbury site was no help. (But I did find out that these are sold at Aldi in the UK.)
Each Easter Mallow has 65 calories.
The gelatin is made from pork, so these are definitely not Halal, Kosher or vegetarian.
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 10, 2008
So I greeted these Disney Happy Holiday Chocolate Figurines in milk and white chocolate with a bit of an eye roll. However, I did look over the package pretty carefully before opting to pay the $1.99 and saw a few things that convinced me that these might be worth the premium royalties to the Disney company.
First, the ingredients are all natural. Second, they’re made in the United Kingdom, not China or Brazil. Third, they list the actual cocoa solid content on the back (30% for the milk chocolate). Fourth, the white chocolate is real, there’s no palm oil or coconut oil in here. Fifth, the product is nut free (and also says it’s suitable for vegetarians).
They’re specific about the lengths that they go to and further, they give actual contact information for the company. Not some silly info email address, an actual person with a real email address and phone number (I didn’t try it though).
The box and little molded chocolate shapes reminded me of Advent calendars. When I browsed through the annoying but pretty complete Kinnerton website I found that they do make Advent calendars and most of their products are marketing tie ins with branded characters like The Simpsons, Barbie, Spiderman and Disney.
The chocolate pieces came in three different designs:
Winnie the Pooh sits there looking kind of rolly polly. Eeyore with his little bow-tied tail looped over his leg with one paw up, he seemed kind of happy. And Piglet was holding a jar of huny.
The milk chocolate is smooth and tastes a lot like powdered milk. It’s super sweet but also has almost no grain to it, even though it’s pretty sticky it has an excellent mouthfeel and melt.
The white chocolate tastes like Easter, through and through. A bit on the grainier side, there’s a strong milk and fake vanilla flavor. The cocoa butter background does a good job of allowing the flavors (such as they are) to come through.
Overall, a little on the pricey side. However if you have a kid with food allergies, these have no other compromises. They’re cute, the piece size is excellent for little ones and the design of the tray & pieces is well done. However, the little icons aren’t exactly holiday themed, just the box that they come in.
The packaging also had Walgreen’s information on them, so I’m guessing these are packaged for sale in the US just for their chain. The Kinnerton website mentions Aldi as well as Toys R Us as distributors.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.