Wednesday, April 9, 2014
While in London I made a point of visiting Rococo Chocolates. I’ve picked up quite a few of their bars in the United States before, I loved the packaging design and the molding of the bar in addition to their choice of Grenada Chocolate Company and Valrhona as chocolate sources. It’s not hard to find their products, they were sold in some of the grocery stores and in most of the food halls at the flagship department stores. But I wanted to see the store for myself, and pick out some individual pieces of their famous violet creams (not a whole box).
The Rococo Chocolate Shop on Motcomb Street is not far from Harrod’s and in an area with a large number of embassies. I mention this because I happened to walk past the Ecuadorian embassy, which I probably wouldn’t have given a second glance except for the demonstrators calling attention to the fact that Julian Assange was in there.
With my limited space in my suitcase, I wanted to bring back something special, something seasonal but also something that would travel well. The Rococo Easter Egg filled with a Selection of Ganaches seemed like an ideal item.
It was expensive, at £11.75 for only 70 grams, but something I wouldn’t find in the United States. The box is lovely, a heavy cardstock printed box with no other branding on it once I removed the product sleeve. The decoration on the box are prints from catalogues of old chocolate molds.
The egg is a common format I’ve seen in Europe for Easter. Some places call them Flame Eggs. It’s a hollow egg, made of two sections that are usually wrapped in foil separately and then filled with a selection of other chocolates, like little ganaches or just a pile of Cadbury Mini Eggs or Smarties. They can be small, like this one, or gigantic centerpiece items that can weigh more than a pound and are meant for a whole family.
Everything inside the box was also neatly wrapped. The egg itself was wrapped in tissue paper, in a print matching the box. Inside the two hemispheres of the egg were the little ganaches wrapped in another large piece of food-grade tissue paper. Even though this had traveled thousands of miles, it fared very well.
The egg piece are wrapped in a nice orange-gold foil that’s easy to peel off. The egg itself is about 3.25 inches high and 2.25 inches wide at the widest spot.
The chocolate egg was formed in two layers, as it kind of cleaves when bitten. The quality of the chocolate is excellent. The tempering is superb, as it looks great with its beautiful glossy sheen and silky melt. The flavor profile is very rich. The toasted notes of toffee and coffee are immediately forward with some bitterness along with a sort of brownie flavor. The shell is 65% cacao, but tasted far darker.
The ganaches inside were unmarked, the package only said that they were a mix of ganaches, so I’m not certain what I had. Here are my guesses:
Milk Chocolate - orange ganache with mango & passion fruit jelly. The light orange truffle center was sweet and tangy with a little note of zest. There was a layer of firm jelly with a wonderful tart and floral flavor, the mango was more forward with only a hint of the passion fruit.
Dark Chocolate - Valrhona Manjari Madagascar single origin. This was a wonderfully reliable piece with a nicely acidic ganache center with notes of cherry and raspberry (which means it might have been a berry ganache). Very good melt and very little sugary grain to the whole thing.
Coffee - Irish coffee white chocolate ganache in dark chocolate. This had a little sprinkling of coffee bits and turbinado sugar on the top. It was much sweeter than I was expecting, not as intense or as chocolatey as I’d hoped. As soon as the coffee flavors developed, it was gone. Maybe if I ate several of them in succession ...
I also picked up a few impulse items. The Honecomb Crunch bar is one of the Bee Bar line, which have a charming bar mold design (see that here). It’s organic milk chocolate with a bit of crushed cinder toffee (sponge candy). The bits of the candy were too small to appreciate properly, but provided a nice toffee note. The milk chocolate was dark and had a lot of cheesy dairy notes, rather in the Swiss style. It’s quite a munchable bar.
Rococo Carre squares are single origin pieces, probably about 7 grams each. They’re each a different color, depending on the source of the chocolate.
63% cacao from Peru’s Chanchamayo Province smells strongly of honey. The melt is quick and a little thin and sweet. It later develops with excellent cherry and raisin flavors: dark and jammy. A very nice munching chocolate, especially if you like those fruity flavors that typify Peruvian chocolate.
Finally, I also picked up four little chocolates from the candy counter while I was there to consume while I was in London. The key piece worth noting was the Violet Cream. This is something of a British traditional chocolate. I’m not adverse to floral flavors, I like them very much ... if I had to rank them, it would go something like this: orange blossom, jasmine, lavender, rose, geranium, elderflower and then violet. I don’t have photos, but they’re as you would imagine, a small dollop of sugary fondant covered in dark chocolate. The texture of the cream center was very nicely done, not grainy at all, not even too sweet. But the violet as overwhelming. There was scarcely a note of chocolate in the coating. They’re simply not for me.
I’ll continue to seek out Rococo Chocolates, the flavor combinations are a little more traditionally British, which is refreshing when so many other brands I’ve tried from the UK seem more in line with the Swiss/Belgian traditions.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
You would think that a candy as special as Sour Patch Kids, first introduced in the 1970s in North America, would be available all over the world by now. Sour Patch Kids are basically sour sanded Swedish Fish (also introduced originally by Malaaco but now made by Cadbury/Adams, now part of the global Mondelez/Kraft snack empire) and have become a sort of genre of candy all on their own. There are a dozen different varieties, from single flavor (watermelon), fruit & berry shapes and odd flavor combinations.
Back in 2012 Mondelez introduced Sour Patch Kids to the United Kingdom under the brand Maynard‘s, which was already known for its kid-friendly sugar candy lines. They weren’t a straight-up import though, the flavors were tweaked to include blackcurrant and instead of being a jelly candy, they were made with gelatin ... now they were gummis.
I actually wasn’t aware of this history before I went to London. All I knew was there were some new Sour Patch Kids flavors not sold in the United States: Maynard’s Sour Patch Kids Soda Popz. The flavors are Cola, Orangeade, Cherryade, Tropical and Apple Fizz. They were easy to find but rather pricey for the 160 gram bag (5.64); they retail for £1.48 or about $2.50.
What originally interested me was the cola. There are Haribo sour sanded cola gummis, but no vegetarian options as far as I knew. Well, if you read closely above, the Maynard’s version contains gelatin (though it’s bovine, so if you avoid pork products, you can still eat these though they’re not marked Kosher or Halal).
Cola was definitely the star here. It’s quite tangy at the start and though I was thinking these might have some sort of fizzy component, they’re just sour sanded. The cola flavor is well rounded with some spicy notes as well as a good lemon and lime zesty citrus bite. The flavor seemed a little more intense than the Haribo Happy Cola, but still didn’t quite rival the excellent Cuba Libre gummis I got last year from Sugarfina.
Orangeade was going to be my second favorite by its description, because I used to like orange soda. But this was strange. The sour start was good, but the flavor got strange after that. It’s sweet but not very orange and there’s a darker note in there, almost like there was a mix up and some tropical flavoring was dumped in there.
Cherryade is weird. At first it tasted like a medicinal cough drop, then it was pleasantly sour, then it went back to the cough drop. It’s almost like a Dr. Pepper, the cherry flavor is that far off from the wild cherry of Life Savers. Of course I’ve never had British cherry soda, so this might be a great imitation.
Apple Fizz is interesting, but only in a disappointing way. At first it tastes like a sour Jolly Rancher, with a little note of actual apple juice ... but then it tastes like I’m chewing on a vinyl children’s wading pool. It’s pretty awful.
Tropical actually tasted like blackcurrant, if that’s possible, with some guava thrown in for soupy sweetness. Definitely distinctive, definitely one I avoided.
For a late entry into the sour sanded gummi, these aren’t good enough to compete, at least in the US. Now, if Cadbury/Adams wanted to make a jelly version of these for the US, I’m absolutely interested. The flavors, however, should be more like our popular sodas: Cola, Cherry-Cola, Root Beer (or Grape if the sourness is an issue), Lemon-Lime and Dr. Pepper (or whatever that flavor is).
Maynard’s Sour Patch Kids Soda Popz are not gluten free.
For a local opinion, hop over to Grocery Gems for a review.
While I was pondering Sour Patch Kids, I saw at the store that there’s actually a new flavor in the current mix. Thankfully they didn’t boot a flavor out of the standard berry, lime, orange and lemon mix, instead they’ve just added in blue raspberry.
I picked up a box, mostly to compare the texture of the gummi version to the jelly version. But I figured I’d give the old blue a try, too. My initial impression without trying them was that blue raspberry was going to be too close to the Swedish red flavor and wouldn’t be distinctive.
The sourness of Sour Patch Kids is distinctive - it’s tart, it’s sandy, but the powder is actually less grainy in the North American version than the UK. It’s immediately sour, but not such a thick crust that it doesn’t dissipate quickly. Mostly I was tasting this for the new blue flavor, but I reminded myself why Sour Patch Kids are fantastic.
Blue is a light raspberry flavor, there’s a strong sweetness to the center with a light floral flavor ... but this is pretty much the profile of the red one (Swedish Fish flavor). It’s not quite as intense, but if you gave these to me with my eyes shut, I don’t think I could tell the difference. In fact, I separated out a pile of blue and red mixed, and at them without looking and really didn’t know the difference. The lime, lemon and orange are easy to pick out, even though they’re all citrus.
There’s no problem, as far as I’m concerned, to simply have another berry flavor in the mix, even if it’s not distinctive. I’ve always wondered why they didn’t have grape though. My favorite will always be orange, it’s zesty and soft and sour. All the right things in all the right proportions.
Monday, March 3, 2014
I’m traveling this week, picking up new colourful and flavourful things to review in the coming weeks.
Do you have a British favorite that I haven’t reviewed yet?
UPDATE: Thanks to everyone for your suggestions! I was able to find a lot of the items, plus a few more I’m looking forward to trying. I have to photograph everything, but they’ll be reviewed in the coming months.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The world of gourmet candy bars is not limited to North America. The United Kingdom has The Grown Up Chocolate Company which currently makes four upscale and unique candy bars. I was able to procure two of them on my trip to New York City late last year.
They’re packaged well in boldly graphic boxes with fun typography. Inside the box is a rather large candy bar, made with all natural ingredients. The bars are 65 grams, which is about 2.29 ounces. Inside the box the bars are held within clear trays and then sealed in cellophane. Each had expiry dates of late January 2013.
The bar that I found most intriguing was the Crunchy Praline Wonder Bar. The package said: Caramelised wafer enticingly slathered in sumptuous praline encased in real milk chocolate, a true wonder bar!
The package had two of these little bars, which is great for me, because a little over an ounce is a perfect portion especially for something that seemed so decadent.
The little bar has an interesting center. It’s a milk chocolate ganache filled with crunchy, flaky and malty bits of wafer. There’s a little hint of hazelnut paste in the filling, but there’s not much to it. It’s the kind of wafer that would make up an ice cream cone. The cereal taste to the bar and the milkiness of the chocolate makes the whole thing taste an awful lot like a chocolate ice cream cone.
One little bar is extremely filling. I liked this quite a bit and would likely buy it again if I ever saw it, even though it’s about $6.
The Glorious Coconut Hocus Pocus is a rather interesting bar. It’s not merely a retread of an Almond Joy, instead they’ve done quite a bit of work to create something a bit more uncommon. The description is: Creamy coconut ganache luxuriantly topped with an indulgent fruit and nut jumble enrobed in decadent milk chocolate.
The milk chocolate then has a little zig-zag drizzle of dark chocolate as well.
The first thing I noticed after biting into it, aside from the coconut flavors, was the lemon zest. It’s quite a different profile, it’s sophisticated and cuts the sweetness of everything else. The ganache center is dry, it’s not a chewy coconut but has a good balance of milky and coconut luxury. The jumble of nuts and fruits is truly that. I got a lot of almonds and a few pieces of zest as well as a piece of apricot at one point.
It’s odd and inconsistent. I wanted more of the fruit and for the nuts to be chopped up just a little more. Biting into a big almond just made a mess. The milk chocolate is sweet, but doesn’t have enough counterpoint for all the other sweet things. I would have preferred a little dark chocolate contrast and actual chocolate flavor. Still ... it’s a really promising bar. I had to pick the right time to eat it, late in the day the sweetness was overwhelming and made me sleepy. Mid morning seemed to work better for the second half of it.
According to their website they have mini bars, which are probably more my speed. I don’t know much about the sourcing of their cocoa or other ingredients, as they don’t say on their website or the packaging. The bars contain wheat, soy, dairy and nuts and may contain traces of peanuts.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
The Cadbury Wispa was introduced in 1981 in the United Kingdom. The Wispa was later reformulated and rebranded as the Cadbury Dairy Milk Bubbly Bar in 2003 (2005 review). Fans of the classic bar clamored for the original, which returned as a regular item in 2008.
The ingredients have nothing special in them that mentions the carbonation (extra nitrogen). It’s just the same ingredients as any Cadbury Dairy Milk bar in the UK: milk, sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, dried skimmed milk, vegetable fat, emulsifer (E442), flavouring. It’s the vegetable fat that sets it apart in the UK from Australia or the US.
Hershey’s recently introduced Air Delight (review) to the US, and wasn’t the first to bring aerated chocolate to the masses. It just doesn’t go over here in the States. I notice a consistent comment from consumers (even if it is from a minority) is that they think that the candy companies are making cheaper candy by putting air in it. The odd thing is that I don’t hear the same thing about marshmallows being filled with air, it’s just part of the texture of the product.
The Wispa bar is milky and a tad malty, slightly salty. It’s not as sweet or sticky as a traditional Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate slab. The aeration helps it melt quickly, but also gives it a drier feeling on the tongue. Often I find Cadbury to be a very soft bar, but this was more crumbly and less fudgy. The bubbles are smaller and denser than the Nestle Aero and many other bubbled chocolates that I’ve tried. It’s no better or worse as far as texture goes, just a slight difference.
The bar contains dairy and soy. No mention of gluten or any nuts. Some of Cadbury’s items are being ethically sourced, including their most popular Dairy Milk Bar in the UK, but the Wispa is not on that list yet. I’m not certain about what kind of vegetable fat is used in the bar, as UK standards don’t require listing it specifically, so there’s no word on its sustainability.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Rowntree’s Tooty Frooties were introduced by the UK confectioner in 1963. They’re little rounded squares of tangy chews covered in a light candy shell. The standard flavor mix includes lemon, apple, orange, blackcurrant and strawberry. They’re made with real fruit juice and no artificial colors.
Rowntree’s was founded in 1862 and introduced some of the most popular confectionery brands in the world, like KitKat, Aero, Smarties and Fruit Pastilles. They were taken over by Nestle in 1988, which has only increased their international reach. But some of the candies they make are still just locally available in the United Kingdom. A coworker picked up this bag in Amsterdam (for 2.50 Euro).
It’s interesting to note that these came out a full decade before Skittles and though they do resemble them in concept, they’re not quite the same.
The pieces are a bit rustic, like artisan chiclets. Most are about a half an inch in diameter, though some are a bit smaller or a bit flatter. They’re softly rounded and have a rather thin shell with a slightly uneven looking colored coating.
They also stick together. The shell isn’t quite as thick or crispy as Skittles or Mentos, so sometimes they get chipped, then the center gets soft and oozes a little. I sense that they don’t travel as well as Skittles either.
The flavors are nice, though not as intense or distinctive as Skittles.
Red is apple, which is all about the sweet apple juice and very little artificial green apple flavor to it.
Purple is currant. I didn’t seem to get many of these. Again, very sweet at first and later a little bit of tartness, like black raspberry.
Yellow is lemon. They’re softly lemony, not quite zesty.
Orange is orange. Like the lemon, more about the juice and less about the orange peel.
Pink is strawberry. It’s summery and sweet, less floral than I’d hoped but also a little on the creamy sweet side.
The flavor variety was completely standard and classic. On the whole, a great candy. This particular bag though was messy as pieces were stuck together. I liked that there were no artificial colors, however, carminic acid was listed so strict vegetarians will have to strike these from their lists.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Rolos were introduced in the United Kingdom back in 1937 by Mackintosh’s, which was a well known toffee company. (Toffee in the UK is generally more like caramel is in the United States, soft and chewy or actually a flowing syrup.) Mackintosh later merged with Rowntree (creator of the KitKat) in 1969 and that company was then bought up by Nestle in 1987. Though Nestle and Hershey’s are huge rivals in the United States, Hershey’s maintains their license for Rolos and KitKats here.
Rolos are available in two formats currently, the rolls with an individual serving and foil wrapped versions which are usually sold in mixes in bags along with other Hershey’s favorites. (Here’s an early Candy Blog review of Rolos.)
Rolo Minis are new from Hershey’s, to go with the other items in the new Hershey’s minis line like Hershey’s Drops and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis. They’re a smaller version of the popular candy, though might not have the precise ratios of elements. The point, I guess, is to provide candies that don’t have all that messy packaging:
Why is it called a Rolo? One of the key features wasn’t what the candy was, but how it was packaged, it was a roll. That’s it. But here it is in a bag. They kind of roll, but just in small circles. They’re just little knobs of milk chocolate with a chewy caramel filling. That could be called anything.
Geometrically speaking, the form of a Rolo is called frustum-shaped. That is, a cone that has had its pointy end lopped off. So the base is wider than the top. In the case of Rolos, there’s also a little rim around the top, which has no purpose as far as I know. There is no logo or any other branding on the candy itself.
The pieces are rather scuffed up from rolling around in that bag. In fact, they’ve come all the way from England, where they were made. Seemed a little odd to me, but these are imported from England and made by, well, I’m guessing Nestle.
Though the chocolate is a bit dry looking, it’s actually pretty good. It’s smooth enough to melt well, the caramel center is stiff enough to provide a good chew but not so hard to pull out any teeth. They remind me of a softer version of Milk Duds back when they were made with real milk chocolate.
Overall, they’re much better, less sweet and smoother than the large version of Rolos. I found myself munching on these a lot more readily than the regular Rolos. They go well in a mix, too, with some nuts and pretzels.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
While cruising around for Christmas candy at the grocery store after a dentist appointment I spotted these Norfolk Manor Crunchy Nuggets. They’re British, I know this because there’s a Union Jack flag on the front of the box. (Which leads me to believe that this is not a product or brand that’s actually sold in England.)
The candy is similar to the Cadbury Crunchie or Violet Crumble bars, a chocolate covered nugget of sponge candy. I can find sponge candy at local candy shops that make their own candy, like Littlejohn Toffee, but they usually do big hunks of the stuff covered in either milk or dark chocolate. The appeal with this product is that they’re just little nuggets in various shapes and sizes, easy to grab by the handful and snack on.
The box says that they’re Milk Chocolate Covered Honeycomb Pieces but in reality the coating does not actually meet the American standard for chocolate, as there is whey in there (considered a substandard filler). So, it’s actually mislabeled.
Inside the rather large box is a much smaller packet of candy. I’d say that this is also misleading, there’s no need and no expected settling for this much candy, which took up about half of the volume of the box. Even if the cellophane pouch that held the candy was completely full, it wouldn’t have filled more than 2/3 of the volume.
The nuggets are cute and appealing. They’re shiny and well coated. None of them were left with little bald spots, which with sponge candy can allow moisture to deflate them.
The honeycomb or sponge candy texture was not as foamy or flavorful as I’d hoped. It was more like Violet Crumble’s dense texture than the Cadbury Crunchy’s pumice type of foam. The flavor of burnt and toasted sugar was missing for the most part, which is too bad because the mediocre, fudgy and milky chocolate-style coating isn’t good enough to make up for it.
I’d find these passable in a mix of other better candies, like some plain nuts, pretzels and chocolate covered nuts. The texture is definitely good but lacks the best qualities of sponge candy and actual good milk chocolate.
I’ve had the package for over month and only managed to finish them up while playing video games after Christmas. (Which is to say, mindless eating.) My opinion of Norfolk Manor isn’t very high after tasting their knock-offs of other iconic British standards like Wine Gums and Jelly Babies.
The package says that it’s made in a plant that processes peanuts and tree nuts. Contains soy and dairy. But it’s gluten free.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.