Wednesday, January 14, 2015
It’s odd to think that the 10 most popular chocolate candy bars have been around longer than most of us. Those bars are Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers, M&Ms, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate and KitKat, all of which were introduced before 1950. Plenty of candy bars have come and gone over the past century, but it’s so crowded at the top with those tried and true favorites. I bring this up because it’s rare for me to remember the introduction of a new candy bar that’s actually still on the market 25 years later.
Hershey’s launched a new line of chocolate bars in 1989 with a simple idea, that they were a little creamier than their famous Milk Chocolate and Milk Chocolate with Almonds. They came up with the brand called Symphony and introduced them with actual fanfare ... commercials featuring classical music.
Their tagline was pretty good: They’ll never be another unfinished Symphony.
The packaging design is largely unchanged since their introduction in 1989. There are two different bars in the line, the same as at the launch. There’s a plain milk chocolate bar (with red accents) and the Symphony Creamy Milk Chocolate Almonds & Toffee Chips with blue accents. Though they’re both still on the market, the Almond and Toffee Chips is the easiest to find, since it’s distinctively different from those other top 10 bars.
The bars themselves have changed quite a bit, partly because Hershey’s no longer wraps their bars in foil with a paper sleeve. The Symphony bar I picked up bore a striking resemblance in shape to the Hershey’s Almond bar ... once I opened it, it was pretty clear why. It’s now the same mold. The previous versions of the bar had segments with the Symphony logo at the center of each.
The current ingredients are not at all premium:
I found a wrapper online from 2001 that tells a simpler story (but the current bar is .1 ounces larger):
When I was photographing the bar, I noticed that it had a lot of voids and bubbles in it, so I weighed it to make sure that it was accounted for in the bar. Sure enough, the bar weighed 43 grams, the wrapper states 42 grams.
Though it looks like a Hershey’s chocolate bar, it doesn’t taste like it. That’s not to say that it’s spectacular or that different from many of the other inexpensive chocolate bars, but it definitely doesn’t have the Hershey’s sharpness. Instead of the bar is fudgy sweet, so sweet that there’s very little chocolate flavor. The dairy notes are good, and combine well with the toasty flavors of the toffee chips and almond bits. It’s exceptionally sweet overall, only the inclusions give a little relief.
For the most part the bar gave me a sore throat. The combination is refreshing for the price point, but for a little more I could just get a Ritter Sport bar or even a Toblerone (but really the same price per ounce), since their bars are two times or more the size). If Hershey’s wants to step up their game with this bar, I think it needs a brand refresh - I’m not saying they need to go dark chocolate, but actual better chocolate like the Bliss line or going with a certified cacao source would help it stand out.
Monday, January 12, 2015
The box is very simple and reminiscent of the Lindt Lindor range of truffles. They’re quite similar in many ways. The back of the box notes that this is a classic redefined. Then it goes on to mention the filling is made with nourishing coconut oil. It’s no wonder then that I think these are the fattiest fat bombs I’ve ever reviewed, at 180 calories per ounce (note: I think the Ferrero Raffaello ended up at the same calculation in review, but newer packaging has it down to 170).
The ingredients are 97% fair trade (probably the milk ingredient is keeping it from 100%) and all organic (except for the natural flavors). The cacao is only 58%, which seemed a little paltry for something called black. There’s also milk in there, which is disappointing as well, since I thought maybe these were vegan. (The top of the box says “made with pure coconut oil” which I guess is just to distinguish it from Lindt’s Lindor line which uses palm kernel oil in addition to coconut.)
There are a lot of little symbols on the back: fair trade certified, non-gmo, organic, gluten free and carbon neutral. There’s no soy in there, either, though the chocolates are made on shared equipment with soy, hazelnuts and almonds. They’re not kosher (though Lindt Lindor truffle range is.)
They look like Lindor, little chocolate spheres, with a small seam around the center where you can press carefully to separate the sides if you wish. Alter Eco has a little fluting on it. They’re glossy dark and smell quite rich.
The Ecuadorian chocolate shell is dreamy smooth. There are lots of berry notes like dark cherries, blackberries and a little hint of coffee and tobacco. There’s an acidic finish to the shell, but it’s moderated by the filling if you eat them together. (I seemed to end up with more shell than filling at some point, either at the beginning or the end of each piece.)
The center is smooth and varies in texture depending on the temperature. It was quite cold in Los Angeles when I prepared this review, so the centers were very firm and almost fudgy to the bite. (My little candy studio was about 62 degrees.) At a more normal room temperature like 70, the center is like a whipped cream, quite soft to the bite but not flowing. The flavor is a thinned out version of the shell. The milk doesn’t do much, it’s mostly coconut which doesn’t provide any additional flavors here, except to keep the berry flavors muted.
These are very expensive, I think about $7 or $8 a box. I got mine on sale, and think that $5 is about as high as I’d go for a package, even though they’re fair trade and all that. The good news is that a couple of stores near me sell these individually, I think for 75 cents each. So, I don’t have to commit to a whole box, just a little fix now and then.
Friday, January 9, 2015
Friday is good coffee day for me. All days are coffee days, but on Fridays I treat myself to a simple cappuccino in the morning when I get to the office. So, it’s only fitting that this week my Friday review is of a coffee flavored product: Dove Mocha Latte & Dark Chocolate Swirl Promises.
I spotted them at CVS earlier this week, though it’s hard to believe I was able to tell that they were new. There’s no “new” flag in the corner of the package and the muted amber and brown doesn’t look that different from the burnt orange and brown of the peanut butter version.
It’s a very long ingredients list.
I was sorry to see the use of artificial colors and PGPR in there. I think of Dove as trying to be premium, sometimes, but this wasn’t as promising as I’d hoped. I had this problem with too much coloring with the Mint Swirl as well. What was also missing from the back was the Rainforest Alliance logo, Dove has been working towards certified sustainable cacao for a while, and some packages feature the logo (I picked up the dark chocolate RA ones for Christmas stockings).
It’s been a long time coming: a coffee Dove chocolate. There were Tiramisu Dessert Promises seven or eight years ago, but they were caramel filled just had too much going on. Dove has a pretty good track record of putting an appealing coffee flavoring into chocolate, as I did like their Mocha Premium M&Ms and Cappuccino 3 Musketeers (why don’t they make a coffee Milky Way?).
I don’t know what manufacturing magic creates the swirl of dark chocolate and the mocha latte in the Dove Promises, but it’s genius. Each piece is like work of art, like looking at beautifully polished redwood burls.
When it comes to how I like my coffee, I’m very close to black. For brewed coffee, a little dribble of half and half (enough to cover the bottom of the cup) is all I need to give the bitterness a creamy edge. For an espresso drink, I lean towards the flat white or a less milky cappuccino (basically, only crema and a touch of steamed milk). So, I’ve been looking for a chocolate coffee candy that simulates that - not a milk chocolate candy or a chocolate with whole bits of coffee beans in it.
The pieces smell sweet, but authentically like brewed coffee. The bite is pretty stiff, but the melt is smooth. The flavors are balanced, I catch plenty of robust chocolate notes to go with the woodsy coffee. There’s a hint of bitterness along with the sweet aftertaste of the milk.
Basically, these hit all the right elements for an ideal chocolate & coffee candy for me: not too sweet, lots of coffee flavor, touch of bitterness and a creamy mouthfeel. With those met, I consider this great. They’re expensive, at least at my CVS they were marked at $5.29 though I did get them on sale for $3.50 and they’re not Rainforest Alliance yet. Other than that, I find them spectacular. Your mileage may vary, depending on how you like your coffee and your coffee flavored candies.
Monday, December 29, 2014
barkTHINS won the Most Innovative New Product award at the Sweets & Snacks Expo for the Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut variety. I can’t see quite what’s so innovative about that. I picked up a package of the barkTHINS Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Seed because it was on sale. The stand up package holds 4.7 ounces and was on sale for $3.99.
The top of the package says that it’s a serious twist on snacking. Which is a grandiose statement for a bunch of seeds in chocolate, which is one of the oldest forms of chocolate inclusions. Perhaps the twist they’re referring to is the fact that the chocolate and the sugar in the chocolate is Fair Trade certified. And the soy lecithin is non-GMO. There are no dairy ingredients, though it may contain traces of peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat or eggs. The FAQ on their website explains that their innovation is the fact that the bark is thin enough to snap into pieces.
All my grumbling aside, I like what I saw on the ingredients label and the concept of simple, ethically sourced dark chocolate with some fresh toasted seeds in it.
I’ve never quite understood the appeal of bark as a product. I understand why I make it, because I have leftover chocolate from a kitchen project and then just mix up some stuff I have sitting around and call it a tasty mess. I can’t imagine selling it. I want my pieces consistent and I want my seeds integrated.
The good news is that the pumpkin seeds (pepitas) are actually integrated into the chocolate. The pieces are pretty consistent in size and thickness and with a good amount of pepitas. The general size of the pieces is what I’d call, “too large.” They’re about 2.5” by 1.5”. This is a nice portion, however, I found them a bit large and wanted more small pieces. Luckily, I could make my own ... while providing lots of small pieces would mean that large piece lovers would have some assembly to do.
The chocolate is nice, a little on the fatty side which means that there’s a nice silky melt, but also that the calories per ounce on this were 164 ...quite high. (Pepitas have between 145 and 160 calories per ounce, depending on the variety.) The cocoa flavors have a lot of toasty toffee notes and a little hint of grassy olives (or maybe that’s the pepitas). There’s a hint of salt, which offsets the sweetness very well. The pumpkin seeds are crunchy and crisp with no really flavor of their own, just a clean chew with maybe a hint of pistachio.
I enjoyed it, though I do find snacking on bark to simply be difficult. The inconsistency of the sizes and the inclination for me to want to pick through and find the right size and density of seeds is problematic. I’m not sure why they can’t be little bars or puddles. The use of pumpkin seeds is different enough, though the price on these is a bit steep. I’ll finish the bag and probably consider the salted almond and coconut version in the future if I see them on sale again.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Theo Chocolate makes organic and fair trade chocolate from bean to bar in their factory in Seattle. They have a selection of seasonal bars in addition to their regular items, this year I picked out their Theo Chocolate Nutcracker Brittle because I liked their Salted Almond bar. It features almonds, hazelnuts and sugary brittle chunks in smooth, rich 70% dark chocolate
The most notable quality of this seasonal bar is that it’s vegan. That’s right, the brittle is not made with any dairy, so the bar is free from any animal-derived products. (Though it is made in a factory that also processes milk, eggs and wheat, so it may contain traces of gluten or dairy as well as peanuts or other tree nuts.)
The wrapping is nice, a simple paper over-wrap with the chocolate bar enclosed in foil underneath. The bar is made with 88% fair trade ingredients and all organic products (except for the baking soda and salt). The corn syrup is also non-GMO and they do not use soy lecithin (or lecithin of any kind).
The bar looked great and smells wonderful. It’s a woodsy cocoa blend, it smells like toffee and fresh brewed coffee and toast. For a 70%, it’s well balanced. The cocoa flavors are a little on the acidic side with some bright sour cherry notes along with the other woodsy components mentioned earlier. It’s sweet, at first, but the baked brownie flavors dominate towards the end. The nuts are kind of separate as a flavor and texture. The almonds and hazelnuts are crunchy and fresh (though hard to tell apart) and the little brittle pieces are crunchy without being tacky or chewy. I missed the little hint of salt from the Salted Almond bar, but that’s not what was promised here.
It’s a nice seasonal bar, but I have to wonder why it’s not a year round offering ... no reason not to have this for Valentine’s.
Friday, December 19, 2014
As a little stocking stuffer item, I’ve noticed these boxes of Russell Stover Cake Truffles at drug store chains and places like Target this year.
I picked up a pair of boxes since they were only $1.00 on sale, though often the regular price is about $1.79 for 2 ounces. There are four pieces of candy in the box, one of each of the cake flavors: Red Velvet, Chocolate, Carrot and Wedding Cake.
All of these flavors have been presented in the seasonal shapes, so they’re not new candies, just a different assorted presentation. The ratios do differ slightly from the Egg or Santa versions, though.
Red Velvet - (Dark Chocolate) this first debuted as a Santa piece in 2012, though is also available at Easter and Valentine’s. It’s a dark chocolate shell with a red “creamy” center that has some cake mix in it. Oddly, this could benefit from a white chocolate coating to simulate the cream cheese frosting often found on Red Velvet cake, though this box already has two white coated pieces. The center is less sweet, so that’s a plus, but the batter-like consistency simply tastes like paste to me. (Santa review.)
Carrot Cake - (White Chocolate) this first debuted as an Easter piece in 2014. Like the other cake flavors, this features actual cake mix in the center, which gives it an uncooked flour note ... it’s a little pasty, unlike the experience I had with the Egg version which wasn’t as dense. The flavor profile is actually nice, a good spice mix that fits well with Christmas with a hint of allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon. (Egg review.)
Wedding Cake - (White Chocolate) - this first debuted as an Easter piece in 2014. If you don’t like spice flavors found in Carrot Cake, then maybe Wedding Cake is more your speed ... all fake vanilla, sweetness and PlayDoh. I thought (Egg review.)
Chocolate Cake (Milk Chocolate - might actually be new. I can only find records for Brownie pieces before this. The center here was less sticky and pasty, so that was a plus but the raw flour notes were very distracting as it tasted more like wallpaper paste (yes, I’ve eaten that before, thankyouverymuch). There’s a grainy note, as well, since the sugar isn’t completely combined. So, think of it more like a chocolate cookie dough and you might be pleased.
If you’re frustrated that the seasonal shape items are too big, then these are probably a good idea for you. I’ll stick to the more traditional coconut and pecan delight versions though.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The company sent me a sample of 14 flavors of their current flavors to try. They came in a simple clear bag with the truffles actually stacked in color order. (But I chose to show you a photo of their Christmas mint assortment, because I don’t actually like photographing clear plastic packaging.)
Earlier I called them “truffles” because they’re really meltaways. The chocolates are little rectangular blocks of chocolate coated meltaway centers. The centers are a combination of chocolate, flavoring and coconut oil mixed with palm oil. This means that they melt at a different temperature than the chocolate itself. The centers are solid, unlike Lindt Lindor Truffles, which have similar ingredients, but more tropical oils.
If this sounds like a Frango, that’s because Seattle Chocolates also makes Frangos for Macy’s, but also sells them under their own name but with more colorful packaging.
The box I got at the top of the review contained three mint flavors: Mint, San Juan Sea Salt and the seasonal Candy Cane. Pictured above I have Dark Chocolate, Mint, San Juan Sea Salt, Cool Mint.
I think the first one I should address is the Mint. It comes in a medium green mylar wrapper and is a milk chocolate confection. It smells deliciously pepperminty and takes me back to my childhood and the seasonal boxes of Mint Frangos I consumed (often surreptitiously). The milk chocolate has a strong dairy note and the minty center has a satisfying cool melt along with the peppermint. There are also teensy little pops of salt every once in a while. Often candies like this can be ridiculously sweet, but I didn’t find it that way at all.
The next to profile is a standard, a basic truffle on which so many other flavors are based, the Dark Chocolate. This one is in a medium blue wrapper.
The bite has a satisfying snap, and though the center doesn’t look creamy, it melts well. The dark chocolate has a mild flavor, like the common chocolate chips you’d use for cookies. It’s a toasty flavor, a little the bitter side but with a smoother melt than baking chips.
San Juan Sea Salt is a newer piece, and features a seafoam green wrapper. It’s a milk chocolate piece with little toffee bits and a little extra sea salt mixed into the chocolate center. The salt is a wonderful combination with the very milky chocolate and the little toffee bits are a great textural crunch. I did get some of these in the mint set, and they were actually infused with the mint flavors from the other truffles. Either way, it’s good.
Cool Mint was the last one in this set, a bit of a change from the previous since it features a light blue wrappers and a white center in dark chocolate. It’s quite minty and could use a little bit of that salt that the others seem to have. I enjoyed it, but prefer the other mint varieties.
Ah, things are getting a little nuttier in the next batch which features Salted Almond, Milk, Peanut Butter, Espresso.
I’ll start with Espresso because, we’ll, I’m in charge. The wrapper is brown, the chocolate is dark. The interior is smooth and has good roasted flavor note. The meltaway itself has little crispy bits ... coffee grounds. The flavor profile is good, I liked the coffee and the grounds or whatever they are aren’t too gritty. Out of the mix, this was the first flavor that disappeared. Not too sweet.
Milk looks just like the mint, so must give that a glance again except imagine the wrapper is gold. Since there are no other flavor elements in this one, it’s a little easier to pick out the profile of the milk chocolate itself. It has a strong dairy flavor, almost like the flavor of cream cheese. It’s sweet gets a little oily towards the end. I skipped these after getting the profile.
Peanut Butter sounded fantastic. The bronzy wrapper holds a milk chocolate piece with a peanut butter meltaway center. The interesting aspect is that there are also crushed peanuts in there too. Again, this one is oily like the milk chocolate, though it didn’t bother me as much.
Salted Almond is a bit more trendy and comes in a goldenrod wrapper with a dark chocolate coat. The center is dark chocolate and features a bit of salt and a few almond chips here and there. The toasty flavors of the almonds and dark chocolate were excellent. I’d buy this as a bar, as well.
The last set is a little fruity and contains some different concepts in the meltaway concept: Peanut Brittle, Strawberry Creme, Raspberry Creme, Blackberry Creme.
Peanut Brittle is similar to the Salted Almond, a little crunchy peanut, maybe with some crispy caramelized sugar in there. Since this is a dark piece, it’s far and away different from the Peanut Butter, though far less peanutty.
The Strawberry is a white center with what I think is bits of freeze dried strawberries in there. It has some authentic strawberry flavors but suffers from the same oily feeling towards the end.
The Raspberry and Blackberry Creme were similar, with some nice berry flavors with a tangy pop here and there.
Coconut Macaroon is in a lighter blue mylar and features a dark chocolate coating and center. This is a pure tropical piece, the coconut oils in the meltaway work their magic here along with a few little bites of toasted coconut. There’s a definite coconut smell to it, so much it overpowers the chocolate flavors.
Extreme Chocolate comes in a magenta wrapper (I mistook it for one of the berries when I was photographing). This is excellent. It tastes darker than its reputed 65% cacao, with good bitter notes but still enough sweetness. The meltway qualities are still there, but none of the oily textures I didn’t like. Also as a bonus, there are crunchy cacao nibs in there. All of the nibs I came across were crisp, not fibery like some origins.
Seattle Chocolates also makes a wide variety of Truffle Bars, many in the same flavor profile as the Truffles ... though the ratios differ quite a bit, with more solid chocolate and less meltaway filling in most cases.
Seattle Chocolates Truffles are made with non GMO ingredients and are gluten free. They do contain soy and dairy ingredients and obviously the ones that don’t have peanuts or tree nuts in them were still processed on shared equipment. They sell most of the flavors singly as well as different flavor assortments, like the Mint, just dark and coffee flavors.
As a product line, I give it all a 7 out of 10. For the pieces I liked, such as Salted Almond, Extreme Chocolate and San Juan Sea Salt, I go to 8 out of 10.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Tcho is a bean to bar chocolate maker based in San Francisco. Their early chocolate programs simplified the ideas of single origin distinctions and simply labeled their chocolate bars with the flavor characteristic based on a flavor wheel.
Though their early products were simple dark and milk chocolate bars, they’ve not created some interesting new flavored bars. I picked up two little tasting squares of their Tcho Mokaccino. They’re only .28 ounces, so it really is just a bite or two of chocolate. It’s described as: Serious Milk Chocolate + Blue Bottle Coffee.
Tcho is made with fair trade cocoa beans, organic ingredients and is certified kosher. (They do use soy lecithin in their chocolate and also handle nuts in their facility.)
I happen to enjoy the coffee renaissance that’s been going on for ...oh, the past 30 years. The pre-ground cans of coffee of my childhood are long gone: a time when single origin meant you looked for the Colombian mountain on the can as an indication of flavor.
The little piece has a wonderful Spirograph-style pattern on it. It tastes a little smoky, very milky, with an almost cheesy note. The coffee is intense, but on the sweet side (I don’t take sugar in my coffee, so having it combined with chocolate tends to sweeten it too much for me). The coffee notes blend very well with the chocolate but the most important thing here is the texture. It’s smooth ... there’s now coffee bean grit like so many coffee chocolates end up with (or whole beans) that I don’t care for.
I’ve been watching Tcho since they started up and were in beta. Though I appreciate many of their attributes, I’ve not been impressed with the products themselves, the dark chocolate is gritty and has an odd fat balance to it for me, and often the beans taste burnt. They do some interesting chocolate covered items, like nuts, which are good but not remarkable enough for me to fork over the premium price.
That said, I’m glad I had an open mind and picked up the Mokaccino. The little squares are a bit expensive, but if I bought two of them instead of an actual cappuccino, it’s about the same price.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.