Friday, February 9, 2007
Dove Jewels are a mid-range Dove confection packaged for Valentines. Inside this little red reflective cube were individually mylar wrapped chocolates. There were six varieties (two of them just solid chocolate). The packaging is attractive and the description of the candies is compelling. I’m not a huge fan of Dove chocolate, but these looked like an interesting option compared to the heart-shaped boxes I already reviewed this week.
Raspberry Truffle (magenta wrapper) - an oval shaped piece in dark chocolate. The truffle center was soft, a bit salty. On top of that (or maybe on the bottom) was a bit of raspberry jam. It didn’t have much zazz, so I didn’t catch more much more that indicated this was raspberry than a few authentic seeds.
Caramel Espresso (gold wrapper) - an oval shaped piece in dark chocolate, this had two components, a flowing caramel on the top of the center and a firm truffle-like espresso chocolate on the bottom.
Chocolate Mousse Truffle (purple wrapper) - an oval shaped piece in milk chocolate. It’s the one pictured above bitten in half. It’s sweet and mellow, not terribly chocolatey. The center has a bit of a salty taste to it that keeps the sticky sweet milk chocolate under control. A little hint of coconut flavor in the center.
Cashew Almond Crunch (green wrapper) - a round jewel piece in milk chocolate. It has a rather firm center with lots of bits of cashews & almonds and some sort of crunchy, perhaps hard nougat, stuff. This was the winner in the package (well, it’d score even higher if it was in dark chocolate), however, by the second one I had a sore throat.
While the packaging was elegant for drug store fare from Mars and of course different from the cheesy and dated heart boxes, I still wasn’t blown away by the Dove chocolate itself. I find it a bit too sweet and waxy without much chocolate bang. I did appreciate that the flavor combinations were a bit more adventurous than the usual mint, coffee, blah.
As an after Valentine’s purchase, getting these for $2 or so is probably a great deal (better than an Elmer’s box) as far as quality goes but at pre-Holiday prices, for less than $10 you can get some really good See’s candies (in whatever assortment you think will please your honey) made with Guittard chocolate and fresh, mostly natural ingredients (I think some of their fruity items use artificial colors).
I know some folks are very fond of Dove but it just doesn’t have that zing for me at this price, this was the biggest ticket item I bought for my grand Valentine’s Week (granted, all those other high-end boxed chocolates were gifts) so it did have some high standards to meet.
SweeTarts are made in special shapes for just about all the holidays. You can get them for Halloween, Christmas and Easter (maybe they even do all green packages for St. Patrick’s Day) and of course they have a version for Valentines Day: SweeTarts Hearts.
The packaging and candy is pretty much a rip off of the Necco Conversation Hearts. It’s a little box that’s ready to be addressed to your Valentine with little heart shaped candies inside with sayings on them.
The mottos aren’t earthshatteringly cool, just classic little lovey-doveyness. “Hug Me” “Love Ya” “Yes” “I’m Yours” and “Kiss Me”. Unlike the other conversation hearts out there, these are not printed, the lettering is engraved (or pressed) right into the compressed dextrose tablets. The candies meet the highest quality standards too, they’re always heart shaped and perfectly formed with readable lettering (I know I’ve gotten some pretty mangled hearts before from Necco).
Besides the shape, these are just plain old SweeTarts. They are an abbreviated flavor set: Orange, Cherry and Grape. As I don’t care for the Cherry, about one third of this box was “for sharing.” Now, I’m not sure if this is the way it’s supposed to be, the package shows green and blue hearts in the design (but no yellow).
I paid $.79 cents for this box, which is a bit high. I didn’t see any larger packages of them where you could get a ten pack and have your kid give them out as Valentines or anything. But if I saw these in the 75% off bin after Valentines I might pick them up. But I miss my yellow SweeTarts.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
There are quite a few small confectioners based in LA and one that I’ve visited (and reviewed) before is Boule. They have great ice cream (I love the banana) and sorbets as well as caramels, nougats and of course chocolates. Of all the things I’ve had there, the one that blew me away was the Pate de Fruit in Calamansi flavor.
Imagine my delight when one of my fellow bloggers, Joz, handed off this awesome hatbox from Boule courtesy of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The box contained quite a few treats, including some cookies, a package of chocolate covered almonds rolled in cocoa, a box of the Pate de Fruit (which I opened and devoured the Calamansi before offering the other pieces around to my husband and neighors) and a wee little purse/box with some caramels. There were also two small boxes (6 pieces each) of Truffles.
The chocolates themselves look more like coat buttons than confections, with stripes and splashes of color and in some cases edible irridescent dustings.
While I find that attractive in a pair of earrings or beads, I don’t really find it that enticing as chocolate. No matter, they were still tasty.
As much as I admire the flavor combinations in theory, they just didn’t thrill me in practice. Some were kind of muddy and most of all they didn’t have a big chocolate boost to them - the chocolate shells were more of a delivery device for the novelty of the colors and exotic names.
I’ll continue to vist Boule for a special treat, but I’m probably going to stick to the pate and perhaps a little dish of ice cream every now and then. I have to, the retail value on this little hat box? $85.00. If you’re looking to dazzle someone for Valentine’s Day, the hatboxes are certainly splashy looking, but make sure that everything in the assortment would be appealing, otherwise it’s a waste of money. Ordering a la carte may be the way to go to assure that whatever you pick out there is exactly what you want. (If you live in the Los Angeles area they do offer local delivery with more ordering options, and I’m sure if you call them they can help you pick out a real custom fit.)
As a whole gift, this one gets a 6 out of 10.
Leonidas is a classic Belgian chocolatier with a Greek name. They make a huge variety of chocolates (their website says 100) and sell at 1,400 shops around the world (many in airports). Their website also has photos and descriptions of all of their chocolates. I wish I’d known that when I got this huge box, I had no clue what was inside here.
No matter, it’s all good!
The Pralines Leonidas assortment has a narrow focus on all things hazelnut with a good balance of dark, milk and white chocolate. There were pralin?s, pastes, truffles, croquants, gianduja and even a marzipan or two. It wasn’t all noisettes, there was also a cherry paste and what I believe is a chocolate covered cherry (that red foil one which is the only thing in the box right now). Some had a nice tickle of rum or coffee tipped into them. There were different textures for the hazelnuts - from a thick paste to a near solid chocolate assembly.
Leonidas runs on the sweet side, but the nut flavors are awesome. The chocolate is smooth and mellow, don’t expect anything strong or vibrant here, just some old fashioned hazelnut goodness. Oh, and the box is pretty cool. It’s a long faux leather box with two lids, the outermost lid locks the box tight with a magnetic strip but when you open it you can still gaze at the chocolate inside through the plastic window on the inner lid.
I haven’t visited a Leonidas store in person (which is odd because there’s one within walking distance of my office), but I imagine they can fix you right up for Valentine’s Day. Personally, now that I’ve tried a wide variety of their product line, I’m going to stick with the dark chocolate items and perhaps try more of the fruit jellies (I actually liked the cherry paste quite a bit and think they’ll do a good job on the others).
This was another birthday gift last month and of the cache of sweet treats, I can say that this one was not a home run. I think it has less to do with the quality and presentation of the product than the simple fact that the flavor combo just isn’t to my liking.
The box of 12 bonbons looks like little pom-poms in brown fluted cups. They’re called Coconut Snowballs which is pretty much what I would call them if asked. The package itself offers no explanation of what it is. The little card on the ribbon simply says, “An astonishing blend of provacative flavors created to arouse and stimulate the palate fo the most demanding client in the world ... you!”
Each little sphere starts with a white chocolate truffle cream, encased in a white chocolate shell and coated with coconut flakes.
They were creamy on the inside and had a good nutty bite and chew of coconut. They weren’t sickeningly sweet but the centers weren’t as smooth as I’d like, kind of grainy. Overall they were nice, but lacked an oomph that I don’t think these ingredients can provide.
I’m still curious about Christopher Norman’s other offerings and will pick them up the next chance I get (after I’ve finished all my other chocolates in my stash, of course). But the remainder of these will probably be given away.
I hinted heavily after Christmas to my husband (well, via the blog anyway) that I was pretty keen on trying some of the sale items from Dean & Deluca. He came through with every one of them. This is the Leonardi Cioccolatini Aceto Balsamico di Modena (Chocolates with a glaze of Balsamic Vinegar from Modena).
Balsamic vinegar seems like a new thing to throw in chocolates and I’ve had a few of them now. Often they’re quite tart or acrid, I don’t think the acidity of the vinegar always goes well with chocolate. These came in a pearly paper tube with a sealed plastic bag inside holding the individually red mylar wrapped pieces. They smell of smoky chocolate and carnations.
These are generous two bite pieces. The outside shell is a nice mild bittersweet chocolate that holds a wonderful dense creamy classic truffle center (there are eggs in here).
The balsamic vinegar is not overwhelming, instead it provides a smooth sherry-like background. A little sweeter but also with a slight almost alcoholic bite.
These are really good.
They were originally $42 but are still on sale at $10.50 for the 8.8 ounce container. (Mine are good until March 13, 2007 ... as if they’ll make it to the end of the week.) This might be the deal of the season for Valentine’s Day.
I got this fabulous box of from CocoaVino as a Christmas gift. Cocovino is one of those companies that sells the story & the experience as much as the product. The pride themselves on their Eco-Forward ideals (organic ingredients, fair trade, wind powered kitchen and environmentally sensitive packaging).
The collection is simply called BonBons. The array features six different flavors arranged in pairs, each with a different chocolate and spirit/wine combination.
Bacchanal - Malbec and dark chocolate - dark and complex, it has a lot of the fruity raisin and plum flavors you’d expect from a wine grape.
Roman Holiday - espresso and Sambuca - a mild chocolate and coffee mix, nice and smooth without bitterness.
Tango Nostalgico - dulce de leche and Spanish Mintilla Moriles wine - interesting, but I don’t think the tang of the wine mixed well with the caramelized milk.
Raspberry Beret - raspberry, as you’d expect. Fragrant and fruity, a classic combo with chocolate. Not much of a tangy bite, but that’s no problem for me.
Baci al Limone - limoncello in white chocolate. I’m a big fan of limoncello (though I find it a bit too sweet and like to add some extra lemon zest to it) and of course the smoothness of a white chocolate is a great base, especially with the balance of the dark shell.
Queen of the Harvest - Sherry and dark chocolate - even darker than the other chocolates. I wasn’t able to get many of the sherry notes as they blend so well with the normal chocolate flavors. Tasty.
The other item on their site that intrigues me is their Fig Caramel. (Please chime in if you’ve tried them.)
As a Valentine’s gift, these are an excellent idea for a foodie or as a sensual gift to share with someone special. The BonBon box comes with each of the flavors in pairs, so it’s a natural idea that you could both have one and discuss the different textures and notes that you sense. They’re a bit on the expensive side (this box retails for $31) but then again everyone is getting paid a living wage and someone had to build those windmills.
Today I’m going to do all boxed chocolates all day long. Perhaps a half a dozen of them. However, there are a few chocolatiers that have entered my radar (mostly from the Fancy Food Show) that I can offer little bites on (to supplement the Chocolate Gift Guide):
Bissinger’s - it appears that this 80-year-old St. Louis, MO, chocolate company has reinvented itself, with a more modern look and updated flavors. The catalog they sent me after the Fancy Food Show was certainly tempting. I tried some of their marshmallows, and Spa Chocolates as well as their tasty Green Tea Gummi Bears. Order online of locate one of their retail stores. Moderate prices and elegant/fun packaging.
Lillie Belle Farms - based in Jacksonville, OR, this chocolatier uses organic (and fair trade when possible) ingredients, many of which are grown on the farm. Innovative flavor combinations, tasty caramels, smooth truffles ... I really liked the black pepper truffle I tasted at the Fancy Food Show. Order online or find in stores in Oregon. Moderate to expensive.
Valerie’s Confections - Los Angeles based toffee-maker and confectioner, they have a great sense of elegance paired with comfort-candies. They have a special Valentine’s confection assortment (free local delivery if you use the code VAL when ordering $40 or more). Order online or pick up at a local store. Expensive. (Full review of other items here.)
B.T. McElrath - a Minneapolis-based chocolatier. I tried a few of their assortment at the Fancy Food Show and was pleased with them. The truffles and seasonal offerings are lovely to look at. They’re sold via their website and I saw many of their smaller mixed chocolate boxes at Whole Foods last weekend. Expensive.
If you’re looking for some other opinions on fine chocolates, check out these stories:
Consumer Reports tries out fine chocolates (from 2006), and a second write up based on the NY Chocolatiers mentioned.
UPDATE: February 12, 2007: Consumer Reports has done another taste test. Though you have to be a full subscriber to see all the results, here’s a brief report of how everyone did.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.