Thursday, December 22, 2011
Here’s a small selection of what I’d call Christmas chocolate bars. I’ve got to eat them up before the holidays - it may be too late for you to get them by Christmas, but there are some special ones that are worth picking up at the after-Christmas sales.
Hershey’s introduced their Golden Almond Bar in 1977. It’s a thick bar and clocks in at 2.8 ounces. The bar design and packaging has changed little over the past thirty five years. It’s still wrapped in gold foil with a gold sleeve. Bars are sold either singly or in gold gift boxes of five bars (see a 1984 ad here). They’re not that easy to find, I usually see them at the official Hershey’s stores at Chocolate World or the Times Square shop.
The bar is simple, it’s just milk chocolate with lots of whole roasted almonds in it. It differs from the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds bar as it’s supposed to be better quality chocolate. The ingredients do not differ from the Hershey’s standard milk chocolate which includes PGPR but is at least made in the United States and not Mexico as the other supposedly upscale Pot of Gold line is.
The bar is wonderful looking, it’s thick and has a great snap. It’s about 1.7 inches wide, 4.75 inches long and a beefy half inch high. There are some almonds in there though not as many as I feel are promised but they look like they’re fresh and of good quality. The chocolate looks a little darker than the standard Hershey’s but smells like I’d expect. It’s sweet with a slight yogurty tang to it.
The texture is smooth and fudgy, with a sticky melt and a light caramel and woodsy chocolate flavor. It’s not complex and it’s not extraordinary. But if you like Hershey’s chocolate and enjoy the decadence of a thicker piece, this is a good bar to choose. I liked the nostalgia of an actual foil wrapped bar, which is so rare these days. If there’s someone on your list that loves Hershey’s, this is a little bit more elegant way to give them what they desire.
Size: 2.8 ounces
I found this seasonal bar called Niederegger Marzipan Weihnachtsschokolade at the Niederegger cafe at Marktplatz in Lubeck. The front of the package says Saftiges gewurz marzipan mit vollmilch-schokolade. So it’s a spiced marzipan in milk chocolate. The image shows almonds, cinnamon sticks and star anise. The ingredients don’t specifically list anise, just “spices” though cinnamon is a separate item.
Inside the paper wrapper there’s a stiff card (advertising the company and their website) and the foil wrapped bar.
The packaging did a great job of protecting the bar. It was glossy and unscuffed.
The milk chocolate is very light in color (33% cocoa solids and 14% milk solids). The bar smells like milky chai, a little spicy and very sweet. The marzipan is moist and a bit like eating Snickerdoodle cookie dough. The chocolate is smooth, but doesn’t contribute much in the way of cocoa to this, it just nicely encases the marzipan. The texture of the marzipan is a little more rustic than the French style fondant type that’s used for creating figures and shapes. Niederegger is meant for eating and enjoying.
The ratios on the 100 gram bars from Niederegger favor the chocolate more than the enrobed little classic loaves. (I’ll get into that more in my master post.) If you’re looking for a starter marzipan that’s more about the texture and celebrates almonds as the source ingredient, Niederegger really can’t be beat. It’s not too sweet and doesn’t have any fake amaretto flavors to it.
I would prefer a version of this with dark chocolate, but I can’t argue with the traditional recipe they have. It’s a great balance of subtle spice, sweetness, milk and almonds.
Size: 3.5 ounces
I’m no stranger to the Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark. They’ve been making it for years and it comes in a clever little square that’s perfect for some afternoon tea or coffee.
I found this set of bars at Target last month on sale for $2 each. They’re heralded as limited edition and come in milk chocolate and dark chocolate.
I’m not actually a fan of barks. I like my inclusions fully immersed in the chocolate. So the bar version of Peppermint Bark is perfect for my strange fondness for things being hidden in the chocolate.
Unlike most Peppermint Barks, which combine white chocolate with crushed peppermint candies (like candy canes or starlight mints), the Ghiradelli version uses minty, artificially colored corn flakes. I haven’t the foggiest why they did it that way, but honestly, they created something unique enough to be a new genre.
The milk and dark vary a little bit in their coloring. The milk version is sweet and has a lot of dairy notes to it from both the milk chocolate base and the white chocolate top (made with real cocoa butter). The mint is clean and bright, the little cereal bits are crunchy and a little salty and keep it all from being too cloying.
The dark version has two kinds of bits, the red bits and some little dark brown bits, which I think are little chocolate cookie pieces. The dark chocolate has a little smoky note to it which overshadowed the minty layer a bit, which I enjoyed. There’s a definite difference between the Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark and the Dove Peppermint Bark, which can also be found for comparable prices at similar stores. Personally, I prefer the Dove version, because it’s a bit butterier. This one is about the crunch, a grown up sort of crunch.
Size: 3 ounces
The last item I have is not quite a full review. The Hachez Weihnachts Knusper Bar (Christmas Crunchy Bar) is a darling looking bar. The soft white paper wrapper has a classically illustrated scene of a child ice skating on a pond.
Feine Vollmilch-Chocolade mit Zimt, Mandeln und Nussen
My German was getting pretty good, even though I’d only been listening to German podcasts for a week and was only there for a day. The front of the package said Fine milk chocolate with cinnamon, almonds and nuts. The little image also showed all of the above -cinnamon sticks, milk chocolate blocks, almonds and a hazelnut in its shell.
So I was very excited when I got it home and put at the top of my list to photograph and review before Christmas. I took it out of the wrapper, snapped it in half ... it looked and smelled so good:
The bar was glossy and showed no ill effects from the long journey (about 750 more miles on a bus at that point then the 5,700 mile plane ride).
I broke off a little piece of it to try after the photo, I was greeted by wonderfully smooth and milky chocolate and amazingly fresh, crunchy and crushed nuts and a hint of cinnamon. I could taste the hazelnuts and something else ... it wasn’t pecans, it was walnuts. What I didn’t realize was that while Nussen might be a generic word for nuts, it usually meant walnuts. (Walnusse is the more specific word.) So technically, I didn’t eat any of the bar. I had to spit it out and rinse out my mouth (I still ended up itchy and with a sore throat all evening - my allergy has not developed beyond this irritation stage). But I’m going to go out on a limb after eating many of the other Hachez products in the past week (which I’ll have reviews for) and say that this really is a good bar.
Size: 3.5 ounces
Do you have a favorite winter flavor combination? Anything regional or something from long ago that they don’t make any longer?
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Mars has finally hopped into the white chocolate game with both feet. Their new Dove White Chocolate Silky Smooth Promises stand alone as the only mass-market true white chocolate in bite size pieces.
I don’t know if this is a regular item or a seasonal offering from Dove. They’ve already proven that they can make a good white chocolate, which has been their base for their rich Peppermint Bark offerings for the third year in a row.
The package is a stylish amber and gold design with the Dove logo featuring most prominently. The see through part reveals the pieces are foil wrapped in two different shades of gold with white snowflakes.
Hershey’s has their White Chocolate Meltaway Bliss, but that’s a filled candy, with some sort of palm oil & cream inside. The Dove White Chocolate is truly a white chocolate product, in that it contains only cocoa butter and dairy as its fat base without any other vegetable fats.
Still, it’s pricey stuff. The bar was just shy of 8 ounces while the true chocolate varieties at the same price are over 9.5 ounces.
The flavor is oddly buttery, as in milky with that sort of churned flavor to it. However, there’s more of an aged dairy taste than a fresh milk flavor. There’s a light hint of salt (45 mg per 5 pieces).
The texture is firm but has a smooth melt, not nearly as silky as the regular Dove Promises but still decadent. It’s sweet, and that sugary quality does give it a but of a thick and sticky quality as it dissolves. Sometimes though it tasted a little on the rancid or perhaps slightly stale side of things. This could be because it picked up some flavors from other items (such as some chocolate flavored marshmallows), but considering the fact that they’re tightly foil wrapped and then in a heavy plastic bag, they shouldn’t be doing that.
White chocolate is definitely a tough item to do well. These are good, and true white chocolate is hard to find, especially in the grocery or drug store these days. The ingredients are pretty good: sugar, cocoa butter, skim milk, milk fat, soy lecithin, salt, natural flavor and PGPR. They’re made in a facility that processes peanuts and tree nuts. There’s no mention of gluten. They’re Kosher.
It’s a good quality product for the price, but it’s not going to be my go-to white chocolate. I’ll still opt for Green & Black’s super-vanilla infused White Chocolate which is also fair trade. But if I needed something festive and foil wrapped, I’d grab a bag of these.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Back around Halloween when Mars introduced their Candy Corn flavored White Chocolate M&Ms, I mused what it would be like if they made Egg Nog M&Ms.
Well, Trader Joe’s has gone over the top with their iteration of white chocolate with nutmeg with their Trader Joe’s Eggnog Flavored Almonds covered with Creamy White Chocolate.
They’re sold in a very simple plastic tub that holds 11 ounces and sells for $3.99 ... about the same price as Almond M&Ms ... but they’re all natural (but have no candy shell, unless you count confectioners glaze as a shell).
Trader Joe’s starts with premium almonds. I’ve noticed that a lot of other almond candies (Almond M&Ms) use the smaller almonds about the size of peanuts, but these are big, fresh nonpareil almonds at the center. The coating is real white chocolate with oodles of nutmeg. The combination is convincingly like egg nog. It’s sweet but tempered with strong vanilla and earthy/balmy nutmeg. The almonds are crisp and keep the whole thing from being too sweet (like actual egg nog tends to be). The white chocolate has an excellent melt, not quite silky but quite creamy without being sticky.
I love them, but I fully understand that they’re not for everyone. If you don’t love nutmeg, you’re not going to like these. However, if you do, the combination with the almonds is stellar. I can only hope they’ll have these year round, but I know that they’ll disappear in a few weeks.
It’s all natural and there’s not even any food coloring in there. There is dairy, soy and almonds in the ingredients plus it’s made on shared equipment with wheat, tree nuts and peanuts.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Their new Trader Joe’s Minty Melts sound a bit on the classic side. Dark chocolate squares with a festive minty stripe.
The box holds 7.5 ounces and was $4.99. They’re Kosher and gluten free. There is no ethical statement about the origin of the chocolate.
The box is long (11.5 inches) but opens easily to serve. The inner box bottom is actually fully printed so you can pull it out and put it on the table or buffet if you don’t want to put them on a plate. The pieces are stacked, two high and two wide.
I was pleased with the ingredients, it’s real dark chocolate at the semi-sweet level of 56% cacao. The mint stripe is made of real white chocolate as well, with cocoa butter and real peppermint oil. There’s a touch of coconut oil in there, but it’s very low on the list, falling into the less than 2% area.
They’re almost perfect cubes, about 3/4 of an inch all around, though just a little shy on the height. The stripes aren’t equal. The base layer is thicker than the top and mint white chocolate middle. The appearance is a little rustic. They’re a bit scuffed on the edges and the sides aren’t always straight/square/plumb.
The dark chocolate is rich and has a good cocoa flavor. There are little gritty moments every once in a while. The white chocolate center is a little dry and chalky feeling, just not quite a fully chocolate smoothness that I was hoping for. The flavor is very well balanced, milky sweet but not throat searing, with an appropriate touch of peppermint that doesn’t overwhelm the dark chocolate.
The texture doesn’t quite hit it for me, but perhaps that’s because I was hoping for something a little creamier. However, I like the fact that it’s a Peppermint Bark without the crushed peppermint candies. While that’s a nice candy, too, I wanted to taste the smooth textures together. The name Minty Melts led me to believe that these were meltaways, but they’re not, they’re a solid chocolate product. Nothing wrong with that ...
These are sure to go over well in social settings, just the right size portion for guests or for snacking.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Mars has introduced a limited edition, limited distribution of a new variety of M&Ms for Halloween. M&Ms White Chocolate Candy Corn are appearing in WalMart stores exclusively across the United States. Since I’m not able to easily shop at WalMart (really not many in the Los Angeles area), some folks at Mars were kind enough to send me a bag for review.
It’s tempting when I hear about candies like this to write the review before I even get a hold of the candy. That would not only be a horrible disservice to the readers, it’s really unfair to the candy. I’m supposed to have an open mind. Luckily I kept mine open for this one. (In reality, I thought it sounded like a dreadful idea, and I blame the Hershey’s Candy Corn Kisses and Jelly Belly Buttered Popcorn candies for my predisposition.)
The M&Ms are larger than the regular M&Ms Milk Chocolate, though they vary a little bit in size and shape. They’re thicker and have a larger diameter. They come in three colors: white, bright yellow and bright orange. (The orange and yellow are actually different from the standard colors. The orange is darker and not as shiny and the yellow has a matte caste to it and a slightly neon note.)
Mars has marketed White Chocolate M&Ms before, in 2006 they introduced M&Ms Pirate Pearls in conjunction with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Unlike the other limited edition version of Dark Chocolate M&Ms (tie in with Star Wars), they were never added to the regular or seasonal offerings.
Mars has stuck to their Real Chocolate pledge here, it’s real white chocolate made with oodles of cocoa butter (cocoa butter is the second ingredient - sometimes white chocolate products have milk fat before the cocoa butter). There are no other filler oils.
The candies smell a bit like strawberries or cotton candy, very sweet but not in an artificial way. I was fully expecting the liberal use of diacetyl. Happily that was not the case.
Candy Corn M&Ms on the left and classic Milk Chocolate M&Ms on the right
The shells are crunchy and seem thicker than the standard Milk Chocolate variety sports. Some of the shells were cracked, I don’t know if that was because this was sent to me and got shaken up in transit or if they’re particularly vulnerable.
The center is soft and yielding. It’s sweet and buttery smooth, like a well made buttercream frosting. The flavors are only slightly milky, the sweetness is rather clean and again reminds me of Cotton Candy. I was hoping for the honey notes that good Candy Corn has, but this was all a pleasant surprise.
They’re quite rich, both in fat and in sugar, so I found that I couldn’t eat more than about a dozen without feeling a little overwhelmed by the sweetness. Ultimately though I didn’t feel like they rose to the level of an actual Candy Corn flavored candy. Still, they’re nice, and for white chocolate fans who have so few choices for real cocoa butter white chocolate, you might be pleased.
Now I’m waiting for Egg Nog M&Ms .... mmm, nutmeg white chocolate would be dreamy.
One other note I have about this packaging. I noticed on the nutrition panel that they’re giving better information. In the serving size it gives the portion in variety of formats. A serving size is 1.5 ounces, 42 grams or about 1/4 cup. So you really get a sense of how much they mean. The new green what’s inside block also breaks it out very clearly. One portion is 220 calories and 11 grams of total fat (17% DV) and 7 grams of saturated fat (35% DV).
UPDATE 9/11/2012: White Chocolate Candy Corn M&Ms are back for 2012. They’re available in all stores, in both the large bags as well as 1.5 ounce individual serving bags (with a variety of different designs on the front).
Monday, June 13, 2011
The Dove White and Milk Chocolate Swirl bar is no different, as the copy on the package indicates: bites of chocolate relaxation that create beautifully swirled partings of luscious flavors which taste as amazing as they look.
The bar is a large, narrow tablet (3.5” wide and 5.5” tall). It’s 3.3 ounces, so a little lighter than the standard 3.5 ounces (100 grams). It still has that pesky portion problem that large bars have. The package says that a single serving (230 calories & 42 grams) is 9 pieces. But the whole bar is 20 squares ... so there are two bonus squares. Why not just be honest that a portion is an absolute half of the package (1.65 ounces and 256 calories)?
The swirls are very consistent and make it appear that the blocks are half and half white chocolate and milk chocolate (though the ingredients say that milk chocolate dominates since it’s listed first).
The pieces are nicely formed and rather thick, which presents a wonderful bite. The bar smells sweet and slightly milky, like a vanilla pudding. The texture is like most other Dove chocolate products, a smooth and silky melt. This one has a bit more sticky sugar to it though, it’s also quite strong in the dairy flavors along with some caramel and toffee. The chocolate notes are subdued, it’s like this bar isn’t at all about the chocolate flavors, just the chocolate texture.
If you’re the kind of person who never cared much for white chocolate, this probably won’t change your mind. For me it was far too sweet on its own, but paired with some pretzels or almonds, it took the throat searing pain away.
Dove pretty much sticks to tried and true flavor combinations. While this new swirl line marks a departure for them, veering off into the previously uncharted territory of white chocolate, raspberry is a common flavor in their repertoire. The Dove Raspberry and Dark Chocolate Swirl bar is also a white chocolate bar, with the twist here that it’s colored pink and flavored with artificial raspberry.
Like all of the American Dove and Mars chocolate products, the back of the package has the Mars Real Chocolate seal on it. It’s refreshing to see a big confectionery corp keeping their ingredients transparent like this, especially since cocoa butter can be so expensive. But while they do use real cocoa butter for both the dark and white chocolate, there’s also a bit of PGPR in there (which is an additional emulsifier often used in lower quality chocolate, made from castor beans). There’s also a smidge of artificial colors with Red 40 and Blue 2, which seems unnecessary considering what they’re doing with natural colors these days.
The appearance of the unwrapped bar is impressive and lovely. However, I didn’t feel like it looked like food. It looked like some sort of plastic stuff that might make nice bangle bracelets or earrings or maybe be carved into a chess set.
The dark chocolate is the same silky smooth texture and cocoa rich taste. The raspberry scent is quite strong at first, but the flavor of it doesn’t overpower the chocolate, which is refreshing. I didn’t taste a lot of the milky notes I detected in the white & milk combo bar. It was sweet, but not cloying or sticky. The raspberry flavor was floral with a strong woodsy note of seeds.
It’s not my favorite bar, it didn’t have the flavor balance that I like, but I do have to say that the texture, melt and smoothness was excellent. I just wish their chocolate flavor was actually nuanced enough to swirl around in that.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
The Snow Angell Organic Candy Bar is white chocolate sweet and creamy coconut center. Like the previous bar I reviewed, the Dark Angell, it’s a smallish bar at 1.41 ounces which means that it’s less than 200 calories (190). It’s not vegan like the dark counterpart, but it is free from GMO products, corn syrup and artificial colors & flavors.
The white chocolate coating is real, made only five ingredients: cane sugar, whole milk, cocoa butter soy lecithin and vanilla. The center is made from tapioca syrup, oats, dried coconut, honey and coconut extract along with some other natural flavors and sea salt. (The salt isn’t organic because, well, salt is inorganic.)
The white chocolate coating is soft and creamy, more like a pudding than a chocolate. I really liked the texture and the fact that it wasn’t so sweet. The overriding flavor though is the coconut from the center. The middle isn’t quite white, it’s a little more creamy and well, oat colored. In fact, the texture is more oaty at times than coconutty. While I found the oat flavor in the Dark Angell a bit off-putting, I think the combination of oats and coconut is fantastic. The coconut absorbs any of the pasty or gummy texture that oats can bring and brings all the light nutty flavors together.
If you’ve ever wanted a white chocolate Mounds bar, this might be a good option. The center isn’t quite the same coconut experience as the usual candy store fare though, it’s far more flavorful and less sweet. It’s nice to see a line of organic bars doing their own thing instead of imitating others.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
The Wonka public relations folks sent me this box of their Wonka Exceptionals Scrumdiddlyumptious Chocolate Eggs to review. The box is springy, and I’ll say it veers off towards the feminine in a whimsy sort of way. (The Dove chocolate line’s packaging is more towards elegant feminine sophistication.) But I can also see kids taking a liking to it for the brilliant purple and icons on the packages of flowers, vines and butterflies. They also come in another variety, Wonka Exceptionals Chocolate Waterfall which I also have a sample of.
The box holds five milk chocolate eggs with scrumptious toffee, crispy cookie and crunchy peanuts. Wonka also says that they’re made with natural ingredients, but doesn’t mention on the front that they’re also made with not-so-natural ingredients which include, in descending level of appearance, soy lecithin (I’m guessing GMO), modified cornstarch and high fructose corn sweetener (I never see that used in chocolate, but I do see it quite often in cookies and cereal products so I’m assuming it’s an ingredient in one of the inclusions).
My eggs were a little worse for their trek in the mail. I find that stuff that’s shipped to me actually ends up in worse condition than items I pick up in the stores, so I expect that this is a worst case scenario.
Since the portion is less than an ounce, the calorie count is much lower than some other “full serving” chocolate eggs. Both versions are 140 calories, and for a candy so high in fat, that’s a satisfying size. The Scrumdiddlyumptious Chocolate is already available in large bars or individually wrapped pieces. I reviewed them when they first came out last year. The combination of ingredients is interesting and definitely unique on the market at the moment.
The construction is simple, a 2.5” long and 1.5” wide egg is molded with mixed in items: crumbled cookies, toffee pieces and little bits of peanuts.
It smells green and nutty and a little milky. The crunch of the chocolate is good, it’s a little soft and immediately has a note of cinnamon and graham crackers. The toffee bits taste a little salty and the peanuts are few and far between but taste like they’re deeply roasted. The chocolate is mild and pleasant, it reminds me more of Cadbury than Nestle. It’s very sweet and at least the cookie bits provide a little relief from that.
It’s not that I loved this, but it’s so much better than Nestle’s other efforts like the Butterfinger Egg, it’s a wonder how they can continue making such waxy, poorly flavored chocolate when we now have proof that they know the difference.
I’m happy to report that there are fewer not-so-natural ingredients in this variety, just the soy lecithin.
White chocolate maybe the unofficial chocolate style of Easter and I was pleased to see that the white chocolate used here is the real cocoa butter variety.
The white and milk chocolate has a similar smooth texture, not quite Dove smooth, but smoother than other Nestle products. It’s quite sweet but has a milky taste and definite vanilla note to it.
The individually wrapped foil pieces are more consistently balanced between the milk and dark chocolate. I only had one sample of this so I can’t say it’s the same for all of them, but I felt there was too much milk chocolate and not enough white. Sometimes I find that white chocolate can taste a little off quickly, a little stale or rancid. In this case it just didn’t taste fresh to me, but I admit that it was stored with other flavored candies from Wonka, which might have contaminated it.
I like the shape, I like how thick it is and especially when there are chunks or layers in it, how it provides a nice cross section of flavors. The packaging isn’t as fun as the foil wrapped pieces, which I liked a little better, the colors on those are just as appropriate for Easter anyway.
It’s nice to see something a little different for Easter baskets or just snacking. These didn’t wow me with their ingenuity, but the quality difference from the earlier efforts from Wonka that were the Golden Creme Egg means that they’re winners just for showing up.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.