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.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The bar is also 7.05 ounces and is described on the front as Fine coffee flavored milk chocolate combined with a layer of white chocolate.
The box is quite nice, though a little generic (and the cup of coffee there is completely out of scale with the bar shown). The bar is wrapped in an oversized paper-backed foil that is easy to re-wrap around the bar and put back into the box for later. (And yes, at seven ounces I wasn’t eating this all in one sitting, even with help from co-workers.)
Instead of little fingers like the Choceur Luxury Mini Chocolate Bars, this is a full sized bar.
The bottom layer is coffee flavored milk chocolate with little rectangles of white chocolate on top.
The effect is attractive, the bar was nicely molded with nice attention to detail. Each piece was a nice mouthful.
The flavor is immediately a sweet coffee. In fact, it’s almost all coffee. I caught a few notes of chocolate in there, but it’s all about the milk and coffee flavors here. It’s a tangy and woodsy coffee with a strong dairy component, especially from the white chocolate part.
It wasn’t as sweet as I’d feared, so I was pleased that I could eat as much as I could.
It’s a treat for coffee and white chocolate fans and for those who really like the powdered milk flavors of European chocolate. The fact that it’s milk chocolate and white certainly sets it apart from most other bars and it doesn’t have actual pieces of coffee beans in there.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Here’s another attractive little treat I picked up at Harry & David. Like the Fall Leaves Fruit Gels, these are not found on their website, just in the stores. The Belgian Chocolate Hazelnut Pinecones are simply too adorable to resist.
Actually, I did resist. I saw them on a recent trip to the Bay Area and didn’t buy them, then went back to the store before I left town, even though $12.95 seemed a bit steep for 7 ounces of not-Caffarel gianduia.
They’re little pine cone shaped chocolates, some milk chocolate and some white chocolate with a filling of hazelnut paste.
They’re about the size of a walnut in its shell, a full dozen packed into the tall bag.
They come in three different varieties:
The dark green one has a milk chocolate shell with a smooth hazelnut & chocolate paste filling. They smell like sweet black walnut flavoring. (My hope was that I’m not actually sensitive to walnut flavor, just actual walnuts.)
It’s rather sweet but the nutty flavors blend nicely with the milky smooth shell and filling.
The white chocolate shell with brown speckles has a filling of hazelnut paste with little rice crunchies. The nutty flavors weren’t as apparent, but the crisps gave a nice salty & cereal texture boost.
The orange white chocolate with the reddish airbrushing has a smooth nut paste with a stronger dairy note to it and less of a cocoa flavor.
I preferred the milk chocolate one far and away, the others, while interesting combinations of textures and flavors were just too sweet. Maybe I wouldn’t have minded if the pieces were smaller.
The biggest selling point is that they are so well crafted. The size, shape, molding and airbrushing of the shadows makes these irresistible as a seasonal treat. I can say that because I was unable to resist buying them, but I’ve been able to subsequently resist eating them. Still, if I’m looking for a hit of hazelnut I’d probably prefer Caffarel, Perugina Baci or Ferrero Rocher (in descending order of price) especially since I’ve been able to get Caffarel for about the same price of $1.00 per piece.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
October is Fair Trade Month, which makes sense since Halloween is the number one candy holiday. A few years ago I’m pretty sure few people, especially candy fans even know what that meant, happily much of that has changed, both through education efforts and the simple ubiquity of the products displaying the logos. Fair Trade guarantees the growers of raw materials & makers of products a fair and liveable wage for their products, you can read more about it here. Luckily all sorts of fair trade products are becoming more available to regular consumers, even at big box stores like Target, grocery & drug store chains.
I’ve tried quite a few fair trade candies over the years, including Divine Chocolate. Divine is expanding more in the United States and has a broader range of products now than ever before. One of their representatives sent me a nice sampling of their products, so I’ll be reviewing them over the next month or so. The motto is Heavenly chocolate with a heart.
First, their standard 3.5 ounce chocolate bars. While fair trade chocolate isn’t hard to find, fair trade candy bars are. Yes a nice dark bar is all well and good, but sometimes I want a little more in my decadent treat (without enslaving any children in Africa for it either). With a retail price of about $3 a bar, it’s certainly no hardship for the chocolate aficionado. But of course the larger question is, how do they taste?
I tried this chocolate back in 2005 and while I can’t say whether they’ve changed the formula or way that they’re making the bar, I like it much better than I did then.
The packaging is lovely. Before it was a simple black wrap with their logo. The new package is a matte paper with a foil inner wrap. The decorative icons are fun and attractive, I spotted hearts, turtles, geese and something that’s either a comb or a Menorah.
The bar inside is wonderfully tempered. Shiny, even and no hint of bubbles or bloom. I like the thickness of the pieces and that the bar snaps easily into the little portions.
The scent is a little grassy and fruity.
On the tongue the cocoa butter melts quickly into a silky puddle. Flavors are middle of the road, there’s nothing difficult or loud about this bar. I get a little bit of coffee, cherries, olives, woodsy eucalyptus and very little acid. The finish is smooth and with only a slight bitter note but no dryness.
The high fat content makes this very munchable. I like that in a chocolate bar, though I know that some fans prefer a more intense concentration cacao.
99% of the ingredients are fair trade certified for this bar (this includes the sugar, vanilla and cocoa products - only the non-GMO soy lecithin is not).
Rating: 8 out of 10
The Divine Hazelnut Milk Chocolate is completely new to me. I tried the 27% cocoa plain milk chocolate and was struck by how the milky flavors reflected the European-style.
I think this package is the prettiest of the three. I liked the brown wrapper with gold and cream colored icons, it feels elegant, playful and subtly conveys that this is a milk chocolate product.
The ingredients in this bar, like the dark one go for fair trade when possible, though this one only clocks in at 69% with the cream, soy lecithin and chopped hazelnuts as traditionally sourced.
The bar is softer than its dark counterpart. Snapping it in half it’s clear that part of the reason is the plethora of crushed hazelnuts.
The bar smells milky, a little nutty and a little cheesy.
On the tongue it melts quickly but is a little sweet and sticky at first. Then come the flavors, the dairy flavors lean towards powdered milk, have a great smoky cocoa flavor and of course the hazelnut.
It’s not quite giaunduia, but it’s close. The bar overall is a bit sweet for me but fills that gaping hole out there for fair price fair trade candy bars that are more than straight chocolate.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
The cocoa content on this bar is a staggering 25%, which means it’s one quarter cocoa butter. Milk solids make up another 26%. (And the fair trade percentage here is 71%.)
Strangely enough the calcium content on a single serving is 16% of your RDA and 4 grams of protein. I wouldn’t call it a full serving of dairy, but it’s certainly not completely junk food.
The bar smells like Frankenberry cereal.
The little berry crisps dot the bar and look to be evenly distributed.
The melt of the white chocolate isn’t quite as even as the other two bars, it has a slightly fudgier grain to it, but it is smooth. The strawberry crisps are more than just little dried bits. They’re crunchy and tangy, with the floral scent of berries along with the high pitched tartness. But the tangy part isn’t intergrated into the white chocolate like the Meiji bar I tried recently.
If you have a soft spot for white chocolate and strawberries, I’d suggest giving this bar a try. I enjoyed it a lot more than the Frey but the Green & Black’s White Chocolate (plain) is still the gold standard for me.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
All of the bars are Kosher. I don’t know the full distribution of the bars but you can find some of them places like Whole Foods and other stores that carry natural products. Look for wider distribution soon as well as new products from Divine for the holidays. I saw some little foil wrapped milk chocolates themed for Halloween (available web only) on their site.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Meiji, one of Japan’s major candy & snack companies uses white and flavored white chocolates in many of their confections. The flavors range from berry and flower flavors (sakura) to green tea and caramel.
I found this Meiji Rich Strawberry Chocolate bar in Little Tokyo at Murukai Market, but every store seemed to carry them.
The bar is much deeper in color than the KitKats or even the limited edition Hershey’s flavored white chocolate bars that I’ve had. And the intensity of the color matches the flavor. It’s much more in the berry range than the “light touch of berries”. It’s both tangy and sweet, with that woodsy flavor of seeds in there as well.
I wasn’t as fond of it as a I’d hoped. Something about the tangy mixed with the sweetness and a bit of grain from the real berry in there made me miss the cocoa butter and milk base. But for $1.29, it was a great buy for a little more exotic taste than the ordinary.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I wasn’t sure what these would be, I thought something like the Skoolkrijt that I’ve come to love. I assumed it was a licorice center with a candy coating. I found a description online that said, “Salty Salmiak & Mint Flavor with a crunchy outer shell” which didn’t really capture it all (except that it included that it was salted licorice, not the straight sweet kind).
There are three shapes, a dark and a light jelly bean style and a larger, um, rock. I didn’t even know there was a third shape at first, as there were only two in the bag so I didn’t photograph it.
The beans are two different flavors. The light one is a peppermint, menthol and licorice mix of flavors. There’s a lot of crunch outside, it’s a bit grainy. The inside isn’t a molasses/wheat chewy licorice. Instead it’s a gelatin gummi flavored with licorice (and salt). The combo isn’t bad, a little metallic but the mint helps kind of smooth it all together.
The gray ones were similar but more on the straight licorice side. (They might not have been minted, but the proximity made them so.)
The lumps were a piece of the wheat based chew, again a little salted and covered with the minty crunch. That was my favorite.
They’re a little confusing for me. Not enough of one thing or another and the lack of the molasses punch to go with the licorice (my favorite combo) just didn’t make me want more and I never finished the bag.
Rating: 4 out of 10.
I was saddened several years ago to see that Wrigley’s altered their time-tested favorites: Wrigley’s Spearmint, Doublemint, Juicyfruit and Big Red gums to include those sorts of things. But then at Munchies in Los Angeles I stumbled across this little treasure - Juicy Fruit Gum, not only is it Kosher (which I don’t really need) but it’s also made with sugar and on top of that, they’re candy coated chicklets!
The box was cute and held 20 pellets. I usually chew three pieces at a time, so at 50 cents it’s no different in price than the regular pack.
I liked the crunch of the sugar shell and the indeterminate mellow fruity flavor of the chew. The flavor doesn’t last very long, but I don’t usually chew gum for a long time, just long enough to get most of the sugar out then I rinse and repeat.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Friday, September 5, 2008
This fall marks the return of the Candy Corn Kiss as well as two new harvest-themed versions: Pumpkin Spice Kisses and Caramel Apple Kisses.
I tracked down the Pumpkin Spice ones at Target. (They weren’t in with the regular candy, just at the check out aisle candy display.)
The package is Halloween-themed, with brown and orange webby pattern (which kind of reminds me of cantaloupes) and a taunting Jack-O-Lantern.
The package offers no description of the product and neither does the Hershey’s website. All I could figure out from looking at the wrapper was that these were some sort of orange-colored white-chocolate-like-confection (there might be cocoa butter in there, there might not, the ingredients are rather coy about it) filled with a cream that’s probably flavored like pumpkin pie.
The little foil wrappings are bronzy orange with wavy little brown stripes. The flags are brown and say pumpkin spice though many are greasy and look a bit more translucent.
The bag smells appealing, like ginger snaps or snickerdoodles. Sugary and spicy and everything nice-y.
It was warm for a few days so I tucked these away in one of my coolers. When I took the photos they were very soft, but even at temps in the high sixties or low seventies, they’re still mushy.
The orange confection outside has a bit of a greasy sheen to it, but otherwise is a nice pumpkin custard color. I bit a few in half (ended up cutting them for the photo) just to see what was inside, it’s a soft cream not unlike the New York Cheesecake flavored ones back around Valentine’s Day.
The taste, though sweet, has a great harvest spice flavor - it’s mostly nutmeg with a little cinnamon and perhaps ginger or allspice and maybe a hint of clove.
I really thought these were going to be terrible, especially since I didn’t like the fake butter flavor of the Candy Corn Kisses, but they’re pleasant. Not too sweet, a little bit of a custardy tang and though kind of grainy they remind me of a decadent flavored fudge. Or a very sweet cheesecake.
I don’t think they’re something I’d buy again, even if they were seasonal, but I certainly enjoy a little spice in my life now and then. Sera at The Candy Enthusiast found them at the same time as I did and has a review today as well. She’s a bit more fond of them than I am, but I’ll chalk that up to her obsession with all things pumpkin. Other early reviews are also positive: Franklin Avenue, Megan’s Munchies and keep an eye on the Kiss Candy Spotting thread in the Candy Forums.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Since we now have officially nominated presidential candidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties, I thought it was time for another election-themed candy review.
These are from Moonstruck Chocolate Co. in Portland, Oregon. They’re called the Election Collection composed of two truffle shapes, in the shape of an Elephant, the mascot of the Republicans and in the shape of a Donkey, the mascot of the Democrats.
I picked these up at Chocolate Maya in Santa Barbara over the weekend. They weren’t cheap, I paid $3.50 each. On the Moonstruck website they’re going for $15 for a set of four. This is how they describe them:
(Honestly, I didn’t know they were different until after I bit into them ... cuz I didn’t get any literature with them and just assumed that political truffles, like Americans, were all the same on the inside.)
The shell is a white confection, perhaps white chocolate, colored a pale gray. The detail is quite nice (though mine was missing an eye ... or maybe it was closed and winking at me).
I was curious what was inside his ears (LA Burdick does little mice that have almond slices for ears), so I snapped one off. Inside is a piece of chocolate.
The inside of the Republican is pure darkness. The truffle ganache is a frothy but melt-in-your-mouth-good bittersweetness. What surprised me most after that first bite shown was what was inside the elephant’s head. I expected truffle all the way through, instead he has a white chocolate ganache brain. While I think it’s a cute idea and perhaps a wry political comment (I won’t go into all possible interpretations) I found it watered down the chocolate punch of the body.
This filling is sweeter, it’s a milk chocolate cream with crushed almonds and a little spice of cinnamon. It’s not quite a gianduia type nut and chocolate confections, more like an almond butter mixed with milk chocolate. Smooth, but slightly textured. At first it was a little coconutty to me, but that could have been the gray confection shell or just the way the milky chocolate reacted wtih the almonds. As a sweeter confection overall, I wasn’t as thrilled with it as the elephant’s dark ganache, but the donkey had nothing in his head but the milk ganache, so at least he was consistent.
The pieces are quite nice to look at and good quality and distinctive flavors. I would have preferred that they were both just bittersweet through and through (and perhaps a real dark chocolate shell under the gray coating). It’s nice that they’re more than a novelty item; they have as much substance as style ... how often does that happen in partisan politics?
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Stainer is an Italian chocolate maker based in Pontremoli. They’re known for their vast collection of chocolate bars that range from traditional to single origin to alcohol infused to organic and even a line of six different chili infused bars. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Stainer is moving into the North American market, so you can expect to see these more often at high end grocers and chocolate shops.
They come in smart little boxes with 50 gram bars tucked into orange-tinted cellophane wrappers.
I wanted to taste what Stainer’s dark chocolate was like without any other additions. I was drawn to this lovely box with a little hummingbird on the front. 65% Cacao Peru says it’s intenso & fruttato which I translated as cognates to mean intense and fruity.
The back of the box has no purple prose setting the stage for the tasting, it’s just the ingredients in four different languages (Italian, English, Spanish and German).
The bar is lovely. It’s rather thick, with easy to break domed segments. The color is a bit on the red side of brown. The scent is woodsy and sweet.
It has a slightly chalky bite, it has a very distinct snap. But it’s quite smooth and melts easily. The first notes are fruity, like figs and raisins. Later it becomes more woodsy, like cedar with some light coffee notes. Not sweet, but pleasant, there’s a light bitter tone over the finish but very little dryness.
Though it gives the regional origin of the beans, it doesn’t mention the types of beans in the bar or where in Peru they’re from, so I’m hesitant to call it a single origin bar.
I’ve had quite a bit of chili infused chocolate over the past couple of years, but this may be the first time I’ve had a white chocolate with pepper.
This bar, Cioccolato Bianco Peperoncino e Vaniglia Bourbon features red chili and bourbon vanilla (in case you couldn’t figure that out from the name). It has a 30% cacao content, and since this is white chocolate that means all that cacao is just cacao fat. (The king of vegetable fats.)
The squares are dotted with chili bits and vanilla seeds. It smells less sweet than many white chocolates, a little milky and kind of cheesy.
It’s also not terribly soft to bite, so it has a nice temper and breaks easily instead of bending like some heavily milky white chocolates do.
The first taste, however, is overwhelmingly hot. The burn of the chili comes out right away, then a smooth and creamy sweetness with a touch of vanilla, then a throat searing heat. Letting it melt instead of chewing it up a bit seems to mellow out the heat, but it’s still a lot hotter than I expected.
I don’t think it’s really my thing, I tempered it with some pretzels and almonds just to get through half the bar. I liked it, but it was kind of throat choking at times. (I must admit that I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to anything that’s hotter than “medium” in the chili family, I do great with curries & wasabi/horseradish, but pepper really gets me).
The boxes are compelling and I want to cute them apart and make the fronts into trading cards or something. But at about $8 for a 50 gram bar, it’s among the most expensive chocolate bars I’ve bought to date ... I won’t be making a habit of it. I do plan to try a few more of the vast collection before I make a final determination about them. I picked these up at Chocolate Covered in San Francisco’s Noe Valley. I haven’t seen them at any of my regular chocolate suppliers (but they may be coming soon as chocolate weather returns this fall).
Here are some other thoughts on Stainer’s bars: Chocablog tasted Curry & White Chocolate and Honey & Ginseng Dark, Talkalota Chocolate has Scotchbonnet Pepper and Rum & Masai Spice and finally, Lissbliss tried the 100% Venezuela.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.