Monday, February 16, 2009
I actually ordered this set of four boxes of Wine Filled Chocolates made by Bouquet of Fruits Vineyard from Wine Woot! I’ve seen them for sale before, way back around Christmas 2007.
I was a little grumbly because it took so long for them to arrive. I ordered them at the end of January, and though they said that they’d arrive by Valentines, I assumed they’d be shipped out within five days or so (like other items I’d ordered from Woot!). Instead they arrived on Thursday last week. My hope is that they were being made to order, so they’d be extra fresh.
The set is four boxes of 9 pieces each, 4.5 ounces. The flavor array is Champagne (Pink), Chardonnay (Brown), Cabernet (Magenta) & Port (Black). Each little sphere or chocolate is advertised to be filled with wine. All for $29.99 plus $5 delivery.
The boxes are rather large for the amount of chocolate inside, however, since these are liquid filled, a bit of cushion is a good thing. Each chocolate is in a fluted cup, inside a slot in a plastic tray. The sides of the box have a bit of space around them and the whole thing is topped off with one of those cushioned waxed paper pieces. It’s all sealed in shrinkwrap, then a ribbon.
The ingredients are admirable. Chocolate, wine and vanilla. This really didn’t make sense to me, because the wine in the center always seemed very sweet & syrupy ... but I guess that’s the magic of wine filled chocolate.
The chocolate look rustic & hand rolled.
The chocolate shell is very sweet and melts readily, not quite oily but quite soft… but then there’s another shell underneath, a perfectly formed sphere that seems to have a seam. Aha!
That shell doesn’t taste quite the same as the outer shell, maybe a little darker.
Inside though is a syrup of white wine. I wouldn’t call it champagne, as I would assume that it’s not true champagne (from France) and it has no bubbles. It’s a sweet mixture, a lot like a dessert wine. Not quite to my liking, but I ate a few of them.
Chardonnay is a rather varied white wine that can be bold or delicate and it can be pretty confusing because it’s such a common wine but can take on so many different profiles.
Let me just say before I go too much further that I am an excellent wine taster, but I don’t consider myself a wine aficionado. I can enjoy it and drink it several times a week but if I never had it again, I don’t think I’d miss it much. (On the whole I prefer spirits with botanicals or aromatic elements like Gin, Ouzo or Pastis, though again, I don’t really drink that often but when I do, that’s where I go.) So if you want to add to the info here that I’ve mentioned about each of these wines, feel free.
The Chardonnay filled Chocolates were the only white chocolate over the bunch, which was over the functional milk chocolate shell. The ingredients on these were wrong, it made no mention of the white chocolate, which caused me to doubt the accuracy of all of them. (I also started to suspect that perhaps the sugar from the chocolate shell leaches in, to form this syrup.)
These smelled quite milky and a little yeasty (in a good way). The wine center was tangy and fresh tasting like grapes - not quite snappy though.
Cabernet Sauvignon, as a red wine, has a lot tannins in it. So it can be quite striking and sometimes bitter, tart or dry (or all three) and takes on some wonderful oak & tobacco flavors. However, a lot of the bitterness of the tannins can be mellowed by fats when pairing with meals. So pairing it with a good dark chocolate actually makes a lot of sense.
As I went along in this process, I learned that the big charge here is either biting into the sphere and getting a burst of light, wine flavor or letting the whole thing melt until it’s an oozy puddle.
After a few of these I was starting to feel a bit full though (so I did this review over three sessions). I was comforted to see that each piece is about 107 calories - about 110 calories per ounce, which is much lower than most other boxed chocolates.
I was letting the chocolate melt for my tastings of the Cab, there was a definite “butter” taste for the Cabernet. The wine center was fruity but lacking a sort of dry bite that red wine offers when paired with chocolate. Of the three so far, this was definitely winning out.
Port is a sweet, fortified red wine. While at first that sounds dreadful, it’s quite mellow and rich (usually fortified with brandy, not just any old distilled spirit like the long gone Ripple was). It’s sweeter than most wine’s but not quite as rich and complex (or alcohol laden) as something like brandy. It’s usually sipped from a snifter as a dessert wine.
Since Port contains more alcohol (about 19-20%), these actually carried more of the wine scent when I opened the box. (The others just smelled like chocolate.)
This was the most successful for me. The port was much more intense. There were dark brandy notes, woodsy flavors, a hit of alcohol of course and then the subtle notes of the mediocre chocolate shell.
The boxes are color coded, though there’s no actual key. The only place that the variety is indicated is on the little tag on the ribbon. Once you take the ribbon off it’s a guessing game. (The champagne & port were pretty easy to guess by color, but I kept getting the Chardonnay & Cabernet confused, especially since the Cabernet label never actually says Cab on it. )
Overall, the package was still a decent value. It’s over a pound of chocolates (18 ounces) delivered for $35. However, it’s Woot! so you never know when they’ll offer it again. (This is the second time I’ve seen it on there, which is why I ordered it. Thinking this review might be of value to someone in the future.)
It’s certainly a unique product, I’ve seen plenty of liquor filled chocolates and some ganaches flavored with wine, but I’ve never had another wine filled chocolate. I don’t think I’d want a whole box of them, but it might be fun as something to serve with a dessert cheese plate.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
For much of my life the prototype in my mind of Belgian chocolates was Guylian’s assortments shaped like sea shells. It was one of my earliest introductions to hazelnut pralines and though I rarely got the opportunity to indulge in them, they certainly fixed in my mind an image of what European fine chocolates were like.
They epitomize the convergence of flavors and design. Cute seashells and seahorse shapes with different cream fillings.
Now that I’ve had more access to a greater variety of confections, I wanted to revisit them with a fresh perspective.
The Guylian Belgian Chocolate Twists are a good way to try out their style without sinking too much money into the effort. For about $4, it’s a 4.51 ounce box with 18 individually wrapped “twists” in six varieties.
Each little piece is color coded and marked, wrapped in mylar. The pieces, I was surprised, are actually sealed and then twists (many other companies just twist the ends, these are actually sealed little pouches that look like twists). They do open easily though.
The little seahorses are striking. Each one was in great shape, even though I toted these around the floor at the Fancy Food Show and then all the way back to Los Angeles in my luggage.
Original Praline is dark and white chocolate with a hazelnut praline center. It has a soft and sweet hazelnut aroma. The bite of the chocolate is on the soft side. The center is lightly grainy with a strong hazelnut flavor. But it’s also very sweet with a touch of milky chocolate to it.
Now I remember why I don’t buy these. They’re very sweet, though I have to say, they are gorgeous.
But this assortment has other flavors, and they’re not white chocolate, so maybe I’ll find something else in there that I like.
Strawberry - this one looked like the classic marbled seahorse. It smelled like Twizzlers. Upon biting it open I saw the construction of the piece. The white cream center was covered in a white chocolate shell which then had the marbled dark chocolate on top of that in a thin veneer. So it’s a mostly-white chocolate piece. The strawberry flavor is more delicate than it smells, with only a slight tangy note in the cream. It’s rather like a chocolate version of strawberry ice cream.
Caramel Crisp (top of the pyramid) - this one didn’t start out well because it had a fake butter smell like buttered popcorn. But the texture combination upon biting it was fun. It’s a sweet milk chocolate shell with a whipped cream center with a butter flavor to it and some caramelized crisped rice bits in there for crunch.
Orange (bottom left of the pyramid) - dark chocolate with a light cream filling flavored with orange. The cream center is light and not too sweet, no graininess. It’s all about the orange, the only chocolate is from the shell, which isn’t strong enough to contribute much more than itself as a container.
Cappuccino (bottom right of the pyramid) is a dark chocolate truffle-like piece. The filling is light and fluffy, a white cream base with a heavy does of ground espresso beans in there. It’s definitely at the other end of the spectrum from the cloying sweet classic praline. Bitter yet still smooth, strongly flavored. The center isn’t quite truffle-like, it’s cool on the tongue, probably because palm oil is the second ingredient in the centers.
Chocolate Truffle is a milk chocolate shell with a milk chocolate ganache center. It’s slick and creamy, not too sweet but like I experience with the palm oil based Lindor truffles, it ultimately tastes empty.
Like the Lindor truffles as well, these are incredibly caloriffic. I clocked them at 192 calories per ounce. (A serving is 5 pieces, 34 grams and 230 calories.)
The craftsmanship on these is undeniable, but I don’t think this is the best that Belgium has to offer. They’re a fun little sweet for the eye, but less satisfying for those with discriminating palates (and who wish to avoid palm oil). I do have some of their Solitaire chocolate tasting squares which I’ll try soon, just as a touchstone for their main ingredient and they do make their chocolate from bean to bar to bonbon.
Terry has a review of the classic shells recently.
Friday, January 30, 2009
I check in with Valerie Confections from time to time, they’re about a mile from my house. The crazy little secret is that I go there for their teacakes. Especially in the summer, when I want something with a touch of chocolate but can’t bear a whole piece, the bottoms are dipped in chocolate. The cakes are moist, dense & lightly infused with flavors.
At the Fancy Food Show, however, Stan & Valerie were excited to show me their new Valentine’s collections. There are three:
The set called Pour Homme is for the gentleman. It has 11 pieces and comes in the dark brown box. Visually it’s dominated by large flat dark milk chocolate hearts that have fleur de sel and little almond toffee bits in them. It’s filled in with dark chocolate hearts with flowing caramel centers.
The set called Pour Elle is geared towards the gals and comes in the classic ivory box. This features large flat white chocolate hearts with rose petals and the small bittersweet chocolate hearts filled with rose petal and passionfruit ganache.
Both have 11 pieces and retail for $30.
For folks who want to share or prefer a different assortment there are boxes of various sizes (9, 18 & 36 pieces) that hold the bittersweet ganache hearts, gianduja rocher, and bittersweet chocolate with almond toffee bits.
I’ll just run down a few of the items I tasted:
Bittersweet Chocolate with Almond Toffee Bits (the smallest dark chocolate hearts shown above) - a simple pleasure. A mix of smooth bittersweet chocolate that has a glossy and smooth melt with little toffee chips and almonds. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t getting enough toffee ... but then again, if I wanted chocolate and toffee, I could just order the chocolate covered toffee, so this piece is more about chocolate.
Bittersweet Chocolate Hearts filled with Liquid Caramel - a little taller and wider than the other filled hearts, this one has a wonderfully thick and gooey caramel. Lightly salted, it has all the flavor of a toffee but the smooth texture of a custard. Lightly salted, the dark chocolate lends the perfect container and dark woodsy sweetness.
Bittersweet Chocolate Hearts filled with Rose Petal Passionfruit Ganache - a little petal graces the top of these pieces, but just sniffing it I could tell from the fragrance that it was the rose. The center is a white butter ganache with the tangy and tropical bite of passionfruit. The slightly soapy rose took some of the passionfruit earnestness away. There is a bit of a lingering aftertaste, kind of like jasmine. I suggest eating these last. Your dessert’s dessert.
Large Rose Petal White Chocolate Hearts (shown in a small version in the picture above) - this one was a little bland for me, and I did eat it first in my tasting session because I know that white can be a bit delicate and finicky. The white chocolate was smooth and not overly sweet, with a slight malty taste of cocoa. But the floral infusion didn’t quite hit me, but did leave a fresh aftertaste.
Gianduja Rocher - a sweet milky explosion of salt, buttery toffee chips and creamy sweet chocolate. It’s not a pasty, sticky gianduia. It’s a solid form that gives a soft and silky melt to the chocolate and a punch of roasted hazelnut flavor. It is sweet though, luckily the toffee chips and the salt cut through that.
Darkened Milk Chocolate Hearts with Almond Toffee Bits and Fleur de Sel - I want this in bar form year round. The “darkened milk chocolate” tastes like a cross between bittersweet and a European dairy milk chocolate. The dairy notes are complemented well by the toffee chips and the whole thing is set off by powerful zaps of salt in liberal reservoirs throughout.
Bittersweet Ganache in Bittersweet Shells Finished with 23 Karat Gold (the picture here is of a round version of the same truffle - the uneaten one is above). Delicate mix of flavors, as this is all about the chocolate. The ganache is soft and smooth. There’s an immediate acidic bite that gives way pretty quick to some dark charcoal and alcoholic notes like fine cognac and tobacco. The gold version has a bit more chocolate to it, because of the geometry ... the gold flakes do nothing for me, except distinguish it from the toffee chip dark heart.
The attention to detail in the items, with their perfectly placed decorations and well tempered chocolate is exquisite. No bubbles or voids, everything glossy and gorgeous. On the personal side of things, I go all weak in their knees for their nougat and am a little disappointed they don’t have it again this year for Valentine’s (as that’s what my Man gave me last year). But I like it when they try new things and enjoyed the darkened milk with toffee chips most of all. (So I guess I’d have to opt for the Pour Homme ... luckily the box doesn’t say anything about it being geared for fellas.)
I like supporting a local business and that everything is made fresh ... not last year and has been sitting in a warehouse. If you go to the store you can get the petits fours and the tea cakes by the piece.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
I checked through plenty of stores and found Walgreen’s had the best selection by the time the 75% off discount came around. This is when I jump on items I only eye at full price and then hem and haw over at half off. One was this Ghirardelli Squares Limited Edition Holiday Chocolate Assortment. Full price was $8.99, so $2.24 for over nine ounces of chocolate sounded like a great deal even if it was seasonally themed.
The assortment includes Peppermint Bark, Egg Nog and Chocolate Pecan Pie.
Ghirardelli, I think, is known for their Peppermint Bark. It’s one of the few brands that dependably makes the stuff and actually uses cocoa butter for their white chocolate.
The construction of the square is pretty simple. A milk chocolate base layer is covered with a minted white chocolate studded with little crunchies.
The scent isn’t overpoweringly minty, which probably saves the other chocolates in the bag from tasting like mint, too.
The texture of the chocolates is smooth and silky, very sweet but not achingly so. The little crunchies in the white chocolate aren’t crushed candy canes though, they’re corn flake bits (colored red). The crunch is a bit more cereal than hard candy but still puffy.
It’s kind of odd that this sort of confection isn’t available year round, but since Ghirardelli has been bringing it back faithfully each winter, I shouldn’t complain.
Of the three flavors in the bag, this was the one that sold me on it: Egg Nog.
It’s just extra vanilla-y white chocolate (with real cocoa butter) and a visible dash of nutmeg.
I love the flavors of egg nog, but never really cared for sweet or thick drinks so the idea of a solid, melt-in-your-mouth version of it is ideal for me.
The square is a creamy yellow color and smells like nutmeg.
The white confection is sweet but pretty smooth and has the woodsy blast of nutmeg and tastes, like, well, Egg Nog. It could use a little more vanilla and maybe a slight hit of rum.
A real winner, if only because no one else makes a plain old white chocolate with nutmeg bar. Truffles, yeah, but not just a block of white chocolate. Great idea, well done, bring it back next year and I’ll probably buy it before it goes on clearance.
One of the reasons I thought that this review, even at this late date, would still be of value is that the Chocolate Pecan Pie is not a limited edition item. It’s available now as an individual bar or in single-flavor bags of the Squares. (Also, I don’t think Pecan Pie has a season.)
This little milk chocolate square smells wonderful, like maple, hot chocolate and caramel.
The milk chocolate is smooth, though plenty sweet. Mixed in is a light crunch of toffee coated pecan bits. They have a little salty hit and of course the caramelized & buttery crunch of pecans.
(The photos make it look like the chocolate is bloomed, I don’t think it was, I think it was the fatty pecans messing with the sheen of the chocolate. Mmm, fatty pecans.)
Overall, the array is fun and something I feel comfortable eating out of season at the moment. Especially because I love individually wrapped squares. A bonus is that a sandwich of the Egg Nog & Chocolate Pecan Pie actually go pretty well together. (But the Peppermint Bark doesn’t work with either.)
The only thing that really bugged me was that the ingredients weren’t listed separately for each of the squares. I was able to get the ingredients for the Peppermint Bark because it’s sold separately, but I really like to know what’s in items that I’m able to choose from a dish.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I was converted to the “white side” by Green & Black’s White Chocolate several years ago and now I understand that the mix of milk, cocoa butter and vanilla can be a wonderful thing.
I was more than intrigued when Askinosie, a bean to bar, fair trade chocolate maker right here in the United States came out with their white chocolate, mostly because it’s made with goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk.
But the fascinating aspects don’t end there. It’s single origin, contains no soy lecithin or even any vanilla.
The Askinosie Soconusco White Chocolate Bar isn’t white. It’s the color of butterscotch pudding.
It smells a bit gamier than other white confections - kind of like erasers and marscapone.
I was expecting a texture of pure bliss, after all, this is un-deodorized cocoa butter, so it would have the texture of chocolate, the earthier hint of the cocoa solids that were once there and then the wonderful base of goat’s milk to boost it up and moderate the necessary sugar.
Instead it’s a bit grainy but it’s a sugary grain. It still has a wonderful mouthfeel and is rather cool on the tongue. But it wasn’t quite a buttery solid goat’s milk that I was hoping for.
While I say that intellectually, I ate about a third of the bar pondering these few paragraphs.
The other two bars are far more interesting:
White Chocolate Nibble Bar - I thoroughly enjoyed my first Askinosie Nibble bars which were based on the Jose del San Tambo beans. All of the white bars are Soconusco beans of the Trinitario variety from Mexico. (Not my favorite in the dark version either.)
Like the dark nibble bar, the cacao nibs aren’t mixed in with the chocolate. Instead they’re just tossed on the bottom as the bar is molded. Personally, I prefer integrated elements. This whole “topping” thing means that the nibs aren’t completely surrounded.
That said, the nibs are fun. They obviously carry a huge amount of chocolate flavor punch in them. In this case they have a bit of a smokey and woodsy flavor to them and it really balances out the sweetness of the white chocolate. The texture variation is also remarkable. The nibs are crunchy, the white chocolate cool and the graininess I complained about earlier is unnoticeable.
White Chocolate Pistachio Bar
This was the star, the perfect combination of the above texture and flavor profile.
The addition of some lightly toasted & sparingly salted pistachios provided some crunch but mostly a grassy brightness. It balanced out the twang of the goat’s milk without making it sweeter, instead it just made it more flavorful.
Askinosie has also just launched a dark milk chocolate which is 52% cacao of the same Soconusco single origin, fleur de sel and goat’s milk.
Many people who suffer from lactose intolerance can digest goat’s milk without difficulty, so this new line of goat’s milk products from Askinosie, as well as the fact that they don’t use soy may be just the ticket for those with food sensitivities.
My hesitation with them, besides the fact that I haven’t seen them in stores, is that they’re very expensive at $10.50 a bar. (The regular dark chocolate bars are $8.00 to $8.50.)
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.