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.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
With a smidge of fanfare last month, M&Ms/Mars introduced their new M&Ms Premiums line. The inaugural product launch includes five flavor variations that are a delightful chocolate gem with a colorful outside and a rich scrumptious inside.
These are not to be confused with the Special Edition offerings M&Ms had last year which featured such combinations as Cherry Almondine, Vanilla Crisp, Orange Creme and a few others I can’t remember. Those sold for $6.00 in a bag that held less than 6 ounces. (That bag was also unremarkable, similar to packaging for the regular M&Ms.)
Instead the new Premiums have radically different packaging, jewel tone boxes and most of all, a new type of colored coating in iridescent and speckled shading.
The packages are narrow and tall, with curved waists. They look rather modern, but more like they have some sort of grooming product in them or perhaps even feminine hygiene products. (All joking aside, it’s rather cute how the boxes have little feet at the back that keep them standing up.)
The flavor variety is at once classic and adventurous. They use white, milk and dark chocolate in the line, often in combination with a layered effect and the only nut present in their initial offerings is the almond.
But the radical departure here for M&Ms is the loss of the crisp, candy shell. Instead these morsels have no sugar shell. They have a wash of mottled colors and then a confectionery glaze to seal it all in and give it a shine.
As comparison I picked up some regular M&Ms to contrast this. The standard Milk Chocolate M&M has a clearly delineated shell, created by coating the tumbling lentil several times with the sugar syrup which dries in layers and builds up the familiar crunch.
So what is this new covering? It can’t be described as a shell, instead it’s more like a skin. It’s made from colorings, a little dash of oil and confectionery glaze (which contains shellac, a natural product but probably not vegetarian) - so it’s rather like a coat of latex paint. It’s not exactly flavored, but dissolves quickly, but into rather unappealing waxy flakes.
Chocolate Almond M&Ms Premiums
This cobalt blue and dark blue speckled egg shaped candies are milk chocolate around an almond.
They’re really not that different from the M&Ms Almond or if the shell thing is a bother, then compare them to the Dove Chocolate Covered Almonds, because other than the coloring, that’s exactly what they are.
It’s milk chocolate and to be honest, I would have preferred dark, but I have to review what’s in front of me.
The almonds are rather puny, some are smaller than peanuts. But they’re fresh and the milk chocolate is sweet and consistent and the right proportion. I can do better for the price. (Trader Joe’s.)
Raspberry Almond M&Ms Premiums
If I was disappointed with the classic milk chocolate covered almond, I should have kept my mouth shut. Because the twist on that is the over-engineered and under-tasty combination of raspberry flavored white chocolate over almonds covered in dark chocolate.
They smell like lipgloss and look like fake fingernails.
The texture is quite smooth and creamy, the white and dark chocolate a velvety. The almonds are fresh and crunchy, but the raspberry flavor just goes and spoils it all. It’s that fragrant raspberry essence - all flash and no real depth. I had a bunch of these mixed together in a bowl and they just polluted all the other ones. (That’s a tip if you were planning on using these for an event ... do not mix the raspberry.)
Mocha M&Ms Premiums
This amber and bronze little beads are a milk chocolate base lightly flavored with coffee.
The milk chocolate is moderately smooth, a bit milky and tastes rather like a mocha with a light fudgy grain to it. They’re even slightly bitter.
I’ve always wanted coffee M&Ms. These are pretty good. Pretty pricey and probably much harder to find but a nice change of pace from plain chocolate.
Triple Chocolate M&Ms Premiums
This is where things get exciting for this new line.
The triple chocolate is not triple the size of the others, instead if offers the three different kinds of chocolate: milk, white an dark.
The dark outer layer is buttery smooth, only a slight bitter tinge. It’s pretty thin and gives way to the slightly salty and very sweet white coating. Then the center is the milk chocolate. Kind of typical milk, a little more on the dairy side that I recall regular M&Ms tasting.
I liked chewing them up, but they’re fun to let melt through the layers.
Mint Chocolate M&Ms Premiums
As a twist on the ordinary minted chocolate M&Ms that are available around the holidays, the Mint Chocolate Premiums have layers as well.
Here the center is white chocolate (and it’s real white chocolate with actual cocoa butter) and then a thinner dark chocolate coating, all in the crazy mottled green.
They’re fresh tasting, smooth and really enjoyable.
I have to say that after I got over the no-shell shock, I really liked the Mocha and Mint (and the Triple Chocolate were also nice). The pricing is far better than I expected for a product called Premiums. I picked up this set at Target for $3.99 per package. They’re six ounces inside a little reclosable cellophane pouch. They’re far less expensive than the 7 ounce packages of single color M&Ms that are sold on the M&Ms website for $7.99 a package.
These are likely to be popular with brides and other folks planning large parties. I can only hope that M&Ms will provide more efficient packaging for that purpose.
M&Ms are by no means the first to create this sort of product. Koppers Chocolates has been selling jewel-toned chocolate covered almonds (and these are huge almonds) for at least 18 months and little flavored unshelled chocolates called Savouries (I tried the cayenne one here) for years. Koppers has also been making Mocha Lentils & Mint Lentils at least since I was a kid. Madelaine’s Chocolate has also been marketing jewel looking Malted Milk Balls for a couple of years.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
One of the more timely items I got from the All Candy Expo folks is this box of Crackheads candy. It’s been around for at least a year, but I haven’t seen it in stores.
I first saw them on ThinkGeek and reviewed on CandyAddict. I wasn’t terribly interested in them, after all, they’re just chocolate covered coffee beans, not exactly an innovative new product. The unique selling proposition in this case is that they’re in “single serve” boxes and come as a mix of both white chocolate and dark chocolate coatings.
The boxes look similar to Lemonheads or Boston Baked Beans. Easily portable and resealable.
They’re really nicely panned coffee beans. Though they’re not all consistent in size, the panning is excellent with shiny coats and well-tempered chocolate. The white chocolate is real white chocolate made with cocoa butter. The mellow malty milky flavors go really well with the coffee bean. This was the first time I’d had a white chocolate coated one, and it’s a natural match - the fatty sweetness with the dairy flavors are pretty much a dense version of a latte.
The dark verison are not nearly as sweet, but still provides a nice counterpoint to the dark and lightly bitter beans. The beans are crunchy without being fiberous or too burnt tasting. My box had a bit more white chocolate to it, but I was okay with that.
The “creator” of Crackheads, John Osmanski, was on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch last night on CNBC. The segment was One Minute to Millions where they featured a panel of three experts: Kevin Nealon (who was there promoting his book and probably provided the consumer point of view), Pam Macharola of Blair Candy and Brian Pipa of Candy Addict!
The product was introduced with a little pretaped segment. It made no mention of the fact that chocolate covered espresso beans have been around for at least 30 years. They’re pretty widely available, at least in specialty stores or at coffee locations like Starbucks (and of course the new Hershey’s Starbucks chocolates). While the back of the box has a breakdown of caffeine content of other beverages (cocoa, cola, tea, coffee & espresso), it doesn’t exactly spell out the caffeine content of the actual product. However, the Crackheads website pegs it at about 120 mgs (about half of a cup of coffee).
Osmanski introduced the product as a solution to those low caffeine moments, especially for students and academics.
The new tagline “because everyone’s addicted to something” works well with the name. The product packaging has been redesigned since my sample (you can see the new one here). But the general consensus from the panel was that the name would never have the wide appeal that would guarantee it placement on the shelves of stores like Walmart (which might be necessary to make millions off a single $2 product). Instead it would probably stay in places like Think Geek and coffee houses (where it’s currently found).
While I think it’s a good quality product, the packaging feels a bit downscale, not rising to the $2 per package price tag - which translates to over $24 per pound (the Starbucks version is about $12 a pound). The name, which tries to co-opt drug culture fails ... there may be other names that might fit the addiction tag better (but I’m not going to come up with it here, Osmanski has a blog if you want to give him feedback directly). Perhaps coming up with two lines, one under this name and another more mainstream version would be a success story worthy of follow up on Donny Deutsch.
(I suspect that Osmanium doesn’t actually manufacturer these, just repacks them, as they package says that they are made in a facility that processes peanuts & tree nuts. The website also says that they’re Kosher. My prime candidate as the maker of these is Koppers Chocolates.)
Friday, May 2, 2008
There are a few candies still on my list of “I can’t believe you haven’t tried that before!” and chocolate covered gummi bears were one of them. Once I had the Japanese version, I realized I should try the original. They were invented over 30 years ago by none other than the ultimate “if it should be covered in chocolate, we’ll cover it in chocolate” company: Koppers Chocolates.
When I was in San Francisco I found not only Koppers Milk Chocolate Covered Gummi Bears, but also the White Chocolate Polar Bears at Sweet Dish on Chestnut Street.
I’m not sure why I’ve been reticent about trying them. It might be that I was expecting a Haribo gummi bear, which are rather firm. Instead Koppers uses Swiss gummis (I don’t know anything beyond that) that they are appropriately soft.
I got just a quarter of a pound each of mixed milk & polar bears to try. What struck me at first was the fact that all the white chocolate bears were the same milky yellow color. Even held up to the light, there was no indication what color the gummi bear beneath was.
What I found out later, after diligently sucking the chocolate off of enough of them for a scientific sample, is that they’re all the same color (whether milk or white covered)! Though they’re yellow, I’m hard pressed to say that they’re lemon flavored, merely that they’re a sweet & tangy mix.
The milk chocolate was pretty smooth, and very milky tasting. It melted well and didn’t have that light waxy glaze that many other panned candies have. The white chocolate was similarly milky in its taste, but not too sweet. As a combination goes, I still wasn’t completely on board with having chocolate with my gummi bears. They’re cute and easy to eat, but I think I might like them apart.
Rating: 6 out of 10
To be fair, even though Koppers invented the confectionery genre of chocolate covered gummi bears, the ones I see most often in drug stores, movie theaters & discount chains are called Muddy Bears and are made by Taste of Nature (who also makes Cookie Dough Bites) which I think is an awesome name for an unappetizing looking product.
The box features a yellow bear who is entirely too happy to be covered in chocolate. I’m not sure if he understands that once he’s sealed in his confectionery shell he’s doomed.
I’ve only seen them in the theater sized boxes. Inside the box is a cellophane pouch that holds the bears and keeps them fresh. (And makes for extra wrapper noises at the theater and probably scowly looks from me if I’m sitting near.)
As unattractive as the Koppers were, I think the Muddy Bears are even worse. But since they’re meant to be eaten at the movies based on the packaging, I’m going to guess that doesn’t matter much. (For the record, I like candy that looks the same after sitting unwrapped at the bottom of my purse, so that when I switch purses and find it down there, I know what it is ... and then I eat it.)
One of the big differences in the products is the gummi center. Muddy Bears use multi-flavored gummis. Of course being covered in milk chocolate there’s no way to know which flavor is which. It’s a benign chocolate-covered Russian roulette. Mostly I seemed to get green apple.
The chocolate coating seems a bit crumbly, not as smooth melting as the Koppers and very sweet without much of a “chocolate” taste. I can’t see myself buying these.
Candy Addict did a review last summer as well, interestingly, their photo of the box says, “The Original”, I’m guessing Koppers took issue with the accuracy and they’ve changed it to the version I have.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Meiji Gummy Choco set the bar too high. Their candies come in lots of different flavors, they’re packaged so nicely, the price is right even for an import and if you get a flavor mix, they’re color coded. But if you’re not able to get a hold of those, give the Koppers a try (you’ll probably see them in bulk bins), if the shop also carries chocolate cordials, they’re probably Koppers.
Monday, April 14, 2008
KitKat in Japan has been hard at work churning out new limited edition and seasonal flavors. I’ve been kind of picky about which ones I want to buy and review, so here was one that I was particularly interested in: KitKat Vanilla Beans.
As with all of the premium limited edition KitKats in the single serve size, this comes in a box with two individually wrapped finger pairs.
It’s basically a white chocolate KitKat. I picked it up because the ingredients listed real cocoa butter, so this is true white chocolate instead of some partially hydrogenated/tropical oil mess.
It features real flecks of vanilla beans in the coating as well, which I’d hoped would be like the rich bourbon flavors of the Green & Black’s White Chocolate bar.
It smells quite milky and sweet, almost cloyingly so. The melt is nice, it does have a good dairy flavor and it’s not as sweet as I’d feared. The vanilla flavor is true and well rounded (not single-noted like the nature-identical vanillin).
The wafers balance it all out ... but I think I could have used a little bit of salt in the cream or something to keep it from being throat burningly sugary.
It’s not spectacularly better than a regular US white chocolate KitKat, certainly not for the price. In fact for the price per ounce the Green & Black’s is a better deal and ethically traded (but you’ll have to add your own crispy element). Rating: 6 out of 10
Like the KitKat, Nestle goes through a lot of different limited editions of their popular Aero Bar for Japan. Aeros are available in the UK, Canada and Australia but for some reason have never been introduced in the US. (There was a Nestle chocolate bar called the Choco-Lite back in the 70s-early 80s.)
I’ve reviewed the Mint and Milk Chocolate Aero before and have a Caramel Aero in my review queue. The UK also has a version of little spheres (about the size of malted milk balls) called Aero Bubbles. I find the UK Aeros at import shops including Cost Plus World Market pretty regularly.
It’s the Japanese Aeros that are so fun though, especially since they have these cute little individually wrapped nuggets in the Limited Edition versions. I found these at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Little Tokyo but they’re also available online through eBay and JBox. This one is called Aero Bitter Orange and has a companion KitKat bar that came out last year as well. (I tried them but didn’t review them. Pretty tasty milk chocolate with a mellow orange cream filling between the wafers.)
It lives up to the Aero name. It is a fluffed bite of chocolate. The orange topping is orangy, not in the least tangy or complexly zesty but slightly bitter as promised.
The bubbles in Aero give it an interesting texture, more fudgy than chocolatey, it’s still a nice confectionery experience. The box makes them seem like a nicer candy treat than perhaps they actually are, as does the price ($1.99 for 1.76 ounces.) Rating: 7 out of 10
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Lindt has a nice assortment of Easter goodies and they seem to be easier to find over the past couple of years. Most of their stuff involves their Gold Bunnies and some novelty molded items. (I especially like the set of foil wrapped sheep.)
Target had a sale, three boxed items for $5. So for $1.66 I picked up this little set of four eggs (which was the same price as a set of some Butterfinger eggs ... I thought I scored!). As a side note Target also has the white chocolate hollow rabbits, I’m thinking about trying those, perhaps if they’re on sale after the holiday.
The assortment includes one of each of the standard Lindt Lindor Truffles: Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, White Chocolate and Peanut Butter.
The eggs are small, about the size of a very large olive. I also picked up a single larger egg in Milk Chocolate, which is about the same size as a Cadbury Creme Egg, except narrower (28 grams instead of 34 grams for the CCE).
The most curious part of this whole tasting was that I got to see for myself what a difference proportion makes. The smaller milk chocolate egg had a shell of similar thickness to the large one, but of course less filling, so the proportion of chocolate to filling in the small egg was less.
The shell is the Lindt milk chocolate, which has a very strong powdered milk flavor to it with a little hit of malt. However, the truffle center, though it looks the same, doesn’t taste like much at all. It feels, well, empty. All texture and no taste.
Peanut Butter - wow, this is rich. The chocolate shell is thick and milky and the center is just a slightly oranger color. It has the same texture as the Lindor line, but an intense roasted peanut butter flavor. A little salty, rather dark and very satisfying. My favorite of the bunch.
White Chocolate - like the milk chocolate, the outside tasted like sweet powdered milk. The inside was simply a sweet and smooth coconut oil concoction. I’d have loved some vanilla beans in there or something, but Lindt doesn’t even use real vanilla.
Dark Chocolate - this one smelled like olives and cherries. Very odd, but not unpleasant. The dark chocolate shell was bitter and complex and interesting, the greasy center just turned me off. It was so tasteless and void of flavor, I just wondered why I was eating these when a full box contains 110% of my daily saturated fat intake. (Let’s not even talk about that single egg.)
I was very positive about these when I tried the truffles for the first time, but I didn’t know the ingredients, fat content or calories back then. These are still a much better deal than something like Godiva at only about $12 a pound on sale and still carry much of the upscale cache and more flavor variety. I think I’ll stick with the Lindt hollow chocolate items ... the air inside will not clog my arteries or build up fat reserves around my belly and still looks really cute in the Easter basket.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Okay, this probably one of the saddest names for a fine Easter confection I’ve ever seen: Hollow Eggs with Novelty. See’s has gone through the trouble of naming every last one of their 102 boxed chocolates. Okay, some of them are ordinary names, like Buttercream, but others are original like Scotchmallow, Chelsea, Bordeaux & California Brittle.
Naming aside, everything else is spot on. The little carton holds the chick-egg-sized, foil-wrapped hollow chocolate eggs just like a half a dozen eggs you’d buy a the grocery store.
The foil is nicely applied (you’d be surprised at how hard it is to find foil-wrapped eggs where you can actually read the lettering on them). The blue, magenta and pale green colors are pretty sedate but match really well with most of the other Easter offerings at See’s. Each foiled egg has an interesting little rattle to it when shaken. There’s definitely something in there, and my guess is it’s a novelty. (It does sound kind of like the whole thing is plastic, but trust me, it’s chocolate.)
The outside shell is milk chocolate, the interior chick is white chocolate. The ingredients label is a little vague about that chick but the ingredients are still pretty pure: Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Milk, Chocolate, Soy Lecithin, Vanillin & Salt. The shell has a geometric pattern on it ... kinda like an eggshell looks when you roll a hard boiled egg around.
The price isn’t bad, especially when you buy the batch of 6. At $5.60 each is less than a dollar and are a little less than an ounce each (26 grams).
The first egg I opened I carefully sliced through the seam with an exacto blade. Now that I’ve eaten several, I can tell you the trick if you want to split it open cleanly ... hold the egg firmly and press along the seam at the widest part of the egg very gently. Most times it will split cleanly. Sometimes you end with your thumb through the egg ... just like when you play with real eggs!
The milk chocolate is nice. It’s sweet and has an mellow dairy component, not very malty or dark ... just a nice middle-of-the road chocolate flavor.
The white chocolate is very sweet but milky and mostly smooth. The appearance of them varies. Some are pristine little chicks, others are a little smudged up from rattling around in the chocolate shell (well, I’ve been rattling them around). It’s a nice couple of bites, I probably wouldn’t want more, but white chocolate is inextricably tied to Easter for me, so I enjoy it for the nostalgia alone.
They don’t sell these as solo treats, just in the half dozen box or in other pre-mixed baskets. Though I think they’re great, I just don’t see myself buying these when I can have the Scotchmallow Eggs (except those aren’t individually wrapped for nestling in baskets so someone will have to put a whole box in mine) at the same price. But if you’ve got a group to please, this is a good way to go.
Each egg has about 145 calories each.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.