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.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Since I’m still down with this aggravating illness, I thought I’d do some short & sweet briefs on a few things that I’ve been eating. Mostly it’s stuff that I’ve reviewed but in different flavors & varieties ... so they don’t warrant a full write-up on their own.
I took a little jaunt to Little Tokyo three weeks ago because I was craving the Gummy Choco I had last year. Mitsuwa Marketplace (3rd & Alameda) has an awesome selection, including single flavor packs of Muscat and Strawberry. I opted for the Strawberry Gummy Choco. (Oh, and I got another tube of the mixed fruits.) However, the price seemed to be better at Nijiya Market in Little Tokyo Village at only $1.49 instead of $2.49 ... but of course parking is a little more difficult over there at times.
They have a milk chocolate coating with an innner coating of real white chocolate. The gummy center is a rich and jammy strawberry. Ultra-soft and combines well with the creamy chocolate.
They’re still a satisfying candy to eat when you have no sense of smell, the combination of textures and the zap of the tart berry center keeps me amused.
Rating: 9 out of 10
It’s as simple as can be, just puffed wheat (I think puffed barley, actually) that’s covered in a shiny & thin coat of milk chocolate.
It’s sweet and kind of earthy and freakishly addictive. I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but I think I prefer the Japan Confectionery brand, if only because each kernel was separate from the others. It seemed like more of these were stuck together. ($1.69 for 4 ounces ... which doesn’t sound like much, but there’s a lot of air in there.)
This stuff should be sold in movie theaters ... it’s an ideal movie candy.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Back in November I visited with Chuck Siegel at Charles Chocolates and saw all the new stuff, including a preview of one of his new bars that sounded right up my alley: Candied Hazelnut in Dark Chocolate.
What has me so excited (besides the prospect of creamy dark chocolate with perfectly roasted hazelnuts) was that it might be an easier to find version of that wonderful Spanish bar I had last summer: Avellana Caramelizada Chocolate by Mallorca.
Instead of whole hazelnuts encased in a crunchy sugar glaze, these were bits of hazelnuts. The bits were crunchy and fresh, but didn’t have quite the burnt sugary crust that I was aching for. (But how was Chuck to know that’s what my expectation was?)
It’s still a great bar, I love his 65% dark chocolate blend. It has an excellent soft and silky melt, it’s a little tangy with mostly mellow flavors that let the other inclusions shine. I would have liked slightly bigger crunchy bits.
The packaging has changed slightly with the Charles Chocolates bars as well. When I first tried them each bar was wrapped in a microthin piece of foil. Now they’re a metallic airtight pack inside the box. Probably a much better way to keep the chocolate fresh in the stores, but not as easy to reseal if you tear the bag when opening.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The last item is kind of a fun thing that I picked up last summer. I noticed that there were two different designs for the same roll of Cryst-O-Mint Lifesavers on the shelves at Walgreen’s, so I picked them up.
Over the years Lifesavers has changed more than their packaging. The only thing that has remained the same is the shape of their product. The familiar donut shape is here to stay, even if they’re made in Canada now.
The Cryst-O-Mint is unlike the other mint Lifesavers in that it’s a boiled sugar sweet, not a compressed dextrose candy.
It’s not an intense mint like an Altoid, just a soft and clean peppermint flavor. The production of the candy is good, the pieces were all intact and didn’t have any voids or sharp spots like some of those Brach’s Ice Blue mints.
Also a plus, there are no artificial colors in there, because they’re colorless. If they’d just left out the High Fructose Corn Sweetener, they’d actually be an all-natural candy.
You can read more about the Lifesavers redesign here.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Friday, February 1, 2008
Last year I ordered some wonderful products from Artisan Sweets which included this Nougat aux Figues: Cuit au Chaudron. I promptly took a photo of the product and then ate it.
Made by Suprem’ Nougat G. Savin in Montelimar, France it is much like the Arnaud Soubeyran Montelimar Nougat that I’ve had previously, meaning it has wonderful lavender honey in it along with a generous embed of almonds. Of course it also has bits of figs in there too, as you might have guessed from the picture and name.
The figs gave the nougat a bit of texture, with the crunchy little seeds and combined well with the musky notes of the lavender honey. It seemed to make the whole thing a little sweeter, but it was a fresh taste. It’s expensive stuff, so it’s a sometimes-indulgence for me. ($8.00 for 3.52 ounces.)
This particular nougat has full macadamias in it. It’s a light nougat, it actually felt lighter than many nougats in the hand. The scent was a light vanilla, almost like toasted marshmallows. Wow, the marshmallow comparison was evident once I bit into it. The nougat is fluffy and completely smooth ... there’s no hint of sugary grain to it at all.
While I was completely missing any honey notes and macadamias aren’t my favorite nut, this was fantastic. Sweet without being sticky or cloying and just the right balance with the neutrality of the macadamias.
Walters is a South African company (which explains the macadamias) and besides these samples and a store I found in the UK online, I don’t know where else to get this. I guess I’ll just have to keep hitting Keller’s booth at the trade shows. Here’s a review from Our Adventures in Japan of the Almond variety.
I’ve been on the prowl for good sources of Caffarel in the United States. Besides picking up those few pieces at The Candy Store in San Francisco and seeing them at trade shows, I’m completely at an impasse on how to find them besides hyping them on Candy Blog in hopes that more shops will carry them.
And why? Their products are good quality and in most cases so freaking cute I want to put a leash on them and buy them squeaky toys.
Above is one of the new items they were showing called Conetto, which is like a teensy Drumstick Ice Cream Cone (warning, sound on that site).
The little confection is about 3 1/2” tall. The waffle cone holds a firm guanduia that is then rolled in little toasted cereal “nuts” with a few little chocolate chips tossed in there. The hazelnut paste is soft enough to bite like ice cream with the added bonus that it doesn’t melt. So take your time.
It only weighs .9 ounces, so it’s probably not a show-stopper when it comes to calories and since indulgence is partially about appearance, this might be an excellent calorie controlled treat. (Of course the wrapper doesn’t say how many calories, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s not more than 150.) Now the only things holding me back are where to get them and how much do they cost?
BruCo makes wonderful flavored chocolate bars. I’ve had their orange one and rum one and thought they were quite nice with an attractive package. Last year at the Fancy Food Show I also tried their spiced chocolate and found it far too spicy for me. This year that had some other items that were definitely to my liking: BruCo Salt Tasting Chocolate, Ciocc’Olio & Cabosse.
Ciocc’Olio: The firm white chocolate center has a quick buttery melt. The taste is not strongly of olives. I was expecting a sort of grassy quality to it, but instead it was more nutty. It was definitely smooth and set off by the equally smooth and slippery melt of the dark chocolate shell.
Cabosse: I wasn’t quite sure what this was supposed to be. At first I thought it was a dark chocolate guanduia, but later I thought it was simply a firm ganache with cacao nibs in it. Strong and fruity, this was a nice piece, the perfect size and really attractive.
I also tried a Salt Tasting Chocolate set. I’ll probably have a full review of that at a later date. Basically it’s two different versions of a salted chocolate in one package. Hooray for variety.
One of the other companies that I see at the trade show a lot is Marich. They’re known for their fine panned chocolates, especially their Holland Mints and produced the first gourmet malted milk balls in flavors like Espresso and Peanut Butter.
They’re based in Hollister, California (which seems to be a hotbed of panning with other confectioners like Jelly Belly, Sconza and Gimbal’s nearby) but seem rather hard to find. Part of it is that they sell in bulk to many shops that repackage the product without reference to the supplier or they end up in bulk bins. In this case I found this little package of their Triple Chocolate Toffee at Ralph’s in Glendale after trying them at the All Candy Expo.
They were absurdly expensive considering everything else in that aisle, $2.89 for that handful pictured above. But they are lovely to look at. They smell great too, like burnt sugar.
I didn’t know at first if the triple was referring to how much chocolate was on the outside or the fact that there were three different kinds. But suffice to say that either title works, because there is a lot of chocolate on each of these ... a pretty precise proportion that matches well with the chunk of butter toffee at the center. The toffee itself is wonderfully crisp and has that great cleave that very buttery toffee has. A little salty, it balances well with the not-so-dark but also not-too-sweet chocolates.
I’d probably pick these up again, but not at this price. Luckily Marich has a webstore.
Everything here gets an 8 out of 10 but no further specs as I don’t know retail prices (unless otherwise noted), calorie profile and often not even the ingredients.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
One of the new products I’ve been looking forward to at the Fancy Food Show a couple of weeks ago was Caffe Acapella new line of Coffee Confections.
It’s genius really. Instead of chocolate, which is a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar, this is a combination of coffee beans, cocoa butter and sugar. Let me warn you, it’s pretty intense.
I was careful to do my tasting of these in the morning because of the obvious caffeine content.
Caffe Acapella Espresso was the first on my list, I figure I should start with the strongest. The little heart is a solid piece, .35 ounces. It has a strong snap to it and a good melt on the tongue thanks to the cocoa butter and some milk. It smells rather like freshly ground coffee. It has a concentrated coffee flavor that includes those dark roasted notes, woodsy tones and of course some bitterness. It’s well rounded out with some sugar, perhaps a little too much, but then the bitterness kicks in again at the end.
The texture is good, very much like chocolate, only with slightly more grain than usual.
Honestly, I usually don’t like “whole bean” coffee candies, I’m kind of a purist and only want the water that has passed near a coffee bean, not eat the whole thing. But I think regular readers know my affinity for anything combined with cocoa butter. This is basically a white chocolate product.
Caffe Acapella Cappuccino looked pretty much the same color as the Espresso, I expected a slightly milkier appearance. It has a softer bite to it, and melts a bit quicker. It’s sweeter and definitely milky ... almost to the point of being a bit sticky. The bitterness is pretty much absent, but so are the more complex coffee flavors.
The Caffe Acapella Caramel Macchiato may look like the others from the outside, just a nicely puffed up heart. However, inside is a reservoir of salty caramel. I’ve never actually had a caramel macchiato drink, so I can’t say whether this is a good candy-version or not. I can say that it’s very sweet, verging on throat burning (which is pretty much what’s kept me away from the drinks ... that and the regular price). My least favorite of the three.
Caffe Acapella Coffee Confections come in two formats, the little individually wrapped hearts I have here and 2.5 ounce bars. I’m not sure what the caffeine content on these is, but I don’t think my little “one-cup-a-day-never-after-noon” system could handle a whole bar.
I don’t see this format of the product on their website, just the full-sized bars. If you can get a hold of these (and keep a sharp eye out at coffee houses and at the checkstand at upscale markets), it’s a good way to sample their product line. Personally, I’d stick with the Espresso one, just because I’d be eating these for the coffee kick.
You can buy online at their webstore or use their product locator to find a shop near you that carries them. (Raley’s seems to be the only place in California that carries them, so I think I’m outta luck.) The ingredients look all natural (except I don’t know if the mono and di-glycerides in the Macchiato qualify ... can someone make a call on that?).
Michelle at Candy Addict called these Awesomely Addictive. She mentioned a more noticeable grain in hers, it’s been a full year since her review, so I suspect they’ve been conching a bit longer to get this smoother product. She also said that a full bar would be too much, I’m guessing these little morsels are an answer to that.
Friday, January 18, 2008
I haven’t written about Ritter Sport in a while, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been eating them. There’s a wonderful feature for the All Candy Expo attendees, it’s a candy room where they give you a little bag and you can fill it to the top with candy in a huge room of bins and barrels of the stuff. I found a tub of Ritter Sport Minis and took home about two pounds of the tiny buggers.
But I also stopped at the booth for the Ritter importer to see what was new and found a few bars I’ve never reviewed, including this hefty White Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts bar.
I’ve hung onto this bar for a while because I really need to be in the “mood” for white chocolate. It was 43 degrees this morning in Los Angeles when I got in my car to go to work; brisk weather usually helps to push me over into the white chocolate territory.
The wrapper says whole hazelnuts and they’re not kidding. Just look at that first bite I got! The bar itself is a lovely creamy ivory color, a little on the yellow side.
What the front label leaves off that the back mentions is the whole description for this bar: white chocolate with hazelnuts & crispy rice. (Turn it over and the hazelnuts are quite evident sticking out as are the little nibs of rice.)
The bar smells like hazelnuts and milk with a light touch of vanilla. It’s not until I bit into it that I got the malty notes of the crisped rice (hey, barley malt is actually listed on the ingredients).
Most of the hazelnuts are large and nicely toasted to bring out their flavor. The crisped rice adds a texture to the bar as well, keeping the pure white chocolate (made with sugar, cocoa butter, cream, skim milk, whey, lactose and vanillin) from feeling too sticky or cloying. I think it could use a smidge more salt (there’s a little in the crisped rice) but for non-white-chocolate consumers, this could be a gateway drug (well, the real gateway drug for white chocolate would be Green & Black’s White Chocolate bar).
It’s a very pleasant bar and I had no trouble finishing the whole thing.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Over the holidays my mother was in town for a visit and we went on a hunt for exotic citrus. I thought for sure I could find some fresh yuzu in Little Tokyo. (I was also keeping my eyes open for kalamansi, dalandan and ponkan.) Finally I did see some yuzu at Mitsuwa Marketplace, but at $29.99 a pound (about $8 each), I had to give up on my plans to candy yuzu peel.
There were a few consolation prizes though, including my new favorite Wheat Chocolate and I picked up a tube of Meiji Gummy Choco.
I’ve had these before, one of my co-workers loves to bring in new finds from her local Asian market and shared some with me. But I gobbled them up before I could take any pictures. So here they are, in all their glory.
Meiji packages these in several different ways, but I prefer the tall tube (a little shorter than a standard paper towel roll).
The design on the package is absolutely wonderful. It’s colorful and exciting but not too busy. Even without the English on the package, it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on inside. Each end shows the little candies, just slightly larger than real life. There are also cute little peep mascots on the package wearing little hats ... I think they’re hats, or someone’s dipped their heads in chocolate.
Luckily this was an export package and was in English. The mix of flavors here are Strawberry, Muscat and Orange. The flavored white chocolate coating is real white chocolate. The ingredients for the confection start out like this: sugar, corn syrup, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, palm oil, concentrated fruit juice, skim milk powder, cacao mass, gelatin ... and so on.
Now, you may find this a little odd, but before I was exposed to the Gummy Choco, I’d never had chocolate-covered gummis before. (I’ll have some Muddy Bears up in the next week or so as a comparison). Somehow I always thought that the texture combo wouldn’t work, that the chocolate would be grainy and flaky compared to the gummi or that the chocolate would be subpar. Meiji has balanced theirs with a very soft gummi that’s pretty intensely flavored along with a generous and flavored white chocolate coating.
If the idea of white chocolate is just too difficult for you, Meiji makes a milk chocolate and strawberry version that’s also spectacular (and often sold in boxes instead of the tubes). I haven’t seen them in the States, but here are some more versions on Flickr.
Basically, I love these. I love the look of the package, I love the easy-to-dispense tube. The taste is great, often with flavor mixes there’s one that I don’t like, but I loved all of them. The price for an import candy wasn’t too bad ($1.49 at Nijiya Market in Little Tokyo Plaza) and it was absolutely fresh. There’s even 8% of my daily RDA of calcium in every serving. If they sold these at movie theaters, I might actually start going to the movies again.
They’re pretty popular and can be found in both Chinese, Korean and Japanese markets as well as various webstores. I’m not sure if they’re carried in comic book stores, but keep an eye out anyplace that you can find manga and other Asian imports.
(Meiji also makes other tubular goodness with their Coffee Beat.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.