Friday, January 15, 2010
Rococo is a small chocolatier and chocolate maker based in London. They grow their cacao in Grenada, in a partnership with the Grenada Chocolate Company. They grow organic Trinitario beans which are then turned into bars and fine chocolates at founder Chantal Coady’s space in London.
The design of the packaging and candy itself is charming, quaint and distinctive from other chocolatiers. The flavors she employs are also a distinctive palette of aromatics, spices and florals.
The chocolate is sold primarily in Great Britain, though there are a couple of shops that have mostly the bars in North America. When I was in San Francisco last time I found the line of Bee Bars at Miette Confiserie. The bars are expensive, so I opted for the petite versions - these are only 20 grams each but cost $3.50 (that works out to $39.50 a pound). The bars are about three inches long, so really just one portion.
The packages are beguiling with reproductions of antique French chocolate mold images lined up and printed in pastel colors like purple and olive green in the case of my bars and navy blue, pink and orange for other bars. I picked up Organic Plain Lavender (dark), Organic Milk 37% Cocoa and Organic White Cardamom.
I was a bit surprised when I got home and opened my boxes that there is no inner wrapper. No foil, no cellophane, no overwrap for the box or even glue or tape for the tabs.
Still, my bar was in exquisite condition - glossy and beautifully molded. The bee bar, my guess, is named for the mold that has a little bee with outstretched wings on each segment. There are no honey ingredients.
The Milk 37% Cocoa Bee Bar is quite simple. It’s a little softer than a dark chocolate, though certainly doesn’t bend like a Cadbury bar.
It has the light scent of milk and sugar and a little musky hint or malt. It’s quite dark for a milk which appeals to me, though it still has that light cooling effect on the tongue that’s common in milk chocolate. The melt is silky and smooth though on the sticky side because of the sugar and 17% milk content. The chocolate notes are overshadowed by the milk for the most part, but it’s still a great texture and the fresh dairy flavors are a highlight.
The Lavender Bee Bar is made from 65% cacao and uses no vanilla, instead it’s organic lavender essential oil that gives this bar its pop. The fact that they use oil instead of flowers is different here. I’ve had other bars that use whole flowers to flavor the chocolate and while that does a nice job of imparting complex flavors, lavender buds really aren’t that tasty or smooth.
The dark chocolate is smooth, a bit dry and bitter. The lavender is woodsy with a hint of pine and a whiff of aromatics like menthol. I like the flavor of lavender, it reminds me a lot of rosemary - both go well with all kinds of chocolate.
The bar that was most compelling to me was the White Cardamom Bee Bar. This one was wrapped - both in foil and then a paper-overwrap. The mold of the bar is also slightly different - it’s four sections instead of six.
The bar is beautiful, a light and creamy yellow with specks of spice. The ingredients list 28% cacao (that’d be cocoa butter) and 22% milk.
I love cardamom and love tasting it in candy. This bar utilizes it perfectly, it’s like a rich rice pudding. It’s a little sweet, but the deep nutty flavors of the cardamom, which is kind of like nutmeg, coriander and saffron all in one. I could eat this bar regularly. I wouldn’t mind a little vanilla in it, to give it some bourbon notes, but this is fabulous as it is.
Other flavor combinations I’m eager to try are Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh; Arabic Spices; Basil & Persian Lime; Orange & Geranium and Peppered Mint. For web orders in the US, it appears that Miss Del’s General Store in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At these prices they’re certainly not an everyday indulgence, more of a way to explore the world of flavors.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The box sports a modular and moderne design created by someone who liked to show off their typesetting skills. They’re:
On the back it goes on in all caps:
I had a headache from all the shouting and exclamations.
The chocolates are quite pretty to look at, like a selection of gaudy bakelite coat buttons. The five flavors are naturally colored domes with a similar construction. Inside is a ganache with a little dollop of fruit jelly. The top is a shell of chocolate or white chocolate and the base is sealed up with more chocolate of some sort.
They’re one inch high and about one inch and a quarter in diameter. For the most part they’re one bite, but of course I did a lot of biting in half and peeking so perhaps I wasn’t eating them the way those fancy Belgians intended.
Cranberry (white chocolate) - a white chocolate shell with red blush filled with a milk chocolate ganache and a cranberry jelly all sitting on a white chocolate base.
You know what I think about when someone says cranberry jelly? I think tart. I think cheek drawing tartness. What I got here was something a little less startling. The milk chocolate ganache was a rather dairy, which is not a flavor I think goes particularly well with cranberry, I think a dark chocolate would join with the acidity and berry notes better. It was sweet and set off well by the slightly tart cranberry jelly, but the white chocolate shell & base just made to far too sweet in the end.
This was another bland floral jelly with no real note that came through the white chocolate, it was all overshadowed by the dark chocolate base. Not that it was a bad thing, but a pom white ganache truffle sounded pretty good.
Cherry (milk chocolate) - a milk chocolate shell with brownish red hue filled with a white chocolate ganache and a cherry jelly sitting on a milk chocolate base.
The scent on these is an overwhelming woodsy-cherry with some medicinal maraschino thing. It’s quite distracting and swamps the box every time I open it. The jelly itself is rather mild and sweet with an authentic flavor of cherry. The sweet milk chocolate has a little dairy going on, a little creamy party that’s actually rather good. So though I didn’t like the bad influence the cherry had on the box, they were one of the better cherry chocolates I’ve had in a long time.
It seemed like the orange ones got a more liberal heaping of the jelly, so the flavor was more intense right away. The jelly is tangy and zesty, smooth and not a trace of grain. I would buy a whole box of these.
Raspberry (white chocolate) - a white chocolate shell with red/brown stripes filled with a white chocolate ganache and a raspberry jelly all sitting on a dark chocolate base.
The ganache is soft, creamy and sweet, a little fluffy and generally unflavored. The raspberry jelly does nothing, not even a tangy bite or a floral note. The dark chocolate base actually does a lot of heavy lifting here with a bittersweet overtone in an otherwise “cherry infused” piece.
So my ultimate reaction to these was that I was torn. They’re good quality, I appreciate that they’re beautiful and have some uncommon flavors. The ingredients may be all natural (including the colorings) but there’s also canola and palm oil in there (good quality ganache is made with butterfat). In the end each piece wasn’t distinctive enough and the colors weren’t well defined so I couldn’t even tell what I was eating. They just didn’t satisfy any craving within me for either chocolate or creamy.
Belgian Chocolate Fancies are marked gluten free and say that they’re processed on equipment with tree nuts & eggs (and of course contain dairy and soy). So it may be a lovely hostess gift for a chocolate-loving peanut-allergic pal.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
One thing that was missing in the Dove chocolate line was white chocolate. Well, Dove’s new Dove Peppermint Bark Promises are the first step to remedy that. This new holiday version of Dove’s foil wrapped bites of chocolate has special holiday tips on the wrappers from Martha Stewart.
I was a little hesitant to pick up this bag when I saw it at RiteAid last weekend. Of course I was excited by a real cocoa butter version of peppermint bark with white chocolate. As mentioned in our forum discussion about new holiday candy, I was hoping these would replace the Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses in my heart, which are no longer made with 100% cocoa butter. And of course I love that Promises are easy to eat and share. But they were priced at $4.99 for an 8.5 ounce bag. That’s pretty steep for drug store chocolate.
When I opened the bag I wasn’t blown away by a minty smell; actually I didn’t catch much of anything as far as scent. But that’s not a bad thing, it means that the foil wrappers are doing their job of not only protecting each piece but also keeping their mint out of other candies that you might throw in the same bowl. Each little foil wrapped piece is cute: silver foil with red and green polka dots. They’re definitely easy to spot in comparison to the existing Promises line.
There’s a dark chocolate base with a white chocolate topper. The white chocolate has bits of red and white peppermint candies mixed in.
The melt is great. The dark chocolate (not totally dark, there is some milkfat in there, like most Dove) melts a bit quicker than the white chocolate. It’s a silky and fatty melt, slick and with some decent woodsy cocoa notes, but there’s also a cocoa experience ... a dryness like eating cocoa powder. No worries though the white chocolate layer is sweet, also fatty and of course minty. There’s a slight vanilla note to it and a bit of a dairy milk flavor with a hint of salt. The creaminess offsets the dry bite, as long as you eat the layers together.
The whole effect is a mint meltaway with a really tasty chocolate punch to it. Far and away better than an Andes Mint. The candy bits provide a good crunch (though I don’t necessarily need them, but without them it’s not a very convincing bark product.)
Price aside, these are awesome. They really fit the holiday season with the mint and chocolate combo. It’s also available in an actual bark shape, but I haven’t seen that in stores.
Monday, October 26, 2009
On my recent trip to Las Vegas I spent zero time in the casinos (except to traverse them to get to the chocolate and of course scanning the slot machines to find a candy-themed one) and all my time either walking or browsing fine chocolate.
Las Vegas actually has some very nice options for chocolate lovers and thankfully they’re liberally scattered around if you’re not into skipping from one casino-hotel-monstrosity to another. I went up to the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace to the Vosges Haut-Chocolat Boutique. Since it was barely a week to Halloween, I picked up a selection of their Skulls. (They’re a variation on their Easter Bunnies, which I attempted to review once before.)
There are three variations of the large skull shaped solid chocolates called Day of the Dead Skulls: Red Fire, Barcelona and Blanca. Each is 2.75 inches high, 1.75 inches wide at the widest and about 1 inch thick.
The Barcelona Skull is made of hickory smoked almonds, Maldon sea salt + deep milk chocolate 45% cacao.
The eyes are also filled with coarse Black Hawaiian sea salt to give them a bit more impact. They each weigh 2.2 ounces, so it’s more chocolate than a regular single serve bar, but it’s a hefty lump. They’re not really that easy to share, as biting into it is messy and difficult and once it’s cut up with a knife the allure of the skull shape is ruined.
Barcelona is available as a regular bar from Vosges, so I thought it would be fun to try in the novelty shape anyway. The color is quite deep and rich looking and I could actually make out the little almond bits near the surface.
As a milk chocolate it’s an easier bite than most dark chocolates. The deep milk chocolate is creamy with strong woodsy notes that are amplified by the mineral notes of the sea salt and the buttery crunch of the Marcona almonds.
I enjoyed the deep bites of the chocolate (yes, I just gnawed my way through the whole skull) more than I think I would a flat bar.
The Red Fire Skull is deep and shiny. It smells fruity and also very peppery. Like a bottle of Tabasco sauce, a hardwood smokebox and some other spice notes like cinnamon.
I was a little worried about the spice level. I’m good with horseradish, wasabi and curries, but capsaicin (the active ingredient in chili peppers) is unpleasant for me pretty often. Thankfully I think the chocolate is exceptionally well balanced. It’s hot (at least to me) but not uncomfortably so.
The woodsy notes have a definite tangy bent to them, like smoked peppers that have been re-hydrated there’s a bit of a spicy raisin feel. The cinnamon notes are also quite apparent. The bite of the chocolate is quite firm, there’s a distinct snap, but it is hard to just bite right into this thick skull.
The chocolate flavors aren’t overwhelmed by all of this, which is refreshing compared to some flavored bars. I felt that it was a good blend of flavors and intensity. The spices themselves lent a little grain to the chocolate which reminded me of the traditional stone ground Mexican hot chocolate I’ve had. I found the salt reservoir of the eye sockets to be far to intense and I felt really creepy digging out the salt from the second one.
This Skull was different from the Vosges bar, the Blanca is just high quality white chocolate, featuring 36% cocoa butter. (Catch me on a good day and I’m also about one third cocoa butter.)
The scent is rather odd, a little milky but not as sugary sweet smelling as some others and lacking a vanilla pop that I’ve had from Green & Blacks White.
The texture is a bit softer than the dark chocolate. It’s not quite as silky smooth, but still quite fatty with a good melt. The milky and dairy flavors are rich and thick and a bit on the sticky side. The vanilla has a good presence but not so much that it takes the center stage here. The Black Hawaiian sea salt, in this instance, is a wonderful counterpoint to the sweetness.
Still, it’s hard to just eat straight white chocolate. I found it was a nice way to offset the lingering throat burn of the Red Fire chilies.
They are rather expensive. The set of three is $21 and individuals are sold for $8 each. At 2.2 ounces they’re more expensive than the bars ... which are also on the pricey side (3 ounces for $7.50). If you’re looking for a more upscale and dependably tasty hostess gift for The Day of the Dead, well this will do the trick nicely. Part of me wanted more packaging (the Easter bunnies get little boxes) but then again this is spare and does the job.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
I was surprised and pleased when I ran into the bars at the nearby Cost Plus World Market.
There are three varieties with a bold package design that keeps in tune with the Swiss Army style of the red shield with a white cross. The bars are larger than most American single-serve chocolate bars, about half the size of the typical 3.5 ounce (100 gram) tablet.
The wrapper calls them Survival Portions though the rest of the package is rather vague about how these help you survive, or what exactly the challenge is that needs a portion for survival.
I think the design on the wrapper is great. The bold design of the logo caught my eye immediately and the nice placement of the description & statement that it contains caffeine from guarana is easy to see.
It’s billed as Swiss Army Energy Bar Chocolate - Skimmed Milk Chocolate with Cornflakes and Guarana.
Guarana is an Amazonian vine related to the maple tree that produces a little fruit with seeds high in caffeine. In its purest form I understand the roasted fruits/seeds are a bit like cocoa powder, a bit astringent and bitter but also with some pleasant cocoa & coffee flavors. In this instance it’s just a guarana extract and it only makes up 1/2% of the total bar.
It’s quite a nice looking bar - shiny and nicely molded with scored pieces for easy portioning.
Once I broke the bar it was easy to see the little cornflake bits. It smells rather sweet but also slightly malty, which I attributed to the cornflakes.
The texture is quite smooth, though not quite silky because of the cereal bits. It’s sweet but the slightly salty, mildly malty cornflakes plus the dairy notes of the milk made it all work. I only got the slightest hint of caffeine bitterness that lingered high and light at the finish.
After the creamy experience with the milk chocolate version, I was thinking perhaps this one would be nice but probably sweet. I was happy to see that the first ingredient is cacao mass and the second sugar then cocoa butter ... so this was going to be pretty chocolatey.
It has the same 1/2% guarana extract content, which amounts to about 42 mgs of caffeine per bar.
The scent isn’t very complex, just sweet with a woodsy roasted note. The texture is smooth and has a good immediate melt. It’s a bit bitter with an overall fruity and berry note to the chocolate flavors and a little hint of smoke towards the end. I got a similar bitterness at the end as well that was different from the initial bitterness.
The white bar is a bit different, first because it has coconut instead of cornflakes. It’s made with real cocoa butter, and quite a lot of it (the second item on the list of ingredients, right after sugar and followed by skimmed milk powder).
Of course all that fat amps up the calorie count here, this bar is 290 calories versus the 260 for the previous two bars. The other confusing aspect of the nutrition label is that it lists salt as an ingredient but says that there is no sodium in it.
The bar is a light yellow, buttery looking block. The little white flecks of coconut are quite small. The overwhelming scent of the bar is coconut.
The bar melts readily and has a smooth texture, except for the soft & chewy coconut flakes. It’s sweet and milky but also has a fair bit of a salty note which keeps it from seeming too sticky like some white chocolates can. I might have preferred it with the cornflakes, but it’s still a fun bar. I didn’t sense any bitter aftertaste here, which may have just been the chocolate and not the guarana in the previous bars.
What sets these bars apart, besides the Swiss Army branding is the caffeine content. It’s not that much at only 46 mg per bar, the same caffeine content as 1 ounce of espresso or a 4 ounce cup of coffee. And as I mentioned, the portions are quite generous for what is basically an “all chocolate” bar with only a few small inclusions.
They’re well priced for what they are, a quasi-novelty item but also a decent chocolate bar with a unique set of attributes. They’ll probably be very popular stocking stuffers this holiday season.
They have an odd website, it looks great, but feels a little off because of what appears to be a machine translation of the text. The wrappers say Imported into the USA by Cost Plus, Inc. so I’m guessing they’re the exclusive retailer for these here.
Monday, October 12, 2009
At the Walgreen’s I noticed a new set of bars far down on the bottom shelf in the candy aisle. They’re simply called 3 for $1 Buck (which seems redundant, three for one dollar buck bar?). They’re Proudly manufactured in the USA by R.M. Palmer. I picked out one of each and today I thought I’d do a head to head comparison between one of them, called Cookies ‘n’ Creme.
Of course the best known Cookies ‘n’ Creme bar is made by Hershey’s. It was introduced in 1994 and for a long time was made with real cocoa butter so it was a white chocolate product. Now it’s made with a white confection so a good item to do a match up with the Palmer version.
Each bar is a white confection (a mix of vegetable oils, milk & sugar) studded with chocolate cookie bits ... the whole effect is like Oreos in ice cream at room temperature.
Ingredients for Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme (1.55 ounce)
Ingredients for R.M. Palmer 3 for $1 Buck Bar Cookies ‘n’ Creme (1.45 ounce)
The Hershey’s bar is formatted just like the regular Hershey’s Milk Chocolate. 12 rectangles make it easy to snap & share. The ingredients aren’t quite as good as the pure white chocolate they used to use, but this is still a distinctive bar of decent quality.
It smells quite a bit like ice cream. The melt is rather smooth and cloyingly sweet. The cookie bits are jam packed in there, you can see from the flipside view that they’re little cookie pellets so there aren’t a lot of little crumbs, just real crunch & toasty chocolate flavor. It has a good bit of salt to it (110mg) so it helps the vanilla and chocolate flavors pop.
The Palmer version is a nice long, domed format. It’s a little lighter in color compared to the Hershey’s version. Even though it weights a tenth of an ounce less it has the same number of calories (220) and one more gram of fat (12 g).
It’s immediately sweet, but has a good, cool melt on the tongue. I didn’t get as much in the way of milky flavors from it but a fun fake vanilla that reminded me of taffy. There really weren’t that many cookie bits, which was disappointing, especially since I figured those were the cheapest ingredient in the whole thing.
Overall it was far too sweet, even statistically I can tell: Hershey’s has 19 g of sugars & Palmer has 24 g ... and remember, Palmer’s is smaller.
There’s really no comparison, the Hershey’s is a well rounded white confection with a dark chocolate cookie crunch. The Palmer is just a cheap sweet and fatty imitation. If the Palmer price tag is too much of a temptation, wait until the Hershey’s come on sale.
They’re both Kosher and both made in the USA.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Earlier this year Hershey’s provided me with a peek at some new products. I’ve been hanging onto the new Bliss White Chocolate Meltaway until it was closer to arriving on store shelves.
This addition to the Hershey’s line will set it apart from many other chocolate morsels such as the Dove line because instead of going super dark, they went all white.
The good news is that Hershey’s is using real white chocolate made with cocoa butter for their meltaway. Though it’s not a real gourmet product it’s still an excellent option for white chocolate lovers for a less-expensive treat. The ingredients list white chocolate as the first ingredient (sugar, cocoa butter, nonfat milk, milk, lactose, milk fat, soy lecithin, tocopherols, vanillin & salt). The meltaway center is made with a mix of the white chocolate and palm kernel oil. As you can imagine the saturated fat content is through the roof, with 6 pieces completing 45% of your daily recommended allowance of saturated fat but also 10% of your calcium.
The pieces are a creamy pale color with a little squiggle design across the rounded dome of the square. The smell sweet and milky and pretty much taste the same. The salt give them a little pop that makes the vanilla flavors come out more strongly than I would have expected. It’s like a vanilla pudding. A little bland but also a bit unchallenging in comforting way.
The difference between the white chocolate shell and the meltaway filling is rather marginal, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It felt like a piece of soft and creamy, sweet fat.
I liked the packaging - I thought the light blue, creamy white and gold were elegant and evocative of the product itself. I have a bit of trouble eating too many, so added to a mix of other levels of chocolate would be nicer. My only hesitation with them is that the Bliss line seems a bit expensive (regular price $4.99) for what you get. I’d prefer something without palm oil and with real vanilla. My go to white chocolate is still Green & Black’s.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I was at the drug store a few weeks ago and wasn’t really thrilled with the selection of candy. Well, it was a nice selection but I’ve tried all of that stuff before. Then I spotted the new display of Russell Stover & Whitman’s Samplers (they’re owned by the same company now) and was debating whether to review a full box of candy from them.
Instead I wussed out, blaming the heat that it was impractical to bring a large amount of chocolate into my 90+ degree home. So I got one of each of their little 1 ounce boxes - just as a teaser. I thought, here’s an opportunity for Russell Stover & Whitman’s to wow me ... they have two pieces to do it. For the opportunity to snare me, I gave them $1.25 for each sample sized box.
Russell Stover Private Reserve features two pieces of their premium assorted chocolates. The red foiled box is elegant and simple.
I have no idea what they are, the box tells me nothing specifically about them, well, it specifically tells me the combined ingredients and that’s about it. I only have the shapes go on. Inside is a little tray with spaces shaped like the candies.
The nut looking one was in fact a nut flavored paste inside ... perhaps a gianduia since far down on the list of ingredients were hazelnuts.
This was terrible. It looked great, I’ll grant you but had an odd waxy & greasy feel to it. The hazelnut paste as more of an amaretto flavor, which is fine with me ... though confusing because the nut shape was kind of like a walnut and kind of like a hazelnut but definitely not an almond.
The second one was a lovely milk chocolate covered caramel. The caramel was stiff & had an excellent pull. It had a good combination of toasted sugar flavors and a touch of butter. A little bit of vanilla. It was sweet, the milk chocolate was decent but didn’t really contribute much of a chocolate punch.
The Whitman’s Reserve was the same price, but honestly didn’t look as appealing on the box. It bills itself as a Premium mini collection as if a pair is a collection. Like the Russell Stover, it makes no mention on the box as to what’s actually in the box besides the ingredients. As far as the actual ingredients go - they both use vanillin (fake vanilla) but otherwise rather decent source materials.
The large and puzzling piece here was the white chocolate item with the stripes. It does look just like the one on the box - both pieces are pristine - so I’m satisfied right away with the appearance.
Sniffing it brought me no closer to discerning what it was (no nuts, that was certain, though). It smells simply sweet & milky.
The bite is soft and I decided it was either a poor excuse for a truffle or simply a chocolate cream. It’s a milk chocolate center - sweet and greasy but at least not as sweet as the white chocolate coating. It doesn’t do a thing for me.
Happily the second piece was identical to the second piece in the Russell Stover - a simple milk chocolate covered caramel. I couldn’t tell it apart at all and that’s not a bad thing.
For the $1.25 I spent, I got two pieces of candy. One I liked and one I didn’t. So for the future I’ll probably stick to the Russell Stover Pecan Delights, which are usually a better value and of course a good variety of textures & flavors. (They can now be found in a “candy bar” format for about the same price in stores.)
Am I missing something about the appeal of Russell Stover & Whitman’s boxed chocolates?
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