Monday, August 10, 2009
I’ve been meaning to hit Robitaille’s Fine Candies in Carpenteria, CA for a few years now. They’re in a cute little seaside town just south of Santa Barbara known for its excellent beach. Of course no seaside town is complete without a candy shop. Robitaille’s makes their own fudge and some chocolates along with what they consider themselves most famous for, their Inaugural Mints.
The shop is much larger than I expected, perhaps because I thought that their 400 square foot candy kitchen included the store floor ... instead it’s a large open space that houses three full aisles of pre-packaged bulk candies.
I made a beeline for the mints and had several versions to chose from.
They sell two different sized packages of the mints, eight ounces and four ounces ... all standing on end like little record albums. I chose a box of the classic red, white and blue ones in the smaller four ounce size.
I wasn’t quite sure what they were, since the honor of an official mint for an inauguration made them sound exotic or perhaps even unique.
It turns out they’re not. It says on the website Do not let the colors fool you. These are all made from white chocolate. Sadly that’s not quite true. Maybe it was at one time, but the ones I picked up are sugar, partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil and then some cocoa butter followed by some milk products and other things like sorbitan monostearate that sound like they don’t need to be in there. So at least there’s some white chocolate in there. (And a heavy heaping of food coloring, as you might imagine.)
I admit, I was still enchanted with them. They look like glossy, patriotic tiddlywinks
Though they boast about being handmade, they’re really just little puddles of peppermint flavored white confection (see Smooth n Melty Mints) which probably taste just as good spewed out of a machine.
That said, I liked them! They’re smooth, they’ve very sweet and minty and have a good silky melt on the tongue. I appreciated that they weren’t covered with little nonpariels so at least there was something unique about them.
They come in a few different color variations - pastels, harvest colors and red, white & green for Christmas. I would probably prefer just plain white ones if I could.
The store itself has a huge selection of other candies, something for everyone. There is a whole display of items between the fresh fudge and the house-made candy case of sugar free candies. Then there are many aisles filled with shelf after shelf of items. There’s a good selection of licorice including salted from Europe and Australian style along with German (Haribo wheels) and American version of allsorts. There were flavors and flavors of salt water taffy, lollipops the size of your head. All colors of M&Ms (in single color packages), rock candy in all colors, compressed dextrose candies (Runts, pacifiers, little stars, little daisies) and then jelly beans and all sorts of chocolate coated things like pretzels, honeycomb, marshmallows & graham crackers.
The prices of the candies varied and were by and large decent. Some chocolate candies were $12.95 a pound and the sugar candies were usually about $5.95 a pound with others somewhere in between. Most prepacked items were 4-8 ounces, so the choice of sizes wasn’t that great.
There were also shelves and shelves of candy favorites especially hard to find independent companies like Annabelle’s, Necco and Tootsie. No vacation destination is complete without a selection of a few dozen candy sticks, which are right up by the check out counter.
One of the other items I picked up in the candy case was something I saw on their website and was even more impressed with in person. The Dark Chocolate Turtle (they also come in milk and white chocolate).
This sizable patty is 3.5 inches across and exquisitely formed in layers. A dark chocolate disk as a base, glossy caramel, then a few pecans then another dollop of dark chocolate.
The caramel had a nice pull, good chew and excellent burnt sugar & butter flavors. The dark chocolate was semisweet with good fruity & toasted flavors to go with the woodsy pecans. Some spots seemed to be mostly chocolate but the whole effect was a satisfying candy. The price was pretty decent as well, each piece was about $1.50 each and might I say they were just slightly too big for me. (I cut most of them in half and shared.)
Robitaille’s Fine Candies
Friday, April 10, 2009
I bought it because Hershey’s has tweaked their White Reese’s Peanut Butter products. They were once a real white chocolate coating with cocoa butter, but now they’re a hydrogenated tropical oil concoction.
So I was careful to read over the ingredients on the Russell Stover white chocolate: White Chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk, soy lecithin, artificial flavor & salt), peanut butter (peanuts, hydrogenated vegetable oils, salt) sugar, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, tapioca dextrin, dextrose and salt.
It’s a pretty sizable rabbit, though it’s also over-packaged. The box is 4.5 inches wide and 7.5 inches high but the bunny is only 3.25 inches at its widest and 5 inches at its tallest. The rabbit is inside the sealed box in a little plastic tray.
It weighs three ounces and this one cost me $1.50 which I didn’t find at all unreasonable.
Opening the box, it smells like Easter baskets - milky sweet and fake.
It’s a nicely molded Rabbit with good details. The proportion of white chocolate to peanut butter varies greatly, depending on where I bit into it. The edges and creases were loaded with more white chocolate and the domed portions were mostly peanut butter.
The white chocolate is sweet and surprisingly smooth. But it was oddly waxy, not in a bad way, just in a fake way, like it needed an authentic dose of real vanilla beans or something. The peanut butter center is the crumbly peanut butter with the slight grain to it. It’s salty and nutty, but also rather sweet, too. The effect of the product is that it burns my throat. I think I might like it with more peanut butter and less white chocolate, perhaps a version of the peanut butter egg?
It just didn’t thrill me much. I ended up eating the whole thing, but it took me about three weeks of nibbling on it now and then. But if you’re a white chocolate & peanut butter fan and are disappointed with Hershey’s turn towards the oily side, it might be a good option ... especially if they’re on sale starting Monday.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Since starting Candy Blog I’ve found there is a wonderful world of marshmallows out there beyond the See’s Scotchmallow.
Pete’s Gourmet Confections does something that I haven’t seen very often: they offer gourmet marshmallows (mallows, as he refers to them) and other handmade confections that are certified Kosher. If you want to see Pete Coyle making mallows, check out this piece from the Food Network (it looks like sticky, sticky work).
I was definitely intrigued when they contacted me, so they sent me some samples of their most popular products.
This set of four was a good introduction, it’s their year round product, the Gourmet Assorted Dipped Marshmallows. Each piece is about a one inch cube.
Dark Chocolate covered Marshmallow - spongy and soft, a little on the dry side with a nice latexy chew. Fresh and satisfying, but doesn’t leave me feeling full.
Dark Chocolate Covered Strawberry Marshmallow - a similar soft and bouncy texture with a kiss of strawberry scent and a faint pink color. There no hint of tartness, just the sweet floral flavors of strawberry. It tastes a lot like sunshine.
White Chocolate covered Marshmallow - this is definitely not for those afraid of sweet. Though the marshmallows themselves are mild, the white chocolate is very milky and sticky sweet. It has strong vanilla notes as well.
White Chocolate covered Chocolate Marshmallow - the texture of this marshmallow is a bit more dense, it’s not just a touch of cocoa in here for color. The cocoa flavors don’t really infuse the marshmallow so much as temper it to be less sweet and a little on the smoky side (maybe even a touch on the salt side). The white chocolate, though, bumps it back up with a dose of sugar.
But chocolate covered handmade marshmallows, that’s been done, right? What bowled me over was the look of the Easter version, these beautiful chocolate dipped eggs.
Pete’s Gourmet makes two different versions for Easter. The ones shown here are the Ukrainian Easter Eggs.
Ukrainian Easter Eggs (Pysanka) are a folk art tradition characterized by geometric & stylized patterns made in the process of wax-resist. As a kid I loved making ornate Easter eggs and learned to blow them (make a small hole in either end of a raw egg, take a long pin or needle to pierce the yolk and then blow into one end to force the “scrambled” egg out into a bowl). The empty egg was then ready to be decorated. The traditional Ukrainian style is quite involved. Designs are laid onto the shell using melted wax, then the egg is dyed, more patterns are put on with wax, so that the lines and shapes are different colors. The final background colors after many layerings of dye are nearly black.
Then the egg is carefully heated with a flame to melt the wax, and wiped off to reveal the colors beneath (and gives the egg a bit of seal and shine).
These marshmallow eggs bear some of those designs on dark and white chocolate transfers.
The Ukrainian mix of eggs come in Vanilla, Lemon and Strawberry. There was no key with them, and I think I gave away my lemon one, so I didn’t really get to try anything new here from the regular square version.
The Modern Chocolate Marshmallow Easter Eggs version is a spring pastel mix of flowers, waves and patterns. These are also white or dark chocolate - all over the classic vanilla marshmallow.
What I enjoyed, about this format was that they’re not nearly as thick as the squares. These varied but were generally about one half to three quarters of an inch thick. There was more chocolate per bite than the squares, so the marshmallow to chocolate ratio varied (depending one whether I was at an edge).
They’re also just stunning, everyone whom I’ve showed them to has admired them and also found them just as tasty as they look.
The other amazing thing is the price. For a handcrafted confection, I was surprised to see on their website that they were only $12.99 for a box of 12. Each marshmallow is about
one ounce and over two inches long.
One other item I have to mention is the lavender marshmallow. (I have a chocolate piece here much like the squares.) It’s available as a flower-shaped pop which must look as amazing in person as the eggs do.
The marshmallow has a wonderful dark floral flavor of lavender (which reminds me a lot of rosemary). It balances the roasted notes of the chocolate and the sweet marshmallow so wonderfully, it’s like it’s holding hands with both of them. I’m now driven to distraction thinking about all the other floral/herbal flavors that could be infused into marshmallows: rosewater, orange blossom, lemongrass, bergamot, pistachio and even violet.
Again, at $10.99 for 12 pops (less than a dollar each), they sound like an incredible deal and would make wonderful favors or party decorations.
The packaging isn’t as modern and chic as some other gourmet artisan folks, they’re simple foil-type boxes with either a similar lid or a clear plastic lid (like the one show at the top) with the company sticker on it. But hey, I don’t need fancy boxes if the candy is good and it does its job of keeping the candy fresh & whole. This was fresh, extremely well priced, attractive and for those seeking Kosher marshmallows, it’s just the ticket.
If you’re eager to order, there’s a random coupon deal right now if you click on the little logo at the bottom of the home page.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Recently Kohler Chocolates has started selling online and appearing at trade shows to promote their products nationwide. (Which often means an appearance in Oprah Magazine. I’ve never read Oprah’s publications and don’t know much about her taste in candy and don’t usually follow recommendations of talk show hosts.)
Last year I got a hold of one of their bars via All Candy Expo, but it was a cherry one, so I didn’t think that’d be a good introduction so I waited. This year, just a few days before Valentine’s Day I got a nice selection of their boxed chocolates: Garden Ganache Truffles and Dark Mountain Toffees. They also make Terrapins (like Chocolate Turtles), chocolate bars, trail mix and a variety of barks.
The Garden Ganache Truffles are stunning. The box is a large tray with huge dome-molded truffles in bright colors. It’s presented with a clear top for maximum impact. It’s one of the rare instances where the product looks exactly, if not better, than the photos on the website.
The website is a bit vague, however, on the array in their Garden Ganache. The ten piece set features flavors inspired by spices, tea, coffee, nuts and fruits. The package is also maddeningly vague on the ingredients. It mentions the fillings, I believe, but none of them mention the actual chocolate ingredients.
Asian Spice (Burnt Orange) - this was the first piece I tried because it smelled the strongest out of the box. The aroma of star anise was quite overwhelming, so I thought in order to preserve the flavors of the rest, it had to go.
It’s a wonderfully solid truffle, about 1.5” across and wonderfully tempered. The shell isn’t that thick, but has a nice snap and with all the truffles there was no sign of cracking or leaking.
Though this was the first truffle I tried, I didn’t realize at the time that the center was different from the rest. It was thick and almost fudgy or like a dense brownie. Not quite grainy, it was a bit crystalline when I bit into it, but it melted quickly. The five spice was very pronounced, with the licoricey anise and fennel elements at the forefront. There was only a slight hint of cinnamon and cloves to it, and of course the chocolate flavors of smoke, cedar and coffee.
Creme Fraiche (White) - this was a wonderfully light truffle that allowed the flavors of the chocolate to come through. The ganache was very creamy and had only the slightest dairy tang to it.
This was quite vivid. The center has a nice jammy raspberry component - no seeds but a good authentic berry profile with a slight tangy note and strong florals.
Passion Fruit (Light Orange) - this was one of the few white chocolate centers. It had a wonderful musky/herbal scent that reminded me of mango skins. The nice thing about passion fruit candies is that they always seem easier to eat than actual passion fruits.
This was a good mix of sweet and tangy with some strong zesty notes with just a touch of milk. I was really surprised by this, I’m not ordinarily a fan of tropical fruits mixed with chocolate.
Pear (Light Green) - this one seemed to be more themed like a pear liqueur than a pear puree. The center is a chocolate ganache with fragrant & fresh touch of pear flavor, it’s almost fresh fig meets banana.
Chai Tea (Green) - the spice flavors here were strong. It tasted mostly of gingerbread, the dark chocolate flavors subbed for the molasses notes and ginger with a touch of cinnamon & nutmeg dominated.
Earl Grey (Blue) - I’m definitely a bergamot fan. This didn’t disappoint. The chocolate is strong and the dark balsam zest notes blend well with it. The black tea flavors of Earl Grey are kind of missing, but I didn’t really expect them to make a strong showing (as they didn’t appear at all in the chai either).
The coconut flavor was deep and round, though it still had some dark rum notes to it, but it didn’t verge into Pina Colada territory.
Macadamia (Tan) - this was the other white centered piece. It’s also the only one with actual nuts in it. Macadamias remind me a bit of coconut, with its strong oily flavor and crispy crunch, this was rather similar to the coconut in that respect. The nuts were fresh and had a bit of a green banana flavor to them as well. Not too sweet, it was a nice change from the darker and spicier varieties.
Hazelnut Coffee (Brown) - this has a pleasant hazelnut liqueur aroma. The center was just bit firmer than the others, but quite silky once it melted. There is more than a touch of espresso flavors giving this a much better profile than that sometimes artificial quality that hazelnut flavoring can do. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get any real gianduia elements here (but that’ll be later with the toffees).
Here they’ve taken tiny chunks of toffee (most look like little cubes) and molded them with a touch of dark chocolate at the base. They call them Dark Mountain Toffee and they come in six varieties. Like the Garden Ganache, they’re boxed with a clear top to highlight the actual candies. They were a little puzzle to figure out which was which (and I successfully avoided the walnut one).
Tiny little cubes of perfectly toasted sugar & butter toffee is mixed with chopped hazelnuts and candied orange peel and then drenched in dark chocolate with a teensy little snow cap of white chocolate.
While this sound like a riot of flavors, everyone has their part to play and it becomes more like a harmony. The dark and bass tones of the of the toffee and dark chocolate set the stage. Then the high citrus zest of the orange peel comes in followed by the spirited twinkle of the hazelnut crunch.
Cocoa Nibs was a very simple treat. The addition of the buttery crunch of cacao to the sweet toffee gave the whole thing a less-sweet taste, though I didn’t really get a lot of flavor from the nibs themselves because the chocolate is pretty strong as it is. If there was one that could be labeled the “plain” variety, this would be it ... not that there’s anything wrong with just having two elements: toffee & dark chocolate.
Mint - ordinarily I wouldn’t think that toffee and mint would go together. This has dried mint leaves though, which adds a more “tea-like” flavor to it and less like the potent mint-oil blast that many candies employ. While I liked the leafy tannins, the dark burnt sugar flavors and the rich buttery chocolate, the actual leaves in there bugged me a little bit. Not enough that I didn’t finish it, mind you.
Coconut had a very strong tropical taste to it, even though there didn’t seem to be more than a dusting of coconut flakes on the white chocolate drizzle there were more flakes inside. I would have preferred a more toasted coconut vibe to it, as I think that would go better with the darkness of all the other flavors, I wouldn’t kick this out of my cabana.
Hazelnut was radically different than all the rest. Mixed into the tumble of toffee cubes was some soft and buttery gianduia. The hazelnut & chocolate paste was nicely highlighted by the toasted butter flavors and then the extra cocoa buttery chocolate. The bite on this one was much softer, almost like a granola instead of a cluster. (Which makes me wonder if anyone has made a hazelnut paste granola before ... as if granola isn’t fatty enough.)
I’m really impressed with the presentation, the unique styling of the candy that highlights the combinations and the bright flavors.
For folks who are lamenting the loss of Joseph Schmidt (news here), these are definitely truffles that highlight the silky quality of chocolate without being overly sweet or flavored and are generous pieces. (Though they’re also more expensive and can only be ordered online or purchased in a scant few shops in Wisconsin.) The array of Garden Ganache I tried retails for $24.95 for 7 ounces (making them about $57 a pound) . The Dark Mountain Toffees are also quite impressive, though I’d prefer being able to just order the Orange Hazelnut one by the box. The pieces aren’t quite as weighty as the truffles (and probably require quite a bit of handwork) - the box of six retails for only $9.95.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
They’re a long bar of ganache encased in a hand painted chocolate shell that’s meant to be sliced instead of popped in the mouth whole.
The bars come in two sizes, a four inch long/six ounce bar and an eight inch long/twelve ounce bar. Though $14 for the small one sounded like a lot at first, when I thought about it, that’s a little over $37 per pound, which is pretty good for a box of fine chocolates. The small version makes 10 servings.
I got a hold of two bars from a media event called Food Fete (great writeup here): Double Hazelnut Caramel Truffle and Cappuccino with a Twist.
The Double Hazelnut Caramel Bar is A striking, hand-painted truffle with contrasting tiers of milk chocolate flavored with rich hazelnut puree, white chocolate infused with caramel, dark chocolate and a hint of ground hazelnut.
The bar has a simple construction. It’s a rounded prism shape, as described on the package, it’s about four inches long and 2 inches wide/high.
The shell is banded with colored white chocolate and milk chocolate. Inside are three layers of ganache.
First, I have to say, it’s an amazing construction and it looks just like it’s supposed to. I liked the banded coloring, it was appetizing and made an excellent presentation. Slicing the product was pretty easy, I had no trouble at all with the above knife, which I wiped after each slice (they suggest warming it in hot water and then wiping it dry). The bar was at room temp, which may have been a little colder than normal (about 62 F).
I made my initial slices rather thin, about a quarter of an inch is pictured. After a little math later on I realized they should have been over a third of an inch. You can gauge it yourself for the number of guests & how much they want to eat. thicker provides both a good portion and makes it easier to pick up, even if you cut them in half, especially if it gets a little warmer upon serving.
The ganache center was smooth and soft, a little fudgy. The flavors were light but pleasant. The center layer definitely had the caramel notes and the toasted hazelnut flavors while the top and bottom layers were more of the straight chocolate variety.
Personally I might have preferred more hazelnut to it or at least more of a punch of flavors, but it was definitely a decadent little treat.
The second bar was Cappuccino with a Twist. The little tag described it like this: An artfully hand-painted truffle filled with the mingling flavors of milk chocolate, coffee-infused white chocolate, dark chocolate, coffee liqueur and a subtle finish of lemon.
I didn’t care much for the design on the outside of this one, though once cut up it didn’t matter much. But then again, with less design on the outside I wasn’t eating as much food coloring.
The three layers here worked excellently. The bottom was a dark chocolate that had just a hint of strong coffee. The middle layer was softer, sweeter and less intense. The top was a white chocolate with a strong note of lemon zest. Towards the end of it all there’s a slight alcoholic punch.
I liked the layering on all of them, they were distinct and made eating them a bit of an adventure.
The interesting part of all of this is that the ganache is the star here. Once sliced, there’s very little chocolate shell, far less than most truffles, so it’s all about the cream and chocolate concoction.
They make a really nice presentation piece, the only drawback when serving to a small number of people is the lack of variety. So if you’re serving 20 people, two or three of the small bars would mean only two or three choices instead of the wide variety you could do with regular truffles.
However, the ability to control the portion size and the sheer novelty of seeing a huge log of chocolate that you can have a slice of is pretty spectacular.
I took this to an Oscar viewing party and it was part of a buffet of desserts. In the future though I think it would be an interesting bar of a dessert cheese plate, served along with some cheeses, nuts, dried fruits, honey and crackers.
The drawback is mostly that this is a bar for sharing. I can’t see popping this out of the sleeve and chomping into it, well, maybe in some sort of 30 Rock scene with Liz Lemon on a crazed depression-fueled-chocolate-binge. So it’s a special occasion sort of purchase. I’ve only seen them in specialty stores (it might have been Bloomingdales), so web-ordering is probably a necessity. However, it would make an incredible hostess gift or finish to a meal. With economic pressures, this sort of splurge might actually be good - it feels decadent but isn’t as expensive as some artisan chocolates or even upscale bakery products and brings people together, which is part of the magical quality of food.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.