Friday, December 7, 2007
You know what’s great about the Holiday season? Hostess gifts. People come to my house and for no reason I can tell other than crossing the threshold they feel like they have to give me something. And the gift most often in their hands is some sort of sweet goody.
I should just leave the door unlocked from November on!
My brother-and-sister-in-law brought some wonderful New Mexico goodies for my husband (posole & green chiles) but I got some Jo’s Candies Peppermint Crunch. The box makes it look like a pretty simple confection: dark chocolate over crunched up peppermint candies.
Oh, they’re so much more than just chocolate and crushed candy canes. I was worried that the center would just be a mint honeycomb (not that it would be bad that way). Instead The center is a mix of white chocolate/confection with crushed hard candy mints then covered in a dark chocolate.
This makes the center easy to bite but still satisfyingly crunchy, not overwhelmingly minty or tacky/sticky to chew.
They’re also all natural and Kosher. That means that even the little crunchy candies don’t have that dreadful Red #40, instead they use Red Beet Juice. Jo’s Candies are kind of pricey but quality ingredients, good packaging and freshness costs money. I’m deeply curious about their Dark Chocolate Turtles and the Mint Coco Jo’s that sound like a much better Girl Scout Cookie.
The little squares a dang pretty, glossy and dashed with little dark chocolate squiggles. The dark chocolate coating is pretty thick on the top, thicker usually than the photo above shows. So the proportions are pretty equal.
I think they were intended as a gift for me and my husband, but I don’t see myself eating his green chiles, so I’m pretty comfortable eating the whole box on my own to keep things equal in the relationship.
Monday, November 12, 2007
First, the package. It’s a 3 ounce bar in a pretty tab-top box. The printing is elegant, with a matte-gold background with a little wallpaper pattern and an embossed gold logo for their new Private Reserve line. The bar inside is wrapped in gold foil.
The Vanilla Bean Brulee with 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate boasts on the front that it contains Madagascar Vanilla Beans. (On the back in far smaller print it mentions additional artificial flavor in the filling.)
The bar consists of eight squares. It’s dark and shiny and really a stunningly lovely bar. It has a pleasant but not overwhelmingly sweet smell of chocolate, mostly the cherry fruit notes and some smoke with just a light wiff of bourbon once snapped in half.
Though the package shows the filling as being thick and rather yellow, it’s actually a creamy white and thin. The chocolate has a good snap and a creamy melt for a 70%. Not too bitter with mostly woodsy notes of sandalwood and smoke. Though not a lot of filling, the white chocolate and vanilla center is wonderfully buttery and smooth and does have a good vanilla note to it. It also has a little salt, which really makes it pop, giving each set of flavors and textures distinctiveness.
I was impressed! I ate the whole thing. The price is pretty good for something that you find a drug store. If faced with this and the more standard candy bar fare, I might dig deep for this more expensive bar. It still wouldn’t replace an exceptional chocolate bar, but as something to compete with Hershey’s Cacao Reserve or Ghirardelli, I think it holds its own. It also holds a distinct place, I don’t think anyone else makes a bar like this in this price range.
UPDATE: Since some others have commented about the little tasting squares, I’ve gotten a hold of some of those and have to agree, they’re not the same! They taste tired and weak and a little waxy.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
When I was a kid one of the prized chocolate bars to get in a Christmas stocking was a Toblerone bar. They were huge and exotic. Pretty to look at and certainly unique in their composition: milk chocolate with almond nougat bits.
Times have changed and Toblorone aren’t so hard to find any longer. Toblerone is named for both the inventor of the confection, Theodor Tobler and torrones, the honey and almond nougat found in the chocolate. The shape is also distinctive (and protected by trademark), each piece a little triangle representing the Swiss Alps. The traditional bar is a series of twelve peaks. The single pieces are now sold in assortments and may be my perferred way of enjoying them.
The Toblerone is now made by Kraft, but before that it was made by Suchard (which was later swallowed by Kraft in Europe). Whether this has changed the quality of the chocolate is up for debate. I remember Toblerone being better when I was a kid, but there could be any number of reasons I appreciated it more.
The Milk Chocolate peak smells mildly of milk and coconut with a little chocolate touch. It has a pretty soft bite to it, so it’s not at all stiff and waxy. The honey notes of the hard nougat bits and almonds come out immediately, and if you’re a chewer, they add a little light texture. It’s rather sweet, but also rather different from the overtly milky Swiss chocolates I’ve become accustomed to.
It has a pleasant fruity overtone to the chocolate. It’s semi-sweet, so it’s not too dark, but still has a good melt. It’s a little grainy, a little chalky feeling towards the end but the abundant torrone bits kind of cover that up well.
The nutty notes from the nougat also blends well. This is the first time I think I’ve tried the dark bar, and it doesn’t really work for me. I’m completely missing the honey flavor from the nougat.
It’s very sweet: throat searingly sweet. It’s a good thing each piece is only two bites.
Though Toblerone calls this a “white confection” the fat in there is cocoa butter (so it really is white chocolate). So no worries about hydrogenated oils! It certainly smells strongly of Easter baskets and vanillin.
The milk flavors are very strong here, so strong it’s almost like eating a block of sweet vanilla cheese or something. The nice thing about it is that it does enhance the honey of the nougat,
Now this one is pretty cool. I have no idea what it’s called, as it’s not really on the Toblerone website. I’m calling it the Toblerone Stack and it features a hefty base of the traditional Milk Chocolate Toberlone and a little white cap of the White Toblerone.
Maybe they’re called Matterhorns. While the white chocolate one was far too much white chocolate, the balance of 3 to 1 milk chocolate actually works here.
The white chocolate makes the honey and vanilla notes pop even more and the milk chocolate keeps it grounded with the chocolate flavors. I know there used to be a candy bar in the States that had a trio of flavors stacked, the only current mass-produced bar I could find is the Australian Nestle Triple Decker (contains Strawberry, Milk & White).
The outside shell is pure milk chocolate, no nougat bits in there. The inside is a softer chocolate cream studded with the almond and honey torrone. There seems to be a larger proportion of almonds in there than usual as well.
It has a very distinct and creamy melt like a truffle, but completely lacking in the honey flavors and coconut scent of the original Milk Chocolate.
I really like these Single Peaks and would love to buy them for Christmas for putting in stockings or perhaps just in a candy dish. I don’t think they’d quite work for Halloween as an individually wrapped candy. Besides the fact that they’re probably absurdly expensive for giving away to kids you don’t even know the wrappers aren’t sealed (just twisted) so it’s possible that vigilant parents would just throw them out (or maybe they’d take them from the kids pointing out that they weren’t sealed to protect them but actually eat them).
I got these as samples from All Candy Expo but of course there’s no American website just for Toblerone, but here’s the page on the Kraft site.
Has anyone seen them in stores?
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
If you haven’t been in a Target store and browsed their candy aisles, you’re missing a price-conscious chocoholic’s dream. There are shelves and shelves of high end bars at reasonable prices these days. They’ve started carrying more European bars and even some lines of organic and fair trade bars.
I noticed a series of bars in smart paperboard wrappers called Frey from Switzerland and thought I should give them a try. All the bars were flavored (I kind of wanted to just try their “chocolate” first) so I ended up choosing two of the lemon flavored bars.
Frey Supreme White Lemon & Lime is a pretty bar made with, as you can guess, white chocolate as a base.
The little flecks in the bar looked promising too. I didn’t read the ingredients until after I opened the bar, so I was a little confused when I finally had a bite.
It was crunchy! There were little tangy, citrusy, crunchy bits, like someone had mixed some pulverized lemon drops in my chocolate!
Here I was thinking I was going to get bits of zest. But why was I thinking that? Pure assumption. Mostly because that’s what I wanted. After I got over that initial shock, it wasn’t bad. The tartness of the candy bits set off the chocolate nicely, but interfered with the overall creamy texture because it had a dry aspect to it. There was a very small note of black pepper in this as well, which did give the ordinarily bland white chocolate a little kick.
The second bar I picked was also on the lemon theme, Citron & Poivre. Mmmm, lemon and pepper. Lemon and pepper go so well together, they’ve bottled it and called it Lemon Pepper. And if it’s good on fish, it ought to be great in chocolate. (If they had a milk chocolate and lemon bar, I would have bought that, too.)
The package says that this is extra fine dark chocolate with a fruity touch of lemon and black pepper. The bar is lovely, large and thin with a good snap. It’s 55% cocoa solids ... which isn’t terribly dark, so I was expecting a sweet and creamy bar.
A couple of things bugged me about this bar before I even started eating it. One, it’s very thin. While some folks like that, I kind of like a little depth to my chocolate when I bite it. It also makes the bar a bit more compact. This 3.5 ounce bar was packaged to look big (at least an inch longer than a regular 3.5 ounce bar from Green & Black’s or Endangered Species which are featured nearby on the shelf), but was really no different in mass.
Biting into it I found the same bitty, crunchy candy crumbles in it as the white chocolate bar. They had a nice tart bite to the, though some had a different bite: the black pepper.
The dark chocolate was largely overshadowed by these strong flavors. The texture was nice, not as buttery as the Lake Champlain I had yesterday which was a similar cocoa content. Instead it was sweet and then had tangy bits that just made the sweetness more apparent.
The dark bar contains no milk products so is suitable for vegans. (However it is processed in a facility that also uses milk and nuts, so is not for those who are allergic or very strict.)
I have to say that I wanted to like these more. The flavor combinations are certainly ones that I’m predisposed to like, but I wanted a smooth, creamy, Swiss chocolate experience. They have a huge selection of bars and I might have to try the Caf? & Cacao, which is extra fine milk chocolate with coffee and crispy cocoa nibs. At $1.99 I certainly don’t feel cheated, they were a fun experience. The White chocolate bar has a slight edge if I had to pick from these two again. The packaging is nice, the box folds back together well and I was able to put a piece of tape on it to keep the leftovers until I finished them. I’m certainly thinking about trying other bars in the line, so stay tuned for what I hope are rave reviews.
SugarHog has a review of the Frey Japonais, which sounds like a winner ... a combo of hazelnut and milk chocolate. Nicole of Slashfood (now of Baking Bites) liked the Citron & Poivre bar a bit more than I.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
My friend Will went to Europe on a decadent cruise and found something truly “of the place” to bring back from Sorrento, Italy for me.
I’m telling you about this not so you can go out and buy these, because I’m not sure you can (they supposedly have a website but it’s not been working) but just to show both the universality of sweets and the local flavor.
This little box and bag contains some rather upscale almond dragees (rather like the Cherry Almondine M&Ms from last week) from a little shop called Confetti & Agrumetti.
These little olive-sized morsels have a freshly roasted local almond at the heart. It’s then coated in a white chocolate flavored with lime zest and then coated in a colored candy shell. The shell was not as sharply crisp as some Jordan Almonds I’ve had, but still a nice crunch. The white chocolate was thick and sweet but had a really strong citrus zest to it. The almond at the center was nicely toasted to a darker brown than I think we’re accustomed to here in the States. It was rich and flavoful and had a good crunch.
Antonio, the fellow who runs the shop, I hear is a hoot. He loves to sing to his customers and expressed a desire to live and retire in Southern California (how funny, because I’m pretty sure a lot of Californians would be happy to swap with him). You can see in this photo Will took of his wife buying these little goodies that the panning machine (it looks like a tiny cement mixer) is right out there in the open and you can watch him drizzle the candy coating on right before your eyes. (Perhaps panning drums will become the new stand mixers as must have appliances.)
Friday, July 27, 2007
Last year M&Ms introduced a limited special tin of eight new gourmet flavors. They were sold only through their website. They were absurdly expensive (I think it was $49 for the set in a tin) and I never saw anyone review them.
Flash forward to a year later and I was reading on Chocolate Bytes that Heather found what I think are individual bags of some of those gourmet M&Ms. She picked up Cherry Almondine and Vanilla Crisp at the Las Vegas M&Ms World. Since my husband was off to NYC, I sent him to the M&Ms World in Times Square to see if he could find the Vanilla Crisp for me. Sadly, all they had were Cherry Almondine, which he picked up anyway.
The stand up bag announces these as a Special Edition (not limited edition, I’m not sure of the difference). The package also describes them, “freshly roasted almonds wrapped in cherry flavored white chocolate.” Sounds enticing (if you like white chocolate, cherries and almonds).
The M&Ms come in two colors, a dark marooon and a creamy beige. They smell an awful lot like cherry cough drops. The crispy shell is great and the almonds, though small, are truly fresh and tasty. The white chocolate with cherry? Well, it is strong. It’s not too sweet, but the cherry is quite a kick in the head. There’s no tangy bite to it, it’s just all sweet and nutty and of course cherry.
I do have to admit that I’m coming around on my dislike of cherry things and found these pleasant and they were certainly a hit on a long bike ride that I took on Sunday. (I got the empty package back from my bud and our ride organizer, Will, at the end of the trip.)
At $6 a bag, I don’t think these are special enough to warrant buying them again. Koppers does far better interesting flavor mixes and on the whole if I were looking for a quick almond treat, I’d pick up the Milk Chocolate Almond M&Ms which have never disappointed me.
There’s no word if M&Ms is making any of the other gourmet Special Edition flavors like Crunchy Cookie Mint. Keep your eye out if you’re in an M&Ms World store.
Friday, June 8, 2007
Father’s Day is Sunday, June 17th so I thought I’d throw something out there for the chocolate lovin’ fathers of America.
I had the opportunity this week to try two different personalized chocolate message services. They’re both great, if a little expensive for shipping because of the heat in summer months. But the originality can’t be beat. It’s like an edible greeting card.
First up is Chocotelegram. Based in Toronto, Chocotelegram was actually founded in Europe. You can order from their pre-fab messages or have them typeset your message using their letter picker. You can even decorate the blank spaces with icons (stars, smileys, trees, hearts & clovers).
The chocolate is made by Barry Calebaut. Each little square is about a third of an ounce, making a whole tray of 21 squares about 7 ounces. I only tried the milk and found it very creamy, if a little sweet, but super-smooth and satisfying. The package sent, as shown, is only $17 plus shipping. There are lots of options on their website, including an upgraded box and larger letter arrays. I really liked the molding on the letters, it was crisp, attractive and legible.
The second company that contacted me last week was ABChocolates that makes the Chocolate Dispatch. The Dispatch has a wonderful design flair, from the exterior packaging (wrapped in some corrugated paper with a seal) down to the sassy wooden box with the message printed right on the front in true telegram style. Even when the chocolate is gone, the message lives on.
Under the sliding top the chocolates are held firmly in place with foam underneath and some waxed paper filler on top. Pull that off and you get a personalized chocolate message. Each letter weighs a little less than a third of an ounce giving the box of 32 a net weight of 9.5-10 ounces . The letters are a little more homespun feeling than Chocotelegram’s. They’re a combination of white chocolate letters on a dark or milk chocolate square. The white is, you know, white chocolate. The milk is nice, creamy and not too sweet with a strong milky component. The dark is good, if a little grainy sometimes (but only as a counterpoint to the silkier/stickier milk chocolate).
While Chocolate Dispatch only comes in two sizes, they offer a lot of customized options with different labels on the front (Birthday Dispatch, Get Well Dispatch, Valentine Dispatch, etc.) which would mean that you could send out several of these over the course of the year and the boxes would all be keepsakes.
There’s a breakdown listed below. I liked both of the products a lot, though I don’t know that many people that I’d send something like this to. (Here’s a hint though, if you’re doing a wedding, see if you can do initials. “C & M” in little three character boxes, that’d be so cute!) Chocotelegram had the best tasting chocolate, but I really liked the box and whole top-to-bottom design aesthetic of Chocolate Dispatch. If you’re a mom helping your kid pick out their gift to dad, the letter-picking interface is a fun experience all on its own. (Chocotelegram has one too, but it’s just not quite as enjoyable.)
I give both services a solid 7 out of 10.
Friday, May 25, 2007
I’ve been looking at Crunky for a few years now. It’s not the name that threw me, it just didn’t seem that appealing. Why buy a Japanese or Korean cheap chocolate bar when we have plenty of them here in the States. But I knew I had to give it a try eventually.
Lotte is a huge company, based in both South Korea and Japan, so there are lots of places where you may see these bars in Asia.
Crunky Chocolate - Salted Caramel - the description on JBox said that this was a salted caramel bar. I was expecting, as the picture seems to have, some chocolate and some caramel. Instead it’s some sort of a white chocolate bar with a salty and caramelized flavor. It also has the malted crunchies.
The wrapper isn’t in English so I’m at a loss to read the rest of the description, but as far as I’m concerned, this is not chocolate. It doesn’t taste like chocolate, it doesn’t look like chocolate. It might be shaped like chocolate, but it’s not. Perhaps it’s off-white chocolate.
My feelings of betrayal aside ... it’s nice, and I actually grew rather fond of the not-so-sweet taste. The slightly burnt flavor was also nice as were the crunchies with their malty hit. But the texture of the chocolate itself wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t creamy, it didn’t melt in my mouth. It got soft, it was rather smooth, but it felt more fudgy than chocolatey.
Crunky Chocolate - my feelings for the first bar I tried were set aside for this experience. It looks rather traditional, like a Krackle or Nestle Crunch bar, but the chocolate is definitely lighter. It’s certainly well packaged. The easy to open
box reveals a large flat bar (well, mine got a little bent in transit from Japan) wrapped in a light matte foil.
The chocolate is a little waxy, but very smooth. The flavor is more milky and perhaps a little burnt tasting as several people have mentioned to me. The quality is no better than Hershey’s or Nestle’s standard consumer fare, but perhaps a bit different. I liked the format of the bar, I’ve always found Crunch bars a little too flat, I want the crispies to be really surrounded (I rather prefer the Easter egg versions).
Neither of these set my world on fire. Every country has to have a crispy chocolate bar. I like the name, it has a good onomatopoeiaic sense to it. If I were in Japan or South Korea I would probably pick these up as a “safe” choice, but I don’t know if I’d mail order them again. (But they could probably sucker me with some limited edition variety ... because I’m a sucker like that.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.