Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Japan is known for cars, Japan is known for electronics. Japan is known for cute. Japan is also home to some of the best KitKats in the world (okay, and some of the worst, but this is the price of innovation and an example of the bell curve).
What else can I say except that the KitKat Bitter is what a KitKat should be all day, every day.
Upon opening one of the two packets that have two-finger sticks, it’s obvious this candy is real. The chocolate is dark and glossy and smells like ... chocolate! The package says, in English, “High Grade Cacaomass”, which I’m guessing is their way of saying that’s it’s authentically dark chocolate.
The American dark chocolate KitKats were not nearly as good as these (not that it matters, as they’re long gone). The Canadian dark KitKats are close in flavor but lacking in the high-quality chocolate texture.
The wafers are crisp and have that light touch of sweet filling. Yes, the chocolate here is rich and dark and actually slightly bitter as the label advertises. It’s a little dry as well. But it’s just so real tasting, it just spoils me for any other KitKats.
The White KitKat says that it has Nasu Highland Milk. I’m not sure what that is, but I’m sure it’s a selling point.
It smells very milky and has a light milky look to it. Though it’s sweet, it’s not throat-burningly so. The crispy wafers are good and offset the sweetness of the milky coating. As white chocolate KitKats go, I prefer this one to the Matcha from last year that seemed excessively sweet and a bit greasy feeling.
I can’t see myself eating this regularly, but I finished the bar, which is a good recommendation for anything containing white chocolate for me (I have a tendency to like them at first but lose interest after a serving). The wafers seemed to be more of a highlight than in the Bitter bar, perhaps a little crispier or maybe I’m better able to discern the flavor of them without the overwhelming chocolate.
Friday, March 2, 2007
My next door neighbors went to Peru for three weeks and brought back a huge cache of Peruvian (and South American) consumer candies. (They also brought some cookies, but I’ll try to keep this focused.) I find it quite fun to sample the consumer candies of all countries and regions and Peru was no different. So here are nine candies from Peru:
These little guys probably look familiar. They’re chocolate lentils ala Nestle Smarties. Only they’re not quite Smartie-like ... they’re the same size as M&Ms (Smarties are just slightly flatter and larger than M&Ms). The shell on these is very thick and crunchy. The colors are unbelievably bright.
The chocolate itself is only so so - grainy, too sweet and completely lacking in chocolate taste.
Rating: 4 out of 10.
This bar had a lovely photo of the cloud-wrapped city of Machu Picchu on the box. Inside the box the large chocolate tablet was inside a plastic wrapper that looked exactly the same.
The bar was attractive: a dark looking milk chocolate.
The snap was not as sharp as some dark chocolates can be and it had a rather soft bite as many milk chocolates do. The flavor is rather milky, in a goat-cheese sort of way, with a little tangy note. The flavor of the chocolate was also strongly raisiny. It was very pleasant though completely different than most other milk chocolate bars I’ve had.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
This is one of those bars that looks huge. The package is about the size a set of Twix bars, yet it only weighs 18 grams. This featherweight bar is all wafers with some light mockolate coating. Between the wafers is a little cocoa cream.
The bar, called Cua Cua, I’m guessing is a play on the sound a duck makes.
The bar smells sweet and a bit of chocolate. It’s also a little smoky smelling, though I couldn’t quite figure that out from the ingredients.
The mockolate was of course waxy and unappealing. It often flaked off the bar when I bit into it. I’m a big fan of wafer with cream (I can’t imagine how many pounds of Nabisco Wafers I’ve eaten over the years) but this one just wasn’t quite as ducky as I’d hoped.
Rating: 3 out of 10.
This bar calls itself “barrita ba?ada rellena con crema de chocolate” which I’m guessing means chocolate filling with crisp wafers bathed in chocolate.
The crisp log of wafer was interesting, kind of like a sweet Cheeto. The chocolate filling was like a frosting, with a good chocolate taste and slightly grain. Like the Cua Cua, this was a light bar. Though it’s big it only weighs 26 grams (and is the size of a Snickers ... which are 58 grams). Unfortunately the coating on the outside isn’t chocolate and it’s rather waxy and uninteresting.
Rating: 4 out of 10.
Name: Gomas Eucalypto
These are crazy! Crazy, I tell you.
They’re little gummis covered with granulated sugar. About the size and shape of an incense cone. Nice and soft but with a good gelatin bounce. They look like they could be green apple or lime or maybe even spearmint. But they’re not. They’re mentholated eucaplytus flavored. Just like Hall’s Cough Drops.
It’s rather refreshing to get a cough drop that’s not all crunchy and hard, instead it’s soothing and invigorating all at once.
Definitely a winner in my book.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
The packaging here is pretty, it’s a white thick plastic wrap with a bold brown logo for the name of the bar and pretty little pictures of the nuts in the bar.
The label says, “tableta con sabor a chocolate rellena con mani almendra y cereal crocante” which means “peanut, almond and crispy cereal filled chocolatey bar.”
The nuts were fresh and crunchy and gave the bar a promising aroma, but the mockolate in this bar was waxy, chalky and just so bad. Look at it in the photo ... does that look like something you’re supposed to eat or something I molded out of dung?
Rating: 2 out of 10.
If it weren’t for the Arcor brand on this, I’d be looking forward to this bar. The label says “Oblea rellena cubierta con caramelo y cereal crocante, con cobertura sabor chocolate” ... which translates to (courtesy of the wrapper, thankyouverymuch) “Filled wafer, toffee, crispies, all covered with chocolate flavor.”
Oh Arcor, again with the chocolate flavor? Is that why your company motto is “Le damos sabor al mundo” (translation: We flavor the world)?
The bar looks promising as well, with it’s crunchy studded mockolate. Inside are wafers with creme filling and then a scant covering of glistening caramel (I’m guessing that’s the toffee). The wafers are nice, and the toffee adds some nice flavor to the whole thing, but the bar had a rather chemical taste, like licking fresh dry cleaning. I don’t know if that’s the taste of Carbox/Methylcellulose (the last ingredient on the list), but it made my tongue buzz.
After this series of Arcor products they are now on my list as the Worst Candymakers in the World. (Granted, I haven’t tried everything made by everyone yet.)
This candy bar was made in Chile.
Rating: 2 out of 10.
This is a cute little bar. The wrapper says, “Chocolate Blanco de leche con Mani” which is “white milk chocolate with peanuts.” Doesn’t sound too bad.
And it is pretty cute to look at.
The chocolate is rather sweet, but also has a salty bite to it, which helped the peanut flavors stand out. I’m wondering if this was not de-odorized cocoa butter (most white chocolate is deodorized, so it has no chocolate flavor to it). It just may have been that the milk flavors with the peanuts were strong.
It was actually pretty good white chocolate bar. A little grainy but not the least bit waxy.
This bar was made in Bolivia.
Rating: 5 out of 10.
This is a cute little bar and of course has a upscale appeal of a regal name like Princesa. The ingredients are promising too, real chocolate in there.
The bar says that it’s “chocolate relleno con crema de mani” which means “chocolate stuffed with peanut butter.” Yum!
The chocolate here is dark (though there’s some milk listed in the ingredients, it’s way down the list). It’s a creamy though sweet bar. The peanut butter is very smooth and creamy as well and is completely overshadowed by the chocolate.
There’s a little spicy taste in the background, kind of like cinnamon.
This is a nice bar, not as peanutty as I expected, but as sedate and reserved as you’d expect from royalty.
Rating: 6 out of 10.
Thursday, March 1, 2007
I went in there looking for Pink Grapefruit Mentos. I ran out of my most recent stash (from Munchies) and didn’t feel liked driving all the way over to Beverly Hills or wherever that is and I also didn’t really want to pay a dollar a roll. I’ve seen them before at 99 Cent Only Stores, but I hadn’t in quite a while. So on my third 99 Cent Only Store in two weeks, I quietly gave up that search. This didn’t stop me from scouring the aisles for something else that would be good to report back on.
Enter the Terry’s Chocolate Orange Confection.
Just like the milk chocolate orange (or Peppermint Chocolate Orange), this is a sphere of little wedges stuck together with a stem of white chocolate. The sticker on the wrapper bids you to “Whack and Unwrap”. I’ve never had the confidence to do that, I just unwrap it and pry it apart by pressing my thumb into the top of the orange and prying out a few wedges ... then a little pressure applied to the rest of it in my palm and pretty much falls apart.
These puppies usually sell for about $4.00 ... and here I was picking up one for only 99 cents. Don’t worry, the expiration date says June 28, 2007, so this is fresh.
The package calls this A White Chocolate Confection, so I immediately examined the ingredients: Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Nonfat Milk, Whey, Lactose, Soy Lecithin, Orange Oil, Natural and Artificial Flavor. Hey! That doesn’t sound too bad, no partially hydrogenated oils, no tropical fats! (Not that there isn’t a lot of fat in there ... )
The wedges smell sweet and milky with a slight hint of orange to them. They’re definitely sweet, though there’s a decent buttery melt on the tongue before the light orange essence kicks in. It’s not super-orangy, but it definitely cuts through what would otherwise be a too-sweet white chocolate slice.
I can’t say that I’d go buying and eating these all the time, but I liked the price. A lot. And as a treat goes, it’s special and attractive. If you’re putting together an Easter basket, this would be a great, inexpensive featured item.
Note: Terry’s of York is now owned by Kraft. This was made in Poland (as was the peppermint one I had last year).
Friday, February 23, 2007
The pair I’ll review today are from the Chocolatier line from Japan: Strawberry, Pistachio, Almond and Thyme. These have been around for a few months and as international KitKats go, they’re not that hard to get a hold of, as many eBay vendors, JBox.com and even Amazon seem to have them in stock. They come in a pretty little lift-top box (about the same footprint as a box of tissues) and hold 16 little individually wrapped fingers.
These are slightly smaller than regular KitKats, they’re actually the same size as those minis I tried after Christmas in the Dark Mint Chocolate.
This little morsel smells like milk and sugar. There’s only the slightest hint of strawberry in there, without the tangy berry bite, just a vague floral taste. The nutty flavors are also very subtle. I got no sense of the thyme whatsoever.
That’s not to say that it wasn’t nice, it wasn’t as sweet as some other white chocolate versions of KitKat, such as the Matcha, it’s just so refined it’s beyond me. As fruity KitKats go, I think I liked the Strawberry KitKat from Japan a bit better, mostly because it was more strawberry-y.
The second little box is Ujimaccha, Kinako, Ume by Patissier Takagi. That’s green tea, soybean and sour plum.
The sour plum hits me more as a salty taste, which is good to cut through the sweet white chocolate coating.
The packaging on these is very nice, it’s easy to have one or two little fingers and then reclose the box. It’s also great for sharing, people think it’s a really nice bit of candy I’m offering them. Of course the packaging might be a little extreme, it feels like I’ve eaten a lot when I have three and there’s a huge pile of wrappers next to me and I’ve eaten less than an ounce.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
These malt balls are Maple flavored and from Naked Chocolate in Philadelphia, PA. I don’t know that much more about them. In fact, I’m not even sure that they are Maple flavored, there’s no label on them that says one way or another, but they taste maple-y (or maybe pecanish?) and that’s good enough for me.
They’re stunning to look at from the outside. Wonderfully glossy, these milk chocolate covered balls have a secret inside, a second inner shell of dark chocolate. This may be where the flavor is.
The malted center doesn’t pack the malty punch that I usually look for, but the woodsy smell and taste along with the crunchy center was pleasant enough for me to eventually eat the whole package.
These orange beauties are Pumpkin Spice. Again, I’m guessing here, because there were no labels. They definitely had a good pack of spice in them, some mellow nutmeg, a little allspice and a light hit of cinnamon & clove (not so much as to bother me).
The orange color took a while getting used to, as did the sweetness of the white chocolate (that looks orange). There were no pumpkin notes, but that’s okay with me (I’d already had my fill of Pumpkin KitKats before I got these).
I can’t say that I liked these as much as the maple ones, at least that’s what the evidence of me still having the Pumpkin ones around and no more Maple says. They do make my desk drawer smell fresh and woodsy. Perhaps it’s that the center of the ball isn’t malty but more like a graham cracker flavor. Which probably goes with pumpkin spices better but left me wanting my malt fix.
I’ve seen a lot of different flavored malt balls out there, peanut butter, espresso, toffee crunch, mint ... the list goes on and on. And though some of these iterations are good, they lack the malt delivery that I’ve come to expect in a sphere of chocolate with a crunchy center. So either I have to adjust my thinking about what I’m about to eat or I need to stop picking these up and hoping to get my malt on. Then they’re pretty good.
UPDATE: it looks like these are actually made by Koppers.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
Leonidas is a classic Belgian chocolatier with a Greek name. They make a huge variety of chocolates (their website says 100) and sell at 1,400 shops around the world (many in airports). Their website also has photos and descriptions of all of their chocolates. I wish I’d known that when I got this huge box, I had no clue what was inside here.
No matter, it’s all good!
The Pralines Leonidas assortment has a narrow focus on all things hazelnut with a good balance of dark, milk and white chocolate. There were pralin?s, pastes, truffles, croquants, gianduja and even a marzipan or two. It wasn’t all noisettes, there was also a cherry paste and what I believe is a chocolate covered cherry (that red foil one which is the only thing in the box right now). Some had a nice tickle of rum or coffee tipped into them. There were different textures for the hazelnuts - from a thick paste to a near solid chocolate assembly.
Leonidas runs on the sweet side, but the nut flavors are awesome. The chocolate is smooth and mellow, don’t expect anything strong or vibrant here, just some old fashioned hazelnut goodness. Oh, and the box is pretty cool. It’s a long faux leather box with two lids, the outermost lid locks the box tight with a magnetic strip but when you open it you can still gaze at the chocolate inside through the plastic window on the inner lid.
I haven’t visited a Leonidas store in person (which is odd because there’s one within walking distance of my office), but I imagine they can fix you right up for Valentine’s Day. Personally, now that I’ve tried a wide variety of their product line, I’m going to stick with the dark chocolate items and perhaps try more of the fruit jellies (I actually liked the cherry paste quite a bit and think they’ll do a good job on the others).
This was another birthday gift last month and of the cache of sweet treats, I can say that this one was not a home run. I think it has less to do with the quality and presentation of the product than the simple fact that the flavor combo just isn’t to my liking.
The box of 12 bonbons looks like little pom-poms in brown fluted cups. They’re called Coconut Snowballs which is pretty much what I would call them if asked. The package itself offers no explanation of what it is. The little card on the ribbon simply says, “An astonishing blend of provacative flavors created to arouse and stimulate the palate fo the most demanding client in the world ... you!”
Each little sphere starts with a white chocolate truffle cream, encased in a white chocolate shell and coated with coconut flakes.
They were creamy on the inside and had a good nutty bite and chew of coconut. They weren’t sickeningly sweet but the centers weren’t as smooth as I’d like, kind of grainy. Overall they were nice, but lacked an oomph that I don’t think these ingredients can provide.
I’m still curious about Christopher Norman’s other offerings and will pick them up the next chance I get (after I’ve finished all my other chocolates in my stash, of course). But the remainder of these will probably be given away.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Lest you think that my upscale chocolate heart is only in San Francisco, I was recently sent a box of ethel’s chocolate from Chicago by, you know, some of ethel’s peeps.
They sent along the new Holiday Collection, just in time for a Thanksgiving review. The sassy half pound + box includes four each of six flavors, all with a holiday sugar and spice theme.
Cinnamon & Sugar -A dark chocolate shell with a cinnamon and sugar spiced butter cream. Though all the chocolates look a little “manufactured” to me because they were so crisp and regular, the tastes were definitely authentic with all natural ingredients as far as I could tell. The dark shell was silky smooth and mellow. It had a slight bitter bite with offset the supersweet but superbuttery center well.
Cranberry - a milk chocolate shell with a cranberry buttercream center. I was surprised at how “cranberry” the center of this one looked when I bit into it. The buttercream has an immediate and sharp berry bite, but the heavily dairy milk chocolate balances is pretty well. Though the flavors feel realistic, milk chocolate doesn’t feel like a good match for cranberry, maybe it’s because the dairy flavors and the tartness of the cranberry make me think of spoiled milk.
Dreamy White - I don’t know what this one is, I couldn’t quite figure it out from the brochure that came with it. As far as I can tell it’s white chocolate with a milk chocolate center. The center wasn’t up to the sweetness of the shell and felt a little greasy and flavorless.
Egg Nog - dark chocolate with a egg nog flavored white chocolate ganache. I’ve always been a sucker for egg nog, it’s like drinkable spiced butterscotch pudding. It’s usually too sweet as a drink and I used to cut it with milk (or sometimes half and half) but I love the nutmeg on top. The dark chocolate shell here combines wonderfully with the rum and spice of the center.
Pecan Pie - a milk chocolate shell with a pecan and spice filling. This one worked surprisingly well. I was afraid with a milk chocolate outside it would be too sweet, but it’s not. The filling isn’t as sticky sweet as a real pecan pie is, this instead has a great pecan taste to it, with that nutty feel on the tongue and woodsy hit.
Pumpkin Pie - white chocolate with a spiced pumpkin buttercream. As with the other pie chocolate this was surprisingly good. The buttercream wasn’t just those pumpkin spices (nutmeg, clove, cinnamon) but it also had that real pumpkin taste to it (pumkin is on the ingredient label) that gave it more of a custardy feel than a ganache.
Of the whole set it was just the Dreamy White that bugged me, the rest I ate without complaint with the first to be devoured Egg Nog, Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Pie.
ethel’s chocolate is part of the Ethel M company, which in turn is the upscale boxed chocolates company founded by Mars. The new line of shops and chocolate lounges are less fussy and perhaps more fun than the Ethel M company. Their aesthetic is spare but with a great deal of attention to detail and attempt at brand unification. The selection in this box bodes well for my actual visit to one of their Lounges (right now just in the Greater Chicago area and Las Vegas). Their other selections include traditional spherical Truffles, a set called American Pop which appears to take comfort candy to a new level, Cocktail which feature mixed drinks and wine, Fruit which contains chocolate and fruit combinations and Nuts and Caramel which appears to eschew walnuts, much to my pleasure.
If I can make an observation, it seems that many of the new chocolatiers are chefs of one sort of another. Instead of coming out of a candy manufacturing tradition or perhaps baking, I feel like there are more chefs out there dipping their toes into the chocolate pools. I don’t know if this was always so, or if it’s just the publicity machines make more of the culinary curriculum vitae of the creators. ethel’s chocolate creative voice is Jin Caldwell.
The price of ethel’s chocolates is kind of up there, at $27.00 for the assorted box of 24 pieces (8.5
ounces). More than See’s, less than CocoaBella or Vosges. I was pleased enough with this box to want to give the Nuts and Chews a go next time the opportunity presents itself. I also desperately want a chocolate lounge in my neighborhood.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.