Saturday, November 11, 2006
Yesterday I told you about the Night of a Thousand Chocolates. Today it’s all about the “World Geatest Box of Chocolates” and the Artisan Picks of 2006 from CocoBella.
The box is interesting. It has a heavy focus on nuts with half of the offerings featuring nuts in them (hazelnuts as the top favorite). Here’s the lowdown:
- Marquise de Sevigne Praline Noisette - France (Hazelnut paste enrobed in Chocolate) - mellow with a sweet and smooth paste center with a healthy dose of hazelnut but really not a sugary sweetness (or so it seemed). It balanced really well with the thin coat of rich chocolate. The nicely toasted nut on top gives this candy my pick as the candy I would most like to wear as a hat.
Marquise de Sivigne Orange Amer - Belgium (Orange ganache in Dark Chocolate) - This one was fascinating. It tasted like orange juice - more like a whole orange than a caramel or ganache. It was kind of like the custardy filling of a lemon meringue pie (only orange) because of the tart bite to it. The mellow dark chocolate with its bitter bite pulled it all together.
Knipschildt Chocolatier Hannah - US (Liquid Caramel with Pink Hawaiian Sea Salt) - this one doesn’t look like much. I’d never had a Knipschlidt chocolate before, so I thought this would be interesting. It truly was. Lately I’ve been eating a lot of salted caramels and this one was interesting. The center was a soft, custardy caramel with a good rounded sugar flavor, maybe with a hint of molasses. The salt was not too much and did actually have a little mineral hint to it.
Michel Cluizel Vesuve - France (Madagascar Dark Chocolate Ganache) - A simple single origin dark chocolate truffle. It was soft and had a good mix of bitterness, acidity, dry finish with smoke and woodsy notes. I realized that my less than stellar experience with the Cluizel nibby bar last year should not dissuade me from trying more of their truffles.
Corne Port Royal Rocher Noir - Belgium (Hazelnut Praline in Dark Chocolate) - another hazelnut chocolate, this one was more like a hazelnut halvah. It had an interesting crystallized texture. The nutty flavors combined really well with the shards of sugar, though I would have preferred a little more toasty caramel flavor to it. The chocolate was nice and mild and set off the sweetness really well. It was a good chocolate, but I don’t know if it’s among the best hazelnut chocolates I’ve ever had. (And I’m the girl who likes Perugina Baci.)
Charles Chocolates Almond Cluster - US (Lightly Salted Roasted Almonds in Milk Chocolate) - it’s not the most elegant looking piece of chocolate, in fact, there’s very little chocolate here at all. Everyone keeps going on about how nicely Chuck Siegel roasts his nuts, and though I agree, the milk chocolate just isn’t doing anything for me here. Too sweet. (Have no fear, I’ll say nice things about Chuck’s nuts in a few days when I get to that review!)
Cary’s Toffee - US (English Toffee topped with Almonds) - I was surprised to see toffee there. I was also pleased. This generous bar has a wonderful caramelized scent with an immediate hit of butter. The toffee itself had a wonderful gentle cleave, breaking into shards when bitten. The dark chocolate really helped to bring out the darker smoke notes of the sugars. The extra nuts on top could stay or go as far as I was concerned, in fact, they kept falling off.
Marcona ones I’ve had at tapas bars, and the different flavor of them and density of oils really set off the slightly salty zing of the cocoa outside.
Christopher Elbow Strawberry Balsamic - US (Strawberry Puree with Caramel and Balsamic Vinegar) - a lovely looking candy with an inventive design that really screams balsamic vinegar. But here goes ... I’m not fond of vinegar and chocolate. I’ve tried a few in the past year and maybe there’s one out there that will make me happy, but this one isn’t it. The center was a little too tart for me and the white chocolate a little too sweet. I think I would have preferred everyone compromising a bit in the middle. Perhaps a milk chocolate and a caramel with more butter to balance the acids.
Christopher Elbow Aztec Spice - US (5 Spice Blend with Ancho and Pasillo Chilis) - this one was lovely, one that I’ve actually had several of now. The spice is mellow and robust at the same time. I could make out the caramelized flavors of the roasted chilis and the cinnamon and allspice gave it a good woodsy boost.
Christopher Elbow Rosemary Caramel - US (Caramel infused with Rosemary) - The caramel in here is the slow flowing kind with a slight grain to it and a strong infusion of rosemary. However, the white chocolate added no vanilla balance but a pure sweetness that just drowned out the balsam qualities. This chocolate with its eighties style gemtone brushstrokes of color gets my pick as the one that I would least like to wear as a hat.
Valentino Framboize - Belgium (Whole Raspberry with Raspberry Buttercream) - I was really looking forward to this one. I have to say that it didn’t look very appealing to me, but the thought of a whole raspberry made me look past its bulging belly like a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Aside from that, it was nice and floral with a really good raspberry flavor, but again too sweet for my tastes. I wanted more chocolate and less of the buttercream, I guess.
Marquise de Sevigne Creme Brulee - France (Caramelized Butter Ganache) - More like a praline than the custard I was expecting (like the Kee’s one I tried in NYC). Caramelized, a little grainy but rather light. Tastes a bit like coconut but not in a bad way. It kind of grew on my after I got past my expectations. It was more like the sugar crust of a creme brulee than the custard itself.
Amadei Supremo - Italy (Milk Chocolate Espresso Ganache) - simple and divine. I’d leave it at that, but the way I’ve laid out this page I kind of have to go on about each one the same amount. It’s not the prettiest one of the bunch, being from a rather common stock mold, but the milk and mellow ganache go well.
Maglio Stuffed Fig - Italy (Almond and Lemon with Fig) - when Michael Freeman was presenting the box and he got to this one I was just itching to bolt across the room to wolf one down. Billed as a dried fig stuffed with candied lemon and almonds, I was pretty much sold. Upon trying it was I in love with the figs and chocolate (as I’d already been downing the Trader Joe’s ones in my motel room earlier in the day) but didn’t get the lemon and almond notes I was promised. Don’t worry, I didn’t demand my money back. The dark chocolate was absolutely wonderful. I am surprised that I actually shared this with the neighbors (it’s pretty big and easy to cut into pieces) but I felt bad because someone pointed out that Amy spits out a lot of stuff I give her.
Michel Cluizel Champignon Caramel - France (Caramel Mushroom with Almond Praline Cap) - Were you wondering if I was saving the best for last? There actually aren’t in any particular order (I think the order I took the photos in). I didn’t know what it was, I think my mind was still on the fig thing when it was mentioned in the presentation. It looks like a mushroom. The stem is a wonderful firm caramel covered in mellow white chocolate. The cap is a little half-sphere cup of almond praline (like the florentine cookies) filled with a truffle ganache and then coated in chocolate. Genius. Cute and absoutely an incredible combination.
There was another walnut item in the box which I didn’t try.
On the whole, the box isn’t my favorite. However, after sampling the wares at CocoaBella, I know that Michael Freeman has good taste. I find boxed chocolates frustrating on the whole, because there’s usually such an assortment, as in this one, once you hit on a favorite you’ve eaten it and have to move on. The good thing is that it’s a great cross section of a lot of different chocolatiers that I probably never would have recognized before that are now on my “seek out” list.
So, my tip is, if you have the money, dive in and take a chance. If you don’t and you still want to explore, try the CocoaBella “Build a Box” feature on their website (or go into the store). The pre-selected boxes don’t actually tell you what’s in there but do have some good indicators (Dark Chocolate, Exotics, Milk Chocolate, Truffles and Wine Pairings). I think if I had to pick a box out for myself, I’d try either the exotics or the truffles.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Green Tea (Matcha) KitKats from Japan have been around for a while, but it took me this long to get my hands on some. I couldn’t even find a single-serving bar so I had to buy this bag of miniatures. At over $6, it’s not something I’m likely to repeat for a mass produced consumer candy.
These little wafer sticks are covered in a white mockolate flavored with real green tea. The color of the coating is real, it’s a pretty shade of creamy green. It smells of sugar and the delicate scent of matcha. The layers are flaky and crisp, just like a KitKat ought to be. The mockolate coating is very sweet though, so the matcha nuances are lost until you reach a saturation point ... at about the second stick.
A little about matcha. Matcha is a style of preparing green tea that starts with preparing the tea leaves before harvest, where they are covered from the sun for a few weeks before they are picked. After drying they are ground into a fine powder to create the matcha. This powder is used to prepare the tea and unlike regular brewed teas, the hot water is added to the powder and it is not strained out. Think of it as the difference between coffee and cocoa. With coffee we brew the beans by passing hot water through the grounds. With cocoa we grind the beans very finely and add them to hot milk. You get more complex flavors when you consume the whole leaf.
While I found these enjoyable, they were a tad sweet, which covered up much of the green tea flavors. The white mockolate had more of a greasy consistency, since the ingredients go: sugar, vegetable oil, lactose, wheat flour, milk powder and the cocoa butter. The American label on the package may or may not be correct, as I found a huge discrepancy in the reported calories for them and I had to puzzle my way through the Japanese listing. Luckily numbers are universal.
I think these are limited edition, as they’re no longer on the Breaktown.com site, maybe someone can read that label and let me know. (Dont’ worry, these weren’t expired candies or anything, the freshness date said 01/2007 on it.)
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:31 am
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
There’s a favorite candy here in the United States, it’s called M&Ms ... or maybe they’re called M&Ms, I’m never quite sure about how to make implied plurals singular.
M&Ms are not unique, they have a similar candy product in the UK and other former parts of the crown called Smarties. And of course there are plenty of knock-offs, including Hersheyettes, Jots, Rocklets, Sun Drops and Garfield’s Chocobites. There are quite a few legends about how M&Ms and Smarties were invented, but suffice to say that they exist and that’s the important part.
Milk Chocolate M&Ms
You’re not crazy, they were once called Plain M&Ms, but in 2000 they shifted their name to Milk Chocolate M&Ms.
A little bit of trivia and history. The Ms in M&M stand for Forrest Mars and R. Bruce Murrie. Forrest Mars left his fathers candy company and partnered with Murrie to create the M&M. It took some help, which came from Murrie’s father, who ran the Hershey Chocolate company at the time. The technology behind the manufacture of M&Ms and even the chocolate itself came from Hershey’s factories. In the 60s Mars starting making their own chocolate and no longer needed to order it from Hershey.
Red M&Ms were discontinued in 1976 because of a scare with a food dye called Red Dye #2 (which was not used in M&Ms). At that time the colors in the M&M pack were: Green, Orange, Yellow, Light Brown & Dark Brown. The Red M&M returned in 1985, at first as part of the Holiday color mix then in the regular mix.
Overwhelmingly consistent in size, which is a credit to M&Ms production line choosing peanuts that are all the same size. The crunchy candy shell and slightly smoky tasting nuts combine well but overshadow the chocolate a smidge. But the chocolate provides a mellow sweetness and a creaminess during the final stages of chewing. I do get a bad peanut every once in a while, but usually not one every bag.
M&Ms were not a blazing success when they were launched, though they were well received. The trick for Mars was to figure out how to reach both their intended consumers (children) and the decision makers (parents). M&Ms were initially sold to the military during WWII, but Mars thought they were the perfect kids candy. Kids loved them, they just couldn’t convince their parents to buy them. It wasn’t until they hit upon their slogan, “melts in your mouth, not in your hands” that parents caught on that it was a less messy chocolate candy for kids. The rest is history.
Really, this is the perfect M&M, as far as I’m concerned. They almonds might not be top notch as they’re often small, but they’re fresh and crunchy and provide a good backdrop to the very sweet and slightly grainy chocolate.
Peanut Butter M&Ms
These are very nice and satisfying, but I find them a little greasy and smoky tasting.
One of the interesting bits of trivia about M&Ms Peanut Butter is that there was a large lawsuit between Hershey & Mars when they first came out. Hershey accused Mars of trying to make them look like Reese’s Pieces - the packaging was the same color, the format of the bag, the type was in brown, etc. Now you’ll notice that the color is slightly shifted away from the Reese’s Orange (tm) to a reddish color.
The look of these is terribly inconsistent, which strikes me as a little odd since you’d think they’d have more control over how big the crisp centers are than peanuts. The colors also weren’t quite the same, the green was a little light and the red was a little thin looking. I wasn’t able to find the American Crispy M&Ms, so I bought some Canadian ones. So the chocolate on these is slightly more milky tasting, which is an interesting, malty complement to the crispy center. A little sweet, a little bland.
Dovetailing with the earlier issue with Reese’s & Peanut Butter M&Ms, you’ll notice that the Crispy M&Ms are positioned to rival the Nestle Crunch Bar, which is really all they are, a little Crunch bar in a shell. The light blue and use of the Red M&M echoes the Nestle Crunch colors.
Dark Chocolate M&Ms
These have a smoky and darker flavor than the milk M&Ms, but also a little note of coconut. The ingredients also list skim milk, milkfat and lactose, so I’m not sure how they’re considered “dark chocolate.” They’re gorgeously shiny and consistent, so consider me tempted when they’re sitting in front of me. There’s currently an additional reward of 2 million Dark M&Ms being offered for the return of The Scream.
White Chocolate M&Ms “Pirate Pearls” (Limited Edition)
Yup, white chocolate in a candy shell. They’re nice enough, but just too sweet for me. They’re okay when you eat them in combination with other M&Ms (especially the Dark ones), but I’m not sure I’ll buy these again and I won’t protest if they don’t end up as a permanent item.
Other versions of M&Ms over the years: Dulce de Leche (2001), Mega (still around), Minis (still around), Spec-tacular Eggs (seasonal), Mint (seasonal) and of course many color promotions and movie tie ins. Then there are other M’azing things done with them that I’ve never gotten on board with.
There has never been an M&Ms gum ... but I’m not saying it won’t happen.
Have you had enough of M&Ms? If not, check out these scans of knock-offs, Brad Kent’s wrapper collection (you’ll have to search for M&Ms to find them all), how they’re made, some more history, Candy Critic’s M&M Destruction Project, a Century of Candy Bars (there are pictures of M&Ms wrappers through the years) and if you’re still obsessed, join the M&M Collectors Club (they collect the merchandise, not the actual candies).
The product line gets a 9 out of 10. I might not like every variety, but they’re a great product and really do make snacking fun.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
It’s hard to believe that I’ve never really had the Lindt Lindor truffles before this. I’ve always looked at them like they’re some sort of compromise ... they’re not a candy bar and they’re not a product of a fine chocolatier. So they never really fit the bill at any given moment.
But let’s just start with me saying that I’m surprised at how good they are, and how glad I am to find their newest one that was sampled at the All Candy Expo was the 60% Extra Dark Truffle.
I’ve enjoyed the Lindt bars for quite a while, as they were always easy to find and a rather upscale pure chocolate indulgence at a time when it was pretty hard to find such things ten years ago.
In order to see how dark this new truffle was, I decided to try the array from white to extra dark.
White Chocolate (yellow wrapper) - sweet and milky smelling with a strong vanilla note. Buttery and light in the middle. No real flavor to it, just sweet and creamy.
Dark Chocolate (blue wrapper) - nice chocolatey aroma, with some fruity notes. The shell is creamy and smooth and of course the filling is buttery light, but perhaps a little greasy feeling. It could use more cocoa solids in it to give it more flavor. A really good, solid performer. I didn’t know what flavors I had, so I checked at the grocery store and these were 44 cents each there (and I’ve seen them cheaper). For a quick, single pick-me-up, they’re quite the bargain.
Extra Dark Chocolate (black wrapper) - rather fruity smelling with a slight note of coconut. The shell was buttery smooth with a rather noticeable bitter and dry bite that really offset the creamy center. Now that I’ve tried them side by side, I much prefer the Extra Dark because the complex flavors of the shell offset the light, creamy, almost-liquid truffle center.
Hazelnut (bronze wrapper - not pictured) - this one got smashed on the way home and I didn’t think it was fair to take its picture in that state. The center was light and buttery and studded with little hazelnut pieces. It was very sweet and light tasting, but missed some of the darker caramelized notes that I enjoy with many hazelnut products.
Overall, I don’t think I’d turn down these truffles as a gift, but the only one I’m likely to buy for myself is the 60% Dark, as the complexity of it balances the rather heavy fat. They’re a good deal as a small indulgence you get at a grocery store since you can buy them as singles. I’m pretty sure if I had a half a pound of them they’d disappear pretty quickly, whether they were my favorite flavor or not.
UPDATE 10/5/2009: I’ve had more opportunities to try these over the past few years. Lately I’ve been finding the flavor to be a bit “empty”. There’s a wonderful texture, but the slick & oily center seems to dilute the rich chocolate flavor I expect. I’m downgrading them to a 7 out of 10, as I’m finding I’m more likely to give them away than eat them myself.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
A couple of weeks ago there was quite a buzz in the sweets blogosphere ... everyone was talking about the new M&Ms Pirate Pearls. I was looking everywhere for them: Toys r Us, Ralph’s, Von’s, 7-11, Jon’s, RiteAid (x2), Target, Long’s and even Best Buy. I finally found them at a different 7-11.
Pirate Pearls are just a white chocolate version of M&Ms with a special theme for the release of the new sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. M&Ms did this last year with the final movie of the Star Wars saga and made dark chocolate M&Ms (which I saw at the RiteAid that didn’t have the current remix).
Before I go on to talk about these little morsels, let’s talk about what White Chocolate is and isn’t. It used to be that the phrase white chocolate meant nothing at all. It was any solid white or light confection that candy makers wanted. But in 2004 the American candy industry agreed on a series of parameters. At least 20% cocoa butter (by weight), at least 14% milk solids and at least 3.5% milk fat and less than 55% sweeteners (sugar).
Some argue that white chocolate doesn’t deserve the chocolate name, but it seems kind of silly. What makes a hunk of chocolate special is the fact that its base is cocoa butter. You can’t make a chocolate bar without it. Remove the cocoa butter and you can’t call it chocolate. So if you use cocoa butter as a solid for another confection, you should be able to put the word chocolate in there somewhere (but qualified of course).
So, the M&Ms Pirate Pearls are real white chocolate. The first ingredient is sugar but the second one is cocoa butter followed by skim milk, milkfat & soy lecithin.
As you’ve already figured out, after searching a ten stores I found them. And what was frustrating is that I almost missed them. Inside the display box there were several packs of Almond M&Ms ... yes, the packaging is quite similar - beige with blue and brown highlights.
Honestly, the package design is a mess. There’s a strange picture of Johnny Depp with a treasure chest of pearls and the Green M&M standing near him (but not interacting) with a little voice bubble, “Now I’m sweet AND rich!” Up in the corner above all this is the Pirates of the Caribbean logo.
Inside the package, things are far more consistent. The candies are shiny and have soft and appealing colors: white, pale yellow, peach and aqua. A few are cracked. I never experience this with regular M&Ms and I chalk it up to the fussiness of the white chocolate. The M&Ms also feature cute little imprints in pirate themes. A pirate ship sporting a large M on the sail, a skull with a little ‘m’ as the teeth or a spyglass.
Within the standard crunchy sweet shell there was white chocolate. Sweet, sticky ... so sweet it makes your throat hurt white chocolate. Now, recently I went and spoiled myself for any future in loving regular white chocolate by eating a Green & Black White Chocolate bar, so you can imagine my disappointment. They’re creamy, but they taste more of powdered milk than vanilla.
I’m not completely blown away by them, but I’m not repulsed or angry that Mars is giving them a go. I actually think a mix of these with some peanut, regular and dark chocolate ones might be tasty. But all on their own, well, they’re giving me a headache. I’ve eaten the whole package and have a second that I think I’m going to give away, if that’s any indication of my affinity for them.
There are three other products in this movie-tie-in which are basically recoloring of the standard M&M Milk Chocolate, M&M Peanut and M&M Minis (which change colors). The Pirate Pearls package is slightly lighter than the M&Ms Milk Chocolate, which are 1.69 ounces ... these are 1.5 ounces.
So, who else has tried them, and do you want them to keep white chocolate M&Ms on the menu?
Here are some other reviews: CandyAddict, Chocolate Obsession and Nicole at Slashfood reviews the Australian white chocolate M&Ms.
Monday, May 1, 2006
Sometimes I think that I’m neglecting some of the best candy in the world just because it’s been around forever. Sure, CandyBlog is here to help me and you expand our candy horizons, but that doesn’t mean that we need to cast aside our tried-and-true friends. Like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
So I decided to revisit these old friends, and of course include whatever new and funky versions are out there.
First, there’s the classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. It got its first commercial media blast with a campaign in the 70s that featured two people - one eating peanut butter from a jar and the other eating a chocolate bar. They would collide and the chocolate bar would end up in the peanut butter and the chocolate eater would complain, “You got peanut butter on my chocolate!” The peanut butter eater would complain, “You got chocolate in my peanut butter!” Then they’d both taste it and it’d be pure love. Cue the jingle ... Two great tastes that taste great together, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
There ain’t a thing wrong with this candy. It’s simple and pure, the combination of two strong flavors. A milk chocolate cup filled with a slightly crumbly, dense peanut butter with a little salty kick. The proportions are spot-on. Enough milk chocolate to lubricate the sticky, thick peanut butter. Enough salt to balance the sweet chocolate. As candy goes, it’s not even as bad for you as you might think. Yes, half the calories come from fat, but for your 220 calories you’re getting 4 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber. Show me a nutrition bar that does that and tastes this good. Okay, maybe there are some. Show me one that costs $.75!
The Reese’s Double Chocolate was an oddity. First, let me say that Hershey’s has chocolated a couple of candy bars lately with good results. I liked the York Peppermint Truffle Pattie and the Almond Joy Chocolate Chocolate. So I was thinking this could be similar by adding a bit of fudgyness to the center.
What it did was mute the flavor of the center. I don’t know how else to describe it. It didn’t taste chocolatey, just less peanut buttery but just as dense and creamy. It’s not offensively bad and if there were no regular Reese’s around I wouldn’t be adverse to this, but it seems kind of unnecessary. It’s like someone said, “I’d like a less peanutty Reese’s” and this is the result.
I understand the rationale behind the Extra Smooth & Creamy, after all, the center of a Reese’s Cup does have some peanut texture to it. There are people out there who like creamy peanut butter and those who like chunky. The change in texture definitely changed the dynamic here. It made it ultra dense and actually melded a lot of the flavors together. The chocolate didn’t seem distinct from the peanut butter; the sweet didn’t seem distinct from the salt.
The latest addition to the Reese’s line is the Reese’s Caramel. The promotion for this new cup is all over the place. It seems like a natural extension of the candy cup and I was more than willing to entertain the notion that it would work. The commercials and even the packaging suggests that it’s flowing, gooey caramel that’s easily distinguished from the other primary ingredients - peanut butter and chocolate. It’s not. I mean, I could detect a bit of additional sweetness, and if I took the cup apart the caramel by itself had a flavor, but it just wasn’t distinctive enough to play with the big hitters - chocolate and peanuts.
Also, it suffers from some mess issues. Sometimes I’ll take a bite of my candy cup and set it down and do something at my desk and then have another bite. That’s not really an option here. Eventually the caramel will come flowing out. Sticky, sticky caramel. Maybe as a miniature I’d be more happy.
The White Chocolate Reese’s is not for me. But I’m not saying it’s a bad bar, it’s got a nice balance and for white chocolate, it uses real cocoa butter so it has a buttery, creamy quality. The saltiness of the peanut butter and the sweetness of the white chocolate balance well, but it lacks a dark and intense punch that the milk chocolate can provide. I reviewed this previously.
(NOTE: As of early 2008 this product is now called White Reese’s, as it doesn’t use real white chocolate with cocoa butter. It is not as good as it used to be, sweeter and with a waxier mouthfeel.)
As if all the iterations of the classic cup of peanut butter inside chocolate isn’t enough, they messed around with proportion and portion. Witness the Big Cup. Below, I’ve illustrated the size difference of the regular Reese’s Cup and the Big Cup.
The regular cup is approximately .75 ounces, the Big Cup is 1.4 ounces (basically double).
I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s something to be said for proportion. But it’s not just the amount of chocolate and the amount of peanut butter, it also has to do with proximity and how it blends in the mouth. There’s too much peanut butter here! However, if you’re a peanut butter lover and are looking for a bigger peanut punch, this might be for you.
The Big Cup with Nuts seems to understand the idea of “unique selling proposition”. It’s a cup but with whole nuts in there (well, maybe they’re peanut halves)! What’s nice is that the nuts have room to spread out, instead of being crammed into the flatter regular cup. The nuts have a great crunch and really seem to set off the ultra-peanutty butter. These have also been released in a miniature version, but I’m not sure how well that’s going to work (I haven’t seen them in stores yet).
Like its smaller brother, the White Chocolate Big Cup features white chocolate made with cocoa butter, not hydrogenated tropical oils. It smells like Easter and benefits from the bigger proportion of peanut butter. It’s still not appealing to me, though, but slightly better than the regular sized version.
The Reese’s line is certainly not limited to “cups” and I think I’ve reviewed most of the other items in the line: Reese’s Bites (soon to be discontinued), Reese’s Cookies, FastBreak, Reese’s Sticks, Nutrageous, Reese’s Snack Barz, Reese’s Pieces Peanut, Reese’s Easter Eggs (two versions).
I could have held this review until I got a hold of the other new Limited Editions: Inside Out (which I think they’ve done before) and Fudge plus the Dark Chocolate Miniatures, but by then there’ll be something else on the horizon and this post will be REALLY long. I didn’t rate the candies individually but I give Reese’s a 9 out of 10 as a candy expression of peanut butter. There are some real misses in their line of candies (see previous reviews) but the new items like the cookies and of course the tried and true miniatures keep the average well above average.
Friday, April 28, 2006
Every once in a while I get an email with an offer for stuff to review. As much as I want to just accept every offer of free goodies, I had to develop a standard for freebies/samples. They have to offer something no one else does. Robert at Best Regards had me at “Cranberry Orange Craves.”
His line of chocolate barks feature his custom blend of chocolate and he recounts the discussion with his wife during his development of the treats this way:
I’ve never really considered dark chocolate to have an “aftertaste”, I always considered the dry, astringent or bitter carryover notes to be part of the experience. But I can see how the mellowness of milk chocolate alleviates both the good and bad lingering flavors.
Best Regards is located in the Kansas City, Kansas area, which is really one of the last places I would have expected good, distinctive chocolate to come from. Though the bulk of his edibles and gift baskets features cookies, the basket he sent has a large assortment of chocolate barks (called Craves) and even a fun variety of chocolate covered Oreos. So let’s dig in!
This is the star, the Cranberry Orange Craves - smooth dark chocolate flavored with orange essence and generously studded with dried cranberries. It’s an incredible combination and amazingly, I’ve never had it before. The zesty orange goes so naturally with the cranberry’s tart chewy bite and the smooth and mellow chocolate just brings it all together.
The best way for me to judge these sorts of things is to keep track of which package I finish first. This one was gone in the first weekend.
Orange and Oreo Chocolate Craves - the dark chocolate is smooth and creamy, but does lack some of the more subtle chocolate nuances. However, this is a combination bar, with orange essence added into the chocolate, so the rather homogenized background is actually pretty good as a foundation. Inside this thick bar are crushed Oreo cookies, which give it a nice crunch. Personally, I wasn’t fond of coming across the Oreo cream but the chocolate crunch was a good combo. My second favorite.
Premium Raspberry Chocolate - plain dark chocolate bark with raspberry essence in it. It’s not too sweet, ultra creamy and smooth. The raspberry has a good balance of floral nuances and there are bits of raspberry in there (including the seeds) which gives a little tartness and fruitiness to the whole bar.
Margarita White Chocolate - this was the only white chocolate offering and it was really good. I know, I’ve said I don’t like white chocolate and then I keep recommending white chocolate things. This was white chocolate that wasn’t too sweet and had lime essence in it. I would have called it Key Lime, because that’s what it tasted like to me. My third favorite.
Mint Chocolate Cookie - I’ve raved about Harry London Mint Cookie Joys before, and these are essentially the same. Minted dark chocolate with chocolate cookie bits in it. Heaven.
The final set in the basket were these two different kinds of chocolate covered Oreos, chocolate and mint chocolate. The plain chocolate ones had little sprinkles on them, and I have to say, as cute as they are, they’re not really that tasty. It’s fine for cake where you might want a little crunchy texture, but they just interfered with the chocolate and cookies here. The mint ones worked much better - a good, classic combo.
On the whole, the chocolate Craves were top notch. It’s hard to evaluate the whole custom blended chocolate part, because I never tasted the pure chocolate in any of these items, it was always in combination with other flavors and textures. While I really like a good dark chocolate, often the harsher bitterness can overshadow some of the more delicate flavors and textures. Of course that sort of intense flavor also keeps me from eating piece after piece. Maybe it’s the difference between fine wine and a good fruity sangria. Both have their place. So Robert at Best Regards has stumbled upon something - a really addictive dark chocolate that’s more “munchable.” Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I can assure you, it’ll be good for Best Regard’s business.
If I lived in the Kansas City area and needed a gift for someone, I’d absolutely take advantage of the gift basket idea (especially the mixed baskets of cookies) with local delivery and he has lots of options that are more on the savory side (and feature some of the local barbeque themes). If I had one suggestion for the sale of these, it’d be the ability to get a tin of them, maybe even a mixed variety. The packaging in the crunchy clear plastic bags wasn’t as resealable as I’d like. (I know, I rail against companies that have too much packaging, now I want more!) A tin of chocolate barks seems like it’d ship better anyway. However, he does offer some of the chocolate varieties as 8 ounce bars.
UPDATE: Wow! Robert is offering a special sampler package based on the products I reviewed here - at a huge discount off the regular $26.00 price, he’s offering it at only $15.99. Just go to the Sweets & Treats page and scroll down to see the “Cybele Special.”
Friday, April 21, 2006
One of the must-see chocolate places in NYC is Jacques Torres. Even if you’re not a fan of their chocolate or have little money, it’s still an event. There are two locations in New York, one in Brooklyn and one on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Billed as Chocolate Haven, it truly is a delight for the eyes. The factory is wide open to witness from the street as they craft their handmade chocolate bars and when I was there they were packaging all of their hand-cast Easter goodies. From inside the store you get more than a view, you also get the scents and sounds.
But the best way to appreciate the innards of chocolate making though is from the Chocolate Haven shop. The glass walls enclose this little slice of sweetness and there’s ample room to move around and stop for a cup of hot chocolate at the chocolate bar.
I had a cup of custom blended Wicked (spiced chocolate) and Orange. It was smooth and sweet but not at all sticky. However, it was so rich and the portion (the smallest) was far too much for me to finish. As much as I tried, I couldn’t manage more than half of it.
Again, a little cup of hot chocolate helps me to keep my wits about me in such a place, it satisfies the chocolate craving and keeps me from going nuts and buying everything or gobbling it up as soon as I get away from the cash register with my purchases.
These little bunnies are just cute as bunnies. They’re each a little bigger than my thumb (which is kinda small) and were a good sampling of the Jacques Torres chocolate. The package was very light and as I guessed, they’re hollow ... so the whole thing weighed about 1.4 ounces. It cost $5.
The Dark Chocolate bunny tasted much like the hot chocolate. Smooth and rich with a slight dry finish, it wasn’t terribly complex but had some good woodsy/smoky qualities. I’m guessing this was the house blend variety of their chocolate which is 60% cocoa. The Milk Chocolate was quite sweet and has the European flavor to it, it was also very smooth but with a more fudgy quality to it. It’s one of those milk chocolates that begs you to eat more of it. The White Chocolate was really quite nice too. It’s true white chocolate in the sense that it’s made with cocoa butter and not tropical oils. It smelled very sweet and in fact tasted that way too, but had a slight caramel/vanilla note to it that made it much better than a bowlful of sugar.
They were all very nice, but for the price, first, I’d want solid chocolate. At this rate a pound of little bunnies would be over $50. I understand that more intense products like truffles demand a higher price, but these hardly qualified for such a premium. Not when the single bars of 3.5 ounces sell for $4.
This was my favorite purchase. I almost missed these too, they were placed up at the register and if I hadn’t already picked out the bunnies, I wouldn’t have even bought anything.
These are candied slices of orange that are then dipped in dark chocolate. They are absolutely gorgeous confections. I just couldn’t resist buying them because I knew they would photograph well. Luckily I love candied citrus peel, so I was really looking forward to these. They were just as dense and rich as I’d hoped. The orange slices were soft and juicy and not too sweet. The rind carried strong orange essences without the slightest bit of bitterness. A well-candied citrus rind bears more fruit flavor than a marmalade, which often tastes of sugar syrup.
I’ve not tried the rest of the Jacques Torres line of chocolates, so I can’t comment on the truffles or other chocolate covered goodies. They’re pricey though, but the visit to their shop provides a bit more value to the brand. I give them higher marks than the sole merits of the chocolate in the bunnies, the orange was extraordinary and gives me the confidence to recommend the other chocolate covered goodies I saw. There were fun items like chocolate covered corn flakes, graham crackers and cranberries and traditional fare like apricots, ginger and pretzels. Where the Scharffen Berger line has always been rather traditional in its expression (and I love that) I don’t care so much for the chocolate, just for the filling. Here the chocolate worked as the perfect complement to the orange and I reckon it would make even pedestrian items like corn flakes tasty.
Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.