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
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
I don’t know what came over me. I bought a bar of white chocolate. I know there are purists out there who don’t think that white chocolate is chocolate at all. But if the stuff that is called mockolate (cocoa solids and hydrogenated or palm oils) can’t be called chocolate because it’s lacking cocoa butter, then this stuff that has cocoa butter but not the cocoa solids can at least be called white chocolate.
Each year, as Easter gets closer, against my better judgment I want white chocolate. I don’t actually like white chocolate, it’s usually so sweet it makes my throat hurt and has some sort of electrical effect on my fillings so as to give me a jolt. But there it is, I get to craving it.
I know it has to do with those molded chocolates that my paternal grandmother used to put out on display at Easter. Little bunnies and molded white chocolate baskets filled with different colored white chocolate lollipops. It always smelled of vanilla, sugar and jelly beans ... far sweeter than anything had a right to be. It was like it was some sort of super-dense sugar confection. I’ve mentioned candy season before, and it’s important to note that Easter is the final holiday in Candy Season - so it’s probably the reason that I felt the need to gorge on the highest sugar content products available to me.
But I’d heard that the Green & Black’s Creamy Vanilla White Chocolate Bar was different. So, I bought one at Whole Foods. Rationalizing the whole time that I was doing it for you, dear readers. I was taking the white chocolate bullet for you, so that you might avoid it.
I opened the wrapper and instead of being greeted by something that looked like paraffin, it was creamy colored and flecked with real bits of vanilla. It smelled milky and sweet, but not sticky. A mix of cognac, butter and honey.
The first ingredient is still sugar (well, organic raw cane sugar), but it boasts 30% cocoa content and 28% milk. If you like the dairy milk flavor of European milk chocolates, like Cadbury, then I think you’ll like this bar. It’s sweet, but flavorful, with a good hit of bourbon notes in the vanilla. The bar melts smoothly and velvety on the tongue and leaves me wanting more.
I ate the whole bar yesterday at work, which is saying a lot. I don’t usually consume something this big in one sitting. (Even an eight hour sitting.) Something about a rainy day makes me want to snuggle up with a nice bar of sugar, dairy and fat. Mmmm.
This bar has done something dangerous, it’s changed my mind about white chocolate. Luckily, I’ve only come to the conclusion that I like Green & Black’s White Chocolate. I can’t give it a ten ... let’s face it, I’m prejudiced ... I just can’t do it. If I cave in and buy another one, I’ll come back here and update the rating. The true test is whether I want it after Easter is over.
Note: Though Green & Black’s is a UK company, the bar was made in Italy. Green & Black’s is now owned by Cadbury Schweppes. This bar is organic, but not fair trade certified.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
I haven’t the foggiest on the name on this one, so I’m gonna call these Chestnut Pocky and if anyone else knows what those alternating Japanese and French words add up to, please let me know. (I know that Mont Blanc means white mountain, but that’s not a flavor!)
This is Super Thick Pocky. There are two coatings, the bottom coat is a milky sweet, kinda caramelly coating. The zig-zaggy top coat is similar, but has more of a nutty taste to it, which I’m guessing is where the chestnut comes in. But after tasting it (well, by that I mean eating half the box) I checked with JBox which always has nice descriptions:
It’s been years since I’ve had chestnuts but I remember them being rather sweet and chewy, unlike other nuts.
These are rich and sweet and not as addictively snackable as many of the other Pocky that I’ve had. They’re nice and all, and maybe in a Pocky mix I’d find them a nice change, but I can’t give them the highest marks as a snack. But I can confirm that there are no hydrogenated fish oils in this ingredients list, so that’s a bonus.
(Sorry for any feed duplication today, I’ve been traveling and I scheduled these reviews to launch but something went screwy.)
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Sometimes I’ve just gotta buy something because of the way it looks. I saw someone posting photos of this candy on Flickr a few months back. If I hadn’t seen what was inside the box, I’m not sure I would have bought it. The box is 5” wide and 4.5” deep (and only .75” high). The little candies are depicted on the package as well as a diagram of them (in Japanese) on the back (see the website for the text if you’re curious).
I’ve always been pleased with Morinaga’s products. They’re one of Japan’s finer mass-market candymakers. Their ingredients are good quality and they have a fantastic way with packaging.
The candies are “white chocolate” (made with real cocoa butter) with green tea in it (matcha). They’re shaped into pretty little candies - a fan, a flower, a leaf.
There are two different kinds - a dark matcha shape with a chocolate base and then a version with a white chocolate outside with a green tea inside. Though they look different, besides the little bit of dark chocolate on some of them, they taste the same. If you’ve ever had green tea ice cream, that’s basically what this tastes like. Sweet, milky green tea in a solid creamy form.
Some matcha treats have a grain to them, but these are pretty smooth with a mellow, earthy flavor that has only a slight bitter note in the middle. The floral notes stay with you long after you’ve finished them, it’s a pleasant feeling, not like coffee breath. As white chocolates go, this is the way to eat them. They’re pretty, they have an actual flavor and they probably give you a good boost of antioxidants. These are the perfect little gift for someone. The packaging is sweet but they’re not too expensive (even for an import). They’d also be a nice finish to a Japanese-style meal. The package says that a single serving is the whole box, but at 167 calories per ounce, you’ll be doing your heart a favor if you share.
Note: You can order them online from JBox or scour the Japanese markets for them. They may be a seasonal item. This post is pretty much a blatant photography exhibition, they were just so ding-dang cute!
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
I get a lot of questions about Choxie here at CandyBlog.net. And with good reason ... there aren’t that many places to find out about Choxie. There’s certainly no info on the Target website. I haven’t spent much time with Choxie, but I have to say that the products I’ve tried are always good quality, nicely packaged and feature interesting flavor combinations.
I picked up a few things last week, including the highly rated Champagne-Flavored Truffles. (I actually hadn’t seen them before.) They’re stunning looking little baubles of chocolate. Shiny and dark, the package highlights their gorgeous sheen. They smell rather spicy - of chocolate and a hint of wine. The truffles are about the size of a hazelnut in the shell (smaller than a malted milk ball).
These truffles are panned chocolate. Panning is when you take a solid nugget and tumble it, adding layers of coating on it. Panned candies can range from jelly beans to Gobstoppers to chocolate coated nuts to Lemonheads. Panning is usually done in large turning pans that look like cement mixers and can hold hundreds of pounds of candy. The coating can double the weight of each candy as each successive layer is added and then the final “polish coat” to seal them and give them the high gloss shine. In this case it’s called “confectioners glaze.”
The centers are made of white chocolate (made with real cocoa butter, not hydrogenated oils). The chocolate outside is sweet and smooth, a little on the sweet side but it’s definitely buttery and has a good smoky quality to it. The center is smooth as well and has a raisiny hint to it. Not really a champagne flavor in my mind, just a nice “boosted” vanilla flavor. The small size of them and their glossy appearance makes them easy to pop and of course easy to share.
As Valentine’s gifts go, the Choxie line has some really nice, inexpensive options. At less than $10 a pound for many of their offerings, they’re a really good way of expressing yourself without breaking the bank. The “shareable” nature of them is also a bonus. They also make nice hostess gifts or just a nice treat for yourself. Choxie has done a good job of bringing upscale into the realm of affordable. Their variety is also pretty stunning and it always seems like there’s something new when I check out the Choxie section. The ingredients also appear to be top notch, using real vanilla instead of vanillin and cocoa butter instead of palm oils.
Interesting note from the box: confections made in the USA, packaged in Mexico.
Friday, February 3, 2006
I never thought I’d eat so much white chocolate in my life until I started CandyBlog.net. It’s not that I don’t like white chocolate, but it’s usually so sweet it makes my throat hurt. (I’ve heard this may be because we have some taste buds in our throats.)
While it would be easy for me to just copy and paste the review for Strawberries ‘n’ Creme in here, I have to say that they’re really not the same bar at all.
The bar was very aromatic, with a strong scent of raspberries, fake vanilla and milk. It’s not unpleasant at all and reminded me of yogurt. (I like yogurt.)
Now, I’ve had my share of raspberries in my life. When I was a kid we had a huge raspberry patch and we pretty much ate berries all summer long. When we had our fill we would make them into jam or sauces. I’ve had a lot of berries in my life. For a long time I didn’t even care for raspberries. I find the seeds really annoying and the flavor was a little too floral for me and there wasn’t enough of a textured chew. But of course now that I don’t have an unending supply, and the stuff that I do get is insanely expensive, I like them a lot and eat them at every opportunity. I’m a huge fan of the raspberry and dark chocolate combination and when I make chocolate truffles, I make more of raspberry than any other flavor.
The bar is tart, with a little tangy taste that you might be used to in all Hershey’s milk chocolate. The raspberry taste is pronounced but a little overshadowed by the strong sweetness of the bar. There’s also a very weird aftertaste to the bar that’s hard for me to pin down. I think it’s a dairy aftertaste, that sort of coated feeling you get on your tongue after whole milk.
The bar reminded me of Easter, the smell of the white chocolate and the berry overtones that are a mix of violet and rose floral notes. While I might actually buy the Strawberry bar again (a guilty pleasure, don’t expect me to admit it), I can’t see myself picking this one up unless it’s on sale. But these are limited edition bars and are no longer on the Hershey’s website, so don’t count on them being around too much longer.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:25 am
Monday, January 30, 2006
Here I go again with the KitKats. But this time I thought I’d give you a domestic comparison. It’s not exactly a head-to-head post, just two reviews in one.
There are whole groups of folks devoted to the various iterations of KitKats and I have to admit I’ve fallen under the spell, too. I picked up the KitKat Strawberry a few weeks ago. It’s a very pretty bar, the Japanese version of KitKats are sold in a box that holds two individually wrapped minibars of two fingers each. They’re also quite a bit pricier. I don’t know how much they sell for in Japan, but $1.89 for a rather ordinary candy bar is kind of extreme.
Everything about this bar screams strawberry. The pink wrapper, the smell and the appearance of the bar. It smells like strawberry waffles or ice cream. The crisp is really good and has its own wheaty flavor. The cream between the cookie layers is also strawberry and the strawberry coating is very smooth. There is no cocoa butter in this concoction though.
I’m not usually a big fan of White Chocolate. I like misty mints, but generally white chocolate is just too sweet and bland for me. This bar has an overwhelmingly berry smell along with plenty of sweet notes and a touch of fake vanilla. I like it. I was really surprised, because I’ve been ignoring this bar for months, but I actually liked it. Once I started writing this and tasting it as I went along, I ate the whole thing.
The berry particles were actually there and give the white chocolate a definitely pink cast with little red bits. They weren’t as big as the berry bits in the KitKat though. They provided a little tart respite from the otherwise sweet and slightly tangy chocolate. It also reminded me of strawberry yogurt or maybe strawberry ice cream. But most Hershey’s chocolate reminds me of yogurt. The strawberry bits also include seeds. So you get fiber with your bar! (They don’t mention any fiber on the nutrition info but they do say that it has 10% of my daily calcium!)
On the whole the bars had a very definite berry taste that eased the usual sickly sweetness of white chocolate that I’ve never enjoyed. I also have a Hershey’s Raspberries ‘n’ Creme bar that I’ll review in a few days. Canada also has a Milkshake (Malt) version of KitKat I need to get a hold of.
Other reviews: Candy Is Awesome - Hersey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme had some disgusting children and Candy Addict has positive feelings - Strawberry & White Maple. I haven’t even scratched the surface with my reviews here of KitKats, check out Wikipedia.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.