Wednesday, November 21, 2007
For at least a year I’ve been reading about Hotel Chocolat on Chocablog. The products seemed inventive, if a little over the top. But the company story, the fact that they’re bean to bar and pride themselves on sourcing their chocolate ethically is pretty compelling. While I love many of the fair trade chocolates that I try, I really want some chocolate candy sometimes.
Hotel Chocolat contacted me a couple of months ago with the news that they were opening a webstore in the US. So I could get my own taste of their product line. At first they offered to send me a sample package with their Peepsters, which were little slabs of chocolate with items mixed in. For some reason that wasn’t possible and they up and sent me the Crostini Fruit & Nut Slab and a bag of Macadamia Turtles. (Neither of these items are available on their website.)
The American website focuses on images of folks with great skin using chocolate as seduction (probably successfully since by the time you get to the Christmas chocolate there’s one image that shows the “couple” with a small child). Their products seem designed to entice with sensuality and abundance. Instead of teensy pieces with cute little images molded into them or imprinted on the top, Hotel Chocolat goes whole hog with clear plastic packages that show off vast real estate of chocolate. Images on the website reinforce this with couples sharing bites of bars of chocolate larger than their head.
While the marketing of their products doesn’t quite mesh with my demographic, I am certainly interested in quality and flavor/texture combinations. I also enjoy innovative styling and packaging.
The Slab of Chocolate comes in a black paper package with a clear plastic front and a carrying handle (though be aware that the package opens on the bottom ... so reseal it completely before swinging it around). A little longer than a size of A4 paper, this is a substantial piece of chocolate. Clocking in at 500 grams (17.5 ounces) the abundance is a selling point.
This beefy slab had some uneven distribution of the mix-ins. It includes: cranberries, sultanas, crunchy crostini, almonds and hazelnuts. (You can see in the photo that the corners are sadly lacking in inclusions. While this gives it an artisan quality, it also meant that sometimes I had to break off more pieces in order to get to the ones with the “stuff.”
At first I was disappointed that they sent me milk chocolate products, but this is pretty dark milk. According to the package it’s 50% cocoa solids and 20% milk. It has an authentic milkiness to it (none of that powdered dairy tastes). It’s middle of the road as chocolate flavors go, not terribly complex, just good chocolatey-chocolate. My candy dream! A nice melt, not too sweet and a good complement to the tangy sultanas & cranberries. The hazelnuts were great, the almond slivers were few and far between but the crostini were fun when I encountered them.
The retail on this product is $25 plus shipping. Not too bad for an upscale chocolate bar.
But wait a second ... these aren’t American-style turtles. There’s no caramel in there. Just a macadamia nut at the center and some crisps in the milk chocolate. The whole thing does look rather like a turtle though.
After I got over my resistance to them because of the name, they were fun. The same high cacao milk chocolate, a good bit of crunch and then the fresh macadamias. (I would probably opt for another nut in the future though.)
I’m certainly curious to give some of the other Hotel Chocolat items a try, their gift packages look especially interesting. (They’ve timed their launch for the winter Holidays.) I don’t know if I’d buy the slab though, it’s an awful lot of one thing and I gravitate more towards variety when trying a new brand. It’s certainly an impressive looking gift though! The shipping box was great, nicely packaged for the warmish weather, I have to mention that because some companies just don’t “get” how to ship chocolate products to Los Angeles.
The package says that the product is suitable for vegetarians and is alcohol free.
More on the Hotel Chocolat expansion into the US market here.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
As a kid I loved Ice Cubes. They’re little squares of hazelnut mockolate. Their unique selling proposition included the fact that they were individual pieces that sold for 10 cents a piece and had a wild, cool feeling on the tongue when they melted instantly.
I remember buying them at the student union on the Kent State University campus when I was a kid waiting for my mother to be done with classes or my father to be done with work. (I usually panhandled to get the money to buy them, I was pretty shameless in the lengths I would go to get my fix.) Later when I was in college on my own I would use my meal points at the Jolly Giant Commons to buy these by the tub.
The little candies have been around since the mid-thirties, made in Germany by a small company called Nappo and sold by Albert’s in the States. They’re similar to the Caffarel Gianduia, except for the fact that they’re made with partially hydrogenated coconut oil instead of nut paste and chocolate.
I was really excited to find these looking so smart and crisp at The Candy Store in San Francisco on Friday. I see them every once in a while, but they always look sad and melted. The Candy Store had a whole jar of pristine looking Ice Cubes in both wrappers (they’re switching to a gold wrapper from the traditional blue and white so there’s a crossover right now).
They don’t smell like much, a little sweet, a little nutty, but nothing like chocolate. They have a soft bite and an immediate hit of cool on the tongue. They melt quickly (as partially hydrogenated coconut oil has a melting point of 76 degrees F) and have a decent mix of nutty flavors, a little milkiness and a little hit of cocoa. A little grainy, they’re not quite as good as I remember.
Now, for the sobering part. Read the ingredients: partially hydrogenated coconut oil, sugar, low fat cocoa, dried sweet whey, soy flour, hazelnut paste, soy lecithin, artificial vanilla flavor.
There is no nutritional info included with these, but this page tells me that just one of them is 22% of my daily value of saturated fat (65 calories).
So while I enjoyed this little trip back in time to taste those little cubes of obsession and trans fats, now that I’m all grown up and have found good sources of candy, I don’t think I’ll ever eat these again now that I’ve found Caffarel Gianduias. (The traditional ones are perfect, the novelty shaped ones are fun & make a cute stocking stuffer.) In fact, at The Candy Store the price for Caffarel and Ice Cubes was identical ... 75 cents each. I bought a handful of Fig and Chestnut ones ... something I’ll feel a little less guilty about eating.
Monday, November 19, 2007
There’s rarely anything “new” in hard candy, so I was pleased to see Brach’s has a new assortment of hard candies called Soda Poppers.
They boast real fruit juice and come in four licensed soda flavors (from Cadbury Schweppes): A&W Root Beer, Doctor Pepper, Orange Crush & 7-Up.
Rather than just being a mix of hard candies in soda flavors, the twist on these is that they’re shaped like little cans and feature a firm goo center. (There’s no carbonation, though.)
I’m a hard candy cruncher, so I liked that I could crunch these pretty quickly and get a whole new texture. They were kind of sticky once crunched, but I don’t mind digging piece of hard candy off my teeth as an afternoon diversion.
Like the assortment that Jelly Belly has called Soda Pop Shoppe, there’s no cola in this mix. Strange, as that’s one of the flavors that’s unique to the carbonated drink arena (besides Dr. Pepper).
Would I buy these again? Probably not. I prefer the simple root beer barrel, lemon drop or orange slice. If they managed to get a cola flavor in the mix, well, now then we’d have something! As a flavor mix and the fact that they added the chewy jelly filling, well, it certainly changes the ordinary hard candy idea on its head. These are being sold in bulk in Pick a Mix and in small bags (I think 7 ounces).
Of note: Brach’s was recently sold by French chocolate company Barry Callebaut to Farley’s & Sathers (which itself is made up of a bunch of other candy companies rolled into one: Heide, Trolli, Farley’s, Sathers, Bob’s, Now & Laters and RainBlo gum). These candies were made in Argentina.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
I found this fascinating. First of all, I voted for the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I know it doesn’t seem like a huge portion, but the caloric density of the peanut butter is really satisfying to me.
But I was really surprised at the huge numbers of Jelly Belly fans. I think my second choice would probably be Gummi Bears, just because they take so long to eat.
The big thing, I think, if you’re going to have an indulgence be aware of how many calories it is, if you’re watching them, and then pick something that will satisfy you. Nothing worse than having a “treat” you don’t like.
(I don’t know who these rice cake eaters are!)
Saturday, November 17, 2007
I’m in the Bay Area again. It’s like a second home to me lately. I come here for two reasons, the first is that it’s home to the National Novel Writing Month headquarters. We’re having a big fundraiser tonight called The Night of Writing Dangerously. 200 writers, most from the area but some from as far away as Toronto, will descend upon a ballroom to sit on uncomfortable chairs for six hours to write en masse. My contribution to the evening is a Candy Buffet. I’ve been doing a lot of product photography lately for Candy Warehouse, and one of the side effects of that is leftover candy (I get to keep whatever I shoot). Usually it’s not that much and I can simply hand it off to folks at the office. In this case it was bulk items like Brach’s cinnamon disks, butter toffee, orange slices, mini gummi bears and a huge array of Koppers chocolate goodies ... sooooo much candy.
So I loaded up my car and hit the road with, literally, my weight in candy in the back.
This is a huge load off my mind, of course, because now the candy will go to wonderful writers who really, really want it. (And while I really, really want it too, I can’t possibly eat my weight in candy before it spoils, well, I could but then it’d be half my weight in candy.)
The second reason I like coming to the Bay Area is that it is home to so many candy companies. Some are fine chocolatiers (many of whom I’ve reviewed now: Recchiuti, Charles Chocolates & Joseph Schmidt) as well as factories like Jelly Belly, Scharffen Berger, Sconza, Annabelle’s, Ghirardelli and Guittard.
The cornerstone of my trip was a visit to the Guittard chocolate factory for a personal tour by Gary Guittard. I have been to quite a few factories in my life, but this was the the most immersive I’ve ever had. (No, I don’t mean that I was immersed in chocolate.) Gary was wonderfully open and of course incredibly versed in the intricacies of beans, fermenting, roasting, combining and all the other variables that go into making such painstakingly wonderful chocolate. He was also fantastically patient with me and of course so generous (as are most chocolate people I’ve met). I’ll have more on that as I go through the products that I have for review. It was an incredible experience. If there’s one thing that I came away with was a huge appreciation for the fact that we live in a time with such incredible chocolate. (Something I’ll probably make mention of on Thanksgiving.)
Of course any city that makes so much candy has to have good candy stores. So yesterday, knowing that I’d soon be free of 135 pounds of candy, I went and bought some more.
I’ll have larger write ups about these in the future, but here was my itinerary (fellow writer YumSugar also came along on the last three stops!):
I also popped by Charles Chocolate on Thursday to taste their new winter assortment and catch up with Chuck Siegel since I haven’t talked to him in a year and since that time they’ve opened their new shop & cafe with the factory adjacent. Chuck was gracious and gave me some wonderful items to sample (in addition to the ones eaten on site and on sight) such as their lemon and blood orange marmalade (perhaps something for Thanksgiving will include this?), the new Caramel Almonds Sticks and his new 65% Bittersweet Bar that includes Candied Hazelnut Pieces (which I hope is like this Mallorca bar I had earlier this year)
Monday: Russell Stover Private Reserve Vanilla Bean Brulee (8 out of 10)
Tuesday: Mentos - Pine Fresh (Pineapple) (8 out of 10)
Wednesday: Cadbury Ornament Creme Egg (4 out of 10)
Thursday: Peppermint Peep Stars (6 out of 10)
Friday: Sour Jujyfruits (6 out of 10)
Average for the week 6.4 with a 20% chocolate content.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.