Friday, August 17, 2007
I was feeling a little restless (and warm) so I went to the 99 Cent Only Store looking for something fun and outside of my normal scope.
I saw a display on the top shelf of the candy aisle of these chocolate truffles from Crown Jewels. They came in three flavors: chocolate, mint and orange.
The box says, Exquisite Milk Chocolate - Individually Wrapped in Beautiful Foil. Wow, real foil? And that’s the biggest selling point, not the flavor or quality ingredients or hand-crafting?
The ingredients didn’t scare me away: Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate Liquor, Whey, Whole Milk Powder, Chocolate, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla, Coconut Oil and Orange Oil. Sure it’s not a truffle made with heavy cream, but at least there weren’t a lot of hydrogenated oils in there. The ingredients list for Frangos was far longer. The foil wasn’t quite as beautiful as promised, but a simple orange mylar pouch. (I was figuring they’d be twisted or something like the Dove Jewels are.)
I was expecting them to be like a Frango, and they are at least in size and shape. But they’re much softer. Not in a creamy sort of way, just in a “how can they be melted at 75 degrees” kind of way. They smell much like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange.
The chocolate is a little on the fudgy side, not deeply flavored with a slight milky flavor to it. The orange truffle center is soft and melts quickly and even feels a little cool on the tongue. The orange flavor is balanced pretty well except for the candy being so darned sweet.
As a purchase for 99 cents, it’s not disappointing at all. I wouldn’t say that I’m going to buy the rest of the flavors, but they didn’t overpromise or underdeliver. As something to buy and keep in a candy dish, they’re a great alternative to regular mass-produced miniatures. But beware, they don’t do well in even moderate heat conditions (over 85 degrees). The box contains about eight individually wrapped pieces and is made in Salt Lake City, UT.
Taquitos.net liked the Mint variety.
I just noticed going through the archives at my best 99 Cent Store finds that they’ve all been orange flavored items ... hmmm: Terry’s Chocolate Orange Confection and Queen Anne Chocolate Covered Orange.
This post is dedicated to Meg at the now defunct SickCandy.com. She used to write little posts every once in a while with her finds from the 99 Cent Only Store (underwear, coffee drinks, etc.) and it actually made me want to visit one of their stores to see if there was anything there that was edible. I’ve been happy to report that they do have good finds.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Way back in the day there was a cute little candy called Tart n Tinys. They were tiny little pellets of tart candy, kind of like SweeTart, only sold in a small cigarette-pack-sized box that dispensed the candies from a little slip-tab at the top. (Nerds are still sold in this format.) They were made by Willy Wonka Candy Company, which was founded by Breaker Confections in 1971 just in advance of the feature film, Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. The book (called Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl was published in 1964 and already wildly popular as was James and the Giant Peach which came out in ‘61.)
The Wonka line of candies were largely a marketing invention, the only candy in the original line up of confections that was actually mentioned in the book were Everlasting Gobstoppers.
However loosely tied Tart n Tinys were to Wonka’s imagination, I loved them. The little chalky pellets were fun to sort and stack, simple to share and easy to portion. The original flavors were Cherry, Lemon, Lime, Grape and Orange. The texture always seemed a bit smoother than SweeTart, which had a chunky and gritty texture (which I also appreciate).
In 1988 Breaker Confections sold the brand to Nestle. Nestle eventually made some changes to the candies, mostly because they had also recently acquired the Sunline brand of SweeTart confections in their takeover of Rowntree (who bought Sunline in 1986). Sunline products (SweeTart, Sprees and Bottle Caps) were then branded under the Wonka label as well. In the early 1990s Tart n Tinys were reintroduced with a new colorful candy shell (more like mini Spree than mini SweeTart now). The most interesting part of the candy shell addition is that the grape ones were no longer purple, they’re now blue (but thank goodness they’re not the blue punch flavor of SweeTart).
The new candy coated variety were also a little rounded, so they roll. No more stacking. But I have to admit they were fun to look at, and probably a little easier to sort even in dim lighting conditions.
So, you may have noticed that I started this post with, “Goodbye.” This is because Nestle has decided to discontinue both Tart n Tinys and Chewy Tart n Tinys.
It makes sense that Nestle thinks that the line is redundant (as I found with the head to head comparison between the Chewy Mini SweeTart and the Chewy Tart n Tiny) to products they already produce. The marketing on them was never particular strong, they don’t do seasonal editions (no pastel Tart n Tinys for Easter, no red & green for Christmas) so it’s easy to see why people have not responded to them as much as other products like SweeTart, Sprees and Runts.
I’ve enjoyed Tart n Tinys since their introduction but rarely buy them simply because I never find them in stores. Runts have been more available, even in the movie style box. I don’t think I’ve actually bought Tart n Tinys in five years for this reason. How successful can a candy be if you can’t find it in the first place? There are still a few online vendors who still have inventory left, so if you’re a fan, get ‘em now!
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Last year I reviewed some chocolate barks and enrobed goodies from Best Regards. Robert Duensing prides himself on his Signature Blend of chocolate, which is part milk and part dark and all creamy delicious.
He sent me a bunch of his new product months ago, Craves Chocolate Sticks, which come in three different flavors: Chocolate, Orange and Mint.
Each little clear plastic tube is crammed with these chocolate sticks. Each is easy to pull out and have a little bite; two or three sticks make a respectable portion. Dare I say they’re a little feminine? It’s the same amount as a square of chocolate, it just feels dainty and restrained.
I’ve had them in or on my desk for the past few months and find myself really drawn to the simplicity. Less wrapper to deal with, easier to take bites out of than a big tablet and rather pleasant to look at when not being consumed.
The plain chocolate is sweet but very creamy. It doesn’t have the rich dark notes that true dark chocolate has, but it does have a drier finish than a milk chocolate. The small amount of milk component to it does keep it smooth and creamy, but without the overt dairy tastes.
The orange is a light touch. One of my favorite combinations, it’s just a hint of zesty flavor.
The mint is refreshing, a little on the mild side and not quite pepperminty, but still allows the chocolate flavors to come through.
I honestly didn’t think I was going to like these much. Other than the different shape than most chocolates, I didn’t think there’d be much to it. However, the packaging is spare and lets the chocolate do the legwork and the little sticks are probably my new favorite shape for chocolate snacking.
This is something that would be great to get in a gift basket because it just begs to be eaten. They’d be a nice thing to set out with coffee service after a meal as well.
The Chocolate Sticks were a huge hit at my office, one of the most requested items if they weren’t sitting out (yes, I have a bunch of candy sitting on the corner of my desk at all times for folks to come and sample). Best Regards also redesigned their packaging for the chocolate barks (I loved the orange and cranberry one) which is more in keeping with the upscale position of these candies (though at a moderate price).
There’s also a raspberry flavor that I haven’t tried before (but I’ve had the Raspberry Bark). I’d like to be able to find these easily at Whole Foods or gourmet stores instead of ordering. Contains milk and soy ingredients and processed in a facility along with nuts and wheat.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Bit-O-Honey is one of those candies that I’m always surprised (and pleased) to see that they still make. And why wouldn’t they? There’s nothing else like it out there.
Bit-O-Honey was introduced in 1924 by a company called Schutter-Johnson Company in Chicago, Ill. Schutter and Johnson later split (Johnson went on to invent the PowerHouse bar which became a Peter Paul product, a nougat, peanuts and caramel product covered with chocolate, something I’ll have to write about further later).
Schutter’s made a nice variety of chewy goods including the Bit-O-Choc and the Bit-O-Coconut and a chocolate bar called Old Nick that featured milk chocolate over fudge and nuts.
In the 1960s Schutter’s sold out to the Chunky folks who discontinued the Old Nick citing that it competed with their much more popular Oh Henry! Then in 1984 Nestle bought Chunky and the now orphaned Bit-O-Honey. (There may have been some intermediate companies in there for a while too, candy history is mighty confusing!)
Nestle has kept the bar largely the same as when it was first introduced. They even still make the six segment bar with the wax wrapper dividers. This is an interesting way to sell the candy and solves one of the enduring problems for taffy bars ... how do you eat it? Many taffy bars are easy to smack on the corner of the table and break into pieces (but who knows how those pieces will be sized?). The assortment of bars from Annabelle’s and items like Laffy Taffy suffer from this (though Laffy Taffy also makes the ropes, which I think are probably the best format for a large quantity of taffy).
The Bit-O-Honey segments break apart pretty easily, though I always end up with a little smidge of paper on the back side of each piece where the candy has folded over the waxed paper. (It’s not the end of the world if it ends up in your mouth though ... not like the foil on a Hershey’s Kiss if you have fillings.)
As long as the candy is fresh and soft, it’s a pleasant and surprisingly long-lasting chew. There are notes of honey as you would expect, as well as a smooth and creamy flavor of almonds. The chew is consistent to the very end, instead of descending into some grainy mess as many caramels do. There’s a little egg white in there, which is part of what give it the smooth chew (a little different timing on the cooking and it could be nougat).
Bit-O-Honey are also sold individually wrapped, but I’ve never liked those as much (they’re a little boxier in shape). They tend to be firmer (or rock hard). There’s something about the bar that I’ve always loved.
I don’t buy them very often, for fear of pulling out fillings (though I’ve never actually lost a filling on candy ... I lost a filling once on scrambled eggs and cracked a tooth on a rock in a bean salad once). It was nice to see them on shelves again at the 99 Cent Only Store and even better to find the product virtually unchanged.
Monday, August 13, 2007
It may come as a surprise to some candy eaters, but there really aren’t that many different chocolate sources in the United States. Did you know that there are only 16 chocolate factories (actual factories that make chocolate from bean to bar) in this country? Everyone else who makes products that contain chocolate get it from someone else. Usually a big someone ... someone in “Big Chocolate.” But every once in a while a little guy comes along and says they’re going to start with some beans and some sugar and and make some chocolate bars. Of course it’s hard to do that because chocolate making, in some ways, is about large scale. Large batches of chocolate mean lots of blending of beans goes on and then the product is consistent from batch to batch. An artisan maker can either attempt to create a cookie cutter product every time or embrace the individuality of the variety of the bean and the growing region.
Amano Chocolate‘s Art Pollard said just that. His chocolate-making techniques are more like a classic vintner than a candy maker. As a small company he chooses his beans personally and supervises the roasting and blending of the single origin sources to create hand crafted, small batch bars. Each bar is marked with a lot number and a molding date.
The ingredients are simple: cocoa beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter and Tahitian vanilla beans. Note that there’s no added soya lecithin here. (The only other bars that I’ve tried that have no lecithin in them are Theo and Michel Cluizel.) The packaging is equally simple but also appropriate. The bar is inside a nice matte paperboard black tab-top box and the bar is wrapped in a medium weight gold foil. (I’ve had plenty of bars that come in a microthin foil that is impossible to reseal around the bar because it’s torn to shreds.)
Madagascar Premium Dark Chocolate - 70% Cacao Minimum
Madagascar - tart with strong licorice and citrus tones. The tanginess seems to give the chocolate a very crisp finish, it’s smooth, but not as full feeling on the tongue as the Ocumare. Eventually it settles into a flavor rather like golden raisins. (Lot no: 3/4/59 date: 1/14/2007)
Ocumare Grand Cru Dark Chocolate - 70% Cacao Minimum
Buttery and rich with a strong woodsy component. A little peppery bite as well as a little rosemary note. The flavors are thick and resonant, with a deepness and complexity that was good for savoring but also extremely pleasant to mindlessly eat. (Lot no: 3/4/61 date: 3/8/2007)
I have a feeling that I just plain old like Ocumare. It’s my favorite single-origin bar from Chocovic.
I had several of these Amano Ocumare bars and found that they were much better, richer and more buttery after sitting for at least a month. So while “fresh from the factory” is good for some products, so is aging in the case of chocolate.
Brian from Candy Addict reviewed these bars and found them Awesomely Addictive. He notes a strong mint flavor in the Ocumare which was in a single molding of bars. Art Pollard dispatched a newer set of bars that did not have that hint of mint in them, hence the differing descriptions between our reviews (and more Ocumare for me!).
Amano’s been getting a lot of press lately, especially since their good showing at the Fancy Food Show in New York earlier this summer. Here’s a roundup of other reviews: The Art of Tasting Chocolate, David Lebovitz and Chuck Eats.
The final thing to note is the price. The bars run about $7.00 each and weigh 2 ounces - that’s over $55 a pound and isn’t a purty truffle or anything. In my middle-class existence that price makes these bars a “rare indulgence” but certainly for any chocophile is something that should be experienced. You can buy directly from Amano or possibly at Amazon (out of stock right now).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.