Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Trader Joe’s Les Chocolats Belgique (Belgian Bars): Caramel, Chocolate Buttercream & Speculoos

Trader Joe's Belgian BarsFor the past few weeks running up to Valentine’s Day I’ve noticed quite a few ads for Cartier, especially in my New Yorker magazines. They feature three rings and extoll the virtues of this trinity: love, friendship and fidelity. Trader Joe’s has done something different with their new trinity, but I think they embody the same attributes.

There are three new petite bars at Trader Joe’s, sold under the banner of Les Chocolats de Belgique. They’re only a dollar each, so I figured why not try all of them. There’s the standard Milk Chocolate {filled with} Caramel, Dark Chocolate {filled with} Chocolate Buttercream and the most intriguing of the set, Dark Chocolate {filled with} Speculoos Cookie Spread. I’m going to go with Chocolate Buttercream representing love, Caramel represents fidelity and Speculoos represents friendship.

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie BarI have to be honest, I had no idea what Speculoos was until about a year ago, and now it seems to be as trendy as bacon. In reality I actually knew Speculoos quite well. In the United States and Canada they’re known as Dutch Windmill Cookies. They’re just molded, rather thin, butter cookies that are not quite a shortbread, have more molasses or brown sugar in them and a touch of spices (usually cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and ginger). The variety my grandmother always kept in a tin on her counter usually had sliced almonds in them and were less spicy than the German/Dutch varieties I’ve tried since. The cookies are common in Germany, Belgium, France and the Netherlands, especially before Christmas and the Epiphany.

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Bar

Lately the confectionery trend has been to add crushed cookies to chocolate bars and now Trader Joe’s has a version that employs a spread made with Speculoos (think of it as a cookie version of Nutella).

All of the bars are the same format: a nicely molded long and thick filled chocolate bar. This one clocks in at 1.58 ounces (the others are 1.5 ounces) and a whopping 165 calories per ounce or 260 calories for the full bar.

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Bar

The filling looks much lighter than the package, more like a light peanut butter than a chocolate spread. The filling is made from crushed cookies (so not gluten free) and some palm and coconut oils. It’s quite creamy with only a light grainy note to it of the cookies. The flavor is a lot like ground up shortbread with a light ginger and cinnamon spice note.

It’s comforting and pleasant, the texture is definitely fatty without feeling greasy. The chocolate is silky smooth with some light woodsy bitter notes that make the sweeter filling stand out. It’s a great change of pace for the price, but the calories make this one bar that I’m less likely to pick up.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Filled with Chocolate ButtercreamThe Dark Chocolate {filled with} Chocolate Buttercream bar is a little more traditional, but I must note that I was assuming that buttercream was going to be more ganache-like.

The buttercream center is actually made with something called “butter concentrate” and “milk concentrate.” If you’re dairy-adverse, steer clear of this bar. Even though it has lots of fat in it, it’s less calorie laden than the Speculoos bar, coming in at 230 calories for the 1.5 ounces or 153 calories per ounce.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Filled with Chocolate Buttercream

The dark chocolate is much more front and center on this bar. It’s silky smooth and melts well. The center is quite soft and reminds me a bit of the middle of a Lindt Lindor Truffle, but less watery tasting. The chocolate buttercream is not quite as intense as the shell but has an excellent full texture. There were a few sugar grains in it, but I didn’t mind (I find the graininess of some buttercream frostings to be a selling point).

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Filled with CaramelThe puzzling bar in the mix, and judging by how elections in this country go, the most popular is the Milk Chocolate {filled with} Caramel. (I don’t know why I have to keep putting those brackets in there, they were on the wrappers, so now they’re here.)

If you were to pick out one of the three based on calorie count, well, you’d probably opt for the Caramel bar because it’s only (only!) 220 calories and one more gram of sugar than the Speculoos bar. But many folks will like this because it features Belgian milk chocolate. So the concept is sound, but perhaps a little ordinary.

Trader Joe's Caramel Belgian Bar

The sugar is quite apparent. The milk chocolate is smooth and milky but so incredibly sweet that it’s hard to get any actual chocolate flavor from it because it seared my throat so badly. The caramel filling is wonderfully smooth as well and has a strong toffee flavor to it, it’s also salty and, well, sweet. It’s a tough bar for me to love. It’s certainly better than a Caramello, but it makes me realize that I don’t really like these sorts of bars much ... even when done well.

I’m more likely to buy these Belgian bars again than ever be interested in Cartier jewelry, but neither are quite to my style. The quality of ingredients is good and the price is excellent, but they’re just not for me. I’m hoping if they’re popular we’ll get some other variations.



Name: Dark Chocolate Filled with Speculoos Cookie Spread
    RATING:
  • SUPERB
  • YUMMY
  • TASTY
  • WORTH IT
  • TEMPTING
  • PLEASANT
  • BENIGN
  • UNAPPEALING
  • APPALLING
  • INEDIBLE
Brand: Trader Joe’s
Place Purchased: Trader Joe's (Laguna Woods)
Price: $1.00
Size: 1.58 ounces
Calories per ounce: 165
Categories: All Natural, Candy, Trader Joe's, Chocolate, Cookie, 7-Worth It, Belgium


Name: Dark Chocolate Filled with Chocolate Buttercream
    RATING:
  • SUPERB
  • YUMMY
  • TASTY
  • WORTH IT
  • TEMPTING
  • PLEASANT
  • BENIGN
  • UNAPPEALING
  • APPALLING
  • INEDIBLE
Brand: Trader Joe’s
Place Purchased: Trader Joe's (Laguna Woods)
Price: $1.00
Size: 1.5 ounces
Calories per ounce: 153
Categories: All Natural, Candy, Trader Joe's, Chocolate, 7-Worth It, Belgium


Name: Milk Chocolate Filled with Caramel
    RATING:
  • SUPERB
  • YUMMY
  • TASTY
  • WORTH IT
  • TEMPTING
  • PLEASANT
  • BENIGN
  • UNAPPEALING
  • APPALLING
  • INEDIBLE
Brand: Trader Joe’s
Place Purchased: Trader Joe's (Laguna Woods)
Price: $1.00
Size: 1.5 ounces
Calories per ounce: 147
Categories: All Natural, Candy, Trader Joe's, Caramel, Chocolate, 7-Worth It, Belgium

POSTED BY Cybele AT 4:00 pm Tracker Pixel for Entry     All NaturalCandyReviewTrader Joe'sCaramelChocolateCookie7-Worth ItBelgium

Comments
  1. Jealous! I’d heard about the speculoos chocolate bars and have been asking at my Trader Joe’s for them. They don’t have it yet.

    Trader Joe’s also sells speculoos spread by the jar. My Trader Joe’s doesn’t have that either, but they do have the actual cookies, which they sell as Bistro Biscuits. I think they’re the same as Biscoffs, the cookies that you get on Delta flights.

    Comment by Rosa on 2/14/12 at 7:38 pm #
  2. I recently tried the Speculoos bar as well, and enjoyed it. And now I know why - I love those little windmill cookies, and Biscoffs.  It’s a very nice combination.

    Comment by theatrenut on 2/15/12 at 4:53 am #
  3. The filling on the speculoos bar looks quite a bit lighter than the regular spread. I’ve been looking for these as well, but no luck so far.

    Comment by Rodzilla on 2/15/12 at 6:26 am #
  4. Louisville just got Trader Joe’s right around Halloween.  They had the Speculoos spread (or as I call it, “crack in a jar”) for a couple of months.  When I asked when they would be getting it back in stock, I was told that it was a seasonal item (i.e. Christmas), so it doesn’t look as though you’ll be able to find it for several months.

    On the other hand, a new item that recently appeared at my Trader Joe’s is a Cocoa Almond Spread.  It looks very similar to Nutella, but with almonds rather than hazelnuts.

    Comment by Johnny Carruthers on 2/18/12 at 9:10 am #
  5. Cybele's avatar

    Johnny - my mother just returned from France and only bought me one thing: a jar of Speculoos Spread. So I won’t have to wait for the TJ’s version to roll back around. I think they also carry it on Amazon.

    Comment by Cybele on 2/18/12 at 11:17 am #
  6. A TJ’s employee told me that he looked for the speculoos ones in their merchandise ordering system, and they’re not there anymore. Apparently the manufacturer had some technical issues making them or something. Sadness!

    Comment by Rosa on 2/22/12 at 7:09 pm #

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