Wednesday, November 9, 2005
These little 45 gram bars are a wonderful example of how a niche product can break out big in the wide candy world. Made in the UK from fair trade cocoa beans, these bars come not only in the familiar milk and dark varieties, but also an orange flavored bar and they’ve also introduced a smaller bar for kids called Dubble.
The dark chocolate bar is smoky and rich and has a good, complex flavor to it. Very woodsy with a slight dry finish. The chocolate is smooth but a little waxy at first as it warms up on the tongue, but there’s no hint of grain at all. At 70% cocoa solids, this is a very chocolatey bar but doesn’t have that crumbly feel that some have. The snap was good and personally, I prefer a chunky bar to a flat one.
The milk chocolate bar is very European, with a strong dried milk component to it. It’s very sweet but has a good chocolate taste and is smooth and rich on the tongue. AT 27% cocoa solids, this is a very milky bar (using both dried milk and dried cream).
Again, you’re probably asking, why pay a bit more for the same quality? Well, in this case more money is going directly to the farmers who produce the cocoa beans. Farmers (by this I mean the folks who actually tend the plants, harvest the beans and prepare them for shipping) not only get a decent wage, they are guaranteed income through long-term contracts and the company supports education for children in the area. Economic stability provides political stability which in turn helps to turn the African economy to a more sustainable one not based on government aid where communities build themselves through their agriculture and small industry.
One note about how Divine and Equal Exchange differ - Divine is NOT organic. If you’re looking for a bottom-to-top socially responsible chocolate, go with Equal Exchange because its cocoa farming is organic and is working with cooperatives in multiple locations as well as using organic, unprocessed sugar. If you’re looking for a move in the right direction (or don’t have access to EE), then go Divine and support the widest possible marketing efforts (hey, buy some from both and help farmers in Peru, Dominican Republic and Ghana!).
Rating - 7 out of 10
Tuesday, November 8, 2005
Name: Ritter Sport Bars
I did a review of the teensy variety pack of Ritter Sport a few weeks ago, and it just so happens that Robin’s been helping me get more international sweets by having her writers traveling abroad pick up some candy for me to review. I have another half a dozen bars from this care package, so you can look forward to some other sweets picked up in Eastern Europe.
When I was taking the photos the first time around (above is my second stab at documenting these), the Rum Trauben Nuts (Rum, Raisins & Hazelnuts) smelled so incredibly good I all but two squares before realizing I had to take another picture.
Unlike other “rum flavored” chocolates, this is really rummy. If my German skills are good enough, I can tell you that this candy bar contains 2% Jamaika-Rum. The milk chocolate isn’t too sweet and the raisins are plump and tart. Combined with the ample crunch of the hazelnuts, I’m in love with this bar. I’m afraid that it’s not imported to the states, as I’ve never seen it before or maybe it is but I doubt it actually has that much rum in it when exported.
The Cappuccino is rather similar to the Jogurt bar. The filling is creamy and has a slight tinge of mocha to it, but also has a slight sour bite to it. Maybe think of it as a cappuccino cheesecake flavor. It’s pleasant, but doesn’t make me yearn for it like the Rum Trauben Nuss.
I like the Ritter Bars, they remind me a lot of Hershey’s. Every one of them has been dependably sweet and smooth, but not as complex as I’d want from a more high-end bar. But then again, this is candy and that’s what I want. Here’s their motto from their website, “Ritter Sport. Square. Handy. Good.”
Rating - Rum Trauben Nuss - 9 out of 10
Monday, November 7, 2005
Name: Reese’s Sticks
Years ago Hershey’s made an incredibly good candy bar that I miss very much called Bar None. That has very little to do with this candy bar, but I’d been meaning to mention it. It also had wafers. My grief over the loss of that bar kept me from trying this one for more than five years. (Okay, I really didn’t notice it until about a year ago.)
This package contains two wafer sticks with peanut butter cream filling then covered in milk chocolate. Another really pleasant surprise was that the candy looked EXACTLY like it was shown on the package. The wafers are crisp and substantial and the salty hit of peanut butter is immediate. These are not like a peanut butter KitKat at all, if that’s what you were thinking. The wafers are thicker and crunchier (instead of being crisp). The peanut butter filling is just peanut butter, no fancy creamy stuff and I’m not sure if there’s even any sugar at it (most of the sugar in the bar seems to be in the chocolate).
The crunch is nice and the twin bars are a nice, ample size. The paper tray keeps them intact (I really abuse my candy inside the package before I eat it). It’s very filling and the variation in textures (creamy sweet milk chocolate, crunchy wafers and salty smooth peanut butter) is really satisfying. There are four grams of protein in this candy.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Friday, November 4, 2005
Everyone’s talking about Choxie. Probably half of you reading this right now are here because of a Google search for Choxie. Under a huge marketing blitz, Target is running national commercials that feature go-go dancers extolling “Cha-cha-cha Choxie. Chocolate with Moxie!” They’re having free tastings this weekend (Sunday, November 6th from 1-5 PM at all locations).
A couple of weeks ago my husband picked up some new candy at Trader Joe’s called “Slate of Bliss.” Very cool, I thought. Then I went to Target and saw the SAME thing under their Choxie label called simply “Thin.” As Trader Joe’s is well known for their repackaging of food under its own label, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. The Choxie is $2.50 a package, the Trader Joe’s is $1.99 ... a 20% savings. The biggest question is who makes the candy for both Target and Trader Joe’s? Actually, the biggest question is ... is it any good?
Since the packaging is identical (a clear cellophane inner wrapper and a matte cardboard box) and the sizes (2.5 ounces) and flavors are similar (Trader Joe’s carries only two flavors, both are included in the Choxie line, but Target has added selection on top of that) I’m going to treat them all the same.
Slate of Bliss - Espresso and Milk Chocolate: I’m not sure why I’m starting with this one, because I was most disappointed with it. The milk chocolate base is sweet (32% cocoa solids) and has that European milk chocolate taste. On top are crushed Arabica espresso beans. The beans are crunchy and of course taste like coffee. They’re not bitter, but definitely have a lingering taste to them and oodles of caffeine. 7 out of 10.
Choxie - Toffee Ginger Thin: I’m a ginger nut, and I love toffee too, so I had high hopes for this. I was a little leery of the milk chocolate base though from the description, as I thought the sweet toffee and crystallized ginger would be set off better by semi-sweet chocolate. The label does not say how much cocoa solids are in the chocolate, and it’s definitely a different chocolate blend than the espresso Slate of Bliss. The milk chocolate is not as dairy smooth, but very sweet and lacks a chocolate punch. The toffee is nice, but I didn’t think there were enough bits on it and the ginger chunks were few and far between (when breaking the whole thing into 8 pieces, two ended up without ginger). 7 out of 10.
Slate of Bliss - Cacao Nibs and Dark Chocolate: I’ve had a few premium bars this year that have cacao nibs in them, and I really enjoy them. They’re like nuts, only chocolate! This bar has a wonderful cocoa aroma to it. Smoky and roasted with a slightly fruity fragrance. The chocolate here is only 54% cocoa solids, but instead of being overly sweet, it has a wonderful creamy cocoa butter melt. The chocolate is smooth with no hints of grainyness and the nibs give it a punch to highlight the nice apricot and cherry notes to the chocolate. 9 out of 10.
Choxie - Peppermint Marbled Crunch Thin: The sassiest of all the packages, this one is exactly what you’d expect from looking at it. A rich semi-sweet chocolate with a little marbling of white chocolate on top and some crushed peppermint candies. There’s no indication of the cocoa solids on this one, but with Sugar as the first ingredient of the chocolate, I suspect it’s less than 50%. The chocolate is slightly more astringent than the chocolate in the Slate of Bliss Cacao Nib one, but the light bitter/dry finish helps to buoy the lighter note of the mint. Though the bar smells mostly minty, it’s definitely chocolatey on the tongue. 9 out of 10.
Now, there’s been some talk in the comments section of this blog about BruCo being one of the company’s that’s making Choxie (I suspect that Choxie is made by several different candy manufacturers to Target’s standards). I don’t know BruCo well enough to comment on that. The two BruCo bars I’ve tried were not at all similar to anything that I’ve seen as part of the Choxie line. I’ve also heard that Vosges is making some of the candy (specifically the chocolate bars and some of the truffles - especially since the flavor of Vosges’ Red Fire Bar is similar to the Choxie Hot Chocolate Bar), but again, I have no confirmation on that. No matter who makes the stuff and my opinions on the flavor combinations, it’s all good quality with fresh and real ingredients.
UPDATE (11/15/05): I got an email from a very helpful reader that pointed me to Veritas Chocolatier who makes something called True Flats which looks EXACTLY like the Trader Joe’s Slate of Bliss packaging shape and of course the flavors.
Thursday, November 3, 2005
Name: Whistle Pops
If you ever saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, you’ll know exactly what this is. It’s a candy, it’s a musical instrument! Though the whistle pops tooted by Dick Van Dyke were more like little recorders (ala a piccolo), these are slide whistles.
Chupa Chups, I must say, are awesome lollipops. First, they’re very flavorful. They’re well packaged (nothing worse than a damp piece of hard candy) and have the added bonus of a plastic stick. Why is this good? Well, I’m a drooler and don’t like the pasty mess that a paper stick becomes when I’m eating something like a Charms or Tootsie Pop.
There were four flavors in this package: Green Apple (unwrapped in the photo), Blue Raspberry, Watermelon and Strawberry. Basically, some of my least favorite hard candy flavors (my favorite Chupa Chups are the coffee ones). The texture of the candy is a little different, a little less clear and sparkly. This might be a manufacturing thing so that they can operate as whistles or might be the fact that I bought them at the 99 Cent Store.
Instead of just being a one note whistle, these have a hollow straw for the stick and there is a little sliding plunger that allows you to change the pitch of your whistling. They really work and they sound pretty good. However, as soon as you bite off the top or dissolve enough of the top, the whistling effect is gone. The flavor is nice, tart and highly scented. All change the color of your tongue. (Made in Spain.)
Rating - 7 out of 10
Wednesday, November 2, 2005
Name: Fast Break
I’ve mentioned brand extension before. Mars has done this with M&Ms beautifully in the past ten years with the introduction of Almond, Crispy, Mint, Peanut Butter and now Megas. Reese’s is no exception (part of the Hershey family). The base of the Reese’s brand is Peanut Butter. You can’t make a Reese’s product without it, as far as I know.
I bought four of these new candy bars, this is the first of the reviews of them. The Fast Break. Yes, it’s like Breakfast, only backwards and two words. I’)m eating it for lunch. Hey! It does have a lot of protein in it for a candy bar! (5 grams.)
I’m a nut fan, as many of you know (except for walnuts, to which I’m sadly allergic) so Reese’s have always been a huge favorite of mine. The Fast Break bar package says that it has milk chocolate, peanut butter (duh) and soft nougats.
The soft nougats part confused me. Nougats? More than one? Apparently. The center of the bar is a crumbly log of salted peanut butter. Good roasted flavor and not too creamy so that it sets off the other textures well. The bottom of the bar is soft, bland, light colored nougat that might have a hint of cinnamon flavor in it (though it didn’t say so on the ingredients). Plain old vanilla nougat. The peanut butter log is on top of that, and then there’s a thin layer (you can’t see it in the photo) of a caramelly nougat that drapes over the two before the chocolate enrobement (I just like saying that word). It gives the whole thing a nice texture that things mix up well when you chew it. It has a little chocolately/caramelized taste to it.
It’s a good bar, really. I like the roasted flavors and how it isn’t too cloyingly sweet like a Snickers or Mars bar can be. It’s a good snack because of the salty taste, like a Payday bar is.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Tuesday, November 1, 2005
Name: Barley Sugar
Some folks look down their noses at hard candy. Like it’s not candy or it’s a last resort. What’s great about hard candy is that it’s incredibly portable and comes in huge varieties and is generally pretty cheap. And for the most part it’s pure sugar. While I don’t buy a lot of hard candy, I do enjoy it for particular tasks, like high-velocity noveling, whale watching excursions and long car trips.
When I was a kid we used to get barley sugar pops. They were lollipops shaped like old fashioned toys like trains, teddy bears, little dollhouses and animals. The flavors were delicate, not like a Charms sweet & sour pop, but more like a dreamy honey flavor with a touch of lemon or orange. Some have no flavor at all, like the Valentine’s hearts pops. For some reason most barley sugar candy seems to come in lollies. I have no idea why.
Barley Sugar is kind of like molasses, it’s a rather raw syrup made from germinated grains (usually barley) and is often used along with cane sugar and corn syrup to both add flavor and color to boiled candies.
These little sweets look a little like Clementine orange slices, a rich amber orange hard candy. The flavor is sweet with a nice touch of orange essence and no hint of sour. The candies are very solid and smooth with no voids or bubbles in them. The dissolve evenly and have a nice crunch if you’re one of those (I am, I can’t just let a candy dissolve in my mouth, I will chew it up).
They’re a little ordinary, but sometimes I like that ... sometimes I don’t want screaming green apple or supersour lemon drops. Sometimes I want a cup of Earl Grey tea and a few demure sweets. They’re not attention grabbers, but they’re a wonderful background music for my other pursuits.
Rating - 8 out of 10 (a little pricey for sugar)
Monday, October 31, 2005
I’ve mentioned the See’s Scotchmallow a few times as being the epitome of fine marshmallowyness. So I figured I should probably detail it for folks who have never had one.
First, there are two kinds. There’s the one you can buy pre-packaged like a candy bar, pictured above. It’s 1.5 ounces and clocking in at 113 calories per ounce, for a chocolate treat, it’s pretty low on the calories per ounce. I’ll credit the marshmallow for that. The second kind is the little round one that you can get at the counter by the piece or in the mixed boxes (comes in both the standard mix and the nuts & chews). Not only is it smaller, but it is also cloaked in semi-sweet chocolate, not milk chocolate as the bar is.
Second, See’s makes one of the best caramels available in stores. What is it about them? I think it’s that they actually have carmelized sugar in them. Caramels are rather time consuming and though the ingredients are simple (sugar, corn syrup, milk and butter), they need to be boiled slowly and brought up to temperature. If you don’t boil it long enough or to the right temp, you end up with gooey caramel without much flavor. If you go too long, you get toffee (which is good in its own right). Basically, a good caramel is a chewy toffee. The marshmallow though, is what makes this candy special. And the best thing about the marshmallow is that it has a flavor. It’s not just foamy, gelatinized sugar and egg whites. It has a wonderfully rounded flavor of honey in it which sets off the toasty taste of the caramel and sweet creaminess of the chocolate. Often I’ll eat off the chocolate and caramel and just be left with a honey of a marshmallow heap. Ahhhhh! (I wish the just sold the marshmallows, maybe they have a version of a Peep I should look out for at Easter.)
Third, they’re great quality. They use real ingredients (except for vanillin) and they’re not that expensive. I prefer See’s far and away over Godiva as boxed chocolates from the mall go. Though they’re antiseptic stores, which resemble the school nurse’s office more than a candy shop, they’re a plain old hoot. And when you go into the store, whether you buy something or not, they give you a free sample. (I had a raspberry truffle when I was there on Saturday.)
Stores are found only in the West and Midwest, but you can always mail order.
Rating - 9 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.