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May 27, 2006

Review: Choxie Peanut Butter Pretzel Bar

Found this little nugget of joy at the checkout at Target. This is the first time I've run into Choxie at the checkout and really, if they want to push the brand, they need it there to make it more visible. Anyway, the Choxie Peanut Butter Pretzel bar promises “creamy peanut butter, pretzel twists and roasted peanuts, inside pure mile chocolate". I can’t really argue with that description. The peanut butter is creamy and plentiful. There are pretzels and peanuts running around in it. The whole thing is wrapped in milk chocolate. Not a bit of it can be argued with.

But…. while it does deliver everything promised it does raise a few questions. The first question is regarding the first ingredient: WHITE chocolate. Excuse me? White chocolate? Nowhere in the description at all. Is it a typo? I’m not seeing white chocolate anyplace. Or is there something more to this than meets the eye. As far as I can tell the only thing in the bar that there is more of than milk chocolate is the peanut butter. Is there white chocolate hiding in there? I can’t think so, but it’s the number one ingredient. I guess I'll just have to keep wondering about this one. Sticking with the ingredients we move on to our next question: “peanut praline”. So, not just plain old peanut butter, but something a step up made with praline? Interesting. I suppose that the concept is you make peanut butter out of peanut praline which in theory will be sweet and tasty stuff.

Honestly, I find the ingredients in this bar an interesting and educational read. The short version goes like this: White chocolate, milk chocolate, peanut praline, palm kernel oil, pretzel, and peanut. That’s it. On top of the simplicity of the ingredients there is a quality that must be noted. Both of the chocolates have simple ingredients most noticeable of which is pure vanilla. No vanillin here, just the real thing. The only thing in the ingredients I take issue with is the palm kernel oil, which I suppose is there for texturing the praline butter.

Ok, moving on beyond the ingredients to the bar itself. It smells like – you’ll be shocked here – milk chocolate and peanut butter. Isn’t that a stunner? It is a great smell, though. The top is well molded and clean but the bottom shows some minor gaps at the edges where you get a hint of the peanut butter showing through. Ripping into it we find a very light colored peanut butter. It’s not the brown of a Jif or Skippy, but more the light brown of, say, a peanut butter pie. I’d show you a picture but I usually end up with chocolate in my mouth before I think to take a picture of the innards. But it is barely brown and looks very creamy. And it tastes as creamy as it looks. This is not the same class of peanut butter you find in a Reece’s cup. That is brown and grainy and kind of sharp. This is creamy and smooth and very nice. The milk chocolate is nice though I can’t really say it’s extraordinary. I will say this for it: there isn’t a thick slab of chocolate making up the base of the bar like a lot of filled bars I’ve tried. There is enough chocolate to give shape and coating and flavor. A very nice surprise.

Next up we have the peanuts and pretzels. This is where the third question comes in. Why are there so few peanuts and pretzels?! I really kind of expected more of them. This isn’t the scarcity you get in a Dagoba bar, but it sure isn’t the same layer of pretzel you get in a Take 5 bar (though this bar isn't tall enough for there to be a separate layer of them). You will get the occasionl bite without peanut or pretzel but they’re in there and nice when you get them. It would really be nicer if there were more of them, though. Based on past experience I actually expected it to be crawling with them. Their Aztec Thin is buried in nibs so I kind of figured that Choxie was one of those brands that are generous with the extra bits.

So, at the end of the day how did this bar perform? It’s not quite what I expected and they could use more peanut and pretzel in it but I think it’s a great bar. I enjoyed it and think it’s worth the $2.00 it cost. It’s not one I’m going to go for every day – I’m not the biggest peanut butter fan – but I can see myself grabbing one at the register some time. I’d really prefer if they were to break the skinny form factor and toss a layer of nuts and pretzels on top of the peanut butter so you get more crunch out of it, but that’s just my preference. I’m going to score it a 7.5 out of 10. It is very good but could be even better if they would be more generous with the crunchy bits.

May 24, 2006

m&m's Limited Edition My Flavors

mnmsmyflavors.jpgThe m&m's online store offers a number of interesting products allowing the user to get some customization in terms of color and printing. Today they announce that they're adding something new to the mix: 8 new, limited edition, online-only flavors. The new flavors feature some interesting combinations of chocolate and flavored shell.
The new flavors are:

  • All That Razz - White and milk chocolate in a raspberry shell
  • Eat, Drink & Be Cherry - White and milk chocolate in a black cherry shell
  • A Day At The Peach - White and milk chocolate in a peach shell
  • Orange-You-Glad - White and milk chocolate in a orange shell
  • AlmonDee-licious - White chocolate and an almond in a normal shell
  • Mint Condition - White and milk chocolate in a mint shell
  • Nut What You Think - White chocolate and a peanut in a normal shell
  • Cookie Minister - Dark chocolate with a crispy center in a speckled mint shell

They are available in a custom tin or in a big collectible tin (pictured here). I can't find a way to order smaller amounts than a tin and the tin runs a painful $60.

I find it interesting that there is so much white chocolate in the mix. Most of them have white and milk chocolate but only one of the bunch has dark chocolate and none are only milk chocolate. Of the bunch I think that the Cookie Minister interests me the most, though the orange, cherry, peach, and raspberry ones all sound like they might be good as well.

These limited edition products will be the death of me both physically and financially. As befits a chump chocolate blogger like myself I'm ordering the sampler. My curiosity is getting the better of me on this one.

Check it out.

May 22, 2006

Around the Web

As I have a tendency to slack off when it comes to posting I figure I’ll heap a few items I’ve run across lately into one post.

First up is a nice article about John Nanci, who may be known to some of my readers for his website Chocolate Alchemy. The site is dedicated to the idea of making your own chocolate. Take note that I’m not talking about rolling your own truffles or caramels, but the actual creation of chocolate from cacao beans. It’s an idea that has held a certain fascination for me and one that one of these days I will try my hand at. But his site is dedicated to this art and the article is all about him, his business, and his art.

This next bit I’m stealing from Robyn. It’s a little “how to eat chocolate” guide which is one of those things that just isn’t as well known as it should be. It’s a nice little read and more than a little useful.

Next we have a few statistics from Kiplingers. Not a news source I would usually go to for chocolate, but I think people are starting to take notice of the growth potential for the chocolate market and start talking numbers. I always find these things fun. I Like numbers. They help to add shape to things, or in this case size.

Next up we have a company that popped up in my email and I was intrigued by what I read. They are called Diva Chocolates and they make chocolate spice blends and grilling rubs. It’s an interesting idea that really has merit. In it’s unsweetened state chocolate is a fantastic flavoring for food and they base the business around that idea. Their site not only has their products, but some recipes as well. It’s a good idea and it sounds like they’ve put some thought into it. And they definitely have the right attitude. I’m quite liking the sound of a chocolate steak right about now.

Next up is an item that isn’t strictly chocolate, but still interesting and does feature a little of the good stuff. There is a new business in Bellevue, Washington that wants to become the Starbucks of green tea. I love green tea so I’m all on board with it so far but what happens when you toss some white chocolate in the mix? One of their teas has white chocolate and whipped cream. I’m not sure about it, but I’d definitely give it a try. I’ve got to try and find somebody to give it a try for me.

This next item I’m including just because it’s the shortest news story I’ve seen in a long time. It is all of one sentence and is about chocolate french fries. I can’t really say more without giving the whole article away.

Last on our round-up is a recipe for chocolate soup. Yes, I meant to type soup. Curious? I was. Read on!

Chocolate Sunday

Some days you just feel the need to go out and do something just for you. Yesterday I felt that need and instead of heading for Jungle Jim’s like I might normally do I decided to stay local and look for some more sources of premium chocolate (among other things). I figured I would hit a bookstore that I had never been to before and look for some good chocolate cookbooks (they had some good ones, but I already owned them all) so I pushed on to a little gourmet food emporium figuring that they simply had to have some real chocolate. Well, they had Hachez and some Scharffen Berger but I wanted something I couldn’t get anywhere else. The did have some Koppers Chocolate Espresso Beans, though, so I grabbed some and turned back toward the North Market.

But along the way I had to make a little stopoff at a little shop I had not previously been aware of. Somehow they snuck a Schakolad store into the Short North and kept it a secret from me! People need to tell me this stuff! Anyway, any day I find a new chocolatier to try out is a good day. I can’t say too much about it yet (I’ve only had one so far) but the store smelled great, their selection is very good, and at only $28/lb it isn’t near as expensive as some other places (yes, I know $28/lb sounds horrifically expensive, but I’ve seen chocolate pushing up into the $150/lb range so this is cheap by comparison). I grabbed a small selection of truffles, a caramel, and a little chocolate-covered marzipan. A nice little haul.

But the fun didn’t stop there, oh no. I figured I couldn’t leave the North Market without getting something fun to munch on. I figured I would end up with some pocky, but instead ended up with a fat wedge of cake and a big slab of focaccia from the fantastic Omega Artisan Bakery. The cake, sadly, didn’t last long enough for pictures, but it was darn good. Almost as good as the focaccia (which I could eat all day).

Rounded the whole day out with a trip to Target looking for a lamp and came home with a bit of Choxie. It's one of those things where I feel guilty if I go into a Target and don't leave with Choxie. Can't really say why that is, but it's like not getting chocolate while it's right there in front of me is letting myself down or something. Yeah, it's a sickness, but one I don't mind too much. Anyway, I got the peanut butter pretzel bar which, to appearances, is one ingredient shy of being a Take 5. Hopefully, it's appropriately better. If a $2.00 Choxie bar isn't as good as a 50¢ candy bar I can get at the gas station then I've got a problem.

A good choclate Sunday. Still, I’m a bit frustrated that I cannot find more variety in Columbus (so far – it might be out there). Ah, but such is my lot in life.

May 20, 2006

What the?! State of the Blog Address

Chocolate Obsession is fast approaching its eight-month anniversary and it is more than I ever expected it to be. I only wish I weren’t so far behind of site enhancements. I have a laundry list of things that I've wanted to get done since I opened the doors, but time just seems to be too hard to come by. This past week I finally snuck in my about page (and a obnoxiously long-winded mess on my road to becoming the chocolate fiend I am today - neither have been proofread and are pretty rough drafts). It's one of those things that I just never got around to prior to this. If you view the page directly (as opposed to through an rss reader or service) you’ll notice (you can’t help but notice) that the site has undergone a bit of a transformation. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m pleased with the direction things are heading. The old design seemed too childishly slapped together and the new design, while sparse, is clean and semi-professional. Plus I gots tooltips (floatie boxes) on my blogroll! Woo!

Looking at my vast to-do list I've decided that I'm going to start working on getting at least one item on the list finished each week. With any luck I'll manage to actually do that. This week I hope to further clean up the theme and maybe tie in some cool java menus. Then I'll start on my chocolate resource pages. I need to get a good chocolate glossary up. I have a hazy vision of possibly making a chocolate wiki (though I may open it up to other candies as well – candypedia?) that I'd like to see if I can make a run at. Then there are the lists of producers, online stores, other blogs and any other bits of chocolate related knowledge that I can come up with. And the bookshelf - I wanted to have a bookshelf section on the site. Not necessarily full of reviews (I don't feel I can review a cookbook without making half the recipes in it and I don't do that much cooking) but at least some sort of general impressions and links to the mighty Amazon (or maybe some Pricegrabber action).

There are a lot of unfinished things that I need to take care of but I’m making progress. I also need to get back into the habit of posting more often. I’ve been busy and my LJ, personal site, and this blog have all suffered for it. Things have calmed down a lot and hopefully I will be able to get back into proper blogging form. There is ever so much great chocolate out there waiting for me and I feel it my duty to share it with all of you.

Hrmmmmm.... I might have to shrink the logo. I love it but it's w-i-d-e and may be too wide for people doing the 800x600 thing. Well, the whole thing is a work in progress. We'll see what happens.

May 18, 2006

Review: Scharffen Berger Jamaica á l'ancienne

After reading the description of the new Scharffen Berger limited edition Jamaica á l'ancienne bar I didn’t waste a lot of time ordering a couple to give them a try. It sounded like something I needed to try. The chocolate is ground with coarse sugar and is never conched (you can read the full description in their newsletter). I’ve been slowly eating one for the past week and a half and I’m finally ready to give up my thoughts on it.

First off, I like the packaging (click the pic for a better look). The outer wrap is just a pattern of repeating logos on a field of yellow (kind of a French’s mustard yellow) wrapped with a paper band with the bar’s vitals. Turning it over things get wonderfully interesting. The description from the back reads

Jamaica á l'ancienne melds the rustic textures of stone-ground Jamaican cacao nibs and coarse sugar cane to the deep flavor of Scharffen Berger Unsweetened Chocolate. It evokes chocolate’s Caribbean roots.

Sounds like my kind of bar. I love nibs and the crunch of sugar crystals and it sounds like that is exactly what I can expect here. Below the description are the ingredients and nutritional information. The ingredients are amusing in their simplicity. They are cacao beans, sugar, and whole vanilla beans. A normal bar would probably include lecithin (an emulsifier *chuckle*) but this is about as simple as it gets.

After carefully removing the band (it’s too pretty to just rip apart – at least on your first bar) the package opens up to reveal a very rough bottom. The bar is absolutely crawling with nibs. And while wondering at the texture of the bar the aroma hits me, strong and darkly sweet. It’s kind of woody and fruity at the same time and the sweetness is kind of a mellow sweetness like actual sugar cane or molasses. It makes me think of apricot preserves.

The taste is wonderful. The citrus notes are there but the flavor is more berry than citrus. I was also really surprised to find that it’s really not very bitter at all. The only problem with the flavor is you can’t savor it because you have to start chawing at the nibs. But that is not a bad thing at all. This bar is a miracle of texture. The coarse sugar adds so much to the texture. I love the texture nibs give a bar but the sugar adds that special something extra that I absolutely love. And the flavor is still nice when you start to work on the nibs, but they tend to dominate the taste somewhat. And the finish is all nib. The mouth-feel is rough, but that’s really to be expected and, honestly, most of the nibby bars I’ve had leave my mouth feeling cut to shreds and this doesn’t.

In normal circumstances I would hesitate to buy a $8.00 chocolate bar. If it’s any indicator of how much I like this bar I’m thinking about ordering a pile of them in spite of the price. It is fantastic chocolate with a unique texture and wonderful flavor. With it’s all-nibs and sugar texture it isn’t a tasting chocolate, though if it were refined it could easily be one. I hesitate to pick favorites among chocolates, but I’m willing to make an exception for this bar. Top notch stuff. Even with it’s horrifying price I’m giving it a 9.5 out of 10. I can’t guarantee everybody will feel the same way about this bar, but I highly recommend it. It’s a very different experience from most bars and, as a limited edition, won’t be around for long.

May 13, 2006

Mini Review: m&m's Pirate Pearls

It took me most of the day and trips to 8 different stores, but I finally found a bag of m&m's Pirate Pearls. I had a lot of errands to run though, so it wasn't like I spent the entire day searching for them, only about an hour or so and it was a fun day shopping around town. Not a big deal, I got what I was after in the end. So, now that I've got them it's time to see if they deliver the goods.

These weren't quite what I expected. The white chocolate flavor isn't as strong as I expected and I don't know if that's what I like about them or not. As mild as the white chocolate is I think it would be lost without the shell, but with the shell it is pretty nice. I have to agree with David at Candy Addict on this one: you can taste the shell and the candy is better for it. Not entirely to my taste (white chocolate is a hit or miss thing with me), but still not bad at all. If forced to give it a score I'd give it a solid 7. Not something I'll eat every day, but when the mood takes me it's not a bad way to snack.

May 9, 2006

Review: Vosges Creole Bar

Today I'm going to share my thoughts and impressions of the Vosges Creole bar. I've been waiting to try this for a while, saving it for a rainy day kind of thing. Well, I recently broke down and am finally ready to give up my review. According to the box we have espresso, nibs, chicory (as used in the coffee at the Café Du Monde in New Orleans), and 70% cacao Sao Thome chocolate. Sounds to me like a combination made in someplace too sinfully good to be heaven.

First off is the packaging. Vosges really know how to package a chocolate bar. Their packaging - with the mostly white box adorned with chocolate goodness - is absolutely beautiful. It catches the eye and makes you take a second look. As always the back of the box features their "How to Enjoy an Exotic Candy Bar" instructions which is a nice thing for those who are new to the high-end chocolate world. It's packaging really sets it apart from the crowd and I, for one, love it.

Moving on to the bar itself. Taking a whiff it has a strong smell to it. For some reason I can't pick any single aroma out of the smell, not even the Sao Thome chocolate (which I can spot by taste or smell most of the time). The espresso and chocolate combination is just very strong and distinct. It's a nice aroma, I just don't have the nose to dissect it.

The bar is, of course, well molded and has a great snap to it. No less than I'd expect. The taste is, just like the smell, very intense. And, just like the smell, it's kind of overwhelming and hard for me to differentiate the separate flavors. I can't tell how balanced it is because it's all so strong. Don't confuse overwhelming and intense with bad, though. I expect a bar with espresso to be overwhelming if anything and the fact that it's the entire thing that's overwhelming and not just the espresso is very nice. Beyond the taste the nibs add some nice crunch to the texture.

Now, as mystified as I was left by the bar I have to say that it didn't last long at all. I really enjoyed it a lot and couldn't get enough. At $6.00 it ain't cheap, but it is a tasty bar of chocolate and one that - given the right mood - I will try again. I suppose I should rate it at this point. I'll go with a 8.5 I think. It's darn good, but expensive.

One final note: 10% of the proceeds from the Creole bar will be donated to the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund.


May 4, 2006

Mini Review: Truffle Pig Milk Chocolate Bar

Didn't expect to see this when I stopped in at Wild Oats this past weekend. I like to go there just in case something new and interesting has shown up on the shelf and - lucky me - they got Hagensborg Chocolate Truffle Pig bars! I grabbed the milk chocolate bar which is a nice thick ganache log coated in milk chocolate. That much I was able to figure out from the name. What I didn't expect was the bar's appearance. It's got pigs on!

I'm as big a sucker for gimmicky products as I am for chocolate and chocolate with a gimmick is just great! The pigs are cute (and hard to photograph) and the chocolate is good. It's not the ganache you get in a fresh, high end truffle, but it is nice and tasty. It certainly didn't last long. It didn't leave much more impression with me than the fact that it was good and cute. I prefer dark chocolate most of the time, but this was good enough that I'm going to give another Truffle Pig a try. A solid 7.5 out of 10 (and I'm resisting the temptation to give bonus piggy points).

May 2, 2006

White Chocolate M&M's

mmspiratespearls.jpgM&M's are going pirate! In one of those massive promotional deals M&M's is going to be offering pirate themed M&M products in conjunction with the forthcoming Disney release Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Now that's news in itself, if only because it means that those Star Wars M&M's might finally disappear from stores (they're still there - I saw 'em this weekend) but the thing that is new and interesting is the introduction of a first in the M&M world: white chocolate M&M's. The variety pictured here (hopefully to be replaced with a better pic) is the White Chocolate Pirate Pearls. You'd think with that name they'd all be white (or at least pearl) but there are a few different light colors of them. They also have little piratey symbols on them that, naturally, incorporate the letter "M" so they don't stray too far from their established branding. In addition to the Pirate Pearls they will also be releasing Captain's Gold - Peanut M&M's in gold hues - and Jack's Gems - Milk Chocolate M&M's in "gemstone colors" (red, blue, green, and purple). There is also a M&M Minis Shipwreck Treasure Mix that changes color in your mouth from green to gold.

Star Wars brought us Dark Chocolate M&M's (the Peanut Dark Chocolate M&M's being one of my favorite things in life) and now Pirates of the Caribbean brings us White Chocolate. I'm not sure I really like the sound of them (I'm not really a white chocolate person) but I'll be sure to get a bag or two and give them a shot.

The new pirate-style M&M's will be available in stores May 12th. The M&M's Pirates website is up and is very nice. Some of the content is yet to come, but there are already games and good info to be found so check it out.

Press Release
Official Website