June 27, 2010

Quick Hits: Pretzel M&M's

The last few years have seen some interesting experiments within the M&M's brand and they've generally been good with the odd exception along the way. The latest of these experiments is the Pretzel M&M. Simple concept - an M&M with a pretzel in the middle - like the Peanut M&M only different. Pretzels and chocolate go together like two things that go really well together so this really seems like a slam dunk.

The concept is a good one, but the proof is, as they say, in the pudding. So how does the Pretzel M&M deliver? Pretty good actually. The crunch is nice and the pretzel tastes like, well, pretzel which is, I suppose, exactly what one would hope. I'm not sure I like the pretzel crunch after the candy crunch on the outside, though. It's a little different than the crunch of the peanut in the Peanut M&M's and I guess I'm just unfairly comparing the two. The Peanut M&M's are near perfect so I'm biased toward them. But all that aside it's a nice combo in terms of taste. The little pretzel nuggets have a nice bit of salt to them which gives that wonderful sweet and salty combo that just hits the spot so well.

A simple concept combining two great tastes into one little bundle of candy-coated goodness. I'm actually curious as to why it took them so long to do this. It really seems to be a natural extension of the brand to me while some of the other ideas they've tried (PB&J anybody?) have been a bit of a stretch. Score-wise I'm going to have to give these a 8.75 out of 10 as they are pretty darn yummy. They make a nice alternative to the classic Peanut M&M's and are quite a nice addition to the brand.

Oh, and there are NO yellow Pretzel M&M's. What's up with that?

May 25, 2010

Review: Godiva Ice Cream Parlor Truffles

Summer is just under a month away and it's time to gear up for all the great tastes of the season. And what taste screams summer more than ice cream? Seriously. Since I was old enough to chase the ice cream man summer and ice cream have gone hand in hand. And to get into the spirit of the season Godiva has brought back their Ice Cream Parlor Truffles. They've even stepped up their summertime swing with new flavors. This year they're introducing Double Dark Chocolate, Pistachio, Lemon Sherbet, and Rocky Road. These are in addition to the existing flavors of Mint Chocolate Chip, Neapolitan, Hazelnut Gelato, Oranges and Crème, and Pecan Caramel Sundae. That's a pretty tasty sounding lineup. I was lucky enough to be sent a sampler of the new flavors in what is some of the coolest packaging I've seen in some time.

You see, they have these great little lidded cups that look like pint ice cream containers - awesome way to work with the theme, no? You can get pre-made pints or get a custom pint made at a boutique. Even cooler, if you do happen go to a Godiva boutique you can get an Ice Cream Truffle Cone - yep, they give the truffle a little dip and stick it in a mini-cone. And if that isn't already enough summertime fun they also have these cute Milk Chocolate Popsicle Lollipops. They look - surprise! - like a popsicle and are available in orange, green and brown tied with a pink satin ribbon. And that's still not all. They've gone whole hog on the ice cream with Ice Cream Parlor Truffle Bars! These are available in Oranges & Cream, Mint Chocolate Chip, Hazelnut Gelato and Vanilla Sundae. So if a single truffle isn't enough to satisfy your ice cream urge, they've got you covered. They've even stepped up availability by making the classic flavors available at department stores and online where last year they were boutique only. The new flavors are only available at Godiva boutiqes, though. But it may be worth it to go to an actual Godiva store so you can try those cool little mini-cones and get a custom packed pint container with your choice of flavors, old or new.

Love the theme and the killer packaging, but it's the taste that's important, right? Well, they've done some pretty impressive work on some of these. The Double Dark Chocolate is great - dark on dark is a sure winner in my book and this delivers. The Lemon Sherbet is nice and lemony, but I don't know that I've got any basis for comparison - I've had lots of orange and lime sherbet, but I don't know if I've ever had lemon. It's not my favorite, but it's still good. The rocky road is really nice and hits close to the mark of the classic ice cream flavor with a nice hit of marshmallowy vanilla along with the nuts and chocolate. And then there's Pistachio. I'm not sure how I managed to avoid the flavor for so long, but once I started on it I've been unable to stop and I love the combination of Pistachio and white chocolate. And that's what we've got here and it's really tasty.

As for the "old" flavors, well, I couldn't settle for just trying the new flavors, could I? So I nipped off to the mall and grabbed some of the classics to taste test. I haven't tried them all just yet, but the ones I have are some seriously good stuff. The Neapolitan is a home run - I just had Breyer's Strawberry Ice Cream on Saturday and the strawberry in the Neapolitan Truffle is close to a dead ringer for that natural strawberry ice cream flavor. Paired with some vanilla and all wrapped up in chocolate it really nails the flavor combination well. And good golly gosh the Mint Chocolate Chip.... dead on perfect and totally to die for. They are so wrong they're right. Gooshy, minty and chocolaty – they are a thing of beauty. Oh, and the Oranges and Crème matches up to a Orange Creamsicle pretty darn well, too. Then there is the Pecan Caramel Sundae. After the other truffles turned out to be so solid I had some pretty high expectations for this one. Luckily it lived up to expectations with some lovely gooey caramel and vanilla sections – with nuts even! Absolutely awesome.

So how do they all rate? I’d say they run from a low of 7 out of 10 for the Lemon Sherbet up to a good strong 9.25 out of 10 for the Mint Chocolate Chip and Pecan Caramel Sundae. Overall I’d probably drop an 8.5 for the whole line. Very tasty stuff and a fun change of pace. The prices aren’t terrible for Godiva either. A four-truffle pint will run you $10 and a three pint pack with Neapolitan, Mint Chocolate Chip and Pecan Caramel Sundae will run just $25 (they call it an Ice Cream Social – hee hee). And the cones will only set you back $3, the lollipops are $6 and it's only $2.95 for one of the Ice Cream Parlor Truffle Bars. It may be more economical to go with per pound pricing for your truffles, though. I love the packaging and all, but I tend to go that route because I don’t see a whole lot of reason to waste a box on chocolate that is just for me and my friends. But do what makes you happy. Just do it fast, because they're only here for a limited time!

May 16, 2010

Pseudo-Review: John & Kira's Chocolates

As much as I love John & Kira's Chocolates I'm really surprised to find that I've never really reviewed anything they make. I've been a big fan of their fabulous drunken pumpkin figs they do for the holiday season, but up until a few months ago I'd really not had anything else they make outside of the New York Chocolate Show. But this spring they were doing a bit of a half-off dealie on some of their stuff in the wake of Valentine's Day and I took that opportunity to try a few more of their treats. Doing so was a great move - I got to try two of the best pieces of chocolate I've had in the last year - maybe ever.

The first thing I got was a box of their tri-color Ladybugs (they're painted to look like little ladybugs). It comes with three bugs each in red (raspberry), yellow (honey lavender), and green (garden mint). Great write-ups on the ingredients at those links. Oh, and it comes in a really nice box. Totally love their packaging. When you pull a bug (or a bee - we'll get to those) from the box there are these lovely little facts about ladybugs and bees lurking in the spot vacated. Now, the flavors. The raspberry was good, but not over the top amazing - I may be jaded to raspberry as most raspberry things don't impress me any more. This one was relatively mild raspberry with nice chocolate and pretty balanced overall. The honey lavender was fantastic. You could really taste the honey and the lavender. This one was over the top amazing, but it still wasn't as over the top amazing as the garden mint. There are so many generic mint chocolates out there that finding one with a beautiful real fresh mint flavor is so nice. Absolutely incredible stuff.

And speaking of incredible stuff the other item I ordered was a box of their caramel chocolate bees. Like the ladybugs they're painted to look like cute little bees. They're salted caramel with a little honey all wrapped in chocolate and they are unbelievable good. I was expecting a nice salted caramel, but that touch of honey makes them - you guessed it - over the top amazing. Maybe even better than that. Killer stuff.

Let's see, did I miss anything? Oh, yeah. They use Valrhona for their chocolate. It's all good stuff on top of more good stuff. Of course it comes at a price. They are kinda expensive. But when you look at a, say, Godiva, you'll find that they're pretty competitive. It may not be for everyday consumption, but when you want something exceptional it fits the bill. It's been a while since I ate them so I feel a little bad about giving them a score from memory, but I don't remember them as anything but awesome. The ladybugs get a 9.25 out of 10 for being amazingly awesome and the bees get a 9.5 for being darn near perfect. Yummy yummy stuff.

June 10, 2009

Review: Milk Chocolate Fling

I've been toying with a few things of late, trying to find something worth writing about. And I've found things worth writing about, but I just don't know what the heck to say about them. One of those items that I should probably talk about is the Americanized Fling Chocolate. But what to say? I can go on about the ill-conceived marketing campaign, but I don't want to go there. My opinion of it would drag my little blog places I just don't want to take it. I'd rather focus on the candy, no matter what the marketing is like. I've only got the milk chocolate variety (apparently there are dark chocolate and hazelnut as well) so that's what I'm going to hit tonight. And, since I totally forgot when first posting this, I should say that I got it for free at the All Candy Expo.

And, you know, I like to focus on packaging because it catches the eye and builds some anticipation for what's to come and all that, but this is just a bit pink for my taste. But that's all part of the master plan (whatever the heck it might be) of the Mars marketing people. Inside you get two fingers (real industry term) of Fling which have a truffle layer on top of a crispy meringue style crunch layer all wrapped in "shimmering" chocolate. And they mean that shimmering thing quite literally. The pink on the package carries over to the bar with pink sparklies all over the thing. On the top of the bar it's subtle and you almost have to look for it. On the bottom it's super pink sparkle town or something. I had to start searching the web to make sure it was supposed to look like that and was safe to eat. I've seen similar, but this was a weird shimmery thing and it kind of worried me. From what I could find it's safe to eat so I took a bite. The crunch is nice, but not entirely what I had been expecting not knowing it was a meringue thing going on. But it's got a nice milky milk chocolate thing going on with a nice crunch and a nice bit of malt as well. It's not a bad combo. I'm not a fan of a whole ton of malt in my chocolate, but this gives enough to enjoy and is balanced by the milk chocolate. Overall it's a nice combo, but I'm not in love with the texture of the crunch. But that's just me being picky.

So we've got a decent crunch, a little malt, and some decent milk chocolate. It works well together so I'm going to give it a 7.75 out of 10. It's good, but not something I'll be going back for a whole lot. I don't care how pink and girly they want their product to be (I'm not about to turn my nose up at chocolate just because it's targeted toward women), I just want a different crunch in my chocolate. Same reason I don't do Twix - I don't dig the cookie in my chocolate and with Fling I just don't dig the meringue. But even if it ain't my cup of tea it still delivers some decent taste and crunch.

June 2, 2009

Review: Coconut M&M's

Going into All Candy Expo I already knew about the Strawberried Peanut Butter M&M's and was hoping to get my hands on them there. It took all of one minute of the opening session to shift my focus away from them and firmly onto the Coconut M&M's that they announced (coming later this summer - got mine in the swag bag at the Mars press conference). I'm a fan of coconut and love the texture (and miss the heck out of the Bounty bar). During a stop at the Mars booth I asked about them what they were like and the frightening answer was that they had no coconut texture. Just smooth milk chocolate and the characteristic candy crunch. So I was left to wonder: without the texture I love would I still dig the coconut action?

In a word YES! This could have ended up being a distressingly short review because I just want to say how much I love them, but we're going to go ahead and try and focus in and say something constructive about them. The basic idea is a slightly larger than normal M&M with dose of coconut flavor. Simple enough, right? And the concept is exactly what they delivered. It's an M&M chock full of great coconut flavor. And the really weird thing is this - it is dead on perfect coconut flavor with no nasty aftertaste, but nowhere in the ingredients do you find anything even close to coconut, not even natural flavor! They have a perfect artificial coconut flavor going on here! I was forced to share them around the office to make sure that I wasn't imagining things and everybody confirmed it. It tastes real. More than that, everybody liked them. People who hate the texture of coconut found them great. People who normally don't like coconut liked them (wha?). People who love the texture and taste of coconut like I do also loved them. It's a great implementation of a simple idea.

So, how great are they? Well, I'm tempted to give them a 10 just because I love the heck out of them. I consider Peanut M&M's a 9 and I like these better! So I'm going to give it a big ol' 9.5 out of 10 and call it nearly perfect. Why isn't it perfect? Because it's a limited edition. How unfair of me is that? I'm terrible. Anyway, I'm hoping that people love this is much as it deserves and it gets granted a position in the normal lineup. As far as I'm concerned this is a true winner. And all the people I've asked agree with me. Whether it is eventually adopted full-time or not, I have to give it to Mars. Bravo, people. Bravo.

June 1, 2009

Review: Strawberried Peanut Butter M&M's

I love to hunt for candy. Love to. I've been to more than a dozen places looking for the M&M's and Snickers limited edition Transformers tie-ins and after weeks of searching I have finally found the Strawberried Peanut Butter M&M's in a store. Of course I got some at the All Candy Expo a couple of weeks back, but after all of the searching I had to keep trying to find it in store. It was a point of pride or some such stupidity. Not to mention as I look for it I'm also looking for the Snickers Nougabot which I still have not found anywhere. But frustrations aside, tonight I'm going to address the M&M's.

I have to admit that when I first read about the Strawberried Peanut Butter M&M's my immediate reaction was a little confusion and horror. Strawberry and Peanut Butter? Seriously? It took a moment for it to click in my mind - it's peanut butter and jelly! I felt kind of stupid after that, but most people I've presented it to have the same mental block so I'm not the only person who can't see the obvious. Confusion aside, lets take a look at what we've got here. It's a peanut butter M&M with a hit of strawberry flavor to go along with the chocolate and peanut butter (yeah, I sort of failed to even mention the chocolate originally - oops!). It's a simple enough concept so it all comes down to execution and this is where it shines. I expected the peanut butter to taste like peanut butter, but wasn't sure what the strawberry would taste like. Strangely, it tastes like strawberry! With the odd exception the flavor is more peanut butter than strawberry and I'm really wanting just a little more strawberry than I'm getting, but the flavors are good and go well together. It tastes good.

So while it's a flavor combination I really didn't see coming, it's one that works on a very traditional level and one that they pull off very well. It isn't the ideal balance of flavors in my eyes, but I'm really one of those people who likes a little peanut butter with their jelly so I can forgive them. At the end of the day it's still good and different and a fun limited edition and as such I'm going to give it an 8 out of 10. I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Get 'em while you can or hit the bargain stores in a few months or look for it back in stores when the DVD hits.

May 27, 2009

Review: Cranberry Raisinets

I've been at a total loss as to where to begin with the pile of goodies I've brought back from the All Candy Expo. There is such a wealth of chocolates that it's hard to pick any single one. So I tossed a few different ones into my bag to take to work with me. When I needed a snack I would pick one of them and run with it. The winner today was Nestlé Cranberry Raisinets. The classic Raisinets remixed with the mighty cranberry instead of the humble raisin. I saw a number of cranberry products on the floor, but this is the only one with the power of the Raisinets brand behind it. I like cranberries so I was excited to give them a try.

The Cranberry Raisinets I have come in a 100 calorie pouch, which is nice for those who want to watch the caloric intake. Opening the pouch it feels like it isn't all that much. The individual pieces are pretty big, but there aren't a whole ton of them (one of the drawbacks of the 100 calorie pouch in general is that you sometimes feel shorted and want more which may lead to opening a second pouch to fill the craving). So how do the little cran bombs taste? The chocolate is nothing remarkable - decent, but it seems a sideshow to the cranberries which take over on the taste front pretty quickly. As soon as the cran flavor kicked in I had to reach for the bag to check the ingredients. I know cran and it's tart. I was hoping for some mouth-twisting tartness (the old sour candy junky in me as well as somebody who actually likes unsweetened cranberries) and what I found was a pleasant sweet tartness. So they've done the standard "make cranberry palatable for the average consumer" move of sweetening it. Well, as much as I do love the sour and tart flavor of a cranberry the sweetened cranberries are quite tasty and will certainly be more to the tastes of most people than unsweetened ones might be. So they deliver a little chocolate and a nice bit of cranberry in a reasonable serving size. I may be crazy, but that seems to be just what they were aiming for.

It's a decent new product in my opinion, but it's lacking a little something at the same time. It's one of those things where I quickly forgot the chocolate. It's like it wasn't able to stand up to the cranberries. But that might just be me and it's not like I didn't like them either. I'm giving it a 7.5 out of 10 - they're good, have some lovely health benefits via the cranberry (albeit with a dose of sat fat along for the ride), but they do have some room for improvement. Quibbles aside, they're good and tasty and I like them enough that I'll give them another shot down the road. Right now I'm a trifle overwhelmed candy-wise.

Coming Up: All Candy Expo: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. It's sort of a jumble of observations and mistakes made and lessons learned. The idea of a whole huge narrative of my time at the show just started feeling boring on the quick so I'm going to go for the Reader's Digest condensed version.

May 6, 2009

Review: Amano Jembrana

I’m an Amano fan and the reason is simple: Art Pollard makes good chocolate. And when I say he “makes” good chocolate I do mean exactly that. For the unfamiliar, Amano is a bean-to-bar artisan chocolate maker. This particular bar, the Jembrana 70% cacao dark chocolate bar, is the first single-origin bar to use Balinese cacao beans which had me interested from the outset. I was quick to order some to try and they arrived, I believe, on the same day as some sample bars did (oh what a painful wealth of chocolate).

The bar comes in one of Amano’s great little boxes and, being a sucker for good packaging, I fell in love before I even opened it. But open it I did! And I’m glad I did - it’s an interesting bar. The bar itself comes wrapped in gold foil and is well formed (as expected) with a hint of red to the color. I didn’t find anything terribly exotic about the aroma - just some fresh cut wood/sawdust, leather, and a hint of some fruit I can't place - but my sinuses have been having problems and I think that I just can’t smell chocolate as well after wine. The taste has a good full dark chocolate flavor but it's also full of light nuts and blooms into a nice honey-nutty-buttery climax which fades – dryly – to a non-lingering mellow cocoa and honey. It’s really a gentle and accessible dark chocoloate bar with the slight dryness being the only possible issue I can see in winning others over to it. It’s very good and nicely different and I’m going to call it an 8.75 out of 10.

In other Amano news, they’ve started making milk chocolate versions of their Jembrana and Ocumare bars, they sell an array of nibs (and I’m working on finding the right recipe to try them in), and they have a new limited edition bar called Montanya featuring beans from the mountains of Venezuela. Which means, of course, that it’s time for me to order more chocolate.

On a final note, Kitchen Girl Jo made hot chocolate with the Jembrana and it sounds tasty to me (it uses heavy cream which I find makes a killer hot chocolate). Check it out!

Mini-Reviews: Berkshire Bark Bars

On my way through the checkout line at the store I noticed a new arrival to the local scene (or at least new to me – I don’t recall seeing them before locally) - Berkshire Bark. I’ve been getting a taste of them at the New York Chocolate Show, but have never brought any home with me (there’s a lot of stuff there and it’s hard to pick and choose). But since they’re conveniently placed for that impulse buy I’ve been picking them up as I go. Thus far I’ve hit two varieties: Pretzelogical and Midnight Harvest.

The Pretzelogical I grabbed because my brain misread it as Pretzelcoatl (the Aztec god of pretzels?) and I just loved it. Pretzelogical is still good, but the geek in my likes it the way my brain painted it. The bar itself was good, but not amazing. It had the right stuff: dark and milk chocolate, pretzels, sea salt caramel, and peanut butter. It’s a winning formula, but I liked it a lot more when I first opened it than I did when I went back to finish it. So it’s a 7.5 I suppose and I really need to go back and revisit to be sure that nothing bad happened to the bar between taste one and taste two.

The Midnight Harvest has dark chocolate, almonds, hazelnuts, cranberries, and orange zest and it hit the spot for me. I’ve been snacking on it at work (to avoid the wine/chocolate guilt) and it’s quite nice for a mid-afternoon snack. The nuts are big as are the cranberries and it’s a nice mix. Not much to say except “it’s good” and I recommend it. A strong 8.5 out of 10 and one I’ll definitely repeat on.

So the bits I've had in passing at the Chocolate Show have been good and these two bars I've tried have been good. They've got four more varieties for me to try and I'm thinking I'm going to have to give them a shot.

Mini-Review: Peeps Chocolate Mousse Bunnies

I love Peeps (LINK WARNING: JOLLY MUSIC). It’s a sickness. And when I got the announcement about the Chocolate Mousse flavored Peeps I set out to find me some. It took a few trips to find what I was after, but my favorite place for Easter candy, The Andersons (fabulous source for good food, beer, and wine), did not let me down. And I eagerly sampled my hard won Peepage. The long and short of it is this: if you don’t like Peeps you can stop reading here. I don’t have any gory pictures of melted Peeps this time around, just a brief description of the snackage. If you do like Peeps feel free to read on.

There isn’t a lot to say about them that I didn’t say when I reviewed and tormented the Peeps Cocoa Cats. They have a nice cocoa aroma and a nice cocoa + marshmallow taste thing going on. It’s simple, but that’s not to say it isn’t tasty and welcome. If I’m doing the Peeps Brulée thing then I really prefer the Chocolate Mousse/Cocoa version of the Peeps. Good and tasty if you like Peeps (and everybody has their stance on Peeps – some to a near religious fervor). But they hit the spot with me and I’m giving them a nice solid score of… hey, I never scored the Cocoa Cats. I just made messy Brulée with them and didn’t bother with a score. Oh, well. I’ll call them both a good 8.5 out of 10 (9.25 if they’re toasted/Bruléed). If you like Peeps they're worth a try.

On a related note I finished my last normal Peep of the Easter season just tonight and I’m trying to figure out when I’m going to be able to get my next fix. Maybe the closeout store will have some.

Also: what is with the colors? There are orange and green Peeps now and they bother me. It just feels wrong. It may be my childhood talking, but them ain't no proper colors for no Peeps. At least in my opinion. And my opinion probably doesn't count for much.

March 8, 2009

Review: See's Chocolate Candy

Some times, when you’ve sort of come to accept something as a fact of life you tend to maybe take it for granted. And when I say “you” I of course mean me. There are some chocolate companies that are such a part of life that they’ve sort of faded into the background and now and then I start feeling guilty about it. Locally there is Anthony-Thomas Chocolates. A little further afield (except during the holidays when they set up in the malls), but no less a neglected fact of life, is See’s Chocolate Candy. We don’t have a See’s location locally, but I’ve seen them in the malls around the holidays and just sort of been blinded to them as a background piece of holiday tradition and it's been years since I had any (like pre-blog). Luckily I received an offer to give some of their chocolate a try. Feeling guilty (and curious) I couldn’t help but accept.

A few days later a box arrived with an assortment of milk and dark chocolates and a few bars of dark chocolate. When I get an assortment it’s time to get the people I work with involved with the review process so I packed them up and took them into the office. I didn’t get too much into them before I disappeared for vacation, but the consensus on what I did manage to share was very positive. And I liked the rest quite well. The bars were considered not too sweet, nicely creamy, and not to bitter - a good tasty balance. The assortment had a variety of pieces and everything in it was good. I tend to judge an assortment by how many pieces are in it that people are indifferent or negative on and nobody could say anything bad about what they tried (though there was some coconut action and I know a couple of people who don’t like coconut in their chocolate).

And now that the basics are out of the way I need to address one specific piece (of which there were three? I think it was three): the mighty Molasses Chip. It’s a crunchy strip of molasses covered in chocolate. And it is a wonderful and lovely thing. I need more. Tasty!

So I suppose its time for a score. If I were reviewing just the Molasses Chips I'd give them a 9.5 out of 10. They are some darn tasty little treats. And the rest of the box and the bars were all really good as well. I'll call it a nice big 8.75 all around. Lovely snackage all around.

Coming up: watch in amazement as I post something else in less than a week! Been on vacation and had a little chocolate along the way (funny how I don't post until the last night of the vacation) and I've gotta talk about it a bit. Found some fun stuff.


January 26, 2009

Quick Hits: The WILD THING

From the depths of the Bolivian jungle comes an untamed bean, daring the world to even try to work with it. And it turns out that the folks at Lillie Belle Farms were totally up to that challenge. They took wild criollo beans harvested the jungle and made this lovely 68% cacao content bar of chocolate out of them. They call it The Wild Thing. I saw it at the New York Chocolate Show in 2007 and ended up getting just about everything except for this. When I went back in 2008 I fully intended on making up for the omission and so I took one home with me (among other things).

I'm not going to over think this one. The bar is thick, well-formed with the logo on the face, and has a heckuva snap to it. The aroma is mellow and has a hint of spice hiding behind a nice front of cocoa. The taste is clean and bright. I don't know if I was expecting something raw and brutal - the chocolate equivalent of a slap in the face. What I found was bright and mellow and smooth as the day is long. It's good a good chocolate flavor with hints of some darker things I just can't figure out. They're hints. My taste might be off because I was having this with the last of my wine from dinner (a fruity pinot noir - lotsa berries), but I'm just finding smooth mellow chocolate with a few darker hints around the edges. I feel bad that I can't find more to talk about. Sometimes I just fail. But it's a really good chocolate.

So "really good" is my impression, but that's not a score. If I had to assign a number at this point in the game I'd run with a 8.75 out of 10. It's really good stuff and worth trying out.

Oh, and sorry about the picture quality. Sophie is an action rabbit. Well, when she isn't being an inaction rabbit. But in this case it was hard to get a shot of her with the label not being thrown about. The label was empty because I was eating the chocolate and I didn't want to post a boring picture of an empty label. So you get a sorta-blurry rabbit amidst the giant mess of hay she's made in her cage.

August 18, 2008

Review: M&M's Premiums

Sometimes a product comes along that just leaves me unsure how to rate it. The latest of these products are the M&M's Premiums which I got to try recently. They're premium because they have special fancy flavor, special fancy paint jobs (they look amazingly cool), and none of that pedestrian candy shell (the thing that defines an M&M in my opinion). Oh, and they have a premium price attached to them as well. Really premium. How premium? We'll get to that later.

First I want to talk about the products themselves. I picked up two varieties when I was in the store: Triple Chocolate and Raspberry Almond (the other three in release are Chocolate Almond, Mocha, and Mint Chocolate). They come in curvy vertical cardboard boxes with resealable bags of candy within. The cartons are attractive and have a neat shape, but the resealable bags are the big win on the packaging front. I have a tendency to open a bag of something, eat some of it, and then transfer the rest to a zipper bag so being able to just reseal the bag they come in really works for me.

Triple Chocolate: The triple chocolate has white, milk, and dark chocolate in a swirly purple color scheme. The pieces are a bit bigger than a regular M&M much like a Peanut M&M and look really neat. They're really good on the taste front, too. It doesn't taste too cheap and the whole thing has a nice interplay of flavors. I do have one issue with it, but it's a personal preference/mental block sort of problem. There is no candy shell so there is no crunch and the entire M&M experience is missing. Without the shell it just doesn't feel like an M&M to me. Personal bugaboo sort of thing, but it's the defining characteristic of the classic as far as I'm concerned.

Raspberry Almond: The Raspberry Almond has white chocolate, a little dark chocolate, raspberry flavor, and an almond. As expected from a raspberry confection they went with a red color scheme on these and they're very cool looking. And they taste good, too. I don't know what is different between the raspberry flavor they use in these and the flavor they used in the Razzberry M&M's they did a while back (chock full of extreme Z's), but it tastes a lot better. The chocolate is good and having an almond in it gives it that crunch that I was missing so bad in the Triple Chocolate version. And I am currently addicted to these in a bad way. I won't say they're perfect or anything, but they hit the spot when I want a little treat.

Now we come to the ratings. I don't want to under-review the Triple Chocolate because it's lacking in the crunch I expect from an M&M. I don't want to over-review the Raspberry Almond either since my general addiction level isn't an indication of how good they are. I get addicted to less than perfect stuff all the time (Chewy SweeTart Minis). And then there is the issue of price. They retail for $3.99 for 6oz and that's a trifle pricey. This past weekend I found them for $4.49 at Giant Eagle and was floored. That's pretty steep for snooty M&M's. Is it worth it? That's a personal call. I'm not buying them unless I find them on sale. They look more premium than they taste and they cost more premium than they look. Ignoring the price I'll go as far as a 7.75 out of 10 for the Triple Chocolate and a 8.25 for the Raspberry Almond. Subtract for the premium price as you see fit.

At it's full retail I'm not rushing to buy more. At the inflated price Giant Eagle is selling them at you can forget me ever buying more. Hopefully they're still on sale at Kroger. I'll probably be there for lunch tomorrow and can check then. This might be one of those lucky product launches like the Starbucks Chocolate where the stores end up with way too much and put it on clearance. I'd love to pick these up for a buck a pack. Here's hoping!

July 27, 2008

Review: York Peppermint Wafer Bars

Ok, more mystery health fun. Still bothering me on and off, but I'm tired of it being such a distraction. So it's review time!

This won't be a huge review because there isn't a whole ton to say. The York Peppermint Wafer Bars (in the 100 calorie packaging) are really simple little critters. There is a layer of York stuff between chocolate sugar wafery type wafers and the whole thing is covered in chocolate. There are two reasonable sized sticks per 100 calorie packet and seven packets to the box. They've been on sale at $2.50 per box since I've started buying them so that works out to about $.36 per serving which is pretty good if you look at a KitKat which is twice as much candy for somewhere in the neighborhood of twice the price.

So that's all well and good, but none of it matters if the product isn't great. Luckily these are just excellent. The wafer has that nice sugar wafer crunch and the mint stuff is properly Yorky and the chocolate is, well, candy-grade chocolate (Hershey's - can't have everything I guess). And it all comes together just beautifully. I'm really pretty in love with these. The mint is a little subdued compared to your normal York Pattie, but that's to be expected given there is more here than just York stuff and chocolate.

So, I'm sure you can guess I'm going to score this pretty high. It keeps me from shoving an absurd amount of candy into my face and what I do shove in is just lovely. They aren't fine cuisine or anything and they certainly represent little more than empty calories and fat, but they're tasty and a lot fewer empty calories than grabbing a candy bar from the vending machine. And the pricing doesn't seem too terrible (while it's on sale - not that I won't buy these when they're not on sale). I hate to give a "candy" product a really high score, but these are great enough that I'm going to give it a full 8.75 out of 10. I love 'em. I've bought three boxes so far and I'm sure there are more to come. They're my after lunch snacky item of choice for the moment.

Oh, and sorry there's no pic. I don't have any of them here at home and just wanted to get the review together. I might update tomorrow or something.

May 17, 2008

Review: Snickers Adventure Bar

I never really know quite what to do when it comes time to review something that I dislike. It doesn't happen a lot. I'm disappointed and unimpressed on a regular basis, but for me to try something chocolate and just plain dislike it is rare. It always takes me by surprise and the reaction I have in real life is far from what I feel I can allow myself to post. If it isn't offensive then it generally channels something from one of my terrible and oft geeky loves. This reaction did amuse me, though. I can sum up my impression of the bar just as I did the first time: "Wicked nasty Snickers!" I'm not saying it's awful, I just don't want it in my mouth again. Ever.

So what is this bar to offend my delicate palate so? Simply put, it's a Snickers bar with some coconut flavor and supposedly some exotic spice. It's a limited edition affair put together as a tie in for the upcoming new Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The bar looks normal enough, but I could smell a whiff of coconut about it as soon as I cracked the wrap. The coconut took a moment or two to actually show up in the taste, though. And those exotic spices? I'm still waiting for them to show up and it's been a few days since I washed the taste of this thing out of my mouth.

So what's my problem with it? It's just a Snickers with a little coconut flavor along for the ride. What could be wrong with that? Well, call me an insane purist, but to me EVERYTHING is wrong with the concept. I do not want coconut in my Snickers. It has no place there thank you ever so much. I like chocolate and coconut together and even chocolate, caramel, and coconut together (as in those evil Samoa cookies the Girl Scouts are trying to kill me with), but I just can't reconcile nougat and coconut. It feels wrong. Taste-wise it isn't terrible or anything, it just isn't my bag. I like normal Snickers and the coconut, to me, ruins a good thing. I can't say it's bad, it just isn't an improvement or even as good as the normal one. It's a moderately interesting variant, but it does nothing for me.

So, falling back on the concept that this entire blog is a work of opinion, I present the score as I see it - how it rates on my personal scale. I consider a normal Snickers to be a good 7.5 out of 10. This isn't as good. I'm calling it a 5 out of 10. That's not to say that you won't like it. If you like the idea of coconut in your Snickers then it's a good bet you'll like it. Me, I'm just not liking it and am going to give away my remaining bar.

Tomorrow I'm going to discuss the Vosges Calindia bar in all it's cardamomiful glory (it's like a cardamomarama). After that I'm going to discuss my irrational love for the Starbucks Chocolate Chocolate And Tea Tasting Squares. Then maybe I'll hae some sort of coherent thoughts on the subject of beer and chocolate as opposed to just a couple of pairing that I like.


May 10, 2008

Quick Hits: Mint Crisp M&M's

Hey, I finally found some of the Mint Crisp M&M's action (more candy - real chocolate will be posted this week - I promise)! Packaging feels kind of busy with a background of some ruins and the logo and Green and Indy. For those who haven't had a chance to try them yet what you have is a batch of slightly larger than normal green and white M&M's with a single big rice crisp in the middle of each. Oh, and they're minty (like you couldn't guess). They have a nice minty aroma lurking about them and a nice mint flavor. There isn't a ton to say about them beyond they're being crispedy crunchedy M&M's with a nice hit of mint. Not mint like the York Sensation or anything, but a nice quality mintiness. My only gripe is that the chocolate is kind of backseat on this ride and when you go to the effort of trying to notice it it just doesn't seem all that remarkable. Still, not bad. And overall they're a nice snackedy snack kind of deal so I'm giving some decently high marks. Solid 8 out of 10. Tasty.

Coming up: More Indiana Jones promo limited edition chocolate! And then a little cardamom (and I'm having a tiny bit of trouble coming up with a good adjective to describe having the flavor or aroma of cardamom - cardamommy don't work - caramomacious? cardamomiful?).

May 5, 2008

Quick Hits: Starbucks Vanilla Bean Truffles

Ok, I'm taking a new tack on things. The mini-reviews that I have done in the past are now being sort of formalized into a regular sort of thing. It's not necessarily that I feel a product isn't worth a full review. Sometimes it might be, but sometimes I might just not have a lot to say about something. Or I might just be feeling lazy (most likely). Anyway, the idea is this: don't read too much into me giving something a Quick Hit as opposed to a full-blown review.

First of the quick hits is the first piece of the Starbucks Chocolate collection that I've sampled, their Vanilla Bean Truffles. The description from the label reads as follows:

Sweet and dreamy vanilla from Madagascar meets exquisite dark chocolate in a lovely pairing
Sounds like a winner. Packaging is a foldy cardboard affair made from at least 35% post-consumer waste (nice) and the individual truffles are wrapped in little wraps so you can have as few or many as you like.. A quick check on the label reveals that there is real vanilla in it, not just vanillin. And when you bite into one of them you will see loads of lovely vanilla bean specks running around in it. Taste wise the chocolate is not super intense, but is nice and pairs well with the vanilla. The "ganache" is white and there is no white chocolate along for the ride so I'm guessing that the palm oil listed in the ingredients plays it's role here. But it tastes good. Tasty, convenient, and not over-expensive. Seems we have a good start for my experience with the Starbucks line. 8.0 out of 10 is what I'm calling it and I'm looking forward to seeing what the rest of the collection has to offer.

April 3, 2008

Review: Wildly Cherry M&M's

Ok, so I had been planning on writing up a formal review of the Wildly Cherry M&M's and had, on multiple occasions, promised that it was forthcoming. And then I sat down to write it and realized that I really didn't have a lot to say. There really isn't a lot to say about them.

So, tearing into the bag you are met by a slight cherry aroma. Not bad and not overpowering. The M&M's themselves are of both varying size and varying shades of red. Some are no bigger than a normal M&M and some are monstrous huge. Most are well above average size and most tend away from the really dark red. The darkest ones seem to be the biggest ones and I guess that was by design. Anyway, they are big so you get that much more chocolate in each one and that's a nice little bonus. The taste is really nice. The cherry flavor isn't super-strong, but more of a background flavor. And since it isn't quite so front-and-center you don't get any sense of it being overly fake. It doesn't come across as overly genuine either, but it doesn't scream FAKE at you and that's a good thing. And finally the aftertaste. The Razzberry M&M's had an aftertaste that I just couldn't stand. With these the only aftertaste I'm getting is of milk chocolate. The cherry fades and all that is left is a little hint of milk chocolate.

So they don't have any of the weaknesses that I found in the Razzberry M&M's and are quite enjoyable. Overally I'd be forced to call that a win. I don't really like to have more than a few at a time, but I do enjoy them. As they are a nice step up from the annoyance of the Razzberry I'm going to give them a 7.5 out of 10. They aren't perfect and are far from "fine chocolates", but they do the job and do it nicely.

Now I'm looking forward to trying the Mint Crisp M&M's that they are releasing in a Indiana Jones cross-promotion. Seems to me it's time to start hitting the drug stores again. I do love to hunt for chocolate.

March 13, 2008

Review: 3 Musketeers Raspberry with Dark Chocolate

I've made a number of passes through the Easter candy aisle at the grocery store lately and I've generally come up with little or nothing to show for my efforts (aside from a few Peeps). This last trip to the store I finally noticed something different about one of the items that I had previously managed to ignore. One of those items I assumed was simply a holiday re-packaging job turned out to be a little bit more. It seems that they managed to sneak out another Limited Edition Three Musketeers and it had been right in front of my nose for weeks (maybe). Last time it was the Mint Three Musketeers which, frankly, didn't do much for me. This time they go the Raspberry Route which I, for some odd reason, had high hopes for. So into the basket it went (along with a mixed bag for the candy bowl at my desk at work).

Sadly, I can’t think of too much to say about these. They’re moderately unremarkable and that, I guess, is their biggest strength. The texture of the Mint Three Musketeers really bothered me. If the whippy fluff stuff isn’t properly whippy and fluffy then it shouldn’t say Three Musketeers on the package. The Mint was like that. The texture just felt wrong. It didn’t help that I didn’t find them that tasty either. These little Raspberry critters have a much better texture and the flavor isn’t bad either. There isn’t a whole lot of chocolate flavor to it, but that isn’t much of a surprise when you consider that there is a lot more of the fluff than there is chocolate. The raspberry fluff is really pretty decent. It does taste sort of artificial, but not to the point of being bad. The hint of chocolate and not-offensively-artificial raspberry flavor work together nicely.

So this turned out to click with me a lot better than the Mint variety did last year. It isn’t as good as a normal Three Musketeers, but better than the mint so I’m giving it a 7.5 out of 10, a score that sits it right between the two reference bars. It’s really not bad at all, but it’s also really not amazing. If you like raspberry candy these might go over well and I would say they’re worth a try, but I haven’t seen anything but Minis in this flavor and I know that I’m going to have to work to give away the rest of the bag I bought unless I find somebody who really likes them a lot.

March 3, 2008

Review: Hershey's Vanilla Creme Kisses

A lot of what I've been eating lately, in terms of chocolate at least, has been the stuff I was finding at the grocery store. Whatever bars they happened to have (more often than not it was just the Lindt Excellence bars) and whenever I saw something in the candy aisle that caught my eye I would make sure to take it along with me as well. And I really haven't eaten a lot at all.

But recently I was motivated and excited to dig through the Easter selection at the grocery store. I ended up rather disappointed. There was a lot of the sort of items that change their general shape and wrapping for each holiday and the same old stuff in a different wrap just isn't all that exciting to me. I did find one thing I was interested in, though. They had Hershey's Vanilla Creme Kisses and that seemed like something I couldn't pass up.

So the kisses come sitting flat in this triangular sleeve package which is a nice design. The kisses themselves are larger than the kisses I'm familiar with, but since they're filled this is a good thing. You get a better balance between the amount of chocolate shell and flavored stuff. The shell is standard Hershey's Kiss. Nothing all that special. It's the stuff inside that had me interested. The vanilla creme is thick stuff but softer than the shell. I suppose I expected it to be sweeter than I found it to be and was pleasantly surprised. The vanilla creme isn't overly sweet or overly strong and is a nice companion to the chocolate. They are good and don't have that aftertaste that I disliked so much with the Cherry Cordial Kisses (and it started so well, too).

So while I think that the kisses look a little strange compared to the normal ones, I do find them to be a tasty diversion. Not the sort of thing I'm going after on a normal basis (being more into the dark chocolate and less into the candy and milk chocolate), but it's pretty good stuff. I'm going to call it a 7.5 out of 10. It's some tasty snacky stuff.

January 22, 2008

Sugardaddy's Sweeties

So somehow Sugardaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties was lurking just miles from my apartment and I was completely unaware of their presence. It wasn’t until after I had moved and I was looking for a Big Green Egg that I saw their little sign and realized that there was a place making lovely brownies less than a half mile from my door. **sigh** I disappoint myself sometimes. But I made up for it before haring off to NYC by stopping in and getting a fat pile of brownies to snack on.

For those who have yet to hear about the Sugardaddy action they are a company that makes gourmet brownies for whatever gifting, snacking, or entertaining occasion you may come up with and make them available over the web and phone. They are also available to those of us in Ohio at their humble factory store (where you get them really fresh). They have landed themselves all over the web and TV and have done battle with Bobby Flay on his Throwdown on Food Network and emerged victorious. They make good brownies.

The first thing you notice about a Sugardaddy’s brownie is that it’s round. They cut them round and package the edge bits as separate products (Pocket Change) for them as likes the edgy bits. Me, I prefer an edge free brownie so I’m all for the Sugardaddy approach. Next is the selection. My experience with brownies has generally involved the cardboard boxes from the grocery store so my vision of a brownie is that it’s a nice chocolaty brown and nuts are optional. Well, they have an array of “traditional” brownies (which they refer to as brunettes) and blondies (referred to as blondes) and the flavors run the gamut.

Auburn Original (brunette)
Bittersweet chocolate, espresso powder, and walnuts (it is also available without walnuts if you are the “no nuts in my brownies thank you” sort of person) make for a tasty combo. A nice dense brownie with a little coffee along for the ride. Very tasty.

American Beauty (brunette)
Chocolate and peanut butter with a nice layer of peanuts on top. Normally I avoid peanut butter with any sort of added sugar (I don’t like sweet peanut butter treats), but this is good. Not my favorite, but not something I’d turn my nose up at. Far from it.

Nutty (blonde)
Blonde brownie with a heaping load of – you guessed it – nuts (cashews, almonds, and pecans)! Of course, as a blondie, there is a distinct lack of chocolate. But it turns out that blondies are actually fantastic even without chocolate and they’re even better when they are loaded down with nuts. Good stuff.

Strawberry (blonde)
Blonde brownie with peanut butter and a nice strawberry swirl. I have not tried this one yet. I will correct this oversight soon.

Dark Berry (brunette)
An Auburn Original without nuts topped off with a nice little swirl of raspberry. I love me some raspberry and dark chocolate action and this delivers it just how I like it.

Cinnamon (blonde)
The coffee cake of blondies. Brown sugar, cinnamon, and a little nutmeg and ginger make this the perfect breakfast brownie and its available with or without pecans. I’ve had it without and was completely unaware that it was available with. This I also need to try. Without nuts it's fantastic. Probably my favorite of the batch.

Rich Mint (brunette)
Chocolate and mint is one of those perfectly natural combos and this brownie brings it into play in the form of a mint sandwich with mint buttercream icing between two brownie halves. I was expecting this to be my least favorite of the brunettes, but I came away very much in love with it.

Tahiti (blonde)
Tropical paradise in blondie form. Cashews and coconut, white and bittersweet chocolate chunks, and a little bit of pineapple. This really hit the spot, though I didn’t notice any pineapple while I was eating it. I guess I need to go back and revisit this one too.

Dark Citrus (brunette)
A seasonal selection featuring orange zest and extract in dark chocolate with some milk chocolate chunks thrown in for good measure. Quite the tasty combo.

To sum up, Sugardaddy makes a darn good brownie. Actually, they make nine darn good brownies some with optional nuts. If you’re on the north end of Columbus they’re a little west of the Polaris Fashion Place mall on the backside of a strip mall. If you’re in the area I highly suggest giving them a try. Odds are you won’t be disappointed. I’ve yet to be.

January 15, 2008

Pure Imagination Chocolatier

Well, I promised that I would get to Sugardaddy's this past weekend and what did I do? I went to Sugardaddy's! I followed through, really I did. It's just that they were already closed when I got there. Oops. But what I was up to before heading for my brownies was in the pursuit of chocolate as well! I needed chocolate and focaccia and beer and hot sauce so there was only one place for me to go: the North Market! I love the place to death and they had everything I needed. Grabbed some focaccia at Omega Artisan Baking, Some Scorch hot sauce from CaJohn's, a bottle of an interesting sounding holiday brew (with cocoa no less) at Grapes of Mirth, and a small assortment of truffles and a little bar from Pure Imagination Chocolatier.

Pure Imagination is Columbus' own artisan chocolatier and their chocolate is available at their little shop in the North Market as well as Whole Foods and Wild Oats. They do everything from chocolate covered potato chips to inventive truffles and according to their website they use only Fair Trade ingredients! My usual approach to them is to get an assortment of whatever sounds good at the time and this trip was no different. What I ended up with is (left to right top to bottom) a Jack Daniels Caramel truffle, a Grand Marnier truffle, a honey au chocolat truffle, a Midnight Extra Dark Bar, and a truffle that I want to say was Blueberry and Gouda. There is no doubt about the blueberry part, but I'm not sure what the cheese was and it isn't on their website so I can only take that stab at it.

So, yeah, they're attractive little critters, but how are they? Well, hmmm, where to begin? The Grand Marnier truffle was more subtle than many I've had (and the ones I've made) but nicely balanced all the same. The Blueberry and Gouda (maybe) was good. Blueberry and chocolate is my current favorite taste combination and the cheese just added an extra dimension to it. Very nice and inventive. This is my third round of cheese and chocolate and I've liked all three now. The Midnight Extra Dark Bar was good, but I have good chocolate bars all over the place and this wasn't a serious standout. Pretty and pretty good, but not amazing. The Jack Daniels Caramel, on the other hand, was borderline amazing. Very tasty. You get a nice undercurrent of the whiskey in the caramel and it goes quite nicely with the chocolate. And as good as that was, my favorite, as it has been every time I've gone there, is the Honey au Chocolat. There is just something special about the two flavors together. I don't know what it is or how to put it in words, but it just sings to me. Love it.

So now is the part where I normally assign a score, but I'm a little reticent to do so tonight mainly because I didn't have a wide enough variety of their pieces to offer a blanket endorsement. In the past, though, I have had nearly every one of their truffles. But I can't base it on those because something invariably went wrong with those (I'm not sure if it was my fault or theirs, but there was a renegade flavor in the truffles when I got to them). So I'm going to offer a score based on the few pieces I've got here. And I'm going to ignore the bar when I do it, too. The truffles are the main attraction so I'm going to focus on them. Every piece was well executed and some were standouts in terms of composition. Taking that and the fact that it's a local joint I've got to go with an 8.75 out of 10. I'm biased toward them because they're local, but the truffles are good. So there you go.

I'll get the brownies this weekend. I know when they close so as long as I remember to go before then it'll all work out.

October 22, 2007

Back to Godiva

I'll admit I have mixed feelings about Godiva. Most of the problems I have with them are philosophical and stylistic and not worth going into. The thing is that no matter what problems I may have with them I always end up going back for more.

The first thing I love about Godiva is a biggie: free chocolate. I’m not a cheapskate or anything, but I do love getting something for nothing and Godiva are always there to supply me with a fix. Having signed up on both the website and in the store I get notices of free tastings and other in-store events and sales but more importantly I get coupons. Coupons for some serious free chocolate. This month I’ve had a coupon for three free pieces of their Chocoiste collection and another for either a can of cocoa, a box of biscuits, or a bag of coffee. Makin’ out like a bandit. And the best part of it all? It’s consistently good stuff. People can fault Godiva all they like (and believe me, I do), but they are very consistent and really pretty good. It may not be as good as your favorite chocolatier (nowhere near mine), but my favorite chocolatier isn’t in the mall. They have that convenience factor going for them. When I’m out shopping and I want a chocolate fix I know I can swing in for a marzipan heart or raspberry cordial and leave happy. Convenience, consistency, and quality. They may not be the best, but they’re solid all around.

So while I was out getting my free chocolate action going I decided to take the plunge and try their new Dark Chocolate Raspberry Chocolixir. So we have their standard dark chocolate blended icy beverage but with an added shot of raspberry syrupy stuff. It’s icy and chocolaty and not quite as sweet as I had expected, but really quite tasty. I’m not sure I dig the little grains of actual chocolate running around in it (gives it a grainy feeling beyond the normal grain of the ice), but it sure is tasty. I usually don’t hit things like this very fast, but I ended up with a solid brainfreeze while working on this one. Good stuff. Expensive, but good. I'll probably have another some time, but for now I'm looking forward to hot chocolate season. It's about time to get my cocoa on.

October 16, 2007

Review: Starbucks Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino

You know, I’m just not much of a coffee person. I like a cup on a cold morning now and then, but we’re talking a couple of times a year. I’ll take tea or juice over coffee any day and even over hot chocolate most days (I prefer to eat my chocolate). What I do occasionally enjoy are iced coffee drinks. On a hot day a nice icy coffee drink hits the spot like few other things. And if you like that kind of thing you eventually are forced to turn to Starbucks.

I’m not going to go on about the good or evil of Starbucks. This isn't the place for it. They’re everywhere and there are a lot of places where if you want a cold coffee drink of some sort they are your only option.

So they have these bottled Frappuccino drinks you can get pretty much everywhere. They’re essentially coffee, milk, sugar, and flavor (chocolate for preference) with a handful of other stuff along for the ride. And they’re not bad in a pinch. Well, they have a new limited edition for the winter season in the form of the Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino.

So what’s new here? Well, they switch up the normal chocolate in your mocha for a little of the dark stuff and add some extra peppermint to the mix. Sounds tasty, right? Well, it is. It’s sweet and creamy and minty. The mint is a nice addition to the whole thing and of course chocolate is always a wonderful thing. There could be more chocolate, though. And I really am not getting any sort of dark chocolate vibe from it either. But it’s still pretty darn good.

So, while I’d prefer not to get a bottled coffee product at all this is a pretty good stuff. It’s not something I’ll drink every day, but when I need a quick fix it’s a good option. I’ll give it a 7.5 out of 10. It’s good. I wouldn’t go quite so far as great, but, as I said, I’m not a coffee person. It will take me quite a while to finish off the rest of the four-pack in my fridge.

Speaking of the fridge.... I looked all over creation for a single bottle of this that I could buy and it just wasn't happening. But every grocery store I've looked at had them in the four-pack. I really didn't want four of them, but sometimes sacrifices must be made in the name of chocolate.

October 8, 2007

Review: Lindt Excellence 85%

Every so often I’ll grab a bar of chocolate at the grocery store to snack on at work and usually I don’t think twice about it and just eat my way through it. Now and then, though, I end up eating something that surprises me. The most recent bar to do this was the Lindt Excellence 85% bar.

Now I have had Lindt before and usually not thought twice about it. This is probably because I tend to consider them one of those dependable chocolate you can just munch on and enjoy. That and I might sort of hold those Lindor Truffles against them (they're actually good - I just know what I want in a truffle and they just aren't quite it). Whatever the reason, I wasn’t really thinking about the bar as a possible review target. It was just something I was going to chase my lunch with.

After a couple of days of snacking on the bar, though, I found myself impressed and interested. The bar is expectedly strong. It is also somewhat simple. There is an earthy element to it and some hints of red fruit, but mainly it offers a pure chocolate flavor and lots of it. What really impresses is that for an 85% bar it has no bitterness at all (not like the other bar I’ve been eating lately which is really bitter) and is very smooth. I’ve found a lot of high percentage bars to be rough on the mouth and this isn’t like that. This is pure chocolate flavor, start to finish and there are no negatives to mar the experience.

So what’s the bottom line? It hits a strong chocolate flavor, isn’t bitter, and is really smooth. What’s not to like? It earns a solid 9 out of 10. I can find this bar in most of the big groceries in town and it kind of floors me that I never gave it a try before now.

September 18, 2007

Review: Razzberry M&M's

Here we go again. Another limited edition candy. This time it’s the new Razzberry M&M’s. I finally got tired of fooling around looking for them at the grocery and drug stores so after securing my lunch one day I went to the gas station to try and get my candy on. And, of course, it was there in great numbers in a not so obvious place (back with the hot dog rollers if I recall right). So I grabbed a pack of Elvis Reese’s Cups to share at work and a couple of bags of M&M’s and headed back to the office.

Tearing into the bag one is met with a strong raspberry aroma with a little milk chocolate around the edges. Looking in the bag the first time I thought I had made a mistake: nearly all the M&M’s are significantly larger than normal ones. And they’re kind of pink in color. Not a neon pink, but something darker and deeper. Think Pepto Bismol only more to the red end of the spectrum than the pink. Not the prettiest color and when you’re dealing with candy colors are important. Taste is, of course, more important, so I should probably move on to that subject. The taste is… not bad, but not very chocolaty (in my opinion) and sort of artificially raspberry. I had some high hopes for these, but in the end I don’t think that they live up to the promise on either the chocolate or raspberry front. At the same time a co-worker of mine seemed to like them just fine. They seemed to get an even better reception from him than the Chocolate Pop Rocks did. So everything here is my opinion and your mileage may vary.

It’s not a bad attempt, but it’s not something I expect to see coming back after it’s limited edition runs out. It’s just not that great. I’m going to give it a generous 6 out of 10 because my friend liked it. I’d probably go with a 5 on my own. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that they aren’t that good.

September 10, 2007

Review: 3 Musketeers Mint with Dark Chocolate

Well, there has once again been a longer period between posts than I would like. It seems that most of my posts start like this now, but sometimes you just have to deal with what normal life is throwing your way and let the online thing slide. The nice thing is that I’ve been turning to chocolate to help me deal with the real life things. As I mentioned in the last post I had a chance to try the 3 Musketeers Mint with Dark Chocolate and, while I had been planning on doing both it and the Razzberry M&M’s in one post, I just haven’t found the M&M’s so it they'll have to wait for another day.

Before we go any further I have to say that I love the normal 3 Musketeers bar. The fluff stuff in it is just wonderful as far as I’m concerned. It isn’t too airy and it isn’t too dense. The way it just sort of dissolves on the tongue is something I love. It is my go-to bar when I want a little chocolate snack and I've only got the vending machine to lean on.

Moving on. The new 3 Musketeers Mint with Dark Chocolate is an immediate departure from the classic in terms of form. The normal bar is big and has a really substantial feel to it. The Mint bar is separated into two separate mini-bars. The two of them combined are a good bit smaller than the normal bar, but they are a nice size. It works out to two nice small snack size servings or one nice big serving. I like the choice it imparts. I have a tendency to tear chocolate bars to pieces and eat them a little at a time and this bar with its two pieces allows me to hold one back for later and I like that.

Taking a whiff of the bar you can tell it’s got some mint going on. It has quite a nice aroma with a little chocolate and a little mint hinting at good things to come. Tearing into it (I normally just break an end off in my mouth, but I wanted a look at it first) you find the center to be white as opposed to the normal light brown. The center is soft like the normal one, but it doesn’t feel quite the same in the mouth. Close, but not quite. But the important thing is taste, right? And on this point it definitely delivers. The mint flavor is light and nice. I tend to favor a stronger mint flavor, but this is really quite nice as it is. The chocolate isn’t as strong as I would like it, but that’s forgivable. What may not be forgivable is the slight saltiness it has. Having read Cybele’s review where she encountered the salty edge I was looking for it. It might not be as noticeable if you aren’t expecting it (I didn't the first time I tried it), but it was there (when I was looking for it) and it might turn some off of the bar.

So in the end we have a pretty good bar that honors the original and brings a nice soft hit of mint to the party. I didn’t like the texture quite as much, but it was still pretty close to the fluffiness I’m so fond of. On my standard 10 point scale I would give the normal 3 Musketeers bar a solid 8 out of 10. The 3 Musketeers Mint with Dark Chocolate scores a respectable 7 out of 10.

As a final note I keep finding them on sale so it’s nice and cheap to give them a try (always a good thing).

Beyond this bar I’m very happy to say we are heading rapidly for Halloween so there is some more candy on the horizon and Christmas not far behind. Chocolate season is almost upon us again and I could not be happier.

August 9, 2007

Review: Charles Chocolates x 2

A while back I mentioned my Charles Chocolates Hazelnut and Candied Orange Peel bar and the horrible mishap that removed it from its box and rendered it a mystery bar. At the time I said I was looking to get my hands on another bar of theirs (Milk Chocolate With Caramelized Rice Krispies) before reviewing the first and now I have both and have eaten a good bit of each as well.

Both Bars: Charles Chocolates come wrapped in foil and further encased in a nice snug-fitting box. I really like box packaging for chocolate and these are nice boxes. They’re simple and attractive and protect the chocolaty goodness lurking within (the box managed to save one of my bars from a horrible spill of shower gel). Once you get past the wrap you find a somewhat unusual bar waiting for you. Most of the added goodies are lurking right at the top of the bar. It looks like the stuff goes into the mold before they pour the chocolate so there are places where there are divots among the crunchy bits where the chocolate never got to the bottom of the mold (top of the bar). It gives it a neat look. Different.

Hazelnut and Candied Orange Peel: The nuts and orange peel are resting on top of a nice chunky layer of 65% dark chocolate. And it’s good chocolate too. It’s creamy and really smooth. A very laid back dark chocolate and a very nice complement to the orange peel. The bite starts off with nuts and chocolate and blooms into orange and it all comes together quite nicely. It’s an excellent bar for snacking on and as such gets a solid 9 out of 10. This is one I’ll be getting more of in the future.

Milk Chocolate Caramelized Rice Krispie Bar: As the name implies this bar is milk chocolate, though there is a dark chocolate version available as well. I figured with the rice krispie action I would go for the milk chocolate variety. It just felt right. And it tasted right, too. I’m not the biggest fan of milk chocolate – most of my milk chocolate experience has been with the cheaper candy bar kind of chocolate and not the good stuff. This is good milk chocolate. The chocolate is creamy and the caramelized krispies have a nice rich flavor and they fit really well together. It’s not quite as good as the Hazelnut and Orange Peel, but still earns an 8 out of 10.

Now that I’ve gotten a taste I’m looking forward to trying some more of their chocolate. At some point I want to get my hands on their Tea Collection and their Orange Twigs. Both sound good. And of course they have a couple more bars I want to try (Ginger – which I love – and Mocha Java – which I might love). Getting to try new things like this is one of my favorite things about chocolate. There are so many things to taste and new ideas all the time.

August 5, 2007

Still Here + 2 Mini-Reviews

Yeah, it’s been a while since I last updated. I feel guilty and stuff. Sorry. I got sidetracked when my new nephew hit the scene and did some family stuff and on the tail end of that I ended up with more health problems. And life has been somewhat less than wonderful for a couple of weeks.

But somewhere in there I ate some chocolate. Not a lot, but I did eat a couple of things of note.

Elvis Reese’s Cup: Finally found some Elvis action at the grocery store while picking up some lunch. And it was good. The banana wasn’t too sweet and actually tasted like banana and not the fake banana you get in some candy either. It was good. Somewhat related to my all time favorite sandwich – the peanut butter, banana, and chocolate chip sammich (I was going to fry one up in honor of The King, but I’m not frying things right now or eating large amounts of peanut butter so It’s kinda indefinitely on hold). Such the perfect combination of flavors. Anyway, I’ll give the Elvis Reese’s Cup an 8 out of 10. It’s not fine fine chocolate or anything, but it’s top-notch snacky stuff. And I would not be at all surprised to see it return as a non-limited-edition. It’s too good to go away permanently.

Nestlé 100 Grand with Coconut: For some reason this showed up in the vending machine at work and I really couldn’t help myself. And you know what? I’m glad I couldn’t help myself. I love the normal 100 Grand and I love coconut so I figured this would be something fun. And it was pretty good. Not sure I like what it does to the texture of the original, but I like the addition of coconut to the taste. And I can’t help but think about Samoa Girl Scout Cookies, which are about the greatest thing in the universe (at least as far as cookies are concerned). Good stuff. Lets say…. 6.5 out of 10. It’s yummy, but not a religious experience.

I’m actually going to try and start posting again, but there may be more of a shift back to the early days of the blog where it will be more about news and recipes and new products than reviews. There will still be reviews, but probably not a ton or anything. I’m cutting back on chocolate intake. Not that it was all that much to begin with, but I’m cutting even the little bit I was eating back to just a tiny bit a day.

So, next up will be a review of the pair of bars I have from Charles Chocolates. They’re some good stuff.

June 25, 2007

Review: Vosges Caramel Marshmallows

I’ve had my eye on the Caramel Marshmallows from Vosges Haut-Chocolat for a while now. I’m not sure when I first ran across them, but every time I did I wanted to try them just a little more. But I prefer not to order my chocolate online. I like to go out and buy it myself and, sadly, I haven’t been back to Chicago since I started the blog. So I just haven’t had an opportunity to try them yet. And then they came out with Mo’s Bacon Bar and I had a lot more reason to place an order with them. I was still torn due to the high cost of shipping chocolate in the summer, but I got an unexpected check in the mail and decided that I may as well use it on a little chocolate. And I couldn’t order something from Vosges without getting the marshmallows.

First things first: these are no ordinary marshmallows. You have a marshmallow (made with real vanilla) topped with caramel mixed with walnut and pecan bits, which is then coated in chocolate and topped with caramel toffee. Yep, they are anything but ordinary. The packaging is lovely (as is always the case with Vosges) with a nice outer wrap surrounding a silver-stamped box.

Yes, it has attractive packaging (which I always focus on for some reason), but it’s what’s inside that really matters, right? Well, inside that nice package are nine chunky caramel marshmallows, each about an inch tall and an inch and a half square. They’re not one-bite marshmallows, not by a long shot. The chocolate has a good solid snap and is thick enough to give the whole thing a nice structure. I don’t know what really to say about the taste. It’s definitely greater than the sum of its parts and everything plays really well together. I’ve certainly torn through the box pretty fast.

These are flat-out awesome and well worth the seemingly high price of $27. For somebody like me with the full trio of weaknesses for chocolate, marshmallow, and caramel it’s a fantastic and addictive treat. I’m giving it a solid 9.25 out of 10. I was planning on having my sister bring me a box of truffles when she comes back to town next month, but now I might have to have her bring these instead (or, more likely, in addition to).

But we’re not done! Returning to the packaging that I was so enamored with there is a little section on the top that reads as follows:

Sandwich 1 caramel marshmallow between 2 fresh potato chips and bite … bite 1 caramel marshmallow following a foamy sip of a Belgian wheat beer … place 1 caramel marshmallow on 2 strips of sizzling bacon, slice and savor.
No, you didn’t misread it. The first two seem so simple and reasonable (and tasty), but the third… that is maybe a little out there. But when I see a recommendation like that I can’t help but take it as a challenge.

So, for the second time in a week, Chocolate Obsession is venturing into the realm of smoked pork products. I didn’t want a whole package of bacon (I don’t cook meat much because it scares the rabbit) so I swung by Whole Foods on the way home and grabbed a few slices from the butcher counter and headed home to give it a shot.

I will not eat bacon without trying to swab off as much of the grease as possible with paper towels and I think it lost a bit of heat in the process because the caramel relaxed, but didn’t quite melt.

Not terribly melty. Hmm...

So I shoved it in the microwave for a couple of seconds and pulled it back out. Now we had some good meltage going on.


And the smell was fantastic. I love the smell of bacon and this added a little something extra to the whole thing. I was a trifle worried, but I cut in and took a bite. And it was good. Not something I’m going to eat every day for a number of reasons, but the sweet marshmallow and caramel and mellow chocolate go so well with the smoky bacon. I liked the Bacon Bar I tried a few nights ago, but this is a definite step above that and one heck of an indulgence.

June 22, 2007

Review: Vosges Bacon Bar

In the past after eating a chocolate bar I have found myself with fruit or nuts stuck in my teeth. It’s quite a different experience to come away with from chocolate with meat stuck in your teeth. Yes, I took the plunge and ordered myself one of Vosges Haut Chocolat’s new Mo’s Bacon Bar. To be honest I really had no idea what to expect. Would it be just a general smokiness with some salt along for the ride? Or would it be just straightforward in-your-face bacon?

The bar is made with applewood smoked bacon, alder wood smoked salt, and deep milk chocolate (41% cacao). You could swap any of a number of things for the bacon and I’d be totally on board. I have got to admit I wasn’t entirely sold on the bacon. But it wasn’t a horrifying concept so I figured I had to give it a try.

The first thing I do with any chocolate is to pop it open and just smell it the way it is before breaking it to release a little more of the aroma. From the first whiff of this bar there was absolutely no way for me to mistake it for anything but bacon. Breaking the bar just released more bacon aroma. There is a nice milk chocolate aroma hiding behind the bacon smell, but the bacon definitely hogs the spotlight aroma-wise.

And then it was time for the moment of truth: tasting it. The first thing you notice is a general smokiness through the whole thing. And then you get the nice crunch and bite of the salt. And, in direct opposition to the aroma, the bacon kind of lurks in the background. It’s stronger than the chocolate, but takes a back seat to the smoke and salt. After smelling the bar I was kind of expecting some sort of explosion of pork flavor and it turned out to be just a general undercurrent to the flavor.

So, we’ve reached that part of the review where I sort of sum things up and assign a score. I’ve been trying to decide what to do with this for a couple of days now because I just don’t know entirely what to say about it. The bottom line is this: it’s good. It really is good. They have taken salt, bacon, and chocolate and combined them and the result is really quite good. This is an impressive feat. At the same time, this is one of those bars that I’m not going to be snapping into on a weekly basis. I’m going to call it an even 8 out of 10. It’s good and I’d happily eat it again. Just not on a weekly basis.

Coming up: how could I place an order with Vosges and only get the bacon bar? That’s right, I couldn’t. I’ve been seeing their caramel marshmallows in my email for months now and since I needed to get my bacon on I figured I’d go ahead and order some marshmallows while I was at it. And, because of one of their recommendations, I’m probably not done with the bacon either.

June 13, 2007

Review: Nestlé Crunch Crisp

I had to go to the grocery yesterday to look just in case there was a slip up and the Elvis Reese's Cups had made their appearance early (it's happened before) and while I did not find the prize I was after I did leave with a Nestlé Crunch Crisp bar which promises crispy wafers and chocolate crème. I figured it was new, I wanted chocolate (when do I not?), why not give it a shot? So it went back to work with me for an after-lunch snack (and, as I had no camera with me, I was unable to take a picture of it to share).

I hate to harp on ingredients, but I don't know if there is anything here that qualifies as chocolate. There is sugar, oil, cocoa, milk, lecithin, and fake vanilla, but no cocoa butter. Just lots of oil. A regular Crunch lists milk chocolate as it's number one ingredient (and includes cocoa butter in the sub-ingredients). But no chocolate on this label. Don't know what to make of that. Moving on.

The bar, in theory, is the horrific love child of a Nestlé Crunch and Kit Kat. In structure we have rice crispies on top of wafers layered with chocolate crème. It smells moderately chocolaty in the sweet candy bar kind of way. Kind of like a Kit Kat. It smells chocolaty, but not like chocolate. Texture wise it is all crunch all the time with this bar. The crunch is nicely satisfying, but the taste isn't anything amazing. It's not bad, mind you; it's just not as good as I had hoped. It doesn't have any real chocolate kick to it, just sort of a vague chocolate flavor.

Bottom line? Not bad, but I'll take a regular Kit Kat or Crunch bar over this just about any day. I'll call it a 5 out of 10. The catch is that while it's all new and exciting they've got them on sale for a quarter a pop at Kroger (don't know if this carries over to all of the other million and a half grocery chains that Kroger owns - Ralph’s, Fry’s, Smith’s, Fred Meyer, etc.- or if the "Plus Card" that we Krogerites are saddled with was required or not). At $.67 I'm not about to go buying another one any time soon. At $.25.... well, that's a price point I might roll over for.

June 9, 2007

Review: Amano Artisan Chocolate

A lot of things got lost in the shuffle of moving and tonight I’m finally getting around to addressing a pair of them. A while back I got an email from Art Pollard of Amano Artisan Chocolate (followed shortly by the samples I'm reviewing). In it he described how things were falling into place for them and the entire thing impressed me to no end. Amano is one of a small group chocolate companies in the US that make their own chocolate from bean to bar. Normally that would be enough to set them apart from the crowd, but they go that special one step further. They are doing things the old fashioned way with vintage equipment and processes and that speaks volumes to me. There are simpler and cheaper ways to do things but Amano are taking no shortcuts with their chocolate. And it shows in the end product.

Amano currently offers two varieties: Ocumare and Madagascar, both at 70% minimum cacao content. They both have a good temper and a nice snap to them and come in a small, attractive box and a layer of gold foil wrap. Both are nicely smooth (though the Ocumare isn’t quite as smooth as the Madagascar). When it comes to flavor, though, you have two very different bars.

The Madagascar has a slightly fruity and slightly smoky aroma but nothing specific is standing out to my untrained nose. The taste starts with the expected light smoke and gives way to a strong fruity note. It immediately brought berries, raisins, and some sort of citrus to mind. There is some apple in there as well, I think. It makes me think of preserves of some sort, but not overly sweet. The fruit carries through the long lasting close and is joined, interestingly enough, by a hint of anise/licorice flavor (though this may just be me).

The Ocumare has a stronger aroma with a good bit of forest and leather in it and just a hint of cherry. The flavor opens with a good solid chocolate and some of the leather from the aroma. There’s something else strong and dark in there that I can’t put a name to. The initial flavors give way to soft floral hints floating over a ménage of mellow fruit flavors I’m calling black cherry, plum, and possibly dried strawberries. It isn’t a really intense fruit flavor, but a nice companion to the base chocolate flavor. The close is interesting. A lot of the fruit fades to the background bringing out the floral notes.

It’s a really impressive start. In their first offering they have managed to bring to market two world-class bars. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the future holds for them. Both bars get a 9.5 and a spot on my short list. You can get Amano from their own website or from Chocosphere.

One final thing: Joseph Hall took the Ocumare and made ice cream with it! And it sounds excellent.

May 14, 2007

Chocolate Frustrations + Mini-Review

This lull has gone on too long. I’ve got a mess of things demanding my attention, but I can’t keep ignoring the blog like I’ve been doing. But I don’t have a whole lot to post about right now. Most of my chocolate is lost somewhere in the multitude of boxes scattered around the condo and as I’ve been ordered a number of times to try and stay off my feet and to not do any moving of boxes or unpacking. And there is stuff in there I’m dying to try and it’s driving me nuts knowing it’s somewhere in there and I just can’t have it. I really hope it’s not out in the garage. I think I would have seen the spreading chocolate puddle if it were, but until I get my hands on it I’ll keep worrying.

On to happier subjects. Well, maybe not so happy. I said a while back that the Pirate Pearls were back. Well, I think I may well have lied. Sure I saw a few hundred pounds of them at the store recently, but I haven’t seen a single one at any other store anywhere else. And to make things worse M&Ms are running a Shrek The Third promotion now and the M&Ms Pirate’s site hasn’t been updated for the new movie either. Things are looking kinda bleak especially since M&Ms have a promotion going on with Dreamworks now instead of Disney (oooh, Disney can't be happy). So things aren’t looking too hopeful for a return of white chocolate M&M’s in the form of Pirate Pearls. Hopefully they’ll launch them as a normal product this summer like they did the dark chocolate last year, but until they do it looks like it’s back to being a lost cause.

Next is definitely a happier subject. I’ve been slowly tearing apart a Vosges Haut-Chocolat Goji Bar which has goji berries and pink salt in dark milk chocolate. I’ve been eating it even slower than I usually eat a bar because I can’t tell whether chocolate is making my semi-mystery ailment worse or not. But I’ve been eating it bit by bit and I gotta say, it’s good stuff. The goji berries are nice and tasty and the salt is a nice contrasting flavor. I’d like it a little less salty than it seemed to be, but it’s still a really tasty bar. While I’m not really doing a full review I’m still gonna give it it’s score – an 8.25 – just because I deserves some praise.

On Mondays at Whole Foods they have a thing where they give out samples of all sorts of stuff and it’s good fun to just browse through the store (pun very much intended) trying different things. Well, the Monday prior to Valentine’s Day they did chocolate and lots of it. That was a nice night. And they even brought out the special limited edition Chocolove Chilies and Cherries in Dark Chocolate bar for the occasion. I had been looking for it since it was announced and was happy to get to try it (the cherries weren’t too sweet and the chilies weren’t too hot – nice bar) and asked for a bar to take with so I could do a proper review. They reached down behind the table and fished out a bar and I went happily on my way. The next night I pulled the bar out to review and discovered that they had handed me a Cherries and Almonds in Dark Chocolate. It’s a nice bar, but I was really pretty disappointed. I went back to the store and there were none to be found. And it was that way for over a month. Finally the bar reappeared! Only now I think it’s gone from being a limited edition to being a regular offering. On their website they show it with the standard Chocolove seal and not the Limited Edition mark and no longer mention the fact that it was a limited edition Whole Foods only affair. So if you weren’t able to get it in the Valentine’s window take a look around and you might get lucky (and I know that Chocosphere has it now). I know they have a lot of them at Whole Foods these days.

That’s all I’ve got in me for tonight. I’ll try to start posting a bit more even if I can’t be eating a lot of chocolate right now (I promise!). Maybe I’ll bake something. I know where my baking chocolate is so I can at least make something tasty.


April 4, 2007

Mini-Review: Ben & Jerry's Americone Dream

After hitting over a dozen grocery stores I finally found two pints of the elusive Ben & Jerry's Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream ice cream (yay!). I've looked all over but wasn't finding it anywhere. I used the Ben & Jerry's Flavor Locator and maps generated by the Colbert Nation and still had no luck. I've been dying to try it since it was first announced in February but at long last I finally have my hands on (and spoon in) some.

Americone Dream is vanilla ice cream with fudge-covered waffle cone pieces and a caramel swirl all wrapped up in a lovely package with the highly amusing Mr. Colbert's face on the label. Oh, and all of Colbert's proceeds are going to charity! As I love ice cream, waffle cones, chocolate, and caramel it sounded like a natural fit for me. Like I do with most ice creams I left the fat-bomb on the counter to warm for a ten or fifteen minutes to soften and then popped the lid. First impression is that it is FULL of caramel and cone bits. This is a good thing. Second impression arrived via spoon and was equally as good as the first impression. Tasty tasty stuff. The caramel is soft and flowing and the waffle cone bits are plentiful and chocolaty and it's all quite tasty. The third impression came after another four or five bites and wasn't quite as good as the first two impressions. I like it a lot, but I do have one minor complaint. The waffle cone bits are a soft crunch. I'd like one more texture in there with a crunchier crunch like nuts of some sort. But that's just me and I'm picky like that. Heck, the nuts (or whatever) might have a detrimental effect on the flavor combination so I could be totally off base. Just seemed to me that it would be nice to have a more solid crunch.

So, what's the bottom line here? Well, I'm not going to give it a score. I don't generally review ice cream and this doesn't have a ton of chocolate going on in it so I'm going to just sort of generalize. If you like Ben & Jerry's ice cream (some don't - especially those who don't dig the superfat style of ice cream) and you like waffle cones and you like chocolate and you like caramel.... well it's hard to go wrong with this. It's darn good stuff if you happen to like this sort of thing.

February 26, 2007

Review: Scharffen Berger Las Islas

With as much emphasis as there is on single origin chocolate these days it’s nice to see a product like the one I’m gnawing on tonight: Scharffen Berger’s Las Islas. Rather than highlight a small region or single plantation they’ve created a special Caribbean blend with beans from Trinidad, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic.

The bar itself is well formed and has a really attractive deep brown color with a little red in it. The aroma is strong and a little sharp with a hint of citrus on a grassy and slightly woody base with a little tobacco thrown in. Keeping with the citrus in the aroma the first touch to the tongue reveals a bright profile. The flavor quickly develops to a bright and fruity mix of orange and berries but it isn’t too sweet. There is something else offsetting the fruit, cutting the sweetness and adding a little astringency, and I can’t put my finger on a flavor. The nearest I can come up with is cider or grapes or wine – something with some tannins. It finishes smooth with the bright fruit fading to a little jam balanced with a nutty undertone. Even after it’s faded there is a lingering hint of fruit that just won’t go away.

Overall it’s a pretty good bar. Not one I’d be in the mood for on a regular basis, but a good bar no less. I’m going to call it an 7.75 out of 10 and something I’m glad I got to try.

January 20, 2007

Comfort Chocolate and a Mini-Review

I always feel guilty when I ignore the blog for a few days, but this time I have a more valid excuse than usual. I’ve managed to pick up my annual winter cold and when I’m sick I just don’t really eat a lot of chocolate. It just isn’t on my list of comfort foods. And the more I think about it (and I’ve been thinking about it a lot the past couple of days as I’ve been dealing with this stupid cold) the more I’m sure that I couldn’t fit anything but chocolate confections or candy on the list. My sense of smell is poor at best and right now it’s non-existent. Over the past year I’ve come to expect more from chocolate and I don’t think that I could really appreciate good chocolate right now with my sense of smell more impaired than usual. A brownie or a chocolate chip cookie (fresh and hot – mmmm…. I think I need to bake) I could work with but really good chocolate would be totally lost on me right now. It’s kind of sad that as important as chocolate is to my daily life I can’t seem to fit it in while I’m sick. The only chocolate I’ve had since the cold set in has been some Mint Dark Chocolate Kit Kat Minis. Which brings me to a mini-review! One without a picture. Sorry about that.

Mint Dark Chocolate Kit Kat Minis
It’s interesting; Kit Kat is apparently spelled with a space in the US and without a space in the UK. This is based entirely on observation of the US and UK Kit Kat sites. I just noticed when I was trying to figure out whether I should stick a space in there or not. Anyway, on to the candy. These are cute! I haven’t tried any Mini Kit Kats before but I like the size of them. It’s a good two-bite snack size. The wrappers aren’t anything terribly special or anything, but it’s what’s inside that counts. The actual Kit Kat is, of course, darker than the standard milk chocolate variety and it has a nice minty smell to it. With the minty aroma I was worried these would be overly minty (or worse; overly sweet!) but while it is fairly strong it isn’t too strong (or too sweet!). The mint chocolate on the outside is nice and plentiful but kind of distracts from the cookie a little, though not enough to make me dislike it. I still prefer the original – it is one of my perennial faves – but this is a very good limited edition. I’ll score it a 7.75 out of 10. This may be a bit hard to find now (I waited until the holiday clearance and paid a whopping 75¢ for a bag) but if you hit the bargain stores you might find some being closed out.

January 9, 2007

Review: Bubble Chocolate

Bubble ChocolateOne of the great things about the chocolate market right now is that there is a lot of new and interesting product finding it’s way onto store shelves. One of those products is Bubble Chocolate, an new line of aerated chocolate bars which helps to catch us in the US up with our friends in other parts of the world. They’ve had Aero for a long time but we in the States were left without aerated chocolate until now (at least I haven't found any). Bubble chocolate is bringing us the aerated love in three varieties: Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate, and Coffee Milk Chocolate. Tonight I’m going to tear into some samples I got in the mail and see just how they stack up.

Aerated Chocolate
So just what is the deal here? The simplest way I can think of to describe aerated chocolate is to say that it’s bubbly. You take a mass of tiny chocolate bubbles and somehow make them into a bar (and oh, how I would LOVE to see how they do it – I love seeing how things are made and this just has me curious). It’s sort of like pumice. Full of tiny little holes. As such it has a really interesting texture to it. It sort of collapses under your teeth and on your tongue. It’s quite nice.

Dark Chocolate

Once glance inside the wrapper and it’s clear that this is, indeed, dark chocolate. It’s a pretty dark chocolate color and smells nice. Flavor-wise it isn’t terribly complex. It is light and sweet for a dark chocolate with a light bright note to it but what really stands out is how creamy it is for a dark chocolate (Cybele noticed the same thing so I’m not imagining things here). Given its sweetness and the fact that it isn’t overly bitter or sour it is a very accessible dark chocolate and in spite of my tending away from those sorts of things I found myself really enjoying it. It’s a solid 8.25 out of 10 as far as I’m concerned.

Milk Chocolate

As one might expect this one is a fair bit sweeter than the dark chocolate bar and has a safely non-sour, milk chocolate flavor. It’s quite creamy and extremely smooth. I snuck a bite of an Aero for comparison and I think I like this better. As far as milk chocolate goes I like this a lot and, of course, it has the whole texture thing going for it. I’ll call it an 8 out of 10 and something I certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up at in the future.

Coffee Milk Chocolate
Now I have a love/hate relationship with coffee chocolates. They all sound so good to me but a lot of them are just too strong for me (which is strange since I adore chocolate covered espresso beans). This, however, is just right for me. The aroma is light, but all coffee. Taste-wise it has a really nice balance between a reasonably sweet and creamy milk chocolate and a nice mellow coffee and the combination is really nice. Very yummy stuff worth a nice 8.25 out of 10.

So what we have is a product that has not only a nice gimmick but some good chocolate as well. Bubble Chocolate is available nationwide, though I can say I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a store. Anyway, it’s a neat texture and the chocolate is tasty stuff and it’s cheap to boot so if you run into it it’s definitely worth giving it a shot.

Cybele at Candy Blog Reviewed these back in July and you can read her review here.

December 14, 2006

Hot Chocolate Week: Day Twelve

It’s day twelve of Hot Chocolate “Week” and I’m taking the night off from doing reviews and looking back at the Aztec/Maya hot chocolates I’ve covered this week. And the first thing I notice is that there is at least one important contender missing from the lineup: Vosges Haut-Chocolat. The have their own take on Aztec hot chocolate with their Aztec Elixir and it sounds like it’s another winner. They appear to take the thick approach like Jacques Torres and Marie Belle do but they use “maize powder” (which they say is cornmeal) instead of the cornstarch that the others use. I really feel like the entire showdown is incomplete without their offering and I have a suspicion that there are more excellent contenders out there that have just managed to slip below my somewhat limited radar.

Ignoring the shortcomings of my selection I have got to say that I have gotten to try some fabulous hot chocolates and these Aztec and Maya styled ones have been some of the very best I’ve had to date. But now I’ve got a problem. I promised a “showdown” and I’m therefore somewhat obliged to deliver on that promise in at least some manner. Honestly, each of the Aztec and Maya hot chocolates that I tried are excellent in their own way. The Green & Black’s Maya Gold, Dagoba Xocolatl, and Lake Champlain Spicy Aztec are all easy to make and the Chuao Spicy Maya, Marie Belle Aztec, and Jacques Torres Wicked deliver serious chocolate. In the end, though, I have to give Jacqus Torres the top spot in the showdown. All of the hot chocolates I’ve tried have been great, but Wicked is an experience.

So my Hot Chocolate Week has run twelve days now. I think that this late in the game it would be a crime to not take it out to a full two weeks. I’ve got a few things held in reserve that are deserving of my time (and it’s not like I wasn’t going to drink them anyway).

December 13, 2006

Hot Chocolate Week: Day Eleven

At long last I’ve reached the end of the list of Aztec/Maya hot chocolates that I had foolishly thought to review over the course of a single day. This last one is another that I’ve had around the apartment since last winter and have enjoyed on more than one occasion. Up for review tonight is the Aztec Spicy Hot Chocolate from Lake Champlain Chocolates.

Lake Champlain take a reasonably traditional approach to the Aztec hot chocolate with the inclusion of hot peppers but taking a look at the ingredients we find it strays a little by being the only one of the hot chocolates in the showdown that has no chocolate in it. This one is made of sugar, cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. No chocolate, but do I love a nice, simple list of ingredients like that. You always know exactly what you’re dealing with. And what we’re dealing with tonight is a hot chocolate that is very easy to make. Since there is no chocolate to melt microwave preparation is very reasonable and they do include instructions for it. Not that I used them. No, I opted for the stovetop again. I followed the normal instructions and put 8 ounces of milk and a heaping tablespoon of mix in a pan and started heating it up. It mixed up to a very attractive deep, dark brown and held a good bit of froth when attacked with a whisk. Flavor-wise it’s pretty mellow. The cocoa is nice and not overly sweet and doesn't seem to suffer from not having actual chocolate in it. The spices are nice and the cayenne adds flavor but no heat. It makes for a really nice, comfortable hot cocoa that is great to just sit down and enjoy at the end of the day. It’s quite good and easy to make and as such it earns a 8.75 out of 10. It also goes great with a couple of snickerdoodles.

Woo hoo! That’s the end of the long list of Aztec/Maya hot chocolates (excluding the other Marie Belle I have yet to try). Now all that remains is a nice wrap-up post. And once that’s finished I have another couple of hot chocolates to push things out to a full two weeks.

December 12, 2006

Hot Chocolate Week: Day Ten

At long last the end is in sight. I am pleased to say that tonight is the next to last review in the Aztec/Maya showdown. Tonight’s selection is Maya Gold Hot Chocolate from Green & Black's Organic. I bought this last winter and have been enjoying it since then when the weather allowed. I’m not sure I have another hot chocolate review in me, but I’m going to give it a shot.

Green and Black’s take a less spicy route than some of the Aztec/Maya hot chocolates I’ve sampled but they bring a nice shot of orange to the mix and wrap the whole thing up in organic and Fair Trade certifications. On top of that it’s an easy one to prepare (put 4 teaspoons of mix in 9 ounces of hot milk) and one that can reasonably be made in the microwave. And the ingredients are almost as simple as the preparation: cocoa, chocolate, powdered orange peel, orange flavoring, cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper. The first thing I noticed is that there are no chilies in it like the other Aztec/Maya style hot chocolates I’ve tried this week which is a nice change. To prepare it I opted for heating the milk on the stovetop (of course) and soon had a steaming cup of lightly orange scented, mellow brown hot chocolate. The chocolate is smooth, creamy, and easily drinkable and has a nice current of orange flavor lurking just beneath the surface. The cinnamon and nutmeg are more background notes to the flavor, but they’re there and a nice complement to the chocolate and orange. It’s a very mellow and relaxing hot chocolate that is a nice treat after a long day. I’ll give it a 8.75 out of 10 and put this review to bed.

These reviews are getting progressively more difficult to do. You have no idea how glad I am that I only have one left before I can wrap things up. Of course I’ll probably have to find something else to post to stretch it to complete the second week.

December 11, 2006

Hot Chocolate Week: Day Nine

I’m getting close to the end of the long list of hot chocolates I set out to try just over a week ago and I’m beginning to feel a little bit burned out. Or maybe it’s just my throat. Tonight, to continue the woefully prolonged Aztec/Maya showdown, I mixed up a cup of Dagoba’s Xocolatl Hot Chocolate - and it’s some potent stuff! Not only is it potent, but it’s organic and Fair Trade Certified - bonus!

Unlike the hot chocolates of the last couple of days that are almost entirely chocolate this one has cocoa and chocolate. The full list of ingredients is evaporated cane juice, cacao powder, unsweetened chocolate, chilies, cinnamon, and of course, love (their words, but I take them at their word). The cane juice, cacao, and chocolate are all certified organic (their website says that the chilies are as well – my canister is a little old so it may have changed). Now I have to say up front that I did NOT have instructions for this. There might have been instructions in the Limited Edition canister when I got it but if there were then I've somehow managed to lose them (it's the sort of thing I'd do). I did, however, find the right proportions on the mighty interweb. So I heated up a cup of milk and added three tablespoons of the Xocolatl mix. It looks beautiful and doesn’t smell too spicy, but there is a bit of bite to the taste when you take a sip and when you go to swallow… well, it steps up to be more than just a bit of bite. You feel every sip in the throat. But between each toasty swallow there is a lot of very nice flavor. The chilies are more the stars than the spice in this one but both are wrapped up in a lovely chocolate flavor that can't help but steal the show. It’s a very nice combination and earns the Xocolatl a 9.25 out of 10. You just have to watch out for that burn.

One more down and only two more to go. Odds are that triple-overtime won’t get it done, but I'm thinking that quadruple-overtime should get us there. It’s beginning to look a lot more like a Hot Chocolate Fortnight than of a mere Hot Chocolate Week.

December 10, 2006

Hot Chocolate Week: Day Eight!?

Ok, so Hot Chocolate Week is moving into overtime. I have a pretty decent array of Aztec style hot chocolates still waiting for my attention and I’m finding I can’t handle trying all of them in one day – it’s just too much. Even I have limits. But tonight I am going to manage sampling two of them. I had to do both of these at the same time if only because the cans are so similar. The two hot chocolates on deck are Chuao Chocolatier’s Spicy Maya Hot Chocolate and Marie Belle’s Aztec Hot Chocolate.

Chuao: Chuao is a SoCal chocolatier that I was unaware of until my most recent trip to Jungle Jim’s (yeah, I’ve been lax in posting the Safari info – there were a couple that were really pretty much non-events). I was checking out the hot chocolate section to see if there was anything that would be a good fit for Hot Chocolate Week and there was their Aztec hot chocolate begging me to buy it. I’m weak willed so into the cart it went. All that background stuff aside, lets get to the review. The ingredients are simple enough: chocolate, sugar, dehydrated milk, chilies, and spices. You put three tablespoons of mix (they give you a little spoon for it - thoughtful!) into a half cup of boiling water, get it back to a boil and whisk it for 30 seconds. It’s thick, but liquid enough to drink without the need of a spoon. And it’s spicy. The chilies give it a nice kick of serious heat and help balance the other spices. Overall it’s really good though some might find it a little on the hot side. I’ll give it a 9 out of 10 and have to say I am looking forward to trying some more of their products (I have a bar of their chocolate waiting for me on the kitchen counter).

Marie Belle: Like Jacques Torres, Marie Belle is one of the places I really wanted to visit in New York (I’ll get there eventually) so when it came time for me to do the whole Hot Chocolate Week thing it was a natural for me to order some from them. The ingredients are, like most of these hot chocolates in the endgame, relatively simple (and multi-purpose – they use one can for their various Aztec hot chocolates). It’s got chocolate, cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, milk, cornstarch, soy lecithin, and natural flavorings (which may include coffee, chipotle, ancho chile, cinnamon, and nutmeg). The primary instructions (there are two alternate preparations on the can) call for you to add one cup of mix to one cup of boiling water. Yes, that’s a full 1:1 water to chocolate ratio. Even without the cornstarch in it this would be thick stuff. And it is thick stuff. Very like the Jacques Torres (which also had cornstarch) in terms of thickness so it was more suited to eating with a spoon than drinking. Any spices in it are much more subtle than the Chuao or Torres offerings so the experience is more chocolate with maybe some spices along for the ride. It’s excellent stuff and a more laid back approach to Aztec hot chocolate than some others. It’s wonderful enough to also get a 9 out of 10 and has me looking forward to trying the dark chocolate version of their hot chocolate (which I happen to have as well).

So that’s two more down and only three left (four if I include the other Marie Belle and don’t try any alternate preparation methods). Luckily the remaining hot chocolates should all be a little thinner than what I’ve had these last two nights and I should be able to tackle them in short order.

December 9, 2006

Hot Chocolate Week: Day Seven

All right, I can admit when I’m wrong. I bit off more than I could chew.

I decided that I would give up my aim of hitting all six (seven actually – nine if you count different preparation methods I wanted to try) of the Aztec/Maya hot chocolates I have lined up and shoot for three. I could do two separate rounds of tasting and then write up a separate post summing things up. It was a nice simple plan and like most simple plans it was doomed to get complicated.

The first hot chocolate I picked to try was one that doesn’t declare itself as Aztec or Maya but falls firmly into that same group based on the spices involved: Jacques Torres Wicked Hot Chocolate. This is one of the things I most wanted to try in New York. I’ll allow the description from the Jacques Torres web site to speak for the chocolate and it’s ingredients:

Try the Wicked Hot Chocolate that features allspice, cinnamon, ground, sweet ancho chili peppers, and smoked, ground chipotle chili peppers!
You will notice that cocoa is not mentioned and the simple reason for that is that Jacques Torres hot chocolate “is made with real chocolate – never cocoa powder.” This is serious stuff. The instructions make the seriousness of the product all the more clear. They call for a half-cup of milk and a heaping quarter-cup of chocolate. It sounds like a small serving, but it's like a meal. It mixes up THICK. It’s the sort of hot chocolate that you eat with a spoon. The chilies don't add a ton of burn but do impart a good bit of heat and flavor and the spices are a nice addition as well. It even stands up to my usual standard of balance. All of the spices add something to the chocolate but nothing overpowers anything else. But, like I said, it’s somewhat like a meal. I might, in a few hours, be able to manage another hot chocolate, but this has me satiated for now. I’ve hit my chocolate limit. So much so that I nearly forgot to try and rate it I was so overwhelmed. So, ummm... yeah. It’s excellent stuff and quite a fine treat. So fine a treat that I’m calling it a full 9.5 out of 10 and it only misses a 10 because I'd have trouble eating cookies with it (I like a little snackage with my hot chocolate).

So, where does this leave the rest of the showdown? I’m not sure. I’ll add more as I can, but I don’t quite know how long it will take. A number of these look like they’re similar to this one so it could take a while.

Aztec/Maya Showdown Round 1 Results – Jacques Torres: 1 - Me: 0

December 8, 2006

Hot Chocolate Week: Day Six

It’s night six of Hot Chocolate Week! Only one more day to go and… I don’t know if I’m going to be able to pull off tomorrow’s big finish. But that’s something for me to worry about tomorrow. Tonight I have Williams-Sonoma Hot Chocolate to hold my attention and let me tell you – it is very worth the attention.

So I went to the mall to get some Godiva hot chocolate mix. I wanted something to round out the week and figured that would fit the bill nicely. But I can’t go to the mall without sticking my nose into Williams-Sonoma to look at all the pretty toys I would so love to have in my kitchen. And what do I see as I walk in the store? Hot chocolate of course. It was about then that I remembered that I had been carrying around a W-S gift card since my birthday and just never got around to using it. Well, that changed quickly enough. A big can of hot chocolate mix and Gale Gand’s new cookbook, Chocolate & Vanilla, went home with me and I ended up not setting foot one in the Godiva.

Not that it wouldn’t have gone home with me without the gift card. One look at the ingredients is all it would have taken. They are, in their entirety: bittersweet Guittard chocolate, soya lecithin, and pure vanilla. Oh, my. It’s virtually all chocolate. How wrong is that? There’s no hope for microwave instructions for this one. The can says to heat a cup of milk and whisk in 5 tablespoons of chocolate mix and stir until it’s all dissolved. What you are left with is a beautiful deep brown with a nice chocolate aroma with not a hint of sweetness. The taste is, as one would expect, deep chocolate. The milk softens the bittersweet chocolate a little and makes it very smooth and mellow without making it any less rich. This is some darn good hot chocolate and I’m calling it an 8.75 out of 10. I have a suspicion that if I substitute cream for some of the milk it could be even better.

That’s six nights of hot chocolate down and one BIG night left. I have six hot chocolates on deck for the grand finale. I’m not really sure I can manage to knock off six hot chocolates in one day. Time will tell, I suppose.

December 7, 2006

Hot Chocolate Week: Day Five

Wow, this week is just flying by! It’s already day five of Hot Chocolate Week – a mere two days left after this! I’ve only got a limited amount of time to kick up the chocolate content and see just how chocolaty things can get. So tonight I’m going to be trying King’s Cupboard Dark Chocolate Chunk Hot Chocolate, another one that the nice people at Cocoa Connoisseur sent my way, and it is loaded with big fat chunks of chocolate.

The ingredients are pretty attractive featuring lots of chocolate and cocoa and when you tear in you find that they really weren’t kidding about the chocolate chunks. This mix is chock full of big fat chunks of chocolate. In spite of that it still has microwave instructions on the can. All you have to do is heat six ounces of milk and add two and a half tablespoons of mix and blend until the chunks are melted. It sounds so simple! And, for the most part, it is. I nuked my milk until it was too hot to touch and dumped in my hot chocolate mix (which was kind of difficult to measure because of the chunks) and started stirring. And I kept stirring. A whole five minutes I stirred and still the chocolate chunks weren’t all melted. This is why I use the stovetop. My issues with the microwave aside this was absolutely excellent stuff. It’s dark and chocolaty without being too sweet and is excellent without needing any extra whipped cream or marshmallows. It’s smooth and tasty and tastes like chocolate. What more could I ask for? It gets a healthy 8.5 out of 10 points. Darn good stuff and definitely worth a taste.

Tonight’s hot chocolate had a lot of chocolate in it, but it still had its fair share of cocoa. Tomorrow night I’m cracking the can on one that has but three ingredients, and none of them are cocoa.

December 6, 2006

Hot Chocolate Week: Day Four

It’s day four of Hot Chocolate Week and up until now I’ve only had “hot chocolate” that really wasn’t much more than cocoa and sugar. Tonight that changes as we turn our sights to one of the most well established brands of premium chocolate in America, Ghirardelli, and their Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa.

Yep, tonight’s selection has real chocolate in it. The full list is sugar, cocoa, unsweetened chocolate, soy lecithin, and vanilla. So we get both cocoa and chocolate. While I’m looking at the back of the packet it’s a good time to check the instructions. It turns out that this is another hot chocolate that’s easy to make. The instructions tell you to add the contents of the packet (it’s also available in big cans) to six ounces of hot milk. Easy peasy, no? As usual I put the milk on the stovetop (the old standby) and got it good and hot then ripped open the packet. The contents smelled a bit sweet, but I was pleased to see that the chocolate in it is in little bitty bits that are perfect for melting in the hot milk. As expected they dissolved almost instantly and I ended up with a half-mug of nicely dark hot chocolate. The finished product is smooth and tasty, though a little sweet. Personally I like to add sweetness in the form of whipped cream or marshmallow but that would probably be too much for me in this. Sweetness aside, though, this has the taste of real chocolate to it and is a nice addition to the cocoa I’ve been trying so far. It’s still not the homemade stuff I made on Saturday, but it’s got a touch of the good stuff to it. Pretty good hot chocolate to the tune of an 8 out of 10. The serving size was a little small (note: the serving size for the big can of the same product is eight ounces) but the hot chocolate was pretty good stuff.

Tomorrow night we get to see what happens when you take big chunks of chocolate and try and melt them in a cup of hot milk. If my previous experience is any indication it’s going to be an argument against microwave hot chocolate preparation.

December 5, 2006

Hot Chocolate Week: Day Three

It’s kind of funny that I’m up to day three of Hot Chocolate Week and none of the products I’ve tried so far have contained actual chocolate – just cocoa, sugar, and assorted other things. Tonight won’t change that much. But tonight’s selection does bring something new to the table that the others didn’t have: mint! Tonight I’m trying some all-natural Omanhene Peppermint Hot Cocoa that was sent my way by the nice people at Cocoa Connisseur (who have a really impressive selection of hot chocolate and drinking chocolate).

This is another product that is simple to make and includes microwave instructions that are reasonable to use. Preparation calls for putting two tablespoons of the mix in eight ounces of hot milk. When I cracked open the can on this one I was hit in the face with a nice cocoa aroma with strong minty overtones. When you get it all mixed you have a very light brown cocoa that is pretty easy to froth (froth is fun). It’s interesting that with as strong a mint aroma its flavor is very light – neither the mint nor the chocolate is very strong but the two are perfectly balanced with each other and the milk. It was very smooth and went down quickly. Overall another good and easy selection, but one that is maybe more suited to a specific mood or those who like their cocoa a little less chocolaty. I’m typically pretty open minded to varying levels of chocolate so I still enjoyed it a lot. I’ll give it a solid 7.5 out of 10. It’s some tasty stuff and well suited to the holiday season with its lightly minty flavor. I think I'm going to give this another try with a little Chocolate Mint Baileys in it (yum!).

And with that we reach the end of the products that are strictly cocoa. Starting tomorrow the hot chocolates will contain actual chocolate (what a concept). Most have a combination of cocoa and chocolate but some have little more than pure chocolate in them. This is where things start to get interesting.

December 4, 2006

Hot Chocolate Week: Day Two

For day two I decided we’d take a step up in terms of quality and a small step back in terms of convenience. But any losses in terms of convenience are completely made up for by the fact that tonight’s selection is both organic and Fair Trade certified! Tonight we take a taste of Lake Champlain Organic Hot Chocolate!

Preparing the Bellagio cocoa from yesterday was as simple as adding hot water. Tonight’s hot chocolate calls for hot milk but includes microwave instructions so it really isn’t any more difficult to make (I still opted for the stovetop instructions). Even better, the ingredients list is brief and beautiful. All that’s in the can is sugar and cocoa and, of course, it’s all organic.

When you peel back the silver freshness seal on the top of the can you are greeted with a very nice chocolate aroma. The instructions say to add one heaping tablespoon of the mix to 8 oz of milk and heat until it’s hot. The mix dissolved completely with no nasty lumps to deal with and yielded a nice mellow brown hot chocolate. The taste is nice and chocolaty, lightly creamy and not too sweet. It smells darn good, too. It’s nice and smooth without having a grainy mouth feel. It’s quality stuff, easy to make, and comes with the added benefits of being organic and Fair Trade certified. As such, it earns a big fat 8 out of 10. Very nice stuff.

We’ll look at more Lake Champlain in our Azetc/Maya hot chocolate showdown at the end of the week. Tomorrow: things get minty!

December 3, 2006

Hot Chocolate Week: Day One

We’re going to kick off Hot Chocolate Week with the ultimate in convenience: instant hot cocoa. And for our instant hot cocoa selection we have Bellagio Chocolate Truffle Gourmet Hot Cocoa. All you have to do is add the contents of the little packet to six ounces of hot water and mix well. What could be simpler?

So what do Bellagio bring to the table? Well, opening the packet it smells sort of like cocoa, but sweet and with a strange edge to it. It might be the non-dairy creamer that is the first ingredient in the list that gives it that edge, but I have no way of being sure. Mixing is easy. It dissolves easily and completely in the water with no sludge in the bottom of the mug and no lumps floating around in it. Taste is pretty decent. It reminds me a lot of the hot cocoa I had as a child but a bit more chocolaty. And it's really pretty smooth which you don't always get with these mixes. Considering how simple it is to make it really is pretty decent. I'll give it a 6.5 out of 10. It’s definitely not my first choice, but if I only had water and a microwave (and no tea) then I wouldn’t turn my nose up at it. It sure doesn't hurt that it takes all of a minute to make.

Not a bad way to start things but I'm looking forward to what the rest of the week holds. The quality goes way way up from here.

November 26, 2006

Review: Baileys Mint Chocolate Irish Cream

Earlier this year Baileys launched a pair of limited edition versions of their lovely Irish Cream liqueur: Caramel and Mint Chocolate. Since then I’ve seen the bottles in the store again and again and have sort of been waiting for them to go on clearance before giving them a try. Well, yesterday I was really in the mood for a little Baileys and I haven’t had any around the apartment for a few months so I wandered back to the boozahol section of the store and grabbed a bottle. Actually, I grabbed the wrong bottle. I had picked up a bottle of Mint Chocolate Baileys instead of the normal variety. I came really close to putting it back, but for some reason it just sounded really good right about then (possibly because I had just left the ice cream aisle where the mint chocolate chip had been trying to seduce me).

When it came time to try it I decided to go the direct route. I threw some ice in a rocks glass, poured in a healthy unmeasured quantity of liqueur, and topped it off with a splash of milk. Appearance wise it looks like normal Baileys but when you take a whiff you notice that there is a hint of mint to the aroma. Taste wise I’m not finding a ton of chocolate in the flavor, but there is definitely a nice subtle undercurrent of mint present. It’s quite good and I can see it being right at home in some form of chocolate martini. I’m not sure how exactly to assign a score to alcohol for the most part so I’ll say that if you like Baileys then you should enjoy this. It’s yummy stuff.

November 20, 2006

Review: Valrhona Caraïbe

From the stash of lost chocolates comes a bar from Valrhona, a company that is nearly synonymous with fine chocolate. After the extremely positive experience I had with the last Valrhona Grands Crus bar I tried I decided that I needed to see what else they had to offer and so on a recent trip to the store a Caraïbe bar found its way into my cart.

The Caraïbe bar is a 65% cacao content bar made from trinitarios beans and comes in a lovely, glossy box that is horribly hard to photograph. Inside the box the bar hides in a basic gold foil wrap. Upon opening the foil you find a bar that is absolutely beautiful. It’s cleanly molded with a light gloss and a nice deep chocolate color. It has a beautiful, clean snap which helps release it’s faint aroma of cocoa with some nice citrus to it. It’s a very light chocolate aroma, but very nice.

The description on the box says it has a “delicate flavor of almonds and roasted coffee” but that only begins to describe what I’m finding. There is some coffee there, but overall I find it to be lightly woody with a little coffee coming in on the front and giving way to a hint of vanilla riding above some light fruit notes that I’m interpreting as mandarin orange and a little apricot. It closes with a faintly bitter fruity note that I can’t place. It might just be the fading fruit overtop of the woody base, but I can’t say for sure. Confusion aside, the entire thing is carried off with an amazing smoothness that seems to be a Valrhona trademark.

There are a couple of interesting things about this bar. First, the fruit flavors in it are sweet flavors, but the chocolate itself isn’t sweet, which is kind of interesting. The other interesting thing to me was that the flavors are all very light. Nothing in it is really all that strong. It’s mellow and laid back and doesn't force itself on you. It's a wonderful chocolate to sit back and enjoy, but it doesn't leave a huge impression.

But how does it stack up? It's an excellent bar, but it doesn't quite measure up to the high standard that the Guanaja bar set. It's easily one of the best bars I've tried to date and as such I'm giving it a 9 out of 10. It's not perfect, but it's an excellent bar that doesn't take an effort to appreciate.

November 16, 2006

Review: Dolfin Dark Chocolate with Pink Peppercorn

I’m starting to look into cleaning up some of the stray bars of chocolate that are lurking around my place (there are soooo many) and the bar that caught my eye tonight was Dolfin’s Dark Chocolate With Pink Peppercorn. Dolfin are a Belgian company that produce some very nice bars of chocolate in both pure chocolate bars and bars of chocolate blended with other natural ingredients ranging from fresh ginger to masala to the pink peppercorn in tonight’s bar. And they wrap the whole thing up in this lovely little plastic pouch with a nice sticky label on it so you can reseal it and store your leftovers in style.

Inside the pouch the bar hides in a basic white wrapper. Before tearing into it you can smell a hint of the chocolate. Once you tear the wrap you smell chocolate and a nice strong aroma of pepper. The bar is well formed a nice light gloss and snaps beautifully. And when you break it you are welcomed by another strong whiff of pepper. What I find funny is that the pepper wasn’t that strong in the taste – at first. Once it kicked in it was strong and offset the strong chocolate nicely. And you get little bursts of the pepper as you hit the crunchy little peppercorn bits. The flavor is warm and nice, but may be too powerful for some especially if they don’t like a strong pepper flavor (of course if you don’t like a strong pepper flavor I can’t imagine you’d really be in a hurry to try this bar). It seemed like it was going to finish with all pepper but after a minute it backed off and became more chocolaty with the pepper fading to a background hint. And it lingers forever.

Overall I found the bar to be very nice. I’ve enjoyed each of the bars I’ve tried from Dolfin and this one is no exception but I do find that a little bit goes a long way. This bar will take me weeks to finish because a small bite delivers so much. I’m going to call it an 8.25 out of 10. Powerful stuff.

November 9, 2006

Review: Godiva Belgian Blends Dark Chocolate Mocha

Since I first heard that Godiva and Coke were going to try and muscle in on Starbucks territory with their own blended coffee drinks (Godiva Belgian Blends) I’ve been looking forward to giving them a try. My shopping habits, however, tend not to take me to the coffee aisle in the grocery store that often (and not to a “traditional” grocery store very often either) so even though they launched the product this past summer I just saw them for the first time this week. And of course I bought one and it should be no shock that I went for the Dark Chocolate Mocha.

The bottle is moderately attractive with a nice wraparound label. Following the label to the back of the bottle we get to the ingredients, which I was curious about. The chocolate in it is in the form of cocoa powder (and sugar for sweetness) which surprised me. I sort of expected actual chocolate, but good cocoa can be a fine thing. What surprised me most about the ingredients is the fact that they added caffeine when they already have coffee and chocolate. Maybe people have a certain “kick” expectation of these drinks that I just don’t have and they’re catering to that, but to me it just doesn’t seem necessary.

Ok, ingredients aside, how does it taste? I can sum it up in three words: smooth, sweet, and mild. When I drink a coffee drink I expect some strength and there’s nowhere near enough coffee to this. And there certainly isn’t a lot of chocolate to it either and as milky as the drink is I consider the “dark chocolate” label laughable. It’s a flavored milk drink if you ask me. Milk is the main ingredient and it shows in the flavor. It was nice in a sort of chocolate milk way, but it really doesn’t deliver very well on the promise of the product.

If you have the Godiva name on the label you should deliver some chocolate flavor. This fails to deliver much chocolate or coffee. It’s probably made that way to be accessible to as wide an audience as possible, but I think if you are making a drink that is supposed to be “more decadent than just plain coffee” it needs to be more than milk with a little coffee and chocolate along for the ride. It wasn’t bad, but I expect something more than this. Six out of ten. Color me disappointed.

November 6, 2006

Review: York Limited Edition Vanilla Mint Patties

One of my all time favorite candies is the venerable York Peppermint Pattie. It’s one of those special candies that have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember and I could honestly eat an entire bag if I let myself. So whenever I see a new limited edition variety I feel the need to grab a bag and give them a try. Today I ran into a new one: the York Limited Edition Vanilla Mint Patties.

The first thing the new edition brings to the table is new packaging! The bag itself is nice in a vanilla way but the individual patties are in neat little sealed wraps as opposed to the normal fold/crumple style wrapper we’ve come to know (and love). They look quite nice. The patties themselves look pretty much like they normally do and they really don’t smell much different from normal, at least to my nose. But the taste, ah, there’s where things get changed up. It doesn’t take long for the vanilla to assert itself in the flavor. It gives the whole thing kind of a mint chocolate chip ice cream kind of flavor, only not terribly minty.

And that is where things went wrong (for me at least). The traditional “sensation” just isn’t there. York are characterized by that strong intense mint flavor and these just don’t have it. I’m not saying they’re bad, because they’re not. They just don't quite live up to the York name. I really like these, but if I’m offered the choice I’ll go with the original. If, however, there are none of the original about then I’ll be more than happy to eat a few of these. Not perfect, but still pretty tasty. I’ll give it a 7 out of 10. If it sounds interesting they’ll probably be here at least through New Year’s but beyond that might be a bit iffy.

October 9, 2006

Review: sweetriot flavor 65

I always have trouble starting to write a review (almost as much as taking decent pictures). There are only so many ways you can say, “Hey, I bought some chocolate!” Eventually you just don’t know what else to say. You just don’t quite know how to open things up.

So, umm... guess what? I bought some chocolate!

The selection of treats at Whole Foods Market doesn’t seem to change a whole lot and around here it’s about the best thing going (that I’m aware of) so when something new shows up on the shelf I tend to get a little excited. So, when I found the lovely products of sweetriot (lower case intentional) waiting for me on a recent trip to the store I was quite a happy camper.

sweetriot make nibs (which they describe as cocoa ‘peaces’) covered in chocolate in one of three cacao percentages: a mellow 50% semi-dark, a more intense 65% dark (which I bought), and one more step up to 70% dark. All this nibby goodness is delivered in a small metal tin that reminds me of the metal boxes we used to get Band-Aids in (do they still make those metal boxes?) only smaller. And with a cooler lid. And cool art gracing the label on the tin. And lovely chocolate-covered nibs inside. And little cacao facts on a strip of paper (much like that in a fortune cookie) lurking among the nibs. It’s a miracle of marketing. Compact and attractive and filled with chocolaty goodness.

And speaking of chocolaty goodness (transitions are easier than openings I guess) their nibs are coated with a lot of chocolate. In the past I might have considered this a bad thing (I like nibs – a lot) but these really feel like a great amount of chocolate per nib. It makes for a nice balance between the chocolate and the nib. It’s good chocolate, too. I feel a hair guilty because I didn’t really give the chocolate a lot of thought and can’t even begin to describe it. It was good and plentiful. It was the sort of chocolate you eat and eat and then wonder where it all went. As there is only one serving per tin (and a paltry 140 calories) it is easy to eat them all before you know what happened to them. I had to hide them from myself so I would have a few left for the picture.

But wait, there’s more! Not only do they make great chocolate covered nibs in lovely tins with cool art and cacao factoids hidden within, but they do it all in a all natural and ethical fashion! Their product is all natural, kosher, dairy-free, gluten-free, GMO-free and produced in accord with the principles of Fair Trade (they are working on getting their Fair Trade certification). At first I found all of this horribly out of sync with the little tin that they were using for their packaging. I felt that if they insist on using these admittedly cool tins that they should be either recyclable or they should at least give you the option of sending the tin back to them. Well, guess what? A quick trip to their site shows that they are indeed recyclable and they do indeed allow you to send you tins back in and they also give you some nice hints for how to reuse the tins!

Great chocolate, great packaging, and great attitude. All this for the low, low price of only $6.00 (though Cybele has seen them in the wild for $5.00). Wait a tic. The tin only contains 1oz. A quick check on the old calculator would tend to put the price of these nibs at $96/lb ($80/lb if you buy at $5/tin). Yee-OUCH! That is not cheap. Cybele noted this as well in her review. Dagoba’s nibs run $36/lb, Scharffen Berger nibs run about $28.50, and Santander’s nibs run under $22/lb (darn, I have to try these now).

The price differential is kind of extreme, but only sweetriot comes in such a convenient, snack-sized tin of unsurpassed loveliness. At the end of the day it’s a great product with beautiful, convenient packaging in a prefect single serving size and whether it’s for you depends on what price you place on convenience. I loved these nibs a lot and was absolutely planning on buying more prior to thinking about the price. Even after thinking about the price I still want to buy more, but I’m also looking at alternatives (and feeling bad for doing so). Ignoring price this is a solid 9 out of 10. What effect the price has on that number is up to you. And whatever you think of the price, check their site out. Even if the price is a little steep for your blood they have very cool t-shirts.

Ok, so I love the product and think the price is more than a little high, but I see some potential options here. The tins are lovely and I could easily see them selling a more collectible style tin with more of the art on them. A sweetriot art pack (or at least some extra stickers with just the art on them). I also think that given their stance on reuse/recycling they should offer a big bag so you can refill your own tin. If you do an even cooler tin and give us the option to refill it with more sweetriot nibs bought in bulk for a (hopefully much) lower price then that would be spectacular. Not that they don’t have a great product, I just look for potential and, honestly, was thinking how great it would be to buy a big bag of Dagoba Xocolatl nibs and drag them around in my sweetriot tin – which I’m sure isn’t the type of reuse that they want to encourage. The availability of a big fat bag of sweetriot nibs would help keep thoughts like that out of my mind. That's my two cents for what it’s worth (not much, I'm sure).

September 26, 2006

Review: Flippin' Fudge!

For me fudge has always been a special thing that I generally associate with summer. Fudge was something we could only get on vacation or at the fair. As such I tend to consider it synonymous with good times. Fudge and good times go hand in hand so what better to give as a gift than fudge? Well, Tim and Liz Young are ready to help you give that gift with their new Flippin’ Fudge.

Tim contacted me a few weeks ago to introduce me to Flippin’ Fudge and ask if I wouldn’t like to try some. I do try to discourage people from sending me free chocolate (I know – it sounds crazy), but this is one product I decided (somewhat selfishly) that I wasn’t going to refuse. I’m glad I didn’t.

There are a couple of things that set Flippin’ Fudge apart from the traditional fudge and the first one is the packaging. The packaging is bright, colorful and fun. The box it arrives in has the logo on it and when you open it up you find that the fudge itself is swimming in a sea of lovely stringy colorful paper packing material. The colors for some reason remind me of a piñata, but I make strange associations all the time. Anyway, once you get inside the box-within-a-box you find neat little squares of fudge in attractive purple wrapping, all clearly labeled with the logo and the name of the flavor. From start to finish it’s all bright and colorful and, above all, fun.

The next thing that sets Flippin’ Fudge apart is the flavor variety. Some of the flavors are rather traditional fudge flavors (though all with a twist) and some would be perfectly at home in a truffle from a fine chocolatier. Here’s the rundown:

Dark Secret:
This helps to set a theme for the fudge to come. This is a dark chocolate fudge and breaking away from tradition it isn’t the super sweet affair your standard fudge tends to be. This is focused on the chocolate and is nicely dark and very chocolaty. The texture (which is pretty consistent across all the flavors) is thick and smooth. I’m a traditional grainy crumbly fudge person at heart but this is really nice too.

Skippy’s Surprise:
I expected this to be a standard peanut butter fudge and boy was I wrong. This is a big fat fudge sandwich with chocolate fudge as the bread and peanut butter fudge in the middle. I’ve always found peanut butter fudge by itself to be only worth a bite or two (just a question of taste – I don’t do peanut butter pie or ice cream either) but this is the fudge equivalent of a Reece’s Cup. Even better the peanut butter fudge tastes like good peanut butter with a nice hit of salt.

Fuzzy Bubble:
Stepping away from the traditional fudge flavors we come to the Fuzzy Bubble which is a peach champagne fudge. This is a flavor combination I cannot believe I have not seen in a truffle. It’s a natural if you ask me. As a fudge I found it a bit overwhelming. Not bad, but strong. If you love peach then this may be more up your alley, but I’ll tend to try and share this piece of the selection out so I can focus on other flavors.

Island Retreat:
This is a coconut fudge and much more to my liking. You can smell the coconut in it as soon as you peel the wrap. It’s a pretty strong coconut flavor and at first seems almost too strong, but you are left with a mouthful of lovely perfect chocolate and coconut flavor.

Citrus Shot:
This time we get orange and just the right amount. The coconut was a hair strong for me but this was just right as far as my tastes go. I like a nice balance between the chocolate and whatever flavor is in with it and this hits my sweet spot. Your mileage may vary depending on how you feel about citrus in your chocolate.

Wake-Up Call:
Espresso! A pretty nice combination of coffee and chocolate. It’s got a nice deep coffee flavor but doesn’t stike me as being quite as strong as espresso. That said, I sometimes find espresso a little much and this works just fine for me so again, your mileage may vary. Those expecting the strength of espresso might be a little let down, but to me it has a wonderful deep coffee flavor that is nicely balanced to the chocolate.

Toffee Crunch:
This was pretty nice. A nice fudge with sweet and salty toffee running through it. I’m not a huge toffee fan but this works quite nicely for me. Very very nice.

Berry Nuts:
As usual it’s the raspberries that get me. Berry Nuts has raspberry and walnuts in lovely fudge and it’s really nice. Very good. I love walnuts and I love raspberry and I love fudge, especially with nuts in it so this is the no-brainer of the bunch.

If I had to sum up Flippin’ Fudge in a single word that word would be “fun.” Their website and the products are all bright and colorful and dripping with fun. When you get a package from Flippin’ Fudge it is a good and exciting thing. It’s certainly a gift you’ll remember. It’s good stuff and I’m calling it an 8 out of 10.

The bottom line is that they have a good fun product on their hands and hopefully a bright future. Stop by their site and take a look around. Be sure to check out the about page – it’s a good read and gives the story behind the name.

Alternate Takes:
Candy Blog
Candy Yum Yum!

September 18, 2006

Review: Ritter Sport Milk Chocolate With Rum, Raisins & Hazelnuts

It’s funny. You would think that when stressed out a chocolate fiend like me would start hitting it hard. But for some reason I’m eating less and less chocolate and what I eat is often whatever I see at the grocery store that catches my eye. Luckily I still grab items like this Ritter Sport Milk Chocolate with Rum, Raisins & Hazelnuts (wow - long name) and absent-mindedly gnaw away. In the case of this “bar” (it’s hard for me to call Ritter’s neat squares bars) I opened the package and was floored by the strong scent of rum. There was no way to absent-mindedly eat something like this. I did, however, get most of the way through it before I thought to grab a picture. Oops.

First, I love the way Ritter Sport wrap their chocolate. It is so easy to open. There is a really nice seam that’s easy to split and allows you to quickly and neatly access the chocolate goodness sealed within. Yeah, I’m easily amused. As I alluded to earlier the bar smells like rum. Rum and chocolate. It really sort of hits you in the face with the whole rumminess of it all. I checked the ingredients and was surprised to find that rum – not rum flavoring or rum extract or anything like that – is an actual ingredient.

The bar… block… series of blocks?… is well formed as expected and just one look at the underside shows it studded with raisins and hazelnuts. One bite confirms what the bottom hints at: the bar is loaded with raisins and hazelnuts. I’m of the school of thought that if you are going to put things in your chocolate don’t skimp – do it up right and leave no bite lacking. This bar is chock full of the good stuff. And it tastes great too! It’s got a very strong rum flavor to it but it fit my mood to a t. Long story short I call it an 8.75 out of 10.

It should be noted that they have a version of the same…. err… not a bar… product sans the rum. I grabbed one at lunch today and it’s good too!

Cybele of Candy Blog reviewed this one too! Head on over and check out her review!

September 11, 2006

Peeps Cocoa Cats

Today was pretty Mondayish right up until I went to the store. I needed lights for the kitchen and while I was there I figured I’d look and see if there was anything interesting and chocolaty to be found. Ritter Sport found it’s way into my grubby hands but the true catch of the day was a package of Peeps Cocoa Cats.

Yes, I am one of those sick-headed individuals that actually enjoys Peeps. I’ve loved them all my life and look forward to each of the Peep holidays of the year. I tend to get one package each holiday and usually wait until they are 75% off to buy them and slowly eat them over a few months, but I really really wanted some Cocoa Cats. I’ve had a hard time finding chocolate that I’m excited about lately and this had me excited on the spot.

So just how are these little critters? Well, the rule I’m going to run with is this: if you like Peeps and like instant hot chocolate then give them a shot. It’s a good shot you’ll like them. If you don’t like Peeps then don’t expect these to change your attitude toward them in any way. They smell like a freshly opened packet of instant hot chocolate (not the good real hot chocolate, but the stuff that comes with those crunchy little mini-marshmallows in it). They taste like a Peep with cocoa in it. Really, that’s the best description I can offer. Sorry!

So, yeah, they’re good and Peep-elicious and all, but there is more to the humble Peep than just a painfully sweet sugar coated marshmallow critter. There is potential. Over the past couple of years we have seen a number of recipes for Peeps the most popular of them being Peeps Brûlée. The proper way to do Peeps Brûlée is to let the Peeps air cure for a week or two and get good and stale and then kill on an open flame. Me, I’m impatient. And I can’t do the open flame thing in my apartment (the rabbit is afraid of smoke and my smoke detector is supernaturally powerful and unbelievably LOUD). But I refuse to allow that to ruin my fun! I set the back burner on high and impaled a Peep on a dipping fork and let the poor little critter burn!


Without an open flame you get some very…. scary results. But the important thing is how they are to eat! The inside is like marshmallow foam - cocoa flavored marshmallow foam. The inside is great. The outside is moderately caramelized but super sweet and chewy and doesn’t do it for me like the insides.

What have I done?!

Ok, not perfect Brûlée but pretty tasty stuff. I'm going to let the extras sit and stale for a few days and see if I can't get my hands on a proper crème brûlée torch and try it again. Yes, I will make this sacrifice for you, my dear readers.

After two rounds of brûlée and one raw I had one spare Peep. Rather than allowing it to escape unscathed I decided to see what happens when you put one of them in the microwave (I've seen pictures on the great and powerful internet so I had a good idea what would happen). I wish I could get a good picture of the monstrosity in my microwave because a nuclear Peep at the height of it’s power is a sight to behold. It grows HUGE – like six times it’s normal volume or more. I pulled it from the nuke-o-matic and tried to capture the majestic mutation, but it deflates pretty quickly and becomes a horrible puddle of inedible (yes, I tried to eat it) goo.

Inedible Goo!

Okay, bottom line of the whole Cocoa Cat experience is as I stated before: If you like Peeps then give them a shot. If you don’t like Peeps then it’s pretty safe to say you won’t be enjoying these a whole lot.

September 4, 2006

Review: Valrhona Guanaja

guanaja.jpgToday I’m going to be tasting Valrhona’s Guanaja, a bar of chocolate that frightens and intimidates me in a horrible way. This is a far cry from the Chocolove that got me eating bars of chocolate again and light years from the chocolate I grew up with. It’s a chocolate so fine that I doubt my ability to properly appreciate it. I’m normally anything but shy about inflicting my ignorance on the world (with sledgehammer subtlety no less), but I generally don’t feel at all qualified to even discuss something as good as Valrhona. Today, though, I’m not going to let that stop me.

This is the first of Valrhona’s Grands Crus that I’ve tried. Previously I’ve had some of their more normal offerings (normal being a very relative term) and found them to be excellent and they left me eager to try what Valrhona considers a cut above. The Guanaja is a 70% cocoa dark chocolate made with Criollos and Trinitarios beans (85% of chocolate is made with Forastero beans which are considered somewhat inferior). The chocolate is, as expected, well formed with a nice light gloss, no imperfections, and no bubbles that I can discern. The aroma, to me, is nice with a both a subtle fruity note and a slightly sour burnt coffee note. The mouth feel is fabulous. It melts beautifully, isn’t astringent, and is very very smooth. The taste opens brightly with strong fruit notes – I’m tasting some kind of berries and melon maybe. The fruit note just gets stronger in the middle and is joined by some darker notes of molasses, coffee, and tobacco as well as some acidity, more fruits (raspberry and cherry?), and a sour note (sour cream or cream cheese? – strange, but I stand by it – that is what I taste). Lurking behind it all from the first taste is a very subtle floral note that really shines in the finish. The taste lingers forever and the floral and fruit notes are the last to fade.

I almost feel like I’m cheating by reviewing this bar. It is well known for the intensity of it’s flavors and that makes it ideal for somebody like me who often has trouble nailing down the flavor notes in a chocolate. In Guanaja Valrhona have built a bar that has amazingly intense flavors that all play together. Some are subtle, but none are overpowered and even with all of its intensity it doesn’t come across as heavy-handed at all. I would like to kid myself and think that my tastes are developing, but I think that the art involved in this bar just made things easy for me.

In the end I found this to be a wonderfully complex and balanced bar (which is amazing considering the incredible range of flavors present) that lives up to reputation and expectations alike. This is unlike anything I’ve enjoyed before and makes it very clear to me why Valrhona have the amazing reputation they do. I’d like to give it a 10, but I’ve been led to believe that Valrhona have even better and I’ve yet to try any Amedei so I have to leave at least some space for true perfection. So I’m giving it a 9.9 out of 10. This is an absolutely fantastic chocolate that has supplanted Scharffen Berger’s Jamaica á l'ancienne as my new favorite.

Oh, and sorry the picture is awful. I can't seem to get a good shot of the box and eventually just gave up. I may try again later, but for now that's as good as it gets.

August 23, 2006

Mini-Review: Vosges Black Pearl Bar

Things have been a might hectic of late and, as a result, not a lot of chocolate has been consumed around my little chocolate-obsessed home. Things have started to calm down a bit so Sunday night I opened up some chocolate. I grabbed a Vosges Black Pearl bar (ginger, wasabi, and black sesame seeds in a 55% cacao dark chocolate) and gave it a shot.

The packaging is standard Vosges fare which is to say a lovely little box with a friendly little “How To Eat An Exotic Candy Bar” section on the back. The bar itself has a nice gloss, is well formed, and has a serious snap to it. The aroma is… spicy? I can’t get my head around the aroma beyond spice and a definite whiff of ginger. The taste is interesting. It’s spicy and the ginger, sesame seeds, and wasabi are all present. I’d probably like it more without the wasabi, but it’s still quite nice. The only real negative I can find is the texture. The sesame seeds are sort of chewy and I’m not exactly in love with that chewiness.

Good bar but not quite my cup of tea. I’ll call it a 6.5 out of 10 but there is probably a lot of personal taste involved in that number. Not something I’d want on a regular basis and with it’s price as high as it is ($7 – ow!) I will probably go for something I like more before I try this again.

That said, I'm VERY interested in the Black Pearl Layer Cake created by Katrina Markoff, the CEO of Vosges. I have a feeling I'd like the combination of flavors in a cake more than I do inn a bar. If anybody is interested the recipe can be found on Epicurious.

August 8, 2006

Review: Choco-Lina

I am such a sucker for nice packaging and tonight’s chocolate bars have some absolutely lovely packaging. The bars in question are both from Choco-Lina who produce sheep’s milk chocolate exclusively. The varieties I came home with are Bourbon Vanille and Dark Chocolate with Pumpkinseeds, both with sheep’s milk. And while the packaging caught my eye and I was intrigued by the sheep’s milk it was the pumpkinseeds that guaranteed that these would come home with me.

The packaging features nice gold trim and the company’s trademark sheep surrounding a gold foil wrap which is stamped with the company logo and sheep. The branding doesn’t end there, either. The bars themselves are imprinted with the logo and sheep and are very nice to look at.

Dark Chocolate with Pumpkinseeds
I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this bar. Beyond, you know, dark chocolate and pumpkinseeds. I kind of figured that there would be big whole seeds running around in the chocolate but they appear to be chopped pretty finely and are spread throughout the entire bar. The chocolate itself smells lightly bitter and somewhat sweeter than I expected. The chocolate is nice if not exceptional and the seeds add a nice texture like chopped nuts but I’m not sure they are adding anything to the flavor of the bar. It’s a good bar, but not great.

Bourbon Vanille White Chocolate
White chocolate and I generally don’t have a lot to do with each other. I had some waxy white choclate bunnies for Easter as a child and it didn’t leave a good impression on me. I’ve tended to avoid it since. I’m happy to say that there is very little in common between this bar and the cheap white chocolate of my youth. The first thing that distinguishes this is the appearance. It isn't the bright white I was expecting. It is a deep, almost dark creamy color and is speckled with vanilla throughout. I find it smells more like chocolate than I expect from white chocolate but very creamy. It’s surprisingly soft as well. I’m used to chocolate with a snap to it and this is somewhere between normal chocolate and fudge. There is a firmness to it, but it doesn’t precisely snap. The taste reminded me a lot of vanilla ice cream – it is sweet and very creamy and has a good vanilla flavor to it. I’m not a good judge of white chocolate, but this I like. A lot.

The Dark Chocolate with Pumpkinseeds was nice, but not overly special. TheBourbon Vanille White Chocolate, on the other hand, I liked a lot. Score wise I’ll call the Dark bar a 7 out of 10 and the White bar an 8.5 out of 10. I probably won’t repeat on the Dark bar, but I’m sure I’m going to go back for more of the White bar. And now that I’ve had it I’m curious as to how the Green & Black’s White Chocolate stacks up to it. I’ve heard that it is very good and loaded with vanilla and I’m wondering if I might not enjoy it as well.

July 29, 2006

Review: Godiva Dark Chocolate Decadence Chocolixir

chocolixir.jpgI like to put myself on mailing lists because you never know what sort of neat stuff you’ll get in the mail. Every so often Godiva sends out notices of free tastings and the like and recently they sent out a coupon for a free Chocolixir.

Chocolixir is a frozen chocolate drink similar I suppose to a frozen hot chocolate in many ways. I don’t know what’s in it, but there is definitely ice and chocolate. Maybe milk. If CalorieKing is to be believed the 12oz drink clocks in at 660 calories (!) so there has to be something more than ice and chocolate in there. My money says milk and sugar and it wouldn’t surprise me to find there is Godiva cocoa mix in it either.

Speaking of money, this is not a cheap drink. You get 12oz for the low low price of $4.50. That price tag is why I’ve not tried it until I got me a coupon for a freebie. That is not a cheap drink. Compared to coffee drinks it is really expensive for the amount you get. Keep in mind that it has actual Godiva chocolate in it and you can somewhat understand the high price, but I still have an issue with it.

The drink itself is available in six varieties now: the original three - Dark Chocolate Decadence, Milk Chocolate Latte and White Chocolate Raspberry – and three new flavors – Milk Chocolate Caramel, Dark Chocolate Caramel, and White Chocolate Caramel. Each comes with the option of whipped cream and either chocolate syrup, caramel syrup, or raspberry syrup depending on which one you get.

I opted for the Dark Chocolate Decadence because I’m a fool for Dark chocolate and I figured that it would be the least sweet of the flavors. Frozen coffee drinks are painfully sweet so I figured that frozen chocolate drinks would be at least as bad. The Dark Chocolate Decadence was sweet, but not as sweet as I feared. I’d like it to have been less sweet to heighten the dark chocolate flavor, but it wasn’t so sweet I didn’t like it. Overall the flavor was sweet and light. The ice in it was blended into oblivion so it was just enough to grind between your teeth without there being actual chunks of it. And all throughout it there are bits of chocolate. Best of all you don’t end up with a big pile of ground ice in the bottom of the cup like you do with some frozen coffee drinks.

The drink was quite tasty. I’d say it was better than most frozen coffees I’ve had but I’m not convinced that it’s worth the $4.50 price tag. And the calorie load! I want to know just what is in there that it manages 660 calories. That’s as many calories as in an average 3.5oz chocolate bar which clocks in at 2.5 servings. Ok, calories and price aside the drink is good - good enough to earn an 8 out of 10 score - but not good enough that I’m going to rush out for another any time soon. And, while it isn’t perfect, on a hot day like today, it is a nice treat. Especially when it's free.

July 24, 2006

Review: Kit Kat Editions Golden Caramel

I like to try new and different things so I love to see all of the special edition candy bars that they have been flooding the market with. Mostly I won’t try them. There are only a few of them that really interest me enough to come home with me. Now and then, though, something truly special comes along. This time it’s an import – the Kit Kat Editions Golden Caramel bar.

It looks like a giant Kit Kat stick. Smells just like one too. But over the wafer there is a small reservoir of caramel. And it really is small. I was kind of disappointed at first, having expected a lot more caramel than I was finding. But then I took the time to taste what I was about to complain about and my mind was quickly changed. The caramel, as little as there was, added just enough to the taste and experience of the bar to elevate it above the norm (not that normal Kit Kats aren’t normally excellent).

I love Kit Kats and I love caramel so I wasn’t surprised to find myself liking this bar a lot. The caramel adds that little something extra that makes the bar special. If you have access to this (which is a UK import and is also supposed to be just like the Kit Kat Chunky Caramel which was released in Canada and the UK according to the mighty Wikipedia) and like Kit Kat and caramel then it’s worth a try. I’m giving it a 8.5 out of 10 and I’m hoping I can get another before they disappear.

July 19, 2006

Mass Review: Equal Exchange Chocolate

A few months back I reviewed a trio of bars from Equal Exchange, a company that is dedicated to Fair Trade sugar, coffee, and (joy of joys) chocolate. They deliver a product of the highest quality and they adhere to high principles. And they have new chocolate in the pipeline for everybody! Coming this fall there are three new bars of organic, fair trade chocolate coming our way and I (through their unending kindness) am lucky enough to have the opportunity to try them early! The new varieties are Organic Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs, Organic Chocolate Espresso Bean, and Organic Mint Chocolate. Their first three bars were very nice so I’ve got high hopes for these new ones.

Organic Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs

This is a no-brainer for me. I love dark chocolate and I love nibby dark chocolate even more. The bar smells sweet. It is a sweet lightly fruity cocoa aroma and is very nice. The taste is sweet and not very bitter and the 68% cocoa chocolate itself is very smooth (which is equally true of all of the Equal Exchange chocolate I’ve tried). It is sweet and bright with a slight sour note and a smoky finish and a wonderful crunch from the nibs. Very nice, though not as bitter as I like my dark chocolate.

Organic Chocolate Espresso Bean
Another bar with a crunch! For a company that does both coffee and chocolate this is a natural choice. It’s studded with espresso beans and boy oh boy does it pack a punch. It even smells strong. The chocolate – with a 55% cocoa content - almost takes a back seat to the espresso but it’s there and it mellows the coffee edge. I can’t comment much on the chocolate because this bar really is all about the espresso and from the first whiff of the aroma to the finish and lingering on even after that it’s all espresso with some chocolate along for the ride.

Organic Mint Chocolate
Leaving the bars with the crunchy stuff in them behind we move on to our final treat. You open the package and you know you are dealing with mint. The smell reminds me of one of those Andes mints you get after dinner or on your pillow at a hotel. The first bite brought with it lots of minty flavor and a big surprise – more crunch! A quick look at the ingredients makes it clear that the name of the bar doesn’t tell the whole story. The mint comes in the form of “peppermint crisps” – basically sugar and peppermint oil. It adds a sugar grain and crunch to the bar that is fantastic (I love the crunch of sugary candies). And the mint is strong without being overpowering. The chocolate – a 67% cocoa dark –is very nice and is a perfect complement to the sweet mint crisps. This bar is another winner in my book with a great texture and a great flavor.

The second round of bars from Equal Exchange have turned out to be just as nice as the first round and are a great expansion to their product line. I’ll go on record as giving the Dark Chocolate with Cocoa Nibs an 8.5, the Chocolate Espresso Bean an 8.25, and the Mint Chocolate an 8.75. And that is ignoring the Fair Trade aspect and the fact that they’re all organic. If you are interested in trying their products and don't have a local source they have a page set up with info on convincing a local business to carry their products. Finally, I want to thank Equal Exchange for the samples - I'm enjoying them greatly.

July 12, 2006

Mini-Review: Diva Chocolates Mocha Java Steak Rub

divachocolates.jpgDon't you just love it when something completely unexpected and unutterably wonderful shows up in the mail? Absolutely wonderful feeling. And let me tell you it's even better when you find unexpected chocolate in the mail. The other day I had the happy surprise of finding some grilling rubs from the ladies at Diva Chocolates (thank you!). I've been keeping my eyes open for this for a while now and so far have had no luck finding any. Imagine my surprise when it showed up in my mailbox!

So far I've only managed to try one of the four rubs I received and it's going to be a little while before I have a shot at trying any of the others (I can't grill at home any more - long story). The one I did get to try is the Mocha Java Steak Rub: "A rich blend of espresso and dark chocolate, with a hint of cinnamon." The instructions are simple enough. You apply your rub, wrap the steak in plastic and pop it in the firdge for at least a half hour before grilling. I can't tell what's in it by smell, but I can say it does smell great. It smells even better when it hits the grill. The taste is great and unlike any other steak I've had. You can tell there is chocolate in it and it fits very well with the steak. I'm sorry I can't describe it very well. I can say it was one of the best steaks I've had. Sadly, I can't really give it a score - I don't have much of a basis for comparison. In lieu of score I will say that it is darn tasty stuff and I'm going to try to find someplace else where I can grill up some of the other varieties.

July 6, 2006

Review: Ritter Sport Cornflakes and Crème de Cacao

So I’ve seen these little Ritter Sport critters running around the Trader Joe’s and have been curious as to whether they’re worth my time and money. Running low on other chocolates I haven’t tried I figured it was time I grabbed some. So I did! I ran with the Cornflakes and Crème de cacao varieties. How could I say no to something as unusual as Cornflakes?

At a glance they really don’t look like much – a smallish square - but they are really pretty substantial. They are pretty thick so you end up with a lot of chocolate. The chocolate, while not amazing or complex, is quite nice. It’s a good creamy milk chocolate.

But, as nice as the chocolate is, these bars are all about the goodness hidden within. First up is the Crème de cacao/Chocolate Crème variety. I can’t help but describe this in terms of a 3 Musketeers bar. It is more chocolaty to start but the taste quickly becomes familiar. The big difference is in the chocolate crème. In a 3 Musketeers you get whippy aerated chocolate nougat fluffage. The chocolate crème in this Ritter critter is thick stuff. It has an almost ganache consistency. So, what you have is something like a very high quality 3 Musketeers bar – and this is a good thing. I love 3 Musketeers and this has everything I love about it with a different texture and feel.

Moving on to the cornflakes! How many chocolate products have crispy rice in them? More than I’d care to count. How many have cornflakes? This is the only one I know of. And I really have to wonder why nobody else is doing it. Both are breakfast cereal staples and they’re staples because they have that spectacular crunch. The only real difference between the two is that there is so little flavor to crispy rice and with corn flakes you get good solid corn flavor. And it really shines through in this chocolate. It’s got that familiar cereal crunch but the taste is something utterly new to my experience. It’s really nice. Hmmm…. I seem to say that a lot. But it’s true!

So my first round of Ritter Sport turned out to be some really nice stuff. I figure that the Crème de cacao gets a good solid 8 of 10 and the Cornflakes bar gets an 8.5. I’ll probably try something else before I go back for the Crème de cacao but it will eventually get some repeat action. The Cornflakes bar is likely to get some frequent repeat action.

June 29, 2006

Review: Chocolove Organic 73% Dark Chocolate

Every week I make the rounds of all of the stores around me that have anything that even resembles chocolate in hopes of finding something new and special to try. Usually it’s just more of the same old same old (not that there is anything wrong with lots of Chocolove, Dagoba, and Green & Black’s). This past week Wild Oats gave me a big surprise in the form of the new(ish) Chocolove Organic bars! I’ve been searching high and low for these for weeks now and finally I have them in my possession (do I sound obsessive?). Up for review tonight is the Chocolove Organic 73% Dark Chocolate bar.

Continue reading "Review: Chocolove Organic 73% Dark Chocolate" »

June 22, 2006

Review: NewTree Sexy

I’ve been curious about Newtree since I first read about them a few months back. They do what you could call “mood chocolate”. Each of the all natural bars has a sort of theme to it and (with the exception of Pleasure which is straight dark chocolate) a little something extra to make it special. There were three varieties at the store and I really only felt like having the Sexy bar because I was in the mood for ginger (though I'm not too sure about the guarana in it). Their description of the Sexy bar from their site:

SEXY is chocolate in stilettos. Spice up your day with dark chocolate, warmed by the taste of ginger. Naturally stimulating guarana extract adds an extra perk for a seductive treat. Chocolate and spice and everything nice!

Sounds like a winner to me (so long as I avoid eating it too late). Spicy, gingery, and energizing chocolate just sounds good to me. I like that sort of thing.

At first whiff you can tell it is going to live up to the promise of the description when it comes to being spicy. There is ginger in the smell but there is something more. Something like an orange spiced cider going on in there. There is a citrus thing, but it’s spicy. The bar is well formed and snaps nicely.

Upon tasting I found a slow start that wasn’t as spicy as the aroma promised. The chocolate is smooth but it isn’t very strong. It’s like it’s a delivery medium for the spice. The spice makes the scene shortly after the initial light cocoa wave and it’s pretty nice. The ginger isn’t overly sweet and the entire thing is sort of warm in the mouth. It remains spicy with a hint of citrus (sort of orange, but not as sweet) coming in at the finish and then lingering on.

I have mixed feelings about this bar. The chocolate takes a back seat to the other elements and I feel it could have been better with a stronger chocolate. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy it. The bar is tasty and warm and nice, just not really chocolaty. I’ll call it a 7 out of 10.

June 7, 2006

Review: Hershey's Sweet & Salty Granola Bar

On the Trail of the Sweet and salty that I've been jonesing for lately I picked up this Hershey's Sweet & Salty Granola Bar thing. It says it has pretzels on the label and that's usually enough to get me interested so I grabbed it. I was on safari and like to get a couple of more candy-ish products to go along with the finer chocolate and this was filling that role in my cart. Plus I was curious as to when and why Hershey's decided that it needed to start making granola bars. I can see selling their chocolate and or name to an established company and getting some co-branding but to take the plunge and do it on their own is an interesting move.

On to the product. I love the Take 5 bar so I figured that this would be good stuff as well. First stop: ingredients! Is it a bad sign that the first ingredient in a chocolate and granola bar is high maltose corn syrup? I'm not sure I've even heard of high maltose corn syrup. Another interesting item is PGPR which I'm pretty sure I've never heard of. There are a number of interesting items in there: vanillin, PGPR, soy lecithin, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, high maltose corn syrup, and two vegetable oils. A little on the frightening side of things, but I'll try just about anything once.

Moving on, it smells pretty nice - sweet with a hint of chocolate. The granola has a sugar-gloss shine to it (no surprise given the slurry of corn syrups) and there is a small layer of chocolate underneath it all. The taste isn't quite what I expected. It isn't nearly as sweet as I thought a "Sweet and Salty" bar would be. And I can barely taste the chocolate which for a product with the name "Hershey's" on the label is a bit of a puzzler. The granola - a mix of peanuts, oats, crisped rice, and pretzel bits - has a nice texture to it but is more salty than I would like. It's not a very strong saltiness, it's just sort of everywhere. It's pervasive ($5 word!). The whole "salt everywhere" thing doesn't bother me in other products (like a Payday) but here it just isn't really offset by anything and leaves me with a sting in my throat and the corners of my mouth. And I was disappointed that while they show a lovely pretzel on the packaging you get itty bitty smashed up pretzel bits mixed in it as opposed to the more satisfying crunch of a whole pretzel.

The bar, which was brimming with potential, left me a bit cold. It wasn't quite the sweet and salty that I was hoping for. To be honest I threw half of it away. I just didn't want any more of it. Some may like it with it's salty approach to things, but it isn't working for me. Not at all. 4 out of 10 stars. Bleah.

June 5, 2006

Review: Vosges Barcelona Bar - PLUS NEWS!

Some days life just smiles on you in unexpected ways. I recently took a little detour on my way to the mall and found that a little gourmet market (that I never really thought of as a gourmet market) just a short distance from my apartment has Vosges bars! Of course it was a day after taking a trip to Cincinnati to find chocolate - a day that saw me come home with one of their bars in my bag. A day late or not, I'm just happy that I have easy access to tasty chocolate. Variety is a good thing.

Lately I've been in the mood for sweet and salty stuff so the Barcelona Bar was an easy choice for me. The Barcelona is a nice 40% cacao dark milk chocolate with gray sea salt and smoked almonds. With big grains of salt and nuts it fit both my love of chocolate with crunchy bits and my need for something salty. The chocolate is a nice milk chocolate that isn't overly sweet and has a nice caramel note to it and on it's own is reasonably nice. Vosges were pretty generous with the nuts in the chocolate so you get a bit of nut in every bite which is wonderful, but the star of the show is the sea salt. Since they use nice big grain sea salt you don't taste salt all the time, but you'll bite down and there will be a little crunch and a small explosion of salt. I really like that it is spread throughout the bar just like the nuts and not a constant factor. And the distribution of salt and nuts is very even. There was never a bite that was overpowered by three or four salt crystals and never a bite that was just overloaded with nuts. I tend to look for balance and this bar achieves it.

In the end we have another nice bar from our friends at Vosges sporting their trademark packaging and a nice mix of smoky almonds and salt. If you don't like the sweet and salty flavor combination then this isn't the bar for you. If, however, you're like me you'll find a very snack-worthy bar. The only problem with it is price. Retail is supposed to be $7.00 (though I think they were selling for $5.99 where I bought this one) which is a bit steep but I tend to feel that it's worth it now an then to get a bar that's a cut above the standard grocery store and mini-mart fare. I'll give this one an 8.5 out of 10 and will definitely repeat when the need hits me. Not every day, mind, but when the mood takes me I'll be back for more.

New Vosges incoming!
A look at the chocolate bars page on the Vosges site had me scratching my head for a minute. I was positive that I hadn't seen some of these bars before and - sure enough - I hadn't. On the way are the Goji, Calindia, Gianduja (mega-yay!), and d'Olivia bars. I'm not too sure about the d'Olivia (neither white chocolate nor olives do a lot for me) but all of the others have me at least curious. Gonna have to try them all. And I still have one other on deck not to mention the other varieties I haven't tried. So much good chocolate to look forward to!

June 1, 2006

Review: Scharffen Berger Kumasi Sambirano

After the wonder that is the Scharffen Berger Jamaica á l'ancienne bar I had high high hopes for their other limited edition offering of the moment: the 68% cacao Kumasi Sambirano. The bar is made with beans from Madagascar and Ghana to show the diversity of African chocolate. Reading the write-up from Scharffen Berger (which can’t decide where Madagascar is) I knew what they think I’m supposed to find from the bar. I had my own opinion. Having read previously that Madagascar is characterized by a delicate citrus flavor I was expecting the Ghana to overpower the Madagascar. I was looking forward to seeing if I was right or about to be proven wrong in a pleasant manner.

The packaging is relatively dark – green and leafy with mostly black text - but attractive. Popping it open you find a bar with a beautiful medium-dark brown color and clean molding and the snap is all you expect from a high quality bar. The aroma… tells me that I might have judged the bar too early. The aroma is bright and carries citrus and floral notes on a earthy base. It smells nice and the aroma hints that they might have succeeded in marrying the two beans well.

Before I talk about the taste I have to say that I do not know, beyond reading about it, what Ghana or Madagascar chocolate tastes like. I can’t say whether one overpowers the other or if there is any sort of balance. Add to that my inexperience at tasting chocolate and my horribly undeveloped palate and you may find yourself disagreeing with every word that follows. All I can offer is my ignorant opinion of the experience.

And what I find is a lovely flavor with a bright citrus note (lemon to my taste buds) and an earthy background. It is not at all sour and only lightly acidic. The flavor moves from a light, slightly earthy cocoa opening to citrus in the middle and on to a lingering floral finish. From what I’ve read regarding Ghana and Madagascar they seem to have succeeded in making a bar that shows off elements of both.

I really enjoyed the bar a lot (Do I say this in every review? I think I do. It feels like I do.). It was quite tasty and offered a different experience than any I’ve had to date. I would like to have it on a more regular basis if it weren’t for the price. Of course if it weren’t a limited edition it probably wouldn’t cost $8.00 a bar. Anyway, I enjoyed it a lot and I can recommend it to any who are curious about the combination and don’t mind the hefty price tag. Overall I’ll give it a 8.75 out of 10.

Also, the name is fun to say. Kumasi!

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 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).

April 24, 2006

Mass Review: Equal Exchange Chocolate

I'm a big fan of both organic foods and the Fair Trade movement so when a company comes along that sells organic Fair Trade chocolate I tend to get a bit excited. Equal Exchange are a company dedicated to delivering gourmet quality organic Fair Trade foods (links at the bottom of the review) including coffee, tea, sugar, and (most importantly) chocolate and they were nice enough to send along some samples. So today we have their Milk Chocolate with Ground Hazelnuts bar, Dark Chocolate with Almonds bar, Very Dark Chocolate bar, and their Dark Chocolate Minis up for review.

Milk Chocolate with Ground Hazelnuts

First thing I noticed upon opening this bar was the organic chocolate smell. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I don't know what it is, but I can smell something different about organic chocolate and I've yet to find an organic chocolate without it. So the organic smell is there. The chocolate itself is very smooth and some of that organic smell is present in the taste. The hazelnuts are really not a major component of the taste, but you can tell that they're there. I'm not a big fan of milk chocolate but I really like this bar. The only other organic milk chocolate I've tried so far is Green and Black's and while I enjoyed it I definitely prefer this. I usually only get milk chocolate with stuff in and this is one I would go for even though it only has a hint of hazelnut to it.

Dark Chocolate with Almonds
Ok, this is more my speed. I do love dark chocolate and I do love almonds. The aroma is somewhat sweet and the organic smell is there along with a hint of berries. The taste is very nice. With the sweetness in the aroma I was worried it would be too sweet but the sweetness isn't too much. There is a nice tangy fruity note to it as well and just like the milk chocolate it is wonderfully smooth. And it is chock full of almonds. I really like this bar a lot and would definitely repeat.

Very Dark Chocolate
I anticipated this to be the main event. I love dark chocolate with a high cocoa mass. This bar clocks in with 71% and that is right in my favored range. The gloss on this one is beautiful and the snap is good with a clean break. The aroma is very nice. It has a spice to the aroma that I can't place. A dark and spicy sweetness. I can't figure out what beyond that (darn my undeveloped senses). Just like the other bars the chocolate in this is very smooth. It melts beautifully. The flavor starts off bright and acidic eventually giving way to a fruity tang. It’s not the most complex chocolate I’ve had but it is pleasant and not overly bitter and, as I said, it is very smooth.

Dark Chocolate Minis
It’s a pretty little thing. Well formed with a nice gloss. It doesn’t snap quite so nice as the Very Dark Chocolate, but it’s really tasty stuff. It’s sweet and smooth with a light fruity tang and a makes a nice two-bite treat. It isn’t overly complex connoisseur chocolate but it is really good and very enjoyable. Interestingly, I don’t taste the organic taste so much in these.


All three of the bars were good and the Minis are great little treats as well. I’d rate the Very Dark a 7.5, the Milk Chocolate an 8 and the Dark Chocolate with Almonds and the Minis an 8.5. They are all very good and you get the added bonus of buying Fair Trade Organic products. The only bad part is that I haven’t found them locally anywhere. Hopefully this will change. I’d really like to be able to get these at my local Whole Foods or Wild Oats but so far no dice (though I may have seen them at Jungle Jim's). Chocosphere doesn’t have them and the Equal Exchange web site only does wholesale quantities so this is one of those situations where if you want to try it you will probably need to pester your local retailers and see if they’ll start carrying their products.

What is Fairtrade?
Fair Trade at Equal Exchange
Equal Exchange

April 3, 2006

Review: Trader Joe's Sao Tome Varietal

Sorry for not posting as often as I should, but life was getting in the way of blogging for a bit. It will probably continue to do so somewhat, but I'm going to try to get back into the swing of things.

The first step to getting things back to normal and posting back to more than a once-a-week affair is tonight's brief review. I went to Trader Joe's looking for something to munch on but wasn't finding much that caught my eye. I almost left without chocolate entirely but I caught the words "Sao Tome" out of the corner of my eye and my curiosity forced me to take a better look. It seems that Trader Joe's has slipped into the world of single origin chocolate without my noticing. Having already tried out two Sao Tome bars I decided that I would give this one a shot and see how it compared.

The first thing I need to mention is the size of this beast. It is a 7oz bar, which is well above the norm. Most of the bars I see are around 3oz. This is just huge. It's been a week since I first opened it so I can't say much for the aroma. Snapping a piece doesn't reveal much to me, but I think there is a little coffee to it. The bar is well formed and moderately glossy and seems to have a snap to it. It's kind of hard to tell the snap given how thick it is. The taste is really a strange mixed bag. I can tell it's Sao Tome. I was really surprised to taste it and be able to say, "Yep, that's some Sao Tome there." but for some reason I could tell. Beyond that it is strong and bitter and once the bitterness lets up it starts in with sour. Kind of a spoiled milk kind of thing going on in there and I really didn't like it. Add to that the fact that it is really pretty astringent, sort of grainy, and hurts my mouth and I really didn't have that positive an experience. I want to like it, but it really doesn't do much for me.

I was surprised that I found the bar to be so disappointing and decided to go back to my Sao Tome standard and grabbed one of the Lake Champlain bars to compare the two. It really was like night and day. The Lake Champlain was very smooth and much more enjoyable. The Trader Joe's bar just wasn't up to snuff as far as I'm concerned. I just can't bring myself to like it. It may just be a matter of taste, but for me this just didn't do it. I'll give it a six out of ten. It wasn't horrible, but you won't see me buying it again either.

March 18, 2006

Mini-Review: Chocolove Toffee & Almonds in Milk Chocolate

I love a good chocolate bar that has stuff in it. I don't feel so much pressure to think about the chocolate, I just get to enjoy it. It's more of a eating bar than a tasting bar. Bars of this variety are pretty much guaranteed to yield short short reviews but short reviews are easy to write!

So, the bar with stuff in that I'm reviewing tonight is the lovely Chocolove Toffee & Almonds in Milk Chocolate and is it ever a treat. The bar features 33% cocoa milk chocolate full of toffee chunks and toasted almonds. The chocolate is nice and creamy and the toffee and almonds are excellent and quite plentiful. The toffee is nice and buttery and the almonds are tasty and the chocolate is good. Everything fits together perfectly. It's a simple eating bar and delivers a great experience you don't have to analyze - just enjoy. I've never really liked toffee a whole lot but this is just excellent stuff. It gets a 9 out of 10 and a spot on my short list.

February 28, 2006

Review: Vosges Woolloomooloo Bar

Reaching deep into the pantry I came up with a Vosges Haut Chocolate Woolloomooloo bar. They describe it as having "Roasted & salted macadamia nuts, Indonesian coconut, hemp seed and dark milk chocolate." I got the bar because I loved the idea of salted macadamia nuts in a chocolate bar and I love the combination of macadamia and coconut. The hemp seed I wasn't entirely sold on. I have zero clue what hemp seed is supposed to taste like but the rest of the bar sounded right up my alley so it came home with me.

The packaging needs to be touched on before I move on to the bar itself. The bar comes in a nice box with a little section on "how to enjoy an exotic candy bar" on the back. Inside the box the bar is sealed away in a foil wrapper. Absolutely lovely packaging and I would not expect anything less from a $6.00 chocolate bar.

Now, the chocolate. The bar has a decent gloss and has the Vosges logo and little pictures of some rather lifeless looking women with Vosges bags on it's eight squares. The bar smells very nice. It is clearly milk chocolate and you can smell the macadamia nuts very easily. It has a nice milk chocolate taste and there are absolutely tons of nuts in it. The coconut doesn't seem to offer much to the flavor. It's there but it takes a back seat to the chocolate and the nuts. There is a little edge to it but I'm not sure if it's the salt on the nuts or the hemp seed (which I still don't know what tastes like).

The bar is very nice and I found it hard not to eat more of it in one sitting (a very rare thing for me - I usually take five or six sittings to finish off a bar and I was tempted to eat the entire thing). I really enjoyed it, but is it really worth six dollars? I'm pretty sure I can find a better chocolate fix for the money. Still, it does leave me looking forward to the Creole bar that still lurks in my pantry. Ignoring the price I'll give the bar an 8.5 out of 10. I'll probably try their other varieties and their truffles, but I'm not sure I'll repeat.

February 22, 2006

Review: Dagoba Xocolatl Bar

After trying the Choxie Aztec Thin I was wondering how the fabled Dagoba Xocolatl would compare. The Choxie had some spice to it but no burn and was an all around nice bar. The Dagoba bar (75% cacao content) brings chilis, nibs, maca (more on this mysterious substance later), vanilla and nutmeg to the table all wrapped up in organic goodness.

Continue reading "Review: Dagoba Xocolatl Bar" »

February 18, 2006

Review: Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock

Today I'm taking a little step out of my normal role and doing a little semi-review of a product that is only slightly chocolate in nature. The product in question is Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock beer. Samuel Adams comes out with a lot of seasonal varieties in addition to their normal beers but this is an even rarer breed - it is from their special "Extreme Beer" line, which is really all about pushing the boundaries of beer. Special stuff and usually quite limited edition in nature.

Normally I might skip an item like this. I almost did. But, out of curiosity, I took a look at the little tag that hung around the bottle's neck. I don't remember any other words from the label but "Scharffen Berger" and, really, seeing one of the best chocolate makers in the world teamed up with an excellent brewer I had to take a bottle home with me, no matter how expensive it was (and it was really expensive - $12.99 and that was on sale). The beer is brewed in the normal Sam Adams fashion and then aged over a bed of nibs from Ghana that were specially selected for the beer by Scharffen Berger. From the description on the Samuel Adams site:

    The chocolatiers at Scharffen Berger crafted an exclusive blend of chocolate for Samuel Adams® made with cocoa beans from Ghana called forastero. Samuel Adams® Chocolate Bock was aged on a bed of this chocolate to create its unique layers of flavor. As the beer matured, the fruity, tart, earthy and chocolate aromas were infused into the liquid to give the brew a complex, full-bodied taste with a velvety finish. A hint of vanilla was added to meld the symphony of flavors together.

First thing to note: the bottle looks really cool. The beer itself is very dark in appearance with very little head. The taste is dark but not super-strong or overly bitter. Very smooth with a light and not unpleasant aftertaste. Don't expect a massive explosion of chocolate flavor from it, though. This is a beer and the chocolate is there in the flavor but it's a lot like how you can taste different flavors in a chocolate based on where it was grown. There is a definite chocolate note there and it's nice, but the chocolate is just along for the ride. This is a beer. I have to say right now that I don't like beer very much. I am extremely picky about beer and drink it rarely. If I am drinking it then it's usually Guinness and the first glass goes down with a bit of a grimace. I need at least one beer to warm up to the taste. This was different. I warmed up to the taste on the first sip. Don't know why but that's just the way it is. I really like this beer.

Of course it would be a sin if I weren't to try this with some chocolate. If I'm drinking a chocolate beer then why not see how a little chocolate goes down with it? Since they use a special bean blend that isn't the Scharffen Berger norm I didn't worry too much about what brand of chocolate I was going to use. Since it was lurking in my pantry (saving it for a special occasion - this rates I think) and was a nice mid-point in terms of cocoa mass I went with a little of the Chocolove Chocolatour Grenada: a 60% cocoa single origin dark chocolate. I wanted something dark but somewhat sweet and this fits the bill nicely (I'll get a review up eventually). The beer is still very nice with the chocolate and the chocolate is very nice with the beer. If I'm going to sit around drinking expensive beer and good chocolate then these two are a good combo. I won't say that the two of them together are greater than the sum of their parts, but the sum of their parts is pretty high.

So, I'm not really in the business of reviewing beer. It isn't my thing and I don't know much about it. So, speaking out of ignorance and a very limited taste range (I like the darker coffee like beers) I'll give this a good 8.75 out of 10. It's darn good for a beer. If you consider the price then it's really more of a 6 or so. It is far from cheap.

February 10, 2006

Review: Green & Black's Organic Ginger Bar

The last handful of weeks has been busy and stressful. I have a dozen irons in the fire and just haven't been able to find the time to take care of some of the 'less important' things like blogging. And while I haven't been writing about chocolate as much chocolate has helped me deal with all of the stress and confusion. Well, tonight I reached into my review stack (which I found buried under a pile of literature on rabbits while trying to restore some sense of order to my horribly messy world) and pulled out something I can't believe I haven't taken the time to try yet: the Green & Black's Organic Ginger bar.

The idea of ginger and chocolate playing together is really rather a new one for me. I had seen the Chocolove Crystallized Ginger in Dark Chocolate bar at Wild Oats but had never bothered to pick one up, sticking instead to the straight dark chocolate bars. It wasn't until Whole Foods opened up almost next door to me that I gave the bar a try. There were a pair of people from Chocolove in the store on opening day handing out samples and I'm really not one to shy away from free chocolate, especially when it's from a company I love. They gave me a piece of the crystallized ginger bar and it blew me away. The bar has been one of my favorites ever since. Okay, yeah, it's only been a few months, but it's still one of my favorites. So when I saw that Green & Black's had a ginger bar as well I resolved to give it a try.

The first impression Ithe bar gives is in the aroma - you can smell the ginger in it. The taste opens up with what I consider the Green & Black taste. There is something about Green & Black's chocolate that - at least to me - is unique to them and very easy to spot. I don't really know how to describe it other than that it's an earthy organic flavor (oh, that sounds like a cop out - saying "boy that organic chocolate tastes organic" ^^). This bar has that characteristic taste to it and it takes a moment for the ginger to make it's presence known. Once it does it's nice and tangy and spicy. It's really a very balanced bar. It isn't overly sweet and the ginger isn't overpowering and between the earthy chocolate and the warm spicy ginger you get a really nice chocolate experience. I think that the ginger not being too sweet really makes it a good match to the chocolate.

It's funny - when I first tasted the bar I mentally compared it to the Chocolove bar that I so enjoy and thought to myself that I just didn't like it. It wasn't as sweet and mellow. It was darker and spicier and it just didn't sit well with me at first. Once I got past the comparison and started to just absent-mindedly eat the bar I found it to be very enjoyable. It's different from the bar I love but different isn't to be confused with bad (oops, that's just what I did). I think this is a bar that I'll have to be in the mood for, but it's one I know I'll be in the mood for again. The only complaint I have about the bar is that it sort of stings my throat a little. Don't know why that is or what precisely it means, but if I have something to drink along with it or have small enough servings of it (and that is easy for me - a 3.5oz bar like this one lasts me a week) I won't have any problems. I'm running with a solid 8.75 out of 10. Good stuff. It's one of the flavors of ice cream they offer as well. Not that I can get their ice cream or anything, but I can dream.

February 5, 2006

Review: Nestlé Toll House Rich Brownie Candy Bar

I love brownies. I love cake-like brownies. I love dense moist brownies. I just plain love brownies. I could go on about brownies all day. Really, I could. Brownies just take me way back. They are one of those wonder-foods that always seems to be good no matter who made it or how and they always make a day better. And the smell of a fresh pan of brownies coming out of the oven? Mmmmm.... If you ever see me passing up a brownie you can be assured that I am sick or dying. Or maybe brainwashed.

So, with my love of brownies in mind, it should be no surprise that when I saw the Nestlé Toll House Rich Brownie Candy Bar (another long name) with it's label touting (deep breath) "Rich, Chewy Brownies, Caramel & Morsels Covered in Creamy Nestlé Chocolate" I had to try it. How could it be anything but good? Brownies smothered in Nestlé! It's not Valrhona or anything, but I don't really expect to find Valrhona in a mini-mart. Brownies! And chocolate!

In the package are two nuggets of brownie covered in chocolate. Tearing one in two reveals a thin layer of caramel on top of the brownie. Upon tasting the bar I found it to be a mixed bag. I like the chocolate and the caramel. They give it a nice candy bar flair. The morsels are kind of lost in the brownie which, honestly, I did not like. The brownie has a texture that makes me think of the worst things about some of the energy bars I've been unfortunate enough to have tried. It brings to mind things like sawdust and glue. In this case the glue is some horrible mix of something sugary and something chocolatey. I've had convenient store brownies that are actually quite tasty for being all of $1.00 (Little Debbie comes to mind) but this is not even in their class. The brownie was just not good. I can't give this bar more than a 6 our of 10. The brownie was supposed to be the star of the show and it was not star quality. The potential was there for something really good, but they just did not deliver. Odds are I will not repeat.

February 1, 2006

Impulse Buy: Choxie Aztec Thin

This is not a review. Not to say I'm not going to award a score to the bar in question, but this is something I've been absent mindedly nibbling for a few days and haven't really given a whole lot of thought to. The bar that I'm not reviewing today is the Aztec Thin from Choxie.

Choxie is a line of premium chocolate products from the Target department stores here in the United States. They are on the cheap end of premium chocolates and are packaged in colorful patterns that catch the eye. Since their introduction last fall I'd been meaning to go and give them a try but up until this weekend I had never seen any. And it's not like I hadn't tried. Apparently they had the Choxie hidden away someplace other than where the normal candy and mints were in the foods section. I finally found some adjacent to the Valentine's Day chocolates as I was wandering the store in an aimless fashion this weekend looking for ideas for a project that I'm working on (the reason I haven't been diligently blogging this past week). I had an itch for a little chocolate and this would fit the bill just perfect.

With Choxie the idea seems to be to make more premium quality chocolates accessible to the general public. So my question is this: why hide it way off in the depths of the store where unless you are looking for chocolate you aren't going to find it? Shouldn't they be sticking Choxie at every last register in the front of the store? Or at least big island displays near the checkout. When I go to the grocery store all of the limited edition candy products are right there at the register on a huge display that is, frankly, in the way and hard to ignore. Don't they want people to buy Choxie instead of, say, Hershey or Kit Kat? And while I'm talking about Hershey and Kit Kat limited editions why is it that when I went to find some this week at the UDF I had to comb the store before I found them back by the hot dog rollers? I went through the candy aisle, through the checkout candy display and found not a one limited edition. No, they were hidden in the far recesses of the (admittedly small) store. Isn't the idea behind the limited edition bars for them to be an impulse buy? I believe I'm supposed to see a Raspberry Hershey's White Chocolate bar and say to myself "Wow, self, that looks good and since it's a limited edition I better buy it now if I want to try it."

Ok, aside from my trouble finding the chocolate I want to buy in a place that makes sense to me how was the Choxie? Well, the packaging says that it has ancho chiles and cinnamon. I was really surprised at how low key both of the flavors were. There was a background spiciness to the bar as opposed to it coming out and hitting you in the face with it. It was nice. I liked the chocolate - it wasn't too sweet for me though there was something a little strange in the texture. Might have been my imagination. The nibs on the top of the bar were nice too. Two out of four of the nibby bars I've had up until now have torn up the roof of my mouth pretty badly but this one I had no problems with and I love nibs. They add a little something darker to a milk chocolate bar like this and I like that. And on top of it all the bar only costs $1.80 - pretty nice price, no? So, if I had actually been paying attention instead of dealing with other issues I would probably be forced to give it, say, an 8.5 or so.

January 27, 2006

Review: Dagoba New Moon

I've been struggling with this review for about a week now (about the length of time it has taken me to eat the whole thing) and I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and post what I've got. The bar in question is the New Moon bar from Dagoba. It's a straight-up 74% cacao organic dark chocolate bar with no other fruits, nuts, or flowers along for the ride and I'd been looking forward to trying it for a while. I've enjoyed the Dagoba bars I've had so far and figured that this falls right in my preferred range of cacao mass and should be a nice easy review.

Continue reading "Review: Dagoba New Moon" »

January 18, 2006

D Is For Dark Chocolate Dipped Cookies with Peppermint Creme

Today, in honor of Slashfood's D-Day, we have the York Dark Chocolate Dipped Cookies with Peppermint Creme up for review. Whew! That is one l-o-n-g name. I bought these out of curiosity and an eternal love of York Peppermint Patties while on safari this weekend and I just had to bust into them last night. My initial thought is that this is the York/Hershey answer to the Girl Scout's Thin Mints. Take a chocolate cookie, layer on some York gunk and coat the entire mess in dark chocolate and this cookie is the result. So just how good are they?

The cookies smell great. The aroma reminds me of Thin Mints, which isn't surprising in the least. The cookie inside is crisp and the chocolate is passably decent and the York stuff is York stuff and therefore good. All together i's pretty darn good. Just not quite Thin Mint good. Close though. The next cookie went into the freezer. I love frozen Thin Mints with a passion so I figure if I'm going to use them as the gold standard I should really test the York cookie the same way I enjoy my Thin Mints. I have to say that they are really good frozen, nearly as good as a Thin Mint and not as tooth-breakingly hard as a frozen York Peppermint Patty. But again, it still comes in behind the mighty Thin Mint.

So in the end, what do we have? We have something that is almost as good as a Thin Mint and theoretically available all year round. In terms of taste the Thin Mint wins, but I can't go out and buy a box of Thin Mints any time I feel like it (though they do lurk in my freezer about six months out of the year). I can go out and buy a box of York cookies at the grocery store and that counts for a lot. But the one thing I think that makes me really prefer the Thin Mints is serving size, and it's really a mental thing for me. The serving size is almost identical in terms of weight, but the York cookies are twice the size of a Thin Mint so you only get two in a serving as opposed to four Thin Mints. The York also has twenty extra calories, all in the form of fat (horror!). While I'm not one to shy away from a little fat, it is one more minor mark against the York cookies.

One final annoyance I find with them is on their website. They say that they are available in "2 oz. single serve packages of four cookies" but when you go to look at the nutritional information you find that the serving size is two cookies and there are two servings in their so-called "single serve package". That sort of thing just bugs me. So wonderfully consistent. I'm not going to hold it against them in their score, though. I just find it annoying.

Overall the cookies are good. I can't argue with taste and I like these cookies. The "smaller" portion size and higher fat content when compared to Thin Mints are disappointing. I'd rather eat 4 smaller cookies than 2 larger ones. I have to go with a score of 7.5 for these. They are good cookies, but I want more and I still prefer Thin Mints (which, for comparison's sake I would probably rate an 8.5).

January 12, 2006

Review: São Tomé Showdown!

Today we have something fun on deck. Dating back to the chocolate safari I have a Chocolatour São Tomé 70% cocoa single origin bar from Chocolove that has been awaiting my attention. It seems I also have a Lake Champlain Sao Thome 70% cocoa single origin bar that found it's way into my basket at Whole Foods today. And so I thought it might be fun to pit the two bars against each other in a grand São Tomé showdown!

I've said before that I am no connoisseur. I don't know if I have good enough senses of taste and smell to be a proper connoisseur. Today's showdown is an experiment of sorts. Comparing two bars of similar origin and cocoa content should hopefully help me spot nuances that I might not otherwise notice. That's my theory at least. We'll see how it plays out. On with the review!

Continue reading "Review: São Tomé Showdown!" »

January 9, 2006

Review: Godiva Platinum Collection 8 Piece Box

godivalogo.gifClocking in at an impressive $65 per pound I found myself in no hurry to try out Godiva's Platinum Collection. If it were not for the big post-holiday sale I would still not have taken the plunge. But with the 8 piece box down to a mere $7.50 I decided that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see if they had indeed produced something worthy of the name 'Platinum Collection' so I brought a box home with me. What I found was interesting to say the least. But $65 a pound interesting?

Continue reading "Review: Godiva Platinum Collection 8 Piece Box" »

January 3, 2006

Review: Green & Black's Organic Maya Gold

Up on the review block today we have Green & Black's Organic Maya Gold chocolate bar. The first time I had tried Green & Black's chocolate I tried their Espresso bar and found it a bit too strong for my tastes but not being a big coffee person I figured that it was my fault and they were due a second chance. I must say that this bar is much more to my liking than the last.

I don't have the developed nose of a chocolate connoisseur and won't pretend I do. I will say that upon opening the bar I was greeted with a variation on the slightly sour, earthy chocolate aroma I have come to associate with organic chocolate. The aroma was a little spicy and had just a hint of citrus about it. The taste is very nice. The orange flavor that was hinted at in the aroma really comes through without being overpowering and the spices complement it and the chocolate nicely. The chocolate itself is a nice dark chocolate - smooth, not very bitter and pleasantly sweet. The spices keep me scratching my head, though. Tasting the chocolate and smelling the bar I keep thinking of making pumpkin pie cake - I come back to nutmeg and cinnamon. Green & Black's describe the bar having nutmeg, cinnamon and a hint of vanilla (which I missed entirely) so I'm apparently not too far off the mark. I think a little ginger in the mix would be amazing, but that's just me. Possibly the nicest thing about the bar is the fact that while it has the orange flavor it doesn't have a strong orange aftertaste.

Both the spices and orange are a nice complement to the chocolate and don't overpower it. The bar, like all good flavored bars, is very well balanced. The flavors are all complementary of each other and not overwhelming. On top of it all the bar is organic and Fair Trade certified - both important selling points for me. I have to say I really like this bar a lot and figure it to be about an 9 out of 10. Highly recommended.

December 19, 2005

Review: Dagoba Lime

Had an itch to try something new and this time it was the Dagoba Lime bar that received the nod. So far I have had good luck with Dagoba's products (aside from one bar I bought at a standard grocery that was covered in bloom). This is one of the bars I picked up on the Chocolate Safari and I've been saving it while I try other things. The bar is, according to the label, "forest grown organic dark chocolate infused with lime essence and macadamia nuts" and lists a cacao content of 59%. The bar sounds great so lets see whether it delivers the goods in terms of taste.

Continue reading "Review: Dagoba Lime" »

December 9, 2005

Review: Irish Coffee Truffle Bar from Butlers Irish

Today we at last unwrapped the bundle of joy that is the Butler's Irish Coffee Truffle Bar from the good people at Butler's Irish Handmade Chocolates. The bar is made with real Jameson Irish whiskey, a product near and dear to my heart, and sounds absolutely lovely. Chocolate. Coffee. Irish Cream made with Jameson Whiskey.
I consider it my sacred duty to review this product.

Continue reading "Review: Irish Coffee Truffle Bar from Butlers Irish" »

November 30, 2005

Review: Dagoba Brasilia

The other day I stopped in at Whole Foods Market to get some Chocolove and ended up coming home with this instead. This was the first time I remember seeing this variety at the store and I really liked the sound of it so I decided to pick it up. Well, that and they were out of the Chocolove bar I wanted, but that doesn't matter. What matters is I bought an Organic Dagoba Brasilia bar and it was very good.

Continue reading "Review: Dagoba Brasilia" »

November 27, 2005

Review: Whooppee Cocoa Cream Soda

On my first ever visit to Jungle Jim's I hit the small company soda aisle pretty hard. I bought a wide variety of things to try but the true stand-out of the batch came to me as a total surprise: Whooppee Cocoa Creme Soda.

I had very low expectations for the drink. I had never thought that chocolate had any place in soda pop. So I was a bit shocked when I found this drink to be absolutely wonderful. At first you don't taste the cocoa at all, just creme soda. I love creme soda and this was a soft and refreshing one. The cocoa made it's presence known just after my first swallow. The cocoa flavor is very subtle and complements the creme soda very nicely. I had gone into things expecting the cocoa to be overpowering but I found it to be anything but. It lurks in the background and takes you by surprise.

Overall the drink is very refreshing, not overly sweet, and has only a subtle, pleasant cocoa aftertaste and I recommend it without hesitation.