June 30th, 2009 by Rosa
Good to know that the company capable of churning out the adorable Kinder Hippos isn’t also shuffling money and hazelnuts around.
PS: Happy birthday, Mom!
June 30th, 2009 by Rosa
Good to know that the company capable of churning out the adorable Kinder Hippos isn’t also shuffling money and hazelnuts around.
PS: Happy birthday, Mom!
June 29th, 2009 by Rosa
The Provencal city of Avignon was stop number two in my recent jaunt through France. The Michelin guide in the Avignon tourist office recommended two places that piqued my candy-blogger interest: a confiserie and a chocolaterie. While we never managed to find the confiserie (despite the best efforts of the kind locals we asked for directions), we did make it to the Chocolaterie de Puyricard.
The beautiful shop was quite classy, with glass cases filled with a wide variety of gorgeous truffles. Unfortunately, they didn’t label anything, and though the saleslady patiently answered all of my questions, I did feel bad pointing to everything and asking, “qu’est-ce que c’est?”(my pidgin way of asking “What is it?”)
I only nabbed one picture of the chocolates, as it was hottt at the time, and the chocolates were pretty melty by the time we biked back to our hotel room (by the way, if you ever visit Avignon, I highly recommend Sun Valley. We paid 42 euro/night for a studio double, complete with private bath and mini kitchen and fridge.), so I had to eat them quickly. We’ll go clockwise, starting from the left.
The two-toned chocolate was their praline. It turned out to be a nutty, creamy praline that was prettily piped into a thin-shelled dark chocolate trough (so there’s more praline than meets the eye; what you can see is only about half of what you get). The praline was soft, with the texture of a thick creamy frosting, and it tasted strongly of hazelnuts and chocolate. The dark chocolate trough had a nice snap, but its flavor was pretty thoroughly dominated by the praline.
The scalloped triangle was their praline fort – a strong praline. It was thicker, heavier, and nuttier than it’s weaker counterpart, like uber-concentrated Nutella on steroids. Lip-smackingly good.
The cylinder was a dark chocolate honey. The dark chocolate shell was so snappy that it crunched, revealing a sweet, flowy center. While the textural contrast was nice, the honey innards were throat-burningly sweet, too much for me to handle.
And finally, the poor crushed chestnut-shaped chocolate was chestnut and rum. The flowy, translucent ganache had the mild nuttiness of chestnut paste, followed by a whoa! boozy kick. The rum component is a strong tastebud wallop that really catches you by surprise.
If I ever make it back to Avignon, the Chocolaterie de Puyricard is definitely on my revist list, as is the praline fort. It gets an OM while the rest get an O. I wanted to try more of Puyricard’s flavors, and at approximately 1 euro per truffle, they’re an affordable indulgence. It’s really too bad we weren’t in Avignon longer; I could’ve happily tasted my way through them all, one day at a time.
June 26th, 2009 by Rosa
Today’s post is super long, but hey, you’ve got the whole weekend to read it. I start with a mini wrap-up of my tour of Taza’s chocolate factory and finish with a review of their four Mexicano disks.
Coincidentally enough, on the day that my written-weeks-ahead news post about a virtual tour of Taza posted, I was taking my own in-person tour of the Taza factory. Aaron, their director of marketing, was kind enough to show my boyfriend and me the works while stuffing us full of yummy samples (dude’s also a whoa-legit foodie – he’s got a pig’s butchers’ guide tattooed on one arm and a carrot on the other).
I already knew quite a bit about the company from their website and from the good publicity they’ve been getting, but Aaron still left me with plenty of additional tidbits. Their organic Domincan Republican beans are bought directly from the farmers at an above fair trade price, thus ensuring quality control while also helping their farmers maximize profits (similar to how Kallari runs things). The photo above is of their raw beans, waiting to be roasted in Taza’s retro-looking mid-century machines.
All of Taza’s ingredients are organic, and their vanilla pods and cinnamon sticks are also biodynamic. They buy their cane sugar from Green Cane, which uses the leftover cane fibers to power the cane sugar factory and the surrounding village.
Taza’s castoff cacao shells are used to flavor tea or beer or turned into compost. In a nice touch of cyclical, sustainable agriculture, the farmer who grows chilies for Taza uses their cocoa mulch fertilizer. Most of Taza’s employees bike to work, and they even bike their bars to local farmers’ markets in a specially outfitted tricycle from Mexico. Now that’s commitment to being eco-friendly!
Taza chocolates are unique because their cacao is ground with two doughnut-shaped, hand-chiseled Mexican granite millstones called molinos (background of above photo, covered in ground cacao and cane sugar). They give Taza its unique, slightly gritty, natural-tasting texture.
Aaron guesstimated their chocolate to be around 80 microns. Most chocolatiers aim for about 20. The minimal processing really makes Taza’s flavors zing. Their chocolate is unmistakably bright and fruity, and you know you’re getting good quality stuff.
I’ve had three bars before in past tasting parties – they make 60%, 70%, and 80% bars – but I’d never seen their Mexicano disks before I visited their factory. They currently come in four flavors: cinnamon, Guajillo chili, salted almond, and vanilla. Each hand-wrapped 2.7 oz package contains two disks of 8 wedges each.
The Cinnamon Mexicano is made with real Ceylon cinnamon, not the Cassia stuff that most people keep in their pantries. Ceylon cinnamon is sweeter than Cassia, with a more delicate flavor that’s more reminiscent of cinnamon oil than what you’d sprinkle on your oatmeal. The difference is even noticeable in the smell of the Mexicano: it smells and tastes like chocolate and red hots.
The cinnamon flavor plays under the fruitiness of the chocolate. There’s a slightly bitter and astringent finish to the Taza that I countered by popping another wedge. For me, at least, this Mexicano needs a chaser, but I don’t mind. An OM.
Taza’s Guajillo Chili is like chili chocolate to the umpteenth power. It initially tastes just like a standard Taza chocolate bar. Then woo baby! the burn comes through. It’s just on the bearable edge of tongue and throat burning pain. The tingle lingers for a bit, but it does subside on its own after a few seconds. It’s definitely not for the faint of tastebud, but I relished the taste experience. An OMG.
Salted Almond isn’t quite what you’d expect from a chocolate and nut bar. The roasted almonds (roasted in the same roaster used for the cacao beans) are ground right along with the cacao beans, so that the whole disk is evenly textured. I’m guessing the fatty nut addition is what makes this disk’s crumble a bit softer than that of the other Mexicanos. Unlike the previous two Mexicanos, organic cane sugar is the first ingredient listed, making the salted almond a bit sweeter than other Tazas.
The sweet characteristic Taza frutiness gives way to a roasted nuttiness, which then yields to a sharp salty finish that’s quite intriguing. It’s nicely balanced, but I actually prefer Taza’s chocolate-covered almonds to this Mexicano – the flavors are the same, but the chocolate-covered almonds have more nuttiness and a more addictive textural contrast. An OM.
Vanilla also has cane sugar listed as the first ingredient, and it’s noticeably sweeter than all the other Mexicanos. That extra boost of sugar makes this taste especially round. The vanilla flavor comes through in the finish. Taza uses real vanilla beans, and the difference is definitely noticeable. If you’re used to vanilla extract and have never had the pleasure of smelling a real vanilla bean, you’re in for a treat. Another OM.
Taza is quite unlike anything out there in the U.S. chocolate market. Instead of showing off with flashy flavor combos and pretty designs, Taza impresses with high quality ingredients and a rustic feel that I adore. Lucky for y’all, they’re doing quite well and appearing in more and more stores across the country. And if you’re ever in the Boston area, swing by their factory, where you can buy their products at a price that’s lower than what you’d pay elsewhere.
June 25th, 2009 by Rosa
According to Serious Eats, the Beatles were not Jelly Baby fans.
I bought some Marks & Spencer’s Jelly Babies last summer in England, but I don’t have a picture because I bought them for train ride sustenance and polished them off before I could photograph them. They were okay – interesting texture.
June 24th, 2009 by Rosa
I recently spent several days visiting my boyfriend’s home in Boston. While I was there, his mother was kind enough to take me on an excursion to Nichols Candies, a homegrown chocolate store in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It reminded me a lot of See’s and Haven’s: solid and tasty, if not frou-frou fancy, treats made with care and at a reasonable price (around $18 a pound at Nichols, if I remember correctly).
The store is filled with tables covered in trays and trays of a huge variety of chocolate treats. It was hard to pick just a few to try! I especially appreciated the creativity of their tulips, Brazil nuts wrapped in petals of caramel and dipped in chocolate. I didn’t actually buy any because I don’t particularly like Brazil nuts, but I thought I’d share the photo anyway.
Instead, I picked out a dark chocolate-covered ginger, a dark chocolate molasses chip, a dark chocolate-covered pineapple jelly, and a walnut whip (much lauded on their Yelp page). The molasses chip turned out to be an iteration of the dark sponge that I love so much (I was expecting something like See’s chocolate-covered toffee version). That disappeared into my belly before I got a chance to photograph it (oops), but I do have proper reviews of the rest!
The dark ginger is a disk of crystallized ginger covered in dark chocolate. The flavor of the ginger was pretty mild, making it enjoyable for a ginger novice like myself. It’s got a tad more bite than ginger ale but falls far short of the pickled ginger that comes with sushi. The ginger’s texture is firm but toothy. The coating was on the sweet side for dark chocolate. It had a cocoa-y tinge with a nice snap and a thin melt. An OM for the fine balance of ginger bite and chocolate melt.
I was excited to try the pineapple jelly. I guessed that it would be pineapple fruit pate covered in dark chocolate, and it was, but only sort of, thus falling short of my expectations. The jelly was smooth with just enough gelatin to give it some texture, which was nice, but it lacked the graininess of true fruit pate. The flavor was lacking as well. Good fruit pate is vibrant and bursting with flavor. In this, I got no pineapple flavor, just a generic sweetness, so it gets an O.
And finally, the much lauded walnut whip. It looked like a square of chocolate fudge with walnuts, but the texture was different. Instead of thick and grainy fudge, it was smooth, rich, creamy, fatty chocolate that melted thickly in the mouth. The chocolate had buttery caramel notes, and while the walnuts, being a mild nut, didn’t add much in terms of flavor, they did provide a bit of a textural contrast. I give it an OM, with the caveat that it’s too rich for frequent consumption. But that richness is what makes it so good!
Overall, Nichols is worth a visit if you’re passing by, and I’d happily stop there again to try more of their wide selection of chocolate goodies. And to stock up on their molasses chips (which get a biased ZOMG! because they’re one of my favorite candies).
June 23rd, 2009 by Rosa
Via the NY Times, an article about a hyped-up chocolate called Xoçai that’s being sold via network marketing. I’m more than dubious about the claim that three pieces of Xoçai are the nutritional equivalent of a pound of spinach…
June 22nd, 2009 by Rosa
I’ve wanted to try Albanese Krunchy Bears ever since I read Cybele‘s review of them. While they’re pretty cheap on the Albanese website, the shipping costs negate those savings (though now that I know they’re on Amazon, may add a bag or two to my next order, as they qualify for free shipping), so I just kept my eyes peeled, hoping to stumble across them in person someday.
I finally found them in the bulk bin of a candy store in Myrtle Beach and immediately snatched up a bag. I also learned that the deliciously and prodigiously flavored non-krunchy gummi bears of our campus convenience store were made by Albanese. Right before I was due to graduate and move away, of course.
These vibrant and whimsical bears are a treat for the eyes and the tongue. They come in six flavors of nonpareil-coated gummi bear. From left to right:
Pink is a lovely floral strawberry. I usually don’t care for red fruit candies, finding them blah, but this was refreshingly enjoyable.
Red is cherry, of the black cherry flavor persuasion. The deep tones of the super concentrated cherry flavor carry a slight medicinal tinge, but it’s still pleasant.
Orange is orange. It’s extremely bright and citrusy, with a zesty finish, placing it more on the tangerine end of the orange flavor spectrum.
Yellow is an even zestier lemon flavor. Acidic high notes give way to a tinge of bitter finish, making this a genuine, enjoyable citrus treat.
Green is a mellow apple. Instead of tasting like a sour green Granny Smith, I find this to be more apple juice/Fuji flavored.
Blue is either blue raspberry or blueberry. It tastes of berry, with round, mellow notes and no seediness. I’m leaning towards blue raspberry.
The texture of these bears is certainly unique. At first, it seems strangely gritty and chewy at the same time, and I wonder how necessary the nonpareils are. Maybe they serve some sort of flavor enhancing or trapping function? The Krunchy Bears, when compared to my memory of the regular Albanese bears, seem to have much stronger and much more concentrated fruity flavors, making the Krunchy bears much more flavorful.
The great density of flavor makes these much more satisfying as well. Instead of mindlessly chomping through them, I wanted to savor them, so a little went a long way. The citrus fruits get an OMG, while the others get an OM. I’d buy a mixed bag of them anyday, but if I saw them in a bulk bin, I’d disproportionately pick out the citrus flavors.
June 19th, 2009 by Rosa
Most people are pretty familiar with Ferrero‘s Kinder Surprise eggs. They’re banned in the U.S. and some other countries because they mix edibles and toys with tiny parts, which is a no-no. Kinder Joy, which I came across for the first time in Europe, is a newer addition to the Kinder egg line. It too, mixes edibles and toys, so it’s also not allowed in the U.S.
The two halves of Joy egg are split. One half contains a toy (in my case, a lame Ice Age 3 – yes, they apparently made an Ice Age 3 – badge), while the other half is a creamy spread studded with two chocolate cookie balls. Each half is individually sealed so that the spread doesn’t get on the toy (and vice-versa, I suppose). Finally, a flat plastic “spoon” is included to scoop up the spread.
The spread is a layer of white chocolate on hazelnut chocolate. It has the viscosity of Nutella – smooth and thick and glossy, but just short of the runniness of honey. Inside the spread are two chocolate balls comprised of chocolate ganache surrounded by a thin wafer shell covered in chocolate and crunchy chocolate sprinkles. They’re similar to Rocher balls, but smaller and without hazelnuts.
If you try to pry the balls out of the spread, a half shell of chocolate and sprinkles gets left behind, which imparts a nice crunch to the spread. Overall, I found this treat too sweet to eat on its own. The balls are managable, as their wafer shells help cut the cloy, but eating the spread is akin to eating straight frosting: okay for a lick or two, but too much beyond that. It did go nicely on bread, however.
All in all, a nice treat, but I’d rather buy a normal Kinder chocolate treat, like a Happy Hippo, Bueno, Rocher, or Duplo, and just put Nutella on my bread. The Joy gets an O, with the caveat that it would be great for gift-giving as soon as they stop coming with lame-O Ice Age 3 toys.
June 18th, 2009 by Rosa
The Kitchn has a neat behind-the-scenes look at how Taza Chocolate (the 80% previously reviewed here) is made. Thanks to another Calhoun College chocolate tasting, I’ve now tried all three bars that they make, the 60%, the 70%, and the 80%, and I liked them all.
The gritty texture isn’t for everyone (my college master and a few others at the tastings hated it), but I think it’s worth a taste, and others liked it quite a bit. As my friend Nana put it in her comment, it tastes more authentic and natural.
June 17th, 2009 by Rosa
Europe had more varieties of Haribo than we get here in the states. There was a flier for a Haribo Factory in the tourism office of Avignon, but alas, you needed a car to get there, and we had none. Still, I managed to purchase/eat a variety of Haribo treats from grocery and convenience stores, including these Haribo Super Mini Frites.
My bag of Mini Frites was a mini bag with around a dozen or so frite gummies (French for fries). They’re sugar-coated rectangular fry shaped gummies with a sproingy chew that cleaves rather than sticks. Each fry is about the size of the first two joints of my pinky nail, so they can be dispatched in one bite or two.
There are four flavors of frites: green is lime, orange is orange, yellow is lemon, and red is strawberry. Lime is zesty, orange is bright and citrusy, lemon is a rounder citrus flavor, with a light lemony finish, and strawberry is mellow in its fruitiness. They tasted like Sour Patch Kids, but brighter and more fun to chew (thanks to the sproinginess). If these were offered in the U.S., I’d go for them over Sour Patch Kids any day. An OMG.