Lily O’Briens Chocolate Collection – Eating my words, and happily!

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a review of Lily O’Briens crispy heart and sticky toffee. It was about as scathing as I get:

“From the two I tasted, a crispy heart and a sticky toffee, either Ireland has poor chocolatiers or Lily O’Briens is quite overrated.”

The next day, I got the following email from one of their representatives:

“I work for Lily O’Brien’s Chocolates and have read your comments on our two signature recipes with great interest. Our chocolates, when fresh, taste truly fantasti and the two recipes critiqued are among our chocolate fans’ favourites (check out the testimonials on our website from across the globe). Unfortunately I would suspect that the chocolates tasted we were past their best and should not actually be on sale still… I would be happy to send you fresh chocolates if you would like to critique them fairly.”

I was impressed that Lily O’Briens was so willing to stand behind their chocolates, and I was eager to take them up on their offer of a re-review. After all, I had bought the original chocolates from an Italian coffee shop in tourist trap Las Vegas, not exactly a place that would be worried about quality control and customer loyalty. When a generous package arrived from Ireland, and I happily ate my words, along with the chocolates they sent: one pouch each of their Chocolate Collection, their Sticky Toffee, their Crispy Hearts, and their Trufflicious (that name needs a noun, I thin), a two sets of their luxury bar assortments. This review is of the Chocolate Collection, which includes a sticky toffee and a honeycomb crisp (just like the crispy hearts, but not honeycomb shaped).

The Chocolate Collection, starting from the white chocolate cup going clockwise and finishing in the center, includes crème brûlée, hazelnut torte, honeycomb crisp, farmhouse ice cream, sticky toffee, lemon meringue pie, chocolat noir, and cookies ‘n’ cream. There was one of each and two of a few (the sticky toffee, the honeycomb crisp, and the chocolat noir, if I remember correctly), and I’m ashamed to say that over the course of a few days, I ate the entire pouch. What can I say; it’s that time of year when final papers are due and final exams are coming up.

crème brûlée – White chocolate shell with granulated sugar sprinkled over a white cap; white chocolate ganache filling and a touch of caramel sitting in the bottom of the shell. I don’t particularly like white chocolate. Still, the cup is a cute design.

hazelnut torte – one of my favorites of the bunch, this one was quite nutty. Like most hazelnut/chocolate combinations, it was sweet, but this one managed to be just shy of overly so. The ganache almost had a slight grain to it from the hazelnuts. I liked the textural difference.

honeycomb crisp – honeycomb and crispies in milk chocolate that was soooo much better than the stale crispy heart I bought in Vegas. The chocolate was creamy and yogurty rather than brittle, and though it was still on the sweet side, the sweetness was more bearable when the chocolate melted heavily on the tongue.

farmhouse ice cream – I also enjoyed this one, a dark chocolate shell around a white ganache. The ganache wasn’t white chocolate (I think). Instead, it tasted like fresh cream.

sticky toffee – the other one that I had originally panned. This time around in a fresh version, the “toffee” caramel was smooth and flowing with a slight butterscotch tinge. No grain and grit here. And again, the sweetness was helped by the proper melt of chocolate (whereas my Vegas ones were pretty brittle).

lemon meringue pie – milk chocolate shell, white chocolate button, bright lemony ganache. Didn’t make too much of an impression on me.

chocolat noir – dark chocolate shell and a lighter, sweeter, and fluffier dark chocolate ganache. I liked the dark chocolate the shell was made of, as it had a nice fruitiness to it. For those who are easing their way into enjoying dark chocolate, this dark chocolate was on the sweet side.

cookies ‘n’ cream – somehow, Lily O’Briens managed to get the a nice bit of cookie crumb grain into this one, a milk chocolate shell surrounding a white chocolate ganache studded with tiny chocolate chips. I was amused that there were actually more chocolate chips in the actual chocolate than in the photo of the chocolate on the box. Usually, it’s the other way around. This tastes overwhelmingly of white chocolate. I think I would have liked it better if it tasted more like the cream of the farm house ice cream.

So, Lily O’Briens, I owe you an apology. Your chocolates are tasty. They’re a little overly sweet for my palate, and the ganache fillings are almost on the greasy side, but I liked them enough to eat them all. Irish people do have good taste in chocolate. Hooray! An OM for the lot as a whole, with an OMG for the hazelnut torte and farmhouse ice cream.

Shameless Plug again

Hi readers,

Our “This is Sportscenter” commercial taping ran over, so we didn’t go on until 11AM. Sorry if you tuned in at 10 to catch us.

The good news is, we’ll be on ESPN again tonight! 8 PM EST on ESPN (not ESPN 2) for College Football Live. Check it out  if you have the chance!

Candy News Flash!

Before your regularly scheduled candy review, a plug for my personal life. Today, I will be conducting the Yale Precision Marching Band LIVE! on ESPN’s First Talk. We’re scheduled to go on at 10 AM EST (note time change from original posting) for a quick performance of our fight song.  First Talk airs on ESPN2 and ESPN HD live from 10AM-Noon, EST, and the day’s episode is then rerun from Noon-2PM EST. We’re also shooting a bit of a “This is Sportscenter” commercial today, which should air sometime in the future. Hope you get the chance to tune in! And now back to candy.

I get NY Times emails for breaking news, like when election results are posted, when famous people die, when big business things happen, etc. Here’s one I got at 3AM Sunday night/Monday morning:

Subject: News Alert: Candy Maker Reported Near Deal for Chewing Gum Giant


Candy Maker Reported Near Deal for Chewing Gum Giant

Mars, the makers of M&M’s, was near a deal last night to
acquire the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, the chewing gum concern,
for more than $22 billion, people involved in the talks said.
The transaction would create a confectionery behemoth and
could pressure rivals into a cascade of other mergers.

Read More:

Candy can make headline news too!

Joseph Schmidt truffles

Before your regularly scheduled candy review, a plug for my personal life. Tomorrow (Tuesday), I will be conducting the Yale Precision Marching Band LIVE! on ESPN’s First Talk. We’re scheduled to go on at 10 AM EST (note time change from original posting) for a quick performance of our fight song.  First Talk airs on ESPN2 and ESPNHD Live from 10AM-Noon, EST, and the day’s episode is then rerun from Noon-2PM EST. We’re also shooting a bit of a “This is Sportscenter” commercial that day, which should air sometime in the future. Hope you get the chance to tune in! And now back to candy.

I have been sitting on these tasting notes for ages. Like most of my notes I guess. I bought these four Joseph Schmidt truffles last winter when I was in California. Joseph Schmidt used to be an independent truffle maker; now they, along with Dagoba and Scharffen Berger, are owned by Hershey’s Artisan Confections subsidiary. I was able to buy these at the Scharffen Berger factory.

Joseph Schmidt truffles are of the molded variety, as their smooth, glossy, perfectly formed dome/cone shapes indicate. The outside shell of chocolate is thicker than I expected, with a great snap that shows that the chocolate is well-tempered. The creamy ganache inside is extremely smooth on the tongue and fairly flowy. They come in regular and mini sizes. The mini truffles are pretty standard-sized, while the regular ones are ginormous and are too big to be eaten lightly.

Pomegranate mini truffle (right)

The first hit of flavor was lightly sweet and fruity. It then suddenly takes on a very intense pomegranate sweetness that pretty much tastes generically like berries. Nicely flavored and gorgeous to look at. Way to jump on the pomegranate bandwagon! An OM.

Mexican chocolate mini truffle (left)

Upon biting into this chocolate and broaching the shell, I can smell the chili before I can get around to tasting it in the ganache. Once you get to the ganache, the chili adds a slight burn and tingle. It’s a nice amount of heat that makes itself present but isn’t painfully strong. I looooove well-done chili and chocolate. An OMG.

Vanilla cognac (left) and lemon meyer (right) truffles

Sooo… I didn’t eat these myself. They were just too big and daunting to take on, and I ended up giving them away.

These truffles would make an impressive gift, and they’re not too expensive for fancy well-made and well-flavored chocolates. I personally prefer truffles with thinner hard chocolate shells that are easier to eat, but I did enjoy the flavors of the ones I tasted. But they weren’t so delicious that I just had to taste the other two I ended up giving away. So, good for gift giving, meh for personal splurging.

Amano Single Origin Bars

Every once in a while, you’re fortunate enough to experience something so eye-opening that it changes the way you frame your worldview. After falling in love for the first time, or tasting your first Jelly Bellies, schoolgirl crushes and plain old generic jelly beans will never be seen the same way again. Amano’s trio of single-origin bars have changed the way I look at tasting chocolate. In the interest of full disclosure, these bars were sent to me from Amano’s press office. I try my best to not favor samples. In fact, I’m probably more willing to give extra negative reviews of free samples than I am to shower them with praise to prove to myself that I’m not being bought out, so when I wax rhapsodic about a manufacturer’s sample, it has to really go above and beyond.

I tasted these bars in one sitting and without reading any tasting notes from the press releases or from the boxes. My chocolate tasting skills have definitely improved. Hooray! It helps to taste similar chocolates together, as you can really pick out the subtle differences then. All three of these bars were marked at a minimum of 70% cacao and will each run you about $7 for a 2 oz. bar, making them extremely not-cheap.

Cuyagua Premium Dark – “The remote valley of Cuyagua near Caracas is surrounded by cloud forest-covered mountains. It is home to some of Venezuela’s oldest cocoa plantations. The chocolate made from this valley’s beans have rich chocolate overtones with notes of spice that produce an incredibly complex flavor.”

The Cuyagua had a crisp snap that broke cleanly across the pre-segmented lines. It had a spicy, earthy smell that hinted at its complex flavor profile: spicy with a slight fruitiness in the middle. The melt was smooth, but not creamy.

Madagascar Premium Dark – “Madagascar has long been known for producing fine cocoa beans. This chocolate has strong, fruity flavors with hints of citrus and berry.”

The Madagascar had a slightly softer snap than that of the Cuyagua. This bar was extremely fruity, with a sweetness that I decided matched those of ripe berries.

Ocumare Grand Cru Dark – “The cacao from the Ocumare Valley is considered some of Venezuela’s finest. The Ocumare bar has rich chocolate overtones and a well balanced, fruity component with hints of plum and other red fruit”

The Ocumare had a strong earthiness to its flavor that I think could be called tobacco (I don’t smoke and avoid those that do, so I’m hesitant to casually toss around that flavor description) that gave way to a sweet finish. Texturally, it was the softest of the bunch, and had a thicker and creamier melt than the other two.

I usually taste candies in the morning before I head out to class. I take good notes in a little notebook, which I then refer to when I’m writing up my reviews days and sometimes even weeks later. The Amano line was so good that I just had to write it immediately after tasting (my political psych reading can wait). These bars fall into that rare category of candy that’s so good I want to share it with others but can’t bring myself to because I want to eat it all myself. Amano will now be my go-to bar for savoring and indulging in pure dark chocolate deliciousness, and after reading My Last Supper (and meeting the author/photographer!), I think I want a trio of Amano bars for my last dessert. But it needs to be the trio, for most of the fun is in their contrasting flavor profiles. An unabashed ZOMG! for the lot.

Bringing the Food of the Gods to the Masses

Over the weekend, I churned out a 14-page final paper that I turned in on Monday for my history of food class. It’s a good thing I wrote this week’s reviews a couple of weeks ago, as the last thing I want to do right now is read or write about chocolate (by the way, I’m a two-eyed college-age female, not a uni-eyeballed man with too short pants. And I don’t have a typewriter).

If you ever have questions about how the development of Hershey’s and Cadbury’s compared to that of Lindt & Sprungli from the Industrial Revolution to World War II, I’m your gal.

Thursday’s chocolate tasting went pretty well, except for one great sadness – most of the chocolate had bloomed. Stupid New Haven humidity and weird spring temperature fluctuations. The flavor profiles weren’t affected, but the texture and melt were. Tasting notes will come as soon as I’m ready to write about chocolate again.

Vosges Truffles

As previously mentioned on Monday, my box of 9 of Vosges Exotic Truffles were samples sent by the company. I shared them with friends, which is the best way to savor fine chocolates. From left to right and top to bottom they are (the last two trio photos are slightly off, with the Ambrosia and Chef Pascal swapped):

Naga – sweet Indian curry powder + coconut + milk chocolate – I’ve had the Naga chocolate bar before and liked it, and I similarly enjoyed the curry dusted Naga truffle. The curry flavor is initially strong before it gets a bit mellowed by the coconut flavor coming through. The milk ganache balanced the two flavors well, and the truffle makes me think of Thai food.

Budapest – sweet Hungarian paprika + dark chocolate – Paprika isn’t really used in Chinese cooking, so I have no idea what its flavor profile is like. I found the Budapest to taste extremely, unpleasantly earthy. Even the more enjoyable dark chocolate finish wasn’t enough to make me like this truffle more. My friend Rita made a face and said it tasted like dirt, while my other friend Chris enjoyed it.

Gianduia – crunchy hazelnut praline + milk chocolate + praline bits – As I have said before, it’s hard to go wrong with the classic flavor combination of chocolate and hazelnut. The Gianduia’s hazelnut flavor was strong without being overpowering, and I found the nuttiness to be fresher and more genuine that anything Ferrero has ever made. The praline topping was also a nice, sweet, crunchy touch.

Black Pearl – ginger + wasabi + dark chocolate + black sesame seeds – When I tasted the bar version of the Black Pearl, I found its wasabi flavor to be absent. In the truffle, wasabi flavor is definitely there. It starts out tasting like ginger, and the wasabi rounds out the middle. I’m not a big fan of ginger and chocolate, but I can see why some people love it and how they would love this truffle.

Wink of the Rabbit – soft caramel + deep milk chocolate + organic New Mexican pecan – The top half of this interestingly named truffle is made of ganache, while the bottom half is made of a caramel that tastes like a soft toffee. I found it to be on the verge of sugar overload, and the organic New Mexican pecan (because pecan sourcing is soooo important, I guess) doesn’t add anything to the truffle or temper its sweetness.

Chef Pascal – kirsch + dark chocolate + dried Michigan cherry – This truffle has a strong liqueur flavor that I enjoyed. Eating this truffle is sort of like eating an uber fancy cherry cordial, except much better because the Vosges ganache is so rich and smooth and creamy.

Woolloomooloo – Australian macadamia nut + coconut + deep milk chocolate – The Woolloomooloo has a strong coconut flavor that tastes extremely and pleasantly fresh and a nice, dusky chocolate finish. I couldn’t taste the macadamia nut, but it was just fine without it.

Ambrosia – macadamia nuts + Cointreau + white chocolate – Like in the Woolloomooloo (man, is that fun to type!), the macadamia nuts are just too mildly flavored to stand out. The Cointreau (an orange liqueur) makes this truffle super sweet and fruity, and the white chocolate gives it a thickly sweet finish. I don’t particularly care for white chocolate, but I do appreciate the concept and flavor of this truffle.

Absinthe – Chinese star anise + fennel + pastis + dark chocolate + cocoa powder – I wasn’t expecting to like this truffle because I don’t like licorice or anise. I was right, sort of, as I didn’t like it, but I didn’t dislike it. The anise flavor is more reminiscent of Chinese five spice than of licorice. My licorice-loving suitemate enjoyed this.

I would not buy Vosges truffles for myself to eat because they’re so pricey, but I would buy them for others. The packaging is pretty, the truffles themselves are exquisitely gorgeous, the smooth and creamy ganaches are luxuriously indulgent, and the flavor combinations are unique and creative. An OMG, but only if someone else is buying.

Happy Earth Day!

Because today is Earth Day, I am reposting bits from an old post from Blog Action Day and listing some earth-friendly brands that I’ve the pleasure of trying:

Endangered Species donates a portion of their chocolate bar proceeds to help, well, endangered species. I’ve only formally reviewed one of their bars, but I’ve tasted several of them (including the wolf, panther, dolphin, and rain forest) and have loved them all. Endangered Species makes really good chocolate that holds its own against Scharffen Berger and the like, which is especially admirable when they could be just coasting on their environmental pledge.

Theo 3400 Phinney Bars are fair trade (they pay above the market price for beans so that cacao growers can earn a living wage) and organic. I’ve reviewed some of their line and loved the chai bar. Sadly, I can no longer find this brand in my library’s cafe.

Dagoba bars, sold under Hershey’s artisan confections line, are certified organic, and I’ve reviewed several and tried more that I haven’t formally reviewed (the Superfruit is okay, the Conacado is nutty, and the Xocolatl is too spicy and is not as good as other chili chocolate bars).

Green and Black’s is, I think, one of the earliest chocolate brands to be on the organic bandwagon. I haven’t formally reviewed any of their bars, but I can tell you that their milk bar tastes like the inside of a Cadbury mini-egg.

I don’t know how to reconcile the carbon footprint of chocolate. Unless you live in South or Central America or Africa, you’re not going to be able to have chocolate on a locavore diet. Then again, measuring the carbon footprint of food is so hard (is local better for the environment? or organic? or even efficiently mass-produced?) that it may not be a good guideline. But now, at least, environmental awareness is present in the candy industry. There are now several brands of organic bars out there, and many non-organic companies may have an organic line.


Today is Blog Action Day, when blogs around the world post on the same topic to raise awareness. This year, we’re bloggging about the environment. In the candy world, I’ve taken that to mean blogging about organic and fair trade candy.

As you can see from a quick search, there are hundreds of organic candies, organic chocolates, fair trade candies, and fair trade chocolates.

I haven’t reviewed much organic stuff on this site, mostly because organic candy is pricier than the average Hershey bar, and I’m a college student who is far from being financially secure. But I’ve still managed to hit a few: Larabars and their Jocalat line use only fair trade and organic ingredients, Vosges claims a green mission on their website, and I think the truffles I got at Whole Foods were green in some way, if only because they came from Whole Foods. Sustainable food is HUGE at Yale, and I can promise you that organic desserts, even when mass produced by the dining halls, is sinfully delicious.

I’ve seen Dagoba bars (BUY!) and Yummy Earth Lollipops (BUY!) at the campus convenience store. I wanted to buy some and try them in time to review for my Blog Action Day post, but I’ve had a nasty cold for the past week, so I haven’t been tasting new things because my sense of taste is compromised. I’m nearly fully recovered though, and I’ll hopefully be able to have those reviews up within the next couple of weeks.

While my site’s sustainable candy section is regrettably sparse, Cybele’s got a whole category on her site for organic candy reviews and tips on how to go green for Halloween.

I hope you learned something from today’s post! I know I did in putting it together.

Vosges Flying Chocolate Pig

When I was in Chicago over spring break, I stopped by a Vosges boutique because even though I can’t really afford their products on my college student budget, holy cow are their truffles gooooood. Plus I got permission from my residential college master to pick up another bacon bar for our next tasting. I also got a Calindia Bar because I hadn’t seen that one at Whole Foods or at the Las Vegas Vosges I visited.

Speaking of the Las Vegas Vosges, I liked the Chicago one much better because they had free samples placed out all over the place. And, after I paid for the two bars I picked out, the saleslady slipped me a little plastic bag of four truffles. I promise, I did not breathe one word of my candy blogging hobby to ingratiate myself with her, though I did ask lots of questions and probably sounded fairly knowledgeable about their line. The truffle freebies were probably near their best-by date, but still, it was a nice and much appreciated gesture.

Another nice Vosges surprise was waiting for me when I got back from break – a press kit containing a library of their mini bars (I already have a set, so I gave those to my suitemates), a box of 9 of their exotic truffles (review to come Wednesday), and a flying chocolate pig made of their bacon chocolate.

I liked the flying chocolate pig better than their standard Bacon Bar not only because it’s much cuter but also because I’m convinced it actually tastes better. It’s also more expensive though, and it weighs only 1.2 oz. as compared to the 3.0 oz bar.

I found the flavor of bacon to be much stronger in the pig. It certainly smelled stronger. In the case of the pig, the bits of bacon were meatier and chewier than those of the bar, which were crunchier like dried bacon bits. In the case of the pig, I could actually feel the grain of the meat as I ate the chocolate. Because of that, I give the pig an OMG rather the OM I bestowed upon the bar version, though I should note that they may have revamped the way they make their bacon chocolate, so it’s possible the bacon bar has been made just as bacon-y.

I shared some of the pig with my history of food professor, who loved it. I also offered some to my dean, who refused a taste at first, then went back for seconds. If anything, bacon chocolate always makes a splash and is a good conversation piece, making the Flying Chocolate Pig a cute (gag) gift.

Mamba Candy

I’ve seen Mamba candy on the racks at Walgreen’s for ages and finally picked up a pack when they were on sale. They’re made by Storck, the same company that makes Werther’s Originals, Riesens, and Toffifee.

mambas - mamba candy

Mamba Candy Flavors:

They come in four flavors: orange, lemon, raspberry, and strawberry. For some kooky reason, Storck has decided to package their Mamba candy so that you get 3 six-packs per package. So instead of getting a few of all of the flavors, you get six each of three of the four flavors. Weird, right? Maybe it’s some manipulative ploy to get you to buy more Mambas in search of your missing fourth flavor or something. I just got annoyed.

mamba candy flavors - mambas

My package contained lemon, orange, and raspberry. I got lucky, as citrus flavors are my favorite.

Mambas are similar to Starbursts, only they’re smaller and have a slightly firmer chew. I’d place the give of a Mamba somewhere between a Starburst and a Now and Later.

mamba candy mambas flavors

The lemon was bright with a little bit of an effervescent citrus tang. There was no acidity to this lemon flavor, yet it managed to avoid the trap of tasting like lemon floor cleaner.

Orange tasted like an orange creamsicle, which was a bit more mellow than what I expected. I personally didn’t care for the raspberry, as it carried with it a weird, seedy flavor. I can see others enjoying it, but it’s not for me.

Mamba gets an OM from me. I finished the entire pack over the course of a few days – they’re rather addictive – but I don’t think I would by them again.