Chow’s Summer Gift Guide

Chow’s Summer Gift Guide 2008 has been posted. While there are no actual candy items, Vosges (which I’ve reviewed quite a bit) has a product that made it on the list: their Red Velvet Mini Party Cake. It looks delicious and gorgeous, but really, $60 for a cake that only serves four? Not even including shipping, which will run you $32.50 for 2nd day air to keep it from going bad? Must be nice to be made of money.

If I had $92.50 to spend on Vosges, I’d eat their incredible truffles and Exotic Chocolate Bars until I exploded. Great red velvet cake can be found in bakeries and restaurants all over, and you can even make one yourself. Creamy, indulgent, and excitingly flavored chocolate, not so easy to find.

And, in completely non-candy related Chow Gift Guide news, a book edited by my former History of Food professor, Food: A History of Taste, made the cut as well.  It was also nominated for a James Beard Award but lost out to something about oysters (that probably only won because it picked a weirdly obscure topic and was automatically charming; I am, of course, clearly biased on this topic).

Cherry Mash

I’ve tasted quite a few candies and confections that I actively disliked for the sake of this blog (it was fun walking down candy memory lane by going through my archives), including some Russian mockolate things that made me want to vomit (nothing against Russian candies; just those in particular were nasty). The Cherry Mash, like the Idaho Spud, was a Candy Freak nostalgia candy (made since 1918) that I just had to try. And, like the Idaho Spud, it proved to be disappointing, to say the least.

The Cherry Mash website claims that the Cherry Mash has been America’s Favorite Cherry Flavored Candy Bar. I can’t think of another cherry flavored candy bar, but, even without any competition, I still don’t see how this could take the title of America’s Favorite anything.

For starters, it doesn’t look the least bit appetizing. Immediately out of the wrapper, it looks like a giant lump. Because there’s nothing to offer any size perspective in the picture below, it kind of looks like a disorganized Ferrero Rocher. In real life, that would be perfectly fine if it were Ferrero Rocher-sized, but take that quarter-sized Rocher and blow it up to the size of my fist, and you get a much less attractive lump.

The “Cherry Mash consists of a soft cherry flavored center containing real maraschino cherries covered in a mixture of chopped roasted peanuts and chocolate coating.” The chocolate coating was dry dry dry, and the supposedly roasted peanuts added the texture of nuts without any flavor of nuts (though it did give the thing a slight tinge of peanut smell), which made the coating even drier. The frighteningly pink cherry center tasted of sugar and cough syrup fruitiness. I find it amusing that they tout “real maraschino cherries” when there’s already something unnaturally fake about maraschino cherries to begin with.

The missing bite in the photo is super tiny because it was all I could stomach. I really, really tried to take a second bite for a proper tasting and a better picture, but I just couldn’t do it. What really got to me was the smell, which was overpoweringly cloying with the sickly scent of artificial cherry flavoring. I’d bring it near my mouth for another bite and then have to pull away. Suffice it to say, this gets a run-away-and-don’t-look-back that made me once again wonder if I need to revamp my rating system so that I could give negative scores. (Edit 10/25/09: I did and changed the original O to a .)

Kinder Cereali

I once wrote that I’ve yet to meet a Ferrero product I didn’t like. As my Lily O’Briens experience showed, I’m not above eating my words. The Kinder Cereali bar was not for me.

The packaging on my Kinder Cereali is all in Italian because I got it from my friend Andrew, who was lucky enough to spend his spring break in Italy. All expenses paid, I believe, as he is a geology major. There are few geology majors at Yale, so even undergrads get special treatment and get to do cool things and go on cool trips.

Unlike most Ferrero/Kinder products, the Kinder Cereali contains no hazelnut. Instead, it is chocolate-covered puffed wheat and a frosting-like confection. I guess if the wheat is supposed to be like cereal, the frosting is meant to approximate milk? If so, then this bar is reminiscent of those horribly processed Milk ‘N Cereal bars that General Mills makes.

I love how the Cereali looked outside of the wrapper. It’s already tiny as it, more fun-sized than full-sized, and even still it’s neatly pre-segmented. And the little imprints of heads of wheat are a lovely touch that make the whole thing quite darling (can you tell I’ve been in England for a couple of weeks now?).

The puffed wheat was, for me, an unexpected taste sensation because it was different from the usual candy bar go-to of crisped rice. The wheat was similar to puffed rice, but with more texture and flavor. Think Smacks instead of Rice Krispies. The milky white frosting that surrounded the wheat puffs tasted blandly of blah vanilla frosting. Finally, the layer of chocolate that coats the whole thing is quite thin but creamy.

The Kinder Cereali wasn’t bad, exactly, but it wasn’t good either. It just kind of… was. And though the use of wheat instead of rice made it different, it didn’t really make it better. Just a non-negative, tepid O.

Emily’s Chocolates Contest Winner

Congratulations to….. Emily! (what a coincidence), the winner of my Emily’s Chocolates giveaway, courtesy of Emily’s Chocolates in honor of National Candy Month. She will be receiving a bunch of their goodies, and I will be jealous and bury my sorrows in tea and a scone, or something.

If you’re curious, I used an online random number generator to select the winning comment number.

Meiji Chocolate Tasting, part II

Part II of II of the Meiji Chocolate tasting (courtesy of my worldly friend Michael) that started on Monday. Today, we shall begin with the somewhat incongruously named Black Chocolate.

Why incongruous, you ask? Because for a bar that’s named BLACK in giant letters, this one isn’t very dark in taste or appearance, though it did have a nice snap to it. You can see the coloring for yourself below. It’s definitely brown, not black, and it’s not even a very dark brown at that.

This “dark” bar had a nicely smooth melt, but that’s less of an accomplishment when your cacao percentage isn’t that high. It also tasted quite sweet, for too sweet for a dark bar. I found its finish to be fruity; berries, perhaps? Overall, an OM. As chocolate, it’s not that bad, but it’s also not that great. As a dark chocolate bar, it should hang its head in shame.

The Meiji Rich Matcha bar was another bar where the color is worth noting. Matcha is a green tea used in Japanese tea ceremonies and is also used as a flavoring for lots of Japanese foods. The wrapper is an iridescent green and is sort of pretty, in a cheaply flashy way.

The chocolate bar itself, not so much. Instead of being a bright, fresh, spring-timey green, it’s the color of pea soup. While I’m unsure as to how appetizing bright green chocolate would look, I can tell you that G.I. Joe green chocolate is not appetizing. Especially when it smells and tastes like flowers.

I don’t know if matcha is supposed to taste like flowers, but Meiji’s Rich Matcha bar had a strong floral scent and a sweet floral flavor with a slightly bitter finish that lingers a bit, almost imperceptibly. I’d wear that lovely floral scent as a perfume, but I didn’t like eating it in my chocolate. This bar was really not for me and gets a . You can read Terry’s take on it here; he didn’t much care for it either.

Meiji Chocolate Tasting, part I

My friend Michael brought me a ton of candies from Japan, including four Meiji chocolate bars. I shall review two today and two on Wednesday, making them parts N and N+1 in my Asian candies series (sorta forgot to keep counting on that one). First up is Meiji Hi Milk.

Like all the Meiji bars (I think; my notes are annoyingly ambiguous on that, so I may be misremembering), the Meiji Hi Milk came sealed in a thin foil wrapper that did a wonderful job of keeping it fresh. It had been sitting in the bottom of my desk for several months but tasted great. If only individual wrappers didn’t come with the sustainability guilt trip.

The chocolate itself had a crisp and clean snap. It smelled thick and creamy, and it tasted that way too. The middle of the flavor profile was incredibly sweet, with the buttery caramel tones that I’ve come to associate with Asian milk chocolate. Far better than any Hershey’s bar, this deserves an OMG.

Meiji also makes a Milk Chocolate bar that, as far as I can tell, is slightly darker than the Hi Milk but is still mighty milky.

The Milk Chocolate is a slightly darker shade of brown than the Hi Milk, and if you look closely, you can see that the Meiji imprint is sharper on the Milk than the Hi Milk, which is why I’m pretty sure the Milk Chocolate bar has a higher cacao percentage.

Despite the fact that I think it has more cacao, the Milk bar tasted sweeter to me. It was also much fruitier, with a great cocoa finish. And, like the Hi Milk, it was rich and thick and creamy. Also an OMG, though it’s not as indulgent as the Hi Milk. My like of these two sweet and creamy milk chocolate bars is part of what got me wondering if I’ve developed a greater tolerance for sweetness, by the way.

Here’s a more tempered review from Mariko at Candy Addict. Try to stop yourself before you get to the Black review; that one’s posting on Wednesday.

Thorntons Alpini-inspired bar Continental

Thorntons seems to be pretty well known in England but unheard of in the US. I actually had this bar in America, a month or so before I arrived in the UK, courtesy of my British friend Michael (the same one who gave me all the Japanese candy that I’ve been reviewing. He’s British but lives in Kobe. And he’s also American because of his parents’ citizenship. Or something like that). I’m glad I didn’t let my impression of this bar turn me off on Thorntons entirely, for I’ve since had fresh stuff straight from a Thorntons shop that I liked much better than this bar.

The wrapper bills this as “delicious milk chocolate, dusted with icing sugar, and a golden roasted hazelnut and almond praline center.” Too many commas in that sentence, I think. From what I can tell from browsing the Thorntons website, this chocolate bar is the bigger version of their Alpini truffle. I think it was better off little, since it doesn’t look like much as a chocolate bar. Mine, at least, was somewhat irregularly formed, and while the uneven coating of powdered sugar looks nice on the truffles, it just looks sloppy on the bar.

The center was quite creamy and hazelnutty, but not in the nice roasty hazelnut way that I love. Instead, it tasted rather artificial, making it not unpleasant, exactly, but nothing to crow about. The almond praline of the center gives the whole thing a nice crunch and a super sweet tinge. For me, the chocolate coating was unremarkable, but I’ve since had better Thornton’s truffles with nicer chocolate, so I think it may have been a lack of freshness issue with the bars.

Overall, I found this bar to be overly sweet for me, though others may like it. Again, I’ve since had a few of their truffles, singularly purchased straight from the shop, and I liked those more. Freshness, I’m sure, has a lot to do with it, and I’m wondering if I’ve lately developed even more of a sweet tooth – that is, a highly tolerance for sweetness – recently. Something to ponder, I suppose. At any rate, this bar warrents just an O; I had no desire to buy more Thorntons bars when I visited the shop, and I still don’t.

Half off Michel Cluizel!

Last Tuesday, I flew from JFK to Gatwick, London, so of course I had to pop into the JFK duty free shop to look for candy deals. They had Ghirardelli and Godiva and Cadbury and Toblerone and more, but none of it was particularly special or well-priced, so I nearly left without buying anything. But just as I was turning to leave, a display of Michel Cluizel chocolates caught my eye. And at the top, a sign stating that, for a limited time, all Michel Cluizel chocolates were 50% off. Eep!

I bought two boxes of his champignon mushrooms that I so loved in this review. That’s 16 mushrooms for a flat $17. Considering that they’re usually at least $2 per mushroom (if you can find them in the first place) I got a great and delicious candy deal!

One box is already half gone; the other I’m saving to give to my aunt when I visit her in Liverpool. No one tell her I got it on sale! I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know that I candy review, since the last time she called to check up on me, she asked me how I found the food in England before asking if I knew anything about UK candy or if I even ate that much candy in the first place.