Via Chocolate Obsession: Charles Chocolates turns four tomorrow, and they’re running a few promotions to go along with their birthday. I’ve never tried them myself (I came close last winter, but after our Scharffen Berger tour, my folks elected to get Dim Sum instead of touring another chocolate factory), but I’ve read good things. See Consumer Reports, Candy Blog, and Candy Addict.
I do my best to be as objective as possible, and when extraneous factors influence that objectivity, I always try to disclose them. That’s why I always tell you when something I’m reviewing was a free sample, or when I’m tasting something from a candy genre that I personally dislike (like white chocolate or licorice).
In today’s review, there’s no way the sheer cuteness of the Milky Way Magic Stars didn’t make me think more highly of them. The Magic Stars are basically just tiny bits of milk chocolate, shaped like stars. No biggie, expect that they’re imprinted with little emoticon expressions, which turns them into ridiculously adorable tiny bits of milk chocolate, shaped like stars. See for yourself:
The top row is my favorite. Pacifier, surprise, and unibrow; what’s not to love? As far as taste goes, they’re your standard British milk chocolate (a fresh dairy finish), which I far prefer to U.S. milk chocolate (sour Hershey’s tinge). The Magic Stars chocolate isn’t especially creamy or indulgent or really noteworthy in any way, but it’s pretty good for mass produced. And the stars are just so darn cute! An OM from me. I wish I’d bought more to share with friends at home.
I’ve previously written about Hershey’s Cacao Reserve line, their attempt to make better chocolate than their low quality, increasingly vegetable oil laced everyday fare. Their Single Origin Collection is a blatantly obvious but still smart attempt to jump on the single origin bandwagon. Like the word “Belgium,” the “single origin” moniker can lend cachet but doesn’t always deliver. Hershey’s, however, does a pretty nice job of making single origin chocolate accessible to the non-foodie snob.
The collection contains three chocolates of three origins and three cacao percentages. There’s Java, which is a 37% milk, Arriba, a 50% billed as dark milk, and Sao Tome, a 70% dark. They come individually wrapped with cute little locale pictures and different colors depending on the percentage. And they were perfectly sized for a two-bite tasting.
The Java is a creamy milk chocolate with strong caramel undertones. It wasn’t as thick on the tongue as I would’ve expected a 37% to be, which left me slightly disappointed. Arriba also carries a creamy melt with an undertone that I had some trouble placing. I finally decided that it tasted like butter.
Unsurprisingly (because I prefer dark to milk chocolate), the Sao Tome was my favorite of the bunch. It had a super sharp snap to it, with strong cocoa notes and a slight sour berry fruitiness. While the Sao Tome made a nice impression, the overall collection isn’t that exciting, so it only gets an O.
You can taste some of the cacao nuances, but other, more expensive bars do that better. Still, it’s a great way to ease yourself into chocolate tasting and an affordable way to host a little chocolate tasting party. For that, Hershey’s gets an A for effort.
Between 5 and 8 pm tonight, stop by your local Cold Stone Creamery for a free scoop of ice cream. And if you can, make a donation to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
I’d read about Nestle Smarties on candy blogs before (Cybele has a nice Smarties v. M&Ms post, and Candy Addict wrote about them as well), and I’d even eaten a few in lab (before the days of M&Ms colorworks, Smarties were apparently better suited as food rewards), but it wasn’t until I got to England that I finally got to have the full Smarties experience.
If you haven’t realized by now, UK Smarties are a far cry from the Smarties you can buy in the US, which can lead to confusion in candy novices. While US Smarties are compressed sugar candies (I’ve previously reviewed the Giant version), UK Smarties are chocolate candies in a panned sugar shell, like M&Ms.
Nestle Smarties, however, differ from M&Ms in a few key areas. Most importantly, the orange Smarties are lightly flavored. I always save my blue M&Ms for last because they are my favorite, even though I know that M&Ms all taste the same. I just like the blue ones better and have had to defend myself to many a perplexed friend. In the case of Nestle Smarties (which recently brought blue back; they had dropped it when they stopped using artificial coloring but then found a natural blue in cyanobacteria. Yum?), the blue doesn’t actually taste blue. Only the orange one tastes like anything (orange; duh), but at least people can’t say, “But they all taste the same!” about Nestle Smarties.
Nestle Smarties are also thinner, flatter, and more irregularly shaped than M&Ms are. They also have a more muted color scheme, possibly due to their use of natural colorings, and the coloring is less evenly distributed, causing some Smarties to look lightly mottled. Finally, Nestle Smarties have much thicker shells than M&Ms do, which mutes the chocolate flavor a bit.
Smarties, like M&Ms, also come in a mini form. Also like mini M&Ms, they’re a popular ice cream topping. My roommate, who spent her summer in Uganda, brought me a Smarties bar, which is basically the Smarties version of an M-Azing bar – mini-Smarties in Nestle milk chocolate – that was decent for a mass milk bar. Overall, I still prefer M&Ms to chocolate, just because I like the thinner shell, but there was nothing offensive about the Smarties. A solid O.
Sorry for not posting this earlier; lack of computer-age has made me behind the times. Apparently, Cybele from Candy Blog did a bit on the Today Show lamenting the cheapening of chocolate. Go Cybele!
There’s a wonderful restaurant in Cambridge (England) called Le Gros Franck near the city’s train station. Apparently, at night it’s a fine dining establishment. I only went there during the day, when it’s a French cafe that serves a deliciously decadent salmon crepe. Nom nom. They also had a wide selection of Carambars, which are these French taffy/chew type candies. They definitely cost more than 5 cents (what Wikipedia gives as their suggested retail price) at Le Gros Franck, but I forgive them for upselling a bit. With import costs and the weak dollar, some things can’t be helped.
Carambars are long, thin rectangular prisms of a soft and chewy taffy that’s not at all sticky. See above photo for size reference. If you check the Wikipedia page, you can see that Carambars come in a bazillion flavors. And if you can read French, you can check out the Carambar website for another list under la marque Carambar, des gouts pour tout (tastes for all, I think). I bought one of every flavor Le Gros Franck carried, so here’s the quickshot list and mini-reviews:
- strawberry – surprisingly bright and unartificial
- raspberry – strong seediness
- lemon – bright and fake
- pomme d’amour – caramel apple? like a chewy taffy version of those caramel apple lollipops. Yum!
- big oouu pomme cassis – blech. seedy raspberryness. I looked it up – it’s blackcurrant and apple
- pineapple – WHOA! So pineappley; fresh with a tinge of acid. A clear ZOMG!
- mango – also whoa for it’s genuine flavor, carried through by a slightly bitter bite. It almost tastes stringy, if there’s a way to taste like a texture.
- diabolo cassis – more blackcurrant? Good, but not really blackcurranty. I get more citrus and fizz
- peach tea – like peaches with a tea finish rather than like tea with a peach finish.
Overall, Carambars earn an OM from me, with a hearty ZOMG! for the pineapple. I think there are a few more flavors that I bought that I have yet to taste too. If I ever get around to those, you’ll get a Carambar, Part II review.
In belated news, chocolate maker Robert Steinberg died on Thursday. Sad.
The other day, I was chatting with a friend about the candy blog, and she made a comment about how it must be hard to keep finding new candy to try. You’d think so, but no. There are bazillions of types of candy out there (various plain chocolate bars alone could take ages to get through), and when you go international, you find even more. The Milky Way Crispy Roll is unavailable in the U.S. (I bought it in England), which I think is a shame, as I rather liked it.
Readers unfamiliar with U.K. and U.S. candy differences should know that in the U.K., Milky Ways are more like 3 Musketeers. What Americans call Milky Ways, the British would call a Mars bar. And what Americans call a Mars bar, well, they don’t make those anymore, right? So it doesn’t matter (I think they’re like Snickers Almonds?).
Anyway, the Milky Way Crispy Roll is a eggroll (of the sweet variety, like a Pepperidge Farm Pirouette, rather than the savoury deep-fried version) filled with a whipped nougat-y filling. According to the wrapper, it’s “milk chocolate (30%) covered wafer biscuit fingers with a lightly whipped filling.”
The eggroll/wafer biscuit thingie is nice and crispy and carries a faint buttery flavor. The whipped filling was overly sweet for me and only partly mitigated by the plain lightness of the eggroll, and the chocolate coating is serviceable, but nothing to write home about. Still, I found it a rather elegant indulgence for a mass produced bar and award it an OM.
Chocolate Fondue a la Chalet Suisse
- 3 (3 oz) Toblerone bars
- 1/2 cup light or heavy cream
- 2 tbsp kirsch brandy or Cointreau
- Stir over low heat until chocolate is melted
- 1 oz strawberry schnapps
- 1/2 oz creme de cacao (white)
- 1/2 oz cream
- Stir with ice and serve in red wine glass. Garnish with strawberry.
- 2.5 oz ruby port
- 1.5 oz Yellow Chartreuse
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp grated chocolate
- Mix ingredients with ice in a blender and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Top with grated chocolate.
- 1 oz. light rum
- 1/2 oz. creme de cacao (brown)
- 1/2 oz. creme de menth (white)
- 1 tbsp light cream
- 1 tsp 151-proof rum
- Shake with ice and strain over ice cubes