Paynes Poppets – Mint and Toffee

Poppets are a UK treats that I came across while I was in Cambridge. I’ve seen them in Mint, Toffee and Raisin but didn’t buy the latter as I don’t really like chocolate covered raisins. The Poppets boxes have strangely eye-catching packaging with random remarks on the back. For example, here’s the front of their Mint box:

Okay, gnome, with a fishing pole. Kinda weird. Gets weirder on the back: “Dad always wondered where the fish had disappeared to… Aaahh bless, it must be his age!” The Toffee box has a pail full of sand and with a shovel inside, and the back says, “He still finds sand in his ears… Amazing as it was 3 years ago that we buried him on the beach!” Both boxes end with the tagline, “Remember when?”

Enough about the packaging; how do they taste?

The mint Poppets are a so-so dark chocolate coating around a mildy minty fondant center. The pieces were pseudo-spherical, in that they were round but irregularly shaped. They were slightly refreshing, and that combined with their poppability earns them an OM.

Toffee Poppets are similarly sized and shaped. Unlike the mint Poppets, the toffee ones have a mild milk chocolate coating. The caramel inside is hard and sticky and is pretty good at working its way into your teeth. It starts off super firm, then warms and softens. I liked them. They were like sophisticated Milk Duds, as the caramel had nice dark tones to it. Another OM.

So overall, the Poppets fared decently well. They’re worth an impulse buy at the counter, if you happen to be in the country where they’re sold.

Starburst GummiBursts

I have no idea how long Starburst GummiBursts have been on the market. The bag says New!, but I bought it at a Big Lots. If you don’t know, Big Lots sells closeout goods of all kinds, including candy, making it a great place to go for random candy finds. For example, my neighborhood Big Lots still has giant bags of Limited Edition Indiana Jones Mint Crisp M&Ms available. I almost bought one (they’re pretty good), but this was at home, and the bag was too big and heavy to fly back to school. Anywho, on to the Starbursts.

Like regular Starbursts, the GummiBursts come in four flavors: strawberry, cherry, orange, and lemon. Unlike regular Starbursts, these are “liquid filled gummies” rather than candy chews.

They have the texture of a soft gummi (though not as soft as fruit gems) with just the right amount of springiness. The liquid inside is clear and oozy and gooey, similar to the goo inside Gushers, but less sticky. GummiBursts are much easier to eat than Gushers, as they don’t get stuck in your teeth, and the textural combination of the gummi and the goo makes them quite palatable.

The orange gummi had a muted citrus flavor, while the liquid inside was slightly more sour. Overall, it was pretty meh and not nearly as bright as orange Starburst chews. The lemon gummi was initially sweet. After a second or two, a nice lemon zestiness kicks in, and the whole thing has a good lemon-y finish. Here the goo doesn’t add much.

Strawberry was the pink/less red one (bottom right). It had a rotund berry flavor. Cherry, the darkest red, doesn’t taste like anything for a second or two. Then the cherriness comes in, and it has a nicely fruity finish.

As best as I could tell, the liquid part doesn’t add much in terms of specific flavor, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same liquid filling was in the different flavors of gummi. Still, it was an important textural component, as it made eating the GummiBursts fun and addictive, making them OM-worthy.

Frey Tiramisu

I’d never heard of Frey branded chocolates until I saw them in a Target. They caught my eye because they were on sale, 3 for $5, so I thought it was a great time to give them a try. I bought a tiramisu bar, a plain dark bar, and a chili bar because I love tiramisu the dessert and was curious as to how it would translate to chocolate, because I’m planning another chocolate tasting party soon, and because I love chili chocolate. Yum!

If you didn’t know, tiramisu is an Italian dessert (now pretty ubiquitous in restaurants of all kinds of cuisine) made of lady fingers soaked in liqueur and coffee and layered with marscarpone cheese and cream. The paperboard outer wrapper claims “extra fine milk chocolate with creamy marscarpone filling.” See what’s missing there? The coffee and the liqueur (and the ladyfingers, but I see those more as a flavor vehicle)!

The pre-segmented bar was super, super greasy and carried quite the fatty sheen. Even at room temperature, it was soft and pliable, so that it bent and ripped instead of snapping and breaking. The second ingredient listed is palm kernel oil, which explains the texture and the whoa high saturated fat content. When I rewrapped the rest of the bar for later sharing, there was a grease spot on the paperboard.

The bar consisted of milk chocolate sandwiching that white marscarpone filling. The quality of the chocolate was only so-so; better than Hershey’s but nothing to crow about. It did pair nicely with the slightly cheesey (think cream cheese, but a bit tangier) marscarpone filling, which makes me rethink the cheese-filled Zotter bar that I’d passed on.

I was disappointed by the lack of boozey notes or coffee notes and put off by the serious greasiness of the bar. It tasted pretty good, but I’m going to give it an O because I know other brands make tiramisu bars, and I’d like to try their take – I think Frey’s tiramisu chocolate could be easily upstaged. In the meantime, real tiramisu is better than this bar.

You can read Alicia’s take on the bar at her blog.

PS: Today is the first day of my last semester of classes as an undergrad. Eep!

U.K. Skittles

Did you know that Skittles are different in the U.K. and the U.S.? When I say Skittles, I mean standard Skittles, not random limited edition/non-standard Skittles that are so varied that I have trouble keeping track of them. In the U.S., standard Skittle flavors are red – strawberry (I think), purple – grape, yellow – lemon, green – lime, and orange – orange. Friends of mine already know that I only eat the three citrus flavors (I usually don’t particularly care for red and purple candies in general) and pawn the red and purple ones off on them.

In the U.K., the purple ones are blackcurrant instead of grape. The other color/flavors remain the same, but they taste and look different. As you can see in the above photo (I apologize for the poor quality; I blame lack of natural sunlight in rainy England), U.K. Skittles are more muted in color. It’s especially noticeable in the green ones.

I bought two tiny 10 pence bags of Skittles. The first bag contained no red ones, and the second contained only two. Maybe it was just coincidence, or maybe they make fewer red Skittles in England. The red ones tasted, well, red, and as best I can remember, they seemed pretty much the same as their U.S. counterparts. Lime was also similar, but I swear the orange was zestier and the lemon sweeter and less sour across the pond.

And the one you’ve all been waiting for (I’m guessing, as it’s the one we don’t get here): blackcurrant. Blackcurrant is a pretty popular fruit flavor in the U.K., and for good reason, I think, as I enjoy it. It tastes similar to grape but has these darker raspberry undertones that make it more interesting. Overall, I give U.K. Skittles an OM. I’d buy them again if I could conveniently do so. Then again, U.S. Skittles are pretty good too, as long as you have friends on hand who’ll eat the flavors you don’t like. 

A new state sweet for Washington state?

My friend Rita, who gave me my box of Aplets and Cotlets, shared this article with me about how a Washington state representative wants to make them the state sweet.

I think making a brand name product an official state anything crosses a line, but I must admit that Liberty Orchards makes tasty confections. Their fruit chocolates were also good. And people from the area do seem to be pretty passionate about their Aplets and Cotlets.

Amano Jembrana

Waaay back in 2008, I reviewed Amano’s then complete line-up of single-origin bars and gave them an enthusiastic ZOMG! They’ve since released a new Jembrana bar and updated their packaging with a shinier, artsier look. I was pleasantly surprised with a free pair of their newest bars for tasting. Apparently they’d kept my name and address on file from the last time I reviewed their bars, and boy was I glad that they did.

The press release claims as follows: “Amano Artisan Chocolate introduces a new, limited edition chocolate bar from Jembrana on the southwest coast of Bali. Like Amano’s other single origin chocolate bars, the Jembrana is made by hand, from bean to bar, in small batches with 70% cocoa… The Jembrana Single Origin Bar ($7.00/2oz) has a beautiful, rich chocolate flavor with nice fruit notes that are also a little nutty. The bar is rich and gentle at the same time, without any harshness or astringency.”

At it’s suggested retail price, Amano bars are pricey, but very few chocolate makers in the U.S. actually make their own chocolate, starting from cocoa bean scratch, and their bars are a tasting revelation. I took my tasting notes before I read the back of the box or the press release so as not to be influenced by their descriptions.

The chocolate was super smooth and creamy on the tongue but not in the thick way that milk chocolate melts. There were no dairy notes whatsoever. Instead, I got a rich chocolate with a hint of fruitiness in the finish, which was quite lovely and lingered just long enough. When I revisted the bar, I got more of an almond nuttiness in addition to that fruitiness. For those of you are wary of dark chocolate, I didn’t find the bar at all bitter, though I am a self-professed dark chocolate lover.

Altogether an excellent bar with a great flavor profile. I give it an OMG, as I think I lost some of the enjoyment in tasting it on its own without contrasting chocolates to truly highlight its flavor profile. And, if I remember correctly, I enjoyed the Cuyagua more. Still, a great bar. I have one left at school that I intend to share with friends, to spread the fancy chocolate tasting gospel. Save your pennies, and instead of buying seven Hershey’s bars, get this instead.

Hot Chocolate Roundup from the NY Times

On Christmas Eve, the Times Dining Section devoted their $25 and under column to chocolate places with high quality hot chocolates. And oh yeah, food too.

And from the links below that article, an older Travel section piece on hot chocolate in the city. I’ve had La Maison du Chocolat hot chocolate before – it’s super rich, and I highly recommend sharing.

And another older linked to regional piece about handmade chocolates that had slipped under my radar the first time around. I’m begging my friend Chris, who keeps a car on campus, for a road trip to Knipschildt, which I’ve gotten to taste in a Calhoun chocolate tasting. I wonder…if I pick up truffles for another tasting while I’m at their Chocopologie cafe, would my college spring for the gas money? I’ve also gotten to taste and review the truffles of Chef Staley of Madison Chocolates

Dove Promises – Dark Chocolate and Dark Chocolate Mint Flavored Caramel

Today’s review is of two Dove chocolates with names that are each a mouthful: Dove’s Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate Promises and Dark Chocolate Mint Flavored Caramel Promises. Dove Promises are individually foil-wrapped squares with a “Promise” written on the inside of the foil, sort of a fortune cookie-type gimmick. Mine came from Candy Yum Yum’s Dove Chocolate Giveaway. First up, the Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate Promises.

I used to have fond memories of Dove chocolates being wonderfully creamy and smooth – silky, in fact. Sadly, the package that I received from Dove contained old, bloomed chocolate, and the bloom really adversely affected the texture. My “silky smooth” Promises were dry and brittle. I know I didn’t pay for the chocolate, and beggars can’t be choosers, but you’d think Dove would try a little harder if they’re giving away chocolate as a promotion.

The Promises are at least nicely sized for chocolate tasting. You can pop the whole thing in your mouth and let it melt on your tongue, or you can chomp it up in two bites. Because mine had bloomed, it didn’t melt very well, so I wasn’t really able to get a nice tongue-coating tasting melt. It tasted mostly of cocoa with a slightly sweet finish. An O.

My Dark Chocolate Mint Flavored Caramel Promises were also bloomed. Sigh. In their case, however, the bloom can’t bear all the blame for the negative review. Why make caramel mint flavored? And then why cover all that weirdness in chocolate? That combination just didn’t work for me. The mint wasn’t very strong, and it was just odd when combined with the sweet caramel. To top it all off, the whole thing left an unpleasant aftertaste. Another O. You can read Cybele’s similar take on them here.

My favorite part about the chocolates were the Promises. I happened to get two rather salacious ones in my tasting: “Naughty can be nice” and “Temptation is fun… giving in is even better.” Dove should gather all of their slightly scandalous Promises and market them for Valentine’s Day or something. If there was a way to tell what the Promises were before you unwrapped them, I could’ve used those chocolates to pick up boys. Then again, the chocolates weren’t that great, so maybe not.