Hedonist Spring Collection

I went back to Rochester over spring “break” to work on some brain data I left there. Grad students don’t get vacation! Fortunately, my visit was timed so that I was able to pick up a free sample of Hedonist Artisan Chocolates’s new Spring Collection (full description and “artist’s notes” here).

While in the shop, I got a chance to chat with head chocolatier Nathaniel Mich about his creative process in developing the collection. He was inspired by spring gardens and put together a collection that utilized a variety of flavors, textures, and techniques.

Strawberry Rhubarb is Hedonist’s first layered truffle. It was gorgeous to behold, with a bottom layer comprised of a creamy pink strawberry ganache and a top layer that was a translucent rhubarb fruit pate.

The strawberry ganache reminded me of super flavor-concentrated strawberry yogurt, a great mix of fruity sweetness mixed with dairy creaminess and just a tinge of tartness. The rhubarb layer was a soft gel that was bright and sweet. Apparently it’s made with a local rhubarb wine – who knew there was such a thing?

I loved the berry brightness of this treat, and its dusky chocolate chaser was a great ending note. It was like a perfectly ripe chocolate-covered strawberry distilled into one creamy bite. Easily my favorite of the collection.

The Earl Grey Caramel was a dark chocolate dipped caramel that was infused and topped with organic tea leaves. The dark chocolate coating cracked and flaked off when I bit into it, revealing a speckled caramel center.

The caramel was chewy and slightly sticky with just a bit of grit and grain to the texture.

I usually like chewing caramels, but I preferred to let this one melt into my mouth so that I could savor its depth of flavor – a deep burnt sugar caramel with woodsy tea notes that had a hit of salt and a slight bitterness at the end.

Porcini Thyme was a rolled truffle coated in chocolate and dusted with cocoa. It was deep and woodsy and earthy with a dash of smokiness. The thyme brought a mild herbal grassiness to the finish.

Mushroom and chocolate is a unique flavor combination that I’ve only had once before. The bittersweet and savory blend was well-balanced here. It’s definitely an unusual surprise for the tastebuds and harkens back to chocolate truffles’ original namesake.

Tarragon Carrot was a dipped truffle topped with a tiny piece of chewy dried carrot. It started off sweet from the chocolate, then turned earthy with a vegetal rootiness, and finished with carrot’s sweetness.

The tarragon added an herbal undertone that was hinted at throughout the flavor profile. The sizeable dried carrot bit on my pieces added a chewiness that distracted from the truffle. From the looks of the website, they’ve replaced it with a sprinkle of smaller dried carrot bits, so that’s probably no longer an issue.

Cardamom Rosewater was a pink striped dipped truffle that started off chocolatey sweet, then became full-on gingery (cardamom is a member of the ginger family!). The ginger flavor was more like what I associate with powdered ginger spice rather than fresh ginger – it had a light edge of dry bitterness to the finish.

This truffle was sweeter than the others, either because of its milk chocolate base or the addition of honey. I wonder if the honey was what also gave the ganache an unusually smooth look?

Nathaniel said the cardamom rosewater was his favorite of the collection. I feel bad for admitting that it was my least favorite – I liked it, but something has to be on the relative bottom! I just don’t like ginger enough to embrace the intensity of the gingery cardamom flavor here.

Cardamom rosewater gets an O, the tarragon carrot and porcini thyme get OMs, earl grey caramel gets an OMG, and the strawberry rhubarb earned a ZOMG! for its combination of flavor, texture, and sheer beauty in construction.

As a whole, this collection is a truly unique assortment with inventive flavor combinations that really set them apart. Compare that to Godiva’s more conventional (i.e. boring) and more expensive spring collection – there’s no question where your money should be going!


Hi-Chew Shikwasa (Okinawa Lemon)

My friends Nana and Justin have been having great adventures while living the expat life and chronicling it all in their awesome blog. They’ve been kind enough to send me great candy finds from abroad, including my all-time most popular review: Crunky Nude Balls.

Recently, they mailed me a bunch of Japanese candies, including this pack of Lime Shikwasa Hi-Chew. I originally thought these were lime, but Debby and Nana cleared that up in the comments. A Shikwasa is a tart Japanese citrus fruit with a green rind and golden flesh.

Also, there’s all kinds of fun stuff going on on that wrapper in addition to the Shikwasas. Nana has a great explanation in the comments.

I’ve reviewed a bunch of Hi-Chew in the past. Like all Hi-Chew, it comes in a pack of individually wrapped rectangles. The chew started off sproingy and then softened and became stickier.

These were a pale pistachio green with a white center. The flavor was amazingly juicy and spot on.

It was incredibly sweetly limey and zesty with the perfect edge of pithy bitterness. As the chew went on, the zestiness intensified and took on just a hint of herbal grassiness.

There was no sourness to it, and the sweetness level was perfect – tasty without being cloying – with just the right tidbit of bitterness to set it off.

I couldn’t stop popping these and would change nothing about them. Well, I would change one thing: bring them to the U.S. please! A ZOMG!

See’s Scotchmallow

Surprise! I’ve got one more See’s review for y’all. An extension of last week’s See’s week, I guess.

I’ve breezed over the See’s Scotchmallow before, and it’s near the top of my list of favorite candies. It’s about time it warranted a full review.

You can get Scotchmallows by the box, as part of an assorted box, or as a hefty, 1.5 oz. individually wrpaped bar, as I did here. The website calls them, “a delicious layer of See’s caramel with a layer of See’s honey marshmallow enrobed in rich dark chocolate”.

In bar form, they only come in milk chocolate. That milk chocolate shell had a slight snap. It had a great duskiness with hints of malt and slight notes of coffee.

The marshmallow was dense and foamy with a light pull when bitten into. It’s unlike anything you could pick up in a grocery store – it’s lightly sweet and vanilla-y, and the texture is a toothy pleasure.

The caramel was extremely chewy and sticky. It tasted of sweet, brown sugar with a slight grit at the end.

The mix of flavors and textures was sublime. The sticky caramel chew combined with the fluffy marshmallow chew plus the melting milk chocolate is a chomping pleasure, and the malty chocolate goes great with the scorchy brown sugar caramel and vanilla marshmallow.

It’s incredible how the different types of sweetness play off each other and bring out each others’ flavors. I could eat Scotchmallows for days.

I prefer the dark chocolate version because it better cuts the sweetness, but this bar version is still a favorite. An enthusiastic ZOMG!


Hedonist Salted Caramels

These salted caramels from Hedonist Artisan Chocolates were free samples that I got in the same package as the candy cane bark (Wednesday’s review). I’m a total sucker for salted caramels, especially when they’re covered in chocolate.

The label simply described them as “buttery caramel and sea salt enrobed in rich chocolate.” The box of 10 had 5 that were milk chocolate and 5 that were dark. All were sprinkled with a pinch of sea salt.

The caramel centers were a beautiful amber color flecked with little black vanilla seeds. The caramel had no pull when bitten into but was thick and sticky when chewed.

It was possible to hold the caramel on my tongue and just let it melt into a pool of sweet, limpid butteriness. Alas, I was too impatient and preferred to pick the deliciously sticky errant strands out of my teeth.

The flavor of that caramel was incredible. It tasted as deep and scorchy as it looked. It was just shy of burnt, which gave it a great complexity and just a hint of bitter edge.

The caramel itself was salted as well. Every once in a while, I’d chomp on a crunchy bit of sea salt, which released a flash of saltiness that really set off the scorchy brown butteriness of the caramel.

The milk chocolate coating added a mild sweetness and light malty chocolate flavor to the caramel. I preferred the dark chocolate version, which added a deep, rich cocoa complexity.

My only complaint was that some of the caramels with larger salt pinches were a tad too salty. But that wasn’t much of a deterrent – I polished off over half the box in my tasting session as I kept reaching for “just one more” to lock down my tasting notes.

This gets a ZOMG! in the true sense of the rating, as I was a little frightened at how quickly my box of 10 disappeared.


Chuao ChocoPod – Picante

Last week, I reviewed 2 of 3 Chuao ChocoPods that I’d picked out at Beacon Hill Chocolates. Today, I’ll review the third, the Picante.

The Picante was described as “spicy cabernet caramel”. The other two ChocoPods that I had tried were solid chocolate, so I was surprised when this one oozed liquid caramel when I tried to snap it.

Alas, I did not get a photo of that glorious ooze. I ate it instead. Sometimes candy deliciousness overwhelms my blogging instincts, I guess.

The caramel was lightly sweet and fruity with plummy flavors. A slight, tingly burn was left in its wake. That caramel was intoxicating with its complexity. If only cabernet tasted that good!

The dark chocolate shell was relatively soft and had a velvety matte melt with a deep cocoa flavor. It was a great match for the flowing caramel and pretty delicious on its own. But really, the caramel was the star here.

All in all, a unique and delicious treat. A ZOMG!

Beacon Hill Chocolates – Part II

On Wednesday, I reviewed 2 of the 5 chocolates that my boyfriend bought me from Beacon Hill Chocolates (BHC). Today, I’ll review the other 3. I’ve saved the best for last!

I’ll start with the prettily swirled gold dome. I couldn’t find this one on their website, so no fancy description. It has cacao nibs and honey, hence the beehive-like look with a cute little bumblebee painted on it.

The chocolate shell was thin with a dark, slightly fruity flavor. It was filled with a thin filling that was quite goopy. It was smooth and flowy, a limpid pool of milky deliciousness, and tasted of lightly amber honey sweetness.

The brown bits that you can see in the liquid center were cacao nibs that added a slight astringency along with a dry, chocolate flavor. This was a beautiful and uniquely delicious treat. A ZOMG!

Heart Passion Fruit was described on the BHC website as, “Exotic passion fruit center coated in a layer of dark chocolate.” I’ll admit that it looked rather tacky with its silly pink leopard print, but its taste was astonishing.

The center ganache was a surprising shade of off-white. The chocolate shell was extremely thin with a solid cocoa flavor.

The ganache was thin and smooth and melted cooly on the tongue. Its flavor was a bold delight – it was extremely bright and fruity, with a citrusy sweet passion fruit flavor that was deliciously and refreshingly exotic. Another ZOMG!

Finally, a Zinfandel-Balsamic truffle that was cutely molded into the shape of a little fish. I love the little stripes of milk chocolate lightness that stand out against the dark chocolate bulk of the body.

Its center ganache was thin and smooth with an earthy flavor of genuine cocoa duskiness. I didn’t notice any specific balsamic notes, but the Zinfandel made itself known through the addition of notes of deep red wine booziness.

I loved this ganache for its depth of flavor, but the best part was the finish. The chocolates earthiness lingered extensively on the tongue and was an absolute delight. Another ZOMG!

Beacon Hill Chocolates has curated a fine collection of fine chocolates. All of mine were winners – even my least favorite of the bunch was good! Kudos to BHC, and to the mystery chocolatiers that made these truffles.

Hedonist Farm Egg Truffles

Usually I review Easter candies after the holiday is over – love those steep next day sales! But today, I’m actually reviewing an Easter product before Easter, thanks to free samples from Hedonist Artisan Chocolates.

These Farm Egg Truffles are made to look like (aka are not made from) farm eggs. They are mind-bogglingly gorgeous with their shiny, speckled shells. Each truffle was about the size of a real egg, if that egg were cut in half and left with a flat back.

They came in Bittersweet (dark brown with white speckles), Peanut Butter (light brown with dark brown speckles), and Coconut (white with yellow streaks and blue-green speckles).

Bittersweet lived up to its name. Its ganache was dry, rich, heavy, and thick, with almost no sweetness.

It tasted of pure chocolate goodness, lots of genuine dusky cacao flavors, and a lightly smoky cocoa finish. Sometimes simple can be so good!

Peanut Butter had a dry and crumbly peanut butter ganache. I polished off the whole thing before I remembered that I had meant to retake the cross-section photo – there were whole roasted peanuts hidden in there as well!

The whole peanuts were a great addition – dry and crunchy with a strong, roasted nuttiness. They also carried a perfect hint of saltiness that really made the classic chocolate and peanut butter combination sing.

Coconut had a thin, white chocolate shell with a lusciously creamy ganache. The white chocolate was high quality, very mellow, lightly sweet, and full of vanilla goodness.

Strands of coconut were mixed into the ganache, which added a textural contrast – that special squeaky chewiness that coconut has – and a lovely floral nuttiness.

I’m a little ashamed to say that I ate all three of these in one sitting. My friends were disappointed to learn that there was none left to share, though they delighted in eating the extra Easter truffles that Hedonist also sent me.

Peanut Butter and Bittersweet get OMGs while Coconut gets a ZOMG! For the sake of my waistline, it’s probably good that these are a holiday-specific treat.

It looks like noon on April 20th is the deadline if you want to order some for yourself in time for Easter. I promise they’ll draw oohs and ahhs and yums!

Gail Ambrosius Parisian Praline Collection

As I noted yesterday, Gail Ambrosius is a gal who really has a way with chocolate. So when I was offered the chance to try a free sample of her Parisian Praline Collection, I couldn’t say yes quickly enough.

Gail was inspired to create this line after a trip to Paris. From the press release: “I expected to see a lot of innovation, but instead I was drawn to the pralines that are available in just about every patisserie. That sweet, salty, smooth and crunchy interplay is so wonderful. I came home inspired to take that experience and put my own stamp on it.

Note: all future notes in italics are descriptions from Gail Ambrosius/her PR team.

We’ll go clockwise, starting at the top left with the Orange Almond. “The sweet crunch of crushed candied almond and marzipan meld with the bright citrus zing of chopped orange peel.” It was a prettily architectural cylinder with a bit of crunch and chew to the texture.

At first I thought I tasted ginger. After I chewed a bit more, I realized that I was tasting the herbal zestiness of orange peel.

It was sweet and lightly spicy with just a hint of nuttiness from the almond and marzipan. The orange zest was the strongest note, which lingered in the finish, along with a delicious cocoa-ness.

Next is Pecan, a near cube with a notch in the corner. “The blend of pecan butter, candied toasted pecans, applewood-smoked sea salt and a balance of milk and dark chocolates reveal themselves in layers of smooth and sweet, salty and crunchy.

It started off sweet with a light, grainy crunch. Then, it suddenly, unexpectedly became salty and smoky, with an almost meaty savory bacon flavor from the sea salt.

The salt brought a bright, limey tang to the chocolate and was the highlight of the show. The pecans were nice, but to me, their nuttiness played second fiddle to that smoky salt and chocolate combination.

Pistachio Bomb was a round dome with a futuristic arc slashed into the front. “Pistachio nut butter achieves next-level perfection when combined with lime zest, white chocolate, chili verde salt and a whole, toasted pistachio.

The ganache within had an unusual mustard hue. The nut butter was a thick and smooth paste with a luxuriously velvety mouthfeel. A single whole pistachio hid in the thick of the paste.

It tasted sweet with a light nuttiness and a dairy creaminess. The spicy heat waited for a few seconds before hitting the back of my throat with a fiery wallop that was delicious and exciting!

I loved the texture and flavor complexity to this truffle. Bomb is a fitting name!

Finally, the Hazelnut, a cube with stair steps cut into the top. “Gail combines rich, thick hazelnut butter and feulletine – crushed, crunchy buckwheat crepes.

When I tasted this before reading the notes, I marveled at the extremely light airiness of what I thought were toasty rice crisps. Turns out they were bits of buckwheat crepe! An ingenious and delicious twist on a classic.

The gianduja was lovely and nutty and unexpectedly sweet, with just a hint of fruitiness. It finished on an amazingly dusky cocoa note that I wished could linger forever.

I’ve give the Orange Almond an OM, the Pistachio Bomb an OMG, and the Pecan and Hazelnut ZOMG!s. The creative novelty and engaging complexity of these truffles were just wonderful. I’m so pleased that such wonderful chocolates are being made in America – they could hold their own against any of Paris’s finest!

Vosges Bapchi’s Caramel Toffee Bar

I bought this Vosges Bapchi’s Caramel Toffee Bar along with the Organic Enchanted Mushroom that I reviewed on Monday. It’s made of 45% deep milk chocolate, sweet butter toffee, walnuts, and pecans.

The first, immediately noticeable thing about this bar was the toffee. Holy cow was it delicious!

The toffee cleaved cleanly with a great, satisfying crunch. It tasted deep and scorched with a light hint of saltiness that really highlighted the sweetness of the toffee and chocolate.

The chocolate was thick with caramel notes. There was a light nuttiness from the walnuts and pecans that was sparsely distributed. The nuts weren’t in every bite, but their presence, when it was there, was appreciated.

If my boyfriend hadn’t been sitting next to me while I tasted this bar, I would’ve polished off the whole thing on my own. Instead, I had to share it – and the two of us polished it off within minutes.

The combination of sweet and salty crunchy toffee and dusky, thick milk chocolate was irresistible. A ZOMG!

Vosges Gingerbread Toffee

I have a soft spot for Vosges Chocolates and have reviewed them often in the past. They’re usually beyond my regular budget, but this Gingerbread Toffee bar was on sale after the holidays. Vosges at half off? I couldn’t resist!

The bar was described as gingerbread spiced toffee, dark chocolate, and 65% cacao. The box’s front had some nice glamor shots of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger. All the spices that you need for gingerbread!

The bar smells deeply of cocoa with a light spiciness around the edges. The chocolate has nice spice notes, mostly of ginger with just a hint of nutmeg.

Bits of toffee are sprinkled throughout the bar. They are the best part of the whole thing! They’ve got a light, dry, brittle crunchiness with no stickiness that contrasts nicely with the smooth melt of the chocolate. And flavor-wise, they add awesome scorched flavors of toffee.

The chocolate itself has a light, coffee-scented burnt finish with a deep cocoa duskiness. I do believe there are sprinkles of sea salt in the bar as well, which add flashes of flavor intensity.

This bar was perfectly balanced in every way. It was a great mix of flavors and textures. An enthusiastic ZOMG!