SunDomes assorted chocolates

My favorite part about Whole Foods is their bulk food bins. I can pick out as much or as little as I want! Instead of buying a whole jar of a spice when I only need a pinch, I can buy just a pinch. Instead of buying a whole tub full of chocolate-covered almonds when I have a craving, I can buy just a handful.

And instead of buying a whole box or bag or whatever these usually come in, I can pick out just the SunDome flavors that I want to try: Chip ‘N Mint, Cashew Coconut Crunch, Mocha Jolt, and Chocolate Almond Toffee.

I’m currently having a hard time finding out more about these, as the SunRidge Farms website is under construction as of the time I’m writing this post. Best I can tell, they fit into Whole Foods’ image of crunchy-granola (literally) save-the-earth ethos pretty well. I can’t tell you, unfortunately, how many different kinds of SunDomes there are. I do remember the bin having at least twice as many different kinds as I bought – I wanted to get one of each, but that got heavy and too expensive.

The SunDomes are, expectedly, dome-shaped blocks of chocolate flavored in accordance with their names. The chocolate blocks are solid and thick, so not that easy to bite through and also not that easy to share. Each dome is sizeable, about half the size of a hockey puck.

Chip ‘N Mint had a strong, pepperminty scent with little bits of cookie or rice crisp that gave it a hint of crunch. The peppermint was nicely balanced – noticeable, but not too strong.

Mocha Jolt had a strong, genuine coffee taste that was quite enjoyable. There was a slight grit to the texture, which I’m pretty sure was ground up bits of coffee beans. Both of these were solid and thick, with a hefty, dull snap.

Cashew Coconut Crunch turned out to be a surprise. Its chocolate was a bit softer and milkier. It smelled strongly of coconut and had a hint of toasted dry coconut flavor that mingled with the slight nuttiness imparted by tiny bits of cashews sprinkled throughout. The surprise? Raisins! They added a fruity-raisin taste that sort of worked and sort of didn’t. For me, at least, that’s also how I feel about raisins. They sort of work as a snack, but they sort of don’t.

Finally, the Chocolate Almond Toffee, which also had a bit more give when bitten into. It starts with a slight nuttiness, thanks to the tiny bits of almond embedded throughout, that’s more roasty than that of the Cashew Coconut Crunch. That nuttiness then gives way to a burnt sugar note from the toffee aspect. I appreciated its complexity and flavor development.

I wish these came in smaller portions. I ate them across several sessions because they were just so big, and one bite of each was plenty satisfying. If they came in little tasting disks or something, I’d buy all of them again. As is, I think the Mocha Jolt and the Chocolate Almond Toffee are worth buying again, so they get OMs, while the Cashew Coconut Crunch and the Chip ‘N Mint are too big for their own good and get Os.

Southern Candymakers’ Pralines

While I spent my spring break in the chilly to frigid northeast, my roommate and other friends went south. I was jealous of their sunshine and tans, but at least my friends were thoughtful enough to bring me candy gifts from their warmer climes! Specifically, I got a box of assorted pralines from one of New Orleans’ candy institutions, Southern Candymakers.

I’d only known of praline as a truffle filling. Since I received this box, I’ve read more about them on Wikipedia. In America, a praline can also refer to candies made from nuts and sugar. In New Orleans, pralines are made with pecans and extra cream. My assorted box included regular, rum, and chocolate pralines made with pecans and a coconut praline with no additional nuts.

They came in a pretty box with nice seal. Unfortunately, either the box was poorly sealed on the bottom or got damaged a bit in transit – the bottom flaps didn’t fully close, and sugar scattered everywhere when I picked it up. That made me sad for two reasons: the resulting mess and the loss of candy!

The original praline featured brown sugar and pecans. Depending on the chunk you bite, it’s either a great sugar-coated pecan in which the nutty pecan flavor comes through wonderfully, or it’s pure brown sugar overload.

I originally identified the rum praline as maple. Visually, it looks just like the original, but the sugar has lovely maple notes to it. In fact, I’m not actually sure which praline is which. It could be that this is the original while the brown sugary one is rum. At any rate, I like this one better, as the maple lets the pecan flavor cut through better, and the praline is less cloying overall.

Coconut was basically just brown sugar and coconut. It was dried coconut rather than fresh, but it tasted genuine and was pretty good.

Finally, the chocolate one was my favorite. It doesn’t taste strongly of chocolate, exactly. Instead, it imparts a nice, deep cocoa flavor to the sugar, which really adds to the complexity and makes the praline quite enjoyable.

I give the chocolate an OM. The others get Os. My friends get ZOMG!s for being so thoughtful. And I’ve got a nice case of sugar shock from eating all these pralines.

See’s Assorted Chocolates Week – Day 3

Today marks the conclusion of Rosa eats her way through an entire box of See’s on her own because it’s delicious and free. I began my journey on Monday, continued on Wednesday, and today, the finish line is in sight.

I’m not sure what makes the California brittle Californian. It’s a hard toffee with almonds that’s covered in milk chocolate. Unlike some toffees, this brittle doesn’t really cleave. It kind of just breaks. I could almost feel the tiny air bubbles dissolving on my tongue as I chewed it. The salty almonds go well with the brittle, which was pretty throat-burningly sweet. An O, but a positive one that I can see others enjoying.

The Mayfair was probably the easiest to identify, at least once I bit into it, because it was shockingly pink. This is described as buttercream with cherries and English walnuts. I don’t care for buttercream chocolates in general because I find them too sweet, and this guy is both too sweet and unappetizingly bursting with artificial cherry flavor. An O.

Two of my favorite See’s chocolates were the most simple, the above milk peanuts and the dark almonds (photo here). Good quality roasted nuts plus good quality See’s chocolate makes for yum. Both were great combinations of salty/sweet and melty/creamy/crunchy with toasted nut overtones. I could eat these all day. OMGs for both.

The cocoanut (sic) was milk chocolate around a coconut buttercream. I actively dislike most coconut candies, so to say that I found this tasty is a significant compliment. It had a nice coconut flavor without too much of the shreddy textural issues I have with sugared, dried, and shredded coconut. It helped that the milk chocolate mostly overpowered much of the coconut flavor. An OM.

Last up in our pictorial component is the milk pattie, vanilla caramel in milk chocolate. The caramel is soft with a moderate level of chewiness and stickiness. It doesn’t have much flavor that stands up to the milk chocolate, but I did enjoy its dusky finish. I’d love to try the dark version, which may let the caramel assert itself more. An OM.

Finally, I’d like to note two See’s chocolates that I do not have photos for. First, the molasses chips that were in my box got damaged during shipping and ended up in bits and pieces all over the box. I greatly enjoyed picking those pieces out and devouring them. Molasses chips are one of my favorite See’s products. They’re a thin brittle sweetened with honey and molasses and covered in chocolate, and they are divine. They come in dark and milk, and while I prefer the dark, I still love the milk. A ZOMG! for either iteration. You can see them in the below photo of a box I bought myself over a year ago. They’re the four thin rectangles on the left. You can also buy them by themselves, in a mixed assorted box or in milk and dark boxes.

The other See’s chocolate that I do not have a photo of is their Scotchmallow. The Scotchmallow is  absolutely, hands-down my favorite See’s product, and I have no photo of it because I am saving mine for a special occasion. An ex-boyfriend of mine loves them (in fact, he’s the one who introduced me to them), and I knew he really liked me when he was willing to share his beloved Scotchmallows with me. See how seriously I take my Scotchmallows? They’re even at the top of my all time favorite candies list.

They also come in bar form, as in the photo above, in heart form for Valentine’s Day and in egg form for Easter, but the round chocolate form in their assorted chocolates selection is really the best, I think, as it gets the proportions just right: thick squishy honey marshmallow over a wonderfully butterscotchy caramel, all enrobed in dark chocolate… If you couldn’t see it coming, it gets a ZOMG! like whoa.

So after all this See’s reviewing, what would go in my ideal custom box? At least two sets of dark molasses chips, a set of milk molasses chips, a dark cocoanut, a dark pattie (which I didn’t get to try), a dark almond and a dark peanut, a milk almond and a milk peanut, a caramel with almonds, a couple of marzipans, a dark nougat, a butterscotch square, and fill the rest of the box to the brim with Scotchmallows. The next time I’m in a See’s store, that’ll be exactly what I’ll order (plus a few Scotch kisses, Almond Royals, and Toffee-ettes).

I can’t stress enough how great a value See’s is. They may not be as fancy or as dazzlingly pretty as some of the more expensive chocolates that I’ve tried, but you really can’t beat paying just under $20 a pound for great tasting chocolate. Even I can afford that. And as a bonus, at that price, you don’t feel so bad when you come across one that you don’t love.

See’s Assorted Chocolates Week – Day 1

Ever since someone brought my family a can of See’s Almond Royal as a hostess gift, See’s Candies has been a Li family favorite. When we were on the West Coast last winter, we made sure to visit at least one See’s store to load up. I’ve also previously reviewed one of their chocolate fundraiser bars when one of the boys next door had a whole case.

When See’s emailed asking if I wanted a free box of their chocolates to review, I of course said yes. A couple of days later, I received an entire pound of their assorted chocolates. Because you can create your own custom mix, either online or in the See’s store, I shall review them piece by piece over the course of this week.

The Dark Chocolate Butter is a chocolate buttercream enrobed in See’s dark chocolate couverture. The buttercream inside is fluffy, sweet, and pretty cocoa-y. Along with the dark chocolate coating, this was overly sweet for my taste, but it was good. An O from me, but most people have a higher tolerance for sweetness than I do, and I can see others enjoying it.

Maple Walnut is a maple buttercream with English walnuts. It reminded me of the chocolate covered maple sugar candy from The Big E that I reviewed a while back, but better, as it was less cloying, and you could still taste the chocolate. The buttercream had a strong maple sugar flavor, and it was on the crumbly side for a buttercream. The crunchy walnuts tempered the sweetness a bit. Another O from me.

The Dark Nougat contains honey nougat, coconut, vanilla, and almonds. The honey nougat was more like a chewy caramel, and I liked the almond crunch. It was like a Snicker’s bar, just with dark chocolate and almonds. I enjoyed the balance of nutty and salty and crunchy and chewy, earning this an OM.

I’m pretty sure the above is a Butterscotch Square, which See’s describes as a “firm brown sugar, vanilla buttercream.” I’m assuming that means a brown sugar and vanilla buttercream? This was a sweet milk chocolate over a brown sugar center. It was throat-burningly sweet, but I actually liked it, for the same reasons that I’ll sneak a few grains of brown sugar by itself while making my morning oatmeal. And I enjoy See’s milk chocolate couverture, which is creamy without being too sweet. An OM for this guy, even though I couldn’t eat more than a bit at a time.

Come back on Wednesday and Friday as we go through the rest of the box!

Vosges Naga Bar

I’ve reviewed Vosges several times on this blog now, so it’s no secret that I love the brand but wish that it were more affordable. Then again, I guess it would be less special if it weren’t a splurge.

The Naga Bar, comprised of “sweet Indian curry powder, coconut flakes, and deep milk chocolate, 41% cacao,” is certainly special, thanks to its unique combination of ingredients. The blurb on the back boasts, “named and inspired by the tribes of Northeast India, taste the flavors of toasted milk, sweet Indian curry, nutty coconut, and an overall sensation of warm, rounded spice.”

Like all the Vosges bars in my mini library, this bar came sealed inside a silver bag inside the above box, which did its duty of preserving each bar’s flavors and preventing flavor mixing. Visually, the bar is quite pretty with all those abstract curves in its molding. The bar has a strong curry smell and a softish snap (it is milk chocolate, after all). There’s a slight graininess in the chocolate due to the coconut flakes, which are tiny and thin but still visually noticeable.

The curry flavor is definitely present, though it doesn’t taste as strongly as it smells. The coconut flakes pair well with the curry. I don’t know about the word “warm” to describe the spices, as I associate “warm” with the heat of chili spiciness, but I do get an overall mellow spice feel. It reminds me of Thai coconut curry.

Finally, the milk chocolate was on the sweet side but not overly so. I’d give this bar an OM. It’s nice, and I highly recommend it for the unique novelty factor, but it’s not a bar I would revisit for snacking purposes.

Oh! Nuts Malted Milk Balls

The folks at Oh! Nuts were kind enough to send me a few bags of their bulk candy. They seem to specialize in event planning, as evidenced by their wedding candy section and their convenient candy by color section. But for me, it was their assorted malted milk balls that caught my eye. As I’ve noted before, I adore malt and malt candies.

Even though my shipment was completely free, it still arrived carefully packaged and in great shape. I was a bit concerned about them sitting around my apartment’s mailbox (indoors, but right by the front door) in the New Haven summer, but I needn’t have worried. The box was insulated with styrofoam and included several still cool gel packs. The candies arrived in Oh! Nuts branded resealable zip bags (greatly appreciated) with a content label on the back.

I specifically requested the pumpkin spice malted milk balls because I love pumpkin pie and pumpkin spiced things. In the fall, the Cheesecake Factory has a seasonal pumpkin cheese cake that I think is to die for, and I once made pumpkin oatmeal cookies that I couldn’t stop eating. So I had high hopes for these guys.

At room temperature, they were a bit of a letdown, as they tasted more of the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger) that go into pumpkin pie than of pumpkin. They were good and texturally wonderful, with a light, malty, crispy center, but I wished for more pumpkin-ness. Then I had the good fortune to stick the remainder of my bag in the fridge. Once chilled, the spice flavor grew stronger, and a bit of pumpkinness came through, elevating these from an O to an OM.

The coconut malted milk balls arrived without my specific request for them. I was a bit dubious about them, as I generally don’t like coconut flavored things. They tend to be too waxy and artificial tasting for my taste. I was also suspicious of the white coating, as I also tend to dislike white chocolate. The coconut malted milks balls, however, turned out to be divine, which just goes to show that you shouldn’t discriminate against candy by making generalizations (though I think I’m safe with saying I’ll never like black licorice).

Like the pumpkin spice malted milk balls, the coconut ones had crisp and crunchy centers. The coconut flavored coating didn’t taste fake like that of a Mounds bar. Instead, it was fresh and creamy and reminded me of the coconut milk I used to love to chug down until I learned that coconut milk is chock full of saturated fat. I could not stop popping these, so they get an OMG.

Both 1-pound bags of malted milk balls quickly disappeared into the bellies of the members of… the YPMB, but the coconut ones disappeared first (though to be fair, I did talk them up more than the pumpkin spice ones), making me wish I had set aside more for myself before I brought them out to share. Thanks, Oh! Nuts, for making me popular with my friends and keeping my band happily fed and entertained (they kept shouting “Oh! Nuts!”).

Crispy Cat Candy Bars

Crispy Cat bills itself as “the first candy bar made with organic ingredients” and currently comes in three flavors: mint coconut, toasted almond, and roasted peanut.I was lucky enough to get a free sample of each for review purposes. The Crispy Cat candy bars boast an impressive list of credentials; in addition to containing 70% organic ingredients, they’re dairy free, gluten free, non gmo, without preservatives, vegan, and kosher.

These arrived on a warm day, and my New Haven apartment doesn’t have air conditioning, so I stuck them in the fridge to keep them from melting. On the wrapper, a little cartoon version of Joel Schantz, the owner, exhorts you to “Try ’em cold!” so I tried the Toasted Almond straight out of the fridge. It was super dense in its chilled state, and when hardened, the almond bits and crispy rice lost some of their nutty flavor. I liked it better when I let it warm up to room temperature, where it became softer and more pliable (though the texture of the bar also became a bit grittier). Then the rice crisps’ flavor became more noticeable and appreciable. In both temperature states, the thin chocolate layer wasn’t much to crow about.

The Roasted Peanut was quite similar to the Toasted Almond. I first tried it at room temperature. The nuttiness of the peanuts really came through, so I buy the roasted moniker. Here the chocolate layer was more present – I think the bar was less high than the almond version, which may have made for a higher chocolate to filling ratio – and left a slightly too sweet finish. The press release I received claimed that the Roasted Peanut and Toasted Almond tasted similar to Snickers. When the bars are at room temperature, I would disagree with that, as the Crispy Cats lack caramel, which is a big part of Snickers. But when I stuck the Roasted Peanut in the fridge, it became more Snickers-like. Or at least more chilled-Snickers-like. The rice crisps lost their airiness and somehow took on a surprising resemblance to rock-hard caramel in both texture and flavor. A glance through the ingredients showed that organic molasses was a rice crisp ingredient, which solves that mystery.


I liked the Mint Coconut Crispy Cat much better than its two counterparts. That same press release said that it would be reminiscent of a Girl Scout Thin Mint. Again, I disagree, but this time I’m going to do Crispy Cat one better. The Mint Coconut is like the love child of a Thin Mint and a Caramel Delight. The mint and coconut flavors were both light, yet just present enough, at least on the first bite. After that first bite, when the taste buds are a bit inured to the flavors, the successive bites are less exciting, but still pretty good. This bar was soft and melted at room temperature while the other two held firm, probably because all the coconut in this bar gave it a rather frighteningly high saturated fat count (9 g, 45% of your RDA). I chose to eat this at the rate of about a bite a day in an attempt to spread out the saturated fat splurge.

As candy bars, these don’t quite fit the bill, for they contain such a thin layer of chocolate and are so chock full of wholesome that they make me think of energy bars or meal replacement bars (though these days, the distinction between those and candy bars can be hazy; usually it’s the meal replacement bars that are too much like candy bars to be healthy). I’d consider chomping one of these in place of my usual Clif Bar. As a candy bar, the two nut varieties gets an O while the Mint Coconut gets an OM.

Crispy Cat’s mantra of “sustainability, health, and wellness” is clearly defined in their product, and they make a sweet splurge that’s not as bad for you, or for the earth, as traditional candy bars.

Len Libby Chocolates

Back in March, over spring break, a few friends and I visited Len Libby while we were in Maine. Because it’s not every day you’re within driving distance of a life-size chocolate moose. Meet Lenny (and a mama bear and her cub made from solid dark chocolate):

Though we’d dropped in just to see Lenny, and though I’d just tasted my chocolate fill at Haven’s Candies, I couldn’t leave one of Maine’s main chocolate stores without buying something. I walked out with a few chocolate eggs (remember, the visit was just before Easter) and two chocolates.

The right chocolate was (I think) a molasses chew. The nougaty filling was a bit on the stiff side, but that may have been due to the cold weather. Flavorwise, the chew was unexpectedly dark, with liqueur/rum notes and a light fruitiness. An OM.

The left chocolate was also some sort of chewy nougat thing, the name of which I can no longer remember because I didn’t bother to write it down. Oops. But it wasn’t that interesting. It was softer than the molasses chew with berry notes. An O.

I realize that reviews of seasonal Easter chocolate isn’t very helpful in July, but I’m pretty sure Len Libby makes non-egg versions of these chocolates. By the way, Len Libby sells a wide assortment of chocolate eggs; I just picked out three to buy and took tasting notes on two (the milk peanut butter wasn’t especially interesting).

I picked the milk and caramel marshmallow (right most, unwrapped) because I hoped it would be like the See’s Scotchmallow that I love so much. Sadly, it couldn’t compare. The sweetness of the milk chocolate overpowered everything. An O.

I chose the dark chocolate and coconut (bottom left) with trepidation. I’ve never liked Almond Joys or Mounds bars, so I wasn’t sure if I’d like this. Surprise! It was delicious. The nutty coconut flavor was fresh and paired wonderfully with the dark chocolate. And, unlike in lesser chocolate/coconut bars, the coconut was a smooth paste without that fake graininess that I can’t stand. An OMG.

So, Len Libbey is worth a visit if you’re in the area. If I remember correctly, they had free samples out; I was just too full from Haven’s to take advantage of them.

Idaho Spud

If I remember correctly, Steve Almond wrote about tracking down the Idaho Spud in Candy Freak and watches them as they are made. He then eats one and hates it. You’d think that would have been enough to stop me from paying way too much for one at an overpriced candy boutique that charges a ridiculous sum for retro candy, wouldn’t you? If you did, you probably haven’t been reading this blog for too long, as I seem to be overly willing to waste perfectly good money on candy that I know will turn out to be perfectly unappetizing.

The Idaho Spud is made by the Idaho Candy Company. They have a link to the Idaho Spud Fan Club on the site; I find it difficult to believe that people actually like this stuff, but I suppose someone is buying them and keeping them in business. I think quite a bit of their business must come from people succumbing to Candy Nostalgia Syndrome, in which they associate terrible-tasting candies of their youth with the joyousness of youth and therefore actually want to eat said terrible-tasting candies. The Idaho Spud has been around since 1918, so it’s high in the nostalgia factor. According to the website, “the popular Idaho Spud Bar is a wonderful combination of a light cocoa flavored marshmallow center drenched with a dark chocolate coating and then sprinkled with coconut (Sorry, no potato!). The potato shape and unique blend of ingredients appeals to both young and old, making the ‘Idaho Spud’ one of the top hundred selling candy bars in the Northwest.”

Don’t you love that “top hundred selling candy bars in the Northwest” bit? Not exactly a jaw-dropping statistic there. Basically, the Idaho Spud is this weird sugar/coconut goop with a chocolate coating, which is then covered in bits of coconut. The inside goop is strange in texture and flavor. It’s sort of foamy, like a marshmallow, but also dense and gooey, making it unlike any marshmallow I’d want to eat. The whole things tastes like bad chocolate and waxy, fake coconut and has the most unappetizing mouthfeel. I’m not a big fan of coconut, but I can tolerate and even enjoy it when it tastes fresh. The Idaho Spud definitely did not taste fresh.

Points off for texture, points off for flavor, and points off for appearance (I’m not even going to go there), leaving the Idaho Spud with a . Sometimes a confection can be so bad that you just have to try it to believe it. Trust me, it’s bad, and you’re better off having never tried this.

Fannie May Chocolates – Part II of Chicago Week

The saga of my sweet-toothing my way through Chicago continues with Fannie May chocolates, who I would liken to Chicago’s version of See’s, except See’s is better.

At a Fannie May store, I picked out a selection of their chocolates and a few of their individually wrapped candies (review on those to come next week). Top down in columns, from left to right they are, as best as I can tell/remember: bittermint, some nougat thing, vanilla buttercream dark, no clue, buttercrisp, peanut butter, raspberry cream?, lemon buttercream, and a Trinidad. The salesguy assured me that there would be a comprehensive key online. There isn’t.

bittermint – this was a mint in the York Peppermint Pattie vein. The dark chocolate shell was quite thick, and the gooey mint innards had a strong mintiness tempered by a slight bitterness. The lightly bitter finish went nicely with the dark chocolate.

rectangular nougat thing – I have no idea what this is and couldn’t match it up to anything on their website. It was dark chocolate coating a chewy, nutty nougat log that tasted of maple, I thin.

vanilla buttercream dark – I’m not a big fan of buttercreams but let myself be talked into buying this one by Katie, who loves them. This was sweet and cloying but otherwise had a great vanilla flavor. If you have a higher sugar tolerance than I do, you’d probably like it.

buttercrisp – an almond buttercrisp in milk chocolate. I found it too be too hard to bite into and with a weird, not quite toffee-like texture (it didn’t cleave like toffee does).

peanut butter – a creamy peanut butter filling where the peanut butter was not nearly nutty or salty enough. The milk chocolate shell was slightly too thick for balance.

raspberry cream – I think that’s what this was. The chocolate shell was thicker than I expected, and the filling tasted strongly artificial with a slight cherry cordial winey-ness to it.

lemon buttercream – the center of this tasted like a lemon meringue pie. The lemon-ness was super bright.

Trinidad – I’ve managed to save the best for last: it’s a chocolate cream center with “pastel coating” and toasted coconut. The chocolate filling was smooth and creamy, and the coconut flavor was just right.  The only one I really enjoyed from the ones I picked.

I had wanted to buy some Mint Meltaways in my boxed assortment but the salesguy told me not to because their mintiness would overpower everything else. I managed to buy a little tray of 3 larger meltaways at a Walgreen’s instead. I tasted them after the Frangos that I so loved, and they paled in comparison.

The Mint Meltaways had a pastel green white chocolate coating that tasted too sweet and sugary. It gave the confection an unpleasantly greasy creaminess and a thick finish. The mint flavor was weaker than that of Frangos, and it was more artificial tasting.

Overall, I didn’t really enjoy Fannie May that much. I liked the bittermint and Trinidad, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek those out. An O for the chocolates described here. The individually wrapped chocolates I bought fared much better, and my review of those will publish on Monday.