Sunday, December 21, 2014

Candy Christmas: Choceur Belgian Seashells (Aldi)

Probably the prettiest things you'll eat in any holiday season.
This is another seasonal product from Aldi, only available around the holiday season.  I had tried them a few years back, remembered liking them, but for some reason never decided to pick them up again--until this year.  While I won’t go so far as to say I could see these becoming a holiday tradition for me, as the cocoa-dusted truffles are for my wife (I have the Candy Cane Pie for that), I found them to be delicious little treats, whose addiction can be magnified depending on your love for hazelnut.

For starters, and probably the first thing you will notice, is that these things are actually really pretty.  Even though they’re called “Belgian Seashells” (and they are, in fact, made in Belgium, at least according to the packaging), only about half of the designs seem to be seashells; you also get a starfish, and a seahorse thrown in there for good measure.  Each design is very meticulous and surprisingly detailed, at least as far as mass-produced chocolates are concerned.  Adding to the beauty is that they use marbled chocolate, so you get swirls of milk and white chocolates combining to form one delectable little treat.  They really are a sight to behold.

Following the tried-and-true formula of holiday chocolates, the marbled chocolate exterior is hard, while the hazelnut/chocolate interior, which reminds one of Nutella in terms of taste, is melt-in-your-mouth smooth.  Both go together quite well.  I must admit I’m not a huge fan of hazelnut, one of the reasons this will probably never be a required holiday tradition for me, but I did end up liking these a lot more than I thought I would, and they satisfy my holiday chocolate cravings quite nicely.  If you’re into chocolate, and at least have a tolerance for hazelnut, you should give these a shot.

Overall: 7/10.  Marbled chocolate on the outside, melt-in-your-mouth hazelnut filling on the inside.  The designs, which focus on sea life (there are some seashells, along with a starfish and seahorse) are so beautiful and detailed, at least as far as mass-produced chocolates are concerned, that you might be a little hesitant to eat them.  But you’d be missing out, as both layers go together quite well.  I’m not a huge fan of hazelnut, which will probably prevent this from being a holiday tradition for me, but they do a great job of satisfying my holiday chocolate cravings.  If you are a big hazelnut fan, adjust the score accordingly.  If you don’t like it, just stay away altogether.

GUEST POST!: Choceur Cocoa-Dusted Truffles (Aldi)

GUEST POST! My wife reviews these!
I do not like dark chocolate.  At all.  Therefore, I think these things taste like turds, and won‘t go anywhere near a box.  But you know what?  I don’t think it’s fair to give low scores to something that I never like.  So I asked my lovely wife, who has a completely different palate than I, to step in and give her own take on these treats, available annually around the holiday season at Aldi.  Her thoughts start below:

When it comes to food and drink, I think I would be considered the man of the family.  My husband’s tastes skewer toward the sweet, to the point that he cannot drink coffee, beer, most wines, or dark chocolate.  They have evolved for the better over the years--I eventually got him to like sauerkraut and bleu cheese--but I can’t see him ever taking a liking to any of the four things I first mentioned.  Oh well, not everyone is perfect.

While he never eats Choceur’s Cocoa-Dusted Truffles, they have become one of my holiday traditions from Aldi; I get them every year.  And since it’s one of the few things he doesn’t like, it’s one of the few things I can look forward to enjoying all by myself.  Now, the inner part of these truffles are actually very sweet, and very chocolatey; think the popular ball-shaped truffles you can get around this time, with the soft, melty chocolate in the middle, and the hard chocolate on the outside.  What my husband takes offense to is the cocoa dusting on the outside, which is certainly a very bitter, very unsweet dark chocolate.  For me, these truffles represent a perfect balance, with the bitter exterior giving way to a very sweet interior.

Like the aforementioned “ball truffles”, these also melt in your mouth, to the point that I usually don’t even chew them, letting them melt slowly on the tongue.  They are also made in Belgium, a fact pointed out by the item’s packaging.  Does that have anything to do with why they are so addicting?  I have no idea.  All I know is, being made in Belgium certainly can’t hurt, as that place is known for some of the best chocolate in the world.

Overall: 9/10.  These are a favorite holiday treat for me, with the super-bitter outside giving way to a delectably sweet, melt-in-your-mouth interior.  It’s not for everyone, like the super-sensitive palate of my husband, but if you don’t require your chocolate to be sickeningly sweet, there’s a good chance you’re going to end up making this one of your own holiday traditions.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

L'Oven Fresh Cinnamon Crumb Cake

A delicious, delicious thing worth killing someone over.
Back when I was a wee tyke, my mother used to make me boxed cinnamon streusel bread.  Do you know what I’m talking about?  It was cinnamon bread, with a  streusel topping, and it came with a little tube of vanilla icing to squeeze on the top.  She didn’t do it all the time, but that’s what made it more special--I remember waking up to go to school, and having a couple slices waiting for me, complete with a glass of milk.  The only downside, and I don’t know if it was because it came from a box, or if it was my mom’s doing, was that it was pretty dry.

L’Oven Fresh’s (no matter how many times I see that name, I still hate it) Cinnamon Crumb Cake tastes exactly like that boxed bread, only it’s not dry, and there’s actually plenty of vanilla icing to go around.  In fact, not only is it not dry, but it’s surprisingly moist; I’ll bet most supermarket chain bakeries aren’t putting anything out at this level, especially for this price ($3.99), which gives it good value.

On to the flavor, everything meshes exactly as it should:  The cake, on top of being moist (as we’ve already established) has a very good, light cinnamon flavor, that gives way to the delectable streusel-style cinnamon topping.  Adding to the deliciousness is the vanilla icing, which compliments the cinnamon very well, and there’s a good amount of it drizzled on the top.  In fact, I make sure the icing and cinnamon topping are the last things I eat, as I tend to eat the cake first, then save the best bites for last.  Mmmm…my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

If you need an alternate opinion, my wife is not a big fan of cinnamon anythings at all, but even she really likes this cake.  It’s the perfect option for cold winter’s nights; while I don’t drink coffee (something this tends to be paired with), it goes great with a nice cup of hot chocolate, or if you don’t need warmed up, a nice, cold glass of milk.  If you like cinnamon in any capacity, you should definitely give this a go.

Overall: 9/10.  Bought two of these within a month, and didn’t have a problem finishing them off within a week either time.  A perfect, surprisingly moist blending of cinnamon cake, with a cinnamon streusel and vanilla icing topping that would pair well with coffee or hot chocolate.  All the flavors blend together very well, and the end result is a highly addicting combination that should be available year ’round (as of now, it’s only available as a Special Buy at Aldi stores).  Even my wife, who’s not much into cinnamon at all, really enjoys this.  A must-try for those who are into this kind of thing.

Deutsche Kuche Baumkuchen Ring Cake (Aldi)

This is a weird-looking little cake with some cool packaging.
 Every once in a while, I like trying new things.  And at the risk of sounding like a commercial, that’s what I feel like is one of the great things about Aldi…with their constantly-rotating weekly special buys, and their longer-standing seasonal ones, they always have a few things that I would normally never buy, that end up tempting me.

Then there are products that are so weird, I just have to give them a shot.  A good example would be Meiji’s Chocorooms, which are chocolate cookies in the shape of mushrooms, which Aldi sold a couple of years ago.  Or, there were also the Peanut Puffs, which were also a part of the Deutsche Kuche German line and tasted like Cap’n Crunch with no milk, and all forms of sweetness removed.

Well Deutsche Kuche is at it again, and this time it’s in the form of a cake that looks like it’s a tree!  Well, not exactly at first glance…at first glance it looks more like a children’s toy covered in chocolate.  But slice it open and voila; the inside resembles the rings of a tree.  In fact, baumkuchen literally translates to “tree cake”, information that’s readily available on the packaging, and that I found to be so simultaneously weird and intriguing, that I had to give it a shot.

First of all, you slice the cake as if it was a cake.  That may sound obvious, but if it wasn’t for the packaging, I’m not sure I would have known that.  So you slice it straight down, from the top, to the bottom.  It gets the appearance of “rings” from the manufacturing process:  Each “ring” is actually a very thin layer of cake; layers upon layers are applied until the cake reaches a desired height.  Most baumkuchen’s are made up of 15 to 20 layers, which looks to be around the number of layers we get in this one.

Tastewise, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the closest American cake I could compare it to, would be a sponge cake; the cake itself doesn’t have a whole lot of flavor, so thankfully it’s all enveloped in a thin layer of chocolate, which acts as the “frosting”, more or less.  At first, it was more of a curiosity, as we didn’t know what to expect.  But once the flavors sunk in, our interest grew, to the point that we both agreed unanimously we would definitely get another one of these.

I mentioned that the cake doesn’t have much flavor, and believe it or not, that’s actually one of the things this product has going for it.  In a world where more is more, and desserts seem to be trying to outdo each other in pure sugar volume, this is a refreshing step in the opposite direction; a light, almost minimalist, dessert that still manages to satisfy without needing to resort to mountains of frosting, or a gooey chocolate center, or anything else of the sort, to be delicious.  The outer chocolate shell is semi-sweet, but not overly so, and it melts in your mouth the way a good chocolate should.  Good stuff.

Overall: 7.5/10.  While not something I could eat very often, this is a refreshingly simple, almost minimalist dessert that’s refreshingly light and delicious.  Layers of cake are smothered in a thin layer of milk chocolate that’s semi-sweet, but not too much so.  While the cake doesn’t have a whole lot of flavor (reminds me a bit of a sponge cake, to put it in American terms), it pairs very well with the chocolate coating.  Never judge a book by its cover, because this weird little cake started off a curiosity piece for my wife and I, but a couple of pieces later, ended up winning us over.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Choceur Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa K-Cups (Aldi)

The pinnacle of American convenience.  At least, until single-serve, pre-poured glasses of milk become available.
My wife drinks a lot of coffee, so we got a Keurig for Christmas last year.  I don’t drink straight-up coffee at all.  The only coffee beverage I ever indulge in is the occasional French vanilla cappuccino.   So even though I find owning a Keurig to be unnecessarily expensive (I know, I know, it’s all about the convenience), I still get excited to overpay for products every once in a while just to enjoy stuff that I like.

The latest such product are Choceur Dark Chocolate Hot Chocolate K Cups.  I was actually researching hot chocolate K cups a long time ago, when we first got the machine, and saw that, at least based on reviews, there were really no good options.  This is because all of them used an artificial sweetener, sucralose, on top of sugar, which gave them all a terrible artificial taste (I tried one brand and can definitely verify how terrible it was).  One possible explanation that was given was that there really wasn’t enough room inside the K cup for an adequate amount of sugar to make it taste like legitimate hot chocolate (it sounds good, though I don’t know the plausibility of such a statement).

Choceur’s version is more or less the same, with a mix of real sugar, and fake sucralose, but this is by far the best K cup hot chocolate I’ve had.  The chocolate is rich and tasty, at least, as rich as hot chocolate made out of water can be, and while you can still taste the artificial sweeteners, the chocolate is strong enough that it becomes more of the focal point.  Note that this review pertains to a medium-sized cup…I’m sure if you were to “brew” this into a large cup, it would taste like little more than hot water with a hint of cocoa.

I certainly have a major complaint, so let me rant on for a bit here.  It probably has more to do with the Keurig explosion in general than it does this specific product, but I’m going to vent anyway.  First, is the price.  For 12 of these hot chocolate K cups, it’s $5.  Forty-two cents per serving.  Sadly, this is considered a great deal in the world of K cups, where convenience more or less trumps logic.  But I could (and still will) buy 12 packets of hot chocolate mix, use milk instead of water, and get a much creamier and more satisfying end product for $2 (plus the cost of milk, which still works out to less than $5).  I know, I know, it’s much easier to push a button and forget about it, and that’s what Keurig’s are all about, but it’s not that much harder to rip open a packet, dump it in milk, and stir.

Overall: 6/10.  This review opened me up to a quandary of sorts:  On the one hand, it’s the best hot chocolate K cup I’ve had, and it’s also fairly inexpensive as far as these are concerned.  Yet better hot chocolate can be had for even cheaper using packets of hot cocoa mix, and milk, something the Keurig cannot handle.  So I’m recommending it solely for what it is:  A matter of convenience, which is entirely what those machines stand for.  If you’re a die-hard Keurig user, you can do far worse from giving these a whirl.  As for me, I prefer sticking to the old-fashioned method.

Choceur Hot Cocoa K-Cup Variety Pack (Aldi)

A great deal for those that own no spoons.
One thing I’ve noticed about a lot of other K cup hot chocolate brands is that they are often “fortified” with artificial sweeteners.  This leads to some chemical-y initial tastes, and some medicine-y aftertastes that are completely off-putting.  A quick glance at the flavors in this Choceur collection revealed nothing but sugar, so I was pretty anxious to give these a try.

This collection is 24 K-cups spread out among 4 different flavors, so let’s see how they fared individually:

MOCHA: This was the first one I tried, and also my favorite.  It has a nice, deep chocolate flavor with some surprisingly deep richness for what it is (a water-based hot chocolate made out of a machine).  Of course, it’s not going to match the rich decadence of a nice packet of the powdered stuff, with milk instead of water, but if you have a Keurig, you probably don’t want to be bothered with having to do any manual labor, like ripping open a packet of powder and stirring.  So as far as convenience is concerned, this bests the hot chocolate of my previous review, and becomes the best hot chocolate I've ever had out of the machine. 8/10.

PEPPERMINT: One of my favorite hot chocolates is Nestle’s mint chocolate cocoa packets, which are generally (at least to my knowledge), only available around the holiday season.  It’s got a smooth richness to the cocoa, and a perfect balance of delicious mint flavor that truly shines in milk.  Since using milk isn’t possible (or, at least, recommended) in Keurig’s, I figured Choceur’s version wouldn’t be as rich, but I was at least hoping it was a lot closer than it was.  The peppermint reminded me more of the peppermint found in peppermint tea, and, at least in my opinion, tasted out of place with the chocolate.  Not a good mix at all. 5/10.

SALTED CARAMEL: This was the most interesting flavor of the lineup, at least on paper, and I really wasn’t sure what to expect heading into it.  What you get is a very strong, super-sweet taste of caramel that’s overwhelming to the point of overkill.  "Salt" may be in there somewhere, but there’s not nearly enough of it to counterbalance the ridiculous sweetness.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a sweet tooth when it comes to beverages, but this took it too far, even for me.  4/10.

IRISH CRÈME:  I actually put this off until the very end because it was the one that made me the most nervous.  I don’t know why, but I just pictured it being way too sweet.  It actually turned out to be one of only two flavors worth getting this collection for.  It tastes like hot chocolate with sweetened, condensed milk added.  But unlike the caramel, the sweetness isn’t so strong that it makes you nauseous--instead, it’s a perfect balance that goes down easy.  I really liked this one. 7/10.

Now that we’ve looked at every flavor individually, let’s take a look at the collection as a whole, and let me re-word the rant I provided in the above review:  For $10, you get 24 cups, which rounds up to $.42 per serving.  For hot chocolate.  That won’t even allow you to substitute water for milk.  And that only fills up about six ounces of a cup.  Sadly, that is actually a really good price.  So for what it is, you get some good value, and convenience in spades.  Personally, while I honestly do like using the Keurig every once in a while, just for the fun of it, I’m not so lazy or so pressed for time that I can’t dump a packet of powder into a cup of warm milk and stir for a minute, a method that results in a much better cup of hot chocolate that no K-cup can ever match.

Overall: 6/10.  For Keurig lovers, there is value to be had here, as each up comes out to only $.42.  I also like that you get four different flavors across the 24 K-cups, which is neat, because variety is the spice of life.  The problem lies in the fact that I was only impressed with two of the flavors (Mocha and Irish Crème), which kind of dampens the perceived value.  Also, you can’t add milk, so you’re paying a premium for water-based hot chocolate, which is pretty lame.  If you’re on the fence about buying this, I’d probably suggest you do, simply because taste is subjective and you might end up liking them more than I did.  But then again, if you don’t, you just wasted $10.  Such is the cruel beast known as life.