Friday, January 15, 2021

Theo: Nougottohavit

Some things finish off better than they begin. That was the story for the last installment in my look at Theo's handmade confections. The name Nougottohavit, well, doesn't appeal to me. Such word play and word creation reminds me of the lesser, often short-lived (or at least less-liked) products from the likes of Hershey's (Whatchamacallit and such). So rather than putting me in mind of handmade chocolate or even just classic candy, it reminds me of cheapness. But it's just the name.

My doubts continued into the packaging, too, though. While the basic look is the same as it was for the Fremont Chew from yesterday, the magenta-raspberry (I could never be a fashion designer; I don't know my colors) doesn't give me the same vintage vibe. And this packaging, if anything, I found even more difficult to unwrap neatly (I like neatly): the outer wrapper had a glossy coat on it that didn't allow it to tear well at all, and even the foil had a sort of paper layer on its inside (versus being one layer that is foil on the outside and foil on the inside) that added a bit to the mess. However, the complaints end there.

Like the Fremont Chew, this chocolate bar is a little more stout than the average candy bar. This is dark chocolate instead of milk; instead of reversing the look and decorating it with swirls of milk chocolate, the top is simply designed with texture ridges. As with the Big Daddy Marshmallows, the candy slices open to reveal beautiful layering. The nougat fills in the top half of the space, while the caramel dotted with almonds sits in the bottom half. All four layers of surrounding chocolate are if even thickness. 

So based on the elements, this is obviously a Snickers-inspired confection. Just think of it as your best memories of Snickers, not as what Snickers actually is. The first bite is decadent: you get those lovely layers of soft nougat and chewy caramel. The almonds are nice and small so they add texture more than crunch; they seem to be more mellow than the peanuts in Snickers, if my memory serves. There is a slight saltiness in the mix, which doesn't taste like salted caramel; it tastes like the salt goes along with the almonds. That, in turn, keeps the almonds in casual territory; they don't feel like a "healthier" option or something like that. 

The dark chocolate is pretty mild, like in Theo's other confections. So what the dark chocolate here seems to do (versus if they had kept to the traditional milk chocolate) (and besides making it sound more posh) is to keep things from becoming too sweet or greasy. There is still plenty of caramel and nougat. The chocolate makes an envelope for the sweet elements and holds then in rather than acting as the main focus of each bite. I don't taste the nougat hugely on its own; the caramel is the star, with the nougat helping it show off (and adding to the texture, of course). The almonds are the sidekick to the caramel. It's a gooey caramel but not stiff and has excellent, classic flavor. While the caramel certainly couldn't hold the place that it does without its friends of almond, nougat, and chocolate, it's the one I notice most. 

So while my comments on the packaging were the opposite, I've been enjoying the Nougottohavit even more than the Fremont Chew. The theme is the same as it's been all week: better ingredients and a handmade quality make for a much better interpretation of a classic sweet. I'm rather sad to see the end of my week of chocolate confections, so maybe I'll look at some more casual chocolate bars in the next couple weeks before easing into the serious ones again. (Although Valentine's Day is also coming up, so it'll be time for me to get my yearly box from Valerie Confections soon--I guess I'm not done with the sweets yet after all.)

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Theo: Fremont Chew

The fourth handmade confection that I'm looking at from Theo this week is a classic example of an upscaled candy bar. The Fremont Chew, described as marshmallow nougat enrobed in milk chocolate, takes its basic inspiration from a 3 Musketeers bar. Along with Milky Way, 3 Musketeers was one of my favorite chocolate candy bars (KitKat was the top). Soft, vanilla sweetness and chocolate. While I haven't exactly found myself missing them in the years that it's been since I had one, a chocolate reminiscent of such once-familiar chocolate candies is welcome.

With pastel colors and another simple design, we have a pretty and vintage type look. My minor complaint would be that I couldn't open up or tear off the outer wrapper without making a frayed mess; I like something a little neater, especially if I'm not planning on eating it all at once. The foil unfolds nicely, though. Like we've seen earlier in the week, the milk chocolate is decorated with darker-colored swirls for a classic confection look. That brings us decidedly away from mass-produced Mars candies and over to small sweet shops. 

The bar I would guess is about the same length as an average candy bar (they come in so many different sizes nowadays and I rarely ever buy them anymore, so I can't say for sure), just thicker. It gives off the aroma of sweet, vanilla-filled confections and marshmallow. The inside is certainly much more marshmallow-looking than I'd expected. I'd expected nougat with a twist, but the decidedly white filling looks more like marshmallow with a hint of nougat than the other way around. 

You can see that the top layer of chocolate was slightly thicker than the bottom or side layers due to the slightly rounded top. This doesn't negatively affect the bite, though, since milk chocolate is quite soft. Immediately on biting in, I got a nostalgic hit of Easter for some reason. It took me back somewhere I couldn't quite define. After contemplation, I believe I was thinking of the Easter egg malt balls. 

Here is why I would make that comparison. There is a definite marshmallow taste--but a specific kind of taste that is also somewhat chalky (I do love chalky candy) and still contains some of the standard nougat flavor. Along with the vanilla and nougat and marshmallow, though, there is another flavor. Although they still used sugar and corn syrup, there is also honey listed in the ingredients, and I believe the honey is responsible for this extra taste. It's a specific, rich flavor, and it seems to be what my mind initially connected to the malt of Easter egg candy. 

So don't worry that this chocolate tastes like those candies (though it's probably been at least a couple decades since I had any, I think it's safe to say that they're in a different quality level). The flavors are primarily gourmet marshmallow (handmade as opposed to grocery store) and sweet milk chocolate. Since it's Theo, of course, the milk chocolate is good even though it is sweet. The nougat has a particular texture that is perhaps what also added to my malt comparison. It's very soft and while it begins with the expected fluffiness, it dissolves when it hits the tongue. So each bite disappears pretty fast, and you are left with some milk chocolate to finish off. While I'm not a candy maker, I would guess that the use of honey might also contribute to such quick melting. 

In a way, this is the least exciting of the confections I've looked at so far this week. But once more, that isn't really the point. The point is simply to rework a confection with better ingredients and just a slightly different approach. The difference that the ingredients alone make is worth it. Like I said, I really don't buy 3 Musketeers or Milky Way anymore (that just isn't the type of product I want to support), but if I lived near Theo's flagship store, I could see wanting to stop in for this chocolate every once in a while. And the marshmallow twist on the nougat was interesting, not so unusual as to take away from the simple nostalgia but still enough to freshen things up. So yes, the Fremont Chew was another nicely eatable chocolate confection. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Theo: Caramel Pecan Turtle

Day three of our look at Theo's handmade confections brings us to a classic sweet, the Caramel Pecan Turtle. While many confection shops will make these in simple cluster shapes, some will give a rough suggestion of a turtle design. And others use a turtle chocolate mold, as Theo does here. It may be that the taste is what matters most--but the turtle mold seems to me the most pleasing option of the three.

With such a cute chocolate turtle, there is no need for more than simple packaging. The turtle sits in a white box covered in a clear lid to let you look in and see it. A green-edged label with some teeny turtles finishes it all off. Even though you can see the turtle through the lid, I exclaimed anew at its cuteness when seeing it without anything obscuring it. Simple pleasures, simple pleasures. A chocolate turtle is one of these. Its size is of two or three truffles, so it's larger than the chocolate turtle that Zak's Chocolate makes. 

I perhaps ought not to have mentioned Zak's, as their turtles are pretty perfect. They took the approach of building the turtle around a whole pecan half. Theo, however, goes with a more typical approach by making a larger turtle filled with the pecans and caramel. The slicing open of the turtle revealed that the bottom layer of chocolate is much thicker than the top and sides. Biting into it, as well, the disproportion is a tad too much; too thick of a layer starts to intrude on the experience of chocolate and filling. 

The slight hint at a twist that Theo does is to use salted caramel to house the roasted pecans. Not too unusual, though, given the popularity of salted caramel these days: it's almost getting rare to find a caramel that isn't salted. The caramel is gooey with a classic salted flavor. It took front and center on my first bite, though my second did have more pecan. There I could taste their sweet and woodsy flavor. Hazelnuts may be the ones that blend so well into chocolate, but on their own pecans are my favorite nut, so a good chocolate turtle is welcome indeed. 

The turtle's feet have no filling in them, but the caramel does get slightly into its head. So you have a fair amount of opportunity to taste the chocolate, which is a mild semisweet dark chocolate. It's refreshing to have a decent dark chocolate used in a confection. 

My nitpicking about the thickness of the bottom layer is really the only criticism to make. A chocolate turtle is a straightforward concept, and Theo approached it as such. It's a tasty sweet that disappeared on me quickly. Life's simple pleasures. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Theo: Big Daddy Marshmallow

Our second of the Theo handmade confections is the Big Daddy Marshmallow. In description, it sounds like it has more elements than yesterday's Lunar Pie did, but in its final state it is somewhat simpler. If the desired effect is to replicate campfire s'mores without a campfire and with some better chocolate and marshmallows, then the effect is achieved. 

There is certainly much more going on with packaging on this one. Of the five confections I ordered, this one has the most to look at before you even get to the chocolate. The outer sleeve is the color of a starry night sky, and using only white for both the text and illustrations means that they were able to pack in a lot of design and still keep a simple look to it. Well-done. Also notice that they don't use the words s'mores or campfire--it's all there in the imagery. One side of the sleeve shows off the four elements that compose this confection, while the other shows a mountainous territory with I suppose Bigfoot toasting a marshmallow on a fire. Trendy-cute-outdoorsy; it reminds me of all the little shops in Flagstaff. 

The sleeve slides off to a plain white box marked with the Theo label (which is what shows through the circle hole in the outer sleeve). The box is almost more like a jewelry box than a chocolate box; the feel is special. Inside under a thin cover are three marshmallows in their little square liners. They look like giant truffles in there; they're more the size of petits fours or chocolate-covered strawberries. Makes sense, though: graham crackers for s'mores are much bigger than truffles, too. 

While the blue sleeve had the least handmade style of the five confections, the chocolates definitely have it. The simple confection design of lighter colored swirls of chocolate on the dark surface puts in mind what you might find at a little, local chocolate confection shop. Except that since it's Theo you know that the chocolate will be good. (I don't mean to speak ill of little, local chocolate confection shops--but the ones I've come across don't always use the best chocolate to make their confections, or they water it down too much.)

It was easier than I'd expected to slice my knife into one of these squares. And I'm certainly glad I did: the four layers display in person almost as well as the do in the picture on the packaging. That's pretty rare, and I certainly wasn't expecting it with such gooey layers as marshmallow and caramel in there with the graham cracker and chocolate. Yet there they are, four distinct layers (well, the chocolate is on both top and bottom, so it's technically five layers, but you get the point). 

The marshmallow catches your teeth as you bite in, giving a delightful sort of snapping as it separates from the main piece. It's a little dense and chewy but not like the marshmallow of the Lunar Pie; this is more just the texture of a handmade, gourmet marshmallow (which, of course, it is) as opposed to one from a grocery store bag. The caramel adds in good flavor, especially towards the end when everything is almost melted out. 

In primary focus is the marshmallow, the chocolate and caramel seem to tie for second, and last comes the graham cracker. While graham crackers are a pretty big proportion of s'mores, I much prefer how it takes the backseat here. There is just a tad of crunch and graham flavor to ground the sweet, gooey elements. The chocolate is darker than your typical s'mores chocolate, and the caramel adds in a nice indulgence that helps to make up for the fact that nothing in here is melted as it would be in a campfire s'more. What's most fascinating is that, especially in the aftertaste, there is, however, something of a smoky taste. Whether it is in the caramel or the marshmallow or my imagination, I don't know. The molasses in the ingredients list may be what brings in that toasty flavor, but that's only speculation. 

While I'm not naming these marshmallow confections the "epiphany" that was the Lunar Pie, they remain delightful, extremely well-executed chocolates. The ingredients are good, and the flavors and textures are in balance--and so the effect is exactly as desired. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Theo: Lunar Pie

Being that it's more difficult these days to have things to post about and being that my chocolate reviews are usually the most popular posts, anyway, I've decided to just roll with it this week and put up all my reviews of Theo's handmade confections in one spurt. Like I mentioned before, these are products that the grocery stores don't sell (like their chocolate bars). They are normally only available at their flagship store in Seattle, but right now you can also buy them online. While I rarely buy chocolate online, winter is my opportunity to do so (without it melting). So I was able to get five of these chocolate confections.

The first is certainly not the least. The Lunar Pie is a simple concept, that "twist on a familiar confection" type of thing. But what a twist it is. You can see that Theo's description is "fluffy chocolate marshmallow and cocoa nib enrolled in dark chocolate." Marshmallow and chocolate sounds pretty standard, but cocoa nib? That isn't at all common for use in this context. 

The pie is big for a confection, about the size of one of my little fists. So bigger than if it were a Hostess cake. Because that, of course, is the main inspiration for something like this. (Might I also recommend the No Name Cakes at Mod Pizza if you just want an indulgence.) Unwrapping the little pie is delightful; the very fact that it appears so simple makes it appealing. My knife cutting for the picture turned out better than expected: the marshmallow is denser than average and therefore holds its shape enough that the chocolate didn't crumble and the whole pie kept its shape. 

There is a chocolate ice cream look to the inside, both in its color and consistency. That feeling carries on somewhat even when you begin eating (minus the whole melting part, of course). The initial burst is unexpected--in a positive way. There is so much more weight of flavor than one might expect in a simple chocolate and marshmallow confection. 

The aroma is of melted chocolate. The bite is of that chocolate layer giving way to softer marshmallow. The flavor is of chocolate and marshmallow and cocoa nibs. The chocolate layer is dark chocolate that has good flavor on its own; it's somewhere between semisweet and bittersweet. But it's the marshmallow itself that gives the specific flavor of nibs; that rich, blue taste. I never would have imagined cocoa nibs and marshmallow together and yet the effect is delightful.

You have that richer, you could say more adult flavor of the nibs paired with the sweetness and playfulness of the marshmallow. So there is nothing bitter about the final product (which is also unusual about the use of nibs, especially where their flavor remains intact) and yet it isn't exactly sweet (confection sweet, that is), either. It is truly its own type of product. 

As I mentioned, the texture is denser than the average marshmallow. It's a little chewier, too. Almost more like nougat--which may have something to do with my positive comments, as I like nougat much more than I like marshmallow. But it does have the flavor of marshmallow, which makes for a unique and thoughtful effect. As fun as it is, I find that a little can go a long way. Even just a couple of bites have enough richness to satisfy. 

This piece is like an epiphany, a gift to the world of chocolate. Part of what I do when I review is to simply categorize chocolates (as opposed to saying that they're good or bad, or putting them on a star scale). But this brings together two categories: confections and gourmet chocolates. You can both sit and ponder it and indulge on it. A great way to start our week of Theo confections. 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Year's End

Normally I think of Old Town Scottsdale as the section below Indian School Road. On one side of Scottsdale Road are the art galleries and Ruze Cake House; on the other side are the Civic Center Plaza, Nonna Urban Eatery, The Mission Restaurant, and Bischoff's Shades of the West. That is, space to wander and space to sit, eateries, desserts, and moccasins. 

Lately, though, I've been spending more time in the space above Indian School. There you can walk (or sit) by the canal and get dessert (or lunch, though I've not had any yet) at Super Chunks Sweets & Treats. Their Saguaro dessert is as delicious as it is beautiful. 

When I was on my way to get such dessert a couple weeks ago, I happened to park in front of Sewell's Indian Arts & Crafts. I had been thinking that it would be nice to get a new cross necklace, maybe something handcrafted from Old Town, and there in the window of Sewell's such a one caught my eye. So I thought, hmmm, maybe I'll be back after Christmas and take a closer look.

I did. The pendant is from the David Rosales collection, and it has Sonoran Gold turquoise. Being that it is somewhat big on me (two inches isn't too big in general, just on me), I also picked up a smaller, silver cross with a simpler but still unique design. I may end up wearing that one more often, but I wanted the statement cross to be a sort of signature piece for me.

I ramble about all this here at Year's End to express some affection towards the fantastic small businesses in my area. And also to ponder what 2020 has been to me. This has not been an easy year for me--completely apart from the usual 2020ness. And yet this year has been incredibly beautiful, as well, in terms of what God has been up to in my life. So when I look at my silver and turquoise cross pendant, I think about who I am. The theme of this year has been reminding myself that I belong to God and he forms my identity. And that is a lovely thing. 

I stepped into this year with statements about the lies I have listened to about my identity and about what I do in fact believe (click here for that post). And now here at the end of the year, I find I've circled back around to that theme (even after having forgotten exactly how explicitly I had stated it a year ago). I made a statement about what I believed, and God has been showing me that truth in my life this whole year. And I think that perhaps if I were to take a next step for this coming year, it would be now that I have been focusing on God's declaration of my identity, to now trust in his promises for my life. 2020, identity; 2021, promise. And for both, I'll need plenty of trust. 

Happy New Year's Eve.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

A Treasury of Classic Christmas

It is possible that I have too many of the Barnes & Noble leather-bound classic editions. But they're just so beautiful. One of the most recent ones I acquired was two years ago a few weeks after Christmas--even though A Christmas Treasury was by then out of date, I knew Christmas would come again and I could then have this volume ready for me.

This the year of less events and gatherings turned out to be a great year for some quiet Christmas reading. Though the book looks large, it is not a long read. There are ten short stories and nine poems. Essentially it is filled with the classic Victorian Christmas. The outside of the book is a good tell for the inside: besides the gold-edged pages, there are also plenty of illustrations and visual details A gift book but also a readable one.

The book begins with the obligatory A Christmas Carol. It's always good for a reread. There are also familiar stories that if you're like me, you may not have read in the original before. These would be "The Gift of the Magi" and "Christmas Every Day." While Disney shorts and such are good ways to take in stories, it's also nice to read the text that inspires so many retellings. L. Frank Baum's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus was a surprisingly intriguing read (though perhaps not so surprisingly--it wasn't by accident that The Wizard of Oz became so popular). While I'm not very much interested in Santa Claus for Christmas, this was a fun Santa Claus myth that put me in mind of C.S. Lewis's style. 

And you know, even though there were a fair amount of Santa Claus stories in here and even the ones that didn't include him also had a lot of presents and trees, there was a shift in focus to what I'm used to from modern movies about Santa Claus. The movies all seem to be about "believe in Santa Claus who gives us presents so that you can maintain magic in your life." These stories, though, were about bringing the heart and the warmth of Christmas to those around you. Presents are fun to get but it's better to see how you can bring about good things to the people in your sphere of influence. Decorations are fun but love is better. The little Christmas tree in the poem of the same name finds its place. We all have a role.

That's what was so refreshing about this collection. These stories aren't about the self. Even the stories about Santa Claus get back to the concept of selfless giving, giving for the joy of giving and helping, rather than about trying to grant your own wishes. 

Happy Christmas Eve.