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The Bar has been Raised

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

First off—no, I did not make these! Pictured above is a homemade candy bar from BonBonBar.com. BonBonBar was started by fellow blogger, Nina, over at Sweet Napa. I’ve been reading her blog for over a year and was excited when she announced she was going to start her own candy business last October. I ordered her BonBonBars online last week and was hoping to hide my identity from Nina, figuring that if I purchased the chocolates anonymously, that this unsolicited review would be more genuine. I assumed she wouldn’t remember my surname since our last email correspondence was a good 6 months ago. I even used my work email address during the checkout process, hoping she wouldn’t figure out it was me, but when I opened the package I saw a hand written note on the invoice. Nina wrote that she threw in some marshmallows so I would have a complete sampler of her products since I had ordered the candy bar sampler.

I carefully opened the packaging and examined the contents before unwrapping a dark chocolate Caramel Nut Bar. I smelled the candy bar and right away I knew this was going to be a completely brand new candy experience. It’s funny how the prevalence of mass-produced confections sets our expectations of what a “good” candy bar is. We settle for the familiar and await the new ways that a machine can assemble chocolate, caramel, nuts, and/or cookies. Hey, why not fry them? King size, fun size—the candy bar has long been a commodity defined by convenience and thrift. So why on earth would you want to pay $5.00 for a candy bar?

“Oh, that’s expensive” you say between sips of your venti nonfat half-caff vanilla soy triple mocha. Actually, it’s kind of a bargain considering how much it costs to keep things out of a candy bar. These BonBonBars are missing a few things that you might have become accustomed to like corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, artificial flavorings and—oh yeah—a long shelf life. You don’t see candy bar ads from manufacturers extolling their products’ freshness over competitors. These candy bars are the freshest tasting candy bars I have ever had. It’s amazing what happens when you combine fresh ingredients and consume them soon afterwards. My BonBonBars indicated a “best by” date only 3 weeks away. My wife and I quickly discovered that being perishable was of no concern as we quickly consumed 3 different bars in a single sitting.

The buttery Caramel Nut Bar was just amazing and definitely our favorite. The molded chocolate shell makes for a very attractive bar and helps you ration the bar into smaller chunks to savor one at a time. The caramel was so soft and buttery I first thought the nuts were chunks of toffee. The salted nut flavor quickly follows and makes for a very nice finish. The taste was incredibly fresh and the quality of the chocolate and caramel were second to none. I’m already thinking about how I can make my own caramels with so much rich, buttery goodness.

Next, we tried the Malt Bars. I’m a huge fan of dark chocolate so I was surprised to discover that I actually prefer the milk chocolate Malt Bars more over the dark chocolate version. Although the fillings are presumably the same, I felt that the dark chocolate overpowered the malt flavor and wasn’t a harmonious match like the milk chocolate and malt pairing. The crunchy shortbread cookie in each of these bars was really good. I would have liked to just munch on the cookies alone. Finally, we opened the marshmallows. I wasn’t really expecting much since I’m not a huge marshmallow fan outside of campfires, but these were really good. The Vanilla Marshmallow had texture and freshness unlike any marshmallow I have had before. Equally fresh and light, the Passion Fruit Marshmallow was accurately described as tart and refreshing. Before trying it, I thought passion fruit seemed like an odd flavor to choose, but after eating one you want another.

These BonBonBars were fantastic and really opened up my eyes to the true potential of a candy bar. Brava!

The candy arrived safely thanks to a cushion of starch-based packing material.

The packaging was very eco-friendly yet stylish.

The dark chocolate Malt Bar was very good, but we liked the milk chocolate version best.

The milk chocolate Malt Bar was amazing and the shortbread cookie inside was fantastic and crunchy.

The Vanilla Marshmallow packaging hides 4 neat, cube shaped marshmallows.

The Vanilla Marshmallows were incredibly fresh. My wife, not one for marshmallows, even thought they were delicious. Brava!

The Passion Fruit Marshmallows in their packaging.

The Passion Fruit Marshmallows were really good and had a nice aftertaste.

So fresh and free of preservatives these bars are perishable. We couldn’t imagine how you could let them sit for 3 weeks—we succumbed and ate it all in 24 hours.

Find out more about Nina and BonBonBar on her blog, Sweet Napa.

Recipe Test: Ice Cream Ireland’s Kahlua Espresso Ice Cream

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

When Kieran from Ice Cream Ireland put out the call for ice cream testers earlier this month, I knew I had to jump in and help out. I had already made one of his recipes for Cinnamon Latte Ice Cream (see my post about it here), with great success, so I decided to stick with the coffee theme and select his Coffee Kahlúa Ice Cream for testing. This ice cream has a rich custard base with real espresso and Kahlúa for flavoring. I decided to serve my first batch with hot fudge sauce and almonds (picture above).

To Boil or not to Boil?
The espresso flavor in this recipe, unlike a lot of recipes I’ve seen or used, comes from real, fresh espresso. Since the espresso has such high water content, Kieran recommends boiling the espresso to prevent the finished ice cream from being icy. This is the same process for espresso flavoring that Kieran uses in is Cinnamon Latte Ice Cream, which I have also made. I’m not a coffee snob by any means, but I still pause to consider the flavor ramifications from boiling coffee.

Twenty years ago, the percolator was a very common way for Americans to brew coffee. Today the percolator is typically found only at camping supply stores. Although I was hesitant to boil espresso for so long, the resulting flavor of this ice cream is anything but burnt. The espresso flavor is strong and very easy to differentiate from the Kahlúa flavor. This ice cream disappeared very quickly so I decided to make a second batch—this time using espresso powder. Espresso powder is typically made by freeze-drying espresso, so the espresso is never actually boiled or subject to high temperatures. The resulting ice cream was equally delicious, but the coffee flavoring was definitely different. With espresso powder, the espresso flavor was not as sharp and the broader coffee flavor also blended more with the Kahlúa flavoring; it was more difficult to detect the Kahlúa with espresso powder.

If you really want a pronounced espresso and Kahlúa flavoring, stick with the fresh espresso. The espresso powder will yield a coffee ice cream more similar to what you might buy at the store. Either way, you’ll be out of ice cream in no time.

Whipping your ice cream into submission
In the past, I have asked Kieran about whipping the cream separately and folding it into the chilled custard base before freezing since I had never seen this step in ice cream recipes. Kieran said that most home machines don’t churn the ice cream at a high enough speed to introduce enough air into the mixture. My Musso Lussino ice cream maker spins at a pretty good rate, so I had omitted Kieran’s suggestion in the past. Since I was testing this recipe for his upcoming cookbook, I decided I would whip the cream as instructed.

The finished ice cream was simply amazing and my wife also noted the fantastic texture of the finished ice cream, even after sitting in the freezer for a day. I’m definitely going to be making some modifications to my ice cream recipes to include this step. I just made 2 batches of my own vanilla ice cream recipe for Thanksgiving using this technique and was thrilled with the results. When whipping the cream, I think you want to just aim for soft peaks or else the ice cream may not fully blend in your maker. I’m betting too much air is not a good thing, though I haven’t tried pushing the envelope on this.

The verdict: Outstanding!
This recipe is a keeper! Although I am already partial to coffee flavored ice creams, I have to say that this recipe is one of the best I’ve had. In fact, I’m already working on a variation for a true mocha almond fudge recipe. I’m looking forward to Kieran’s new book and will be sure to post an announcement here when it comes out.

Ingredients for making Kahlúa Espresso Ice Cream.

Boil 1/2 cup espresso (about 4 shots) and 1 tablespoon sugar until reduced to 1/3 original volume.

Mix 5 egg yolks and 1 cup sugar until light yellow and fluffy.

Slowly pour 1 1/8 cups of simmering whole milk into egg yolk and sugar mixture while mixing on medium low speed.

Return egg yolk, sugar and hot milk mixture to stove and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches 165 – 170° F. Chill mixture in ice bath until less than 45° F.

Mix in 1/4 cup of Kahlúa into custard base and blend. Whip 1 1/8 cups of heavy cream to soft peak stage and gently fold into chilled custard base.

Pour ice cream base into ice cream maker and freeze according to your maker’s instructions.

Add 2 ounces of chocolate shavings (or very small chunks) once ice cream starts to thicken a little.

Transfer finished ice cream to dedicated container and let ripen in freezer for several hours.

The recipe pictured above, with detailed instructions and complete photo gallery can be found on the Kahlúa Espresso Ice Cream recipe page or at Ice Cream Ireland.