Have a break, have a…matcha Kit Kat? Sunday, Jan 13 2013 

I love Kit Kats. They’re one of my top go-tos if I’m feeling stressed, probably because I have a weird way of eating them. Using my teeth, I prise off the top layer of chocolate. Then I eat the small thick square pieces off the ends. Then the long sides. And finally the long layer of chocolate at the bottom, so that I’m left with just the wafer. Then I eat the wafer (you didn’t think I was going to do something weird like throw it away, did you?!). And so onto the next bar. If this is one of those 4-bar Kit Kats, this takes quite a while. (It’s quite an intricate operation, you know.) And by the time I’ve finished, I’ve forgotten whatever it is I was worrying about.

The entire delicate process of eating an ordinary Kit Kat means that the Kit Kat Chunky just doesn’t have the same appeal. I therefore wasn’t really aware of any other types of Kit Kat. UNTIL, for the pot luck lunch at my work, one of the parents brought in a whole box of these:

matcha kk

This is a matcha (green tea) flavoured Kit Kat from Japan. This is what happens when you work in a fairly international climate. You hear about four different languages as you walk down a corridor, you hear a range of accents and levels of language acquistion in the classroom and staffroom, and you get to try weird new foods.

So how was the matcha Kit Kat? The chocolate is a pale green, and so is the cream that fills the wafer. Disappointingly, though, it just tastes like white chocolate, with any green tea flavour not being distinct.

I was surprised to learn, though (thanks, Wikipedia!), that Japan has introduced over 200 Kit Kat flavours since the year 2000, including ginger ale, crème brûlée, and café au lait – all of which I’d love to try. The power of the internet also permitted me to recall the existence of the orange Kit Kat, which was briefly on sale in the UK (if I remember rightly, it didn’t actually taste that nice). I also discovered that a Cookies and Cream version of the Kit Kat has been available in Britain since 2012: now just how did I not know that before?!

So what flavours of Kit Kat would you like to see? Continuing along the tea theme, I reckon a version flavoured with one of my favourite teas, Lapsang Souchong, would have plenty of mileage…

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I scream, you scream… Thursday, Jul 26 2012 

Due to spending part of my summer in the south of France, I have been eating ice cream and sorbet pretty much twice a day at the moment (well, wouldn’t you in 40°C heat?! Diet’s on the cards for September, promise…).

I love ice cream anyway and could pretty much eat it constantly (twice a day? Pah. I’ve been known to send off whole tubs of Carte d’Or, Ben and Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs in one sitting). The main thing for me now, though, is branching out into trying weirder and more wonderful flavours. Just recently I’ve sampled nougat ice cream, lavender ice cream, and poppy ice cream, as well as marvelling at the presence of (but not actually trying) nut ice cream and marshmallow ice cream. (For the record, the nougat ice cream tasted relatively little like nougat, the varieties of lavender ice cream I’ve tried range from the luridly purple to the strictly natural, and the poppy ice cream tasted surprisingly fruity.)

But what of my favourite classic flavours? I have loved stracciatella ever since I first visited Italy at age 12, and mint chocolate chip is another long-standing favourite of mine. Coffee and caramel variants are also weaknesses of mine, but to be honest I’ve not yet met an ice cream I don’t like.

EXCEPT…chocolate. Yep, you heard me right. This stems from a summer holiday as a child where all the meals were included, and so, being eight and five years old at the time, my sister and I did the only thing that any normal child would do: we had chocolate ice cream for dessert every night for two weeks. That about did me for life and even now I would eat chocolate ice cream if given it, but would never deliberately choose it. (Strangely, chocolate-covered ice creams, such as Magnums, are OK – but only those which aren’t chocolate on the inside too.) For this reason, I’m also not that fond of Neapolitan ice cream, despite not having anything specific against the strawberry and vanilla flavours.

In addition, you will never see me eating any ice cream containing banana (I really, really hate banana).

In terms of more ‘modern’ ice cream flavours, Ben and Jerry’s has to be the king here (although I’ve not yet tasted Heston Blumenthal’s famous bacon and egg variant), and I’m very partial to their cookie dough flavour. Many people probably think it’s disgusting, but I just love it for its sweetness, variation in texture, and its combination of two things I love – cookies and ice cream – in one single pot. I’ve not yet spotted their Cake Batter flavour, but suspect I would adore it for the same reasons. Ben and Jerry’s Strawberry Cheesecake flavour is also highly palatable, and in spite of the saccharine variety of flavours, it’s actually (believe it or not) very good quality ice cream: while many other manufacturers (Carte d’Or and Nestlé to name but a few) are known to pump loads of air into their ice cream so that you get as little as 500g of ice cream per litre, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream comes from milk and cream from family farms, uses Fairtrade ingredients, and is certainly not pimped using extra air. (Remember to always check the bottom of the pack! The gram and millilitre content is always clearly listed and the closer the numbers are to each other, the better.)

So all that remains, it seems, is flavours I’d like to try but haven’t yet. I’ve already listed a few above in my paragraph of Ben and Jerry’s worship. And luckily, thanks to spending part of my summer in an artisanal ice cream and sorbet hotspot (the Ardèche region of France is full of small firms making their own premium ices), there’s probably some out there that I haven’t even thought of yet. But I also have a few ideas of my own. For instance, I have a recipe for pine nut ice cream I’ve never used (husband needs to buy me an ice cream maker, hint). I’ve also heard of yam and coconut ice cream being sold in Singapore that sounds strangely appealing. Los Angeles (perhaps unsurprisingly) seems to have a wide variety of wacky ice cream bars, serving flavours like coffee and Guinness and chocolate & wasabi, which I’d do a lot to get my furry little mitts on. And, of course, there’s a raft of mileage in fresh herbs and spices…basil ice cream, rosemary ice cream, cardamom and ginger ice cream…

JESUS I really need an ice cream maker.

Confectionery Review: Quality Street vs. Roses Friday, Aug 19 2011 

The ultimate debate perhaps: Cadbury’s Roses, or Nestlé Quality Street?

I have personally never been bothered about either of these boxes ever since both brands withdrew their coffee cremes some years ago (big mistake, guys. Big mistake.). However, this came up because my husband happened to mention that actually he rather used to like Quality Street when he was smaller. This amazed me because a) he’s French, and for some reason I had only really assumed that Quality Street tins could be found in French supermarkets up here to cater for the expat market living in and around Paris; and b) he’s French, and he generally likes a higher quality of chocolate.

Not wishing to miss this opportunity, I quietly commissioned my sister to bring me a box of each for a serious tasting session on her next visit. So, first impressions: Quality Street initially seems to be mostly comprised of toffees, caramels and fudges, which appear to be more dominant in this box than in the Roses. But the Cadbury box is equally guilty – like the Quality Street, it also contains 6 chocolates along this theme. Actually, this is worse, as the Roses box only contains 10 types of chocolate while the Quality Street contains 12.

First up for testing then was the Quality Street box. Despite the huge popularity of the Green Triangle and The Purple One with the UK market (leading to large versions thereof at Christmas), these both just made me go ‘meh’. Perhaps living in France has led to me tasting nicer praline than that existing in the Green Triangle. There’s no direct equivalent in the Roses box though, so if you like it, you should probably buy QS. As for the Purple One, I was amazed in a blind taste test to find that I actually preferred the Roses version (called Hazel in Caramel). The Purple One seemed more chocolate and very little nut and caramel (perhaps I just got a dud?) while the Hazel in Caramel seemed much more substantial. So as long as we’re working with direct comparisons – Roses 1, Quality Street 0.

Quality Street does offer a greater selection of orange-flavoured chocolate, in the form of the Orange Chocolate Crunch and the Orange Creme. The Orange Chocolate Crunch is surprisingly addictive with its great flavour and generally pleasing crunchy-smooth texture combination, and has no equivalent in the Roses box. The Orange Creme is harder than its Roses counterpart, the more liquidy Tangy Orange Creme. I wouldn’t kick any of them out of bed, though. So for orange-flavoured sweets: Roses 0, Quality Street 1.

Some more direct comparisons: the Roses Cadbury Dairy Milk pwns the QS Milk Choc Block, due to the former’s creamier and more familiar texture and taste. The Strawberry Delight in the QS box is, again, of a harder texture and less sickly taste than the Roses Strawberry Dream, while the quality of the Quality Street Fudge is about equal to the Roses Country Fudge by just about all accounts, although the Quality Street version is arguably of a more pleasing size and shape. Nevertheless, a draw: Quality Street 2, Roses 2.

This is where the Quality Street box begins to get a little silly. Does any sane human being really need a Toffee Finger, a Toffee Penny, AND a Toffee Deluxe? The Toffee Penny just gets stuck to the wrapper, and the Toffee Deluxe is far more satisfyingly chewy than its equally chocolate-covered but wimpier finger-shaped cousin. But equally, does the Roses box really need two caramels (Caramel Velvet and Caramel, between which I could see no discernible difference)? No points for anybody here.

The only remaining direct comparison is that of the Golden Barrel (Roses) and the Caramel Swirl (Quality Street). The Golden Barrel is significantly bigger, giving you more chocolate and caramel for your buck (given that it’s yet another caramel in each box, though, are we not all getting a little bored by now?). The Roses version wins, then. Roses 1, Quality Street 0.

The Quality Street box only has one chocolate type remaining – the Coconut Eclair – and it doesn’t seem to be very popular with anyone. This is a shame as it is one of the few deviating from the box’s general toffee/caramel trend (it’s one of only half the box containing nothing to do with caramel, toffee or fudge). The Roses has two variants remaining – the Brazilian Darkness (yet another caramel, this time with nuts and dark chocolate) and the Hazel Whirl, which is comprised of a praline-type centre incomparable to the Green Triangle, and a whole hazelnut, all encased in a circular chocolate. I didn’t get a chance to try either of these (presumably because my husband and sister snaffled them while I wasn’t looking) but it seems pointless to include them given their similarity to other chocolates in the box. No redeeming features here for either box; nul points.

The overall scores, then, come to Roses 4, Quality Street 3.

This is both surprising and unsurprising. Predictable because I had started out feeling rather pro-Roses, perhaps due to their winning Hazel in Caramel, the inclusion of the Dairy Milk, and the initial impression that they had more variation in the box than the Quality Street (which is a lie – they don’t. In fact, you could argue that they have less due to the lower number of varieties in the box.). My husband and I also both declared that we did prefer Roses (despite him indoors’ initial preference for QS) once both boxes were finished.

However, I am surprised that the Quality Street has been able to defend itself so staunchly (even though they still ‘lost’ in my totally unscientific tests above). They have too many similar chocolates; they have the abomination that is the Coconut Eclair; and the public favourites of the Green Triangle and Purple One just don’t do it for me. However, the Toffee Deluxe on its own gives all of the other sweets of this variant – in BOTH boxes – a run for their money, I could eat a whole box of the strawberry and orange ones on their own, and I probably do prefer the fudge in this box too if forced to choose.

So in a more accurate way, it’s probably a draw. Some suggested improvements for both boxes: have only ONE type of toffee and ONE type of caramel in each box, with the possible exception of the Purple One and the Hazel in Caramel, because that’s different. QS needs to ditch the Coconut Eclair (just who in their right mind put this in?) and Roses’ Hazel Whirl equally can probably be cut. Use the spaces these free up to bring back the Coffee Creme, the Hazelnut/Peanut Cracknell (a discontinued variety in the Quality Street box that seems to still have a loyal online following), the Montélimar nougat (again a discontinued QS chocolate), and/or some of the more interesting varieties from Roses boxes in other countries, such as the Lemon Cheesecake, Turkish Delight and Cherry Ripe. Variety’s the spice of life, you know 😉