Friday, 9 December 2016

Holly Lane Chocolate Stollen Bites (ALDI)

I hope that stollen is one of your Christmas staples too. The German delicacy of buttery, cake-like bread filled with almondy marzipan and dried fruits is sheer genius. I'm quite glad it's only sold seasonally because otherwise I'm sure I'd eat too much and grow sick of it (or maybe not, I've never reached that point with chocolate, peanut butter or ice cream after all).

There's a huge discrepancy between great and goddamn awful stollen though. Some manufacturers master the lightness of the dough, whilst others create something that's best use would be best utilised as a window smashing implement. Last year I reviewed the epitome of the second type (which came from LIDL) and a beautifully fluffy version from Bahlsen. Both LIDL and Bahlsen are German companies who I imagined would work equal wizardry with stollen!

Following the brick-like experience with LIDL, I thought my German discount supermarket stollen buying days were over. But then I saw these new chocolate covered stollen bites. ALDI soon suckered me in with the exciting idea of one of my favourite Christmas treats covered in one of my favourite everyday treats. I didn't resist. The 350g box cost £1.99 and contained roughly 12 bites.

"Stollen bites with raisins, mixed citrus peel and a marzipan centre, covered with chocolate."

They certainly looked very chocolatey, and were haphazardly drizzled with milk chocolate. They felt a little on the sturdy, heavy side, and I couldn't smell the sweet spices that normally makes an appearance when opening a pack of stollen. I hoped all of this could be pinned on a super thick layer of chocolate.

Slicing my first "bite" in two (anyone able eat them in one bite has a much larger mouth than me) revealed a thick marzipan centre, sandwiched between two stollen layers, surrounded by the chocolate. The stollen appeared dry, but I tried not to judge it completely on appearances.

Biting into it I could really taste the (plain) chocolate, which wasn't the best quality but was perfectly edible and a far cry from Kinnerton's nasty calendar stuff. My tastebuds then acknowledged the marzipan: soft, chewy and almondy -just as it should be.

The trouble came with the stollen, which should always be the star of the show, but was sadly completely lost against the more dominant almond and chocolate components. Perhaps this is could be explained by the delicacy of the yeasted dough, maybe it's because less than 50% of the bites are made up of it, or possibly it's just because ALDI and LIDL can't seem to make stollen to save their life.

As far as fruity, marzipan, chocolatey squares go, they're rather good. I've made plenty of complaints in this post when in actual fact I'm rather enjoying them. They're just not going to tick the stollen box if that's what you're after this Christmas.


If you're a fellow stollen lover you might also be interested in my review of Morrisons' Bakery stollen cookies. Otherwise, if you fancy reading another opinion on these chocolatey stollen bites please pop on over to One Treat's review

Thursday, 8 December 2016

NEW! Tiramisu slice (Caffè Nero)

Now I feel like a bit of a hyprocrite writing this. A few days ago, when I published the review of Morrisons's "Best" gingerbread muffins, I was asked if I'd had Costa Coffee's version and that I should compare the two and I replied that I don't buy food from coffee shops because it's so expensive. That's still true, but I was meeting my mum for coffee yesterday and so she treated me to a tiramisu slice to have at home that evening (I'd only just eaten lunch). As a lover of all things tiramisu I couldn't wait to get stuck in. Admittedly I've never had any food from Nero before, but had eagerly been eyeing it up every Tuesday when I collect my free mocha courtesy of O2 Priority.

"An Italian takeover of a millionaire's shortbread - chocolate shortbread, coffee caramel and white chocolate. Dusted with cocoa and gold shimmer."

Sounds delicious right? Except... Where does the tiramisu come into play? Surely Marsala wine, Savoiardi and mascarpone are key ingredients of the famous Italian dessert? At least the cocoa and coffee elements where there I suppose. I moan, but in all honesty, the combination of the three layers sounded intoxicating. I just wish they'd called it a winter mocha millionaire's slice or similar.

The white chocolate topping had shattered on every single slice in Nero's cabinets, and by the time it got home mine looked even more worse for wear thanks to the oozy caramel peeping out from all sides and the gold shimmer having all but disappeared. The instantly redeeming factor however was the delicious aroma of freshly ground coffee that escaped from the bag the moment I retrieved my treat.

Chocolate shortbread can often be a bit hit and miss. The cocoa sometimes dries out the mixture and the biscuit loses some of that beautiful butteriness that it's known for. The thick, crumbly base of the tiramisu slice had fallen prey to this trap, but fortunately only slightly. Thankfully it was chocolatey, and benefitted from being slightly less sweeter than expected. Normally this would be a negative point for my sugar addicted palate, but given the toppings that sat above it, the shortbread needed to be less sugary.

The caramel was sheer heaven. Earlier this year I tried the Cappuccino Twix, and found it to have a very mild coffee flavour. This, by comparison, packed an almighty flavour punch and yet the caramel still shine alongside it (think caramel macchiato). The consistency of it was spot on too -gooey enough to ooze, but not so much that it slipped off the shortbread and became a pain to eat.

Of course the white chocolate on top offered an additional sugar hit, but it wasn't thick enough to really taste on its own (especially due to the strength of flavours in the layers below). All I could detect was the creamy sweetness but it worked well.

By the end of the tiramisu slice, I started to find it very sickly -but isn't that the case with most millionaire's shortbread. I felt like I'd had a real treat though, and now feel like I might be missing out on some of the coffee shops' bakery items! What's your favourite coffee shop treat? I'd love to know what's worth the pennies!


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

NEW! Frangipane Mince Pies (M&S)

Are you sick of the mince pies yet? No of course not, I'm sure you've been much more sensible and waited much longer before giving into to the festive treats.

I'm obviously not either, given that this is the fifth review so far this season -and that's excluding yesterday's mince pie ice cream! I'm not sure I'll be up for the Twelfth night mince pie tradition promising of a full year's happiness come Christmas itself though (please let me know if you have the stamina after all the festive feasting and brave it)!

Of course so far we've seen the disappointing individual pie, award winning pies, chocolate orange pies and the salted caramel pies. Today marks the turn of M&S' frangipane mince pies -yes it's yet another twist on the classic! What will they think of next year? I do love a good frangipane tart, but don't buy them often as I find them too moreish and  could easily devour 2 or 3 in one sitting. I knew I'd regret not trying these mince pie versions though, so I stumped up the comparatively pricey sum of £2.50 for 6 (although they are on a 2 for £4 offer). 

"All butter shortcrust pastry cases filled with mincemeat and topped with almond frangipane and flaked almonds."

They looked much smaller than the other mince pies I've tried this year, but I knew I wouldn't mind if the taste was up to scratch. They were attractive too with their smattering of flaked almonds. Helping matters further was the combined bakewell-esque aroma mixed with the mixed spices emanating from the mincemeat within -to me the fusion was utterly enticing.

The instructions refrained to mention whether or not it was possible to heat the pies in the microwave, but the box did say "heat to eat" and informed me to bake them in the oven for 8-10 minutes (gas mark 4/180c). The wait was excruciating, especially as the pies started to fill my house with the most heavenly scent. Mmm. 

After 8 treadmill-like minutes, the wait was up and I retrieved my almond topped pie from the oven. Both the pastry and frangipane was soft and crumbly, which made it rather messy to cut into -especially as the mincemeat oozed out simultaneously. I can't mark M&S down for this though, as I can't imagine many people cut into their pies unless they're silly and photographing them.

The pastry was thin but deliciously buttery, and I imagine it would make for a good traditional lidded mince pie. The mincemeat was well spiced, whilst the currants, sultanas and raisins were plump and juicy. We've heard this story before of course with the Iceland mince pies. Could the frangipane edge the M&S offerings into the extraordinary level of Christmas scrumminess?

Yes, it did. The frangipane was sheer perfection, and complimented the mincemeat and pastry wonderfully. I was pleased to find that the almond tasted completely natural, and shone through despite the spiciness of the filling. It was moist too, which can often be the stumbling block of lesser quality and/or long life frangipanes. The trouble is, I've already mentioned how my self-control is lacking with frangipane tarts -and that I can easily eat multiple mince pies in one go- so I think I'm going to have to ask my fiance to lock these away from me!  

Bravo M&S, true ingenuity! It's another well deserved 10/10 from the premium supermarket this Christmas from me.


Tuesday, 6 December 2016

NEW! Specially Selected Mince Pie Ice Cream (ALDI)

This Mince Pie ice cream has been giving me the run around for weeks now. I kept seeing it pop up on instagram, but my local ALDI (which is a bit of a pain to get to from my house) has been pretty rubbish at maintaining stock of their new Christmas lines (such as their flavoured mince pies). On my third attempt, I finally got lucky, and decided to pick up both of their new festive ice creams. The other flavour -Gingerbread FYI- was reviewed yesterday by One Treat, and she gave it such high praises that I couldn't wait to get stuck in. The 480ml Christmassy Ice Cream Tubs cost £1.99 each, which isn't too bad considering Sainsbury's charge £2.85 for theirs. 

"Cream ice cream with brandy flavoured sauce, fruit conserve with brandy and biscuit pieces."

In my desperate attempt to get hold of this ice cream, I cycled across Hereford with my insulated lunch bag complete with freezer block -this was before I did the ASDA shop and was collected by my fiance. I'm explaining this because it was about 90 minutes between purchase and getting home. By the time I retrieved the ice cream from my lunch bag, the ice cream container gave slightly, and I worried that I'd ruined it. 

Opening it up a few hours later didn't seem to have damaged it in the slightest however, and I was met with a creamy coloured, easily scoopable ice cream. It wasn't as ridiculously soft as the Pizza Express Tiramisu Gelato or the likes of Carte D'Or, but my scoop gathered ice cream effortlessly, revealing some biscuit pieces and a few stray raisins. 

Just as One Treat found with the gingerbread version, the ice cream didn't melt instantly, and behaved itself long enough to survive being scooped into a waffle cone, then being photographed, before finally being enjoyed. The taste was that of super cold double cream (unsurprising considering double cream accounts for 20% of the ingredients) and it reminded me of the no-churn style ice creams that I've made in the past. A lovely warmth came from the Brandy sauce, which was eminent throughout, but occasionally popped up in stronger pockets. 

Now I've moaned before about companies giving the impression that their ice cream contains pastry *ahem Apple Tarte* when in fact they contain biscuit pieces, but I didn't even realise that this tub was devoid of real pastry until I read the description to write this post. The little chunks were certainly very sweet shortcrust pastry like, and my only query during consumption was how ALDI had managed to keep them so crispy -although I'm still baffled by this as surely biscuits should go soft when embedded in ice cream? 

My only real moan is regarding the lack of fruit pieces, after all the mince filling should be the pies raison d'être. Apparently 10% of the ice cream is the 'fruit conserve with brandy' but only 36% of that is made up of actual fruit pieces. I enjoyed the soft, plump, alcohol infused raisins and sultanas that I did find -but wasn't keen on the single hard piece of citrus peel I found in my 1/3 tub serving! 

Still, moans aside, I really enjoyed this festive ice cream from ALDI -and no I haven't got completely sick of the mince pies yet...


Monday, 5 December 2016

Sweet Mince Pie (Greggs)

I've already reviewed the winners of this years' prestigious Good Housekeeping Institute's prestigious Mince Pie taste tests, and today it's the turn of the 2015 runners up -made by Greggs. For those of you who, like me, live in non-mince-pie eating households, it's always handy to be able to buy a single pastry without committing to a whole box. Unfortunately traditional British bakeries offering freshly baked bread and cakes are somewhat on the decline, but most high streets do offer (at least one) Greggs. In fact their mince pie was the first I tried this season -before I thought sod it, and bought three 6 pack boxes to eat to myself. Hey, it's Christmas, it's traditional to be more stuffed than the Turkey throughout (November and) December, right?

"It's that time of year when you can enjoy our sweet mince pies! 
Deliciously crumbly shortcrust pastry, filled with a sweet mincemeat, made with vine fruits, Bramley apple and candied orange and lemon peel - YUM!"

This was a fairly wide and shallow mince pie, much more akin to the ones I used to make with my Grandma every year (I miss doing that so much) than most of the deeper shop bought varieties. The pastry was a light golden colour and there was a fair amount of caster sugar gracing the top. So far, so good. 

Unfortunately, the taste wasn't fantastic. At the time I wondered whether my tastes had changed (yet again) and I'd just gone off mince pies, but I've since tried Iceland's fabulous luxury versions and ALDI's wacky flavoured offerings, and realised that Greggs just haven't done a great job. The case to filling ratio was off, and the sheer amount of pastry made it rather claggy to eat. Unfortunately it wasn't buttery or shortbread-esque like Iceland's either, which made for a rather cumbersome eating experience. 

Please excuse the nibbled edges - I was eating this on the train!

The mincemeat was pretty standard, on the plus side it was quite heavily spiced but it hadn't been cooked for long enough, resulting in globs of unattractive suet permeating the filling. Humf.

Perhaps this is why the Greggs Mince Pie dropped to number 17 out of 24 in the Good Housekeeping's Taste Test this year. C'mon Greggs, more effort next year please!


Sunday, 4 December 2016

Schlute Kirsch Lebkuchen (TKMaxx)

Last year I was obsessed with plain Lebkuchen, but this year it's the turn of the jammy, chocolate dipped variety. Thus far I've tried the Lambertz version, but then I spotted this curious Kirsch version from a company I've not heard of before in TKMaxx.

I don't make a regular habit of buying food from the discount retailer (mainly because it's actually more expensive than most supermarkets) but I've recently made a habit of checking my local branch because I've discovered that they regularly stock Jordan's skinny syrups- and they're much cheaper than I can get them online.

Now that TKMaxx have their Christmas foods in stock I'm finding it even harder to make my was to the syrup shelf without being distracted by the continental treats -and Kirsch Lebkuchen sounded just to good to resist. At £1.49 for 100g bag they're more costly than the Lambertz version, but they sounded so much more exciting and I felt that the extra expense was justified.

Have any of you tried Schlute's products before? Their website leads me to believe that the company are a quality German manufacturer of biscuits, waffles and pastries who use only "old, tried and tested recipes and exquisite ingredients" and "carefully selected ingredients".

"Juicy gingerbread with fine apple-cherry-fruit filling (18% and plain chocolate (28%).

Gah. The bag obviously hadn't been looked after on its travels. Unlike the Lambertz Lebkuchen, most of the hearts were smashed. I certainly wouldn't have been happy if I'd received them a present in such a questionable state. Still, I hoped that the taste would make up for their sorry appearance.

Alas! Compared to the Lambertz versions, these were pathetic. The gingerbread was fairly well spiced but was noticeably less soft and more tough -which in itself wasn't a deal breaker. Add poor quality chocolate and so-so jam into the equation however and you're left with a pretty disgruntled Amy. I was hoping for a lovely, black forest vibe (or at the very least a good quality German gingerbread) but these missed the mark entirely -especially as the jam was distinctly lacking in the Kirsch department. Perhaps I should've read the bag before I'd bought (or even tasted) the hearts, as then I would've realised that the ingredients includes 10% apple pulp and just 1% morello cherry juice concentrate. Very misleading.

I can't blame Schlute entirely for my experience with their Kirsch Lebkuchen though, after all I have no idea how long these have been kicking about the TKMaxx system (but they were in date until April next year) and I also imagine they looked far prettier when leaving the factory floor. 


Saturday, 3 December 2016

NEW! "The Best" Gingerbread Muffins (Morrisons)

When you think of gingerbread do you think of Bonfire Night, Christmas or neither? Either way, the warming spice definitely comes out to play during the latter months of the year, and these Gingerbread Muffins have graced Morrisons' stores since the end of October. I'm still going to include them as a Christmas review though due to their very festive decoration!

I had a very hard job in Morrisons trying to find a pack of muffins without broken (and therefore sad looking) men on top. In fact there wasn't any and I even asked the department manager if there was any intact muffins out the back, but unfortunately I wasn't in luck. He said that they might have a delivery in the next couple of days, but I was too impatient to wait. At £1.50 for 2 muffins they're at the more expensive end of the supermarket muffin range, and I was a bit reticent about forking out for them given my previous experience with Morrisons "Signature" lemon & raspberry and marbled chocolate muffins in the summer. I knew they'd play on my mind if I didn't buy them though, and I refuse to have a snacks I wish I'd tried last Christmas list next year.  

"2 Ginger flavoured muffins with a gingerbread flavour filling, topped with toffee icing and a chocolate decoration."

The muffins weren't particularly light but neither were they notable heavy. They were however a beautiful dark golden colour, and smelt very gingery, which I took as a good sign. Slicing the first in two (for photographic reasons) bared the injection of sauce that ran through the middle. It wasn't particularly obvious, especially given that it was a translucent affair, but there didn't seem to be a huge amount of it. I wondered if it was going to be a similar experience to Tesco's Toffee Apple muffins where the sauce had oozed into the cake itself. I sure hoped so. 

I was expecting the muffin to taste like McVites Jaminger (sorry Jamaican Ginger) cake, but it was less sticky and more fluffy. Unlike Morrisons' previous muffins, this was jam packed full of flavour too, offering warmth in every mouthful. The sauce was disappointing though, it didn't really shout gingerbread, but was more of a super-strength spicy drizzle. Such a shame really because the icing was superb, and complemented the flavour of the muffin well with it's buttery sweetness. If Morrisons had only filled the Gingerbread Muffins with the toffee icing, or a custard instead, I'm sure they'd have been on to a sure fire winner.