Saturday, February 11, 2006
Everyone’s talking about Valentine’s candy. But I thought I’d give you a taste of a few other seasonal treats instead. Yesterday it was candy to watch whales by. Today it’s Olympic candy. A friend of ours, Matt, was working in Torino for the Winter Olympics on the Canadian Pavilion and just returned. He was thoughtful enough to bring back some candy, and this Caffarel Gianduia is “officially” branded Olympics merchandise (it even has a hologram seal!).
These little cuties are packed in a clear cello bag, each piece wrapped in gold foil, marking the Torino 2006 Olympics. The pieces are shaped like little old lady handbags and are about two bites each (or you can put it all in your mouth, don’t let me stop you).
Caffarel is the chocolate of Torino, so it’s a natural fit. And if I do say so, I think this is a sporty chocolate. What I found particularly fascinating while browsing the Caffarel site was the story of how they invented this gianduia chocolate. Back in the 1860s cocoa was rationed, so Caffarel figured out a way to create a chocolatey confection that didn’t feel skimpy. This gianduia contains 28% hazelnuts! The wondrous thing about combining the chocolate with hazelnuts is the soft feel it creates on the tongue. It’s sweet, without masking the chocolate and nut flavors. But very sticky, consider this the Italian version of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.
I was also happy to try these because the last Caffarel bar I had to try had bloomed and I’d heard that this was an excellent Italian brand. I can see why now. Tasting these little morsels has also made me crave their darker sisters called Gianduiotto Fondente, which is made without milk.
If you’ve ever had Ice Cubes and are looking for a more sophisticated version, especially one without the addition of hydrogenated oils, this might be it. Soft, nutty and sweet with that slight cooling sensation that makes me pop another one in my mouth, just to make sure they all do that. It’ll be a sad day in my house when these are gone, and that’ll probably be soon, I can’t risk them melting in this freaky heat wave we’ve got going on in Los Angeles right now.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 2:40 pm
Friday, February 10, 2006
When I was in college I would pick up a quarter pound of mixed color Swedish fish at a little coffee shop on campus. They would put them in a crisp white paper bag and I learned that I had some sort of special power that I could pull out any color on demand without looking. It was like I could see colors with my fingers, or maybe my hands had a nose. Anyway, the best part of this trick was that people would like to see me do it, and I would make them provide the bag of fish. I had a rate of about 80% correct guesses.
This new Aqua Life set makes my old trick irrelevant as this mix has a different shape for each color. Unlike other red flavors that I don’t care for (cherry), the red Swedish fish is something else, I’m guessing loganberry. Also, there are two new flavors/colors in the fish family: blue and purple.
Yellow (Lemon): Starfish
All of the candies were soft and chewy and the flavors were solidly good. They’re smooth, sweet and fragrant without much of a tart bite. They tend to stick to your teeth, but not in a tooth-yanking way. The shapes are also fun and easily identifiable, which makes them fun for kids (as if you really need to do anything to make candy fun for kids).
It’s interesting to note that the Swedish confectioner, Malaco, that originally made these invented them for the American market. Which explains why the fish have “Swedish” stamped on their backs (instead of Swedensk or whatever the Swedish word for Swedish is). They’ve only been around since the mid-seventies, but it’s one of those candies that has a timeless feel to it.
The reason I was drawn to them in the first place is because of my whale watching trips. I’ve been taking little candies with me (we’ve had a lot of kids on the boats lately) which help to calm queasy stomachs. I was hoping to find something that fit with the sea adventure theme and these fit the bill (I’ve been carrying individually wrapped lifesavers as well). If I can find them in bulk, I might buy a pound and carry them in a little ziploc bag so the kiddies can pick their favorite shape.
The package states that these candies were made in Canada by Cadbury Adams but licensed from MalacoLeaf, Sweden. So, are they Canadian fish?
I would have given them a 10, but there were some manufacturing defects in my bag, with some overstamps and some little bits that didn’t seem to belong (extra pieces of orange hanging off the seahorse). These may be a good candy for vegetarians (as long as they’re okay with traces of mineral oil) since there’s no gelatin, just corn starch.
Thursday, February 9, 2006
I was searching for this bar for a while. I’ve only tried one other milk chocolate bar from Dagoba (the Chai), so I was curious to see what their plain milk chocolate was like without all the other embellishments. But I think that milk chocolate shines well with some textured interest like nuts, so this was next on my list of bars to try. However, I didn’t see it at Whole Foods or Wild Oats. This bar was given to me by Amy, the neighbor.
This bar is milk chocolate (high cocoa solids content at 37%) with hazelnuts and crisped rice.
The Dagoba milk chocolate is insanely smooth. It’s very milky and has a slight floral note to it, maybe orange blossom, but it’s not soapy. It is, however, very sweet. The dairy part of the milk chocolate is a little sticky and tastes like powdered milk, though much better than a Cadbury. The crisps in the bar are fun, but few and far between. I counted three or four per “stick” of the bar. I’m not asking for them to be as dense as a Nestle Crunch, but a little more frequent would be nice. The hazelnuts were similarly scarce, though I think they imparted some of their nutty flavor to the rest of the bar nicely.
I think I wanted more nuts, or maybe something a little more from such an expensive bar. Don’t get me wrong, I love many of the other bars I’ve tried (Roseberry) but this one didn’t quite sing for me. It’s still a solid performer and I wouldn’t turn it down if someone offered it to me, but I doubt I’ll buy it again.
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Oh, some dear readers (and neighbor) have led me astray ... they’ve raved about the Black Sesame Pocky and I believed them! (See comments in this post.)
Now, I’m a huge fan of halvah and those sesame snaps (like a sesame nut brittle). Sprinkle a little on my sushi rolls too, while you’re at it. But there’s something about toasted sesame, specifically that sesame oil that I’ve just never liked. It’s actually banned from my house (well, my husband sneaks in deli sesame noodles sometimes). It smells like something wrong, something burnt, something rancid or perhaps something toxic. A combination of burnt hair and plastics.
This is just like that: a crunchy and mild cracker stick covered with milky sweet white coating and mixed with every vile black seed known to create an acrid tasting treat. (Okay, I overstated that. I actually ate one of the four packets in the interest of giving a full-featured review, so it can’t be all that bad.)
But there are other things that cause me to hesitate to recommend this, and they involve reading the label. Here are the ingredients: wheat flour, sugar, palm oil, powdered (black sesame, black rice, black bean, black pine seed, black Chinese quince), lactose, whole milk powder, shortening (hydrogenated fish oil), nonfat dry milk, malt extract, salt, yeast, butter, soya lecithin, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), artificial flavor.
Maybe there are some omega3 fatty acids in there.
Besides my innate displeasure for toasted sesame, the Pocky were nice. This variety comes in four smaller packets instead of the two large packets like the Men’s and traditional chocolate (so that you may give them away more easily without being offended by the smell).
I am happy to report that this bad review is just because of my personal tastes - it has nothing to do with this being a good product. Feel free to defend the Black Sesame Pocky. If you like toasted sesame, you’ll probably be ga-ga for this, too. I know some folks think I’m nuts for liking the stuff I do, and I think it’s great that the planet affords such a variety of products. And I will be passing along the rest of this package to my dear neighbor how does happen to like the stuff. I’m also happy to report that I picked up several other varieties at the same time and they’re all delightful and you can look forward to nice statements about them.
I guess as Valentines approaches candy is more on the mind of adults than usual. Here are a few links about candy and chocolate from around the web:
The New York Times has a great story in their food section about single origin chocolates that starts with chocolate tastings, which may become the new wine tastings, where customers are given brief histories and specs of the growing regions and then taste samples but also discusses the politics and practicality of fair trade and organics as it pertains to quality product.
Chocolate that Flashes Its Passport by Kim Severson
The Los Angeles Times has a great story that traces the origins of chocolate making in California (which is a far longer history than you’d suspect) and how the new mavericks of chocolate crafting are making the West Coast their home. The photos are tasty too (incuding a huge shot on the front page of the Food section).
Toodle over to a Travel article about Barcelona and hard candies, with a delicious photo to boot. Barcelona: Hard Candy by Lisa Abend about a couple of Australians making traditional pulled hard candies in Spain.
A Bag That’s Good Enough to Eat (shown) by Ken Bookman
Taste Test: From Local Chocolatiers - a lovely gallery, tasting notes and recommendations on DC’s favorite candies. (Remember, the Washington Post was the one who helped folks sort through their holiday gelt.)
For those of us not in the area or shipping elsewhere, you might want to check out Taste Test: Valentine’s Chocolates by Mail.
While you’re on the site you might want to check out their interesting article about Chicago, which was once the candy capitol of North America. Sugar subsidies and corporate consolidation has led to a downturn in domestic production of candy in the Windy City. Chicago is Home Sweet Home to Fewer Candy Factories by Kari Lydersen.
Read up! Eat up!
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
I get a lot of questions about Choxie here at CandyBlog.net. And with good reason ... there aren’t that many places to find out about Choxie. There’s certainly no info on the Target website. I haven’t spent much time with Choxie, but I have to say that the products I’ve tried are always good quality, nicely packaged and feature interesting flavor combinations.
I picked up a few things last week, including the highly rated Champagne-Flavored Truffles. (I actually hadn’t seen them before.) They’re stunning looking little baubles of chocolate. Shiny and dark, the package highlights their gorgeous sheen. They smell rather spicy - of chocolate and a hint of wine. The truffles are about the size of a hazelnut in the shell (smaller than a malted milk ball).
These truffles are panned chocolate. Panning is when you take a solid nugget and tumble it, adding layers of coating on it. Panned candies can range from jelly beans to Gobstoppers to chocolate coated nuts to Lemonheads. Panning is usually done in large turning pans that look like cement mixers and can hold hundreds of pounds of candy. The coating can double the weight of each candy as each successive layer is added and then the final “polish coat” to seal them and give them the high gloss shine. In this case it’s called “confectioners glaze.”
The centers are made of white chocolate (made with real cocoa butter, not hydrogenated oils). The chocolate outside is sweet and smooth, a little on the sweet side but it’s definitely buttery and has a good smoky quality to it. The center is smooth as well and has a raisiny hint to it. Not really a champagne flavor in my mind, just a nice “boosted” vanilla flavor. The small size of them and their glossy appearance makes them easy to pop and of course easy to share.
As Valentine’s gifts go, the Choxie line has some really nice, inexpensive options. At less than $10 a pound for many of their offerings, they’re a really good way of expressing yourself without breaking the bank. The “shareable” nature of them is also a bonus. They also make nice hostess gifts or just a nice treat for yourself. Choxie has done a good job of bringing upscale into the realm of affordable. Their variety is also pretty stunning and it always seems like there’s something new when I check out the Choxie section. The ingredients also appear to be top notch, using real vanilla instead of vanillin and cocoa butter instead of palm oils.
Interesting note from the box: confections made in the USA, packaged in Mexico.
Monday, February 6, 2006
Consumer Reports, the bastion of stodgy and unbiased reviews of common products has tackled the confusing world of boxed chocolates just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Their top picks?
Norman Love Confections but they give Candinas and Jacques Torres Jacques’s Choice a best buy, probably because they’re half the price.
In the Very Good category See’s Famous Old Time Assorted got high marks and of the recommended (Very Good or Excellent) chocolates, it’s by the far the least expensive (at $.88 per ounce) which means you can give your sweetie MORE for the same money!
The worst on the list? Whitman’s Sampler.
(Link found via A Full Belly - thanks!)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.