Wednesday, March 8, 2006
See’s recently moved into the “candy bar” arena with their Awesome collection. They’re candy bars you can buy singly at their stores or in boxes of eight bars. They’re a buck a piece and prepackaged and a pretty good deal for a premium candy bar (unlike Lake Champlain’s 5 Star line).
See’s packaged an old favorite, peanut brittle into a compact bar and covered it with chocolate. It’s less of a nut brittle and more of a toffee though, in my opinion, but the recipe is absolutey for brittle (baking soda being the operative ingredient).
The bar is a little tiny, at only one ounce, it’s a little less of a candy bar than I’m used to. But the whole peanuts and salty brittle is a really great combination. It tastes really salty, but when I checked the sodium content, it’s not really any different than any other standard nut candy bar like a Reese’s or Snickers. The milk chocolate coating is sweet and smooth. The bar crunches and flakes easily with a slight foamy texture (that’s brittle for you). I liked the bar, but it’s not going to knock the Awesome Nut & Chew bar from that top spot in my mind.
I’m glad See’s created some more portable versions of their best candies. I’m just waiting for a Scotchmallow version in dark chocolate. I read in Los Angeles Magazine that the candy bars were actually created by the workers at the factory, who had been making them with short ends for themselves and as gifts when the corporate folks decided it was a really good idea. I know it sounds odd, but for dieters, these could be a good option. The bars are smaller than standard candy bars (this one is an ounce, the Nut & Chew and Walnut Brittle are 1.5 ounces) so you can feel indulgent without being tempted by a full box of mixed chocolates. I’m a firm believer in giving yourself what you crave, in moderation. Because there are a lot of nuts in all versions they’re very filling (the protein and all).
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
I don’t know what came over me. I bought a bar of white chocolate. I know there are purists out there who don’t think that white chocolate is chocolate at all. But if the stuff that is called mockolate (cocoa solids and hydrogenated or palm oils) can’t be called chocolate because it’s lacking cocoa butter, then this stuff that has cocoa butter but not the cocoa solids can at least be called white chocolate.
Each year, as Easter gets closer, against my better judgment I want white chocolate. I don’t actually like white chocolate, it’s usually so sweet it makes my throat hurt and has some sort of electrical effect on my fillings so as to give me a jolt. But there it is, I get to craving it.
I know it has to do with those molded chocolates that my paternal grandmother used to put out on display at Easter. Little bunnies and molded white chocolate baskets filled with different colored white chocolate lollipops. It always smelled of vanilla, sugar and jelly beans ... far sweeter than anything had a right to be. It was like it was some sort of super-dense sugar confection. I’ve mentioned candy season before, and it’s important to note that Easter is the final holiday in Candy Season - so it’s probably the reason that I felt the need to gorge on the highest sugar content products available to me.
But I’d heard that the Green & Black’s Creamy Vanilla White Chocolate Bar was different. So, I bought one at Whole Foods. Rationalizing the whole time that I was doing it for you, dear readers. I was taking the white chocolate bullet for you, so that you might avoid it.
I opened the wrapper and instead of being greeted by something that looked like paraffin, it was creamy colored and flecked with real bits of vanilla. It smelled milky and sweet, but not sticky. A mix of cognac, butter and honey.
The first ingredient is still sugar (well, organic raw cane sugar), but it boasts 30% cocoa content and 28% milk. If you like the dairy milk flavor of European milk chocolates, like Cadbury, then I think you’ll like this bar. It’s sweet, but flavorful, with a good hit of bourbon notes in the vanilla. The bar melts smoothly and velvety on the tongue and leaves me wanting more.
I ate the whole bar yesterday at work, which is saying a lot. I don’t usually consume something this big in one sitting. (Even an eight hour sitting.) Something about a rainy day makes me want to snuggle up with a nice bar of sugar, dairy and fat. Mmmm.
This bar has done something dangerous, it’s changed my mind about white chocolate. Luckily, I’ve only come to the conclusion that I like Green & Black’s White Chocolate. I can’t give it a ten ... let’s face it, I’m prejudiced ... I just can’t do it. If I cave in and buy another one, I’ll come back here and update the rating. The true test is whether I want it after Easter is over.
Note: Though Green & Black’s is a UK company, the bar was made in Italy. Green & Black’s is now owned by Cadbury Schweppes. This bar is organic, but not fair trade certified.
Monday, March 6, 2006
As part of this year’s Independent Food Festival and Awards sponsored by tasteEverything, I’ve been tapped as a jurist to give out an award for excellence in food. (You know it’s gonna be candy.) I decided after my mind-blowing experience touring candy factories in the Bay Area last December that it had to be something that really helped me to immerse myself in the true source of chocolate.
My 2006 Winner of the Independent Food Awards is The Best Things to Stick to your Marshmallow: Scharffen Berger Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs.
Cacao nibs are roasted cocoa beans, what all chocolate is made from. Scharffen Berger then pan coats them with 62% cacao semisweet chocolate. They’re complexly flavored little buggers, about the size of rice crispies - they’re crunchy, sometimes fibery, sometimes buttery and nutty ... always a surprise. Some flavors are like wine, raisins, coconut, coffee, oak, banana, apricot, sweet almond, grapefruit, cherry, cinnamon, clove ... I could go on and on. They’re like a blank canvas and a symphony all at once. They take over the senses and make you forget your train of thought. The coolest part is that each little morsel is independent of the others - it might have come from a different tree, might have been harvested weeks before or after its buddies in the tube. Eat one and get a sense of the particular, eat a palmful and travel the world.
So, what do you do with these besides just eat them like candy? You can bake with them, as I saw at Tartine in San Francisco, where you can get Rochers (like soft meringues) made with cacao nibs.
But I’m not really a baker. You can’t just serve an olive boat of these morsels to guests. Then oddly enough the answer came to me in the mail the same week. I was reviewing Plush Puffs, flavored, handmade marshmallows. With proximity being the mother of invetion, I tried putting things on my marshmallow. Actually, I tried mashing my marshmallow into things.
Now, given that I have the title of jurist, it was incumbent upon me to evaluate at least several other marsh-mashables. So I ordered up more Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs and a full array of Plush Puffs (Orange-Honey, Sam’s Sour Lemon, Maple Pecan and Vanilla Bean) and scoured my kitchen and a few stores for some options.
In the interests of trying to find the perfect thing to mash into my marshmallows, I pulled a few things out of the cupboard and ordered some others off of Chocosphere. Here are the results:
The definition of pure confection heaven has to be Orange-Honey Plush Puffs with Scharffen Berger Chocolate Covered Cacao Beans. This is the standard by which all other mashmallow-ables will be judged. (Really, why did I go on, how much better could I expect things to get?)
My second favorite thing to mash into my marshmallows has to be these Valrhona Chocolate Covered Orange Peels (Equinoxe Noir des d’ecorces d’oranges confites). They’re tiny pieces of lightly candied orange peel pan coated with 66% cacao dark chocolate. Smooth, sweet, crisp and with a great zesty orange taste. At $4.00 for 1.8 ounces, they’re even more expensive than the Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs, but as a little dash mixed in with the Cacao Nibs, it’s a welcome little burst of citrus energy. They go really well with both the Vanilla Bean and Maple Pecan ones but unlike the cacao nibs, they don’t work with everything.
It wouldn’t be fair of me to evaluate chocolate covered cacao nibs without trying out the naked ones. So I selected the Dagoba Cacao Nibs, which are also organic. The pieces are less consistent in size and shape than the chocolate covered brethren. They have a wild, alcoholic aroma. Smoky and woodsy to the nose, they provide a huge burst of flavor when eaten on their own but they’re also incredibly acidic and sometimes acrid, astringent and puckeringly dry. When pressed into the Vanilla Bean marshmallow, the sweetness and blankness allows the subtle cacao notes to shine while moderating the overt acidity.
With the success of the malted rice krispies squares, I thought I’d just go with the source materials. This wasn’t as pleasant. The malted milk powder is a bit salty and of course dry. The milk powder, I think, is part of the issue. Milk doesn’t really belong with marshmallow. In fact, it turns out that I don’t really care for the flavor of powdered milk.
I love molasses and my favorite sugar is Billington’s Muscovado. It’s got a sort of whiskey aroma to it, a complexity that you won’t find in refined sugars. I like to let it dry out in chunk and eat it that way. It doesn’t really stick to the marshmallows very well, and frankly, it makes it too sweet.
As a final confirmation about the Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, I brought the array of my top contenders to an Oscars (tm) viewing party Sunday night. At the end of the night the marshmallows were nearly gone and so were the CCCN while the plain nibs were largely untouched. On top of that, people were pleased with the fun combination of flavors. (And as a capper we got to taste some new regionally-sourced chocolate ice creams. Yum!)
There is one other company that I know of that makes chocolate covered cacao beans, called SweetRiot. I haven’t tried them yet, but I imagine they too are awesome.
If you’ve stumbled across this posting without first visiting the tasteEverything, have a look at all the other incredible finds from around the globe.
There are currently three varieties of Goetze’s Caramel Creams. Each has a different name, which is kind of confusing. The plain vanilla variety is called Caramel Creams (though people often call them Bull’s Eyes). The chocolate ones are called Bull’s Eyes and the strawberry ones are called StrawberriCreams. I’ve never seen the chocolate or strawberry versions in the tray pack (which is usually how I buy my Goetze’s), but I did find them in the pick-a-mix at Baldinger’s in Zelienople.
They all have the same cool sugar cream center, but the caramel outside is a little different.
Original: The original Caramel Cream is not really what I consider caramel. It’s not buttery and smooth, but more doughy. It tastes kind of like a plain cookie dough with a plain, sweet icing. The caramel itself isn’t particularly sticky, what really sells the candy is the cream center. There really isn’t anything else like a Goetze’s Caramel Cream. The center is cool and soft and melts away almost instantly. I usually turn my caramel creams inside out when I eat them, popping the cream onto my tongue and waiting for that to dissolve before consuming the caramel O.
Chocolate - These are wildly different tasting than the original flavor. The chocolate dough is dark and smoky, not really a creamy chocolate experience, more like a really chocolatey Tootsie Roll. The caramel cream center stands out even more in this candy because of the darkness of the caramel. I would buy more of these as a companion to my beloved originals.
Strawberry - Gah! They smell like fake strawberries and taste like it, too. The dough nature of the caramel doesn’t really lend itself to this flavor, it’s kind of like a poor imitation of strawberry shortcake, a little tart, very sweet. I had to excise these from my pick-a-mix candy as the smell was rather revolting to me. I know some folks will like these (and probably do, since they’ve been around for a while), but I’m not one of them.
All of these flavors also come in a Cow Tales version as well. Generally I prefer to buy my Caramel Creams in the tray pack, as I think they stay fresh better that way than the twisted cello wrapped candies in the pick-a-mix. (I give the caramel and chocolate varieties a 9 ... the strawberri one is probably a 3 in my book.) All varieties contain both Hydrogenated Oils and High Fructose Corn Sweetener.
Cotton Candy is an elusive sort of candy, you really can’t buy it prepacked and you certainly can’t make it at home (unless you buy or rent a cotton candy machine). If you live in a big metropolitan area you probably see it for sale by street vendors but most of us associate it with fairs and amusement parks. Dubble Bubble Fluff, I think, is trying to capture a bit of that special treat feeling, but they’ve got an added proposition ... it’s cotton candy and then it’s gum just like their cousin Razzles (also made by the same uber-corp, Tootsie).
This looks and feels just like cotton candy and smells like sweet strawberries and, of course, sugar. The texture is a little less airy than cotton candy, but then again, this is packaged stuff, not the “fresh from the carnival midway” candy floss.
I was afraid it would be sticky and heavy on the tongue, but it dissolves rather like regular cotton candy and then towards the end, instead of melting away completely it has a transitional period where it’s just a rather odd blob, but if you chew it, it turns out as gum!
That wad of fluff there that I took out for the photo (about a quarter of the bag) turns out to make a reasonable size piece of bubble gum. It looses its flavor and sweetness rather quickly, but the novelty factor and overall success of the transition from sugar floss to gum is pretty incredible. It’s not my chosen way to enjoy bubble gum, but they really achieved the cotton candy end of the proposition, so they get high marks for that. The gum part is a little disappointing, but then again, when I’m chewing Dubble Bubble, I usually just chew the sugar out and pop another piece.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.