Monday, August 13, 2007
It may come as a surprise to some candy eaters, but there really aren’t that many different chocolate sources in the United States. Did you know that there are only 16 chocolate factories (actual factories that make chocolate from bean to bar) in this country? Everyone else who makes products that contain chocolate get it from someone else. Usually a big someone ... someone in “Big Chocolate.” But every once in a while a little guy comes along and says they’re going to start with some beans and some sugar and and make some chocolate bars. Of course it’s hard to do that because chocolate making, in some ways, is about large scale. Large batches of chocolate mean lots of blending of beans goes on and then the product is consistent from batch to batch. An artisan maker can either attempt to create a cookie cutter product every time or embrace the individuality of the variety of the bean and the growing region.
Amano Chocolate‘s Art Pollard said just that. His chocolate-making techniques are more like a classic vintner than a candy maker. As a small company he chooses his beans personally and supervises the roasting and blending of the single origin sources to create hand crafted, small batch bars. Each bar is marked with a lot number and a molding date.
The ingredients are simple: cocoa beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter and Tahitian vanilla beans. Note that there’s no added soya lecithin here. (The only other bars that I’ve tried that have no lecithin in them are Theo and Michel Cluizel.) The packaging is equally simple but also appropriate. The bar is inside a nice matte paperboard black tab-top box and the bar is wrapped in a medium weight gold foil. (I’ve had plenty of bars that come in a microthin foil that is impossible to reseal around the bar because it’s torn to shreds.)
Madagascar Premium Dark Chocolate - 70% Cacao Minimum
Madagascar - tart with strong licorice and citrus tones. The tanginess seems to give the chocolate a very crisp finish, it’s smooth, but not as full feeling on the tongue as the Ocumare. Eventually it settles into a flavor rather like golden raisins. (Lot no: 3/4/59 date: 1/14/2007)
Ocumare Grand Cru Dark Chocolate - 70% Cacao Minimum
Buttery and rich with a strong woodsy component. A little peppery bite as well as a little rosemary note. The flavors are thick and resonant, with a deepness and complexity that was good for savoring but also extremely pleasant to mindlessly eat. (Lot no: 3/4/61 date: 3/8/2007)
I have a feeling that I just plain old like Ocumare. It’s my favorite single-origin bar from Chocovic.
I had several of these Amano Ocumare bars and found that they were much better, richer and more buttery after sitting for at least a month. So while “fresh from the factory” is good for some products, so is aging in the case of chocolate.
Brian from Candy Addict reviewed these bars and found them Awesomely Addictive. He notes a strong mint flavor in the Ocumare which was in a single molding of bars. Art Pollard dispatched a newer set of bars that did not have that hint of mint in them, hence the differing descriptions between our reviews (and more Ocumare for me!).
Amano’s been getting a lot of press lately, especially since their good showing at the Fancy Food Show in New York earlier this summer. Here’s a roundup of other reviews: The Art of Tasting Chocolate, David Lebovitz and Chuck Eats.
The final thing to note is the price. The bars run about $7.00 each and weigh 2 ounces - that’s over $55 a pound and isn’t a purty truffle or anything. In my middle-class existence that price makes these bars a “rare indulgence” but certainly for any chocophile is something that should be experienced. You can buy directly from Amano or possibly at Amazon (out of stock right now).
Friday, August 10, 2007
This Week in Candy keeps growing, doesn’t it? This week I have lots of fun little niblets to pass along.
First of all, NancyLand travels to the land of giant Marshmallows to give a peek into their cultivation. You have to see it to believe it. (I’m not sure how I feel about the cultivated version over the machine made.)
I saw this article earlier this week and I’m glad someone’s saying it. Kids should not be eating diet food. Childhood is a time for kids to acclimate themselves. There’s a natural process where they learn about what to eat, cravings and satisfaction. Giving kids low calorie, fat free and no calorie snacks just messes with that. Keep the sugar free stuff for people who really need it ... not perfectly healthy children.
I’ve mentioned a few times that Hershey’s is having some trouble (closing plants, higher prices for raw materials and fuel, poor financial performance), Brandweek had an interesting article that may explain part of consumers sudden disenchantment with the company: Consumers To Hershey: Candy Isn’t Health Food by Mike Beirne.
Basically, Hershey’s should go back to doing what they did best: inexpensive, quality candy for the masses and leave the high-end stuff to their Artisan Confectionery division.
Speaking of artisans and confections, how about original oil paintings of your favorite candy bars? Tom Brown has paintings of landscapes, too, but really, it’s all about the classics ... like Hostess Cupcakes, right? Sadly none of these choice treats are for sale in his eBay auctions right now. (Maybe I’ll have to go see his show.)
My brother came for a visit a while back and mentioned that he couldn’t find his favorite candy bar any longer: the Snickers Cruncher. So I emailed Mars to get the full scoop and this is what I found out:
So is it gone? Or just put on hiatus. If you want to make sure they know you love it, be sure to write to them so your comments can be shared with their marketing staff.
Consumer Reports came out with another one of their strange ratings list. This time it’s about Dark Chocolate. They taste-tested 14 commonly available dark chocolate bars: Chocolove, CocoaVia, Dagoba, Dove, Endangered Species, Ghirardelli, Green & Black’s, Hershey’s Cacao Reserve, Lindt, Newman’s Own and Valrhona.
The number one bar? Hershey’s Cacao Reserve Extra Dark with Cacao Nibs. (I thought it was a nice bar, but certainly not the best I’ve ever had.)
For all time best dark chocolate, I think I’d have to go with the Chocovic Ocumare at the moment (taking into account the price and taste).
In other less serious candy reviews, check out the candy everyone’s been talking about this summer: McPhee’s Lollipops in the shape of historical figures like Sigmund Freud and Abraham Lincoln.
Recap of this week’s candy reviews:
Monday: Milka Alpenmilch (6 out of 10)
Tuesday: Atomic Fireballs (7 out of 10)
Wednesday: Mentos Plus Citrus Mix (9 out of 10)
Thursday: Werther’s Original Caramel Coffee Hard Candies (7 out of 10)
Friday: Romanego Dragees, Cordials and Fondants from Italy (7 out of 10)
Average rating: 7.17 ... 12.5% chocolate content (if you count Milka as chocolate)
Sometimes I look at candy and I think, “How did they do that?” And while the why isn’t as important as the taste, sometimes I’m so curious about it I can’t fully enjoy it until I know.
Earlier this year I went to the Fancy Food Show and met the Romanego family briefly through one of their California distributors, Dawn at ArtisanSweets.com. The Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano company has been making panned sweets and preserves in Genoa since 1780. While I don’t always buy into tradition and personality as it relates to products, because all that’s really important is what goes in my mouth, I’ve gotta say that I have been fascinated with Romanego’s offerings from both sides.
I had no idea (and still don’t fully understand the process) how they suspended the liquid inside a sugar shell and I didn’t get to try them at the Fancy Food Show. I was afraid to make a full order of the cordials, mostly because I wanted to try everything they make and party because they’re pretty expensive, so I ordered the Confetti Antica Dragee Mix which has panned nuts (pistachios, pine nuts & almonds), the cordials assortment, orange peel and cinnamon.
All of the cordials I’ve had up until this have been chocolate. These, as described above, are like Jordan Almonds, except instead of an almond in the center there’s a flavored liquid. I couldn’t quite tell the difference between them all, possibly rose, orange, cinnamon, clove and anise.
They’re just so beautiful. Smooth, pastel, sugar pebbles. The cordial center, as mentioned above, isn’t alcoholic, but is kind of thick without being overly syrupy. I found them pleasant, but I probably wouldn’t want a whole tin of them, just a few of them mixed in with the nuts is good enough for me.
You know how there’s that thing called “pistachio flavor” but it doesn’t really taste like pistachios. These taste like that. Not in fake “flavored” way, the pistatchio is soft and chewy and it has a bit of a grassy flavor, maybe a little bit like melon and a bit like flowers. The crisp little sugar shell wraps it all up.
The pine nuts were great, I just loved how peppery and smooth they tasted. I love popping pine nuts when I’m cooking (note: that doesn’t happen often) and having them in a candy is truly a rare joy.
The almonds were huge, seriously huge and flat. It was like these were pastel colored skipping stones or something. The almonds inside were sweet and buttery. The shell wasn’t too thick as to make you think that there wasn’t a nut inside.
The two other items look like bleached coral. The larger piece is a candied orange peel that is then panned in a white sugary coating. It’s all bumply and really does look like a little stalk of tumbled white coral. The orange peel isn’t very sweet or jelly-like as some can be. It’s pretty subtle, as you can see from the cross section, there’s a pretty thick coating on there. The other one were smaller pieces very irregular in size and rather delicate called Cannellette. Inside each piece was a little bit of cinnamon. Instead of tasting like “cinnamon flavor” like Atomic Fireballs, these had the authentic taste of woodsy cinnamon (which is sweet all on its own).
As a little bonus Dawn threw in a set of the Romanego Fondants, which I also wanted to try (but ended up getting a nougat instead because I gave myself a budget). I’m not sure how she knew that I wanted to try them, but thank goodness she did. (Note: I paid for everything else in the order and didn’t announce to her that I was ordering or anything, I think she just saw my order there and we’d emailed about the All Candy Expo next month a little while back ... I certainly didn’t expect any freebies.)
The pastel wrappers (each in a different color to represent the flavor as well as being printed in Italian in gold inks) are lovely to look at. Not too ostentatious, but still strikingly elegant. I feel like I need to brush up on my origami to play with them.
Fondant is a tough thing to explain and an even tougher thing to photograph. I chose the raspberry one because it was the only one that wasn’t pure white. They were like sugar cubes (well, two sugar cubes side by side in size), but the crystals were much smaller. They sparkle like snow.
Fondant like the dragees doesn’t have a lot of tricky ingredients, it’s pretty much all sugar. But it’s the careful heating and cooling that forms a soft matrix, kind of like a fatless fudge.
Lampone - at first I thought the raspberry was too light, but as I ate a second bite I realized it was just the lightest floral essence of the raspberry and it was really refreshing.
Overall, they’re expensive treats. Not something I’d eat every day, or probably even every month. I’ve heard of some folks using these as wedding favors, which would certainly be a lovely thing to find at your table and would lend a special elegance. Their unique offerings, such as the cordials, pistachios, pine nuts and cannellette set them apart from other Jordan Almond vendors. But they’re time consuming to make, so you get what you pay for.
Since sugar panning was invented as a way of preserving nuts and seeds as confectionery items, I have to admit that these keep very well in a pretty jar or tin, so you can enjoy them as a decorative item as you slowly make your way through a batch.
You can order Romanego products from ArtisanSweets.com or ItalianHarvest.com (I’ve not ordered from them, but enjoyed their website and large selection but their prices seemed a higher than Artisan Sweets). If you are in Genova, I highly recommend stopping at one of their shops:
Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano (opened in 1814)
Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano (opened in 1930s)
If you’ve been there, please tell me how it was!
UPDATE 8/14/2007: I got an email from Dawn at ArtisanSweets that clarified a few things.
The Cordials I got in the Dragee Mix are not the same as the Rosolio Drops that Italian Harvest sells. The cordials have a harder shell ... I’ve not seen them side by side, but I do recall the Rosolios being quite a bit smaller and more translucent when I saw them in January.
Second, Italian Harvest doesn’t carry the Dragee Mix I reviewed above (though they carry many of the elements individually), apparently that item is exclusive to Artisan Sweets. (And the price per ounce on everything at Artisan Sweets appears to be quite a bit lower - they also recently stopped using tins as mine was pictured and instead give you more candy in a bag.) It’s a really nice way to try a good sampling of their product line instead of committing to a whole package of one item.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
I was standing in the drug store last week staring at the candy aisle. There were lots of new things, one that caught my eye was the Werther’s Caramel Coffee hard candies, mostly because I got an email the week before extolling their virtues (thanks for the suggestion .
So I thought, I should pick some up. I didn’t want a lot of them, but luckily they had two sizes. A 3.5 ounce bag, which is a nice size for sampling, reviewing and sharing. And the second bag was 5.5 ounces ... a little more than I wanted to buy. The price? Both were $1.99. Neither were on sale. They were just the same price. So I bought the larger bag (what, am I stupid?).
The little hard candies are like the Werther’s Original, a creamy toffee or buttery hard candy.
They’re attractively packaged, each individually sealed in its own easy to open gold mylar pillow. No, they’re not in the twist wraps like the original Werther’s Original which I really need to cover, but you can check out this review of the classic by Jamie on Candy Addict.
These little disks are exceptionally pretty. They have a pleasant swirl of two different colors (though I can’t really tell the difference in taste between the pieces) that look like black coffee and coffee with cream.
The flavor is, well, very sweet and creamy. The coffee comes out as a little bit of a background hint to the stronger toffee/caramel. It’s missing a bit of the salty hit that I enjoy with Werther’s Original. As coffee hard candies go, these don’t rival the other set that I’ve had from Bali’s Best and United Coffee. But if you’re the type of person who likes their coffee sweet and perhaps enjoys Caramel Macchiatos (I’m sorry, I’ve never had one so I can’t really compare it), this might be a fun little pocket treat.
I enjoy crunching them, they have a wonderful way of cleaving in flakes and shattering. Of course then it kind of becomes a sticky mess in my teeth, but that gives me something to work on later. They’re exceptionally smooth, which makes for a good candy to be patient and dissolve in your mouth. No voids whatsoever, so it’s not going to cut up the roof of your mouth like some candies like butterscotch disks can.
Werther’s Original are a great summer candy. They give you that creamy boost like chocolate but they’re so freakishly durable - you can leave them in a hot car or let them get frozen and you can even dunk a package of these babies in the ocean and they’re gonna come out of the package exactly the same.
Notes from the package: may contain wheat products, definitely contains milk & soy. Each candy is about 20 calories (more than most hard candies because they’re made with cream & butter). Made in Germany. These also come in a sugar free version (that I’ve not tried, but perhaps someone else can weigh in on how they are).
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
There was a cool article out of the AP that got featured on Yahoo News and CNN yesterday about the FDA Petition from the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
Bridges did a great follow up on the story, which is refreshing when so many of these issues seem to drop off the face of the map.
It mentions that there were 1,500 responses to the FDA on the Citizens Petition ... way to go chocolate fans!
It mentions that this may have an adverse effect on the economy of cacao growers and middlemen in the tropics. There are 50,000,000 people around the globe that make their living from chocolate, of course this has huge economic ramifications, even if it ends up being a 5% fat swap in chocolate.
It makes mention (towards the end) of the positions that Mars, Nestle and Hershey put on the record back in 2000. (A story, I might add, that I covered here back in this post.)
Big Chocolate doesn’t want to comment any longer ... Hershey’s, Nestle, Mars, the CMA ... they didn’t have anything to say for the article.
You can read the FDA statement that they put out around the time when the public comment period ended.
Here’s the interview I did for NPR last month about it where I think I took an admirable stand against some of the GMA’s positions.
Oh, the lovely commenters here are blessed, blessed friends to have told me of this Mentos assortment ... the assortment of my dreams!
Citrus candies are my absolute favorite and of course the Pink Grapefruit Mentos are divine. There are parts of the world where you can get these, Mentos Plus Citrus Mix. They’re fortified with Vitamin C and come in an assortment of three flavors: orange, pink grapefruit and lime.
At first I was thinking, Lime? Why not Lemon? But they pulled it off, a Lime as spectacular as Pink Grapefruit is. It’s zesty and slightly bitter but doesn’t give me any images of housecleaning products. Just clean, clean limes.
Orange was nice and juicy. Not quite zesty enough for me, but far and away better than the American Orange Mentos that we get in the regular mixed Fruit roll here.
Here’s another curiosity from the label. The Fuji Apple ones I reviewed didn’t have gelatin in them (and were halal) but mentioned Gellan Gum. This box has no gelatin or gellan gum, instead lists starch and gum arabic as the thickeners. It also bears the halal seal. I find it amazing that Mentos have so many different recipes worldwide. (This package also contains 2.5% fruit juice.) If you don’t have any problems with sugar these look like they’re vegan (no beeswax or insect-derived colors) but please read all labels as I’m finding that this may not be the case with every package.
The package is about 1.5 ounces (42 grams) and I counted 18 pieces in the box. The vitamin C content is 4 mg per piece.
These should definitely be made available in America. If they’re not going to give us rolls of the Pink Grapefruit, they should really include them in a mix like this. They’re just so darn pretty, too. Repackage them for weddings in little clear boxes to show off the delicate pastels and they could knock Jordan Almonds out of favor.
Special thanks go out today to Santos for bringing me these three lovely (if now empty) boxes of Mentos. These were made in China for the Philippines. I think they also sell them in Australia. Has anyone else spotted them for sale in their area?
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Atomic Fireballs were invented in 1954 by Nello Ferrara, the son of the founder of Ferrara Pan. The spicy flavor and the exceptionally long lasting candy was instantly popular (coupled with the pop culture obsession with all things atomic at the time).
Atomic Fireballs are made in a process called hot panning, where layers of sugar syrup and flavor are deposited on a single sugar grain core. The pans are hot as they tumble the developing candies through this long process. It takes two weeks and at least a hundred layers to make the familiar spicy jawbreaker. You can see the process here at the Ferrara Pan website. Ferrara Pan sells over 15,000,000 every week!
Atomic Fireballs come in two sizes, a little pea sized one in boxes similar in format to the Lemonhead and the more popular full-sized, individually-wrapped jawbreaker. (Ferrera Pan still makes Red Hots, which are cinnamon imperials and though they’re nice they’re NOT the same thing.) I haven’t seen the little ones in years, but a quick search on the internet indicates that they’re still around. (Here’s a great shot of their old packaging.)
It’s still easy to find Atomic Fireballs individually wrapped, usually for a nickel or dime each at checkout stands at convenience stores or liquor stores.
All that history and nostalgia aside, how are they?
The outside is rather mild. The shiny ball is smooth and takes a moment to release a strong blast of cinnamon (and a little bitterness too for those who can taste Red 40). Either I’ve become extremely resilient over the years (and judging from my inability to eat my husband’s chili, I’d say not) or they’ve decreased the hotness of this product.
The cinnamon was definitely tingly and spicy but didn’t really gain any momentum until the second “major” layer. I recall not being able to hold one in my mouth for very long as a kid ... it’s no issue at all now.
I also think the texture has changed slightly. It feels a bit lighter, a little more chalky now. It loses flavor after that second internal layer. I had no problem crunching one open for the cross section with some nutcrackers ... something that was extremely difficult years ago because of the density (and possibly they were larger back in the olden days). The best way when I was a kid to break them open was to drop them onto concrete. This was more fun with the old full-sized Everlasting Gobstoppers because they had colored layers.
Fireballs were one of those candies I enjoyed eating while reading and later on long car trips where I found the hotness kept me alert while driving. I’m a cruncher, but the sphere has to be dissolved down to at least a third of its original size before I can crack it open with my teeth. I wish they were as strong as I remember them, they’d get a full on 9 out of 10 if they did. But this watered down version is still a fun 7 out of 10.
Other fun things I found out while researching this:
In Europe they’re called Atomic Fire Blast.
Each large sized Atomic Fireball has 20 calories (if you’re able to eat the whole thing) and weighs 5.67 grams (.2 ounces)
The bag I bought says it was produced in a factory that also handles peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat, soy and eggs ... all that’s missing from the list of allergens is BEES!
This package was made in Mexico, I’ll try to find out if they still make them in the United States.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:37 am
Monday, August 06, 2007
If you’ve ever been to Europe you’ve probably seen the Milka bar called “Alpenmilch”. It comes in a lilac-colored wrapper featuring a lilac colored cow on it. Billed not as a chocolate bar, it’s called a “Chocolate Confection”. Reading the ingredients, it’s not added vegetable fat that keeps it from being called “chocolate” in the United States, it’s whey and hazelnut paste.
Milka was introduced in Switzerland in 1901 by Suchard as an affordable confection for the masses. The name comes from the German words Milch (milk) and Kakao (cocoa).
The Suchard company was briefly run by Philip Morris starting in 1990. In 1993 Philip Morris rolled their other food conglomerate, Kraft, in with Suchard and is now called Kraft Jacobs Suchard AG. This huge company makes a lot of well-known European sweets under the brands Marabou, Terry’s, Toblerone, Callard & Bowser, Cote d’Or and Daim. At the beginning of this year Altria (the new name for Philip Morris, which sounds like a diet drug to me) announced it was spinning Kraft back off into its own company.
I found this attractive looking bar at Target for $1.69. I’ve also seen the white confection version at the 99 Cent Only Stores, but I wanted to try this one first.
The funny thing about the bar is the little marketing line on the back:
I’ve never heard chocolate described as tender before!
The bar is rather light looking, lighter than a Hershey bar. It has a softer snap to it, as most milk chocolate bars do. It smells distinctly milky and a little nutty. It melts slowly and has a very sticky, fudgy feel on the tongue. The thick melt does release a lot of flavors. The primary flavor is powdered milk, followed by a little burnt sugar taste and a light touch of hazelnuts. Though the bar is pleasant, there’s very little “chocolate” flavor in here.
There must be a lot of milk in this bar because a single serving (1.48 ounces) contains 10% of your RDA of calcium and 3 grams of protein. (Of course a glass of milk has three times that.)
Target carries a rather wide selection of all kinds of chocolate. This isn’t really top of the line stuff, but if you’re a fan of European style milky chocolate or would like a less expensive version of guanduia (hazelnut chocolate paste), then this might be a good option. I’ll finish this bar and likely try the Milka White confection, but I’m not sure if I’d buy it again.
Note from wrapper: May contain traces of other tree nuts [remember there are hazelnuts in here] and wheat. This bar was made in Germany.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.