Thursday, September 13, 2007
I’m prepping for the trade show event of the year, All Candy Expo, sponsored by the National Confectioners Association. If there’s anything you’ve always wanted me to review now’s the time to tell me (or remind me). I’ll have an excellent opportunity to pick up samples and pick the brains of the confectioners themselves. (Curious? See the complete list of exhibitors here.)
Leave a comment here (regular reviews continue as usual below).
One of the cultural differences it took me a while to get over was the British insistence on calling caramel “toffee”. I can forgive them, mostly because they do such a nice job making soft toffee in the classic butter caramel style. For those Brits reading, in the US we call toffee a hard crack, boiled sugar and butter mixture.
Last weekend I went to a new British food shop called The British Food Shop in Laguna Niguel. They had a very nice selection of consumer candies from the United Kingdom at decent prices, everything also looked exceptionally fresh. I picked out quite a few things, including some Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffee.
The big slabs aren’t much to look at, unless you hold it up in bright light and admire the depth and richness of the pure caramelized color ... like it’s a Tahitian pearl or a puppy.
The bars aren’t really user-friendly and a bit hefty at 3.5 ounces. They have little sections in them, but the best way to eat the candy is to chill it and then whack it firmly on the corner of the table or counter. I find this works best if you put it in a ziploc baggie first, lest it burst its way out of the package.
The toffee smells buttery and rich. It’s a very firm caramel chew, so it helps to prewarm it in the palm of your hand or in your mouth for a moment before trying to chew it.
It’s ultra smooth, not too sweet and barely salty. The burnt sugar notes and true butter flavor are a simple pleasure.
The package states that there are no artificial colors or preservatives, but neglects to mention the artificial emulsifier (E471, also known as mono and diglycerides of fatty acids, which may be from an animal source). 8 out of 10
The other variety I couldn’t resist is their Treacle Toffee. For those of you unfamiliar with the term treacle, it’s basically molasses and is often called golden syrup. This toffee features 13% black treacle, which sounds extra good.
Molasses is revered for its nutritional profile, it’s like sugar, only with plenty of necessary minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron). Those minerals add a wonderful woodsy, nutty taste to the sweet syrup. I’ve had a craving for molasses for a few weeks, I’m guessing it’s an essential mineral I’m missing or something. I’ve been pondering a recipe for Molasses and Peanut Butter Bread Pudding. But that’s neither here nor there ... this is a review of toffees!
This toffee smelled like pecans, maple sugar and a cedar closet filled with caramels and honey all at once.
This chew is just as smooth and satisfying, if a little less sweet than the original variety. I really enjoyed both the depth of the flavor and the consistent chew of it. 9 out of 10
Now I’m curious to try Walkers’ other nutted varieties of their toffee and of course the licorice variety. The company has been making toffee (and only toffee) for over a hundred years and is still run by the Walker family. I like the idea that a company that makes a quality product can simply continue doing so generation after generation. Toffee may not be the most popular candy category any longer (chocolate is), but it still has an important place in the confectionery pantheon.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
If you haven’t been in a Target store and browsed their candy aisles, you’re missing a price-conscious chocoholic’s dream. There are shelves and shelves of high end bars at reasonable prices these days. They’ve started carrying more European bars and even some lines of organic and fair trade bars.
I noticed a series of bars in smart paperboard wrappers called Frey from Switzerland and thought I should give them a try. All the bars were flavored (I kind of wanted to just try their “chocolate” first) so I ended up choosing two of the lemon flavored bars.
Frey Supreme White Lemon & Lime is a pretty bar made with, as you can guess, white chocolate as a base.
The little flecks in the bar looked promising too. I didn’t read the ingredients until after I opened the bar, so I was a little confused when I finally had a bite.
It was crunchy! There were little tangy, citrusy, crunchy bits, like someone had mixed some pulverized lemon drops in my chocolate!
Here I was thinking I was going to get bits of zest. But why was I thinking that? Pure assumption. Mostly because that’s what I wanted. After I got over that initial shock, it wasn’t bad. The tartness of the candy bits set off the chocolate nicely, but interfered with the overall creamy texture because it had a dry aspect to it. There was a very small note of black pepper in this as well, which did give the ordinarily bland white chocolate a little kick.
The second bar I picked was also on the lemon theme, Citron & Poivre. Mmmm, lemon and pepper. Lemon and pepper go so well together, they’ve bottled it and called it Lemon Pepper. And if it’s good on fish, it ought to be great in chocolate. (If they had a milk chocolate and lemon bar, I would have bought that, too.)
The package says that this is extra fine dark chocolate with a fruity touch of lemon and black pepper. The bar is lovely, large and thin with a good snap. It’s 55% cocoa solids ... which isn’t terribly dark, so I was expecting a sweet and creamy bar.
A couple of things bugged me about this bar before I even started eating it. One, it’s very thin. While some folks like that, I kind of like a little depth to my chocolate when I bite it. It also makes the bar a bit more compact. This 3.5 ounce bar was packaged to look big (at least an inch longer than a regular 3.5 ounce bar from Green & Black’s or Endangered Species which are featured nearby on the shelf), but was really no different in mass.
Biting into it I found the same bitty, crunchy candy crumbles in it as the white chocolate bar. They had a nice tart bite to the, though some had a different bite: the black pepper.
The dark chocolate was largely overshadowed by these strong flavors. The texture was nice, not as buttery as the Lake Champlain I had yesterday which was a similar cocoa content. Instead it was sweet and then had tangy bits that just made the sweetness more apparent.
The dark bar contains no milk products so is suitable for vegans. (However it is processed in a facility that also uses milk and nuts, so is not for those who are allergic or very strict.)
I have to say that I wanted to like these more. The flavor combinations are certainly ones that I’m predisposed to like, but I wanted a smooth, creamy, Swiss chocolate experience. They have a huge selection of bars and I might have to try the Caf? & Cacao, which is extra fine milk chocolate with coffee and crispy cocoa nibs. At $1.99 I certainly don’t feel cheated, they were a fun experience. The White chocolate bar has a slight edge if I had to pick from these two again. The packaging is nice, the box folds back together well and I was able to put a piece of tape on it to keep the leftovers until I finished them. I’m certainly thinking about trying other bars in the line, so stay tuned for what I hope are rave reviews.
SugarHog has a review of the Frey Japonais, which sounds like a winner ... a combo of hazelnut and milk chocolate. Nicole of Slashfood (now of Baking Bites) liked the Citron & Poivre bar a bit more than I.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Yesterday I did a little roundup of all natural candies and I forgot to mention Lake Champlain. It’s a little expensive to feed to kids but they do make actual candy bars. It’s an excellent brand that uses carefully selected ingredients, which I always appreciate and recently introduced an organic line.
Each bar is 1.25 ounces, which I think is the perfect portion of good chocolate.
The bars look like they’d be great for traveling too, small enough to tuck in your bag and finish in one sitting but they also feature a nice paper wrap with an inner foil wrapper that means you can actually close it back up (some of these foil wraps used these days are two atoms thick and fall apart in a light breeze).
Dark Spicy Aztec also features a 55% cocoa base chocolate. This one also has spices and pumpkin seeds. I’ve had a few spicy bars over the past few years and my share of spicy hot chocolate as well. This is probably the best of all of them. The spices, while strong, are still very flavorful and don’t overpower the chocolateness. I love pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and they go so well here, adding a little crunch and setting off the spicy flavors all over again.
While it tastes like there’s a whole cupboard of spices in here, the label says only cayenne and cinnamon. I could have sworn I tasted a little nutmeg, some clove and cumin. Amazing!
I have to admit that the spice is, well, spicy. It gave me a bit of a tingly burn on the back of my tongue and in my throat. Not so much to stop me from eating it, but more tender mouths may not appreciate the power. 9 out of 10
Dark Chocolate is a basic semi sweet bar. It’s on the sweet side but also very creamy and has a good, quick melt on the tongue.
I’m not as keen on this as the Spicy Aztec, but since it’s the same chocolate base, it’s a good place to finish off the review. The chocolate notes are rather middle of the road - there’s nothing that jumps out at me like coffee or balsam or raisins. It’s just nice and thoroughly chocolatey. It doesn’t feel like a “better for me” compromise because it’s organic. It’s smoothly conched and nicely tempered. 8 out of 10
The Organic bar line from Lake Champlain also includes milk chocolate, with a plain bar and a sea salt and almonds bar. The Lake Champlain website offers a kit of all four bars as an introduction or you can order them singly. They also make little squares, which I’ve tasted at the Fancy Food Show before, but to be honest, I don’t care for very thin chocolate, l like it a little thicker ... these bars are the ideal thickness.
My hesitations on Lake Champlain as a whole are that it’s not that easy to find and a bit expensive (and I don’t like the logo much). Of course it’s good quality, nicely packaged and all natural, so you get what you pay for. If you’re tentative about them, keep an eye on their Sale Page on their website, sometimes there are insane deals in there (nothing at this writing though).
Monday, September 10, 2007
Many parents have suspected for a long time that candy may contribute to hyperactivity in children. While sugar has been exonerated, it appears that the problem may be with preservatives and artificial colors.
I pulled together a list of candies which parents may want to consider when eliminating those elements from their diet, after all, kids deserve to be, well, kids. This is not a complete list of all natural candies, just a little something for now if you were wondering. I’ll pull something more complete together for Halloween.
Gummis & Fruit Sours
Nestle Smarties (from the UK)
In most cases, I don’t miss the unnatural elements. Yes, the colors might not be as bright, but the flavors are usually the same or better. Without preservatives you have to get fresh candy. But that’s what you wanted anyway, right?
What’s your favorite all natural candy?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.