Monday, January 21, 2008
Here’s the second half of my notes on the Fancy Food Show in San Diego last week.
The cool thing about Malie Kai is that they do more than just plain chocolate, they have some combination bars as well ... and as you might expect they include Hawaiian items like Kona coffee and macadamia nuts as well as citrus and almonds. Lovely two ounce bars and wonderful hospitality at their booth. I’m looking forward to tasting the full bar I picked up.
Jeff Shepherd is always a delight when I visit at his booth displaying his goodies from Lillie Belle Farms. I got to try the Smokey Blue Truffle again ... it’s growing on me. I like the crunchy almonds and the smooth creaminess of the chocolate ganache. The bite of the Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese is pretty interesting, it creates a little buzz on the tongue. It feels more like food than candy, but that’s not a bad thing either.
The other fascinating item he had that was brand new was a wild chocolate bar ... that is, chocolate made from cocoa beans harvested in the wild, not from plantation-raised trees. I wish I had a photo of it, it’s not on the website yet. As you can imagine, there can’t be a lot of these since wild cacao is exceptionally rare and hard to harvest. Of course it’s also a very limited edition.
Haribo was also there with a their same booth. I don’t really have anything to report on their product line. I know they have their new Root Beer Gummis and as much as I’m a fan of root beer as a flavor, these just don’t do it for me (they might be too citrusy). I did have a few of their spectacular Pink Grapefruit Slices though. You can just enjoy these close ups of their lightbox display:
Jo’s Candies based here on the Los Angeles area will have some new Vanilla Caramels available at all their usual outlets. They were soft and tasty, perhaps a bit more milky than buttery than I’m used to, but super-traditional in plain wax paper and sold in clear bags.
I also enjoy Elegant Gourmet’s booth every year. They have stunning handmade lollipops and hard candies that look like painted ponies on a carousel.
I’ve never pictured their candies as an everyday sort of sweet, but for special occasions like baby showers, weddings and gifts, they’re something to consider.
Acapella Gourmet has an awesome new line of “coffeelatte” called Caffe Acapella ... basically, it’s cocoa butter mixed with coffee solids (coffee beans) instead of cocoa solids. So it’s not coffee flavored, it’s coffee! I have a few samples of those for a full review later.
Vosges made their first appearance at a trade show I’ve attended. They had everything in their repertoir out for tasting. I had a little sip of their white chocolate/vanilla/lavender/lemon myrtle drink (even though I’ve had it before) and had a few tastes of some other their items I haven’t tried. (No, they wouldn’t send me home with any samples for later.)
I tried a few of the caramels, being especially careful to stay away from anything with walnuts and was definitely pleased. It’s a stiff caramel, not too chewy but soft and with good buttery notes. I think the next thing of theirs I’m going to plunk down some money for is their Volcano Island Honey Truffle collection.
The Fancy Food Show always has a good showing of companies with honey and maple syrup. I picked up a few samples from Canadian company, mopure. They’re just little transparent maple leaves made from maple syrup. (I’m sure their maple syrup is awesome too, but I’m not much of a syrup user ... but if they offered me that bottle as a sample, I’d be all over it.)
Other items I picked up samples of:
For the most part I zoomed through the show this year. I usually take all three days and spend a lot of time with each company. This year I had my priority hit list and made it to most of them. A few I didn’t get to I know I can probably visit with at ExpoWest in March down in Anaheim (like Theo’s new Phinney bars). Of course my speed meant a lot fewer take home samples (usually I have conversations to discuss what I might be interested in taking home for a full review) but the money I saved on not having to get a hotel room in San Diego can now go to buying that candy instead.
(All above photos by Emanuel Treeson.)
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Here’s something you probably didn’t know about me. I like science fiction. I like good scifi and bad scifi, doesn’t matter. I can quote passages from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I know what a Tasp is, I have a complete set of the original Stainless Steel Rat comic book adaptation ... I even read the novelization of Star Wars when I was 10. All that’s missing is actually writing science fiction novels. Oh, and I’ve seen every episode of Star Treks ... all the Star Treks (TOS, TAS, TNG, DS9, VOY & ENT).
So when I got a lovely box of chocolates from my co-workers for my birthday, my first thought when I saw them was, “My stars! They look like different foreheads of aliens on Star Trek. Seriously, look ... a Klingon ridge! Ferengi ear! Cardassian neck skin! (I know, it must be very hard to give me gifts.)
It’s not just the textures, it’s the dusting of food-safe iridescent powder that make me think of fantastic humanoid creatures from other planets. Perhaps they’re missing out on a marketing angle ... mm, Denobulan Spiced Chocolate!
The chocolates actually are lovely and tasty. They’re from Boule, who I go back and forth about. I love their Kalamansi fruit jellies and their ice cream. But sometimes the chocolates are a little, I don’t know, off to my tastes. Mostly I’m unhappy with their little button ones, which are molded. I seem to be happier with enrobed or dipped chocolates, which is happily what these were. Plus they’re expensive. But the best kind of fine chocolates you can get are fine chocolates as a gift.
(I think what might have pushed me to be so flippant with them was that there was no key for the chocolates. They were hand-picked, so we had the list that Patrice in my office made, but no guide as to which was which. So Patrice ended up calling them back and making them describe each and every one. I’m not sure if Boule has noticed, but they have a website and it wouldn’t be too difficult to put some little photos and descriptions up there.)
The fun part was that after photographing them, I shared them and I didn’t look at what they should have been or were supposed to be. I just ate them.
There you go, no review. I just ate some chocolates. And enjoyed them.
The aliens in clockwise order from upper left to lower right are (click the numbers to see the original images):
Hmm, did I miss any? Or do you disagree with my associations? (Okay, I also probably had way too much fun making my first Candy Blog Animated gif.)
Friday, January 18, 2008
I haven’t written about Ritter Sport in a while, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been eating them. There’s a wonderful feature for the All Candy Expo attendees, it’s a candy room where they give you a little bag and you can fill it to the top with candy in a huge room of bins and barrels of the stuff. I found a tub of Ritter Sport Minis and took home about two pounds of the tiny buggers.
But I also stopped at the booth for the Ritter importer to see what was new and found a few bars I’ve never reviewed, including this hefty White Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts bar.
I’ve hung onto this bar for a while because I really need to be in the “mood” for white chocolate. It was 43 degrees this morning in Los Angeles when I got in my car to go to work; brisk weather usually helps to push me over into the white chocolate territory.
The wrapper says whole hazelnuts and they’re not kidding. Just look at that first bite I got! The bar itself is a lovely creamy ivory color, a little on the yellow side.
What the front label leaves off that the back mentions is the whole description for this bar: white chocolate with hazelnuts & crispy rice. (Turn it over and the hazelnuts are quite evident sticking out as are the little nibs of rice.)
The bar smells like hazelnuts and milk with a light touch of vanilla. It’s not until I bit into it that I got the malty notes of the crisped rice (hey, barley malt is actually listed on the ingredients).
Most of the hazelnuts are large and nicely toasted to bring out their flavor. The crisped rice adds a texture to the bar as well, keeping the pure white chocolate (made with sugar, cocoa butter, cream, skim milk, whey, lactose and vanillin) from feeling too sticky or cloying. I think it could use a smidge more salt (there’s a little in the crisped rice) but for non-white-chocolate consumers, this could be a gateway drug (well, the real gateway drug for white chocolate would be Green & Black’s White Chocolate bar).
It’s a very pleasant bar and I had no trouble finishing the whole thing.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Over the holidays my mother was in town for a visit and we went on a hunt for exotic citrus. I thought for sure I could find some fresh yuzu in Little Tokyo. (I was also keeping my eyes open for kalamansi, dalandan and ponkan.) Finally I did see some yuzu at Mitsuwa Marketplace, but at $29.99 a pound (about $8 each), I had to give up on my plans to candy yuzu peel.
There were a few consolation prizes though, including my new favorite Wheat Chocolate and I picked up a tube of Meiji Gummy Choco.
I’ve had these before, one of my co-workers loves to bring in new finds from her local Asian market and shared some with me. But I gobbled them up before I could take any pictures. So here they are, in all their glory.
Meiji packages these in several different ways, but I prefer the tall tube (a little shorter than a standard paper towel roll).
The design on the package is absolutely wonderful. It’s colorful and exciting but not too busy. Even without the English on the package, it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on inside. Each end shows the little candies, just slightly larger than real life. There are also cute little peep mascots on the package wearing little hats ... I think they’re hats, or someone’s dipped their heads in chocolate.
Luckily this was an export package and was in English. The mix of flavors here are Strawberry, Muscat and Orange. The flavored white chocolate coating is real white chocolate. The ingredients for the confection start out like this: sugar, corn syrup, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, palm oil, concentrated fruit juice, skim milk powder, cacao mass, gelatin ... and so on.
Now, you may find this a little odd, but before I was exposed to the Gummy Choco, I’d never had chocolate-covered gummis before. (I’ll have some Muddy Bears up in the next week or so as a comparison). Somehow I always thought that the texture combo wouldn’t work, that the chocolate would be grainy and flaky compared to the gummi or that the chocolate would be subpar. Meiji has balanced theirs with a very soft gummi that’s pretty intensely flavored along with a generous and flavored white chocolate coating.
If the idea of white chocolate is just too difficult for you, Meiji makes a milk chocolate and strawberry version that’s also spectacular (and often sold in boxes instead of the tubes). I haven’t seen them in the States, but here are some more versions on Flickr.
Basically, I love these. I love the look of the package, I love the easy-to-dispense tube. The taste is great, often with flavor mixes there’s one that I don’t like, but I loved all of them. The price for an import candy wasn’t too bad ($1.49 at Nijiya Market in Little Tokyo Plaza) and it was absolutely fresh. There’s even 8% of my daily RDA of calcium in every serving. If they sold these at movie theaters, I might actually start going to the movies again.
They’re pretty popular and can be found in both Chinese, Korean and Japanese markets as well as various webstores. I’m not sure if they’re carried in comic book stores, but keep an eye out anyplace that you can find manga and other Asian imports.
(Meiji also makes other tubular goodness with their Coffee Beat.)
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
One of the items that I’ve gotten several notes with recommendations to review is the new line called Cocoa Deli out of the United Kingdom. One of the things that I think some folks will find exciting about these little upscale treats is that they’re made in a “no nuts” facility. It’s pretty unusual to find anything other than a plain chocolate bar that can claim that.
The unique selling proposition with the Cocoa Deli Chocolate Heaven collection is that they look like little ice cream pops.
It took me a few months to track down a place that sells them, it turned out to be Walgreen’s. But I really lucked out because this variety package with all four varieties in little tins turned out to be half off. So the original price was $6.99 for 5.1 ounces and I got it for $3.50.
I’ve heard that the variety in the little tubs that they sell year round can vary, but in this case each flavor came in its own color-coded tin with a clear lid. They’re really cute and useful tins that have no actual branding on them, so I could probably re-gift them with other little sweets in them if I felt like it.
While the package says that each tin is “filled with indulgent mini popsicle shaped chocolates” there were three inside each package.
Each chocolate is individually wrapped and clearly marked with the flavor. Each package boasts that the chocolate comes from Belgium and in smaller print on the back of the box it says that the whole thing was packaged in China. So, let’s see ... the cocoa beans are grown in the tropics, shipped to Belgium where it’s made into chocolate, which is then shipped to England where it’s made into the little candies, which are then shipped to China to be put into tins and boxes and then shipped to the United States. No wonder they want $7 for twelve little chocolates (about $22 a pound at regular price).
The little nuggets look like tiny popsicles, though in this version there’s no wooden stick (they do other confections on sticks that are a bit larger ... this one is all edible).
The first flavor, Vanilla Caramel was a lovely little piece. The milk chocolate (30%) is very sweet but seems to be offset very well by the caramel filling. It’s a saucy caramel that feels more like it’s about the texture, which is smooth with only the slightest hint of grain. There’s not much of a burnt sugar flavor but a nice saltiness that keeps the whole thing from being cloyingly sticky.
Citrus Chocolate smelled very orangy right out of the package. The milk chocolate is quite smooth, though also very sweet and a little sticky feeling. It’s a pretty dense milk chocolate, boasting 30% cacao content. But in this case it’s all about the orange flavor. The orange center is a soft, truffle-like thing, though not quite as buttery. The orange notes are all zest and quite strong. It reminded me of what a Terry’s Chocolate Orange should taste like (instead of being grainy and too sweet).
Rasberry Truffle is the only dark chocolate piece in the set. Wow, the center of this was a pretty intense fuschia, but the ingredients only list dried rasperries as an ingredient, so that’s all natural. The raspberry scent is nice, floral and little grassy. The creaminess of the center is interrupted by the actual bits of raspberry. For the most part it’s little tangy bits surrounding seeds. The flavor is nice, but I’m not terribly keen on seeds like this in my chocolate. The dark chocolate is sweet, not terribly complex but stands up well to the berry.
When I got to the Peppermint Crunch Truffle, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a milk chocolate truffle center or a white cream. It ended up being the milky former, which was a nice surprise. The crunch part, as you might imagine, is crushed candy pieces (not polenta or nonpariels). I was glad these were not only individually wrapped but also in their own tins, as this one smelled strongly of mint before even opening the wrapper. It’s nice to avoid that cross-contamination of strong flavors. It was pleasant, super creamy smooth with a light and cool touch of peppermint. The crispy crunch of the bitty mint bits brought some nice texture to it.
I’m curious to try some of their other items in their line but there’s nothing in particular that sets these apart from other comparably priced chocolates (See’s, for one) except for the no nuts part. For someone looking for some help with portion control, each piece has 60 calories (so one of these single-flavor tins has only 180 ... less than most candy bars). As a Valentine’s treat purchased at the drug store, it’s certainly far better than most of the other choices (I’d much rather have these than the Dove Jewels, but at regular price these cost twice as much). The packaging is cute and I’m glad I have a few tins to put other candies in later on for snacking. I’m just glad I didn’t pay full price for them.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
The box is very tasteful and appealing with a tiny cellophane window that shows that they’re nice looking glossy dark chocolate covered almonds. While they’re not the largest almonds in the world (I think Trader Joe’s consistently has the largest chocolate covered almonds I’ve ever seen) I was hoping that they were fresh.
The box is interesting, larger at the top than the bottom, which was kind of odd when I opened it because it means that the opening for spilling out the almonds from the top is pretty wide (and that means easy to fumble).
My experience with World’s Finest Chocolate is limited to the fundraising bars, and since I don’t have any neighbors or co-workers with kids in band, I haven’t had one in about a year (and that was a milk chocolate crisp bar). I never much cared for their chocolate, I always found it a bit sweet and waxy. (Our band in high school sold mostly those boxes of M&Ms ... or at least that’s what I bought.)
Some of the pieces looked about the size of a Peanut M&M and others were the larger almond size you’d expect. They smell very sweet, though not much like chocolate or almonds, more like a vanilla candle.
The chocolate coating is passably creamy, a little on the dry/chalky side with a very strong sweet and fake-vanilla finish. The almonds inside are pretty consistently crunchy, but not very fresh tasting. There wasn’t a bad nut in the bunch, but they just didn’t have a strong nutty taste ... it seemed to be all about the chocolate.
Dark chocolate covered almonds are one of my favorite foods. In fact, I think a handful with some pretzels and coffee are an ideal breakfast. I’ve had these sitting on my desk for a little over a week and I ate less than half the box. They look great, the spare packaging is elegant and the price, even when not on sale, is pretty decent. But the taste just didn’t wow me. These taste more like the box than those two great elements: dark chocolate and fresh almonds. Instead I find myself eating my plain old raw almonds instead.
I may give World’s Finest Chocolate another try at some point, though according to the WFC website, the Continental Almonds are their top seller.
Note: the bittersweet chocolate World’s Finest Chocolate uses contains milk, so is not suitable for vegans. Their website says their Kosher, but the package doesn’t indicate that.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Yesterday I had the great fortune of attending the Fancy Food Show in San Diego and then sleeping in my own bed.
As with my usual style when attending a trade show with a lot of food, I rarely eat any of it on the floor, I take it home for sampling later. But here are some brief thoughts of what I did see (and wasn’t able to bring home for a full review). I also brought along a photographer! (My husband was so kind to record some important football game and come with me instead of sitting around the house all day.)
K. L. Keller Imports was showing a lot of stuff that I’ve already had before, like lavender honey from Spain and Suprem’ Nougat by G. Savin from France. They also had some new nougats from South Africa from Walters that are a little lighter and fluffier and feature pecans and macadamia nuts instead of the traditional almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios. They also had some great chocolate covered candied nuts called Cude Catanies from Spain. Fantastic. Crunchy, sweet, chocolaty, nutty ... everything you would want from those ingredients.
I spent a few minutes at Coco-Luxe which makes truffles and the candied almonds covered in chocolate and cocoa shown here called Block Party Almonds. Like so many chocolatiers that show off at the Fancy Food Show, Coco-Luxe is based in San Francisco and was founded by Stephanie Marcon.
The bulk of their products are truffles, made in the tile-style. In the case of Marcon’s, they little transfer design on top is usually a good indication of what’s inside. Her flavors are usually based on popular desserts such as Banana Split, Devil’s Food, Gingerbread and Mocha. However, I asked for something that was not out on display that I’d read about, which was their Rose for Valentine’s Day. It has a touch of honey and is made with rose water (instead of rose flavoring). It was fresh and light and not the slightest bit like eating soap. Their other two flavors for the Valentine’s box are Champagne and a plain dark chocolate they call Pure Devotion. Awwwww.
I was happy to see another west coast confectioner there called Cary’s of Oregon. They make excellent toffee and are featured at CocoaBella in San Francisco. I wanted to try more of their items though, so they were on my list as a must-stop.
Most of all I wanted to try their Milk Chocolate with Chai Tea Toffee. It’s a nice fluffy crunch that doesn’t become a tacky lump in your teeth. The flavor is buttery and of course the milk chocolate goes really well with the spice of chai. (They have another with Mango Tea and dark chocolate, but that wasn’t really up my alley)
Sweetfields isn’t quite a candy company, but I thought I should at least put them in my notes. They make candied flowers. They had a beautiful display right on a corner at the show that did stop me dead my tracks. They had piles and piles of sparkly, preserved violas.
They’re stiff but look velvety soft in their “crystal glaze”. They don’t taste like much, a little bit of raspberry essence is thrown in, which is a nice floral flavor. The sugar melts away and of course there’s a teensy bit of the flower petals left. They had larger displays of pansies with their dark throats and primary-bright petals. They’d be wonderful on desserts like petit fours or of course wedding cakes. I could also see them as a lovely garnish for a dessert plate or on top of a truffle.
They also had some lovely little kits for true vanilla obsessionalists that have beans from all over the world so you can do your own taste test. See their site for more.
One of the people at the top of my list (but who wasn’t on the official list of exhibitors) was Larry Slotnick, who was showing off his new stone ground chocolate from his company, Taza Chocolate. Stone ground, you say?
Yes, big plates of stone grind together to create a slurry of ground cocoa beans to make the cocoa liquor that is the basis of this food of the gods. He has an array of three bars so far in his repertoir 60%, 70% and 80% plus the Chocolate Mexicano which is a traditional style Mexican puck. I tasted this and I can say, as you might think, it’s very rustic. It also has a wonderfully different flavor profile and texture. First, it tastes like bananas and caramel, the texture is grainy but still smooth in that it dissolves pretty easily on the tongue (I’m guessing more available cocoa butter to melt and distribute the flavors on the tongue). I’ll have more on this later when I get a hold of an actual full-sized sample.
I had a lovely time visiting with the women at the Belgium’s Best Chocolates booth. First, the packaging and sheer quantity of chocolate bars on display was stunning. Galler has a great package design that always reminds me of art supplies - like they’re boxes of paints or oil pastels. They also carry Dolfin which I’ve reviewed before in their lovely large bars in “tobacco pouches”. The new mini bars I picked up are White Pepper & Cardamom and Lavender & Dark Chocolate. (I also have a super-dark bar sitting around that I need to review as well.)
Poco Dolce knocked my socks off with their Burnt Caramel Bittersweet Tiles. Not quite toffee, there was no butter getting in the way of this intense burnt sugar flavor along with a nice complement of salt and smooth dark chocolate. But the real reason I stopped at their booth was because I saw that Kathy Wiley, the creator of these San Francisco confections, was also introducing a line of nougats. Drat! She didn’t have them with her. Oh well, I get to San Francisco quite often and of course they have a web store.
Whew! I’m only about a third of the way through my notes, so more tomorrow. (You can peek at all the photos here.)
I’ll have more later. Here’s a tease ... stone ground chocolate ... all-American chocolate grown on Oahu ... chai tea toffee ... honey and lemon licorice ... new nougats.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.