Friday, February 22, 2008
Since I’m still down with this aggravating illness, I thought I’d do some short & sweet briefs on a few things that I’ve been eating. Mostly it’s stuff that I’ve reviewed but in different flavors & varieties ... so they don’t warrant a full write-up on their own.
I took a little jaunt to Little Tokyo three weeks ago because I was craving the Gummy Choco I had last year. Mitsuwa Marketplace (3rd & Alameda) has an awesome selection, including single flavor packs of Muscat and Strawberry. I opted for the Strawberry Gummy Choco. (Oh, and I got another tube of the mixed fruits.) However, the price seemed to be better at Nijiya Market in Little Tokyo Village at only $1.49 instead of $2.49 ... but of course parking is a little more difficult over there at times.
They have a milk chocolate coating with an innner coating of real white chocolate. The gummy center is a rich and jammy strawberry. Ultra-soft and combines well with the creamy chocolate.
They’re still a satisfying candy to eat when you have no sense of smell, the combination of textures and the zap of the tart berry center keeps me amused.
Rating: 9 out of 10
It’s as simple as can be, just puffed wheat (I think puffed barley, actually) that’s covered in a shiny & thin coat of milk chocolate.
It’s sweet and kind of earthy and freakishly addictive. I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but I think I prefer the Japan Confectionery brand, if only because each kernel was separate from the others. It seemed like more of these were stuck together. ($1.69 for 4 ounces ... which doesn’t sound like much, but there’s a lot of air in there.)
This stuff should be sold in movie theaters ... it’s an ideal movie candy.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Back in November I visited with Chuck Siegel at Charles Chocolates and saw all the new stuff, including a preview of one of his new bars that sounded right up my alley: Candied Hazelnut in Dark Chocolate.
What has me so excited (besides the prospect of creamy dark chocolate with perfectly roasted hazelnuts) was that it might be an easier to find version of that wonderful Spanish bar I had last summer: Avellana Caramelizada Chocolate by Mallorca.
Instead of whole hazelnuts encased in a crunchy sugar glaze, these were bits of hazelnuts. The bits were crunchy and fresh, but didn’t have quite the burnt sugary crust that I was aching for. (But how was Chuck to know that’s what my expectation was?)
It’s still a great bar, I love his 65% dark chocolate blend. It has an excellent soft and silky melt, it’s a little tangy with mostly mellow flavors that let the other inclusions shine. I would have liked slightly bigger crunchy bits.
The packaging has changed slightly with the Charles Chocolates bars as well. When I first tried them each bar was wrapped in a microthin piece of foil. Now they’re a metallic airtight pack inside the box. Probably a much better way to keep the chocolate fresh in the stores, but not as easy to reseal if you tear the bag when opening.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The last item is kind of a fun thing that I picked up last summer. I noticed that there were two different designs for the same roll of Cryst-O-Mint Lifesavers on the shelves at Walgreen’s, so I picked them up.
Over the years Lifesavers has changed more than their packaging. The only thing that has remained the same is the shape of their product. The familiar donut shape is here to stay, even if they’re made in Canada now.
The Cryst-O-Mint is unlike the other mint Lifesavers in that it’s a boiled sugar sweet, not a compressed dextrose candy.
It’s not an intense mint like an Altoid, just a soft and clean peppermint flavor. The production of the candy is good, the pieces were all intact and didn’t have any voids or sharp spots like some of those Brach’s Ice Blue mints.
Also a plus, there are no artificial colors in there, because they’re colorless. If they’d just left out the High Fructose Corn Sweetener, they’d actually be an all-natural candy.
You can read more about the Lifesavers redesign here.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Now it’s Easter season and time to trot out these cute little baby farm creatures. The package calls them Artificially Flavored Marshmallow candies, which doesn’t really explain them that well. Inside there are 10 little pouches that hold 9 or 10 candies in each.
The candies come in two shapes: Chick & Bunny (could you have guessed?). They also come in four colors: yellow, lavender, fuschia and turquoise.
They’re really cute. The colors are vibrant and actually go through and through, the insides are soft pastel versions of the exterior colors.
Each is about the size of a Flintstone’s Chewable Vitamin, but happily tastes nothing like it. They’re not a compressed dextrose candy (like SweeTarts), these are made of sugar and corn syrup (like marshmallows, actually).
They’re very crunchy and have a light marshmallow flavor. Marshmallow flavor? Well, it’s kind of like the lightest fake vanilla and light sugar. Kind of like a tasteless Altoid.
Not really something I want to eat as a candy, but they are really cute and the bags are really tiny, so it’s an appropriate size indulgence. (Heck, each bag has only 36 calories.) They’re probably better as decorations ... on cupcakes ... scatter them around on the table or maybe in a mix of other candies. I suppose you could also use them for a Peeps Mash Up. They certainly maintain the Peeps appeal as being one primarily of appearance.
Just Born raised a bit of a controversy last year when they introduced their Spooky Friends individually wrapped Halloween marshmallows. Instead of being manufactured in Bethlehem, PA, they were made in China. Though the company says that this is the first time they has outsourced their production, it’s not the first time that they’ve licensed their name. Flix introduced the Peeps Lollipop Rings & Slider Pops last year, which are also made in China, just as these are.
Just Born also added new Tulip shaped Peeps to their line this spring.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Baldinger’s is in Zelienople in Butler County north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and billed themselves as having Foods from All Nations. What they were known for though was their incredible candy selection, including their actual penny candy that cost a penny a piece.
Baldinger’s was a family affair, started by Dorothy & Allen Baldinger in 1933. They started as a roadside fruit stand and carried other food items and items like cookie cutters and later found that the candy was a real hit. After the Baldinger’s died, the store passed to Dorothy’s sister, Lois Dodge. Dodge left the day-to-day business of the store to Betty Sabo, who managed the store, she started working there in 1943 as a teenager. But the land under the store was recently closed with the understanding that the store would stay open as long as Betty Sabo continued to manage the store. This was complicated recently when the owner, Lois, passed away. The store is slated to close in June of this year.
While the rest of the world seemed to pass them by, including I-80 and the Turnpike leaching more traffic from route 19, they never even updated the original cash register that never rang more than $9.99. When I was there, my purchases were written up on a slip of paper, added by hand but the cashier.
Baldinger’s boasted an excellent collection of candies. Much of it was bulk items and classic hard-to-find items like anise squares, Nik-l-Nips, wax lips and Mary Janes. They had seasonal candies as well, as that’s half the fun of candy along with candy bars from all over the country, limited editions and not the just the biggies. I also found a great selection of Dutch and other European Licorices and at only $6 a pound (half of what I pay for them at other places in San Francisco).
If you’re in the neighborhood before summer, it’s definitely worth a trip to see them, a little piece of history, before it’s gone. It’s a completely different kind of nostalgia than the manufactured (Dylan’s Candy Bar) and franchised (Powell’s Sweet Shoppe) style that has replaced it. (It’s kind of in the Economy Candy style.)
The penny candy selection is what I’d call “obligatory” since it contains very small pieces of candy, all made in Brazil or Mexico and not any names you’d recognize. But once you get up into the five cent and by the pound stuff, it’s all pretty good. I picked up individually wrapped Goetze’s Caramel Creams, various boxes of Lemonheads & other fruit heads, a full set of Pearson’s, a limited edition Take 5 chocolate cookie, Boyer’s Mallo Cup & Smoothie. I also got a bunch of Peerless candies (but I just ate those, they weren’t for reviewing). All the prices were great when I was there 65 cents for any candy bar (they also had some import consumer bars) and the bulk candy ranged from $2.00 a pound to $4.00 a pound. Mind you this was 2006, but I doubt that much has changed.
22105 Perry Hwy
UPDATE 4/9/2008: It looks like Baldinger’s may get a new location and continue! Check out this story in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. I’ll check up on the new space next time I’m in Pittsburgh.
UPDATE 5/29/2008: The new address is 519 Perry Highway (Rte 19) - they’ll be across the street from the Exxon station. They expect to move into the larger space sometime in July. So if you’re planning on stopping by this summer, just call ahead to see where they’re at.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Since it was predicted to be so nice, and I had such a great experience with BonBonBar, I ordered two chocolate bars on Monday, February 11th from the beta chocolate company TCHO, located in San Francisco.
It’s February and the predicted high temperature all week was 66 degrees. At 1:30 PM today it was 65. Ideal, really, for chocolate.
However, the package shipped on Tuesday, February 12th and only arrived at my door on February 15th. Hardly Priority Delivery if you ask me. And really slow for door to door service a scant 400 miles apart and to major metro areas.
They came in a silver metallic bubble-wrap envelope (folded in half). It felt hot to the touch. I opened it immediately and pulled the bars out. They too were hot ... and squishy.
There you have it.
TCHO was co-founded by a space shuttle technologist. I’m not sure what end of all of the technologies integrated into the space shuttle he was involved in, but it couldn’t have had anything to do with insulating or maintaining optimal operating temperatures. Or getting things to arrive on schedule.
I’m not going to give it a full review at this moment. I ate most of the melted parts of the bar shown. It’s rather tangy, has some clear coffee and dark berry notes. It’s smooth, but not super-smooth (even a few gritty bits) and doesn’t have the buttery quality that I love so much about great chocolate.
I sent a note to the company before posting this, letting them know of the poor condition the package arrived in. (I’ll let you know the resolution of that.) The 50 gram bars are $4 each and the shipping was $5.
Since I took that photo the bar has re-solidified, poorly tempered now with swirls of dark and light and an irregular texture. So sad.
The plain truth is that I get a lot of gooey chocolate. Rarely stuff that I order, usually things that are sent to me as samples, and I’ve come to accept the fact that PR folks simply don’t know how to put together a box that can survive for 24 hours without getting melted. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed it’s that package that are packed tightly do the worst. A little airspace between insulated walls does wonders. In the case of this package, a reflective package is great but once it heats up to the ambient temperature of the delivery truck’s interior, it’s actually conducting the heat to the contents, not protecting it.
I think I’ll stick to buying my bars in stores.
(The good news is that I have a lovely box of Valerie Confections’ Lemon & Hazelnut Nougat that my husband gave me for Valentine’s Day to console myself.)
UPDATE: Looks like a very prompt note from TCHO was caught in my spam filter around 3 PM (very quick!). They said that they hadn’t implemented hot weather shipping yet, but will re-evaluate that. They’re sending out a replacement package next week. Looks like I can be a beta tester for both the chocolate and the shipping! (Honestly, it appears that more of the problem is with how long it took for the package to get from SF to LA.)
UPDATED UPDATE 2/19/2008: Wow, when TCHO says they’re gonna put some new bars in the mail, they mean same day. They arrived today and in good condition.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
IIt has a simple name, Marshmallow Lollipop. t’s a pig shaped marshmallow pop, and it’s pretty big at 3.2 ounces of fluffed sugar and gelatin. They’re made by Confectionery Lane and actually come in some much more attractive versions such as decorated hearts. (Serious Eats has the Winnie the Pooh.)
While the idea of a pig shaped creature holding a little heart that says love may only be compelling to the Cute Overload fanatics, I can see that there may be a niche of people out there that perhaps enjoy food shaped like the ingredients (what is gelatin made of, after all?) or perhaps someone has a nickname of Piglet ... maybe they raise pigs or had one as a 4H project ... oh, maybe they have pink skin!
This sizeable puff has, well, its size going for it. The lettering on it is rather clumsy. The pig’s face is cute enough but the body is kind of hard to understand and of course it’s not really a three dimensional candy, the back side is simply flat.
It smells kind of like Fruity Pebbles. It tastes like, well, tangy latex.
The texture is actually rather nice, very moist and consistent. But the flavor is just awful.
So I thought I’d toast it. It’s already on a stick, so why not?
Since the marshmallow was so moist it became really runny on the inside rather quickly, but the outside toasted up nicely.
But a tart and flavored marshmallow is not the same as a regular marshmallow (certainly not like the lovely marshmallows from earlier this week). Really disappointing. I ate about three bites and threw the rest of it out.
Oddly enough the nutrition label says that a single serving is the whole pop and is 260 calories. (I guess you can’t really cut off pieces and save the rest for later.)
Confectionery Lane sounds like a quaint company, but really they’re just a brand name used by East-West Distributing Co., which is owned and operated by Walgreen’s. There are lots of other cute and thoughtful Valentines gifts you can pick up, even on February 15th. This isn’t even worth free.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
One of the few candies that seemed to be in our house regularly when I was a kid were Cinnamon Imperials. Perhaps it was because they were considered “baking products.”
Around Valentine’s Day each year they’re available in little heart shapes. (Actually, lately this is the only way I can find them unless I’m willing to buy the stupidly expensive packages from the cake decorating companies, teensy boxes of Ferrara Pan Red Hots or in huge quantities via the web.)
They’re the perfect little candy and a rather simple construction. The center is a tiny pressed hard candy in the shape of a heart. They’re then tumbled in a panning machine and given several coats of red flavored sugar syrup and then shined up with a little edible wax.
They’re not super hot, just a pleasant spicy cinnamon. These feature the devilish Red #40, but for some reason the cinnamon flavor masks it well enough for me to keep eating these. Of course everyone knows I’ve been eating them because my tongue has been red for the past week.
They’re a fun candy to share and great for putting in a covered jar for everyone to enjoy. Definitely something to put on your list of items to pick up when they’re wildly on sale after Valentines.
I’ve never noticed much difference between the brands. I’ve had Ferrara Pan & Necco and probably a bunch of other brands that I never managed to figure out. The Food Network’s Unwrapped show did an episode on Valentines candy last weekend and showed a company named Primrose in Chicago also making them.
I’m fairly certain these were produced after Brach’s was taken over by Farley’s & Sathers last fall. The coding on it is the Farley’s & Sathers style. This particular bag has a code of 7332CYP5, using a Julian date system for the first four characters which means that it was produced on the 332rd day of 2007. That’d be November 27th, 2007. I’m guessing that a panned hard candy like this is good for at least 12 months. Tasted pretty fresh to me.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Things are looking up in Los Angeles. More and more small confectioners are opening storefronts. Last year it was Valerie Confections, where I’ve been picking up teacakes and petit fours along with their toffees and truffles.
I was so pleased to see that Little Flower Candy Company also opened a cafe in Pasadena at the beginning of the year. Since my whale watching trip was canceled on Saturday morning, my husband and I went over for some lunch and sweets.
They only make candy during the week, so there wasn’t anything to see in the kitchen except our lunch being made. I had a vegetarian sandwich with a tempeh base, olive tapenade, sprouts and avocado on a hearty whole wheat bread. I also had an excellent fresh cup of coffee roasted by City Bean Coffee. My husband had a turkey and cheese sandwich on the same bread and we both got super-garlicky and salty pickles.
After lunch we browsed their selection of fresh candies that include Little Flower’s famous caramels and marshmallows, but I wanted to try something new. So I picked up a package of the stunningly gorgeous Honeycomb and some Marshmallow Puffs.
Honeycomb is pretty simple stuff, the recipe is easy, most call for something like this:
The first three are boiled together to 300 degrees, then removed from the heat and the baking soda is added. (Read more here.)
The trick with Honeycomb is working quickly and of course having the benefit of low humidity. The fellow behind the counter said what was special about Little Flower’s is that they actually use a bit of honey in there too.
It smells wonderful. Sweet and a touch like honey and a bit like cotton candy and butter.
The look of it is also lovely, with the glossy sheen on top and all the nooks & crannies.
The taste was a little disappointing. The crunch was good and it dissolved well. The honey and burnt sugar flavors were wonderful but towards the end it became a bit of a ball of soft sugar with a very strong taste of salt, metal and baking soda.
I was so disappointed. But I gave it another try and found the trick was to eat a smaller bite, not a whole piece at a time. But if I did put too much in my mouth I’d just spit out the unpleasant dreck at the end. (I also found it gave me the burps later on, just like soda does.)
The Marshmallow Puffs sold at the cafe are not like the gourmet, handmade marshmallows that Little Flower Candy Co. is already known for. What attracted me to these first of all was the packaging and the curious cross-branding. The narrow funnel shaped bag is in red, white & blue, in a rather retro design.
What I found so quirky and adorable about it was that the brand on there, besides Little Flower Candy Co. is Melissa’s, a Los Angeles-based produce company. (I have no idea why, but hey, I’m not going to argue.) They’re actually made in Belgium (not a place I knew did marshmallows.) But packaging & origin aside, what got me to buy the bag was the flavor assortment, Strawberry, Vanilla and Orange Blossom. I tasted one before I bought it and it’s divine. It’s not orange juicy, it’s more of a floral essence that has some strong bergamot overtones.
It reminds me of honey and flowers and Earl Grey tea and the wonderful marshmallows that make up the bulk of See’s Scotchmallows.
The marshmallows are all natural and have no artificial colors. The little puffs are extruded drops. They’re rather firm and latexy, but still have a good puff that melts in the mouth.
Strawberry is fragrant and sweet and reminds me of angel food cake and cotton candy.
Vanilla isn’t as sweet as I’d feared and tastes, well, like a marshmallow.
The clerk was kind enough to pick out a package that had a preponderance of orange blossom in it, so I only had three vanilla and five strawberry. The rest are the divine orange blossom. They don’t sell them on the website, but I was told if you called in an order they’d sell them to you. But you may also see them in grocery stores that carry Melissa’s produce as well. (I’d guess look at the more upscale ones like Gelson’s or Bristol Farm style chains.)
Here’s the review at Colorado Chow that got me off my duff and over there. Little Flower is known for their excellent artisan caramels & marshmallows. I’ve only reviewed the Lemon, Vanilla and Salted caramels on the blog, and can recommend them highly.
Little Flower Candy Co.
Monday, February 11, 2008
If there’s an all-ages emblem of modern Valentines candy, it’s conversation hearts. The first “Motto Lozenges” were invented in 1860 based on Necco’s already popular Necco Wafers. They were shell shaped and then later assortments included both mottos and expressions of love and came in a variety of shapes such as horseshoes, baseballs and of course hearts. Eventually they were made smaller and thicker and had briefer messages evolving into the current Necco Sweethearts.
I’ve spent years avoiding a review of them. So I bought a couple of boxes this year (why not, they were on sale for 20 cents each).
I actually like Necco Wafers. I know that sounds odd, because they’re so dry and chalky. (I did not like the Necco Smoothies, though.)
It used to be that the Conversation Hearts were just like the wafers, only thicker and smaller, same flavor rotation. Even though the Necco Wafers have remained unchanged, at some point they mucked around with the Hearts (I don’t know when) and changed up the flavors.
In an effort to be exhaustive (and sorry if I exhaust you), I’ve fully documented a random box of Sweethearts. They weigh one ounce and mine contained 36 hearts (one rather crushed though). There are six colors and they broke down in the following assortment:
Each year Necco adds new mottos to the little hearts. They always seem to be a little out of step with the modern world, but I think we forgive that lameness and just call them classics. (I didn’t find any that said Fax Me this year!)
There were three others that I couldn’t figure out. This year featured an “eco” theme with the addition of the mottos like “Wild Life” and “Heat Wave”. What’s nice is that there is a wide variety of mottos. In the second box I opened I found others that I didn’t have in this box (IM Me, Real Love, Marry Me and Sun Shine).
I have to say, I think the quality control isn’t very good on these. There were quite a few that were intelligible, like having a conversation while the garbage disposal is on. Some are a little bumpy and irregular in shape as well. But hey, they were twenty cents and come in a box ready for your own personal message to give as a Valentine, cheaper than a card.
In the Necco Wafers the purple is Clove (I also find that bitter too, but in a more natural way), Pink is Cinnamon and Yellow is Lemon (and there’s a Brown Chocolate one and a Black Licorice one). The changeup in the hearts is understandable, but the Red #40 is probably what I’m tasting ... my husband can’t taste it, so your mileage may vary.
While I tend to lump Sweethearts in with the other “chalk” candies, they’re not compressed dextrose like many other mints and sour tablet candies are. They’re actually made from a real sugar-based wet dough (that also includes gelatin, my vegetarian friends). This gives it a bit denser feel and also a deeper sweetness than dextrose (a monsaccharide instead of a disaccharide).
Having these reminded me that I prefer Necco Wafers. I like the tablet shape and how they clink together and are easy to crunch or dissolve. There are too many flavors that I don’t eat in this mix as well ... so I’ll stick with Necco Wafers. But I still might pick these up every year ... especially on sale after Valentines. They also come in: Spanish , Sour and Chocolate (one version is just the chalky chocolate and they also have foil wrapped actual chocolate hearts on the website, but I’ve never seen them in person).
I was wishing I had a cute story about an experience with Necco Sweethearts ... but I bet some reader has a great one about these or some other conversation hearts.
It appears that Necco has changed the standard flavors (and some of the packaging) for their time-tested Necco Sweethearts. Prompted by some readers who commented here, I picked up a new bag. They are fruit flavors, no longer the classic fruits & spices. (Strawberry, Grape, Green Apple, Lemon, Orange and Blue Raspberry.)
Full review with pictures over here: Necco Conversation Hearts (Sweethearts) 2010
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.