Friday, January 30, 2009
I check in with Valerie Confections from time to time, they’re about a mile from my house. The crazy little secret is that I go there for their teacakes. Especially in the summer, when I want something with a touch of chocolate but can’t bear a whole piece, the bottoms are dipped in chocolate. The cakes are moist, dense & lightly infused with flavors.
At the Fancy Food Show, however, Stan & Valerie were excited to show me their new Valentine’s collections. There are three:
The set called Pour Homme is for the gentleman. It has 11 pieces and comes in the dark brown box. Visually it’s dominated by large flat dark milk chocolate hearts that have fleur de sel and little almond toffee bits in them. It’s filled in with dark chocolate hearts with flowing caramel centers.
The set called Pour Elle is geared towards the gals and comes in the classic ivory box. This features large flat white chocolate hearts with rose petals and the small bittersweet chocolate hearts filled with rose petal and passionfruit ganache.
Both have 11 pieces and retail for $30.
For folks who want to share or prefer a different assortment there are boxes of various sizes (9, 18 & 36 pieces) that hold the bittersweet ganache hearts, gianduja rocher, and bittersweet chocolate with almond toffee bits.
I’ll just run down a few of the items I tasted:
Bittersweet Chocolate with Almond Toffee Bits (the smallest dark chocolate hearts shown above) - a simple pleasure. A mix of smooth bittersweet chocolate that has a glossy and smooth melt with little toffee chips and almonds. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t getting enough toffee ... but then again, if I wanted chocolate and toffee, I could just order the chocolate covered toffee, so this piece is more about chocolate.
Bittersweet Chocolate Hearts filled with Liquid Caramel - a little taller and wider than the other filled hearts, this one has a wonderfully thick and gooey caramel. Lightly salted, it has all the flavor of a toffee but the smooth texture of a custard. Lightly salted, the dark chocolate lends the perfect container and dark woodsy sweetness.
Bittersweet Chocolate Hearts filled with Rose Petal Passionfruit Ganache - a little petal graces the top of these pieces, but just sniffing it I could tell from the fragrance that it was the rose. The center is a white butter ganache with the tangy and tropical bite of passionfruit. The slightly soapy rose took some of the passionfruit earnestness away. There is a bit of a lingering aftertaste, kind of like jasmine. I suggest eating these last. Your dessert’s dessert.
Large Rose Petal White Chocolate Hearts (shown in a small version in the picture above) - this one was a little bland for me, and I did eat it first in my tasting session because I know that white can be a bit delicate and finicky. The white chocolate was smooth and not overly sweet, with a slight malty taste of cocoa. But the floral infusion didn’t quite hit me, but did leave a fresh aftertaste.
Gianduja Rocher - a sweet milky explosion of salt, buttery toffee chips and creamy sweet chocolate. It’s not a pasty, sticky gianduia. It’s a solid form that gives a soft and silky melt to the chocolate and a punch of roasted hazelnut flavor. It is sweet though, luckily the toffee chips and the salt cut through that.
Darkened Milk Chocolate Hearts with Almond Toffee Bits and Fleur de Sel - I want this in bar form year round. The “darkened milk chocolate” tastes like a cross between bittersweet and a European dairy milk chocolate. The dairy notes are complemented well by the toffee chips and the whole thing is set off by powerful zaps of salt in liberal reservoirs throughout.
Bittersweet Ganache in Bittersweet Shells Finished with 23 Karat Gold (the picture here is of a round version of the same truffle - the uneaten one is above). Delicate mix of flavors, as this is all about the chocolate. The ganache is soft and smooth. There’s an immediate acidic bite that gives way pretty quick to some dark charcoal and alcoholic notes like fine cognac and tobacco. The gold version has a bit more chocolate to it, because of the geometry ... the gold flakes do nothing for me, except distinguish it from the toffee chip dark heart.
The attention to detail in the items, with their perfectly placed decorations and well tempered chocolate is exquisite. No bubbles or voids, everything glossy and gorgeous. On the personal side of things, I go all weak in their knees for their nougat and am a little disappointed they don’t have it again this year for Valentine’s (as that’s what my Man gave me last year). But I like it when they try new things and enjoyed the darkened milk with toffee chips most of all. (So I guess I’d have to opt for the Pour Homme ... luckily the box doesn’t say anything about it being geared for fellas.)
I like supporting a local business and that everything is made fresh ... not last year and has been sitting in a warehouse. If you go to the store you can get the petits fours and the tea cakes by the piece.
I read all email sent to me and I do my best to answer them. You can always email firstname.lastname@example.org. But here are a few preemptive answers:
1. Can we exchange links?
I do not participate in link exchanges. Please don’t ask. It puts me in a really awkward position. The blogroll is a list of blogs that I read and recommend. I can hardly recommend your blog if you’ve only had it for three days and posted one thing. (It should be at least three months old and updated regularly and not use images from my site.) If you want to tell me that you started a blog and invite me to read, hey, I’m happy to read about candy! But I won’t link to you just because you link to me and many of the blogs I read and link to do not do the same. It’s nothing personal.
I do accept advertising, but I’m also kind of particular about that, too. But I can tell you that I don’t do text link ads and will never use affiliate programs.
I also do not accept guest posts. Candy Blog is written solely by me.
2. Where can I buy X product?
I might be able to help you, but please be aware that I’m just a gal with a candy passion. I notice stuff in my local stores, but I’m not a database and often the best way to find a candy is to contact the manufacturer. Second best is to use the comments on the post about the item to see if other fans can help you out.
Please tell us where you live and the last time you remember buying the product. It really helps us candy detectives.
3. Your products are bad!
I don’t make this stuff! Please don’t confuse me with the candy companies. I love to hear praises and screeds, but I can’t do anything about it for you. Please contact the candy company directly. Google is your friend.
(And a friendly piece of advice, calling people stupid, criminal or using abusive language won’t get the result you intend.)
4. You should write about our product!
Okay. First, it’d better be candy or candy-related. Otherwise I’m going to think you have a problem with reading comprehension or bought a very poorly targeted contact list.
Be aware though, Candy Blog is virtually all candy reviews. The stuff that’s not is about my personal experiences at trade shows, buying candy and mostly failed attempts at making candy. I do accept samples, though less and less often as I prefer to simply buy stuff.
5. Can you send me some free candy?
No, I can’t. I hate shipping stuff, it’s expensive and I’m really bad at doing things in a timely fashion. Most of all, the extra candy I have usually already opened and has bite marks in it.
If you’re looking for stuff for your personal consumption, please contact candy companies directly. They often have giveaways. Write them fan letters, like them on facebook or twitter and maybe they’ll send you a coupon.
If you’re looking for something for a fundraiser or raffle for a non profit group, your best bet is to contact either a candy company directly, a candy store or one of their public relations groups. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but reading trade magazines like Advertising Age will help you learn the players.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 3:09 am
Thursday, January 29, 2009
The one that I was most intrigued with of late is Spearmint Licorice found at Vermont Country Store. (However, I believe that they’re manufactured by Kenny’s Candies - I’ve just never seen them in stores anywhere, just online.)
The packaging isn’t terribly compelling (not even featured on their website). Just a clear plastic bag highlighting the translucent green twists.
They look like they could be green apple at first glance. And if you were expecting green apple and ate one of these you’d probably be pretty surprised.
They’re a wheat-based twist. There’s no molasses in it like most American & Australia-style licorices. They’re glossy, soft and flexible.
The open bag doesn’t smell like much. Not minty fresh, maybe just a little sweet.
The flavor is very subtle. It’s not a blasting mint like the sizzling flavor of the Cinnamon Fire Twizzlers. Instead it’s a not-very-sweet spearmint.
At first I didn’t like them. They were too soft and seemed a bit artificial. The spearmint has a light zing to it, but there’s no cool minty aftertaste.
Then I left them open for about a month and they got stiff and a bit dried out. Kind of hard to peel apart. But the flavor mellowed and though there’s some work on the chewing front, I’m really pleased to say that I’ve eaten over a pound of them now. They’re a comfort flavor, like Spearmint Leaves (those jelly candies sanded with sugar) - they’re not sexy or innovative ... just pleasant. (Even though I call them pleasant, I’m bumping their rating to worth it.)
Kenny’s Candy is Kosher, but this package doesn’t say Kosher on it (so may have been repacked at a non-Kosher facility).
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
At the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, I missed the opportunity to watch Joseph Schmidt make his famous chocolate bowls - though I did get to see the fresh works and talk with him briefly. Though some of the high end items like the bowl from Joseph Schmidt are undoubtedly crafted items, the current mass manufacture of the truffles doesn’t really keep with the artisan vibe.
Are they still artisan confections when they’re consolidated into one manufacturing plant in Illinois? Were they even still artisan when Hershey’s bought them in 2005?
A little history: In 2005 Hershey’s started a spinoff company and seemed to tap into a new trend in the United States: small batch, carefully crafted confections. They created an autonomous company called Artisan Confections Company and into it went Joseph Schmidt and Scharffen Berger and later in early 2006 Dagoba.
Milton S. Hershey started as what could be described as an artisan confectioner. He made hand-stirred caramels, eventually made his fortune with a company called the Lancaster Caramel Company. Of course this was all at the same time that the industrial revolution and the assembly line was transforming everything from stockings to cars and then chocolate with Hershey’s five cent milk chocolate bar.
But mass production doesn’t mean bad. Or at least it doesn’t have to mean it.
What this meant initially was greater distribution and monetary muscle for these tiny chocolate companies. (Scharffen Berger & Dagoba are chocolate factories, Joseph Schmidt is a chocolatier.) And it’s done quite a bit for the public. Access to these varieties of products has done munch to educate consumers about the nature of chocolate, how flexible it is, how specific beans grown in a particular valley can taste vastly different to mixed beans. Dagoba showed us that organic and ethical doesn’t have to taste like the heaps of faint praise given to children who make macaroni art.
But most chocolate lovers have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. After all, this is Hershey’s - a company that isn’t known for the quality of its products these days or the respectful way that it treats its customers.
The announcement yesterday sounded like this:
The names Scharffen Berger and Joseph Schmidt appeared nowhere in the official press release. In fact, I read over this fourth quarter report, even twittered a smidge, without even realizing what that meant. Subscale? Rationalization? It wasn’t until later that evening that the SFGate posted the news and Cammy from Munchcast popped me a note.
There were assurances from Hershey in 2005 that the company would retain its staff and location (though it did expand, I don’t think anyone can be upset by that, as they did say that they wanted to grow the brand). The sad truth is that this is merely a formality. Scharffen Berger chocolate has, for the most part, been made in Illinois for a couple of years. The Berkeley factory is a bit of theatre. Sure, it’s a working factory, but it may as well be Chocolate World for the well-heeled.
But this leaves a hole, a new opportunity for the actual hand crafted chocolate makers out there. And Scharffen Berger should look sharp, there are far more than back in 2005 when it got its infusion of cash. Askinosie, Amano, DeVries, Taza, Theo, Tcho, Patric, Mast Brothers, Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory, Rogue Chocolatier and Jacque Torres ... that’s just bean to bar folks in the United States.
If you’d like to see Scharffen Berger & Joseph Schmidt’s roots, I’d recommend a trip soon.
UPDATE 1/29/2009: It appears that Scharffen Berger has already stopped the free tours, even though word is that the factory will continue production at least until April.
UPDATE 2/10/2009: Joseph Schmidt is closing its doors for good, there is no shift of production. They will continue and fill orders through the Easter holiday. Though 150 other Bay Area folks are out of a job (including the Scharffen Berger folks), Joseph Schmidt himself will continue to be employed by Hershey’s. I expect that he will continue his appearances at trade shows and events, and perhaps consult on recipes.
Jelly Belly has had their own take on the ubiquitous Valentine’s Conversation Hearts for several years (introduced, I believe, in 2003). They’re called Conversation Beans.
They include the Sour assortment: Sour Apple, Sour Blueberry, Sour Cherry, Sour Grape, Sour Lemon, Sour Orange, Sour Peach, Sour Raspberry, Sour Strawberry & Sour Watermelon.
The sour family of flavors come in rather vivid, opaque hues, without any speckling. So they’re easy to tell apart as long as you can remember that raspberries are darker than cherries and apple is lighter than watermelon.
What’s special about these is that they’re sporting teensy printing on them.
I’d hazard the visibility of this printing is similar to that noise that only children & teenagers can hear. It’s quite small and rather faint on the lighter color beans (and nonexistent on others).
The words range from mildly flirty to downright benign. Think of it like a very limited version of magnetic poetry. Here are some three bean masterpieces:
Hi, like joy?
Overall, they’re fun. If you like Sour Jelly Belly or more importantly, if you can’t stand Necco Conversation Hearts but want to spend three times as much to make a sweet connection, this is the candy for you.
I liked most of the flavors. I picked out the Sour Peach ones, which tasted like they had Dr. Pepper added to them, and the Sour Cherry and was pleased with the rest of them. (Eventually I forgot I was supposed to be reading the words ... which I do with Conversation Hearts, too.) The highlight flavors for me were orange, lemon and grape (which was completely fun and artificial) while the blueberry and raspberry were much better than expected. As far as sour goes, well, they’re zappy compared to most regular Jelly Belly.
If puckering isn’t quite your speed for Valentine’s Day, a new item that Jelly Belly sent me to sample a few weeks ago is their Jelly Belly Love Potion. It’s a little re-closeable plastic bottle that holds an assortment of five flavors of Jelly Belly. (They use this same package for their Soda Pop Shoppe assortment.)
There’s no special printing on the beans besides the Jelly Belly logo.
The pink, red and white mix is rather attractive and might make a nice little offering in a gift basket. (Though if you really love someone with a sweet tooth, back up this little package with a big bag! Then they can refill it.)
The flavors are Strawberry Cheesecake, Bubble Gum, Coconut, Cotton Candy and Very Cherry. All the flavors went together pretty well (though I could have used a pink grapefruit instead of cherry) and the color combination is pleasing if a little feminine.
I don’t know the retail price on these, but the Soda Pop Shoppe bottles sell for about $1.50 to $2.00 retail.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.