Friday, January 29, 2010
I have more candy than I eat. I eat more candy than I photograph. I photograph more candy than I review.
After the holidays my boss gave me a box of Godiva chocolates that she didn’t want (she gets a lot of candy from vendors and clients). Sometimes candy is good for eating, sometimes it’s good for taking pictures. This was more of the latter.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
The old Danish Rolls or Delfa Rolls are back, though now with the name Broadway Rolls. I finally found the black licorice version being sampled at the Winter Fancy Food Show at the Gerrit Verburg (a licorice importer) booth.
These are made in China but bear a striking similarity to the original Danish Rolls.
The construction of the candy is that it’s four small spools of flat licorice strands served up as one long bar in a single wrapper. The Strawberry Broadway Roll I tried before was interesting, but not so much that I would long for it if I couldn’t get it again.
The black licorice is glossy, smooth and quite dark. They’re soft and as long as I unrolled them, were easy to bite. (Biting a whole roll was tough and kind of silly.) Each spool is about 3/4 of an inch tall and one inch wide. Each strip, unrolled, is about one foot (12”) long - though that varied a little bit.
It didn’t smell like much at first, just a bit spicy and like anise. After unrolling and biting one though, it was quite complex and good. The main ingredients are wheat flour, sugar and molasses with real licorice extract and artificial flavors. I’ve noticed that I prefer licorice made with molasses, as I like the mineral and earthy flavors and how they combine with the sweet and spicy licorice. In this case the licorice tasted more like a really good ginger spice cake than a plain black licorice. Notes of cloves, ginger and nutmeg were quite apparent.
For a single serve black licorice, it’s great. It’s hard to find really intensely flavored licorice that’s not overly sticky. This had a good bite that became a bit crumbly and short after chewing, so it didn’t stick to my teeth at all. The aftertaste was a little bitter, but I blame that on the artificial food colors (which is too bad as well). There are some shortcomings to it, but overall I can see myself buying this again, especially since it’s a single serve, fun to play with and interestingly flavored roll.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Last November Chuao Chocolatier released a new bar and I was very excited. It’s called Panko and it’s a very simple bar. It’s a Dark Chocolate Bar with Toasted Panko Breadcrumbs and Sea Salt. I’ve been searching high and low for it in all the usual places, like Whole Foods, Gelson’s and Cost Plus World Market, but none of them seemed to have it. So I waited until the Fancy Food Show and snagged one there from the kind Chuao folks.
Panko is the name for a specific kind of Japanese-style breadcrumbs. (Panko means breadcrumbs ... well, it means little bits of bread, so calling them breadcrumb breadcrumbs is redundant ... like pizza pie.) Here is a video that probably tells you more than you wanted to know about panko.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a full Chuao bar, I’ve been eating the ChocoPods instead because I prefer the variety. I didn’t realize that the bars had changed so much in the past few years. Here’s a peek at the previous iteration. The bars are now packaged in a matte mylar wrapper instead of foil inside a box. The wrapper opens pretty easily and when I tear it at the seams it works pretty well for re-wrapping the uneaten portion (though I still put it into a zip lock bag). The actual bar is stunningly molded. It’s a custom design of cacao pods with the Chuao logo on the top third of the bar.
The dark chocolate is sweet but has an overall berry and woodsy note. It’s creamy with a good buttery melt and silky texture. That texture is interrupted in a satisfying fashion with the light and crispy panko. It reminded me quite a bit of the Theo 3400 Phinney Bread and Chocolate Bar, which was not as sweet and actually more on the savory side.
The panko texture is a cross between bread and pretzel bits (without the “crust” of the pretzel). The addition of the sea salt in the 60% chocolate keeps it from being too sweet and provides just another little bit of texture.
I give it high marks for munchability ... as long as I can find it. The price is a little steep but it is tasty and pretty to look at. The panko is made from non-genetically modified wheat as well as non-gmo soy lecithin for the chocolate. It’s all natural.
Chuao uses all Venezuelan chocolate in their bars and confections. Aguasanta is a growth initiative which is dedicated to preserving the genetic integrity of cacao and helping to build a sustainable future for cacao in Venezuela.
Chuao also debuted a few newer bars at the Fancy Food Show, including Honeycomb (a sponge candy mixed into a chocolate bar - which I’ve been getting as a thick bulk bark from Whole Foods for a couple of years), Coffee & Anise and CoCo (coconut, coriander and chocolate).
(Yes, I recognize that the package photo up there at the top looks blurry, but it’s not. It’s some sort of printing problem but since this was a sample that was meant to be broken into pieces and tasted up to the Fancy Food Show for tasting, not a demonstration of the wrapper, I hope you won’t hold that against it.)
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
A weekend trip to the 99.99 Cent Only Store meant a lot of decisions. There’s plenty there that I’m curious to try, and often do, but most of the time it’s my fascination with what may be very bad that gets me to buy something, not the hope that it’s good. (Examples: Beechies Force Chew Candies, Choco-Fudge Mallow Sundae, Skittles Fresh Mint and a roll of LifeSavers that were probably 10 years old.
When I found a little display in the Valentine’s aisle though with some edible body paints and these Decorated Chocolate Shoes I thought that they were actually a good score. The packaging is a little plain, but part of me suspected that these were part of a larger gift package (maybe a basket or box) that were broken up into separate items that could be sold off for a dollar ... and most likely they were from Christmas and still fresh. The expiry date on the shoe was April 2010.
The package is two components: an outer clear plastic box with the label affixed to it with the stretchy silver bow and an inner two part clear plastic “mold” for the shoe. This did a great job of both displaying the candy and protecting it. It was fully taped all around the seam between the two parts, so very well sealed.
There were two things that gave me pause about the purchase. First, it’s made in China. The company that distributes them is called Galerie and is based in Hebron, Kentucky. (They also make gourmet candy corn.) My confidence level in products containing milk from China is admittedly low since the melamine scandal. Second, the ingredients don’t look good. Technically this should not be labeled chocolate, as the milk chocolate contains whey as an ingredient, considered a “filler” by US FDA standards. But I was attracted by the price and size and figured some readers might be as well.
The shoe itself is about four inches long with a 1.75” heel. At 2.7 ounces it’s pretty hefty, so besides that well in the shoe for a foot, it’s solid chocolate. The molding is nice, the chocolate has a good sheen to it and the decorations, though modest at just four pink colored “white chocolate” hearts on each side are precisely painted. (I looked around and didn’t see any other varieties in the store, though I suspect that other versions exist.)
The chocolate smells a bit woodsy, sweet and milky. It’s pretty tough to bite, kind of like eating an Easter rabbit. The texture though is rather smooth. I was pleased with the fact that it wasn’t overly sweet (adding whey actually makes this possible - it helps maintain the texture without adding expensive cocoa butter or cocoa but not sweetness of sugar - in very small amounts it doesn’t influence the flavor).
As a molded novelty item for this price, I’d say it’s excellent. My interest in milk chocolate in the shape of a high-heeled shoe with hearts on it is extremely low, so I can’t say that this is a great gift for me. If you’re looking for a party favor or a little gift where the visual impact is more important than the actual chocolate, this is perfect. Out of the package it can be used for decoration, and as I showed above for scale, filled with M&Ms or Hershey’s Kisses or even a few small chocolate covered strawberries it’s great.
Monday, January 25, 2010
I was a little dubious when Ferrara Chocolate entered the segmented spherical fruit made from chocolate market late last year. But I was impressed with the quality, availability and price. Ferrara Pan is best known for its other spheres such as Lemonheads and Atomic Fireballs. They used to be the importers and distributors of Toblerone, Terry’s Chocolate Orange and Cote d’Or chocolate, but when Kraft decided to handle that themselves, Sal Ferrara saw an opportunity to get that niche of sales for his company and moved into chocolate molding.
What’s most exciting about the new brand is the inventiveness of their “Chocolate Oranges”. The initial items were pretty much carbon copies of the existing Terry’s Chocolate Orange (Milk, Dark and Milk Chocolate Toffee Crunch). But now that the initial move into stores is over and hopefully folks sampled over the holidays they’re settling in and pushing the envelope a little more.
The Valentine’s Day version of the chocolate orange is part of the strategy to keep the oranges around for all holidays. This one is Strawberry Milk Chocolate and features a Valentine’s message on every segment.
There are 20 segments in the sphere. The red foil wrapper has a sticker that says Burst then Enjoy, but I do poorly at tasks that require just the right amount of force (watch me bowl sometime). So I just cleave it apart by wedging a knife between the segments.
There are ten messages on the slices, some are icons and others are little sayings. Be Mine, True Love, Only You and Hug Me. There’s no Marry Me but there are little pictures of a cupid, a set of kissing lips, a rose and the iconic Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture. (Well, it’s not quite the same icon, the O in LOVE is upright, not tilted.)
The scent is lightly floral, a mix of milk and strawberry. It reminded me of strawberry Nesquik. The chocolate is smooth but very sweet, has a good roasted chocolate note to it as well as the flavor of strawberry. There’s no tangy component, no freeze dried strawberry bits.
Each of the molded segments is nicely done. Mine were shiny and pretty much perfect - the only hitch was sometimes I broke off part of the design when separating it from the center.
The mix of strawberry flavor and milk chocolate isn’t exactly my favorite, but for what it is, it’s very well done. The chocolate is smoother than what I’ve been used to with Terry’s though absolutely still as sweet.
The idea of doing multiple designs on the segments is pure genius - it actually made me want to take apart the sphere to look at them all. Sharing it would certainly be in order, especially for Valentine’s Day. The price is certainly right at about $2.50 at most stores.
Friday, January 22, 2010
The final day of the Winter Fancy Food Show is always a little strange. The exhibitors are exhausted and are out of a lot of their samples and materials (if things have been going well) and many of the attendees are simply dazed, overfed and overwhelmed.
I’ve usually hit most of my list by then and just have a little bit of mop-up to do. It’s usually exhibitors that were too busy when I stopped by the first or second time or others that I heard about while I was there and added to my itinerary. I try to make sure that most of my business is wrapped by then so that when I do stop and talk I don’t feel rushed any longer. It’s probably one of the funner and more laid back days as the exhibitors feel free to be casual.
My original list had about 250 exhibitors on it, and I probably hit 90% of them the my satisfaction.
Chocoveda was one of those places I was a little leery of. I like my chocolate to be good quality, flavorful and attractive. All the other stuff is bonus material. So chocolate that’s infused with mantras seems, well, a little hokey. However, if I can just ignore the background chanting, I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as it tastes good. The good news is that their attention to detail is great. the chocolates are lovely and the flavor array was right up my alley. Their chocolate bonbons are all natural and vegan. They’re made with coconut oil and chocolate for the ganache center. I tried Ginger and Lemongrass which was fresh and vibrant and Honey Vanilla which was smooth and delicate. (Chocoveda website.)
Seth Ellis Chocolatier introduced Sun Cups which are sunflower seed butter mixed with sea salt, sugar and cocoa butter inside milk chocolate or dark chocolate cups. They’re made in a peanut free facility plus taste pretty awesome (well, I only tried a piece of the dark chocolate one so far). Organic, gluten-free, fair trade and nut free. (Photo here.)
Kookabura, an Australian licorice company, is also introducing some new Licorice Allsorts and cream filled assorted Licorice Straws including cola flavored. The Allsorts are notable because they don’t appear to have that coconut stuff in the fondant part.
Kenny’s Licorice has a nice brand of less-expensive Australian-style licorice (thick and soft chunks of wheat-based licorice) called Wiley Wallaby. I’d mentioned to them a few times it’d be cool if they made a candy coated version like the old Good & Fruity. Lo and behold they have! Outback Beans: they’re soft and short pieces of red licorice coated in a not-quite-crispy candy coating. (Photo here.) They’ll also be available in a black licorice version. They should be hitting store shelves in the next two months, your best bet to find them will be stores that already carry the Kenny’s or Wiley Wallaby brands.
I usually gravitate towards the goat cheese when I’m at the Fancy Food Show, but I’ll admit that I’m keen on most goaty things like goat’s milk chocolate. Last year I found some imported goat’s milk caramels with buckwheat. This year I found some from right here in California (well, the vanilla beans aren’t locally grown).
They’re called Happy Goat Caramels and currently come in the classic soft chew of vanilla. They’re actually not that different in taste and texture from most other plain artisan caramels but the whole goat thing will be a happy find for those who are less than lactose tolerant. (Happy Goat website.)
I spent some time in the California Pavilion (really just a corner where the Californian companies were placed) and finally got to try some of Elaine’s Toffee Company (ETC), it’s kind of famous because it appears in a commercial for some legal service ... though I don’t think the ad is that good at branding because I thought it was for American Express Business services when I finally found their table at the show. Anyway ... the commercial of course highlights the snazzy and classic packaging design. I tried a few pieces of the toffee and pronounce it excellent. The big squares (about 3"x4”) are sold at Nordstrom’s cafes and look like they’d be great with a cup of strong coffee while I mull over a shoe purchase.
On the other side of the planet is a man with some copper pots making classic Scottish Clotted Cream fudge ... in New Zealand.
Patrick Donovan’s Vanilla Cream Fudge is what it’s called for us Americans who might not know or appreciate the wonders of clotted cream. It also comes in a chocolate & hazelnut variety. I have some samples of the bars shown there and I’m looking forward to shooting them so I can eat them soon. (Gluten free, too.)
Poco Dolce, a toffee maker from San Francisco was showing off their new toffee bites, including this Double Shot variety which is extra coffee infused. I’ve had plenty of their stuff, I even bought a whole box of their Toffee Tiles before and ate them all without even taking their picture. One of these days I’ll get around to getting another box and doing a proper view. Suffice to say that the toffee is thin and has a good caramelized and bitter burnt note to it and always has the nicest dark chocolate coating. They have a great flavor array and the packaging is clean and simple.
I also picked up one of Ritter Sport new bars, the Neapolitan Waffle (well, it’s new to North America). I also found out why I couldn’t find the Peppermint in stores this past holiday. They will be back later this year, but last year there was a big issue with an import tariff on filled chocolates from Europe, so the Peppermint didn’t make it to the States for Christmas.
K.L. Keller Imports usually carries a nice array of fig and nougat things (including a fig nougat). This year one of her more exciting new finds were these:
El Caserio Caramel & Pine Nut Hard Toffee Pieces are rather large nuggets of dark caramelized sugar and butter with whole pine nuts in them. The flavor is buttery and not at all sweet but with a smooth texture. I tend to chew mine up, so the combination of the very oily pine nuts with their green and earthy flavor along with the smoky and molasses noted toffee was quite a mouthful.
I’ll be looking out for those in stores but at least I was able to pick up a handful of them for now.
That’s it for now. I’ll be back to regular reviews on Monday and the new “fancy foods” will be sprinkled in for the next few months as I see them hitting the store shelves.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
During Valentine’s season red and pink candies are pretty common. And the most common flavors to go with that are cherry and strawberry, so it’s nice to see a cinnamon candy for Valentines besides the red hot imperials.
I found this bag of Brach’s Cinnamon Jelly Hearts at RiteAid amongst bags of cherry Ju Ju hearts and other fruity versions. I’m a huge fan of Spearmint Leaves, so a cinnamon version (besides the cinnamon bears which are often in the generic or house brand bags) is quite a pleasure.
They’re tall little hearts: one inch across and three quarters of an inch high. They’re a soft pink, both in texture and color. The smooth jelly heart is covered in granulated sugar.
They smell quite soft and sweet, like cinnamon candy. The jelly bite is pretty soft but then again Los Angeles is experiencing 100% humidity lately so there’s no worry about things getting dried out at the moment.
The cinnamon is mostly spice, not quit woodsy but a slight tingly burn from time to time. They’re chewy and comforting and the artificial coloring is light enough that I noticed less of an aftertaste than I do with Hot Tamales.
I prefer my cinnamon candies a little hotter, but I see the value in having something a little milder around from time to time. It took me about two weeks, but I ate the whole bag. I liked the shape and the price, so I would buy them again ... especially if I see them on sale after the holiday.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
I’ll have a full wrap up when I get home, but instead of writing this morning I’m hitting the road early as we expect bad weather and I wanted to be extra careful on the drive back from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
So I’ll just have to leave you with this dreamy cross section of a Xan Confections “Big Mouth” which is an organic crisp brown rice and marshmallow base with a layer of caramel and homemade peanut butter covered in milk chocolate.
I’m excited to get my samples back to the photo studio and of course start eating them!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.