Friday, September 30, 2011
There are two standard axioms for innovation in candymaking: Making it Bigger Makes it Better and Covering it Chocolate Makes it Gourmet. For the most part they’re true.
Albanese Confectionery didn’t invent the gummi bear and didn’t innovate chocolate covered gummis. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t do it well and possibly better than most other confectioners.
The Milk Chocolate Gummi Bears assortment is interesting, first that they’re pretty big. I can’t say for sure, but the bears seem bigger than the standard, but that could be the chocolate coating messing with my ability to gauge their size. The other interesting thing about the assortment are the flavors of the gummis in the center. Albanese has gone with flavors that complement milk chocolate: Orange, Strawberry/Banana, Raspberry, Marshmallow, Strawberry, Apricot.
Of course you’ll never know which you’re getting when you pick one out, kind of a fruity roulette.
Like all of the Albanese gummis, these were soft and flavorful, quite chewy and smooth. The chocolate coating is thin and sweet with a strong milky flavor. (I know that Albanese uses Wilbur Chocolate for their malted milk balls, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this is also Wilbur’s couveture.) The bouncy nature of the gummi goes well with the quick melting chocolate.
Albanese sells their chocolate covered bears for about $6.00 a pound online. Chances are pretty good if you’ve found a candy store that sells individually flavored gummi bears (with an A on their bellies) that also carries chocolate covered bears then you’ve probably seen these. If you’re looking for a chocolate treat that’s not so high in calories, these are a great option. They clock in at only 106 calories per ounce, which is very low for a chocolate coated item. The individual pieces and variations in flavors should make for a lean treat that doesn’t feel like a compromise.
They’re far and away better than the Muddy Bears that come in theater boxes and I prefer them to the Koppers version (but these do have artificial colors in them). Still, the top chocolate covered gummi in my heart are the Japanese Gummy Choco.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Abdallah Candies was founded in 1909 by Albert Abdallah in Minneapolis. The company still run by the family using traditional recipes and focusing on classic candy products like caramels, dipped fruit and chocolates.
I picked up an assortment of Abdallah’s Wrapped Caramels while on vacation here in California. They’re cute little two bite pieces that I thought were reasonably priced at 60 cents each.
Their varieties go beyond the typical vanilla, chocolate and nut versions. They offer about a dozen different kinds. They’re wrapped in clear cellophane, which shows of the candy very nicely.
I tried three different varieties:
Vanilla Caramels I started with the classic, as this is the base of the other caramel candies. The color is a pleasing creamy brown. The pull of the caramel was good, stringy without being too tough or grainy. The flavor was sweet with milky notes ... I tend to prefer a little more salt in my caramel these days, but this was still a great classic vanilla caramel.
Pecan Caramel Nougat is, as you can probably tell from the photo, a layer of pecan nougat sandwiched between two layers of the vanilla caramel. The pecans were soft but crunchy with a woodsy maple flavor. The nougat didn’t do much for me in the way of actual flavor (no honey notes) but the chewy and denser texture was interesting compared to the softer, quicker dissolve of the caramel.
I wouldn’t call it a complete win for me, but I loved the addition of the nuts.
Pecan Alligator Caramels are another layered caramel. The top is a chocolate caramel and the bottom is a pecan vanilla caramel. It’s great. It’s soft and chewy, the chocolate gives it a little smoky and salty edge, the nuts are fresh and ample, the caramelized sugar notes are perceptible ... I loved this one. It was a little grainier, could have just been that I ate them last of my little set, so they might have gotten a little humid.
I’m absolutely intrigued by Abdallah now. I want to order more of their candy directly but I’m a little hesitant as I sent them an email with a question on Monday and they still haven’t responded. But their prices are very reasonable. I had no trouble plunking down 60 cents for each of these.
The other items on their website include other caramel and nut combinations called Alligators (completely chocolate dipped nut caramels) and Grizzlies (caramels with whole nuts and dollops of chocolate). The confectioner has a factory store in Burnsville, Minnesota that you can get fresh candy and even watch the factory floor where they dip their chocolates (photos on their facebook page).
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
In January of this year I visited Amsterdam for the first time. I was fascinated and delighted by the sweets culture of the Dutch. My visit to the city was almost completely on foot. I arrived in a plane and left on a train, but the rest was just walking around within the area of the city known as the Canal Loop. Here’s my reference map.
I stayed right around the corner from the grand flower market, which wasn’t quite in its full glory as it was late January and many of the items they were selling were just bulbs. My goal when I visit most places is to experience candy as the locals do. Sure, I go to the touristy shops, but I love to see how candy is merchandised in grocery stores, convenience shops, vending machines and drug stores. What I found while in Europe is that candy is thriving and it’s for adults and children.
Amsterdam is a great city to visit any time of year, it’s easy to walk (or take public transportation) and really explore. As I’ve mentioned before, I like to balance my visits with tourist things (canal walks to historical locations & museums) along with living like the locals (grocery shopping, local markets and restaurants). Most of the people I encountered spoke English and I learned most of the common phrases in Dutch very quickly; reading signage (if it wasn’t in English) was also pretty simple with a smartphone dictionary app.
As with most European metropolitan areas, they’re not shy about sweets. Bakeries and access to chocolate and candy abounds. I’ll have more on my candy spotting in future posts. But here are three chocolate shops I visited in Amsterdam:
This is a little tea room style shop, the front is a chocolate counter, but up a few stairs past this and the shop widens out to a little cafe for tea, coffee and pastries.
The style of the chocolates is pure classic. Creams, truffles, candied fruits, caramels and chocolate covered nuts.
They had a good selection of gift chocolate in little stand up bags (chocolate covered nuts dusted in cocoa and powdered sugar, orangettes and boxes of Valrhona chocolate) appropriate as a hostess gift or to take home and enjoy. But mostly the shop seemed to be small baked goods (dipped Florentine) and chocolates.
I picked out a small selection of chocolates by the piece. They did have gift boxes, but I had mine in a little paper bag and took them back to the office to taste with my cappuccino.
My favorite by far was the Honey Caramel with Hazelnuts & Dark Chocolate pictured there a little bit in the back. It was a caramel with a light touch of honey filled with whole hazelnuts. It was sliced and then dipped 3/4 into dark chocolate. A soft chew with lots of dark notes.
I also got a cappuccino & cognac (the twisty thing with a coffee bean on top) which was fluffier than most of my truffles and had a good leathery tang to the coffee notes and the The which was a little “dry” because it was on the intense side. In the back, the flat topped one is a nutmeg and wafer ganache: a bit of feulletine and some rich spice in a milky ganache. (I don’t remember what the other one in the front was - my guess is a dark chocolate, since I usually try to get a plain chocolate). I would definitely stop at this shop again. There are two locations.
The shop that I most wanted to visit was called Puccini Bomboni which also has several locations. My hotel was equidistant from both shops yet I had a bit of trouble getting there. For some reason the morning I decided to make that my coffee stop I chose to go to the Singel location only to realize that they didn’t open until 11 AM. The next day I tried going to the other location on Staalstraat but didn’t make it before they closed at 6 PM. On my third try I did get back to Staalstraat and because of my difficulties, I felt the need to buy nine chocolates.
The shop on Staalstraat is quaint and well situated on a quiet corner. They had lots of impulse items, prepackaged chocolate straws, nougats, chocolate covered nuts and house-made chocolate bars. The shop is lit in amber and had a warmer feel than Pompadour. Still, it was an overwhelming shop, mostly because the chocolates are huge. Seriously, they’re enormous chocolates.
The counter is arranged with what seemed like two dozen varieties. I pondered (and took a few photos) while the woman in the shop fetched an appropriate box.
I was attracted to the less common flavors and of course the liquor infused ones. I can’t remember exactly what I picked up but it went something like this:
Aniseseed, Cognac, Cointreau, Lemongrass, Drambuie, Coffee, Mint, Nutmeg and Hazelnut Marzipan.
Each piece is substantial, some were over two inches long. They were lighter than I expected, the ganache center, made with all natural ingredients were lightly frothed into something that was more like a mousse than a dense truffle.
It was too much chocolate for me, even eating two a day, I found myself overwhelmed with them, because each piece was so huge. The liquor flavors weren’t intense in the way that some alcohol infused kinds can burn. Instead they go more of the flavor in there, so the cognac was leathery and smoky while the cointreau was just a touch orange. The nutmeg was a dreamy, creamy comfort with just a touch of the woodsy and aromatic spice.
I want to eat more of these, but I know that if I ever go back there again I’m going to end up in the same boat - too much chocolate all at once. So my tip to travelers is to make this your stop on your first day, not the last day. I would have gladly traded one of my dinners made of black bread and yogurt for Hazelnut Marzipan.
Vanderdonk is a little different from the other two I visited, they carried a lot of other chocolates from all over the world: Pacari, Taza, Bonnat, Pralus, Valrhona, Venchi and even some Dean & Deluca items. Their website has a good listing of the brands that they carry, the shop is nicely designed and well curated with only a few items from each of the brands.
They also had a selection of house made chocolates. I picked out three as a dessert for my soup lunch before I visited Rijksmuseum.
It was rather cold on that day and for some bizarre reason I decided to eat al fresco. It was probably less than 50 degrees and I huddled on a wind whipped bench by a duck-graced canal around the corner from the museum and sipped my quickly chilling squash soup before diving into my chocolates. The pieces were dense and had very mild flavors. They weren’t my favorite chocolates from the trip but they were a wonderful appetizer before strolling the museum and seeing Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid in person. (It’s much smaller than I expected, and even much bluer.)
If I’m in the city again, I do plan on visiting again to sample the other chocolate that they carry.
Vanderdonk Fine Chocolates
My visit was much more than chocolate, but I’ll have some thoughts about candy and licorice at a later date.
Monday, September 26, 2011
While on vacation on the central coast earlier this month I made my regular stop at Sweet Earth Chocolates in San Luis Obispo to pick up some rations for our vacation rental.
I bought some turtles and some other items for immediate consumption and then a few items to bring back to Los Angeles for review. One item that I sampled in the store is their Fair Trade Certified & Certified Organic Bittersweet Chocolate Drops. Yup, I went on vacation and I brought back a bag of chocolate chips.
It’s 12 ounces of 65% dark chocolate with only three ingredients - organic cacao (liquor, cocoa butter & cocoa powder), organic sugar and organic vanilla.
I love the bag. It’s simple, the same sort of wax lined kraft paper bag with a wire-fold closure that you get fresh roasted coffee beans in. It has the same bean bag heft and satisfying crunch when squeezed.
The pieces are small, some as large as a dime but most the size of a flattened standard baking chocolate chip (2/3 of an inch). The smooth disk shape makes them easy to eat and melt in the mouth, no spiky top.
There’s a light tangy note to the pieces upon melting with a slightly dry finish. It’s much sweeter than I would have expected for a 65% chocolate. The flavors are woodsy and smokey with notes of figs and molasses, they’re on the coffee side of the rich flavors. In fact, the package was sitting on my desk one morning and a co-worker said “Your coffee smells really good today.” I didn’t actually have any coffee, it was the open bag of chocolate that smelled like that. On another day the smell was so distracting, I had to close the package up and put it away.
I’m sure this would be great for baking, hot chocolate or pudding. But I was content to just snack away on them. It was no compromise, in the sense that these were organically grown, fair trade certified and not overpackaged. It was $9.50 for the bag, but for 12 ounces, I thought it was a pretty good deal compared to some of the chocolate bars that I buy for the same price but only get 3.5 ounces.
They’re made without soy or dairy (so they’re vegan) but are processed in a facility that has both.
As more of a novelty item I tried their new caramels. They’re like gourmet milk duds. I picked out the Coffee Caramel. The little quarter pound bag is very simply done. A cellophane bag sealed with a little twist tie. (They had samples in the store, I tried the orange and chili one and found it a little too spicy for me, so I opted for the coffee.)
Instead of a glossy coating of chocolate on the house-made caramel nibs, these are coated in chocolate and then rolled in cocoa. They’re lumpy and mis-shapen, some are flat and others are rustically spherical.
The chew is smooth and sweet with some good flavors. The primary flavors are woodsy, a combination of the dark chocolate and cocoa coating plus a little note of coffee. The caramel itself is interesting, the toasted and burnt sugar flavors are missing, are are the butter notes, but still it doesn’t end up tasting like syrup. There’s a little note of cinnamon and coconut in there, but that could be my imagination.
As a gourmet Milk Dud, I was happy, though they are certainly more expensive, don’t have quite the shelf life and are kind of messy with the cocoa coating.
I will continue to visit the Sweet Earth Chocolate shops in San Luis Obispo when I’m in the area. It’s easy on and off the 101 if you’re traveling through the area. My previous review of the shop is here (with photos).
UPDATE: Sweet Earth changed the name of their company to Mama Ganache.
Friday, September 23, 2011
Before I started Candy Blog there was a rather short but significant list of candies that I had never tried before. One of them was Licorice Allosrts. This is mystifying for regular readers, I’m sure, who already know that I love licorice. But I didn’t quite understand what it was and as Allsorts are often sold in bulk bins, there was no package (or blog) to explain it to me.
Allsorts are various shapes and combinations of licorice mixed together. The most common items within a variety bag would be rockies (cream filled tubes), twists, nibs, sandwiches (layers of licorice with layers of either fondant cream or coconut fondant), buttons (jellies or gummies covered in colorful nonpareils) and possibly licorice flavored mellocreams.
Trader Joe’s Allsorts -a- Licorice is a very conservative and safe assortment of little licorice shapes, perfect for those who are shy of strong licorice and want to dip their toes into the anise waters.
The bright and moderne fifties style design on the packaging does a decent job of demystifying its contents. It says that it includes a fun and colorful variety of licorice shapes and sizes including sandwiches, tubes and swirls. The ingredients boast that there are no artificial flavors or colors, though as is the case with most licorice, it’s not gluten free and also contains milk and gelatin ingredients. Though there is no coconut in the sandwich creams, there is coconut oil.
The assortment consists of: tubes filled with pink, orange or yellow cream; sandwiches with pink, orange or yellow cream; twisted nibs and licorice wheels.
The cream element is very soft and though it’s not sticky it does like to stick to the other pieces and gets dented and malformed easily.
They’re made in France, so they’ve had a long trip (but they’re well within their expiry date - good until July 2013).
The texture is soft and chewy without being doughy like some Australian styles can be. It’s also not crumbly or waxy like Twizzlers can get. The addition of gelatin gives it a good bounce and helps it keep its moisture. The licorice flavors are mild. There are some nice bitter molasses notes, it’s sweet and lightly salty and only lightly anise-y. The cream is sweet and only slightly grainy, it’s soft and dissolves quickly, almost like frosting. The flavors are what you’d expect: yellow is sweet lemon, orange is a little bit like orange and pink has a floral strawberry sweetness.
I enjoyed the different shapes, though the sandwich pieces were the least successful because they were so malformed. It was interesting to have a cream licorice sandwich that didn’t have coconut, as so many do. I missed the chocolate flavored cream though, that would have been fun.
I found the mix very munchable. It didn’t really satisfy any deep cravings for licorice, but it was a great snack. As a die hard licorice fan I don’t think I’ll be picking this up, but if you’re looking for something that kids and adults can enjoy together, this has some features that both will appreciate.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
When the classic Slo Poke Caramel was revived earlier this year, its chocolatey partner Black Cow was also on the slate for reboot by the Classic Caramel Company.
Originally released back in the 1920s by Holloway, makers of Milk Duds, the Black Cow was just a chocolate covered Slo Poke (not that dissimilar from the Sugar Mama which was a chocolate covered Sugar Daddy.) In this new version the Black Cow becomes an actual chocolate infused caramel.
The candy now comes in two formats, a large bar (in this case mine is 20% larger at 1.6 ounces instead of the standard 1.5 ounce) and the little individually wrapped pieces.
Unlike Tootsie Rolls which only have cocoa in them, Black Cow uses whole chocolate (cocoa liquor which includes cocoa butter) in their recipe.
The chew is quite soft. Though you can whack it to make bite sized pieces, I found I had to refrigerate mine. (And once I had broken it into pieces, they reformed into the bar after they came back to room temperature.)
The chew is not quite as smooth as the Slo Poke or even Tootsie Rolls. But the flavor is actually very well rounded - the chocolate notes are rich and woodsy thought not entirely chocolatey. It’s kind of nutty with creamy dairy flavors that are authentic without a greasy partially hydrogenated taste. Still, the ingredients aren’t exactly wholesome, which is sad because real caramel doesn’t really have a lot of expensive ingredients and is relatively shelf stable. This one has both high fructose corn sweetener and partially hydrogenated coconut oil in the list (though very far down, not as predominant ingredients).
For a really satisfying, very chocolatey caramel, you really can’t beat the Storck Chocolate Riesen, which is an actual real chocolate covered chocolate caramel. However, these are far and away better than a Tootsie Roll, which never ceases to bring chewable cardboard to my mind unless encased in hard candy and on a stick.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Most chocolate and liquor combinations are about the flavors. This one actually has a real sip of Scotch inside each chocolate sphere. Kind of like and alcoholic geode.
These little morsels are from K Chocolatier of Beverly Hills. This is just a tease, review to come.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
I found them at the Baywood/Los Osos Farmer’s Market where Danna J. Dykstra Coy sells them in all sorts of formats. She makes her vegan/gluten free cups from mostly organic ingredients and whenever possible, from locally grown produce. (The chocolate is from Guittard.) For a handcrafted confection, I found them very affordable. The peanut butter cups come in three different sizes. I opted for a box called the JoybittyBox 16 which has the medium sized cups with four each of the four different flavors. I paid $13.00 for my box of goodies, which I thought was pretty fair. I also picked up two of the large sized cups (like a traditional Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup size) for $3.00 for a pair.
The cups are tucked into the rather small, unbleached kraft paper box, stacked two deep. There are Traditional Peanut Butter, Olallieberry/Raspberry, Blueberry/Lemon and Local, Raw Honey. The design on the tops of the cups are just decorative, the only way to tell them apart is the color or design on the fluted paper cup.
Each little cup is about 3/4 of an inch across on the bottom, which is about the same as a foil wrapped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup miniature. However, the top is like a spilled over, generous muffin top.
The most notable flavor of the set is the Peanut Butter & Olallieberry/Raspberry. The Olallieberry is very popular on the central coast. It’s a curious hybrid berry that’s best illustrated by this genealogical chart on Wikipedia. I’m going to start with that, because all of them effectively tasted like raspberries were somewhere nearby, even if some cups were seedless.
The peanut butter is soft and creamy, not at all dry. The seeds are large and a bit distracting, but at least tell me which variety I’m eating. The chocolate is smooth and creamy and a little cool on the tongue; though dark chocolate, it’s not too dry or intense for the combination. There are a few little crystals of sea salt in there too, which provide a strange little crunch a pop of flavor.
Traditional Peanut Butter lives up to the reputation of a tried and true comfort candy. The creamy chocolate, the salty peanut butter is all just about balanced. If I had any complaint, it was that biting into the pieces was difficult because the tops always smashed the rest of the cup, whether bitten right side up or upside down. If you find there’s too much chocolate for your ratio preference, it’s pretty easy to either pop the top off or nibble around the edges for an added treat.
Peanut Butter & Blueberry/Lemon is fresh tasting, the little hint of zest just gives it a little pop that goes well with the sea salt. The blueberry could easily be mistaken for the scent of the raspberry, as I didn’t notice any actual blueberry bits in this one but the slight note of iced tea was there that I always associate with blueberries.
Peanut Butter & Local, Raw Honey - honestly, I’m not sure which one this is. I tried two that were what I’d call plain. The one I think is the honey cup is much smoother. I didn’t get any honey notes on any of them but there was a buttery, beeswaxy note to it.
The big issue I had was figuring out what I was eating. The first few I knew what cup color I picked out, but later as there were fewer in the box, they tumbled out of their cups. It would make much more sense if the designs on the top said what they were.
I don’t know if I’d order these via the web, but that’s mostly because I have such issues getting chocolate in good condition in Los Angeles (it’s hot here and every delivery company seems to insist on driving my packages around in a hot vehicle for about 6 hours before delivering, even if it’s an overnight package). If I’m back in the area, I’d definitely find a way to hit the local shops or farmers market that carry these cups. They’re just different enough from the commercial fare and the fact that they’re ethically sourced makes the price tag seem inconsequential.
I’m going to say that these are all natural, however, I’m not certain about the colorings used in the transfer designs on the tops, so if you’re sensitive, ask first.
For the record, as far as the raspberries go, I’m most fond of Black Raspberries.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.