Wednesday, January 18, 2012
The last day of the Fancy Food Show is a time for me to review my hit list and make sure I’ve covered everything I needed, then wander around waiting for serendipity.
Melville, which I know best for their beautifully molded lollipops had a new item, a giant gummi bear on a stick. And of course, once you’ve done that, you may as well dip it in chocolate.
John Kelly is a gourmet fudge line made right in Hollywood near my home. But it seems like I eat more of it when I’m at the Fancy Food Show than any other time of year. (It could be that their pieces are so huge and I always enjoy a little variation.) I tried their peanut butter and sea salt - not too sweet and not too rib-sticking thick.
Eclipse Chocolate is in San Diego and one company I’ve neglected for far too long. They use lots of great ingredients (many from California) and take a lot of care creating their product line. They have caramels, of course, since that’s the big trend the past few years. But I’m really interested in their Rocky Road, made with Plush Puffs ... I’ll have to pick some up and get a full review going soon.
It’s great to see the West Coast version of the Fancy Food Show highlighting East Coast favorites. A Jersey Shore favorite, Fralinger’s Salt Water taffy was exhibiting with a compact booth filled with every flavor of their dense and flavorful salt water taffy. They even had the paddle pops (I got a molasses one to bring home and review).
More photo coverage here and I’ll have lots of reviews and thoughts coming up over the next month or so.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
I’m afraid I find day two of the Winter Fancy Food Show the roughest. I’m usually still tired from day one. (In this case we got up at 5:30 on Sunday to drive from Santa Barbara to San Francisco, dumped my stuff at the hotel and then walked over to the Moscone Center and walked around for five hours to get a good perspective. Then dinner after at a nice place and a write up of that day.) Day two is usually about digging in with longer meetings with exhibitors and taking a chance on the unknown.
So today will be more about photos than tasting notes.
Al La Mere de Famille from Paris had some wonderful confections. They had callisons (marzipan leaves) and these lovely little apples dusted with sparkling sugar. I also tasted a dark chocolate bonbon with praline filling.
Sweet’s Candy of Utah has been around for over 100 years, making taffy and classic jelly candies. They have a new line of jelly slices, sour worms and bears that are all pectin based, so they’re great for vegans and made with no artificial colors or flavors. That purple-ish one in the photo ... pink grapefruit. They’re after my heart.
Hammond’s is best known for their classically pulled and twisted lollipops and candy canes. They’ve always made an assortment of chocolates, but now they’re going big with 10 new chocolate bars. Things like S’mores, a milk chocolate with popping raspberry candies, a PB&J and this dark chocolate with chipotle.
Stevia is getting big. There are a few chocolate bars that are now sweetened with Stevia. I picked up some samples from Coco Polo to see how Stevia and Erythritol do instead of cane sugar.
Truffle Pig, who makes decadent truffle bars has a new line of single origin bars called Wild Boar
More photos to browse here. I’ll have a few more notes tomorrow before I head back to Los Angeles to isolate myself with my samples and take some product shots.
Monday, January 16, 2012
After skipping the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco last year, I’m back again and it feels so much like home since this is my fifth year attending. Though the show is dedicated to gourmet products in all categories, they have over 250 confectionery exhibitors, making it one of the biggest candy shows in the country. (The biggest, naturally, is the Sweets & Snacks expo in Chicago in May.)
I’ll just be posting some tasting notes and observations over the next few days while I’m here.
I’ve tried plenty of New Tree‘s bars over the years. They use Belgian chocolate and create bars with both great taste and texture and usually some functional benefit. Their new chocolate spread is the first that doesn’t contain additional oils. Instead they just blend it with lots of milk and though the package was in French and wee tiny print, it looks like sugar as one of the first ingredients as well. It’s very smooth and not the slightest big grainy. There were three flavors, but I liked the orange dark chocolate best.
I love ginger candy and always swing by the Ginger People stand to see what’s new. In previous years it’s been about drinks and cookies, but they have a completely new candy this year: Ginger Gumdrops. Far spicier than something flavored with ginger, these are made with lots of the fresh stuff and are quite intense without being sweet.
I’ve had a few vegan caramels over the years and they kind of violate the essential definition of caramel in the first place, so it’s hard for me to appreciate them. JJ Raedemaker has created something that gets so close and is such a good product in its own right, I’m definitely going to find these again. His JJ’s Cocomels are made with coconut milk instead of butter and cream. They’re fully emulsified and smooth but with strong caramelized sugar notes. Right now they just come in classic and fleur de sel plus a dark chocolate covered version. Looks like a great option for both vegans and those sensitive to dairy.
Sanders Candy in Michigan has been around since 1875 and are known for their ice cream toppings. They’ve been expanding quite a bit so that now their comfort style of chocolates and candies are found in stores around the country. They had some new products and a new packaging design. Their new bars include combinations like milk chocolate and potato chips. I’m looking forward to trying them.
It’s funny to go to San Francisco to see a local brand. POP Candy makes nutty butter crunch toffees, when they’re based in Santa Monica. But with many small companies, it’s hard to find them in local stores. They sell at farmers markets and artisan shows right now. They have a great take on toffee barks with some sweet and savory flavor mixes and all of my favorite nuts.
My husband is doing all the photography, so if you want to see even more shots of what’s tasty or pretty, check out this photoset.
Friday, January 13, 2012
The new Hershey’s Pieces - Milk Chocolate with Almonds isn’t as innovative as some of the other candies, such as the Almond Joy Pieces or the initial Reese’s Pieces. But they fill a void in Hershey’s offerings and I was looking forward to them.
The first big stumbling block I had, though, was the price. 8 ounces for about four dollars. Other stores sell them for $4.50. I have a hard time paying 8 or 9 dollars a pound for Hershey’s candy in bulk quantities.
They also don’t reinvent the niche with some new quality. They’re not low in allergens, the list on the back says that they may contain soy, wheat, other tree nuts and peanuts. A great selling point would have been a nutty candy that is actually peanut and/or gluten free.
The Pieces look like the package illustrates. They come in three colors: dark brown, brown and cream. They vary widely in size, based on the core of almond. Some are as small as a Peanut M&M, others are huge, sometimes over an inch long.
They’re a standard construction of a well-roasted almond, a milk chocolate coating and then a colored candy shell. The colors are pleasing. I actually enjoyed their muted tones more than the loud and artificial M&Ms Almond. Of course these are also artificial, with Red 40, Yellow 6 and Blue 1 & 2 ... just less bang for the coloring.
The almonds are roasted to a very dark color, roasted in cocoa butter and/or sunflower oil). This is a good choice. I found them all crunchy and fresh tasting, not a single fibery or bitter one in the bag.
The shell is thin enough to crunch easily and provide only a modicum of sweetness. The milk chocolate is only marginally acceptable. It has the Hershey’s sour note to it, which I actually like sometimes, especially when mixed with more savory elements. Here it was such a back seat to the large almonds, it worked.
I prefer this, by far, to the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds bar. But I don’t like it better than M&Ms Almond, because of the difference in the chocolate flavor. What I’d really like to see is a Heath Pieces at this point, that’d really set the Pieces line apart from their current iteration as an M&Ms clone.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
In the history of candy, I’m pretty confident that some of the earliest boiled candy sweets created were nut and seed brittles. The genre of sesame brittles fit in nicely as one of those candies that I think has been around for a thousands of years. Early versions probably used date sugar and honey instead of refined sugar.
The Joyva Sesame Crunch is a dead simple candy, made well and without much fuss or fanfare. It’s sold in two formats, the large single serving plank (1.125 ounces) and little individually wrapped snaps.
It has only four ingredients: sesame seed, sugar, corn syrup, honey. It’s packaged equally simply, a small paperboard card to keep the slab from breaking and then inserted into a cellophane sleeve. The logo may not be a thousand years old, but certainly looks like it could be from the 1970s.
I’ve been eating these candies for years, and they seem to fall into the genre of healthy, judging by the number of natural food stores that carry them. They’re exceptionally durable too, since there’s no chocolate they don’t melt and the coating of sugary candy over the sesame seals them up so they don’t oxidize (get rancid).
The brittle base is just boiled sugar and some honey, the flavor is mostly from the sesame seeds themselves, which are nicely toasted and have a good oily, nutty balance with a light grassy and bitter note. The sweetness is mild, and the overall crunch and chew is long lasting. I find that when I buy these, I have a hard time not eating whatever quantity I have in one sitting. Still, my ideal version would probably have a little more candy to it, and a little more honey flavor.
Since sesame seeds are the main ingredient, there’s a fair amount of fat in the bar, though I’ve read that sesame oil is quite healthy as far as vegetable oils go. The bar is filling, but not too sweet, so it straddles the line of snack and candy very nicely. It’s filling and even has a little bit of protein, so it will probably keep blood sugar levels from spiking like other pure sugar candies might. The calories on the label say 180 for the bar, but I think that’s steep for a sesame candy that’s only 1.125 ounces. (Tahini is about 160 calories per ounce and has no sugar in it, which is lower in calories per ounce than sesame oil.)
The bar is Kosher, naturally, as well as being marked as gluten free. It may contain traces of almonds or pistachios. The package doesn’t say anything about peanuts. It’s not vegan, unless you’re the kind of vegan who’s okay with honey.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
One of the charming candies that I’ve sampled over the years from Japan is from Fujiya. Fujiya makes confections as well as running a series of cafes. Their mascot is Peko-Chan, little chubby cheeked girl in pig tails, which is now a well recognized icon around the world and appears on the Milky brand of chocolate candies.
Fujiya also makes a line of inexpensive chocolate candies more for adults under the Look line. These are usually little trays of individual pieces, often with multiple flavors in one package. I was attracted to this new introduction of single flavors. The Fujiya Look Crepe in Chocolate comes in a nicely sealed flat package and retails for less than $2.00 usually.
The tray inside holds 12 pristine and lovely little chocolate squares. They’re a little over 3/4 of an inch square and a half an inch tall. They’re shiny and fresh. So far, so good.
The English translation sticker on the back lists the ingredients and the nutritional panel. Instead of giving the calories for a serving, it says that one piece has 24 calories. So they’re kind of high in fat since they clock in at a calculated 158 calories per ounce. The other thing that the ingredients revealed is that this isn’t quite real chocolate. It’s made with cocoa butter, but there’s added vegetable fat. After eating them, I wouldn’t have needed to be told.
Again, they look great. They smell great. The bit is soft, the “crepe” inside is like an ice cream cone or feuilletine. It’s crispy and has a slight toffee flavor to it. It’s airy, you know, because there’s that big void in the middle ... a great mix of textures. But the problem becomes the chocolate coating. It looks great and even has a rich chocolate flavor, but the texture is just weird. It’s gummy, thick but without that smooth melt that real cocoa butter delivers. I’d call it waxy, but because it does actually melt, it’s hard to pin that on it.
The chocolate flavor, however, for a milk chocolate product, is especially rich, like a really decadent cocoa drink. It’s also not overly sweet. But still, since so much of the candy is made up of the chocolate, it’s just too disappointing to keep eating.
Like the blue packaged Crepe in Chocolate, the pink packaged Fujiya Look Wafers in Chocolate have it all going on in the looks department. The packaging is sharp and accurate. It’s bold and even has enough English on the wrapper to keep me from being confused.
This version is a little lighter, each piece has 22 calories. The construction is like a KitKat bar, a series of light wafers with cream between them. There are 12 little pieces in a segmented tray in the package.
The wafers are great, airy and crispy with a slight vanilla and malt note. The cream between them ... hardly noticeable. It’s all overshadowed by that same, weird, not-quite-chocolate stuff. It’s too bad, because I really wanted to love these, especially the Crepe since it’s such an uncommon combination in the United States. At least I know that I wasn’t imagining it or it was some anomaly with one package. Both had the same qualities, both were within the expiry and obviously were stored properly.
I might give Look another try, as they try new flavor combinations very often, but I’ll be careful to read the package first so I don’t get my hopes up for good chocolate.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
I missed reviewing this array of Niederegger Marzipan Weihnachtskofekt, special marzipan disks with seasonal flavors: Ingwer, Dattel-Honig & Arabisch-Mocca before Christmas. Suffice to say that they were fresh, nutty and delicious.
Monday, January 9, 2012
Angry Birds Fruit Gummies were introduced late last year to tie into the popular video game of the same name. They’re made by a company called Healthy Food Brands which says on the front of the box that these are made with Real Fruit Juice, in addition to Natural and Artificial Flavors (plus a heaping helping of artificial colors).
They come in a theater style box. There are four “collector editions” of the box, each themed for a different main character of the game: Red, Yellow, Green and the Blue, which I chose.
The box is 7 inches long, 4.25 inches wide and .75 inches deep. The interior white packet is 5.5” long, 4 inches wide and the .33 inch thickness is that of the gummis themselves when they’re spread out (and don’t even fill the bag). So, it’s what I’d call a big box for a small amount of candy. There are 3.5 ounces in the box and I paid $1.69. Of course I bought them at 7-11, which is very expensive for candy. But still, it’s a poor value for sugar candy. Other sugar candy movie theater boxes give you at least 6 ounces for the same price (Dots, Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales, etc.). Chocolate candy is the only exception to that, but I expect there to be a price difference for nuts or chocolate, not licensed shapes.
Each flavor is a different color and a different character. They’re bright and soft and bouncy. They’re not terribly greasy, but do have a little waxy coating to keep them from sticking. They’re rather small and mostly round - a little less than 3/4 of an inch in diameter.
Cherry (red): The Red Bird - it’s cherry. It’s soft and has a strong chemical flavor to it, not very well rounded and has a slight apple juice note to it (but the fruit juice concentrate used is white grape).
Basically, these are serviceable but hardly improve upon other gummies out there. They’re expensive with the only thing to really recommend them, aside from the nicely designed box is the fact that they’re gluten free and nut free (if those are things you’re interested in). They’re made in Mexico.
My suggestion? Buy one box, you know, for the box, and then keep refilling it with something better. I suggest Albanese Gummi Bears, or any of the cute shapes they also come in like butterflies, army men, worms or flowers. Those are made in the USA, come in really great flavors and cost half as much.
Check out Jess’ review on Foodette Reviews.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.