Friday, November 30, 2012
At the Michel Cluizel shop in Manhattan, I was enchanted by the look of these little chocolate spheres. Inside the chocolate and sparkly ones is dark chocolate and a little bit of crisped rice. The red ones are white chocolate inside. I loved the elegant holiday look.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Marshmallow Peeps moved on from just being fanciful shapes and colors for different holidays years ago. Now there are flavored and dipped Peeps. For Christmas this year Just Born created two new varieties: Sugar Cookie Dipped Peeps Chicks and Candy Cane Flavored Peeps Chicks Dipped in Chocolate.
I found the Sugar Cookie Peeps at Target at a modest price, but picked up the Candy Cane Peeps at FAO Schweetz because I was afraid I wouldn’t find them anywhere else (and actually haven’t seen them at any other stores, that still doesn’t make them worth the $3.99 I paid for the 1.5 ounce package).
The Peeps are beautifully crafted. They’re puffy and soft and creamy tan colored. The chocolate puddle around its bottom is nicely formed and in perfect condition. The Peeps smell like fake butter and amaretto. This is not an appealing combination to me, but I suppose I can give it points for originality. Each Peep is about a half an ounce in weight.
The bite is soft and plush, the sugar coating is not too grainy but does a good job of creating just a little texture to sell the sugar cookie experience. The flavor is sweet without a trace of that buttery thing, but still a touch of the amaretto. There’s also a note of toasted sugar, like a fresh cookie (or a vanilla marshmallow). The chocolate is sweet and creamy, not really terribly complex, and honestly doesn’t belong on a sugar cookie, but still didn’t hurt the experience.
Overall, they weren’t my favorite kind of Peeps. I wonder how different they are from the Caramel Peeps, I’m guessing the color and the amaretto note are the only differences.
The entire package has 160 calories, which is a pretty good sized treat with a very small caloric price tag. So if you’re looking for an indulgence that feels like the holiday but doesn’t go overboard, these are passable.
Back in 2007, Just Born introduced Peeps Peppermint Stars. I liked the flavor and the shape, but I wasn’t keen that they used artificial sweeteners in the little candy bits. Happily this newer version of Candy Cane Flavored Peeps Chicks Dipped in Chocolate has delicious sugar in it.
The simple construction is a peppermint flavored Peep chick with a light sprinkling of red candy bits. Then it’s dipped partially into semi-sweet chocolate. They’re packaged three to a tray and like the Sugar Cookie version, they’re each about a half an ounce each.
The Peeps hold their shape well and smell light and fresh, like peppermint toothpaste. They’re mercifully spared from much of the artificial colorings that I think muck with the flavor of a good, fresh marshmallow. (Ghost Peeps are probably the best Peeps for this reason.) The coolness of the peppermint flavor was a bit like mouthwash, but not in a bad way. It matched well with the lightly sweet and slightly smoky chocolate base to keep the whole thing from being too sickly sweet.
I did think that when they started dipping them in chocolate, they might stop making the eyes out of wax. Sadly, they’re still inedible and I have to spit those out. (I guess that’s how you know you have a real Peep.) Overall, a good effort. I don’t see why these can’t be a flavor that comes back with a green sparkle to them for St. Patrick’s Day. I much prefer this partially dipped version to the strangely wet fully dipped marshmallows (that are also over-colored).
Fans of the Peepsters, the little foil wrapped chocolates, will be happy to hear that those have returned in green and red foil for the winter as well.
Monday, November 26, 2012
See’s Candies has a seasonal line of truffles inspired by winter pies. I picked up a few of these limited edition pieces while at the mall over before the holiday shopping madness began.
See’s Cranberry Orange Truffle
This truffle was definitely citrusy and definitely cranberry. The little bits of dried cranberry in the center were sweet and tangy. The zest added a little note of bitterness and zing of orange. The dark chocolate gave it another not so sweet layer with a little smoky and bitter quality along with a creamy melt. This isn’t normally a style of boxed chocolate that I care for, but this works well. I wouldn’t eat it as a pie, but as a truffle, it’s quite refreshing.
See’s Pumpkin Pie Truffle
This milk chocolate truffle is overtly sweet. From the smooth but kind of sticky chocolate to the spiced buttercream of the center, it’s a lot of sugar. The milk chocolate notes are overpowered by the allspice and nutmeg of the cream. Since it’s a big piece, there were bites with more chocolate and some that were just filling. The filling also has a light sugary grain to it.
The other pie flavors available (though often sold out) are: Mincemeat, Apple Pie and Pecan Pie. Overall, the traditional flavors are done better and more consistently. If folks love See’s, chances are they have a favorite and you’re more likely to satisfy folks when you bring a gift of one of the standard mixes (Nuts & Chews is my favorite) than the more trendy, seasonal varieties unless someone specifically asks for them.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
One of my favorite styles of gifts (especially when I had much more modest capital than now) was the gift of beloved common items to delightful excess. This meant that it might a pretty jar filled with Atomic Fireballs or shoebox filled with Reese’s Peanut Butter Miniatures. The sheer volume in itself is a luxury, something most normal people don’t do for themselves, but they’re happy to relish it from a loved one.
Part of a newer trend from the candy companies is to pre-package this for you. You can buy something that looks like a Giant Tootsie Pop that holds a bunch of lollipops, or a giant box of Wonka Nerds. A few have gone so far as to create actual giant versions of their candies - Hershey’s has been making a 5 Pound Hershey Bar for quite a long time. A few years ago they also created the World’s Largest Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (each in the twin pack is a half a pound) and the 1 Pound Snickers Slice n Share has returned again this year.
The newest addition to this is the Giant York Peppermint Patties.
The package holds two half pound patties, so it’s one full pound of York Peppermint Pattie goodness. Unlike the normal Peppermint Patties on the market right now, which come as a single 1.4 ounce pattie or in the individually wrapped miniatures, these are not meant to be eaten as a single serving or portion of a serving. Each pattie is deemed to be 6 portions.
A regular pattie is about 2.65 inches across. The half pound patties are about 5.25 inches across. The ingredients are identical.
The trick with supersizing a filled confection is ratios. The 5 Pound Hershey Milk Chocolate bar is not substantially different from a 1.55 ounce one, since it’s a solid object. For a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup it might mean a different in the milk chocolate and peanut butter filling. For the Snickers Slice n Share, I found it difficult to get all the textures and flavors in a single bite because of the masses of each. In this case, the texture is dominated by the peppermint fondant.
The first thing I noticed was the color and texture of the fondant. It’s a bit more moist than the 1.4 ounce pattie. It’s smooth and has less of a crumbly break than the small ones. It’s pretty easy to slice, though a little stickier. The chocolate layer is thicker (and nicely rippled on the top) and provides a good, slightly bitter counterpoint to the sugary center. It’s lightly minty, as expected, a clean flavor. Overall, it still captures the essence of the York Peppermint Pattie without violating the ratios too radically. It’s difficult to eat, as you might expect. I sliced off pieces (but not actual slices) and ate them. The pieces from the center obviously got less chocolate than the edges.
An interesting difference with the Giant Patties is that they’re made in the United States. The other sizes of York Peppermint Patties are now made in Mexico. Still, the Mexican-made Patties are almost always a better deal. Even on sale at Target for $8.00, that’s eight dollars a pound. Most of the time you can get the miniatures in lay down bags for about five dollars a pound or less if you find a good sale. As a gift it’s a great idea, especially for a Secret Santa or for a child to give to a hard-to-buy-for-but-not-diabetic grandparent. The chocolate is not certified ethically sourced at this time. (Though if Hershey’s were going to roll out brands, it would be easy to make York Rainforest Alliance Certified since it contains so little chocolate. As a side note, the Bliss line will be Rainforest Alliance Certified by the end of the year.)
I bought this at Target, the only place I’ve seen them for sale. They’re not even mentioned on the Target website or even the Hershey’s website.
York Peppermint Patties contain dairy, soy and eggs. May also contain peanuts and tree nuts. There is no statement about gluten on the wrapper.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
It’s been over five years since I’ve been to Manhattan, which I consider one of the United States’ great candy shopping cities. Naturally, I visited a lot of candy stores and chocolate shops and have plenty to report.
FAO Schweetz is found in the flagship FAO Schwartz store on 5th Avenue at Central Park South and occupies at least a third of the first floor. The candy merchandising is done by IT’SUGAR (but less tarted up). They have a good selection of candy, with a special emphasis on large things. Giant things. Things you can probably buy elsewhere but are enchanting in this atmosphere. Like the World’s Largest Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the One Pound Snickers Slice ‘n Share, large boxes of Wonka Nerds and some cereal themed packaging of candies (pictured to the right).
The prices are steep, I bought some Christmas Peeps for $3.49 which could have been a buck at Target.
Myzel’s Chocolate is a spot I’ve wanted to visit for years, but not for the chocolate, for the licorice. True to their reputation, this tiny little shop does have a huge and well curated variety of fresh licorice. I didn’t pick up a lot as I’ve already either had the varieties they carry or they were the salted licorice types that I don’t enjoy that much. I did get some griotten, skoolkrijt, beehives, Italian rosemary licorice, Copenhagen cats, chocolate licorice twists and Dutch lozenges.
It’s great to be in New York when there’s a chill in the air, because that means that it’s time for hot chocolate. Though I took a walk through Maison du Chocolate at Rockefeller Center, I opted for my first hot chocolate in Manhattan from Michel Cluizel, who didn’t have a shop when I visited last. I had a dark hot chocolate and a salted caramel macaron. It’s a petite cup of hot chocolate, which is fine with me as I don’t need or want much. The macaron was fresh, flaky and crunchy with a nice salted caramel layer in the middle.
I then walked over to the Upper West Side to check out Fairway Market and Zabar’s (for some soup) along with a stop at a gelato shop called Grom that’s known for their hot chocolate.
The Grom hot chocolate is the closest to the Spanish style I’ve had, appropriate for dipping churros or other baked goods. It’s thick and I’m told, it becomes much thicker like a mousse when refrigerated. (I would have tried that, as I couldn’t finish the 8 ounce portion and wanted to take it back to the hotel, but they didn’t have any lids.)
The Man and I headed down to the New Amsterdam Market (because it was Pickle Fest) and visited Liddabit Sweet‘s excellent stand to see their complete line of hand crafted sweets. They have 10 different gourmet candy bars to chose from (and unfortunately had no samples to help me decide) but I did manage to pick out 3 of them: Pecan Pie, Humbug and The Snacker. I also got some of their Beer and Pretzel Caramels and an assortment of their lollipops to soothe my aching throat.
The next series of stops were more nostalgia - we popped into Economy Candy, which was mobbed but happily back up and humming since Superstorm Sandy as well as Yonah Schimmels and we tried to go into Russ and Daughters but the line was out of the door.
Then it was off to Roni-Sue, pretty much the gal who started the whole pig candy craze. I was more interested in the comfort food candies, including her Beer & Pretzel Caramel.
I took a walk through Aji Ichiban and Ham Kam Market in Chinatown, but I didn’t see any Asian treats I can’t find at home, so I didn’t opt to buy anything.
Then it was LA Burdick for hot chocolate and a canele. The hot chocolate was not sticky or too thick, but rich and dark. The canele was small but had a custardy center and a caramelized shell with a hint of citrus zest. I also bought an $8 bag of “seconds” at the counter which was literally a grab bag of goodies. There were at least 20 pieces, though LA Burdick pieces are very small, but that resulted in an excellent variety. It really was the best deal of my trip. I put them on a plate in my room and had one or two at my leisure during the week.
My last spot for the day was Eataly, which was jam packed with people, so much that I was overwhelmed and decided to go back again later when it might be calmer.
Dylan’s Candy Bar is an iconic stop in New York City for candy aficionados. It’s also one of my least favorite places to buy candy and this visit proved no different from my other experiences. The marketing is rarely about the deliciousness of the candy, and the choices they make in their products often show how they value style over substance.
Down in the lower level, I was pretty much aghast at how filthy it was. Granted, it was later in the day (I think around 5:30) but that doesn’t explain all of it. Near the serve-yourself bulk bins there was candy on the floor. There were at least three sales associates restocking, or maybe just talking with large boxes nearby, yet none of them made any effort to clean up the messes. It wasn’t just in that section, but the bulk areas were most notable. Some candy was broken and ground into the floor. The thing that really turned me off though was the fact that the floor was cleaned inconsistently. At the baseboards it was absolutely filthy. It was obvious that they just slopped down a rag mop and pushed all the dirt into the corners. It wasn’t as noticeable on the colored floors (in the banded colors of the Dylan’s logo) but some floors were white and it was quite apparent that they didn’t regularly clean in those areas.
The store charges a premium price, and for that I expect cleanliness at the very minimum. (My original post on the store his here.)
This was my cultural enrichment day, so I headed up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I was disappointed to find that the Temple of Dendur was closed as well as the Dutch Masters rooms in the European Painting wing. Not that there weren’t other wonderful things to see, such as the special exhibit on Manipulated Photography through the years and Roentgen furniture.
I started my day with a stop at Francois Payard in the Food Hall at the Plaza Hotel for a mochaccino and a salted caramel macaron. Both were excellent, just the right touch of chocolate in my espresso (though more milk that I would have liked). The salted caramel filling of the macaron was silky smooth.
I also picked up a couple of marshmallows at Three Tarts Bakery - a vanilla bean and an espresso. I’m still not a big marshmallow person, though these were good. Soft, delicate and well flavored.
Then I walked up to Laduree on Madison Ave. and picked up four more macaron, including their Salted Caramel, Citron Vert, Dark Chocolate and Rose. The first I ate while walking to the museum, the other three I saved for my walk back ... which also meant that the got a bit smashed in my bag.
Later in the evening I walked down to Times Square and checked out the M&Ms Store. I’ve been to the one in Las Vegas before, so this was no surprise. It’s three stories jam packed with Chinese-made branded merchandise. Some of it is quite charming, but it’s also a bit overwhelming after a while. The actual candy available is rather limited. They have the color walls of the M&Ms available in both the Milk Chocolate and the Milk Chocolate with Peanut. But there were no special buys, no limited edition candy ... not even anything else from Mars.
I’d say the highlight, after listening to blaring dance music was to see the Red M&M dance with some other patrons to Gangham Style.
Across the street is the Hershey’s Store, which pales in comparison to the Hershey’s Chocolate World. It’s just a little store front with lots of shiny lights on the outside advertising the Hershey’s brands, but not much for sale inside. Again, not great prices and very little that’s hard to find. Very little that I didn’t see at any Duane Reade on every corner.
The Meadow is one of those fantastic stores that sells an incredible selection of very specific items. In this case they have salt, bitters and chocolate. The chocolate bar selection is very well curated and had just about everything I was looking for, including Canadian bean-to-bar maker, SOMA. They also had all the big hits like Amano, Askinosie, Pralus, Chocolat Bonnat, Olive & Sinclair, Mast Bros, Patric, Dick Taylor and Domori. There are two main sections, the plain chocolate bars (single origin for the most part) and the bars with inclusions plus a few confections.
Another interesting thing to note, nothing will have peanuts in it. The owners have a peanut allergy in the family, so they don’t bring anything into the store that has peanuts (though I’m guessing there could be traces with some products like Patric that does use peanuts but did not have any peanut products in the store).
Sockerbit is a Swedish candy store I’ve been looking forward to visiting since I heard that it opened. It’s clean and spare little store with a whole wall of bulk candies. The price is per pound, $12.99 whether you get licorice, chocolate or sour gummis.
It’s a large cross section of Swedish confections. There are fudge and nougat as well as foamy marshmallow, sour gummis and a pretty good selection of salted licorice. I picked up, pretty much, one or two of everything. They have a nice online store, so I can always order from the web for any new favorites.
There’s really only one reason I go to Kee’s Chocolate, it’s for the Creme Brulee chocolates. They’re large geodesic dome shaped things, about twice the size of a regular chocolate from them. They must be eaten immediately. Inside is a soupy custardy creme brulee. It’s sweet and caramelized and creamy. The chocolate shatters when it hits the mouth, so it must be popped on the tongue whole.
I also got three other chocolates, a blood orange which was okay, a pink peppercorn which had a wonderful earthy, carrot flavor to it (I liked it!) and a dark chocolate. The centers were a little grainy, which I found odd, but not off-putting. Earlier review here.
Max Brenner is a chocolate themed eatery in Union Square featuring “Chocolate by the Bald Man.” I’ve had some of Max Brenner’s chocolate selections before his move in the US market about 5 years ago. It’s a large beautifully designed, if you like a steampunk chocolate maker meets Sizzler steakhouse.
Since it was after lunch in the middle of the week, it was no trouble to take a table just to have a dark hot chocolate. It was good, rich, but not the best hot chocolate I’d had all week. I think it would have been better with something else on the menu, or as a dessert to a light lunch.
Eataly is a high end food mall with restaurants, coffee bars and of course a huge selection of groceries from Italy. They have a well curated section of Italian candy, of course, featuring Venchi. Other brands included Caffarel, Domori, Amarelli licorice, Perugina and Leone.
The prices were steep, I picked up my favorite Sassolini from Amarelli, it was $5.80 for a mere 1.4 ounces. The biggest thrill though is the sheer amount of torrone (nougat) they had, in both the soft style and the hard version. They’re opening on in Los Angeles, so I hear, so I’ll wait until they’re local and pick up new candies as needed.
Addresses for all locations are available on this map. Plus some spots that I wasn’t able to visit. Previous New York experiences are tagged with NYC.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.