Friday, December 29, 2006
Here’s another trend among cooks that’s filtered into the candy world: artisan salt. The most common place to find this in confections is in caramels. Sometimes it’s grains of sea salt sprinkled on top, sometimes it’s just a saltier caramel. It’s not like caramels didn’t always have salt in them. When I make my own caramels I usually use both salted butter and a pinch of salt because I think it brings out the caramelized flavors better.
But of course the gourmets weren’t satisfied with plain old table salt or the more upscale Kosher flake salt, now they insist on curiously-colored and super-expensive sea salt crystals from Hawaii, France or New Zealand. They like to remind us of the grand history of salt and how our word for salary comes from the same root and why that means we should pay oodles of money for dried sea water. Frankly, it all looks like the stuff that we used to throw on the sidewalk when it got icy.
All that said, I welcome the new attention to salt as a way to bring out natural flavors. And I welcome Trader Joe’s foray into the salted caramel market because it’s actually affordable. The Shaker-style box that they come in is cute. Inside the box are two plastic bags with 7 ounces of caramels each. Not really as pretty on the inside as I might have hoped for $6.99 a box (maybe a little wood shavings or excelsior?).
The caramels are beautiful. Luminous and even looking, they’re smell like butter and burnt sugar. They’re individually wrapped in neatly folded clear cellophane. They’re sizeable morsels as well, each is two bites in my estimation. They’re firm to the touch but easy to bite apart.
While some salted caramels have grains of salt sprinkled on top, these are completely incorporated (like the Charles Chocolates and unlike the Fran’s) The salt is very apparent on the tongue but the smooth chew and the buttery mouthfeel come through loud and clear.
I liked them. I’m not sure I really want to eat all 14 ounces of them (that’s what’s good about the two packets in there instead of a large single one), so I might come up with some interesting things to do with them, like making a hard sauce for bread pudding.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Flavor 70 Cinn is 70% cacao with a hint of cinnamon over cacao nibs. The last time I tried SweetRiot I gravitated towards the darkest as well.
The light hit of cinnamon was more evident in the scent than in the taste. There’s a little spicy kick on the tongue at the start, but basically it’s a rich roasty chocolate taste with a solid acidic hit and a mellow bitterness. The nibs themselves were crunchy and not the slightest bit fibery (which is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to nibs).
I covered SweetRiot and nibs pretty well in this review back in the spring, so check that out.
Each SweetRiot tin comes with a little geography “fortune” and mine went like this:
SweetRiot also has a “riot club” where you can select from two different delivery plans so you can get your cacao nib fix regularly (and at a better price). They also have their sets that bring the price down when you buy a mix of three. Ordering a whole box of 12 of course brings the tins down to $4 a piece. Still, not to sound like a broken record, it’d be nice to buy a quarter pound or half pound on the website and be able to refill my little tin myself.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
I have my favorite candies, and I’ve been pretty faithful to them over the years. But there’s always this longing to experience new candies and how different cultures, countries and regions express their love of sweets. That’s part of the reason for Candy Blog, to help everyone overcome that fear of the new and different and embrace the new and different.
This is a story about my first “exotic” candy.
Sometime when I was a kid in grade school I was given Botan Rice Candy. I know I’d been exposed to foreign candy already (Torrones, Toblerone & other European chocolates), but this one was exotic because of the pictures on the box and that it had no associations with a holiday at all. It’s possible I had it at school as an observance of Lunar New Year, or just a show & tell from another child whose parents bought a box for them to bring into class. It came in a simple little box that’s pretty much unchanged today. At one end of the box was a little compartment that contained a little toy, like you would also get in Cracker Jacks back in the day. In the other 3/4 of the box were little cellophane wrapped jelly candies.
Things have changed a little since then. There is no longer a little toy in the box, but now a “Free Children’s Sticker” instead. But I guess this leaves more room for candy.
The candies are little cubes of jelly with a mild orange/lemon flavor wrapped twice. Though it seems like it’s not that different from those sugar encrusted jelly orange slices, these are less flashy. And this is what’s important about the Botan Rice Candy - the inner wrapper is edible. It looks like a slightly clouded cellophane, but it’s really made from rice and will dissolve in your mouth. (I was also fascinated with this ‘edible’ packaging in the classic Torrone as well, which have a starch wafer to keep them from sticking.)
What could be better for a kid looking to expand her horizons? A candy you could show to your friends and freak them out when you eat the plastic wrap plus a little toy!
Sometimes I like to pick the inner wrapper off as completely as I can. For no real reason of course. It’s not like it’s tasty. It’s kind of gooey, starts sticky and then becomes slippery on the tongue. Later when I had sake for the first time, it reminded me of yeasty rice candy wrappers. (Not really in a good way either, I don’t care for sake at all.)
As a candy, Botan Rice Candy is okay. It’s sweet and mild, though a little sticky sometimes. It has some of the barley sugar or millet jelly taste that I like, but the real appeal has to be the edible wrapper. There’s not much in the box either, at 3/4 of an ounce, there are only six pieces in there. With import costs, it’s usually about a dollar a box, even down in Chinatown where everything is cheap.
I went poking around the ‘net to see what else is out there and found another brand that also features the rice wrapper but looks like it could be of higher quality.
So, what was your first experience with Botan Rice Candy?
UPDATE: Several folks have mentioned White Rabbit in the comments since it also has an edible inner wrapper, here’s my review on that.
Friday, December 22, 2006
In case you haven’t figured out already with the irregular posting this week, I’m traveling. But here’s something fun you might want to pack (or pick up as a stocking stuffer) when you’re on the road. They’re called ChocoPods and are made by Chuao, the SoCal based chocolatier. ChocoPods come in two flavors, Nutmeg and Spicy Maya.
Each is a little disk of chocolate shaped like a cocoa pod featuring dark chocolate (60% cacao) and a mix of spices. The idea is you take a little bite of chocolate and a sip of your coffee for an enhanced flavor experience for both. After all, chocolate and coffee both come from beans. (They really are a great match.)
The ChocoPods are intended to be sold at coffee houses where you’d see them right by the register instead of some mints or a croissant. It’s not a whole bar size, just 11 grams, which is the perfect complement to a cup of coffee or cappuccino. With only 60 calories in the little portion, it’s something you can work into your diet as a little treat every once in a while. The suggested retail of $1.00 to $1.25 makes them cheaper than the actual cup of coffee at most places!
Spicy Maya is pretty bold. Eating it solo, there’s a solid cayenne pepper kick to it in addition to some other notable spice notes like cinnamon and cardamom. But where the throat burning is an issue eating it alone a little swig of coffee settles the flavors out considerably. The bars themselves are sweet, but since I take no sugar in my coffee, I found it to be just the right amount to cut through the coffee’s strong notes. The bars aren’t terribly buttery either, but again, the warmth of the coffee makes a big difference.
Nutmeg is really nice. Very woodsy tasting with lots of earthy notes with not just nutmeg but a touch of eucalyptus, cardamom and sandalwood. This would be great in the evening by a roaring fire.
As chocolate bars to eat solo, they’re pretty good, but I think that Chuao has hit on something for the coffee house set. Most of the time I don’t feel like a whole hot chocolate, but I do want a little something chocolate. I often bring my own, so it makes sense that the coffee house would also want to sell me that too. The fact that they have the unusual flavors makes the whole thing feel a little more like an indulgence.
For only a buck, I would certainly give these a go every once in a while. I haven’t seen them at any coffee houses yet, but maybe soon. You can order them at the Chuao website.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
We had a Secret Santa exchange at the office, and of course my Secret Santa knew my fondness for candy (who doesn’t?) and bestowed upon me a box of retro items. Inside was a string of Zotz in Apple.
I don’t know much about Zotz. They’re made in Italy and are composed of a fizzy sour powder center inside a hard candy shell. They currently come in three flavors: Cherry, Watermelon & Apple. They come in a string of four packages (though as a child I’m quite sure the strings were longer, like you could get a yard of lollipops). I also recall they came in Lemon, but I can’t find much chatter online about them.
They’re awful cute little candies. They’re pretty big as well. I have two methods for eating them. The first is to suck on them really hard. There’s a little hole or seam in one end and if you suck hard enough you can get the fizzy powder to come out. The other method is to skip that patience thing and just crunch into it, which is usually what I do.
There is a serious amount of fizzy powder inside, a lot more than I remember. The fizz is pleasant and froths up into a rather creamy fluff inside the mouth. They’re not quite as fun as I remember, the fizz was certainly plentiful, but the flavor (perhaps because it was apple) wasn’t really that compelling.
The grown up version of these are the Napoleon Lemon Sours (from Belgium), which I’ve been eating for years and have always cleaved open the candy hoping to find a huge reservoir of the fizziness (and have always been disappointed and then put another one in my mouth). There are also Japanese versions of Zotz that I’ve seen at the stores but haven’t tried yet, maybe that’s something to put on my New Year’s list.
What flavors do you remember Zotz coming in?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.