Wednesday, July 5, 2006
I first heard about Chuao Chocolatier a couple of months ago but haven’t been able to visit them until this weekend. The main location is in Encinitas and they have other shops in San Diego. But they also have one at the Irvine Spectrum, so on a blazingly hot Sunday afternoon my husband and I stopped by to see what it was all about. Let me just say this, if this is the direction that upscale chocolate is going, I can fully support it.
The shop is spare and simple with lots of dark wood touches and reflects more of a wine connoisseur aesthetic than candy. I greeted the women behind the counter (I’ve never done this before) ... I introduced myself and gave full disclosure that I’m a candy writer and boy did I get the full treatment! But seeing how well Melissa, the manager, did her tour of the company through samples of most of their product lines, I get the sense she does it for anyone who’s interested. She was knowlegable, enthusiastic and completely engaging.
First, a little about Chuao. It’s one of those stories about people who follow their passions. Michael Antonoris (once a biomedical engineer and MBA before he “stopped chasing his ego and started chasing his culinary passion,” and went to Paris for two years to study Pastry and Chocolaterie at the ?cole Lenotre). Born in Venezuela, he brought not only his culinary aesthetic to candymaking, but also the native cacao from the region. His chocolate source is El Rey Chocolate. You can read lots more on their website about the history of the company and other press clippings.
The first sample we tried was their flavor of the month for July, which is a beer (San Diego produced Stout) infused chocolate - with a strong wheat/yeasty flavor to the chocolate ganache, it was intriguing and brought out the best of the beer and the chocolate.
She also let us try last month’s (after all, it was only July 2nd) intriguing little egg which was filled with chocolate, olive oil and sun-dried tomato filling. I really liked the olive essence in there, but I’m not a huge fan of sun-dried tomatoes, but they seem to work in there. I could see those going really well with a wine and cheese assortment.
Other wonderful morsels she gave us to try included:
Chocolate Covered Orange Peel - lovely dark chocolate surrounding soft and intense orange zest. Not too syrupy sweet and not the least bit bitter.
Chocolate Covered Ginger - this is no ordinary candied ginger, the pieces are plump and juicy and have no fibery bits. Sweet and with a gentle burn that lasts long after the chocolate is gone.
Coco Nib Snack - fine little nibs a little smaller than peppercorns and caramelized/tossed with a little salt and chili. Fascinating little morsels, not too sweet but also doesn’t have any of that bitter/acrid flavor that some plain nibs have. No fibery bits either. I’m not sure if I’d eat them straight, but I’d love them tossed on a salad or maybe some ice cream.
Even though it was insanely hot, we still tried a little bit of their hot chocolate. They have two varieties, the traditional Abuela and Spicy Maya. They weren’t as thick and milky as many that I had on my last NY trip, but the flavors were really great. I enjoyed the Maya best, as the spice wasn’t too overwhelming, but supported the floral and wine notes of the chocolate.
But the time eventually came to pick out some things to take home.
I picked out a box of 9 pieces:
Melao - salt butter caramel - this one was quite reminiscent of the Sahgun salt caramel I had earlier this year. Quite soft, almost juicy, with a slight grain to the caramezlied sugar and a round sweet flavor dosed with salt to bring out the flavors.
Candela - spicy macadamia praline - very strange - it’s grainy, but not in an unpleasant way. Salty, crispy and with a soft spicy finish, the center is more like eating a cookie dough than a chocolate. For the record, I love cookie dough.
Cardamom - cardamom infused ganache - fresh and lightly infused with that cardamom note that I love about Indian food. Buttery smooth and rich. I would have liked more cardamom, like the Vosges one I tried in NYC.
Modena - strawberry caramel with balsamic vinegar from Modena - this was just plain strawberry as far as I could tell. Nicely fruity and aromatic, smooth and refreshing with a good balance of notes for the dark chocolate, but I wasn’t really getting the balsamic notes.
Chevre - goat cheese, pear Williams and crushed black buttercream - fascinating and probably addictive. At first the dark chocolate ganache is tangy, like a goat cheese. Then the black pepper infusion coming to the surface. The pear played a minor note, but the black pepper pieces were incredible, as they were softened by the chocolate and more like small, spicy raisins.
Zen - green tea infused ginger ganache - wonderful plump pieces of crystalized ginger in a dark chocolate ganache with only a hint of tea. Not too sweet - a good subtle balance.
Gran Cacao - bittersweet ganache with 73% cocoa - a lovely and rich ganache with a good buttery start and some good floral and berry notes.
Cambur - soft banana and brown sugar caramel - imagine a fried banana, drenched in caramelized sugar and then drizzled with chocolate. Mmmm. Intensely banana, but thoroughly authentic tasting. Rich and sweet. By far my favorite of them all.
Picante - California raisin fondue and Napa Valley cabernet caramel, spiced with pasilla chili and cayenne pepper - tart and with fruity/jammy qualities but with an immediate burn in my throat from some fresh tasting chilis. There are some wine notes, but mostly a grape and chili flavor mixed with the dark chocolate but the caramelized sugar is completely lost. I wouldn’t have minded a little hit of molasses or brown sugar in there.
On the whole, I’d say that the line of uncommon flavor combinations is much like Vosges and of similar quality. Where Vosges seems to angle itself towards women, Chuao seems incredibly masculine. The flavors are bold and uncommon and assertive. Flavors are borrowed from outside the candy realm with excellent results. But when they’re inside the sweets oveure, they’re really at their best. The spiced flavors are wonderful but I really enjoyed the caramelized items like the Cambur.
I’m definitely planning on stopping there again, it’s exceptionally convenient when I’m down in Orange County visiting with my husband’s family and it looks like they will continue to develop new flavor combinations that will keep my tongue occupied. They also offer classes, which I would love to take (but only at the Carlsbad location), so maybe someday I’ll become a master chocolatier, too. If you’re a wine or beer lover, they also have tips and product lines for serving them together.
Tuesday, July 4, 2006
Canada and the UK have Nestle Aero and Cadbury Bubbly bars. Israel has the Elite and Korea and Japan have Lotte Airs. Everyone else seems to have an aerated chocolate bar except for the United States. It’s not like we’ve been completely denied. Nestle did have a chocolate bar called the Choco’lite back in the 70s, but that didn’t go over well.
Maybe we’re just waiting for the right bar.
I was really looking forward to seeing Bubble Chocolate. Mostly because they’re using higher quality chocolate. The cacao content on their dark bar is 60%. There’s apparently a lot of engineering involved with balancing the viscosity and whatnot when doing different things to chocolate, so I’ll leave that to the industrial engineers. Apparently you can’t just foam up regular chocolate and expect a great result - there are a lot of things to take into account.
Bubble Chocolate comes in three varieties: Milk, Coffee Milk and Dark 60% Cacao.
My Coffee Milk Chocolate bar got a bit banged up in the trip back, so that pile above is just of the dark and milk chocolate. Handsome, aren’t they?
They’re huge looking, twice as thick as a normal 100 gram bar but only 80 grams. It’s kind of odd to pick them up, because it’s so surprising how light they are - 50% air ... that’s some lite chocolate. It’s kind of like pumice!
Dark Chocolate - the bar has a nice aroma that mixes berries and smoke. Despite the high cacao content, it’s very creamy and sweet. There’s a fudgy consistency to it as it melts so distinctly different than a regular un-bubbled chocolate bar. The airiness of the bar seems to make the scent of the bar carry better too, as you eat it. There’s a slight grain to the chocolate as it disintigrates, but no trace of the chalkiness I’ve complained about with other aerated bars.
Milk Chocolate - the bar is much sweeter than the dark, but also melts far quicker on the tongue. It’s a little stickier too, but exceptionally smooth. The milk flavors are not at all like the dairy chocolate I usually have from Cadbury or European Nestle. This is much more American tasting. I don’t know the cacao content on this chocolate, but it’s certainly dark looking. I was a little disappointed that there’s vanillin in here instead of real vanilla. However, if they’re keeping the bar under the $2 price point retail, I can see this as an acceptable compromise.
Coffee Milk Chocolate - this one smells like a coffee house - fresh and warm and roasty. There’s real coffee in there, but happily no coffee grounds (which is kinda a pet peeve of mine). It’s especially creamy and has a really nice melt on the tongue. This bar has no vanillin in it at all, and that may be why I’ve gravitated towards it. It’s a tasty bar, totally satisfying. The coffee isn’t fake tasting like some of the Hershey products, and it’s not grainy or too bitter. It is sweet, as it’s the milk chocolate, not the dark. But on the whole, my favorite of the three.
Overall they’re nice, munchable chocolate bars with an interesting texture that highlights the flavors. It’s not the best chocolate in the world, but it’s very tasty and enjoyable. It will never replace a good, high quality bar but I feel like it’s more than a novelty item.
As a serving suggestion, I do not advise that you let the chocolate get too warm. When it gets warm it gets fudgy and pliable and the airyness doesn’t quite hold.
Bubble Chocolate is still completing their first orders to get them in stores, but right now you can expect to see them at Trader Joe’s in September.
Interesting note from label: made in Belarus.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:26 am
Monday, July 3, 2006
Simplicity is a beautiful thing.
Peanuts and chocolate, chocolate and peanuts.
I picked these up at the All Candy Expo. They weren’t sexy, they’re not new ... they’re just milk chocolate peanuts.
The peanuts were fresh and good quality. Not the super huge ones that are all standardized sizes, but I didn’t have a bad peanut in the bag, so I appreciate their ability to screen out the yucky ones. They have a nice, thin coat of milk chocolate, so it’s more peanut flavor than chocolate. They have a glossy sheen, which means that they don’t melt together so easily even on blisteringly hot days like today.
Honestly, I think these are much better than Goobers, they’re not quite as sweet and the peanuttiness shines through. I’ve seen these before in the concession sized boxes at movie theaters and I always passed them by because I thought they were a cheaper version of Goobers (or Peanut M&Ms). But they’re actually really good and fresh tasting.
Because there’s more peanut than chocolate in there, there’s not as much sugar either. So if you’re into a sweet little snack and can handle the fat content of the peanuts this is a good snack with lasting energy because of the protein hit.
Friday, June 30, 2006
I’ve been reading a lot of candy books lately, so it was nice to be approached to read something a little different: a virtual book tour.
Much of the book speaks to me for the sole reason that Ayun is a scant two years older than I am, so we have many of the same perspectives on pop culture and experiences with food (and candy). It traces her life from picky eater with a gourmet cook mother to ‘food adventurer’ to mother who has a picky eating daughter of her own.
(Though I was also a picky eater as a child, I chalk that up to bad, recurring throat infections that sapped the fun out of eating. But the book did capture the parental battles about eating very well, no matter the reason for why we wouldn’t even put the stuff in our mouth.)
Ayun has far more fun with her pickiness and, of course, uses those incidents to full effect in her book.
Here’s a bit of our discussion on the book and perspectives:
Candy Blog: Do you think that you were picky when it came to candy or just when it came to meals?
Ayun: candy? no. the only thing i didn’t like was black licorice and conversation hearts. they both made me feel like I was going to throw up in the car. I got over the conversation heart thing when we used them as props in a short NeoFuturist play called “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”. I would eat so many of them backstage that we’d wind up with a shortage - they were to be smashed with a hammer at certain strategic points in the song, “My Funny Valentine” but somehow we always kept coming up short, the hearts giving out long before the final line.
Candy Blog: What are your daughter’s favorite candies now? Does she share some or your loves/hates?
Ayun: Watermelon gum balls from the laundromat, lollipops that the guy at the liquor store gives her, and m&ms. Anything she can get her hands on, basically. She loves it when there’s a pinata at a birthday party. She stashes her portion on this little shelf at the head of her top bunk, where I can’t effectively monitor it. On those rare occasions that I change the sheet, I find a goodie bag full of empty wrappers.
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
Candy Blog: I’ve often regarded candy for children as one of the first ways that we express our independence from our parents. We’re given allowance or sometimes free run in a store to pick out one thing ... you remarked in the section on camp that you didn’t really have that luxury before. Did you notice this among your peers, that they had more discretionary cash or greater abilities to procure the snackstuffs that they loved?
Ayun: Yes. I was a very late bloomer with regard to bicycles. I had this little green Schwinn from which I refused to let the training wheels be removed. One weekend, we went to visit my father’s longtime friends, the Ackermans in Columbus Ohio, whose youngest child Sally, was a year my junior. Mrs Ackerman gave each of the kids, including me, a dollar - a princely amount - so that we could ride bikes to the drugstore for candy. Well, I was sort of stricken, because none of their bikes had training wheels, but they did have this old red bike named Rosie, who had no rubber left on her wheels, just the metal rims. These were wide enough, and unyielding enough, to give me the confidence it required to ride to the store with the rest of the herd, where following Sally’s example, I bought my first Marathon Bar. And when we got back to Indianapolis, I had my father remove the training wheels from my green bike and immediately pedaled away.
Candy Blog: You write in several instances about your consumption of raw materials when in search of a sugar fix. I, too, discovered Jello-O powder (pineapple was my favorite) at an early age, and my frugality meant that I could find them on sale at 10 for a dollar and stock up on quite a bit of it with my paper route money. What sorts of pantry items would you eat dry?
Ayun: Tang. My grandmother always took a jar of it with us when we drove to Florida. I had to be extra sly when mainlining that stuff, what with my mother and both grandparents on the other side of the vinyl accordion curtain separating the vanity outside the bathroom from the rest of the motel room. The thing about dry Tang is it was so light, it looked like it was steaming. There was always a cloud of these micro-fine crystals hovering above the spoon.
When that sour Super Lemon candy started appearing in all the Asia markets, I thought, “Oh, no problem. I can handle that molehill.” I’d spent years training with Tang.
I also liked eating Nestles Quik straight from the can.
About a month ago, after reading the excerpt above I agreed to do this little featurette, so I send Ayun a little box of candies. It had some SweeTarts, Laffy Taffy, Chewy SweeTarts, Pixy Stix and other pure sugar concoctions.
Candy Blog: So, what did you eat from the package I sent? What did your daughter consume and what do you see in her tastes as with yours?
Ayun: I don’t think the kids got a single piece of it. It has been a pinata-heavy month. As for myself, I started out with the gummy insects, a Sweet Tart product apparently, and I felt guilty for gnashing them up so mindlessly, while watching Deadwood. I cleansed my palate with some Laffy Taffys (I slowed down long enough to see that there’s a joke printed on each wrapper. I’d always assumed that Laffy was the only thing marketing could come up with to rhyme with Taffy.) Then I started on the Chewy Sweet Tarts. We had the big ones at Gnawbone, but they were never Chewy. Chewy is new(y). Then I got kind of disgusted with myself and worried that my spleen would give out from all that sugar, so I boxed it back up and then we took it to Coney Island with us for the kids to throw at the crowd when we marched in the Mermaid Parade. Now THAT was a good use of cheap, artificially flavored candy.
Candy Blog: What do you think about candy today? There are certainly more “wholesome” candies available now that actually taste good, in addition to some really disgusting indulgences of course. Are there things you wish you could have had when you were a kid? Are there things you wish they still made or that you miss being able to have?
Ayun: Those little Gummi candys that resemble miniature versions of non-candy type foods are pretty cunning, the sushi and pizzas and such. Milo received a gummi Crabby Patty, and it was quite the hit until he tasted it.
You know what I miss? Zots. Their packaging was so imperfect, but it was so worth it when you sucked a hole through the hard candy and that citric acid stuff inside started to effervesce. A few years ago, I got it into my head to make homemade bath bombs and I went to every restaurant supply on the Bowery looking for citric acid to no avail. Found it at an herb store in the Village that leans rather heavily on whimsical ceramic teapots and fairy-related merchandise. When did citric acid go so out of style?
I’m really into the Aji Ichiban stores in Chinatown. though the dried, salted plums took some getting used to, even for someone like me, who is constitutionally bound to order things like salted plum soda in Vietnamese restaurant, because it’s a more vibrant part of the experience than say, Diet Coke. Every year, they have these compelling little capsules that you can fill with hard candy. One year it was pigs. This year it seems to be metallic pineapples…
This is what they call a novelty item.
I don’t have a real review for it, because I’m a stodgy old fart and I refuse to roll my candy syrup onto my tongue. But it also might be that it really looks like my incredibly unappetizing Ban unscented roll on antiperspirant/deodorant.
However, I did give my nephew this grape Rolly Pop for his opinion. Because he’s almost seven years old, there are a lot of things he’s more willing to try than I am.
First, what is it?
A Rolly Pop is a bottle, not unlike a small bottle of Ban Roll On, that contains a sweet and tangy syrup that you apply directly to your tongue.
We tried it out on my last visit two weeks ago and it went over pretty well. It seems that it might be easier to just suck on the roll top than roll it around on your tongue. He didn’t finish it all in one sitting, so he put the cap back on and when he came down for breakfast the next morning, the roller ball wouldn’t roll. A little time under the tap with some warm water did the trick.
Honestly, I’m worried about the sanitary aspects of this candy. You roll it on your tongue! (It’s kind of like backwash ... maybe it’s back rub ... no, that doesn’t sound right.)
Anyway, the syrup doesn’t change the color of your tongue, which is a big thing with kids these days. It’s probably better that it doesn’t though, since I’m sure that means that it’d stain things, too. At the end of my nephew’s evaluation of this I asked if he would buy it again and he kind of shrugged. He said he wished it was more sour (he’s a sour fan) but I read that they are coming out with a set of sour flavors for Halloween. He did finish it, so that’s a positive sign that means I’ll give this one a five out of ten on his behalf.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.