Wednesday, December 28, 2005
My site designers/programmers Susie & Travis (from Hop Studios) sent me a bag o’ treats a few months ago from their trip to Singapore. I don’t really have any specs on the candies since it was a mix, so here’s a sample of what they looked like:
It took me a while too steel myself for trying so many mysterious things, but I’ve finally plowed through most of the treats. Some were just variations on the candies we have available here, different kinds of mints (chewy, hard, soft), coffee hard toffees, ginger chews (made in Indonesia) and of course fruit hard candies. Some were rather normal, based on the ubiquitous citrus fruits but a good number were curious.
Durian and Tamarind top the list of scary candies. I’ve heard horror stories of Durian, which is rather common throughout Southeast Asia. It’s a sizeable and formidable looking fruit and I’m told an acquired taste for outsiders (and some who’ve grown up there have never been fond of it). It’s a divisive fruit, actually, as so many people can’t stand it because of its rather pungent odor, it’s not allowed on public transportation in many large cities.
The durian hard candy is probably just as much an acquired taste and not one I’m likely to accomplish. This hard candy tastes okay at first, a little sweet, a little tart and then rather like boiled shallots. Yes, onions or garlic or perhaps a little like Slim Jims.
The Tamarind, which I’ve never had and is surprising as I live in Los Angeles and it’s all over the place, was actually nice. It’s a little toasty, rather ordinary after all being so worked up about trying that.
The most curious one was the Creamy Corn. It tasted just like it sounds. Like creamed corn. Only in a hard toffee instead of running on my plate into my fried chicken. I have to say that it was very faithful to the name, and I ate the whole thing and was fascinated by it, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. It’s rather like eating the Buttered Popcorn Jelly Bellies. It’s a novelty, not a pleasure. At least not for me.
Mango was actually really nice, better than any other mango candy I’ve had, probably because they did more than make it taste like peaches. There were a few mango flavored ones, but the best overall were the ones branded Lot100 (the Blackcurrant was good, too). It had a nice pine essence to it, which is one of the things that I find so interesting about real mangoes, they have a woodsy flavor to them.
The best one was called Great Monster and I think was simply an orange hard candy. Simple, tart and zesty.
I had high hopes for those labeled barley sugar candies, but they didn’t really taste like the barley sugar I know of here in the states. They were nice, especially the lime torrone one (which was not at all like an Italian Torrone).
There are still a few I haven’t tried, but give me a few more days to get my courage back.
Rating - 6 out of 10 overall (some higher some lower ... it’s an average)
Name: Snickers Almond
Why didn’t someone mention that the Mars bar was quietly replaced with the Snickers Almond bar five years ago? I didn’t notice. Mostly because I was never a Mars bar fan. A Mars bar in the States used to be a nougat bar with almonds and a strip of caramel and covered in milk chocolate. A Mars bar in other parts of the world is like a Milky Way is here in the States: a nougat bar with a stripe of caramel covered in milk chocolate. In the rest of the world a Milky Way is like the American 3 Musketeers. I can go on and on, but suffice to say that Mars has a big old confusing name problem on their hands and all I can do is try to make a grid to display it. (Please correct me if I’ve got them wrong.)
USA….............. contents ..................UK/Canada
You know, there are a bazillion names for these candy folks to choose from, why do they have to confuse the globe-trotting candy lovers so? For some other attempts at disambiguation, have a look at this page comparing the old Mars and the Canadian Milky Way (with cross sections).
But I digress. I’m supposed to be reviewing the Snickers Almond bar.
But I don’t wanna review this bar because I didn’t like it much and it reminded me why I forgot about the bar entirely. It smells good, which is just a ruse. First, the nougat is nothing more than a flavorless grainy sweet blob. Good nougat has a flavor of some sort, an essence of honey or malt or, well, something. This is just sweet. The caramel is also sweet, but has a touch of salt to it which I fully support. The almonds are nice, but scant. The chocolate is sweet and passable as a chocolate cloak. As a whole combination it just didn’t wow me and didn’t satisfy me. I didn’t finish it.
There are other bars out there that do this better. The See’s Awesome Nut & Nougat Bar is one (but probably not a viable alternative as it’s not that easy to get a hold of). Frankly I prefer the plain old Snickers bar to this. There was a Mars Midnight for a while there in the nineties that I was rather fond of but gone now.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Name: Max Brenner Chocolates: Dark Chicao, Waffle & Milk Chocolate Cubes
Here’s a little Hanukkah treat for everyone, some Israeli chocolates! The Max Brenner package says “Creating a New Chocolate Culture” and I’m inclined to hop on board this philosophy. Michal, a candyblog.net reader, sent me these wonderful treats and I’m very impressed by the combination of flavors, textures, the simplicity of ingredients and most of all, the playfulness of the packages and formats.
Dark Chicao: Dark chocolate thins with Ecuadorian cocoa bits. These are rather similar to the Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs I tried and loved recently. I was a little scared when I took them out of the tin because they looked a little chalky, but we can chalk that up to their trip half way around the planet to get to me. They were a little bruised but tasted phenomenal. Dark, dark chocolate with crunchy nibs. The chocolate is buttery with a strong woodsy essence and a slight dry finish. Because there’s so much cacao in there and not much sugar they don’t get me hyped up the same way a chocolate bar does. At 75% cacao though, they’re probably giving me some sort of theobromine high.
Waffle: Crispy Belgian waffle in milk chocolate praline. I’ve had many bars like this and they’ve usually ended up being too much cookie and not enough chocolate or too waxy or greasy. Here’s a wonderful balance of chocolate, soft flavors and crispy waffle with a hint of hazelnut. The box is fun (the size of a pencil box with a tray/sleeve to pull out and reveal the candies) and the size of the little drops is just right, two bites for me. The Max Brenner milk chocolate is very rich, with 52% cacao, it’s darker than many consumer dark chocolates.
Milk Chocolate Cubes: Michal was good enough to translate the boxes for these. They’re minitruffles I’m guessing, one set is “Milk Chocolate Cubes filled with Hazelnut Praline and Caramelized Pecan Bits” and the other is Milk Chocolate Cubes filled with “Caramel Hazelnut Praline and Roasted coconut” (well, those are not really cubes, more like spheroids). The hazelnut/pecan one is sweet and toasty, like a hit of toffee only in a milk chocolate with just a few flakes of crispy to it. They’re very rich and sticky and should probably be consumed with some strong coffee. (Or the Dark Chicaos!). The coconuts were amazing fun. Instead of soft coconut like you’d find in a Mounds of Bounty bar, this is crispy coconut that adds a bit of crunch and chew to the sweet milk chocolate. The boxes are cool because they’re designed to be a greeting card or favor of sorts. You can write a little message on the back like those Valentines boxes of candy that we used to exchange in junior high.
I’m digging Mr. Brenner’s new chocolate culture. Their packaging is interesting and not overdone. The little mylar packs kept everything fresh and the design on them is really inventive, slightly self-deprecating and sets it apart from a lot of other candy that I’ve seen that positions itself in this part of the upscale market.
Rating - 9 out of 10 (now I just need to find a source in the States)
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Stockings are one of my favorite traditions of Christmas. I’ve written before about my love of the stockings Santa brought us as children. They were eclectic mixes of little gifts, novelties, traditional American chocolates, gelt and international confections. These were candies that we didn’t get any other time of the year, not in Easter baskets and certainly not in Halloween trick-or-treat bags.
For the past few years I’ve also continued this tradition with my friends when I’m in town for the holidays. We often host a Christmas Eve dinner for friends and I give out a version of these stockings to my guests.
Our family tradition is that everyone has a stocking and it must be at my mother’s house in order for Santa to find it and fill it. Instead for my guests I put their goodies in fabric wine gift bags. They’re pretty and because they’re reusable they’re a gift as well. I found this excellent assortment in Chinatown much less expensive than at the wine store or Cost Plus. As this year was an all-couple affair, each couple got a stocking.
The cornerstone of a stocking is candy. The Santa of my childhood seemed to favor a mix of nuts in the shell (which were obviously pretty but were also intended to minimize the actual candy content). Those nuts were immediately sorted out of the candy mix and placed in a bowl on the kitchen table. My stockings skip right to the punch - chocolate. This year we picked up a mix of chocolate coins, Hershey’s Kisses (plain, thank you), Hershey’s Mint Miniatures Mix & Butterfinger Jingles, Brachs hard candy/toffees and the Trader Joe’s Torrones.
A stocking wouldn’t be much fun without some sassy little toys and additional candy. So I assembled a bunch of stuff, some from the 99 Cent Store, others I picked up here and there. Everyone gets a special big candy, usually just for their tastes: Toblerone bar, Jelly Belly Assortments, Bazooka bubble gum, mints (those round things are mints that look like roller blade wheels) and some grapefruit pastilles. The things that look like ice cream cones are scented bubbles (non toxic for those folks who have pets who like to play with bubbles like we do).
And there it is, all stuffed to the seams! (Okay, I have a problem with trying to stuff too much into them.)
Everyone goes home happy and if they have a long way to travel they’ve got a snack along the way. Of course you can scale up or down for finances and it’s always a good idea to keep your eye out year round to find the stuffers. Things like little notebooks, lip balm, ornaments or even CDs are good fun things to add.
(click on any photo for larger, yummier goodness)
Friday, December 23, 2005
Name: Italian Soft Almond Nougat
When I was a kid we got rather eclectic Christmas stockings filled with candy treats that we never got any other time of the year. Christmas candy was unlike any other in our house or for any other holiday, it was a trip around the world in an oversized sock. English hard candies, Swiss & Belgian chocolates and Italian Torrones. I’ve been having a hard time finding Torrones the past few years here in Los Angeles, I used to get them at Cost Plus World Market, but haven’t seen them for quite a while. This is why I was so excited to see that Trader Joe’s had these when I was there last weekend.
Torrones are soft nougat usually flavored Amaretto, orange, vanilla or
lemon. Most European countries have their own version of the Torrone, the French do nice nougats, in both the soft and hard varieties and the Swiss Toblerone bar has hard honey nougat bits in it and the Spanish are well known for their version, the Turron. The European nougat is rather different than what you find in the American candy bar trade. Trader Joe’s has carried nougat in the past in long bars, but I’d never seen these Christmas classics before. They’re individually wrapped pieces in its own little box and gives a little history:
There are 18 of these little individually wrapped packages, boxed together. The torrone is soft and pliable white nougat that is and is sheathed in an edible, tasteless wafer to keep it from sticking. The slice of nougat has a lot of nuts but is not as “fluffy” as some others, in fact, it looks downright flat. The pieces are ample, like one of those big block pencil erasers. The scent is very nice, sweet and with a good
dose of honey in there. It’s good and soft, so it’s not going to remove any dental work, sweet and it dissolves quickly and mixes with the delicate almonds. The flavoring is a little odd. Most Torrones are one flavor but this one seems to be a mix of lemon and amaretto. But neither is very apparent so it just ends up being a subtle essence.
Overall, they’re not quite satisfying my jones for a good Torrone, but they are fresh and here so they’ll do for now for the stocking stuffers. They’re certainly cheaper than some others I’ve bought but I miss the fanciful pictures of Italian royalty on the individual boxes. The biggest drawback of the overpackaging (plastic wrap, boxes inside bigger box) is that it’s quite obvious how many you’ve eaten when there’s a huge pile of torrone detritus next to you on the couch.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.