Monday, July 10, 2006
This review is in honor of the New York Times Magazine column yesterday, called Consumed and written by Rob Walker on the subject of limited edition candies.
This particular candy is the perfect example. It’s a good, tasty bar that probably has limited appeal and will therefore never be seen on shelves again. Oh, how I mourn for some of these here-and-gone bars.
When I was a teenager my mother got a hold of a tapioca pudding mix that was coconut and orange flavored. You wouldn’t think that’d be a good idea, and I’m not sure I even liked it at first, but here it is, some 25 years later and I’m still pining for it.
The Mounds Island Orange bar is as close as I’ve come to recapturing that taste. (Yes, my mother tried to make it from scratch last time I was at her house, but it just wasn’t the same - something about the proportions was wrong ... don’t get me wrong, it was still tasty and I had two helpings. I love tapioca.)
It’s a regular old Mounds bar from the outside, it doesn’t even smell any different. A strong chocolatey aroma but no trace of the orange burst that awaits inside. That’s right, the coconut is orange flavored. Zesty orange and coconut, which really cuts the sweetness of the filling and allows the chocolate to shine through. (This is a much better idea than last years Key Lime Almond Joy which had a white chocolate coating flavored with lime ... whereas I would have preferred a coconut center with some lime essence in it.)
The center is a freakish orange color, as if someone took the pulp out of a fresh orange. It’s rather unnaturally orange, and it seems pretty silly that they would color the inside of it like that. But the flavor feels natural - not chemical in the least and I really enjoyed how each of the flavors played off each other.
I bought two of these bars, mostly because I saw that Joanna loved them as well, so if you’re a Mounds fan and enjoy zesty flavors, pick it up before it’s gone.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 4:09 am
Friday, July 7, 2006
P Whattles? P-Nuttles! I make fun of it, but it’s really a pretty cool name for a candy.
Sometimes I forget about the blessed simplicity of some classic candies.
The uneven looking little morsels are simply panned peanuts coated with a crunchy toffee. Sweet with a solid salty hit, they’re dependably tasty. No worries if you come across a nut that’s lost its toffee coat, that means more crunchy shell at the bottom of the package.
These are great to put on ice cream or of course a good summertime sweet that won’t melt.
After my bad peanut experience yesterday, I was very happy with these. Not a bad nut in the bag, and considering how many that was, those are good odds. The only problem I have with them is that I have no idea where to buy them. I’m going to have to keep my eyes open for sightings in the wild, but at least I know I can get them online. I wouldn’t be surprised to find them at 99 Cent stores, as I’ve often found Cup-O-Gold there.
Thursday, July 6, 2006
It’s marshmallow day. Or maybe “Original Creme Center” day, since the Old Faithful doesn’t even say it has marshmallow in it. I bought this bar on the same day as the other limited edition Hershey items, so I figured I should review them at the same time. I got them at a store called Duck Soup, which focuses on retro items, like coffee mugs that look like paper cups and old pinball machines. But they also had a very nice selection of classic candy bars. What was even better was that they were only $.99 each ... that Idaho Spud I bought recently was $1.55!
This long lump has a latexy, ultrasmooth creme (ala marshmallow) center cloaked in whole peanuts and milk chocolate.
The center was not at all what I expected. I expected something like a fondant or fudge, like the Bun. But instead it’s a rather strange viscous filling that doesn’t flow completely, but is super smooth. Not foamy enough for me to consider it marshmallow, but the ingredients include egg whites, so maybe it is.
In fact, I really loved the filling, with it’s slightly bouncy texture (yes, rather similar to the detested Idaho Spud) what I had particular trouble with was the peanuts in the cluster. There were bad peanuts. Once you have one bad peanut, it makes you skittish. And there were more than a few peanuts that were darker than normal and tasted like burnt plastic.
I don’t know if this was a bad bar, but it was bad enough that I was so fearful of another bad nut that I didn’t even want to finish it. So, I took the last third of the bar apart, just eating the marshmallow. Which I really liked on its own. However, that does not redeem this bar. I can’t not eat a major portion of it.
I’m sorry, I just can’t get past something called Old Faithful would have such bad quality control. It broke its promise of peanuts that I could eat. The milk chocolate was passable and it made me wonder why they didn’t use this coating for the Idaho Spud instead of the artery clogging mess o’ trans fats they had on there.
Note: there are no hydrogenated oils in this bar.
Though there’s little reason for me to be buying candy with the huge stockpile I have from the All Candy Expo, I couldn’t help but stop at the 7-11 on Friday on my way home from work. That’s when I spotted these two marshmallow limited edition items: Marshmallow Take 5 and Marshmallow Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
In the Marshmallow Take 5, the marshmallow replaces the caramel that’s normally found in there. Hershey’s has been mucking around with the Take 5 in these limited editions for a while, but none of the newer versions have been very satisfying in my opinion and this one is no different.
The bar smells wonderfully sweet and peanutty, but upon biting into it, it becomes freakishly fake tasting with a strong vanillin component. The peanut butter holds its own and the salty pretzel gives a welcome crunchy component but it still can’t drown out the sickly sweet marshmallow.
The thing I noticed about both of these bars is that the marshmallow isn’t fluffy like I’m used to with the Campfire kind. It’s rather latexy but very smooth.
The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup with Marshmallow was similar to the Take 5 in that it smelled and looked normal until you bit into it. Then there was a bit of flowing and slick marshmallow at the bottom of the cup, similar to the new Reese’s Caramel cup.
I found eating the first cup that I didn’t really like how overwhelming the marshmallow was to the texture of the crumbly peanut butter center. So for the second one I turned it over, so that the peanut butter layer hit my tongue first. Much better, but still, the sweetness of the marshmallow gave me a sore throat and didn’t really add anything to the experience.
I’m wondering, however, what a candy cup with caramel at the bottom and then flowing marshmallow (like a See’s Scotchmallow) might go over. Joanna at SugarSavvy.net also reviewed them yesterday.
In the mean time, I hope Hershey’s has gotten the impulse to add marshmallows to everything out of their system.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.