Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Based in Southern California, Sugarfina brings a chic aesthetic to all their candy with their minimalist packaging in robin’s egg blue and square formats. The candy is sold in “bulk” that is, it’s repackaged by them and sold in an array of different weights. They have created a superb curated list of candies. Some you’ll recognize, but their biggest selling point is an array of exquisite European candies that I’ve never seen sold anywhere else.
Candy is sold in little boxes of different weights or in mixed boxes (they call Bentos) that make excellent gifts. Their team truly understand that candy should appeal first to the eye and then to the rest of the senses.
I still get plenty of offers for free candy samples, but lately it has to be something pretty special to get me to bite. But when you see this list of candies, you’ll see what got me interested. Today I’m presenting the assortment of gummis (and one jelly candy). All of the gummis are from Germany and most feature natural colors.
Bitty Berries is a mix of three different gummis. There’s a large raspberry looking gummi that has a rather raspberry flavor. Then there are three smaller berries, kind of like petite blueberries that are different colors and flavors. The light amber ones are like a white grape juice flavor, lightly tangy but with a black currant note to them. The pink version is and the purple is like a jammy raspberry. Blueberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Cranberry and Bilberry.
They’re just exquisitely beautiful. Even when I wasn’t interested in eating them, they were just too cute to look at.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Champagne Bears come in two colors: a soft peachy pink and a lightly yellow clear. The clear is like a clean apple juice flavor with a light peppery note. The peachy one is, well, much the same. I couldn’t really tell them apart except that sometimes the pink one seemed to be a little more raspberry flavored. They’re firm and intense. They’re well formed and held their shape well, even though they were jammed into their little cube.
I liked them, but didn’t think that they were anything better than the new juicy Haribo. But I do like the colors and think that for a special occasion, they’d be a nice favor.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Sugar Peach Sweethearts - I was pretty scared of these. They smelled strongly of peach, not in a bad way but in a strong way. They were so strong that I had to take them out of the bento box and sequester them by themselves so as not to contaminate the chocolate pieces they were co-mingling with. So I was afraid that they’d be overwhelmingly chemical tasting.
Quite the opposite is true. They’re little miracle pieces, on the tongue they actual feel for a moment like a real peach. The texture of the sugar sanding is velvety like the fuzz of the peach. The flavor is at once tangy and fruity and honey-sweet and floral and woodsy, like actual peaches. There’s no weird artificial coloring in there to give it a metallic aftertaste. They’re a bit more tart that I’d probably like if I were to eat them by the handful, but as a little refresher on a hot day when I have a dry mouth, these are unbeatable.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Queen of Hearts were billed on the website as three different flavors: pineapple, grapefruit and black currant. They’re also three different sizes of hearts. So it’s a lovely looking combination, although the largest heard gets folded over a bit inside the little cube.
Pink was indistinct, but reminded me enough of pineapple to make me think that’s what it was. Slightly floral with a tart bite and a crisp flavor to it. It was more like canned pineapple though not as syrupy.
Clear tastes like peach. I’m not sure what flavor it was supposed to be, I was hoping it was the promised grapefruit, but it was tangy and a little peppery. (I did notice that the peach mentioned earlier were very strong, I was wondering if the flavor migrated from the more delicate grapefruit.)
The dark one was definitely black currant. It was strong and had notes of wine and deep boiled cherry.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Cuba Libre is simply amazing. It’s a cola gummi, so far so good, with a little softer bubble of rum within. It’s stunning. The cola flavor is spicy and tart, a mix of nutmeg, cinnamon and perhaps a little warm kick of ginger but nothing overt and then the acidic bite of lemon. The rum is sweet and a little on the caramel side. I’ve never seen these anywhere else, and I can’t believe they aren’t being imported and sold in the US by the cargo container as it is. If there’s a reason to order from Sugarfina, it’s the Cuba Libre gummi.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Minty Polar Bears are downright weird and I’ll go ahead and warn you that they’re not mint. They’re like a bubble gum flavored mentholated chewy cough drop. The first note on the tongue is a little tartness then a huge whiff of what I can only describe as acetone (which I sometimes get confused with banana flavoring). Then there’s a menthol hit, a little more of a sort of mild lime flavor and the bitterness of that zest. It all ends with a slight queasy feeling.
I’ve had eucalyptus gummis before and liked them quite a bit, so I was hoping for something like that. I find them curious enough that I continue to sample them from time to time. But I never feel like I want to eat another one, just that I should.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Heavenly Sours are little stars, comets and crescent moons in fruity flavors. They’re sour sanded and come in lovely naturally tinted colors. They’re not actually gummis, they’re jellies. They’re made in the US, not in Germany like most of the other gummis from Sugarfina. They’re tart and have nicely distinguished flavors. Orange is a zesty and tart orange. Lemon is wonderfully sour. Blue is raspberry and a little overdone. Red is cherry and is, well, cherry.
Rating: 7 out of 10
As a thank you gift or something for someone who has everything, this is a great option. It’s not cheap, so it’s not something I’m likely to treat myself to very often. They also have lots of themed boxes and kits, so it’s easy to pick for Coffee Lovers, Licorice Aficionados, or Caramel Fiends. The large bento boxes with 8 x 4 ounce boxes of treats are $50. By the pound, the candy is $17.50.
They do a good job of labeling for allergies as well, even if they won’t tell me who make those Cuba Libre gummis.They’re currently only available via the web, but there’s talk of a store in the future here on the west side of Los Angeles.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
As a kid I would eat brown sugar straight from the bag. I loved finding chunks of the stuff in my oatmeal. As an adult I discovered muscovado sugar and love finding new ways to use it in everyday food.
As a candy, this molasses rich sugar is quite popular in Japan, where Japanese prize their Okanawan Black Sugar. It’s mostly found in hard candies but sometimes used in caramels. I was excited to see the Meiji Chelsea line of hard butterscotch candies came out with a variety pack based on flavors of Kuro Sato called Chelsea Kokutou Black Sugar. The flavors are milk, black sugar and ginger.
The packaging is always charming. A stark black background with little calico inspired flowers dot the wrappers. In this case each wrapper is a different muted pastel with black flowers on it.
The candy comes in two different packaging styles. There are little flat boxes that hold foil wrapped pieces of butterscotch, then there are the bags, which often have assortments instead of a single flavor. The sealed wrappers are great because they keep the candies from becoming sticky. However, the candy is expensive. I think I paid 3.99 for this package that holds only 2.5 ounces. I’ve seen other packages for sale online for over $5 a package as well.
The light purple wrapper holds the Milk flavored piece. It looks like ordinary butterscotch but tastes like sweet, creamy rum. The texture of Chelsea is extraordinary. It’s smooth. The pieces always look and sound like glass. If you like to let your candy dissolve, these last a long time with consistent flavor all the way through. If you’re a cruncher, these are crispy and buttery.
The milk flavor mellows the strength of the black sugar, which can have bitter components to it. It’s fresh tasting, like a very mellow black tea.
The light red wrappers hold the best of all, the Black Sugar flavor. The pieces are very dark brown, glossy and hard. The flavor is dark and complex. It’s like that charcoal-like flavor of a toasted marshmallow. It’s more earthy and cereal-like than just molasses. It’s creamy and smooth, woodsy with a hint of toffee and coffee.
What’s so amazing about black sugar are all the flavors and nuances. It’s like chocolate, coffee or wine in that way.
The lightest looking piece of the set is the Ginger. This is less about the black sugar but an interesting combination of flavors. The ginger is woodsy and smooth with a warm component to it. The flavor is less of the tangy fresh juice flavor and more of the dried ginger with milk profile. The black sugar is lost, so the sugary notes are more like maple than molasses. Still, a great ginger candy, far and away better than most other toffee style gingers.
This was a great mix and I found it hard not to eat them all right away. I even tried going back to Little Tokyo to find more, but couldn’t find a single grocer that carried them still. I’m very sad, but hoping that Meiji will bring back the Black Sugar at least as a single flavor in the boxes at some point and I will stock up.
Monday, December 26, 2011
When I went to Germany last January to attend the ISM Cologne sweets trade show I spent about as much time shopping at the local stores as I did prowling the show floor for traditional, new and different candies.
One candy that I was actually on the look out for was the Haribo Ingwer-Zitrone gummis. They’re ginger and lemon flavored and perhaps a little less mainstream and kid-oriented than many of Haribo’s other offerings. I found them at a Rewe market and bought two bags. When I returned to the States I carefully moderated myself to make them last as long as possible. Sadly, they were gone by September.
When I went to Germany a few weeks ago, these were definitely on my list. I didn’t find them at the first Rewe (grocery store) I visited but did find them at Kaufhof in Berlin (a huge department store with a large food section) ... I bought everything on the shelf, six bags (they were only .99 Euros each).
The package says that they’re erfrischend scharf (refreshingly sharp) which would probably be because it’s made with real ginger and lemon.
The pieces look like medallions of candied ginger, complete with a sanding of sugar (well, it’s not exactly sugar, it’s a sweet and sour sanding mix).
The start out like an ordinary fruit gummi. They smell at a little like lemon peel and have a soft and flexible texture. They’re easy to chew and the sweet/sour sand fades away pretty quickly. The lemony flavor isn’t very sour, mostly a juicy flavor with a lot more zest in it than most of the other kid-oriented flavors. The flavor of the ginger is subtle at first, just woodsy and maybe even a little bitter. But then it kicks in with a slow and warming heat. The ginger lasts for a while, with a strong finish that kind of burns for a while. They’re barely sweet, I don’t feel sticky eating them at all - and perhaps the ginger is even good for my tummy.
I know this isn’t for everyone, you really have to like both the gummi texture and the spicy combination of citrus and ginger. It’s my ideal gummi, probably my favorite thing this year and will go on my list of all time favorite candies.
I even returned the next day to Kaufhof to see if they restocked, but it looks like these five packages I have left are going to have to last me a while. GermanDeli.com sells them, but they’re $2.99 a bag plus shipping and their $25 minimum order - that would average out to more than $4 a bag. I’m in love, but not that desperate ... yet.
Monday, August 29, 2011
In my recent travels abroad I picked up a lot of chocolate bars. Here’s a brief little run down of three of them:
As a little reminder, I went to Amsterdam and Cologne earlier this year. There are flavors there that just aren’t very well known in North America. One of the new flavor trends that I noticed was Absinthe (I’ve seen a little of it in the United States but its influence in The Netherlands was a lot more ubiquitous).
So when I spotted this bar from the Chocolatier Marc Antoine called Edelbitter Absinth Truffle, I though it would be a perfect item to pick up as it would probably travel very well.
The box was stiff and nicely designed with the sickly green swirls of anise & wormwood liqueur. Inside the bar was in a simple cellophane sleeve but remarkably unscathed by its journey.
The bar was big and the pieces were chunky. The dark chocolate was glossy with large reservoirs of the dark chocolate truffle filling inside. The truffle was smooth and creamy and very soft, almost like a caramel sauce. The scent was definitely on the grassy fennel side of things, even before I bit into it. The dark chocolate was smooth and bitter though had a lot of cocoa notes mixed with a sharp and tangy anise. The truffle center had a lot of licorice flavors, very soft and fluffy notes that were sweet along with a little hint of eucalyptus and some other botanicals.
I wouldn’t call it a hallucinogenic experience, but it was a wonderful, strong herbal bar that I enjoy quite a bit. There as a little alcoholic burn to it but it was more like tequila.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The package was a big, flat square, about 4.5 inches. The box was pretty and featured raised and gold embossed lettering for the logo and the image on the front of a clay oven. The chocolate is described on the front a little more puro ciccolato fondente con fichi affumicati or “pure dark chocolate with smoked figs” - so it’s the figs in it that are smoked, not the chocolate itself.
The back of the package is in a bunch of different languages and featured notices about recycling but most importantly that Cuorenero does not use any dairy products other other major allergens, that means no gluten, no eggs, no soy, no peanuts, no nuts with hard shell (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, etc.), no celery, no mustard, no sesame seeds, no sulfur dioxide, no lupines, no shellfish and no fish. On top of that, all their ingredients are GMO-free.
The ingredients were: cacao mass, sugar, cocoa butter, smoked fig pieces, sunflower lecithin and flavours.
The bar is beautiful, a thick circular slab sectioned into 16 wedges. The bar smelled like molasses, deep and sweet with a lot of notes of smoke, leather and pipe tobacco. The chocolate flavors were tangy and had notes of coffee and charcoal. The figs were little bits with the occasional seed. There were notes of dark rum, raisins and the grassy fresh notes of figs. The smoke flavors were like cognac and fine whiskey.
If you’re a chocolatier and looking for a new flavor combination, please try smoked, dried fruit in dark chocolate. Then let me know how I can buy some from you.
The bar was 60 grams (2.1 ounces) and I think I paid about $6 for it at the Cologne Chocolate Museum Gift Shop (I think it was 4 Euros). Cuorenero Website.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Zotter is a popular maker of fair trade candy bars in Austria. They’re crazy. If you think smoked figs are off the beaten path, you have not explored the uncharted wilderness of Zotter. I’ve had two of their bars before, Banana Curry and Zitrone Polenta. They’re fair trade and organic.
This was another bar that I picked up at the Cologne Chocolate Museums Gift Store (which was a phenomenal chocolate store, if you hadn’t figured that out). It’s Zotter Mandel - Rosen which is almond and rose. (I passed up the Peanuts & Chocolate bar.)
The bar is about 4.5 inches long and about 2 inches wide and weighs 70 grams (2.47 ounces). It’s thin, for a filled bar but rather dense.
Inside there are two fillings layers. The base is a creamy but rather solid almond paste and sandwiched in between two layers of that is a rose petal jelly (which seemed to have a touch of raspberry in it). This was a great flavor combination, classic and sure, a bit Victorian in sensibilities. I liked the delicate almond flavor (no screaming Amaretto here) and even the rose was light and had less of a soapy taste than some other floral flavors I’ve tried. It was fragrant and sweet with that light touch of berry to it.
It wasn’t as crazy bar but like the others I’ve profiled here, it’s unusual for American tastes. It’s not the kind of candy you can get addicted to, it’s hard to find and the flavors come in and out of production. Check out their website.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Friday, November 12, 2010
In Japan (and everywhere else besides the United States), KitKats are made by Nestle. Nestle has the ability to make great chocolate and candy, but also possesses the ability and fortitude to make cheap tasting and inconsistent candy.
The first is the SemiSweet KitKat which sounds pretty boring. But just look at the package! It’s a beautifully done design in just black and red (except for the real-color image of the KitKat finger itself.) The bar is just a mellow semi sweet chocolate version of the standard milk chocolate KitKat.
The bars were perfect. I know I criticize the over-packaging of many of these Japanese items, but in this case it really did its job of both enticing me to buy and protecting the contents.
The chocolate smells wonderful, a little sweet but rich and bold. The first thing I noticed was the melt. There was a good snap to the chocolate but it melted quite readily. It’s a little sticky but has a lot of flavor, a combination of strong woodsy flavors, a hint of coffee and prunes. The wafers are crispy and don’t let the combination get too sweet or thick.
The KitKat Bitter Almond is what got me out to the stores in Little Tokyo. I saw Bitter Almond KitKat mentioned on Japanese Snack Reviews and thought it sounded right up my alley.
The ingredients say that it’s made with real dark chocolate (44% cacao), almond paste and almonds. While I’m not usually a big fan of the amaretto note in marzipan, I do love almonds. The limited edition KitKats have largely ignored nuts as a flavor, so this is a refreshing change.
The box had the logo for TBC on it, which I had to look up (thanks again to Japanese Snack Reviews) to find out it’s a cross promotion with Tokyo Beauty Centers. TBC is a chain of spas that offer all sorts of aesthetic treatments, make up and consultations. I haven’t the foggiest what that has to do with KitKats so I’m going to just make something up, like you can get marzipan facial treatments for a limited time when you present your empty KitKat box.
The chocolate is strong, slightly bitter and has a light acidic bite. The almond flavors come and go but are light and more on the side of nutty than amaretto. What struck me as so great, aside from the smooth and lightly dry finish of the chocolate itself was the freshness of the wafers. They were delicate and crispy. There was no cereal taste to them (not that I mind that), which allowed both the chocolate and almond to dominate. Every once in a while I got a little texture of some crushed almonds.
I loved this bar. I don’t know if the factory was just having a really good day and had exceptional ingredients converge in that moment in time on that particular bar but I felt like I was finally getting my money’s worth for these expensive imported KitKat bars. Texture, flavors and mouthfeel were simply exceptional. All other KitKats will disappoint me now. (And it’s always good to stop on a high note.)
But I’m left feeling that I should stop pursuing the fleeting perfection of limited edition bars (which are often less than perfect) and concentrate on quality candies that are available more reliably. Plus, the import premium I pay for these means that they’re over $30 a pound. If I’m willing to pay that much, I can get some really good chocolate.
Monday, October 4, 2010
I can’t think of another candy that embodies the description humble American treat better than Mary Jane. First there’s the fact that they originated in Paul Revere’s house in Boston by the Chas. N. Miller Company. Second, they’re made from molasses and peanut butter, two hearty American flavors. The wax paper packaging has remained largely unchanged (undated old wrapper & advertisement from 1927).
The Chas. N. Miller Company was bought by Stark Candy in 1985, and Stark was bought up by Necco in 1990.
Necco has kept the traditional candy largely intact. When I was a kid Mary Jane were still a penny candy, sold out of tubs positioned near the cash register at convenience stores. These days they still go for pocket change, I’ve seen them for 10 cents each at retro candy shops.
The candy is simple, a rich and stiff molasses taffy rectangle with a small reservoir of peanut butter in the center.
I stopped eating Mary Janes about 15 years ago when it seemed that every time I bought them they were hard and crackly. But I’ve had better luck around Halloween when they’re fresh and packaged directly by Necco (beware of other repackagers like the generic drug store brands).
The chew is a little tough at first but softens with a bit of work and warmth. The taffy isn’t too sweet and has a toasted, earthy flavor from the molasses (the fourth ingredient). The peanut butter strip in the middle is undependable at best. Some pieces have a generous filling that gives the candy a beautifully balance of roasted nuts and burnt sugar. The chew is smooth and has a consistent flavor from start to finish.
I find them irresistible. So much so that I’m on my third bag since September.
The mix contains a four flavor variations: Peanut Butter & Jelly, Peanut Butter & Banana, Smores and Peanut Butter & Vanilla. What you might notice is missing from that list is the classic Molasses & Peanut Butter Mary Jane. Unlike the Clark Wicked Mix, which contains the classic milk chocolate Clark plus the Dark Clark and Coconut Clark, this mix doesn’t have the original. (Which is how I got into this messy Mary Jane addiction in the first place, I had to buy a bag to do this post ... and then I ate them so I had to buy another bag, and another.)
The little wrappers are similar to the original. They’re a thick waxed paper that protects the candy well and releases except when they get too warm. My bag was a little bit oily, which I blame on the peanut butter. The candies were all soft and easy to chew, but the wrappers were sometimes just a little bit greasy to the touch.
The wrappers have the same bold black bookface font for the Mary Jane logo and have the little cartoon of the Mary Jane character. They’re color coded for the flavors (they don’t have the flavors named on them) but don’t have the red stripe.
The version that immediately made the most sense to me is the Banana & Peanut Butter Mary Jane.
The yellow waxed paper looks brighter than the original because the taffy beneath is a pale yellow instead of a medium beige. It smells like fake banana and a little like peanut butter. The chew is soft and immediately reminiscent of Circus Peanut. The peanut butter, on the pieces that have a generous quantity, cuts the sweetness and artificiality to create a pretty good candy. It was definitely the one that I was reaching for in this mix.
The raspberry red wrapper gave me a little bit of hope on the Peanut Butter & Jelly Mary Jane, which is good because the idea of a grape taffy filled with peanut butter was not appetizing.
The taffy was lightly tangy and tasted a little like grape Pixy Stix. The chew was softer, so much softer than the rest that it was a completely different texture of chew. The peanut butter did a good job of covering the disappointing grape jelly effect, but not good enough to make me want to keep eating these after the review was over. Thankfully there were only a half a dozen of these in my big bag of 85 pieces.
I wasn’t quite sure what a Smore Mary Jane was supposed to be. I liked the look of the dark brown wrapper and I thought maybe it’d be a cocoa flavored taffy.
Sadly the flavor note they were going for here was toasted marshmallow with peanut butter. That’s a great idea, but I needed more darkness to the whole thing and less fake vanilla sweetness. A little cocoa would have been nice, too.
The Vanilla & Peanut Butter Mary Jane got me to thinking about another vanilla taffy filled with peanut butter, the Annabelle’s Abba-Zaba.
RiteAid always has Abba-Zabas, so I went by and picked up a bar to compare. (While I was there I bought bag #2 of the classic Mary Janes.)
The Abba-Zaba taffy is sweet but silky smooth in the chew, it’s almost warm and buttery. But it’s also sweet, a little sweeter than I’m keen on. The peanut butter is thick and has a strong flavor to it, the proportion or perhaps that there was so much of it in one place gave it a lot more prominence than in any of the Mary Janes.
The Vanilla Mary Jane is like a bleached out sea shell, missing all the beauty and character of the original. The fake vanilla taffy is okay and I admit that it does give the peanut butter more dominance. But the whole thing is just too sweet and bland. The Abba-Zaba wins based on its superior texture and better balance of peanut butter.
Overall, this experience has proved that the Mary Jane deserves to endure untouched for all these years (96 years!). I can see this variety being fun for kids who might be turned off by the smoky notes of the molasses original.
More on Mary Jane at the Bewildered Brit.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I don’t believe in “retro candy”. We don’t think of Snickers or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups as retro, yet they’ve been around as long as Tootsie Rolls or Heath Bars. Some candies are simply classic, they endure because they’re good at what they do. Here’s an interview I did for Professional Candy Buyer. Click to enlarge to read the text ... or just look at the pictures.
Friday, February 12, 2010
I reckon there are some very excited people out there to find the new Q.Bel 70% Double Dark Wafer Bars. Not because they’re all natural, preservative free and free of hydrogenated oils. Nope, it’s because they’re vegan. No dairy, no honey, no glazes and no colorings.
The package doesn’t herald the vegan-ness (but the Q.bel website does). The package feels, to me, collegiate. I don’t know if it’s the colors that remind me of a library or a winter scarf (no, none of these were colors for the colleges I attended)
The bars are the same format as the Mint Wafer Bars and the Dark Wafer Bars. There are three layers of crispy flavorless wafers (like ice cream cones) with a chocolate creme between then. Then the whole thing is covered in 70% dark chocolate.
These are not a sweet treat, they are dark and a little bitter and all delicious. The chocolate punch is substantial. The bar smells like chocolate and except for the lightly malty crisp wafers, that’s really the only flavor. It has a dry and bitter bite to it, a good silky smooth texture, but probably a little too much on the smoky and bitter side for me to eat as a plain bar. But in this format with airy wafers and grainy sugary chocolate cream centers I found the perfect balance.
Q.bel gave me an insane amount of “samples”, full display boxes, again. And like the last time I put them on my bookshelf in my office and found that even the folks in my office who don’t normally go for dark chocolate liked them, and of course those who do love dark were enthralled by the textures and deep flavor. Now that I’ve found a source in stores (Whole Foods stocks them for $1.39 a bar) I will definitely buy them, now that my inventory is gone.
The only thing I’d like would be for the bars to be slightly bigger, maybe 1.3 ounces. However, the calories per ounce are pretty high, so keeping each finger below 100 calories is probably a good idea. (The package is 180 calories.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.