Friday, February 17, 2006
There are some candy aficionados who turn up their noses at hard candy. Sure, they might think a candy cane is nice as decoration, but certainly not meant to be eaten and savored. I actually like hard candy a lot. I like Lifesavers (or did until they mucked around with the flavors in the standard five flavor roll), I like starlite mints, lemon drops and I love barley sugar candy. When I saw these at the Japanese market, I was hoping they were barley sugar, though it didn’t say that was part of the ingredients. In fact, I’m not sure what they are except for solidified, cello-wrapped heaven.
These little morsels look like drops of honey. There are two flavors, the golden ones and the darker ones. I have no idea what flavor they are, but the dark ones taste like sweet black iced tea. The lighter ones taste like sweet sugar with a hint of jasmine. The little bottom of them forms a pentagon and has a little hole in it. There are virtually no air bubbles or voids anywhere in the candy, which makes them exceptionally smooth.
The little cones (about one inch tall) fit nicely in the mouth and have no sharpness to them that can cut the roof of your mouth, which has always been the danger with cheap sour balls. These dissolve slowly and release a delicately sweet flavor across your mouth that will linger for hours after you eat them. They’re crunchable too, as I am prone to chewing up my hard candies. The black tea ones (which I’ve already eaten all of) have a strong tea flavor to them with not a hint of bitterness. The sweet aromatic jasmine in the light ones (or whatever flavor it might be) is clean and fresh.
For some reason these were strangely expensive. At $2.29 for a scant three and a half ounces, I’ve gone and gotten myself addicted to some pricey boiled sugar. The brand, Shirakiku, is known as a tea and snack brand in Japan and to many Americans who buy Japanese teas (like my favorite Genmaicha) and those seaweed rice crackers. I have not been able to find anything about this candy anywhere online, though it’s possible that the English word “juntsuyu” isn’t quite accurate (as is often the case with the American labels slapped on the back of these import packages). So if any of my sweet Japanese readers can help me figure out what these are, I’d be ever so grateful.
UPDATE 4/18/07: JBox is now carrying Juntsuyu (at my request, thankee-thankee). For the record, since I did this review I’ve eaten three more bags of these and also put them in the Christmas Stockings last year.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:40 am
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Everyone’s talking about Valentine’s candy. But I thought I’d give you a taste of a few other seasonal treats instead. Yesterday it was candy to watch whales by. Today it’s Olympic candy. A friend of ours, Matt, was working in Torino for the Winter Olympics on the Canadian Pavilion and just returned. He was thoughtful enough to bring back some candy, and this Caffarel Gianduia is “officially” branded Olympics merchandise (it even has a hologram seal!).
These little cuties are packed in a clear cello bag, each piece wrapped in gold foil, marking the Torino 2006 Olympics. The pieces are shaped like little old lady handbags and are about two bites each (or you can put it all in your mouth, don’t let me stop you).
Caffarel is the chocolate of Torino, so it’s a natural fit. And if I do say so, I think this is a sporty chocolate. What I found particularly fascinating while browsing the Caffarel site was the story of how they invented this gianduia chocolate. Back in the 1860s cocoa was rationed, so Caffarel figured out a way to create a chocolatey confection that didn’t feel skimpy. This gianduia contains 28% hazelnuts! The wondrous thing about combining the chocolate with hazelnuts is the soft feel it creates on the tongue. It’s sweet, without masking the chocolate and nut flavors. But very sticky, consider this the Italian version of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.
I was also happy to try these because the last Caffarel bar I had to try had bloomed and I’d heard that this was an excellent Italian brand. I can see why now. Tasting these little morsels has also made me crave their darker sisters called Gianduiotto Fondente, which is made without milk.
If you’ve ever had Ice Cubes and are looking for a more sophisticated version, especially one without the addition of hydrogenated oils, this might be it. Soft, nutty and sweet with that slight cooling sensation that makes me pop another one in my mouth, just to make sure they all do that. It’ll be a sad day in my house when these are gone, and that’ll probably be soon, I can’t risk them melting in this freaky heat wave we’ve got going on in Los Angeles right now.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 2:40 pm
Monday, January 16, 2006
I love Pocky. I’ve tried regular Chocolate Pocky and even Green Tea Pocky, but I hadn’t tried this one, called Men’s Pocky. I’m not sure why it’s called Men’s Pocky, but I’ve heard that it’s because it’s not as sweet as regular chocolate Pocky.
What is Pocky? It’s an unsalted pretzel/biscuit stick covered with chocolate. Simple, crunchy, sweet and smooth.
It’s really a simple candy, or perhaps it’s a snack. I don’t care what you call it, it’s good. The pretzel base is crunchy and actually rather bland with has a wonderful consistent crisp to it that stands up to the chocolate. The chocolate is smooth and sweet with a hint of dry bitterness. Unlike the regular Pocky that I tried, this one has far less trans fatty acids (.5 grams for half the box). Of course there’s also 5 grams of protein in each serving.
The snack is a pretty good value as imported candy goes - it’s a 100 gram box and I picked it up at regular price at Mitsuwa for $1.59. In fact, I found it hard to eat a full serving of it. The box has two pouches in it and the box protects the long sticks from getting broken. In fact, this is my fourth box of Pocky and I’ve never had a broken one.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:50 am
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)
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
Name: Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs
You’re saying, what the heck is a cacao nib and why cover it in chocolate? (Well, never ask why cover anything in chocolate ... we cover things in chocolate because that’s what sets us apart from animals.)
Cacao (that’s pronounced cuh-COW) nibs are what chocolate are made from. They’re the edible part of the cocoa bean after it’s been harvested, dried, fermented, roasted and hulled (winnowed). Yes, after all those steps (usually invovling at least two continents) you get these unassuming little crumbly brown bits. These are raw chocolate. In order to make a chocolate bar you take a bunch of them and mash them into a paste and then add some more cocoa butter and some sugar and maybe a little lecithin to keep everything smooth and you’ve got a chocolate bar. (The extra cocoa butter is made from taking nibs and expeller pressing them to get out the cocoa butter which leaves behind the cocoa solids which are used to make powdered cocoa.)
You can eat the nibs just as they are. They’re kind of like really roasty tasting nuts. Not quite chocolately, but they have a wonderful butteriness that you don’t find in many nuts. But they’re a little chalkier than a regular nut as well and can be freakishly bitter at times. Apparently using nibs in recipes is all the rage now, especially since Martha Stewart featured them in a recipe recently. By coating the nibs in chocolate they’re a lot more scrumptious.
But enough about the history lesson. This is pure chocolate enjoyment. Seriously. Whew!
The chocolate coating is 62% semi-sweet Scharffen Berger chocolate over the cacao nibs, which are unsweetened. They look kind of like little glossy cocoa krispies. But they taste absolutely divine. There’s an alcoholic aroma to them, an intense bitter start and then this incredible mix of woodsy flavors, acidic elements, astringency and this lingering smoky feeling on the tongue. The vanilla of the chocolate coating also lingers nicely. The nibs, being a rather raw product, are unpredictable. Sometimes they’re crunchy and smooth, sometimes you get one that’s a little fibery or chewy.
What’s also odd is that some of them taste different. I guess they may have been from different trees or harvested a different week or something. Some mouthfuls will be fruity, with intense plum or apricot notes and sometimes it’s oaky or maybe have a touch of maple or even sassafrass to it. What it does is make me want more ... I keep eating them. Which is bad. These are expensive little puppies. (As is all Scharffen Berger.) Of all the Scharffen Berger products I’ve tried (and they’re very well regarded though I’m not particularly fond of them) this is the one that sends me over the moon.
Rating - 10 out of 10
Friday, November 25, 2005
Name: Awesome Nut & Chew Bar
If you’ve ever had a box of Nuts & Chews from See’s or gone into the store and selected the Dark Nougat, you’ve pretty much had this bar. It’s a dense, chewy honey nougat with almonds covered in dark chocolate. I was reading the November issue of Los Angeles magazine, where they explain this new candy bar. Apparently the staff at See’s had been making these candy bars for quite some time, for their own enjoyment. I guess the See’s higher-ups decided the rest of us might enjoy them. (They’ve been selling the Scotchmallows in milk chocolate for as long as I can remember and to good success as far as I can tell.) The story should be up on their website next month, I’ll link to it then, as it was a great article.
The Dark Nougat has always been one of my favorite See’s candies and I often picked them up when I was at the mall.
This is a beautiful looking bar. Long and with glossy dark ripples of chocolate enrobement. It smells wonderful, chocolatey with a touch of honey. It’s jam packed with almonds. Crunchy, smooth, chewy and sweet with a good pop of semi-sweet chocolate.
Fabulous. Mmm. I wish I’d bought more. You can buy them singly or in a box of eight of them for $7.50, which brings them into the price range of plain old Nestle, Mars or Hershey bars. I think these might end up in some Christmas stockings this year.
Rating - 10 out of 10
Friday, October 21, 2005
Name: York Peppermint Pattie (Special Edition - Miniatures)
York Peppermint Patties hardly need a review from me. They’re a dense/fluffy minted center with a thin dark chocolate coat.
The reason I bring these up is that instead of the regular market-testing Limited Edition, these pink-centered patties are to raise awareness and money for the Young Survival Coalition.
They’ve been out since this summer, but I’ve yet to see them in any store on the West Coast (okay, I’ve only looked on the coast of California from San Francisco to Los Angeles), these were sent to me by a friend of my sister-in-law in NY. If you find them, grab them. They’re no different than a regular YORK, except for the color. Eat them in the dark if the pink squicks you.
Rating - 10 out of 10 (cancer is bad, breasts are good ... actually I love Peppermint Patties, the miniatures especially)
Monday, October 17, 2005
So, the Almond Joy cookies were nice. I loved the York cookies, but haven’t been able to find them again. What I have found are the Hershey’s with Almonds and the Reese’s (finally!).
Can I just say this about the Hershey’s with Almonds? OMIGOD! Awesome. Really. I wasn’t planning on reviewing them so close to the Almond Joy one ... but I wanted to photograph them, and once I opened the package and take a bit for the photo ... eek! They’re soooo good. I wanted to run down the hall and share them with someone else. I didn’t want to share them with someone else! They’re mine! I only have four!
The cookie part is light and crunchy with a good cocoa flavor like the cookie part of an Oreo, but lighter. The creamy chocolate topping has nicely roasted almonds in it. Not a lot of them, but enough for a good nutty flavor and texture. The chocolate is good and sweet and provides a good creamy balance to the slightly salted cookie. I wish they weren’t so hard to find and expensive as cookies go, but then again, I don’t want them in a larger package lest I eat more than four at a time. (I did share one.)
The Reese’s didn’t do much for me. They were peanutty, but lacked a creamy quality that the peanut butter cups have. I still think they’re a solidly good cookie - better than a Nutter Butter if you like chocolate with your peanut cookies.
Ratings: Hershey’s with Almond Cookie - 10 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.