Tuesday, January 9, 2007
Joseph Schmidt is a high-end chocolatier based in San Francisco and known for their stunningly beautiful sculptural creations of chocolate. I went to their shop and picked up the ugliest chocolates I could find, cuz I’m like that.
Okay, maybe they’re not the ugliest chocolates I’ve ever had, certainly some of my homemade creations have been pretty homely. The candy above is a strange disk of chocolate referred to as a Batik Slick. Sounds as good as it looks, eh?
It’s simply a very flat truffle. The disk has a little batik-inspired pattern on the top and a lightly flavored ganache in the center. It’s a lot of chocolate and very little filling.
They came in a box of four, weighed in at 3 ounces and had a strange design of bats made from artisan paper and gold googly eyes on the outside. (I bought them on November 1st ... they were from Halloween and 25% off). I have no idea what the different flavors are.
Dark Chocolate with Yellow Tulip may have been rum. Sweet and mellow, a bit creamy and with no real notable flavor except for maybe a hint of bubble gum. Milk Chocolate with Full Moon tasted a bit like coconut. Very sweet and a little greasy. Red-Centered Chocolate Blob had a nice milk chocolatey taste, smooth and creamy. Yellow Burst with Green tasted like lemon. How nice! I like lemon. The dark chocolate was very sweet but creamy and set off the zesty taste.
The truffles are a bit more traditional, except for the fact that they look like the nose cone of a missile. I’ve never been fond of molded chocolates, for some reason I prefer enrobed or dipped chocolates. I don’t know if it’s the rustic look or there’s actually some difference in the chocolate structurally. I’ve had Joseph Schmidt truffles before a few times but I’d never been able to pick them out myself. So at the store I picked the “mini” version because I thought the large ones were just so freakin’ huge that I’d want to eat them with a knife and fork ala Mr. Pitt.
This one is Raspberry Brandy and is nice and dark with a soft and flowing ganache. The shell cracks and falls apart quite easily but has a nice mellow and smoky taste to go with the raspberry infusion.
The other flavors were just as acceptable though nothing thrilling. Pecan Praline was sweet and woodsy, but more maple flavor than nutty. All Dark gave me a good sense of the chocolate, which is Belgian and smooth but the ganache was more buttery than chocolatey. Grand Marnier was ordinary, a touch of orange but it seemed lost in the butter and underwhelming chocolate.
I guess I just don’t understand the fuss about Joseph Schmidt. They’re interesting and certainly less expensive (about $25-$55 a pound) than some of the upscale chocolatiers out there makin’ noise. I have nothing against the tried-and-true flavors either (I’m a See’s nut, remember?) I just wasn’t satisfied after eating them.
Thursday, January 4, 2007
This was a super-cute stocking stuffer that Santa gave me this year. I have to say that Whitman’s has never been of much interest to me. Perhaps it’s that I’ve found them a bit stale tasting. But it also might be the package, sure Whitman’s Samplers are retro looking, but that not-so-fresh appearance may have been affecting my taste.
But without the regular packaging, I have to say these looked pretty good. The tin has a Tiffany blue background and gold printing. It’s about the same size as a Sucrets lozenge tin, but a little deeper. Each piece of candy is nestled in a little perfect-shaped spot in the plastic tray.
The long milk chocolate rectangle was called Milk Chocolate Butter Cream, which was a kind of chewy sweet fudge. Very sweet, but a pleasant flavor combination.
The round dark chocolate piece was called Dark Chocolate Coconut and unsurprisingly had a coconut center like a Mounds bar. Fresh tasting and not too sweet, the real winner in the box.
The Messenger Boy was cute, with it’s little cross-stitch look. It was a small tablet of milk chocolate. Sweet and unremarkable.
The last one was the Milk Chocolate Caramel which was just the right consistency. Easy to bite but chewy with nice long strands of caramelized sugar and butter. It could have used some more salt to balance the very sweet milk chocolate.
Do they beat See’s (my touchstone for inexpensive boxed chocolates)? No, not even close. These were fresh tasting but a little too “middle of the road” for me. I wanted more zing, more flavor and less sweet. But I do love the tin.
I am curious to try their new Organic Sampler at some point.
Tuesday, January 2, 2007
There are three things people bring back from Hawaii: photos, coffee and chocolate covered macadamia nuts(CCMN). These are from Big Island Candies, which is a local chocolatier that does more than the typical Hilo Hattie’s style box (and sells both CCMN and Kona coffee).
Yes, everything Big Island Candies does seems to have macadamia nuts in them, but they’ve got some inventive combos with potato chips (Hawaiian style!) and crisped rice. This box featured a mix of milk & dark chocolate covered macadamia nut cups.
The macadamias are crisp and large, with an even crunch and light coconut taste to them. The milk chocolate was very sweet, a little too sweet for my taste, but still good smooth quality stuff. The dark chocolate set off the macadamias better, with a dark smoky flavor and smooth texture. All that said, there’s nothing wrong with me, but I’ve never been a huge fan of macadamias. They’re okay as an added element to a cookie, but as the feature in a chocolate they’re just not what I want to use my daily allotment of calories on (and boy howdy are macadamias calorie intensive!).
If you’re looking for something a little more interesting to bring back from your next island trip, make an effort to find Big Island Candies. Their flagship store is in Hilo on the big island of Hawaii (with factory tours and free samples!), they also have more than candies, they’re known for their cookies as well.
Sunday, December 31, 2006
Every once in a while I get a hankering for peanut brittle. But aside from buying a tin of it or making it myself, it’s not that easy to find.
Enter the Munch bar. Billed on the label as “Only 6 Simple Ingredients” it’s just a buttery hard candy studded with peanuts. In fact, there’s more peanuts in here than most brittle I’ve had. The ingredients are: peanuts, sugar, butter, corn syrup, salt and soy lecithin.
The bars aren’t that easy to find, which is a shame, because they’re a nice alternative to a chocolate bar. Kind of like a Payday. Mars actually markets it using its wholesomeness as a selling point. I like it because it’s sturdy. You can expose it to higher temperatures without it losing its shape and taste.
The candy part of the bar is sweet and crunchy, not quite toffee and more solid than the usually slightly foamy peanut brittle candy. It’s buttery and has a light salty hit. The peanut flavor is, of course, the attraction. I love peanuts. There are 6 grams of protein in this bar, and at less than 1.5 ounces, that’s a lot of protein which makes it quite filling and satisfying.
They’re an excellent summer bar and worth the work at finding them. There’s another version of this made by Planters, I’ll try to have a review of that soon.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Nope, not a Limited Edition find, Hershey’s has just jumped in and added the KitKat Caramel to their repertoire. Instead of being the four finger bar, this one is modeled on the super KitKat single finger (thumb?).
I didn’t like this format bar when it was the “Extra Crispy” one, so I was dreading this one a bit.
It smelled buttery, which I found rather pleasant. My bar had a caramel leak (much like the Valomilk) which meant that the caramel reservoir at the top of the bar was a little scant when I bit into it. Later in the bar the caramel density picked up to their intended levels, which was a nice proportion. It’s a sweet bar, but the caramel has a buttery and salty snap that mellows out the sugary, grainy chocolate, bland wafers and grainier cream filling.
If anything, there was too much chocolate on the sides of the bar. Perhaps it’s structurally necessary, but I found it interfered with my caramel enjoyment. The other annoyance with this bar is that you can’t put it down. I mean, you can, but the caramel flows out and you’ve got yourself a sticky cara-mess.
I still prefer the original KitKat, but the salty bite of the flowing caramel is compelling so I’ll give this one another try at some point.
Monday, December 11, 2006
I guess the newest thing in candy canes in the past 50 years was the introduction on different flavors. Yeah, there are also different shapes and sizes as well, but the candy cane is pretty much a hard candy.
The Chocolate Filled Handmade Candy Cane seeks to be beyond the plain hard candy stick. This seven inch cane in peppermint has stunning red and opaque white strips and of course the advertised chocolatey filling.
The hard candy shell has a chocolatey filling twisted through it. It’s not a lot of chocolate, I had three of these canes and the one pictured above is the most chocolatey of the three. The mint candy is nice with a strong peppermint flavor. The inside features a pink and slightly foamy center which gives the whole thing a good crunch.
The chocolatelyness is not that intense, it certainly mellows out the intensity of the peppermint and gives a little fudgy burst every once in a while. As a chocolate person, I was a bit disappointed. As a hard candy fan, it was far superior to those “chocolate” starlight mints (I usually spit those out). The chocolate here is made from cocoa and coconut & palm kernel oils ... so not really chocolate at all, just a chocolate syrup.
They’re a bit on the expensive side but they are drop-dead gorgeous and a great upscale stocking item. I’ve seen the Elegant Sweets line around a bit more lately. I saw some of their Christmas tree shaped lollies (in cherry & green apple) at a store called Cuvee on Robertson in Los Angeles yesterday and ran across these canes at Harry and David while I was in San Francisco the weekend before.
Besides their holiday line, they have some freakishly stunning candies all year round. You can expect them to turn up here again in the future.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
There I was last spring, talking up the Easter-only Cadbury Mini Eggs. But it turns out they do have a Christmas version of them.
Irritatingly enough they couldn’t be bothered to name them. The package says Cadbury Solid Milk Chocolates with a Crisp Sugar Shell. What the? You call that a name? How about Christmas Cadberries?
I was hoping they’d be just like the Mini Eggs. I opened the package and they smelled similarly inviting, like sugar and cocoa. But the colors, oh, they colors are just off. I don’t know if the photo above conveys it. They look like pencil erasers. Kind of chalky, not quite pastel, not quite vivid. Inconsistent, bumpy and just weird.
On the tongue they’re familiar. Soft and slightly cool, the shell is crisp and crunchy. The milk chocolate inside is a little tangier than the last time I had these. I was terribly disappointed to see that they have PGPR in them as well (which was pointed out by a reader, Jenn, who commented on the Mini Eggs review and prompted me to search for these).
It’s odd how quickly my feelings can change, I have a hard time believing this is a bad bag. It might be the different colors or the PGPR (that could be in the Easter version for all I know) but they’re just not the same. I can’t give these more than a 6 out of 10 (the taste is okay but they sure don’t look tempting).
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
You may not have caught the news recently that Ben Meyerson Candy Company was purchased by Jelly Belly. They aren’t known for much in the chocolate realm except for Christopher’s Big Cherry and in the sugar world, the Sunkist Fruit Gems.
I came across the Fruit Gems at Rite Aid and thought I should give them a go again. I used to buy them from Trader Joe’s in little tubs, but then I discovered the chocolate covered nuts and never went back. I figure the Gems are a bit like the West Coast version of Chuckles. But really they’re not. Chuckles are all essence and no juicy tang. When you’re branding something with the Sunkist name, I’m expecting a tangy juice.
What’s really interesting about these is how they differ from other jellies covered with sugar. Instead of having a rough outer coating, these are practically smooth, with the sugar mushed against the jelly center. They don’t sparkle quite as much, but then again there’s no little bits of sugar left in the package or crumbling off when you bite into them like you might get with Spearmint Leaves or Orange Slices.
Orange - it is tangy, nice rounded orange flavor. Not terribly vivid, more like pleasant.
Cherry - very cherry, kind of medicinal tasting. There was a long-lasting aftertaste with severe bitter notes. (Oddly enough, the package makes no mention of Cherry on the package, just a list of the other flavors.)
Lemon - mmm, zesty and tart and smooth. I love lemon.
Grapefruit - not that strong and with a slight bitter note that makes it believable.
Lime - yeah, lime.
Raspberry - floral with only the slightest sour bite. Again, it had a little bitter aftertaste, like the color red.
Jelly Belly will start making these soon, I’m not sure if they’re going to leave them alone or not. Jelly Belly has its own line of fabulous Fruit Pectin Jellies that I was blown away by last year. The Jelly Belly jellies are vegan (they use beet sugar instead of cane sugar), so it’s possible that Sunkist Fruit Gems will also become vegan as well (it’s hard to know whether they are or not right now).
My biggest complaint with these is that like Lifesavers, there is no variation in what you get in the pack. Starbursts and SweeTarts are variable, so you might get a lemon-heavy pack. And with the little see-through package, I might be more likely to pick up a citrus-heavy package. As it is, there are only three flavors I really liked here (orange, lemon and grapefruit), so I’ll probably continue to pass on these. Unless I see them in the tub at Trader Joe’s and it’s all citrus!
UPDATE 9/2/2008: An alert reader let me know that the little “single serve” trays are back on store shelves with the Jelly Belly logo on them, but instead of holding six fruit jellies, they now only have four.
Worst part of this news? The grapefruit one was missing. (What is it about grapefruit disappearing lately? Is it because of the news that grapefruit juice interacts with some prescription drugs?) This is not to say that the Sunkist Fruit Gems don’t come in grapefruit any longer, just not in this particular package.
Seeing how Sunkist is known as a citrus company, the fact that they made an assortment the neglects one of the citrus fruits and includes a berry is beyond me. The package is also similar to the old one and actually includes images of grapefruit (though the text clearly says which flavors are in the package).
The change in manufacturing location and ownership, as far as I’ve been able to tell, has made no difference at all for the actual candy. It’s still a nice, soft and flavorful fruit jelly without too much of a granulated sugar coating.
The only real difference here is that you get only 2/3 as much as you used to. I was hoping when Jelly Belly took over that they’d sell the jellies in individual flavors like they do with their famous jelly beans. No such luck yet. (For now whenever I see the Jelly Belly booth at a trade show I pick a half a dozen grapefruit jellies out of their sample bin and move along.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.