Monday, July 16, 2007
For quite a while I’ve resisted going to visit L’Artisan du Chocolat, one of the few true chocolatiers here Los Angeles. (Jin Patisserie also falls into that list, but is in Venice so it may as well be in Santa Barbara.)
I can’t really explain my lack of interest, perhaps I doubted that they were any good. Perhaps it’s that I don’t like pretty painted looking chocolates ... there’s something about the idea of things that look like acrylic nail tips that just turns me off. But I’ve eaten and enjoyed such things (Christopher Elbow). Perhaps I resented their high prices. But then I have to look at my own hypocrisy of spending about a hundred bucks in one day walking around to three chocolate shops in New York City. There’s something about believing that something good can’t be just around the corner ... how special could it be if you could go there every day?
I went over to 1st Street, which is about two miles from my house and two miles from my office at lunch on Friday. Parking was super simple, so I don’t have that to whine about. The shop just so happens to be right next to Valerie Confections’ (which precipitated the visit) new shop that opens officially today.
The space is charming. A brick facade outside and bright yellow walls and green accents inside. The display case had a decent, if scant, assortment (the Salon du Chocolat was on Saturday and they were going to be closed, which I’m sure prompted the limited inventory). They were advertising their summer flavors in the window, so I made sure to pick out a few of those.
I got a box of nine chocolates (and gave one to my husband of his choice ... raspberry). I wrote down my selections, but not what they looked like so it was a bit of a struggle to figure some of it out (I took a couple of reference photos but even those weren’t much help when it turned out that they weren’t labeled in the case either). Their website offered no key.
Because the team at L’Artisan du Chocolat sells right out of the candy kitchen, I get the feeling that these were all very fresh (and there was certainly nothing in the flavor when consuming them that dissuaded me). I don’t mind a smaller selection if it means that everything meets a high standard. L’Artisan has been known for the past three years or so for their European style of molding and dipping, high chocolate content & fine ingredients along with a special penchant for interesting flavor combinations. I enjoy this with Chuao as well, and while at Chuao I get a rather masculine vibe from the flavors and the whole aesthetics of it, I get a neutral vibe from L’Artisan (and I get a feminine vibe from Vosges).
Cucumber & Vodka: Dark chocolate shell with a white chocolate cream center. There’s a light fresh flavor of cucumbers and faint little crunch of them in the background. The vodka adds a light alcoholic touch, it’s not a burning feeling, just a light tingle.
Basil: this one was very interesting in the best way possible. The basil was immediately apparent and reminded me of both licorice and basil and rosemary all at once. Fresh and clean and woodsy.
Fennel: a nice little square with an embossed design on the top. The shell is nice and dark and the center is super creamy. I wasn’t getting much in the way of fennel though. Just some grassy sort of flavors. Both fresh herb shapes were really cute and probably my preference for designs (embossed but not painted).
Classic: this was a perfect little sphere, dusted in cocoa powder. It’s soft and buttery and has a slight salty hint (cooca powder often does that for me). A little woodsy, very smooth and satisfying.
Rose Petal: quite floral but not in a soapy way. fresh and with a slight fruity edge, this was not in the least bit soapy tasting like some rose items can be. The ganache was a little custardy, but smooth and not too sweet.
Tomato: fresh and with a slight fruity edge, I honestly wasn’t sure it was the tomato one at all. The ganache was a little custardy, but smooth and not too sweet
Lemon Mousse: this was one of the few that smelled like the flavor it was supposed to be before I even bit into it. The mousse in the center is chocolate (I didn’t know if it was going to be white). It’s definitely a zesty lemon, with little bits of lemon rind in the ganache. A little on the tangy side and definitely lemony. Very satisfying (especially since it was such a big piece).
Pomegranate: pomegranate is one of those fruity flavors that I think goes very well with chocolate, mostly because it has some dark syrupy and molasses notes to it. This one is bursting with pomegranate flavor ... a little like raspberry and a little like rose and a bit of a lemon tang to it.
The 9 piece box was $22 ... probably more than I want to go for on a regular basis. Their website also mentions that they do boxes by the pound as well, starting with a half a pound (I found this was the most cost effective at Recchiuti in San Francisco as well.)
It took about four pieces to sway me ... I’m still not keen on the design of all the truffles, but it’s something I can overlook when the flavors are solid and authentic like this. They’ll get another visit from me, if only because I missed out on quite a few flavors after checking the website.
Other flavors that I didn’t try that were stocked at the shop were: Kalamata Olive, Ginger, Mild Chili, Pina Colada, Maple Syrup with Cinnamon & Cloves, Vanilla, Kumquat and Chestnut. I’m also interested in Caramelized Banana, Spicy Hot Chili Pepper, Lavender, Rosemary, Candied Citrus & Ginger. They were also out of the dark chocolate Three Teas which I’m sure are great.
What I really wanted was a place to sit down and have a cup of coffee or tea with my purchases. Perhaps 1st Street will become a new artisan confection mecca. As a place that’s convenient for me to go and pick up a small assortment (I’d like to just buy three and not have the whole box/packaging thing) I’m going to explore it further. I still am not convinced that it will surpass Chuao as a favorite local chocolatier (their quality is comparable, but the flavor sets are a little different) ... I think only the Caramelized Banana will be able to tell me.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:24 am
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Once upon a time the 3 Musketeers candy bar made sense. Back when it was first introduced in 1932 it was actually a set of Neopolitan bars. One was a vanilla fluff, one was a chocolate fluff and one was a strawberry fluff. In 1945 all three segments were switched to the chocolate fluff. Then sometime later (I think in the late sixties) it was formed into a single bar as we see it today.
The current 3 Musketeers bar is supposed to taste kind of like a malted milkshake. A chocolate outside and a chocolatey malted milk fluff inside. Though it’s not malty enough for me (and they long ago dropped that marketing aspect), the bar is very popular, especially among dieters who like the heft and satisfaction but lower fat (though it does still contain 260 calories at 2.13 ounces). The package even mentions that it has “45% less fat than the average of the Leading Chocolate Brands.” The commercials lately feature skinny women at the office and movies.
So that brings us up to today where 3 Musketeers is finally extending their line of bars, not by looking back to the glory days of Strawberry but forward to the cluttered field of Mint and Dark Chocolate.
The new 3 Musketeers Mint with Dark Chocolate is a very attractive set of bars. The package weighs significantly less than its chocolate progenitor at only 1.24 ounces but boasts two Musketeers inside. Dark Chocolate coating with an appealing and clean looking white fluffy filling. (I was afraid it was going to be pink or green or have sparkles.)
I rather like bars that come in smaller portions inside the pack. I like it in my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, I like it in my Goldenberg Peanut Chews and I think it was the right move for 3 Musketeers Mint with Dark Chocolate.
I’m not a huge consumer of 3 Musketeers, I prefer them in the miniature size but sometimes I’ll eat a frozen one. So with that in mind I bought two packages of the 3 Musketeers Mint and froze one.
The room temperature 3 Musketeers are nice. They have an easy bite and an appealing sort of spongy give like the regular 3 Musketeers. However, my first impression after the nice dark chocolate shell is SALT. Then comes a light hit of peppermint, but really it tastes salty to me.
So I went and found a York Peppermint Pattie, just to see what the salt content is on that (and figured, what the heck, I’ll take a photo of it and really compare the two candies). The 3M (I just can’t keep typing that long name) has 65 mg of salt (3% of your daily value) ... that’s 52 mg per ounce. The York Peppermint Pattie has 10 mg in a 1.4 ounce pattie ... that’s 7 mg per ounce. So let’s see ... that’s more than 7 times a salty.
Maybe that’s the new fad 3M is starting here. They’re going after the crowd that enjoys artisan sea salt caramels ... it’s the new rage ... salted mints! (Hey, it’s been working for Licorice for a long time!)
Okay, all that aside, I enjoyed the salty difference. It didn’t feel cloying and sticky like some peppermint creams can. There was a bit of a grain to the fluffed center (as there is with the regular 3M bar). But since I had the York PP sitting nearby, I had to have some of that as a side by side comparison. The YPP is smooth and has a very noticeable minty blast, much more noticeable than the 3M.
However, upon taking the 3M out of the freezer, I noticed that the salty flavor wasn’t quite as apparent and the actual cold supported the cooling mint quite well. Freezing it though does make the center a little tacky and chewy, not really a selling point for me.
So, if you like a really strong minted bar, this isn’t for you. It you dig a really subtle hit of mint and perhaps need to recharge with some electrolytes (salt) this may be a pleasant change. Also, because this bar weighs less than the regular 3 Musketeers, it’s only 150 calories but still really quite satisfying. (For reference the slightly heavier York Peppermint Pattie is 160 calories).
3 Musketeers Mint have egg whites in them so are unsuitable for vegans. They are Kosher though ... may contain Peanuts.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Sour Patch Kids were developed in 1970s by a candy sales manager named Frank Galatolie who was chasing the sour fad. They were first Martians, to take advantage with the consumer fascination with all things space related. They were later changed to little children and called Sour Patch Kids (to capitalize on the Cabbage Patch Kids fad) and introduced in the US in 1985. A lot of the super sour items from that time period are long gone, so who could have expected that some sour sanded Swedish Fish would be so enduring? Sour Patch Kids are now made by Cadbury Adams in Canada.
Sour Patch Kids are a soft jelly candy sanded with a sweet & sour coating. The candies are supposedly in the shape of little frizzy haired kids. They look rather like little feet to me or maybe rabbits with very puffy tails.
Sour Patch Kids come in the traditional four flavors they always have: Raspberry (red), Lime (green), Orange (orange) and Lemon (yellow). Yes, these are also the same flavors as the Swedish fish array that Cadbury Adams makes.
They’re billed as “Sour then Sweet” and it’s true. Some folks like to suck the sour coating off, which makes them bitingly sour (with an odd salty tang to it as well) but I prefer to chew mine, to combine the sour and sweet and get a little flavor at the same time.
Though the flavors aren’t really that strong, as is the same with Swedish Fish, Sour Patch Kids are good whether they’re soft and fresh or hard and tacky.
I don’t buy them often, but they’re a good “keep me interested” candy, which is great for movies, traveling or a little munching while at work. I see adults eating them as often as kids, which is nice that there’s a sour candy that generations can share.
Note: there’s a little fad going on YouTube where kids collect the sour sand from candies like Sour Patch Kids, Sour Skittles or Pixy Stix and then snort it. Please, don’t do this. It really hurts ... you’re not gonna get high, but you’ll probably make some silly faces and your friends will laugh at you. There’s a reason our tastebuds are on our tongues and not in our sinuses. Sour Patch Kids are meant to be ingested orally ... not nasally. PSA over.
Sour Patch Kids contain no gelatin (they’re a jelly candy that uses corn starch as a jelling agent) and use all artificial colorings so they’re suitable for vegetarians. There’s no word in the label about gluten status.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:45 am
Monday, July 2, 2007
Okay, weigh in on where you found the Elvis Reese’s Peanut Butter and Banana Creme cups!
I’ve seen them at RiteAid in Los Angeles in both the regular size two packs and the miniatures. (Original review here.)
Here’s an article from today’s Baltimore Sun on the subject (with some other interesting suggestions for Elvis-themed candy combinations as well).
Friday, June 29, 2007
Sometimes I wonder why candy availability is so screwy. Take the Elvis Reese’s Cups, you can get them in some stores now even though they’re not supposed to be out until
Saturday, July 7 ... but why do some have them now and why not all of them?
A few months ago Wisconsin Candy Dish reviewed the new Hot Tamales Ice, and even mentioned that they’d been around since January. Well, I’ve been lookin’, and lookin’. Finally at the strange RiteAid trip this week I found them (along with the Elvis Reese’s Cups and the Dark Chocolate Peanut M&Ms).
They were only available in the theater sized box and the ticket on the shelf said $1.29, but it rung up at 99 cents (another reason to think that this RiteAid is screwy).
The candies are rather pretty. They’re kind of translucent, light blue with some white speckles. They’re shaped just like Hot Tamales or Mike and Ike, which is a little rod shape that for some reason is a little bigger on one end than the other.
The little rods are like jelly beans, if you’ve never had Hot Tamales. These are spearmint flavored ... quite strong spearmint. They’re pleasant and refreshing, and rather unlike jelly beans. They remind me a lot of Spearmint Leaves, which are one of those odd candies that I’ve had cravings for all my life. There’s something about hitting a mint spot (a concentration of the mint flavor) that must release endorphins in my brain or something.
Of course I also associate the smell of spearmint with toothpaste, so while they’re tasty to eat, the smell in the car after leaving them there in the sun is rather like a cleaning the bathroom sink of that crust of toothpaste dribbles and beard whiskers when I was in college and shared that one bathroom apartment with four guys for a summer. This might explain why I chose a cinnamon-flavored toothpaste when I bought a new tube.
Have I digressed enough? Well, it’s a big box. I could talk about how silly the name is ... why not just call them Cool Tamales, or Ice Tamales or maybe even Mike and Ice? I like the packaging otherwise, the blue box is certainly easy to spot. I don’t know if they’re an ideal movie candy though, not like Hot Tamales. But certainly less messy than those sugar-sanded jelly Spearmint Leaves.
One Hot Tamale Ice has 7 calories. There’s no statement on the box about gluten or nuts. Previous Hot Tamales review here.
UPDATE 8/1/2007: No wonder I wanted to call them Cool Tamales! There was a product made by Just Born back in the day that was a spearmint jelly rod. They were called Cool Kids (but green instead of blue).
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
One of the things that I was attracted to at the counter of the candy store were these pretty and classic chocolate bars. They came in four varieties: Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate with Almonds and Sugar Free Milk Chocolate (on a different display).
They’re all 1.8 ounces and the ingredients are promisingly short: sugar, milk, cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, soy lecithin and vanillin. They were all priced $1.25 each.
The other bar (not pictured) was the Milk Chocolate with Almonds bar (it looked just like the Milk Chocolate bar). It’s similarly sweet and has a wonderful scent of almonds. The almonds are whole, if a little small. Crunchy and a good counterpoint to the very sugary chocolate. The pieces are nice though, easy to break off a third and chomp it whole or maybe three bites.
The Mickey Dark Chocolate Bar was stunning when I took it out of the package. The glossy squares and nicely detailed relief of Mickey’s head definitely has appeal. It smells nice, a little more on the cedar side of woodsy than coffee. The ingredients on this one lists butterfat. It’s pretty smooth but very sweet for a dark chocolate. It’s kind of “watery” on the tongue, reminding me of the Royal Dark Cadbury Mini Eggs that came out this year ... kind of like a pleasant cup of hot chocolate.
The sweetness leads me to believe that some kids may enjoy this, and if they don’t their moms or dads won’t complain about having to eat the leftovers themselves.
I give the whole set of bars a passably good 7 out of 10, good portion control at 1.8 ounces, easy to share, decent price for a branded item and Kosher for those who are looking for that. I appreciate that the candy has the Mickey brand on the inside and the outside.
Much of the candy is rather mainstream fare, and though I couldn’t find any chocolate mint patties or minted chocolate, I did find the Mickey Mouse Creamy Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Patties. They were a little more than the other pre-packaged candies at $1.50, but they were also 2.7 ounces. The packaging is kind of retro, kind of islandy. The Mickey on the package is the old-fashioned Mickey who is all pupil and has no whites in his eyes.
Inside is a little plastic tray with two chocolate dipped coconut patties in the shape of Mickey’s head.
These are hefty huge patties! Each weighs approximately 1.35 ounces, a good sized portion of candy on its own. The chocolate doesn’t coat the top, but you can’t tell from the photo that it does cover the bottom.
The star here is the soft coconut pattie itself. It’s creamy and soft and of course coconutty. It smells like summer. The coconut is chewy and only slightly fibery, a bit smoother than a Mounds bar, but also a bit sweeter.
The chocolate takes a back seat, which is fine. It’s not great chocolate like that on the Chocolate Dipped Pretzels, but it makes the candy attractive and it’s real, which is always a selling point.
The package does say that they were made in a “nut free environment” (except for those coconuts, which I guess are technically a fruit). Not Kosher. I give them a 7 out of 10.
These little M&M-like candies are called Chocolate Spots and came in a peanut variety as well. I went for the traditional “candy-coated Milk Chocolate”. As I was looking for a package that wasn’t crinkled and sticky, I noticed that all the bags felt like the contents were “grainy” instead of smooth.
I did my best to pick one from the bottom that looked crisp and had the best feeling contents, but when I got home and dumped them out, it was quite apparent that my attempt was not successful.
I know that many small children aren’t particularly choosy about their chocolate, and bless them for that. If I were a child and told I could only pick out one item from this store and this is what I got, I’d be in tears. The chocolate tastes like the wrapper smells, like plastic. The candy shell is crispy, yes, but only masks the burnt flavors of the chocolate. Think of those awful burnt unpopped kernels of popcorn and maybe the filling of a futon that’s been stored in a damp basement for the past few decades. I should have known that they were going to be bad when I read the list of ingredients ... which included PGPR (granted, I still love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, which now include PGPR, but it’s certainly in spite of it that they’re good, not because of it).
Honestly, I think I’m going to package these up and send them back to Disney. I might accept such quality from the 99 Cent Only Store at a fifth of the price, but not from a big company that prides itself on the experience of the brand. 1.8 ounces. I’m giving them a 2 out of 10. Not Kosher.
How difficult would it be to simply have a Disney branded M&M? The candies would have little characters on them instead of Ms (like the Pirate Pearls had little skulls and swords). Or ... don’t bother with M&Ms and get some GOOD candy maker to do two different sizes and kids could make their own Mickey heads with large and small candy lentils.
I’d kind of hoped, as with the Disney Spots, that this Pecan-Caramel Cluster would have a cutesy name, like Lion King Paws or Chewy Manes ... But clarity is always a good thing. In fact, besides the image on the package of Simba and Nala, it doesn’t say a single thing about The Lion King. I guess in a few years these could be branded for a more popular Princess or perhaps some tie in with Ratatouille.
The package says they’re “Crisp Pecans drenched in Creamy Caramel, smothered in delicious Milk Chocolate.”
And so they are.
These were far better than the Nestle Pecan Turtles I had earlier this year. Fresh nuts, the right texture for the caramel. The chocolate wasn’t the best in the world, but at least it didn’t detract. A winner.
2 pecan clusters, 1.5 ounces total. Not Kosher. $1.25 9 out of 10
Overall, the packaged stuff was pleasant and by theme-park standards, a good value. Just stay away from the Chocolate Spots.
Monday, June 25, 2007
The first thing I was looking for at the Candy Palace at Disneyland was something unique. Why should I eat something that I can get anywhere? So I scoured the store to find something that was made only for sale at the Disneyland candy stores. Sadly, there really wasn’t anything there like that, so I settled for something that I thought I’d like that had a novel take ... the Dark Chocolate Pretzels in the shape of Mickey Mouse.
They were sold in a couple of different formats, a simple plastic baggie tied with a bow with a stack of four (mostly shopworn though), they had singles in the candy case for $1.25 each and then a nice box with 8 ounces of dark chocolate pretzels for $9.95. The box had all the classic Disney characters on it. Nothing from this century (the most recent characters on there are Beauty & the Beast and The Little Mermaid). The box looked like it protected the contents well (shaking it actually didn’t yield much in the way of sound, which is a good thing).
The pretzels are gorgeous! The dark chocolate is glossy, thick and with cute little scribbles to make it extra dense in spots. They’re in a deep tray, leaning against each other in little slots, eight pretzels total. (So that makes them 1 ounce each.)
Only one was broken.
The pretzels themselves are bigger than I’m used to, at first I thought they were stale but then I realized they were just really crunchy and a bit dense ... which kind of keeps them from being crispy in the way I’m accustomed to. The chocolate is good quality, not too sweet and with a good balance of smoky notes and a dry finish. The pretzel is only lightly salted, so this remains a sweet treat. Unfortunately this “dark” chocolate has milkfat in it, so it’s not for vegans. It is Kosher though (I don’t think anything in the candy case is). 8 out of 10
For the record I also tried a Milk Chocolate Pretzel out of the candy case, which I ate as I left the park. It tasted like, well, candy case. The pretzel was a little stale and the chocolate bland.
The candy case has a huge variety of chocolate treats in it. Nut clusters, caramel patties, peppermint patties, chocolate dipped crisped rice treats, chocolate marshmallow bars on sticks, little cups with white chocolate mixed with cookie bits, milk chocolate with M&Ms, chocolate haystacks, toffee, and of course the chocolate covered pretzels mentioned above.
I was drawn to the Milk Chocolate Caramel Marshmallow Bar. It’s about the size of a Snickers bar, though not quite as dense in hand. I was hoping for something to approach the See’s Scotchmallow.
Inside the bar the caramel and marshmallow are in equal proportions. The caramel is thin, though chewy and smooth (but lacking some deep burnt caramel flavors). The marshmallow is moist and springy and not too sweet. The milk chocolate is okay, sweet and milky and pretty smooth. It’s a sweet bar, but the marshmallow makes it feel both satisfying and light at the same time. $1.95 ... I give it a 7 out of 10.
I had very low expectations for the Small Mickey Turtles. The large ones in the case, though attractive in shape and size were a bit bloomed. The little ones weren’t quite as pretty, but the price was certainly better for someone who was looking for variety.
My expectation for something called a “Turtle” is this: caramel and pecans covered in chocolate. I like my caramel to be soft and chewy, but also flavorful to provide more than a textural counterpoint to the nuts. Pecans are a strongly flavored nut, so a good caramelized caramel is important.
The Mickey Turtle is a huge disappointment. The nuts didn’t taste fresh. The chocolate had more of the flavor of the refrigerator case than of chocolate and the caramel was less like caramel and more like a fudge or pecan praline (a chocolate covered pecan praline would be delightful, too).
Oddly enough the “turtle” pictured here with the white stripes wasn’t a turtle at all. I think it was supposed to be a truffle, but it tasted a bit more like a piece of fudge covered in chocolate. Again, it tasted like refrigerator more than chocolate.
The large (bloomed) Turtles were $3.00 each. The mini versions were 94 cents. Not bad as price goes, but it’s certainly not worth it. I give these (even the accidental “truffle”) a 5 out of 10.
If you’re coming to California and want a special candy treat to take home, go to See’s. The prices are better, the candy fresher and of course it just tastes better. (And I’ll wager you won’t stand in line as long ... most California airports even have a See’s kiosk.)
Next, I’ll try some of the prepackaged candy bars!
Friday, June 22, 2007
After a recent writing session on a new play (for Script Frenzy) I stopped at the 7-11 near the coffee house where I was holed up to see what they had. I didn’t see much new, except for these gargantuan Tootsie Pops.
I picked up two, in my favorite flavors, Orange and Grape and thought I’d compare them to the classic sized ones.
The big ones are .85 ounces and regulars are .60 ounces.
I did try to compare the center of the Tootsie Pops, in case the hard candy proportion was the only difference. As far as I could tell, there was a slightly larger amount of Tootsie Roll at the center of the .85 ounce one but it was consistent with the larger amount of hard candy ... so they got the proportions right.
But here’s the thing ... there’s nothing wrong with the size of the regular Tootsie Pop. In fact, it’s darn near perfect. It actually fits inside my mouth. Not that the .85 ounce one doesn’t, but the problem is that I can’t put it between my cheek and my teeth. Maybe with some careful, long-term stretching, but then I’ll probably be left with Tootsie-Jowl. The other complaint is that the jumbo pops are wrapped in some sort of plasticized paper instead of the classic waxed paper. While this may provide a better seal on the candy (I think they hot melt it to the stick or something) this makes it frustrating to open and the wrapper simply cannot be used to wrap back around the partially eaten pop ... it just pops open unless you use some tape on it. (I usually save the wrapper to wrap up my stick that may be, well, sticky, and put it in my bag until I can dispose of it properly if need be.)
I love Tootsie Pops, they’re an ideal summer candy, as they have no melting issues but still offer a sightly chocolatey flavor.
My ranking of the current flavor offerings:
Your mileage may vary. I give the traditional Tootsie Pops a 9 out of 10 ... the new jumbo sized ones get a 7 out of 10 ... yeah, size matters. Tootsie Pops also come in miniatures, which look about the size of a Dum Dum pop. I’ve had them before, I tend to pull the stick out right away and crunch it up (rather like the old Tootsie Pop Drops). Read more about the history of the Tootsie Pop at their site and their TV spots.
Here’s the classic one:
Here’s the new one:
Which do you prefer?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.