Wednesday, April 19, 2006
This little shop down in SoHo on Broome Street is just too cute for words. The first thing I was drawn to when I stepped in the door was a display of tiny metal lunchboxes filled with hot chocolate mixes. I just wanted the lunch box ... the combination of the signature blue and gold was just delicious in and of itself.
I restrained myself from marching up to the counter with my special request and instead looked around at the adorable and imaginative offerings. Almond brittle shaped like cocktail olives (in green and black), little candies shaped like pebbles, dragees (upscale candy coated chocolates) in addition to their super-cute square and imprinted chocolate truffles.
Again I tried to savor the place, so I ducked into the back room where the coffee and chocolate bar was. I ordered up an Aztec Hot Chocolate, American-style ($6), which meant it was made with milk, not water. Not a spiced chocolate, just dark and rich, it was a sizeable cup (and I’d just been to Vosges not two blocks away) with a wonderful no-too-sweet creaminess.
The smoothness can be attributed to something I read on the website: “Maribel’s own divinely decadent recipe contains NO COCOA POWDER but instead is made from the purest Belgian cocoa and most refined sugar.” I wonder if the packets they sell can rival what I drank there, but it’s probably worth a try someday.
Earl Grey Tea - the beautiful squiggly one was buttery and chocolatey but had only the slightest hint of bergamot but a nice dry acidic hit which I’m guessing was from a tea infusion.
Caipirinha - a lighter (milk?) chocolate infusion with a tart bite to it ... honestly, I didn’t even know what the word meant until I looked it up after I ate this one. It’s an alcoholic drink of lime juice, sugar and a spirit called Cacha?a which is distilled sugarcane juice.
Spices - a tasty and slightly sweet blend of dark chocolate and spices felt like buttery cinnamon toast. There was no cruel burn to this spice infused truffle, just a woodsy fragrance.
Lavender - supple and smooth, this had a nicely fragranced tone to it but it was mostly sweet and buttery chocolate.
Mystery - I have no recollection of what this one is, and it’s not shown on the little printed guide that came in the box. It’s dark chocolate on the outside and the center is milk chocolate with a tart overtone without any citrus notes at all. I have no clue. It was nice but lacked enough definition for me to say what it was.
Gianduja - this was not at all what I expected. I figured it would be a sticky milk chocolate like the Caffarel morsels, however, this was based in dark chocolate and thick and buttery. It had a slight nutty grain to it, but that texture was pleasant and the whole thing was suffused with hazelnut goodness. Unlike the Caffarels which demand a glass of water right after eating, this little chocolate demands that you pop another one in your mouth. I only bought one ... wah!
My biggest disappointment came with my purchase of three pates de fruit ... I traveled with them in the same box as the truffles and I’m guessing that the packaging was not airtight enough for them and they were dried out, crunchy rocks when I got them home and took their picture on Saturday (they were purchased and packaged on Thursday). Don’t get me wrong, I still ate them, and they were still flavorful and intense concentrations of fruit, but I was hoping for a repeat of my wonderful experience with the Boule pates.
Overall, they’re exceptionally pretty and wonderfully smooth but the infusions weren’t quite as distinctive as I’d hoped for the price. If you’re looking for something more subtle than Vosges, these might be a good option. The sell via their website. If you’re in SoHo, it’s worth the trip, especially for a little break in their coffee/cocoa bar (where they also have pastries).
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:41 pm
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
A kind reader pointed out that there was a limited edition chocolate covered Payday bar out there. It took me a couple of months to find it (at the Walgreen’s down the road from me, that I don’t usually go to and only in the King size). Of course now that I’ve found it, I’ve seen it everywhere here in New York City.
Honestly, it seems like the perfect candy bar for NYC - it’s all brown and lumpy, just like Eighth Avenue, which is all torn up now. And it has a slightly abrasive but essentially sweet center plus it’s packed with nuts! I keeeed! I keeed! This is not the first time Payday has had a chocolate covered version in their repertoire, it was part of the line years ago (I think in the 80s). I doubt it’ll be the last time they bring it back.
I love Payday bars. They’ve got far more nuts than most other candy bars, and that’s a plus for me. The nuts on the bar are slightly salted and the nougat center is kind of crumbly and even though it’s sweet, it has a little bit of a caramelized sugar note to it. The chocolate covered Payday features milk chocolate. It’s rather sweet and pretty much overpowers the salty snap of the peanuts.
Payday bars are a good warm weather candy bar. They’re exceptionally satisfying and because they don’t have chocolate in them (the regular ones) there’s little worry about melting (and re-solidifying). They also pack a huge whallop of protein in them, which I find creates a very filling and satisfying snack. For those of us with low blood sugar problems, a sweet that has some protein in it will keep you from having a blood sugar crash.
As chocolate peanut bars go, I think I’d rather have some Peanut M&Ms or a Snickers Bar instead of a chocolate Payday. It’s not a bad bar, just not the most satisfying version of this combination out there.
UPDATE: It seems that this version was shortlived, but you can still find a mockolate (fake chocolate) covered version called Payday Avalanche that looks to be a permanent addition to the line. (So be aware that some comments to this review are actually referencing the fake chocolate version.)
Friday, April 7, 2006
While I’m partial to Pocky, I’m trying to open up and try a few of the other dipped cookie sticks from Japan. Last week it was Yan Yan, this week I bring you Lucky Mini Almond Black.
These petite little sticks of chocolate flavored biscuit stucks are covered with a mix of dark chocolate and crushed almonds. Like Pocky, there’s a little bit of uncovered stick so you can grab it and not worry about melting the chocolate as you nibble.
The package holds a brown plastic tray with two sections filled with the sticks. Each stick is about 2.5” long. There are plenty of almonds and it’s got a good mellow crunch to the biscuit without being too sweet.
The ingredients have some oddities, including things like “cheese powder” and “cream powder” but these definitely have no hint of the cheesiness of the Yan Yan.
Overall, as a nuttier version of Pocky, this is pretty good. I actually like the high ratio of chocolate and nuts and the slightly flavored biscuit. It’s no Men’s Pocky, but it’s a great afternoon snack that doesn’t feel too decadent.
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
Lifesavers are known for being highly-flavored hard candies. If there were a candy model that Jelly Belly might have gone off of, it was probably Lifesavers - here is a hard candy, a little smaller than usual, but super-flavored and in a huge variety. Lifesavers got into the gummi game a while ago and I tried them when they first came out, but didn’t think much of them. I decided to revisit them, especially since they changed the flavors out on the five flavor tray.
The 5 Flavor variety bears little resemblance to the hard candy rolls that have been around since 1934. The flavors in this roll are Cherry (an original flavor), Watermelon, Green Apple, Blackberry and Strawberry. No orange, no lemon, no pineapple. Drat! The candies are much larger than the hard version, they’re soft, if a little greasy on the outside to prevent sticking and are positioned upright on a clear plastic tray inside the wrapper.
The Cherry is just as you’d expect it, great woodsy cherry flavor with a good tart bite. I’m not fond of cherry flavored stuff, but I actually find Lifesavers rather acceptable, probably because the flavor doesn’t seem as artificial as many others. The Green Apple, the lighter of the two green flavors, is rather mild, not too sour but good overall flavor. Watermelon is a darker green and bears little resemblance to real watermelon flavor but has a nice tart bite to it without that overwhelming fragrance that many watermelon candies have. Strawberry was a bit disappointing. It was sweet and had only the slightest hint of a berry flavor to it. I’d tell you about the Blackberry, but this roll had none. I think they’re dark purple. I’ll hazard that it’s the same blackberry flavor in the Wild Berries below.
The Wild Berry mix held more promising flavor for my tastes: Cherry Berry, Strawberry, Red Raspberry, Black Raspberry, Blackberry and White Grape.
The colors are a little bland, but I guess when you’re making a dozen different flavors you’re going to run out of primary and secondary colors. The White Grape was my favorite. Soft and delicate, it’s just a bit tart and has none of that artificial grape note that I only seem to like in Tootsie Pops and SweeTarts. The Cherry Berry was remarkably similar to the Cherry in the 5 Flavor, but I’m not complaining. The Blackberry is the only one that seemed opaque, a lustrous dark purple it was tart and fragrant but hardly had a flavor different from the other berries. The Strawberry was the same as above. The rather lavender looking one was, I think, Black Raspberry. It was sweet and tart like the others and much more perfumed, as raspberries tend to be. The lightest red one was probably Red Raspberry and was similar to the Black Raspberry one, but perhaps a little tarter.
The good thing about this mix is that the flavors all blend together well, you can eat them one after another without the flavors fighting or combine them if you’re so inclined.
I like to eat gummies when my throat is bothering me, and I’m just getting over a cold (so if my tasting is a little off, it’s some sort of leftover malaise). They’re soothing and not too sour, so I don’t have to worry about burning my tongue like I often do on my overdoses of SweeTarts. I bought these in a Christmas Storybook on an after-holiday clearance for 98 cents ... so I certainly got my money’s worth for five packages of these.
While these flavors all have merit, I’d really like to have my favorite Lifesavers flavors - Lemon, Orange, Tangerine, Banana, Pina Colada and Pineapple. Actually, I’d be game if they wanted to try a Butter Rum gummi, too!
Friday, March 31, 2006
A few weeks ago I posted about the darn tasty Milky Way Crispy Rolls from Germany. And of course they’re not available here, but luckily reader TheMatt pointed me to these:
I didn’t see them in milk chocolate, though I doubt that’s the version I would have picked up anyway. They were hidden away in the grocery candy aisle all the way down near the mixed nuts. The package hails that each stick has less than 100 calories (90 each, actually) but the small print underneath that says “not a low calorie food.” Yeah, each stick is also less than two thirds of an ounce. I find an ounce or an ounce and a quarter makes a good portion for me when I’m looking for a little sweet. So I’d be eating two of these. Still, at 180 calories that’d be a nice respite and still not the full 300 I budget for a day’s sweets.
Anyway, I digress from the real topic, which is these little crispy sticks. What we have here is a little tube of crispy, bland cookie - think ice cream cone - filled with a firm chocolate cream. The whole thing smells very sweet and a little like cereal. The chocolate isn’t spectacular. It’s sweet but smooth. The real fun is the flaky tube of cookie which is mostly texture and provides a nice crisp and of course acts as a container for the chocolate cream. The center cream is nice, it’s sweet and smooth and a little buttery.
On the whole, this isn’t the same as the Milky Way Crispy Rolls, but they’re certainly nice. If I were to have any chocolate cookie snack I wanted without regard to trans fats, it’d be the Lu Chocolatiers, but these are far superior in their portability. They’re pretty expensive as non-gourmet candy goes, so keep your eye out for sales if you fall in love with them.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
A long time ago, when I was a little kid, my sister and I would be given two dimes each and were allowed to walk down to the corner store with other children in the neighborhood. (This was back when candy bars were only
15 cents each.) But even at the tender age of four or five I realized that there were better values out there in the candy world than the standard candy bar. One of those things was penny & nickel candy. These were either junior versions of regular sized candies or special small morsels, like lollipops, Bit-o-Honey, Jawbreakers, Mary Janes and Tootsie Rolls.
I was especially fond of a candy called Sugar Mama. It was part of the Sugar family which was headed by the excellent Sugar Daddy and included the wee Sugar Babies. The Sugar Mama was a chocolate covered Sugar Daddy. I often got Sugar Mamas because they were the best of both worlds - the intense caramel flavor plus the chocolatey coating that made it feel more like a candy bar. Sugar Mamas, like Sugar Daddys, were pretty big and because they were softer than a regular hard candy lollipop, they were more interactive. This starts with an impression of the roof of my mouth, then slowly shaving off the chocolate with my teeth and then twirling and pulling the naked, softened caramel into shapes. It was a pretty good way to spend a nickel.
Of course they don’t make Sugar Mamas anymore and Nabisco sold the Sugar family to Tootsie back in the mid-nineties. Sugar Babies, though, continue to be produced and are actually easier to find than Sugar Daddies (there were also Sugar Daddy Nuggets at one time which were divine in their own right). They’re fine little caramel bits unlike anything else on the market because they’re panned - I’m guessing with a layer of sugar or caramel or something to make a smooth shell that turns grainy when you chew it.
I haven’t had a Sugar Daddy in years, and I guess part of it is a fear of losing dental work. I’ve never actually hurt my teeth that way (though I once lost a filling eating scrambled eggs), but it’s a huge fear and I figure better safe than sorry.
My favorite way to eat regular Sugar Babies is to soften them up by putting the package into my pocket or just holding a few of them in the palm of my hand for a while. This is especially important when I get the really stale ones.
Now, on to the product at hand ... it seems that Tootsie is getting into the limited edition racket and has introduced Chocolate Covered Sugar Babies. Now some of you might think that this is the same thing as Milk Duds. First, chocolate coating aside, a Milk Dud doesn’t quite have that caramelized sugar taste to them (they’re more milky) and they don’t quite have the same graininess towards the end of the chew. The thing that surprised me most about these was that they’re actually fully formed Sugar Babies under the chocolate ... I thought maybe the Sugar Baby wouldn’t have the candy shell on it on the inside. This makes the little candy a bit hard and the option of warming them first is kind of gone because of the mess that ensues by holding a piece of chocolate in the palm of your hand for a few minutes.
The chocolate coating is pretty good, much better, in my opinion than a Milk Dud and they’re certainly pretty looking when I dumped them out of the box. There’s a slight cinnamon hint to the whole candy and they combine well once it all warms up. However, I still prefer the plain old Sugar Babies. It was a good effort and I’m glad they tried it, but I don’t need them to add this to the line permanently but if I were going to the movies, this would be a good option (I bet they taste great with popcorn).
Thanks to Joanna at SugarSavvy for pointing out their existence!
Monday, March 27, 2006
I tried to stop buying and posting about Easter candy, but there’s just too much out there. So you can expect more Easter sweets for the next month or so. I picked up two more eggs, both made by Mars but vastly different. The Snickers Egg and the Dove Milk Chocolate Truffle Egg (I looked for a dark chocolate version but didn’t see them).
The Snickers Egg is exactly what you’d think it would be. It’s the familiar Snickers bar, which is a peanut nougat topped with caramel and peanuts and covered in chocolate. They come in a variety of colors of foil wrapping, each with a different sunglass-wearing rabbit on the front. The only real difference between this and a regular Snickers bar, besides the shape is that this is molded chocolate, not enrobed. I know it’s a tiny difference, but in general I prefer enrobing to molding for filled chocolates.
I happen to like Snickers quite a bit, though I don’t buy them very often. This little egg was exceptionally fresh, the peanuts were crunchy, the caramel salty and the chocolate very sweet. Everything was very soft, for some reason I’m used to my Snickers being a little more firm. I suppose the best suggestion for these would be to stick them in the freezer.
Dove Eggs and Snickers eggs happen to be made by the same company, Mars. Oddly enough, they also have the same design on their chocolate shells. They’re not exactly the same size, the Snickers is more like a half an egg, the Dove is less than that.
The Dove Milk Chocolate Truffle Egg is quite a little indulgence. The dark purple foil gives it a rich appearance that the contents fully deliver on. It’s milk chocolate, through and through. The milk chocolate shell is smooth and creamy and very sweet and the filling is buttery and dense. Milk chocolate truffles just aren’t my thing, but if you dig Dove milk chocolate truffles, definitely pick a few of these up, they’re really indulgent. I’m going to keep my eye out for dark versions. According to the ingredients label the filling is just milk chocolate and coconut oil.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
What’s truly baffling in the whole confectionery world is that most sweets are made from the same ingredients. Yet the processes applied to them and the combinations can yield vastly different results. The Bunny Basket Eggs reviewed last week are an excellent example of sugar done wrong.
Konpeito (or Kompeito) is just sugar, and done so well. These little rocks, about the size of a pea and simply rock sugar with a little food coloring. And when you compare iit to those awful marshmallow Easter eggs, it makes no sense.
If you ever saw Spirited Away, you may have seen this candy. They’re little multi-faceted sugar crystal lumps that look like three dimensional stars.
There’s not much else to say about them except that they’re sweet and cute. If you’re looking for a special little something exotic for an Easter basket, these might fit the bill, the packaging is pink and pretty and of course the little pastel morsels of sugar are, well, rock candy. And rock candy rocks. You can even pick up a package and use it when you serve tea or coffee as a cuter version of the old sugar cubes.
See also: CandyAddict.com review, JunkFoodBlog has more on the cultural significance and limited edition versions and Wikipedia has a full entry including the references to Kompeito in media.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.