Saturday, November 25, 2006
People complain that Christmas comes earlier and earlier each year in the retail world. The decorations are out before Halloween in some stores. It’s kind of funny, I was watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special and he was complaining about the same thing ... which leads me to believe that it’s been going on for a very long time. The funny part of that is that in some factories, it’s always Christmas.
Candy Canes are big business, especially for Spangler, which has two factories. Their primary facility is in Bryan, Ohio but they have another factory in Juarez, Mexico as well. The Bryan factory has been operating in three shifts since May just to keep up with demand, churning out 18 tractor trailer loads each day. (Their website says they make 25 million candy canes each year.)
Spangler makes more than just the plain old six inch shrink wrapped cane. They have a huge selection of different shapes and sizes, in more than the traditional red & white peppermint flavor. They make the candy canes for Jelly Belly, Disney and DumDum in all sorts of kooky flavors. I’m a bit of a traditionalist and got a hold of a pretty good cross section of their offerings.
Spangler always packages their canes well, so I rarely get a broken set. The flavor is a mild and pleasant peppermint. Not blastingly strong like an Altoid, more like a starlight mint, but less “foamy” feeling on the tongue.
Right now I’m pretty keen on the Candy Cane Wreaths. They’re a hoop of candy cane (but not joined at the top) around 4” across that have a gift tag already on them, in case you want to use them for decorating packages or gift bags. They’re easy to put on a Christmas tree, and I’m thinking about using them as napkin rings for the dinner table this year.
What’s especially cool about them is that all pieces are curved. I love the curve of a candy cane, how I can break off that piece and place it behind my front teeth and suck on it. Well, this is all curve!
I think if I my favorite size though is the tiny one. I know they aren’t wrapped quite as pretty (they’re in a cello pouch that doesn’t allow for hooking the cane on anything) but they’re easy to eat. I just snap it in half at the middle of the straight part of the cane and put the whole thing in my mouth. No muss, no fuss.
The last kind they make is the super-large pole.
I remember getting one of these when I was a little kid. I went with some neighbors to a parade where Santa rode in a red fire truck and gave these out. As a kid it was a huge amount of candy. A stupid, messy amount of candy. After a while it got very sticky and may have had cat hair on it or lint. So I would keep rinsing it off in the sink, and it would get clean, of course, but smaller and smaller. I seriously doubt I finished it.
As part of my new recipes starting in the New Year, I’ll have some fun tips for what to do with leftover candy canes.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Early this year I fell in love with guanduia. A friend brought back some Caffarel Guanduia from Torino (a special version to commemorate the Winter Olympics). It was smooth, creamy, nutty and utterly addictive. And of course it’s also long gone.
So I jumped at a handful of samples of another Caffarel product, these are called Chocolate Truffle Mushrooms.
These cute little chocolates would be excellent, edible motivation in a game of checkers or chess. They’re taller than a Hershey’s Kiss, but weigh about the same (they’re narrow). The little foil wrap on them is cute and detailed. Each one has a little root and grass coming up around the sides and then the mushroom cap is a different color. The milk chocolate shell had a little Caffarel script logo emblazoned on it to match the one printed on the foil wrap. Inside there were two different varieties to go with the four different color combos.
Red Cap with White Speckles and Tan Cap - a light hazelnut cream filling with crunchies (like those bland wafer cookies) and crushed hazelnuts - very sweet, exceptionally smooth with a great caramelized sugar flavor throughout.
Black Cap and Brown Cap - light and sweet milk chocolate on the outside, rich smooth guandujia on the inside. This one was the closest in taste and texture to the Caffarel Gundujia hats from the Olympics early this year.
These puppies are freakishly expensive (as were those Torino ones), but the effect of getting them in a premium holiday basket or you Christmas stocking would be well ... exquisite.
Let me know if you find them anywhere else in smaller quantities, but if you’re looking to do a big buy for your Christmas needs, they’re sold in bulk pack weighing 1kg (2.2 lbs) for $59.50 (that works out to $27.05/lb).
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Lest you think that my upscale chocolate heart is only in San Francisco, I was recently sent a box of ethel’s chocolate from Chicago by, you know, some of ethel’s peeps.
They sent along the new Holiday Collection, just in time for a Thanksgiving review. The sassy half pound + box includes four each of six flavors, all with a holiday sugar and spice theme.
Cinnamon & Sugar -A dark chocolate shell with a cinnamon and sugar spiced butter cream. Though all the chocolates look a little “manufactured” to me because they were so crisp and regular, the tastes were definitely authentic with all natural ingredients as far as I could tell. The dark shell was silky smooth and mellow. It had a slight bitter bite with offset the supersweet but superbuttery center well.
Cranberry - a milk chocolate shell with a cranberry buttercream center. I was surprised at how “cranberry” the center of this one looked when I bit into it. The buttercream has an immediate and sharp berry bite, but the heavily dairy milk chocolate balances is pretty well. Though the flavors feel realistic, milk chocolate doesn’t feel like a good match for cranberry, maybe it’s because the dairy flavors and the tartness of the cranberry make me think of spoiled milk.
Dreamy White - I don’t know what this one is, I couldn’t quite figure it out from the brochure that came with it. As far as I can tell it’s white chocolate with a milk chocolate center. The center wasn’t up to the sweetness of the shell and felt a little greasy and flavorless.
Egg Nog - dark chocolate with a egg nog flavored white chocolate ganache. I’ve always been a sucker for egg nog, it’s like drinkable spiced butterscotch pudding. It’s usually too sweet as a drink and I used to cut it with milk (or sometimes half and half) but I love the nutmeg on top. The dark chocolate shell here combines wonderfully with the rum and spice of the center.
Pecan Pie - a milk chocolate shell with a pecan and spice filling. This one worked surprisingly well. I was afraid with a milk chocolate outside it would be too sweet, but it’s not. The filling isn’t as sticky sweet as a real pecan pie is, this instead has a great pecan taste to it, with that nutty feel on the tongue and woodsy hit.
Pumpkin Pie - white chocolate with a spiced pumpkin buttercream. As with the other pie chocolate this was surprisingly good. The buttercream wasn’t just those pumpkin spices (nutmeg, clove, cinnamon) but it also had that real pumpkin taste to it (pumkin is on the ingredient label) that gave it more of a custardy feel than a ganache.
Of the whole set it was just the Dreamy White that bugged me, the rest I ate without complaint with the first to be devoured Egg Nog, Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Pie.
ethel’s chocolate is part of the Ethel M company, which in turn is the upscale boxed chocolates company founded by Mars. The new line of shops and chocolate lounges are less fussy and perhaps more fun than the Ethel M company. Their aesthetic is spare but with a great deal of attention to detail and attempt at brand unification. The selection in this box bodes well for my actual visit to one of their Lounges (right now just in the Greater Chicago area and Las Vegas). Their other selections include traditional spherical Truffles, a set called American Pop which appears to take comfort candy to a new level, Cocktail which feature mixed drinks and wine, Fruit which contains chocolate and fruit combinations and Nuts and Caramel which appears to eschew walnuts, much to my pleasure.
If I can make an observation, it seems that many of the new chocolatiers are chefs of one sort of another. Instead of coming out of a candy manufacturing tradition or perhaps baking, I feel like there are more chefs out there dipping their toes into the chocolate pools. I don’t know if this was always so, or if it’s just the publicity machines make more of the culinary curriculum vitae of the creators. ethel’s chocolate creative voice is Jin Caldwell.
The price of ethel’s chocolates is kind of up there, at $27.00 for the assorted box of 24 pieces (8.5
ounces). More than See’s, less than CocoaBella or Vosges. I was pleased enough with this box to want to give the Nuts and Chews a go next time the opportunity presents itself. I also desperately want a chocolate lounge in my neighborhood.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Oh, the Limited Editions ... I’ve been searching for the fabled Elvis Peanut Butter Cups (with banana creme). When I didn’t see those I picked up this new LTD offering called Reese’s Big Cup with Mixed Nuts.
My luck was that it contained lots of nuts and none of them were walnuts. The tall peanut butter cup contains peanuts, pecans, almonds and cashews.
It was just like the Big Cup with Nuts, which isn’t bad on its own. This one was actually improved by the variation in the nuts. I don’t think I ever got a cashew in there, but I did have a few almond and pecan bits. The pecans went especially well as they add their own sort of maple/woodsy essence to the toasted peanut butter taste.
The whole thing was a little greasy, the little fluted paper cup was oily as I removed it for consuming. I suppose I should be glad that the fats were in the cup and not my tummy. It could simply have been that the hot light I use for taking the photo made it a little melty (but I don’t really think that).
The big cup products are also a little smaller than buying the double cup pack and even three grams smaller than the regular Big Cup. There’s nothing wrong with that, I guess. They’re throwing in more expensive ingredients (premium nuts) ... even Snickers Almond has resorted to padding their product with peanuts instead of just adjusting the portion.
(Yes, I’m aware that three out of five of the reviews were of Hershey products this week, I don’t know what came over me.)
Monday, November 13, 2006
Hershey’s has been furiously releasing limited edition Kisses. The interesting thing to note is that sometimes these Kisses become permanent additions to the line, such as the Peanut Butter Kisses earlier this year. Other Kisses have been returning as seasonal or limited edition items, such as the reappearance of the Cherry Cordial Creme Kisses.
The Mint Kisses seem like a natural brand extension. They were first introduced in 2002 and are released before the holidays each year. Simply put, it’s mint infused milk chocolate. The wrappers are a racing style green and silver check pattern, which I’ve always found rather cute.
As a candy they’re very strongly minted. They’re very sweet but with that familiar Hershey’s tang to the chocolate. Slightly grainy but overall smooth, they’re a fun change from the normal Kisses. My only caution is that when I put them in a bowl or bag with other Kisses the mint will infect the others.
An interesting thing to note about all the new Kisses. They’re molded. The traditional Kiss that’s been made for the past 100 years are extruded by machine to create a consistent kiss shape. They used to have a rather dependable little bend at the top, like chocolate chips to, but less so these days. It’s easy to tell them apart by looking at the bottom of it, where the traditional Kiss has a little cinch at the bottom instead being completely flat. Any other Kiss you might come across, however, is molded. Basically, they’re made upside down, with the chocolate deposited into a Kiss shaped tray.
The Limited Edition Candy Cane Kisses are new this year, though really just a new format for another Limited Edition product from last year. Last Christmas saw the introduction of a set of Miniatures called Mint Mix Miniatures which included minted dark chocolate, minted milk chocolate and minted white chocolate bars ... with the white one sporting little red and green nonpareils in it.
With the name being Candy Cane I was hoping that the candy bits in there were be actual hard candy like candy canes. But they’re just crunchy nonpareils like the miniatures last year.
I can’t help loving these. I don’t know why I do, but they’re positively addictive. I had a lot of Kisses for some photos I was shooting and I found myself digging through the assortment and eating all of these first. They’re a little grainy but have a good minty feel in the sinuses and the crunchy bits are kind of fun to roll around on your tongue as it melts.
Another production note. After seeing the Orange Creme ones last year that were white with orange stripes on the outside, I figured out how they make these. They create stripes of molten colored white chocolate on the inside of the mold, then deposit the rest of the white chocolate. The strips of colored chocolate spread out and make the stripes.
The only disturbing thing I have to report about this pair of candies is that both ingredients list PGPR (Polyglycerol Polyricinoleate - an emulsifier used to replace some of the cocoa butter in lower quality chocolates). Sigh.
If you need more Kisses, check out SugarHog.net, which is running a series of reviews on all the regular and limited edition Kisses. (Including the coconut ones that I haven’t been able to find ... well, I haven’t looked very hard.)
UPDATE 10/28/2007: The Candy Cane Kisses are back for 2007 ... however, they are no longer made with cocoa butter, instead it’s a mix of tropical oils. I do not plan on buying them again.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Yesterday I told you about the Night of a Thousand Chocolates. Today it’s all about the “World Geatest Box of Chocolates” and the Artisan Picks of 2006 from CocoBella.
The box is interesting. It has a heavy focus on nuts with half of the offerings featuring nuts in them (hazelnuts as the top favorite). Here’s the lowdown:
- Marquise de Sevigne Praline Noisette - France (Hazelnut paste enrobed in Chocolate) - mellow with a sweet and smooth paste center with a healthy dose of hazelnut but really not a sugary sweetness (or so it seemed). It balanced really well with the thin coat of rich chocolate. The nicely toasted nut on top gives this candy my pick as the candy I would most like to wear as a hat.
Marquise de Sivigne Orange Amer - Belgium (Orange ganache in Dark Chocolate) - This one was fascinating. It tasted like orange juice - more like a whole orange than a caramel or ganache. It was kind of like the custardy filling of a lemon meringue pie (only orange) because of the tart bite to it. The mellow dark chocolate with its bitter bite pulled it all together.
Knipschildt Chocolatier Hannah - US (Liquid Caramel with Pink Hawaiian Sea Salt) - this one doesn’t look like much. I’d never had a Knipschlidt chocolate before, so I thought this would be interesting. It truly was. Lately I’ve been eating a lot of salted caramels and this one was interesting. The center was a soft, custardy caramel with a good rounded sugar flavor, maybe with a hint of molasses. The salt was not too much and did actually have a little mineral hint to it.
Michel Cluizel Vesuve - France (Madagascar Dark Chocolate Ganache) - A simple single origin dark chocolate truffle. It was soft and had a good mix of bitterness, acidity, dry finish with smoke and woodsy notes. I realized that my less than stellar experience with the Cluizel nibby bar last year should not dissuade me from trying more of their truffles.
Corne Port Royal Rocher Noir - Belgium (Hazelnut Praline in Dark Chocolate) - another hazelnut chocolate, this one was more like a hazelnut halvah. It had an interesting crystallized texture. The nutty flavors combined really well with the shards of sugar, though I would have preferred a little more toasty caramel flavor to it. The chocolate was nice and mild and set off the sweetness really well. It was a good chocolate, but I don’t know if it’s among the best hazelnut chocolates I’ve ever had. (And I’m the girl who likes Perugina Baci.)
Charles Chocolates Almond Cluster - US (Lightly Salted Roasted Almonds in Milk Chocolate) - it’s not the most elegant looking piece of chocolate, in fact, there’s very little chocolate here at all. Everyone keeps going on about how nicely Chuck Siegel roasts his nuts, and though I agree, the milk chocolate just isn’t doing anything for me here. Too sweet. (Have no fear, I’ll say nice things about Chuck’s nuts in a few days when I get to that review!)
Cary’s Toffee - US (English Toffee topped with Almonds) - I was surprised to see toffee there. I was also pleased. This generous bar has a wonderful caramelized scent with an immediate hit of butter. The toffee itself had a wonderful gentle cleave, breaking into shards when bitten. The dark chocolate really helped to bring out the darker smoke notes of the sugars. The extra nuts on top could stay or go as far as I was concerned, in fact, they kept falling off.
Marcona ones I’ve had at tapas bars, and the different flavor of them and density of oils really set off the slightly salty zing of the cocoa outside.
Christopher Elbow Strawberry Balsamic - US (Strawberry Puree with Caramel and Balsamic Vinegar) - a lovely looking candy with an inventive design that really screams balsamic vinegar. But here goes ... I’m not fond of vinegar and chocolate. I’ve tried a few in the past year and maybe there’s one out there that will make me happy, but this one isn’t it. The center was a little too tart for me and the white chocolate a little too sweet. I think I would have preferred everyone compromising a bit in the middle. Perhaps a milk chocolate and a caramel with more butter to balance the acids.
Christopher Elbow Aztec Spice - US (5 Spice Blend with Ancho and Pasillo Chilis) - this one was lovely, one that I’ve actually had several of now. The spice is mellow and robust at the same time. I could make out the caramelized flavors of the roasted chilis and the cinnamon and allspice gave it a good woodsy boost.
Christopher Elbow Rosemary Caramel - US (Caramel infused with Rosemary) - The caramel in here is the slow flowing kind with a slight grain to it and a strong infusion of rosemary. However, the white chocolate added no vanilla balance but a pure sweetness that just drowned out the balsam qualities. This chocolate with its eighties style gemtone brushstrokes of color gets my pick as the one that I would least like to wear as a hat.
Valentino Framboize - Belgium (Whole Raspberry with Raspberry Buttercream) - I was really looking forward to this one. I have to say that it didn’t look very appealing to me, but the thought of a whole raspberry made me look past its bulging belly like a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Aside from that, it was nice and floral with a really good raspberry flavor, but again too sweet for my tastes. I wanted more chocolate and less of the buttercream, I guess.
Marquise de Sevigne Creme Brulee - France (Caramelized Butter Ganache) - More like a praline than the custard I was expecting (like the Kee’s one I tried in NYC). Caramelized, a little grainy but rather light. Tastes a bit like coconut but not in a bad way. It kind of grew on my after I got past my expectations. It was more like the sugar crust of a creme brulee than the custard itself.
Amadei Supremo - Italy (Milk Chocolate Espresso Ganache) - simple and divine. I’d leave it at that, but the way I’ve laid out this page I kind of have to go on about each one the same amount. It’s not the prettiest one of the bunch, being from a rather common stock mold, but the milk and mellow ganache go well.
Maglio Stuffed Fig - Italy (Almond and Lemon with Fig) - when Michael Freeman was presenting the box and he got to this one I was just itching to bolt across the room to wolf one down. Billed as a dried fig stuffed with candied lemon and almonds, I was pretty much sold. Upon trying it was I in love with the figs and chocolate (as I’d already been downing the Trader Joe’s ones in my motel room earlier in the day) but didn’t get the lemon and almond notes I was promised. Don’t worry, I didn’t demand my money back. The dark chocolate was absolutely wonderful. I am surprised that I actually shared this with the neighbors (it’s pretty big and easy to cut into pieces) but I felt bad because someone pointed out that Amy spits out a lot of stuff I give her.
Michel Cluizel Champignon Caramel - France (Caramel Mushroom with Almond Praline Cap) - Were you wondering if I was saving the best for last? There actually aren’t in any particular order (I think the order I took the photos in). I didn’t know what it was, I think my mind was still on the fig thing when it was mentioned in the presentation. It looks like a mushroom. The stem is a wonderful firm caramel covered in mellow white chocolate. The cap is a little half-sphere cup of almond praline (like the florentine cookies) filled with a truffle ganache and then coated in chocolate. Genius. Cute and absoutely an incredible combination.
There was another walnut item in the box which I didn’t try.
On the whole, the box isn’t my favorite. However, after sampling the wares at CocoaBella, I know that Michael Freeman has good taste. I find boxed chocolates frustrating on the whole, because there’s usually such an assortment, as in this one, once you hit on a favorite you’ve eaten it and have to move on. The good thing is that it’s a great cross section of a lot of different chocolatiers that I probably never would have recognized before that are now on my “seek out” list.
So, my tip is, if you have the money, dive in and take a chance. If you don’t and you still want to explore, try the CocoaBella “Build a Box” feature on their website (or go into the store). The pre-selected boxes don’t actually tell you what’s in there but do have some good indicators (Dark Chocolate, Exotics, Milk Chocolate, Truffles and Wine Pairings). I think if I had to pick a box out for myself, I’d try either the exotics or the truffles.
Monday, November 6, 2006
When I went to San Francisco earlier this summer I was eager to try out Recchiuti chocolates. They have a lovely little shop in the Ferry Building where all the most expensive and exclusive fresh foods are sold in the city but it was packed so I just looked and figured I’d buy another day (instead I bought some stuff at Miette Patisserie).
This time I went there at lunchtime on a weekday and found things a lot easier to handle. I had a lovely chat with both the women behind the counter (one was wearing devil horns, I’m thinking because I made my purchase on Halloween).
Recchiuti is the concoction of Michael Recchiuti with the tagline on their website of “Indulgence on the verge of Obsession”. That sounds just like me! He’s been making chocolates since 1997 with special emphasis on flavor combinations and herbal/fruit infusions.
The chocolates are positively lovely. In the store they’re laid out on little plates in beds of crushed cocoa beans. The staff was knowledgeable about all the chocolates and helped to guide me towards the ones I knew I’d like.
They sell in two different ways. You can get a gift box with a set number of chocolate pieces in it or you can buy by the pound ($55 a pound). As it was just for me, I didn’t need the spiffy box and seeing how the candies varied so much in size, I wanted to be free to choose without worrying about whether one flavor was a better value than another. I ended up with a quarter of a pound, which ended up as a large selection (I got quite a few doubles, so only about 2/3 of my booty is shown here - 22 pieces plus one free taste there on the spot with my purchase).
Cardamom Nougat - a rich chocolate ganache infused with cardamom and studded with honeycomb bits (a hard nougat) and cocoa nibs. One of the nibs was just terrible in the two pieces of this flavor that I ate (it was bitter and acrid) but the rest of it was phenomenal and left a fresh feeling in my mouth.
Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn - the anise zings to the front of the flavors here, then the chocolate comes in then that woodsy note of pink peppercorns without any of the burn. The flavors blend nicely and ended up feeling much lighter than I expected.
Rose Caramel - this is the little foil wrapped one there. The caramel was positively liquid and had a pleasant burnt flavor to it with a slight bitter note and a strong rose geranium scent. The rose and bitterness didn’t please me much.
Fleur de Sel Caramel - a great soft and chewy caramel with grains of salt in it. The caramel has a strong bitter and burnt quality to it the salt, of course, is quite strong. I really liked the texture of the soft caramel, but it was just too salty for me.
Honeycomb Malt - the filling is rather like butter with a bit of a grain to it like crystallized honey. The malt flavor is rather mild but the whole thing feels a little greasy and overly sweet.
Bergamot Tea - mellow and zesty with very strong notes of both tea and bergamot. A real favorite of all of them.
Candied Orange Peel - wonderful moist and chewy pieces of orange peel, candied without being sickly sweet.
Cinnamon Malt - very sweet and with a mild cinnamon flavor. Really too sweet for me, a little grainy and not much in the malt arena to compel me.
Mandarin - the smallest of the truffles. I wasn’t against buying it because I was paying by the pound instead of the piece. Sweet and dry with a nice zesty taste of fresh orange.
Force Noir - a simple dark truffle. They have another line that’s all single origins, but I wanted to try a simple dark truffle. The vanilla notes are very strong, the ganache is light and slightly acidic and super smooth.
Burnt Caramel - oddly, I didn’t get much of a difference between this one and the Force Noir.
Lavender Vanilla - mellow and round chocolate flavors with a strong balsam quality with a very noticeable lavender flavor and a honey finish.
Overall the ganache on most of the truffles is a little greasy for my tastes, it’s more on the butter side than the chocolate side. It keeps them super smooth and provides a good background for the flavor infusions, but the oiliness of them makes me feel fuller faster.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 5:55 am
Thursday, November 2, 2006
Botticelli is an upscale chocolate brand in Canada that makes nice bars at reasonable prices. I’ve never seen them in stores, but last year my husband brought me one that he got a London Drugs, so they’re pretty easy to find.
Sam, whom I met at All Candy Expo earlier this summer sent me some excellent bars to try in their Signature line. I want to post about all of them, but I have to finish tasting them all. I had to post about this one first because he sent me TWO bars and both are gone now. The listing of quality ingredients on the label alone made my mouth water.
The Cashew Butter Truffle is a milk chocolate bar with a filling of cashew butter. It’s not quite truffle-like in my estimation, more on the nut butter end of things, but that suits me just fine. The smooth and nutty butter has a good salty hit (though it says there’s no added salt) and a true-to-life flavor of cashews that just sends me over the moon.
My only disappointment about the bar was there were some “unfilled” squares on one end of the bar that were just chocolate. I like chocolate and all, but I really wanted more of that cashwey goodness.
Cashews are so rare in consumer branded chocolates it’s so refreshing to not only find a bar, but find it to be good. If you’re a nut fan, this might be the bar for you. If you’ve seen them in stores in Canada, do let me know where they’ve turned up.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.