Monday, June 5, 2006
I had to look up what a praline is, because I’ve seen so many different versions over the years. And it’s really not helped me to figure out what exactly is and isn’t a praline. In Europe a praline is usually a nut and sugar paste, often used as a filling.
But for the purposes of this post, in the American South the praline is a highly nutted fudge - composed of sugar and butter and sometimes cream that’s caramelized to a dry, crumbly, melt-in-your mouth consistency. Some pralines, such as those from Texas are a bit softer like a caramel.
These pralines, in plain and chocolate are from the Charleston Candy Kitchen (they also have a store in Savannah), a gift from my vacationing neighbors. They’re sizable plops filled with plump and sweet pecans. The candy mixture melts in the mouth with a slight cooling feeling. At first there’s a slight grain of the sugar and a moment later it’s all collapsed into a thick and sweet syrup on the tongue with a strong pecan/maple flavor.
The chocolate ones had the addition of cocoa to them, but it wasn’t quite as satisfying as a good chocolate fudge because it lacked that creamy component. They were tasty, but the plain ones were more satisfying in their pure expression of pecan-ness. I ate them all ... it was probably well over a half a pound and it took me about 30 hours, but I wolfed all four pieces down. I’m glad they didn’t come with a nutrition label.
Pralines are kind of like fudge. I don’t often buy them but if I do have them, it’s a regional thing. Kind of like salt water taffy ... it’s the kind of candy you bring home from a trip. Maybe next week I’ll blog about the chocolate covered macadamia nuts from Hawaii.
Does anyone else know of regional candies that folks bring back as gifts? What was the best one you got?
Monday, May 29, 2006
In honor of the Memorial Day Holiday, I thought I’d do a candy that you usually find when you’re at a big summer event. Cotton Candy is one of those treats that I think most of us enjoy on the midway at the fair or other vacation spots. I’ve never bought cotton candy (or candy floss as the Brits and Canadians call it) for home consumption.
Pure Fun’s candy floss has a unique twist - it’s organic and all natural. That’s right, it’s made from pure, organically farmed cane sugar and a touch of natural flavoring/colors. They also make note that it’s vegan, which is kind of funny because I’ve never had cotton candy made with animal products before (I know some vegans take exception to commercially processed sugar because it might be filtered through charcoal that might contain animal bones).
The packaging also bills that there are no trans fats and no cholesterol. Well, I’m sorry, but DUH! I’m not sure who doesn’t know that cotton candy is spun sugar and how could it have any fats - good, bad, trans or otherwise? It’s also low in sodium, why isn’t that on the label? But the important thing is that this 1.5 liter tub contains only 2.12 ounces of sugar. I was watching Unwrapped over the weekend and one segment mentioned that good cotton candy is 80% air. You can eat the whole tub and it’s only 240 calories (all carbs though).
One serving is said to be a quarter of the tub. Which was actually a satisfying amount for me. I’m not sure if you could put a tub like this in front of a kid and expect them to eat only a portion. Of course, I’m not sure how you’d “serve” it otherwise ... take out the scissors and cut off a quarter of it and put it on a plate?
Okay, enough of the snarking. They were nice enough to send me five tubs containing four flavors ... so let’s get to it!
Canadian Maple - this was pure genius! How could there not be a maple cotton candy before now? It’s a natural flavor combo and the taste is insanely good. Woodsy and sweet and of course the texture of the fluffed sugar is sublime. This one had the best texture of the four, ultra smooth and superfine. Since they gave me two tubs of this, I took one next door and everyone thought it was “expletive-deleted-good.” By far this was everyone’s favorite who tried them all (including me).
Root Beer - I was expecting something subtle here, as cotton candy isn’t really known for “flavor” but the root beer here was intense. A good, slight, wintergreen burn after it dissolved kept me eating more and more of it. It’s like a spun root beer barrel!
Licorice - I’m not sure how this is going to go over with other people, but I thought this was an excellent flavor. It smelled a little medicinal, but on the tongue it was great. It was like a black jelly bean, except my tongue didn’t change color and there are no sticky bits stuck in my teeth. It’s a lovely
Bubble Gum - I’d heard about this before and so I saved it for last. It doesn’t smell quite right and looks an awful lot like insulation. A little musty odor combines with the sweet sugar. Holy Moly it’s bad. I don’t know why it’s bad and I’m not sure I want to know, but the taste is off. Bubble gum flavor (as in Bazooka) has always had a little wintergreen hint in my mind and then there are bubble gum flavors that are a little fruity like JuicyFruit ... this was neither. This was just a jumble of bad associations wrapped up in sweet. Pure Fun needs to dump this flavor or seriously reformulate. If I hadn’t read other reviews of this flavor, I would have thought I had a bad batch.
They make one other flavor, Cinnamon, that wasn’t in my assortment, but if it’s as good as the Root Beer, I’m on board. Their website even has recipes for using candy floss as a pie topper, for sundaes and even in martinis.
I don’t think that pure sugar can ever be considered a health food, but without the addition of preservatives, artificial flavors or colors as well as their organic, vegan and Kosher certifications, Pure Fun has removed any trepidation anyone might have for buying a cool and sweet indulgence. The smallish tub also controls portions. I honestly didn’t think I would like this as much as I did, but I’ve found myself sneaking little bits of fluff over the past few days of all three of the good flavors.
The only issue at the moment is where to buy this fluff. They’re not in stores yet (or at least not according to their website) and everyone who has tasted it has found it via a show of some sort (Candy Expo Toronto or Fancy Food Expo). They don’t even sell it directly through their website. I’ll try to post an update when I hear that it’s for sale. I don’t even know what the expected price is for one of the tubs. I’d be willing to pay as much as $4 for it.
UPDATE: I almost forgot, check out the Candy Critic - he’s also gotten a hold of some, and you can see how he does his reviews (which really isn’t that different from how I do mine).
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:18 am
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Instead of just the normal fundraising candy bars, Smiles by Joanie’s Smiles are are chocolate bars infused with tea and other natural flavors that stand on their own as tasty treats. The hook here with the fundraising aspect is that money from the sale of each bar goes to Operation Smile which sends volunteer medical teams all over the globe to repair facial deformities in kids and adults. I was approached to taste the bars a couple of months ago, so I’ve had a lot of time with them (I was waiting for their website to be up and for them to be more widely available).
The bars were very simply produced - two ounces each, wrapped in foil and then a paper overwrap. The bar is pre-scored into 12 little pieces with each embossed with the smiles script logo. No gimmicky packaging, just tried and true presentation. It’s the flavors that count here ... so let me count off the flavors to you:
Rosemary Hibiscus Tea - I was certain I wouldn’t like this one before I even tried it. I’m not a big fan of hibiscus, so how could combining it with rosemary (a rather savory and strong herb) and white chocolate be a good idea? Frankly, after the first bite I didn’t like it. The hibiscus gave the white chocolate a yogurt tang but without any satisfying fruit flavor to go with it. Then I took a few more bites and the rosemary flavor really grew on me and took center stage. It’s not terribly sweet and doesn’t give me a sore throat like bad white chocolate does ... it was smooth and creamy and had a little sass to it.
Cranberry-Ginger Tea - mellow milk chocolate with a smooth and creamy consistency with a spicy, lowgrade burn of ginger. Later the tannin and cranberry notes come out in a lingering berry bite. The bar has the woodsy, rooty smell of ginger. There are the occasionally grainy bits from the tea, but this is a pretty smooth and zesty bar.
Wild Raspberry Tea - it smells like raspberry and has the floral flavor to it. The milk chocolate, which can often have a tart bite also helps to bring out the fruitiness and berry notes here. There are also the occasional fruit bits in there, giving it a chewy tart burst. The chocolate has not dairy milkiness that I usually associate with milk chocolate, instead it’s smooth and a little fudgy.
Coconut-Green Tea - this bar smells like summer. Profuse wafts of coconut emanate from this bar, just sitting next to it reminds me of those girls who would come to the pool but never swim. They’d sit together with their sunkissed hair and lanky bodies slathered with tanning oil ... something I could never use. (If there were a freckle oil, well, then we might have something.) That toasted, glossy association translates well to this dark bar. Smooth and buttery, the tea takes a backstage to the coconut, which brings only flavor here, there are no chewy bits.
Herbal Chai Tea - this bar smells like I’ve stepped into a spice shop. It’s all warm and woodsy: cinnamon, fennel, orange and a little rooty waft of ginger. A little bit grainy because of the real spices in there, it’s still quite smooth and bursting with different flavors. The cinnamon dominates, but the fennel and black pepper are still discernible. The tea here is the Amber Roobios, which brings its own floral/fruity notes. It’s quite a riot of flavors in there.
My favorites in order (as determined by which I finished first) were the Pistachio-Green Tea White Chocolate, Herbal Chai Dark Chocolate, Coconut-Green Tea Dark Chocolate, Rosemary Hibiscus White Chocolate and last the Wild Raspberry Milk Chocolate.
I have to congratulate Joanie for coming up with such interesting flavor combinations but I think if there’s one thing that I find a drawback to them, it’s the price ... however, unlike many high-end bars, there is nowhere else to get a Hibiscus Rosemary White Chocolate or Coconut Green Tea Dark Chocolate bar, so they’ve cornered that end of the market.
The bars are now on sale at Whole Foods and soon at Bristol Farms and Gelson’s (SoCal) markets as well as through Amazon (click through on their website). Amazon doesn’t seem to offer an assortment pack or sales by the box, which is too bad because I really didn’t know which I was going to like by the description. They were just introduced last week, so they may be adding more purchase variations.
Friday, May 19, 2006
This version of the Cafe-Tasse bars are long and thick and frankly, I prefer this format to the flat ones. It’s more compact and I like a good thick piece of chocolate.
The design on these is quite lovely too. Soft, matte paper with some stylish engraved designs. Easy to read and color coded, too!
Extra Noir this super dark 77% cocoa bar is quite rich. Instead of sacrificing buttery smoothness for high cacao, I think they’ve lowered the sugar content, which is just fine with me. The bar has a strong smoky flavor with many hints of tobacco and vanilla. It has a rather dry finish that’s not exactly astringent, but leaves a rather chalky feeling in the mouth. Still, it has a fantastic melt on the tongue, just slipping around in all it’s cocoa-butter goodness. It’s not sweet, but at the same time, it’s not blisteringly bitter - just dense.
Noir Praline this bar smelled much sweeter than the others, and had a rather fruity aroma as well. The dark chocolate shell looked the same as the other bars, but inside it was as sweet. After having the creamy richness of the Baci bar, this one really can’t compare. It’s missing that buttery lightness and depth of flavor. I’m not saying it’s not tasty, it’s just had more sugar and sweetness than hazelnuttiness.
Noir Orange after sampling the super dark bar, this one seemed quite sweet at first. This bar is only 54% cocoa, so there’s plenty of room for that cocoa butter base as well as sugar and an ample supply of little candied orange bits. The candied orange peels threw me, they’re kind of crystallized, so a bit more sharp and hard than pliable and forgiving. The texture mix aside, the orange infusion is intense and profuse. This is nothing like the Terry’s Chocolate Orange. This is a full chocolate experience with a little fruit essence thrown in. After a while I was hoping for the chewy bits of orange peel. This was by far my favorite of the three.
These were a gift but I’ve seen them for sale at Cost Plus World Market, Economy Candy in NYC and online at Chocosphere (the chocolate covered lemon peel looks divine).
Monday, May 8, 2006
For a long time I was looking for the Dolfin chocolate in two flavors - Green Aniseed and Red Peppercorn. I finally gave up on finding them in stores (and believe me, I’ve been to a lot of stores) and ordered online from Chocosphere (I recommend them).
Both bars are dark chocolate (52% cacao) and feature more savory flavors than many other bars. I like the packaging because I know I’m not going to be able to finish a bar quickly and it enables me to save it and keep it fresh.
A L’Anis Vert - Dark Chocolate with Green Aniseed - I happen to love the combination of anise/licorice and chocolate. Anise is generally a milder flavor than licorice. In fact, it’s more of the licorice flavor without the sweetness. It’s mellow and woodsy with a little floral note to it. The anise also seems to bring out the vanilla notes in this chocolate. The bar is studded with aniseeds, which is sometimes a little clumsy as they can be quite fibery and crunchy. The anise flavor permeates the chocolate, so the flavor goes through and through with bursts of it around the seeds.
I know that the concept behind the Dolfin bars is that the spice or fruit is actually in there, but I might prefer just the flavor. I felt the same way about the mint bar I tried last year.
Au Poivre Rose - Dark Chocolate with Pink Peppercorn - this bar smells wonderfully peppery and slightly sweet. The chocolate is smooth, dark and has a slight bitter edge. There’s a slight burn to the whole thing and of course the mild hints of peppercorn throughout. The bar is also studded with peppercorns which give the bar a little crunch like a nibby bar with a spicy bite. It’s never unpleasantly hot though. It reminds me of carnations which always have that wonderful sweet spicy smell to them.
This one is definitely a winner in my book, but what’s fun is having them together. It’s a good flavor combination as they’re both woodsy, spicy flavors. I still prefer the chocolate from Dagoba but they don’t really have these flavor combinations, so it’ll never be an apples to apples comparison.
The best indication of tastiness when eating more than one bar is which one is finished first. The Red Peppercorn won by three sections.
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
I do love banana chips, but I gave up eating them quite a while back when I realized how much fat they had in them. I’m not saying fat is a bad thing, but somehow I figured a piece of chocolate was probably better for me than a banana chip.
Enter the Milk Chocolate Covered Banana Chip.
They’re not the most appealing looking treat, in fact, if you put these in a bowl and offered them to me, I’d probably decline. They look kind of like deformed chocolate ears. (I’m not sure, for the record, that I’d want to eat candy that looks like perfectly formed chocolate ears either.)
I don’t know what possessed me to buy these, but I am glad I did. It took a few bites to get used to them.
The chips themselves aren’t quite crisp, they have a little oily bite to them, but it goes oh, so well with the mild milk chocolate coating. The banana chip is thin and has that extra banana punch to it, the milk chocolate is super sweet but balanced by the cracker qualities of the chip. The chips also have this strange “cool” feeling on the tongue that just makes me want to keep eating them.
What’s even better was the price. At $1.69 for 10 ounces, it’s not bad at all for a chocolatey treat. Don’t kid yourself that chocolate covered dried fruit is in any way good for you - one serving of this has half your day’s ration of saturated fat ... and um, I’m not sure how many servings is in half the tub, but I think I’m on a restricted diet for the rest of the week to make up for this. After all, candy is a sometimes food.
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
I talk about Trader Joe’s a lot as a candy source; the store opening in Manhattan was big news. But on my trip to NYC, I found that they already have an extraordinary store, Fairway. We pretty much stumbled upon the market while walking back from the Upper West Side to our hotel in Times Square.
Like Trader Joe’s the store focuses on more gourmet, upscale or wholesome fare, with many items sold with their private label but at super-delicious prices. The best part, of course, was their candy section. They had a huge aisle of pre-packaged bulk nuts and panned chocolate goods, most of which made by Koppers.
The first thing that caught my eye were these little M&M sized dark chocolate goodies called Cayenne Pepper Savory. It was just what I was looking for all these years, a peppered chocolate in easy to eat morsels. But when they say Cayenne Pepper, they really mean it. It’s far too spicy for comfort. I might try putting them in cookies or something, but it’s too bad, the chocolate is really nice, but the afterburn is serious. ($5.99/lb)
Of course I have a hard time believing that they really were that hot, so after a couple of days I try another one. Same result ... whoo! I don’t know, it’s growing on me.
This was by far the best of the Koppers finds. It’s little cubes of dried apricot covered in dark chocolate. So simple. The chocolate has a nice smoky, dark bite. It’s sweet but doesn’t overpower the natural sweetness and tart chewy bite of the apricot.
It’s nice to find an affordable version of the glace apricots that I’ve seen at the upscale chocolatiers. Of course these don’t replace them, but they’re portable and high quality. ($5.99/lb)
Oh, I had such high hopes. Look at them, they’re gorgeous! Dark and glossy and sweet smelling. But there’s something so wrong about the taste and even though I’ve been sampling these for weeks, I can’t quite put my finger on it. They chocolate is sweet, but bitter. Smooth but a little waxy and it has this odd dairy taste to it, even though it’s dark chocolate. The malted center is not really malty or maybe the chocolate is overpowering it. I was just so disappointed. ($4.99/lb)
And here’s the big secret - Fairway sells Lake Champlain! Only it’s their house brand and it’s far cheaper. I picked up two 5 Star Bars and they were only $2.19 each! I picked up the Caramel one, just to make sure the Fairway house brand was truly the same as the Lake Champlain, and I also got this one, the Fruit & Nut Bar.
This stunning 2 ounce brick ‘o chocolate is dark chocolate on the outside, filled with a hazelnut praline (think Caffarel’s Guanduia) studded with pecans and dried cherries. Now I know I say that I don’t like cherry flavored things, but I have no problem at all with the real ones. This bar was really nice, the dark chocolate was bold and reigned in the thick flavor of the hazelnut praline quite nicely.
The nuts weren’t as numerous as I’d hoped, but the bite of the sour cherries and the chewy texture was a nice mix. I do like the inventiveness of mixing pecans and hazelnuts - two sadly neglected nuts in American candybars. Of the two that I’ve had now, I still prefer the Caramel bar, but this one is certainly interesting and I’m wondering how it compares to the 5-Star Hazelnut bar.
Fairway had a large selection of candies, both in their own packaged bulk items like the Koppers, upscale brands like Scharffen Berger and Valrhona. I also saw a huge variety of imported candies like European brands like Cadbury and Nestle (not the American versions).
Friday, April 28, 2006
It’s so weird how candy seems to appear sometimes. It might have been there all along, but it’s invisible to me unless I know what I’m looking for. For a long time I wasn’t even interested in GooGoo Clusters. Mostly because of the marshmallow element. It’s odd that I say that I don’t like marshmallows much, but then I look at the items I’ve reviewed and see the tally that I’ve posted about marshmallow candies 16 times before but only 9 posts about licorice or 10 about malt which are actually a favorites of mine. But in my defense I most recently tried the GooGoo Supreme because it included one of my favorite nuts, the Pecan.
As disappointing as that bar was, it did get me curious about the GooGoo Cluster. But where to find one? I thought about ordering them online, but it’s kind of a hassle and candy is all about easy, isn’t it? Then I was in the 99 Cent Only Store looking for some cheap storage bins for all my candy and I breezed through the candy aisle and saw them!
The GooGoo Cluster is a flat marshmallow center with a glaze of caramel which is then covered in a mix of milk chocolate studded with peanuts.
There are a lot of nuts, and they’re like those Spanish peanuts in that many still have their skins. It’s an interesting combination of textures and flavors. The goo is soft and though not quite flowing, it’s not foamy either. The caramel provides a good bit of chew to the whole thing and then there’s the chocolate and coconut. Yes, there’s coconut in here - which gives the peanuts much more of a nutty pop and makes everything taste creamier.
I was VERY suprised by this bar. First, I think it helps that it was obviously fresh. I’m often hesitant to review bargain store candy, but these are clearly not leftovers or closeouts. Second, it’s a great combination of flavors in the proper proportions. (As long as you like peanuts). It wasn’t too sweet and it wasn’t too gooey (if you can believe that a bar named GooGoo isn’t too gooey).
I just hope they keep selling them at the 99 Cent Only Store ... or maybe I hope they don’t!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.