Monday, April 24, 2006
About a month ago a friend went to Seattle. Being a good friend she asked me if I wanted anything (knowing it would be a candy request). I told her that several people recommended Fran’s Chocolates, specifically their salt caramels. I even emailed her the locations of their shops to help her find the place.
Well, as luck would have it, she was up there for a panel discussion and one of the hospitality gifts was this package of Gray Salt Caramels ... so they must be famous!
The side of the package heralds them as “Award Winning! Soft butter caramels sprinkled with flavorful gray sea salt harvested off the Brittany Coast.”
I had to do some digging, I saw on their website that the caramels won the 2003 NASFT Outstanding Confection award, but I had no clue what NASFT was. Turns out it’s the The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, so I guess it’s like the Oscars (tm) for fancy food. (The run the fancy food shows in San Francisco, Chicago and New York ... something for me to put on my list o’ things to do.)
The caramels are covered in dark chocolate which helps to highlight the flavors. The caramel is sweet and the chocolate is smooth and creamy and the salt make it all pop. If anything, the salt makes it all taste creamier and richer. The salt itself had a more musky, deep flavor to it than regular table salt (yes, I tried the salt grains alone).
Salted Caramels are all the rage now, I’ve seen quite a few varieties in the past year or so, but I guess Fran’s was one of the first to present them. The large salt grains give a good textural addition besides the obvious salty pop. They’re very satisfying and vibrant on the tongue, but they don’t beg to be eaten over and over again. I had the package for quite a while and didn’t eat them all in one sitting, nor did I want to.
They’re fantastic, but they feel very special. I wouldn’t want a whole box of them, but I’d like a box of Fran’s candy and have a few of these sprinkled in (like this mix).
I’m definitely keen on trying other chocolates in Fran’s line. You can read more about the history of this Seattle Chocolatier on their website.
Kate at Accidental Hedonist also posted about these last week! So at David Lebovitz’s suggestion, I ate the last one upside-down, so that that salt hit my tongue first ... quite intense!
Friday, April 21, 2006
One of the must-see chocolate places in NYC is Jacques Torres. Even if you’re not a fan of their chocolate or have little money, it’s still an event. There are two locations in New York, one in Brooklyn and one on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Billed as Chocolate Haven, it truly is a delight for the eyes. The factory is wide open to witness from the street as they craft their handmade chocolate bars and when I was there they were packaging all of their hand-cast Easter goodies. From inside the store you get more than a view, you also get the scents and sounds.
But the best way to appreciate the innards of chocolate making though is from the Chocolate Haven shop. The glass walls enclose this little slice of sweetness and there’s ample room to move around and stop for a cup of hot chocolate at the chocolate bar.
I had a cup of custom blended Wicked (spiced chocolate) and Orange. It was smooth and sweet but not at all sticky. However, it was so rich and the portion (the smallest) was far too much for me to finish. As much as I tried, I couldn’t manage more than half of it.
Again, a little cup of hot chocolate helps me to keep my wits about me in such a place, it satisfies the chocolate craving and keeps me from going nuts and buying everything or gobbling it up as soon as I get away from the cash register with my purchases.
These little bunnies are just cute as bunnies. They’re each a little bigger than my thumb (which is kinda small) and were a good sampling of the Jacques Torres chocolate. The package was very light and as I guessed, they’re hollow ... so the whole thing weighed about 1.4 ounces. It cost $5.
The Dark Chocolate bunny tasted much like the hot chocolate. Smooth and rich with a slight dry finish, it wasn’t terribly complex but had some good woodsy/smoky qualities. I’m guessing this was the house blend variety of their chocolate which is 60% cocoa. The Milk Chocolate was quite sweet and has the European flavor to it, it was also very smooth but with a more fudgy quality to it. It’s one of those milk chocolates that begs you to eat more of it. The White Chocolate was really quite nice too. It’s true white chocolate in the sense that it’s made with cocoa butter and not tropical oils. It smelled very sweet and in fact tasted that way too, but had a slight caramel/vanilla note to it that made it much better than a bowlful of sugar.
They were all very nice, but for the price, first, I’d want solid chocolate. At this rate a pound of little bunnies would be over $50. I understand that more intense products like truffles demand a higher price, but these hardly qualified for such a premium. Not when the single bars of 3.5 ounces sell for $4.
This was my favorite purchase. I almost missed these too, they were placed up at the register and if I hadn’t already picked out the bunnies, I wouldn’t have even bought anything.
These are candied slices of orange that are then dipped in dark chocolate. They are absolutely gorgeous confections. I just couldn’t resist buying them because I knew they would photograph well. Luckily I love candied citrus peel, so I was really looking forward to these. They were just as dense and rich as I’d hoped. The orange slices were soft and juicy and not too sweet. The rind carried strong orange essences without the slightest bit of bitterness. A well-candied citrus rind bears more fruit flavor than a marmalade, which often tastes of sugar syrup.
I’ve not tried the rest of the Jacques Torres line of chocolates, so I can’t comment on the truffles or other chocolate covered goodies. They’re pricey though, but the visit to their shop provides a bit more value to the brand. I give them higher marks than the sole merits of the chocolate in the bunnies, the orange was extraordinary and gives me the confidence to recommend the other chocolate covered goodies I saw. There were fun items like chocolate covered corn flakes, graham crackers and cranberries and traditional fare like apricots, ginger and pretzels. Where the Scharffen Berger line has always been rather traditional in its expression (and I love that) I don’t care so much for the chocolate, just for the filling. Here the chocolate worked as the perfect complement to the orange and I reckon it would make even pedestrian items like corn flakes tasty.
Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven
Thursday, April 20, 2006
On my recent tour of New York City Chocolatiers, I took as many suggestions from readers as my poor blistered feet would accept. Luckily Pierre Marcolini on Park Avenue was only a few blocks from the office I was working at. It’s hardly a place the Candy Blogger belongs, after all, I’m just a girl in search of pretty sugar. It doesn’t have to be fancy and I certainly don’t care for those upscale prices. But candy is an adventure!
The Pierre Marcolini shop is everything you’d expect. From the elegant Tiffany-style storefront & rich wood paneling to the pretty counters and displays of chocolates. But, the sales staff was friendly and knowledgeable and hardly turned up their nose a someone who wanted to partake of their smallest box.
While I was getting the lay of the land, I ordered a small cup of hot chocolate, what was most surprising was that this demitasse was the least expensive cup of hot chocolate I had my entire stay in NYC ($2.50). Even though it was a scant 2 or 3 ounces, it was plenty to satisfy me and let me know what I was in store for with their more solid chocolate offerings.
Massepain Nature - “Paste of ground almonds with a powdered sugar in dark chocolate” - My most adventurous choice was this marzipan. While I was talking to the young woman behind the counter, I asked if it had a strong amaretto, and she replied that it did not, it was much more on the chocolate and almond side of things. I went for it. It was a rather mousy looking little chocolate, but maybe that was my prejudice coloring my estimation of its beauty. The marzipan was soft and almost crumbly without being oily or even at all sweet. I’d like to call it sandy, but it wasn’t quite that either. It was very almondy but had a rather obvious amaretto taste to it. I didn’t find it unpleasant but certainly not the first thing I’d opt for in the future. The most surprising part was how filling this was. I was hardly hungry after tasting this one.
Coeur Framboise - “Dark chocolate raspberry infused ganache in a white chocolate shell” - these were positively radiant, like cabochon garnets, pomegranate seeds or candied apples. Inside is a dark chocolate ganache with raspberry essence, covered in white chocolate and then slicked with the translucent red gloss. The berry flavor was lovely, not terribly perfumy, but sweet and smooth with some very strong chocolate notes and a slight tang to it from both the fruit and the cocoa.
Quatre Epices - “Infusion of cinnamon, clove, cardamom and ginger” - I wasn’t sure how the clove was going to play on this one. The center was a little fudgy and not buttery like a truffle and I wondered if I didn’t eat them quickly enough. The spices combined well, with ginger playing a big part without causing a lot of burn. I didn’t really detect any clove at all, but then again, I didn’t get much of a cardamom note either. The texture felt more like a marzipan than a truffle in the end.
Th? Citron - “Dark chocolate ganache infused with tea and fresh pieces of lemon and lime” - May I refer to this as a manly truffle? The tea and citrus was amazing - tart without overpowering the chocolate and it gave the whole thing an “Old Spice” feeling (not in a bad cosmetic sort of way). The acid notes of both the chocolate and lemon and lime played well together with only the slightest sweet hint.
Thym Orange - “Dark chocolate ganache infused with fresh thyme and orange peels” - wow, the thyme here was very strong and reminiscent of the piney tones of rosemary or fresh oregano. They flavors combine well, the dry astringency of the chocolate and the balsam notes of the herbs. I really didn’t catch the orange in the mix but I didn’t actually miss it.
Violette - “Dark chocolate ganache infused with flowery Violette” - this tasted as lovely as it looked. The violet was not strong or soapy at all, simply fresh and rather reminiscent of berries without the tartness. The flowery feel lasted in my mouth for quite a while and would be a welcome change from coffee-breath.
Pierre Marcolini - “72% cocoa content, combination of beans from the Venezuelan regions Sur de Lago, Carenero and Rio Caraibe” - shockingly buttery and smooth, this one just melted away on my tongue with some gorgeous woodsy notes of oak, black cherry and vanilla. A wonderful way to complete my small box, with a crisp, dry finish.
The quality was wonderful and the packaging spare and elegant. I appreciated that the labels were obvious for most of the candies, so I had no trouble deciphering which was which ... most of the names were printed plainly. The flavor combinations were wonderful though never quite as described as far as I could tell. The whole line felt very masculine, which isn’t a good or bad thing, just something noticed after infused chocolates from quite a few places in NYC.
Pierre Marcolini Chocolatier
Their website, though it contains wonderful photos and info about all the chocolates they offer is painfully slow because they haven’t optimized their images for the web, so consider yourself warned.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
A kind reader, shortstop, suggested that I make a journey to Kee’s Chocolate.
As I was already planning a little walk around SoHo on my last day in NYC, it seemed like a natural addition. I did a little reading and found that there were two things on my list that I had to try: the Creme Brulee and the Smoked Salt Truffle.
The shop is tucked on a small street between Broome and Houston and I arrived while they were in the middle of making their chocolates. There were three people in the store, four with me and it was rather cramped. The store isn’t fancy like Marie Belle (tomorrow’s entry) or Vosges - it’s tiny and spare but clean and of course smelled wonderfully. They were unmolding the Smoked Salt Truffles as I came in so I knew they were fresh.
I felt a little on the spot, most of the time I like to just blend in with the background and watch, but in such a small space, I had to get down to business and not fuss around with thinking and observing. That, and they wouldn’t let me take any photos inside either. So, here’s what I had:
Creme Brulee - this isn’t a truffle, this is something you just have to experience. The large morsel (not pictured) has faceted sides and a thin shell. You pop the whole thing in your mouth and the chocolate quickly shatters away and you’re left with a cool burst of creme brulee. It’s creamy and smooth, sweet and a real experience. You probably have to eat it while you’re there or very soon after purchase.
Smoked Salt - a really different truffle, this one was in a molded shell and the chocolate was rich and had a wonderful dryness and the salt was strong without being offensive. The addition of salt brought out some of the smoky and woodsy notes of the chocolate that I wasn’t noticing in the other truffles.
Blood Orange - a lovely, plump chocolate truffle with a slight tang to it, but not zesty. It was good, but not really what I was expecting as it had only a slight flavor to it.
Earl Grey - a really good dark chocolate truffle, but the infusion of Earl Grey was not apparent in the slightest upon eating it. A little later, I did detect the slightest aftertaste of bergamot, but it was not nearly as strong as I would have liked.
Jasmine - whoo! a beautiful tasting truffle - strong overtones of jasmine scent and a lingering perfume as well, this was the best of the infused truffles but I guess I’m spoiled and want a little more flavor to my flavors.
What I really enjoyed about the experience and the chocolates was the complete lack of extraneous packaging and decoration at the shop. Don’t get me wrong, the immersion at places like Vosges or Jacques Torres is wonderful, but let’s face it, once you leave the shop and take the chocolate out of the box, what really matters? What happens in your mouth. On the whole, this was an exceptionally pleasant oral experience. I wish the flavors were a little more vibrant, but the chocolate was wonderfully smooth and the Creme Brulee is truly unique. The chocolates don’t travel particularly well either, two of the truffles were cracked when I got them home and of course the Creme Brulee pretty much has to be eaten within a fifteen square block radius (okay, I’m making that part up, but we all know about the Saga of the Valomilk).
The one silly thing that I did, amidst all that lack of artifice was that I neglected to ask prices for anything and I can’t recall how much it was. (The whole shebang was about $12, I think.)
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:34 pm
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Last fall I got to try Equal Exchange Chocolate. The company has done a good job of balancing respectful business practices with making a good product.
I was excited about these miniatures - the other bars I tried were 3.5 ounces, which is rather sizeable bar. I like a lot of variety in my candy so small pieces (even if I buy a lot of them) help me to maintain my portion control and get some variation. These wee little buddies are only .16 ounces each.
What’s also different about these little bars is that they’re 55% cocoa solids. The other versions of theirs I tried were 70% cocoa in the dark and the 55% had almonds in it. The almond bar I tried really reminded me of the Chocovic Ocumare.
Without the almonds of course I can concentrate more on the chocolate itself. The first thing I notice, besides the beautiful dark glossy sheen, is that it’s sweeter on the tongue. The scent is slightly acidic by very chocolatey. The bar melts quickly on the tongue, releasing some very nice light fruit notes of apricot and cherry blossom. It’s a well rounded chocolate but not too complex and not at all acidic. In my opinion, because of the sweet start, this is a dark bar children might like.
The only bad thing about these is that you have to buy them by the case if you want them direct from Equal Exchange. They’re about $18 a pound. However, if I were planning a wedding or large event where I wanted to send a tasty message in a little favor, this might be a good choice. You also may start seeing these more at Whole Foods and other retailers as they grow. I actually like this chocolate better than the Endangered Species - the buttery quality and smoothness of the chocolate feels more decadent (if you can feel decadent with a fair trade, organic, kosher, all natural product).
If you’re interested in ordering, they don’t ship when the weather is warm, so if you don’t get it this month you’ll have to wait until the fall.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Continuing with National Licorice Day, I have to admit that I’ve always been afraid of Licorice Allsorts. Let’s face it, they’re pretty, but there’s no real way of knowing what they are. Are those pink things the same flavor as Pepto Bismol? Are they cherry? Which would be better? Is blue ever a good idea? It’s one of those candies that’s been around so long, once I became an adult I was embarrassed to ask what they were.
The time had come to try them. All of them. This assortment came from CandyFavorites but is made by Bassett’s ... you know, the folks in England who are known for these. Aren’t they cute?
I started with the pieces that seemed the most familiar. The plain black licorice pieces were nice. Extra soft, with a good doughy consistency and strong molasses taste. They’re sweet, but not in a sugary way, more in that herbal way that licorice is.
Next I took on those sandwich looking things. They’re the ones that have scared me most over the years. The brown ones are chocolate flavored, but only in the lightest possible way. Mostly the molasses taste comes through but then as the chewing continues I realize that there’s COCONUT in here! How did that happen? The brown layer is more grainy and sugary than the licorice one and there are these flakes of coconut that give it a nice chewy texture and a good nutty pop. The white layered pieces are lemon and though I really liked the Lemon Lakritsi I had last year, these don’t quite rise to this level. Yes, the coconut gives it some extra dimension, but there are a lot of flavors going on here. Orange is orange and seems to be a little better on the balance than the white ones. I ate all of the orange and brown ones first. The pink ones were the scariest of all. I don’t know what flavor they are, we’ll just stick with “pink” because the color seems to give them a fruity flavor of some kind, perhaps cherry but also a bitter overtone. Blech. I needed to clear the taste of that! Luckily it was only a three decker instead of the five layer of the white one.
The little blue and pink buttons are so cute and I didn’t want to eat them at first. Inside is a firm jelly with a strong licorice/anise taste to it. Instead of being sickly sweet and grainy like a jelly bean, these were more like a gummi covered in nonpareils. I wish I could just buy these in bulk.
The little blue man was the only one of his kind in the mix, and I’m not sure what that kind of candy is called. He was like a licorice version of candy corn. Very sweet, a little grainy to start and then quite smooth.
The pink circles with the black dots scared me. After the bad experience with the pink layered thing, I was hesitant to try these. Luckily they weren’t flavored. They’re just colored pink but taste simply like coconut and licorice. After all that trepidation, the things I thought I’d hate, I actually liked and of the whole assortment, there’s really only one piece that I detested. Those are much better odds than most of the assorted candies I pick up.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 5:39 am
Monday, April 10, 2006
Last year my favorite discovery was Scharffen Berger’s Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs. I think I might be in love all over again with the nibs from sweetriot. For those of you who haven’t been following along, cacao nibs are roasted cocoa beans that are ready to be made into chocolate. Everything that makes chocolate chocolate is inside the bean, the cocoa butter and what becomes cocoa powder. A plain cacao nib is rather sour, kind of grainy and has very little of the buttery crunch we associate with most nuts. It’s more like eating a coffee bean than a peanut. As a solo snack, they’re an acquired taste, but they make a great addition to salads or thrown into muffins or cookies.
Sweetriot sent me this fun little “spring fling” pack, which holds three different little upright tins of chocolate covered cacao nibs - each covered with a different blend of chocolate. 50% cocoa solids, 65% cocoa solids and the masterful 70% cocoa solids (with a hint of coffee).
The little tins are rather small, and to be honest when I first read about these on CandyAddict early this year I thought they were extremely expensive. At $6 each for a tin (regular price), it’s about five times the price of the Scharffen Berger nibs (which I already thought were pricey).
What is especially compelling is the mission of the company and that they’re fair trade (though not certified yet). They’re also Kosher, gluten-free and made with non-genetically modified soy lecithin (also called GMO-free).
What’s also different about these and the Scharffen Berger is that the coating on the nibs is quite a bit thicker. Where the Scharffen Berger nibs were bumpy and craggy, the Sweetriot “peaces” are smooth like little nuggets of tumbled chocolate.
I started with the Flavor 50, and I’m not sure you can make it out in the photo, but they’re more milk-chocolate looking than the rest. They’re actually very sweet and mellow and had a very clean taste to them, that seemed to have more vanilla coming through than most chocolate. Each little tin includes a “fortune” which has a piece of trivia about where the cacao comes from. In this tin it said: “Cacao Country Brazil shares boundaries with every South American country but Chile & Ecuador.”
Next was Flavor 65, which has a very strong acidity and bitterness to it, with notes of cherry and apricot but a very strong scent of rum and cedar shavings. Like a complex wine, these make you want to keep shoveling them into your mouth so you can try to pin down the notes. The trivia snippet here: “The first inhabitants of Cacao Country Peru were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in Peruvian caves.”
The last was Flavor 70, a deep rich experience whole. I was expecting them to be as bitter and astringent as Flavor 65, but they were actually more mellow, but equally dark and complex. The coffee note was not overwhelming and this tin was sweeter smelling. There’s a dry finish and the fruity notes blend together without an overpowering single flavor coming through. The chocolate is smooth and of course the nibs provide an interesting nutty crunch. The geography trivia here: “Together, Cacao Countries Ghana, Cote d’Ivorie, Nigeria and Cameroon produce 70% of the world’s cacao.”
By far the balance of chocolate to nibs is better in the Sweetriot over the Scharffen Berger nibs. The only thing I have trouble getting over here is the price. While I support Fair Trade, I also don’t care for overpackaging of items. Yes, they’re cute and the artwork on the tins is certainly original. The only option for purchase here is in the tiny tin, and maybe I just want to buy a pound of them and keep refilling my individual tin. But the company is young and I’m willing to be patient for more options on purchasing. For now they’re fantastic-tasting and hard to beat on that score, but they cost a pretty penny (and when I say penny, I mean that each little morsel is more than a penny!).
If you’re a true chocoholic, now might be the time to give these a try. They’re on sale through April 14th at 25% off on the website. They are sold at a limited number of brick-and-mortar locations, but check their website for the latest updates.
UPDATE: I found them in the wild! I saw them at a health food store in Greenwich Village - and the going price is only $4.99 ... much better than the expected $6.00 (based on their web price). If you think about how much you’re willing to spend for a latte or ice blended whatever (or hot chocolate), it’s really a comparable treat and of course it’s small enough to tuck in a pocket or your bag.
UPDATED UPDATE (12/28/2006): The prices on the website have come down quite a bit, buying a box of 12 means that tins are only $4 each now. The 3 pack flavor set also has a price reduction (the packaging varies by season).
Thursday, April 6, 2006
While on that fateful trip to Pennsylvania in February I picked up some Mallo Cups. How could I not? They’re made right there in Altoona by the Boyer Candy Co. Soon, I will have tasted all the marshmallow cups there are. Boyer is known for cup candies, they also have the Smoothie Peanut Butter Cup, which has a devoted following.
The Mallo Cup is the East Coast version of the Cup-o-Gold which consists of a milk chocolate cup filled with marshmallow (of differing consistencies) and a little coconut on the top.
The coconut smell is quite apparent when raising the cup to the mouth. The chocolate is sweet and very creamy with the coconut bits providing a chewy texture. The marshmallow center is soft and runny, but not too flowing as to make a mess.
Like the Valomilk, the Mallo Cup suffers from some structural integrity issues - in this case the chocolate base is too thin, so I was not able to remove either cup in my package from the paper without leaving some chocolate behind - basically bottoming out. (If you look closely at the photo, which you can click to enlarge, you’ll see that there is no base at all as I wasn’t able to peel it off for the photo. Maybe refrigeration would help.) The marshmallow itself has a nice flavor and consistency - it’s not at all foamy but not viscous or grainy like some others marshmallows. It doesn’t have any perceptible flavor of its own so I came away with more of a chocolate/coconut vibe.
I liked it quite a bit better than the Cup-O-Gold, I liked the sweetness of the chocolate, nutty scent of the coconut and mellow filling and the proportions seem better balanced (the Cup-O-Gold seemed to be too much chocolate and of course was single cup in a package).
The unique selling proposition of the Boyer Candies, though, is the “Play Money Rebate Offer”. The tray in the Mallo Cup package is actually a coupon advertising their rebate program - save up 500 Points and you can get a $1.00 rebate. Each Mallo Cup tray is worth 5 points. Yes, you get a dollar for every 100 Mallo Cups you buy! The points are also good for other merchandise such as candy tins, sweatshirts, mugs and caps. I have no idea how long they’ve been doing this, but the copyright notice on the package says 1983.
Other opinions: Writers/Artists Snacking at Work gave it a 7.5, Candy Wrapper Museum just doesn’t like marshmallow, Taquitos.net thinks it smells like coconut and finally, read about the long road back for the Mallo Cup production line.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.