Friday, August 26, 2005
Before I had a candy blog I had trouble getting people to bring me gifts from their travels. Maybe I was too embarrassed to actually ask for candy from other countries, but now it’s a given that if any of my friends (hell, friend’s friends) goes anywhere interesting, they are tasked with bringing something back.
At first the name was kind of scary. Krachnuss sounds like “knuckle cracker” to me. And that hazelnut on the package? It’s bigger than a chestnut. However, open up the wrapper and it’s pure delight.
Those are whole hazelnuts in there. It makes for a rather lumpy bar and the hazelnuts are poorly distributed, but man are they good! Not roasted too long, they have an excellent snap and slightly sweet tinge to their nuttiness. The milk chocolate is sweet and smooth and doesn’t try to upstage the delicate hazelnuts. I love hazelnuts, by the way (or filberts as they’re called in the Pacific Northwest) and love how they’re the peanuts of Europe. Even the packages, which give information about possible allergens only mention soy and almonds - there’s no note about any peanuts.
Over the past few weeks the topic of Ice Cubes has come up a few times. At a party, in my interview on Radio Open Source and when Jay gave me this candy bar. For those of you not familiar with Ice Cubes, they’re a little chocolate cubes made with hazelnut paste. However, the pernicious part about them is that the first ingredient is hydrogenated coconut oil. I’m lucky my arteries are still open. My first year in the dorms in college there was a little store on campus that let you use your meal card to buy food - I bought a tub of 100 of these (probably cost me the equivalent of 10 meals). Though I love them, I’ve been trying to resist them ever since then.
Well, along comes a Ragusa bar, and thank goodness the Swiss have made a more wholesome version. You can’t tell from the photo, but the bar is about 5 inches long, 1 inch wide and 3/4” high, and pretty dense for its volume. This little bar is filled with a smooth and cool truffley filling and studded with whole hazelnuts. (If this sounds good, you might also want to try Perugina’s Baci.) Man, this is a good breakfast. The nuts give it just enough of a protein balance to keep the sugar charged filling from causing glycemic overload.
The bar is a bit messy to eat. It’s wrapped in a thick aluminum foil and the chocolate coating only covers the top and bottom, so the sides get kind of sticky. I still haven’t managed to get to the end of the bar and master popping the last of it out of the wrapper. It’s also been a bit warm here in Southern California the past few days and I wasn’t keeping this in the fridge, so on top of its natural softness, it’s downright limp. I might just go get a spoon.
Ratings - Krachnuss - 8 out of 10
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Name: Chocolate Truffles
I know, I’ve said it before but I truly believe that candy is for the masses. I’m not sure if this counts as candy - it might be edible art or perhaps just some sort of upscale “proof of exclusivity.” They’re just chocolates, so why are they so damn expensive?
I only bought four, because they were so dang expensive. They are, from left to right - Bronte: Raspberry & Earl Grey; Maya: Espresso; Veda: Ginger and Jade: Green Tea. (I think they all had chic names.)
The raspberry & earl grey was my first try - it was definitely the one that I was most interested in. We’d started our visit with some caramel ice cream and another scoop of their black tea ice cream. These folks know how to work with botanicals. The raspberry flavoring is in an ultra-soft and creamy bittersweet chocolate center. After that melts onto the tongue, a dryness is noticeable and then the bergamot of the Earl Grey really shines. I could have used more chocolate taste though.
The green tea was next and didn’t really thrill me. The texture at first was beautifully smooth. The center on this one is a creamy, well, cream, no chocolate there. The green tea gave it a woodsy flavor but also a bit of a chalkiness (I’m guessing they used matcha instead of an essence).
Espesso was definitely coffee-ish. Predictable - but dependable. Smooth, woodsy, strong and with a slight smokey quality and a caffeinated charge with bits of espresso beans on the top.
The only milk chocolate choice I made was the ginger one (which the woman at the counter said was her personal favorite). Upon biting into it, the ginger was wonderfully fragrant. It didn’t smell like powdered ginger, it was fresh and zesty. The milk chocolate is a great foundation for this.
All the centers were a bit too buttery for me - they needed a bit more of the cocoa solids or something for it to not feel like I was eating a stick of butter.
So there you have it, my two favorites are Veda and Bronte with Maya making a good showing. Will I buy them again? Unlikely. But if someone were to give them to me as a gift, well, I’d tsk, tsk and protest that you shouldn’t have and then probably give you a kiss.
Name: Fruit Pate
The other purchase, which was much more affordable were the slabs of fruit pate. Think fruit jellies and then jam twice as much flavor in them and you’ve got fruit pate. I picked up three of these flavors:
Raspberry, Blood Orange and something called Calamansi which is a Philippino citrus similar to a lime.
These are more flavorful and a bit fresher feeling that those Sunkist fruit gems (which I also enjoy). Of course no one’s going to mass produce uncommon flavors like calamansi so you have to go to one of these places to get that kind of stuff. In fact, the calamansi was divine. It was zesty, tart and sweet. It was like lime but also had some grapefruit notes to it. I’m definitely going to keep my eye out for this fruit in other forms. The raspberry was really flavorful, like distilled jam but the blood orange was a little bland after all that. I’d definitely buy these again and would look for some more exotic tea/botanical essences.
Ratings - Chocolate Truffles - 7 out of 10 (for $2.50 each, they should do the dishes or wash my car)
Monday, August 15, 2005
Name: Haribo Wheels Licorice
Yes, you can get licorice in whips, twists and bites, but I think that Haribo has the corner on the market when it comes to wheels. It’s really just a whip all rolled up into a disk. They look kind of like typewriter ribbon.
What I think is great about this licorice is that it strikes the ideal balance between texture, molasses and licorice flavor. Some licorice is really sweet, some kind of salty and some is just plain tasteless. This has a nice licorice punch without overwhelming (or causing those nasty licorice side effects) with a mellow and smoky molasses hint from the brown sugar and a good chew with a hint of salt to blend the flavors together.
I find I enjoy eating them by unraveling the spiral, but sometimes I’ll just bite right into the disk. By keeping them in these tight wheels, it allows you to have a soft, chewy whip instead of a hard and flavorless one.
I’d never bought these before, they’ll never displace licorice pastels, which are my absolute favorite incarnation of licorice, but I can still see myself buying these again as they are far cheaper than licorice pastels (why are they so expensive?).
Rating - 8 out of 10
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Name: Curly Wurly
Upon reading Steve Almond’s Candy Freak (one of these days I’ll put up a comprehensive review), I found out that the discontinued bar from the 70s called Marathon is kind of available in the UK as Cadbury’s Curly Wurly.
The concept behind this bar is simple. A loosely braided caramel plank is covered in milk chocolate.
And they did it beautifully. The bar smells of carmelized sugar, very sweet. The caramel is soft but plenty chewy. I find it’s important to give the bar a good bite or else you’ll end up with little bits of chocolate flaking off on your clothes.
Now, with that out of the way, does anyone else know what curly wurly means? I’m familiar with it from the lyrics to Blinded by the Light:
Tell me, what is this curly wurly that Early Pearly is riding in?
Rating - 8 out of 10 (it’s gotta be easier to find for me to give it tops)
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Name: Gummi Clown Fish
These little cuties are shaped like clown fish (yes, like Nemo from the movie). Each little fish is about two inches long and an inch wide. They’re big gummis. Luckily Haribo gummis are not sticky, so they’re easy to hold while you take a bite or pull it until it snaps (you can get it to about four inches before it gives way).
While real clown fish come in one color - orange, these come in three. Yellow (lemon), Green (sour apple?) and Red (berry?). I had a lot more trouble telling the flavors apart on these. I’m positive yellow is lemon, but that’s as much as I can commit to.
Soft, tart and sweet, these are excellent gummis. The large size makes them kind of fun to chew on, you get to decide how much you want by the size of your bite - but it’s harder to mix flavors. The size of the package is a bit daunting. I opened the bag the afternoon I got them and plowed through maybe a dozen fish and then separated them into little baggies of about a half a pound each. All my friends will be getting a fun hostess gift whenever they invite me over.
If I had my druthers, I’d do different colors and flavors than they chose. I’d like a pink grapefruit, an orange orange and keep the yellow lemon. Yes, they’d all be citrus. I’d call them Citrus Clown Fish.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
One of the best things about this blog is finding out about completely new varieties of candies I’d never heard of. One of these is Japanese Black Sugar Candy. Known as kuro sato, black sugar is basically brown sugar/molasses.
True brown sugar is basically sugar made from the whole boiled cane instead of just the cane juice that keeps the molasses. Molasses and black sugar is high in potassium as well as traces of iron, calcium and even a little salt. The taste of black sugar is similar to muscovado and has a salty, smokey taste to it. In the States, most brown sugar that you buy in the grocery store is just white sugar that has a bit of molasses added back into it.
Some Japanese just eat nuggets of black sugar as a treat (similar to maple sugar candies or Mexican panela). In fact, I used to eat brown sugar right out of the box as a kid. I loved the flavor of it. Many doctors and pharmacists have for years used muscovado-type sugars for medicinal use, either as a base for cough remedies or added to make medicinal syrups.
The Japanese use the bold taste of kuro sato to full effect in a lot of candies. Most are hard candies which are either for eating or for use as cough drops (often with the addition of honey or menthol).
Here are a few I found:
Name: Kuro Ame
from JBox - “A wonderful traditional Japanese hard candy, this is “Kuro-Ame” (Black Candy), a famous Japanese treat loved by everyone since the 1860’s. With a long history and a unique brown-sugar taste, this is a classical Japanese treat. One bag includes 22+ individual wrapped candies.”
Name: Pocket Black Sugar Throat Treatment Candy
In the tradition of a cough drop (similar to Ludens), this black sugar candy is packaged to carry easily in your pocket. Each piece is individually wrapped and has the distinctive taste of black sugar mellowed with a tinge of honey and menthol.
Name: Kasugai Honey & Black Sugar Candy
Shaped like little gems, these black sugar hard candies are individually sealed and packed with a little silica gel pack to keep them dry. They have a very smooth, sweet taste because of the honey. Not as smokey tasting as the Kuro Ame made by the same company, these are probably a great one to carry as a little pick me up and throat soother. Of the three products I bought, this is the one that is already gone.
Ratings - Kuro Ame - 6 out of 10
Also - see previous review of Asahi Drops (I didn’t know what Japanese black sugar was when I reviewed them)
Saturday, July 23, 2005
Here it is, the neatest thing to hit candy since citric acid. That’s right, the ultra-cheap LED technology is now being applied to candy. Malibu Toys has created a whole line of light up candies, with the Finger Lites as the center of the line. They have other products, like clip ons and necklaces, but they’re based around the same center of a battery hooked up to an LED. Personally, of all the formats I prefer the ring, since I really don’t want a slobbery piece of hard candy hanging around my neck and getting lint stuck to it.
The ring comes sealed in a little plastic pouch. To activate the light, you pull out a little paper tab that allows the battery to make contact with the wiring for the LED. Then it starts flashing. And flashing. The package says it will stay lit for at least two hours. Mine is still flashing and it’s been a week since I pulled the tab and ate the lolly.
I picked an orange one, though they come in a large variety of colors/flavors and have themed shapes for different holidays (Easter means bunnies and duckies, Halloween means vampires and pumpkins). The orange one was a little bland, not terribly tart or flavorful, but then again, it’s a novelty.
Would I buy this again? Hell yes, I’m planning my next party around them. I think the cool thing to do is probably figure a way to hang up the eaten ones on a string or something (maybe I’ll do it for a Christmas party and hang them on the tree). Some convenience stores are refusing to carry Finger Lites because they think that kids will chew up the LED/Battery. I’m one of those people who can’t help but chew up my hard candy and had no trouble telling the difference between the candy and the hard plastic housing for the light. In fact, I don’t think I could break it with my teeth if I tried. I’m wondering if those convenience store people tried them.
I know, I know, it’s not a terribly eco-friendly product either. Forgive me, I usually make good choices when it comes to that stuff, but I couldn’t help myself.
This candy gets points mostly for novelty, not taste, but it’s still a winner in my book.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Friday, July 08, 2005
Name: Green Tea and Black Sugar Caramels
I know, you must think me obsessed with caramels. But they are one of the most perfect expressions of sugar and fat. Soft, yielding, bursting with sugary flavor that lingers in the crevices of your mouth. They’re great for summer too, since they’re not subject to the temperature extremes of chocolate.
As promised, I’m ready to share my Japanese finds from my recent shipment.
First is Morinaga’s Kokutou Caramel. This is what’s known as a black sugar caramel, or probably what westerners know of as brown sugar or molasses. This caramel is darker than the milk caramels I’ve tried from Japan. It has a slightly rummy aroma and a definite molasses bite to it when chewing. It’s a really nice, smooth caramel with a good finish. There’s no molasses bitterness either. It’s not sticky, but plenty chewy with a good milky consistency.
Morinaga also makes a Matcha Caramel, which is a green tea flavored caramel. The nugget is definitely green. It smells of green tea and tastes just like green tea ice cream, with that same smooth roasted flavor and slight bitter tinge. Unfortunately after chewing for a while, it feels a little grainy and slightly bitter, like there are real ground up leaves in there. That aside, they’re quite addictive and both caramels complement each other well - so I can just alternate between the two all afternoon.
Rating: Kokutou Caramel - 8 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.