Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Last year I read the book Sweets: a History of Candy by Tim Richardson. For a book about candy, there wasn’t much of the “modern” candy that we’re familiar with, instead a large portion of the book was spent on tracing the evolution of sugar and early candied fruits. Later it documents the rise of pastilles in the mid 1500s in Europe as sugar became available. The most basic definition is “a kernel of something coated with sugar.” It can be a nut (like Jordan Almonds) or a seed, like Anis de Flavigny.
The pastille was often the work of a pharmacist or herbalist, not a confectioner. They started with seeds or herbs that were prescribed for various reasons (fever, digestion, impotence), then coated with sugar syrup, tossed in a pan and repeated until layer upon layer is built up. The most talented pharmacists made beautiful pastilles that looked like shimmering opalescent spheres and were kept as if they were treasures as well, inside ornate boxes, often locked by the lady of the household.
Anis de l’Abbaye Flavigny may have one of the longest histories of a candy, as the town of Flavigny may have been making the little candies since Roman times. Whatever the timeline and beginnings may be, in modern times the pastilles have been made by confectioners in those largely unchanged traditions. Anis de Flavigny is one of those companies that has been carrying on for hundreds of years. Each pastille takes fifteen days to make ... they are labor intensive (though the materials themselves are rather cheap). They still start with a single fennel seed and (as you can see from the photo) a sugar syrup is poured over it, tumbled until dry then repeated dozens of times. (See the Anis de Flavigny site.)
Anis de Flavigny makes a large array of delicately distinctive flavors, all rather classic and old world.
Anise, Licorice, Rose, Violet, Orange Blossom and Mint. The tins tell a little story as two lonesome young people pine in solitude, then meet, share their candies and finally consummate their affection (on the violet tin - which modestly only shows us the flowers and not our young lovers).
I’m quite taken with them. I’ve been eating them since I was a kid. I know they’re not particularly snazzy. The tins are simple (though redesigned recently, they still look classic) and the candy unchanged by time and trends.
The only trend it appears they’ve responded to is that they now have an Organic line. The only difference I can tell is that the sugar is not pure white, so the little pastilles are a little beige. I kind of like the look. The flavors are the same, though I did have Ginger in the organics that I’ve not had in the regular ones.
The little candies have a slightly soft and rough feeling to the surface. The sugar itself is dense and even the package warns you against crunching them. (I do, but they have to get down to about a third of their size.) I liked to eat mine two at a time, rolling them around on my tongue like Chinese health balls. The friction of the pastilles against each other releases the sugar a bit faster. Call me impatient. But I do have a dexterous tongue and can also tie a cherry stem in a knot with it. Not that I eat cherries that often.
The floral candies (orange blossom, violet and rose) have a lovely soft flavor to them without feeling soapy. They’re great for getting rid of bad breath, especially since they take so long to dissolve. The spicier flavors like anise and licorice are rooty and natural tasting without feeling artficial (pretty much because they’re not). The mint is softer than many of the modern super-mints like Altoids with a smooth melt on the tongue and an even amount of mint. The flavor is strong as you dissolve the first few layers away and then mellows out. Towards the center the gentle hint of anise from the fennel seed emerges.
I was quite excited to have a full set of their most popular flavors, which I picked up at the Fancy Food Show in January. It’s taken me months to get through all of them. Not because I didn’t want to eat them, but they just last so dang long. I love each and every flavor. Yes, they’re really expensive at $2 to $3 a tin. (I don’t know why I can’t find the assorted package online.) I prefer them to just about every other breath mint on the market. It was a little unclear if the organic line will be available in the States because of the differing certification processes.
Italy also has their long-standing tradition of panned sweets with the Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano company. They not only do the small pastille dragee but also a wider variety of panned spices, fruits and nuts. I’ll have a profile of those at some point as well.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
I found myself frustrated last year trying to put together a “Green Halloween”, and part of that is that at Halloween we’re buying candy for strangers (trick-or-treaters). For Easter we’re buying candy for our close friends and family, so taking that extra step to pick the most wholesome and ethically produced is perhaps a little easier on the wallet. So if you’re looking to put something together this year, take a look over those product reviews for Green Halloween as most are also available for Easter (and all year round). I’ll put together an updated list of green candy choices this weekend.
Endangered Species makes their little Bug Bites in a “Hoppy Treats” version, which I think are nice Easter basket options. Since I’ve already reviewed those, I thought I’d give a new Endangered Species item a review today!
Introduced late last year, Eco-Rounds are a set of three little dark chocolates with caramelized cacao nibs. They come in a single serving “bar” (a plastic package, instead of the usual foil & paper wrapper). The little disks of chocolate are attractive, rather thick and very shiny.
While the Endangered Species Bat Bar also has cacao nibs in it, these little morsels aren’t quite as dark. The chocolate here is 60% dark instead of the 75% dark in the Bat Bar. The chocolate is smooth and a little sweet. The disks have an excellent crunch from the abundant nibs. Unlike many bars with nibs in the, these are caramelized, so they have a little sweet toffee crunch taste to them.
Excellent stuff, if these were easier to find, this might be one of my favorite new nibby items. I was very disappointed when I finished them (seriously, they could put four in there very easily)!
I think Endangered Species should really consider wrapping these individually in foil (or those little sealed sleeves they use for Bug Bites) and selling them seasonally in larger bags. I’d love a bowl of pastel ones for the spring and some fall colors later this year. Or if you want to go the non-seasonal route, maybe some different patterned foils in animal prints. Some zebra stripes, leopard Spots, tortoise shell ... it could be sassy!
Note: this is not organic, but is all natural and ethically traded. Also note that they call this dark chocolate, but the wrapper says that it contains milk products, so is not suitable for vegans. (Drat!)
Friday, March 23, 2007
While I was at See’s a couple of weeks ago on the prowl for the Scotchmallow Eggs, I decided to try some of their other Easter offerings. Like many boxed chocolate companies, they had the regular boxed chocolates in their spring finery. See’s has always been a bit classic looking, a little retro, perhaps even a little stuffy. But most people who’ve had their products know that most of the effort goes into the chocolates themselves. Most of the designs for the holiday packaging, in fact, haven’t change in years. I know I’ve actually bought some of the boxes ten years ago. I find that comforting, as I have trouble buying the same bra as scant six months ... because you know, a good underwire can go out of fashion.
The tray inside isn’t really that sassy, it’s just a formed piece of thin white plastic, but it does the trick of keeping all the eggs in their place. Note that the Bordeaux, that’s covered in jimmies, was actually wrapped in clear plastic (the only one). I’m guessing that’s to keep the jimmies from going everywhere.
Each Egg weighs about 2 ounces. I ate them by slicing them up, usually into three of four slices. I suppose you could just consider them a big candy bar and eat it all yourself.
Peanut Butter Egg - I’ve never had this before! It’s awesome. It’s not quite like a Reese’s Egg. (Though it is about the same size, but taller.) The center is a very smooth and dense peanut butter, lightly sweet and just a little crumbly. It’s not better or worse than Reese’s (except of course the chocolate is superior), just different. They sell the Peanut Butter Egg separately, and with good reason.
As far as I know, this Egg does not come in a single piece in the mixed boxes. So consider this a seasonal item. (I’ll have to check if they sell regular pieces just at the store, you know, like ordering off the menu.)
Bordeaux Egg - I’ve never been quite sure what the Bordeaux See’s piece was until I looked it up on their website. It comes in a round piece in most boxes of chocolates in either milk or dark chocolate, and has some little jimmies on it. This piece was milk chocolate. The jimmies are actually pretty good, instead of being minute waxy rods made to look like chocolate, they might actually be chocolate. The Bordeaux filling is called a brown sugar buttercream. It’s light and creamy, with a cooling feel on the tongue like powdered sugar but a mild caramel taste comes into play.
The Bordeaux is available in mixed boxes and a pre-wrapped “bar” like the Scotchmallow.
Cocoanut Egg - I love the cocoanut egg. The dark chocolate on the outside, in my opinion, is different from the Scotchmallow. It tastes milder, maybe a little more buttery. The center is a smooth cream with coconut flakes. It’s not super-dense like a Mounds bar; it’s more delicate and has a nuttier flavor and less texture.
This comes in the mixed box, but I think only in milk chocolate. I did pick up a few of the dark chocolate cocoanut pieces while at the store. I think I prefer the ratio of chocolate to coconut cream center in the singles.
Chocolate Walnut Egg ... oops, I didn’t eat this one. You’ll have to ask my husband how it was. It must have been pretty good, he ate it. They make a version of this without walnuts, but it’s sold separately. Batteries not included.
Overall, I thought these were great quality and a tasty assortment. But I probably wouldn’t buy them again (well, for starters 25% of it was off limits), but I think it makes a great gift and all the flavors are winners. Very fresh and generous.
For the $8.40 I spent here, I think I’d be happier with the Nuts & Chews (dark), but that’s just me. Considering that the Peanut Butter isn’t available otherwise, I might opt for one of those in a single large egg.
See’s is running a contest through the beginning of June, giving away a box of candy a month for a year. Enter once, they announce winners every month.
Monday, March 19, 2007
I’ve been rather peeved with Lifesavers for a few years. In fact, you might even call my rant about the Five Roll flavors changing my first Candy Blog post.
But if I was complaining before that the five flavor roll changed to accommodate new flavors, I should be pleased that the Lifesavers Jellybeans actually have all my favorite flavors (well, no tangerine, but orange will do nicely). My other pet peeve is that the colors on their logo no longer match the flavors. If you look at the package it lists the flavors on a different color stripe, but the color of the stripe doesn’t match the flavor. Oh well.
The Lifesavers Jelly Beans are about the size of Jelly Belly, but a little fatter around the middle. The colors are bold and appealing and the quality control was very good - the beans were very consistent.
Grape - has tones of both fake grape and a little smidge of concord in there, just like grape soda.
Overall, with only two flavors I didn’t much care for (cherry & peach), this is an excellent assortment. They’re not quite Jelly Belly (which pack flavor through and through), but for a fraction of the price they’re admirable. I actually liked them much better than the Starburst ones I tried last year. There’s another pastel mix of flavors as well: Red Raspberry, Mango Medley, Cotton Candy, Watermelon, Blueberry, Pina Colada, Strawberry-Kiwi, and Banana which also sounds pretty tasty. (I’ll probably give those a try if they’re sitting around after Easter on sale.)
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Japan is known for cars, Japan is known for electronics. Japan is known for cute. Japan is also home to some of the best KitKats in the world (okay, and some of the worst, but this is the price of innovation and an example of the bell curve).
What else can I say except that the KitKat Bitter is what a KitKat should be all day, every day.
Upon opening one of the two packets that have two-finger sticks, it’s obvious this candy is real. The chocolate is dark and glossy and smells like ... chocolate! The package says, in English, “High Grade Cacaomass”, which I’m guessing is their way of saying that’s it’s authentically dark chocolate.
The American dark chocolate KitKats were not nearly as good as these (not that it matters, as they’re long gone). The Canadian dark KitKats are close in flavor but lacking in the high-quality chocolate texture.
The wafers are crisp and have that light touch of sweet filling. Yes, the chocolate here is rich and dark and actually slightly bitter as the label advertises. It’s a little dry as well. But it’s just so real tasting, it just spoils me for any other KitKats.
The White KitKat says that it has Nasu Highland Milk. I’m not sure what that is, but I’m sure it’s a selling point.
It smells very milky and has a light milky look to it. Though it’s sweet, it’s not throat-burningly so. The crispy wafers are good and offset the sweetness of the milky coating. As white chocolate KitKats go, I prefer this one to the Matcha from last year that seemed excessively sweet and a bit greasy feeling.
I can’t see myself eating this regularly, but I finished the bar, which is a good recommendation for anything containing white chocolate for me (I have a tendency to like them at first but lose interest after a serving). The wafers seemed to be more of a highlight than in the Bitter bar, perhaps a little crispier or maybe I’m better able to discern the flavor of them without the overwhelming chocolate.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Theo Chocolate is a new company that makes fair trade, organic chocolate from bean to bar (and bonbon) right in Seattle. Think about it ... they start with the raw materials and create not only the chocolate but go on to craft the fine ganaches and couveture - all without the use of pesticides, hormones or chemical fertilizers and giving the cacao folks a fair price for their beans. There are very few chocolate makers out there that do that, anywhere in the world, let alone here in the states. The only one that even comes close in the bean to bonbon arena Michel Cluizel in France.
I got to try just about everything Theo Chocolates makes at the Fancy Food Show last month including their Confections Collection.
Earl Grey - a beautifully smooth ganache with a rich and dark blend of tea and bergamot flavors in equally rich chocolate.
Ivory Coast - the essential chocolate truffle, dark and smooth with a buttery feel that helps with the woodsy and bitter notes of the chocolate.
Peanut Butter & Jelly - yes, right next to the most upscale of all chocolate expressions is the PB&J except this peanut butter is a praline (kind of crystallized) with a raspberry fruit paste to die for.
Fig Fennel - this has to be the homerun hit of the entire box. Not just because it’s so wonderfully flavorful, but because I’ve never had this combination in quite this way before.
Mint - it’s like it was muddled just for me only moments ago ... the mint tastes that fresh.
Peanut Butter - like the PB&J, this one has a peanut butter praline that’s not sweet at all but has a wonderful woodsy, nutty crunch to it. A little dry.
Scotch - exceptional with its savory smoky notes like tobacco and leather mixed in with the butter and raisin notes of the chocolate.
Burnt Sugar - I’ve had several of these now, the effect is rather like a light creme brulee, with all the flavor of the crusty sugar top and all the creaminess of chocolate and heavy cream in the truffle.
Lemon - the white truffle of the pack, it’s really lemony without being sticky white-chocolate sweet. It has both the tangy notes and the zesty flavors.
Vanilla - very vanilla, with little flecks of it in the ultra-smooth ganache and an overall bourbon note.
(I shared this box with my husband and he ate the Ginger truffle.)
These might be my new favorite chocolates, if only they were easier to get a hold of. I’ve not been to the factory, so I don’t know if you can just go in there and buy singles (or a whole box of one flavor). No compromises ... that’s what it’s all about. It’s still a guilty pleasure, but fewer things to feel guilty about.
I also have a complete assortment of their bars that I’m working my way through, so stay tuned for the reviews of those.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
This is just an excuse to brag about a great recent gift that I just finished consuming. It was a gift box of Arnaud Soubeyran treats. It featured an assortment of nougats, chocolate covered almonds and marzipan. (I dropped some heavy hints about this in the holiday sales post.)
The large, flat box displayed the candy to great effect. The box itself is pretty nice too, a red linen with the Arnaud Soubeyran logo only lightly embossed on the front.
If you recall, I fell in love with the Soubeyran Nougat de Montelimar last year.
There were three different kinds of nougat here. The first was the plain with lavender honey, almonds and pistachios. The second is the same covered in dark chocolate. The third is orange covered in milk chocolate. The classic and dark chocolate were fantastic, as usual. I love the small, individually wrapped pieces. The orange was a bit too sweet for me, the milk chocolate wasn’t really chocolatey enough for me but the idea of orange nougat is pretty compelling. I’m not saying that I didn’t like it well enough to eat them all, I’d just have the others before and after.
The other item in the assortment worth mentioning are the chocolate covered almonds (Olivettes). The almonds were crisp, fresh and crunchy. The chocolate was good quality and not too sweet. The olive colored one was a “white” chocolate on the outside and dark chocolate on the inside. I thought they were pretty sassy looking and ended up putting them in a jar just so I could admire them before I ate them.
The last element in the box were two rows of marzipan called Calissons. They were pretty little leaf shaped wedges of firm marzipan with a bit of sugar glaze on them. I found them tasty, if a little dry. They didn’t taste like poison quite as much as most other marzipans do to me, so I might consider that a plus. My husband enjoyed them quite a bit, so I felt a little better that I was sharing.
You can get an assortment of these nougats sans extras from ArtisanSweets.com (scroll down to the Montelimar Nougats Gift Bag) for $11. Yes, it’s expensive stuff. I really shouldn’t have been sharing it.
Monday, February 26, 2007
I’d heard that this Limited Edition Snickers Dark bar was out several months ago, but as usual, it took a while for me to find it. (At the 7-11.) While Hershey’s seems to have a blanket method (“change everything in everything”) for Limited Editions, Mars seems to take a very measured approach to them, sticking to simple little changes. I doubt we’ll see a Wild Cherry Milky Way or Twix Caramel Espresso (though that sound pretty good, come to think of it).
The Limited Edition versions by Mars usually have either changed one ingredient or left one out. The most recent one was the Snickers Xtreme, which had no nougat. This one is just a plain old Snickers with a dark chocolate coating.
I’m a big fan of Snickers, though I rarely buy them. When I do, I find them so substantialicious that I can’t finish it in one sitting. It’s a big bar at 2.07 ounces.
The Dark however, is only 1.83 ounces.
It’s a good bar. I found the dark chocolate tasty, it tastes like actual dark chocolate ... it’s creamy, a little dry a little smoky and is able to hold up to the peanutness of the bar. The darkness of the chocolate is less sweet than the regular bar and actually supports the true peanut flavors much better. However, the dark chocolate does overpower the caramel. The caramel texture still comes through, but the salty sugar notes are completely lost. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.
I think this is an excellent change up of the tried and true Snickers and I think I could see myself buying this far more often than the regular Snickers. I really hope they consider making this a permanent part of their repertoire.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.