Wednesday, January 3, 2007
This was my traditional birthday cake throughout my teen years: The Peppermint Stick Layer Cake. My mother came up with it as a way to use up the remaining candy canes from Christmas but it’s a great cake to make any time of year. The whipped cream is lighter tasting and less sweet than a buttercream or sugar frosting, but you’re free to create your own adaptation with your favorite frosting recipe. When the cake is well chilled it’s almost like an ice cream cake.
I like mine as a four layer cake because it means that the ratio of whipped cream to cake is about equal.
Allow your cake layers to cool completely before assembly.
Chilling is essential to great whipped cream. I make mine using a two bowl method.
Take a large pasta pot and fill the bottom with ice and then a bit of water. Fit a mixing bowl over it (I have a lipped bowl that fits inside my pasta pot well). Make sure the ice water mixture comes up to at least 1/3 of the side of the mixing bowl.
Pour in your pint of whipping cream. Add a dash of salt.
Whip using an electric mixer or whisk well.
At about the halfway mark (when the whipped cream starts to hold its shape) start adding your crushed peppermint candy.
Continue to whip and taste as needed.
I prefer my whipped cream a little less sweet but your mileage may vary depending on how chunky your candy is and how sweet you want it. Be prepared to add between 1/4 to 1/2 cup of crushed candy. If you want it really minty, add some peppermint extract. If you want it really pink, add some red food coloring.
Once your cake layers have cooled, make sure that they are flat (cut off any mounding).
Either cut carefully or use dental floss to split each of the layers into two. (I’ve found cutting them easier if the cake is frozen.)
Place first layer on cake plate. Mound some whipped cream on layer and spread evenly.
Place next layer on top of that, repeat with as many layers as you have.
Frost top. Depending on how generous you’ve been with your whipped cream, you can also ice the sides, I kind of like being able to see all the layers without it being cut.
Dust the top with some remaining chunks of candy canes or whole starlight mints. Don’t add them until you’re ready to serve, they get a bit runny after about an hour in the whipped cream.
Chill cake if you’re not serving immediately. You can even freeze it and serve it that way.
● Use Cinnamon Candies instead of Peppermint
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
They say that smell is one of the most powerful memory and emotional triggers of the five senses. I’m inclined to believe that, some scents I’m just drawn to because of pleasant associations. The Apothecary’s Garden hard candies, I think, work well with the idea that you can get comfort in a simple reminder of something you have found pleasant in the past.
The cool part about them being encapsulated in candies is that you don’t have to light any incense or candles. The scent is self contained and if it’s not something everyone likes, well, they’re probably less likely to even catch a whiff of it if it’s in your mouth (well, unless you know them very well). I’ve been traveling around this month working on my novel and selecting these as I go along to match my prose.
Lavender (soothes, balances and harmonises) - these little oblong pieces match the blossoms best of all of the candies in this line. The flat lozenges look like a sprig of lavender, or perhaps an itty bitty light purple corn cob. The little ribs and bumps on the candy were kind of fun to run my tongue over (though they dissolved rather quickly). There was less of a floral taste to the candy and more of a balsam and pine taste with that oily menthol note that fresh lavender blossoms have. It was definitely soothing, and I’d probably reach for these when I have a tickle in the throat.
These would be great for novel scenes that involve morgues, streets with open sewers, and long bus trips where the characters are forced to sit in the back next to the toilet and around the chain smokers.
Rose (helps maintain balance and harmony) - I was expecting a soapy floral candy and was pleasantly surprised at how mellow this candy is. It has a hint of acidity to it that gives it a roundness, kind of a like a touch of honey or a barley sugar candy. The rose isn’t very strong, but reminded me quite a bit of some of the better Turkish Delight I’ve had over the years.
I’m not quite sure what the prescription difference is between the Rose and Lavender, but it’s nice to have the same effect but not the same flavor, I suppose.
This candy would go best with pastoral scenes of mother and baby bonding, main characters grappling with losing a parent, and after scenes of characters taking late-night public transportation after a rave or evening of clubbing.
Rosemary (helps maintain mental alertness) - I have to admit I wasn’t sure if rosemary could make a good candy flavor. It’s a rather strong herb, with a distinct and rather acrid flavor if you chew the fresh needles. (If you chew the dried ones, well, you may as well kiss a porcupine.)
This one reminded me of a woodsy cough drop, kind of a menthol and spearmint flavor mixed in with a pine wreath. They little candies are quite cute, the smallest of all that I tried, with two different designs in there, one a geometric pattern and the other a little flower medallion.
These would be great when writing scenes where there is a conceit of a ticking clock of some sort and the main character must diffuse a bomb. It’s also good for courtroom dramas and jury deliberations and any novel that involves delicate surgery or analysis of lines of computer code.
They really do soothe the throat and were, along with the Licorice and Anise, my favorite of all the Apothecary’s Garden candies.
These would be perfect for novels set in orchards or with fields of flowers as well as Gothic tales featuring mysterious tribes with ancient ways. Other novels that would be a good accompaniment include those with erotic passages involving food and adventurous quests across great expanses of land and sea.
Sunday, November 5, 2006
Recently my husband went to Chicago and called me from the Vosge homeworld asking what I’d like to have. I was really hoping for a Cardamom truffle (they call them Ellateria) but it turns out that flavor is part of a seasonal set and not made at the moment.
The new seasonal assortment is sold under the banner of Collection of Zion and features lots of freaky ingredients and flavors. I kind of enjoy such things, so I was curious to see what my mouth thought of these intellectually stimulating combinations of flavors.
Instead he brought home some other delightful chocolate spheres. Here are a few I tried:
Selassie (shown there in the center) - allspice + pumpkin = a mellow spice and soft chocolate ganache center gave it a custardy feel. The cloveness wasn’t really to my liking, but pleasant.
Ital - Blue Mountain coffee + fresh coconut = acidic, dark and bitter but wonderfully complex and nutty.
Zion - Red Stripe Beer + cocoa nibs = bitter and a little on the yeasty side with a dark complex and acidic crunch.
Budapest - Hungarian paprika + chocolate = mellow with a subtle spicy note that brings out some of the woodsy flavors of the chocolate.
Wink of the Rabbit - soft caramel + New Mexican pecan = milk chocolate is a nice change but a little sweet here, the pecan gives it a maple/woodsy flavor. The caramel is thick and a bit custardy.
It was a nice evening with my box of chocolates. They were all gone, lickety split. Never fear, I just got back from San Francisco and have lots of other exciting haut chocolates to talk about.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Ah, the last chapter in the Green Halloween series! More lollies.
Yummy Earth introduced their new organic candies at All Candy Expo back in June and I was immediately entranced. They’re not just organic, they’re also vegan and gluten free, so even the most sensitive folks can have a treat.
The lollipops come in four different flavors which gives you some variety but the one that intrigued me most was the Pomegranate Pucker. They’re just getting into stores, so you may be seeing them at Whole Foods or other health food stores soon. I got some samples back in Chicago and promptly ate them, but I didn’t want to do a review from memory so I popped the Yummy folks a note and they sent me this super-cute “Personal Bin” that holds 5.6 ounces & 30 assorted pops (and some other new candies that I’ll share a review of in a few weeks).
Cheeky Lemon - very lemony, like someone threw a whole lemon in a blender and poured it over a stick. The whole lemon taste is here, from the juice to the rind. It’s more of a grown-up lemon flavor than a kids one. The zest part of it gets really intense though never technically bitter, it gives me a kind of buzzy feeling on the inside of my lips after a while.
Pomegranate Pucker - dark and mysterious. It doesn’t taste quite like pomegranate to me but has a complex berry flavor to it with some elements that reminded me of red wine. Smooth and tangy, it’s quite different from other candy flavors and of course isn’t as messy as eating a real pomegranate (oh, how many shirts have I ruined with pomegranate squirts).
Wet-Face Watermelon - sweet, tangy and with a nice floral melon scent that really tastes like watermelon without that bitter chemical aftertaste that I’ve been getting lately from artificially flavored candies. The color is like a watermelon sorbet.
Orange Squeeze - wonderful mix of zesty and tart, like eating a spoonful of concentrated orange juice.
Razzmatazz Berry (not pictured) - it’s like a fruit punch, kind of raspberry, nicely tart and flavorful.
If you’ve got kids and want to give them little treats or are looking for something for your Halloween basket, this might be the thing. My only recommendation for children is to pick out the Lemon ones, They’re great, I just think that kids aren’t going to like them as much as the other flavors. You still might be able to order online before Halloween!
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
As National Novel Writing Month approaches my mind turns to writing-friendly candy. This is a tough category. Not only does the candy need to be neat (no sticky bits to get in the keyboard) but it also has to support the work at hand. In years past I’ve nibbled on licorice vines, Reese’s miniatures (not really recommended as they are a two-handed candy), M&Ms and orange Tootsie Pops.
This year I think I’ve found my new writing candy. It’s a little expensive at $6.50 for 150 grams (about 5.25 ounces), but writing a novel in a month is an indulgence anyway and if a few hard candies can keep me on task and perhaps ingest a little less caffeine, I’m all for it.
The Apothecary’s Garden is a line of hard candies made by Sweet Botanicals of England. Infused with different herbs and spices, they’re all drop-dead gorgeous little morsels. Not only that, they’re all natural. No freaky sweeteners, they’re just sugar, corn syrup and some spices with a little juice for color. The come in a clear plastic container, which of course gives you full view of their mouthwatertingness. (The only bad thing about this packaging is that I found them to be positively DIFFICULT to recap.) Today I’ll tackle the spices:
Cinnamon & Clove - gorgeous red spheres with white stripes. They’re the size of marbles and smell of Christmas. I’m not usually keen on clove, as it reminds me of dental procedures, but this was more on the mild side. The cinnamon was spicy and has a pleasant and mellow burn with the slight floral note of the clove that was more on the violet end than the medicine side.
The candy itself is dense and sweet with few, if any, voids that can make for sharp edges to cut your tongue.
This candy would be appropriate for novels taking place on damp moors, alien infested swamp planets and anything set during the Civil War.
Chili (a useful digestive aid) - delicate little candies, no larger than a dried garbanzo (the smallest of all I tried). They’re lightly pink and have the disarming smell of cotton candy. On the tongue they start with a slight floral note of rose and are clean tasting. But after a moment the chili spice kicks in. It has a little burn, but something I feel on the tongue, nothing in the back of the throat.
This candy would be appropriate for writing time travel scenes, large spans of exposition in any style novel and of course anything set in the Southwestern US, Mexico or Central America.
Licorice & Anise (Helps Coughs and Catarrh) - beautiful large medallion-like pieces, they’re the largest of all the Apothecary’s Garden candies I tried. They’re also not a solid hard candy but a filled candy. The hard shell is a mellow licorice flavor with a liberal note of both anise and molasses (the ingredients lists brown sugar treacle). Inside is a soft, moist and grainy center of a rich brown sugar that soothes the throat (and tastes good!).
This candy would be appropriate for steampunk novels with characters involved heavily in action scenes, anything set in the middle ages, circuses or in cold climates and of course action-adventures that involve going places without proper vaccinations.
Ginger & Orange (Useful for Travel Sickness) - these are long hexagons that are squashed into rods. The smell slightly of orange and on the tongue they immediately get me tingly with a little tangy bite and the spice of the ginger. There’s a definite rooty flavor to these that overpowers any orange essence other than the color and tangy quality.
I can’t attest to their ability to stave off motion sickness, but I will in a few months when whale watch season opens and I hit the nearshore seas. I have, however, found that ginger is good for keeping the queasies at bay, so I’m looking forward to giving these a real test.
This candy would be appropriate for novels with sea voyages or taking place on spaceships with questionable inertial dampeners/artificial gravity. It is also good for consuming during scenes involving early pregnancy and dizzying passages describing architecture.
I have lots more flavors and I’ll be posting about those soon. At $6.50 a package, they’re a wee on the expensive side. But they’re also not a candy you gobble down, so they last a while. The flavors are unique and it’s obvious the attention that’s paid to their creation, so I’d be willing to pay a little more. Right now the only place I know to get them in the States is ArtisanSweets.com (they sent me the samples) ... but they also sell the Montelimar Nougat that I love so much, so you know, you could get some of that at the same time.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Hershey is hopping into the upscale chocolate venue with their new Cacao Reserve line.
Much creamier and less grainy than regular Hershey’s chocolate. They’re not kidding about the premium hazelnuts, they are fresh and crunchy with a wonderful malty/nutty flavor. It’s sweet but dense and satisfying. A 1.3 ounce portion is rather puny considering my desire to eat more.
Extra Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs (65% cacao dark chocolate) - the description from the website says, “Deep, rich chocolate profile with cacao nibs ‘the heart of the cacao bean,’ for a lively textural crunch.”
The bar has a deep smoky scent with berries and cherries as added notes. A little bitter on the tongue at first, it has a nice melt (65% is a nice compromise) with some strong charcoal and woodsy elements dominating. The nibs have an excellent crunch without the fibery chew that they sometimes add. This may be the first “consumer” nibby bar, and it’s pretty good at that.
The ingredients are a little odd for a “reserve” dark chocolate bar: Semi-sweet chocolate (chocolate, sugar, cocoa, milk fat, cocoa butter, organic soy lecithin, vanilla beans), cacao nibs, milk. What’s with putting the dairy in there?
Overall, Hershey has created a high quality product. I prefer these to the Extra Dark line. The portion size is smaller than a normal candy bar, and of course the price is a little high, but the quality of the bar is evident. There other two bars in the introductory line are plain milk chocolate and dark chocolate, which I wasn’t as interested in as these two, so I was glad these were the two that the 7-11 had in stock. I would definitely pick both of these up again as a quick, upscale treat, especially for traveling or to put in a lunch.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
The lovely folks at Endanged Species thought I should try more of their bars (well, so did the lovely Candy Blog readers in the comments section). They happily sent me a small selection to try, here are a couple of the milk chocolate bars.
Milk Chocolate with Peanut Brittle - there’s an elephant on the package! I’m guessing because elephants like peanuts. The base of this bar is a very dark, rich milk chocolate with 52% cocoa content. In fact, it’s so chocolatey that the sugar (made from water-filtered beet sugar) is third on the list of ingredients instead of first in most milk chocolates. That’s not to say that the chocolate isn’t sweet, but it also has an intense creaminess to it that I’ve found very rare in other milk chocolates. The dairy component is quite rich but it doesn’t feel sticky.
Sprinkled in there are peanut brittle chips. They have a nice salty bite and crispness and add a good peanut crunch. I’d argue that it isn’t really peanut brittle but toffee, since it’s so buttery, but I don’t feel that argument much matters.
This is a fantastic bar that may convert some folks who say they don’t like milk chocolate because it’s too homogeneous tasting but it still retains its munchability. I ate the whole bar in a matter of two days. 9 out of 10.
Milk Chocolate with Rice Crisp - this bar has a manatee on the front. I doubt manatees have a fondness for rice though as vegetarians I don’t imagine they’d be adverse to it. This bar contains the same dark 52% cocoa content milk chocolate. This bar has a slightly smokier taste to it, which I’m guessing is added by the crisped rice. The first third of the bar, I hated it. The crisped rice tasted bitter and burnt to me. But I thought maybe I just had a bad rice crisp or two. I waited a day and tried it again. The crisped rice still reminds me of those bits of barely popped popcorn that end up in the bottom of the bowl. Very toasted tasting and with a much denser crunch.
Though the second try was more successful, I just wasn’t keen on the rustic taste of the rice crisps. There weren’t enough of them to make it a really crunchy bar and the intense flavor they added didn’t thrill me. I’m a huge fan of grains and eat a lot of them (barley is my favorite, if you didn’t already know) but this just wasn’t my thing. 6 out of 10.
Endangered Species is now based in Indiana (they moved from Oregon last year) and the make ethically traded chocolate bars in a huge variety of flavor combinations. The cool part is that the commitment to the environment goes to all facets of the production and marketing. The packages are printed on recycled paper and with soy-based biodegradable inks. The 10% of all profits are donated to animal conservation causes. Each bar is branded with a different endangered animal and the inside of the wrapper has that animal’s story. There are often coupons as well and tips for making small changes in your life to lessen your impact on the environment.
Though the bars are all natural, these are not organic (though there are other bars in their repertoir that are). Some of the cocoa beans that they acquire are Fair Trade certified and others do not have the certification but are ethically traded. Their packaging and story helps them to appeal to kids moreso than other wholesome-branded chocolates.
Tuesday, September 5, 2006
I’ve avoided Cocoavia since it was introduced last year. There’s something disconcerting about selling candy as health food in my mind. I don’t disagree that things like chocolate can have beneficial elements in them, but the fat and calories and lack of other positive characteristics makes it seem like we’re kidding ourselves when we believe that chocolate is good for us.
But all things in moderation, eh?
I’ve only seen the bars at the store, so I wasn’t particularly interested in what appeared to be a Dove bar with a lot of health benefits. But then I found a product I hadn’t seen before, Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds. Inside this large but light box are five one ounce packets of dark chocolate covered almonds. I usually buy Trader Joe’s mix of dark & milk chocolate covered almonds, but these were in individual packets, which is a nice feature and a quick glance at the box showed that they were even fortified with extra vitamins and minerals.
Each packet has an ounce, which is about 13 chocolate covered almonds. The package is appealing, with luxurious dark colors and some sassy photos of the candy within. The chocolate is glossy and dark though it doesn’t really smell very compelling. It melts readily on the tongue and though the package says semisweet, it’s not sticky, sickly sweet at all and buttery smooth. It has a nice smoky and complex flavor without much acidity. There’s a little floral note to it that gave it a little lightness. The almonds are superb, crunchy and fresh and a decent size.
I was really surprised at how good these were. Though I still don’t subscribe to the whole “eat these for a healthy heart” thing, I will definitely finish the box. The packages provide a good degree of portion control and each bag is only 140 calories. It also offers 3 grams of fiber and protein, 20% of your calcium, 4% of your iron and 10% of your Vitamin E, Folic Acid, B6, Vitamin C and B12. The almonds contain essential fatty acids and of course the chocolate has cocoa flavanols that recent studies are showing can have a positive effect on cardiovascular disease risks. Even though there are all these things on the box and the marketing that are saying how healthy these are, I’d prefer to think that they’re at least not a detriment to your health when eaten in responsible quantities.
So, if you’re on a restricted diet and are looking for a little treat that won’t throw you off whack, I’m a huge believer in the nut and chocolate combo as a satisfying sweet. (Not nearly as bad for you as, say, a dish of ice cream.) The benefit over any old chocolate covered nuts is this proprietary Cocoapro (tm) process that’s supposed to pack more flavanols in there that can lower bad cholesterol levels. The price is, well, pricey (about $16 a pound) but try to find them on sale.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.