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.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
I hinted heavily after Christmas to my husband (well, via the blog anyway) that I was pretty keen on trying some of the sale items from Dean & Deluca. He came through with every one of them. This is the Leonardi Cioccolatini Aceto Balsamico di Modena (Chocolates with a glaze of Balsamic Vinegar from Modena).
Balsamic vinegar seems like a new thing to throw in chocolates and I’ve had a few of them now. Often they’re quite tart or acrid, I don’t think the acidity of the vinegar always goes well with chocolate. These came in a pearly paper tube with a sealed plastic bag inside holding the individually red mylar wrapped pieces. They smell of smoky chocolate and carnations.
These are generous two bite pieces. The outside shell is a nice mild bittersweet chocolate that holds a wonderful dense creamy classic truffle center (there are eggs in here).
The balsamic vinegar is not overwhelming, instead it provides a smooth sherry-like background. A little sweeter but also with a slight almost alcoholic bite.
These are really good.
They were originally $42 but are still on sale at $10.50 for the 8.8 ounce container. (Mine are good until March 13, 2007 ... as if they’ll make it to the end of the week.) This might be the deal of the season for Valentine’s Day.
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!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.