Wednesday, April 19, 2006
One of the best things about going to New York City is I always know I can find great Halvah there, and often Turkish Delight. I know that it’s not everyone’s favorite candy, and I’ll wager that many candy aficionados haven’t even tried it before.
Let’s face it, traditional halvah as sold at the counter of a candy shop or deli is never very appetizing. I remember the first time I had halvah; my mother returned from New York City with some wonderful baked goods (including some sort of super decadent flourless chocolate cake from Dean & Deluca) and a slice of this stuff. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed at first. What was it? How do I eat it?
Halvah (also spelled halva or halwa) is basically a crystallized paste of sesame seeds (tahini) and sugar. There are often other additions, such as nuts, dried fruit or chocolate. It can be further dressed up and dipped in chocolate or rolled in nuts.
I’m rather fond of plain halvah with pistachios. The stuff that I get here in Los Angeles is usually prepackaged and who knows how old. This halvah that we picked up at Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side ($7.99/lb.) was fresh and crumbly and smelled wonderfully of sesame and vanilla. To eat halvah I usually break off a few small pieces (each about the size of a walnut) and put them in a little ramekin and then eat it with my fingers, sometimes breaking the pieces into smaller bits. Since there’s a crystalline structure that forms as the halvah cools, it cleaves better than it cuts.
The taste is hard to describe but it’s basically a sweet paste of sesame kind of like a light, sweet peanut butter. It’s not quite like marzipan, which doesn’t dissolve completely because of the almonds. Some folks don’t like the texture, some don’t like the smell of sesame (I can’t stand the smell of toasted sesame oil, so it’s a wonder that I like this stuff at all). It’s buttery and smooth as it melts on the tongue and is quite filling. The pistachios add a dash of nuttiness to it. Overall, halvah has a slight malty taste to it, which might be why I’m attracted to it.
It’s amazing to think that I’ve never had chocolate covered halvah before, but I guess I just don’t shop at the right stores. I found these at Economy Candy around the corner from Russ & Daughters. Outside is a sweet chocolate and crushed almonds and inside is a marbled chocolate halvah cube.
They’re quite messy to eat, as you can imagine. The halvah in these is a bit softer and a little oilier. The sweet chocolate and nuts make for a very filling treat, but quite addictive. I bought a half a dozen of these (they were 50 cents each) and proceeded to eat three of them that afternoon and had to make another trip to buy more because I promised to bring some back for my mother-in-law. Who knows how many will make it to the weekend when I am going to present them to her.
I know that there’s been a huge surge in interest in Turkish Delight (also known as Turkish Paste or Lokum) since The Chronicles of Narnia came out, and I wrote a bit about that here. I like Turkish Delight in most flavors, but I’m a little unusual in that I appreciate floral flavors in my candy. It’s rather hard to find good, fresh Turkish Delight in the United States. There’s the prepackaged stuff, but I’ve heard it’s a far cry from the fresh stuff you can get in the markets in the Middle East.
This Turkish Delight was new for me. I usually get the plain squares that are flavored rather traditionally with rosewater, mint, lemon, orange or orange blossom. This was pistachio and rosewater. Let’s face it, it’s rather unappealing looking. Just a slice of jelly with pistachios embedded in it and covered with powdered sugar. At the counter where I picked it out at Economy Candy ($8.99/lb.), it was displayed as a long log, spiraled into a rather odd looking white lump. But this trip was about adventure.
Turkish Delight needs to be eaten fresh, so I ate most of this while I was still in NYC, saving about four slices (there was a half pound minimum) for the photos when I got back. This is addictive stuff and I can see why Edmund got into so much trouble even with the un-nutted stuff. It smells like light flowers and of course sugar. Biting into it, the suspension of the rosewater jelly has made the pistachios soft and buttery. The mix of the nuts which are also known for their perfumy qualities and the lightly sweet rose jelly is quite stunning. I found myself chewing and swallowing quickly just so I could take another bite. Sometimes I’d hit a spot where there was a lot of jelly and got to revel in the fragrant stickiness and other times it was all nuts. Of course every once in a while you get a bad nut and that’s no fun.
I don’t recommend it for everyone. If you’re the type of person who likes Spice Jelly Beans or the more fragrant Indian spices like cardamom and star anise, you might like Turkish Delight.
Monday, April 17, 2006
Whoo hoo! I had quite a morning down in SoHo on my last day in NYC. My first stop was at Vosges. I’d already been in NYC for a week, and I’d resisted the temptation to go upscale. But I’d done all the other scales and the trip had been pretty cheap, so here I was, throwing caution to the wind.
I’ve already tried several of the Vosges chocolate bars and though they’re fantastically expensive for chocolate bars ($6.75 each), they had flavor combinations you just don’t get from anyone else in that price range.
But I really needed to try the truffles, again, because of the flavor combinations.
Stepping into the shop, it was larger than many other little places I’d visited in NYC and it didn’t hurt that it was a Thursday morning and the only other person in the shop besides the woman behind the counter was a messenger who seemed a little lost and grateful for a little sample of chocolate before he got his bearings.
As I got my bearings by taking a few of the same samples (one was the Red Fire chocolate and the other was their version of guanduia) and became accustomed to the vibrant purple tones, I ordered a hot chocolate. They had three to chose from, a standard European style dark hot chocolate, a Red Fire, which I’d already had several of since I came to NY and then the last option on the board was a Hot White Chocolate. Now I’m not normally one to go for these sorts of things, but I hadn’t had anything to eat so far that morning (it was a little after 11AM) but it was described as an infusion of white chocolate and lavender with lemon. Sounds good enough for me. I wasn’t disappointed. It was served in a tall, narrow cylinder of a glass and it was spectacular. It was like drinking a creme brulee, but not quite so syrupy rich. Not nearly as sweet as I expected, it was creamy and rich and the citrus/floral infusion kept it feeling light and refreshing. I don’t mind spending that much at all, because I know it’s something I’m never going to make at home.
While drinking I had plenty of time to look over the truffles to make my selection:
Absinthe - an infusion of anise, fennel and pastis - lighter and more woodsy than licorice, the smooth ganache blended well. The top was sprinkled with ground Chinese star anise, which was the only part that I didn’t like, as it added a little too much grain to the experience.
Ellateria - Holy Moly! It’s the Holy Grail of cardamom chocolates. Why don’t they make a chocolate bar like this? The ganache is an infusion of dark chocolate with cardamom and white poppy seeds with more sprinkled on top. The whole box was fragranced by the cardamom, these were smooth and flavorful and just made me want more. It’s rare when a truffle makes me want to pop another in my mouth.
Poivre - yes peppercorn truffles and boy howdy is the burn nice. Telicherry black and Muntok white peppercorns in a smooth ganache and some extra crushed peppercorns on the top for a lingering tingle.
Tlan Nacu - I couldn’t even remember which one this was when I bit into it and I had to look it up. It was a nice, dark chocolate truffle with seemingly no essences to it. It turns out it was Vanilla. Hey, it was! Mellow and sweet, vanilla is a wonderful complement to chocolate.
Naga - of all of the truffles I picked out, this is the only one I had tried in bar form. Naga is coconut and curry in milk chocolate. It’s quite a stunning combination, with a strange milky quality and of course the tickly tingle of curry.
Sal del Mare - a salted caramel. This one still qualified as a truffle though. the lighter chocolate shell had two chambers, the bottom was flowing salted caramel and the top was chocolate ganache. The caramel was smooth and sweet and with a salted bite and the chocolate set it off nicely. Not nearly as shocking as some other salted caramels and this one had the added bonus of a pine nut on top to mellow all the flavors together.
(Yes, there are more truffles in the box than listed here, I did some doubles and one just for my husband that I didn’t taste.)
Overall, I think that the Vosges shop is a great destination, a little treat for yourself if you’re in one of the cities where they have a store (Chicago, NYC and Las Vegas). The quality is superb, the freshness and combination of flavors set them apart from many other trufflers. Whereas many of the other truffles and chocolates I experienced (Pierre Marcolini & Marie Belle) on this trip were the flattened kind, Vosges makes them as generous spheres that give you ample ganache for really appreciating the flavors. I don’t see myself ordering them online, but I know I’ll make an effort to see their flagship store in Chicago when I’m there in June.
The store also features some clothing and candles and other lifestyle paraphernalia, but I’m not about to start reviewing the branded merchandise that goes with chocolate. There’s a long bar with stools for sitting and enjoying a drink or truffle on site with a friend or as a solo treat, and if you play your cards right, you can get out of there for less than $10.00. But if you’re looking for a real splurge, they have a “Club Haut-Chocolat” where they’ll send you a box of nine for 13 months for a mere $490. That’s love, baby.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:33 pm
Monday, April 3, 2006
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to participate in the tasteEverything Independent Food Awards, I was thrilled to see the other awards given. But the first one that I made an effort to get a hold of was the Sahagun Salted Caramels. Since I’m not going to get to Portland anytime soon, my husband mentioned it to friends there and they went right out and
bought me some (and some for themselves)!
I’m not quite sure what they all are, but I had to start with the caramels, which I knew were the tall ones with the nuts on top because the one in the back was actually broken in shipping. These are fantastic! The chocolate is smooth and mellow and the caramel filling is unlike most other caramels I’ve ever had. It was dark and complex, with quite a bit of salt in it and a gooey but not flowing texture. I hesitate to say that it was jelly-like or custard-like, but it definitely wasn’t quite caramel. The crunch of the hazelnut on top brings all the textures together.
The real find is that amorphous blob there on the right. I had no idea what it was going to be. It was a dark chocolate shell with a white chocolate coconut center. It’s hard to describe. Instead of the drab sweet center of a Mounds bar, this is a delicate and mild buttery base filled with soft and chewy coconut. I have never experienced coconut like this before.
The coffee truffle (not pictured) was shaped like a big button and dusted with cocoa and very smooth and soft a very strong coffee flavor. It wasn’t sweet at all, just like a cup of coffee without sugar would be. It was quite a refreshing change from many of the “too sweet” Easter candies I’ve been gorging on.
The other sphere there on the left, that’s dusted with a luster powder, is a plain chocolate truffle. Like the coffee one, it wasn’t sugary at all, except this one has a chocolate shell, which adds a touch of sweetness. The center is buttery and dense and quite satisfying.
The little medallions of chocolate we also dusted with that luster powder. I find it a little unappealing, like someone spilled their eyeshadow on my candy. But it doesn’t taste like anything that I can tell. (I know these edible lusters are quite trendy now, but it you haven’t already guess, I’m not really the trendy sort.) The coins were simply dark chocolate and it gave me an opportunity to experience the chocolate used in all of these creations on its own. It’s mellow and only slightly sweet with a dry, bitter bite towards the end, as plain eating chocolate is quite nice, but it really shines when used in combination with the other ingredients here.
The last item I didn’t even take a photo of, it was a what I thought was a nut bark. Oh, I should have known that it wasn’t going to be run of the mill. I have no idea what it’s called, but it’s dark chocolate with spicy corn nuts. The salty, extra crunchy and slight burn of the corn nuts went really well with the chocolate. It hardly felt like a sweet at all, but was entirely satisfying and possibly addictive. Of course it’s probably a good thing
From everything I’ve heard the best part about Sahagun is visiting the shop, so if you’re in Portland, OR, make a point of it. They’re at 10 N.W. 16th Ave. You can read more in this interview at Portland Food and Drink.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:53 am
Thursday, March 16, 2006
The traditional icon for Easter candy has always been Jelly Beans. I’m not sure when they were invented, but they’re a great candy because they are their own wrapper. You can hold them in your hand and unless you’re exceptionally sweaty, they don’t melt. Back in the day jelly beans were like gumdrops and came in spice flavors. Sometime late in the last century this changed and spice beans fell out of favor and now just about all jelly beans are fruit flavored.
The Starburst Jelly Beans are really fruity flavored jelly beans. A little smaller than the old fashioned spice ones but not as small as a Jelly Belly. They come in Cherry, Strawberry, Green Apple, Orange, Lemon and Grape. Like Jelly Belly, the Starburst beans use both a flavored center and flavored shell to maximize the taste. The Starburst beans are zesty and fruity, with a nice ring of tart. The shell, though a little grainy at first when you chew it, dissolves nicely. The whole candy dissolves very well instead of sticking like the Jelly Belly tend to do. (Note: Starburst Jelly Beans are made in Mexico.)
Here’s the array to match up the flavors of (Jelly Belly) and Starbursts for my taste test. From top left to lower right it goes: (Green Apple) Green Apple, (Blueberry) Grape, (Orange) Orange, (Strawberry Daquiri) Strawberry, (Lemon) Lemon, (Very Cherry) Cherry.
I’ve already said lots about the Jelly Belly. I think they’re fantastic jelly beans. I don’t really care for the flavor mix boxes, I prefer to pick out my own jelly bean flavors. I usually go with a citrus mix of the various lemons, orange, tangerine and grapefruit and maybe a little pina colada.
What I prefer about the Starburst is that there’s just fewer flavors, and the colors are pretty easy to distinguish so there are no surprises. I found the cherry flavor okay and if I had to drop a flavor, it’d be the grape.
When I was at the store it was obvious that there’s been an explosion of jelly bean brands. Everyone is making them now. You can get Lifesaver branded ones, Ferrara Pan, SweeTarts, Starburst has several other flavor mixes ... I could go on and on. If you’re looking for value, well, the Starburst are FAR less expensive and with Easter candy half the fun is the insane quantity. Really, you can’t go wrong with jelly beans. What I always liked about jelly beans is that they were a candy you could leave out, unwrapped, in a bowl or in the grass of your Easter basket and as long as they didn’t get wet, they seemed to stay fresh forever. Well, I’ve never tested forever ... a jelly bean never lasted long in my house.
If you’ve tried these or one of the other brands of jelly beans, like SweeTarts or Lifesavers, what did you think?
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
The standard of Easter themed “regular” candies has been the Reese’s egg for quite a while in my mind. It’s not really that different from a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup, yet it is.
The Reese’s egg has naked sides. Instead of sitting all snuggled in a cup with fluted sides to keep it protected, the Reese’s egg sits there on a little flimsy tray. And when you pull it out of its wrapper, you can see the whole thing, with no little bits and flecks lost during the unwrapping.
One of the things that’s different about the Egg is that it’s slightly skewed in the proportion of chocolate to peanut butter that we’re used to in the regular cup. Just look at how much of that is peanut butter. Reese’s peanut butter is interesting too. It’s slightly cool on the tongue and a little dry. It crumbles in the mouth and dissolves as well as melts. It has a good hit of salt, which makes the milk chocolate coating seem all the sweeter and smoother.
I’ll admit that there are some people who prefer a smoother peanut butter in their cups, but I like the crumbly texture that includes the bitty bits of nuts in it.
The Reese’s Eggs are nothing like the Hershey’s Eggs, except that they’re egg-shaped. These are little foil wrapped chocolate eggs filled with the Reese’s peanut butter found in the Peanut Butter cups. Honestly, I was worried that I’d end up with the stuff that’s inside Reese’s Pieces.
I’m not sure how they make these, but it appears that they create a half-shell of an egg and fill it with the peanut butter and then join it with another half-shell. There’s a bit of a void in the center of most of the ones I ate (and I ate quite a few just to see).
The proportions on this variety of Reese’s egg are probably one to one on the chocolate and peanut butter. The shell is very thick and with the void there’s not that much peanut butter in there. The combination in the mouth is nice, again, the salty hit and crumbly texture of the peanut butter blends well with the sweet and creamy milk chocolate. The chocolate shell feels just slightly oily to the touch, I’m not sure if it’s because some of the eggs seeped a bit of their peanut oil or they make them that way so they’ll come out of their molds ... or maybe it’s because I’m used to eating things sealed with carnauba wax.
I like both versions. Aesthetically I think I prefer the little foil wrapped ones, they’re easier to share and of course save some for later. I haven’t tried freezing them (I like my Reese’s Miniatures frozen) but I imagine they’ll do very well. These are definitely on my list of items to pick up on sale after the holiday. I think what’s interesting is that these plus the original Peanut Butter cup and the miniatures demonstrate what a difference proportion makes, even when you have, basically, two ingredients.
UPDATE 4/7/2009: Hershey’s has changed the formula on this classic egg. Not only that, there are several versions lurking in stores. There are packages like that reviewed above that say Milk Chocolate Reese’s Egg and then there are others that just say Reese’s Egg that may or may not have a real chocolate shell.
The new ingredients indicated that they’re really not chocolate (I know, the photo looks like all the other photos, but trust me, this is what the reverse says):
Peanuts, sugar, dextrose, vegetable oil (cocoa butter, palm, shea, sunflower and/or safflower oil), chocolate, nonfat milk, contains 2% or less of milk fat, lactose, salt, whey, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, corn syrup, soy lecithin, cornstarch, glycerin, TBHQ & PGPR, vanillin.
They look a little flatter than the milk chocolate eggs (labeled or not). As for the taste, well, this one seemed really salty to me, but maybe that’s what happens when I have peanut butter eggs for breakfast. (Hey, eggs are a breakfast food!)
The mockolate coating wasn’t bad, it wasn’t any worse looking than the current eggs. It has a similar melt and cool feeling on the tongue, it’s sweet but I didn’t taste any milky component to it.
I still don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know why they’ve have both on the market at the same time, why they’d make two versions and ruin something that was perfectly good and perfect. As for the ruining part, well, they’re not that bad but I’m not fond of eating palm oil when I could be eating cocoa butter. Read more about it here.
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
I don’t know what came over me. I bought a bar of white chocolate. I know there are purists out there who don’t think that white chocolate is chocolate at all. But if the stuff that is called mockolate (cocoa solids and hydrogenated or palm oils) can’t be called chocolate because it’s lacking cocoa butter, then this stuff that has cocoa butter but not the cocoa solids can at least be called white chocolate.
Each year, as Easter gets closer, against my better judgment I want white chocolate. I don’t actually like white chocolate, it’s usually so sweet it makes my throat hurt and has some sort of electrical effect on my fillings so as to give me a jolt. But there it is, I get to craving it.
I know it has to do with those molded chocolates that my paternal grandmother used to put out on display at Easter. Little bunnies and molded white chocolate baskets filled with different colored white chocolate lollipops. It always smelled of vanilla, sugar and jelly beans ... far sweeter than anything had a right to be. It was like it was some sort of super-dense sugar confection. I’ve mentioned candy season before, and it’s important to note that Easter is the final holiday in Candy Season - so it’s probably the reason that I felt the need to gorge on the highest sugar content products available to me.
But I’d heard that the Green & Black’s Creamy Vanilla White Chocolate Bar was different. So, I bought one at Whole Foods. Rationalizing the whole time that I was doing it for you, dear readers. I was taking the white chocolate bullet for you, so that you might avoid it.
I opened the wrapper and instead of being greeted by something that looked like paraffin, it was creamy colored and flecked with real bits of vanilla. It smelled milky and sweet, but not sticky. A mix of cognac, butter and honey.
The first ingredient is still sugar (well, organic raw cane sugar), but it boasts 30% cocoa content and 28% milk. If you like the dairy milk flavor of European milk chocolates, like Cadbury, then I think you’ll like this bar. It’s sweet, but flavorful, with a good hit of bourbon notes in the vanilla. The bar melts smoothly and velvety on the tongue and leaves me wanting more.
I ate the whole bar yesterday at work, which is saying a lot. I don’t usually consume something this big in one sitting. (Even an eight hour sitting.) Something about a rainy day makes me want to snuggle up with a nice bar of sugar, dairy and fat. Mmmm.
This bar has done something dangerous, it’s changed my mind about white chocolate. Luckily, I’ve only come to the conclusion that I like Green & Black’s White Chocolate. I can’t give it a ten ... let’s face it, I’m prejudiced ... I just can’t do it. If I cave in and buy another one, I’ll come back here and update the rating. The true test is whether I want it after Easter is over.
Note: Though Green & Black’s is a UK company, the bar was made in Italy. Green & Black’s is now owned by Cadbury Schweppes. This bar is organic, but not fair trade certified.
Monday, March 6, 2006
There are currently three varieties of Goetze’s Caramel Creams. Each has a different name, which is kind of confusing. The plain vanilla variety is called Caramel Creams (though people often call them Bull’s Eyes). The chocolate ones are called Bull’s Eyes and the strawberry ones are called StrawberriCreams. I’ve never seen the chocolate or strawberry versions in the tray pack (which is usually how I buy my Goetze’s), but I did find them in the pick-a-mix at Baldinger’s in Zelienople.
They all have the same cool sugar cream center, but the caramel outside is a little different.
Original: The original Caramel Cream is not really what I consider caramel. It’s not buttery and smooth, but more doughy. It tastes kind of like a plain cookie dough with a plain, sweet icing. The caramel itself isn’t particularly sticky, what really sells the candy is the cream center. There really isn’t anything else like a Goetze’s Caramel Cream. The center is cool and soft and melts away almost instantly. I usually turn my caramel creams inside out when I eat them, popping the cream onto my tongue and waiting for that to dissolve before consuming the caramel O.
Chocolate - These are wildly different tasting than the original flavor. The chocolate dough is dark and smoky, not really a creamy chocolate experience, more like a really chocolatey Tootsie Roll. The caramel cream center stands out even more in this candy because of the darkness of the caramel. I would buy more of these as a companion to my beloved originals.
Strawberry - Gah! They smell like fake strawberries and taste like it, too. The dough nature of the caramel doesn’t really lend itself to this flavor, it’s kind of like a poor imitation of strawberry shortcake, a little tart, very sweet. I had to excise these from my pick-a-mix candy as the smell was rather revolting to me. I know some folks will like these (and probably do, since they’ve been around for a while), but I’m not one of them.
All of these flavors also come in a Cow Tales version as well. Generally I prefer to buy my Caramel Creams in the tray pack, as I think they stay fresh better that way than the twisted cello wrapped candies in the pick-a-mix. (I give the caramel and chocolate varieties a 9 ... the strawberri one is probably a 3 in my book.) All varieties contain both Hydrogenated Oils and High Fructose Corn Sweetener.
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
As is often the case when I’m buying Japanese candy at Mitsuwa, I wasn’t quite sure what these were. Some good pictures on the package are always helpful and I figured that these were just coffee flavored chocolate shaped like coffee beans. They are, and so much more.
The candies come in a sassy cardboard tube (wrapped in plastic to keep them fresh). The name, coffeebeat is in English, as I believe that the word ‘coffee’ is pretty recognizable in the Japanese market. The font is funky and reminds me of the ‘70s. Inside the tube are little coffee bean shaped (but slightly larger) chocolate candies with a hard candy shell like an M&M. They even have the little crease on the flat side like a real coffee bean.
The shell is sweet and crunchy and very thin. The center is chocolate with strong milky flavor to it and of course a hit of coffee. It tastes like a mocha. Sweet, smooth, milky and with an excellent coffee flavor that doesn’t feel like a “flavor.” In fact, it’s less chocolate than it is coffee - the chocolate is just a medium to deliver the milky coffee flavor. If you’re a black coffee person, I can see that this might not be the coffee candy for you.
The package is cute, makes it easy to share and the quality is very good. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with the Meiji brand. The products are well priced, use quality ingredients, have logical yet innovative packaging and of course they all taste great. The website seems to indicate they’re for kids, but maybe I’m just a kid at heart.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.