Thursday, December 13, 2007
As disappointed as I was that the Peppermint Peep Stars had artificial sweeteners, I was just as excited to see that Trader Joe’s has Peppermint Marshmallows that are not only all natural, but also Kosher! (Which basically means that they’re using Kosher gelatin, which is non-porcine.)
However, Nicole at Baking Bites already had a review of them, which didn’t say they were bad, just that she wasn’t thrilled with the flavor. I still really wanted to try them, especially because it was Hanukkah.
The large marshmallow cubes come in a little tub and weigh a hefty 7 ounces. The packaging was a bit, well, feminine with all its pink and green-ness. But it was refreshingly un-holiday, which might mean that they’d be an all-year product. When they say that they’re all natural, they’re not kidding. The pink swirls are created with red radish juice.
They’re only vaguely pink with some little streaks of darker pink inside some of them. They were very hard to get out of the tub. The first one I mangled (but put back together for the photo) so I just dumped the whole tub out and lightly teased them apart. (Perhaps some waxed paper between them in the future?)
They felt very strange and fleshy in the hand. A little bouncy, a little latexy and not terribly light for a marshmallow. The outer texture was a little grainy, I’m guessing where the moisture of the marshmallow mixed with the sugar and dusting of corn starch. They smell like peppermint, but on the medicinal side somehow. Like toothpaste. And maybe mentholated rubbing alcohol.
The first time I bit into one I was puzzled and repulsed. I made my husband and a neighbor try it. They were both, well, not thrilled (and I had to give them something nice to eat after that). I waited a couple of days and dug around into the bottom of the tub to see if that was just a bad couple of squares.
It’s like eating toothpaste. They’re kind of fluffy, but not light. The texture is grainy, like a sugar paste. I can only imagine this is a bad batch because Nicole’s looked more like marshmallows and less like wads of chewed bread dough.
I went back and looked at Nicole’s photo and realized that this must be a bad batch. My best indication for this is that the tub weighed over 10 ounces (the marked weight is 7). So I went back to the store on Hyperion in Silverlake. All of the others on the shelf looked the same and were the same lot number, so I passed (and obviously picked up a bunch of other goodies you’ve been reading about this week). I also told the manager on duty that there was something wrong with them. I figured another store would have a different batch. So today I went off on my lunch break to the location on Third and La Brea. Sadly I didn’t memorize the lot number and ended up buying the same lot (1101071730 exp 01/26/2008) and finding the same grainy consistency (and this package weighed 9.8 ounces according to my postage scale).
I shouldn’t have to work this hard. (I haven’t decided if I’m going to take these back. At $4, I want something that’s at least the intended quality, even if I don’t like it.)
As far as buying artisan marshmallows, I’d say stick with either one of the actual artisan companies (Plush Puffs, Little Flower Candy Company & Boule are some good Los Angeles-based ones) or go for the French ones from Arnaud Soubeyran or the Williams Sonoma house brand (I tried them last year but never got around to reviewing them, they’re very dense and latexy but really satisfying). Or just get some Jet Puffed. It’s sad, because these are the first Kosher marshmallows I’ve found.
Last year Trader Joe’s had a standout product called Fleur de Sel Caramels (they’re back for 2007 as well). Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels seem to be capitalizing on the trend of the salted caramel and throwing in dark chocolate for kicks.
It’s obviously a seasonal item as well, with little string/line drawings of pine trees and the green theme. The package says, “buttery smooth caramels drenched in Belgian chocolate then sprinkled with crunchy rock salt from the Dead Sea.” Wow, Belgium ... the Dead Sea ... and they’re made in Ireland. I feel so worldly.
This is one of those instances where the product looks pretty much like the photo on the package, so no disappointment there. Although out of the box they had a little dusting of microfine salt dust. (A little paintbrush took care of that for the photoshoot.) They smell nice, like chocolate and a little hint of butter.
The box has a plastic tray with a dozen little chocolate covered caramels. They fit snugly, so there were no problems with dented or broken pieces, though there were a few salt chunks rattling around.
Biting into them they have a light flowing caramel filling. It’s not glossy smooth like advertised though. There’s a very slight grain to it, but it’s completely consistent. (I wonder if this is because the boxes are displayed above the frozen food and the package specifically says “do not refrigerate”.)
There’s something a little off about the buttery-ness of them though. It’s too buttery. In fact, it’s butter flavored. Looking at the ingredients I found that way down at the end was something called “natural butter toffee flavoring”. It’s not that there isn’t butter in there. There’s lots of butter fat and milk and sweetened condensed milk. But for some reason they felt the need to give it that extra little push. It’s still all natural, but unnecessary. The crunchy bits of salt were a nice touch, not too much and a good texture complement.
Personally, I prefer the thicker, chewier texture of caramel that also has more complex burnt sugar flavors. (Remember the recent poll?) I think I’d like those other Fleur de Sel Caramels covered in chocolate. They were gorgeous.
Friday, December 7, 2007
You know what’s great about the Holiday season? Hostess gifts. People come to my house and for no reason I can tell other than crossing the threshold they feel like they have to give me something. And the gift most often in their hands is some sort of sweet goody.
I should just leave the door unlocked from November on!
My brother-and-sister-in-law brought some wonderful New Mexico goodies for my husband (posole & green chiles) but I got some Jo’s Candies Peppermint Crunch. The box makes it look like a pretty simple confection: dark chocolate over crunched up peppermint candies.
Oh, they’re so much more than just chocolate and crushed candy canes. I was worried that the center would just be a mint honeycomb (not that it would be bad that way). Instead The center is a mix of white chocolate/confection with crushed hard candy mints then covered in a dark chocolate.
This makes the center easy to bite but still satisfyingly crunchy, not overwhelmingly minty or tacky/sticky to chew.
They’re also all natural and Kosher. That means that even the little crunchy candies don’t have that dreadful Red #40, instead they use Red Beet Juice. Jo’s Candies are kind of pricey but quality ingredients, good packaging and freshness costs money. I’m deeply curious about their Dark Chocolate Turtles and the Mint Coco Jo’s that sound like a much better Girl Scout Cookie.
The little squares a dang pretty, glossy and dashed with little dark chocolate squiggles. The dark chocolate coating is pretty thick on the top, thicker usually than the photo above shows. So the proportions are pretty equal.
I think they were intended as a gift for me and my husband, but I don’t see myself eating his green chiles, so I’m pretty comfortable eating the whole box on my own to keep things equal in the relationship.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I’m still in a licorice mood and have been feeling more like “eating licorice” as it’s called. This means it’s soft and chewy and not too harsh.
I got a wonderful full sized sample of the Soft Licorice from Finnska at the All Candy Expo in September from the Gerrit J. Verburg Co. It’s just what I needed. I found the package charming, though every time I looked at it I wondered what an ostrich would be doing on a Viking ship.
The little twist are soft, perhaps a little sticky. They’re pure black and a bit glossy. They don’t smell like much, a little earthy, a little smoky.
They’re not super sweet, not very licorice-y either. In fact, there’s no molasses in there, which is one of the flavors I’m accustomed to in my wheat-based licorice chew. It’s also really low in calories.
It took me about a half a dozen of them before I figured out what they taste like. Beets. (Maybe beets baked in Ouzo.)
I know, it sounds horrible. But it’s great. It’s sweet and woodsy and a little bit like dirt or roots. It doesn’t feel cloying or sticky. It’s good munching candy. I’ve eaten the whole box. It’s rather different from Panda, which has a doughy texture to it sometimes and stronger anise and molasses tones.
This particular Finnska is also organic!
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Ah, foggy fall days have returned to Los Angeles. The chill in the air leads me to tea. While I’m a huge fan of honey, I prefer to either eat it straight or with something like plain toast or dip saltines in it. I rarely put it in my tea, but here’s a product that’s both a sweetener for your drinks and a lollipop.
Melville specializes in making lollipops in the classic tradition of the molded barley sugar pops. But they also have a line of Honey Spoons, clever little lollies shaped like a spoonful of honey on a pretty wooden stick.
They make two different varieties of Honey Spoons: Clover and Tupelo. Clover is light and fresh tasting. The spoons themselves are smooth and look like a little piece of light amber glass. The texture is smooth and slick on the tongue, no voids here. The candy is ever so slightly soft and can be bent slowly when it’s warm and thin.
The flavor is light and sweet, a little dollop of honey in mostly a sweet sugar base.
The difference between the Tupelo (which is prized because it doesn’t crystallize like some other honeys) and Clover isn’t really that discernible. They’re both extremely pleasant.
Just as an experiment I put one in a fresh cup of Earl Grey Tea (hot), and after about thirty seconds the spoon had melted enough that it fused to the bottom of my cup. A little wiggling and then stirring with it and I probably reduced its mass by half. I tasted the tea, which at that point was plenty sweet for me (again, not a sweet tea fan) ... so one pop will do just fine for most people. The one drink I can see this being especially good in would be a spiced chai.
I was really looking forward to the Lavender Honey Spoon. Earlier this year I ordered some Spanish lavender honey from Artisan Sweets and I love the stuff. It’s murky and musky with a dark oily feel on the tongue that reminds me of Rosemary.
The Lavender Honey Spoons, on the other hand, aren’t quite as deep and complex. Yes, there’s a light floral note there, but no real lavender note. Still, they’re pretty.
They’re expensive for just lollipops ($1.50 each), but really good honey hard candies are hard to find. They don’t quite rival the Juntsuyu I love so much from Japan, but they’d make a lovely hostess gift over the holidays with some fine tea or stocking stuffers. Sometimes I just like pretty candy (okay, I always like pretty candy if it’s tasty). I might pick one up as an impulse item at a coffee house, but I doubt I’d buy a whole package.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Yesterday I did a little roundup of all natural candies and I forgot to mention Lake Champlain. It’s a little expensive to feed to kids but they do make actual candy bars. It’s an excellent brand that uses carefully selected ingredients, which I always appreciate and recently introduced an organic line.
Each bar is 1.25 ounces, which I think is the perfect portion of good chocolate.
The bars look like they’d be great for traveling too, small enough to tuck in your bag and finish in one sitting but they also feature a nice paper wrap with an inner foil wrapper that means you can actually close it back up (some of these foil wraps used these days are two atoms thick and fall apart in a light breeze).
Dark Spicy Aztec also features a 55% cocoa base chocolate. This one also has spices and pumpkin seeds. I’ve had a few spicy bars over the past few years and my share of spicy hot chocolate as well. This is probably the best of all of them. The spices, while strong, are still very flavorful and don’t overpower the chocolateness. I love pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and they go so well here, adding a little crunch and setting off the spicy flavors all over again.
While it tastes like there’s a whole cupboard of spices in here, the label says only cayenne and cinnamon. I could have sworn I tasted a little nutmeg, some clove and cumin. Amazing!
I have to admit that the spice is, well, spicy. It gave me a bit of a tingly burn on the back of my tongue and in my throat. Not so much to stop me from eating it, but more tender mouths may not appreciate the power. 9 out of 10
Dark Chocolate is a basic semi sweet bar. It’s on the sweet side but also very creamy and has a good, quick melt on the tongue.
I’m not as keen on this as the Spicy Aztec, but since it’s the same chocolate base, it’s a good place to finish off the review. The chocolate notes are rather middle of the road - there’s nothing that jumps out at me like coffee or balsam or raisins. It’s just nice and thoroughly chocolatey. It doesn’t feel like a “better for me” compromise because it’s organic. It’s smoothly conched and nicely tempered. 8 out of 10
The Organic bar line from Lake Champlain also includes milk chocolate, with a plain bar and a sea salt and almonds bar. The Lake Champlain website offers a kit of all four bars as an introduction or you can order them singly. They also make little squares, which I’ve tasted at the Fancy Food Show before, but to be honest, I don’t care for very thin chocolate, l like it a little thicker ... these bars are the ideal thickness.
My hesitations on Lake Champlain as a whole are that it’s not that easy to find and a bit expensive (and I don’t like the logo much). Of course it’s good quality, nicely packaged and all natural, so you get what you pay for. If you’re tentative about them, keep an eye on their Sale Page on their website, sometimes there are insane deals in there (nothing at this writing though).
Monday, August 13, 2007
It may come as a surprise to some candy eaters, but there really aren’t that many different chocolate sources in the United States. Did you know that there are only 16 chocolate factories (actual factories that make chocolate from bean to bar) in this country? Everyone else who makes products that contain chocolate get it from someone else. Usually a big someone ... someone in “Big Chocolate.” But every once in a while a little guy comes along and says they’re going to start with some beans and some sugar and and make some chocolate bars. Of course it’s hard to do that because chocolate making, in some ways, is about large scale. Large batches of chocolate mean lots of blending of beans goes on and then the product is consistent from batch to batch. An artisan maker can either attempt to create a cookie cutter product every time or embrace the individuality of the variety of the bean and the growing region.
Amano Chocolate‘s Art Pollard said just that. His chocolate-making techniques are more like a classic vintner than a candy maker. As a small company he chooses his beans personally and supervises the roasting and blending of the single origin sources to create hand crafted, small batch bars. Each bar is marked with a lot number and a molding date.
The ingredients are simple: cocoa beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter and Tahitian vanilla beans. Note that there’s no added soya lecithin here. (The only other bars that I’ve tried that have no lecithin in them are Theo and Michel Cluizel.) The packaging is equally simple but also appropriate. The bar is inside a nice matte paperboard black tab-top box and the bar is wrapped in a medium weight gold foil. (I’ve had plenty of bars that come in a microthin foil that is impossible to reseal around the bar because it’s torn to shreds.)
Madagascar Premium Dark Chocolate - 70% Cacao Minimum
Madagascar - tart with strong licorice and citrus tones. The tanginess seems to give the chocolate a very crisp finish, it’s smooth, but not as full feeling on the tongue as the Ocumare. Eventually it settles into a flavor rather like golden raisins. (Lot no: 3/4/59 date: 1/14/2007)
Ocumare Grand Cru Dark Chocolate - 70% Cacao Minimum
Buttery and rich with a strong woodsy component. A little peppery bite as well as a little rosemary note. The flavors are thick and resonant, with a deepness and complexity that was good for savoring but also extremely pleasant to mindlessly eat. (Lot no: 3/4/61 date: 3/8/2007)
I have a feeling that I just plain old like Ocumare. It’s my favorite single-origin bar from Chocovic.
I had several of these Amano Ocumare bars and found that they were much better, richer and more buttery after sitting for at least a month. So while “fresh from the factory” is good for some products, so is aging in the case of chocolate.
Brian from Candy Addict reviewed these bars and found them Awesomely Addictive. He notes a strong mint flavor in the Ocumare which was in a single molding of bars. Art Pollard dispatched a newer set of bars that did not have that hint of mint in them, hence the differing descriptions between our reviews (and more Ocumare for me!).
Amano’s been getting a lot of press lately, especially since their good showing at the Fancy Food Show in New York earlier this summer. Here’s a roundup of other reviews: The Art of Tasting Chocolate, David Lebovitz and Chuck Eats.
The final thing to note is the price. The bars run about $7.00 each and weigh 2 ounces - that’s over $55 a pound and isn’t a purty truffle or anything. In my middle-class existence that price makes these bars a “rare indulgence” but certainly for any chocophile is something that should be experienced. You can buy directly from Amano or possibly at Amazon (out of stock right now).
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Since the subject came up last with with the news that Mars was using animal-sourced rennet in their whey (and then they later rethought that and reversed it), I thought I’d address dietary restrictions and candy. There are a lot of candies that contain animal-sourced ingredients. Besides dairy products, one of the most common is gelatin. Gelatin is found in gummis but it’s also found in Altoids. So what’s a vegetarian to use to freshen their breath (besides just brushing their teeth)?
St. Claire’s Organics is an entire line of compressed sugar sweets in mint, herb, spice and tart flavors. Not only are they suitable for vegans, they’re also wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and fancy-free.
The St. Claire’s Organic’s line of Sweets & Mints aren’t really that attractive out of the tins, but they rather remind me of Brittany Spaniels: All peppy and speckled.
Peppermints (tin & box) - much stronger than you’d think, but a darker, less “clean” tasting peppermint than an Altoid, more woodsy.
Licorice (tin) - darkly flavored, the molasses and licorice notes blend well. A little sweet, but that’s usually the way real licorice is.
Wintermints (tin) - sassy wintergreen flavor, rather like toothpaste. Not super strong, but there’s a lingering tingly feeling on the lips if you eat a lot of them.
Spearmints (tin & box) - nice and round with a good herby taste, fresh.
Cocoa Sweets (box) - I really thought these were going to be lame (like expecting chocolate and getting a Tootsie Roll). The little balls didn’t have the creamy round flavors of chocolate, just a pleasant sweet cocoa taste. By themselves, they were okay, but when eaten with coffee, there were really quite nice.
Ginger Sweets (tin) - spicy and woodsy. I really liked crunching on them. They had a nice light burn from the ginger and were well recieved on the whale watching boats. Really spicy, but incredibly addictive.
Throat Soother - Slippery Elm may be the active ingredient to sooth achy, stinging throats but it’s the menthol that upstages everything with its strong flavor. Woodsy flavors and cooling effect on the tongue is soothing, but also a bit exciting. I think I still prefer Thayer, but not for efficacy-reasons, just taste. Some people don’t like that sticky-glycerine feeling that Thayer’s has (that’s the soothing, people!) so maybe St. Claire’s is a good alternative.
Tummy Soothers - this little guy is what’s been holding up this review. I’ve been heavily boat-testing them. I go whale watching a lot. (In case you didn’t know.) I’ve never taken anything for it except herbals, of course I’ve also had some bad times on boats. This year has been pretty good. A few queasy days on 8-10 foot swells, but no mishaps. The St. Claire’s Tummy Soothers are big pills that looks rather like vitamins. Kind of smells like it too. It’s woodsy with strong molasses, ginger and licorice flavors. It dissolves pleasantly, I usually eat two at a time, tucking one inside each cheek.
St. Claire’s Organics also come in Tarts. How many little candy tarts out there that are organic and free of all those other things? The ones in boxes are little spheres and the ones in the tins are small tablets.
Raspberry Tarts (tin) - immediately tart and rather smooth but the raspberry flavor is far too floral, it tastes an awful lot like violet to me. I have no problem with violet as a flavor, but not in my tarts.
Lemon Tarts (tin) - these are super yellow, after being carried around in my bag for a while they discolored the little waxed paper insert. Tart with a good sour bite and zesty note. By far this was a no-compromise organic tart candy.
Tangy Tangerine Tarts (box) - mild and orangey. I didn’t get a lot of tangerine in there and it seemed much sweeter than the others.
Grape Tarts - pretty much one note, not quite the plain malic acid, it’s a mild and tasty “grape” flavor.
Green Apple Tarts - kind of woodsy and a bit like real apple juice with a sharp tanginess.
Key Lime Tarts - the lime here is just too mild, and too much like real lime and not Key lime.
Juicy Watermelon Tarts - excellent round and floral watermelon flavor with a good proportion of sour.
Sweet Peach Tarts - I’ve never been fond of peach flavored things, this isn’t much of an exception.
Whew! That was a lot of different flavors!
I give the whole line a 7 out of 10 (could be a little zingier), but the winners in my book were the Licorice and Ginger Sweets and I found that I ate all the Lemon Tarts first out of all the tarts, so they get an 8 out of 10. I also really dig the Tummy Soothers and since they have slippery elm in them, I’ll probably use them for aching throats too because I liked the flavor better.
The little boxes of sweets are great for kids, a very small portion in flavors they’ll respond to. The other great thing about St. Claire’s is that they sell the sweets and tarts in bulk at better than half the price so you can refill your tin (so you could get a really cool little package for your kids to keep refilling). The commitment from St. Claire’s to the environment goes further, with 10% of their profits donated to the Ethno Medicine Preservation Project, which documents medicinal plant traditions with indigenous cultures. The only negatives I have is that I don’t care for the little boxes, I’m not quite sure why, I just don’t respond well to them. They’re hard to reclose securely (I might like a little waxed paper insert or something for extra protection). But the tins are great, simple, easy to open and close (and with a nice saying printed inside the lid). The other negative is even though there’s no gelatin in here, they’re not certified Kosher.
I see these for sale at Whole Foods, Erewhon and other natural food stores, prices probably vary and of course you can order direct from St. Claire’s Organics.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.