Friday, February 17, 2012
Double Dutch Sweets in Oakland, California makes an artisan confection called The Ramona Bar. Think of it as a Snickers made by hand.
The bar is set apart from other mass-manufactured fare at first glance. It’s wrapped by hand in foil with a lively printed sleeve that gives the simple description: layers of buttery caramel and honey nougat with roasted peanuts dipped in dark chocolate and finished with sea salt.
The tall and beefy bar is quite a portion for an artisan product. It’s 1.8 ounces packed into barely 3.5 inches.
The ingredients are mostly organic and all natural. The construction of the bar will seem familiar. A nougat base studded with peanuts, topped with a generous layer of caramel, then coated in Venezuelan origin dark chocolate with a sprinkling of maldon sea salt.
A Snickers bar is 2.07 ounces, so just a little larger and features a milk chocolate coating. There are so many other differences though, it’s hard to even compare the bars. The Ramona Bar has a similar bite, it’s thick and has a mix of textures. There are far fewer peanuts in the Ramona than a Snickers, and the nougat tastes more like a plain nougat while a Snickers has a peanut flavor to its nougat.
The caramel was really the star here; for me it was the ideal texture - chewy, stringy, smooth and with a dark toasted flavor and notes of salt. The addition of the salt on top of the chocolate though was sometimes just a little too much. The nougat was not as good for me. It was less of a French style nougat or Italian torrone, which has a mostly smooth texture, kind of like a dense marshmallow. This was more like the fluffed stuff of Snickers or Milky Way fame. It was like a fluffy fondant. It did have a less-grainy texture that was almost cool on the tongue as it dissolved. The textures worked well together, just as they do in a Snickers, but I was missing a flavor component from the nougat and the strength of lots of peanuts. (Or Almonds, if they wanted to go that way.)
The bars cost $6.00, which is about a little more than $53 a pound. (A Snickers bar, at $1 a bar would be about $16 a pound.) Is it six times better? Well, I feel better because the ingredients are great and someone really cared about the bar and it’s made with Venezuelan chocolate, so I wouldn’t be worrying about child slavery. But it’s not my perfect candy bar. For $6, I want my perfect candy bar. For $1, I can accept less than perfect. But it might be your perfect candy bar, and you might not know until you try. (I’m still happy to try all other bars that Double Dutch Sweets comes up with.)
The bars are gluten free.
Monday, February 13, 2012
Over the past seven years or so I’ve been very hesitant to do reviews of toffees. I’m not certain why, because I love the stuff. But when it’s offered as a sample, I usually decline. Perhaps I know that I can’t be even slightly objective because it’s pretty hard to make bad toffee. And if you like toffee like I do, you probably don’t need a review. (It’s also possible that all toffee is actually good.)
So that brings me to Poco Dolce, an artisan style toffee maker in San Francisco. I’ve bought their toffee quite a few times. (The photo at the right here is from a package I picked up in 2008. I’m pretty sure I also picked up a similar box in 2009, and have certainly sampled their products at every Fancy Food Show they’ve exhibited at. Other mentions on the site here with a photo, here in 2010 and here in 2008.)
While in San Francisco at the Fancy Food Show last month, I sampled Poco Dolce’s Popcorn Toffee. There’s no better place to pick it up than at their store, which is in an area known as Dogpatch. (Also home to Recchiutti’s candy kitchen and Dandelion Chocolate.) I popped in and they had exactly what I wanted, a beefy tin jam packed with little toffee squares covered in dark chocolate.
Their Toffee Tile products are molded pieces with little toffee centers. They’re gorgeous and usually individually wrapped in glassine sleeves or tucked into boxes. Their regular toffee square are a bit more rough and tumbled, enrobed and maybe a little more scuffed.
Inside the tin the toffee was protected in a cellophane sleeve. But it was completely full, not like some packages. Yes, it’s expensive stuff, too. It was $16 for the tin which holds a half a pound. So $32 a pound.
The toffee construction is simple. A light toffee, with a good buttery cleave to it, with a few pieces of popcorn in each piece. The pieces are each about one inch square, though some aren’t completely square. The toffee pieces are a little lofted in the center, especially if there’s a big piece of popcorn in there. But most of the popcorn is smaller bits. The flavor is really popcorny, though still there’s not a l of the actual stuff in there. It’s quite amazing how the buttery, salty notes of the toffee combine so well with the toasted corn flavors of the popcorn. The chocolate is dark and silky and does a great job of sealing in all the crunchy toffee goodness so that it doesn’t get soft and tacky.
This is a brilliant idea, wonderfully executed. I love the size of the pieces, the chocolate is excellent quality. Their toffee tiles are also great, but feature a much darker toffee and more chocolate by proportion. I like the more rustic style like this, but still with plenty of chocolate. The tin is great for serving, I would be happy to serve this to friends over to watch either Downton Abbey or a football game.
They also make a sampler package of their different varieties, so you can find your favorite. (The Double Shot Espresso is great but too strong for me to eat in the evening, the Burnt Caramel Toffee are sure to please everyone in a crowd.) Poco Dolce uses Guittard’s fair trade and sustainably grown chocolate in their products and all natural, locally sourced ingredients (wherever possible).
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The weekend began without much new candy. The purpose was to get rid of it. What some of you have gleaned over the years as regular readers is that I do product photography on the side for Candy Warehouse. When I’m done shooting the photos, I get to keep the rest. Well, that’s far more candy than I can eat, and even far more than my co-workers at my day job can handle. I even gave away this pile of boxes to Soldier’s Angels for our service folks far from home.
Still, I had lots and lots, so I volunteered to create a Candy Buffet for the National Novel Writing Month‘s annual fundraiser called The Night of Writing Dangerously held in San Francisco on Sunday, November 22nd. Since there were going to be two hundred attendees, each wonderful fundraisers that deserve copious amounts of sugar, I thought a pound per person would be appropriate. So I packed up my car with nine boxes. Three were candy jars and the rest were filled with candy.
I had two cases of York Peppermint Patties from an art director for a commercial shoot here in Los Angeles, Kencraft Old Fashioned Candy Sticks, two gallons of Kasugai Fruit Gummis, Koppers Limoncello Marzipan, Koppers Dark Chocolate Almonds, Koppers Hazelnut Sea Shell Brittle, Salt Water Taffy and Butterfly Candy Tarts. I was worried that wasn’t enough, so I contacted Mars and asked if they could donate something for our good fundraising writers who supported our programs to create writing curriculum for schools & libraries for free and they sent over 1,000 pieces/packages of Snickers, Skittles, M&Ms Milk Chocolate, M&Ms Peanut, M&M Minis and Dove Promises. On top of that, another local Los Angeles event planner had some M&M Premiums in those individual serving boxes for us to pop into the tote bags. Still, I was feeling like we were missing some basic candy food groups, so I spent some of my own money and ordered up 10 pounds of Albanese Confectionery’s World’s Best Gummi Bears, 5 pounds of their Sour Gummi Bears and 5 pounds of the Double Dipped Malted Milk Balls (I should have set a pound aside for myself, they’re so good).
So now I was not only feeling pretty good because our fundraiser raised $33,000 for our programs, I’d also unloaded a bunch of candy that was taking up a lot of space in my house and office. My process of celebration began with ... acquiring more candy.
Bi-Rite Market - 3639 18th Street, San Francisco.
Christopher Elbow - 401 Hayes Street, San Francisco
Miette Confiserie - 449 Octavia Street, San Francisco
The Candy Store - 1507 Vallejo Street, San Francisco
Then Monday morning I packed up my candy jars and headed tried to go to Harry and David near my hotel as they always seem to have fun holiday candies, but they weren’t open yet. I made my last stop:
Charles Chocolates - 6529 Hollis Street, Emeryville
So this isn’t the normal candy review, just a peek behind the scenes at a combination of my obsessions. But hopefully it gives you some sense of what kind of candy lifestyle is behind the Candy Blog. It’s a pretty good life, and for that I am thankful. Thanks for reading, thanks for leaving comments and most of all, thanks for making Candy Blog part of your life. Your support of it enables me to do all this other stuff to spread the sweet joy.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
TCHO just announced that they’ve opened a store in San Francisco. They’ve also expanded their “flavor” offerings to include Nutty, Fruity and Citrus along with the initial Chocolatey.
I got a hold of a later Beta of their Ghana (Chocolatey) as well as the Fruity through a friend who ordered it but didn’t like it.
The Peru 0.11 M scent isn’t fruity. I expected berry notes or perhaps apples or pears. Instead it smells strongly of coffee and wood shavings. (Kind of like the break room at a sawmill!)
I have to say that I was impressed when I placed a square in my mouth this time. The melt is silky and creamy. The grain size is much smaller and a lot more consistent than the previous version I tried which was more like a variety ground on a stone wheel.
This is immediately tangy. The acidic notes are bright but very high pitched and puckery. I don’t get any real fruit flavors to go with it, just a tingly burst of the sourness and then the creamy background with some powdery green stick flavors. The balance of flavors was all off, like the whole thing was leaning to the left, about ready to tip over.
So while I appreciate the step forward in texture, the flavor was definitely a step back for me. It took several weeks for me to eat half a bar.
The C Ghana D.99D is the Chocolatey variety that I tasted months ago in an earlier version. Now marked with the cacao percentage, this one is 70%.
As I’d hoped from the Fruity beta, this was much creamier and had a much more pleasing mouthfeel than the previous one I tried.
The immediate flavors I got though were absolutely different from the “Chocolatey” Ghana before. This was an overwhelming flavor of honey, cedar and a light tinge of herby balsam like rosemary or lavender.
The notes were confined to a very narrow spectrum. While the Fruity was high pitched with a couple of low resonant notes in the scent, Chocolatey was pure middle notes, like walking down a narrow hallway with the same pictures displayed over and over again on the walls. It felt repetitive and monotonous and had no finish to it ... it just abruptly came to a halt. (Though I admit I loved the initial honey flavor a lot.)
So while both have a much more pleasing texture than the previous test batch, and I can appreciate the differences in the beans without even looking at the labels ... I didn’t like either of these bars. I understand that they’re still in beta mode, I have to say that I’m glad that I didn’t pay for these samples.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
My Saturday schedule in the Bay Area was focused on the East Bay (Oakland, Emeryville and Berkeley). I had a meeting in the morning and a dinner planned, so my mid-day hours were devoted to the further amassing of sweets.
I didn’t buy as much, mostly because I already have so much stuff from my previous days, these were kind of informational, not acquisitional.
Michael Mischer Chocolates
Sampled: raspberry truffle
Lovely shop that is at once spare and comfortable without feeling sterile. There are even some sugar-free selections. Michael Mischer himself was there, I asked him about the salted peanut butter cup that I tried the day before at Fog City, alas, he didn’t have any more of them. So I got a plain peanut butter and a salted caramel ... I can put them in my mouth together.
Sampled: chocolate covered matzah, triple chocolate hazelnut
I stopped into this old fashioned candy shop & gift store. I didn’t buy anything there, not because it’s not a good store, but much of the inventory is stuff that I’ve already reviewed. They have a nice selection of class bulk candies (sour balls, mary janes, imported hard candies, Koppers cordials, etc.), some chocolate candies in the case and the usual fun candy novelties.
No samples. I asked about the Pralus bars, the fellow said that the best was the Sao Tome, but beyond that, I couldn’t seem to get much interaction going about the chocolate. (Two of the folks were eating and the manager was chatting with some regular customers.) It was probably one of the loudest cafes I’ve been in for quite a long time. I’ve been in the shop before, so I think I just caught them at that bad moment after the lunch rush while everyone needs a little break. They have an amazing selection of chocolate bars on display, like some cafes will have poetry books.
Total for the day: $110.42
I’m packing up my car this morning to get ready for the drive back to Los Angeles. This time I’ll be taking the 5 South, which goes through the intensely-agricultural San Joaquin Valley. Not really much to stop for candy-wise. That’s fine, I have plenty.
You can look forward to the inventory from my three day adventure to be photographed copiously and reviewed here.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
I’ve been to San Francisco quite a lot, I love the city, mostly because I know so many great people here. But also because it has such a wonderful confectionery tradition. San Francisco is a candy town. I spent my first night after driving up at the Ocean Park Motel, way over by the ocean (a part of San Francisco I’ve never explored before). After checking in I took a walk, got some eggs at a diner and then walked down to the beach where I spotted a whale and watched it for about ten minutes as it made its way north to its feeding grounds (kinda like me!).
In the past three years I’ve visited Miette Confiserie, Ricchiuti Chocolates, Jelly Belly’s factory, Scharffen Berger, Charles Chocolates (in both their old & new location), CocoaBella, Fog City News and The Candy Store.
On Friday morning I packed up my car (my destination was Oakland for a meeting at 4PM at the National Novel Writing Month headquarters, but there were many zags and zigs along the way) with a nicely chilled cooler ready to be filled. Well, it actually held three boxes of candy bars and another six or seven pounds of other stuff for the staff to munch on.
Here’s how the day went:
Sampled: Caffarel flower bud, Domori Porcelana?, Vegan/Raw chocolate from Marin and something else that I’ve spaced on completely.
I had an absolutely awesome talk with Jack who runs the place. He’s tasted everything there and is really committed to his inventory. He tries to carry the best bars that each company has to offer (so you won’t find all of the Domori ... or anyone’s line). He also does a lot of repacking, so you can just buy a package of two Lillie Belle truffles, and then two Cluizel Champignon ... it’s the best thing for candy lovers who are still searching for the most amazing experiences. (And if it’s not an amazing experience, then you’re only out a couple of bucks!)
Sampled: Ecuadoran single origin bonbon.
An interesting new space. Rather clinical and spare, it reminds me more of Los Angeles than San Francisco. The selection is immense and includes Elbow’s bonbons and prepackaged items (bars, chocolate covered nuts & gift packages) as well as a brief menu of cafe selections. I made my chocolate selections (picking some of the items that I’ve tried before like the Strawberry Balsamic that used to be in white chocolate and is now in dark) and picked out a hot chocolate. I had it prepared to go, but did sit for a moment in the lounge area. The woman who prepared my chocolate that morning (it was about 11 AM) said that things would usually get very busy in the evening, as it was a popular after dinner spot for people to come on Friday and Saturday nights. (This is exactly the thing I want in walking distance from my house!)
After making some notes for myself I walked over to:
Sampled: Haribo Smurf (actually a raspberry jelly candy, not a gummi)
Again, a lovely experience as I got to chat with Caitlin (one of the owners) about Napoleon bonbons & the little tins they come in, licorice and the lack of similar candy shopping in Los Angeles. (Though we’re coming along.)
I found out about the shop on SFGate.com. It wasn’t quite as impressive as the story (and comments) made it sound. It was very small, I didn’t feel like I could look at everything and I was rushed (and didn’t get to finish ordering my items before my card was swiped and I ended up paying cash for my Turkish Delight). I actually meant to try a couple of other things, but didn’t see them until after that ... sigh, there’s always next time. The cool thing is that it’s walking distance to Fog City & not far at all from the Ferry Terminal.
Fog City News
Total: $27.92 (Discount! 20%)
Sampled: Michael Mischer Salted Peanut Butter Cup (awesome but really salty) & Amano Ocumare. Had an excellent talk with Adam, who runs Fog City. (He recognized my name when I signed up for the newsletter so I could get some discounts on my bars. I don’t necessarily hide my identity but I don’t go up to the counter and say, “I blog about candy, now gimme some!”) They have an awesome sale on Amano right now (25% off) if you’re in the neighborhood. My favorite is definitely the Ocumare.
I stopped as I was walking down the street because I spied some La Florentine Torrones, but was so pleased to find the BruCo Anise bar.
I read about this shop on Chowhound and definitely wanted to see how it measured up to the grand San Francisco tradition. It has a very young vibe to it, it feels much more “accessible” to children. They have a great selection of gummis, traditional favorites (candy jewelry) and some crazy hard to find items like C.Howards, UK import Cadbury bars, a really good selection of Koppers ... I could go on and on. The prices per pound are specific to the candy (instead of just pricing the whole shop at one point which makes things like Smarties crazy expensive and chocolate malt balls kind of reasonable), so you get what you pay for.
I had other places on my list, like Z Cicciolato and XoX Truffles but I really needed to balance out my purchases of perishable items, so they’ll have to wait until I return in the summer.
I’m kind of logging all this stuff so you’ll know what sort of items you can buy at these shops, and what they cost. (And also because I have a tendency to forget these things.)
Total spent today: $153.77 (yeah, I’m kind of feeling candy buyers remorse, mostly because I haven’t actually eaten any of it, I just get to look at it and tally up how much money I spent, not how much enjoyment I’m getting).
Friday, February 15, 2008
Since it was predicted to be so nice, and I had such a great experience with BonBonBar, I ordered two chocolate bars on Monday, February 11th from the beta chocolate company TCHO, located in San Francisco.
It’s February and the predicted high temperature all week was 66 degrees. At 1:30 PM today it was 65. Ideal, really, for chocolate.
However, the package shipped on Tuesday, February 12th and only arrived at my door on February 15th. Hardly Priority Delivery if you ask me. And really slow for door to door service a scant 400 miles apart and to major metro areas.
They came in a silver metallic bubble-wrap envelope (folded in half). It felt hot to the touch. I opened it immediately and pulled the bars out. They too were hot ... and squishy.
There you have it.
TCHO was co-founded by a space shuttle technologist. I’m not sure what end of all of the technologies integrated into the space shuttle he was involved in, but it couldn’t have had anything to do with insulating or maintaining optimal operating temperatures. Or getting things to arrive on schedule.
I’m not going to give it a full review at this moment. I ate most of the melted parts of the bar shown. It’s rather tangy, has some clear coffee and dark berry notes. It’s smooth, but not super-smooth (even a few gritty bits) and doesn’t have the buttery quality that I love so much about great chocolate.
I sent a note to the company before posting this, letting them know of the poor condition the package arrived in. (I’ll let you know the resolution of that.) The 50 gram bars are $4 each and the shipping was $5.
Since I took that photo the bar has re-solidified, poorly tempered now with swirls of dark and light and an irregular texture. So sad.
The plain truth is that I get a lot of gooey chocolate. Rarely stuff that I order, usually things that are sent to me as samples, and I’ve come to accept the fact that PR folks simply don’t know how to put together a box that can survive for 24 hours without getting melted. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed it’s that package that are packed tightly do the worst. A little airspace between insulated walls does wonders. In the case of this package, a reflective package is great but once it heats up to the ambient temperature of the delivery truck’s interior, it’s actually conducting the heat to the contents, not protecting it.
I think I’ll stick to buying my bars in stores.
(The good news is that I have a lovely box of Valerie Confections’ Lemon & Hazelnut Nougat that my husband gave me for Valentine’s Day to console myself.)
UPDATE: Looks like a very prompt note from TCHO was caught in my spam filter around 3 PM (very quick!). They said that they hadn’t implemented hot weather shipping yet, but will re-evaluate that. They’re sending out a replacement package next week. Looks like I can be a beta tester for both the chocolate and the shipping! (Honestly, it appears that more of the problem is with how long it took for the package to get from SF to LA.)
UPDATED UPDATE 2/19/2008: Wow, when TCHO says they’re gonna put some new bars in the mail, they mean same day. They arrived today and in good condition.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Joseph Schmidt is a high-end chocolatier based in San Francisco and known for their stunningly beautiful sculptural creations of chocolate. I went to their shop and picked up the ugliest chocolates I could find, cuz I’m like that.
Okay, maybe they’re not the ugliest chocolates I’ve ever had, certainly some of my homemade creations have been pretty homely. The candy above is a strange disk of chocolate referred to as a Batik Slick. Sounds as good as it looks, eh?
It’s simply a very flat truffle. The disk has a little batik-inspired pattern on the top and a lightly flavored ganache in the center. It’s a lot of chocolate and very little filling.
They came in a box of four, weighed in at 3 ounces and had a strange design of bats made from artisan paper and gold googly eyes on the outside. (I bought them on November 1st ... they were from Halloween and 25% off). I have no idea what the different flavors are.
Dark Chocolate with Yellow Tulip may have been rum. Sweet and mellow, a bit creamy and with no real notable flavor except for maybe a hint of bubble gum. Milk Chocolate with Full Moon tasted a bit like coconut. Very sweet and a little greasy. Red-Centered Chocolate Blob had a nice milk chocolatey taste, smooth and creamy. Yellow Burst with Green tasted like lemon. How nice! I like lemon. The dark chocolate was very sweet but creamy and set off the zesty taste.
The truffles are a bit more traditional, except for the fact that they look like the nose cone of a missile. I’ve never been fond of molded chocolates, for some reason I prefer enrobed or dipped chocolates. I don’t know if it’s the rustic look or there’s actually some difference in the chocolate structurally. I’ve had Joseph Schmidt truffles before a few times but I’d never been able to pick them out myself. So at the store I picked the “mini” version because I thought the large ones were just so freakin’ huge that I’d want to eat them with a knife and fork ala Mr. Pitt.
This one is Raspberry Brandy and is nice and dark with a soft and flowing ganache. The shell cracks and falls apart quite easily but has a nice mellow and smoky taste to go with the raspberry infusion.
The other flavors were just as acceptable though nothing thrilling. Pecan Praline was sweet and woodsy, but more maple flavor than nutty. All Dark gave me a good sense of the chocolate, which is Belgian and smooth but the ganache was more buttery than chocolatey. Grand Marnier was ordinary, a touch of orange but it seemed lost in the butter and underwhelming chocolate.
I guess I just don’t understand the fuss about Joseph Schmidt. They’re interesting and certainly less expensive (about $25-$55 a pound) than some of the upscale chocolatiers out there makin’ noise. I have nothing against the tried-and-true flavors either (I’m a See’s nut, remember?) I just wasn’t satisfied after eating them.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.