Thursday, January 25, 2007
For the most part I thought they were toys. That they were some sort of technically edible wafer with a toy or prize inside. (Shows how much I was paying attention.)
I’m certain I’m not alone in my confusion about what they are, so I’ll try to demystify them.
The wafers are made up of two disks of slightly foamed corn starch (kind of like communion wafers or that stuff that they put on the tops of Torrones). They’re dome shaped to hold a little reservoir of powdered candy. You can shake them and they make a light rattling noise. The powder is a slightly foaming white dextrose candy kind of like a Pixy Stix.
The brand on these is Astra and they’re made in Belgium. I get the impression that there are a couple of other brands out there, including Gerrit’s Satellite Wafers, which are also made in Belgium ... so maybe there’s just one factory out there in the Belgian countryside cranking away on these traditional European novelty sweets.
The wafer itself is rather delicate and can crack if it’s fresh (and just get soggy and bendy if it’s not). This would explain why there was some candy powder in my bag of 35 pieces. Only two, as far as I could tell, had let loose their contents. The wafer is ever so slightly sweet but basically unflavored. If there’s an acceptable style to eating these, I missed that indoctrination as a child and can only say that I take a bite out of the Saucer, eat the little wafer and then dump the contents onto my tongue.
The powder is uncolored and tastes a bit like green apple (again, there could be different flavors ... or not). Sometimes I tossed the other half of the wafer, sometimes I ate it. The powder inside has a slight fizz to it, not quite as strong as Zotz. In fact, sometimes it wasn’t fizzy at all, sometimes it was absurdly fizzy.
Now that I’ve had these I’m sorry I didn’t seek them out as a child. They’re basically disk shaped Pixy Stix only you can eat the container they come in. I’m guessing the wafer also somehow offsets the huge sugar rush you would ordinarily get from straight dextrose.
You can read more about Astra Sweets who made these here, but it appears that Astra Sweets took over Belgica TOP, the originator of the Flying Saucer some years ago.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
I tried the Honey Roasted Peanut Roca for the first time at the All Candy Expo in Chicago last summer. It took quite a while before I saw it in the “wild” and I was really surprised that my first sighting was at the 99 Cent Only stores.
I don’t have a photo of the innards, but I can tell you that it looks just like any other Roca. The foil wrapper on this one is coppery-orange but the little turd-looking candy is just like you’d expect.
The aroma was definitely peanutty with a strong initial crunch in the toffee. The toffee softens quite quickly to a firm chew and then becomes very buttery and a tad grainy as the sugar gives up its structure. I didn’t get much of the Honey Roasted Peanut vibe but the toffee was certainly competent (and I’ve eaten a lot of toffee this week.)
The faux chocolate coating on the candy was less than satisfying though. Rather greasy and soft, it was held in place by the peanut bits stuck to it. I appreciate that they’re experimenting, but this particular one was distracting for me. It didn’t add any “chocolate” flavor to the mix.
On a side note I did try the Candy Cane Roca while at the Fancy Food Show. The combination of toffee and minted chocolate was kind of odd, but overall nice. I don’t think I’d buy it, but I’d pop a few in my mouth if they were sitting in a candy dish.
I found the packaging for Honey Roasted Peanut Roca a little odd on this one as well. Perhaps it was that it was sold at the 99 Cent Store, but the incongruous 3 PIECES on the lower left kind of cheapened the whole thing. It also didn’t look like it belonged because of the font and it didn’t have the gold shadow the rest of it had. I know, I’m being super picky here. But I actually looked at the label rather critically when I first picked it up because I thought it was some sort of knock-off.
I think I’m going to stick with Almond Roca.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
I have to say that the vibe today on the floor was vastly different from yesterday. I picked up lots and lots to sample at home.
- Hammond’s Candy had their Mitchell Sweets on display. They’re a marshmallow covered in caramel. Tasty looking ... I’m looking forward to it! Their booth was awesome looking with racks and racks of their hand twisted candy canes and lollipops. They have both a regular line and a new natural line (no artificial colors or flavors).
- I stopped by les Anis de Flavigny booth and was enchanted by their new package design. (They candies themselves are a panned sweet, with a center of a simple anise seed coated with layer upon layer of matte white sugar - an ancient tradition in Europe.) They didn’t muck around with it too much, they’re still classic oval tins. I’ll take photos and talk about them more in the future. They also have a new line that’s certified organic in Europe.
- I tried Mademoiselle de Margaux, which I admired from afar the whole show. Their package is elegant and the confection itself looks like simple twigs of chocolate. I sampled the whole line in chocolate, orange, mint and coffee. I can’t say much else because it appears the flyers I picked up are in French.
- As trends go, and everyone’s been talking about them now that the show is over, the one that I noticed is folks talking about their product being “All Natural” for the most part indicating that they’re courting Whole Foods.
- Brown & Haley has a new limited edition Raspberry Mountain Bar. Sounds tasty. (I actually liked the Peanut Butter one best so far.)
- Melville’s Candies, which is known for their fantastic barley sugar candies in bright colors and fun shapes, was really pushing their Honey Spoons. They’re spoons shaped lollies with loads of real honey in there. You can eat them or stir your coffee with them. I picked up both Tupelo and Clover varieties.
- Guittard was showing some new chocolates, including a 90% cacao. It was definitely dark, but rather buttery with some interesting vanilla notes.
- I gave Haribo‘s gummi Root Beer Barrels a couple of tries this week. They’re certainly interesting and I do like Haribo quite a bit (their Happy Cola is very good) but I wasn’t thrilled with these. They were spicy tasting but too sour and tangy to ring true for me.
- I tried a really local line of fudge from John Kelly Chocolates. They describe their fudge as being more truffle than fudge. I enjoyed the orange flavored stuff quite a bit and soon I’ll try more of it. They’re based right in Hollywood!
- I have lots more tasting notes and of course oodles of samples, cards and press kits to go through, so I’ll keep tonight’s notes briefer (I just got home from the airport and the neighbors came over to make look at me while I tried to organize my samples on the dining room table). I did got back to both of the crabby booths today that ran me off before, just to give them another chance. One had a different person there and it was an entirely different experience. The second was a booth where I not only got a cold reception earlier this week but also didn’t have a good interaction in Chicago at the All Candy Expo. I’m not naming names, but I am saying that by giving everyone another chance, the whole show is battin’ 1,000 for a warm welcome.
- Finally, at the end of the show the booth folk were more interested in making their exit. The fascinating part is that they don’t want to take their own stuff home. Most of the open cases can’t be sold, so they were either extremely generous with the visitors to their booth or they would trade with other vendors. There were even signs on some booths that said “we will barter” ... I was rather suprised to see it on an upscale Belgian chocolate vendor and there was the staff loading fine chocolates into plastic bags. I wonder what they got in return. A wheel of cheese? A tub of fine olives? Maybe some honey ... I’m just glad it seems like everyone is going home happy.
I’m home. I’m happy.
I dunno why I bought these, but I’ve seen then online a few times and when I was at Munchies a few weeks ago, I just had to give them a try.
They’re a compressed dextrose candy (what I call chalk candy) shaped like Lego building blocks. They’re about the same size and work the same, only without the firm snap to keep things together. Some of my little candies were actually missing their nubs, but they had enough to build little walls and stuff.
They were actually different flavors:
White - Pineapple - tart and a little bitter, but really tasty.
They were very hard and very dense, so crunching on them wasn’t really that easy. They were more for sucking, but of course they’re kind of pointy.
I know I don’t sound excited by them, but I actually liked them quite a bit. I would buy them again, but probably only for a project. Or maybe just because I want something to play with on my desk. If I got them from a bulk bin I’d probably pull out just the yellow, white and orange ones. I think by the pound they’re cheaper than Lego.
How cool would it be if they made candy Lego-ish mini-figures?
Monday, January 22, 2007
Yup, no real organization here, just a data dump as I go through my samples and notes from the day:
- I spent most of the morning with Dawn & Irene from Artisan Sweets (yes, Dawn’s the one who gave me those awesome Apothecary’s Garden hard candies). I followed them around as they visited some of their current suppliers and looked at new products and opportunities. I also introduced them to Mashti Malones (I had some of their new Lavender ice cream), which is a Persian-style ice cream shop based in Los Angeles.
- Dagoba (now owned by Hershey’s “Artisan Chocolates” division) has a bunch of new products including four bars for their Classic line:
- Veritas who makes Thins for Trader Joe’s & Choxie is coming out with a line of single origin chocolates later this spring.
- I tasted a bunch of “comfort candies” at Allie’s Edibles and really liked the Chocolate Pretzel & Toffee Bark, which is a fun mix of pretzels and toffee bits in chocolate. Both the pretzels and the toffee provide a salty hit and a distinct crunch. It’s all Kosher too (she has Marshmallows as well).
- I sampled a few candies from B.T. McElrath of Minneapolis. They specialize in local ingredients and of course lovely-looking candies. The Salted Caramel Butterfly I tried was really nice, the caramel was dark and flowing with a strong and distinct smoky deep caramelized bite to it but also a smooth buttery mouthfeel.
- Since I enjoy Chuao Chocolates so much I visited their source chocolate supplier, El Rey. Their beans are all Venezuelan but a mix of all three varieties (Criollo, Forestero & Trinitario). I tried their nibs and a few of the single origin but I really enjoyed the Icao White Chocolate. What sets this white chocolate apart from all others is obvious when you taste it ... it tastes like chocolate even though it doesn’t look like it. They don’t “deodorize” the cocoa butter, so it retains some other woodsy scents and it’s not freakishly white, more like a pale yellow. I’m definitely going to be checking out more of El Rey in the future.
- I dropped by a booth called Mrs. May’s Naturals ... how could I pass them up, they’re named after me? They have dry roasted nut brittles that are so jam packed with nuts, there’s barely any room for the candy. The sweet toffee/candy is just there to hold it all together. Some are a mix of fruits and nuts but I liked the pure crunchiness of the Sunflower, Pecan and Cashew.
- It wasn’t all happiness and smiles, there were a couple of odd experiences where the booth-cops didn’t want me looking or tasting things. I can’t quite figure that out, but hey, there were literally thousands of things to look at. If they don’t want me trying their tea infused chocolate disks or gourmet lollipops, me and my blog can go elsewhere ... and we did!
- Harry London Chocolates is once again under new ownership (now 1-800-FLOWERS) and they’re taking a turn towards the dark side now. I was impressed by their new packaging and their dark tasting squares in 70% cocoa content (all natural) with flavors of Raspberry, Orange, Espresso and of course plain Chocolate. The proof will be in the pudding ... well, the chocolate tasting anyway. If the Raspberry is any indication, it’s some tasty stuff, but perhaps a little odd. More on that later.
- I had more fun at Jelly Belly today as they let me preview some new items that aren’t quite ready yet for the public. What I can tell you about is their new Pomegranate bean ... tasty and complex. I tried it when I was there in ‘05 and they were still working on it, the tinkering resulted in a tasty bean with some nice dry finish much more like a real pomegranate. It also has some Vitamin C and antioxidants in there! In other new product news they’re also putting some focus on Black Licorice and have a new Licorice Bear that will be presented soon.
- Brown Paper Chocolates has to take the cake as the most novel presentation of chocolate for the week so far. Think of it as a solid ganache that you treat like a fine parmesan and shave off pieces. It looked kind of strange, like a hunk of fudge, but the flavor was anything but grainy. Smooth and infused with herbs and spices, it was really impressive. The white chocolate went like this, “Fragrant with Lavender, Pimm’s(r) No.1 and Chervil with a cracked pepper and lavender fleur de sel afterthought.” Check out the whole line here.
I’m sitting in on another panel discussion (the other two I did were kind of “State of the Industry” ones that weren’t sweets oriented) but the one on Tuesday morning is about Chocolate. So I may post some session notes about that on Wednesday.
I’ve seen these bars around, usually in big cities, usually in Kosher delis or Jewish neighborhoods. I’ve had Joyva’s products before, but always the halvah. The Joyva Joys is a long, flat and rather solid jelly bar covered in a thin shell of dark chocolate.
The jelly has a very strong floral scent and is raspberry flavored. It’s mostly sweet with a light tart bite to it. The jelly itself is medium pink, which I thought a little odd because the only way you’d know that is if you nibbled off the chocolate. For some reason I figured they colored it, but maybe not.
The chocolate is not terribly interesting, but I rather liked how it took a back seat to the jelly.
I enjoyed the bar for the most part. It wasn’t terribly sweet and it was different. The jelly was firmer and less sticky than something like a Chuckle or a Sunkist Fruit Gem - more like Jell-O. But Raspberry isn’t really my favorite flavor combo with chocolate. I think I’d enjoy an orange bar better, but I have no clue if Joyva makes an orange jelly. I get the sense that jelly candies like this are for old people or maybe I just think that because I’ve never seen anyone eating them. They’re probably a good candy to eat if you’re on a diet and want something chocolate, but not all that fat. They’ve got a pretty low caloric density for a candy with chocolate in it.
Note: Joyva Joys are thickened with agar-agar (made from seaweed), so they’re appropriate not only for those who keep Kosher, but also vegans (who don’t mind a little sugar), however, they are not Kosher for Passover as they contain corn syrup.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
I made it about 3/4 of the way through the show floor today. It’s a huge show with 22 million square miles of booths (okay, I have no clue how big it is, but it covers the north and south hall of the Moscone Center if that means anything to anyone). Though some of the booths were grouped by region of origin, there wasn’t much else to help navigate through the show. Lots of sampling and I have to say that I was pleased that the reception I got at every booth, including the ones where it was obvious I was there as a consumer, not a member of the press. Here are my notes, in no particular order.
- Figs are great. I enjoyed many figgy things such as Orchard Choice dried figs, several different fig pastes and a fig jam.
- Caffarel (represented in the States by Daprano.com) has some new products, including a chili pepper gianduia.
- Lara Bar has reformulated their chocolate bars, now called Jocolat. I didn’t like them the first time around (they were called Maya the nibs were intensely bitter and acrid for some reason) but the new ones are fantabulous and sure to be one of my new faves for snacking.
- Terra Nostra has come out with a new Robust Dark & Roasted Almonds (60% cacao) bar - all organic and with a new package design.
- Jelly Belly has come out with a bunch of new stuff, but the thing that interested me most was their new lollipop which reminds me of Linda’s Lollies. They’re big, very sold and in true Jelly Belly fashion come in oodles of flavors. I picked up Tangerine, Root Beer. Cotton Candy and Lemon. (I might go back for seconds & thirds this week.)
- Jelly Belly was also really pushing their new acquisition of Sunkist Fruit Gems from Ben Meyerson. The best part? I picked out a handful of just the grapefruit from the samples bin. You think I’m alone? I watched two other people pick through the sampling tub and choose the grapefruit and other citrus over the cherry.
- Choco-luxe had an amazing white chocolate/matcha truffle. I’ll have to swing by there again and try some of their other truffles.
- Honey is great. Honey from the Leatherwood Tree in Tasmania is awesome.
- My prediliction for nougats precedes me. Larry from Tassie Naturals actually had a huge handful of the stuff for me (both hazelnut and chocolate covered hazelnut) with some exciting news about a pepper and hazelnut version to come soon. I can’t wait!
- Peanut Butter and Curry is an awesome combo. I could definitely eat that slathered on a piece of bread.
- Awesome chocolates I need to learn more about:
- The Ginger People have come out with a super-charged Gin-Gin (their ginger hard candy) with TWICE the amount of ginger in it (just in time for Whale-Watching season).
- Carica is a fruit from Chile that I hope gets wider distribution - it’s like a mango, apricot and honeydew melon all in one. Right now it’s being distributed in jars of lightly sweetened syrup.
- Lillie Belle Farms was one of those cool finds on the floor. I had no idea they existed, but now I know that they’re toiling away in Oregon growing their own berries and making organic chocolates by hand in inventive flavor combinations. Though the Black Pepper Ganache didn’t do anything for me, I really enjoyed the Lavender Caramel and the simplicity of the caramlized Nibs (Lillie Rocks).
- BruCo has some awesome new “Salt Tasting Chocolate”, Mole Chocolate and something else that’s slipped my mind but was also spicy.
- Chocolove has a Chilies & Cherries in Dark Chocolate they’re pushing for Valentines Day as a limited edition item. 55% cocoa content, it’s dark and fruity with a pretty good, long burn. Not really my thing (with the cherries) but a good bar overall.
- Hawaii has some pretty good honey with light yet complex flavors. My favorite from Big Island Bees was the Wilelaiki Blossom.
- Sensible Foods has something called “Crunch Dried Snacks” which I could really see myself getting into. They’re completely dried fruits and vegetables yet instead of being leathery and chewy, they’re rather crunchy and retain all the flavors. The bananas in their Tropical Blend are insanely crisp and tasty. (Some are even organic.)
I didn’t take any photos. Trade shows are exhausting but it’s nice to know that food is never far away. I’ll have lots more to report tomorrow!
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Good Housekeeping magazine did a brief profile on Katrina Markoff, owner and creator of Vosges Haut-Chocolat. It’s a nice article but I think the best part is the 10% off online orders coupon code at the end. (My reviews on Vosges.)
Gourmet Magazine has a great focus on Milk Chocolate in their February 2007 issue. They’ve posted a ranked list online of the top 25 chocolates and some notes from their tasting panel. Biggest surprise on the list? Ghirardelli was ranked lower than Hershey’s. (Thanks Jessie for the heads up on that one.)
There’s big candy news brewing in Japan. Fujiya, a confectionery company that makes candy, drinks and snack cakes with the mascot “Peko-chan”, has admitted to using expired milk and perishable products in its products that were later tested to contain 10 times the acceptable levels of bacteria in them. Products have been recalled and removed from store shelves and the ubiquitous vending machines all over Asia. The scandal has grown as past cases of food poisoning from the sweets have been re-examined. The president has stepped down and there is talk that Morinaga may be poised to take a bigger stake in the company.
In heathlier news out of Asia, Lotte is discontinuing the use of trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) in their confectionery. Trans fats are blamed for raising bad cholesterol leves and lowering good cholesterol. Lotte is known around the world for their Koala cream line of products. (My reviews of a couple of their products here.)
In slightly related news an alternative to partially hydrogenated oils is interesterified fat is now turning out to have similar (but not as dire) effects on cholesterol levels and may not provide the salvation that food manufacturers were looking for. I don’t know much about interesterified fat, but it appears it has another name ... biodiesel.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.