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.
Friday, January 19, 2007
I’ve mentioned Frangos a lot on this blog, but I’ve never reviewed them before. So after Christmas when I stumbled on a 50% off sale, I picked up a variety I’d never had before, 62% Cocoa Dark Chocolate Frangos. They were regularly $20 a pound, but at $10 a pound, I thought it was time they made an appearance here.
But first, how about a little background about Frangos?
People in the Pacific Northwest and the Chicago area are most familiar with Frangos, as the history of the confection is closely tied to both areas.
The Frango confectionery line was first introduced by Frederick & Nelson department stores in Seattle in 1918. The Frango name was applied at F&N to a few confectionery products, but the Frango mint meltaway (which joined their line in 1927) is the one that struck a lasting chord with consumers. (Note: there’s some disagreement about the early name of the candy, which may have been Francos, but was changed after Francisco Franco and the Spanish Civil War gave the chocolates a less festive feel.)
A Frango is a small chocolate - currently they’re taller than they are about 3/4” high and 1/2” wide and deep. The center is a firm meltaway - harder than a truffle but softer than pure chocolate. The original flavor and still the most popular is Mint.
Frangos made their migration to Chicago in 1929 when Marshall Fields (now Macy’s) bought the store and started up Frango production right there at the flaship State Street store. Though the products are virtually identical they are packaged differently - the Northwest version are individually wrapped and the Chicago version are sold in a traditional candy box in little fluted cups.
I first had Frangos in the late seventies when my mother returned from a trip to Chicago with a box. I despised most of the flavors (Coffee, Raspberry, Cherry, Double Chocolate) but I rather liked the Lemon and of course was obsessed with the Mint. Boxes were sold with mixes of flavors and the ultimate gift was the “Foot of Frangos.” (The little paper cups gave a clue to the flavor, so there was no problem with little dents in the bottom from picky children.)
The 62% Cocoa Dark Chocolates are quite nice. They have a strong vanilla aroma mixed with the smoky notes of the chocolate. The centers are firm but the pieces are small and easy to pop into your mouth whole. The meltaway middle gets a little kick from a hit of salt (which I always loved in the mint version).
The worst thing about them right now though, is that they use partially hydrogenated soybean oil to get them “melty” in the center. This adds 1.5 gram of trans fats to a serving of 4 pieces (about 40 grams). Hopefully, they’re reformulating.
My interest in Frangos faded when I discovered chocolate truffles. It was nice to have some again and they do hold a strong place in American confectionery history, but probably not much of a place in my current candy-eating repertoire.
You can learn lots more from the Wikipedia article about Frangos (be sure to click through to the links if you’re really obsessed). I’ve glossed over most of the controversy about the Macy’s/Marshall Fields/Northwest bruhahah but feel free to weigh in about it here.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
I’ll save you from skimming to the end of the review. Yeah, that holds true in the case of American Value bars.
This is a long thin Milk Chocolate bar that clocks in at a respectable 1.4 ounce portion and mentions the price of “4 for a Dollar every day” in a ghastly yellow logo in the corner. The label couldn’t possibly be less compelling if you gave me a version of Microsoft Word 95 to make it in. The package says nothing to recommend it, it doesn’t get our hopes up, it doesn’t lend any expectation to the experience.
Inside the package things get a bit better. It looks like a chocolate bar (and the ingredients reveal it’s real chocolate as well). It smells a little nutty and a little like chocolate. Sweet and less that ultra smooth, it’s a passable chocolate bar to give a child that isn’t very finicky, has a short attention span or perhaps you don’t like that much.
Since the bars are rather attractive (probably more so if you don’t leave it at the bottom of your bag when traveling) I would be comfortable recommending this bar for craft projects like Gingerbread Houses in the style of mid-eighties cubicle farms.
Though the Milk Chocolate bar was plain, it wasn’t pretending to be anything it wasn’t. The Four Finger Wafer Bar is a KitKat clone. Instead of the simple declaration of the contents that the Milk Chocolate bar has, this one says that it’s “Crisp Wafer Fingers Covered in Smooth Milk Chocolate.”
Oh, now they’ve raised my expectations. I’m expecting some smoothiness and some crispiness.
The wrapper features more design than a lowly word processing program could handle. This does not make it any more attractive. It’s not your monitor either, there’s a strange green cast to the package as well.
There are, in fact, four fingers. They are, in fact, crisp. They do not taste like KitKat fingers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. These are a bit less flaky and light. Looking at the ingredients I see that maize flour (corn) is used instead of wheat flour of a Hershey’s or Nestle’s KitKat. I actually rather enjoyed the malty corn flavor of the wafers. However, the chocolate here was funky. It had an odd flavor to it, kind of like a new car smell.
This bar was made in the UK (the Milk Chocolate bar was made in the USA). Taquitos.net has a few of the other Dollar General candies reviewed. I get the sense that Dollar General just subs out the manufacture of all of their candy - the Rocklets they sell under their own name are made by Arcor in Brazil, this four fingered bar in the UK and the milk chocolate bar in the US ... so you wouldn’t expect them to be so consistent.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Another Limited Edition item from Reese’s and again playing around with similar ingredients. This time they’ve taken the Big Cup with Nuts (which was also a limited edition item - review here) and added some caramel to the bottom of the cup.
I don’t have a cross section of the actual cup because I kind of trashed it taking it out of the package and though it was certainly edible, it was not photogenic. So have a look at the Big Cup with Peanuts (click to get a pop up photo) and imagine a smidge of caramel at the bottom there.
The cup itself is nice and meaty, with lots of room to explore the nuts and peanut butter and a good balance of chocolate. The center is a bit salty which is good because the milk chocolate is a bit sweet and kind of greasy (I know that’s the hazard with chocolate and peanut butter). The caramel blends in well, it has its own salty kick but it doesn’t detract from the crunchy nuts or add too much sweetness. I’d prefer a chewier caramel like you find in a Snickers, but that’s not Hershey’s way.
I actually liked this one a bit better than the Reese’s with Caramel, the caramel was distinctive and the roominess of the peanut butter/peanut stack let it all breathe.
Just to give you a sense, here are the previous Reese’s reviews: Reese’s Bites (soon to be discontinued), Reese’s Cookies, FastBreak, Reese’s Sticks, Nutrageous, Reese’s Snack Barz, Reese’s Pieces Peanut, Reese’s Easter Eggs (two versions), Reese’s Bars for those who don’t like their candy in cups or shaped like trees, and of course the less-than-comprehensive Reese’s Full Line, another Big Cup (with mixed nuts) and their new favorite child, the Reese’s Crispy Crunchy Bar.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
My mother lives in a neighborhood where, without fail, every time I visit there’s a kid at the door at some point either trying to sell her something or delivering something she bought. This time it’s the One Dollar Bar. (Actually, I’d never seen these before, I’d only seen the World’s Finest Chocolate bars.)
The bars are sizeable - at 2.25 ounces it’s like a king size bar and at a buck, it’s a pretty good deal as consumer chocolate bars for a cause go. (I remember buying single boxes of M&Ms from the band kids when I was in high school, the boxes were probably a buck but had less than a similar king sized snack pack ... and that was, um, a few years ago.)
The Roasted Almond bar comes in a red wrapper and like all the One Dollar Bars, it’s certified peanut free. The little domed segments smelled nice and sweet with a bit of a milky boost. The chocolate is very sweet but creamy and has a good nutty note from the almonds. The almonds were fresh tasting and extra crunchy. One the whole, the milk chocolate was far too sweet for me to eat, even with the nuts cutting it. I think with some extra almonds on the side or maybe some salty pretzels I could make do with this bar.
The Mint Chocolate bar is milk chocolate with a flowing mint fondant filling. The bar was beautifully glossy, smelled sweet with a light hint of mint. Though the chocolate here was identically sweet to the Roasted Almond bar, the creamy consistency of the filling and mint hit seemed to moderate it well. I’m guessing part of the reason for that is the filling is a sugar and condensed milk concoction with some salt in it as well. (The Almond bar has 20 mg of sodium, the Mint bar has 140 mg!)
I’m not sure I’d ever buy these just because I wanted one, but if some kids were selling them in front of the grocery store (where I buy all my fundraiser candies ... the just don’t seem to go door to door in Los Angeles as much) I might pick up a couple since they’re decent quality. They come in a few other varieties as well - Crispy Rice, Creamy Caramel, Dark Chocolate & Tasty Truffle.
Van Wyck Confections, who makes the One Dollar Bar is based in Denver, CO, but the bars were made in Canada. I’m not quite sure who makes the chocolate for them.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.