Tuesday, April 18, 2006
A kind reader, shortstop, suggested that I make a journey to Kee’s Chocolate.
As I was already planning a little walk around SoHo on my last day in NYC, it seemed like a natural addition. I did a little reading and found that there were two things on my list that I had to try: the Creme Brulee and the Smoked Salt Truffle.
The shop is tucked on a small street between Broome and Houston and I arrived while they were in the middle of making their chocolates. There were three people in the store, four with me and it was rather cramped. The store isn’t fancy like Marie Belle (tomorrow’s entry) or Vosges - it’s tiny and spare but clean and of course smelled wonderfully. They were unmolding the Smoked Salt Truffles as I came in so I knew they were fresh.
I felt a little on the spot, most of the time I like to just blend in with the background and watch, but in such a small space, I had to get down to business and not fuss around with thinking and observing. That, and they wouldn’t let me take any photos inside either. So, here’s what I had:
Creme Brulee - this isn’t a truffle, this is something you just have to experience. The large morsel (not pictured) has faceted sides and a thin shell. You pop the whole thing in your mouth and the chocolate quickly shatters away and you’re left with a cool burst of creme brulee. It’s creamy and smooth, sweet and a real experience. You probably have to eat it while you’re there or very soon after purchase.
Smoked Salt - a really different truffle, this one was in a molded shell and the chocolate was rich and had a wonderful dryness and the salt was strong without being offensive. The addition of salt brought out some of the smoky and woodsy notes of the chocolate that I wasn’t noticing in the other truffles.
Blood Orange - a lovely, plump chocolate truffle with a slight tang to it, but not zesty. It was good, but not really what I was expecting as it had only a slight flavor to it.
Earl Grey - a really good dark chocolate truffle, but the infusion of Earl Grey was not apparent in the slightest upon eating it. A little later, I did detect the slightest aftertaste of bergamot, but it was not nearly as strong as I would have liked.
Jasmine - whoo! a beautiful tasting truffle - strong overtones of jasmine scent and a lingering perfume as well, this was the best of the infused truffles but I guess I’m spoiled and want a little more flavor to my flavors.
What I really enjoyed about the experience and the chocolates was the complete lack of extraneous packaging and decoration at the shop. Don’t get me wrong, the immersion at places like Vosges or Jacques Torres is wonderful, but let’s face it, once you leave the shop and take the chocolate out of the box, what really matters? What happens in your mouth. On the whole, this was an exceptionally pleasant oral experience. I wish the flavors were a little more vibrant, but the chocolate was wonderfully smooth and the Creme Brulee is truly unique. The chocolates don’t travel particularly well either, two of the truffles were cracked when I got them home and of course the Creme Brulee pretty much has to be eaten within a fifteen square block radius (okay, I’m making that part up, but we all know about the Saga of the Valomilk).
The one silly thing that I did, amidst all that lack of artifice was that I neglected to ask prices for anything and I can’t recall how much it was. (The whole shebang was about $12, I think.)
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:34 pm
Monday, April 17, 2006
Whoo hoo! I had quite a morning down in SoHo on my last day in NYC. My first stop was at Vosges. I’d already been in NYC for a week, and I’d resisted the temptation to go upscale. But I’d done all the other scales and the trip had been pretty cheap, so here I was, throwing caution to the wind.
I’ve already tried several of the Vosges chocolate bars and though they’re fantastically expensive for chocolate bars ($6.75 each), they had flavor combinations you just don’t get from anyone else in that price range.
But I really needed to try the truffles, again, because of the flavor combinations.
Stepping into the shop, it was larger than many other little places I’d visited in NYC and it didn’t hurt that it was a Thursday morning and the only other person in the shop besides the woman behind the counter was a messenger who seemed a little lost and grateful for a little sample of chocolate before he got his bearings.
As I got my bearings by taking a few of the same samples (one was the Red Fire chocolate and the other was their version of guanduia) and became accustomed to the vibrant purple tones, I ordered a hot chocolate. They had three to chose from, a standard European style dark hot chocolate, a Red Fire, which I’d already had several of since I came to NY and then the last option on the board was a Hot White Chocolate. Now I’m not normally one to go for these sorts of things, but I hadn’t had anything to eat so far that morning (it was a little after 11AM) but it was described as an infusion of white chocolate and lavender with lemon. Sounds good enough for me. I wasn’t disappointed. It was served in a tall, narrow cylinder of a glass and it was spectacular. It was like drinking a creme brulee, but not quite so syrupy rich. Not nearly as sweet as I expected, it was creamy and rich and the citrus/floral infusion kept it feeling light and refreshing. I don’t mind spending that much at all, because I know it’s something I’m never going to make at home.
While drinking I had plenty of time to look over the truffles to make my selection:
Absinthe - an infusion of anise, fennel and pastis - lighter and more woodsy than licorice, the smooth ganache blended well. The top was sprinkled with ground Chinese star anise, which was the only part that I didn’t like, as it added a little too much grain to the experience.
Ellateria - Holy Moly! It’s the Holy Grail of cardamom chocolates. Why don’t they make a chocolate bar like this? The ganache is an infusion of dark chocolate with cardamom and white poppy seeds with more sprinkled on top. The whole box was fragranced by the cardamom, these were smooth and flavorful and just made me want more. It’s rare when a truffle makes me want to pop another in my mouth.
Poivre - yes peppercorn truffles and boy howdy is the burn nice. Telicherry black and Muntok white peppercorns in a smooth ganache and some extra crushed peppercorns on the top for a lingering tingle.
Tlan Nacu - I couldn’t even remember which one this was when I bit into it and I had to look it up. It was a nice, dark chocolate truffle with seemingly no essences to it. It turns out it was Vanilla. Hey, it was! Mellow and sweet, vanilla is a wonderful complement to chocolate.
Naga - of all of the truffles I picked out, this is the only one I had tried in bar form. Naga is coconut and curry in milk chocolate. It’s quite a stunning combination, with a strange milky quality and of course the tickly tingle of curry.
Sal del Mare - a salted caramel. This one still qualified as a truffle though. the lighter chocolate shell had two chambers, the bottom was flowing salted caramel and the top was chocolate ganache. The caramel was smooth and sweet and with a salted bite and the chocolate set it off nicely. Not nearly as shocking as some other salted caramels and this one had the added bonus of a pine nut on top to mellow all the flavors together.
(Yes, there are more truffles in the box than listed here, I did some doubles and one just for my husband that I didn’t taste.)
Overall, I think that the Vosges shop is a great destination, a little treat for yourself if you’re in one of the cities where they have a store (Chicago, NYC and Las Vegas). The quality is superb, the freshness and combination of flavors set them apart from many other trufflers. Whereas many of the other truffles and chocolates I experienced (Pierre Marcolini & Marie Belle) on this trip were the flattened kind, Vosges makes them as generous spheres that give you ample ganache for really appreciating the flavors. I don’t see myself ordering them online, but I know I’ll make an effort to see their flagship store in Chicago when I’m there in June.
The store also features some clothing and candles and other lifestyle paraphernalia, but I’m not about to start reviewing the branded merchandise that goes with chocolate. There’s a long bar with stools for sitting and enjoying a drink or truffle on site with a friend or as a solo treat, and if you play your cards right, you can get out of there for less than $10.00. But if you’re looking for a real splurge, they have a “Club Haut-Chocolat” where they’ll send you a box of nine for 13 months for a mere $490. That’s love, baby.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:33 pm
Skittles has come out with quite a few new flavor varieties, so many that I haven’t been keeping track. I love the Originals, they’re one of the most perfect candies ever. I rather liked the Mint mix, but I was kind of peeved that they put it in that plastic box packaging, why couldn’t I just buy them in a little packet like the fruit ones? However, I’m not keen on the Tropical or Sours and there are other varieties like the Smoothies and Berry Mix that I haven’t even tried yet. But these caught my eye.
The Limited Edition Ice Cream goes places I hadn’t expected, it leaves the fruit realm. The flavor mix goes like this: Caramel Ripple, Chocolate, Vanilla, Orange Vanilla Swirl and Strawberry. Sounds kind of promising. I’ve often wondered what a chocolate Skittle would taste like.
The colors are fun and completely evocative of ice cream. A little subdued and earthy but still a pretty combination. The package smells like cotton candy.
Unfortunately the taste wasn’t all that I’d hoped. They all have a slightly cardboard flavor to them; they seem as intense as the fruit Skittles.
Orange Vanilla Swirl was one of my favorites. Like a creamsicle, it was like an orange Skittle but without the tangy bite to it, so it was just smooth and mellow with a nice orange essence.
Strawberry was also pleasant, like strawberry ice cream usually is. A creamier version of the strawberry fruit Skittle, as an ice cream flavor it also didn’t have the sour bite to it but a nice vanilla overtone.
Caramel Ripple was interesting, I’m not sure where the rippling is, but it had a rather overt caramel “flavor” to it instead of actually being caramelized.
Vanilla was just plain sweet and chewy, which isn’t surprising and completely pleasant. The vanilla also tastes like a “flavor” and not really organic, but a really fun change of pace from the tart fruit Skittles.
Chocolate was just the worst one in the bunch. If you’re fond of Tootsie Rolls you’ll recognize these as a teensy bite of that similar watery cocoa flavor. They were just plain bland and musty tasting without any creaminess. It’s like giving someone chocolate sorbet in hopes that they’ll think it’s ice cream - there’s nothing wrong with chocolate sorbet, but the only thing that gives it any resemblance to ice cream is the fact that it’s frozen.
I’m kind of mixed on this flavor variation. I don’t think it’s something I’d buy again, but I appreciate the attempt at making a version of Skittles that aren’t tart. All the flavors go together well, so you can combine any flavors in the pack without coming up with something offensive, so it’s well thought out.
If you haven’t already seen it, check out the Advertising section on the Skittle site for their extra-creepy commercial campaign which rivals the Burger King Pantomime King ones (check out The Beard especially).
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Continuing with National Licorice Day, I have to admit that I’ve always been afraid of Licorice Allsorts. Let’s face it, they’re pretty, but there’s no real way of knowing what they are. Are those pink things the same flavor as Pepto Bismol? Are they cherry? Which would be better? Is blue ever a good idea? It’s one of those candies that’s been around so long, once I became an adult I was embarrassed to ask what they were.
The time had come to try them. All of them. This assortment came from CandyFavorites but is made by Bassett’s ... you know, the folks in England who are known for these. Aren’t they cute?
I started with the pieces that seemed the most familiar. The plain black licorice pieces were nice. Extra soft, with a good doughy consistency and strong molasses taste. They’re sweet, but not in a sugary way, more in that herbal way that licorice is.
Next I took on those sandwich looking things. They’re the ones that have scared me most over the years. The brown ones are chocolate flavored, but only in the lightest possible way. Mostly the molasses taste comes through but then as the chewing continues I realize that there’s COCONUT in here! How did that happen? The brown layer is more grainy and sugary than the licorice one and there are these flakes of coconut that give it a nice chewy texture and a good nutty pop. The white layered pieces are lemon and though I really liked the Lemon Lakritsi I had last year, these don’t quite rise to this level. Yes, the coconut gives it some extra dimension, but there are a lot of flavors going on here. Orange is orange and seems to be a little better on the balance than the white ones. I ate all of the orange and brown ones first. The pink ones were the scariest of all. I don’t know what flavor they are, we’ll just stick with “pink” because the color seems to give them a fruity flavor of some kind, perhaps cherry but also a bitter overtone. Blech. I needed to clear the taste of that! Luckily it was only a three decker instead of the five layer of the white one.
The little blue and pink buttons are so cute and I didn’t want to eat them at first. Inside is a firm jelly with a strong licorice/anise taste to it. Instead of being sickly sweet and grainy like a jelly bean, these were more like a gummi covered in nonpareils. I wish I could just buy these in bulk.
The little blue man was the only one of his kind in the mix, and I’m not sure what that kind of candy is called. He was like a licorice version of candy corn. Very sweet, a little grainy to start and then quite smooth.
The pink circles with the black dots scared me. After the bad experience with the pink layered thing, I was hesitant to try these. Luckily they weren’t flavored. They’re just colored pink but taste simply like coconut and licorice. After all that trepidation, the things I thought I’d hate, I actually liked and of the whole assortment, there’s really only one piece that I detested. Those are much better odds than most of the assorted candies I pick up.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 5:39 am
Happy Licorice Day! Did you know it’s National Licorice Day?
So, it’ll be all licorice all day here on Candy Blog ... if you don’t like the black stuff, just move along and come back tomorrow and it’ll be something chocolate or maybe something nutty or perhaps something sour. If you do like licorice, well, browse around through my archives by clicking on the Licorice category for all the licorice reviews.
I picked up an assortment of Dutch licorices when I was in Pittsburgh. Because this is real licorice which can have side effects when consumed in large quantities, I’ve been tasting it responsibly for the past six weeks or so.
Beehive Honey Licorice - these little black beehives boast 8% honey! They’re smooth and soft and instead of the strong charcoal flavor of molasses as a base, these boast a fine honey flavor with the nice woodsy and sweet qualities of licorice. They really don’t taste anything like a licorice vine that I’m accustomed to, reminding me more of an herbal tea.
Katjes (kittens) - these are dark looking and a little firmer with glossy black coats. The licorice flavor is strong and melts away to be rather watery on the tongue because it doesn’t have molasses or wheat flour in it like many of the vines do. Good flavor and good balance. Of all of them these went best with coffee because of the clarity of the flavor. I actually enjoy the mix of coffee and anise or licorice together, which I think is a pretty common Italian combination.
Zout (salt) - yes, this is the single salt version of the Dubbel Zout I tried after Christmas. These are lozenge shaped (diamond) and bear the Zout label on them, lest you get confused in a mixed bag! Wow, I’m so glad I gave these another try. They certainly have a zing to them, though it’s not the same electric thing that I had with the DZ. The salt really brings out the licorice flavor without tasting too sweet (which licorice often suffers from). This version also doesn’t have the strong ammonia quality that the others I’ve tried, though towards the end where I was finding little bits in my teeth I did get the strange sensation of basement or catbox. I’m still not sold on it, but I didn’t spit out ANY of the pieces I ate. (I know, faint praise.)
Klene Muntdrop - a little coin, mine came in denominations of 1, 5 & 10. Very mild, not too sweet. I let mine get stale (not on purpose, but it seems that a paper bag isn’t the proper way to store them), but they’re kind of pleasant that way too. They melt away into a kind of woodsy, sticky goo. Still, there’s an odd note to the flavor that’s slightly acidic and slightly musty. I’ve had a bit of a cold lately and these are kind of nice in a “keep your throat happy” way.
Wax Seals - I have no idea what these are called or who makes them, but they’re fantastic! They look like little stamps made in wax, like you’d seal a letter, but maybe they’re coins. They’re mellow and smooth and ultra soft (where the other ones go stiff and hard in the paper bag, these stayed soft and yielding). They have a good molasses bite without the wheat flour doughy quality that some other American and German vines can get.
If you’re feeling adventurous, just get a mix of things. The cool part is that each little licorice is quite unique in how it looks and it shouldn’t be hard to find them again and get just the ones you liked. I only gave these a 6 out of 10 as an average, but a mix of the beehives and wax seals would get an 8 out of 10 on their own.
Monday, April 10, 2006
Last year my favorite discovery was Scharffen Berger’s Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs. I think I might be in love all over again with the nibs from sweetriot. For those of you who haven’t been following along, cacao nibs are roasted cocoa beans that are ready to be made into chocolate. Everything that makes chocolate chocolate is inside the bean, the cocoa butter and what becomes cocoa powder. A plain cacao nib is rather sour, kind of grainy and has very little of the buttery crunch we associate with most nuts. It’s more like eating a coffee bean than a peanut. As a solo snack, they’re an acquired taste, but they make a great addition to salads or thrown into muffins or cookies.
Sweetriot sent me this fun little “spring fling” pack, which holds three different little upright tins of chocolate covered cacao nibs - each covered with a different blend of chocolate. 50% cocoa solids, 65% cocoa solids and the masterful 70% cocoa solids (with a hint of coffee).
The little tins are rather small, and to be honest when I first read about these on CandyAddict early this year I thought they were extremely expensive. At $6 each for a tin (regular price), it’s about five times the price of the Scharffen Berger nibs (which I already thought were pricey).
What is especially compelling is the mission of the company and that they’re fair trade (though not certified yet). They’re also Kosher, gluten-free and made with non-genetically modified soy lecithin (also called GMO-free).
What’s also different about these and the Scharffen Berger is that the coating on the nibs is quite a bit thicker. Where the Scharffen Berger nibs were bumpy and craggy, the Sweetriot “peaces” are smooth like little nuggets of tumbled chocolate.
I started with the Flavor 50, and I’m not sure you can make it out in the photo, but they’re more milk-chocolate looking than the rest. They’re actually very sweet and mellow and had a very clean taste to them, that seemed to have more vanilla coming through than most chocolate. Each little tin includes a “fortune” which has a piece of trivia about where the cacao comes from. In this tin it said: “Cacao Country Brazil shares boundaries with every South American country but Chile & Ecuador.”
Next was Flavor 65, which has a very strong acidity and bitterness to it, with notes of cherry and apricot but a very strong scent of rum and cedar shavings. Like a complex wine, these make you want to keep shoveling them into your mouth so you can try to pin down the notes. The trivia snippet here: “The first inhabitants of Cacao Country Peru were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in Peruvian caves.”
The last was Flavor 70, a deep rich experience whole. I was expecting them to be as bitter and astringent as Flavor 65, but they were actually more mellow, but equally dark and complex. The coffee note was not overwhelming and this tin was sweeter smelling. There’s a dry finish and the fruity notes blend together without an overpowering single flavor coming through. The chocolate is smooth and of course the nibs provide an interesting nutty crunch. The geography trivia here: “Together, Cacao Countries Ghana, Cote d’Ivorie, Nigeria and Cameroon produce 70% of the world’s cacao.”
By far the balance of chocolate to nibs is better in the Sweetriot over the Scharffen Berger nibs. The only thing I have trouble getting over here is the price. While I support Fair Trade, I also don’t care for overpackaging of items. Yes, they’re cute and the artwork on the tins is certainly original. The only option for purchase here is in the tiny tin, and maybe I just want to buy a pound of them and keep refilling my individual tin. But the company is young and I’m willing to be patient for more options on purchasing. For now they’re fantastic-tasting and hard to beat on that score, but they cost a pretty penny (and when I say penny, I mean that each little morsel is more than a penny!).
If you’re a true chocoholic, now might be the time to give these a try. They’re on sale through April 14th at 25% off on the website. They are sold at a limited number of brick-and-mortar locations, but check their website for the latest updates.
UPDATE: I found them in the wild! I saw them at a health food store in Greenwich Village - and the going price is only $4.99 ... much better than the expected $6.00 (based on their web price). If you think about how much you’re willing to spend for a latte or ice blended whatever (or hot chocolate), it’s really a comparable treat and of course it’s small enough to tuck in a pocket or your bag.
UPDATED UPDATE (12/28/2006): The prices on the website have come down quite a bit, buying a box of 12 means that tins are only $4 each now. The 3 pack flavor set also has a price reduction (the packaging varies by season).
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
Lifesavers are known for being highly-flavored hard candies. If there were a candy model that Jelly Belly might have gone off of, it was probably Lifesavers - here is a hard candy, a little smaller than usual, but super-flavored and in a huge variety. Lifesavers got into the gummi game a while ago and I tried them when they first came out, but didn’t think much of them. I decided to revisit them, especially since they changed the flavors out on the five flavor tray.
The 5 Flavor variety bears little resemblance to the hard candy rolls that have been around since 1934. The flavors in this roll are Cherry (an original flavor), Watermelon, Green Apple, Blackberry and Strawberry. No orange, no lemon, no pineapple. Drat! The candies are much larger than the hard version, they’re soft, if a little greasy on the outside to prevent sticking and are positioned upright on a clear plastic tray inside the wrapper.
The Cherry is just as you’d expect it, great woodsy cherry flavor with a good tart bite. I’m not fond of cherry flavored stuff, but I actually find Lifesavers rather acceptable, probably because the flavor doesn’t seem as artificial as many others. The Green Apple, the lighter of the two green flavors, is rather mild, not too sour but good overall flavor. Watermelon is a darker green and bears little resemblance to real watermelon flavor but has a nice tart bite to it without that overwhelming fragrance that many watermelon candies have. Strawberry was a bit disappointing. It was sweet and had only the slightest hint of a berry flavor to it. I’d tell you about the Blackberry, but this roll had none. I think they’re dark purple. I’ll hazard that it’s the same blackberry flavor in the Wild Berries below.
The Wild Berry mix held more promising flavor for my tastes: Cherry Berry, Strawberry, Red Raspberry, Black Raspberry, Blackberry and White Grape.
The colors are a little bland, but I guess when you’re making a dozen different flavors you’re going to run out of primary and secondary colors. The White Grape was my favorite. Soft and delicate, it’s just a bit tart and has none of that artificial grape note that I only seem to like in Tootsie Pops and SweeTarts. The Cherry Berry was remarkably similar to the Cherry in the 5 Flavor, but I’m not complaining. The Blackberry is the only one that seemed opaque, a lustrous dark purple it was tart and fragrant but hardly had a flavor different from the other berries. The Strawberry was the same as above. The rather lavender looking one was, I think, Black Raspberry. It was sweet and tart like the others and much more perfumed, as raspberries tend to be. The lightest red one was probably Red Raspberry and was similar to the Black Raspberry one, but perhaps a little tarter.
The good thing about this mix is that the flavors all blend together well, you can eat them one after another without the flavors fighting or combine them if you’re so inclined.
I like to eat gummies when my throat is bothering me, and I’m just getting over a cold (so if my tasting is a little off, it’s some sort of leftover malaise). They’re soothing and not too sour, so I don’t have to worry about burning my tongue like I often do on my overdoses of SweeTarts. I bought these in a Christmas Storybook on an after-holiday clearance for 98 cents ... so I certainly got my money’s worth for five packages of these.
While these flavors all have merit, I’d really like to have my favorite Lifesavers flavors - Lemon, Orange, Tangerine, Banana, Pina Colada and Pineapple. Actually, I’d be game if they wanted to try a Butter Rum gummi, too!
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
I’m not an energy drink person and I’m not one to start popping caffeine pills either. So what am I to do when I need a little pick-me-up?
A friend of ours who travels in Italy every year suggested Pocket Coffee! Basically it’s chocolate-covered Italian coffee. Because the sweet coffee center is concentrated, it only takes three chocolates to equal a single shot of espresso. Our friends like to get them for traveling as it’s more portable that hot coffee but has the same side effect. I’ve heard that it’s very popular with students, truck drivers and folks on night shifts.
Ferrero is a well-known Italian chocolate brand even here in the United States, with the elegant little Rochers and Nutella as their best-known products. In fact, I’ve never seen Pocket Coffee anywhere in the US before, but not for lack of trying. They’re not even made in the summer, so as a seasonal item it’s likely that getting one out of season means that it’s no longer fresh. But a no-so-fresh Pocket Coffee is just a different experience.
The candy is composed of a syrupy espresso center, then a light sugar crystal shell and then the chocolate. As the candies age the sugar shell will actually grow, taking sugar from the espresso syrup center to create a bigger shell. The ones I tried were a little old (purchased last fall) so they had the extra crystallized shell.
The coffee center is very sweet but smooth with a slightly acidic bite to it. The crystals provide a kind of funky crunch to it, but melt easily if you’re inclined that way. The chocolate is not too sweet and gives a good creamy boost to the whole mix. On the whole the candy is very sweet, a little too sweet for my tastes, but then again, it’s coffee candy. I’m not saying that I won’t eat it again ... though they are messy. If you’re driving, you’re obligated to pop the whole thing in your mouth but if you’re not, feel free to experiment with biting off a corner and sucking out the coffee first.
Finding them in the states may mean ordering online. They’re still being stocked at Capriflavors.com.
If only Cadbury Creme Eggs had a coffee version!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.