Friday, December 29, 2006
Here’s another trend among cooks that’s filtered into the candy world: artisan salt. The most common place to find this in confections is in caramels. Sometimes it’s grains of sea salt sprinkled on top, sometimes it’s just a saltier caramel. It’s not like caramels didn’t always have salt in them. When I make my own caramels I usually use both salted butter and a pinch of salt because I think it brings out the caramelized flavors better.
But of course the gourmets weren’t satisfied with plain old table salt or the more upscale Kosher flake salt, now they insist on curiously-colored and super-expensive sea salt crystals from Hawaii, France or New Zealand. They like to remind us of the grand history of salt and how our word for salary comes from the same root and why that means we should pay oodles of money for dried sea water. Frankly, it all looks like the stuff that we used to throw on the sidewalk when it got icy.
All that said, I welcome the new attention to salt as a way to bring out natural flavors. And I welcome Trader Joe’s foray into the salted caramel market because it’s actually affordable. The Shaker-style box that they come in is cute. Inside the box are two plastic bags with 7 ounces of caramels each. Not really as pretty on the inside as I might have hoped for $6.99 a box (maybe a little wood shavings or excelsior?).
The caramels are beautiful. Luminous and even looking, they’re smell like butter and burnt sugar. They’re individually wrapped in neatly folded clear cellophane. They’re sizeable morsels as well, each is two bites in my estimation. They’re firm to the touch but easy to bite apart.
While some salted caramels have grains of salt sprinkled on top, these are completely incorporated (like the Charles Chocolates and unlike the Fran’s) The salt is very apparent on the tongue but the smooth chew and the buttery mouthfeel come through loud and clear.
I liked them. I’m not sure I really want to eat all 14 ounces of them (that’s what’s good about the two packets in there instead of a large single one), so I might come up with some interesting things to do with them, like making a hard sauce for bread pudding.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Yes, it’s time to prowl the aisles of your favorite store for excellent deals on holiday-themed candies.
Crate & Barrel always has good stuff this time of year. Stuff I’d never buy at full-price, but at half off or more, the sassy packaging and classy looks make for pretty good deals.
This year’s highlights in the sale include Cookie Joys for $5.95 instead of $17.95. The Chocolate Enrobed Caramel Corn is also a good deal (though I’m not sure if I’d want any) at $4.95 down from $14.95.
Check out the whole array of goodies here.
Williams-Sonoma doesn’t have quite the deal going on though, with average discounts of only 25% right now. Mostly the stuff isn’t that interesting, though much of it isn’t exactly holiday themed.
Check out the whole list here.
Dean and Deluca is still super-expensive, but there are some deals to be had.
One that caught my eye before Christmas was this normally $100 array of nougats and candied almonds from Arnaud Soubeyran (yes, that fantastic confectioner that makes the nougats I love). It’s marked down to $50.
More modestly they also have a selection of Hammond’s hard candies (ribbon, citrus slices and cinnamon drops) for only $7.50.
See the entire sale list here.
Lake Champlain is also always good for a bit of a sale after any candy holiday. They have a good array on sale and not all of it is even holiday themed. Check here for the latest.
Godiva is also promoting their “Chocolate Covered Sale” boasting 50% off ... that means the 36 piece box that’s usually $42 is now a much more reasonable sounding $21. That green and red bow doesn’t matter, does it?
In stores you’ll find good deals as well, so keep an eye out!
If you couldn’t already tell, I love taking photos of candy. And I love looking at photos of candy. This morning I saw a wonderful gallery of photos by Daniela Edburg called Drop Dead Gorgeous. They feature photos of death by various foodstuffs ... with candy playing a major role.
Check out the interview in The Morning News and of course a full gallery of the photos.
If you’re in the Miami area you can see the photos in person at Kunsthaus, the exhibition is entitled Bittersweet.
(Pictured above in the mosaic are snippets from Death by Nutella, Death by Gummi Bear, Death by Lifesavers and Death by Cotton Candy by Daniela Edburg.)
Flavor 70 Cinn is 70% cacao with a hint of cinnamon over cacao nibs. The last time I tried SweetRiot I gravitated towards the darkest as well.
The light hit of cinnamon was more evident in the scent than in the taste. There’s a little spicy kick on the tongue at the start, but basically it’s a rich roasty chocolate taste with a solid acidic hit and a mellow bitterness. The nibs themselves were crunchy and not the slightest bit fibery (which is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to nibs).
I covered SweetRiot and nibs pretty well in this review back in the spring, so check that out.
Each SweetRiot tin comes with a little geography “fortune” and mine went like this:
SweetRiot also has a “riot club” where you can select from two different delivery plans so you can get your cacao nib fix regularly (and at a better price). They also have their sets that bring the price down when you buy a mix of three. Ordering a whole box of 12 of course brings the tins down to $4 a piece. Still, not to sound like a broken record, it’d be nice to buy a quarter pound or half pound on the website and be able to refill my little tin myself.
I must have been very busy because I forgot to post the results of the Favorite Nut poll a couple of weeks ago.
Wow, I was totally surprised to see that Cashews were by far the most popular but also that Pecans tromped Walnuts.
I voted for Cashews, but Pecans are a close second. But nothing really tops the flexibility and price of peanuts.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
The most recent poll was about favorite Christmas candy classics.
I was suprised at how well Toblerone bars performed but of course nothing pleases me more to see that traditional homemade items are still by the far the biggest winner.
For those who picked homemade, what are these items?
(I voted for hard candies because Christmas has traditionally been the only time I could get a hold of barley sugar candies.)
I have my favorite candies, and I’ve been pretty faithful to them over the years. But there’s always this longing to experience new candies and how different cultures, countries and regions express their love of sweets. That’s part of the reason for Candy Blog, to help everyone overcome that fear of the new and different and embrace the new and different.
This is a story about my first “exotic” candy.
Sometime when I was a kid in grade school I was given Botan Rice Candy. I know I’d been exposed to foreign candy already (Torrones, Toblerone & other European chocolates), but this one was exotic because of the pictures on the box and that it had no associations with a holiday at all. It’s possible I had it at school as an observance of Lunar New Year, or just a show & tell from another child whose parents bought a box for them to bring into class. It came in a simple little box that’s pretty much unchanged today. At one end of the box was a little compartment that contained a little toy, like you would also get in Cracker Jacks back in the day. In the other 3/4 of the box were little cellophane wrapped jelly candies.
Things have changed a little since then. There is no longer a little toy in the box, but now a “Free Children’s Sticker” instead. But I guess this leaves more room for candy.
The candies are little cubes of jelly with a mild orange/lemon flavor wrapped twice. Though it seems like it’s not that different from those sugar encrusted jelly orange slices, these are less flashy. And this is what’s important about the Botan Rice Candy - the inner wrapper is edible. It looks like a slightly clouded cellophane, but it’s really made from rice and will dissolve in your mouth. (I was also fascinated with this ‘edible’ packaging in the classic Torrone as well, which have a starch wafer to keep them from sticking.)
What could be better for a kid looking to expand her horizons? A candy you could show to your friends and freak them out when you eat the plastic wrap plus a little toy!
Sometimes I like to pick the inner wrapper off as completely as I can. For no real reason of course. It’s not like it’s tasty. It’s kind of gooey, starts sticky and then becomes slippery on the tongue. Later when I had sake for the first time, it reminded me of yeasty rice candy wrappers. (Not really in a good way either, I don’t care for sake at all.)
As a candy, Botan Rice Candy is okay. It’s sweet and mild, though a little sticky sometimes. It has some of the barley sugar or millet jelly taste that I like, but the real appeal has to be the edible wrapper. There’s not much in the box either, at 3/4 of an ounce, there are only six pieces in there. With import costs, it’s usually about a dollar a box, even down in Chinatown where everything is cheap.
I went poking around the ‘net to see what else is out there and found another brand that also features the rice wrapper but looks like it could be of higher quality.
So, what was your first experience with Botan Rice Candy?
UPDATE: Several folks have mentioned White Rabbit in the comments since it also has an edible inner wrapper, here’s my review on that.
Monday, December 25, 2006
Happy Holidays to you, my sweet readers!
I raise my Christmas stocking to you and wish you a healthy, happy and safe Christmas, wherever you are.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.