Friday, November 10, 2006
It finally happened. I ate too much chocolate.
I had always figured that my first chocolate overdose would happen with a giant Toblerone or a bag of Hershey’s Kisses. This was the happiest surprise of all, it was with some of the best chocolates on the planet.
On November 1st I attended CocoaBella‘s unveiling of the “World’s Greatest Box of Chocolates.” This box is the culmination of Michael Freeman’s tastings of hundreds (probably thousands) of chocolates from some of the best chocolatiers. Instead of just shoving a box in the mail with some literature, Freeman and his PR team held a reception to introduce not only the chocolates but also the aesthetic and even three of the chocolatiers.
CocoaBella Chocolates bills itself as a purveyor of the best small batch artisan chocolates from all over the world. They carry Amadei, Christopher Elbow, Michel Cluizel and Charles Chocolates, among others. What’s different about them instead of going into all of those shops to find your favorites is that you can create your own box with chocolates from any or all of the chocolatiers. One stop shopping, if you will.
The evening began with the normal press recieving line where we were given our name badges as we entered the little shop in San Francisco. I was offered wine and given an overview of the evening. We would start with browsing and we were free to try ANYTHING in the shop. The chocolates for the box unveiling were located along one wall, but anything behind the counter was also available. There would be a presentation by Michael Freeman and three of the chocolatiers were actually present, Christopher Elbow of Kansas, Chuck Siegel (Charles Chocolates) of Emeryville and Jacques Dahan of Michel Cluizel Chocolates (Paris).
It was clear since the shop still didn’t have that many people in it and there were many name badges laid out on the table that there would be some mingling until everyone arrived. I browsed. I took photos. I didn’t touch anything. It smelled good and looked fantastic. There were other bloggers there, so I began to relax. It was no mistake that I was there.
At the back counter there were two men working to create and plate chocolates. I recognized both of them. On the left was Chuck Siegel and on the right was Christopher Elbow. Since other folks were talking to them, I sidled up and listened in. They were creating three fresh creations for us to try, nothing that either of them were ever going to include in their chocolate lines, just one-offs. I chatted with both of them and some other writers and then started trying some of the chocolates. I started with the nutty items, I had to pace myself. I got four chocolates under my belt when the presentation began.
Michael Freeman explained the chocolate shop, where he carries at least 300 different items. It sounds like exhausting work traveling Europe and the States to find some of the little chocolatiers and he insists that you can set down any of the chocolates he carries in front of him and he can identify it on sight.
Jacques Dahan did a little tasting of three of the Michel Cluizel single origin chocolates. I felt a little smug, as I’d already tried these as a tasting kit a few months back, but was comforted to see that my tasting notes of the time still held up. Dahan reiterated some of the literature in the tasting kit, that Cluizel fosters relationships with the plantations, just as I imagine great sommeliers do with wineries. There’s a great deal of pride involved in this upscale chocolate. What I found particularly refreshing though, was the openness and the nods that each of the chocolatiers were able to give to each other.
There were Siegel and Elbow, two men who might be regarded as rivals, happily collaborating on a set of chocolates for the evening.
Oh, and what were those chocolates? The little one is a simple dark ganache with a dollop of fresh mango and ginger chutney. Fresh and earthy, the bitterness and complexity of the chocolate was set off nicely by the rooty balsam flavors of the chutney. Then there’s the fresh fig, split open filled with a white chocolate ganache then dipped in dark chocolate. Wonderfully fresh, and the mild sweetness of the fig itself was set off well by the truffle cream, which happily was not sickly sweet. The dark chocolate wasn’t as powerful as I’d hoped, but maybe I didn’t pick one out that had been dipped enough.
The last one was a little mousy looking and they were pretty quiet about what it was. Just a peanut praline with a surprise. The next day Siegel explained a bit more about how praline is made, basically they take raw nuts and throw them in a copper kettle with sugar and heat it all together. As the nuts roast the sugar caramelizes. Then it’s ground together to make a paste that has little flecks of the sugar in it. This little square had an extra bonus though, at first I thought it was just something like the center of a Butterfinger bar, but then it popped. Then there was a lot of popping in there. Unflavored Pop Rocks. It was an interesting combination (and was a great help for my novel).
After the presentations it was back to the chocolate floor. I took photos, of course, and now that I had a better understanding of what Freeman was up to, I started really examining the offerings behind the counter. I also started tasting. I started tasting things that weren’t in that box. I knew that I was going to try more of Charles Chocolates the next day (yes, there’s still more to tell from my San Francisco trip!) so I looked at the other chocolatiers.
At first Elbow’s were missing the mark for me, they were very sweet (but they’re so darned pretty). Some that I tried that were fantabulous, most notably was the Orange Honey Blossom, which was a half-sphere button with a drippy honey cream center with a true honey taste and texture. I regret not trying one of the Bananas Foster. The Cluizel was fantastic and so incredibly specific. It finally dawned on me the unique position Cluizel is in, because they make their chocolate, from bean all the way to the final truffle creation. There are so few actual chocolate factories on the planet, and the fact that this one creates more than just the bars and couverture for the rest of the industry sets them apart. (And I need to pay more attention to them now.)
Fact is, I was seriously overloaded with chocolate. I wouldn’t call it a chocolate high, more like a chocolate sedation. I wanted it all, but part of my brain wasn’t working well enough to figure out where to put it. I couldn’t possibly fit any more in my tummy. I had a half a glass of wine during the presentations and after that a bottle of sparkling water. A glance over by the door though, and I saw that the name badges were replaced with gift bags ... with a box of chocolate to take home. I sighed in relief. As much as I didn’t want to leave, because the Golden Ticket would be voided the moment I stepped outside the door, I had to go. The wine had worn off at least a half an hour earlier and it was time to go back to the motel.
I lost count with how much I ate. It was probably a third of a pound of chocolate in two hours. Good thing I didn’t have any lunch or dinner.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:05 am
Thursday, November 9, 2006
Altoids have been around for well over two hundred years. They’re simple little nuggets of sugar, mint flavor and a little acacia gum to hold it all together. I’m not sure if they count as candy, as they’re intended for breath freshening, not wholesale gobbling. (But just because that’s what they’re intended for doesn’t make it so.)
Altoids were made by Callard & Bowser for many years. Then there were a series of buyouts, Callard & Bowser was bought by Suchard. That company was owned by Beatrice. The whole shebang of Callard & Bowser-Suchard was then sold to Kraft which sold it in 2004 to the Wm. Wrigley, Jr. Company. As a Wrigley brand they make more sense than belonging to a company that makes Velveeta, however, I’m still cross with Wrigley for discontinuing Reed’s.
What was once just a humble piece of peppermint chalk is now a veritable empire of its own. There are the mints, a line of gum, sour hard candies and even some freako weird breath strips.
So that brings us to the newest brand extension. The Dark Chocolate Dipped Mints. Called “Curiously Chocolate” on the tin, I have to admit I find it curious myself. I got a hold of two of the new flavors - Peppermint and Cinnamon.
Out of the package they’re not remarkable looking at all. They look kind of like buttons or maybe slightly smaller Junior Mints. They smell only vaguely chocolatey but that’s probably because the peppermint or cinnamon scent is so strong.
On the tongue the chocolate melts rather readily and is much thicker than I would have expected. It’s dark and with a slight grain to it (but hey, Altoids are pretty grainy too) but a rich taste permeated with the mint or cinnamon in question.
I really didn’t think these were going to be any good at all, but I enjoyed the little creamy hit of chocolate. I preferred it when I immediately cleaved the mint so that I got mint and chocolate at the same time, but letting the chocolate melt off and then getting to the mint has nice too.
My biggest concern is the durability of these. What I like about Altoids in general is that I can leave a tin in the car or at the bottom of a bag and not worry how long its been there. I know for a fact that I’ve eaten five year old Altoids. But I wouldn’t want to eat old chocolate.
These are preview packages of the new Altoids, they’ll be available in January 2007 on CandyWarehouse.com, though there is word that they’re popping up in places.
Note from the package: Altoids are made with gelatin, therefore not suitable for vegetarians.
Other strange notes: I went to the Altoids “Shoppe” on their website and they’re out of stock on about half of the products. Come on! You’re the factory, make some more! (And here’s a link to a recent story in the Chicago Sun Times I read.)
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
I knew that Hershey’s was really pushing into the Hispanic foods arena more than any other large candy company. But more than just calling things Dulce de Leche, they’ve now created some Americanized versions of some popular candies in Mexico. There are a few assortments of Jolly Ranchers, but I picked up the Paletas sabor a Frutas Enchiladas. They’re hot and spicy fruit flavored lollipops.
They come in three flavors, Tamarindo (tamarind), Limon (lime) and Mango. Each pop is flat hard candy square, a little over a half an ounce each. They’re branded under the name La Dulceria Thalia. (I reviewed the Cajeta Elegancita earlier this year.)
Tamarind and chili flavors dominate all three of the pops. Tamarind, if you’re not already familiar with it, comes from the Tamarind tree, which looks kind of like the Locust tree and bears large pods that look like beans. The fruit pulp is popular not only in Caribean and Mexican cuisine, but also Southeast Asia and Indian (since that’s where the trees originated). The flavor of tamarind may be familiar to folks who like Worcestershire sauce and is most notable for it’s tangy, woodsy flavor.
The pop is actually quite pretty. I think I used to have coat buttons that looked like this, deep raspberry red with flecks in them. It’s glossy looking and smells like a cross between fresh sour cherries and cedar shavings you put in hamster cage.
The flavor is pleasant, though not really candy like. It’s more savory. There are deep notes of berries and of course the slow burn of the chilis. A little coffee and tea and maybe sun dried tomatoes. The more you eat it, the less appealing it looks, as the chili is not that finely ground and makes it look like your rolled your pop in red sawdust after a while.
This one really surprised me when I put it in my mouth. Seriously. Authentically. Lime. It was zesty and tangy and even fragrant. After a while the chili kicks in for a little burn, but the woodsy notes take a back seat here.
The texture after a while ends up being kind of like a tongue pumice. Great if you have a calloused tongue or maybe it’s just itchy and you want tasty way to scratch it.
The deep olive green color is a little disconcerting, but of the three flavors, I liked this one the best. The mix of lime and chili is a natural fit.
I love mangos. I’ve been known to go to the grocery store and buy them a half a dozen at a time and eat two or three a day. They’re a great fruit because they’re usually not too sweet, have a mix of textures in them and the flavor notes are a cross between concord grapes, rosemary, honeydew, bananas, loquats and apricots.
However, I’ve never been terribly fond of mango flavored things. (The same goes for apricot and peach flavored things, there’s just something that they can’t quite get in the flavor that just makes it feel fake and unpleasant.) However, I was encouraged by the lime and was looking forward to giving this one a go.
The taste was immediately tangy and got that balsamy quality that most mango flavors seem to miss. It had that fresh scent of pine and apricot and some serious burn behind it (or maybe my mouth was still tingly from the previous two) and it seemed a bit salty. Mango always goes nicely with some spice (we make a Mango Salsa at home with chopped onions and cumin). But this was just lacking a level, I think.
Overall, I was pleased with the flavor combos, but bothered by the texture of the chili powder. I know it’s traditional and I’m sure I would have complained if the candies were too uniform.
After trying things like Rockaleta and Gudu Pops, the uniformity of these was a treat. In fact, I have to say that the appearance of most Mexican candies is what turns me off. These were rustic looking but still appetizing. The La Dulceria Thalia outer wrapper was kind of a turn off for me (it reminds me of romance novels) but once you pop the pops out of there, there’s not mention of Thalia again.
Interesting note: these candies were made in Canada. Go figure.
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
It seems kind of weird to want to find milk chocolate without milk in it, but I know that there are some folks that are dairy free and are looking for that creamy consistency of a milk chocolate without the milk in it. If you’re a vegan it’s not like you can’t have chocolate, after all, the cacao bean is just another seed. But in this day and age, you’d be amazed at how often dairy products are put into even what should be plain old dark chocolate.
Enter Terra Nostra which offers a non-dairy line made with Rice Milk which is also organic to boot!
Ricemilk Choco - 57% cacao solids. The plain Ricemilk Choco has a pleasant sweet smell with a light chocolate aroma. The look of the bar is also pretty becoming, light and glossy with a good snap. On the tongue it has a good buttery melt, but it’s extremely sweet. There’s also a nutty taste to it, and upon looking at the ingredients I understand why, there are ground hazelnuts in there! It’s kind of like a super-mild guandujia.
The thick sweetness wasn’t quite to my liking, but I had high hopes for the rest of the line.
Ricemilk Choco with Almonds - 57% cacao solids. The almonds make a huge difference in the flavor of this bar for me. The mellow nuts balance out the sweetness. There’s a more noticeable hit of salt in this bar too, even though I know it’s the same chocolate, the sweetness of the almonds gives it a great balance.
The almonds are just slivers and pieces, not full nuts, but I kind of prefer mine that way. They were rather light in color, not a toasty brown, so they added more texture than flavor.
Ricemilk Choco Dark Truffle Center - 56% cacao solids. This bar has a ricemilk chocolate outside and a dark truffle inside. The truffle center is rather solid, though slightly softer than the chocolate itself. The light bar here is sweet and the filling is a little less so, but still very buttery. Most truffles are made with the addition of dairy fats (cream or butter) to chocolate to create that hyperfatty tongue-feel. Instead this truffle uses unknown vegetable fats, which I don’t usually care for, since they have a different melting point than dairy fats and of course cocoa butter (yes, cocoa butter is a vegetable fat, but it’s a very special vegetable fat).
Of the three bars, my first favorite was the Almond one, second is the Truffle. I really didn’t like the plain one at all, it was just too sweet without any interesting texture or other notes to it.
Overall, I have to say that I’m impressed and pleased with this vegan line. I usually approach dietary substitutions with trepidation - I’m the type of person who would rather drink their coffee black than use non-dairy creamer. When it comes to choosing between a mock product or nothing at all, I usually go for nothing and wait until I get get a hold of the real thing. But Terra Nostra has done a good job here of bringing the creaminess to their already great organic dark chocolate that emulates the milk chocolate experience pretty well. I’m guess the fact that rice milk is already pretty sweet is what makes the plain bar a little over the top for me.
All the bars are certified organic an stamped with the Equi-Trade fair trade symbol.
Monday, November 6, 2006
When I went to San Francisco earlier this summer I was eager to try out Recchiuti chocolates. They have a lovely little shop in the Ferry Building where all the most expensive and exclusive fresh foods are sold in the city but it was packed so I just looked and figured I’d buy another day (instead I bought some stuff at Miette Patisserie).
This time I went there at lunchtime on a weekday and found things a lot easier to handle. I had a lovely chat with both the women behind the counter (one was wearing devil horns, I’m thinking because I made my purchase on Halloween).
Recchiuti is the concoction of Michael Recchiuti with the tagline on their website of “Indulgence on the verge of Obsession”. That sounds just like me! He’s been making chocolates since 1997 with special emphasis on flavor combinations and herbal/fruit infusions.
The chocolates are positively lovely. In the store they’re laid out on little plates in beds of crushed cocoa beans. The staff was knowledgeable about all the chocolates and helped to guide me towards the ones I knew I’d like.
They sell in two different ways. You can get a gift box with a set number of chocolate pieces in it or you can buy by the pound ($55 a pound). As it was just for me, I didn’t need the spiffy box and seeing how the candies varied so much in size, I wanted to be free to choose without worrying about whether one flavor was a better value than another. I ended up with a quarter of a pound, which ended up as a large selection (I got quite a few doubles, so only about 2/3 of my booty is shown here - 22 pieces plus one free taste there on the spot with my purchase).
Cardamom Nougat - a rich chocolate ganache infused with cardamom and studded with honeycomb bits (a hard nougat) and cocoa nibs. One of the nibs was just terrible in the two pieces of this flavor that I ate (it was bitter and acrid) but the rest of it was phenomenal and left a fresh feeling in my mouth.
Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn - the anise zings to the front of the flavors here, then the chocolate comes in then that woodsy note of pink peppercorns without any of the burn. The flavors blend nicely and ended up feeling much lighter than I expected.
Rose Caramel - this is the little foil wrapped one there. The caramel was positively liquid and had a pleasant burnt flavor to it with a slight bitter note and a strong rose geranium scent. The rose and bitterness didn’t please me much.
Fleur de Sel Caramel - a great soft and chewy caramel with grains of salt in it. The caramel has a strong bitter and burnt quality to it the salt, of course, is quite strong. I really liked the texture of the soft caramel, but it was just too salty for me.
Honeycomb Malt - the filling is rather like butter with a bit of a grain to it like crystallized honey. The malt flavor is rather mild but the whole thing feels a little greasy and overly sweet.
Bergamot Tea - mellow and zesty with very strong notes of both tea and bergamot. A real favorite of all of them.
Candied Orange Peel - wonderful moist and chewy pieces of orange peel, candied without being sickly sweet.
Cinnamon Malt - very sweet and with a mild cinnamon flavor. Really too sweet for me, a little grainy and not much in the malt arena to compel me.
Mandarin - the smallest of the truffles. I wasn’t against buying it because I was paying by the pound instead of the piece. Sweet and dry with a nice zesty taste of fresh orange.
Force Noir - a simple dark truffle. They have another line that’s all single origins, but I wanted to try a simple dark truffle. The vanilla notes are very strong, the ganache is light and slightly acidic and super smooth.
Burnt Caramel - oddly, I didn’t get much of a difference between this one and the Force Noir.
Lavender Vanilla - mellow and round chocolate flavors with a strong balsam quality with a very noticeable lavender flavor and a honey finish.
Overall the ganache on most of the truffles is a little greasy for my tastes, it’s more on the butter side than the chocolate side. It keeps them super smooth and provides a good background for the flavor infusions, but the oiliness of them makes me feel fuller faster.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 5:55 am
Sunday, November 5, 2006
Recently my husband went to Chicago and called me from the Vosge homeworld asking what I’d like to have. I was really hoping for a Cardamom truffle (they call them Ellateria) but it turns out that flavor is part of a seasonal set and not made at the moment.
The new seasonal assortment is sold under the banner of Collection of Zion and features lots of freaky ingredients and flavors. I kind of enjoy such things, so I was curious to see what my mouth thought of these intellectually stimulating combinations of flavors.
Instead he brought home some other delightful chocolate spheres. Here are a few I tried:
Selassie (shown there in the center) - allspice + pumpkin = a mellow spice and soft chocolate ganache center gave it a custardy feel. The cloveness wasn’t really to my liking, but pleasant.
Ital - Blue Mountain coffee + fresh coconut = acidic, dark and bitter but wonderfully complex and nutty.
Zion - Red Stripe Beer + cocoa nibs = bitter and a little on the yeasty side with a dark complex and acidic crunch.
Budapest - Hungarian paprika + chocolate = mellow with a subtle spicy note that brings out some of the woodsy flavors of the chocolate.
Wink of the Rabbit - soft caramel + New Mexican pecan = milk chocolate is a nice change but a little sweet here, the pecan gives it a maple/woodsy flavor. The caramel is thick and a bit custardy.
It was a nice evening with my box of chocolates. They were all gone, lickety split. Never fear, I just got back from San Francisco and have lots of other exciting haut chocolates to talk about.
Saturday, November 4, 2006
One of my goals when I started Candy Blog was to become a candy authority. Not that I would know everything about candy manufacturing, its history or the business end of things, but I thought I could master an area that I was interested in: Candy Consumerism.
To that end, I’ve tried to document how candy is marketed to us, where we find it, how it’s packaged, what it tastes like, trends in flavors and ingredients and of course sought the input of the readers and their opinions on the same topics.
The first inkling I got that this goal might be within the realm of possibility was my invitation late last year to attend the All Candy Expo as a member of the press. I was also featured on two radio programs and then later had another affirmation when I was interviewed for the NY Times Magazine. This week I rounded out my media and had my first TV interview.
I was contacted by CNBC for their program called Morning Call. On the day before Halloween they wanted to do a little piece on Limited Edition candies and requested me based on the New York Times Magazine column from last summer.
The big problem ... I was going to be in San Francisco on Monday because of my novel writing kick off. But this was no problem at all! The producer simply refered me to a linked up studio there.
Of course I was nervous and tried not to think too much about it. I did get a hair cut on Saturday ... mostly because I hadn’t had it cut since June. And then I spent some time practicing not flailing my hands around when I talked.
The segment on candy was going to go on a little before the end of the show which aired from 10AM to 12PM Eastern and hosted by Michelle Caruso-Cabrera with another guest, Lisbeth Echeandia (Publisher - Confectioner Magazine).
I got to the studio about 15 minutes early and had a little tea that I got from a cafe in the first floor of the building. I sat in the waiting room then about eight minutes to air the camera tech/engineer came in and got me. We hooked up my mic and stuck that thing in my ear so that I could hear the feed.
The confusing thing about doing these satellite things is that you don’t actually see who you’re talking to. So I had to go off of what I was hearing in the little earpiece. I looked at the camera as best I could, even though the content I was getting was through my right ear.
They had some little eyes on the top of the camera to remind the guests to look there. I was terrible at remembering that. There’s lots of stuff you have to remember when you’re on TV: no cussing, no ripping your shirt off, no flapping your hands, look into the camera, speak intelligently, don’t mispronounce the host’s name, answer the question, try not to talk when other people are talking, don’t chew gum, look like you’re paying attention when you’re not talking and above all be relaxed!
Of course now that I’ve done it I understand all those things far better than before.
They gave me a DVD of it when I left the studio, so I’ll try to get that up on the web sometime early next week. (You know, in case you’re interested in seeing whether or not I followed all that advice.)
UPDATE: You can watch a clip of the segment here!
Friday, November 3, 2006
But this candy had the double whammy of being cute looking but also having a completely vague name that I was too curious to pass up the 98 cent gamble. I found these at a Chinese grocer in Chinatown in New York City earlier this spring and just let them sit there looking vaguely sock-like for months. The girl on the package said “I like it!” but that still couldn’t quite compel me to open them up and eat them.
Eventually Halloween came around and they looked kind of Halloweeny so I opened up the pack to give them a try.
First, here’s what I expected. Based on the ingredients (sugar, glucose syrup, flavorings and pectin) I thought it was going to be an orange flavored gummi.
They were definitely soft, as advertised, but I’d actually call them firm. I’m not sure how well something called Firm Candy would sell, but then again, I question how well Soft Candy sells.
They were firm but had an easy bite to them. Kind of like a gumdrop, but a little tougher without feeling stale. The flavor was, well, not there at all. They were pleasant and not too sweet. It tasted like a mild millet jelly candy, which in turn tastes simply like an unflavored, uncoated jelly bean. They are truly the definition of a benign candy.
Besides being pleasantly cute enough for me to want to string them into a bracelet, they’re not much as a candy. Nothing to spit out into the gutter but just no oomph or compelling texture to keep me eating.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.