Monday, April 24, 2006
About a month ago a friend went to Seattle. Being a good friend she asked me if I wanted anything (knowing it would be a candy request). I told her that several people recommended Fran’s Chocolates, specifically their salt caramels. I even emailed her the locations of their shops to help her find the place.
Well, as luck would have it, she was up there for a panel discussion and one of the hospitality gifts was this package of Gray Salt Caramels ... so they must be famous!
The side of the package heralds them as “Award Winning! Soft butter caramels sprinkled with flavorful gray sea salt harvested off the Brittany Coast.”
I had to do some digging, I saw on their website that the caramels won the 2003 NASFT Outstanding Confection award, but I had no clue what NASFT was. Turns out it’s the The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, so I guess it’s like the Oscars (tm) for fancy food. (The run the fancy food shows in San Francisco, Chicago and New York ... something for me to put on my list o’ things to do.)
The caramels are covered in dark chocolate which helps to highlight the flavors. The caramel is sweet and the chocolate is smooth and creamy and the salt make it all pop. If anything, the salt makes it all taste creamier and richer. The salt itself had a more musky, deep flavor to it than regular table salt (yes, I tried the salt grains alone).
Salted Caramels are all the rage now, I’ve seen quite a few varieties in the past year or so, but I guess Fran’s was one of the first to present them. The large salt grains give a good textural addition besides the obvious salty pop. They’re very satisfying and vibrant on the tongue, but they don’t beg to be eaten over and over again. I had the package for quite a while and didn’t eat them all in one sitting, nor did I want to.
They’re fantastic, but they feel very special. I wouldn’t want a whole box of them, but I’d like a box of Fran’s candy and have a few of these sprinkled in (like this mix).
I’m definitely keen on trying other chocolates in Fran’s line. You can read more about the history of this Seattle Chocolatier on their website.
Kate at Accidental Hedonist also posted about these last week! So at David Lebovitz’s suggestion, I ate the last one upside-down, so that that salt hit my tongue first ... quite intense!
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
I’ve never had a GooGoo Cluster, but I figured if I’m going to start, I’d better start at the top. I found these GooGoo Supreme at Economy Candy in NYC, which had just about everything ... except the regular GooGoo Cluster of course.
The GooGoo Supreme is made of marshmallow, caramel and pecans, all covered in milk chocolate. It’s a bit smaller bar than its bigger brother, the GooGoo Cluster, I’m guessing because of the inclusion of a premium ingredient like pecans. I prefer when companies just downsize the entire bar so that the proportions can be maintained, instead of just skimping on an element like the nuts.
I was rather excited about this combination as pecans are one of my favorite nuts and caramel and milk chocolate sound like great elements ... I wasn’t keen on the marshmallow idea, but something has to be the goo.
It’s not really gooey at all. It’s more like a turtle with a soft nougaty center. The milk chocolate is very sweet and has a slight waxy quality to it, but I’m wondering if my bars weren’t the freshest. The first one I opened (pictured) was a little chalky. The second one (the one reviewed) was quite a bit better in texture. The pecans are nice and super-abundant and the caramel gives it a soft chew. However, the whole thing descends into a sugary graininess towards the end that is just too sweet for me.
I don’t know if the bar was not fresh enough, so if I see another, I might give it another go around. I’m also still curious about the GooGoo Cluster, as I’m a fan of peanuts and caramel together.
Some history: the GooGoo Cluster boasts being the first combination candy bar (there were plenty of chocolate bars before that, but no one had thought of making combinations of ingredients and individually wrapping them like chocolate bars).
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
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
A kind reader pointed out that there was a limited edition chocolate covered Payday bar out there. It took me a couple of months to find it (at the Walgreen’s down the road from me, that I don’t usually go to and only in the King size). Of course now that I’ve found it, I’ve seen it everywhere here in New York City.
Honestly, it seems like the perfect candy bar for NYC - it’s all brown and lumpy, just like Eighth Avenue, which is all torn up now. And it has a slightly abrasive but essentially sweet center plus it’s packed with nuts! I keeeed! I keeed! This is not the first time Payday has had a chocolate covered version in their repertoire, it was part of the line years ago (I think in the 80s). I doubt it’ll be the last time they bring it back.
I love Payday bars. They’ve got far more nuts than most other candy bars, and that’s a plus for me. The nuts on the bar are slightly salted and the nougat center is kind of crumbly and even though it’s sweet, it has a little bit of a caramelized sugar note to it. The chocolate covered Payday features milk chocolate. It’s rather sweet and pretty much overpowers the salty snap of the peanuts.
Payday bars are a good warm weather candy bar. They’re exceptionally satisfying and because they don’t have chocolate in them (the regular ones) there’s little worry about melting (and re-solidifying). They also pack a huge whallop of protein in them, which I find creates a very filling and satisfying snack. For those of us with low blood sugar problems, a sweet that has some protein in it will keep you from having a blood sugar crash.
As chocolate peanut bars go, I think I’d rather have some Peanut M&Ms or a Snickers Bar instead of a chocolate Payday. It’s not a bad bar, just not the most satisfying version of this combination out there.
UPDATE: It seems that this version was shortlived, but you can still find a mockolate (fake chocolate) covered version called Payday Avalanche that looks to be a permanent addition to the line. (So be aware that some comments to this review are actually referencing the fake chocolate version.)
Monday, April 3, 2006
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to participate in the tasteEverything Independent Food Awards, I was thrilled to see the other awards given. But the first one that I made an effort to get a hold of was the Sahagun Salted Caramels. Since I’m not going to get to Portland anytime soon, my husband mentioned it to friends there and they went right out and
bought me some (and some for themselves)!
I’m not quite sure what they all are, but I had to start with the caramels, which I knew were the tall ones with the nuts on top because the one in the back was actually broken in shipping. These are fantastic! The chocolate is smooth and mellow and the caramel filling is unlike most other caramels I’ve ever had. It was dark and complex, with quite a bit of salt in it and a gooey but not flowing texture. I hesitate to say that it was jelly-like or custard-like, but it definitely wasn’t quite caramel. The crunch of the hazelnut on top brings all the textures together.
The real find is that amorphous blob there on the right. I had no idea what it was going to be. It was a dark chocolate shell with a white chocolate coconut center. It’s hard to describe. Instead of the drab sweet center of a Mounds bar, this is a delicate and mild buttery base filled with soft and chewy coconut. I have never experienced coconut like this before.
The coffee truffle (not pictured) was shaped like a big button and dusted with cocoa and very smooth and soft a very strong coffee flavor. It wasn’t sweet at all, just like a cup of coffee without sugar would be. It was quite a refreshing change from many of the “too sweet” Easter candies I’ve been gorging on.
The other sphere there on the left, that’s dusted with a luster powder, is a plain chocolate truffle. Like the coffee one, it wasn’t sugary at all, except this one has a chocolate shell, which adds a touch of sweetness. The center is buttery and dense and quite satisfying.
The little medallions of chocolate we also dusted with that luster powder. I find it a little unappealing, like someone spilled their eyeshadow on my candy. But it doesn’t taste like anything that I can tell. (I know these edible lusters are quite trendy now, but it you haven’t already guess, I’m not really the trendy sort.) The coins were simply dark chocolate and it gave me an opportunity to experience the chocolate used in all of these creations on its own. It’s mellow and only slightly sweet with a dry, bitter bite towards the end, as plain eating chocolate is quite nice, but it really shines when used in combination with the other ingredients here.
The last item I didn’t even take a photo of, it was a what I thought was a nut bark. Oh, I should have known that it wasn’t going to be run of the mill. I have no idea what it’s called, but it’s dark chocolate with spicy corn nuts. The salty, extra crunchy and slight burn of the corn nuts went really well with the chocolate. It hardly felt like a sweet at all, but was entirely satisfying and possibly addictive. Of course it’s probably a good thing
From everything I’ve heard the best part about Sahagun is visiting the shop, so if you’re in Portland, OR, make a point of it. They’re at 10 N.W. 16th Ave. You can read more in this interview at Portland Food and Drink.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:53 am
Thursday, March 30, 2006
A long time ago, when I was a little kid, my sister and I would be given two dimes each and were allowed to walk down to the corner store with other children in the neighborhood. (This was back when candy bars were only
15 cents each.) But even at the tender age of four or five I realized that there were better values out there in the candy world than the standard candy bar. One of those things was penny & nickel candy. These were either junior versions of regular sized candies or special small morsels, like lollipops, Bit-o-Honey, Jawbreakers, Mary Janes and Tootsie Rolls.
I was especially fond of a candy called Sugar Mama. It was part of the Sugar family which was headed by the excellent Sugar Daddy and included the wee Sugar Babies. The Sugar Mama was a chocolate covered Sugar Daddy. I often got Sugar Mamas because they were the best of both worlds - the intense caramel flavor plus the chocolatey coating that made it feel more like a candy bar. Sugar Mamas, like Sugar Daddys, were pretty big and because they were softer than a regular hard candy lollipop, they were more interactive. This starts with an impression of the roof of my mouth, then slowly shaving off the chocolate with my teeth and then twirling and pulling the naked, softened caramel into shapes. It was a pretty good way to spend a nickel.
Of course they don’t make Sugar Mamas anymore and Nabisco sold the Sugar family to Tootsie back in the mid-nineties. Sugar Babies, though, continue to be produced and are actually easier to find than Sugar Daddies (there were also Sugar Daddy Nuggets at one time which were divine in their own right). They’re fine little caramel bits unlike anything else on the market because they’re panned - I’m guessing with a layer of sugar or caramel or something to make a smooth shell that turns grainy when you chew it.
I haven’t had a Sugar Daddy in years, and I guess part of it is a fear of losing dental work. I’ve never actually hurt my teeth that way (though I once lost a filling eating scrambled eggs), but it’s a huge fear and I figure better safe than sorry.
My favorite way to eat regular Sugar Babies is to soften them up by putting the package into my pocket or just holding a few of them in the palm of my hand for a while. This is especially important when I get the really stale ones.
Now, on to the product at hand ... it seems that Tootsie is getting into the limited edition racket and has introduced Chocolate Covered Sugar Babies. Now some of you might think that this is the same thing as Milk Duds. First, chocolate coating aside, a Milk Dud doesn’t quite have that caramelized sugar taste to them (they’re more milky) and they don’t quite have the same graininess towards the end of the chew. The thing that surprised me most about these was that they’re actually fully formed Sugar Babies under the chocolate ... I thought maybe the Sugar Baby wouldn’t have the candy shell on it on the inside. This makes the little candy a bit hard and the option of warming them first is kind of gone because of the mess that ensues by holding a piece of chocolate in the palm of your hand for a few minutes.
The chocolate coating is pretty good, much better, in my opinion than a Milk Dud and they’re certainly pretty looking when I dumped them out of the box. There’s a slight cinnamon hint to the whole candy and they combine well once it all warms up. However, I still prefer the plain old Sugar Babies. It was a good effort and I’m glad they tried it, but I don’t need them to add this to the line permanently but if I were going to the movies, this would be a good option (I bet they taste great with popcorn).
Thanks to Joanna at SugarSavvy for pointing out their existence!
Monday, March 27, 2006
I tried to stop buying and posting about Easter candy, but there’s just too much out there. So you can expect more Easter sweets for the next month or so. I picked up two more eggs, both made by Mars but vastly different. The Snickers Egg and the Dove Milk Chocolate Truffle Egg (I looked for a dark chocolate version but didn’t see them).
The Snickers Egg is exactly what you’d think it would be. It’s the familiar Snickers bar, which is a peanut nougat topped with caramel and peanuts and covered in chocolate. They come in a variety of colors of foil wrapping, each with a different sunglass-wearing rabbit on the front. The only real difference between this and a regular Snickers bar, besides the shape is that this is molded chocolate, not enrobed. I know it’s a tiny difference, but in general I prefer enrobing to molding for filled chocolates.
I happen to like Snickers quite a bit, though I don’t buy them very often. This little egg was exceptionally fresh, the peanuts were crunchy, the caramel salty and the chocolate very sweet. Everything was very soft, for some reason I’m used to my Snickers being a little more firm. I suppose the best suggestion for these would be to stick them in the freezer.
Dove Eggs and Snickers eggs happen to be made by the same company, Mars. Oddly enough, they also have the same design on their chocolate shells. They’re not exactly the same size, the Snickers is more like a half an egg, the Dove is less than that.
The Dove Milk Chocolate Truffle Egg is quite a little indulgence. The dark purple foil gives it a rich appearance that the contents fully deliver on. It’s milk chocolate, through and through. The milk chocolate shell is smooth and creamy and very sweet and the filling is buttery and dense. Milk chocolate truffles just aren’t my thing, but if you dig Dove milk chocolate truffles, definitely pick a few of these up, they’re really indulgent. I’m going to keep my eye out for dark versions. According to the ingredients label the filling is just milk chocolate and coconut oil.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
One of the best things about the Cadbury Creme eggs is the commercial campaign they used to have. It was a white bunny that would cluck like a chicken and leave behind the eggs. The voice over, I believe, was done by Mason Adams who also did the Smuckers commercials. Of course, I loved bunnies (I even had two as a child) so it gave me a special fondness for the idea of the Cadbury Creme Eggs.
For those of you who are new to Planet Earth, a Cadbury Creme Egg is a milk chocolate shell in the shape of an egg filled with a fondant creme of two different colors - the outer layer is white and the inner glob is yellow (so they say).
The reality of Cadbury Creme Eggs is radically different. First, they never look like the commercials or ads. I’ve pulled apart a lot of Cadbury Creme Eggs in my life, and I’ve never found a glossy yellow yolk in the center. What I find is a dark patch in the white fondant. So all nostalgia and effective advertising aside, I have never been pleased by eating one. They’re too sweet. I’ve tried eating just the chocolate, but what’s the point in that? It’s just really sticky, the fondant doesn’t have enough flavor to it, or fat to give it a buttery consistency that I might enjoy. I’m not saying that these aren’t spectacular candies, but I really detest them.
While the Creme Egg has no non-Easter counterpart, the Caramel Egg does. This is a Caramello bar on steroids, a caramel mega-blister, a huge bubble of salty, flowing caramel inside a sweet, chocolate shell. Just as I discussed the aspects of ratio with the Reese’s Eggs, I don’t think that the Caramello bar can withstand so much tinkering with ratios. However, I liked this egg quite a bit more than the Creme Egg ... what I probably should have done is buy some of the mini-eggs, which might have a more satisfying ratio to them. (I’ll probably pick them up at the after-Easter sales.)
I think that these are great candies ... for people other than me. I’m not going to dish them the way I did with the Bunny Basket Eggs ... Cadbury Creme Eggs are a valid confectionery expression, just not one I’m capable of throwing my support towards. However, I would be very disappointed if they went away. I like seeing them, and I like the fact that they have so many fervent fans.
For more positive poetic waxings on the subject of Cadbury Creme Eggs, visit X-Entertainment or see the Writers and Artists Snacking at Work page devoted to the ovoids.
UPDATE: Cadbury has introduced the Cadbury Orange Creme Egg for Easter 2007.
UPDATED UPDATE: This review from 2006 documents the weight of the egg at 1.38 ounces. The 2007 eggs are 1.2 ounces.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.