Monday, June 5, 2006
I had to look up what a praline is, because I’ve seen so many different versions over the years. And it’s really not helped me to figure out what exactly is and isn’t a praline. In Europe a praline is usually a nut and sugar paste, often used as a filling.
But for the purposes of this post, in the American South the praline is a highly nutted fudge - composed of sugar and butter and sometimes cream that’s caramelized to a dry, crumbly, melt-in-your mouth consistency. Some pralines, such as those from Texas are a bit softer like a caramel.
These pralines, in plain and chocolate are from the Charleston Candy Kitchen (they also have a store in Savannah), a gift from my vacationing neighbors. They’re sizable plops filled with plump and sweet pecans. The candy mixture melts in the mouth with a slight cooling feeling. At first there’s a slight grain of the sugar and a moment later it’s all collapsed into a thick and sweet syrup on the tongue with a strong pecan/maple flavor.
The chocolate ones had the addition of cocoa to them, but it wasn’t quite as satisfying as a good chocolate fudge because it lacked that creamy component. They were tasty, but the plain ones were more satisfying in their pure expression of pecan-ness. I ate them all ... it was probably well over a half a pound and it took me about 30 hours, but I wolfed all four pieces down. I’m glad they didn’t come with a nutrition label.
Pralines are kind of like fudge. I don’t often buy them but if I do have them, it’s a regional thing. Kind of like salt water taffy ... it’s the kind of candy you bring home from a trip. Maybe next week I’ll blog about the chocolate covered macadamia nuts from Hawaii.
Does anyone else know of regional candies that folks bring back as gifts? What was the best one you got?
Friday, June 2, 2006
All the upscale chocolate bar makers are doing single origin bars lately. I was pretty excited about the Dagoba bars, because they’re organic and they’re ethically traded (some is Fair Trade Certified). I’ve enjoyed Dagoba chocolate in the past and my only complaint really has been that they’re skimpy on the inclusions when they feature nuts or fruit.
I’ve not seen this array of tasting squares in stores, so I ordered it online.
The assortment contains four each of the Pacuare and Los Rios, and only two of the Milagros. The little tasting squares are 9 grams each and have the same design on them - a set of crossing lines and then a little V with some leaves, which I’m guessing signifies varietal.
Pacuare - Costa Rican Trinitario (68%) - lovely medium chocolate brown tones with a good snap and instant melt on the tongue. Strong smoky & toasted notes and tart bite. There are some interesting charcoal elements with a little bit of a pepper burn right before the finish. The acidity is only noticeable at the start and it finishes quite sweet.
Los Rios - Ecuador Arriba (68%) - dark and lustrous. Immediate coffee notes with a good buttery melt. Rather Sweet and not too acidic but a strongly dry finish. The oddest flavor note I found in this bar (consistently across several of the squares) was an olive note. I thought I was nuts at first but with four bars to try, I noticed it on two of them.
Milagros - Peruvian Amazonia (68%) - wonderfully buttery with some notes of cinnamon and raisin. A nice dry finish with a little tart, acidic bite. The smoothest of the bunch. (This variety is certified Fair Trade.)
Overall the buttery quality and smoothness of the chocolate shines on these. Not at all chalky, they are a bit on the sweet side. I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing these bumped up to 70% cacao and just reduce the sugar not the cocoa butter.
The texture and taste on these feels much more accessible than some of the Scharffen Berger, Chocovic or E. Guittard. I haven’t done a head to head mixing brands yet, but maybe someday.
The tasting squares option is expensive, but you can get the larger bar assortment if you’re not looking to share.
Note: Dagoba did recall some of their chocolate recently due to lead content and the Los Rios 68% part of the single origins line was part of the recall. It appears that the lead contamination happened somewhere in the supply chain (the cacao), not in the manufacturing. Los Rios is not available yet (as far as I’ve seen) but the other affected lines like Eclipse are just getting back on shelves now.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Edelweiss Candy Kitchen in Beverly Hills is an old fashioned candy store. From the classic awning outside to the displays inside, it was like I’d stepped back to 1953 (they’ve been there since 1942) and perhaps Julie Andrews would step out from the counter in her Sound of Music outfit and sing a little song about a the wonders of chocolate.
There’s even a sign on the back wall that purports that the famous I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel get jobs on the factory line at a candy company was conceived of here when Lucille Ball saw the conveyor in the back. In truth the episode ended up being filmed at See’s (in Culver City, I think).
The store shelves are filled with plenty of novelty chocolate items and glass jars filled with everyone’s favorite candies available by the scoop. They had gummies, licorice, misty mints, Swedish fish, foil covered chocolates, panned nuts ... just about anything you might want. But I went for the things that I can’t find everywhere. They make their own custom chocolates on site and are rather well known for their candied and chocolate dipped fruits. At $28 a pound, they’re certainly not cheap, but also not the most expensive candies I’ve come across. Especially in Beverly Hills.
Here’s what I picked up:
Chocolate Covered Candied Orange Slice - this one was not nearly as good as the Jacques Torres I had in NYC. The orange was firm, but the peel was a little too tough in spots, especially on the edge that wasn’t dipped in chocolate. However, it wasn’t too sticky or too sweet, so the flavors were wonderfully deep and complex.
Chocolate Covered Fig - the amber-colored fig was plump and sweet with a strong tart bite to it that mixed well with the chocolate. That fresh herby taste of the fig goes so well with chocolate, I was sorry I didn’t get more of these. After eating dried figs all week, it was nice to have something plump and juicy ... and of course covered in chocolate.
I wish all the chocolates were a bit glossier - they’re a little dull looking but I’m not sure if that affected the taste or texture much.
I don’t remember what the little chocolates in cups were called (and there’s no reference to them on their website), but it was described as ground almonds and honey in either dark or milk chocolate. I got one of each. The milk chocolate one was pleasant, not too sweet and not too milky. I couldn’t really taste the honey, but the almond flavors mixed with the chocolate and the slightly chewy, crunchy bite of the nuts was nice. I liked the dark chocolate one a bit better, as the flavors of the chocolate were more complex and I could detect the honey tones.
I’m not suggesting that anyone order up some over the phone, but if you’re in Beverly Hills and looking for something authentic, this might be a nice stop amidst the Cartier and Tiffany and Prada overload. If you want some tasty chocolate that’s not too expensive then I always suggest See’s. But since there isn’t one in this area of Beverly Hills, Edelweiss might be nice.
Edelweiss Candy Kitchen
I’ve seen these Hershey’s candies called Cajeta Elegancita at the 99 Cent Store for a while, but I didn’t buy them for myself. My sister, in Pennsylvania, gave them to me.
The Elegancita (little elegance) bars are part of Hershey’s attempt to capture the Hispanic market in the United States. However, it seems that they didn’t do all of their research. Cajeta, in Mexican-Spanish is a flavor where milk is slowly condensed and caramelized, kind of like dulce de leche. It’s very well known not only in Mexico but in many border states and you can even find it in fine restaurants (I had a cajeta flan at Ciudad in Los Angeles, which is run by those Too Hot Tamales). The important thing to know is that cajeta also means “little box” which in Argentina is a euphemism for a part of, um, a woman’s anatomy. But hey, maybe that’s a selling point.
The candy is branded as part of Hershey’s La Dulceria Thalia (Thalia’s Candy Store). Thalia Sodi is apparently quite a big music star. Of course, I don’t follow stuff like that ... and don’t think that it’s that I’m ignoring the Hispanic music scene, I also didn’t recognize that Carrie Underwood was doing special promotions last year for Hershey’s. I’m obviously not their target market.
But no amount of star power matters when it’s candy. Cajeta Elegancita is a series of bland wafers with a milky cream center layer and then a partial milk chocolate dip. I was hoping it would be like the long-gone Bar None (which may or may not still be made in Mexico).
Cajeta is very distinct tasting, very milky. It has a bit of a coconut twang to it, a little tartness as well. It’s interesting, but not very compelling for me. The condensed milk flavors completely dominate the chocolate, so it’s rather one note in the end. The delicate wafers do give it a nice crunch and texture, but not enough for me to go for this bar instead of a Heath if I’m feeling like something caramelized.
The package doesn’t have a lot of candy in it - at only 1.1 ounces, it’s rather scant for a commercial candy bar. However, at 170 calories and no trans fat, it’s not a bad little indulgence. The dairy taste makes it very satisfying as a little treat and of course the fact that there’s only 1.1 ounces means there’s little chance of eating too much.
Now, if they wanted to do something more chocolatey, I’d be all for it.
Also in the La Dulceria Thalia line are special flavors of Jolly Ranchers - tropical and spicy ... I’m kind of curious about the spicy ones, so I’ll get back to you on that!
(See also: Nestle’s La Lechera, which is a sweetened condensed milk product just launched in squeezable bottles to use as a sweet condiment & this story about Hershey’s move to capture the Hispanic market in the US)
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
On my thrice yearly trip to Beverly Hills to get my hair cut, I was lucky enough to go on a weekday (Friday) this time, which meant I could finally visit K Chocolatier.
They’re only open Monday-Friday ... I haven’t a clue why, but that’s the way it is. The shop is tiny. Think of a Fotomat Booth, oh, wait, they don’t have those anymore. Anyway, it’s tiny. The photo you see on their website shows the ENTIRE store. No need for a wide angle lens or positioning yourself across the street for that photo.
K Chocolates were created by Diane Kron, who I guess is one of those “chocolatier to the stars” people because they mention that kind of stuff a lot on the website. I have no idea if movie stars, TV networks or banks have good taste in chocolate. But they’re certainly not wrong in picking K Chocolatier because it is good stuff, just freakishly expensive.
The nice thing is that the shop offers free tastes of EVERYTHING. There’s a little dish on the counter with a select few goodies so I tried all of them.
K Chocolatier is known for their little K Bears, which are crisped rice in milk, white and dark chocolate. They’re super cute, about the size of a Teddy Graham. The milk chocolate one was very milky, quite sweet but very smooth and of course the crisped cookie/rice was fun. The dark chocolate was much smoother, with an ultra buttery dark chocolate with a really satisfying smoky taste to it. The white chocolate wasn’t very sweet, but very milky and not enough vanilla for my tastes.
The sampler tray also had their famous K Chocolate Truffles, which were little squares about the size of sugar cubes dusted in cocoa. They were not sweet at all, smooth and with some very complex coffee and woodsy flavors. There was even a bit of a salty hint to it.
My favorite free item was the K Spanish Orange, which was chocolate covered candied orange rind. That smooth and buttery chocolate was the perfect complement to the zesty and slightly bitter orange peel.
But I was there to get something I couldn’t get anywhere else, which is one of the reasons to shop an exclusive store like this.
I wanted to try their Vodka chocolates. And they let me! There were two varieties - K Vodka Shots and K Vodka Martini. They were a little smaller than a standard malted milk ball and a little flat on one side. The little spheres of dark chocolate held a crunchy sugar shell and inside that, a burst of real vodka. Not cheap vodka either, this was good stuff. After trying both I opted for a small box of the K Vodka Martini - it had a touch of vermouth in it that gave the alcohol a good balsam/citrus note to it that really brought out the fruity/floral notes of the chocolate.
But the sad part is that they were $40.00. Seriously. But I bought them anyway. And they were good. They weren’t a huge hit at home though and of course you have to practice a little self control as that’s real alcohol in there. (Okay, it wasn’t a lot, but I can get a buzz off of a half a dozen of them). The other irritation with the store is that nothing is marked with a weight or size of any kind. I don’t know how much chocolate I bought. Was that a half a pound? A full pound? Do they all weigh the same?
I’m a big fan of alcohol/chocolate cordials. As a touchstone, I bought the Trader Joe’s holiday box of vodka filled chocolates for New Years. They were nice, they had different fillings - orange, lemon and raspberry vodka inside of dark chocolate shells. But the vodka wasn’t very high quality, so they didn’t quite have the sassy snap that K Vodka Martinis do. I suppose you get what you pay for, the Trader Joe’s box was about $5.
Will I buy K Chocolatier products again? Probably not, but I’m glad I did.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 12:07 pm
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Instead of just the normal fundraising candy bars, Smiles by Joanie’s Smiles are are chocolate bars infused with tea and other natural flavors that stand on their own as tasty treats. The hook here with the fundraising aspect is that money from the sale of each bar goes to Operation Smile which sends volunteer medical teams all over the globe to repair facial deformities in kids and adults. I was approached to taste the bars a couple of months ago, so I’ve had a lot of time with them (I was waiting for their website to be up and for them to be more widely available).
The bars were very simply produced - two ounces each, wrapped in foil and then a paper overwrap. The bar is pre-scored into 12 little pieces with each embossed with the smiles script logo. No gimmicky packaging, just tried and true presentation. It’s the flavors that count here ... so let me count off the flavors to you:
Rosemary Hibiscus Tea - I was certain I wouldn’t like this one before I even tried it. I’m not a big fan of hibiscus, so how could combining it with rosemary (a rather savory and strong herb) and white chocolate be a good idea? Frankly, after the first bite I didn’t like it. The hibiscus gave the white chocolate a yogurt tang but without any satisfying fruit flavor to go with it. Then I took a few more bites and the rosemary flavor really grew on me and took center stage. It’s not terribly sweet and doesn’t give me a sore throat like bad white chocolate does ... it was smooth and creamy and had a little sass to it.
Cranberry-Ginger Tea - mellow milk chocolate with a smooth and creamy consistency with a spicy, lowgrade burn of ginger. Later the tannin and cranberry notes come out in a lingering berry bite. The bar has the woodsy, rooty smell of ginger. There are the occasionally grainy bits from the tea, but this is a pretty smooth and zesty bar.
Wild Raspberry Tea - it smells like raspberry and has the floral flavor to it. The milk chocolate, which can often have a tart bite also helps to bring out the fruitiness and berry notes here. There are also the occasional fruit bits in there, giving it a chewy tart burst. The chocolate has not dairy milkiness that I usually associate with milk chocolate, instead it’s smooth and a little fudgy.
Coconut-Green Tea - this bar smells like summer. Profuse wafts of coconut emanate from this bar, just sitting next to it reminds me of those girls who would come to the pool but never swim. They’d sit together with their sunkissed hair and lanky bodies slathered with tanning oil ... something I could never use. (If there were a freckle oil, well, then we might have something.) That toasted, glossy association translates well to this dark bar. Smooth and buttery, the tea takes a backstage to the coconut, which brings only flavor here, there are no chewy bits.
Herbal Chai Tea - this bar smells like I’ve stepped into a spice shop. It’s all warm and woodsy: cinnamon, fennel, orange and a little rooty waft of ginger. A little bit grainy because of the real spices in there, it’s still quite smooth and bursting with different flavors. The cinnamon dominates, but the fennel and black pepper are still discernible. The tea here is the Amber Roobios, which brings its own floral/fruity notes. It’s quite a riot of flavors in there.
My favorites in order (as determined by which I finished first) were the Pistachio-Green Tea White Chocolate, Herbal Chai Dark Chocolate, Coconut-Green Tea Dark Chocolate, Rosemary Hibiscus White Chocolate and last the Wild Raspberry Milk Chocolate.
I have to congratulate Joanie for coming up with such interesting flavor combinations but I think if there’s one thing that I find a drawback to them, it’s the price ... however, unlike many high-end bars, there is nowhere else to get a Hibiscus Rosemary White Chocolate or Coconut Green Tea Dark Chocolate bar, so they’ve cornered that end of the market.
The bars are now on sale at Whole Foods and soon at Bristol Farms and Gelson’s (SoCal) markets as well as through Amazon (click through on their website). Amazon doesn’t seem to offer an assortment pack or sales by the box, which is too bad because I really didn’t know which I was going to like by the description. They were just introduced last week, so they may be adding more purchase variations.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
After my rave review of Green & Black’s White Chocolate (which surprised even me) I got an email from a representative of Green & Black’s asking if I’d tried their Ginger bar. They were reading the blog and knew how much I loved ginger! Of course when I said I hadn’t seen it in the store yet (Target has a rather limited selection), she offered to send me some. (And some other bars which I’ll review in the coming weeks.)
It’s a beautiful bar, with the same simple foil wrapping cloaked in a paper wrapper. The bar was shiny with small sections that gave a good snap. It smelled distinctly smoky and earthy. The dark chocolate is 60% cocoa content.
The first flavors I noticed when letting the chocolate melt on my tongue were a rather tart lemon and then a lingering burn of black pepper. Later the rooty, earthen flavors emerged, giving the bar more of a ginger flavor than a chocolate one.
The crystallization of the ginger gives the bar a more distinct graininess. It’s also rather sweet. I liked the spicy burn, and I found it very munchable, but the acidity kind of bothered me after a while. (But I have been eating a lot of pineapple lately and may be working with a disadvantaged tongue.)
The integration of the two flavors and textures isn’t quite right for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tasty, but I really wanted more essence of ginger and less graininess and of course more of the creaminess and flavors of the chocolate. I do like how generous they are with the ginger, much better than the ratios in the Dagoba chocolate bars I’ve had (their Chai bar has scant ginger content). I still favor the panned ginger chocolate pieces that I’ve been getting at Trader Joe’s, but if you don’t have access to those, this would be a good fallback treat.
I have a few more bars that they sent me to try, so I’ll be adding those to the site within the next couple of weeks. On my list is their Caramel, 70% Dark, Hazelnut & Currant and Espresso.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
I’ve been looking for this kooky little novelty chocolate item for a while. Kinder is a widely distributed confection brand that also makes the intensely addictive Kinder Bueno (which is a must-try for any hazelnut lover).
I found a new candy source in Los Angeles (posting tomorrow about that) called Mel & Rose’s on Melrose Avenue. They have EVERYTHING that you might want from Europe or Australia. It’s not a big shop, but they had an excellent selection and decent prices. In fact, my little Kinder Eggs were less than a dollar each. I was led to believe that these were not permitted to be sold in the US because of the “choking hazard” of the toy surprise inside, but after opening one, I’d have to wonder what child could (or would want to) eat that toy-filled capsule.
Think of these as those toy eggs that you get in the gumball machines at the mega-marts. Except instead of being a plastic egg, it’s a chocolate egg.
The egg is pretty much the size of a regular chicken egg. Inside the white and red foil it’s a rather lack-luster milk chocolate with a distinct seam. I wasn’t quite sure if there was a way to open it, so I just pressed my finger into the top and sort of tore it open. On my second egg I found that if you sqeeze about halfway along the seam the whole thing pops apart rather neatly.
Inside the egg it’s “white chocolate” (I say in quotes because it says on the label that it’s actually a “milky white lining” which doesn’t even sound edible). It smells sweet and rather like powdered milk. Inside the egg is a yellow plastic capsule that contains the Kinder Suprise (kinder means children in German and is pronounced with a short i). The chocolate is passably edible, nothing I’d want to buy by itself.
The yellow capsule holds a little plastic toy (usually one you have to put together). I’m not really sure what the one is in the picture. It’s a little baby in a crow’s nest with a crab crawling up the mast ... I think. There’s a little wheel on the bottom of it and if you roll it around it wiggles the mast and crow’s nest. The second prize (in the other egg) was a little metronome on a wheel with a funny little anthropomorphic musical note riding on it.
As a candy/toy, I find these much more compelling than Pez. I have poked around and have seen that some prizes can be rather sophisticated and you can collect theme prizes. (See other prizes in this flicker kinder pool.)
If you’re traveling someplace where you can pick these up, they’re usually pretty cheap (about 50 cents) and make great little stocking stuffers or gifts. It’s too bad they can’t sell them in the States.
If you’ve had Kinder Eggs before, what sort of prizes did you get in yours?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.