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!
Friday, April 21, 2006
One of the must-see chocolate places in NYC is Jacques Torres. Even if you’re not a fan of their chocolate or have little money, it’s still an event. There are two locations in New York, one in Brooklyn and one on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Billed as Chocolate Haven, it truly is a delight for the eyes. The factory is wide open to witness from the street as they craft their handmade chocolate bars and when I was there they were packaging all of their hand-cast Easter goodies. From inside the store you get more than a view, you also get the scents and sounds.
But the best way to appreciate the innards of chocolate making though is from the Chocolate Haven shop. The glass walls enclose this little slice of sweetness and there’s ample room to move around and stop for a cup of hot chocolate at the chocolate bar.
I had a cup of custom blended Wicked (spiced chocolate) and Orange. It was smooth and sweet but not at all sticky. However, it was so rich and the portion (the smallest) was far too much for me to finish. As much as I tried, I couldn’t manage more than half of it.
Again, a little cup of hot chocolate helps me to keep my wits about me in such a place, it satisfies the chocolate craving and keeps me from going nuts and buying everything or gobbling it up as soon as I get away from the cash register with my purchases.
These little bunnies are just cute as bunnies. They’re each a little bigger than my thumb (which is kinda small) and were a good sampling of the Jacques Torres chocolate. The package was very light and as I guessed, they’re hollow ... so the whole thing weighed about 1.4 ounces. It cost $5.
The Dark Chocolate bunny tasted much like the hot chocolate. Smooth and rich with a slight dry finish, it wasn’t terribly complex but had some good woodsy/smoky qualities. I’m guessing this was the house blend variety of their chocolate which is 60% cocoa. The Milk Chocolate was quite sweet and has the European flavor to it, it was also very smooth but with a more fudgy quality to it. It’s one of those milk chocolates that begs you to eat more of it. The White Chocolate was really quite nice too. It’s true white chocolate in the sense that it’s made with cocoa butter and not tropical oils. It smelled very sweet and in fact tasted that way too, but had a slight caramel/vanilla note to it that made it much better than a bowlful of sugar.
They were all very nice, but for the price, first, I’d want solid chocolate. At this rate a pound of little bunnies would be over $50. I understand that more intense products like truffles demand a higher price, but these hardly qualified for such a premium. Not when the single bars of 3.5 ounces sell for $4.
This was my favorite purchase. I almost missed these too, they were placed up at the register and if I hadn’t already picked out the bunnies, I wouldn’t have even bought anything.
These are candied slices of orange that are then dipped in dark chocolate. They are absolutely gorgeous confections. I just couldn’t resist buying them because I knew they would photograph well. Luckily I love candied citrus peel, so I was really looking forward to these. They were just as dense and rich as I’d hoped. The orange slices were soft and juicy and not too sweet. The rind carried strong orange essences without the slightest bit of bitterness. A well-candied citrus rind bears more fruit flavor than a marmalade, which often tastes of sugar syrup.
I’ve not tried the rest of the Jacques Torres line of chocolates, so I can’t comment on the truffles or other chocolate covered goodies. They’re pricey though, but the visit to their shop provides a bit more value to the brand. I give them higher marks than the sole merits of the chocolate in the bunnies, the orange was extraordinary and gives me the confidence to recommend the other chocolate covered goodies I saw. There were fun items like chocolate covered corn flakes, graham crackers and cranberries and traditional fare like apricots, ginger and pretzels. Where the Scharffen Berger line has always been rather traditional in its expression (and I love that) I don’t care so much for the chocolate, just for the filling. Here the chocolate worked as the perfect complement to the orange and I reckon it would make even pedestrian items like corn flakes tasty.
Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven
I was prompted to seek out this Pearson’s bar after enjoying both the Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll and later the Bun Bars (especially the Maple Bun).
But here’s the question, how is this one different from the Bun Maple? Both are a maple fondant center covered in peanuts and milk chocolate. I had to taste it to find out.
There is no difference in size, they’re both 1.75 ounces and their packaging is sized identically. In fact, they look strikingly similar.
But they don’t taste the same. I don’t know what to attribute this to, but the Nut Goodie is neither a Maple Bun nor a Vanilla Bun. Since I had the wrapper from the Bun still lying around I did a comparison:
Maple Bun Bar.....................................Nut Goodie
So there you have it, they’re different. The Maple Bun, though it lists no maple flavoring, had a stronger mapleness to it, but the Nut Goodie is no slouch. It’s a good bar. The fondant center is a little more dense and has a good sweetness with a balanced slight hit of salt that brings out a more subtle maple/toasted note to it. The nuts are top notch and the milk chocolate is smooth and sweet and of good quality.
I doubt I’ll see many of these around, but if you’re a Maple Bun fan and you can’t find those, this might be a tasty substitute. I’d still like to see these made in a bar form instead of the plop, as it’s a bit harder to eat.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
On my recent tour of New York City Chocolatiers, I took as many suggestions from readers as my poor blistered feet would accept. Luckily Pierre Marcolini on Park Avenue was only a few blocks from the office I was working at. It’s hardly a place the Candy Blogger belongs, after all, I’m just a girl in search of pretty sugar. It doesn’t have to be fancy and I certainly don’t care for those upscale prices. But candy is an adventure!
The Pierre Marcolini shop is everything you’d expect. From the elegant Tiffany-style storefront & rich wood paneling to the pretty counters and displays of chocolates. But, the sales staff was friendly and knowledgeable and hardly turned up their nose a someone who wanted to partake of their smallest box.
While I was getting the lay of the land, I ordered a small cup of hot chocolate, what was most surprising was that this demitasse was the least expensive cup of hot chocolate I had my entire stay in NYC ($2.50). Even though it was a scant 2 or 3 ounces, it was plenty to satisfy me and let me know what I was in store for with their more solid chocolate offerings.
Massepain Nature - “Paste of ground almonds with a powdered sugar in dark chocolate” - My most adventurous choice was this marzipan. While I was talking to the young woman behind the counter, I asked if it had a strong amaretto, and she replied that it did not, it was much more on the chocolate and almond side of things. I went for it. It was a rather mousy looking little chocolate, but maybe that was my prejudice coloring my estimation of its beauty. The marzipan was soft and almost crumbly without being oily or even at all sweet. I’d like to call it sandy, but it wasn’t quite that either. It was very almondy but had a rather obvious amaretto taste to it. I didn’t find it unpleasant but certainly not the first thing I’d opt for in the future. The most surprising part was how filling this was. I was hardly hungry after tasting this one.
Coeur Framboise - “Dark chocolate raspberry infused ganache in a white chocolate shell” - these were positively radiant, like cabochon garnets, pomegranate seeds or candied apples. Inside is a dark chocolate ganache with raspberry essence, covered in white chocolate and then slicked with the translucent red gloss. The berry flavor was lovely, not terribly perfumy, but sweet and smooth with some very strong chocolate notes and a slight tang to it from both the fruit and the cocoa.
Quatre Epices - “Infusion of cinnamon, clove, cardamom and ginger” - I wasn’t sure how the clove was going to play on this one. The center was a little fudgy and not buttery like a truffle and I wondered if I didn’t eat them quickly enough. The spices combined well, with ginger playing a big part without causing a lot of burn. I didn’t really detect any clove at all, but then again, I didn’t get much of a cardamom note either. The texture felt more like a marzipan than a truffle in the end.
Th? Citron - “Dark chocolate ganache infused with tea and fresh pieces of lemon and lime” - May I refer to this as a manly truffle? The tea and citrus was amazing - tart without overpowering the chocolate and it gave the whole thing an “Old Spice” feeling (not in a bad cosmetic sort of way). The acid notes of both the chocolate and lemon and lime played well together with only the slightest sweet hint.
Thym Orange - “Dark chocolate ganache infused with fresh thyme and orange peels” - wow, the thyme here was very strong and reminiscent of the piney tones of rosemary or fresh oregano. They flavors combine well, the dry astringency of the chocolate and the balsam notes of the herbs. I really didn’t catch the orange in the mix but I didn’t actually miss it.
Violette - “Dark chocolate ganache infused with flowery Violette” - this tasted as lovely as it looked. The violet was not strong or soapy at all, simply fresh and rather reminiscent of berries without the tartness. The flowery feel lasted in my mouth for quite a while and would be a welcome change from coffee-breath.
Pierre Marcolini - “72% cocoa content, combination of beans from the Venezuelan regions Sur de Lago, Carenero and Rio Caraibe” - shockingly buttery and smooth, this one just melted away on my tongue with some gorgeous woodsy notes of oak, black cherry and vanilla. A wonderful way to complete my small box, with a crisp, dry finish.
The quality was wonderful and the packaging spare and elegant. I appreciated that the labels were obvious for most of the candies, so I had no trouble deciphering which was which ... most of the names were printed plainly. The flavor combinations were wonderful though never quite as described as far as I could tell. The whole line felt very masculine, which isn’t a good or bad thing, just something noticed after infused chocolates from quite a few places in NYC.
Pierre Marcolini Chocolatier
Their website, though it contains wonderful photos and info about all the chocolates they offer is painfully slow because they haven’t optimized their images for the web, so consider yourself warned.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
This little shop down in SoHo on Broome Street is just too cute for words. The first thing I was drawn to when I stepped in the door was a display of tiny metal lunchboxes filled with hot chocolate mixes. I just wanted the lunch box ... the combination of the signature blue and gold was just delicious in and of itself.
I restrained myself from marching up to the counter with my special request and instead looked around at the adorable and imaginative offerings. Almond brittle shaped like cocktail olives (in green and black), little candies shaped like pebbles, dragees (upscale candy coated chocolates) in addition to their super-cute square and imprinted chocolate truffles.
Again I tried to savor the place, so I ducked into the back room where the coffee and chocolate bar was. I ordered up an Aztec Hot Chocolate, American-style ($6), which meant it was made with milk, not water. Not a spiced chocolate, just dark and rich, it was a sizeable cup (and I’d just been to Vosges not two blocks away) with a wonderful no-too-sweet creaminess.
The smoothness can be attributed to something I read on the website: “Maribel’s own divinely decadent recipe contains NO COCOA POWDER but instead is made from the purest Belgian cocoa and most refined sugar.” I wonder if the packets they sell can rival what I drank there, but it’s probably worth a try someday.
Earl Grey Tea - the beautiful squiggly one was buttery and chocolatey but had only the slightest hint of bergamot but a nice dry acidic hit which I’m guessing was from a tea infusion.
Caipirinha - a lighter (milk?) chocolate infusion with a tart bite to it ... honestly, I didn’t even know what the word meant until I looked it up after I ate this one. It’s an alcoholic drink of lime juice, sugar and a spirit called Cacha?a which is distilled sugarcane juice.
Spices - a tasty and slightly sweet blend of dark chocolate and spices felt like buttery cinnamon toast. There was no cruel burn to this spice infused truffle, just a woodsy fragrance.
Lavender - supple and smooth, this had a nicely fragranced tone to it but it was mostly sweet and buttery chocolate.
Mystery - I have no recollection of what this one is, and it’s not shown on the little printed guide that came in the box. It’s dark chocolate on the outside and the center is milk chocolate with a tart overtone without any citrus notes at all. I have no clue. It was nice but lacked enough definition for me to say what it was.
Gianduja - this was not at all what I expected. I figured it would be a sticky milk chocolate like the Caffarel morsels, however, this was based in dark chocolate and thick and buttery. It had a slight nutty grain to it, but that texture was pleasant and the whole thing was suffused with hazelnut goodness. Unlike the Caffarels which demand a glass of water right after eating, this little chocolate demands that you pop another one in your mouth. I only bought one ... wah!
My biggest disappointment came with my purchase of three pates de fruit ... I traveled with them in the same box as the truffles and I’m guessing that the packaging was not airtight enough for them and they were dried out, crunchy rocks when I got them home and took their picture on Saturday (they were purchased and packaged on Thursday). Don’t get me wrong, I still ate them, and they were still flavorful and intense concentrations of fruit, but I was hoping for a repeat of my wonderful experience with the Boule pates.
Overall, they’re exceptionally pretty and wonderfully smooth but the infusions weren’t quite as distinctive as I’d hoped for the price. If you’re looking for something more subtle than Vosges, these might be a good option. The sell via their website. If you’re in SoHo, it’s worth the trip, especially for a little break in their coffee/cocoa bar (where they also have pastries).
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:41 pm
One of the best things about going to New York City is I always know I can find great Halvah there, and often Turkish Delight. I know that it’s not everyone’s favorite candy, and I’ll wager that many candy aficionados haven’t even tried it before.
Let’s face it, traditional halvah as sold at the counter of a candy shop or deli is never very appetizing. I remember the first time I had halvah; my mother returned from New York City with some wonderful baked goods (including some sort of super decadent flourless chocolate cake from Dean & Deluca) and a slice of this stuff. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed at first. What was it? How do I eat it?
Halvah (also spelled halva or halwa) is basically a crystallized paste of sesame seeds (tahini) and sugar. There are often other additions, such as nuts, dried fruit or chocolate. It can be further dressed up and dipped in chocolate or rolled in nuts.
I’m rather fond of plain halvah with pistachios. The stuff that I get here in Los Angeles is usually prepackaged and who knows how old. This halvah that we picked up at Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side ($7.99/lb.) was fresh and crumbly and smelled wonderfully of sesame and vanilla. To eat halvah I usually break off a few small pieces (each about the size of a walnut) and put them in a little ramekin and then eat it with my fingers, sometimes breaking the pieces into smaller bits. Since there’s a crystalline structure that forms as the halvah cools, it cleaves better than it cuts.
The taste is hard to describe but it’s basically a sweet paste of sesame kind of like a light, sweet peanut butter. It’s not quite like marzipan, which doesn’t dissolve completely because of the almonds. Some folks don’t like the texture, some don’t like the smell of sesame (I can’t stand the smell of toasted sesame oil, so it’s a wonder that I like this stuff at all). It’s buttery and smooth as it melts on the tongue and is quite filling. The pistachios add a dash of nuttiness to it. Overall, halvah has a slight malty taste to it, which might be why I’m attracted to it.
It’s amazing to think that I’ve never had chocolate covered halvah before, but I guess I just don’t shop at the right stores. I found these at Economy Candy around the corner from Russ & Daughters. Outside is a sweet chocolate and crushed almonds and inside is a marbled chocolate halvah cube.
They’re quite messy to eat, as you can imagine. The halvah in these is a bit softer and a little oilier. The sweet chocolate and nuts make for a very filling treat, but quite addictive. I bought a half a dozen of these (they were 50 cents each) and proceeded to eat three of them that afternoon and had to make another trip to buy more because I promised to bring some back for my mother-in-law. Who knows how many will make it to the weekend when I am going to present them to her.
I know that there’s been a huge surge in interest in Turkish Delight (also known as Turkish Paste or Lokum) since The Chronicles of Narnia came out, and I wrote a bit about that here. I like Turkish Delight in most flavors, but I’m a little unusual in that I appreciate floral flavors in my candy. It’s rather hard to find good, fresh Turkish Delight in the United States. There’s the prepackaged stuff, but I’ve heard it’s a far cry from the fresh stuff you can get in the markets in the Middle East.
This Turkish Delight was new for me. I usually get the plain squares that are flavored rather traditionally with rosewater, mint, lemon, orange or orange blossom. This was pistachio and rosewater. Let’s face it, it’s rather unappealing looking. Just a slice of jelly with pistachios embedded in it and covered with powdered sugar. At the counter where I picked it out at Economy Candy ($8.99/lb.), it was displayed as a long log, spiraled into a rather odd looking white lump. But this trip was about adventure.
Turkish Delight needs to be eaten fresh, so I ate most of this while I was still in NYC, saving about four slices (there was a half pound minimum) for the photos when I got back. This is addictive stuff and I can see why Edmund got into so much trouble even with the un-nutted stuff. It smells like light flowers and of course sugar. Biting into it, the suspension of the rosewater jelly has made the pistachios soft and buttery. The mix of the nuts which are also known for their perfumy qualities and the lightly sweet rose jelly is quite stunning. I found myself chewing and swallowing quickly just so I could take another bite. Sometimes I’d hit a spot where there was a lot of jelly and got to revel in the fragrant stickiness and other times it was all nuts. Of course every once in a while you get a bad nut and that’s no fun.
I don’t recommend it for everyone. If you’re the type of person who likes Spice Jelly Beans or the more fragrant Indian spices like cardamom and star anise, you might like Turkish Delight.
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
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).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.