Friday, April 28, 2006
Every once in a while I get an email with an offer for stuff to review. As much as I want to just accept every offer of free goodies, I had to develop a standard for freebies/samples. They have to offer something no one else does. Robert at Best Regards had me at “Cranberry Orange Craves.”
His line of chocolate barks feature his custom blend of chocolate and he recounts the discussion with his wife during his development of the treats this way:
I’ve never really considered dark chocolate to have an “aftertaste”, I always considered the dry, astringent or bitter carryover notes to be part of the experience. But I can see how the mellowness of milk chocolate alleviates both the good and bad lingering flavors.
Best Regards is located in the Kansas City, Kansas area, which is really one of the last places I would have expected good, distinctive chocolate to come from. Though the bulk of his edibles and gift baskets features cookies, the basket he sent has a large assortment of chocolate barks (called Craves) and even a fun variety of chocolate covered Oreos. So let’s dig in!
This is the star, the Cranberry Orange Craves - smooth dark chocolate flavored with orange essence and generously studded with dried cranberries. It’s an incredible combination and amazingly, I’ve never had it before. The zesty orange goes so naturally with the cranberry’s tart chewy bite and the smooth and mellow chocolate just brings it all together.
The best way for me to judge these sorts of things is to keep track of which package I finish first. This one was gone in the first weekend.
Orange and Oreo Chocolate Craves - the dark chocolate is smooth and creamy, but does lack some of the more subtle chocolate nuances. However, this is a combination bar, with orange essence added into the chocolate, so the rather homogenized background is actually pretty good as a foundation. Inside this thick bar are crushed Oreo cookies, which give it a nice crunch. Personally, I wasn’t fond of coming across the Oreo cream but the chocolate crunch was a good combo. My second favorite.
Premium Raspberry Chocolate - plain dark chocolate bark with raspberry essence in it. It’s not too sweet, ultra creamy and smooth. The raspberry has a good balance of floral nuances and there are bits of raspberry in there (including the seeds) which gives a little tartness and fruitiness to the whole bar.
Margarita White Chocolate - this was the only white chocolate offering and it was really good. I know, I’ve said I don’t like white chocolate and then I keep recommending white chocolate things. This was white chocolate that wasn’t too sweet and had lime essence in it. I would have called it Key Lime, because that’s what it tasted like to me. My third favorite.
Mint Chocolate Cookie - I’ve raved about Harry London Mint Cookie Joys before, and these are essentially the same. Minted dark chocolate with chocolate cookie bits in it. Heaven.
The final set in the basket were these two different kinds of chocolate covered Oreos, chocolate and mint chocolate. The plain chocolate ones had little sprinkles on them, and I have to say, as cute as they are, they’re not really that tasty. It’s fine for cake where you might want a little crunchy texture, but they just interfered with the chocolate and cookies here. The mint ones worked much better - a good, classic combo.
On the whole, the chocolate Craves were top notch. It’s hard to evaluate the whole custom blended chocolate part, because I never tasted the pure chocolate in any of these items, it was always in combination with other flavors and textures. While I really like a good dark chocolate, often the harsher bitterness can overshadow some of the more delicate flavors and textures. Of course that sort of intense flavor also keeps me from eating piece after piece. Maybe it’s the difference between fine wine and a good fruity sangria. Both have their place. So Robert at Best Regards has stumbled upon something - a really addictive dark chocolate that’s more “munchable.” Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I can assure you, it’ll be good for Best Regard’s business.
If I lived in the Kansas City area and needed a gift for someone, I’d absolutely take advantage of the gift basket idea (especially the mixed baskets of cookies) with local delivery and he has lots of options that are more on the savory side (and feature some of the local barbeque themes). If I had one suggestion for the sale of these, it’d be the ability to get a tin of them, maybe even a mixed variety. The packaging in the crunchy clear plastic bags wasn’t as resealable as I’d like. (I know, I rail against companies that have too much packaging, now I want more!) A tin of chocolate barks seems like it’d ship better anyway. However, he does offer some of the chocolate varieties as 8 ounce bars.
UPDATE: Wow! Robert is offering a special sampler package based on the products I reviewed here - at a huge discount off the regular $26.00 price, he’s offering it at only $15.99. Just go to the Sweets & Treats page and scroll down to see the “Cybele Special.”
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
One of the most talked-about candy stores in New York City has to be Dylan’s Candy Bar. Unlike Economy Candy, Dylan’s is all about display and experience. Also unlike Economy Candy: you pay a premium.
Located on Third Avenue at 60th Street - it’s a tony address - though not quite Park Avenue it is kitty-corner from Bloomingdale’s. If I could compare the store to something it would be FAO Schwartz. The store is brightly lit and on two levels. The street level boasts a large ice cream bar and featured huge Easter displays when I visited. The ceiling fixtures and shelves are candy themed, with large panels looking like some sort of vine of lollipops growing into the ceiling and large rainbow colored candy canes.
Dylan’s Candy Bar sells a huge range of products, both edible and wearable. The big feature, of course, is candy. The cornerstone is bulk candy and the bins are everywhere. They had a huge selection of all the sugar candy you can think of: gummis, Jelly Belly, Dubble Bubble flavored gumballs and licorice. They have chocolate too, from M&Ms (Colorworks), chocolate covered Oreos and malted milk balls as well as their own line of fine chocolates and flavored Belgian chocolate bars.
There were plenty of folks on hand to help out, none of the lines were very long (I expected the place to be crowded before Easter, but I did make sure to go on a weekday at lunch instead of on the weekend). The salesfolk seemed knowledgeable about the inventory too, which is a pretty big accomplishment with such a wide number of products. The prices for the bulk candies ran about $9.99 and they had some funky stuff, not just in the bulk bins but some fun displays. They had a HUGE selection of PEZ and a great big display of favorite candies chosen by famous people on the lower level. (Frankly, I don’t care much what famous people eat ... I’ll probably care when they ask me to do a custom mix.) There’s lots to look at and do in the store and I saw some children running around having the time of their lives (and their parents looked pretty pleased, too).
Their website features quite a few regional candy bars, so I was hoping to find an Idaho Spud, but it seems that they were fresh out. But I was able to find my Nut Goodie there and I also picked up a few other items that I’ll write about soon. There were also some funky items in the bins, like banana flavored gummi bears and a large selection of candy sticks in a wide variety of flavors and lollipops of all shapes, sizes and colors.
As I mentioned, Dylan’s Candy Bar has their own line of chocolate bars, so I picked up a nice assortment. They come in 10 different flavor combinations, but I picked of the little 1.75” tasting squares as an introduction:
Dark Raspberry - it was a nice dark chocolate bar. Not terribly sweet with a good overtone of raspberry essence to it, but none of the tart bite. The berry flavors mixed well with the earthy and fruity notes of the chocolate itself.
Dark - glossy and dark, there was no indication of the cocoa content here or on the website. It was nice, a little on the smoky side, but very smooth and a tad bit sweet.
Hazelnut - this bar is in the Guanduja-style, the first ingredient is hazelnut paste and the rest of the bar is made up of milk chocolate. It’s soft and creamy and a bit sticky feeling. The overwhelming flavor here is not the hazelnuts but the whole milk powder. The nuts add a level of satisfaction to the bar, but the milkiness just beats the nuttiness out of it to my dismay.
Dark Espresso (unwrapped) - a nice snap but a fair bit of grain in this bar from the ground coffee in it. The coffee flavor itself was good but completely overwhelmed the chocolate flavors and it seemed much sweeter than the Raspberry bar.
Can you tell I’m underwhelmed?
Maybe it started with their frustrating website, maybe I’m spoiled, but I want more info on my purchases. (I had a similar experience in the store.) Maybe I have no idea what a clodhopper is and the clothing ... maybe they could give me info on the fiber content. I want to know how much is in the package, and I want some indication of ingredients.
Maybe the article I read last year about Dylan Lauren rubbed me the wrong way and that’s colored my evaluation of the store. The NY Times line that got me was this:
What’s most interesting is that as I was there, I did not see “The Candy Girl” shopping there. I’m not the sexy, young, thin woman she pursues as a demographic (though maybe two out of four counts). As much as she might be positioning herself that way, the store is about kids - the displays obviously acknowledge that as there was quite a bit of the merchandise marketed to the under-four-foot set. While the store makes it socially acceptable for an adult to come in there and make a purchase(s), a destination like this will always be about children.
The other frustration is the price. Candy bars like the Nut Goodie I picked up are $1.49 and the bulk candy, such as Swedish Fish, in a plain plastic bag is $9.99 a pound. The same candy bar at Economy Candy is $.69 and probably about $1.00 at any of the many corner stores in NYC. The same Swedish Fish at Economy Candy were $3.49 a pound. What are you paying for here? Convenience of the address? Packaging? Isn’t that what Ralph Lauren has been selling us for years anyway? Except RL wasn’t taking Levi’s 501s and slapping his own logo on them and selling them for $100 a pair. Is Dylan’s Candy Bar doing that by taking other brands of candy and just dumping them into a clear plastic paint can?
Though I struggle with the the premium I pay at Vosges or Jacques Torres (which is like a fantasy land as well) I can rationalize it because they own their merchandise; they formulated it, they invented it, they make it. When I go into a mega-mart like Target or Toys-r-Us I expect better prices. Dylan’s just throws all of those expectations out the window. Sure, they have their own line of chocolates, but they sell everyone else’s too. They’re just selling you a brand, a bag and a logo. Sure, I have a similar complaint with the candy stores in malls where everything is in bulk bins and they’re selling it all for $8 a pound, whether you’re picking up plain old peppermint hard candies, gummi bears or M&Ms. But when I’m in Santa Rosa, CA, my candy store choices are limited and I accept the premium for variety. Dylan’s is in NYC, one of the most candy cities I’ve ever visited and Economy Candy is a scant four miles away.
I did enjoy browsing the displays, but the frugal part of me couldn’t get over the prices or the sheer gall of selling something that probably cost about $2 a pound wholesale for $10. There were candies there that I haven’t been able to find in other stores, so I appreciate that there were unique items there and there was a wide price range as well so you could get out of there with a bag of candy for under $5 with careful decision making. Part of the attraction of candy for me has always been its affordability and Dylan’s takes that part of the fun away. It’s no longer a simple pleasure, it’s an expensive one.
As the Candy Blogger, I’ll probably return. But as a simple candy consumer, it’s not a place I’d patronize. I found my second home in New York, it’s Economy Candy.
Dylan’s Candy Bar
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.