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
Friday, April 14, 2006
I’m a little tired from my trip and thought I’d let you do the work today!
I took this photo a couple of weeks ago of a candy I’d never bought before. When I took it out of the wrapper I found it, um, mystifying. It looks like a mummy, don’t you think?
It was actually pretty tasty though! I gave it a 6 out of 10.
Anyone know what this candy is? It’s about four inches high ... submit a comment if you’d like to guess. I’ll reveal the answer on Easter Sunday!
Yes, it is a marshmallow rabbit!
Made by Necco, the package boasts real chocolate and it was actually pretty good. The marshmallow was soft and fluffy without being too sweet. I got it for 25 cents, so keep your eye out for after-Easter sales if this is your sort of thing. The look of the candy suffers from the fact that marshmallow isn’t the best for creating detail, but hey, it’s for eatin’ not staring at.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 5:15 am
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Last fall I got to try Equal Exchange Chocolate. The company has done a good job of balancing respectful business practices with making a good product.
I was excited about these miniatures - the other bars I tried were 3.5 ounces, which is rather sizeable bar. I like a lot of variety in my candy so small pieces (even if I buy a lot of them) help me to maintain my portion control and get some variation. These wee little buddies are only .16 ounces each.
What’s also different about these little bars is that they’re 55% cocoa solids. The other versions of theirs I tried were 70% cocoa in the dark and the 55% had almonds in it. The almond bar I tried really reminded me of the Chocovic Ocumare.
Without the almonds of course I can concentrate more on the chocolate itself. The first thing I notice, besides the beautiful dark glossy sheen, is that it’s sweeter on the tongue. The scent is slightly acidic by very chocolatey. The bar melts quickly on the tongue, releasing some very nice light fruit notes of apricot and cherry blossom. It’s a well rounded chocolate but not too complex and not at all acidic. In my opinion, because of the sweet start, this is a dark bar children might like.
The only bad thing about these is that you have to buy them by the case if you want them direct from Equal Exchange. They’re about $18 a pound. However, if I were planning a wedding or large event where I wanted to send a tasty message in a little favor, this might be a good choice. You also may start seeing these more at Whole Foods and other retailers as they grow. I actually like this chocolate better than the Endangered Species - the buttery quality and smoothness of the chocolate feels more decadent (if you can feel decadent with a fair trade, organic, kosher, all natural product).
If you’re interested in ordering, they don’t ship when the weather is warm, so if you don’t get it this month you’ll have to wait until the fall.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Continuing with National Licorice Day, I have to admit that I’ve always been afraid of Licorice Allsorts. Let’s face it, they’re pretty, but there’s no real way of knowing what they are. Are those pink things the same flavor as Pepto Bismol? Are they cherry? Which would be better? Is blue ever a good idea? It’s one of those candies that’s been around so long, once I became an adult I was embarrassed to ask what they were.
The time had come to try them. All of them. This assortment came from CandyFavorites but is made by Bassett’s ... you know, the folks in England who are known for these. Aren’t they cute?
I started with the pieces that seemed the most familiar. The plain black licorice pieces were nice. Extra soft, with a good doughy consistency and strong molasses taste. They’re sweet, but not in a sugary way, more in that herbal way that licorice is.
Next I took on those sandwich looking things. They’re the ones that have scared me most over the years. The brown ones are chocolate flavored, but only in the lightest possible way. Mostly the molasses taste comes through but then as the chewing continues I realize that there’s COCONUT in here! How did that happen? The brown layer is more grainy and sugary than the licorice one and there are these flakes of coconut that give it a nice chewy texture and a good nutty pop. The white layered pieces are lemon and though I really liked the Lemon Lakritsi I had last year, these don’t quite rise to this level. Yes, the coconut gives it some extra dimension, but there are a lot of flavors going on here. Orange is orange and seems to be a little better on the balance than the white ones. I ate all of the orange and brown ones first. The pink ones were the scariest of all. I don’t know what flavor they are, we’ll just stick with “pink” because the color seems to give them a fruity flavor of some kind, perhaps cherry but also a bitter overtone. Blech. I needed to clear the taste of that! Luckily it was only a three decker instead of the five layer of the white one.
The little blue and pink buttons are so cute and I didn’t want to eat them at first. Inside is a firm jelly with a strong licorice/anise taste to it. Instead of being sickly sweet and grainy like a jelly bean, these were more like a gummi covered in nonpareils. I wish I could just buy these in bulk.
The little blue man was the only one of his kind in the mix, and I’m not sure what that kind of candy is called. He was like a licorice version of candy corn. Very sweet, a little grainy to start and then quite smooth.
The pink circles with the black dots scared me. After the bad experience with the pink layered thing, I was hesitant to try these. Luckily they weren’t flavored. They’re just colored pink but taste simply like coconut and licorice. After all that trepidation, the things I thought I’d hate, I actually liked and of the whole assortment, there’s really only one piece that I detested. Those are much better odds than most of the assorted candies I pick up.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 5:39 am
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 10, 2006
Last year my favorite discovery was Scharffen Berger’s Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs. I think I might be in love all over again with the nibs from sweetriot. For those of you who haven’t been following along, cacao nibs are roasted cocoa beans that are ready to be made into chocolate. Everything that makes chocolate chocolate is inside the bean, the cocoa butter and what becomes cocoa powder. A plain cacao nib is rather sour, kind of grainy and has very little of the buttery crunch we associate with most nuts. It’s more like eating a coffee bean than a peanut. As a solo snack, they’re an acquired taste, but they make a great addition to salads or thrown into muffins or cookies.
Sweetriot sent me this fun little “spring fling” pack, which holds three different little upright tins of chocolate covered cacao nibs - each covered with a different blend of chocolate. 50% cocoa solids, 65% cocoa solids and the masterful 70% cocoa solids (with a hint of coffee).
The little tins are rather small, and to be honest when I first read about these on CandyAddict early this year I thought they were extremely expensive. At $6 each for a tin (regular price), it’s about five times the price of the Scharffen Berger nibs (which I already thought were pricey).
What is especially compelling is the mission of the company and that they’re fair trade (though not certified yet). They’re also Kosher, gluten-free and made with non-genetically modified soy lecithin (also called GMO-free).
What’s also different about these and the Scharffen Berger is that the coating on the nibs is quite a bit thicker. Where the Scharffen Berger nibs were bumpy and craggy, the Sweetriot “peaces” are smooth like little nuggets of tumbled chocolate.
I started with the Flavor 50, and I’m not sure you can make it out in the photo, but they’re more milk-chocolate looking than the rest. They’re actually very sweet and mellow and had a very clean taste to them, that seemed to have more vanilla coming through than most chocolate. Each little tin includes a “fortune” which has a piece of trivia about where the cacao comes from. In this tin it said: “Cacao Country Brazil shares boundaries with every South American country but Chile & Ecuador.”
Next was Flavor 65, which has a very strong acidity and bitterness to it, with notes of cherry and apricot but a very strong scent of rum and cedar shavings. Like a complex wine, these make you want to keep shoveling them into your mouth so you can try to pin down the notes. The trivia snippet here: “The first inhabitants of Cacao Country Peru were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in Peruvian caves.”
The last was Flavor 70, a deep rich experience whole. I was expecting them to be as bitter and astringent as Flavor 65, but they were actually more mellow, but equally dark and complex. The coffee note was not overwhelming and this tin was sweeter smelling. There’s a dry finish and the fruity notes blend together without an overpowering single flavor coming through. The chocolate is smooth and of course the nibs provide an interesting nutty crunch. The geography trivia here: “Together, Cacao Countries Ghana, Cote d’Ivorie, Nigeria and Cameroon produce 70% of the world’s cacao.”
By far the balance of chocolate to nibs is better in the Sweetriot over the Scharffen Berger nibs. The only thing I have trouble getting over here is the price. While I support Fair Trade, I also don’t care for overpackaging of items. Yes, they’re cute and the artwork on the tins is certainly original. The only option for purchase here is in the tiny tin, and maybe I just want to buy a pound of them and keep refilling my individual tin. But the company is young and I’m willing to be patient for more options on purchasing. For now they’re fantastic-tasting and hard to beat on that score, but they cost a pretty penny (and when I say penny, I mean that each little morsel is more than a penny!).
If you’re a true chocoholic, now might be the time to give these a try. They’re on sale through April 14th at 25% off on the website. They are sold at a limited number of brick-and-mortar locations, but check their website for the latest updates.
UPDATE: I found them in the wild! I saw them at a health food store in Greenwich Village - and the going price is only $4.99 ... much better than the expected $6.00 (based on their web price). If you think about how much you’re willing to spend for a latte or ice blended whatever (or hot chocolate), it’s really a comparable treat and of course it’s small enough to tuck in a pocket or your bag.
UPDATED UPDATE (12/28/2006): The prices on the website have come down quite a bit, buying a box of 12 means that tins are only $4 each now. The 3 pack flavor set also has a price reduction (the packaging varies by season).
Friday, April 7, 2006
The Original “Flowing Center” Candy Cups!
I’ve come to realize that about half of how we experience things we eat has to do with experience that we bring to it. A piece of the most amazing cake or the best chocolate during a horrible dinner or at a traumatic time in your life may, actually, leave a bad taste in your mouth. The most mundane sugar morsel might be elevated to ambrosia based on other fantastic associations. Things like candied apples, candy corn and cotton candy all seem to benefit from this phenomenon.
Candy is most often associated with good experiences, as it’s often a reward or an indulgence in the first place. So Valomilks were getting high marks before I even ate them because of my pursuit of them and the lore associated with them.
But really, 2,400 words and four posts later, you’re wondering, what’s all the fuss about? Are they that good?
The chocolate is smooth, a little sugary and has a slight cool feeling when melting on the tongue. The cream is impossibly sticky, though I never had the “run down your chin” experience with them. The flattened marshmallow is sweet, without being cloying or sappy, but it lacks a vanilla kick I was hoping it would have. I was hoping for real vanilla bean essence here, and perhaps it’s my fault for making the candy into something in my head that it would never be. It was smooth, and it’s true that the chocolate and filling go together well, the proportions are just right, but to be honest ... I wasn’t that keen on them.
I’ve given them at least a half a dozen chances now. I’m not a neat freak, but I really don’t like being sticky. It’s just too hard to eat. As I sit here and eat another package of them, I have a moistened washcloth with me to keep wiping my hands and face. I end up taking bigger bites than I want, and instead of thinking about what I’m eating, I’m thinking about what a mess it is. Really, if there were a candy I could advocate for the nude, this would be it (as long as they’re not sitting near an ant hill).
I know there was a lot of build up in this series, but most of that is immaterial to the candy itself. I may end up doing the same for some other coveted bar in the future, though I hope it’s one that’s more transportable. I hope you’ve enjoyed the Saga of the Valomilk and hopefully the actual Valomilks should you get a chance to try them.
While I’m partial to Pocky, I’m trying to open up and try a few of the other dipped cookie sticks from Japan. Last week it was Yan Yan, this week I bring you Lucky Mini Almond Black.
These petite little sticks of chocolate flavored biscuit stucks are covered with a mix of dark chocolate and crushed almonds. Like Pocky, there’s a little bit of uncovered stick so you can grab it and not worry about melting the chocolate as you nibble.
The package holds a brown plastic tray with two sections filled with the sticks. Each stick is about 2.5” long. There are plenty of almonds and it’s got a good mellow crunch to the biscuit without being too sweet.
The ingredients have some oddities, including things like “cheese powder” and “cream powder” but these definitely have no hint of the cheesiness of the Yan Yan.
Overall, as a nuttier version of Pocky, this is pretty good. I actually like the high ratio of chocolate and nuts and the slightly flavored biscuit. It’s no Men’s Pocky, but it’s a great afternoon snack that doesn’t feel too decadent.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.