Monday, December 10, 2007
Menu for Hope is a fundraiser for the UN World Food Programme. The Menu for Hope III raised almost $63,000 for the WFP. I’d love to see MFH4 top $100K - it shouldn’t be hard, there are dozens of wonderful prizes.
I’m donating a gift certificate for Chuao Chocolatier worth $100. This prize can be yours if you win the prize drawing for item UW26. The raffle tickets are $10 each, you can buy as many as you like and select how many go for which prize. There are many other fine prizes as well, please see the master list on Chez Pim, the host of this program and the West Coast prize list on Rasa Malaysia. (Here’s a roundup of the candy-related ones.)
The traditional techniques of European chocolatiers combine with pure Venezuelan chocolate and infusions of fresh ingredients and flavors in Chuao Chocolatier’s collection. Choose from a huge array of items in their webstore including their hot chocolate mixes, fine bonbons, chocolate bars and highly portable ChocoPods. There’s something there for every kind of chocolate lover: those who love the comfort of creamy milk chocolate caramels, those who crave the heat of spicy caramelized cacao nibs and even those adventurers who might want to go for a chevre, pear and black peppercorn bonbon.
Chuao Chocolatier is based in Encinitas, California.
If you would like to bid on this item use code UW26.
If you’re not interested in bidding, well, here’s a review of some items I picked up over the weekend:
Everyone seems to have a cacao nib product these days. Chuao’s is quite different. Their Coco Nib Snack may not even be considered candy, it might be a nut product. They start with small nib pieces, caramelize them with a little bit of sugar and toss them with a smidge of salt and chipotle & pasilla chilis. They look kind of like burnt Grape Nuts cereal.
It has a nice toasty flavor, not really spicy and not even that sweet. It does have some coffee and malt tones along with other dark chocolate and charcoal notes. This is nice to put in a little shot glass and tip into your mouth for a snack and would probably go well on ice cream, tossed in salads or maybe in a stuffing.
These Dark Chocolate Orangettes are made with candied orange sticks dipped in chocolate. The orange is a bit sweet, but nice and soft. It’s not at all grainy either, so it’s smooth with a strong orange essence.
Candied ginger is a wonderful way to experience ginger. It’s so simple and uncomplicated. Candied ginger can come in a few different formats. Medallions (slices), cubes, julienne slices and even planks.
In the case of Chuao’s Gingerettes, they use little medallions, about the size of a quarter. They’re candied until just a the “jellied” stage and don’t have any of that crystallized sugar coating on them. So it’s all smooth. Then they’re dipped in dark chocolate.
The unique selling proposition here is that in addition to the spicy ginger, these have a light dusting of chili powder. It’s not a really strong cayenne, just a light spicy burn that goes well with the other light spicy burn that is ginger.
These are nice to simply eat or serve on the side of a piece of apple pie or perhaps some ice cream.
So now that you’re drooling you want to buy a raffle ticket or two, right?
The results will be published on Chez Pim on Wednesday Jaunary 9th.
For more see Chez Pim for the complete instructions.
Don’t have any money to spare but want to help people?
1. Try FreeRice.com, a little vocabulary game where the ad dollars earned when you play go to feed some of the hungriest people in the world.
1/11/2008 UPDATE: The winner of the raffle drawing was Melissa Wong! Congratulations!
Monday, November 26, 2007
One of the regional candies that I haven’t reviewed here before is Sponge Candy. Sponge Candy is best known in the Buffalo, NY area. The history of Sponge Candy is kind of murky, but variations of it exist in in Australia (Violet Crumble or simply Honeycomb), Cinder Toffee (UK), Sea Foam (Pacific Northwest) and Molasses Puffs (St. Louis area).
Sponge Candy is basically a hard candy, just boiled sugar and corn syrup, but just as its taken off the heat some baking soda and vinegar is added to foam it up as it cools.
The resulting block of frothed sugar is mostly air. It’s a strange and very light hardened sugar that smells lightly of molasses or caramel (though there is is no butter or molasses in most versions). Think of it as the candy version of pumice.
The Sponge Candy I got is from Parkside Candy, which looks like a charming, classic ice cream shop in Buffalo. They a few versions of their Sponge Candy including milk chocolate covered and orange, but I chose the classic Dark Chocolate Covered Sponge Candy.
The pieces varied slightly in shape and size, but all were about two bites and 1.5” square. The chocolate enrobing was thin and in good proportion to the honeycombed sugar foam.
The sugar center had a nice smoky note to it with a little salty hit (even though there was no salt listed on the ingredients it might have come from the sodium bicarbonate). It melted nicely on the tongue or could be quickly chewed (though it gives off a strange sound like crunching styrofoam).
There were a few pieces at the bottom of the box where either there was a gap in the coating or it broke. This allowed moisture to get into the sponge, which deflated it. It creates a tacky, sticky texture and while I’d eat it, just out of curiosity, it’s not a selling point. I’ve also had Sponge Candy from a local shop in Los Angeles called Littlejohn’s. It’s a very different texture (and might actually be called Honeycomb), but similar burnt sugar flavor with a thicker chocolate coating.
Overall, I like the stuff. The one pound box is substantial. I felt satisfied after two or three pieces and I know that weight-wise that was a pretty small portion. I liked the texture and strong flavor much better than the Violet Crumble, and it doesn’t hurt that this was nice semi-sweet chocolate on the outside.
I paid quite a bit for my one pound box at The Candy Store, $25 actually. It’s only $16 on Parkside Candy’s website ... but I also didn’t have to pay for shipping. A smaller sized box would have also suited me better, but luckily I’ve had guests over the Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend to help me out with the box.
See G’s review of Fowler’s of Buffalo Sponge Candy.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
For at least a year I’ve been reading about Hotel Chocolat on Chocablog. The products seemed inventive, if a little over the top. But the company story, the fact that they’re bean to bar and pride themselves on sourcing their chocolate ethically is pretty compelling. While I love many of the fair trade chocolates that I try, I really want some chocolate candy sometimes.
Hotel Chocolat contacted me a couple of months ago with the news that they were opening a webstore in the US. So I could get my own taste of their product line. At first they offered to send me a sample package with their Peepsters, which were little slabs of chocolate with items mixed in. For some reason that wasn’t possible and they up and sent me the Crostini Fruit & Nut Slab and a bag of Macadamia Turtles. (Neither of these items are available on their website.)
The American website focuses on images of folks with great skin using chocolate as seduction (probably successfully since by the time you get to the Christmas chocolate there’s one image that shows the “couple” with a small child). Their products seem designed to entice with sensuality and abundance. Instead of teensy pieces with cute little images molded into them or imprinted on the top, Hotel Chocolat goes whole hog with clear plastic packages that show off vast real estate of chocolate. Images on the website reinforce this with couples sharing bites of bars of chocolate larger than their head.
While the marketing of their products doesn’t quite mesh with my demographic, I am certainly interested in quality and flavor/texture combinations. I also enjoy innovative styling and packaging.
The Slab of Chocolate comes in a black paper package with a clear plastic front and a carrying handle (though be aware that the package opens on the bottom ... so reseal it completely before swinging it around). A little longer than a size of A4 paper, this is a substantial piece of chocolate. Clocking in at 500 grams (17.5 ounces) the abundance is a selling point.
This beefy slab had some uneven distribution of the mix-ins. It includes: cranberries, sultanas, crunchy crostini, almonds and hazelnuts. (You can see in the photo that the corners are sadly lacking in inclusions. While this gives it an artisan quality, it also meant that sometimes I had to break off more pieces in order to get to the ones with the “stuff.”
At first I was disappointed that they sent me milk chocolate products, but this is pretty dark milk. According to the package it’s 50% cocoa solids and 20% milk. It has an authentic milkiness to it (none of that powdered dairy tastes). It’s middle of the road as chocolate flavors go, not terribly complex, just good chocolatey-chocolate. My candy dream! A nice melt, not too sweet and a good complement to the tangy sultanas & cranberries. The hazelnuts were great, the almond slivers were few and far between but the crostini were fun when I encountered them.
The retail on this product is $25 plus shipping. Not too bad for an upscale chocolate bar.
But wait a second ... these aren’t American-style turtles. There’s no caramel in there. Just a macadamia nut at the center and some crisps in the milk chocolate. The whole thing does look rather like a turtle though.
After I got over my resistance to them because of the name, they were fun. The same high cacao milk chocolate, a good bit of crunch and then the fresh macadamias. (I would probably opt for another nut in the future though.)
I’m certainly curious to give some of the other Hotel Chocolat items a try, their gift packages look especially interesting. (They’ve timed their launch for the winter Holidays.) I don’t know if I’d buy the slab though, it’s an awful lot of one thing and I gravitate more towards variety when trying a new brand. It’s certainly an impressive looking gift though! The shipping box was great, nicely packaged for the warmish weather, I have to mention that because some companies just don’t “get” how to ship chocolate products to Los Angeles.
The package says that the product is suitable for vegetarians and is alcohol free.
More on the Hotel Chocolat expansion into the US market here.
Friday, October 12, 2007
A couple of months ago I got an invitation from Valerie Confections to preview their Mori Ex Cacao gift set. It’s a set of three skull-shaped chocolates. Rather than a little flat piece of candy, these are large and three dimensional with crisp and freaky details on the skulls, which are then filled with a premium truffle ganache or caramel.
The fissures in the skull can be made out easily, as can the individual teeth and with the three-dimensions of the skull, even the back of the head continues these details down to the base and roof of the mouth.
The Skulls were designed by Modern Alchemist Douglas Little and are about the size of a hefty plum. The design is based on DL&Co’s Memento Mori Collection, which features a similar looking skull candle and other small statuary pieces. A little bit more upscale than the traditional pumpkins and witches, this rather macabre take also features some incredible attention to detail.
First, the confections are hand “cast” with premium Felchlin Chocolate. Then each is filled with one of three centers. The chocolates are created in a three dimensional silicone mold, based on an original design by Douglas Little. After unmolding the chocolates are then airbrushed by hand with a cocoa-butter based “paint” which results in three different confections - one charcoal-black, one cocoa-brown and one bleached-bone white.
I didn’t get to eat the “real thing”, instead they created some tasting portions, which looked an awful lot like regular old chocolates (probably better for me that way). This means that my tasting notes are not based on the actual proportions of chocolate-to-filling you may get with the ultimate product, but all the other elements were the same.
I had my doubts, mostly because the caramel was so dark, I was afraid it’d be bitter and though it did have some burnt tones to it, it was complex and not too sweet. It went wonderfully with the chocolate.
Bitter Brandied Cherry
I say I don’t like cherry flavor, but these were real sour cherries, not some crazy artificial extract. The deep fruit flavors went really well in the ganache, a slight bitter note which I think tied into the macabre tone of the confections quite well.
Oh, this really lived up to its hype. The chocolate flavors were not overpowered by the spice. There was definitely a bit of throat burning going on, but again, it fit very well with the design and presentation as a whole.
Would I buy these? Certainly not for $100 a set ($40 for an individual skull of any flavor). I understand that the ingredients are premium and they’re really labor intensive. So it’s not that I don’t think they’re worth it, but the whole skull thing just isn’t really that big of a draw to me. I like my candy pretty and I never quite got how skulls and bones celebrate life. But if you are a fan of this type of design, and if you’re looking for something purely decadent to arouse all of the senses (this would be great to share as a couple) then this would be an excellent gift.
They can be purchased directly from Valerie Confections or from Dean & Deluca (they only carry the full set but also have some companion products that might complete the effect). They come in a lovely black silk box.
Friday, September 14, 2007
I did a guest post on Gridskipper.com of some Los Angeles chocolatiers. They have an awesome system of mapping everything. However, they gave me an itty bitty box to cram into it everything I thought was important about each one. If you’re looking for more, I’ve linked everything up here to my yummilicious reviews along with a grand listing you can print out if you want to do a little tour of Southern California chocolates.
Yes, yes, I know I still need to visit Compartes.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Though my recent vacation was not as candy-filled as some other trips I’ve taken, I did get to stop at an actual candy factory outlet store. Unlike other “company stores” such as Hershey’s and M&Ms World in Times Square, this store features many factory seconds at hugely discounted prices.
Chocolates a la Carte is located in Valencia, CA in a non-descript industrial park just on the other side of route 126 from Six Flags Magic Mountain and a stone’s throw from I5. The store is only open two days a week and for rather brief hours to boot, but the timing of my trip couldn’t have been more perfect. The company makes a wide variety of chocolate products. Many of them you’d never know were theirs, they make little chocolate pieces that are used as accents on desserts and bakery goods or found served with coffee service at fine hotels and restaurants. Some of their other lines are manufactured for other companies as well as for their own brand called Signature Chocolates by Rena.
Getting into the store is more like a private shopping appointment. We entered the two story reception area and were greeted by the receptionist who called for the marketing person who operates the store. She unlocked the little room which was the sum total of their outlet store. I’m guessing in cooler months it’s probably open more continuously ... it was 98 degrees at 4:00 when we stopped there last week ... not really chocolate weather
The store however, does not disappoint in both its breadth of inventory nor in savings.
The products I was most interested in were the Truffle Tiles (which are so much like the ones at Choxie it makes me wonder) and Truffle Pops (which I saw at Bristol Farms but somehow couldn’t pony up the $6 for the set of 3). But of course there was plenty to choose from.
The truffle tile selection was a little sparse - so I picked up their classic trio collection for $3.50. I was also pleased to find the truffle pops available individually, though only in the Brut Dark Chocolate variety (which I figured was the best anyway) for only $.50 each. Holy Moly! Those puppies are $2 each in stores! So I bought $2 worth (four of them).
Truffle Tiles ($3.50 for a box of 3) - well, I’m never as keen on molded truffles as I am on dipped ones, so there’s a strike there (but hey, I’m the one who bought them so I can hardly hold it against them). The proportion of chocolate to filling in the tiles, as you can see from the photo is heavy on the chocolate coating, light on the filling. This means that either the filling is intense or so washed out that it really only contributes a speck of texture. These were middle of the road for me. Not intense, but certainly fresh and fun.
6 out of 10
Truffle Pops (50 cents each) - here’s a home run at 50 cents each. The shell is much thicker on these than a regular truffle, but the filling is definitely intense and creamy (and not even runny given its exposure to 85+ degree heat in the evening in my house). While I’m not usually keen on “painted” chocolates, especially ones that have sparkles or luminous metallic colors (mostly because I have no idea what I’m eating) this looked edibly appealing and smelled pleasantly of woodsy chocolate.
8 out of 10 at this price, they’d make a wonderful wedding or party favor, but probably down to a 6 out of 10 at four times the price.
Brandy Disks ($2.50 for a bag of 6) - these little dark chocolate disks with white chocolate squiggles were exquisite. If I were to go back there and find a huge bag of them on sale, I’d jump at them. The center is a Florentine-style caramelized cookie thing and then the chocolate coating. The center was crisp and crunchy and a little chewy like toffee can be ... a touch of salt and dark caramelized sugar flavors. The dark chocolate offset it nicely. I ate three in one night after I photographed them.
Seriously addictive ... I give them a 9 out of 10.
Salted Caramel Truffles ($3.00 for a bag of 8 “seconds”) - these little guys may not have been the prettiest thing I purchased, but they were tasty. The center was part truffle cream and part caramel. It was a bit on the custardy side, smooth and creamy but without much flavor but a nice little hint of salt. I wasn’t wild about them, but liked them well enough to eat them after the Brandy Disks were gone.
I give them a 6 out of 10.
As for the prices, they’re sometimes less than half the retail price charged on their own website:
Monet’s Palate(TM) Chocolate Couture $26.95 on website - $12.50 in person
While most of the the prices are great, as an outlet store you never know what you’ll find there. Also, some of the items they sell are retail quality, others are slightly flawed. I was told that the truffle pops weren’t quite up to snuff in their bronzy coating, but they looked fine to me. But the little salted caramel truffles did have some aesthetic and functional problems (some of them had little coverage holes in them), so they’re fine for eating but I don’t know if I’d give them as gifts or use them as a wedding favor or anything.
The chocolate they use for their creations is a combination of Callebaut, Guittard and Valrhona (usually marked as such).
I guess the caveat is if you see something while you’re there, buy it because you don’t know if it’ll be there when you go bag. You could probably buy one and try it right there in order to decide if you want more. (Seeing how the Truffle Pops are only 50 cents, how could that be a bad idea?) I would have bought more of the Brandy Disks if I followed my own advice.
Chocolates ? la Carte
As outlet shopping goes, I give this an 8 out of 10, I’ll definitely go back when the opportunity presents itself.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Last year I reviewed some chocolate barks and enrobed goodies from Best Regards. Robert Duensing prides himself on his Signature Blend of chocolate, which is part milk and part dark and all creamy delicious.
He sent me a bunch of his new product months ago, Craves Chocolate Sticks, which come in three different flavors: Chocolate, Orange and Mint.
Each little clear plastic tube is crammed with these chocolate sticks. Each is easy to pull out and have a little bite; two or three sticks make a respectable portion. Dare I say they’re a little feminine? It’s the same amount as a square of chocolate, it just feels dainty and restrained.
I’ve had them in or on my desk for the past few months and find myself really drawn to the simplicity. Less wrapper to deal with, easier to take bites out of than a big tablet and rather pleasant to look at when not being consumed.
The plain chocolate is sweet but very creamy. It doesn’t have the rich dark notes that true dark chocolate has, but it does have a drier finish than a milk chocolate. The small amount of milk component to it does keep it smooth and creamy, but without the overt dairy tastes.
The orange is a light touch. One of my favorite combinations, it’s just a hint of zesty flavor.
The mint is refreshing, a little on the mild side and not quite pepperminty, but still allows the chocolate flavors to come through.
I honestly didn’t think I was going to like these much. Other than the different shape than most chocolates, I didn’t think there’d be much to it. However, the packaging is spare and lets the chocolate do the legwork and the little sticks are probably my new favorite shape for chocolate snacking.
This is something that would be great to get in a gift basket because it just begs to be eaten. They’d be a nice thing to set out with coffee service after a meal as well.
The Chocolate Sticks were a huge hit at my office, one of the most requested items if they weren’t sitting out (yes, I have a bunch of candy sitting on the corner of my desk at all times for folks to come and sample). Best Regards also redesigned their packaging for the chocolate barks (I loved the orange and cranberry one) which is more in keeping with the upscale position of these candies (though at a moderate price).
There’s also a raspberry flavor that I haven’t tried before (but I’ve had the Raspberry Bark). I’d like to be able to find these easily at Whole Foods or gourmet stores instead of ordering. Contains milk and soy ingredients and processed in a facility along with nuts and wheat.
Friday, August 3, 2007
I’ve been accumulating chocolate bars faster than I can review them. (And faster than I can eat them, to boot!)
Here’s a selection of what’s been in my queue for a while with some brief thoughts on each. I don’t know much about the companies that make them, but all were tasty enough that I’m going to keep an eye out for the brands again.
My boss went to Spain and brought back three amazingly beautiful artisan chocolate bars from a company called Mallorca. Each bar was similar in format - 10 squares and wrapped in clear cellophane. The plain bar was wrapped face up, the nutted bars were bottoms up to show off the elegantly placed nuts.
The basic bar is called Kilamanjaro Chocolate and was an admirable middle-of-the-road 75% dark chocolate. It was smooth and creamy with woodsy notes and a bit of coffee in there. There was a slight grain to it and a later crisp dry finish. It was pleasant but perhaps a little too dry and acrid for me in the end.
The milk chocolate was creamy and had strong dairy notes, almost sticky and fudgy (but then again it was rather hot when I was eating it). The hazelnuts were dreamy little spheres - they were coated with a crispy sugar glaze of caramelized sugar with the nuts fresh and crunchy inside. They went so well with the chocolate I was often torn between pulling the nuts out and eating them whole and eating them with the blocks of chocolate.
I would love to get my hands on this bar again.
The Chocolate Negro con Almendra Marcona Chocolate features two blanched Marcona almonds in each square. The almonds are crisp and buttery (and are always more rounded than the pointy American almonds).
The dark chocolate here was not as strong as the first Kilamanjaro bar. It was sweet and bright tasting, some citrusy flavors along with light woodsy notes and a good buttery melt on the tongue.
The almonds were the star here, I love Marcona almonds, it’s like they’re a different nut from the almonds I usually get, they have an almost hazelnut/pine nut flavor to them.
Since it was purchased in South Korea, I have not idea what the back of the package says except for the web address: www.happynco.com which didn’t help me much in figuring out this bar. Sure, the front says stuff like “lighten up your day with dark angel dark chocolate” but I was curious about ingredients and stuff. The website is filled with cutesy images with butterflies and daisies but no sign of this bar. The character on the package, the spindly-legged princess with blonde hair is called Happy Girl with her even blonder Happy Guy. But the bar is called Dark Chocolate Dark Angel from Hatai and says it’s 42% cacao. Not too dark ... kind of in the middle.
The back of the package has some helpful pictograms that told me that the bar can be broken in half while it’s still in the package (the paperboard sleeve is scored). Then I think you’re supposed to share.
The bar inside the package is quite cute (mine was a little broken, but I reassembled it). It features a large section with a butterfly in darker embossed chocolate and four smaller squares with a milk chocolate heart and potted flowers opposite a darker chocolate piece of wrapped candy and a rainbow.
The pieces have a nice snap (obviously, since they broke easily before I got the bar). The flavor is creamy and has a slight dairy edge to it. I wasn’t wild about it, but I thought the packaging was sweet (a little too sweet and immature for me, but fun for a tween or teen and the fact that you can get sheets or pillows to match just sends it over the top for me).
What I found in the end was it didn’t have quite enough of a chocolate hit to me, but it went well with a handful of almonds and pretzels as a snack.
Finally, I got three bars from Cacao et Chocolat in Paris shortly after Christmas from my father. Two of the bars (including the one shown) were dark chocolate. One was called Teculi and was 79% cacao. It was rich yet still buttery. The bar was crisp and glossy and really smelled glorious. It has some fruity cherries in there, maybe raspberry and plum along with the deep cocoa notes.
The second bar (which looked an awful lot like the first so there’s not another photo) was called Tobago and was 88%. This one I actually still have about 1/3 sitting around in my chocolate box. It’s very dark and really a lot of effor to eat. It’s like a riot of flavors in my mouth. Some acidic notes of citrus (grapefruit mostly) and dark woodsy tones of cedar along with coffee ... but then it’s just too dry for me. I miss the creamy cocoa butter to float it all around on my tongue.
The final bar in the set was a white chocolate one (which I didn’t photograph because it was broken). It was glorious ... it was so buttery and though sweet, it had some wonderful cocoa background notes (I don’t know if it was deodorized cocoa butter as a base or it just assumed some of the chocolate flavors from being shipped to me with the other strong bars).
In my package were also some truffles, which didn’t look photo-worthy after their world travels, but I found them quite nice, very simple. Creamy, toasted flavors and a good buttery melt. They have a nice website in both French and English (though I don’t know if they’ll ship to North America). It looks like the kind of place I’d definitely put on my list of shops to visit (along with everywhere else David Lebovitz tours).
I give the whole pile of chocolate a 6 out of 10 with the standouts of the Mallorca Chocolate con Leche Avellana Caramelizada and Cacao et Chocolat White Chocolate bar at 8 out of 10 (bars I would buy for myself). I have no idea of the price on these and of course none of them have nutrition labels on them.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.