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
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
Monday, April 3, 2006
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to participate in the tasteEverything Independent Food Awards, I was thrilled to see the other awards given. But the first one that I made an effort to get a hold of was the Sahagun Salted Caramels. Since I’m not going to get to Portland anytime soon, my husband mentioned it to friends there and they went right out and
bought me some (and some for themselves)!
I’m not quite sure what they all are, but I had to start with the caramels, which I knew were the tall ones with the nuts on top because the one in the back was actually broken in shipping. These are fantastic! The chocolate is smooth and mellow and the caramel filling is unlike most other caramels I’ve ever had. It was dark and complex, with quite a bit of salt in it and a gooey but not flowing texture. I hesitate to say that it was jelly-like or custard-like, but it definitely wasn’t quite caramel. The crunch of the hazelnut on top brings all the textures together.
The real find is that amorphous blob there on the right. I had no idea what it was going to be. It was a dark chocolate shell with a white chocolate coconut center. It’s hard to describe. Instead of the drab sweet center of a Mounds bar, this is a delicate and mild buttery base filled with soft and chewy coconut. I have never experienced coconut like this before.
The coffee truffle (not pictured) was shaped like a big button and dusted with cocoa and very smooth and soft a very strong coffee flavor. It wasn’t sweet at all, just like a cup of coffee without sugar would be. It was quite a refreshing change from many of the “too sweet” Easter candies I’ve been gorging on.
The other sphere there on the left, that’s dusted with a luster powder, is a plain chocolate truffle. Like the coffee one, it wasn’t sugary at all, except this one has a chocolate shell, which adds a touch of sweetness. The center is buttery and dense and quite satisfying.
The little medallions of chocolate we also dusted with that luster powder. I find it a little unappealing, like someone spilled their eyeshadow on my candy. But it doesn’t taste like anything that I can tell. (I know these edible lusters are quite trendy now, but it you haven’t already guess, I’m not really the trendy sort.) The coins were simply dark chocolate and it gave me an opportunity to experience the chocolate used in all of these creations on its own. It’s mellow and only slightly sweet with a dry, bitter bite towards the end, as plain eating chocolate is quite nice, but it really shines when used in combination with the other ingredients here.
The last item I didn’t even take a photo of, it was a what I thought was a nut bark. Oh, I should have known that it wasn’t going to be run of the mill. I have no idea what it’s called, but it’s dark chocolate with spicy corn nuts. The salty, extra crunchy and slight burn of the corn nuts went really well with the chocolate. It hardly felt like a sweet at all, but was entirely satisfying and possibly addictive. Of course it’s probably a good thing
From everything I’ve heard the best part about Sahagun is visiting the shop, so if you’re in Portland, OR, make a point of it. They’re at 10 N.W. 16th Ave. You can read more in this interview at Portland Food and Drink.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:53 am
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Name: Max Brenner Chocolates: Dark Chicao, Waffle & Milk Chocolate Cubes
Here’s a little Hanukkah treat for everyone, some Israeli chocolates! The Max Brenner package says “Creating a New Chocolate Culture” and I’m inclined to hop on board this philosophy. Michal, a candyblog.net reader, sent me these wonderful treats and I’m very impressed by the combination of flavors, textures, the simplicity of ingredients and most of all, the playfulness of the packages and formats.
Dark Chicao: Dark chocolate thins with Ecuadorian cocoa bits. These are rather similar to the Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs I tried and loved recently. I was a little scared when I took them out of the tin because they looked a little chalky, but we can chalk that up to their trip half way around the planet to get to me. They were a little bruised but tasted phenomenal. Dark, dark chocolate with crunchy nibs. The chocolate is buttery with a strong woodsy essence and a slight dry finish. Because there’s so much cacao in there and not much sugar they don’t get me hyped up the same way a chocolate bar does. At 75% cacao though, they’re probably giving me some sort of theobromine high.
Waffle: Crispy Belgian waffle in milk chocolate praline. I’ve had many bars like this and they’ve usually ended up being too much cookie and not enough chocolate or too waxy or greasy. Here’s a wonderful balance of chocolate, soft flavors and crispy waffle with a hint of hazelnut. The box is fun (the size of a pencil box with a tray/sleeve to pull out and reveal the candies) and the size of the little drops is just right, two bites for me. The Max Brenner milk chocolate is very rich, with 52% cacao, it’s darker than many consumer dark chocolates.
Milk Chocolate Cubes: Michal was good enough to translate the boxes for these. They’re minitruffles I’m guessing, one set is “Milk Chocolate Cubes filled with Hazelnut Praline and Caramelized Pecan Bits” and the other is Milk Chocolate Cubes filled with “Caramel Hazelnut Praline and Roasted coconut” (well, those are not really cubes, more like spheroids). The hazelnut/pecan one is sweet and toasty, like a hit of toffee only in a milk chocolate with just a few flakes of crispy to it. They’re very rich and sticky and should probably be consumed with some strong coffee. (Or the Dark Chicaos!). The coconuts were amazing fun. Instead of soft coconut like you’d find in a Mounds of Bounty bar, this is crispy coconut that adds a bit of crunch and chew to the sweet milk chocolate. The boxes are cool because they’re designed to be a greeting card or favor of sorts. You can write a little message on the back like those Valentines boxes of candy that we used to exchange in junior high.
I’m digging Mr. Brenner’s new chocolate culture. Their packaging is interesting and not overdone. The little mylar packs kept everything fresh and the design on them is really inventive, slightly self-deprecating and sets it apart from a lot of other candy that I’ve seen that positions itself in this part of the upscale market.
Rating - 9 out of 10 (now I just need to find a source in the States)
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Name: Chocolate Truffles
I know, I’ve said it before but I truly believe that candy is for the masses. I’m not sure if this counts as candy - it might be edible art or perhaps just some sort of upscale “proof of exclusivity.” They’re just chocolates, so why are they so damn expensive?
I only bought four, because they were so dang expensive. They are, from left to right - Bronte: Raspberry & Earl Grey; Maya: Espresso; Veda: Ginger and Jade: Green Tea. (I think they all had chic names.)
The raspberry & earl grey was my first try - it was definitely the one that I was most interested in. We’d started our visit with some caramel ice cream and another scoop of their black tea ice cream. These folks know how to work with botanicals. The raspberry flavoring is in an ultra-soft and creamy bittersweet chocolate center. After that melts onto the tongue, a dryness is noticeable and then the bergamot of the Earl Grey really shines. I could have used more chocolate taste though.
The green tea was next and didn’t really thrill me. The texture at first was beautifully smooth. The center on this one is a creamy, well, cream, no chocolate there. The green tea gave it a woodsy flavor but also a bit of a chalkiness (I’m guessing they used matcha instead of an essence).
Espesso was definitely coffee-ish. Predictable - but dependable. Smooth, woodsy, strong and with a slight smokey quality and a caffeinated charge with bits of espresso beans on the top.
The only milk chocolate choice I made was the ginger one (which the woman at the counter said was her personal favorite). Upon biting into it, the ginger was wonderfully fragrant. It didn’t smell like powdered ginger, it was fresh and zesty. The milk chocolate is a great foundation for this.
All the centers were a bit too buttery for me - they needed a bit more of the cocoa solids or something for it to not feel like I was eating a stick of butter.
So there you have it, my two favorites are Veda and Bronte with Maya making a good showing. Will I buy them again? Unlikely. But if someone were to give them to me as a gift, well, I’d tsk, tsk and protest that you shouldn’t have and then probably give you a kiss.
Name: Fruit Pate
The other purchase, which was much more affordable were the slabs of fruit pate. Think fruit jellies and then jam twice as much flavor in them and you’ve got fruit pate. I picked up three of these flavors:
Raspberry, Blood Orange and something called Calamansi which is a Philippino citrus similar to a lime.
These are more flavorful and a bit fresher feeling that those Sunkist fruit gems (which I also enjoy). Of course no one’s going to mass produce uncommon flavors like calamansi so you have to go to one of these places to get that kind of stuff. In fact, the calamansi was divine. It was zesty, tart and sweet. It was like lime but also had some grapefruit notes to it. I’m definitely going to keep my eye out for this fruit in other forms. The raspberry was really flavorful, like distilled jam but the blood orange was a little bland after all that. I’d definitely buy these again and would look for some more exotic tea/botanical essences.
Ratings - Chocolate Truffles - 7 out of 10 (for $2.50 each, they should do the dishes or wash my car)
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