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
Friday, March 17, 2006
One of the candies of Easter that has always scared me has been the Russell Stover Cream Egg. Of course this all goes back to traumatic childhood experiences where I would get excited when my mother or grandmother would allow me a piece of candy from their fancy box of chocolates. I was allowed to pick only one, of course, and I always picked the foulest things (to my young palate). The Cream Eggs looked like a huge tease - all flash and style and no substance. I didn’t realize until I took this assignment that I was very wrong.
The unlikely first candidate was the Strawberry Cream Egg. It’s a milk chocolate egg with a frothy strawberry cream with real strawberry seeds! Kind of latexy looking filling, but it smells nice. Sweet, but with a nice smooth and fluffy consistency. The chocolate is good quality and not too sweet for the filling. The center is rather bland, I wasn’t detecting a lot of “strawberry” flavor to it. For my first try, this wasn’t bad. I think I’d prefer it with dark chocolate.
Next was the Coconut Cream Egg, which I expected this to be much too sweet. Just looking at it, it seemed to be more froth than coconut substance. I’m a huge fan of Mounds bars, and this is no Mounds bar. But putting aside the comparisons, it’s not too sweet, it’s fluffy and has really good coconut flavor without being oily. The dark chocolate provides the proper bittersweet balance to the whole thing. There were ample coconut bits in there, but not dense enough to make it chewy. These were pretty cheap when I picked them up, so if they’re even MORE on sale after the holiday, I might lay in a stock of them.
Finally there was the Maple Cream Egg, which is a dark chocolate egg with a whipped maple cream center. No maple trees were harmed in the creation of this treat as no maple ingredients were mentioned on the label. The maple flavor actually had a good woodsy quality to it, not just the high sweet notes. It reminded me more of pecan, but that’s a good flavor, too! Sweet, mellow and creamy, this is much better than I expected it to be. The understated bitterness of the dark chocolate really held this one together.
I have to thank the readers for suggesting these, I had no idea they were so fresh tasting. I was expecting a solid and bland fondant but instead it was quite a treat. Given a choice, I think I’ll always go for the dark chocolate ones. There are a few I didn’t try ... and now I’m looking forward to finding the coconut nests. There’s a huge assortment of flavors too, I didn’t see them all at the Rite Aid where I picked these up, but they also have a large number of “sugar free” varieties as well ... I’m not willing to try them myself, but if someone else can chime in on whether or not their good, they might make a nice treat for diabetic or dieting friends.
They’re also pretty satisfying as a single treat goes and because they’re mostly fluffed sugar, they’re much lower in calories than an all-chocolate candy, ranging from 130 to 150 calories for a single egg. If they don’t sell them near you, the web price for these nuggets by the case is pretty good, only $.49 cents per egg. I wish they sold a sampler case that had two of each in it. I’d really like to try the Pecan/Caramel one.
Thursday, February 2, 2006
Do you ever wish that Chick-o-Sticks came in larger bars? Ever wish that Butterfingers didn’t come with that fake chocolate? Ever want a little coconut on your 5th Avenue?
Zagnut has been around for ages and was once proudly made by the Clark company in Pittsburgh alongside the more famous grandfather, the Clark Bar. For some reason when the Clark company was broken up the Clark bar went to NECCO and the Zagnut bar went to Hershey’s. I have no explanation for this. My guess is that Clark was struggling to stay afloat and of course couldn’t sell off their namesake bar as a way to raise capital.
The bar was first introduced in 1930. (The Clark bar came out in 1917.) In a weird way, we have the military to thank for many of our favorite candy bars. Confectioners were usually enlisted to create ration bars for servicemen as quick and easy-to-carry calories. Servicemen would often get a taste for the bars (most of which were made with nuts and chocolate for a balance of protein, fats and carbs) and introduce them to their families back home.
The Zagnut bar, like the Chick-o-Stick is a great summer alternative to the 5th Avenue, because it has no chocolate coating to melt. It’s a large, flattened log of honeycombed peanut butter and molasses crisp. The flavorful and smooth center has a nice sparkle of salt in it and the toasty coconut on the outside goes surprisingly well with the molasses and peanut flavors. There’s some sort of a peanut/white chocolate coating on the bar, just enough to get the coconut to stick. If anything, this bar seemed more like a 5th Avenue than a Clark. (That’s a compliment.)
It’s a solid, midrange performer when it comes to candy bars, a good backup when maybe you don’t want an Almond Joy or maybe want a little more crunch than a 3 Musketeers. I know some folks aren’t keen on them, but now that Hershey’s has them in their stable, I’m actually seeing them more often. Now all they have to do is replace the hydrogenated oils in there.
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)
Friday, December 9, 2005
Name: Plush Puffs Assortment
Yes, artisanal marshmallows. And why not? The stuff we’ve been getting from Kraft are not what marshmallows are capable of. And those things that you find in cereal? Please, let’s not even grace them with the name marshmallow. They’re not even marshy!
I was sent a generous sample pack from Ann of Plush Puffs, which is based here in Los Angeles (Sherman Oaks, to be exact). The weird thing is that until I started Candy Blog, I didn’t really think much of marshmallows. Besides the See’s Scotchmallows, there were very few marshmallow things that I would even try. Peeps were never on the menu, but I have been known to toast marshmallows, if only because they’re the only grillable dessert I know.
Instead of just plain marshmallows, Plush Puffs are flavored with intense combinations of spice, nuts and/or fruit essences:
Caramel Swirl - I think I’d rename this one to “sticky toffee” because it had a nice carmelized sugar note to it and it was sticky. It was very sweet and had a little bit of caramelly fudge topping on it.
Chocolate Chipetta - this is the only one that doesn’t feel “sweet” to me. It’s rich and toasty tasting with a good chocolate hit. One of my top three flavors.
Maple Pecan - holy moly! These were really good. The maple flavor wasn’t artificial or chemically like some candies can be. It was a good sweet woodsy backdrop to the sweet, chewy foam. It had almost a toffee-like flavor and I even had a few pecans in mine.
Peppi-Mint - it’s like a fluffy candy cane! Seriously minty, like someone’s made a foam Altoid or something. The color and texture looks more like a cake than a marshmallow but the intense flavor made me want to eat both but I settled for doing a mash-up with the Chocolate Chipetta which was really good. One of my top three flavors.
Toasted Coconut - this one smelled divine and tasted just a good. I love coconut and I love the nutty smell that reminds me of the beach and all the kids that could tan wearing that coconut oil suntan lotion. One of my top three flavors.
Sydney’s Cinnamon - this was not my favorite, though I had high hopes for it. It’s definitely cinnamonny, but it also has cinnamon oil, which gives it more of a candy hit than a spiciness (like eating a cinnamon hard candy). But where this puff really showed itself was in the toasting. (see below)
Vanilla Bean - I know, vanilla, kind of bland. It wasn’t really bland, a little salty and it just didn’t wow me. I think this would be good with something else, like maybe over pie or toasted or in s’mores.
Sam’s Sour Lemon - these had a gorgeous zesty lemon smell and pretty creamy and vivid yellow swirls in them. Calling them “sour” lemon doesn’t work at all for me (in fact, I would call them “zesty” lemon instead) but the flavor is really nice and mellow. I also didn’t care much for the mix of textures wtih the crunchy lemon sugar but it’s not a dealbreaker or anything.
There’s one more flavor on their list that for some reason I didn’t get in my grab bag, which is the one that sadly interested me most - Orange Honey. The honey flavor is not that noticeable in the other Plush Puffs but is one of the things that I’ve always found so intense about the See’s Scotchmallows. (I guess I’ll have to place an order.)
Per the recommendation of Ann at Plush Puffs, I tried some in my tea and of course toasted some of Sydney’s cinnamon:
I brewed a cup of Revolution Lavender Earl Grey tea and and dropped in about a quarter of a puff (I didn’t want to overload). As I took the photos I noticed the marshmallow dissolving into a beautiful aromatic foam. I enjoyed the combination of flavors, the creaminess of the marshmallow, the interaction of the botanicals of bergamot, lemon and lavender was really nice. And of course the sweetness of the puff was a nice change from my usually naked tea. Even after I’d slurped off the foamy dissolved puffiness there was still a nice lingering sweetness and lemony flavor. Definitely a cool way to decorate an ordinary after-dinner or afternoon tea. I still prefer my naked tea, because that’s just the way I am.
The drink marshmallows were invented for, of course, is hot chocolate. I got some amazing Mayan Hot Chocolate mix from Xocoatl from my sister-in-law at Thanksgiving which I made here at the office with some milk in the microwave. In went a half of a Sydney’s Cinnamon. Instead of dissolving in a bubbly foam and spreading across the surface like the lemon one in the tea did, this one hung together really well. But once I tried poking it with a spoon it melted completely. I scooped it up like some sort of dessert soup with some of the hot chocolate and enjoyed that until all I had left was my cocoa broth. The spice of the cinnamon went really well with the Mayan chocolate which already had a hit of spices in it.
I kept a few of the Sydney’s Cinnamon aside for toasting. I loaded one up on a carving fork because I know that a single prong really doesn’t do very well with a marshmallow. I put it over the open flame on the gas burner on my stove and it carmelized so beautifully and left the house smelling so good, I think I’ll just start toasting these like incense. Here’s a tip about toasting them. They’re huge. They’re actually too big to toast whole. There’s no way to get a fully molten center (I do not like medium rare toasted marshmallows) with a marshmallow this size. What is so intense about these is that they melt even at moderate heat, which turns them into this molten, intense foamy sauce with a crispy carmelized shell. In the future I think I’ll slice them in half and then have a greater surface area to center ratio.
I’ve been looking for a summer dessert to have after grilling and this just might be the thing. Everyone can choose their own flavor and I think it’d be really cool to make some grown-up s’mores and drinks with them. They don’t quite fit into the “candy” family for me for some reason. They feel more like food, maybe that’s because they’re so satisfying and slightly saltier (more savory) than an ordinary marshmallow.
I should go back and add them to the gift guide, especially since they have baskets where you can choose the selection of flavors. Also, if you’re dubious about them, you can try their “scraps” which are not quite perfect marshmallows. I love factory stores. Overall this is the kind of thing I’d like to offer guests at a party and I can see myself ordering them for a summer grill or maybe part of dessert a holiday cocktail party. I don’t see myself just ordering them to eat, maybe it’s because they feel kind of precious being handmade and all, I just can bring myself to just wolf them down like so many handfuls of M&Ms or Skittles.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Friday, November 11, 2005
Name: Coconut Slice
I’ve seen this a few times while in the 99 Cent Only store. My neighbor, Robin, won $99 worth of gift certificates to the store, so on our recent shopping trip I was a lot more adventurous with my choices (cuz it was really free).
This candy is basically a coconut slab, kind of like a fruit rollup ... call it coconut leather. The different colored strips might actually be flavored. I detected a little bit of raspberry in the red stripe, but really couldn’t tell the difference between the yellow one and the white one.
The coconut is chewy and not too sweet. If you like coconut and don’t want to bother with all that other stuff like nuts and chocolate, this is the stuff for you. Two grams of fiber in each bar but it does contain about 5 grams of saturated fat (that’s the coconut oil).
Tom’s isn’t really known for their candies, more for their nuts and snacks. They seem like rather a niche company (based in Georgia) and I don’t often see their products here on the West Coast except for the nuts, and those are usually at convenience stores on the highway.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Thursday, October 20, 2005
These have always scared me. I think because they’re called Chick-o-Sticks and look like they could be chicken legs. Not something I’d consider to be a sweet treat. And let’s face it, the orange color is pretty freaky. The Atkinson site doesn’t really say why they’re called that except that that’s what they’ve always been called.
What they really are is a peanut butter toffee crisp covered in coconut. Pretty simple. A lot like the inside of a Butterfinger bar, but a bit more solid (as you can see in the close up if you click on the photo).
The taste is good, sweet with a nice hit of salt and a really good roasted peanut butter flavor. Even though the coconut looks pretty minimal, the taste is pretty significant. Unlike some of the other crisped peanut butter candies, this one contains no trans fats, in fact the only fat in it comes from the peanut butter itself. They’re much easier to carry around than some chocolate candies because it doesn’t melt, so I can see this being a good treat for hiking or shipping long distances (the Atkinson website mentions shipping them to Iraq).
I know, I need to get a hold of a Clark bar and Zagnut to round out my tour of peanut crisp.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Name: Almond Joy Cookies
I know they say they’re cookies, but if something is coated in real chocolate and has a creamy filling, it’s probably a candy. I mean, no one calls Twix a cookie.
I tried the York version of these over the summer and absolutely loved them. They fixed everything that’s wrong with the Girl Scout Thin Mints ... York Peppermint Patty cookies have no trans fats and real chocolate. The Almond Joy cookies aren’t quite as revolutionary, but they’re dang tasty.
It starts with a crisp chocolate cookie on the bottom then is slathered in a lighter coconut cream (not as dense as the center of an Almond Joy) that has some crushed almonds mixed in. The whole thing is dipped in real milk chocolate.
It was very coco-nutty tasting, very smooth. Sweet, but with a lot of different textures including a little hit of salt from the cookie.
They’re really pricey for a cookie, but only slightly more expensive than a regular candy bar. The serving size on the package says all four cookies, but I was pretty satisfied with only two of them.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.