Monday, January 21, 2008
Here’s the second half of my notes on the Fancy Food Show in San Diego last week.
The cool thing about Malie Kai is that they do more than just plain chocolate, they have some combination bars as well ... and as you might expect they include Hawaiian items like Kona coffee and macadamia nuts as well as citrus and almonds. Lovely two ounce bars and wonderful hospitality at their booth. I’m looking forward to tasting the full bar I picked up.
Jeff Shepherd is always a delight when I visit at his booth displaying his goodies from Lillie Belle Farms. I got to try the Smokey Blue Truffle again ... it’s growing on me. I like the crunchy almonds and the smooth creaminess of the chocolate ganache. The bite of the Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese is pretty interesting, it creates a little buzz on the tongue. It feels more like food than candy, but that’s not a bad thing either.
The other fascinating item he had that was brand new was a wild chocolate bar ... that is, chocolate made from cocoa beans harvested in the wild, not from plantation-raised trees. I wish I had a photo of it, it’s not on the website yet. As you can imagine, there can’t be a lot of these since wild cacao is exceptionally rare and hard to harvest. Of course it’s also a very limited edition.
Haribo was also there with a their same booth. I don’t really have anything to report on their product line. I know they have their new Root Beer Gummis and as much as I’m a fan of root beer as a flavor, these just don’t do it for me (they might be too citrusy). I did have a few of their spectacular Pink Grapefruit Slices though. You can just enjoy these close ups of their lightbox display:
Jo’s Candies based here on the Los Angeles area will have some new Vanilla Caramels available at all their usual outlets. They were soft and tasty, perhaps a bit more milky than buttery than I’m used to, but super-traditional in plain wax paper and sold in clear bags.
I also enjoy Elegant Gourmet’s booth every year. They have stunning handmade lollipops and hard candies that look like painted ponies on a carousel.
I’ve never pictured their candies as an everyday sort of sweet, but for special occasions like baby showers, weddings and gifts, they’re something to consider.
Acapella Gourmet has an awesome new line of “coffeelatte” called Caffe Acapella ... basically, it’s cocoa butter mixed with coffee solids (coffee beans) instead of cocoa solids. So it’s not coffee flavored, it’s coffee! I have a few samples of those for a full review later.
Vosges made their first appearance at a trade show I’ve attended. They had everything in their repertoir out for tasting. I had a little sip of their white chocolate/vanilla/lavender/lemon myrtle drink (even though I’ve had it before) and had a few tastes of some other their items I haven’t tried. (No, they wouldn’t send me home with any samples for later.)
I tried a few of the caramels, being especially careful to stay away from anything with walnuts and was definitely pleased. It’s a stiff caramel, not too chewy but soft and with good buttery notes. I think the next thing of theirs I’m going to plunk down some money for is their Volcano Island Honey Truffle collection.
The Fancy Food Show always has a good showing of companies with honey and maple syrup. I picked up a few samples from Canadian company, mopure. They’re just little transparent maple leaves made from maple syrup. (I’m sure their maple syrup is awesome too, but I’m not much of a syrup user ... but if they offered me that bottle as a sample, I’d be all over it.)
Other items I picked up samples of:
For the most part I zoomed through the show this year. I usually take all three days and spend a lot of time with each company. This year I had my priority hit list and made it to most of them. A few I didn’t get to I know I can probably visit with at ExpoWest in March down in Anaheim (like Theo’s new Phinney bars). Of course my speed meant a lot fewer take home samples (usually I have conversations to discuss what I might be interested in taking home for a full review) but the money I saved on not having to get a hotel room in San Diego can now go to buying that candy instead.
(All above photos by Emanuel Treeson.)
Monday, January 14, 2008
Yesterday I had the great fortune of attending the Fancy Food Show in San Diego and then sleeping in my own bed.
As with my usual style when attending a trade show with a lot of food, I rarely eat any of it on the floor, I take it home for sampling later. But here are some brief thoughts of what I did see (and wasn’t able to bring home for a full review). I also brought along a photographer! (My husband was so kind to record some important football game and come with me instead of sitting around the house all day.)
K. L. Keller Imports was showing a lot of stuff that I’ve already had before, like lavender honey from Spain and Suprem’ Nougat by G. Savin from France. They also had some new nougats from South Africa from Walters that are a little lighter and fluffier and feature pecans and macadamia nuts instead of the traditional almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios. They also had some great chocolate covered candied nuts called Cude Catanies from Spain. Fantastic. Crunchy, sweet, chocolaty, nutty ... everything you would want from those ingredients.
I spent a few minutes at Coco-Luxe which makes truffles and the candied almonds covered in chocolate and cocoa shown here called Block Party Almonds. Like so many chocolatiers that show off at the Fancy Food Show, Coco-Luxe is based in San Francisco and was founded by Stephanie Marcon.
The bulk of their products are truffles, made in the tile-style. In the case of Marcon’s, they little transfer design on top is usually a good indication of what’s inside. Her flavors are usually based on popular desserts such as Banana Split, Devil’s Food, Gingerbread and Mocha. However, I asked for something that was not out on display that I’d read about, which was their Rose for Valentine’s Day. It has a touch of honey and is made with rose water (instead of rose flavoring). It was fresh and light and not the slightest bit like eating soap. Their other two flavors for the Valentine’s box are Champagne and a plain dark chocolate they call Pure Devotion. Awwwww.
I was happy to see another west coast confectioner there called Cary’s of Oregon. They make excellent toffee and are featured at CocoaBella in San Francisco. I wanted to try more of their items though, so they were on my list as a must-stop.
Most of all I wanted to try their Milk Chocolate with Chai Tea Toffee. It’s a nice fluffy crunch that doesn’t become a tacky lump in your teeth. The flavor is buttery and of course the milk chocolate goes really well with the spice of chai. (They have another with Mango Tea and dark chocolate, but that wasn’t really up my alley)
Sweetfields isn’t quite a candy company, but I thought I should at least put them in my notes. They make candied flowers. They had a beautiful display right on a corner at the show that did stop me dead my tracks. They had piles and piles of sparkly, preserved violas.
They’re stiff but look velvety soft in their “crystal glaze”. They don’t taste like much, a little bit of raspberry essence is thrown in, which is a nice floral flavor. The sugar melts away and of course there’s a teensy bit of the flower petals left. They had larger displays of pansies with their dark throats and primary-bright petals. They’d be wonderful on desserts like petit fours or of course wedding cakes. I could also see them as a lovely garnish for a dessert plate or on top of a truffle.
They also had some lovely little kits for true vanilla obsessionalists that have beans from all over the world so you can do your own taste test. See their site for more.
One of the people at the top of my list (but who wasn’t on the official list of exhibitors) was Larry Slotnick, who was showing off his new stone ground chocolate from his company, Taza Chocolate. Stone ground, you say?
Yes, big plates of stone grind together to create a slurry of ground cocoa beans to make the cocoa liquor that is the basis of this food of the gods. He has an array of three bars so far in his repertoir 60%, 70% and 80% plus the Chocolate Mexicano which is a traditional style Mexican puck. I tasted this and I can say, as you might think, it’s very rustic. It also has a wonderfully different flavor profile and texture. First, it tastes like bananas and caramel, the texture is grainy but still smooth in that it dissolves pretty easily on the tongue (I’m guessing more available cocoa butter to melt and distribute the flavors on the tongue). I’ll have more on this later when I get a hold of an actual full-sized sample.
I had a lovely time visiting with the women at the Belgium’s Best Chocolates booth. First, the packaging and sheer quantity of chocolate bars on display was stunning. Galler has a great package design that always reminds me of art supplies - like they’re boxes of paints or oil pastels. They also carry Dolfin which I’ve reviewed before in their lovely large bars in “tobacco pouches”. The new mini bars I picked up are White Pepper & Cardamom and Lavender & Dark Chocolate. (I also have a super-dark bar sitting around that I need to review as well.)
Poco Dolce knocked my socks off with their Burnt Caramel Bittersweet Tiles. Not quite toffee, there was no butter getting in the way of this intense burnt sugar flavor along with a nice complement of salt and smooth dark chocolate. But the real reason I stopped at their booth was because I saw that Kathy Wiley, the creator of these San Francisco confections, was also introducing a line of nougats. Drat! She didn’t have them with her. Oh well, I get to San Francisco quite often and of course they have a web store.
Whew! I’m only about a third of the way through my notes, so more tomorrow. (You can peek at all the photos here.)
I’ll have more later. Here’s a tease ... stone ground chocolate ... all-American chocolate grown on Oahu ... chai tea toffee ... honey and lemon licorice ... new nougats.
Friday, January 11, 2008
On New Year’s Eve we tried something a little different. For the past few years we’d done grown-up things, like have a nice dinner party where my husband makes an excellent feast of something like homemade pot pies or a roast of some kind.
This year it was bit more low key, but I usually make the dessert so I decided to make it more interactive.
Specifically, after giving my studio a little purge, I gathered up the errant and orphaned candies into a bowl, bought two tubes of Pillsbury Crescent Roll dough and pre-heated the oven.
My neighbor Robin and I just took what was lying around and wrapped it in dough and baked it.
She was very conservative, erring with items that actually sounded good. Things like shaved chocolate with crushed almonds. Orange marmalade. Shaved chocolate with orange marmalade and so on.
I, on the other hand, was curious to see what would happen with things that didn’t necessarily sound good at first. My experiments included:
The process is pretty simple. Just follow the directions on the package of your Pillsbury (or other brand) Crescent Rolls. My biggest suggestion is to use baking parchment on your baking sheet, as it is extremely likely that something will leak and this prevents sticking and makes cleanup a snap. I baked them for the recommended time and found that the centers generally ended up hot and melted but not burned.
In general simpler, consistently textured items work best. While I enjoyed the less-sweet taste of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in a Crescent, it was kind of dry because of the baked peanut butter and smaller proportion of chocolate that seemed to creep into the corners. A similar thing happened with the 3 Musketeers Mini. First, the Mini is too small, I think a Fun Size would work better. Second, the center stays intact but the chocolate goes everywhere. The center also seems to get a bit more grain to it, especially if you left the roll cool completely. The Peppermint Pattie was rather dreadful, as the center became inconsistent ... a little chewy in places and in other places downright chalky. The Pecan Pralines turned out fantastic, just like a Pecan Sticky Bun filling. The M&Ms’ shell seemed to lose its color (that’s the lavender blob in the first picture), which I’ve never had happen before with baking with M&Ms, there must be more moisture in crescent roll dough than cookie dough. The Lemon Jelly was tasty and moist but a little bland. The Java Twix was baffling, we couldn’t figure out what it was, it was just sweet and grainy. A twice baked cookie is probably not a good idea. (Though I’m still curious about what would happen with a KitKat.)
For the record, Robin’s Shaved Dark Chocolate with Blood Orange Marmalade was good, probably the best of the bunch.
After tasting about eight of them, we all felt a little sick and the rest remained untouched, so I can’t say whether they were considered successes or not. They’re definitely better right out of the oven, so if you’re making them for a small group, try baking three or four at a time in succession instead of all at once to pace yourself.
For kids it’s a fun little, “no mess, low stress” thing to do, maybe even for a party. I can also recommend marking them somehow ... we couldn’t figure out what some of them were and it’d only been 20 minutes since we made them! (Okay, it was New Years and we’d already had a bottle of wine.)
This is definitely an experiment I plan to continue. I saw that Pillsbury makes a jumbo roll, which might be better for larger candy bars, like a Snickers Fun Size. I also want to know what happens when you put taffy, hard candies, marshmallows or caramels in there. You can also just use candy-like ingredients like Nutella, Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chips, Sprinkles, Crushed Candies and so on ...
So, have you ever tried something like this and how did it turn out?
I give the results of this project a 6 out of 10.
Friday, January 04, 2008
I think my best score was in the baking aisle at Von’s where they had Smooth & Melty mint chips on sale for $1.24 for 12 ounces. (I also bought two bags of the regular Guittard Chips which were also 66% off, you know, just cuz.)
I have to call ludicrous hooey on this product on the Williams-Sonoma site: Handmade Peppermint Snow (6 ounces). Guess what it is? Yes, you are correct, it’s crushed red and white peppermints. Handmade peppermints. All in this lovely jar and marked down from $10 to $6.99 ... what a deal!
Crate & Barrel has Mini Mighty Marshmallows (4.5 ounces) marked down from $6.95 to $1.75.
Dean and Deluca has one fabulous deal to report, these Karmamel Kickbacks (21 ounces) marked down from $48 to $12. They sound really good, “includes chocolate, chocolate nut, kahlua, mint, nougat caramel and pecan nougat center. Individually wrapped in a gift box and adorned with red ribbon.
Godiva is offering up to 50% off in their post-holiday Chocolate Covered Sale.
Artisan Sweets has a deal on French Candied Chestnuts marked down from $50 to $25.
Lake Champlain has had a few interesting items cycle in and out of their sale bin. Check out the current list here.
Chocosphere always has chocolate on sale in their bargain basement. Right now they have some Domori bars for half off. Always something good to take a chance on in there.
Have you found anything ridiculously cheap lately?
Thursday, January 03, 2008
I wrote this February 16, 2007 and it’s been sitting in my drafts folder ever since. I opened it up because I was researching some of the info in here because my husband has a bit of a cough right now. I’m not sure why I never posted this.
So I went to the doctor today. Because I’ve lost my voice. Because I’ve been coughing a lot. Because I have asthmatic bronchitis.
Blah, blah, blah.
I go round and round with this. I’ve been getting bronchitis rather regularly since I reached adulthood. (However, this is the first case since I started on Singulair two years ago, so cutting my incidence in half is a success in my book.)
While I was waiting for the doctor (who kindly fit me in on a Friday late in the afternoon on a holiday weekend) I was reading a magazine called WebMD. Mostly because all of the other magazines available were either golf related or about parenting. This one had Hugh Laurie on the cover, who is not a doctor but plays one on TV (and plays an American, to boot).
It was filled with lovely factoid pages, with a special section that advised me to use the first stall in a public bathroom because it’s the least used and least germy and to never, ever touch the handrails on an escalator ... because after all, I don’t want some rhino virus on my fingers when it’s much better to stumble face first into those spiky edges of the moving stairs ... much better to embed those germs into open wounds. But again, I digress. Somewhere there was a page that mentioned that chocolate is a good cough suppressant.
At that moment I think I hacked up part of my lung and then went and had it X-rayed to be sure. (To clarify, they X-rayed my chest, I discretely disposed of the thing I coughed up.)
I made a mental note that I had to research this further, however, I went home with a lovely prescription for a promising cough medicine called Tessalon (you remember him from the Lord of the Rings books, right?), so it was only kind of in the back of my mind at that point.
After several hours of feeling better (though still unable to speak above a whisper), I recalled my mission:
In November 2004, the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology published a study that examined the efficacy of using theobromine in chocolate as an anti-tussive (cough suppressant). The study found that 1000 mgs suppressed coughs as well as codeine for four hours with no side effects. (Check this out: Theobromine inhibits sensory nerve activation and cough.)
Last time I tried to go to the store and buy pure theobromine I was stymied.
Now, my big question is how much chocolate do you have to eat to get that 1,000 mgs of theobromine?
Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Bar (1.45 oz) has 184mg of Theobromine
It’s obvious the best bang for the buck is gonna be straight cocoa. So, one tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa has 12 calories and 111 mgs of theobromine. So if I need to consume 1,000 mgs every four hours, I’ll need to eat ... um, a lot of cocoa (9 tablespoons/108 calories per dose and figure I’m awake for 16 hours a day that’d mean 36 tablespoons/432 calories). That’s a lot of calories with very little enjoyment. (I’d figure I would put them in gelatin capsules and swallow them.)
Now of course the tastier way to do involves actual chocolate. I don’t think I’d be able to stomach the amount of baker’s chocolate required, so let’s just go with the assumption that an ounce of high quality very dark chocolate (70%+) has about 300 mgs of theobromine. So 3.5 ounces is required, which just so happens to be the normal size for many premium bars. I would figure I would buy them by the box, because I’ll be needing to eat four of those a day. And logging 550 calories on average with each one ... um, yeah, that’s pretty much whole whole day’s caloric intake (on days where I’m particularly active, I might add).
The average price for a premium super dark bar is about $3.50 ... so it would cost $14 a day. But then again, because it’d be my full day’s worth of calories, I wouldn’t have to cook or eat anything else!
The thing to take away from all this though is that a strong cup of hot chocolate when you have a serious cough just might be the best thing for you. Try one quarter cup of good quality cocoa, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 8-10 ounces of milk. Heat over the stove in a small saucepan or in the microwave. Be careful not to boil. Drink. Feel better.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
When I was a kid my grandmother made caramels every year for Christmas. We’d get a huge tin from her to take home, each piece wrapped in twisted plain wax paper. They were bigger than an adult’s thumb, at least two bites. Soft and chewy, stringy and long-lasting. Buttery, milky and not too sweet, they were usually made with some sort of nut. Sometimes hickory nuts but usually walnuts or pecans.
When I was 16 years old my grandmother gave me the recipe (I’d been begging for it since I was twelve) along with a candy thermometer (which I broke some years later after my third move).
They’re not easy to make. The ingredients and technique is simple, but it’s time consuming. It also helps for it to be a dry day. Humidity is the enemy of caramels.
The sugar and corn syrup are boiled over medium high heat until they become clear. Stir constantly but not vigorously, scraping down the sides to incorporate any sugar crystals.You shouldn’t be able to see any undissolved sugar crystals. Make sure your pot is heavy and sturdy.
Then add, bit by bit, small pieces of the butter and little tips of the milk. If the mixture boils up a lot when you’ve added it, you’ve added it too quickly. Keep stirring and adding. This process can take at least five minutes.
Once they’re added in, add the candy thermometer and stir constantly until the mixture reaches soft ball stage (235 F). Be sure to move the candy thermometer to mix behind it or else you’ll be little burned bits.
Once at soft ball, turn off the heat and add nuts. Pour out into either a greased large pan (9 x 14) or onto a piece of buttered marble. (Parchment works well, too.)
Allow to cool completely (overnight), then cut into small bites and wrap in waxed paper. Cellophane is okay, but tends to stick more (but is obviously prettier). You can put a little sprinkle of artisan salt on them if you like.
Now, this year was the first time I’ve made the caramels in about four years. The vexing part was that I didn’t want to use Karo because it contains high fructose corn sweetener. So I went on the hunt of some sort of real corn syrup. I finally found it at Whole Foods, but instead of coming in a 16 ounce bottle (the amount I needed) it came in an 11.5 ounce bottle. And it was the last one. So I bought the closest thing I could find to a corn syrup, which was a rice syrup. This happened to be brown rice syrup. Now, looking back at this, it may not have been a good idea. Corn syrup is made of glucose, primarily. Rice syrup is maltose and a little glucose. So it has a different flavor profile and likely a different chemical behavior when boiled. Glucose is a monosaccharide and maltose is a disaccharide.
In addition, my mother was helping me out and reflexively picked up skimmed evaporated milk instead of the whole variety. We decided to use it anyway, instead of going back into the store. (Nothin’ more fun than a grocery store on the weekend before Christmas, eh?)
So, here’s the new recipe and outcome:
As with above, I boiled the sugar and syrups. However, it never became clear. It was always a little cloudy, but eventually became transparent. The important thing is to be sure that the sugar crystals have completely dissolved.
The rest goes as above as well, just added the butter and milk. The color, however, was darker and smelled more malty than buttery during the whole process.
I was a little nervous that it wasn’t going to caramelize properly because of the different sugar balance and lack of milk fats from the evaporated milk, so I went slightly over the soft ball stage because the water drop test seemed a little soft. (You take a spoon of caramel and drop it into a glass of cold water and then pull it out and feel the texture.)
The color is much darker, but the flavor is absolutely wonderful. I don’t miss the slightly less fat in it (it probably has less water when it boils so long, so the concentration of fat is probably similar).
I’m not at all scared to use the brown rice syrup again, but I’ll probably still keep it at a half & half balance instead of completely replacing the corn syrup. But I’m leaning towards using the full fat evaporated milk (do not use sweetened condensed milk, that’s way too much sugar). Of course one of the big sticking points to this is that Karo is super-cheap at about $2.75 to $3 a bottle. However, that organic, non-gmo brown rice syrup cost a whopping $5.39 for 16 ounces and the diminutive organic corn syrup was $4.99 for 11.5 ounces.
There’s nothing quite like homemade caramels, and if you’ve never had them or have been paying silly high prices for them at candy shops, it might be time to make your own. You can also vary the recipe by adding flavors at the same time as the nuts. Perhaps some spicy hot? Maybe a little chai spice? How about a touch of matcha?
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Here’s a quick guide to all things chocolate up for grabs in the Menu for Hope IV fundraiser for the United Nations World Food Programme. You can see a full list of the prizes and the instructions on how to enter the drawing. Tickets are $10, you can buy as many as you like for any prize.
Valentine’s Day Edible Chocolate Box from Charles Chocolates
Woodstock Chocolate Buddha by Oliver Kita
Bershire Bark Chocolate Package
10 Mini Chocolate Bars & a $50 Gift Certificate to Mon Aimee Chocolat
Organic Chocolate Hamper from Natural Collection
A Big Box of Swiss Chocolates
Deluxe Boxed Assortment from Charles Chocolates
Theo Chocolate Extravaganza
Chuao Chocolatier $100 Certificate
Costa Rica Tres Rios Coffee & Vosges Truffle Collection
Roni Sue’s Buttercrunch & Seasonal Truffles
It’s a great selection of chocolate and I envy each and every person who wins and applaud everyone who enters/donates!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.