Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Departures, the American Express magazine, has an incredible list of The Only 149 Chocolates You Need to Know About. Well, I didn’t count 149 manufacturers on Christine Muhlke’s list, but there’s some good stuff there, not just what to eat, but where to go on vacation for full immersion.
There are also some great quotes from other foodies and this was my favorite:
I happen to love See’s because it’s so dependably fresh and tasty and I don’t need hand painting on something that’s going in my tummy. Of course I’ll have to work my way through the list to see if they stay at the top!
(Link found via Roboppy - thanks!)
Now that we’re through Christmas and the stockings and desserts, there’s New Year’s to consider.
It’s not a very candy holiday, but you can make it that way if you want. I found two great lists of candy cocktails:
And the Candy Addict has a roundup of 15 recipes as well for all sorts of candy oriented cocktails including a Tootsie Roll and Peanut Butter Cup. The SweetTart sounds pretty good to me, although I’ve never been particularly fond of sweet drinks (I pretty much drink water, unsweetened tea and milk though I will indulge in hot chocolate from time to time).
This leads me to a recipe The Man and I formulated this summer for a Lemon Martini:
1 part fresh lemon juice
Shake with ice, serve in a chilled martini glass, rub the rim with lemon rind or if you want a festive look, try yellow sugar or cocktail sugars. You might also want to drop a lemon drop in there or if you can find one of those lemon stripe candy sticks, that’d be pretty cool as a stirrer. The drink is VERY zesty, as it has a lot of lemon in it. We make our own lemon vodka by simply taking a lemon and using a peeler to get just the best yellow zest off of it, placing the strips in a jar and covering with good vodka. Stick in the fridge until insanely yellow and the zest strips star to curl. If it’s too lemony (is that possible?) dilute with plain vodka.
Of course always be safe - it’s easy to over-imbibe when the drinks are sweet and tasty. I want everyone around for the New Year!
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Stockings are one of my favorite traditions of Christmas. I’ve written before about my love of the stockings Santa brought us as children. They were eclectic mixes of little gifts, novelties, traditional American chocolates, gelt and international confections. These were candies that we didn’t get any other time of the year, not in Easter baskets and certainly not in Halloween trick-or-treat bags.
For the past few years I’ve also continued this tradition with my friends when I’m in town for the holidays. We often host a Christmas Eve dinner for friends and I give out a version of these stockings to my guests.
Our family tradition is that everyone has a stocking and it must be at my mother’s house in order for Santa to find it and fill it. Instead for my guests I put their goodies in fabric wine gift bags. They’re pretty and because they’re reusable they’re a gift as well. I found this excellent assortment in Chinatown much less expensive than at the wine store or Cost Plus. As this year was an all-couple affair, each couple got a stocking.
The cornerstone of a stocking is candy. The Santa of my childhood seemed to favor a mix of nuts in the shell (which were obviously pretty but were also intended to minimize the actual candy content). Those nuts were immediately sorted out of the candy mix and placed in a bowl on the kitchen table. My stockings skip right to the punch - chocolate. This year we picked up a mix of chocolate coins, Hershey’s Kisses (plain, thank you), Hershey’s Mint Miniatures Mix & Butterfinger Jingles, Brachs hard candy/toffees and the Trader Joe’s Torrones.
A stocking wouldn’t be much fun without some sassy little toys and additional candy. So I assembled a bunch of stuff, some from the 99 Cent Store, others I picked up here and there. Everyone gets a special big candy, usually just for their tastes: Toblerone bar, Jelly Belly Assortments, Bazooka bubble gum, mints (those round things are mints that look like roller blade wheels) and some grapefruit pastilles. The things that look like ice cream cones are scented bubbles (non toxic for those folks who have pets who like to play with bubbles like we do).
And there it is, all stuffed to the seams! (Okay, I have a problem with trying to stuff too much into them.)
Everyone goes home happy and if they have a long way to travel they’ve got a snack along the way. Of course you can scale up or down for finances and it’s always a good idea to keep your eye out year round to find the stuffers. Things like little notebooks, lip balm, ornaments or even CDs are good fun things to add.
(click on any photo for larger, yummier goodness)
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
When I was a kid there was an amazing candy bar called the Marathon. It was made by Mars and came in a bright red wrapper and was almost ten inches long (the candy was only 8 inches). Inside was a braid of firm caramel covered in chocolate.
The Marathon bar came along at a time when I would guess I was particularly impressionable and it was a marvelous time in candy. New candies were being introduced that seemed to speak directly to my soul. It was at this time that things like Reese’s Pieces, Sprees & Starbursts came out and Pringles (okay, not a candy, but I’d buy them at the Stop ‘n Go). And let’s not forget Pop Rocks.
The Marathon bar was probably not marketed towards me. The commercial campaign I remember involved a square-jawed, white-toothed and practically perfect looking Patrick Wayne (son of John Wayne) who went by the name of Marathon John. This hero of little commerical stories did everything slow, like eating his Marathon bar. He had a nemesis in the commericals, a wirey fellow named Quick Carl. Quick Carl was careless and jumpy and was, of course, always foiled by Marathon John and his candy bar that you can’t eat quickly. (We didn’t have color TV back then, so the whole “red” thing was lost on me ... it’s not that I’m that old that I remember black & white TV, it’s just that we didn’t get one in my family until 1979).
My guess is that this long candy bar that came with a measuring stick on the back was aimed at adolescent boys. You know how obsessed they are with measuring things. And how often do you find yourself at lunch or hanging out at the park with your little paper bag of sweets and wanna measure something with your buds?
Anyway, the candy bar was introduced in 1973 by Mars and discontinued it in 1981. But of course once you discontinue a candy bar the fans come out of the woodwork. The bar has been gone for more than twenty years and still there are rabid admirers who insist that it be returned to the American Pantheon of candy bars. I suspect that one of the issues with it is its non-standard size. It just doesn’t fit on the shelves the same way and slotting is important for the big candy manufacturers. But Cadbury seems to be doing fine with the Curly Wurly ... but for all I know their biggest market may be the United States and these folks in their forties who insist that there is no other candy bar for them than an eight inch braid of caramel covered with chocolate.
A few years ago Mars resurrected the name Marathon but this time gave it to an “energy bar” type candy. I’ve never tried it.
If you’re looking for a fix now that you’ve waxed as nostalgic as I have, pick up the Cadbury Curly Wurly bar. You can find them in the UK or Canada or perhaps in the States at a shop that carries UK imports and of course online. Old Time Candy has a nice page about Curly-Wurly and the Marathon Bar Here’s my review of the Curly Wurly (I gave it an 8 out of 10). The only question that remains (and perhaps you dear readers can help) is who came up with the bar first? Was it a Cadbury product that was licensed by Mars just as Hershey licensed KitKat from Rowntree (well, now Nestle)? Or did Mars come up with it and it was successful enough in the UK to continue?
Monday, December 19, 2005
One of the best things about candy is that the manufacture of it is as delightful as the shopping and tasting part. It’s not at all like the whole “where does meat come from” thing, knowing how the candy is made actually makes me appreciate it more. I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago and set some time aside to head out to Fairfield to visit the Jelly Belly factory.
The location is rather ordinary, right off the highway in an industrial park that holds a few other confectionary concerns and an olive oil place, too. As unassuming and corporate as the outside looks, as we all know about jelly beans, it’s the inside that matters.
Jelly Belly has an exceptional free tour for anyone who makes the forty minute trip from San Francisco, but I was lucky enough to get a personal tour from Tomi Holt, the publicist for Jelly Belly.
Or first stop was actually the tasting bar at the factory store. This is actually the best reason for the drive. You can try EVERYTHING they make here. They have all of their candies available for tasting, every jelly bean, every JBz, all of the licorice, the fruit jellies and even the gummis and sugar free assortments. If you’ve ever been curious about anything that they make, this is the place to try it. I had a few JBz and some of the new mint trio Jelly Bellies before we donned our hairnets.
I got the star treatment with full access to the factory floor (regular visitors are restricted to balcony area that still gives an impressive view of all aspects of the process and of course the smells). Jelly Belly built the factory in 1986, but what’s really fascinating is that the Goelitz, owner of Jelly Belly, has been making candy since 1869 and has been in business since 1896. Goelitz is best known for their excellent candy corn, which is made by many companies, but Goelitz is often credited as the first one to make they layered orange, yellow and white version which has certainly become the standard.
The Jelly Belly factory is a huge facility that produces hundreds of different kinds of candy (most of them jelly beans) but they also do panned nuts (Jordan almonds), chocolates (JBz, Chocolate Malt Balls, Dutch Mints), gummi bears, licorice (pastels & bridge mix) and jellies (raspberries, fruit jellies & peach jells). Just about all of their candies are panned. Panning is a process where a candy center is created and then tossed into a huge pan that looks like a cement mixer. Syrups, flavors, colors and/or chocolate are added to coat the candy center, layer upon layer, until the candy is just right and can be polished up and packaged.
First, just about all Jelly Belly candies start as a sugar/corn syrup and corn starch mixture that’s boiled to the appropriate temperature and mixed with whatever flavors the recipe requires. Many recipes contain real flavor ingredients - so blueberry Jelly Bellies have blueberry puree in there. The biggest difference between Jelly Belly jelly beans and most others is that they flavor the center. An ordinary jelly bean is just a plain sugar jelly. A Jelly Belly will have a specific flavored center and then an additionally flavored shell.
On the day I was there, they were making jelly beans. Lots and lots of jelly beans. We started in the kitchen which is a hot room with several large machines side by side. Okay, it doesn’t look much like my kitchen, but it did smell like pina colada. It was here that Tomi showed me the secret to most the jelly candies that we all know and love. Corn Starch Trays. Each bean is molded by depositing the hot candy soup into a tray made from plain old powdered corn starch.
Picture a deep cookie pan filled with corn starch, then it goes through a conveyer where a mold of the centers is pressed into the corn starch (1,260 per tray). The starch is just stiff enough to hold the form and a little further down the line the depositor squirts the little center in there. While I was there watching one of the candy makers was there watching the consistency of the jelly to assure the quality. The starch trays are unloaded from the conveyer onto open racks where they set up for a day in the climate controlled room.
Next the trays are then dumped out—each tray is turned over where the corn starch falls apart and the centers are sifted to remove the corn starch that clings to it. The corn starch is sifted and reused for new trays. Then they go onto a conveyer where they get a quick steaming to get them a little sticky and they are “sanded” with sugar. For some candies like a fruit pectin, this would be the end of the line. But the Jelly Belly is just getting started. Tomi pulled some of these out for us to try (they were still warm from the steaming)—they were orange. Instead of the zesty tart flavor, these were must mellow and sweet with a nice boost of orange essence. I knew it was going to be interesting to see how a Jelly Belly is built.
The Jelly Bellies get loaded intro trays where they cool, set and wait for their next coat. As most of the centers can look the same, each tray is marked with codes and dates. Different centers get different treatment as some get more rest or less rest before and after their engrossing. Each tray weighs 25 pounds when filled with the Jelly Belly centers. At their appointed time the centers are sent to the engrossing pans. 10 trays of 25 pounds of centers are dumped into one of the pans. Then a master confectioner mixes up the elixir that becomes the candy shell. It’s a tricky process that involves a bit of art as they tumble the centers and pour in pitchers of the mixtures and sometimes use air blowers to speed the process.
It takes four coats over about two hours to make the shell and they keep dozens of these panning machines going at any time. So, have you been wondering how much of a Jelly Belly is shell? I asked one of the confectioners there as he was turning off the rumbling, tumbling machines and he said that they put in ten trays of centers, which weigh 25 pounds each. And when they’re done, they get about 375 pounds of beans out—that’s right, one third of the weight of a Jelly Belly is its shell. What’s more, that confectioner added more than 125 pounds of syrups and flavors to the engrossing beans—you’d have to account for evaporation, which is part of the shell making process. It’s a grueling job, if you ask me. There they are, all day pouring and managing these tumbling pans. There are fifty different standard Jelly Belly flavors alone, so the list of possible combinations is huge. It’s a really interesting process. While we were on the floor one row of pans was making Sizzling Cinnamon and the other was working on Tangerine. The smell of the cinnamon was pretty overwhelming. I’m just glad they weren’t making their newest flavor, Roasted Garlic.
You may have noticed that some Jelly Bellies have mottled colors. Those are added at the very end with special coloring agents that don’t integrate into the whole shell.
The beans are then tumbled again in another pan to polish them up with a confectioner’s glaze. It’s kind of like a rock tumbler.
Then the trays go back to the warehouse to wait. The beans’ flavors integrate while they cure and then when they’re ready to go they get loaded back onto a conveyer where they are sorted into a tray that places them in a huge printer that gives them their white ‘brand’ of Jelly Belly. All Jelly Bellies get printed in white, even the white ones. It’s this extra step that you can use to make sure that the bulk beans that you’re buying out of a bin at a candy shop are real Jelly Bellies.
Once the beans are branded, they’re boxed. The beans are stored in the cardboard boxes until they’re called for, for whatever mix they’re making. They un-box the beans onto a huge conveyer that sends them to a tumbler that mixes them together. The tumbler we got close to was making a combo that looked like sour lime and orange—kind of like peas and carrots. It’s mesmerizing to see them tumbling in mesh drums that must be four feet high with little holes in it that keep the air moving and the rejected small jelly beans will fall through. The noise is incredible, you wouldn’t think that so many jelly beans just rustling around could be so loud, but most of the crew on the floor in this area of the factory wears ear protection.
All along the way are the factory personnel assuring the quality of the beans, but there are mechanical methods as well. If a bean makes it all the way through the process to be a “complete” bean but is rejected for size or shape, they’re called a “Belly Flop.” Belly Flops can be purchased in one place, the Jelly Belly factory. When I was there they were selling them in various mixes for half the price of real Jelly Bellies.
At the end of the factory part Tomi and I went back to the lobby where she took me through the wall of history that detailed the rise of the company, the family history and of course the Ronald Regan memorabilia (he was a huge fan of the confections since they started and could be credited for bringing them to national attention in the early eighties).
Of course at the end of that Tomi and I adjourned to the factory store again and spent more time with Barbara at the tasting bar where she continued to feed us whatever we wanted to taste. I even gave some of the Bertie Botts(tm) flavors a try and rather liked the grass, black pepper and soap flavors. But what impressed me most after tasting such a wide range of the products they offered, no matter whether they were to my liking or not, the quality is excellent. The amount of flavor they pack into such small bits of candy is amazing and obviously is what sets Jelly Bellies apart from other jelly beans. The strange thing is that when I went on the tour I was pretty much neutral on Jelly Belly. They’re good, I never argued with the quality, but now that I’ve seen them made and tasted the full range of flavors, I’m hooked on some of their other products. See my full review for an exhaustive list of some of the things I’ve tried in the past few weeks.
They run the tours six days a week, but the factory doesn’t operate on Saturdays, so try to make it on a weekday for the full experience. Check their website or call ahead for hours. They also have a cafe on site (and a room you can rent for parties).
Also, if you’re in the Midwest you can tour their Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin warehouse too, which also has a full store and tasting bar.
(All inside the factory photos courtesy of Jelly Belly.)
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
There’s been a lot of talk on the internets about Turkish Delight, also known as Turkish Paste or Lokum. Most of this sudden interest is because of The Chronicles of Narnia movie that just came out.
If you’re not familiar with the books, this sweet treat plays a pivotal role in the story as the second youngest child, Edmund, meets up with the White Witch who seduces him with the promise of as much Lokum as he can eat. Some people wonder how he could betray his siblings over a simple sweet (which was bewitched) but you have to remember that the story takes place during WWII when sugar was very hard to come by, even for children in middle class families. I’m enough of a sugar freak to have done some things that were probably not well thought out because I needed my fix that I can sympathize in a way for Edmund. (And he does redeem himself.)
Turkish Delight is rather unknown in the States and probably with good reason. Americans are not really familiar with floral flavors and delicate candies such as these. They don’t really keep well, so it’s easy to get stale Turkish Delight, which only leads to disappointment. I’ve had my share of crusty Turkish Delight over the years which has made me question why I like it, but there’s something so elusive and sublime about it, I’m tempted to travel to Turkey just to partake of the freshly made stuff. Here’s a fabulous first-person account on Lulu’s Lulu Loves Manhattan blog.
Turkish Delight is a rather simple jelly candy made from sugar, cream of tartar, corn starch and a little flavor. It’s quite different from other jelly candies in that it doesn’t have any gelatin or pectin to firm it up, just the corn starch. (This makes it a good candy to get/make for Vegan friends.) This is a kind of unstable mixture which can go bad rather quickly, so Turkish Delight is always best fresh. Covering it in chocolate is actually a pretty good way to keep it fresh, as Fry’s has found with their Turkish Delight bar
Classic Turkish Delight is usually Rose flavored but can be mint or lemon. There are other varieties that include nuts (hazelnuts or pistachios are popular), coconut and of course other fruit flavors like strawberry, raspberry, apricot and I even saw this recipe on Becks & Posh for Cardamom Rose which sounded really good to me. I tried making Turkish Delight several times as a teen (having been told that the fresh stuff was the best) but never quite succeeded. A recipe probably would have helped. Heaven help the teen who has only the ingredients label to go off of; my mother was very patient with the strange pans of fragrant goo my sister and I created.
I’ve always been fond of aromatic flavors, I don’t know if it’s because I used to eat flowers as a kid (not just violets and rosepetals but also honeysuckle and nasturtiums) but I find them very intriguing. I later worked in an herb shop as a teen where I was exposed to many amazing teas, flowers and herbs. They’re beguiling because they taste like they smell. And they have a wonderful aftertaste. There’s been a huge resurgance of floral flavors lately in upscale cooking/food - I’m seeing a lot of rose flavored, lavender, violet as well as some of the more woodsy flavors like anise/licorice/fennel, rosemary and the essences of bergamot, orange and lemon (and I’d love to try some calamansi).
Still, there will be detractors for any candy and I have no problem with that either. There are lots of candies out there I detest, such as Marzipan (though I keep giving it a try hoping that I’ll change my mind because the concept is sound) and if everyone liked the same thing, there wouldn’t be much of a need for this blog. Snarkmarket had an interesting post with fascinating comments, and Slate had an article which prompted me to write this post.
I think part of it is about engaging the imagination. I like tasting new things, especially ones specific to a region or culture. It helps me to connect. Open your mouth ... and your mind!
Monday, December 12, 2005
The Detroit Free Press has a fun article about the candy most commonly associated with Christmas: Candy Canes.
It includes sources for sugar-free candy canes and other candy cane merchandise.
But here are the fun facts from Candy USA about the twisted sticks:
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.