Friday, December 09, 2011
The best known American marshmallows are Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows which are big, airy cylinders of fluffed sugar and gelatin. Lately there’s been a movement in the United States for more artisan marshmallows, flavored and in different shapes and often with less chalky corn starch on the outside. In other countries marshmallows are usually flavored (France and Japan have wonderful marshmallow offerings that are rather grown up, while the United Kingdom and Netherlands still have a large selection geared towards kids).
Kraft’s Jet-Puffed brand has a large selection lately that go beyond the unflavored white version. I picked up all that I could find over the past month for comparison and review.
I’m often conflicted about whether Marshmallows are candy. Part of the confusion might be the fact that the most popular marshmallow brands in the United States are not sold in the candy and snack aisle but in the baking section. They’re used to make Rice Krispie Treats and S’mores, but I rarely see people just eating them.
The marshmallows are simple and cheap. I picked up most of the bags in this review for only a dollar - this bag was 10 ounces and nearly the size of an airplane pillow ... a lot of candy for a buck.
Jet-Puffed are large, they’re about an inch and a third tall and about an inch in diameter. Each is about 7.5 grams (about a quarter of an ounce). Marshmallows are pretty low in calories, as there’s no fat in them - they’re just sugar with a little protein (gelatin) to keep them fluffy. Only 100 calories per serving of 4 (one ounce).
They’re chalky on the outside, coated with a light powdering of corn starch to keep them from sticking. They’re puffed, pliable but still firm. They’re a little latexy, like memory foam - squish it and it bounces back eventually.
The flavor isn’t quite vanilla and not a strong as pure sugar. They’re, well, marshmallows. Not much to write home about and not a candy I’d eat on its own. They toast up very well, with more of the burnt sugar flavors. The large size means that the center of mine usually cool while the outside is crunchy and the mantle is molten.
They’re very soft and moist when fresh, but I don’t mind a slightly stale marshmallow either. They get a little stiff and chewy on the outside, providing a little more textural interest.
What started this whole marshmallow episode was this bag of Jet-Puffed SnowmanMallows I spotted at Target. They’re French Vanilla flavored, which sounded good, like a custardy version of the traditional American marshmallow.
They’re called mini-marshmallows on the bag, but they’re actually about the size of two of the standard mini-marshmallows.
I prefer the format of the little one inch tall and half inch wide Man. He toasted up well, the smaller size meant that the center became molten as the outside crisped. Of course it was ridiculously easy to catch him on fire.
They’re pink and remind me of the French guimauve, which often come in long ropes. The color is soft and pleasant. The scent is like Frankenberry Cereal. The flavor is a mild, floral and artificial strawberry. It was like a very watered down Strawberry Quik.
I toasted it hoping it would taste like cotton candy, but it just tasted like hot Strawberry Quik. Like many of the candies that I eat with Red #40 food coloring, I taste a weird, metallic bitterness towards the end and for a few minutes after.
This was the first variety that struck me as seasonal, obviously, but also the first one that I felt like achieved its goals of being an actual good candy. I recognize that not everyone likes gingerbread, so a gingerbread flavored marshmallow will not be as popular as strawberry or vanilla.
They’re shaped like little men. The get squeeze and deformed in the bag, so their little arms point in different directions. They’re about an inch and a quarter tall and about a half an inch thick and an inch from fingertip to fingertip.
They smell rich and spicy. And they taste that way too. If you’re fond of the gingerbread spices: ginger, cinnamon, clove and pepper, you will probably dig these. The overriding flavor is actually ginger but there’s a little cinnamon and pepper warmth to them. It doesn’t taste artificial at all - just like a spicy marshmallow. It’s absolutely like eating a foamy cookie.
I tried toasting them and liked the result, but prefer the soft and foamy texture of them at room temperature.
This bag was slightly smaller, for some reason, with only 8 ounces in it. The mallows were also smaller, which was fine with me as I like to pop a whole one in my mouth. (The back of the package actually has a warning that says to eat only one at a time and supervise children plus cut them up for smaller children.)
They’re cute as foamy sugar buttons. They smell good, not that different from the Gingerbread, but definitely on the sugar and cinnamon side of things.
The flavor is like cinnamon the spice, not the hard candy. The corn starch coating kind of pushes that along with the slight chalky texture before it dissolves away. It doesn’t taste overtly artificial, but it’s also not as fun and nuanced as the Gingerbread. I expect they’d go great in hot chocolate. Toasted they were quite nice, but tasted much more sweet when hot.
The Kraft Jet-Puffed Chocolate Royale was a problematic flavor. First, it’s a chocolate flavored marshmallow. There is no actual cocoa, let alone chocolate in there. The scent is ghastly. It was like wet cardboard. It was so bad that after I took a picture of the package and opened them, I had to sequester them.
The problem is that I don’t remember where I put them (I admit the Candy Blog Studios are pretty messy right now) but I can still smell them even though I stuffed them inside another bag first.
Overall, I’m inclined towards the generic American marshmallow and enjoyed the different flavors. I prefer the corn starch coating to the sugar sanding of Peeps. They’re a great candy to share and versatile to keep on hand as an ingredient. If you’re watching your calories, they’re very low stress - I can’t eat that many because their airy texture makes me feel full very quickly. But they’re also all sugar and the texture can be bland (but that’s why folks invented Rice Krispie Treats, Rocky Road and S’mores).
Thursday, December 01, 2011
The Trader Joe’s Classic Holiday Candy Mix qualifies as classic solely in its looks. They’re cute little pillows and waffle pieces of hard candy but come in a curious array of flavors that are as much tropical as they are wintery. Pomegranate, Cherry Cream, Passion Fruit, Cranberry Orange and Lemon Ginger. The flavors are all natural and the colors are created with vegetable and fruit extracts.
The packaging is simple, the box is a little smaller than a box of raisins or prunes. Inside is a half pound of hard candy in a simple cellophane pouch.
The pieces have that classic Holiday Mix look to them. Most are the standard pillow style of hard candy. The hard candy is briefly pulled (either by hand on a hook or by machine) to add air and a silky shine to it. That is then wrapped around a slightly aerated but not as attractive center. The the log is then rolled down into a rope which is then put into a cutter that gently squeezes the candy as it cuts it. Other pieces are rolled through a mold that give the waffle weave before they’re cut.
Cherry Cream is deep red with amber stripes. The cream flavor is a little artificial, like a butter flavor instead of a real creamy note. Kind of like a cream soda. The cherry flavor is good, like a black cherry but with a sort of burnt berry pie note to it. Sometimes I thought that it tasted like Dr. Pepper.
Cranberry Orange (orange and dark red) was easy to spot, as the pieces were mostly half orange and half red. The orange flavor was front and center, the cranberry was just a tartness in the background with a little strawberry floral note.
Pomegranate (pink, white & deep red striped pillow) It’s enchanting to look at an a nicely rounded pomegranate flavor with a lot of raspberry notes.
Lemon Ginger (yellow and white) were the easiest to figure out. This one tasted a little sparkly. Most of the pieces were the flat waffle but there were a few short straw ones too. The lemon is quite zesty and the woodsy ginger has a very slight warmth to it.
The candies are made in Mexico. I believe this is the same facility that also makes the Trader Joe’s Old Fashioned Sweet Sticks and the Life Savers all natural knock-off Sweet Story (and probably also the Organic Lollipops which are also sold as Yummy Earth). They’re made with glucose syrup which is from wheat, so they may not be suitable for gluten-free folks. There’s no other statement about allergens such as nuts or dairy products. They’re made with cane sugar but no other animal products so it’s up to you if you think they’re vegan. Kosher.
It’s a good price for all natural hard candy. It’s not extraordinary candy and probably only suitable for someone who actually like hard candy. The charming homespun quality does present a beautiful tableau in a dish and would probably be great as a decorative element on a Gingerbread House.
Monday, November 21, 2011
In the world of fair trade chocolate, it’s hard to find a balance between the ethical sourcing of the ingredients and the actual likeability of the finished product. One brand that has struck a good, mass appeal approach is Divine Chocolate. They’re based in the United Kingdom, but the chocolate is made in Germany.
Their product range in the United States is primarily 3.5 ounce tablet bars, with a few holiday items each year. The ingredients are Fair Trade certified as much as possible.
I picked up the Divine 70% Dark Chocolate with Ginger & Orange at Cost Plus World Market. I like the idea of a chocolate bar with a little bit of flavor and maybe even a candy-like flair to it.
I really like their new bar mold. The old one was simple and generic. The new one is the same format, but with little icons in each of the pieces. I like the thickness of the bar and the divisions - easy to snap apart and ideally sized for a bite.
The bar has an excellent and crisp snap. The scent is a bit woodsy, mostly from the ginger but with a well rounded cocoa note to it. The ingredients were not simply candied orange and candied ginger though. Instead it was something called Orange Granules which were made from orange juice, apples, sugar, rice flour, fructose, pectin, citric acid and orange flavor. Seems odd to make something that’s normally considered garbage (orange peels). The ginger is also just natural ginger flavor, no actual pieces.
The result are little sticky, slightly tacky orange bits. They’re good in the sense that they taste fruity, a little zesty and tangy with a lot more juice taste than orange peel. They’re not at all fibery, though they did get stuck in my teeth.
The dark chocolate is smooth with a silky melt and well rounded flavor. There’s a little hint of bitterness to it, but it’s tempered by the woodsy but slightly drying ginger. I was hoping for a little warm kick from the ginger, but that never really formed.
Overall, it’s a very good bar, it’s also a crowd pleaser, in the sense that most folks will go for a fruity bar over a straight 70%. I like the package design and the added design elements on the bar mold now. It would be nice to see fewer ingredients on the list, but at least they’re all real things.
Though the bar gets high marks for being fair trade, Kosher, non-GMO and vegan, it is made on shared equipment with wheat, milk, almonds and hazelnuts.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Papabubble is an artisan candy shop that first opened in Barcelona, Spain in 2004. There are now shops in eleven cities around the world including Tokyo, New York, Hong Kong and Moscow. I visited the one in Amsterdam while I was in Europe earlier this year.
One of the conceits of the shops is that all candy sold there is made there. And all the candy they make is just plain old hard candy ... I say plain because the recipe and basic steps are quite simple. But the technique and craft is extraordinary. The centerpiece of the store is the candy kitchen, where the boiled sugar and glucose mixture is poured out onto heated tables to be flavored, colored and crafted.
The Amsterdam shop is tucked away on a narrow street (aren’t they all?) called Haarlemmerdijk a little to the northwest of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station. I took a tram over there then walked back to the station on my last morning in town.
This video features they New York store, but is still a great representation of how the candy is made at all the shops.
The shop, like many in Amsterdam, was narrow. (At one time property in the city was taxed on its width.) It’s quite deep and I was surprised to see at the back of the store area was a series of steep stairs, about five of them, that led down to the kitchen area. Like the video shown above, the work area for the candy makers is a long table with a clear glass backsplash so that customers can watch them do their work. There’s also the added advantage of looking down into the area from above as well.
The store is well stocked with previously made merchandise. All the items are hard candies, some are single flavors in a package, some are cut rock and others are pillow shaped confections.
When I visited at the end of January, the pair of candy makers was just finishing up their latest batch of heart shaped lollipops. Not much to photograph there, just bagging the glossy candies. They did look great though.
What I really wanted though was to taste the diversity of the candy flavors that they used, and hopefully find an assortment that showcased what was unique about the Amsterdam Papabubble, as each shop does things customized to their own culture. I found a mix called Pillow Fight.
The bags are a tough matte silver back with a clear pocket on the front. They held 160 grams and cost 4.95 Euros - about $7.00 at the time. I thought that was a lot for about 5.6 ounces. But then again, it was made by real people, right there, and probably recently.
Pillow Fight is a mix of classic herbal and spice flavors, all in the pillow shape, which is made by taking a long rope of the hard candy and crimping it to make the mouth-friendly shapes. The other style of candy they make is what most folks know as Cut Rock. This is the same basic rope but usually has a design on the inner core that’s revealed when the rope is cross sectioned (one variety in my mix was this cut rock, as you’ll see below).
The package didn’t look like it was going to do a great job of protecting its valuable contents. The little pillows already looked like they had a light sanding of pulverized brethren on them already. But my concerns were unfounded. The way they mix up the candy, the ends get a little worn and there is a bit of sugary dust at the bottom of the bag. But everything was quite dry (which keeps it from becoming sticky and losing its shine). All I needed to do when I got them home was pour them out on a paper towel and lightly roll around to shine them up.
The other style of packaging they have are little plastic jars. They’re great to look at and of course hold more candy and are probably easier to serve yourself from.
Lavendel (Lavender) - purple stripes - these were by far the prettiest little pillows. The lavender flavor is a lot like rosemary, a strong oily and mentholated flavor.
Anijs (Anise) - black & white stripes - this was a mild and flavorful anise drop. Sweet and with a great crunch ... I like to crunch my candies. The pillows seem to have a lightly aerated center. Basically, the warm candy mixture is pulled on a hook like taffy to add a little air into it which gives it a little bit lighter texture and smooth melt.
Bergamot - light orange with orange stripes - this was similar to the lavender, it’s aromatic and sweet but has a balsam note to it. I didn’t feel like it was quite bergamot, but it still had a citrus zest quality to it.
Beterschap! (Cough Drop) - This was the only cut rock in the bunch - round cream color with red cross in center - the word beterschap means “get well”. It tastes rather like a cough drop - part cola, part cinnamon and part menthol. It was one of the most strongly flavored candies in the bunch.
Cola - yellow & orange stripes - is rather bold. It’s tangy and has a strong lime and nutmeg note to it. I liked it, but that’s likely because I appreciate cola candy because it’s not that common in the States.
Mojito (Lime & Mint) - light green and yellow stripes on a clear background - this one was tangy and minty. Kind of like a cough drop. Mojitos aren’t a favorite drink of mine, but are more successful for me because fresh spearmint tastes so different from spearmint candy. This version had a lot of lime oils in it, which made it much more medicinal for me.
Scherpe Kaneel (Sharp Cinnamon) - magenta and green - the color didn’t say cinnamon, but it was most definitely sizzling cinnamon.
Lemongrass Gember (Lemongrass Ginger) - yellow & green - this was very bold, the ginger notes were strong and a little more on the side of extract than the earthy, fibery root is fresh. The lemongrass did feel authentic though, not too sweet and no hint of tartness.
Eucalyptus (aqua with white stripes) - wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped, but still smooth and soothing with a light freshness. It was so mild, for a while I wasn’t sure what it even was until I looked at the little flavor guide.
I would love to spend more time at the shop and to have seen them making candy from start to finish, unfortunately my schedule didn’t allow it. (They open at 11 AM and my train was departing at 12:20 PM and I just didn’t hit it right when I arrived a little after eleven and they said they wouldn’t be ready for more crafting for another 30 minutes.) Of course my dream would be to learn how to make candy like this from start to finish. It looks like a lot of work and care goes into it, along with a bit of personality - each shop has a slightly different offerings based on the artisans themselves and the culture of the clientele.
The candy is expensive, but it really is to notch, far and away better than the similar Christmas mixes I sometimes pick up at the drug store. Besides, candy that you saw being made always tastes better, just like kettle corn and cotton candy. I plan to visit the New York store for sure next time I’m in the city and if you’re traveling the world, check to see if there will be one near you.
I give the shop a 9 out of 10 and the candy itself an 8 out of 10.
Friday, September 24, 2010
As some of you who follow along on my twitter or flickr photostream might know, I’m an avid whale watcher. For the past six years I’ve been a certified naturalist with the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium and American Cetacean Society and lead whale watching trips as a volunteer from December to April in the nearby Santa Monica Bay when the Gray whales migrate by.
I love it so much that I often go up to Santa Barbara in the summer to see our other nearby visitors: Blue whales and Humpback whales who come to feed near the Channel Islands. Unfortunately I also have a problem with motion sickness. So I’m often seen on the boats eating little ginger candies (and sharing them with other like-stomached passengers).
Ginger has been proven to reduce nausea. The great thing about that is that I love the taste of ginger and it’s not an expensive product for the most part.
I found these Newman’s Own Organics Ginger Mints at Mother’s Market in Orange County. They were only a buck and a nice compact format, like a roll of mints instead of an awkward package of individually wrapped candies (the wrappers can get blown away on a boat and into the water) or a tin (which can easily spill while I’m trying to open it).
The little disks are about 3/4 of an inch around and have a little “Newman’s Own Organics” engraved into them.
They smell toasty and earthy with a light citrus note. They’re sweet and a little chalky on the tongue, like Life Savers Wintergreen at first. The ginger is readily apparent, very woodsy and with a strong warming property that kept the back of my tongue and throat burning.
They dissolve quickly or can be chewed easily, which I guess speeds relief. I don’t know if ginger really works for tough stomach upset, but I find that occupying myself with hard candies (even non-ginger kinds) helps. Anything that keeps nausea from really taking hold can help since the cruises are only 2 to 3 hours. They’re sweet and not that complex overall, there’s no lemon or honey in them. But they seem to do the trick for me. I like how small and portable the package is.
As an organic product, as you can guess, they’re natural and contain no colorings. They’re Kosher and vegan. However, they are manufactured on shared equipment with peanuts, nuts, milk, wheat and soy.
I’ll leave you with a photo from last weekend. There is a strange and welcome gathering of Blue whales off of Los Angeles right now, at least 30 individuals hanging out within 5 miles from shore. They’ve never been spotted here in these numbers like this before. They’ve been feeding on a huge upwelling of krill, and I guess they’ll stick around as long as there’s food. So if you’ve ever wanted to see the biggest animal on earth (ever), get yourself out to the sea. I go out with Voyager Excursions.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
While the news that KitKat is now available in both Dark and Milk Chocolate is hot news here in the United States, Nestle continues to churn out fantastically inventive versions for Japan.
Japanese KitKat are getting easier to find in the United States, I picked up mine in Little Tokyo at various grocery stores. The price is a bit steeper than an ordinary KitKat, usually between $2.00 and $3.00 depending on the variety and the store. (Here’s one store in Little Tokyo.)
I get the impression that Royal Milk Tea is the Japanese version of what we know here in the US as Thai Iced Tea, a strong black tea mixed with lot of sugar and milk (in the case of Thai Iced Tea the shortcut is sweetened condensed milk).
It smells lovely though, like a cross between Jasmine and Earl Grey Tea. There are sweet vanilla notes and a little roasted barley or lapsang suchong in there. The actual texture of the white confection (a mixture of milk, palm oil and sugar) is a little greasy but otherwise smooth. The flavoring of the coating is mellow and a little spicy, like a hint of chai. Inside there’s more of a darker tea. It’s quite milky, as the whole Royal Milk Tea name might imply. I’m not much for milk in my tea, so that part of the confectionery simulation is lost on me.
I didn’t know that Ginger Ale was that popular in Japan, but I guess it must be if there’s a KitKat for it. Or Nestle has run out of ideas to make into KitKats. (Where are my Pixy Stix KitKats?)
The flavor of the white confection outside is sweet and a little lemony. Inside the cream has a warm and woodsy burn of ginger. There are little specks and pops of sour, like carbonation.
It’s a weird bar. It’s not comforting like I find actual ginger ale. But then again it’s more exciting, probably because I’ve never had a candy bar like this before. I can’t say that I’d buy it again, but I can see where it has its place.
I wasn’t quite sure what the actual flavor was, is there a strawberry soda that it was referencing, like those Ramune ones? Was it supposed to be like strawberries in champagne?
After opening I at least found out that it was a pink, strawberry flavored confectionery coating with the standard wafers and a tangy strawberry creme between.
The berry confection is milky and has less of a strawberry flavor than I would like. It’s kind of like the milk at the bottom of a bowl of Frankenberry. The startling and inventive part of this bar is the cream filling. There are little “pops” of flavor which emulate carbonation well. They’re not pop rocks or fizzing powder. Instead they’re granules of what I’m guessing is citric acid and/or salt. So the tongue gets lots of little explosions of intense sour or salt. It’s a good mix and fun to eat. I would have preferred more strawberry flavor or even dark chocolate (so it’d be like a dark chocolate covered strawberry with a glass of champagne).
Kinako Ohagi KitKat shows a mochi with kinako (and probably bean paste inside). The idea of converting that into a KitKat, honestly, isn’t that appealing to me. I thought the red bean KitKat I tried a few years ago was interesting, but putting all the flavors of mochi into a KitKat just seems like too much. A KitKat is a KitKat and needs to maintain certain aspects. Throwing too many things into the mix just means that something is going to be done poorly and that leads to disappointment.
I was relieved to see that this was at least a milk chocolate bar.
It smells deep and roasted, milky and a little like corn chips. The milk chocolate is soft and fudgy but passably good. The wafers are crisp and crunchy and the kinako is, well, like soy powder. It’s a cross between the flavor of corn meal and peanut butter - it reminds me of protein supplements. The toasty flavors go very well with the wafers and milk chocolate. But the traditional KitKat was good before. This doesn’t make it better.
The last one confused me (and I didn’t take a picture of it, but you can safely substitute the Royal Milk Tea. It’s Milk Coffee KitKat but based on the box I thought it was Sakura Tea or something. What I also didn’t properly note was that this was on of the KitKat mailers, a box that has a little “dear” and “from” form on the back so that you can give it to a student to wish them luck on exams.
It smells sweet and milky and just slightly off. Biting into it the first time, I thought I was being poisoned and had a bad package. The center cream was just intensely bitter. Then when I caught on that it wasn’t cherry and it was coffee the bitterness didn’t seem so caustic. But still intense. Too intense to allow actual coffee flavors.
At least it was called Milk Coffee, with the milk first I was getting much more of the sweet white confection than coffee notes. Chewing helped, instead of my usual eating of the cream as a layer. It just didn’t have the rounded and complex coffee notes, it reminded me instead of what I thought coffee was when I was seven or eight years old - expensive bitterness.
Overall I was less than impressed with the heavy use of white confection instead of actual chocolate. (Nestle has been in trouble lately with animal activists over its use of poorly/unethically/unsustainably farmed palm oil - their response here.) I guess I’ve found after all this exploration (trying about three dozen different kinds over the years) that the plain old ones are great and the ones made with even better chocolate are phenomenal. They don’t need fancy flavors. But I’m not going to begrudge anyone who wants to have a little fun now and then.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Beverly Hills is a different world from the funky and uneven aesthetics of Silver Lake where I live, even though they are only about twenty minutes apart by car. While Silver Lake has a few chocolatiers and bakeries that carry fine confections, Beverly Hills has been at it far longer and has international muscle behind many of its biggest names.
For quite a few years folks have been telling me to try Teuscher. People rave, far and wide, about their Champagne Truffles. I even went into the Teuscher shop in Rockefeller Plaza in New York a few years ago but the shop was packed with people and the ambiance was a little too fussy, confining and precious for my tastes.
As the years went by the fact that I hadn’t tried their chocolates was becoming a glaring omission in my chocolate experiences. So when I was contacted by a representative of the Beverly Hills outpost of the Swiss-based Teuscher, I thought the time was ripe. I arranged to visit their petite shop and cafe in Beverly Hills located on the corner of Brighton Way and Camden, a scant block off of Rodeo Drive.
Teuscher is a Swiss chocolatiers but they have fourteen North American locations in addition to their shops in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. All chocolates are made in their Zurich facility and express shipped regularly (usually once or twice a week) to the shops. Their array of chocolates is rather standardized, regardless of the location. They make a variety of truffles, nut-based confections like marzipan and gianduja. They also have classics like candied fruits (dipped in chocolate), nut clusters and novelty molded chocolates (usually seasonal selections).
I was introduced to Avivia Covitz, the owner of the Beverly Hills shop. She charmed me with her tales of pairings of chocolates, eating two at a time to increase the vast variety that already existed in single pieces to create even more unique confectionery experiences. (Kind of like me and my mash ups ... though I’m sure she’s classier and doesn’t actually smash them together.) She guided me through the offerings and I chose about 15 pieces (from the dozens available) as an introduction to the fine chocolates.
Since their Champagne Truffle is so well known, I picked up three - two in milk chocolate and one in dark chocolate. They look more like rum balls that truffles to me, especially the milk chocolate ones which are very light brown with a white confectioner’s sugar dusting. They’re not round, more narrow and tall. It’s a sweet flavor right away as well, but my concerns about it being too sweet were quickly dispelled. The flavor isn’t quite champagne but more of a deep yeasty and white wine grape note. There’s no fizz or bubble, but a crisp and dry finish.
The dark, in my opinion, was even richer and a little more yeasty. They’re dusted in cocoa, so far less sweet right when it’s placed on the tongue. The texture is smooth, with a little pop of flavor at the center where the champagne cream center is.
I also tried their newer truffle, the Vodka Truffle. This one was wrapped in silver foil and after being unsheathed the molded sphere looked rather like a Lindt Lindor truffle though the center was vastly different. The dark chocolate had berry notes and a little astringency. The truffle center was quite gooey (Aviva cautioned me that it was to be popped in the mouth whole, no biting in half) and had a strong alcoholic bite along with a smooth dark chocolate liquor flavor.
I’m a huge European nougat fan, so seeing this piece was encouraging. Also seeing the wide use of nuts such as pistachios, walnuts (even though I can’t eat them), hazelnuts, almonds and of course hazelnuts made me happy.
The Montelimar nougat is dipped in chocolate on all sides except for the top. (which is a little dry). It’s a little grainy but still soft and chewy. The nuts (pistachios and almonds) are fresh and the honey notes are definitely a plus. The nougat still has a wafer on it, which kind of confusing because it doesn’t seem to be necessary and creates a kind of cereal flavor to the chew.
One of the big things I noticed in the Teuscher line is the liberal use of honey, which I think is far under-utilized in chocolates.
The Honey Caramel covered in dark chocolate was delightful. I love honey, I love chocolate and I love caramel. That doesn’t always mean a good combination will result, but in this case it does. The caramel has a dark flavor, a malty note and the beeswaxy and floral vibe of honey. There are also little bits of almond in there, which bring the whole thing together with a bit of texture.
There’s a large array of marzipan at Teuscher, which I found fascinating. The little logs like this are simply adorable and promised to have a large proportion of chocolate to the almond paste filling. (I believe it also came in pistachio.)
Sweet with a powerful almond extract flavor. The dark chocolate is creamy and offsets the sweetness well. The texture of the marzipan is dry but holds together without being sticky.
I also tried a Zebra Gianduja which is a striped combination of milk, white and dark hazelnut paste neatly dipped in dark chocolate similar to the Montelimar. The hazelnut notes were lost in the sweetness and the texture was just a little dry. Still, the nut notes were very fresh.
I was fond of the idea of these. They’re simply called Crunchy Chocolates and they come in milk and dark chocolate. They’re a homey dab of chocolate studded with little crunchy bits of honey and nuts. It’s like comfort candy. They’re basically everything I’ve always wanted a Toblerone to be. The chocolate is smooth and creamy with its own flavors. The honey bits give an added flavor punch and almost a salty note. The almonds give crunch and their own buttery note. I liked their thin shape, which made it easy to bite but thick enough to have lots of inclusions.
I always like to try the candy kitchen classics when I go to a new chocolate shop. I feel like I can learn a lot about the attention to detail when a chocolatier does something as simple as candying some orange peel or ginger. There are lots of ways to do it well, so it really just gives me a sense of where their sensibilities are.
Teuscher’s sensibilities in the candied fruit rind arena are right in line with mine. The Candied Orange Peel is dipped in dark chocolate. Moist and almost jelly-like, there’s no hint of sugary grain. It’s rather sweet but all of the zesty notes of the orange are preserved and just a light hint of the bitter orange oil. It goes well with the dark chocolate couveture.
The Chocolate Dipped Candied Ginger was a similar glace style. Tiny little ropes of roots, simmered in sugar until tender, then dipped in chocolate. These had a little extra flair with the white chocolate racing strip around the bottom. It was just a little accent that didn’t detract at all from the dark chocolate and the earthy notes of the ginger, just a little tip of milk flavors into it.
Belle Epoque was the only other truffle I picked up, again it was an alcohol inspired and infused one. This is a dark chocolate ganache with Gran Marnier. I loved the look of it and have found that I prefer enrobed or dipped truffles to molded ones.
There is a strong whiff of alcohol and orange zest. Little notes of tobacco and oak along with chocolate pudding. It’s definitely one of my favorites and would probably win out on my list of things to eat from there on a regular basis because it was just less sweet than the Champagne. (And given the choice, I’d probably opt for an aperitif of Gran Marnier over a flute of champagne.)
After completing my selection of the complementary fine chocolates, I also decided to also buy a few other items to get a sense of the rest of the Teuscher line of offerings. One of the charming items that vary from season to season are the molded chocolates. When I was in the shop before Thanksgiving, they had turkeys.
I was drawn to the Chocolate Bees. (I have no idea if they have a formal name, as there’s nothing on the package.) They came in a double layer mounded on a four inch by six inch gold foil tray. That was wrapped in clear cellophane and decorated with a narrow, yellow gossamer ribbon.
The milk and dark chocolate bees have a wingspan of two inches. But they’re not just milk and dark chocolate novelties. They’re dotted with honey crystals and almond bits. The texture wasn’t quite as dense and flavorful as the Crunchy chocolate pieces mentioned above. Instead these were a bit more like a Toblerone piece. Not quite as vibrant or intensely textured. Still very pretty and fun.
I also picked out a few straight Gianduja (they pronounce it John-Do-Ya) hearts. They’re beefy, over two inches wide and almost an inch high. One was milk chocolate (blue) and the other dark (orange).
The flavor was more milky and sweet chocolate in the milk chocolate than hazelnuts. This was my feeling about all the gianduja items from Teuscher. I’m assuming this is just the Swiss style, though I also noticed it with the Belgian brand Leonidas as well. Since I prefer more hazelnut and darker chocolate flavors, even then dark version here didn’t quite satisfy me and I didn’t end up finishing them. (Part of it is that I was so enamored of the Pralus Creme de Noisette that it’s going to become one of my standards.)
Orange Marzipan covered in Dark Chocolate
The final item I picked up, also foil-wrapped like the above hazelnut hearts, was an orange marzipan piece. This was more like a decadent candy bar. The marzipan was moist, a little sticky but with a great citrus zest note instead of amaretto. The almond texture and flavor still came through, but without the bitter almond flavoring that so often pervades European marzipan. This is definitely one of the highlight pieces for me. I liked that it wasn’t fussy and if I were wandering around Beverly Hills and wanted something to go with my coffee (they do have a highly regarded coffee bar), this is a good impulse item for me.
My hesitations with the products are really minor. I’m not that keen on the packaging or the design of the shop. The confections are well labeled in the chocolates case, which is great for people like me who must avoid a particular item like walnuts, but the rest of the items were not. The foil wrapped items were just color coded and once you left the shop, well, you’d better have a good memory. The little trays of molded items are see through, so you can, well, see them but no ingredients or even product names. My feelings are that the look and feel of the place is dated, but if you’ve been shopping there for a dozen years, you might feel like they’re dependable and consistent ... so I can’t really fault them for that.
The milk chocolate and hazelnut items were on the sweet side for my preferences, but the dark truffles, especially the Belle Epoque are right up my alley. I will definitely plan on trying more of the flavored marzipans and the caramels since I was so fond of the Honey Caramel.
The prices are on the high side at over $70 a pound (an 8 ounce box of 16 Champagne Truffles is $37.50) and the website doesn’t allow you to build a custom box. However, in the store you’re free to get exactly what you want. I think the Champagne Truffles are worth the diversion if you’re in Beverly Hills (or any other neighborhood that has a shop) but I don’t think I’d special order them on the internet unless I was certain they were going to be spectacular and just what I wanted.
My trick when visiting Beverly Hills is to park in the valet parking garage on Dayton Way just off Rodeo Drive. It’s free for the first two hours during the day. Teuscher looks like a great spot to hang out sipping coffee at the sidewalk tables and sampling a little box of chocolates while people-watching.
teuscher chocolates Beverly Hills
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Last year I made a trip up interstate 101 from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Yes, it’s actually longer than taking I5, but I thought it would be interesting to stop at a few candy shops along the way. One that I was interested in was Sweet Earth Chocolate at about the halfway point of San Luis Obispo.
At that time they were operating out of a space in Splash Cafe in SLO. A few months ago they moved into their own candy kitchen and cafe space just down the street. (More about that here.) I was eager to see the expanded offerings from this unique confectioner that uses organic and fair trade chocolate.
Their new storefront is charming and inviting ... and large! You can get coffee drinks, sit and enjoy your purchases but I was there for the chocolate to take on my vacation.
Their candy cases had a nice mix of both comfort candies (chocolate dipped pretzels, house-made jellies, chocolate covered cookies, turtles and marshmallows) and truffles. What sets them apart from many chocolatiers is their line of vegan items. (Here’s the in store menu.)
The store is more than just chocolate though, there’s also information about how fair trade directly affects the communities that participate and some other fun and unique gifts.
Bakers will also enjoy access to fair trade baking chips & cocoa. For those in a hurry who don’t want to select their own box, there are also packages of pre-packed candy cups, chocolate covered goodies and of course their line of chocolate bars.
I picked up quite a bit of stuff. First, I selected a few items from the “comfort candies” section for me to munch on while on vacation. This included their chocolate dipped pretzels, toffee & chocolate dipped pretzels and some turtles. Since those weren’t for review I also got a box of nine truffles.
The truffles are well priced at 1.50 each though I found them a tad on the small size but mercifully free of the “too hot for the box” styles that chocolatiers have been using lately with artificial colors & cocoa butter ink transfers.
The Espresso truffle was one of those rare modern truffles that actually looks like a truffle. The small sphere smelled woodsy and sweet. The bittersweet chocolate shell gave way to a smooth center with a good pop of espresso flavor. A little acidic but a crisp finish with a little fruity twang. There were a few fibery bits of the coffee beans though at the end.
This dark chocolate triangular piece holds a sweet if slightly grainy cream with a light touch of ginger.
I liked the texture and the woodsy flavor of the ginger. It didn’t have a warming burn, but a pleasant note of the root mixed with a not-too-sweet fondant-like cream. The dark chocolate shell was thick enough that there was no leakage and also provided a bittersweet background to the earthy flavors.
It was a good sized piece as well.
This was definitely one I was looking forward to. I love the combination of cardamom and chocolate.
The center of this truffle also had a bit of a graininess to it, I think, because of the crystallized ginger.
The cardamom was quite overwhelmed by the chocolate & ginger flavors at first, but emerged later and gave me a fresh & lingering aftertaste.
I admit that I was confused by this one. I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was when I got home. I don’t think it did well on the trip either, something about the central coast being very humid this time of year made the outside tacky.
So when I took it out to photograph it, I was puzzled. So I bit into it and yes, the flavor did remind me a bit of a Milky Way, but I still didn’t put it together until days later when I was trying to write this up and looked at the Sweet Earth Chocolates website.
Anyway, it was sweet and milky and yes, it did have a little malty hit to it. But the outside was like the sticky, stale inside of a seafoam candy so the whole thing was a bit chewy. Not unpleasant, but not “truffle-like.” I’ll give it another go though, as I’m always game for some malt.
Sweet & slightly grassy tasting center with little bits of hazelnuts. Milky and entirely addictive.
This would make an excellent chocolate cup too, I would love a bigger bite ... or more of them. And maybe some in dark chocolate. Yes, a true winner. (I’m wondering if you can make a dark chocolate gianduia that’s vegan.)
Finally, I got two of the classic dark chocolate truffles. They come in a full cream version and a vegan version.
The Vegan Dark Chocolate truffle is cute, a small hand rolled sphere with a flurry of zigzags of chocolate for decoration. The aroma is dark and woodsy chocolate. The bite is soft and the center is smooth. It’s barely sweet and has a strong woodsy & tangy flavor that comes through ... then a note of coconut and a rather bitter & dry finish.
The dairy Dark Chocolate truffle has a similar look, with its decoration mostly parallel stripes. The center seemed just a bit softer but also a bit smoother. The tangy bite wasn’t there at all. The chocolate flavors seemed more pronounced, though the chocolate shell still participated with quite a bitter chocolate bite & dry finish.
On the whole, I find the Sweet Earth Chocolates 65% dark chocolate a bit on the astringent side. The dairy cream centers worked well with this and some of the flavors combined well to tip it more towards woodsy or berry/raisin.
What’s so refreshing about the shop & the chocolates is that they’re so approachable and fresh-tasting. I didn’t feel assaulted by political messages about fair trade and organics - for the most part the shop is about the wholesome enjoyment of freshly made chocolates ... that happen to be organic and fair trade.
If you’re in San Luis Obispo or passing through during business hours, give it a try:
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.