Monday, October 31, 2011
Here’s what I’m giving out for Halloween this year. I decided that it was more important to take a stand against child slavery in West Africa than give out the most loved objects of Halloween, such as Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars have had more than 10 years to assure consumers that they’re not buying from growers that enslave children on their cacao plantations. When they have, then I’ll start giving it out to children.
So to avoid this issue completely I bought sugar candy - that is, candy made without chocolate.
Airheads - multiple flavors of chewy fruity flavors. Made in Kentucky, USA.
What I lack in chocolate, I’ll likely make up for with quantity and variety. We usually only get between 25 and 40 visitors. With more than 300 pieces of candy, each kid gets a heaping adult-dispensed handful. And it won’t melt. (Yes, it’s still in the 80s here this week in Los Angeles.)
So what are you giving out for Halloween this year?
Friday, October 28, 2011
I regularly watch the eBay candy auctions. And when I say regularly, I actually check the pages several times a day during the week. Partly to spy new candy products, partly to find international candies that are hard to get in the US, partly to find deals and partly to squash folks who like to use Candy Blog photos for their auctions without asking.
About a month ago I saw a new auction pop up for someone selling 13.2 pounds of Felchlin Swiss Couverture chocolate coins of Grand Cru Arriba 72% Cocoa (conched 72 hours).
The auction was priced at $95 and included local Los Angeles delivery. I bid. I won.
Because it’s for use as an ingredient, it’s packaged modestly. The mini case holds three bags. Each bag is 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds). I pulled out one bag for immediate enjoyment and put the other two, inside the box, into the bottom of my wine fridge. (Okay, I’d probably call it a chocolate fridge, which keeps everything at 58 degrees.)
Each little coin is about 3/4 of an inch around and has a set of embossed cacao pods on it. They’re kind of scuffed up, as they come in a bag like chocolate chips. They work as extra large baking chips but function better as eating chocolate. At this writing I am finishing up the first bag. I’ve made one batch of chocolate pudding, one small batch of Chocolate Hazelnut Rocher (meringues from a recipe from Tartine) and the rest has simply been eaten.
The disks fit in the mouth wonderfully, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes to let their chocolate melt. (Put two together to create an oblate spheroid and they’re doubly good.) The flavor is exceptionally well rounded, there is no dominant flavor though I get notes of molasses, honey, coffee and raspberry jam sometimes.
As noted above, this is a 72 hour conch. Conching is the process of both mixing and grinding chocolate over low heat. The longer the processing the smaller the grain size of the cacao bits and the more emulsified the chocolate becomes. This process varies in time depending on what the cacao is like and the necessities of the final product. It can be anywhere from 24 hours to 100 hours. The grinding part is done with either stones or metal rollers.
This long conch also allows Felchlin to make an uncompromising chocolate without emulsifiers. So all that’s in there is cacao mass, sugar and vanilla. (So if you must avoid soy, try this.) It’s also creamy without cream. (So if you’re a vegan, try this.) It’s made from Criollo beans from the Los Rios area of Ecuador.
Earlier this year I got to try a great example of how important conching is. When I was in Germany at ISM Cologne, one of my favorite chocolate companies, Coppeneur gave me this box of two chocolate bars. They were both made from highly prized Chuao beans (review of those bars here) but inside this box were two versions - one that was conched 70 hours and one that was conched 100 hours. The difference is quite remarkable. The longer a bar is conched, the silkier it becomes.
What I’ve learned is that I love long conched chocolate. It’s so smooth that the texture itself becomes like a flavor because it’s simply so forward in the experience.
I’m not sure why the local gal was auctioning the bulk lots of chocolate, but I did find out that she runs a local chocolate catering company called Chocolate by M. She was kind enough to leave me with these huge nonpareils along with the delivery. The photo might make them look small, but they’re huge 3 inch platters of dark chocolate (I don’t know if it’s the same as the Felchlin 72%) with a dense sprinkling of nonpareils on the bottom.
It’s just one easy idea of what I could do with my bevvy of chocolate.
Mostly what I think I’m going to do with my chocolate stash though is eat it. It’s incredibly munchable but also exceptionally intense. I’ve found that I can’t make it an evening snack as there are too many caffeine-like compounds in there that keep me up at night. But I’ve found that it’s a great treat during the day while I work, I’ve been keeping a little dish of them on my desk and probably eat about an ounce of them a day. They’re filling and sustaining.
But maybe the last bag will make it to December and I’ll end up making chocolate truffles for Christmas.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
I saw these little candies making the rounds as a meme, but I didn’t see them in person until I went to Germany.
It’s a Swiss hazelnut chocolate confection shaped into a pocket knife and wrapped in red foil to look like a Swiss Army Knife.
The Mindestens Swiss Chocolate Knife is a pretty simple little candy. The center is soft gianduia (chocolate hazelnut paste) and covered with milk chocolate. It’s sweet and soft, nothing spectacular, as I’ve had much better gianduia before. But it’s hard to quibble with the design, as both the foil and the molding of the chocolate is so attentive to details. Seek them out if you have a Swiss Army Knife fan in the family.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Candy Corn is a sugar confection made by depositing different colored layers of fondant into the shape of a narrow triangle. The flavor of candy corn is muted but often bears notes of honey, marshmallow and occasionally butter. It’s created with starch molds and the most common color layering puts yellow as the base, orange as the center band and white as the small tip. It’s an American candy, originating in the 1880s with dozens of manufacturers now in North America. The molded fondant confection is generically called Mellocreams and can come in a variety of shapes, often lightly flavored and colored.
The first thing I noticed as a trend was Candy Corn appearing out of season with other names or color variations. As a kid, I remember there were two kinds of Candy Corn. The standard yellow, orange and white and then the Indian Corn variety that was brown (a little cocoa flavor), dark orange and white. But later on came Reindeer Corn which comes in red, green and white. There’s Bunny Corn that comes in pastels and sometimes I see Cupid Corn for Valentines that’s red, pink and white.
More recently Gourmet Candy Corns have come along. They’re not really superior in any way to classic Candy Corn, they’re just different color varieties and flavored like Egg Nog, Candied Apples, Green Apple, Tangerine, Cherry, Pumpkin Spice and Toffee.
Mars makes M&Ms White Chocolate Candy Corn. They’re white chocolate centers with a light, sweet flavor covered in candy shells in three colors: orange, white and yellow.
Level of Candy Corn-ness: 5 out of 10
Jelly Belly introduced Jelly Belly Candy Corn Jelly Beans earlier this year. Too bad they couldn’t get the stripes on them.
Level of Candy Corn-ness: 5 out of 10
Vidal, a maker of fascinating gummis in unusual shapes, created a rather unique take on Candy Corn with their Puffy Candy Corn. It’s a foamy gummi that’s actually more fruity flavored than generic sweet fondant is.
Level of Candy Corn-ness: 8 out of 10
For several years Hershey’s issued Hershey’s Candy Corn Kisses, a butter flavored white confection. The shape was a natural for Candy Corn treatment, too bad they didn’t go with the honey flavors and real cocoa butter.
Level of Candy Corn-ness: 8 out of 10
Last year was the first for Whitman’s introduction of the Candy Corn Marshmallow. It’s a large triangular marshmallow covered with “white confection” in two colors.
Level of Candy Corn-ness: 4 out of 10
Dots, made by Tootsie, have been a bit edgier and hipper lately. Their Halloween offerings are spot on, with Ghost Dots and Blood Orange Bat Dots. Of course their Candy Corn Dots also make this list. They’re just vanilla Dots, but cute as buttons.
Level of Candy Corn-ness: 9 out of 10
The level of Candy Corn-ness is evaluated on the basis of the following attributes: stacked color, colors, flavor, scale, and shape.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Name: Angry Birds Fruit Snacks and Gummies
Name: 3 Musketeers Coconut Bar
Name: M&Ms Mint Dark Chocolate
Name: Sun Cup Caramel
Name: Sun Cup Mint
Name: Ritter Sport Espresso Bar
Name: Red Velvet Cupcake Bites
images courtesy of the respective manufacturers
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
In January of this year I visited Amsterdam for the first time. I was fascinated and delighted by the sweets culture of the Dutch. My visit to the city was almost completely on foot. I arrived in a plane and left on a train, but the rest was just walking around within the area of the city known as the Canal Loop. Here’s my reference map.
I stayed right around the corner from the grand flower market, which wasn’t quite in its full glory as it was late January and many of the items they were selling were just bulbs. My goal when I visit most places is to experience candy as the locals do. Sure, I go to the touristy shops, but I love to see how candy is merchandised in grocery stores, convenience shops, vending machines and drug stores. What I found while in Europe is that candy is thriving and it’s for adults and children.
Amsterdam is a great city to visit any time of year, it’s easy to walk (or take public transportation) and really explore. As I’ve mentioned before, I like to balance my visits with tourist things (canal walks to historical locations & museums) along with living like the locals (grocery shopping, local markets and restaurants). Most of the people I encountered spoke English and I learned most of the common phrases in Dutch very quickly; reading signage (if it wasn’t in English) was also pretty simple with a smartphone dictionary app.
As with most European metropolitan areas, they’re not shy about sweets. Bakeries and access to chocolate and candy abounds. I’ll have more on my candy spotting in future posts. But here are three chocolate shops I visited in Amsterdam:
This is a little tea room style shop, the front is a chocolate counter, but up a few stairs past this and the shop widens out to a little cafe for tea, coffee and pastries.
The style of the chocolates is pure classic. Creams, truffles, candied fruits, caramels and chocolate covered nuts.
They had a good selection of gift chocolate in little stand up bags (chocolate covered nuts dusted in cocoa and powdered sugar, orangettes and boxes of Valrhona chocolate) appropriate as a hostess gift or to take home and enjoy. But mostly the shop seemed to be small baked goods (dipped Florentine) and chocolates.
I picked out a small selection of chocolates by the piece. They did have gift boxes, but I had mine in a little paper bag and took them back to the office to taste with my cappuccino.
My favorite by far was the Honey Caramel with Hazelnuts & Dark Chocolate pictured there a little bit in the back. It was a caramel with a light touch of honey filled with whole hazelnuts. It was sliced and then dipped 3/4 into dark chocolate. A soft chew with lots of dark notes.
I also got a cappuccino & cognac (the twisty thing with a coffee bean on top) which was fluffier than most of my truffles and had a good leathery tang to the coffee notes and the The which was a little “dry” because it was on the intense side. In the back, the flat topped one is a nutmeg and wafer ganache: a bit of feulletine and some rich spice in a milky ganache. (I don’t remember what the other one in the front was - my guess is a dark chocolate, since I usually try to get a plain chocolate). I would definitely stop at this shop again. There are two locations.
The shop that I most wanted to visit was called Puccini Bomboni which also has several locations. My hotel was equidistant from both shops yet I had a bit of trouble getting there. For some reason the morning I decided to make that my coffee stop I chose to go to the Singel location only to realize that they didn’t open until 11 AM. The next day I tried going to the other location on Staalstraat but didn’t make it before they closed at 6 PM. On my third try I did get back to Staalstraat and because of my difficulties, I felt the need to buy nine chocolates.
The shop on Staalstraat is quaint and well situated on a quiet corner. They had lots of impulse items, prepackaged chocolate straws, nougats, chocolate covered nuts and house-made chocolate bars. The shop is lit in amber and had a warmer feel than Pompadour. Still, it was an overwhelming shop, mostly because the chocolates are huge. Seriously, they’re enormous chocolates.
The counter is arranged with what seemed like two dozen varieties. I pondered (and took a few photos) while the woman in the shop fetched an appropriate box.
I was attracted to the less common flavors and of course the liquor infused ones. I can’t remember exactly what I picked up but it went something like this:
Aniseseed, Cognac, Cointreau, Lemongrass, Drambuie, Coffee, Mint, Nutmeg and Hazelnut Marzipan.
Each piece is substantial, some were over two inches long. They were lighter than I expected, the ganache center, made with all natural ingredients were lightly frothed into something that was more like a mousse than a dense truffle.
It was too much chocolate for me, even eating two a day, I found myself overwhelmed with them, because each piece was so huge. The liquor flavors weren’t intense in the way that some alcohol infused kinds can burn. Instead they go more of the flavor in there, so the cognac was leathery and smoky while the cointreau was just a touch orange. The nutmeg was a dreamy, creamy comfort with just a touch of the woodsy and aromatic spice.
I want to eat more of these, but I know that if I ever go back there again I’m going to end up in the same boat - too much chocolate all at once. So my tip to travelers is to make this your stop on your first day, not the last day. I would have gladly traded one of my dinners made of black bread and yogurt for Hazelnut Marzipan.
Vanderdonk is a little different from the other two I visited, they carried a lot of other chocolates from all over the world: Pacari, Taza, Bonnat, Pralus, Valrhona, Venchi and even some Dean & Deluca items. Their website has a good listing of the brands that they carry, the shop is nicely designed and well curated with only a few items from each of the brands.
They also had a selection of house made chocolates. I picked out three as a dessert for my soup lunch before I visited Rijksmuseum.
It was rather cold on that day and for some bizarre reason I decided to eat al fresco. It was probably less than 50 degrees and I huddled on a wind whipped bench by a duck-graced canal around the corner from the museum and sipped my quickly chilling squash soup before diving into my chocolates. The pieces were dense and had very mild flavors. They weren’t my favorite chocolates from the trip but they were a wonderful appetizer before strolling the museum and seeing Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid in person. (It’s much smaller than I expected, and even much bluer.)
If I’m in the city again, I do plan on visiting again to sample the other chocolate that they carry.
Vanderdonk Fine Chocolates
My visit was much more than chocolate, but I’ll have some thoughts about candy and licorice at a later date.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Most chocolate and liquor combinations are about the flavors. This one actually has a real sip of Scotch inside each chocolate sphere. Kind of like and alcoholic geode.
These little morsels are from K Chocolatier of Beverly Hills. This is just a tease, review to come.
Friday, September 9, 2011
A new flavor of TicTacs called Strawberry Fields. The candies are two different shades of pink but I think they were the same light strawberry flavor.
You can read an excellent full review at Sugar Pressure. They should be on store shelves now, but I haven’t seen them. These were a sample from the Sweets and Snacks Expo.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.