Monday, December 24, 2012
I hope everyone is having a tasty holiday and enjoying all their favorite seasonal sweets and perhaps starting new traditions.
Keep safe, hold your loved ones tight and if all that togetherness pushes your buttons, take a candy break.
Are you getting or giving confections for Christmas this year? I’m in charge of the stockings this year, so there will be a nice mix of American favorites and a good sampling of German candy in there as well.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Every year I look forward to the post-Halloween emergence of holiday sweets at Trader Joe’s. There’s always a bit of a European flair to their selections, with an eye toward traditional confections with the occasional new age/artisanal candy. This year I perused three different stores in two counties to see what the offerings are this year. Here’s my roundup of what you might be able to find at Trader Joe’s to satisfy your (or a gift recipient’s) sweet tooth. (I may have missed something, so please chime in with your observations or reviews.)
New for 2012:
Trader Joe’s Sea Salt Butterscotch Caramels $3.49 - little nuggets of caramel covered in rich chocolate and more than a hint of sea salt. Gourmet Milk Duds. I picked these up (I’m not sure if they’re seasonal or not) and plan to review them, so you’ll probably be seeing that photo again.
Fruit and Nut Log $3.99 - a nougat center, covered in pistachios and pecans along with dried cranberries and apricots.
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Caramallows $2.99 - a layer of marshmallow on top of caramel, covered in dark chocolate. It’s no See’s Scotchmallow, but I suppose it will do in a pinch.
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Salted Caramel Truffles $3.99 - I reviewed these already, and though they’re fun, they’re not quite as good as some other seasonal items. (See review - 7 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Organic Peppermint Starlights $1.99 - yup, organic hard candies. Great if you’re looking for something corn syrup-free.
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Candy Cane Truffles $3.99 - kind of like individually wrapped Frangoes, as far as I can tell.
Returning Favorites for 2012
Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel Caramels (wood box) $6.99 (2006 review, still the same packaging. Classic, nicely done but a little pricey for boiled sugar. 7 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Cranberry Caramel Delights $7.99 - these were called Trader Joe’s Merry Mingle last year - caramel with pecans and cranberries dipped in dark chocolate (read review - 8 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Brandy Beans $2.99 - these have been coming back on and off for years, they tend to sell out really early.
Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate & Dark Chocolate Oranges $2.99 - the price went up 50 cents (Reviewed in 2009 as Florida Tropic Oranges. Good quality & price plus always charming package and dark is vegan 7 out of 10 & 8 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Belgian Chocolate Shoppe $9.99 - I don’t have great luck with these, but they’re a nice hostess gift if you can’t get to See’s.
Trader Joe’s Cocoa Truffles $2.99 - inexcusable fat bombs imported from France. (see my review - I gave them a 3 out of 10, though I think the ingredients have changed a little bit, they’re still quite thin tasting yet stupidly fatty)
Trader Joe’s Chocolate Liqueur Cherries $5.99 - the price is up on this one, I recall they were $4.99 last year. But dried cherries are insanely expensive, so perhaps their ingredient cost went up.
Trader Joe’s Peppermint Bark $9.99 a tin - a great bargain for a very well made product.
Trader Joe’s English Toffee with Nuts (Tall Can) $7.99 (previously in a box like this? It’d call it a step above Almond Roca)
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups $.99 - I have a serious problem with these (review from last year). When they’re not sold individually wrapped, they’re in tubs.
Trader Joe’s Chocolate Rings with Sprinkle - they’re just little disks of dark chocolate with sprinkles, like giant SnoCaps - $1.99
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Cashew Brittle with Sea Salt $2.99
Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Coal - dark chocolate covered candy cane bits - $1.99
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels $4.99 (2007 review - more of a flowing caramel than the chewy style of the Fleur de Sel - 6 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Minty Mallows $2.99 (2010 review - they’re quite moist and dense 7 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate After Dinner Mint Thins $2.99 (made in England) - they’re better than After Eight mints.
Also returning are the chocolate covered Peppermint JoJos and a variety box of other chocolate covered flavored Jo Jos. Though I reviewed the JoJo’s before, I can’t really call them candy.
Not Returning (unless you’ve sighted them):
Trader Joe’s Classic Holiday Candy Mix - classic hard candy straws & pillows made with all natural ingredients. $1.99 (read review - 7 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Eggnog Almonds - $3.99 (read review - 9 out of 10) These are made by Marich and I did see them at Sprouts in the bulk aisle labeled as Nutmeg White Chocolate Almonds.
Trader Joe’s Minty Melts - it’s peppermint bark for people who don’t like the crushed candy canes in it - $4.99 (read review - 7 out of 10)
Friday, November 30, 2012
At the Michel Cluizel shop in Manhattan, I was enchanted by the look of these little chocolate spheres. Inside the chocolate and sparkly ones is dark chocolate and a little bit of crisped rice. The red ones are white chocolate inside. I loved the elegant holiday look.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
It’s been over five years since I’ve been to Manhattan, which I consider one of the United States’ great candy shopping cities. Naturally, I visited a lot of candy stores and chocolate shops and have plenty to report.
FAO Schweetz is found in the flagship FAO Schwartz store on 5th Avenue at Central Park South and occupies at least a third of the first floor. The candy merchandising is done by IT’SUGAR (but less tarted up). They have a good selection of candy, with a special emphasis on large things. Giant things. Things you can probably buy elsewhere but are enchanting in this atmosphere. Like the World’s Largest Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the One Pound Snickers Slice ‘n Share, large boxes of Wonka Nerds and some cereal themed packaging of candies (pictured to the right).
The prices are steep, I bought some Christmas Peeps for $3.49 which could have been a buck at Target.
Myzel’s Chocolate is a spot I’ve wanted to visit for years, but not for the chocolate, for the licorice. True to their reputation, this tiny little shop does have a huge and well curated variety of fresh licorice. I didn’t pick up a lot as I’ve already either had the varieties they carry or they were the salted licorice types that I don’t enjoy that much. I did get some griotten, skoolkrijt, beehives, Italian rosemary licorice, Copenhagen cats, chocolate licorice twists and Dutch lozenges.
It’s great to be in New York when there’s a chill in the air, because that means that it’s time for hot chocolate. Though I took a walk through Maison du Chocolate at Rockefeller Center, I opted for my first hot chocolate in Manhattan from Michel Cluizel, who didn’t have a shop when I visited last. I had a dark hot chocolate and a salted caramel macaron. It’s a petite cup of hot chocolate, which is fine with me as I don’t need or want much. The macaron was fresh, flaky and crunchy with a nice salted caramel layer in the middle.
I then walked over to the Upper West Side to check out Fairway Market and Zabar’s (for some soup) along with a stop at a gelato shop called Grom that’s known for their hot chocolate.
The Grom hot chocolate is the closest to the Spanish style I’ve had, appropriate for dipping churros or other baked goods. It’s thick and I’m told, it becomes much thicker like a mousse when refrigerated. (I would have tried that, as I couldn’t finish the 8 ounce portion and wanted to take it back to the hotel, but they didn’t have any lids.)
The Man and I headed down to the New Amsterdam Market (because it was Pickle Fest) and visited Liddabit Sweet‘s excellent stand to see their complete line of hand crafted sweets. They have 10 different gourmet candy bars to chose from (and unfortunately had no samples to help me decide) but I did manage to pick out 3 of them: Pecan Pie, Humbug and The Snacker. I also got some of their Beer and Pretzel Caramels and an assortment of their lollipops to soothe my aching throat.
The next series of stops were more nostalgia - we popped into Economy Candy, which was mobbed but happily back up and humming since Superstorm Sandy as well as Yonah Schimmels and we tried to go into Russ and Daughters but the line was out of the door.
Then it was off to Roni-Sue, pretty much the gal who started the whole pig candy craze. I was more interested in the comfort food candies, including her Beer & Pretzel Caramel.
I took a walk through Aji Ichiban and Ham Kam Market in Chinatown, but I didn’t see any Asian treats I can’t find at home, so I didn’t opt to buy anything.
Then it was LA Burdick for hot chocolate and a canele. The hot chocolate was not sticky or too thick, but rich and dark. The canele was small but had a custardy center and a caramelized shell with a hint of citrus zest. I also bought an $8 bag of “seconds” at the counter which was literally a grab bag of goodies. There were at least 20 pieces, though LA Burdick pieces are very small, but that resulted in an excellent variety. It really was the best deal of my trip. I put them on a plate in my room and had one or two at my leisure during the week.
My last spot for the day was Eataly, which was jam packed with people, so much that I was overwhelmed and decided to go back again later when it might be calmer.
Dylan’s Candy Bar is an iconic stop in New York City for candy aficionados. It’s also one of my least favorite places to buy candy and this visit proved no different from my other experiences. The marketing is rarely about the deliciousness of the candy, and the choices they make in their products often show how they value style over substance.
Down in the lower level, I was pretty much aghast at how filthy it was. Granted, it was later in the day (I think around 5:30) but that doesn’t explain all of it. Near the serve-yourself bulk bins there was candy on the floor. There were at least three sales associates restocking, or maybe just talking with large boxes nearby, yet none of them made any effort to clean up the messes. It wasn’t just in that section, but the bulk areas were most notable. Some candy was broken and ground into the floor. The thing that really turned me off though was the fact that the floor was cleaned inconsistently. At the baseboards it was absolutely filthy. It was obvious that they just slopped down a rag mop and pushed all the dirt into the corners. It wasn’t as noticeable on the colored floors (in the banded colors of the Dylan’s logo) but some floors were white and it was quite apparent that they didn’t regularly clean in those areas.
The store charges a premium price, and for that I expect cleanliness at the very minimum. (My original post on the store his here.)
This was my cultural enrichment day, so I headed up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I was disappointed to find that the Temple of Dendur was closed as well as the Dutch Masters rooms in the European Painting wing. Not that there weren’t other wonderful things to see, such as the special exhibit on Manipulated Photography through the years and Roentgen furniture.
I started my day with a stop at Francois Payard in the Food Hall at the Plaza Hotel for a mochaccino and a salted caramel macaron. Both were excellent, just the right touch of chocolate in my espresso (though more milk that I would have liked). The salted caramel filling of the macaron was silky smooth.
I also picked up a couple of marshmallows at Three Tarts Bakery - a vanilla bean and an espresso. I’m still not a big marshmallow person, though these were good. Soft, delicate and well flavored.
Then I walked up to Laduree on Madison Ave. and picked up four more macaron, including their Salted Caramel, Citron Vert, Dark Chocolate and Rose. The first I ate while walking to the museum, the other three I saved for my walk back ... which also meant that the got a bit smashed in my bag.
Later in the evening I walked down to Times Square and checked out the M&Ms Store. I’ve been to the one in Las Vegas before, so this was no surprise. It’s three stories jam packed with Chinese-made branded merchandise. Some of it is quite charming, but it’s also a bit overwhelming after a while. The actual candy available is rather limited. They have the color walls of the M&Ms available in both the Milk Chocolate and the Milk Chocolate with Peanut. But there were no special buys, no limited edition candy ... not even anything else from Mars.
I’d say the highlight, after listening to blaring dance music was to see the Red M&M dance with some other patrons to Gangham Style.
Across the street is the Hershey’s Store, which pales in comparison to the Hershey’s Chocolate World. It’s just a little store front with lots of shiny lights on the outside advertising the Hershey’s brands, but not much for sale inside. Again, not great prices and very little that’s hard to find. Very little that I didn’t see at any Duane Reade on every corner.
The Meadow is one of those fantastic stores that sells an incredible selection of very specific items. In this case they have salt, bitters and chocolate. The chocolate bar selection is very well curated and had just about everything I was looking for, including Canadian bean-to-bar maker, SOMA. They also had all the big hits like Amano, Askinosie, Pralus, Chocolat Bonnat, Olive & Sinclair, Mast Bros, Patric, Dick Taylor and Domori. There are two main sections, the plain chocolate bars (single origin for the most part) and the bars with inclusions plus a few confections.
Another interesting thing to note, nothing will have peanuts in it. The owners have a peanut allergy in the family, so they don’t bring anything into the store that has peanuts (though I’m guessing there could be traces with some products like Patric that does use peanuts but did not have any peanut products in the store).
Sockerbit is a Swedish candy store I’ve been looking forward to visiting since I heard that it opened. It’s clean and spare little store with a whole wall of bulk candies. The price is per pound, $12.99 whether you get licorice, chocolate or sour gummis.
It’s a large cross section of Swedish confections. There are fudge and nougat as well as foamy marshmallow, sour gummis and a pretty good selection of salted licorice. I picked up, pretty much, one or two of everything. They have a nice online store, so I can always order from the web for any new favorites.
There’s really only one reason I go to Kee’s Chocolate, it’s for the Creme Brulee chocolates. They’re large geodesic dome shaped things, about twice the size of a regular chocolate from them. They must be eaten immediately. Inside is a soupy custardy creme brulee. It’s sweet and caramelized and creamy. The chocolate shatters when it hits the mouth, so it must be popped on the tongue whole.
I also got three other chocolates, a blood orange which was okay, a pink peppercorn which had a wonderful earthy, carrot flavor to it (I liked it!) and a dark chocolate. The centers were a little grainy, which I found odd, but not off-putting. Earlier review here.
Max Brenner is a chocolate themed eatery in Union Square featuring “Chocolate by the Bald Man.” I’ve had some of Max Brenner’s chocolate selections before his move in the US market about 5 years ago. It’s a large beautifully designed, if you like a steampunk chocolate maker meets Sizzler steakhouse.
Since it was after lunch in the middle of the week, it was no trouble to take a table just to have a dark hot chocolate. It was good, rich, but not the best hot chocolate I’d had all week. I think it would have been better with something else on the menu, or as a dessert to a light lunch.
Eataly is a high end food mall with restaurants, coffee bars and of course a huge selection of groceries from Italy. They have a well curated section of Italian candy, of course, featuring Venchi. Other brands included Caffarel, Domori, Amarelli licorice, Perugina and Leone.
The prices were steep, I picked up my favorite Sassolini from Amarelli, it was $5.80 for a mere 1.4 ounces. The biggest thrill though is the sheer amount of torrone (nougat) they had, in both the soft style and the hard version. They’re opening on in Los Angeles, so I hear, so I’ll wait until they’re local and pick up new candies as needed.
Addresses for all locations are available on this map. Plus some spots that I wasn’t able to visit. Previous New York experiences are tagged with NYC.
Friday, November 9, 2012
When I’m traveling I’m usually still writing reviews, so I travel with a little packet of the candies in my queue.
But I also like to snacks, so I create trail mixes for myself. I’m on the road again and this time around I made the following mix:
Pretzels (I prefer Spelt pretzels as they have more protein so are more filling)
The best ratio for the mix, for my tastes, is about 1/2 Pretzels, 1/4 Raw Almonds and the remaining equal parts Sugar Babies and Clark Bites. I don’t need that much sweet in my snacks and the protein of the almonds is very filling. Each element combines well, so I can eat a pretzel with an almond, or a Sugar Baby with an almond ... it’s all interchangeable.
Other things I have included in the past:
Marich Dark Chocolate Cacao Nib Toffee (I don’t know if these are discontinued, I can’t find them any longer, but the Sconza Toffee Chocolate Almonds shown above are fantastic as well)
It could use a tangy & fruity element to it, like chocolate covered raisins or cranberries. (Straight raisins get very sticky and make my pretzels stale.)
Other Planes/Trains & Auto Snacks:
I like to package my mixes in sturdy zipper plastic bags, I prefer the ones with the little slider on it. Unlike some of the individually wrapped candies I also travel with, the mixes don’t make any trash. The flexible packaging is easy to stuff into my carry on bag and often I’ll toss an extra one into my checked luggage if it’s a long trip.
In a pinch though you can buy pre-made mixes. M&Ms is making some now that come in zipper bags. Of course you’re stuck with their idea of a good ratio and you might not like all the elements in there.
Chex also makes Chex Mixes, including a few sweet & salty versions like Chex Mix Chocolate Turtle which includes caramel-coated corn Chex, cocoa-seasoned corn Chex, pretzels, nuts, caramel-coated popcorn and chocolaty candies. (Note the use of the word chocolaty, that’s pretty much what’s been keeping me from trying them.)
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
What are you giving out to Trick or Treaters this year?
The kids in my neighborhood seem to like Airheads, so this will be the third year I’m giving those out. As a change this year I’m also giving out Unreal Candy, since it’s sustainably sourced and has no artificial ingredients. I have their peanut nougat bars and the peanut butter cups. We’ll see how that goes over. Judging by the density of Priuses on my block, it should be well received. In all, I have over 80 pieces of candy for what I expect will be about 35 kids ... so maybe I need a little more.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Halloween is the first Holiday in Candy Season. The variety of candy is not quite as remarkable as Easter or Christmas, because most candy is just smaller sizes of single serve products for easy distribution for Halloween trick or treaters. It’s interesting to see what the new and returning products are each year.
The big trend seems to be seasonal flavor combinations. The notable ones are Candy Corn (now in jelly bean, gum drop, chocolate covered & novelty flavors) and Caramel Apple (lollipops, Milky Way bars, Werther’s hard candies, Sugar Babies).
I haven’t seen much that’s new this year, but I did visit most of the stores in my area to see what’s on the shelves, here’s my hitlist of the highlights:
FARLEY’S & SATHERS (BRACH’S)
(review) Now available in snack packs for Trick or Treat
NESTLE & WONKA
So what have you seen that’s new or what’s missing that you’ve been looking forward to?
Friday, October 19, 2012
The big announcements for new candies came out earlier this year, but there are still some new products hitting shelves and on the horizon.
Name: Kandy Bar Kake:S’mores, Peanut Butter & Peppermint
Name: TABASCO Jelly Belly Jelly Beans
Name: Milky Way Bites
Name: Snickers Bites
Name: Dove Mint & Dark Chocolate Swirl
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.