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
Monday, October 8, 2012
Last month I visited Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania, as I often do when I’m in the area. The themed space is open year around and adjacent to Hersheypark. It’s free to visit and is mostly a Hershey themed mall with a food court and a ride the includes the story of how Hershey’s makes their chocolate.
One of the new attractions at Chocolate World is Create Your Own Candy Bar. It’s a real, mini candy factory where you can customize a single, large candy bar from an array of options. It’s $14.95, so it’s not cheap, but it is an engaging way to spend 30 to 45 minutes, especially if you love to watch machines.
When buying the ticket, you’re asked for your first and last name plus your zip code. I didn’t realize that this was how the bar was customized as you go through the factory experience (though you’re only addressed by your first name and last initial, in case you’re visiting with your AA group). If I knew this, I could have given my name as CandyBlog as you’ll see later.
The tickets are for sale in the main lobby, patrons are given a ticket with a scheduled start time. Folks line up and are given hair nets and aprons, asked to remove all visible jewelry (rings and watches) and hopefully washed their hands. (You don’t actually come into contact with any of the equipment or ingredients.) I don’t know what the limit for a group is, but I would guess about 15-18 people.
The event starts with a quick video which shows you how each stage of the process will work. The basic steps are: choosing your formula, the production of the bar, the cooling of the bar, creating a custom wrapper and then the boxing of the bar.
The customizations are:
You simply scan your ticket’s bar code at the screen and make your selections.
Through a set of swinging doors, the set up is a real mini factory line with a continuous conveyer through a series of stainless steel machines. It extends along a long exterior wall, so it’s well lit and you can view it from the outside (though a real candy factory wouldn’t allow so much sunlight directly on the process). You can follow along and witness every step of the manufacture. Everything is well within view just behind a plexiglass divider and well marked with what’s going on at each step.
The process starts with a chocolate base. It’s like a little, short walled box of a bar. I chose dark chocolate and the suction arms picked one up and dropped it onto the conveyer to start. Along the conveyer are the six possible inclusions, when the bar arrived at an inclusion for your bar, the hopper or screw feeder opens up and drops in your items.
At each station, the items are marked and a little bit about the reasons for the type of dispensing is explained. Screw feeders work well for items that might be sticky, like toffee bits and gravity feeders are for dry items like nuts and pretzels.
Once my inclusions, pretzel bits, almonds and butter toffee bits, were inside the little chocolate box, the bar proceeded towards the enrober. All bars were coated in milk chocolate. No choice. My bar, though, was filled unevenly. The corners had nothing in them and the center had a too-high mound. I would have preferred that my bar go over some sort of vibrating bar that would level things before the enrober.
The enrober is a thick curtain of chocolate on an open mesh conveyer. The video above is short, but gives you an idea of the process. The chocolate that isn’t used gets filtered and recycled back into the system. (So do not eat these bars if you’re sensitive to gluten, tree nuts or peanuts, even if you didn’t pick those items.)
After enrobing, bars that get sprinkles will. I didn’t select those. Then the bars go into a cooling tunnel. The cooling process takes about 8 minutes, so it’s off to waste time in the design and marketing department.
Just off the “factory floor” is a room with more touch screens. Waving the little bar code on my ticket got a new series of options. First, I could design my wrapper. (Well, it’s actually a sleeve, it’s not well explained before you get in there that the chocolate bar comes in a box, which is then inside a tin which gets a customized sleeve.) The design options are not extraordinary. You can choose your background as either a solid or gradient of color or a pattern. Then there are the added items - Hershey Logos, Your Name and some icons (mostly Autumnal and Halloween). I made what struck me as a pretty ugly design and pressed print.
After that the screens give you marketing data about your candy bar. All sorts of different graphs that say how popular or common things are and what other people have done.
That process took me about three minutes, and I tried to rush through it since there were only five screens and plenty of people (including some kids which probably wanted more time on the design). Then it was back to watching the cooling tunnel ... which is a tunnel and only had a few little windows to check on the progress of the bars.
Once the bars came out of the cooling tunnel they were loaded into little slots and dumped into boxes. The boxes got a little laser printing on the end with everyone’s name, then went down to the wrapping stations. This was the only part of the process that was hands-on with any of the factory workers. They had already printed our labels and were waiting for the bars to come out. They popped the bars into a tin, closed the tin and put on the sleeve wrapper.
The factory experience gives people the ability to walk through with their own bar, but also enough time to go back and really look at the equipment if they desire. I don’t know how large the groups can get, but it appears that Hershey’s keeps the manageable so that you have enough room to move around and see everything. Photography is permitted. Children are welcome though everyone has to have a ticket (except toddlers under 2) and everyone makes their own bar. They are ADA compliant, and I saw no reason that folks in wheelchairs wouldn’t be able to get the full experience. (Chocolate World as a whole seemed to be very accessible and actually well attended by folks of all abilities.)
It’s extremely clean, as you’d hope. It’s very well run and each person you meet on the Hershey’s staff is eager and seem knowledgeable. (Especially once you get in the factory room.)
I was at the front of the line and ended up being the first bar (I already scoped what I wanted and was ready at the bar selection process). For me it was about 35 minutes, but if you’re slower or at the back of the line, this might be 45 minutes or more. So allow ample time, as well as the fact that once you get there and they issue the ticket, your start time may be more than a half an hour away.
So there’s my lackluster wrapper. Under the stiff printed sleeve, the chocolate bar is inside an embossed tin with the Hershey’s logo on it. It’s a nice tin, one that I can see myself keeping and using for storing small items.
The tin is 7.5” by 4.5” and 1.25” high with rounded corners. There’s a plastic tray inside that holds the boxed chocolate bar with the generic packaging.
The bar is pretty big. It’s 5 inches long and 2.75 inches wide and maybe 2/3 of an inch high. I don’t have an approximate weight on it, but it’s well over 6 ounces.
As I noted from the production line while watching it being made, the base is dark chocolate and though the chocolate tray had room, the inclusions didn’t make it into the corners. So it takes a while of biting to get to the interesting part of the bar.
I broke my bar open and just as I suspected, the contents spilled out. What’s more, I felt like I was missing the actual inclusiveness ... then enrobing didn’t actually cover my center. So I had my filling adjacent to chocolate, but not actually covered.
Aside from the physical mess, I didn’t like the taste. The fillings were dry and even though it was only a week later that I ate it, it was stale. The pretzel pieces weren’t crisp and were really small so had less crunch to them and were more of a grainy texture. The almonds were nice, small pieces but still fresh and crunchy. But what I was really disappointed about was the butter toffee bits. I was hoping for little Heath toffee chips. Instead I got some sort of artificial butter flavored thing that just stunk up the bar.
Though I chose a dark chocolate base, the majority of the chocolate in the bar is still the milk chocolate. It’s rich and sweet, but does have that Hershey’s tang to it. (Some don’t like it, but if you don’t ... why are you at Hershey’s Chocolate World?) The dark chocolate notes came in a bit, especially when I was eating the sides, but really didn’t nothing in the middle.
On the whole, I give myself 5 out of 10. I blame my inexperience and ingredients.
The problem with my fillings is that they’re dry. What I would suggest is either squirting a little chocolate in the base first and then putting the inclusions into it, or putting layers of chocolate into the center between the dispensing of the inclusions. Then do a little jiggling to get it all evened out and get the air out. This solves two problems.
The other thing I might suggest is that the “candy makers” get to try the inclusions first. There should be a little tasting table, maybe after you’ve bought your ticket before you get the “orientation” portion. That way we can really get a sense of what we’re putting in there instead of $15 experiments. The other thing I’d like to see is the ability to go through the process just accompanying someone who bought a ticket. I can see this being a huge expense for a family with many kids. It would be nice if the parents weren’t obligated to also get a ticket and bar.
Chocolate World is fun, and though it’s billed as free, there are some interesting attractions making this a good rainy-day destination for family, friends and couples who live nearby or are traveling through the area.
The stores there carry a huge array of branded merchandise and candy. The candy selection, though there’s a great quantity, isn’t really that diverse. For Hershey’s Dagoba and Scharffen Berger line they carry only three or four items. The prices are about what you’d pay at the drug store or grocery store when the items aren’t on sale, which is too bad. I heard more than one person lamenting that they could do better and not have to haul the stuff home if they just stop by Target or Costco. So I’d suggest focusing on the hats, tee shirts, playing cards, keychains and mugs.
What I would want from a “factory store” is a section where you can get special preview items, items out of season and of course super discounts on factory seconds. Something that I couldn’t get anywhere else. I’d also want better prices, after all, you’re buying direct so if there are no middle men, why are the prices so high? The only item I saw that rose to that level of specialness were green & red Hershey-ets.
Hershey’s Chocolate World
Free parking, free admission. Fees for most special activities. Wheelchair accessible. Their hours vary wildly, so call or check their website. Open every day (except Christmas).
More photos from PennLive of the Create Your Own Chocolate Bar.
Hershey’s Chocolate World gets a 7 out of 10 from me as an adult, I think kids would rank it higher.
My ticket for this experience was comped by Hershey’s. I have not done any of the other classes or movies at Chocolate World, only the free ride and shopped at the stores.
Friday, August 17, 2012
Here are some new confections that are coming in the future or may have already hit stores near you.
Name: Milky Way French Vanilla and Caramel Bar
Name: Toblerone Crunchy Salted Almond
Name: Perugina Baci White
Name: Warheads Sour Coolers
Name: Tic Tac Fruit Adventure
Name: Astro Pops
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.