Thursday, June 24, 2010
Italy has probably been a confectionery center for thousands of years. Before cane sugar came along candies were made from dates, honey and nuts. But when Italy became a center of trade in the Mediterranean and had access to white sugar they became a hotbed of candy invention.
The heart of this tradition is the panned sweet. A nut or seed is the starter and then layers of sugar or chocolate are added as they tumble in a bin (rather like a cement mixer). The bonus in this kind of candy making was that a thick sugar coating actually preserved the nut or seed at the center. So a candied almond or pistachio could be easily carried around without worry that they’d get rancid and of course they were ideal for gifting.
In 1833 William diCarlo was founded in Sulmona, Italy, an area known for confetti (panned nuts and seeds). Their traditional methods and care in selecting their ingredients is evident from the packaging, list of ingredients and the product itself. I was given this box of Perle di dolcezza by their distributor Ritrovo Italian Regional Foods in the United States after I saw them at the Fancy Food Show in January.
The box is a fascinating construction. It’s like a flower (see this page at Amazon). Pop the top off and the sides fold out, like origami. Inside that is a little clear cellophane bag nestled inside the foil lined box.
Let’s face it, they’re drop dead gorgeous candies from the outside. But the construction is just as tantalizing: they’re a hazelnut covered in rich chocolate and then a candy coating. The whole thing is finished with a bronzy sparkling layer.
They smell sweet and a little like roasted nuts, but not much like chocolate.
The shell is thick and very crispy. The nuts are well roasted, so they’re also crunchy with no hint of raw chewiness. The dark chocolate layer is thick, but not overpowering. So the whole thing munched together has an excellent balance between the nut and the chocolate. The shell is kind of odd, the pearly coating not only looks metallic, it tastes slightly metallic, kind of like pennies. Maybe that was my mind playing tricks on me, but it had a mineral salt flavor to it, like a strong mineral water with a little zinc or copper note.
I loved the look and the crunch with the fresh nut plus the good quality chocolate was definitely different - this is the M&M I’ve always wished existed. But the metallic taste to it was a little off-putting - like my mouth was saying “danger” so I was careful not to eat too many in one day. The price is something that would keep most mortals from chowing down on lethal levels anyway, I saw them on Amazon for $13.50 a package (that’s $49 a pound). So they’re definitely a “sometimes food” not an everyday indulgence. They’d be ideal for a small wedding/shower/party - and I’d probably mix them in with other not-so-expensive items as part of a favor or candy display.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Every once in a while when I’m at an Italian restaurant, I see a bowl of tiny waxed paper candies offered by the hostess desk. They’re usually green and look a bit like confetti. I used to get these in my stocking as a kid (in the eucalyptus version). They’re Italian jujubes called Puntini ... tiny little firm jelly disks that seem to last forever.
I got a whole bag of the Frutti Tropicali (Tropical Fruit) version from Candy Warehouse a few weeks ago and have been enjoying these tiny nibbles that come in five flavors.
These are tiny little candies. Think the size of CeDe Smarties. About one half an inch around and a quarter of an inch high, the disk has a slight depression in one side.
Drop one on a hard surface and it sounds like a bit of plastic. Smooth and dry to the touch, it looks more like a piece of unpolished amber than candy.
While it may not look like candy immediately, it tastes like it. This little nubbin of yellow has an immediate flavor of pineapple. Granted, it’s more like canned pineapple, but still tangy & floral.
It dissolves slowly, and as it melts away it has a bit of a glycerin texture that I find soothing to my throat. Of course if you’re not patient enough to let it dissolve, it can get stuck in the teeth.
The candies are mostly all natural. They’re naturally colored and flavored with some artificial flavors as well.
What I surprised about, since this was the first time I’ve had them with an actual packaged to check the ingredients, was that there is no gelatin in them. They’re thickened with Gum Arabic and starch. So these are completely vegan (the pink color comes from elderberry juice not cochineal).
The passion fruit was kind of like a punch flavor with a little hint of hibiscus ... not quite like the passion fruit flavors I’m used to. But what worked really well here was the texture, that smooth and gooey style works to sell the passion fruit as that’s what the fresh seeds are like.
Guava was my least favorite, but that’s a personal thing. I’m not that keen on fresh guavas and this has that same musky flavor to it - kind of like a really potent cantaloupe rind. It’s tangy and sweet and definitely fragrant.
Besides taking rather long to eat, these are ridiculously low in calories for a candy that’s not made with any low cal sweeteners. They clock in at less than 3 calories a piece ... yeah ... you can eat a whole ounce of them (which would be about 30 of them) and only take in 75 calories.
Tangy and zesty. I didn’t really get that key lime chalky note, but the zest seems true and more on the grapefruit side of things to keep it from going into bathroom cleaner territory.
The zest actually gives a lingering bitterness to it, but also means that the flavor lasts as well, giving this a good freshening aspect.
One of the other things I enjoyed, besides having a jar of them in my office with their bright & summery colors was the size. There’s a place in this world for a tiny candy. They’re pretty discreet to, so it’s easy to suck on one in a meeting without having a big bulge in your cheek if you need to talk.
This one was rather vividly colored orange.
Before I looked up what the flavors were supposed to be, I thought this was tangerine. But Mandarin Orange is probably a better description.
It’s tangy and has a zesty pop to it. It tastes a little like marmalade from time to time, less like an orange hard candy or a Tang drink mix.
I was really pleased with these, far more than I thought I’d be. They’re rather enduring. Simply packaged, compelling and probably a flavor for everyone in the mix. (I definitely want to try the Sambuca or Licorice version.)
I actually saw these for sale in little tins at Starbucks on Sunday, so they’re available in more reasonably sized packages than the internet ... but once you fall in love with them, the investment for a 3.3 pound bag might be worth it.
Note: the importer’s website says they are Gluten Free. Unfortunately there is no listing that says they’re Kosher.
Monday, April 27, 2009
I’ve had my fair share of skoolkrijt (schoolchalk) licorice on the past few years, after being given some by a coworker returning from a vacation. Since then I’ve bought pounds and pounds of the stuff to eat over and above the normal Candy Blog review queue. For those who have never had it, it’s a mild fondant/cream inside a black licorice tube, then covered in a crunchy, slightly minted candy shell. The little pieces look like blackboard chalk.
The idea of fruit flavored licorice was more than intriguing. I had no idea what it’d be like ... would it be flavored licorice, like Red Vines/Twizzlers or the traditional black stuff? Would it be white?
The package explains it all pretty well - the candy coating outside is pastel colored and lightly flavored, then a black licorice rope filled with a creamy flavored center. There were three flavors: Lemon, Apple and Raspberry.
I am accustomed to the Venco brand of licorice chalk, but this was pretty much the same shape and size. One inch long and about one half an inch in diameter.
The pieces look an awful lot like chalk. They smell an awful lot like raspberry flavor ... doesn’t matter which piece I pick out of the assortment, they all smell like sticky, sweet, floral raspberry body wash. I separated out the pieces and dove in.
Raspberry is pink, of course. The crunchy shell is all sweetness, the cream center is more sweetness of a deeper more jam-flavor. The licorice is hard to discern, it contributes a slight woodsy and molasses note to the whole thing, but chewing quickly means missing it entirely.
Apple is light green. These were rather vague on the outside, perhaps because of the strong raspberry thing going on. On the inside though, the cream center is very strong and tastes of apple juice. The licorice is a nice texture variation, but there is no anise, no molasses, not beet-like root notes. I did not like apple.
Lemon in the lightest yellow is the redeemer here. The shell has a kiss of sweet lemon essence, like lemon balm. The cream center, though, is like a regular Skoolkrijt, a bit minty/menthol. The black licorice notes aren’t very strong, but dark and tasty.
I would buy just Yellow Chalk. I would not buy this fruit Schoolchalk. As it is, I’m just picking out the yellow stuff to eat. Eating the other flavors last week gave me a tummy ache and spoiled my appetite for dinner.
Made in Slovakia. I gave the Lemon a 7 out of 10, the rest a 5 out of 10.
The nice thing about the Leaf folks was that they were happy send along some of their other classic products to give me a sense of their product line. So after the Schoolchalk, I visited with their Licorice Allsorts.
Allsorts vary from company to company but are generally mild, sandwiched squares of flavored fondant and licorice along with various pieces of coconut fondant and the occasional jelly button covered in nonpareils.
I loved the colors and font on this package.
My favorite was the little cream filled licorice tube. The outside was a tough and only mildly spicy licorice with a lemon cream center. Easy to eat in one bite.
Next came the plain licorice bites. Tough to chew but a good woodsy flavor along with some beets & charcoal.
Chocolate sandwiches had a slight cocoa flavor to them. The licorice slabs were less flavorful than the plain bites, I figure they must leach flavor into the fondant. The yellow layers were lightly lemon and the pink ones might be a slight strawberry.
I was fond of the blue jelly dots, though the nonpareil crunchies kind of fell off large parts of them, and there were only four in the whole bag. They’re still so cute ... I wonder how necessary the blue food coloring is and if anyone makes a white version. The jelly center is lightly anise, soft and smooth.
The little pink and yellow circles were coconut. There may have been some flavor in there as well, but the coconut was the big player here. The licorice centers were softer than the other pieces.
On the whole the Allsorts were pleasant. I found myself picking through the assortment and finding enough to eat in there and nothing left over at the end that I found so unpalatable that I would throw it out (and I’m not shy about throwing out candy I don’t like). They’re pretty to look at and don’t necessarily get stale even when left sitting open on my desk overnight.
Made in Denmark. I give them a 7 out of 10
I know that licorice shapes are pretty popular, and in many European countries there are dozens. Here in the states I think that licorce comes in whips (twists or laces) and perhaps Scottie dogs, and that’s pretty much it.
I have no idea how licorice and pipes became so intertwined, but from the first moment I opened this package, I felt that Leaf had this one nailed.
Not only is this piece of black, wheat flour based & molasses sweetened licorice shaped like an old tobacco pipe ... it has glowing pink embers in the bowl!
The licorice is softer and maybe even denser than the others, perhaps because they’re individually wrapped. They smell like toffee, anise and a little touch of sulfur, figs and banana notes. The licorice isn’t that strong, not like other “Finnish” licorice like Panda. It has more of a dark & mild spice cookie-like texture and flavor.
Made in Italy. I give them a 7 out of 10.
Leaf is a Finnish brand but available widely in Canada at drug stores & large retailers (WalMart, Dollarmax, London Drugs, etc.). In the United States they may be harder to find, so stick to import shops.
Overall, one of the cool things about licorice and the family of licorice candies is that it’s rather low in calories (usually about 100 to 110 calories per ounce), colorful and fun and with some fun flavor combinations. They can be very satisfying because of the wheat flour ingredient, but of course that means they’re unsuitable for those with wheat & gluten issues. Schoolchalk contains gelatin, so is not suitable for vegetarians.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
My office is now next door to a Cost Plus World Market. Which means that I browse there about once a week ... and try to resist buying more than twice a month. It took three trips before I succumbed to this one kilo (2.2 pound) bag of Sweet Moments Chocolate Eggs (Ovetti) made by Laica. Priced at $9.99 it wasn’t that it would cost me a Hamilton, it was that it was more than two pounds of foil covered chocolate eggs. That’s a lotta candy!
The description on the front says milk chocolate eggs with hazelnuts cream and cereals filling. There’s also a little logo in the top right that says puro cioccolato.
The light blue has an angry chick, the green has a white duck, the tan has a decidedly unhappy sheep and the yellow features emotionless butterflies and flowers.
The eggs are about 1.25 inches long with little lines on the widest part. They smell sweet and a little like roasted nuts and hot chocolate.
The bite is soft and easy. The chocolate shell melts easily, it’s real chocolate and in the European milky style.
The center is creamy with dots of little cereal pieces. They’re like crisped rice, only spherical and according to the ingredients made of a mix of corn, rice, wheat and barley. They’re crispy and provide a nice malty crunch. The creamy paste in the center is sweet and sticky with a hint of hazelnut flavor - not as much as I’d hoped. The ingredients show that the center is sugar, fractionated oils, the cereal bits and then 8% hazelnut paste followed by cocoa & milk plus some other stuff.
Overall, they’re quite easy to eat. They don’t satisfy in the sense that after three I don’t want any more, instead I keep eating them. Though they’re more expensive than some other American made chocolate confections available for Easter, they edge out on the quality front and they certainly taste good. And they’re cute.
Last year Easter came much earlier (March 23, 2008), so I think there were far more after holiday deals to be found because of the compressed selling period between Valentine’s and Easter. One of them I was eager to take advantage of was this set of Caffarel Eggs being sold at Williams-Sonoma (they’re back this year). At regular price, they’re pretty expensive at $24 for 10 ounces (19 eggs). But I ordered them on clearance after Easter for $6.99 a bag. I also got the candy shell version which didn’t return this year.
Each little egg had a collar and label: mandorla (almond), torroncino (nougat), gianduja (hazelnut & chocolate paste).
Sadly my clearance deal netted me two bags of bloomed chocolate. I ate most of the first bag, and though the bloom wasn’t too bad, it did make the outside of the eggs rather oily and difficult to remove the clingy thin foil.
The chocolate is smooth and silky (other than the bloom issue), the center was rich and thick, much like the other Caffarel gianduia products I’ve had. The nougat one had little crunchy bits in it. The almond one had an amaretto flavor to it that I didn’t care for at all ... so about a third of the bag was a flavor I didn’t care for (but luckily others I know do).
The quality of the ingredients is top notch and the hazelnut flavor (or almond, in the case of the mandorla) is rich and decadent. The packaging is exceptional, each one is a little gift (though also makes a lot of little bits of paper for cleanup). I’m not going to give them a rating because of the bloom though.
They’re a wonderful little treat, but very expensive when there are other products around like the Ovetti or even the Moser Roth Truffles my mother sent me from Aldi. However, I do see them sold singly from time to time, usually for a dollar at fine delis ... so it’s definitely worth it to have a little treat now and then.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Seeds of Change makes chocolate bars that are both organic and donate a portion of their proceed towards sustainable agriculture. Unlike many other niche chocolate makers, they don’t have straight chocolate bars, instead each is an eclectic mix of flavors like blueberries with walnuts or mango, coconut & cashews.
I didn’t have to look very hard to find Seeds of Change, it was at Long’s Drug, along with jumbo Hershey’s bars, Dove, Lindt and Cote d’Or. Happily it was also on sale for $2.69 for a 3.5 ounce bar.
I picked up the Isle of Skye which boasts dark milk chocolate blended with crispy puffed grains. I thought this might be the answer to the gaping hole in my candy life, a really good crisped rice bar.
This one starts with 40% cacao milk chocolate with crisps made from oats, wheat, rice, barley and millet.
The wrapper is beautifully designed with lovely engraved flourishes. It illustrates the origin of the name of the bar, the Isle of Sky is an agricultural area in Scotland that grows the various grains featured in the bar (well, maybe not the ones that are actually in the bar, but you get the idea).
The bar does look pretty dark. It smells deep and smoky and a little like milk and malt.
The crispies aren’t quite as dense as I would have liked, but they’re still plentiful, making up the bottom third or half of the bar.
The chocolate is smooth and creamy, deep and complex. It blends the milky tastes of dairy in a European-style along with some noticeable burnt notes and a little hint of raisins.
The crunchies are crispy and hold up well. They have a distinct cereal taste of breakfast cereal, though not at all sweet there’s a bit of hint of malt and salt.
While I often characterize myself as a dark chocolate lover, this sort of very dark milk chocolate might be my true passion. The more I try these sorts of bars, the more I fall in love with the combination of dairy notes and smoothness with the complex flavors of the cocoa bean. (I do take a little milk in my coffee, so maybe it’s just the way I roll.)
It’s a really tasty bar and for an organic bar the price is pretty stunning, about the same price as many other mid-range brands and socially and environmentally responsible to boot. (They’re only $2.45 on the Seeds of Change webstore.) I’m accustomed to paying about this much for Ritter Sport’s Knusperflakes (Corn Flakes) bar. I wish it came in a single serve size, it could definitely out-compete Nestle Crunch even at twice the price.
Made in Italy and Kosher.
The bar is not 100% organic (the label is pretty clear about this) the soy lecithin is the only item in the ingredients that isn’t.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Even though I adore high end chocolate, I have a hard time plunking down $5 to $12 without knowing what I’m going to get. So I’m often quite happy to fork over for tasting square versions even though they’re even more expensive when you figure out the cost per ounce. (And hey, it helps with portion control, too.)
I was happy to find some tasting squares from Amadei, one of the most highly reviewed chocolate makers in the world at Mel & Roses. Even though they were 85 cents each for the 4.5 gram squares, I at least got to sample a broad spectrum of their product line which will help to guide me when I decide to finally buy one of their bars.
As a little bonus I decided to try Amadei’s milk chocolate offering as well:
Overall, I was most pleased with the Madagascar and Porcelana but all were exceptional. I’m still not quite convinced enough to spend $11 for one of their bars, but I’m leaning in that direction. But for now the little selections in this format are enough for me and well worth the pocket change.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Called Perugina Nero, it looks like a pretty direct import, as the package was all in Italian except for a sticker on the back with the ingredients & nutrition facts in English. The sticker covered up the native descriptions though, so all I could glean was that they were thin tablets that appeared to be a little smaller than business cards made of chocolate.
The chocolate leaves come in three varieties: 70% Cacao, 85% Cacao and Gusto Arancia (Orange Flavor). I went for the Arancia because I really love the touch of orange essence combined with dark chocolate.
Inside the box is a tray sealed in cellophane. Four little compartments hold stacks of three little chocolate cards. It feels like a bit of overkill on the packaging, but I have to admit that it did a nice job, all my cards were pristine.
The pieces are 2.75” by 1.75”. Each piece is far thinner than a regular chocolate bar as well, even the tasting squares that I’ve picked up before, each is only 8 grams (most tasting squares are 7-12 grams but only 1” square at most).
The little leaves are quite pretty, with the stylized Pegasus emblem on each.
They smell of woodsy, smoky chocolate and quite strongly of orange.
Biting into a piece, it sits on the tongue and melts right away, releasing its flavors quickly. I got a rush of rich chocolate, bitter tones, woodsy flavors that combine bark, coffee and Popsicle sticks along with the bright notes of orange essence and then a low bitterness that echoes the orange zest and dark chocolate.
Even though the chocolate itself isn’t particularly buttery, the quick melt because of the format gives it a creamy component I often find difficult to tease out of big chunks of chocolate without chewing it a bit.
Since the box is essentially the equivalent of the large 100 gram tablet bar, this is a great solution to sharing. It’s a great option for serving with coffee or tea or even an aperitif. The pieces are lovely to look at, though serving right from the tray isn’t quite elegant, neither is cracking up a regular bar and flattening out the foil wrapper.
For those who are watching their calories, each leaf has 42 calories. The impression of a large portion if you were to eat two leaves would still only deliver 84 calories, a decadent treat without busting your diet. (Though they’re not individually wrapped or anything, so nothing to stop you from eating the whole box.)
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Stainer is an Italian chocolate maker based in Pontremoli. They’re known for their vast collection of chocolate bars that range from traditional to single origin to alcohol infused to organic and even a line of six different chili infused bars. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Stainer is moving into the North American market, so you can expect to see these more often at high end grocers and chocolate shops.
They come in smart little boxes with 50 gram bars tucked into orange-tinted cellophane wrappers.
I wanted to taste what Stainer’s dark chocolate was like without any other additions. I was drawn to this lovely box with a little hummingbird on the front. 65% Cacao Peru says it’s intenso & fruttato which I translated as cognates to mean intense and fruity.
The back of the box has no purple prose setting the stage for the tasting, it’s just the ingredients in four different languages (Italian, English, Spanish and German).
The bar is lovely. It’s rather thick, with easy to break domed segments. The color is a bit on the red side of brown. The scent is woodsy and sweet.
It has a slightly chalky bite, it has a very distinct snap. But it’s quite smooth and melts easily. The first notes are fruity, like figs and raisins. Later it becomes more woodsy, like cedar with some light coffee notes. Not sweet, but pleasant, there’s a light bitter tone over the finish but very little dryness.
Though it gives the regional origin of the beans, it doesn’t mention the types of beans in the bar or where in Peru they’re from, so I’m hesitant to call it a single origin bar.
I’ve had quite a bit of chili infused chocolate over the past couple of years, but this may be the first time I’ve had a white chocolate with pepper.
This bar, Cioccolato Bianco Peperoncino e Vaniglia Bourbon features red chili and bourbon vanilla (in case you couldn’t figure that out from the name). It has a 30% cacao content, and since this is white chocolate that means all that cacao is just cacao fat. (The king of vegetable fats.)
The squares are dotted with chili bits and vanilla seeds. It smells less sweet than many white chocolates, a little milky and kind of cheesy.
It’s also not terribly soft to bite, so it has a nice temper and breaks easily instead of bending like some heavily milky white chocolates do.
The first taste, however, is overwhelmingly hot. The burn of the chili comes out right away, then a smooth and creamy sweetness with a touch of vanilla, then a throat searing heat. Letting it melt instead of chewing it up a bit seems to mellow out the heat, but it’s still a lot hotter than I expected.
I don’t think it’s really my thing, I tempered it with some pretzels and almonds just to get through half the bar. I liked it, but it was kind of throat choking at times. (I must admit that I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to anything that’s hotter than “medium” in the chili family, I do great with curries & wasabi/horseradish, but pepper really gets me).
The boxes are compelling and I want to cute them apart and make the fronts into trading cards or something. But at about $8 for a 50 gram bar, it’s among the most expensive chocolate bars I’ve bought to date ... I won’t be making a habit of it. I do plan to try a few more of the vast collection before I make a final determination about them. I picked these up at Chocolate Covered in San Francisco’s Noe Valley. I haven’t seen them at any of my regular chocolate suppliers (but they may be coming soon as chocolate weather returns this fall).
Here are some other thoughts on Stainer’s bars: Chocablog tasted Curry & White Chocolate and Honey & Ginseng Dark, Talkalota Chocolate has Scotchbonnet Pepper and Rum & Masai Spice and finally, Lissbliss tried the 100% Venezuela.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.