Wednesday, June 25, 2008
As the temps are climbing here in Southern California, I need to eat up all my chocolate before it melts. So instead rolling these little goodies out one at a time, here’s a few bites in brief:
I picked up these cute little cubes at Lucca, an Italian deli/grocer in San Francisco a couple of months ago. The graphic design of the little wrappers with bold FIAT logo and variations was just irresistible. They’re made by Pasticceria Majani, founded in 1796 and one of the first confectioners to make actual solid chocolate in Europe. The Fiat line of chocolates were introduced in 1911 and actually named in honor of the Italian car.
They’re all layered. They’re a little shy of one inch on the longest side and about 3/4 of an inch tall and wide (so they’re not quite cubes).
FIAT Classico: two medium layers alternate with two light colored hazelnut paste layers. It’s extremely sweet, very hazelnutty. But really too sweet that it burns my throat. The only way to cut this is with a strong cup of coffee or espresso (which may be the way they’re intended to be eaten). I didn’t finish my second one.
FIAT NOIR: this is the one shown here, it’s a dark chocolate layer with a thick medium gianduia center. Even the dark chocolate layer is a hazelnut infused chocolate, but it’s the center that’s packed with a hazelnut punch. The combo is spot on perfect. A little difference in the texture, a little difference in the sweetness and nuttiness and a perfect bite.
FIAT CAFFE: the caffe looks a lot like the Noir, but has a darker center than the top and bottom layers. It’s sweet though, and has a light coffee flavor and a slight bitter tang. What sets this one apart from the other two is that it has almonds in it as well as hazelnuts. At first I thought it was too sweet, but once the bitterness and a dry finish kicks in, I came to appreciate it more, just as I did with unsweetened coffee as a teenager.
I give the line an 8 out of 10.
If I thought the Fiat cubes were a good deal, I guess I didn’t realize what a value my Caffarel find was.
I got these little Caffarel foil hazelnut flower buds at Chocolate Covered in San Francisco. The little package had five pieces for four dollars ... so eighty cents each (and Jack, who runs the store, also gave me one to eat while I was there).
I love Caffarel’s little bites, no matter what shape they are. These are rather small, they’re obvious built in halves and mushed together to create the three dimensional bud, I kind of like pulling them apart with my teeth.
The milk chocolate shell is sweet and milky. The center is creamy and thick, a little fudgy and has tiny crushed hazelnut bits. It’s super smooth otherwise and slightly cool on the tongue. If you’re a fan of Perugina Baci, consider these a tiny milk chocolate version.
They’re just so adorable. I don’t know where to find them for sure, but if you’re a hazelnut fan scoop a few up.
Rating: 9 out of 10
What clued me in that this was a hazelnut bar (since it’s not obvious) was that it was called a Smooth and intense MILK chocolate confection which is a coded way of saying, “there’s something else in this bar.”
The hazelnut paste is pretty far down on the list of ingredients, after the major chocolate ingredients and whey & milkfat but before the soy lecithin.
Like the dark bars I tried last week, the bar is big and thin, with the logo elephant on each segment.
It smells a little malty and very milky. It’s a softer bite than the dark bars (as is usually the case with milk chocolate). The bar has a smooth but fudgy consistency. The hazelnut flavors aren’t readily apparent, but there are some nice smoky and toasted notes to the bar.
It’s not too sweet, has a dash of malt and even a little burnt sugar bitterness to it that I find appealing. I can’t see myself buying one of these (I rarely buy milk chocolate unless it’s for a review) but knowing that Cote d’Or does a very mellow milk does intrigue me ... I may find myself experimenting with more of their product line.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Friday, June 06, 2008
I’m not reviewing those. (I will someday, but I’m afraid that trying the best chocolate in the world would be like flying first class, I’d never want to go back to coach.)
Instead of I got a hold of these lovely little 8 gram tasting squares of Domori’s 70% Cru single origin chocolates at the Fancy Food Show back in January. Besides being made from extremely rare beans, Domori also uses no soy lecithin in this line - it’s all cacao and pure cane sugar at work here, a fascinating experiment in flavor.
As I often do with tastings, I did my notes blind and then later looked at the descriptions & origin information. You can read along to see how I did. But I’ll save you the suspense, this is good stuff and lives up to its hype. The consistency of every piece was silky smooth on the tongue - incredible melt & quick release of flavors then a lingering revelation of more notes.
Origin: Venezuela - It is a trinitario-type cacao grown in the Barlovento area of Venezuela.
I say: Mild with some light blueberry notes and peppery carnation. Smooth, as were all others.
They say: It has notes of dried figs, raisins and cashews with great character, smoothness and finish.
Origin: Peru - It is a recent hybrid (trinitario-type cacao).
I say: So buttery smooth. There’s a bit of a bitter high note to it, kind of reminiscent of asparagus. But the texture is so dreamily silky, it’s rather staggering. Cool on the tongue.
They said: It has notes of flowers, caramel and cream. It is very mild with a nice sourness.
Origin: Venezuela - It includes more trinitario-type cacaos with a high content of criollo genotype.
I say: Dark olive notes rise to the top, it’s sweet but has a tangy bite. Silky, caramel.
They say: It has mild notes of almond and coffee, excellent finesse, smoothness and finish.
I say: One of the more mellow pieces. It has some tangy elements and most notably a dry finish.
They say: Notes of nuts, ripe fruit, raisins, tobacco and chlorophyll. It has a nice acidity, a great smoothness and a long finish.
Origin: Ecuador - It is a Nacional-type cacao.
They say: It has notes of hazelnut, banana and citrus. It is very fresh and mild.
I say: This one was a bit more bitter, with coffee notes and flavors of sweet cashews. A weird chalky feeling to it, even though it was actually quite smooth. Dry, acrid.
I say: Strong tangy & raisin notes, lemon and bitter orange.
They say: It is a light-colored cacao with unique notes of berries along with a very pleasant sourness. It has a long finish, great sweetness and smoothness.
Overall, my notes weren’t far off from theirs, though sometimes I think it’s like the astrology column from the newspaper. With some single origin kits I’m not always able to distinguish the different bars blind, but these were quite distinct. Though the chocolates are available as single bars, you can also get assortments of these individually wrapped tasting squares in boxes. They’re still quite expensive, over a dollar a piece from Chocosphere. Though these don’t have nuts in them, they are made in a facility that processes nuts, milk and soy. Domori also does a version of these that are 100% (no sugar).
Friday, February 01, 2008
Last year I ordered some wonderful products from Artisan Sweets which included this Nougat aux Figues: Cuit au Chaudron. I promptly took a photo of the product and then ate it.
Made by Suprem’ Nougat G. Savin in Montelimar, France it is much like the Arnaud Soubeyran Montelimar Nougat that I’ve had previously, meaning it has wonderful lavender honey in it along with a generous embed of almonds. Of course it also has bits of figs in there too, as you might have guessed from the picture and name.
The figs gave the nougat a bit of texture, with the crunchy little seeds and combined well with the musky notes of the lavender honey. It seemed to make the whole thing a little sweeter, but it was a fresh taste. It’s expensive stuff, so it’s a sometimes-indulgence for me. ($8.00 for 3.52 ounces.)
This particular nougat has full macadamias in it. It’s a light nougat, it actually felt lighter than many nougats in the hand. The scent was a light vanilla, almost like toasted marshmallows. Wow, the marshmallow comparison was evident once I bit into it. The nougat is fluffy and completely smooth ... there’s no hint of sugary grain to it at all.
While I was completely missing any honey notes and macadamias aren’t my favorite nut, this was fantastic. Sweet without being sticky or cloying and just the right balance with the neutrality of the macadamias.
Walters is a South African company (which explains the macadamias) and besides these samples and a store I found in the UK online, I don’t know where else to get this. I guess I’ll just have to keep hitting Keller’s booth at the trade shows. Here’s a review from Our Adventures in Japan of the Almond variety.
I’ve been on the prowl for good sources of Caffarel in the United States. Besides picking up those few pieces at The Candy Store in San Francisco and seeing them at trade shows, I’m completely at an impasse on how to find them besides hyping them on Candy Blog in hopes that more shops will carry them.
And why? Their products are good quality and in most cases so freaking cute I want to put a leash on them and buy them squeaky toys.
Above is one of the new items they were showing called Conetto, which is like a teensy Drumstick Ice Cream Cone (warning, sound on that site).
The little confection is about 3 1/2” tall. The waffle cone holds a firm guanduia that is then rolled in little toasted cereal “nuts” with a few little chocolate chips tossed in there. The hazelnut paste is soft enough to bite like ice cream with the added bonus that it doesn’t melt. So take your time.
It only weighs .9 ounces, so it’s probably not a show-stopper when it comes to calories and since indulgence is partially about appearance, this might be an excellent calorie controlled treat. (Of course the wrapper doesn’t say how many calories, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s not more than 150.) Now the only things holding me back are where to get them and how much do they cost?
BruCo makes wonderful flavored chocolate bars. I’ve had their orange one and rum one and thought they were quite nice with an attractive package. Last year at the Fancy Food Show I also tried their spiced chocolate and found it far too spicy for me. This year that had some other items that were definitely to my liking: BruCo Salt Tasting Chocolate, Ciocc’Olio & Cabosse.
Ciocc’Olio: The firm white chocolate center has a quick buttery melt. The taste is not strongly of olives. I was expecting a sort of grassy quality to it, but instead it was more nutty. It was definitely smooth and set off by the equally smooth and slippery melt of the dark chocolate shell.
Cabosse: I wasn’t quite sure what this was supposed to be. At first I thought it was a dark chocolate guanduia, but later I thought it was simply a firm ganache with cacao nibs in it. Strong and fruity, this was a nice piece, the perfect size and really attractive.
I also tried a Salt Tasting Chocolate set. I’ll probably have a full review of that at a later date. Basically it’s two different versions of a salted chocolate in one package. Hooray for variety.
One of the other companies that I see at the trade show a lot is Marich. They’re known for their fine panned chocolates, especially their Holland Mints and produced the first gourmet malted milk balls in flavors like Espresso and Peanut Butter.
They’re based in Hollister, California (which seems to be a hotbed of panning with other confectioners like Jelly Belly, Sconza and Gimbal’s nearby) but seem rather hard to find. Part of it is that they sell in bulk to many shops that repackage the product without reference to the supplier or they end up in bulk bins. In this case I found this little package of their Triple Chocolate Toffee at Ralph’s in Glendale after trying them at the All Candy Expo.
They were absurdly expensive considering everything else in that aisle, $2.89 for that handful pictured above. But they are lovely to look at. They smell great too, like burnt sugar.
I didn’t know at first if the triple was referring to how much chocolate was on the outside or the fact that there were three different kinds. But suffice to say that either title works, because there is a lot of chocolate on each of these ... a pretty precise proportion that matches well with the chunk of butter toffee at the center. The toffee itself is wonderfully crisp and has that great cleave that very buttery toffee has. A little salty, it balances well with the not-so-dark but also not-too-sweet chocolates.
I’d probably pick these up again, but not at this price. Luckily Marich has a webstore.
Everything here gets an 8 out of 10 but no further specs as I don’t know retail prices (unless otherwise noted), calorie profile and often not even the ingredients.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
As we head into December, I start looking at candy with an eye towards Christmas stockings. What makes good stocking candy? Well, small individually wrapped portions are a good start. Seasonal flavors, pretty packaging and some sort of exotic selling point also help.
When I was up in San Francisco, these little Caffarel Fig and Chestnut chocolates. I wasn’t quite sure what they’d be, they were sold at The Candy Store out of a pretty jar. There were several varieties (I think something walnut and a bunch of others that I’d tried before) so I went for these that were new to me. The pretty foil showed a green fig, a cut fig and a ripe fig bursting at the seams. Everything I got at The Candy Store was fresh and perfect, these were no exception.
At the bottom they have a little sticker with the Caffarel logo. The fig ones all say fico and the chestnut one says castagna. I was expecting a gianduia center with a fig flavor or chestnut flavor.
Upon biting into the first fig one for this photo, I found that it was not a chocolate or nut paste center. Instead it was a molded dark chocolate piece with a flowing fig filling. Kind of like a syrup with real fig in it, it’s a pretty intense fig flavor like a jam. A little like honey, it’s a fresh taste of raisins and similar in smell as sitting next to a fresh pile of firewood.
I never cared much for figs as a kid. I had to make a very concerted effort to “like” Fig Newtons. It really wasn’t until I moved to my present house that has a fig tree and I started eating them fresh off the tree that I understood the appeal of them. (And the fact that the tree is so wonderfully fresh and fragrant nine months out of the year.)
There were little bits of fig in there, a few seeds to really sell the fact that it’s figs. I love these. I really, really love these. I love the shape, I love the size, I love the foil wrapping and the fact that they come in three different versions. I’ve eaten them all. I didn’t love the price, but I’m trying not to think about that ... I’m trying to figure out where to buy more of these. (I don’t recommend them for kids who haven’t already expressed a strong desire for figs though.)
The chestnut one also had a flowing center, though not quite as thin and gooey as the fig. This one was slightly textured, like a caramel or dulce de leche (but no cream, per se). Sweet and a little roasted, it tasted like a marron glace but without that worry that it’d be a tough one. It didn’t really thrill me, but I’m not a huge chestnut fan.
Now I have to apologize to everyone who now wants to try these and is in the same position as I am ... outta luck! If you know of another place (The Candy Store does not do web orders) that sells them online, please post!
Thursday, September 20, 2007
I’ve been on quite a nougat roll this summer, mostly because it’s a very satisfying candy that does well in the heat. The funny thing is, before this year I don’t think I considered nougat a summer candy, I’ve always associated nougat with Christmas.
My husband picked up these two nougat bars at a deli in Santa Monica. (He’s always so considerate that way!) It’s always a good sign when the ingredients list for a nougat starts with nuts. In this case it’s pistachios. They were nicely sized and spread out in the bar and provided the chewy crunch that sets off the sweet nougat so well.
This pistachio bar was also flavored with pistachio, so it had that perfumed taste rather like green tea ice cream and violets along with the grassy notes of the nuts. The honey didn’t stand out much, as I often prefer in my nougat.
The flatness of this bar made it particularly easy to eat. The nougat was also pretty soft. The only weird thing about it was because there was a wafer on each side, biting it was sometimes a little difficult (maybe I need my teeth sharpened) and the nougat wanted to spread out the sides of the wafers. Also, because there was more wafer by proportion, there was more of a “cereal” taste to it.
Overall, it wasn’t my favorite nougat of all time, but certainly portable and a nice after dinner snack.
There was a slight grainy note to the nougat, like little sugar crystals. The chocolate flavor was more like cocoa than chocolate but exceptionally nutty - the ingredients list both toasted almonds and hazelnut paste. Think of a very high end Tootsie Roll with nuts, I know it sounds weird, but it was still very satisfying.
The nuts were just as abundant in this nougat as the Pistachio. I wanted a stronger honey note to it, but it wasn’t too sweet and had a light texture that was definitely just the kick I needed during the summer heat.
Nougat also travels particularly well, so keep that in mind when putting together your air travel survival kit.
While at the All Candy Expo I made a point to stop by the booth of the American importer of Ferrara products. The company also makes the La Florentine line of torrones, you know, the ones in the little boxes that come in orange, lemon and vanilla and have stately portraits of royalty on them. That was the brand I used to get those in my stocking at Christmas, so they’re one of the first nougats I’ve ever had and quite special to me.
The bars above, of course, are more meaty portions (and more economical packaging). I grabbed a traditional Ferrara nougat bar which I’m excited to try after the Pistachio as well as their chocolate covered plain nougat (it comes in a large box and they’re not individually wrapped). I think nougat is a wonderful hostess gift, though some might disagree. (But if I’m the hostess and you’re coming to my house, I’ll think you’re pretty special and invite you back often.)
Friday, August 10, 2007
Sometimes I look at candy and I think, “How did they do that?” And while the why isn’t as important as the taste, sometimes I’m so curious about it I can’t fully enjoy it until I know.
Earlier this year I went to the Fancy Food Show and met the Romanego family briefly through one of their California distributors, Dawn at ArtisanSweets.com. The Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano company has been making panned sweets and preserves in Genoa since 1780. While I don’t always buy into tradition and personality as it relates to products, because all that’s really important is what goes in my mouth, I’ve gotta say that I have been fascinated with Romanego’s offerings from both sides.
I had no idea (and still don’t fully understand the process) how they suspended the liquid inside a sugar shell and I didn’t get to try them at the Fancy Food Show. I was afraid to make a full order of the cordials, mostly because I wanted to try everything they make and party because they’re pretty expensive, so I ordered the Confetti Antica Dragee Mix which has panned nuts (pistachios, pine nuts & almonds), the cordials assortment, orange peel and cinnamon.
All of the cordials I’ve had up until this have been chocolate. These, as described above, are like Jordan Almonds, except instead of an almond in the center there’s a flavored liquid. I couldn’t quite tell the difference between them all, possibly rose, orange, cinnamon, clove and anise.
They’re just so beautiful. Smooth, pastel, sugar pebbles. The cordial center, as mentioned above, isn’t alcoholic, but is kind of thick without being overly syrupy. I found them pleasant, but I probably wouldn’t want a whole tin of them, just a few of them mixed in with the nuts is good enough for me.
You know how there’s that thing called “pistachio flavor” but it doesn’t really taste like pistachios. These taste like that. Not in fake “flavored” way, the pistatchio is soft and chewy and it has a bit of a grassy flavor, maybe a little bit like melon and a bit like flowers. The crisp little sugar shell wraps it all up.
The pine nuts were great, I just loved how peppery and smooth they tasted. I love popping pine nuts when I’m cooking (note: that doesn’t happen often) and having them in a candy is truly a rare joy.
The almonds were huge, seriously huge and flat. It was like these were pastel colored skipping stones or something. The almonds inside were sweet and buttery. The shell wasn’t too thick as to make you think that there wasn’t a nut inside.
The two other items look like bleached coral. The larger piece is a candied orange peel that is then panned in a white sugary coating. It’s all bumply and really does look like a little stalk of tumbled white coral. The orange peel isn’t very sweet or jelly-like as some can be. It’s pretty subtle, as you can see from the cross section, there’s a pretty thick coating on there. The other one were smaller pieces very irregular in size and rather delicate called Cannellette. Inside each piece was a little bit of cinnamon. Instead of tasting like “cinnamon flavor” like Atomic Fireballs, these had the authentic taste of woodsy cinnamon (which is sweet all on its own).
As a little bonus Dawn threw in a set of the Romanego Fondants, which I also wanted to try (but ended up getting a nougat instead because I gave myself a budget). I’m not sure how she knew that I wanted to try them, but thank goodness she did. (Note: I paid for everything else in the order and didn’t announce to her that I was ordering or anything, I think she just saw my order there and we’d emailed about the All Candy Expo next month a little while back ... I certainly didn’t expect any freebies.)
The pastel wrappers (each in a different color to represent the flavor as well as being printed in Italian in gold inks) are lovely to look at. Not too ostentatious, but still strikingly elegant. I feel like I need to brush up on my origami to play with them.
Fondant is a tough thing to explain and an even tougher thing to photograph. I chose the raspberry one because it was the only one that wasn’t pure white. They were like sugar cubes (well, two sugar cubes side by side in size), but the crystals were much smaller. They sparkle like snow.
Fondant like the dragees doesn’t have a lot of tricky ingredients, it’s pretty much all sugar. But it’s the careful heating and cooling that forms a soft matrix, kind of like a fatless fudge.
Lampone - at first I thought the raspberry was too light, but as I ate a second bite I realized it was just the lightest floral essence of the raspberry and it was really refreshing.
Overall, they’re expensive treats. Not something I’d eat every day, or probably even every month. I’ve heard of some folks using these as wedding favors, which would certainly be a lovely thing to find at your table and would lend a special elegance. Their unique offerings, such as the cordials, pistachios, pine nuts and cannellette set them apart from other Jordan Almond vendors. But they’re time consuming to make, so you get what you pay for.
Since sugar panning was invented as a way of preserving nuts and seeds as confectionery items, I have to admit that these keep very well in a pretty jar or tin, so you can enjoy them as a decorative item as you slowly make your way through a batch.
You can order Romanego products from ArtisanSweets.com or ItalianHarvest.com (I’ve not ordered from them, but enjoyed their website and large selection but their prices seemed a higher than Artisan Sweets). If you are in Genova, I highly recommend stopping at one of their shops:
Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano (opened in 1814)
Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano (opened in 1930s)
If you’ve been there, please tell me how it was!
UPDATE 8/14/2007: I got an email from Dawn at ArtisanSweets that clarified a few things.
The Cordials I got in the Dragee Mix are not the same as the Rosolio Drops that Italian Harvest sells. The cordials have a harder shell ... I’ve not seen them side by side, but I do recall the Rosolios being quite a bit smaller and more translucent when I saw them in January.
Second, Italian Harvest doesn’t carry the Dragee Mix I reviewed above (though they carry many of the elements individually), apparently that item is exclusive to Artisan Sweets. (And the price per ounce on everything at Artisan Sweets appears to be quite a bit lower - they also recently stopped using tins as mine was pictured and instead give you more candy in a bag.) It’s a really nice way to try a good sampling of their product line instead of committing to a whole package of one item.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
My friend Will went to Europe on a decadent cruise and found something truly “of the place” to bring back from Sorrento, Italy for me.
I’m telling you about this not so you can go out and buy these, because I’m not sure you can (they supposedly have a website but it’s not been working) but just to show both the universality of sweets and the local flavor.
This little box and bag contains some rather upscale almond dragees (rather like the Cherry Almondine M&Ms from last week) from a little shop called Confetti & Agrumetti.
These little olive-sized morsels have a freshly roasted local almond at the heart. It’s then coated in a white chocolate flavored with lime zest and then coated in a colored candy shell. The shell was not as sharply crisp as some Jordan Almonds I’ve had, but still a nice crunch. The white chocolate was thick and sweet but had a really strong citrus zest to it. The almond at the center was nicely toasted to a darker brown than I think we’re accustomed to here in the States. It was rich and flavoful and had a good crunch.
Antonio, the fellow who runs the shop, I hear is a hoot. He loves to sing to his customers and expressed a desire to live and retire in Southern California (how funny, because I’m pretty sure a lot of Californians would be happy to swap with him). You can see in this photo Will took of his wife buying these little goodies that the panning machine (it looks like a tiny cement mixer) is right out there in the open and you can watch him drizzle the candy coating on right before your eyes. (Perhaps panning drums will become the new stand mixers as must have appliances.)
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
There comes a time in every candy blogger’s career where she has to admit something tough, something that perhaps she never wanted to say out loud to anyone before. But you, dear readers, deserve to know.
I’m a nougat freak.
I love turrons, torrones, French nougat, Italian, Spanish, South African, Australian ... it doesn’t matter. I just love the stuff. I’m a nut for it. And while my sense of adventure is sometimes muted by my pocketbook, it seems that never matters when I’m presented with nougat ... especially when I see the word HONEY on the ingredients.
At Bristol Farms over the weekend I spent a good ten minutes staring at everything in the candy aisle. The place has a very nicely provisioned candy aisle ... a full selection of Green & Black bars, Cafe Tasse, Jo’s comfort confections, Jelly Belly by the pound, Scharffen Berger and of course a healthy assortment of imported consumer goodies like Aero and Violet Crumble. There tucked between some pastilles and Panda licorice bars was this solitary representative in the nougat family: Flamigni Torrone Morbido con Mandorle e Pistacchi.
The green paper wrapper has an inner foil wrapper and it felt nice and soft ... just the way I like it. (Okay, I like it hard and crisp, too.)
That’s the good stuff, all the way from Italy. The ingredients? Almonds (30%), Pistachios (13%), honey, glucose syrup, sugar, candied orange and citron peels, egg yolks, flavors and wafers.
Sounds good, and the egg yolks instead of egg whites colored me intrigued as did the citrus peels.
The bar was attractive unwrapped with the high percentage of nuts readily apparent.
The scent was only slightly of citrus and mostly of sugar with slight caramel notes and a little pistachio and vanilla thrown in. On the tongue though the honey flavor come out (not like the Nutpatch Nougat of course). Then come the zesty lemon peels and soft crunchy pistachios. It’s a riot of soft and mellow flavors and satisfying textures.
As long as you go into the bar realizing that it’s all about the subtle flavors and not about heavy honey or citrus, I think you’ll be pleased.
It’s definitely a bar I could indulge in every time I go to Bristol Farms (which is about five times a year, so certainly within the range of my pocketbook). I didn’t find much in the way of sources online, but Daprano has some other Flamigni nougats on their site.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.