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 2, 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.
Friday, July 6, 2007
This is just a bunch of candy that I photographed but never got around to reviewing. I ate it and everything, but I couldn’t come up with more than 50 words about it and that seemed like a slight for regular readers. (Okay, now that I’ve finished writing this very long post, it seems that I am able to come up with more than 50 words.)
Chocovic is one of my favorite brands of Single Origin chocolate. They’re not even that expensive when you find them at Trader Joes and the Ocumare is smooth and buttery. I was excited that they were adding milk chocolate to their line with the Jade 40% Cocoa Solids Milk Chocolate Bar. The bar was nice, a little acidic and maybe tasted a bit like raisins. It was not as smooth and creamy as I’d hoped but really rich. I loved the package.
This one got a little broken when I brought it back from Chicago, so I thought I’d wait around until I saw another one before I gave it a full review. It’s been a full year and I havne’t seen them anywhere.
These are just a wee little treat from Fauchon that Santos at Scent of Green Bananas gave me last year. They’re so cute!
I was going to review them, and then Sugar Savvy did, so I thought I’d wait and well, here it is, July.
They’re little guanduias, just hazelnut chocolates. They’re rather like the Caffarel ones I reviewed, and I’ve since found that this little “hat” shaped chocolate is pretty common in Europe.
There were two little candies in each pink “purse”. While I thought these were adorable, they’re also fantastically expensive. This is something that’s confused me for a while. Guanduia was invented as a way to “extend” chocolate supplies, so while hazelnuts themselves aren’t cheap, they aren’t that expensive either. But these are. ($6.50 for two pieces of chocolate?)
It’s all in the packaging. The price and branding led me to believe that these would be top notch. Sadly they weren’t. I found them a little chalky. Now, I’ve had plenty of bloomed chocolate, but this wasn’t like a bloom, it was just like it was a little dry.
But the nuts were fresh and crunchy. If you’re really in the mood for some guanduia, just pick some plain old stuff up. Or get one of these and a big bag of Caffarel and keep refilling the pretty pink purse for portion control and fashion.
Last year at All Candy Expo I came across a company that was showing off some really nice candies. They had several lines, they included all natural gummies and some little fruit chews called Gazillions that I really loved. Their booth was pretty cool too, spacious and inviting and pretty sassy with the candy displayed in giganto martini glasses.
The company is called Value Quest Foods ... no website, really, no info out there.
It’s a shame, because I could see a lot of their products going places if they were packaged for the North American market a little better. Candy is really a tough business.
Gazillions are little chewy candy morsels that look like itty bitty pieces of popcorn. They’re about the size of a lentil. They’ve got a slight crackly shell and inside it’s a chew. They came in a bunch of different flavors but I liked Pineapple best. Kind of like an itty bitty Starburst or fruit Mentos. I didn’t care much for the box, which was about the size of a box of matches. I think they’d do better in a little tin or a more appealing box.
They come in Green Apple, Pineapple, Orange, Lemon, Fruity Punch, Raspberry and Strawberry. But that doesn’t matter because I’ve never seen them for sale. Great name though.
The other cool item that they later sent me as a sample was something called Fruities, which I have to say are stunning to look at. They’re also like the Gazillions in that they’re a fruit chew, a little latexy, kind of like HiCHEW with a hard, crunchy shell. And of course the selling point is that they look like real fruit, down to the variations in the colored candy shell. The scale is a little weird, that the limes are bigger than pears ... but hey, they were lovely.
Tasty? Not quite as flavorful as I would have hoped and not really in the flavors I would like.
Last year in Chinatown in New York City I found these things called Fruitips. They’re a long tube, almost as long as a paper towel core and filled with sugar sanded jellies and weighs about 5 ounces. That’s it. They’re fruit jellies. They’re nice and come a few different varieties, I chose the mixed fruits. I like all of them except for purple, which is blackcurrant.
I mention this one because I actually saw these for sale at Big Lots. I can attest that even stale as they are now, these were pretty good, so if you can get a tube for less than $1.50 (what I paid) then I say give them a whirl.
Everything here gets a solid 6 out of 10 for whatever reason. If you’re ever curious what I have sitting around that I might be preparing to review, check out my Flickr set of photos called “Unreviewed”.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Caffarel makes more than the traditional milk chocolate Giandiuia morsels. At the Fancy Food Show I found out they make a Dark (Gianduiotto Fondente), a Cinnamon (Cannella) and even a mini Chili (al peperocino) one. I was excited to find out more about Caffarel at the show from one of the vendors that imports them for the American market, hopefully they’ll be getting wider exposure. At the moment they’re still found in Italian markets in large cities and shops that carry international chocolates.
For those of you who haven’t been around Candy Blog long, Caffarel makes the excellent Gianduia 1865, little hat-shaped hazelnut chocolate morsels.
Gianduiotto Fondente - this dark version made with Arriba cocoa is just as “stick to the roof of your mouth” rich as the traditional milk and hazelnut version. This one seemed to taste more of the deeper hazelnut flavors than the milk, with dark smoky notes and of course that slick and thick melt on the tongue.
Cannella wasn’t just cinnamon dusted, it was spiced with the stuff with no hint of ground-spice-grain. It covered up a lot of the hazelnut flavors, but the texture was still thick and fudgy. Not too sweet, this was also the dark version of the giandiuia.
Giandiuia al Pepeprocino (chili) - had lots of peppery notes, not just the burn ... though there was definitely some burn. I was catching some more acidity in the chocolate on this one and some of the notes of fresh green peppers. If I had it to do all over again, I’d taste them in the opposite order ... this really gets to me! (I should have learned my lesson when I picked these up as samples at the Fancy Food Show ... I tasted it there and had the exact same reaction.) They’re smart to make this one a smaller morsel than the others (they call it a Gianduiottini).
Of course I can’t find any online sources for these. But I did see that Candy Warehouse has those little mushrooms for sale and Williams-Sonoma has little hazelnut praline eggs for Easter.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
I hinted heavily after Christmas to my husband (well, via the blog anyway) that I was pretty keen on trying some of the sale items from Dean & Deluca. He came through with every one of them. This is the Leonardi Cioccolatini Aceto Balsamico di Modena (Chocolates with a glaze of Balsamic Vinegar from Modena).
Balsamic vinegar seems like a new thing to throw in chocolates and I’ve had a few of them now. Often they’re quite tart or acrid, I don’t think the acidity of the vinegar always goes well with chocolate. These came in a pearly paper tube with a sealed plastic bag inside holding the individually red mylar wrapped pieces. They smell of smoky chocolate and carnations.
These are generous two bite pieces. The outside shell is a nice mild bittersweet chocolate that holds a wonderful dense creamy classic truffle center (there are eggs in here).
The balsamic vinegar is not overwhelming, instead it provides a smooth sherry-like background. A little sweeter but also with a slight almost alcoholic bite.
These are really good.
They were originally $42 but are still on sale at $10.50 for the 8.8 ounce container. (Mine are good until March 13, 2007 ... as if they’ll make it to the end of the week.) This might be the deal of the season for Valentine’s Day.
Sunday, February 4, 2007
The companion product to the Ferrero Rocher is the Mon Cheri. For a long time I though these had something to do with cherries, so I avoided them. But it turns out that only the European versions are cherry ... the American ones are simply a milk chocolate shell over a whole hazelnut surrounded by hazelnut paste and crushed hazelnuts.
These little morsels are the same size and shape as Ferrero’s devious little Pocket Coffee (well, the little lines on the top of the chocolate are diagonal on the Pocket Coffee).
During Valentine’s Mon Cheri are sold in all sorts of different heart shaped boxes but still not as prevalent as the Ferrero Rocher. But come on, the name alone means it doesn’t need special packaging! I did see a few assortments at the drug store that included Mon Cheri, Raphaello (an almond paste with crushed almonds in a cookie sphere covered with coconut and white chocolate) and, of course, Rochers.
I’m not quite as keen on these as I am on the Rochers, probably because it’s milk chocolate. If anything, they’re a milk chocolate version of Perugina’s Baci.
However, create a heart shaped box with a mix of these, Pocket Coffee and Rochers ... now we’re talking!
Note: though these are very high in calories and fat (44% of your RDA of saturated fat in every serving!) they also have 9% of your RDA of calcium and 5% of your RDA of iron.
UPDATE 2/15/2011: For those of you who miss the discontinued Ferrero Mon Cheri in the United States.
In Europe there is a candy made by Ferrero called Kusschen that is basically the same thing. They’re available in both milk and dark chocolate versions. See my update on this here with the review of a selection of Ferrero dark chocolate items, including the cherry version of the Mon Cheri.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
We had a Secret Santa exchange at the office, and of course my Secret Santa knew my fondness for candy (who doesn’t?) and bestowed upon me a box of retro items. Inside was a string of Zotz in Apple.
I don’t know much about Zotz. They’re made in Italy and are composed of a fizzy sour powder center inside a hard candy shell. They currently come in three flavors: Cherry, Watermelon & Apple. They come in a string of four packages (though as a child I’m quite sure the strings were longer, like you could get a yard of lollipops). I also recall they came in Lemon, but I can’t find much chatter online about them.
They’re awful cute little candies. They’re pretty big as well. I have two methods for eating them. The first is to suck on them really hard. There’s a little hole or seam in one end and if you suck hard enough you can get the fizzy powder to come out. The other method is to skip that patience thing and just crunch into it, which is usually what I do.
There is a serious amount of fizzy powder inside, a lot more than I remember. The fizz is pleasant and froths up into a rather creamy fluff inside the mouth. They’re not quite as fun as I remember, the fizz was certainly plentiful, but the flavor (perhaps because it was apple) wasn’t really that compelling.
The grown up version of these are the Napoleon Lemon Sours (from Belgium), which I’ve been eating for years and have always cleaved open the candy hoping to find a huge reservoir of the fizziness (and have always been disappointed and then put another one in my mouth). There are also Japanese versions of Zotz that I’ve seen at the stores but haven’t tried yet, maybe that’s something to put on my New Year’s list.
What flavors do you remember Zotz coming in?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.