Friday, March 13, 2009
That’s kind of sad for the oldest candies.
Today I’ve got Candy Coated Fennel Seeds. From reading Sweets: A History of Candy by Tim Richardson, some of the first candies are still produced today. Those are the panned nuts and seeds.
The process is simple, a syrup of liquid sugar is drizzled over a bit that forms the center (in this case a fennel seed). After each layer dries, another is added. The most famous version of this is the Anis de l’Abbaye Flavigny, which creates a huge peanut sized pastille. In this instance the fennel seeds are coated with a little crunchy shell, like an M&M without the chocolate.
This variety is made by Al-Karawan based in Amman, Jordan (you know, Jordan, the place they named Jordan Almonds after). My mother picked it up for me at her local deli.
The summer before I went off to college I worked at an herb shop where I packaged up bulk products, including a version of this. I admit that I would sneak a spoonful when doing the little baggies. I might add that fennel is supposed to be a digestive aid, easing indigestion and suppressing appetite. It also freshens the breath. I usually see this stuff at Indian restaurants where you usually encounter a bowl of mints.
The colors are bright pastels: pink, green, yellow, blue and lavender. The size of the pieces varies greatly, some are tiny little spheres (with nothing inside) and others are the size of sunflower seeds.
The bag smells sweet and like a light anise. For those who are familiar with fennel, it does have a distinct, fresh anise flavor to it (licorice).
The sugar coating is sweet and crunchy and gives way to the seeds pretty quickly. The seeds are soft and fibrous for the most part. They have a light fresh flavor to them, soft anise mixed with some woodsy notes of beets, vanilla and root beer.
It’s kind of an odd candy. I find it very refreshing, though not terribly filling. It’s certainly pretty. For something exotic, it’s not that expensive (this bag had a price tag of 99 cents on it) for four ounces. For the most part it’s well made, but the bottom of my bag did contain a bunch of little bits that either didn’t get the full color treatment or were just single candy layered on a thread of fennel instead of a full seed. A little sifting might have eliminated that.
Al-Karawan lists Sugar Coated Cardamom on their site, now that sounds like something I’d like! The panning process is used on lots of other unlikely foodstuffs as well, like chick peas (garbanzos) and more traditional ones like almonds & pistachios.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
A few months ago I reviewed Darrell Lea Soft Eating Liquorice from Australia. I enjoyed it quite a bit and now that the weather should be turning chillier (though we’ve had our ups and downs in Los Angeles lately), I was keen to try more chocolate covered licorice varieties.
The Kookaburra variety I tried used milk chocolate, the Darrell Lea Dark Chocolate Covered Liquorice is made with dark chocolate. (Well, it’s not vegan, as it does have butterfat in it.)
Anise and chocolate are a natural pairing, quite common in Italian and Greek confections but pretty rare here in the United States.
There are not a chocolate covered version of the Soft Eating variety I reviewed before. Instead these have artificial colors in them, which makes even less sense since it’s covered in chocolate. They’re also a bit thicker and have a twisted band to the shape.
The scent is nice, a mix of the woodsy and coffee notes of the chocolate and the mellow molasses and anise of the licorice.
The bite is soft and the chocolate melts easily. The overwhelming flavors are of molasses with those hints of sweet licorice, fennel and some cedar and spice notes. It’s not at all like the Indian curry and coriander I noticed with the Soft Eating variety.
Overall, even though these have the senseless addition of my nemesis Red 40 food coloring, it’s satisfying stuff. The price difference for the addition of chocolate is substantial. The regular bags are $2.99, the chocolate variety at Cost Plus World Market are $4.99.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I also like the packages. They’re simple, but the striped color coding makes it pretty easy at a glance to tell which is which (and this is the fifth package of Darrell Lea I’ve had).
Like the Licorice, this strawberry variety is also not all-natural like the Soft Eating variety. But it’s still a generous 7 ounce bag with a clear expiration date, which I always appreciate.
I found these much more attractive than the black licorice counterparts. The pieces are slightly smaller, just narrower, but still have the little twist in them. The chocolate was glossier, but that could simply be attributed to handling.
The bag smelled like bubble gum and chocolate. Sweet and summery. The strawberry flavor of the licorice is mild with a good combination of the floral notes and the light tangy berry flavor. The chew is a bit stickier than the black variety, leading to some glops stuck to the sides of my molars.
The chocolate sets off the sweet elements well and melts smoothly to a creamy syrup to go with the strawberry chew. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Friday, November 7, 2008
Mitchell’s Candies was founded in 1939 by Chris Mitchell as a classic sweet shop, with a soda fountain right next to a movie theater. Patrons would buy sweets to take into the films and then come by afterwards to share a treat. But as the times changed their core business remained their handmade chocolate dipped candies. The store is now run by the second generation, Bill Mitchell.
Mr. Mitchell was working behind the counter when we came in and was able to answer any questions I had, and more. He also gave me several samples, which is always a plus in my sweet world.
The Gaecia Collection is a departure from the other more traditional offerings at Mitchell’s Candies. The flavor combinations are alluring, some of them are pairings that I’ve never had before. They sound unique and well thought out. The pieces themselves are rather small, about a half an ounce each.
What follows is mostly gratuitous close-ups of the individual pieces.
Pistachio & almond butter white chocolate gianduia. Sweet, grassy, a little nutty and quite buttery.
The little pistachio on top (yes, it was really that green) gives it extra crunch and the bittersweet enrobing keeps it from becoming too sweet. The cocoa butter was a real plus here, the richness of the fat gave the otherwise delicate flavors an opportunity to emerge.
Fresh raspberry pate de fruit with a touch of Chambord. Topped with a rustic styled hazelnut ganache with little crunchies.
This was the only all-milk chocolate piece on the assortment and it was definitely the sweetest. It reminded me (in the best way possible) of a berry laced coffee cake. The mix of the tart and jammy berries, the nutty flavor and the little crunchies was a really comforting mix and completely unique. (I would love this as a bar with a shortbread cookie base.)
A pistachio frappe creme (kind of like a dulce de leche with pistachios) covered with a dark chocolate ganache with notes of roses and cherries.
It sounds kind of freaky and it is a bit of a riot of flavors and textures, but the lilting rose melds so well with the darker musky notes of the cherry, chocolate and almonds.
Perhaps it’s that so many of the fine chocolates I’ve been eating are West Coast and inspired by Asian and Central/South American flavors (chili, green tea, exotic citrus, sea salts, curry, etc.), these combinations struck me as both classic and innovative at the same time.
Milk chocolate ganache with Earl Grey tea and dark chocolate ganache with a whisper of lemon.
This was the smoothest, satiny-est ganache I’ve had in a long time. Not too sweet and super-fatty. The black tea notes here were as noticeable as the bergamot of the Earl Grey.
The chocolate played its role well, too. The woodsy notes mixed with with the slightly acidic citrus zest.
One of my favorite pieces in the mix.
Two different marzipans with pistachios and ginger, dipped in dark chocolate and topped with an orange peel candied with Cointreau.
The top and larger layer is a traditional amaretto marzipan, a very small grain to it which gave it a smooth consistency and strong almond flavor but good buttery notes. The bottom layer is pistachio which is more like a peanut butter, with stark floral notes. Towards the end there was a little spicy warmth of the ginger.
Milk chocolate gianduia with a liberal splash of Ouzo and dark chocolate gianduia with espresso.
This was the piece that sold me on the assortment in the first place. Sweet simplicity. Perhaps a little too sweet but it’s so pungent as well (kind of contaminated the rest of the box with the anise flavors). It doesn’t look impressive, like some sort of block of fudge, but it’s far from bland and chalky. If I have one suggestion for this piece though it’s that it should be wrapped in foil to keep the intense anise from getting into the other chocolates.
While at the shop I also picked up quite a few other chocolates, sold by the pound, to eat during my travels.
First, what impressed me most was that the majority of the offerings were dark chocolate. It was just so enticing to see the intense dark assortments in the case. All of the dark chocolates are covered in a 52% cacao blend, it’s rich and fatty with a good smooth consistency. The enrobing and dipping was also well-tempered. Nothing is more enticing than rows and rows of shiny chocolate.
The chocolates are $45 to $50 a pound and are prepackaged in boxes for easy gifting or you can pick your own mix (take away in a bag or gift box).
I picked up some chocolate covered glace ginger medallions, chocolate covered orange peel, chocolate dipped Australian figs, Italian style nougat. The standouts were the ginger medallions (smooth, woodsy and fresh) and the Rum Toffee, which had a more complex oak, tobacco & molasses flavor than the straight toffee (which was also good). The caramels were buttery and all the pieces with nuts or preserved fruits were really fresh and vibrant. The fig was very sweet and I think needed a much darker chocolate to offset it.
I can definitely say that if my mother moves to Cleveland, this is a spot I’ll be visiting again. (Though the website is pretty tempting as they offer free shipping.)
Thursday, October 16, 2008
I reviewed Kookaburra Liquorice last year and then was intrigued by their chocolate coated variety. There are quite a few licorice companies out there coming out with chocolate varieties, but a lot of them aren’t real chocolate.
I was concerned that was the case with Kookaburra, mostly because it said Choc Coated and thought maybe “choc” was code for not chocolate. But it’s really just short for chocolate. (Sometimes called choccies as well by Brits, Candians & Aussies.) I looked over the ingredients carefully and it’s the real stuff, even includes real vanilla. However the actual licorice contains artificial colors, which is kind of silly when you consider that only folks who bite stuff in half and peer in there are gonna notice.
The package is a stout peg bag with a tufted bottom that allows it to stand up. I liked that it was compact and narrow instead of one of those wide & flat bags that don’t tuck into my fall bag as well.
These are pretty big nuggets, about the size of one of my lesser toes.
The chocolate coating is shiny and smells vaguely of chocolate but mostly of licorice.
It’s pretty thick, which is good for matching the strong woodsy flavors of the licorice and the hearty wheat-based chew.
At first I really didn’t like these. I actually like a bit of anise mixed with dark chocolate, but it didn’t seem to go with the dairy notes I was picking up on the milk chocolate.
But after a few more pieces, it grew on me and over several days I’ve eaten the whole bag. It’s quite satisfying because it had both a creamy component and the chew plus some strong flavors.
It wasn’t cheap though, at $5.99 for a bag that only holds 6 ounces, there are probably more satisfying treats for me. (Like the Venco Skoolkrijt that I bought on the same trip.) But it has intrigued me enough that I’m going to do some more chocolate & licorice sampling.
Monday, October 13, 2008
With the discontinuation of Reed’s Candies by Wrigley’s, I’ve been searching for similar candies. Hammond’s Candies is based in Colorado and makes hard candies and caramels using traditional methods and equipment. They’re known for their stunning hand twisted lollipops, ribbon and pillow candies. But they also make all sorts of traditional boiled sugar sweets including a line called Pantry Candies.
Each comes in a cute tin with a little clear window on top. Inside they’re tucked into a plastic bag to protect them from moisture.
Cinnamon Drops - these are sizable pieces, bigger than my pinkie toe. They’re sanded with a bit of sugar and have a soft and grainy appearance. The hard candy is smooth and flavorful. Instead of being just straight hot cinnamon, this hard candy has a bit of a touch of the woodsy, powdered spice as well as the burning cinnamon oil.
They have a satisfying crunch or simply dissolve without many voids or holes. It’s not quite the smooth & transcendent experience of Reed’s Cinnamon though.
Sour Balls - these are teensy little drops, smaller than a regular marble but larger than a pea. They come in lemon, lime, orange and cherry flavors. They have the same sanded exterior and a smooth dissolve. The citrus ones are nicely tangy but with a good rounded zest flavor (orange is a bit more muted though). They’re an old-fashioned sour though, don’t expect anything approaching battery acid.
Butterscotch Waffles - these were gorgeous little candies. They’re flattened squares (though some were little rectangles) with a smooth surface and little dimpled waffle pattern on them. They were a creamy, buttery flavor but lacking that little dash of salt though they are the closest I’ve found to the old Reed’s Butterscotch.
Licorice Drops - these definitely look the part. The same format as the Cinnamon Drops, they’re big and black and sanded. They’re made with real licorice root, so it’s a more complex flavor than just “flavored”. The big gripe I have with these, and it’s a huge one, is the large amount of artificial colors in the candy. It made my mouth greenish-black with only one. Not appealing or subtle at all. As much as I liked the taste (and finding licorice hard candies isn’t easy), the bitterness of the Red 40 (to my tongue) added with the unappealing mouth just turned me off and I didn’t finish the tin.
Lemon Drops - for those who don’t want to pick the lemon drops out of the Sour Ball assortment, here they are all alone. These large drops are perhaps a little muted in flavor, but the flavor goes all the way through and has a nice barley sugar tone to it.
Root Beer Drops - as with the cinnamon, I was hoping for a Reed’s experience here. Instead it’s rather more like a Root Beer Float than a plain old Root Beer Soda. These two-toned drops have the mellow woodsy flavor of root beer along with a creamy vanilla component. They’re smooth and flavorful but not quite spicy enough for my desires. Well, I take that back. This was the second tin I finished. (Butterscotch was the first.)
Ginger Drops (not pictured) - these little opaque candies were kind of peach/flesh colored. They didn’t smell like much and really didn’t taste like much at first either. Then the longer it dissolved the warmer it got, a light woodsy and rooty flavor, it was definitely ginger.
The offering in this line also includes Horehound, which I refuse to believe is a candy flavor but also suffers from over-coloring like the licorice.
They’re expensive, but nicely crafted and packaged and make a nice hostess gift or something to keep on your desk for those moments where you just have to have something. I like them much better than their lollipops which are exquisite to look at but don’t have the density of flavor and smooth texture of these.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Meiji, one of Japan’s major candy & snack companies uses white and flavored white chocolates in many of their confections. The flavors range from berry and flower flavors (sakura) to green tea and caramel.
I found this Meiji Rich Strawberry Chocolate bar in Little Tokyo at Murukai Market, but every store seemed to carry them.
The bar is much deeper in color than the KitKats or even the limited edition Hershey’s flavored white chocolate bars that I’ve had. And the intensity of the color matches the flavor. It’s much more in the berry range than the “light touch of berries”. It’s both tangy and sweet, with that woodsy flavor of seeds in there as well.
I wasn’t as fond of it as a I’d hoped. Something about the tangy mixed with the sweetness and a bit of grain from the real berry in there made me miss the cocoa butter and milk base. But for $1.29, it was a great buy for a little more exotic taste than the ordinary.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I wasn’t sure what these would be, I thought something like the Skoolkrijt that I’ve come to love. I assumed it was a licorice center with a candy coating. I found a description online that said, “Salty Salmiak & Mint Flavor with a crunchy outer shell” which didn’t really capture it all (except that it included that it was salted licorice, not the straight sweet kind).
There are three shapes, a dark and a light jelly bean style and a larger, um, rock. I didn’t even know there was a third shape at first, as there were only two in the bag so I didn’t photograph it.
The beans are two different flavors. The light one is a peppermint, menthol and licorice mix of flavors. There’s a lot of crunch outside, it’s a bit grainy. The inside isn’t a molasses/wheat chewy licorice. Instead it’s a gelatin gummi flavored with licorice (and salt). The combo isn’t bad, a little metallic but the mint helps kind of smooth it all together.
The gray ones were similar but more on the straight licorice side. (They might not have been minted, but the proximity made them so.)
The lumps were a piece of the wheat based chew, again a little salted and covered with the minty crunch. That was my favorite.
They’re a little confusing for me. Not enough of one thing or another and the lack of the molasses punch to go with the licorice (my favorite combo) just didn’t make me want more and I never finished the bag.
Rating: 4 out of 10.
I was saddened several years ago to see that Wrigley’s altered their time-tested favorites: Wrigley’s Spearmint, Doublemint, Juicyfruit and Big Red gums to include those sorts of things. But then at Munchies in Los Angeles I stumbled across this little treasure - Juicy Fruit Gum, not only is it Kosher (which I don’t really need) but it’s also made with sugar and on top of that, they’re candy coated chicklets!
The box was cute and held 20 pellets. I usually chew three pieces at a time, so at 50 cents it’s no different in price than the regular pack.
I liked the crunch of the sugar shell and the indeterminate mellow fruity flavor of the chew. The flavor doesn’t last very long, but I don’t usually chew gum for a long time, just long enough to get most of the sugar out then I rinse and repeat.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Friday, August 29, 2008
Back in May I got a fabulous box of goodies from All Candy Expo that included this package of Darrell Lea Soft Eating Liquorice. I dutifully took photos of it.
And then ate it all. And promptly forgot what it was like so I couldn’t review it.
So today I went out and bought a new bag, just so I could finish up this review. (My office is dangerously close to a Cost Plus World Market now.)
When I opened it up I remember why I didn’t review it.
I cut the bag open and stuck my nose in there to get a good lung-full of the scent and there it was ... it smells like curry. Not in a bad way, by any means, but that’s why I didn’t review the first bag ... I wasn’t sure if that’s the way it was supposed to be.
So here I am with a second bag and I’m gonna have to say, “hey folks, this stuff really smells like and Indian spice shop!” It makes my mouth water, it’s a mix of curry, coriander, anise and black tea.
The pieces are kind of awkward - they’re long fingers. Thick and soft, they’re about three inches long and a matte black.
The flavor is dark and smoky. The molasses is pronounced but has a great mellow licorice mixed with a little hint of those spices I mentioned earlier. The chew is soft without being too sticky like Dots can be. Not too sweet and really munchable but satisfying.
Pretty good overall and certainly distinctive enough that I think I could tell this apart from most of the other Aussie style licorices I’ve had over the years. And I plan on finishing this package pretty soon as well.
Rating: 8 out of 10
There are a lot of different licorice twist flavors out there, but most of them are fruity. So I was pretty excited to find this Soft Eating Ginger Liquorice at Cost Plus World Market (I bought these a couple of days ago and then realized I should review the black stuff, too, and went back.) If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Australia through candy, it’s that Australians make good licorice and ginger products.
Like the rest of their line, it comes in a kraft paper looking package, mellow and muted and boldly stating that it’s flavored naturally. The ingredients bear that out: Raw sugar, wheat glucose syrup, wheat flour, cane sugar, ginger puree (4%), water, modified food starch, palm oil, natural flavor, mono & di-glycerides, salt, citric acid, malic acid, spinach extract (color), liquorice extract, sodium bicarbonate, beta carotene (color) and sulphur dioxide (preservative).
This one didn’t smell quite as appealing. Like the Buderim Ginger Gummi Bears, I found that this bag smelled a bit like Elmer’s Glue.
But I got over it.
The little fingers in this version are a little shorter at about 2 1/2 inches each but a little bigger around. The texture is different as well, though still soft they’re not as pliable and just a bit drier on the outside. But singly they smell less like wood glue and more like ginger tea.
The bite is a smidge less smooth, but boy howdy is it spicy. Right away there’s the woodsy peppery taste of ginger and then a throat warming burn. It’s not very sweet at all, much less than the other ginger chews that I like so much from Chimes and the Ginger People.
The wheat base of the chew makes it a little starchy in a way, but it also makes them rather filling and I think cuts through what might be a very spicy affair. It would be cool if they actually used molasses in these, they’d be like gingerbread (without the extra spices). But for ginger fans, this is a great new way to enjoy it. It’s a good munching food for movies, especially mixed with something salty like popcorn (I tried it with pretzels and it went well).
Rating: 7 out of 10
Darrell Lea has a pretty big range, I saw the Green Apple and Strawberry versions at Cost Plus as well. There is another version that are chocolate covered smaller nibs but their Australian website shows a much larger range of products (most of which sound fabulous). They’re Kosher and have no artificial colors or flavors.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Hershey’s has reinvigorated one of their old lines: Young & Smylie Licorice. Known more for Twizzlers, Young & Smylie is one of the oldest candy companies in the country.
This new line, called simply Old Fashioned Soft Eating Licorice and includes three flavors in their initial offerings. Flavor no. 1, oddly enough, is Strawberry. Nope, it’s not licorice, it’s strawberry. I’ll admit, right away I’m offended by this. While I fully accept that “red licorice” is a grand and glorious genre of confection, the original flavor of licorice is actually licorice.
However, I’m at least a bit appeased by reading the package which says that even this strawberry flavor has licorice extract in it.
These soft little nuggets are pretty. They’re opaque and shiny logs. It smells tangy, kind of like strawberry yogurt.
The bite is quite soft, a cross between Dots and HiCHEW. It’s sweet and mild, the strawberry flavors are all in the range of toasted sugar and floral. It’s not the slightest bit tangy, though exceptionally smooth.
The resealable packages are a hefty 8 ounces. It feels like more. The plastic is matte and rather elegant. Easy to open and reclose, the design is quite nice - modern yet classic. I like the geometric background pattern that’s used on all three.
I’ve seen them in a few stores, usually selling for $2.99 a package, so it’s on the high end of Hershey’s sugar products at the moment. Small wonder, it must be hard to make an inexpensive product when the list of ingredients is so long. No less than 15 ingredients. It starts with corn syrup and ends with soybean oil. But hey, I can’t be too disappointed, there is licorice root extract but I don’t have high hopes as there’s no molasses in there. (Not that licorice must have molasses, but I do love the combo so.)
Opening the bag, it’s an odd scent. It’s a combination of anise and curry. It smells hearty and warm.
It’s very soft stuff, kind of salty (190 mg of sodium per serving). Mild and sweet, it has a nice anise or fennel bump to it, but not terribly intense. It is a little sticky, but not like Crows.
It’s appealing and certainly different than the other soft eating licorice brands on the market, so I at least have to tip my hat to their originality. But it just doesn’t satisfy my licorice desire. I’ve had these since the beginning of the month, yet I found myself buying Good & Plenty last weekend instead of eating these.
I was also kind of annoyed that these made my tongue greenish black thanks to my old friends Red 40 & Blue 1. (Many black licorices are colored by the presence of molasses.)
I have to just wonder how it was that this became one of the top three contenders for a soft eating licorice line.
Like the Strawberry & Licorice, Peach Mango is naturally and artificially flavored. In this instance it smells artificial from the get-go. Both the Strawberry & Peach Mango list that each serving contains 35 mg of licorice root extract (the licorice variety makes no mention of how much it contains, only that it’s above that “less than 2% of the following” line).
This package smelled even before I opened it. The peach and mango blend becomes something like apricot, which I admit is a fresh and enticing smell. But generally I stay away from stone fruit flavors, they never seem quite authentic to me.
These are the softest of the three varieties. It’s all sweet and no tartness. The chew is smooth but has a pasty quality, kind of like too-soft macaroni. After eating a few pieces I realized that it was just peach flavored and I wasn’t getting anything mango out of it (which is usually a rather pine tasting note). It also left a lingering and mellow bitter taste in my mouth ... it wasn’t bad, just kind of strange.
I’ll be curious to see if this flavor makes it. It’s certainly different, but inconsistent with the other two and of course so out of the range of traditional licorice it may not attract those folks who might like a mild apricot-scented overcooked pasta.
On the whole, I appreciated that these were actually different from other soft-eating licorice products out there. This tastes nothing like Panda, Kookaburra or Finnska. Licorice products are being marketed as a low-calorie treat. As a wheat-based product they are less calorically dense but this particular variety does have a smidge of fat (1.5 grams per serving). Not a deal breaker but regular Twizzlers are a bit better in that respect. (Twizzlers are 92 & 94 calories per ounce for black & red, respectively, Y&S Soft Eating is 94 & 101 for the same.)
These contains wheat, soy products and artificial stuff but no dairy. But they’re certified Kosher.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.