Thursday, December 7, 2006
Part of the fun of Candy Blog is going around town buying sweets because it’s, you know, for the blog. But even with my wide travels, there are still things in my very own city that I’ve never heard of. And shame on me for not seeking them out! I got an email from a blogging friend of mine who wanted to hook me up with a candy making friend of his. (Any candy making friends of yours are always welcome as friends of mine.)
Thus I was introduced to Valerie Confections. I’ll skip right to the point. It’s freaktastically good.
I’ve been introduced to a lot of toffee and I wasn’t that keen on finding yet another toffee company, but they currently have a seasonal Holiday Nougat. The nougat is in the soft French style, with a mellow flavor, soft chew and intense orange flavor and then studded with crunchy almonds. It’s all covered in excellent bittersweet chocolate and dusted with some flakes of real gold.
The nougat is firm but very soft with small candied orange pieces that give a burst of zest to it all over again.
The pieces are large and generous (about 1.75” square) and drop dead gorgeous.
I was so excited at how beautiful and tasty they were that I invited over my neighbor who has been around the world and shared a piece with her, saying that it was “really, really, really good.” She instead corrected me saying that it was “really good, really good, no, really good.”
I shared half that box of Holiday Nougat, which is often the way I feel about great candy. Part of me wants to hoard it and gobble it up and part of me wants to give as many people as possible the same experience I’ve had. The latter usually wins out. The nougat experience, however, was also encouraging for the toffees that were still sitting in my studio.
Like the Holiday Nougat the toffees were just lovely. The packaging is amazing. The boxes are soft looking and the simple grossgrain ribbon give an air of sophistication that is seldom imparted to the pedestrian toffee.
The toffee assortment that engaged me most, of course, was the The Debut which was all bittersweet chocolate - Almond, Almond Fleur de Sel, Ginger, Mint, Orange and Classic Toffee.
Let me just say this about the the toffee itself. Imagine butter that’s been sweetened to the point that it’s crisp and caramelized. That’s this toffee. It cleaves in the front teeth in a way that almost crumbles, but without all those flecks that toffees sometimes leave.
The pieces are thin, unlike many rustic toffee planks out there. It’s incredibly buttery. Each of the toffee squares is a different flavor. They were all perfectly balanced with the Ginger as a special standout in my mind because of the way the earthy notes of the ginger blend so well with the burnt sugar flavors.
The Peanut Assortment was rather different from the toffee. It was crunchier and less obviously sweet. Half the pieces were milk and half dark, all were sprinkled with fleur de sal and topped with a single red-skinned peanut. The salt dominated here and brought out the very smoky and roasted notes of the peanuts. It was like a peanut brittle that was completely integrated (the nuts were crushed so it was more the flavor than texture). It’s little grainier than the regular toffee but very satisfying.
Valerie Confections also features a Milk Assortment which is more than just a milk chocolate version of the Debut, it features two flavors unique in this set: Hazelnut Toffee - plus Gianduja Rocher as well as the Almond, Almond Fleur de Sel, Mint and Classic. Nut fans may also be intrigued by the The Almond Assortment, Gianduja Rocher Assortment or Hazelnut Assortment.
High quality ingredients, attention to detail, freshness and spectacular presentation all mark these as premium candies. They’re expensive at $20.00 for a six piece box (96 grams) of Toffee and $50.00 for the insanely delicious Holiday Nougat. Great presents or hostess gifts. Also keep them in mind if you’re one of those people who are angling for a high-end wedding favor since they do custom orders and packaging. I can definitely see myself buying the Holiday Nougat again, but I think I’d only pick up the Toffee as a gift or for a special occassion ... unless I found a store that let me buy just one piece (then I’m in trouble).
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
I first heard about Chuao Chocolatier a couple of months ago but haven’t been able to visit them until this weekend. The main location is in Encinitas and they have other shops in San Diego. But they also have one at the Irvine Spectrum, so on a blazingly hot Sunday afternoon my husband and I stopped by to see what it was all about. Let me just say this, if this is the direction that upscale chocolate is going, I can fully support it.
The shop is spare and simple with lots of dark wood touches and reflects more of a wine connoisseur aesthetic than candy. I greeted the women behind the counter (I’ve never done this before) ... I introduced myself and gave full disclosure that I’m a candy writer and boy did I get the full treatment! But seeing how well Melissa, the manager, did her tour of the company through samples of most of their product lines, I get the sense she does it for anyone who’s interested. She was knowlegable, enthusiastic and completely engaging.
First, a little about Chuao. It’s one of those stories about people who follow their passions. Michael Antonoris (once a biomedical engineer and MBA before he “stopped chasing his ego and started chasing his culinary passion,” and went to Paris for two years to study Pastry and Chocolaterie at the ?cole Lenotre). Born in Venezuela, he brought not only his culinary aesthetic to candymaking, but also the native cacao from the region. His chocolate source is El Rey Chocolate. You can read lots more on their website about the history of the company and other press clippings.
The first sample we tried was their flavor of the month for July, which is a beer (San Diego produced Stout) infused chocolate - with a strong wheat/yeasty flavor to the chocolate ganache, it was intriguing and brought out the best of the beer and the chocolate.
She also let us try last month’s (after all, it was only July 2nd) intriguing little egg which was filled with chocolate, olive oil and sun-dried tomato filling. I really liked the olive essence in there, but I’m not a huge fan of sun-dried tomatoes, but they seem to work in there. I could see those going really well with a wine and cheese assortment.
Other wonderful morsels she gave us to try included:
Chocolate Covered Orange Peel - lovely dark chocolate surrounding soft and intense orange zest. Not too syrupy sweet and not the least bit bitter.
Chocolate Covered Ginger - this is no ordinary candied ginger, the pieces are plump and juicy and have no fibery bits. Sweet and with a gentle burn that lasts long after the chocolate is gone.
Coco Nib Snack - fine little nibs a little smaller than peppercorns and caramelized/tossed with a little salt and chili. Fascinating little morsels, not too sweet but also doesn’t have any of that bitter/acrid flavor that some plain nibs have. No fibery bits either. I’m not sure if I’d eat them straight, but I’d love them tossed on a salad or maybe some ice cream.
Even though it was insanely hot, we still tried a little bit of their hot chocolate. They have two varieties, the traditional Abuela and Spicy Maya. They weren’t as thick and milky as many that I had on my last NY trip, but the flavors were really great. I enjoyed the Maya best, as the spice wasn’t too overwhelming, but supported the floral and wine notes of the chocolate.
But the time eventually came to pick out some things to take home.
I picked out a box of 9 pieces:
Melao - salt butter caramel - this one was quite reminiscent of the Sahgun salt caramel I had earlier this year. Quite soft, almost juicy, with a slight grain to the caramezlied sugar and a round sweet flavor dosed with salt to bring out the flavors.
Candela - spicy macadamia praline - very strange - it’s grainy, but not in an unpleasant way. Salty, crispy and with a soft spicy finish, the center is more like eating a cookie dough than a chocolate. For the record, I love cookie dough.
Cardamom - cardamom infused ganache - fresh and lightly infused with that cardamom note that I love about Indian food. Buttery smooth and rich. I would have liked more cardamom, like the Vosges one I tried in NYC.
Modena - strawberry caramel with balsamic vinegar from Modena - this was just plain strawberry as far as I could tell. Nicely fruity and aromatic, smooth and refreshing with a good balance of notes for the dark chocolate, but I wasn’t really getting the balsamic notes.
Chevre - goat cheese, pear Williams and crushed black buttercream - fascinating and probably addictive. At first the dark chocolate ganache is tangy, like a goat cheese. Then the black pepper infusion coming to the surface. The pear played a minor note, but the black pepper pieces were incredible, as they were softened by the chocolate and more like small, spicy raisins.
Zen - green tea infused ginger ganache - wonderful plump pieces of crystalized ginger in a dark chocolate ganache with only a hint of tea. Not too sweet - a good subtle balance.
Gran Cacao - bittersweet ganache with 73% cocoa - a lovely and rich ganache with a good buttery start and some good floral and berry notes.
Cambur - soft banana and brown sugar caramel - imagine a fried banana, drenched in caramelized sugar and then drizzled with chocolate. Mmmm. Intensely banana, but thoroughly authentic tasting. Rich and sweet. By far my favorite of them all.
Picante - California raisin fondue and Napa Valley cabernet caramel, spiced with pasilla chili and cayenne pepper - tart and with fruity/jammy qualities but with an immediate burn in my throat from some fresh tasting chilis. There are some wine notes, but mostly a grape and chili flavor mixed with the dark chocolate but the caramelized sugar is completely lost. I wouldn’t have minded a little hit of molasses or brown sugar in there.
On the whole, I’d say that the line of uncommon flavor combinations is much like Vosges and of similar quality. Where Vosges seems to angle itself towards women, Chuao seems incredibly masculine. The flavors are bold and uncommon and assertive. Flavors are borrowed from outside the candy realm with excellent results. But when they’re inside the sweets oveure, they’re really at their best. The spiced flavors are wonderful but I really enjoyed the caramelized items like the Cambur.
I’m definitely planning on stopping there again, it’s exceptionally convenient when I’m down in Orange County visiting with my husband’s family and it looks like they will continue to develop new flavor combinations that will keep my tongue occupied. They also offer classes, which I would love to take (but only at the Carlsbad location), so maybe someday I’ll become a master chocolatier, too. If you’re a wine or beer lover, they also have tips and product lines for serving them together.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Edelweiss Candy Kitchen in Beverly Hills is an old fashioned candy store. From the classic awning outside to the displays inside, it was like I’d stepped back to 1953 (they’ve been there since 1942) and perhaps Julie Andrews would step out from the counter in her Sound of Music outfit and sing a little song about a the wonders of chocolate.
There’s even a sign on the back wall that purports that the famous I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel get jobs on the factory line at a candy company was conceived of here when Lucille Ball saw the conveyor in the back. In truth the episode ended up being filmed at See’s (in Culver City, I think).
The store shelves are filled with plenty of novelty chocolate items and glass jars filled with everyone’s favorite candies available by the scoop. They had gummies, licorice, misty mints, Swedish fish, foil covered chocolates, panned nuts ... just about anything you might want. But I went for the things that I can’t find everywhere. They make their own custom chocolates on site and are rather well known for their candied and chocolate dipped fruits. At $28 a pound, they’re certainly not cheap, but also not the most expensive candies I’ve come across. Especially in Beverly Hills.
Here’s what I picked up:
Chocolate Covered Candied Orange Slice - this one was not nearly as good as the Jacques Torres I had in NYC. The orange was firm, but the peel was a little too tough in spots, especially on the edge that wasn’t dipped in chocolate. However, it wasn’t too sticky or too sweet, so the flavors were wonderfully deep and complex.
Chocolate Covered Fig - the amber-colored fig was plump and sweet with a strong tart bite to it that mixed well with the chocolate. That fresh herby taste of the fig goes so well with chocolate, I was sorry I didn’t get more of these. After eating dried figs all week, it was nice to have something plump and juicy ... and of course covered in chocolate.
I wish all the chocolates were a bit glossier - they’re a little dull looking but I’m not sure if that affected the taste or texture much.
I don’t remember what the little chocolates in cups were called (and there’s no reference to them on their website), but it was described as ground almonds and honey in either dark or milk chocolate. I got one of each. The milk chocolate one was pleasant, not too sweet and not too milky. I couldn’t really taste the honey, but the almond flavors mixed with the chocolate and the slightly chewy, crunchy bite of the nuts was nice. I liked the dark chocolate one a bit better, as the flavors of the chocolate were more complex and I could detect the honey tones.
I’m not suggesting that anyone order up some over the phone, but if you’re in Beverly Hills and looking for something authentic, this might be a nice stop amidst the Cartier and Tiffany and Prada overload. If you want some tasty chocolate that’s not too expensive then I always suggest See’s. But since there isn’t one in this area of Beverly Hills, Edelweiss might be nice.
Edelweiss Candy Kitchen
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
On my thrice yearly trip to Beverly Hills to get my hair cut, I was lucky enough to go on a weekday (Friday) this time, which meant I could finally visit K Chocolatier.
They’re only open Monday-Friday ... I haven’t a clue why, but that’s the way it is. The shop is tiny. Think of a Fotomat Booth, oh, wait, they don’t have those anymore. Anyway, it’s tiny. The photo you see on their website shows the ENTIRE store. No need for a wide angle lens or positioning yourself across the street for that photo.
K Chocolates were created by Diane Kron, who I guess is one of those “chocolatier to the stars” people because they mention that kind of stuff a lot on the website. I have no idea if movie stars, TV networks or banks have good taste in chocolate. But they’re certainly not wrong in picking K Chocolatier because it is good stuff, just freakishly expensive.
The nice thing is that the shop offers free tastes of EVERYTHING. There’s a little dish on the counter with a select few goodies so I tried all of them.
K Chocolatier is known for their little K Bears, which are crisped rice in milk, white and dark chocolate. They’re super cute, about the size of a Teddy Graham. The milk chocolate one was very milky, quite sweet but very smooth and of course the crisped cookie/rice was fun. The dark chocolate was much smoother, with an ultra buttery dark chocolate with a really satisfying smoky taste to it. The white chocolate wasn’t very sweet, but very milky and not enough vanilla for my tastes.
The sampler tray also had their famous K Chocolate Truffles, which were little squares about the size of sugar cubes dusted in cocoa. They were not sweet at all, smooth and with some very complex coffee and woodsy flavors. There was even a bit of a salty hint to it.
My favorite free item was the K Spanish Orange, which was chocolate covered candied orange rind. That smooth and buttery chocolate was the perfect complement to the zesty and slightly bitter orange peel.
But I was there to get something I couldn’t get anywhere else, which is one of the reasons to shop an exclusive store like this.
I wanted to try their Vodka chocolates. And they let me! There were two varieties - K Vodka Shots and K Vodka Martini. They were a little smaller than a standard malted milk ball and a little flat on one side. The little spheres of dark chocolate held a crunchy sugar shell and inside that, a burst of real vodka. Not cheap vodka either, this was good stuff. After trying both I opted for a small box of the K Vodka Martini - it had a touch of vermouth in it that gave the alcohol a good balsam/citrus note to it that really brought out the fruity/floral notes of the chocolate.
But the sad part is that they were $40.00. Seriously. But I bought them anyway. And they were good. They weren’t a huge hit at home though and of course you have to practice a little self control as that’s real alcohol in there. (Okay, it wasn’t a lot, but I can get a buzz off of a half a dozen of them). The other irritation with the store is that nothing is marked with a weight or size of any kind. I don’t know how much chocolate I bought. Was that a half a pound? A full pound? Do they all weigh the same?
I’m a big fan of alcohol/chocolate cordials. As a touchstone, I bought the Trader Joe’s holiday box of vodka filled chocolates for New Years. They were nice, they had different fillings - orange, lemon and raspberry vodka inside of dark chocolate shells. But the vodka wasn’t very high quality, so they didn’t quite have the sassy snap that K Vodka Martinis do. I suppose you get what you pay for, the Trader Joe’s box was about $5.
Will I buy K Chocolatier products again? Probably not, but I’m glad I did.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 12:07 pm
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
I found a new candy store and they have everything! (I can’t remember who suggested this, but I thank you most wholeheartedly!) Mel & Rose, which is on Melrose Blvd near La Cienega (just north of the Beverly Center).
Well, maybe they don’t have everything, but a lot of the things I’ve been looking for and a good assortment of things I didn’t even know existed. They didn’t have KitKat bars from around the world, but they had Kinder Eggs.
Mel & Rose is a liquor store, wine store (in a separate space) and deli with a large selection of fine chocolate bars. They also have a huge selection of imported consumer candies, such UK imports like Flake, Cadbury, Aeros and Bassett’s. There are German candies like Ritter and a whole line of Haribo bagged treats. Australian brands like Cherry Mash, Life Savers and Aussie licorice.
If you’re into high-end chocolate bars, I think that’s probably what they do best. Vosges, New Tree, Michael Cluizel, Dolfin, Cafe-Tasse, MarieBelle, Cote d’Or, Hachez, Dagoba, Green & Black’s, Americi, Santander, Divine, Galler, Chocovic, Chocolat Bonnat, El Rey and Guittard. (The only chocolate I thought was missing was Scharffen Berger.)
The prices aren’t rock bottom, but they’re on par with places on the web like Chocosphere when you factor shipping and you get to read the labels and sniff them before you buy.
Check out this Flickr set of photos that I took in the store ... until the fellow behind the counter told me there were no cameras allowed in the store.
Mel & Rose
I picked up a couple of other exciting things that I’ll be posting about soon.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
I think it might be marshmallow day here at CandyBlog.net.
Last week I was at the Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax to meet up with some other bloggers and I knew I had to stop at Littlejohn’s Candies because a reader told me they had the best toffee. Of course once I got there my eyes were drawn to these plump caramel kisses - soft caramel drenching a puffy marshmallow. I completely forgot about the toffee.
So, I got two, one in chocolate and one in vanilla. (And a pecan praline which was divine and I ate before I could take a photo of it.) I figured I can always go back for more toffee ... and another pecan praline.
Once I opened the wrapper it was obvious that these caramels were made with lots and lots of butter. They were creamy, very smooth and exceptionally sweet with a slight hit of salt to it. The marshmallow center was smooth and light without being too foamy. The center also wasn’t very sweet, so it gave a nice backdrop to let the caramel dominate the flavor stage. The chocolate caramel wasn’t as tasty to me, there wasn’t enough chocolate to set it apart from the regular caramel and I plan on sticking to the vanilla in the future.
These are messy candies. They stuck to the cellophane wrapper and to my fingers as I held it. They’re too big to put in your mouth all at once (about the size of a squashed golf ball), so eating them posed a challenge. I ended up with sticky fingers. In the future I think I’ll leave them in the cello and scrape them off with my teeth.
Since the Farmers Market and the adjacent Grove shopping center are such a tourist destination in Los Angeles, if you do come to the city be sure to seek this place out for something a little different from the tourist fudge that you find at many places. (Though they certainly have fudge.) It’s a classic, working farmers market and they actually make the candy right there with big plate glass windows so you can learn all of their sugary secrets.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
On Saturday morning I arrived early for my whalewatching boat because of the freakishly light traffic. So I wandered around the Ports o’ Call village there at the harbor to see what it was all about. I’d been there once before for a wedding reception at one of the restaurants years ago, but we didn’t explore the area at all. The anchor of the area is this is where the huge cruise ships harbor, so the tourists often stop by for brief shopping trips and of course locals come down for the boat rides and fine dining.
I found Candy Town tucked away in a corner, only a few hundred feet from the Spirit Cruises berth and was happy to find that they had a HUGE selection of candy. The store is not at all like the bin type candy stores like Sweet Factory or Candy Station, this appears to be a real small business with an enthusiastic woman behind the counter.
I walked around, checking out everything before I even considered any purchases. The store isn’t jam packed with goods, it’s spacious and has very simple, perhaps antiquated, displays. They have a hodge podge of shelves and racks, some that might be better suited to selling deli products, jewelry or perhaps magazines. But they make it work. They had a nice selection of import chocolate bars such as Toblerone and the Ritter Sport assortments as well as those little tins of French Pastilles. Then there are small bags of individually wrapped candies like Mary Janes, Bit ‘o Honey and Walnettos. There was a corner devoted to bulk candies that included a huge selection of taffy (necessary for any seaside shop) that also included a healthy assortment of Mexican and Italian hard candies (well, “healthy” as it applies to Mexican candies is not something I can back up with their issues regarding lead content lately). Then there were the American shelves which seemed to include just about every common bar in production right now.
At that point the woman behind the counter, a woman about 10 years older than me and with a rather strong accent (I think Taiwanese, but I could be wrong), enthusiastically wanted to help me. She pointed out candies and asked if I remembered them. Wax Bottles? Bottle Caps? Pixy Stix? Licorice Pipes? Cinnamon Toothpicks? Sen-Sen? Okay, the Sen-Sen got me. She really didn’t think I was THAT old, did she?
The prices were decent. I got some Bottle Caps, Razzles (including sour ones) and a tin of Orange Blossom Pastilles. There were quite a few things in there I’m looking forward to trying and after the excellent ride on the Spirit Cruises whalewatching tour, I know I’ll be back.
Friday, December 16, 2005
I went to a new candy shop last weekend. I was on a quest for Ribbon Candy which seemed oddly difficult to find. I found The Candy Baron in Santa Monica. A small chain of shops, they seemed a good alternative to the mall shop called Sweets Factory.
The Candy Baron’s main product is bulk candy. They have the usual selection of Jelly Belly candies as well as taffy, hard candies, gummis, candy buttons and licorice. Their prices weren’t bad, most stuff going for between $5.00 and $6.00 a pound. They also have harder to find nostalgia/regional items like Goetze’s Caramel Creams (bull’s eyes), rock candy, Mary Janes, Walnettos & Squirrel Nut Zippers. They also had a decent selection of international candy bars. Though they were priced at a mind-blowing $2 each, if you’ve really got a jones for a Coffee Crisp, that’d be the place to check out.
They’re just off the Promenade in Santa Monica on Santa Monica Blvd.
There are only five locations total (Santa Monica, Laguna Beach, Long Beach, San Francisco and Eugene, OR) but they do have a website where you can order and have it shipped to you.
I’m still on a quest for a good place to buy inexpensive bulk candies in Los Angeles. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m ready to go.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.