Monday, December 16, 2013
A few weeks ago I went to the preview opening of the brick & mortar store for Sugarfina. (More photos here on la.eater.) The evening included tastings of a half a dozen of their favorite candies and of course I got to meet one of the co-owners, Rosie, whom I’ve been corresponding with via email for about a year.
Sugarfina opened earlier this year as a webstore, selling a carefully curated selection of candies from around the world. Many of the gummis are made with all natural flavors & colors and come in extraordinary flavor combinations and shapes. The chocolates are a mix of whimsy and sophistication, with an array of malted milk balls, caramels and cordials.
Sugarfina displays morsels, everything in the shop is morselized, easy for hand-to-mouth sampling and when you’re not eating it, it’s fun to look at. While browsing the store, if you didn’t know it was candy, everything could easily be mistaken for beads or buttons.
Guest were treated to a $10 gift certificate, which I put to good use right away. I even had a shopping list before I got there so I wouldn’t be distracted. I chose to create my own bento box. It’s a sleeve with three slots. It’s exceptionally well designed. The robin’s egg blue and white design is carried through the store and packaging. The inside of the box has blue scalloped concentric circles on white, as does the tissue in the bag it was placed in. The box itself is $4, which isn’t bad when you consider it doesn’t need wrapping and is durable & reusable. The cubes that fit in there were either $7 or $8.
The other change from my previous Sugarfina sampling is that the boxes for the candy have changed. They were a polyester soft plastic, which were not really that secure (hard to keep closed once you took the clear plastic stickers off). The new boxes are acrylic and after you take the labels off, they’re also reusable. They’re airtight, so any leftover candy keeps far longer.
One of the things that got me to actually go over to Beverly Hills after work was the fact that one of the new products is an Italian fruit gumdrop mix called Citrus and Berry Fruttini. They’re little pâte de fruit, coated in crunchy sugar.
The berry is a Wild Blueberry. They’re mild and sweet with a dark raspberry jam flavor and then that hint of black tea that I often taste in blueberries.
The yellow is Italian Lemon made from femminello lemons. I’ve never had a fresh femminello lemon before, but I’ve had limoncello, which is a sweet lemon liqueur that uses the peels. These are quite zesty and reminded me of Meyer lemons. It’s tart, it has a great balance between the sweetness and the oily flavors of the lemon oils.
The orange is Blood Orange. This one was definitely orange, but lacking the zesty notes that the lemon had. If I were to pick these up again, I’d go with the all Lemon selection, which they sell separately. There’s also a Wild Strawberry which I didn’t get to try.
Rating: 8 out of 10
I am quite fond of candies citrus zest, but the Aphrodite Kumquat goes far above and beyond that humble confection.
At the heart (sorry it’s not better depicted) there is a whole kumquat. It’s about the size of a small olive and completely candied. Unlike regular orange peels, the rind of a kumquat is pretty thin but when you eat the whole thing, you’re also getting the pulp inside. So there’s a juicy, tangy orange syrup at the center, along with the very strong clementine-like peel around it. Then it’s covered in a thin layer of chocolate. That chocolate is infused with the orangey oils and then the whole thing is encased in a beautifully treated apricot-colored sugar shell.
One is more than enough. They’re quite intense, the strength of the citrus oils are enough to leave my tongue burning for several hours. Sure, there are only eight of them in the box, but how could anyone eat more than two in a day?
Rating: 8 out of 10
The Chocolate Sparkles are also Greek and another special find. They’re like the smooth and flat little rocks you might pick up on the beach: except they’re an exceptionally unnatural shimmery blue.
The candy shell is thick, like a Jordan almond so there’s a lot of crunch. The dark chocolate center is smooth and creamy with an excellent silky melt and deep cocoa flavors. Unlike many dark chocolate lentils, these truly are made with dark chocolate that has no additional milk or dairy fat in it. (Though there may be traces of milk, wheat or nuts as they’re processed on shared equipment.)
Rating: 8 out of 10
These also came in yellow and pink, also with the shimmery finish. I don’t see them on the website, but they were definitely for sale in the store.
The prices are, well, Beverly Hills. However, unlike someplace like Dylan’s Candy Bar, where you portion out your generic candy into generic bags for $12.99 a pound, many of those products can be purchased at the drug store for a fraction of the price. Sugarfina’s per pound price point is more, about $25.00 per pound, but about 40% of Sugarfina’s candy can’t be purchased anywhere else in the United States and is far better quality than the drug store fare at most pick a mix candy stores. $25.00 per pound isn’t out of range for the chocolate items, but it is steep for sugar candy, even if it’s all natural.
Even though they don’t scoop by the pound, if you stop in the store, they do have little 1 ounce packets you can buy of many of the items to sample or just have a little treat. In true SoCal fashion they also offer a candy concierge.
It’s hard to rationalize it as an everyday candy shop (like I seem to treat See’s now that they’re walking distance from me), but the decadent packaging and precious treatment of the candy elevates it all to a different level. It’s not snacking, it’s sampling. It’s for grown ups.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Beverly Hills is a different world from the funky and uneven aesthetics of Silver Lake where I live, even though they are only about twenty minutes apart by car. While Silver Lake has a few chocolatiers and bakeries that carry fine confections, Beverly Hills has been at it far longer and has international muscle behind many of its biggest names.
For quite a few years folks have been telling me to try Teuscher. People rave, far and wide, about their Champagne Truffles. I even went into the Teuscher shop in Rockefeller Plaza in New York a few years ago but the shop was packed with people and the ambiance was a little too fussy, confining and precious for my tastes.
As the years went by the fact that I hadn’t tried their chocolates was becoming a glaring omission in my chocolate experiences. So when I was contacted by a representative of the Beverly Hills outpost of the Swiss-based Teuscher, I thought the time was ripe. I arranged to visit their petite shop and cafe in Beverly Hills located on the corner of Brighton Way and Camden, a scant block off of Rodeo Drive.
Teuscher is a Swiss chocolatiers but they have fourteen North American locations in addition to their shops in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. All chocolates are made in their Zurich facility and express shipped regularly (usually once or twice a week) to the shops. Their array of chocolates is rather standardized, regardless of the location. They make a variety of truffles, nut-based confections like marzipan and gianduja. They also have classics like candied fruits (dipped in chocolate), nut clusters and novelty molded chocolates (usually seasonal selections).
I was introduced to Avivia Covitz, the owner of the Beverly Hills shop. She charmed me with her tales of pairings of chocolates, eating two at a time to increase the vast variety that already existed in single pieces to create even more unique confectionery experiences. (Kind of like me and my mash ups ... though I’m sure she’s classier and doesn’t actually smash them together.) She guided me through the offerings and I chose about 15 pieces (from the dozens available) as an introduction to the fine chocolates.
Since their Champagne Truffle is so well known, I picked up three - two in milk chocolate and one in dark chocolate. They look more like rum balls that truffles to me, especially the milk chocolate ones which are very light brown with a white confectioner’s sugar dusting. They’re not round, more narrow and tall. It’s a sweet flavor right away as well, but my concerns about it being too sweet were quickly dispelled. The flavor isn’t quite champagne but more of a deep yeasty and white wine grape note. There’s no fizz or bubble, but a crisp and dry finish.
The dark, in my opinion, was even richer and a little more yeasty. They’re dusted in cocoa, so far less sweet right when it’s placed on the tongue. The texture is smooth, with a little pop of flavor at the center where the champagne cream center is.
I also tried their newer truffle, the Vodka Truffle. This one was wrapped in silver foil and after being unsheathed the molded sphere looked rather like a Lindt Lindor truffle though the center was vastly different. The dark chocolate had berry notes and a little astringency. The truffle center was quite gooey (Aviva cautioned me that it was to be popped in the mouth whole, no biting in half) and had a strong alcoholic bite along with a smooth dark chocolate liquor flavor.
I’m a huge European nougat fan, so seeing this piece was encouraging. Also seeing the wide use of nuts such as pistachios, walnuts (even though I can’t eat them), hazelnuts, almonds and of course hazelnuts made me happy.
The Montelimar nougat is dipped in chocolate on all sides except for the top. (which is a little dry). It’s a little grainy but still soft and chewy. The nuts (pistachios and almonds) are fresh and the honey notes are definitely a plus. The nougat still has a wafer on it, which kind of confusing because it doesn’t seem to be necessary and creates a kind of cereal flavor to the chew.
One of the big things I noticed in the Teuscher line is the liberal use of honey, which I think is far under-utilized in chocolates.
The Honey Caramel covered in dark chocolate was delightful. I love honey, I love chocolate and I love caramel. That doesn’t always mean a good combination will result, but in this case it does. The caramel has a dark flavor, a malty note and the beeswaxy and floral vibe of honey. There are also little bits of almond in there, which bring the whole thing together with a bit of texture.
There’s a large array of marzipan at Teuscher, which I found fascinating. The little logs like this are simply adorable and promised to have a large proportion of chocolate to the almond paste filling. (I believe it also came in pistachio.)
Sweet with a powerful almond extract flavor. The dark chocolate is creamy and offsets the sweetness well. The texture of the marzipan is dry but holds together without being sticky.
I also tried a Zebra Gianduja which is a striped combination of milk, white and dark hazelnut paste neatly dipped in dark chocolate similar to the Montelimar. The hazelnut notes were lost in the sweetness and the texture was just a little dry. Still, the nut notes were very fresh.
I was fond of the idea of these. They’re simply called Crunchy Chocolates and they come in milk and dark chocolate. They’re a homey dab of chocolate studded with little crunchy bits of honey and nuts. It’s like comfort candy. They’re basically everything I’ve always wanted a Toblerone to be. The chocolate is smooth and creamy with its own flavors. The honey bits give an added flavor punch and almost a salty note. The almonds give crunch and their own buttery note. I liked their thin shape, which made it easy to bite but thick enough to have lots of inclusions.
I always like to try the candy kitchen classics when I go to a new chocolate shop. I feel like I can learn a lot about the attention to detail when a chocolatier does something as simple as candying some orange peel or ginger. There are lots of ways to do it well, so it really just gives me a sense of where their sensibilities are.
Teuscher’s sensibilities in the candied fruit rind arena are right in line with mine. The Candied Orange Peel is dipped in dark chocolate. Moist and almost jelly-like, there’s no hint of sugary grain. It’s rather sweet but all of the zesty notes of the orange are preserved and just a light hint of the bitter orange oil. It goes well with the dark chocolate couveture.
The Chocolate Dipped Candied Ginger was a similar glace style. Tiny little ropes of roots, simmered in sugar until tender, then dipped in chocolate. These had a little extra flair with the white chocolate racing strip around the bottom. It was just a little accent that didn’t detract at all from the dark chocolate and the earthy notes of the ginger, just a little tip of milk flavors into it.
Belle Epoque was the only other truffle I picked up, again it was an alcohol inspired and infused one. This is a dark chocolate ganache with Gran Marnier. I loved the look of it and have found that I prefer enrobed or dipped truffles to molded ones.
There is a strong whiff of alcohol and orange zest. Little notes of tobacco and oak along with chocolate pudding. It’s definitely one of my favorites and would probably win out on my list of things to eat from there on a regular basis because it was just less sweet than the Champagne. (And given the choice, I’d probably opt for an aperitif of Gran Marnier over a flute of champagne.)
After completing my selection of the complementary fine chocolates, I also decided to also buy a few other items to get a sense of the rest of the Teuscher line of offerings. One of the charming items that vary from season to season are the molded chocolates. When I was in the shop before Thanksgiving, they had turkeys.
I was drawn to the Chocolate Bees. (I have no idea if they have a formal name, as there’s nothing on the package.) They came in a double layer mounded on a four inch by six inch gold foil tray. That was wrapped in clear cellophane and decorated with a narrow, yellow gossamer ribbon.
The milk and dark chocolate bees have a wingspan of two inches. But they’re not just milk and dark chocolate novelties. They’re dotted with honey crystals and almond bits. The texture wasn’t quite as dense and flavorful as the Crunchy chocolate pieces mentioned above. Instead these were a bit more like a Toblerone piece. Not quite as vibrant or intensely textured. Still very pretty and fun.
I also picked out a few straight Gianduja (they pronounce it John-Do-Ya) hearts. They’re beefy, over two inches wide and almost an inch high. One was milk chocolate (blue) and the other dark (orange).
The flavor was more milky and sweet chocolate in the milk chocolate than hazelnuts. This was my feeling about all the gianduja items from Teuscher. I’m assuming this is just the Swiss style, though I also noticed it with the Belgian brand Leonidas as well. Since I prefer more hazelnut and darker chocolate flavors, even then dark version here didn’t quite satisfy me and I didn’t end up finishing them. (Part of it is that I was so enamored of the Pralus Creme de Noisette that it’s going to become one of my standards.)
Orange Marzipan covered in Dark Chocolate
The final item I picked up, also foil-wrapped like the above hazelnut hearts, was an orange marzipan piece. This was more like a decadent candy bar. The marzipan was moist, a little sticky but with a great citrus zest note instead of amaretto. The almond texture and flavor still came through, but without the bitter almond flavoring that so often pervades European marzipan. This is definitely one of the highlight pieces for me. I liked that it wasn’t fussy and if I were wandering around Beverly Hills and wanted something to go with my coffee (they do have a highly regarded coffee bar), this is a good impulse item for me.
My hesitations with the products are really minor. I’m not that keen on the packaging or the design of the shop. The confections are well labeled in the chocolates case, which is great for people like me who must avoid a particular item like walnuts, but the rest of the items were not. The foil wrapped items were just color coded and once you left the shop, well, you’d better have a good memory. The little trays of molded items are see through, so you can, well, see them but no ingredients or even product names. My feelings are that the look and feel of the place is dated, but if you’ve been shopping there for a dozen years, you might feel like they’re dependable and consistent ... so I can’t really fault them for that.
The milk chocolate and hazelnut items were on the sweet side for my preferences, but the dark truffles, especially the Belle Epoque are right up my alley. I will definitely plan on trying more of the flavored marzipans and the caramels since I was so fond of the Honey Caramel.
The prices are on the high side at over $70 a pound (an 8 ounce box of 16 Champagne Truffles is $37.50) and the website doesn’t allow you to build a custom box. However, in the store you’re free to get exactly what you want. I think the Champagne Truffles are worth the diversion if you’re in Beverly Hills (or any other neighborhood that has a shop) but I don’t think I’d special order them on the internet unless I was certain they were going to be spectacular and just what I wanted.
My trick when visiting Beverly Hills is to park in the valet parking garage on Dayton Way just off Rodeo Drive. It’s free for the first two hours during the day. Teuscher looks like a great spot to hang out sipping coffee at the sidewalk tables and sampling a little box of chocolates while people-watching.
teuscher chocolates Beverly Hills
Monday, June 15, 2009
On Friday I took a little trip up to Universal CityWalk at Universal Studios to see what the state of candy is there.
This wasn’t the first time I was there, I visited with Sera from The Candy Enthusiast last summer, but this time it was during the day and I had more time to browse around and take notes (instead of just buying candy).
There are three main shops that have candy and each offers a bit of a different menu.
This shop is quite bold and colorful. The inventory is also pretty wide. It includes many fine chocolate bars from local companies like Chuao to brands like Santander, Ritter Sport, Valor, Cadbury, Green & Blacks, Lindt & Ghirardelli and packaged chocolate candies from Turin & Marich plus some generic chocolate blocks.
But what is most interesting about this shop, especially for those who are travelers and want to experience something different, is the candy case.
On my first visit there I picked up some fun items like candied pumpkin and candied sweet potato. This time around all these seemed to have were tamarind balls (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and only two varieties of a version of dulce de leche that’s like a Mexican style Penuche. Then there were the mango & chili items plus other traditional tamarind confections.
The prices were decent, especially for the fudge. For the prepackaged chocolate bars it’s quite a bit steeper. For the Ritter Bars they were $3, the Valor were $5 ... a stop a the Target or Cost Plus World Market within a stone’s through would be about a third off.
Then there’s the stuff in the barrels. Real Mexican candy like Pulparindo, Pelon Pelo Rico, de la Rosa Mazapan & ChiliBonchas. All for the low, low price of $11.90 per pound. Go to just about any grocery store in Los Angeles and the same stuff is about $2 or $3. But hey, that’s what vacation is all about - overpaying for most of the things you don’t allow yourself to buy at home.
The nice thing is that theming isn’t like everything else. It’s not sterile, it’s not overly precious ... it’s just a candy shop that acts like a candy shop. The counter help seemed rather knowledgeable about their candy offerings and seemed partial to the flavors of the Mexican & Latin American items. They also serve hot chocolate.
Sparky’s is more than a candy store, think of it as a gift store with a collector’s bent. They have Pez, lots and lots of Pez. Plus other little items in licensed lines Hello Kitty, Betty Boop and Hot Wheels.
They have the standard bulk candies like Jelly Belly and a rather large selection of specialty flavored taffy. But mostly they have packaged candy with the theme of classics & nostalgic offerings. Theater size boxes of all the standards (that are usually on sale for a dollar at the drug store are $3 here). Hard to find candy bars like Sky Bar, every flavor of Charleston Chew, all of the Annnabelle’s bars, Clark Bars, Idaho Spuds and Bottlecaps. Those felt a little more reasonable at $1.50 (my local 7-11 is charging $1.29 for candy bars now).
The staff here also seemed to really know their candy, I witnessed as they were able to direct a customer to a bar based only on the description of it (turned out to be a Sky Bar).
This completely tricked out and themed candy store is the largest by far. The spartan white walls & displays include some amazing original art direction.
Instead of going for childish renditions of candy & rainbows, they’ve done some really nice work here to set themselves apart. It’s part Sephora and part Juicy Couture. (Definitely geared towards women.) Glam candy. Pre-sexualized for your fetish-ization.
I know it sounds like I’m critical of it, but I rather enjoyed the imaginative photos gracing the walls - women swimming with Swedish Fish. Gummi Worms eaten with chopsticks by a stylized Geisha. A full on 18th Century French pouf wig made of red licorice on a starkly powdered face with bright lips to match (image here).
The bulk bins go for $11.60 a pound and feature mostly sugar candy. They have a nice selection of dextrose candy like Cry Baby Tears and more generic items in different shapes & colors like Runts & bananas. There are plenty of gummis, from single flavor bears from Albanese to some of their more spectacular creations like the Gummy Butterflies. Gummi cherries & Peach Rings as well as the various sour belts. Then there are standards like Good n Plenty, licorice twists, Lemonheads, Cinnamon bears, Hot Tamales and so on. There is a small selection of chocolate items in bulk, just chocolate covered nuts, a few gourmet malt balls and mini Butterfinger type bars.
In the candy bar area, they are similarly stocked & priced as Sparky’s, though they carry a few more of the penny candy style items like paper dots and wax lips.
Then at the very back of the store is the M&Ms Color Wall. Every color of M&MS you could want, make your own custom mix. (Same with Jelly Belly.)
I found the Wazoo bars there (very hard to come by these days) so I picked up the Wild Berriez I hadn’t tried yet and some pretty looking dextrose candies, a crazy set of gumballs plus a few other munchables. I got out of there for less than $5 and my parking validated.
The biggest selling point, besides just a fun place to gawk at candy is the merchandising of candy brands. You can get ear buds branded with Sugar Babies, lip balm or gloss in a gajillion different candy flavors, coffee mugs, crazy tee shirts, a Twizzlers messenger bag, pillows shaped like your favorite candies ... there’s a lot of non-edible stuff in there.
IT’SUGAR is a small chain with stores in all the hot tourist spots: Atlantic City, Myrtle Beach plus smaller outposts in Miami, Long Island, San Diego, London, Manchester, New York City, Las Vegas and Ft. Lauderdale.
There’s definitely something to satisfy your sweet tooth if you’re at Universal CityWalk. (The insiders trick is to valet park for 2 hours for free with validation on weekday afternoons, see their current rules.)
Universal Sudios CityWalk (Hollywood)
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Though I wouldn’t call Los Angeles a candy city, we certainly have our share of sweet spots. I’m more likely to go to San Francisco for candy adventures than the west side, but after promising for several years I finally made it to Compartes Chocolatier to pick up some items for Candy Blog.
This wasn’t actually my first visit to the Brentwood shop, but certainly the first one in this century (I was a D-Girl in the 90s and my office was not far from there). I had to see the place since the new generation, Jonathan Grahm expanded the classic line of stuffed fruits & novelty molded chocolates with truffles & ganaches with inventive flavor combinations.
The shop is compact but has a lovely display area on the wall of the chocolates and the main counter that appears to be divided in to two areas: classic offerings and modern. (My distinctions, not theirs.) They serve gelato so there are a few tables inside and out front. (For those who follow Compartes on Twitter, I did spot Jonathan at his laptop tucked in the corner at one of the tables.)
The classic products are sold by the pound (as fruits & nuts tend to come in various sizes) while the truffles & bonbons are sold by the piece. The classics were $35 a pound and the bonbons were $2 each. I left the shop with $50 worth of chocolate in one rather large & heavy box.
The fig is glossy is and sticky. It looks like a light fig (green) like a Kalamata. I prefer black figs (Mission) mostly because they have darker flavors ... it’s like the difference between golden raisins & regular raisins. It’s very sweet at first, the figgy flavors are tangy, a little grassy from the seeds with some raspberry & floral-like green tea flavors. The dark chocolate offsets this well, especially by bringing in the creamy melt.
It’s definitely show-stopping beautiful. Best eaten fresh & quickly.
These tiny little fingers were wonderfully shiny on the peel edge. It was all peel, too, cooked in sugar syrup to a light and translucent tenderness - no trace of acrid & foamy white pith. The dark chocolate looked silken brown. Each piece was a combination of bitterness from the orange oils and dark chocolate, vibrant zest and sweet citrus & cocoa flavors. The texture was chewy & a buttery creaminess. Perfection.
Hazelnut & Orange in Dark Chocolate (not pictured)
These were simple little dark chocolate cups that could have easily been coconut haystacks. I was hoping that the combo of the chocolate & nuts with those awesome orange pieces would work ... sadly the whole thing tasted a bit “cheesy” and I couldn’t figure out why ... something about the hazelnuts lacking their nuttiness. I’ll pass on these in the future.
The ginger coins are tender and soft, a bit juicy. With citrus notes and a warm woodsy burn, the sweet candied ginger goes well with the bittersweet chocolate that has a slightly dry finish. There’s no trace of sugary grain here, it’s more of a smooth jelly texture. Beautiful to look and and expertly made.
I would buy a pound of these. Ginger is a root vegetable, right?
Mexican Hot - (skull & crossbones)
A strong mix of cayenne & black pepper notes in dark chocolate. The ganache is smooth while the dark chocolate flavors are woodsy with a slight tannin to go with the earthy pepper flavors.
Original - (blue stripes)
I try to buy these wherever I go. It’s always good to try the base for everything else. The chocolate enrobing was perfect, the little design on top was cute and easy to remember. The dark chocolate flavors were mild, the ganache was very buttery with a good smooth and quick melt.
Vanilla & Black Pepper - (stripes with dots)
I should have taken a photo of this, I didn’t realize it would be a white cream center until I bit into it far from the camera. The immediate hit was of vanilla and butter, in a cupcake sort of vibe. Then the peppercorns kicked in, giving the vanilla more of a rum & woodsy moderation. Rather sweet, but with a lingering brightness from the pepper & vanilla pods.
Jasmine Tea (pink flowers & blue lines)
The dark chocolate takes a back seat to the strong & musky floral notes of the jasmine. The tea adds a little pop of acidity to it that gives a fresh lingering feeling to this. The ganache is silky smooth and not too sweet.
Blackberry & Sage (blue & purple square mosaic)
The blackberry is a dark and jammy flavor with a light tangy touch, the sage brings it back around with an herbal splash - a bit on the strong side, so much so that I’m not sure I’d know that it was blackberry without a key. Still, a sage truffle is great.
This little ganache center was topped with some lightly candied (glazed) fennel seeds (instead of the brightly colored candy shells that most of us are familiar with). Fennel on its own has a light sweetness and anise flavor. These brought out the dark licorice and molasses notes of the chocolate. Smooth and satiny with a curious fibery crunch from the seeds.
Lavender Marshmallow in Dark Chocolate
Yes, it’s a bit jarring to see that bright lavender center. The marshmallow was moist, fluffy but dense. Sweet but not sticky, it had a good bite. The flavor was woodsy & floral - but a bit odd combined with the chocolate. The whole thing reminded me of bug spray ... though not in a bad way, just that the floral notes weren’t quite as balsam-ish as I’d hoped.
Coffee & Cacao Nib and Coffee
The ganache in this pair is flavored with real coffee, so there’s a slight grain to the otherwise silky center. The flavor was good, rich & bold. I liked the crunchy nibs but I’m not that fond of eating coffee beans when it messes up the texture of well-tempered chocolate.
Fleur de Sel Caramels
I’ve made it pretty well known that I favor “wet” caramels, that’s the chewy stuff that has a good stringy pull and long, smooth chew. These were the “short” caramel style and have a strong butter flavor. I wasn’t fond of the texture, which was a cross between fudge & caramel and the lack of toasted sugar notes.
Shichimi - (the spice dusted one) this is made of seven spices: red chili pepper, roasted orange peel, yellow and black sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, seaweed, and ginger. The spices here angle towards the toasted sesame and chili peppers. I didn’t get much citrus out of it. The whole thing kind of left my lips burning, but the chocolate & fatty ganache balanced it well. The only issue here was that the spices kind of got out of their cup and I caught a few of these flavors in the other chocolates I ate.
Smoked Salt - (square with black crystals on top) delicate and light chocolate ganache with an earthy & metallic aftertaste to the salt. I’m beginning to think that I don’t care for smoked salts. Often they remind me of a campground in the morning, that lingering scent of a fire gone out mixed with damp sleeping bags from the morning dew & coffee made in an aluminum pot.
Cashew Fruit - (gold sphere) - this wasn’t a ganache but a bit of gooey cream center, kind of like a runny creme brulee. The flavor was a bit like green bananas. Smooth, a touch of grassy brightness and sweet milk.
I loved the classic items. I’d go back and buy the orange peels (some of the best I’ve ever had), figs (though I’d like to have some candied figs too) and ginger medallions in a heartbeat. I thought the price was really competitive and fair ($30 when sold in full pound boxes) for a line that is so labor intensive and requires top quality ingredients.
The truffles & bonbons were good and I enjoyed some of the flavor combos and of course the plain one. The price was a bit higher than I’m willing to do for such small items unless they’re particularly unique. The great option though is that it’s a fun shop to visit, they’re very knowledgeable about their products (they’re made right there, after all). They also have a line of African-themed bonbons called Chocolate for a Cause that are made with African-sourced flavors (mango, coconut, cardamom, plantain, grains of paradise, red rooibus tea). They’re a fundraiser for Relief International and their projects in Darfur and include a bead bracelet. After getting emails about these for year and pretty much going there to pick up a box ... they were sold out.
If I’m in the area, I will definitely visit again. The bonbons change constantly as new produce comes into season & Jonathan experiments with new combinations so I give them a 7 out of 10. I’ll probably continue to taste the bonbons but will go home with the fruits/ginger so they get a 9 out of 10.
Compartes Brentwood Boutique Chocolate Lounge
Friday, January 30, 2009
I check in with Valerie Confections from time to time, they’re about a mile from my house. The crazy little secret is that I go there for their teacakes. Especially in the summer, when I want something with a touch of chocolate but can’t bear a whole piece, the bottoms are dipped in chocolate. The cakes are moist, dense & lightly infused with flavors.
At the Fancy Food Show, however, Stan & Valerie were excited to show me their new Valentine’s collections. There are three:
The set called Pour Homme is for the gentleman. It has 11 pieces and comes in the dark brown box. Visually it’s dominated by large flat dark milk chocolate hearts that have fleur de sel and little almond toffee bits in them. It’s filled in with dark chocolate hearts with flowing caramel centers.
The set called Pour Elle is geared towards the gals and comes in the classic ivory box. This features large flat white chocolate hearts with rose petals and the small bittersweet chocolate hearts filled with rose petal and passionfruit ganache.
Both have 11 pieces and retail for $30.
For folks who want to share or prefer a different assortment there are boxes of various sizes (9, 18 & 36 pieces) that hold the bittersweet ganache hearts, gianduja rocher, and bittersweet chocolate with almond toffee bits.
I’ll just run down a few of the items I tasted:
Bittersweet Chocolate with Almond Toffee Bits (the smallest dark chocolate hearts shown above) - a simple pleasure. A mix of smooth bittersweet chocolate that has a glossy and smooth melt with little toffee chips and almonds. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t getting enough toffee ... but then again, if I wanted chocolate and toffee, I could just order the chocolate covered toffee, so this piece is more about chocolate.
Bittersweet Chocolate Hearts filled with Liquid Caramel - a little taller and wider than the other filled hearts, this one has a wonderfully thick and gooey caramel. Lightly salted, it has all the flavor of a toffee but the smooth texture of a custard. Lightly salted, the dark chocolate lends the perfect container and dark woodsy sweetness.
Bittersweet Chocolate Hearts filled with Rose Petal Passionfruit Ganache - a little petal graces the top of these pieces, but just sniffing it I could tell from the fragrance that it was the rose. The center is a white butter ganache with the tangy and tropical bite of passionfruit. The slightly soapy rose took some of the passionfruit earnestness away. There is a bit of a lingering aftertaste, kind of like jasmine. I suggest eating these last. Your dessert’s dessert.
Large Rose Petal White Chocolate Hearts (shown in a small version in the picture above) - this one was a little bland for me, and I did eat it first in my tasting session because I know that white can be a bit delicate and finicky. The white chocolate was smooth and not overly sweet, with a slight malty taste of cocoa. But the floral infusion didn’t quite hit me, but did leave a fresh aftertaste.
Gianduja Rocher - a sweet milky explosion of salt, buttery toffee chips and creamy sweet chocolate. It’s not a pasty, sticky gianduia. It’s a solid form that gives a soft and silky melt to the chocolate and a punch of roasted hazelnut flavor. It is sweet though, luckily the toffee chips and the salt cut through that.
Darkened Milk Chocolate Hearts with Almond Toffee Bits and Fleur de Sel - I want this in bar form year round. The “darkened milk chocolate” tastes like a cross between bittersweet and a European dairy milk chocolate. The dairy notes are complemented well by the toffee chips and the whole thing is set off by powerful zaps of salt in liberal reservoirs throughout.
Bittersweet Ganache in Bittersweet Shells Finished with 23 Karat Gold (the picture here is of a round version of the same truffle - the uneaten one is above). Delicate mix of flavors, as this is all about the chocolate. The ganache is soft and smooth. There’s an immediate acidic bite that gives way pretty quick to some dark charcoal and alcoholic notes like fine cognac and tobacco. The gold version has a bit more chocolate to it, because of the geometry ... the gold flakes do nothing for me, except distinguish it from the toffee chip dark heart.
The attention to detail in the items, with their perfectly placed decorations and well tempered chocolate is exquisite. No bubbles or voids, everything glossy and gorgeous. On the personal side of things, I go all weak in their knees for their nougat and am a little disappointed they don’t have it again this year for Valentine’s (as that’s what my Man gave me last year). But I like it when they try new things and enjoyed the darkened milk with toffee chips most of all. (So I guess I’d have to opt for the Pour Homme ... luckily the box doesn’t say anything about it being geared for fellas.)
I like supporting a local business and that everything is made fresh ... not last year and has been sitting in a warehouse. If you go to the store you can get the petits fours and the tea cakes by the piece.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Things are looking up in Los Angeles. More and more small confectioners are opening storefronts. Last year it was Valerie Confections, where I’ve been picking up teacakes and petit fours along with their toffees and truffles.
I was so pleased to see that Little Flower Candy Company also opened a cafe in Pasadena at the beginning of the year. Since my whale watching trip was canceled on Saturday morning, my husband and I went over for some lunch and sweets.
They only make candy during the week, so there wasn’t anything to see in the kitchen except our lunch being made. I had a vegetarian sandwich with a tempeh base, olive tapenade, sprouts and avocado on a hearty whole wheat bread. I also had an excellent fresh cup of coffee roasted by City Bean Coffee. My husband had a turkey and cheese sandwich on the same bread and we both got super-garlicky and salty pickles.
After lunch we browsed their selection of fresh candies that include Little Flower’s famous caramels and marshmallows, but I wanted to try something new. So I picked up a package of the stunningly gorgeous Honeycomb and some Marshmallow Puffs.
Honeycomb is pretty simple stuff, the recipe is easy, most call for something like this:
The first three are boiled together to 300 degrees, then removed from the heat and the baking soda is added. (Read more here.)
The trick with Honeycomb is working quickly and of course having the benefit of low humidity. The fellow behind the counter said what was special about Little Flower’s is that they actually use a bit of honey in there too.
It smells wonderful. Sweet and a touch like honey and a bit like cotton candy and butter.
The look of it is also lovely, with the glossy sheen on top and all the nooks & crannies.
The taste was a little disappointing. The crunch was good and it dissolved well. The honey and burnt sugar flavors were wonderful but towards the end it became a bit of a ball of soft sugar with a very strong taste of salt, metal and baking soda.
I was so disappointed. But I gave it another try and found the trick was to eat a smaller bite, not a whole piece at a time. But if I did put too much in my mouth I’d just spit out the unpleasant dreck at the end. (I also found it gave me the burps later on, just like soda does.)
The Marshmallow Puffs sold at the cafe are not like the gourmet, handmade marshmallows that Little Flower Candy Co. is already known for. What attracted me to these first of all was the packaging and the curious cross-branding. The narrow funnel shaped bag is in red, white & blue, in a rather retro design.
What I found so quirky and adorable about it was that the brand on there, besides Little Flower Candy Co. is Melissa’s, a Los Angeles-based produce company. (I have no idea why, but hey, I’m not going to argue.) They’re actually made in Belgium (not a place I knew did marshmallows.) But packaging & origin aside, what got me to buy the bag was the flavor assortment, Strawberry, Vanilla and Orange Blossom. I tasted one before I bought it and it’s divine. It’s not orange juicy, it’s more of a floral essence that has some strong bergamot overtones.
It reminds me of honey and flowers and Earl Grey tea and the wonderful marshmallows that make up the bulk of See’s Scotchmallows.
The marshmallows are all natural and have no artificial colors. The little puffs are extruded drops. They’re rather firm and latexy, but still have a good puff that melts in the mouth.
Strawberry is fragrant and sweet and reminds me of angel food cake and cotton candy.
Vanilla isn’t as sweet as I’d feared and tastes, well, like a marshmallow.
The clerk was kind enough to pick out a package that had a preponderance of orange blossom in it, so I only had three vanilla and five strawberry. The rest are the divine orange blossom. They don’t sell them on the website, but I was told if you called in an order they’d sell them to you. But you may also see them in grocery stores that carry Melissa’s produce as well. (I’d guess look at the more upscale ones like Gelson’s or Bristol Farm style chains.)
Here’s the review at Colorado Chow that got me off my duff and over there. Little Flower is known for their excellent artisan caramels & marshmallows. I’ve only reviewed the Lemon, Vanilla and Salted caramels on the blog, and can recommend them highly.
Little Flower Candy Co.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
I’ve been following Nina Wanat’s blog Sweet Napa for a couple of years now. Mostly because she was writing about making gourmet candy bars but the post that really got me was her details of making a Malted Caramel Bar. If I wasn’t already married, I’d be engaged to the recipe for that bar!
I was further excited when I saw that she’d moved to Los Angeles ... just within my reach. Oh, so close.
And finally, at the beginning of December she launched her company, called BonBonBar and webstore with her first gourmet candy bar creations. These are not knock-offs of consumer bars, these are unique combination bars with fresh ingredients. So fresh that it’s recommended that you eat your bars within two weeks of them leaving the kitchen.
I vacillated on whether or not to try them. (I know, it sounds weird.) The bars are not cheap, at $5 each the price makes me feel like I’m promised a transcendent experience. But she had only two items ... the Malted Ganache & Shortbread Bar (slightly different than the initial malt bar that caught my attention) and a Caramel Nut Bar which sounded fabulous all except for the walnuts. (Drat!) So I thought if I was going to go through the trouble of ordering, I should get an assortment ... I didn’t want to judge this nacent company on a single product.
Luckily I read that she was going to add a Valentines item (and I even voted on her blog) ... a Single Malt Scotch Bar.
I put my order in as soon as I saw it in her webstore. She even had a cool Valentine’s sampler package that included all of her bars: 3 Scotch, one Milk Malt and one Dark Malt plus the Caramel Nut Bar. I made a request to swap out the walnut-laden Caramel Nut Bar with another Dark Malt and they were made to order over the weekend.
Since we’re both in Los Angeles, it took only a day for the package to get here! (And of course the cool weather meant that they were in perfect conditions ... I admit that I get very nervous about chocolate deliveries, even in February.)
When I opened the box I though, this is it? The box is so teensy! But hefty, as I found when I picked it up. Inside were two layers, the top layer had the three Scotch Bars and the bottom layer had the three Malt Bars. (It’s like she planned out all these sizes fitting into things or something ... genius!)
The bars are each packaged in their own cellulose sleeve with a simple label. Through the clear plastic it’s evident that they’re perfectly formed, that the enrobing is well tempered. The only thing missing was the smell.
Honestly, I was happy to see that the bars were enrobed. Some of Nina’s earlier exploits on her blog showed molded bars, which are necessary with certain ingredients, but I prefer an enrobed bar, there’s something about the way the chocolate sits on the center, the way that it falls into place, like a blanket instead of walls.
Biting into the narrow bar, the ganache is soft and yields quickly until I got to the dense and buttery shortbread. Crispy, crumbly. The mix of flavors the immediate hit of dark malt, the cookie and the distinct saltiness ... it was all quite dreamy.
This is what I always wished a Twix would be, super smooth milk chocolate, strong cookie flavor ... well in this case instead of caramel it’s a ganache.
I tried both the dark and the milk chocolate varieties, and to be honest, I prefer the milk. I think milk chocolate and malt are just natural companions. Also, because the ganache and shortbread are a bit on the salty-sweet side, the milk chocolate’s sweetness really balances it all out.
In this bar the caramel is on top and the ganache is the base.
Upon first bite, the caramel is the perfect consistency of stringy and smooth but not too sweet. The first flavor is of a dark single malt scotch ... it’s kind of like tobacco and leather with that ultra-buttery base of deep chocolate truffle ganache. The chocolate shell is sprinkled with a little flaked salt, so it gave little additional hits of salt to the otherwise incredibly consistent experience.
The dark chocolate shell is creamy and not too dry or chalky for the rest of the bar.
Just to check my own opinion (and the fact that I still had three bars and that ticking clock of freshness) I took two bars over to the neighbor’s last night (it was just Robin, Amy’s out of town and will probably be quite mad to miss this as she’s the one I usually give the terrible candy to). Robin said, “This is one of the best things you have ever given me to try.” (The other thing that she really liked was the Nutpatch Nougat, so you know she has great taste.)
For the record, Nina did offer me free samples, but I really wanted the whole experience of knowing that I just ate a $5 candy bar so that I could report it authentically here. This is one of the reasons I didn’t have an early review like Serious Eats and Candy Addict (who both loved it too!). I did try a bite of the Malt Bar at the Fancy Food Show last month, as Chuck Siegel of Charles Chocolates had just met up with Nina and I guess Chuck remembered my prediliction for malt and shared. So it’s not like I was going into this order completely on trust & faith in my fellow bloggers.
Basically, they’re not candy bars at fine boxed chocolate prices. They’re fine chocolates in bar format ... which is why they’re named BonBonBar. Though $5 a bar sounds like a lot, the price per pound is about $51, which is on par with most other fine chocolatier. (And honestly, if these were in little bon bon sizes and I was in some haut chocolatier, I wouldn’t flinch at that price.) Right now you have to order online if you want some (her list of stores is rather short at the moment).
Many of her ingredients are organic and all are all natural (no high fructose corn sweetener either).
It’s not an everyday treat, but if I was given this set for Valentine’s Day, I’d know someone loved me.
Friday, September 14, 2007
I did a guest post on Gridskipper.com of some Los Angeles chocolatiers. They have an awesome system of mapping everything. However, they gave me an itty bitty box to cram into it everything I thought was important about each one. If you’re looking for more, I’ve linked everything up here to my yummilicious reviews along with a grand listing you can print out if you want to do a little tour of Southern California chocolates.
Yes, yes, I know I still need to visit Compartes.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.