Friday, March 24, 2006
In case you didn’t notice, All Easter Week kind of overlapped and is now two weeks. (I don’t hear any complaints!) Of course any discussion of Easter candy would be incomplete without Peeps which is why I saved them for last.
The thing is, there are lots of people who talk about Peeps and chances are you either love them or hate them already. Here’s what I think about Peeps: I think Peeps are pretty cute. The colors are great and the idea of a crusty crusted soft marshmallow is a good one. I think the name Peeps is pure genius. And the idea of a little yellow marshmallow candy shaped like a baby chicken is pretty good too. The manufacturing variations of them allows them to have their own personality. (According to the Peeps factory tour on their website their eyes are added by hand. It gives them a rather personal touch.)
But see, I don’t really like the taste of them that much. They’re sweet and all, and that’s good. And I know yesterday I said I liked plain old rock candy, so it seems odd that I wouldn’t like fluffy sugar.
If I do like Peeps, it’s when they’re stale. At least they have a little texture then. They’re tacky and lose their springiness and suddenly have a little tooth to them (well, Peeps can’t have teeth). Anyway, a slightly stale Peep is chewy and kind of a nice change of pace. A very stale Peep is almost like cookie. I’ve tried toasting them, but it’s tricky, because they catch fire quite easily. I guess the best thing to do with them is to do a mashup where you pull one apart and mash it into something else like crushed Oreos or chocolate chips.
There are several iterations of Peeps. There are different colors of the little chicks and little bunny shapes (which I don’t like as much for no good reasons I can verbalize). You can get white egg shaped ones for decorating and of course they’re not just for Easter anymore with other shapes/colors/flavors for all the major Candy Holidays.
Of course the thing I most like to do with Peeps is take photos of them (stay tuned for more of those, my new camera arrives today). There’s a whole Flickr group devoted to them, called Peep-Tastic. Then there’s Peeps Research, more Peep Research, a PeepShow, and of course the official site. For more literary expressions in Peeps, check out Lord of the Peeps, Peeps Haiku and then the definitive resource, the Wikipedia entry. Click here for some worksafe PeepPr0n and finally, for the last word on Peeps, check out this article from Salon’s archives.
I took my photos about two weeks ago and the Peeps have been in an open plastic baggie every since, I think they’re ready to eat.
So, do you love em’ or hate em’ and how do you eat ‘em?
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Candy is a microcosm of society and existence. I know this because there are certain candies that indicate the presence of the divine in every scrumptious bite. Then there is evidence of evil on this planet. The Easter “marshmallow egg” is one of the latter candies.
This candy has promise on the outside, as all temptresses do. It’s big, so of course it’s appealing to any foolish child who hasn’t learned that “bigger is not always better.” What’s more, it is an evil that has no name. Really, what are these things called? If I say marshmallow egg, you might thing of the satisfying marshmallow half-hemispheres that are drenched in chocolate this time of year. Or even something that resembles an Easter-themed Circus Peanut. Brachs has chosen to call their version of these Bunny Basket Eggs. I will hereafter refer to them as BBBE, which when pronounced as an acronym (as all good acronyms should be) it will sound like a stuttered bee-bee or a very cold person trying to say ‘bean.’
Part of their temptation lies in their beguiling size, which is made up entirely of sugar with a dash of artificial color and carnauba wax. That’s a Starburst Jelly bean there; it’s no match for the Mastodon known as a Brachs Bunny Basket Egg.
I hope you understand that Brachs probably makes the finest BBBEs there are. They’re generous with the color and they’re even flavored. The green ones are lime and orange ones are orange. I can’t tell you what the rest are. Please don’t make me eat more of them.
If you haven’t already guessed, these are horrid candies. It’s not like I’m against eating pure sugar, I have in fact indulged in full spoonfuls of honey or brown sugar as a treat quite often. The shell of a BBBE is similar to a jelly bean. It’s a rather grainy sugar coating that’s smooth on the outside and lightly flavored. The center of a BBBE is a fluffy, grainy sugar that really isn’t like marshmallow, but I call it that because the ingredients mention gelatin and corn starch.
I don’t think BBBEs can be made and delivered fresh, not to mention the fact that few people eat them right out of a pristine bag. They’re intended to sit in amongst the pastel cello grass of an Easter basket until all the other choice candies are consumed and a desperate sugar-toothed child is force to eat it. Then the last thing this child remembers of his Easter experience is this deplorable egg. The smell of these inside the bag is like a mess of flavored lipsticks or a bad candle shop. A combination of fake fruit flavors and of course airborne microfine sugar which is intent on giving you that satisfying sweet feeling on your tongue before you even eat one.
I realize that this candy has its champions, and that by no means makes you minions of evil. I can only surmise that the experience of eating these foul little fingers of pure sucrose is inextricably tied to a pleasant experience and these help you relive a little of it. If that’s the reason, then I completely support their continued, but limited, production as a therapy device. If you would like to read someone who might share your unending love of these, you might want to pick up Hilary Lifton’s memoir called Candy and Me: A Love Story (you can preview the chapter online).
I honestly did try to like these. I never cared for them as a child, but I did buy them, make them look pretty in the photos (they are actually very pretty) and of course ate TWO! That’s why they get a rating of two instead of one. (You may now commence in the comments section telling me how wrong I am.)
Monday, March 06, 2006
As part of this year’s Independent Food Festival and Awards sponsored by tasteEverything, I’ve been tapped as a jurist to give out an award for excellence in food. (You know it’s gonna be candy.) I decided after my mind-blowing experience touring candy factories in the Bay Area last December that it had to be something that really helped me to immerse myself in the true source of chocolate.
My 2006 Winner of the Independent Food Awards is The Best Things to Stick to your Marshmallow: Scharffen Berger Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs.
Cacao nibs are roasted cocoa beans, what all chocolate is made from. Scharffen Berger then pan coats them with 62% cacao semisweet chocolate. They’re complexly flavored little buggers, about the size of rice crispies - they’re crunchy, sometimes fibery, sometimes buttery and nutty ... always a surprise. Some flavors are like wine, raisins, coconut, coffee, oak, banana, apricot, sweet almond, grapefruit, cherry, cinnamon, clove ... I could go on and on. They’re like a blank canvas and a symphony all at once. They take over the senses and make you forget your train of thought. The coolest part is that each little morsel is independent of the others - it might have come from a different tree, might have been harvested weeks before or after its buddies in the tube. Eat one and get a sense of the particular, eat a palmful and travel the world.
So, what do you do with these besides just eat them like candy? You can bake with them, as I saw at Tartine in San Francisco, where you can get Rochers (like soft meringues) made with cacao nibs.
But I’m not really a baker. You can’t just serve an olive boat of these morsels to guests. Then oddly enough the answer came to me in the mail the same week. I was reviewing Plush Puffs, flavored, handmade marshmallows. With proximity being the mother of invetion, I tried putting things on my marshmallow. Actually, I tried mashing my marshmallow into things.
Now, given that I have the title of jurist, it was incumbent upon me to evaluate at least several other marsh-mashables. So I ordered up more Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs and a full array of Plush Puffs (Orange-Honey, Sam’s Sour Lemon, Maple Pecan and Vanilla Bean) and scoured my kitchen and a few stores for some options.
In the interests of trying to find the perfect thing to mash into my marshmallows, I pulled a few things out of the cupboard and ordered some others off of Chocosphere. Here are the results:
The definition of pure confection heaven has to be Orange-Honey Plush Puffs with Scharffen Berger Chocolate Covered Cacao Beans. This is the standard by which all other mashmallow-ables will be judged. (Really, why did I go on, how much better could I expect things to get?)
My second favorite thing to mash into my marshmallows has to be these Valrhona Chocolate Covered Orange Peels (Equinoxe Noir des d’ecorces d’oranges confites). They’re tiny pieces of lightly candied orange peel pan coated with 66% cacao dark chocolate. Smooth, sweet, crisp and with a great zesty orange taste. At $4.00 for 1.8 ounces, they’re even more expensive than the Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs, but as a little dash mixed in with the Cacao Nibs, it’s a welcome little burst of citrus energy. They go really well with both the Vanilla Bean and Maple Pecan ones but unlike the cacao nibs, they don’t work with everything.
It wouldn’t be fair of me to evaluate chocolate covered cacao nibs without trying out the naked ones. So I selected the Dagoba Cacao Nibs, which are also organic. The pieces are less consistent in size and shape than the chocolate covered brethren. They have a wild, alcoholic aroma. Smoky and woodsy to the nose, they provide a huge burst of flavor when eaten on their own but they’re also incredibly acidic and sometimes acrid, astringent and puckeringly dry. When pressed into the Vanilla Bean marshmallow, the sweetness and blankness allows the subtle cacao notes to shine while moderating the overt acidity.
With the success of the malted rice krispies squares, I thought I’d just go with the source materials. This wasn’t as pleasant. The malted milk powder is a bit salty and of course dry. The milk powder, I think, is part of the issue. Milk doesn’t really belong with marshmallow. In fact, it turns out that I don’t really care for the flavor of powdered milk.
I love molasses and my favorite sugar is Billington’s Muscovado. It’s got a sort of whiskey aroma to it, a complexity that you won’t find in refined sugars. I like to let it dry out in chunk and eat it that way. It doesn’t really stick to the marshmallows very well, and frankly, it makes it too sweet.
As a final confirmation about the Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, I brought the array of my top contenders to an Oscars (tm) viewing party Sunday night. At the end of the night the marshmallows were nearly gone and so were the CCCN while the plain nibs were largely untouched. On top of that, people were pleased with the fun combination of flavors. (And as a capper we got to taste some new regionally-sourced chocolate ice creams. Yum!)
There is one other company that I know of that makes chocolate covered cacao beans, called SweetRiot. I haven’t tried them yet, but I imagine they too are awesome.
If you’ve stumbled across this posting without first visiting the tasteEverything, have a look at all the other incredible finds from around the globe.
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.
There are a couple of other iterations of the famous red foil Rocky Road. One is Mint, which I found only recently but was in such bad condition, I could hardly give it a fair review. The second is this one, which I found at the Rite-Aid which is Dark Chocolate.
This bar comes in a pleasant, lightly gold-tinted wrapper. I’ve decided that all Rocky Road bars are dented and cracked as a consequence of the scant packaging. No matter, it doesn’t seem to affect the taste at all. This bar doesn’t smell quite as chocolately as the milk chocolate one does, but does have a very sweet aroma.
The marshmallow is thick and foamy, but not very moist. It has some good give to it without being too rubbery and a not-too-fake vanilla taste to it. There’s very little contribution from the cashews in the chocolate coating except for some texture. I think the bar might be better served without them, but then I’d probably notice that the quality of the coating chocolate isn’t really that good.
Overall, I liked it quite a bit better than the traditional milk Rocky Road, but its rarity is an impediment to purchasing it again. I’ve been in plenty of Rite-Aids in Los Angeles and this is the first time I’ve seen this there and it’s not good enough for me to keep going back to that particular Rite-Aid (Santa Monica Blvd. & La Brea).
Friday, December 09, 2005
Name: Plush Puffs Assortment
Yes, artisanal marshmallows. And why not? The stuff we’ve been getting from Kraft are not what marshmallows are capable of. And those things that you find in cereal? Please, let’s not even grace them with the name marshmallow. They’re not even marshy!
I was sent a generous sample pack from Ann of Plush Puffs, which is based here in Los Angeles (Sherman Oaks, to be exact). The weird thing is that until I started Candy Blog, I didn’t really think much of marshmallows. Besides the See’s Scotchmallows, there were very few marshmallow things that I would even try. Peeps were never on the menu, but I have been known to toast marshmallows, if only because they’re the only grillable dessert I know.
Instead of just plain marshmallows, Plush Puffs are flavored with intense combinations of spice, nuts and/or fruit essences:
Caramel Swirl - I think I’d rename this one to “sticky toffee” because it had a nice carmelized sugar note to it and it was sticky. It was very sweet and had a little bit of caramelly fudge topping on it.
Chocolate Chipetta - this is the only one that doesn’t feel “sweet” to me. It’s rich and toasty tasting with a good chocolate hit. One of my top three flavors.
Maple Pecan - holy moly! These were really good. The maple flavor wasn’t artificial or chemically like some candies can be. It was a good sweet woodsy backdrop to the sweet, chewy foam. It had almost a toffee-like flavor and I even had a few pecans in mine.
Peppi-Mint - it’s like a fluffy candy cane! Seriously minty, like someone’s made a foam Altoid or something. The color and texture looks more like a cake than a marshmallow but the intense flavor made me want to eat both but I settled for doing a mash-up with the Chocolate Chipetta which was really good. One of my top three flavors.
Toasted Coconut - this one smelled divine and tasted just a good. I love coconut and I love the nutty smell that reminds me of the beach and all the kids that could tan wearing that coconut oil suntan lotion. One of my top three flavors.
Sydney’s Cinnamon - this was not my favorite, though I had high hopes for it. It’s definitely cinnamonny, but it also has cinnamon oil, which gives it more of a candy hit than a spiciness (like eating a cinnamon hard candy). But where this puff really showed itself was in the toasting. (see below)
Vanilla Bean - I know, vanilla, kind of bland. It wasn’t really bland, a little salty and it just didn’t wow me. I think this would be good with something else, like maybe over pie or toasted or in s’mores.
Sam’s Sour Lemon - these had a gorgeous zesty lemon smell and pretty creamy and vivid yellow swirls in them. Calling them “sour” lemon doesn’t work at all for me (in fact, I would call them “zesty” lemon instead) but the flavor is really nice and mellow. I also didn’t care much for the mix of textures wtih the crunchy lemon sugar but it’s not a dealbreaker or anything.
There’s one more flavor on their list that for some reason I didn’t get in my grab bag, which is the one that sadly interested me most - Orange Honey. The honey flavor is not that noticeable in the other Plush Puffs but is one of the things that I’ve always found so intense about the See’s Scotchmallows. (I guess I’ll have to place an order.)
Per the recommendation of Ann at Plush Puffs, I tried some in my tea and of course toasted some of Sydney’s cinnamon:
I brewed a cup of Revolution Lavender Earl Grey tea and and dropped in about a quarter of a puff (I didn’t want to overload). As I took the photos I noticed the marshmallow dissolving into a beautiful aromatic foam. I enjoyed the combination of flavors, the creaminess of the marshmallow, the interaction of the botanicals of bergamot, lemon and lavender was really nice. And of course the sweetness of the puff was a nice change from my usually naked tea. Even after I’d slurped off the foamy dissolved puffiness there was still a nice lingering sweetness and lemony flavor. Definitely a cool way to decorate an ordinary after-dinner or afternoon tea. I still prefer my naked tea, because that’s just the way I am.
The drink marshmallows were invented for, of course, is hot chocolate. I got some amazing Mayan Hot Chocolate mix from Xocoatl from my sister-in-law at Thanksgiving which I made here at the office with some milk in the microwave. In went a half of a Sydney’s Cinnamon. Instead of dissolving in a bubbly foam and spreading across the surface like the lemon one in the tea did, this one hung together really well. But once I tried poking it with a spoon it melted completely. I scooped it up like some sort of dessert soup with some of the hot chocolate and enjoyed that until all I had left was my cocoa broth. The spice of the cinnamon went really well with the Mayan chocolate which already had a hit of spices in it.
I kept a few of the Sydney’s Cinnamon aside for toasting. I loaded one up on a carving fork because I know that a single prong really doesn’t do very well with a marshmallow. I put it over the open flame on the gas burner on my stove and it carmelized so beautifully and left the house smelling so good, I think I’ll just start toasting these like incense. Here’s a tip about toasting them. They’re huge. They’re actually too big to toast whole. There’s no way to get a fully molten center (I do not like medium rare toasted marshmallows) with a marshmallow this size. What is so intense about these is that they melt even at moderate heat, which turns them into this molten, intense foamy sauce with a crispy carmelized shell. In the future I think I’ll slice them in half and then have a greater surface area to center ratio.
I’ve been looking for a summer dessert to have after grilling and this just might be the thing. Everyone can choose their own flavor and I think it’d be really cool to make some grown-up s’mores and drinks with them. They don’t quite fit into the “candy” family for me for some reason. They feel more like food, maybe that’s because they’re so satisfying and slightly saltier (more savory) than an ordinary marshmallow.
I should go back and add them to the gift guide, especially since they have baskets where you can choose the selection of flavors. Also, if you’re dubious about them, you can try their “scraps” which are not quite perfect marshmallows. I love factory stores. Overall this is the kind of thing I’d like to offer guests at a party and I can see myself ordering them for a summer grill or maybe part of dessert a holiday cocktail party. I don’t see myself just ordering them to eat, maybe it’s because they feel kind of precious being handmade and all, I just can bring myself to just wolf them down like so many handfuls of M&Ms or Skittles.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Monday, October 31, 2005
I’ve mentioned the See’s Scotchmallow a few times as being the epitome of fine marshmallowyness. So I figured I should probably detail it for folks who have never had one.
First, there are two kinds. There’s the one you can buy pre-packaged like a candy bar, pictured above. It’s 1.5 ounces and clocking in at 113 calories per ounce, for a chocolate treat, it’s pretty low on the calories per ounce. I’ll credit the marshmallow for that. The second kind is the little round one that you can get at the counter by the piece or in the mixed boxes (comes in both the standard mix and the nuts & chews). Not only is it smaller, but it is also cloaked in semi-sweet chocolate, not milk chocolate as the bar is.
Second, See’s makes one of the best caramels available in stores. What is it about them? I think it’s that they actually have carmelized sugar in them. Caramels are rather time consuming and though the ingredients are simple (sugar, corn syrup, milk and butter), they need to be boiled slowly and brought up to temperature. If you don’t boil it long enough or to the right temp, you end up with gooey caramel without much flavor. If you go too long, you get toffee (which is good in its own right). Basically, a good caramel is a chewy toffee. The marshmallow though, is what makes this candy special. And the best thing about the marshmallow is that it has a flavor. It’s not just foamy, gelatinized sugar and egg whites. It has a wonderfully rounded flavor of honey in it which sets off the toasty taste of the caramel and sweet creaminess of the chocolate. Often I’ll eat off the chocolate and caramel and just be left with a honey of a marshmallow heap. Ahhhhh! (I wish the just sold the marshmallows, maybe they have a version of a Peep I should look out for at Easter.)
Third, they’re great quality. They use real ingredients (except for vanillin) and they’re not that expensive. I prefer See’s far and away over Godiva as boxed chocolates from the mall go. Though they’re antiseptic stores, which resemble the school nurse’s office more than a candy shop, they’re a plain old hoot. And when you go into the store, whether you buy something or not, they give you a free sample. (I had a raspberry truffle when I was there on Saturday.)
Stores are found only in the West and Midwest, but you can always mail order.
Rating - 9 out of 10
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
I know it seems odd that I’ve never had a Rocky Road bar before, but I’ve never been much of a marshmallow fan. To me the best thing about marshmallows is that they’re a dessert you can make on the grill. If marshmallows disappeared from the earth, I’d probably only lament the loss of Rice Krispies treats.
But, I thought it was high time I gave it a try - after all, how did I know I wouldn’t like it? First, the package is just fantabulous. It’s flashy red mylar and the lettering is bold and you can spot it easily from 20 feet. No wonder, it’s a big bar. At 1.8 ounces and the size of a tree limb, it’s a sizeable purchase for 75 cents.
The bar is rather unappealing when pulled out of the package, but really, when you look at most candy analytically it’s unattractive. I first pulled the bar apart for the photo and the sugary smell is just fantastic. It’s like putting your head into a box of Count Chocula.
The marshmallow isn’t overly sweet, but it’s foamy and has a good rubbery pull to it. The chocolate coating though is very sweet and the cashews are rather hard to discern. The mixture of textures is the real treat in this bar, with a real focus on the marshmallow, the light airyness of the bar sets it apart from just about everything out there. I hardly feel like I’ve eaten almost two ounces. It still hasn’t changed my mind about marshmallow in general, but I can see why it’s such an enduring favorite.
Rating - 6 out of 10
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