Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Last year I read the book Sweets: a History of Candy by Tim Richardson. For a book about candy, there wasn’t much of the “modern” candy that we’re familiar with, instead a large portion of the book was spent on tracing the evolution of sugar and early candied fruits. Later it documents the rise of pastilles in the mid 1500s in Europe as sugar became available. The most basic definition is “a kernel of something coated with sugar.” It can be a nut (like Jordan Almonds) or a seed, like Anis de Flavigny.
The pastille was often the work of a pharmacist or herbalist, not a confectioner. They started with seeds or herbs that were prescribed for various reasons (fever, digestion, impotence), then coated with sugar syrup, tossed in a pan and repeated until layer upon layer is built up. The most talented pharmacists made beautiful pastilles that looked like shimmering opalescent spheres and were kept as if they were treasures as well, inside ornate boxes, often locked by the lady of the household.
Anis de l’Abbaye Flavigny may have one of the longest histories of a candy, as the town of Flavigny may have been making the little candies since Roman times. Whatever the timeline and beginnings may be, in modern times the pastilles have been made by confectioners in those largely unchanged traditions. Anis de Flavigny is one of those companies that has been carrying on for hundreds of years. Each pastille takes fifteen days to make ... they are labor intensive (though the materials themselves are rather cheap). They still start with a single fennel seed and (as you can see from the photo) a sugar syrup is poured over it, tumbled until dry then repeated dozens of times. (See the Anis de Flavigny site.)
Anis de Flavigny makes a large array of delicately distinctive flavors, all rather classic and old world.
Anise, Licorice, Rose, Violet, Orange Blossom and Mint. The tins tell a little story as two lonesome young people pine in solitude, then meet, share their candies and finally consummate their affection (on the violet tin - which modestly only shows us the flowers and not our young lovers).
I’m quite taken with them. I’ve been eating them since I was a kid. I know they’re not particularly snazzy. The tins are simple (though redesigned recently, they still look classic) and the candy unchanged by time and trends.
The only trend it appears they’ve responded to is that they now have an Organic line. The only difference I can tell is that the sugar is not pure white, so the little pastilles are a little beige. I kind of like the look. The flavors are the same, though I did have Ginger in the organics that I’ve not had in the regular ones.
The little candies have a slightly soft and rough feeling to the surface. The sugar itself is dense and even the package warns you against crunching them. (I do, but they have to get down to about a third of their size.) I liked to eat mine two at a time, rolling them around on my tongue like Chinese health balls. The friction of the pastilles against each other releases the sugar a bit faster. Call me impatient. But I do have a dexterous tongue and can also tie a cherry stem in a knot with it. Not that I eat cherries that often.
The floral candies (orange blossom, violet and rose) have a lovely soft flavor to them without feeling soapy. They’re great for getting rid of bad breath, especially since they take so long to dissolve. The spicier flavors like anise and licorice are rooty and natural tasting without feeling artficial (pretty much because they’re not). The mint is softer than many of the modern super-mints like Altoids with a smooth melt on the tongue and an even amount of mint. The flavor is strong as you dissolve the first few layers away and then mellows out. Towards the center the gentle hint of anise from the fennel seed emerges.
I was quite excited to have a full set of their most popular flavors, which I picked up at the Fancy Food Show in January. It’s taken me months to get through all of them. Not because I didn’t want to eat them, but they just last so dang long. I love each and every flavor. Yes, they’re really expensive at $2 to $3 a tin. (I don’t know why I can’t find the assorted package online.) I prefer them to just about every other breath mint on the market. It was a little unclear if the organic line will be available in the States because of the differing certification processes.
Italy also has their long-standing tradition of panned sweets with the Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano company. They not only do the small pastille dragee but also a wider variety of panned spices, fruits and nuts. I’ll have a profile of those at some point as well.
Friday, April 6, 2007
Pure Fun sent me some Fair Trade and Organic Cotton Candy last year (who knew such a thing existed?). It’s really not that they created a more socially responsible treat that got me, it was that they made it in Root Beer and Maple flavors! This year I got to visit them at their booth at Expo West. Let me say that they’re the best kind of candy people - friendly, inviting and eager to share. I see the whole ample samples as a sign of confidence in their product.
And I’m not let down. Their candies don’t look like a compromise when it comes to all the best things about hard candies: they look tasty. Glossy, luminous, brightly colored and with a wide assortment to please most folks.
The Citrus Slices are drop dead gorgeous. And the taste does not disappoint. They’re tart, flavorful and just the right size (a little smaller than a regular starlight mint). Lime, Orange & Lemon. (Everyone knows I would also like to see a grapefruit in this mix.)
Barrels of Fun - root beer float with vanilla. I would have preferred a straight root beer barrel, but this was nice. More on the smooth and creamy side of things than the zesty tingle of a root beer.
Chocolate Meltdowns - tangerine, raspberry & pepsin with chocolatey centers. These were the ones I liked the least of all of them. The flavorful outsides were great, but the lack of chocolate punch on the inside made me wish they were just plain old solid candies.
Fruit Rocks - goji berry, pomegranate, honey lemon & sour green apple. Really sassy and flavorful. I can’t say that Goji Berry is really my favorite flavor in the world, but the honey lemon was great and a less artificial tasting green apple rocks.
I tried Yummy Earth last year at the All Candy Expo when they introduced their all natural Organic Lollipops. Not just the plain old flavors like lemon and orange but also pomegranate, raspberry and watermelon.
They have a line of hard candies to go with their lollies in both fruity flavors and peppermint. These are a little different, a little smaller than regular hard candies.
Larger than Altoids but smaller than regular hard candy disks.
I covered Wet Faced Watermelon, Cheeky Lemon & Pomegranate Pucker over here. The new flavors for me were:
Mango Tango - this pretty little swirled candy. I’m not sure what the mango was tango-ing with, but it was definitely tropical. Kind of like a Bonne Bell lipsmacker with a REAL kick of flavor.
Peppermint (not shown) - this was very strong, much like an Altoid only smoother. I took these on Whale Watching trips all winter.
Either one of these brands has the right attitude ... don’t make your candy look all mousy and plain ... jazz it up with vibrant colors to match their vibrant flavors.
Of course they’re a little more expensive, but my guess is that the economies of scale will kick in as more people demand organic and all natural stuff and the prices will drop.
I’ve seen some of the Yummy Earth in Whole Foods but you can also buy direct from them on their website and Pure Fun is available at Whole Foods.
Both products are organic, gmo-free, no artificials flavors, no synthetics, no gluten, no casein, kosher, vegetarian ... and vegan ... whew!
Monday, March 5, 2007
Junior Mints went with a Valentine’s Limited Edition candy last month, but this month they seem like they’re having trouble committing to the Easter holiday. I picked up this Limited Edition Junior Mints Pastels at the Dollar Tree last week. They’re unlike any other the other Limited Edition Junior Mints so far (the others were Inside Out ... a white confectionary coating with a chocolate cream center).
The Junior Mint Pastels are a “smooth colorful coating” with the traditional Junior Mint flowing minty fondant center. They come in two colors, which barely qualifies them for the plural of pastel: creamy yellow and turquoise blue. I’m not sure why they didn’t throw a little pink and green in there.
The term “smooth colorful coating” is rather appropriate here. I have no idea what else to call it. It’s firm and doesn’t quite have the same mouth-feel as chocolate. It’s all sugar, partially hydrogenated oils and milk. It’s sweet, and um, colorful. It tastes like it has a slight bit of salt to it, which is good because this whole candy is very sweet ... throat blisteringly, tooth-achingly sweet.
I found them compelling, as odd as they are. But I’m often a sucker for minty white mockolate. I’m never buying them again though, as I much prefer the dark chocolate Junior Mints - the bittersweet chocolate offsets the sugary center much better. But I’ll likely finish this box.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Theo Chocolate is a new company that makes fair trade, organic chocolate from bean to bar (and bonbon) right in Seattle. Think about it ... they start with the raw materials and create not only the chocolate but go on to craft the fine ganaches and couveture - all without the use of pesticides, hormones or chemical fertilizers and giving the cacao folks a fair price for their beans. There are very few chocolate makers out there that do that, anywhere in the world, let alone here in the states. The only one that even comes close in the bean to bonbon arena Michel Cluizel in France.
I got to try just about everything Theo Chocolates makes at the Fancy Food Show last month including their Confections Collection.
Earl Grey - a beautifully smooth ganache with a rich and dark blend of tea and bergamot flavors in equally rich chocolate.
Ivory Coast - the essential chocolate truffle, dark and smooth with a buttery feel that helps with the woodsy and bitter notes of the chocolate.
Peanut Butter & Jelly - yes, right next to the most upscale of all chocolate expressions is the PB&J except this peanut butter is a praline (kind of crystallized) with a raspberry fruit paste to die for.
Fig Fennel - this has to be the homerun hit of the entire box. Not just because it’s so wonderfully flavorful, but because I’ve never had this combination in quite this way before.
Mint - it’s like it was muddled just for me only moments ago ... the mint tastes that fresh.
Peanut Butter - like the PB&J, this one has a peanut butter praline that’s not sweet at all but has a wonderful woodsy, nutty crunch to it. A little dry.
Scotch - exceptional with its savory smoky notes like tobacco and leather mixed in with the butter and raisin notes of the chocolate.
Burnt Sugar - I’ve had several of these now, the effect is rather like a light creme brulee, with all the flavor of the crusty sugar top and all the creaminess of chocolate and heavy cream in the truffle.
Lemon - the white truffle of the pack, it’s really lemony without being sticky white-chocolate sweet. It has both the tangy notes and the zesty flavors.
Vanilla - very vanilla, with little flecks of it in the ultra-smooth ganache and an overall bourbon note.
(I shared this box with my husband and he ate the Ginger truffle.)
These might be my new favorite chocolates, if only they were easier to get a hold of. I’ve not been to the factory, so I don’t know if you can just go in there and buy singles (or a whole box of one flavor). No compromises ... that’s what it’s all about. It’s still a guilty pleasure, but fewer things to feel guilty about.
I also have a complete assortment of their bars that I’m working my way through, so stay tuned for the reviews of those.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Santos of Scent of Green Bananas has been a great source of fun Mentos and KitKats. She’s been promising me some Pomelo Mentos, which I imagine are much like Pink Grapefruit Mentos.
But last month she surprised me with these little gems from Guam.
Ice Pomelo Mentos sound rather odd. For those of you who have never seen them, pomelos are large citrus fruit with a very thick skin and grapefruity taste (the common grapefruit is a cross between an orange and a pomelo). I’m always a little leary when combining mint and citrus but then I have to remember that the mojito seems to combine Lime and Spearmint to great effect, so I’m game.
They look rather like the Pink Grapefruit Mentos, a cool and mellow pink. Upon biting into them, they’re soft and chewy (hooray for fresh freshmakers!) with an immediate hit of mentholated mint ... kind of like a Hall’s cough drop. The citrus pops in with some nice zest to it, but no tangy/juicy component.
I can’t rate these as high as the Pampelmousse, but I still liked them quite a bit, especially since I’ve been getting over the bronchitis and medicinal tasting things are actually a comfort.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Hershey’s introduced a product line around the turn of the century called Bites. I rather liked some of the products. One of them was the York Bites. They were tiny little York Peppermint baubles: a little gumdrop shape of firm fondant covered in glossy dark chocolate.
They were sold in a variety of bags, some for 99 Cents (I bought them for 50 cents at the 99 Cent Only Store last night). The cool thing about the size of the pieces was that you could take them to the movies or share them more easily.
Flash forward a couple of years and Hershey quietly discontinues Bites and introduces this sexy new product, the York Mints ... they shrink the little mints a bit and then coat them in a light candy shell and put them in a little retro tin. Pretty clever, huh?
These mints suffer from the same problem that the Bites did ... inconsistent consistency. Some of the mints have a crumbly center, a little firmer than a regular York Peppermint pattie. But others are pretty freakin’ hard.
What’s nice in this version of the mint though is that the white candy coating is also minted. It provides a couple of different options for eating. You can suck on it and take off the coating to get to the chocolate (which is rather minimal) or just chew the whole thing up. Both are good options. They’re not quite strong enough to be a breath mint and not satisfying enough to be a candy. However, each little mint is only 4 calories, so if you’re looking for something that you can use to control your portions (via your pocketbook), hey, maybe this will work for you.
The tin is certainly cool, but I don’t think I need more than one. (Junk Food Blog announced these late last year, you can find a list in the comments of where people have been finding them.)
Saturday, February 17, 2007
I am hoping to make a new candy or candy themed recipe every month. And I admit that I did make this, but I haven’t a clue what it is and I certainly don’t recommend it.
I started with the desire to make the Rochers that I’ve had at Tartine in San Francisco. They come in two varieties there, Almond and with Cacao Nibs. I thought since I had more of that Candy Cane Sugar left, I should try a peppermint version. It’d be perfect for Valentine’s Day, after all, to have these delicate pink minty soft meringues.
So I decided to alter the recipe in the Tartine cookbook (written by Elizabeth M. Prueitt & Chad Robertson). The ingredients are supposed to be:
I thought I would swap out the sugar for my candy cane sugar and throw in a little corn starch for good measure. So my new recipe looked like this:
You can see where this is going.
Anyway, the directions said that the eggs, sugar and salt should be put into warm water bath and whisked together. Then put them into the stand mixer and whip the bejeebers out of them.
Well, after about eight minutes of whipping I had what I could only call “Pepto Batter”. It was a vile pink and not whippable. I’m not sure if some oil got into the egg whites or if the corn syrup present in the crushed candy canes will keep it from whipping, but it just wasn’t going to happen.
Not dissuaded from chucking the whole project, I lined a 13” x 9” pan with some parchment. I added the slivered almonds and then put it into the pan and popped it into the oven.
It puffed up nicely and got a crackly surface, but still didn’t want to “bake” entirely. The bottom seemed syrupy and wouldn’t firm up. So I left it in the oven. The Rochers were supposed to bake for 15-20 minutes at 350. I baked it for an hour and the bottom was still wet.
All that aside, it was tasty stuff. I ate all of the edges. It was crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside with a good minty flavor that wasn’t too overwhelming. I was surprised that the almonds went so well with it.
So, I’ll try again and next time I’ll just use the candy cane sugar as a garnish on the top, not as the sugar replacement. Well, next time I’m going to try the recipe as written before I go mucking around with it. Live and learn.
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
I’ve always loved Junior Mints. They’re a lotta mint and not much chocolate, but then again their caloric density isn’t particularly high either.
Instead of just mixing it up for the holiday and making the mints heart shaped, they went one further and filled a random number of them (I’m going to go with half of them) with a red fondant. (I’m not sure if this is because they think that half of us are bleeding heart types or what.)
The candies themselves are quite a bit larger than the regular Junior Mint and are relatively pleasing, if kind of rustic looking. They’re not as polished and glossy looking as their non-holiday counterparts, but the heart shape is nicely executed. About half of mine had the red filling. There was no way of telling what filling I was going to get until I bit into it.
If I popped the whole thing in my mouth, I knew if it was a red one because there’s a bitter aftertaste. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a red food dye (or perhaps more than one) that tastes bitter to me (in this case it’s FD&C Red 40). Because it was a big box I amused myself guessing by taste whether or not the filling was red. (With the help of a mirror ... I didn’t dare have my friends or husband engage in this little experiment). About 70% of the time I was able to “taste” that a candy was red ... I didn’t have any cases where I guessed a plain filling was red.
So there you have it, bleeding hearts leave a bad taste in my mouth. (Yes, it was a long way to go for that joke.)
There’s another Valentines version of Junior Mints floating around called Inside Out which have colored coatings. Based on my opinion of the original limited edition version I’m not going to buy those.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.