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.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
My mother lives in a neighborhood where, without fail, every time I visit there’s a kid at the door at some point either trying to sell her something or delivering something she bought. This time it’s the One Dollar Bar. (Actually, I’d never seen these before, I’d only seen the World’s Finest Chocolate bars.)
The bars are sizeable - at 2.25 ounces it’s like a king size bar and at a buck, it’s a pretty good deal as consumer chocolate bars for a cause go. (I remember buying single boxes of M&Ms from the band kids when I was in high school, the boxes were probably a buck but had less than a similar king sized snack pack ... and that was, um, a few years ago.)
The Roasted Almond bar comes in a red wrapper and like all the One Dollar Bars, it’s certified peanut free. The little domed segments smelled nice and sweet with a bit of a milky boost. The chocolate is very sweet but creamy and has a good nutty note from the almonds. The almonds were fresh tasting and extra crunchy. One the whole, the milk chocolate was far too sweet for me to eat, even with the nuts cutting it. I think with some extra almonds on the side or maybe some salty pretzels I could make do with this bar.
The Mint Chocolate bar is milk chocolate with a flowing mint fondant filling. The bar was beautifully glossy, smelled sweet with a light hint of mint. Though the chocolate here was identically sweet to the Roasted Almond bar, the creamy consistency of the filling and mint hit seemed to moderate it well. I’m guessing part of the reason for that is the filling is a sugar and condensed milk concoction with some salt in it as well. (The Almond bar has 20 mg of sodium, the Mint bar has 140 mg!)
I’m not sure I’d ever buy these just because I wanted one, but if some kids were selling them in front of the grocery store (where I buy all my fundraiser candies ... the just don’t seem to go door to door in Los Angeles as much) I might pick up a couple since they’re decent quality. They come in a few other varieties as well - Crispy Rice, Creamy Caramel, Dark Chocolate & Tasty Truffle.
Van Wyck Confections, who makes the One Dollar Bar is based in Denver, CO, but the bars were made in Canada. I’m not quite sure who makes the chocolate for them.
Wednesday, January 3, 2007
One of the most flexible things you can make out of old candy canes (or any hard candy) is candy cane sugar which can be used just like regular sugar in a variety of ways.
I made mine from a couple of humongo peppermint sticks by Spangler (each weighs 4 ounces). Two of these sticks will make 1 Cup of candy cane sugar.
There are a couple of ways to make it, I use the old fashioned method.
Put the candies into one of the ziploc bags and then into the other. Once you start pounding away the sharp pieces will cut the bag a bit and if you don’t want a powdery-sticky mess, it’s best to double bag.
Whack away. Break up the big pieces first, hitting them as best you can with the flat side of your mallet or hammer.
After breaking up the candy, dump it into a bowl. Shake the bowl gently to get the larger pieces to the top, scoop them off and return them to the plastic bag for further pulverization. Repeat until you get your candy sugar to the grind that you desire.
Break up candy canes into small pieces by hand.
Put into clean Coffee Grinder (or food processor).
Pulse grind to break up big chunks. Continue until you reach the desired consistency.
For best results:
When finished put into an airtight container. If you live in a particularly humid area keep it in the fridge to prevent it from reforming into a sticky pile.
Use single-colored candy. Multicolored candy canes (such as red and green stripes) will make for a rather muddy colored sugar once it’s pulverized.
Do not use plastic produce bags, they’re just too thin and you’ll end up with bits of plastic in your sugar.
Here you go, oodles of things to do with those leftover candy canes. (Or maybe you want to pick some up on sale.)
Use them whole:
Crush them lightly:
Use them in recipes:
So, what can you add to the list?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.