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?
This was my traditional birthday cake throughout my teen years: The Peppermint Stick Layer Cake. My mother came up with it as a way to use up the remaining candy canes from Christmas but it’s a great cake to make any time of year. The whipped cream is lighter tasting and less sweet than a buttercream or sugar frosting, but you’re free to create your own adaptation with your favorite frosting recipe. When the cake is well chilled it’s almost like an ice cream cake.
I like mine as a four layer cake because it means that the ratio of whipped cream to cake is about equal.
Allow your cake layers to cool completely before assembly.
Chilling is essential to great whipped cream. I make mine using a two bowl method.
Take a large pasta pot and fill the bottom with ice and then a bit of water. Fit a mixing bowl over it (I have a lipped bowl that fits inside my pasta pot well). Make sure the ice water mixture comes up to at least 1/3 of the side of the mixing bowl.
Pour in your pint of whipping cream. Add a dash of salt.
Whip using an electric mixer or whisk well.
At about the halfway mark (when the whipped cream starts to hold its shape) start adding your crushed peppermint candy.
Continue to whip and taste as needed.
I prefer my whipped cream a little less sweet but your mileage may vary depending on how chunky your candy is and how sweet you want it. Be prepared to add between 1/4 to 1/2 cup of crushed candy. If you want it really minty, add some peppermint extract. If you want it really pink, add some red food coloring.
Once your cake layers have cooled, make sure that they are flat (cut off any mounding).
Either cut carefully or use dental floss to split each of the layers into two. (I’ve found cutting them easier if the cake is frozen.)
Place first layer on cake plate. Mound some whipped cream on layer and spread evenly.
Place next layer on top of that, repeat with as many layers as you have.
Frost top. Depending on how generous you’ve been with your whipped cream, you can also ice the sides, I kind of like being able to see all the layers without it being cut.
Dust the top with some remaining chunks of candy canes or whole starlight mints. Don’t add them until you’re ready to serve, they get a bit runny after about an hour in the whipped cream.
Chill cake if you’re not serving immediately. You can even freeze it and serve it that way.
● Use Cinnamon Candies instead of Peppermint
Monday, December 11, 2006
I guess the newest thing in candy canes in the past 50 years was the introduction on different flavors. Yeah, there are also different shapes and sizes as well, but the candy cane is pretty much a hard candy.
The Chocolate Filled Handmade Candy Cane seeks to be beyond the plain hard candy stick. This seven inch cane in peppermint has stunning red and opaque white strips and of course the advertised chocolatey filling.
The hard candy shell has a chocolatey filling twisted through it. It’s not a lot of chocolate, I had three of these canes and the one pictured above is the most chocolatey of the three. The mint candy is nice with a strong peppermint flavor. The inside features a pink and slightly foamy center which gives the whole thing a good crunch.
The chocolatelyness is not that intense, it certainly mellows out the intensity of the peppermint and gives a little fudgy burst every once in a while. As a chocolate person, I was a bit disappointed. As a hard candy fan, it was far superior to those “chocolate” starlight mints (I usually spit those out). The chocolate here is made from cocoa and coconut & palm kernel oils ... so not really chocolate at all, just a chocolate syrup.
They’re a bit on the expensive side but they are drop-dead gorgeous and a great upscale stocking item. I’ve seen the Elegant Sweets line around a bit more lately. I saw some of their Christmas tree shaped lollies (in cherry & green apple) at a store called Cuvee on Robertson in Los Angeles yesterday and ran across these canes at Harry and David while I was in San Francisco the weekend before.
Besides their holiday line, they have some freakishly stunning candies all year round. You can expect them to turn up here again in the future.
Thursday, December 7, 2006
Part of the fun of Candy Blog is going around town buying sweets because it’s, you know, for the blog. But even with my wide travels, there are still things in my very own city that I’ve never heard of. And shame on me for not seeking them out! I got an email from a blogging friend of mine who wanted to hook me up with a candy making friend of his. (Any candy making friends of yours are always welcome as friends of mine.)
Thus I was introduced to Valerie Confections. I’ll skip right to the point. It’s freaktastically good.
I’ve been introduced to a lot of toffee and I wasn’t that keen on finding yet another toffee company, but they currently have a seasonal Holiday Nougat. The nougat is in the soft French style, with a mellow flavor, soft chew and intense orange flavor and then studded with crunchy almonds. It’s all covered in excellent bittersweet chocolate and dusted with some flakes of real gold.
The nougat is firm but very soft with small candied orange pieces that give a burst of zest to it all over again.
The pieces are large and generous (about 1.75” square) and drop dead gorgeous.
I was so excited at how beautiful and tasty they were that I invited over my neighbor who has been around the world and shared a piece with her, saying that it was “really, really, really good.” She instead corrected me saying that it was “really good, really good, no, really good.”
I shared half that box of Holiday Nougat, which is often the way I feel about great candy. Part of me wants to hoard it and gobble it up and part of me wants to give as many people as possible the same experience I’ve had. The latter usually wins out. The nougat experience, however, was also encouraging for the toffees that were still sitting in my studio.
Like the Holiday Nougat the toffees were just lovely. The packaging is amazing. The boxes are soft looking and the simple grossgrain ribbon give an air of sophistication that is seldom imparted to the pedestrian toffee.
The toffee assortment that engaged me most, of course, was the The Debut which was all bittersweet chocolate - Almond, Almond Fleur de Sel, Ginger, Mint, Orange and Classic Toffee.
Let me just say this about the the toffee itself. Imagine butter that’s been sweetened to the point that it’s crisp and caramelized. That’s this toffee. It cleaves in the front teeth in a way that almost crumbles, but without all those flecks that toffees sometimes leave.
The pieces are thin, unlike many rustic toffee planks out there. It’s incredibly buttery. Each of the toffee squares is a different flavor. They were all perfectly balanced with the Ginger as a special standout in my mind because of the way the earthy notes of the ginger blend so well with the burnt sugar flavors.
The Peanut Assortment was rather different from the toffee. It was crunchier and less obviously sweet. Half the pieces were milk and half dark, all were sprinkled with fleur de sal and topped with a single red-skinned peanut. The salt dominated here and brought out the very smoky and roasted notes of the peanuts. It was like a peanut brittle that was completely integrated (the nuts were crushed so it was more the flavor than texture). It’s little grainier than the regular toffee but very satisfying.
Valerie Confections also features a Milk Assortment which is more than just a milk chocolate version of the Debut, it features two flavors unique in this set: Hazelnut Toffee - plus Gianduja Rocher as well as the Almond, Almond Fleur de Sel, Mint and Classic. Nut fans may also be intrigued by the The Almond Assortment, Gianduja Rocher Assortment or Hazelnut Assortment.
High quality ingredients, attention to detail, freshness and spectacular presentation all mark these as premium candies. They’re expensive at $20.00 for a six piece box (96 grams) of Toffee and $50.00 for the insanely delicious Holiday Nougat. Great presents or hostess gifts. Also keep them in mind if you’re one of those people who are angling for a high-end wedding favor since they do custom orders and packaging. I can definitely see myself buying the Holiday Nougat again, but I think I’d only pick up the Toffee as a gift or for a special occassion ... unless I found a store that let me buy just one piece (then I’m in trouble).
Monday, December 4, 2006
There are a lot of different kind of flavored candy canes out there. I could probably start a blog and post about a different one each and every day. And bore myself and you to tears.
I rather like hard candy and I rather enjoy candy canes. I’m more interested in the minty and spicy flavors as I like that combination during the winter, not the fruity flavors. If I had to give holiday seasons a flavor set it would go something like this:
Halloween = Milk Chocolate and Nuts
Of course the product above from Hershey’s has very little to do with that list. The Hershey’s Chocolate Mint Candy Canes are really lovely. A white cane with small green and red bands and a larger brown stripe winding its way around the generous 5 1/2 inch cane. I would guess that some folks would pick these up more often because of the pleasant color scheme than the taste.
Because they’re not that tasty.
The candy is nice and solid without that foamy crunch that some canes have. These have a mild minty taste and an overwhelming cardboard chocolate flavor. The word chocolatey doesn’t do it justice. It’s like someone watered down a Tootsie Roll with sugar and a dab of peppermint. The stale and plain chocolatey taste has no relation to much of what’s great about chocolate itself. It’s not rich, it’s not creamy, it’s not complex, it’s not fulfilling or addictive. I had a lingering aftertaste of packaging material with a minty hint.
So what makes them like this? Here is the list of ingredients: Sugar, Corn Syrup, contains 2% or less of: Natural and Artificial Flavor, Artificial Color and Soy Lecithin. So there you go, there’s no chocolate in there.
If you’re looking for candy canes to decorate with and this fits your color scheme and you’re one of those people who never actually eats them, well, these are definitely for you. Oh, and they’re Kosher!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.