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!
Saturday, November 25, 2006
People complain that Christmas comes earlier and earlier each year in the retail world. The decorations are out before Halloween in some stores. It’s kind of funny, I was watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special and he was complaining about the same thing ... which leads me to believe that it’s been going on for a very long time. The funny part of that is that in some factories, it’s always Christmas.
Candy Canes are big business, especially for Spangler, which has two factories. Their primary facility is in Bryan, Ohio but they have another factory in Juarez, Mexico as well. The Bryan factory has been operating in three shifts since May just to keep up with demand, churning out 18 tractor trailer loads each day. (Their website says they make 25 million candy canes each year.)
Spangler makes more than just the plain old six inch shrink wrapped cane. They have a huge selection of different shapes and sizes, in more than the traditional red & white peppermint flavor. They make the candy canes for Jelly Belly, Disney and DumDum in all sorts of kooky flavors. I’m a bit of a traditionalist and got a hold of a pretty good cross section of their offerings.
Spangler always packages their canes well, so I rarely get a broken set. The flavor is a mild and pleasant peppermint. Not blastingly strong like an Altoid, more like a starlight mint, but less “foamy” feeling on the tongue.
Right now I’m pretty keen on the Candy Cane Wreaths. They’re a hoop of candy cane (but not joined at the top) around 4” across that have a gift tag already on them, in case you want to use them for decorating packages or gift bags. They’re easy to put on a Christmas tree, and I’m thinking about using them as napkin rings for the dinner table this year.
What’s especially cool about them is that all pieces are curved. I love the curve of a candy cane, how I can break off that piece and place it behind my front teeth and suck on it. Well, this is all curve!
I think if I my favorite size though is the tiny one. I know they aren’t wrapped quite as pretty (they’re in a cello pouch that doesn’t allow for hooking the cane on anything) but they’re easy to eat. I just snap it in half at the middle of the straight part of the cane and put the whole thing in my mouth. No muss, no fuss.
The last kind they make is the super-large pole.
I remember getting one of these when I was a little kid. I went with some neighbors to a parade where Santa rode in a red fire truck and gave these out. As a kid it was a huge amount of candy. A stupid, messy amount of candy. After a while it got very sticky and may have had cat hair on it or lint. So I would keep rinsing it off in the sink, and it would get clean, of course, but smaller and smaller. I seriously doubt I finished it.
As part of my new recipes starting in the New Year, I’ll have some fun tips for what to do with leftover candy canes.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Hershey’s has been furiously releasing limited edition Kisses. The interesting thing to note is that sometimes these Kisses become permanent additions to the line, such as the Peanut Butter Kisses earlier this year. Other Kisses have been returning as seasonal or limited edition items, such as the reappearance of the Cherry Cordial Creme Kisses.
The Mint Kisses seem like a natural brand extension. They were first introduced in 2002 and are released before the holidays each year. Simply put, it’s mint infused milk chocolate. The wrappers are a racing style green and silver check pattern, which I’ve always found rather cute.
As a candy they’re very strongly minted. They’re very sweet but with that familiar Hershey’s tang to the chocolate. Slightly grainy but overall smooth, they’re a fun change from the normal Kisses. My only caution is that when I put them in a bowl or bag with other Kisses the mint will infect the others.
An interesting thing to note about all the new Kisses. They’re molded. The traditional Kiss that’s been made for the past 100 years are extruded by machine to create a consistent kiss shape. They used to have a rather dependable little bend at the top, like chocolate chips to, but less so these days. It’s easy to tell them apart by looking at the bottom of it, where the traditional Kiss has a little cinch at the bottom instead being completely flat. Any other Kiss you might come across, however, is molded. Basically, they’re made upside down, with the chocolate deposited into a Kiss shaped tray.
The Limited Edition Candy Cane Kisses are new this year, though really just a new format for another Limited Edition product from last year. Last Christmas saw the introduction of a set of Miniatures called Mint Mix Miniatures which included minted dark chocolate, minted milk chocolate and minted white chocolate bars ... with the white one sporting little red and green nonpareils in it.
With the name being Candy Cane I was hoping that the candy bits in there were be actual hard candy like candy canes. But they’re just crunchy nonpareils like the miniatures last year.
I can’t help loving these. I don’t know why I do, but they’re positively addictive. I had a lot of Kisses for some photos I was shooting and I found myself digging through the assortment and eating all of these first. They’re a little grainy but have a good minty feel in the sinuses and the crunchy bits are kind of fun to roll around on your tongue as it melts.
Another production note. After seeing the Orange Creme ones last year that were white with orange stripes on the outside, I figured out how they make these. They create stripes of molten colored white chocolate on the inside of the mold, then deposit the rest of the white chocolate. The strips of colored chocolate spread out and make the stripes.
The only disturbing thing I have to report about this pair of candies is that both ingredients list PGPR (Polyglycerol Polyricinoleate - an emulsifier used to replace some of the cocoa butter in lower quality chocolates). Sigh.
If you need more Kisses, check out SugarHog.net, which is running a series of reviews on all the regular and limited edition Kisses. (Including the coconut ones that I haven’t been able to find ... well, I haven’t looked very hard.)
UPDATE 10/28/2007: The Candy Cane Kisses are back for 2007 ... however, they are no longer made with cocoa butter, instead it’s a mix of tropical oils. I do not plan on buying them again.
Thursday, November 9, 2006
Altoids have been around for well over two hundred years. They’re simple little nuggets of sugar, mint flavor and a little acacia gum to hold it all together. I’m not sure if they count as candy, as they’re intended for breath freshening, not wholesale gobbling. (But just because that’s what they’re intended for doesn’t make it so.)
Altoids were made by Callard & Bowser for many years. Then there were a series of buyouts, Callard & Bowser was bought by Suchard. That company was owned by Beatrice. The whole shebang of Callard & Bowser-Suchard was then sold to Kraft which sold it in 2004 to the Wm. Wrigley, Jr. Company. As a Wrigley brand they make more sense than belonging to a company that makes Velveeta, however, I’m still cross with Wrigley for discontinuing Reed’s.
What was once just a humble piece of peppermint chalk is now a veritable empire of its own. There are the mints, a line of gum, sour hard candies and even some freako weird breath strips.
So that brings us to the newest brand extension. The Dark Chocolate Dipped Mints. Called “Curiously Chocolate” on the tin, I have to admit I find it curious myself. I got a hold of two of the new flavors - Peppermint and Cinnamon.
Out of the package they’re not remarkable looking at all. They look kind of like buttons or maybe slightly smaller Junior Mints. They smell only vaguely chocolatey but that’s probably because the peppermint or cinnamon scent is so strong.
On the tongue the chocolate melts rather readily and is much thicker than I would have expected. It’s dark and with a slight grain to it (but hey, Altoids are pretty grainy too) but a rich taste permeated with the mint or cinnamon in question.
I really didn’t think these were going to be any good at all, but I enjoyed the little creamy hit of chocolate. I preferred it when I immediately cleaved the mint so that I got mint and chocolate at the same time, but letting the chocolate melt off and then getting to the mint has nice too.
My biggest concern is the durability of these. What I like about Altoids in general is that I can leave a tin in the car or at the bottom of a bag and not worry how long its been there. I know for a fact that I’ve eaten five year old Altoids. But I wouldn’t want to eat old chocolate.
These are preview packages of the new Altoids, they’ll be available in January 2007 on CandyWarehouse.com, though there is word that they’re popping up in places.
Note from the package: Altoids are made with gelatin, therefore not suitable for vegetarians.
Other strange notes: I went to the Altoids “Shoppe” on their website and they’re out of stock on about half of the products. Come on! You’re the factory, make some more! (And here’s a link to a recent story in the Chicago Sun Times I read.)
Thursday, September 28, 2006
This isn’t the first time Skittles has introduced a mint assortment. They did it back in 2002 (if I recall correctly) and sold them in little plastic containers instead of the normal bags and charged twice as much for half the amount of product. I tried them, and actually liked them, but just couldn’t pony up a dollar for a little box.
This is where buying stuff at the 99 Cent Only Store gets me into trouble. I don’t know if this is a leftover from 2002 or they’re reintroducing the Fresh Mint Skittles. They seem pretty fresh (if someone knows how to decode the batch numbers, please help me figure out what 349BX3 means). They come in five flavors - white, green, aqua, turquoise and light green.
White - tastes like a mint combo of spearmint and peppermint. Like toothpaste.
Green - tastes like toothpaste
Aqua - tastes like toothpaste
Turquoise - tastes like toothpaste
Light Green - wait, this might be wintergreen.
As a chewy mint, they’re fun and refreshing. If they’re different flavors, they’ve done a great job of making sure that none is too distinct so that you can’t combine them instead of picking through the flavors.
I’d actually buy these again. They’re pretty and very agreeable for most purposes. I’ll probably put them in a dish on my desk - a good little pick me up throughout the day. They’re the first Skittles you can eat with your morning coffee (well, I suppose you could have the Ice Cream ones, if you wanted to start the day wrong). If they’re four years old, I have to say they keep really well. I suspect it’s possible because the nutrition label doesn’t mention trans fat content as they’re now required to. Yeah, I’m gonna guess that they don’t make these anymore.
The package advertises that they’re only 5 calories per piece.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Months and months ago a reader suggested I get familiar with a strange favorite it Australia - musk sticks. Basically they’re pressed candy stick flavored like musk. You know, the perfume. I figured if I’ve eaten violet candies, rosewater ice cream and 10 year old Lifesavers, there’s no reason I shouldn’t try these.
I found them at Mel & Rose’s, which seems to carry a lot of Australian candies. The package doesn’t make them look that appealing, the word musk has those little “smell wafts” coming off of it. The candies themselves are the pressed chalk variety like Pep-O-Mint, not a hard candy like the Butter Rum Lifesavers.
They smell like incense or a soap shop. It’s more like a lightly floral patchouli. So when I took the photo and then put the roll in my desk drawer, it was kind of like a sachet in there.
The little candy is sweet and of course easy to crunch. The flavor has no other notes besides this soapy detergent scent and made me wonder if this is what it’d be like to eat incense cones. There isn’t any listing of ingredients on the package or dietary info, so for all I know, they are meant to be burned.
I have no idea if the Lifesavers version of musk is consistent with the other musk sticks so popular in Australia and New Zealand, but I think my curiosity is satisfied. I suppose if I were trying to cover up strong mouth odors (like smoking or antibiotic side effects) this might be a good candy, but for some reason I think my neck should be perfumed, not my breath.
Note: though these candies are branded Lifesavers, they’re made by licensing agreement by Nestle.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Equal Exchange has been at the forefront of the fair trade chocolate and coffee movement in the United States for twenty years. But I think they understand that it’s great to give people a living wage and all, but the important thing is to sell something of value to the customer to keep everything in motion.
At their launch, the Equal Exchange chocolate products were rather mundane. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice, but the selection wasn’t very exciting. They’ve remedied that with the introduction of three new bars: Mint Chocolate, Espresso Bean Chocolate and Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs.
The Organic Chocolate with Espresso Bean is made with a 55% cocoa solid chocolate (the lightest chocolate of the three new bars) with good reason. Coffee is a powerful flavor and needs a good balance in order for both flavors to shine though.
In general I’m not fond of coffee bars that have coffee grounds (or bits, whatever) in them. The chocolate itself is infused with the coffee flavors, which are dark and pungent, a little smoky and acidic. The beans are crunchy and crisp, which is better than some fibery ones that some companies put in their bars. But still, it’s just not my thing. The chocolate was wonderfully buttery but very sweet so that it can stand up to the espresso beans. Of the three bars, this is the one that I still have some left of. (7 out of 10)
Organic Mint Chocolate. This dark chocolate bar made with 67% cocoa solids was quite a surprise. I fully expected it to be dark, mint flavored chocolate. Instead, it’s a mint crunch bar. It’s not quite like a mint bark that has little pieces or starlight mints in it. Instead it has little sugary grains of mint in it. The grains aren’t large, like big sugar crystals. The chocolate itself is not as sweet as the espresso bar, and has a strong acidic quality to it with a complex chocolate profile. Then as you chew or allow the chocolate to dissolve on your tongue you come across these little crystals of mint. It made the bar much more fun than I expected.
The acidity of the bar still got in the way of the mint, it just wasn’t the ideal match for me. (8 out of 10)
Organic Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs. Now this is the bar for me! 68% cocoa solids make this a pretty dark bar. The acidity here doesn’t bother me a bit, because it goes right along with the blissfully crunchy and rich cocoa nibs. Every nib was great, no fibery ones, no bad ones. The crunch of the nibs isn’t quite like a nut, they’re not quite as fatty tasting, but crisp and of course flavorful, creating a new texture without interrupting the pure chocolate density of the bar.
If you’re a nib fan, you should really seek out this bar. I’ve tried the Endangered Species bar and the Scharffen Berger and this bar really wowed me. At about $3.50 per bar retail for a 3.5 ounce bar they’re a good value for high-end chocolate. Add in the social responsibility and you’re silly not to at least give this bar a try. (9 out of 10)
I’ve been spotting Equal Exchange at Whole Foods, so keep your eyes open. If you have a favorite store that you shop at that doesn’t carry them, ask. (They don’t know what you want unless you tell them!) You can order on the Equal Exchange website, but only in full boxes of 12 for the bars.
Equal Exchange bars are not only organic but Fair Trade certified ingredients are used whenever possible, including the sugar. I think the only part that isn’t fair trade is the organic vanilla bean.
William at Chocolate Obsession has a large review. Siel at GreenLAGirl had a tasting party, so you can see lots more opinions on the bars there. If you’re interested in anything that has to do with incorporating fair trade, social responsibility and environmentalism into your everyday life, she’s your girl.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.