Tuesday, December 13, 2005
There’s been a lot of talk on the internets about Turkish Delight, also known as Turkish Paste or Lokum. Most of this sudden interest is because of The Chronicles of Narnia movie that just came out.
If you’re not familiar with the books, this sweet treat plays a pivotal role in the story as the second youngest child, Edmund, meets up with the White Witch who seduces him with the promise of as much Lokum as he can eat. Some people wonder how he could betray his siblings over a simple sweet (which was bewitched) but you have to remember that the story takes place during WWII when sugar was very hard to come by, even for children in middle class families. I’m enough of a sugar freak to have done some things that were probably not well thought out because I needed my fix that I can sympathize in a way for Edmund. (And he does redeem himself.)
Turkish Delight is rather unknown in the States and probably with good reason. Americans are not really familiar with floral flavors and delicate candies such as these. They don’t really keep well, so it’s easy to get stale Turkish Delight, which only leads to disappointment. I’ve had my share of crusty Turkish Delight over the years which has made me question why I like it, but there’s something so elusive and sublime about it, I’m tempted to travel to Turkey just to partake of the freshly made stuff. Here’s a fabulous first-person account on Lulu’s Lulu Loves Manhattan blog.
Turkish Delight is a rather simple jelly candy made from sugar, cream of tartar, corn starch and a little flavor. It’s quite different from other jelly candies in that it doesn’t have any gelatin or pectin to firm it up, just the corn starch. (This makes it a good candy to get/make for Vegan friends.) This is a kind of unstable mixture which can go bad rather quickly, so Turkish Delight is always best fresh. Covering it in chocolate is actually a pretty good way to keep it fresh, as Fry’s has found with their Turkish Delight bar
Classic Turkish Delight is usually Rose flavored but can be mint or lemon. There are other varieties that include nuts (hazelnuts or pistachios are popular), coconut and of course other fruit flavors like strawberry, raspberry, apricot and I even saw this recipe on Becks & Posh for Cardamom Rose which sounded really good to me. I tried making Turkish Delight several times as a teen (having been told that the fresh stuff was the best) but never quite succeeded. A recipe probably would have helped. Heaven help the teen who has only the ingredients label to go off of; my mother was very patient with the strange pans of fragrant goo my sister and I created.
I’ve always been fond of aromatic flavors, I don’t know if it’s because I used to eat flowers as a kid (not just violets and rosepetals but also honeysuckle and nasturtiums) but I find them very intriguing. I later worked in an herb shop as a teen where I was exposed to many amazing teas, flowers and herbs. They’re beguiling because they taste like they smell. And they have a wonderful aftertaste. There’s been a huge resurgance of floral flavors lately in upscale cooking/food - I’m seeing a lot of rose flavored, lavender, violet as well as some of the more woodsy flavors like anise/licorice/fennel, rosemary and the essences of bergamot, orange and lemon (and I’d love to try some calamansi).
Still, there will be detractors for any candy and I have no problem with that either. There are lots of candies out there I detest, such as Marzipan (though I keep giving it a try hoping that I’ll change my mind because the concept is sound) and if everyone liked the same thing, there wouldn’t be much of a need for this blog. Snarkmarket had an interesting post with fascinating comments, and Slate had an article which prompted me to write this post.
I think part of it is about engaging the imagination. I like tasting new things, especially ones specific to a region or culture. It helps me to connect. Open your mouth ... and your mind!
Monday, December 12, 2005
I’ve been telling people for years that the things that we think are bad for us like coffee & tea (ulcers & stained teeth), chocolate (fattening & empty calories) and nuts (fattening) are just not true.
New evidence has come forth that chocolate has wonderful antioxidant compounds and when eaten in moderation and hopefully dark it also adds iron, minerals and fiber to the diet. Similar things are being said about coffee and tea now with green tea now found practically everywhere.
Now those fatty nuts are being debunked. Not only are they a good source of protien (especially for those who eschew meat), but also fiber and essential amino acids. Now it seems they’ve been shown to have cholesterol lowering properties. The American Chemical Society (whose website I sometimes end up at looking for the American Cetacean Society) released a report a few weeks ago revealing the test results of the concentrations of phytosterols, a class of plant chemicals that have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and improve heart health. They ranked 27 nuts and grains.
The highest concentrations were found in Sesame Seeds and Wheat Germ but Pistachios and Sunflower Kernels weren’t far behind. So gobble up that Halvah! Have some Pistachios (perhaps in a French Nougat) and why not pick up some of those fantabulous Chocolate Covered Sunflower Seeds I reviewed. At the bottom of the list were Brazil Nuts and Walnuts.
The Detroit Free Press has a fun article about the candy most commonly associated with Christmas: Candy Canes.
It includes sources for sugar-free candy canes and other candy cane merchandise.
But here are the fun facts from Candy USA about the twisted sticks:
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Here’s another item to add to the list if you’re looking for something to bring the hostess this holiday or maybe just a stocking stuffer.
No, not shotglasses for Peppermint Schnapps, these are shot glasses that are made from peppermint sticks.
I saw them today at both Urban Outfitters (you can order online) and Cost Plus World Market (a dollar cheaper). As a side note, I’ve also seen plenty of chocolate liqueur cups which are great for serving dessert cognac. If you’re looking for a way to add candy to a mixed drink (besides a lemon drop to a lemon martini or cinnamon imperials to a sweet martini) you might want to check out the new Twizzler Strawz.
They’re made for Slurpees and are just regular Twizzlers that are bigger so you can use them like a straw and get added flavor (and eat them). For cocktails, just snip them in half for a martini glass or lowball.
Friday, December 9, 2005
Last weekend I went to San Francisco for important candy and novel writing business (the best of both worlds). On our last day, Robin insisted that we visit Tartine (18th & Guerrero). She said they were reputed to have the best chocolate croissants. So before I scrambled off to my meeting and she went to explore the Ferry Terminal we went over there. We were determined enough to give them a try that we made three ever-widening circles around the place in search of a parking spot. We ended up two and a half blocks away and found the place to be mobbed when we entered. But it looked good from the back of the line. It looked even better when we got up to the bakery case which was filled with amazing heaps of cookies, tarts, pastries and cakes.
I bring this up because that’s where I saw the Rochers. Rochers are basically soft chewy meringues, usually with nuts in them. At Tartine they had them in two varieties: almond and cacao nibs. Gah! Heaven! I wish I’d taken some photos of them, but suffice to say they were little glossy dollops of delight. I bought a half a dozen. Now I wish I’d brought more.
So, the reason I bring this up is that it sparked me to try my own mashup this afternoon. I’ve got these Plush Puffs “leftover” and of course I’ve had this tube of Scharffen Berger chocolate covered cacao nibs on my desk. too. The vanilla marshmallow was just crying out for a little something. Cacao nibs. That’s what it wanted.
So, I tore the marshmallow in half, revealing it’s sticky interior and mashed it into the nibs. Yum. Repeat as necessary (it’s my mess o’ nibs, I can double dip!). Vanilla bean and cacao was a great combo. The bittersweetness of the chocolate and crunchiness of the nibs was a nice combo with the sweety chewiness of the marshmallows. I also tried it with the cinnamon one and though not quite as pure a combo because of the spice of the cinnamon, it was very tasty. Maybe I’ll try the peppimint next. (click photo for larger version)
Thursday, December 8, 2005
Here it is, your guide for what to get those candy obsessed people on your gift list. Some of this is stuff I’ve bought before, some is stuff I’d like to get and of course some is just something I’ve read about and thought was cool. Feel free to leave comments to expand this list!
Games & Diversions
Do you have a Poker fan in your life? There are lots of poker themed candies out there now. The simplest is instead of chocolate coins, get them chocolate poker chips. They have a huge selection at Candy Warehouse of chocolate novelties including playing cards, racked chips, dice and other gambling themed items. Of course you can also find candy themed playing cards (I have some Hershey’s Kisses ones) but I don’t know how the Poker club would feel about that. Candy Corn shaped playing cards by the dozen, Candy Hearts playing cards ($4.95), or go for a whole Chocolate Casino Kit ($17.99). You can’t eat it, but it’s stilly pretty sweet: Chocolate Monopoly ($21.08) - called Chocolate-opoly.
If you really want to get into candy making, Candy Crafts is a great place to start. They have kits you can use to make your own candy gifts or give to someone else.
Crazy Candy Art kits where you can make sand art with candy powder (or just guzzle the half gallon bottles of the stuff).
Paper Goods & Art
Don’t forget how welcome a candy poster might be for your sweet-toothed recipient. Art.com has a huge selection of candy photography and classic advertising recreations. You can get them framed (starting at $50) or unframed ($6.99+). May I recommend the Andy Warhol version of the Lifesavers ad, “Do Not Lick This Page? (144.99 framed.)
We’ve all seen the bowls of Murano glass candy. Either you hate it or love it, but if you want to give it to someone, here’s a cool site that seems to have excellent prices and a pretty wide selection. Rebecca’s Unique Glass ($6.99-99.99). Don’t forget to pick up a jar or bowl for it!
Keeping Candy in Your Life
Here’s something that I’d be happy to get. It’s actually for spice storage, but I think it’d be super cute to buy this and fill each of the little tins with fun, tasty and colorful candy. Magnetic Spice Storage ($12.99). You can do the same thing with just about any spice rack/storage solution. Filled with pretty pastel Jordan Almonds, Skittles, M&Ms, Kisses (or the new Kissables) or anything your recipient would find tasty is a fantastic and pretty inexpensive gift that keeps on giving.
Purse/Clutch made from candy wrappers ($22-$235) - even if you don’t buy any, they’re just so cute!
Dispensers and Holders (actually designed for that purpose)
Don’t forget the fun with the Candy Poopers. Especially if someone’s a fan of animals and candy (how could you not like both). There’s even a Penguin Pooper now, so go ahead and bundle it with the March of the Penguins DVD. (My original review here.)
Ornaments & Decoration
Whole Body Indulgences
Candy for the Feet
Candy as Protection
Of course you can take candy to the pool or shore with beach towels that look like candy packages: Candy Bar Beach Towels (14.99) - they come in Tootsie Pop, Dots, Charms Blo Pop and Sugar Daddy. You can also order directly from Bazooka for the Bazooka Bath Towel ($17.99 + 25 comics)
If you want more from your beach towel, how about one that doubles as a game board. Catch this one fast, it’s already on clearance at Bed Bath & Beyond: CandyLand Beach Towel Game! ($7.99 clearance).
Edible Gifts (something for everyone)
Sushi lovers might enjoy any of these Koo-ki Sushi ($12-$65). If you were looking for these gummi sushi, that I reviewed before, unfortunately it looks like they’re discontinued. But maybe someone on your giftlist is a Manga/Anime fan? Jbox has a great candy kit ($25.00) that includes a variety of KitKats, Pocky and fruity snacks like Lotte blueberry gum.
Crate & Barrel - Food/Candy (prices are a bit steep but the tins & packaging are pretty cool)
If you didn’t blink with the prices at Zabar’s, well head down to SoHo to Dean & Deluca. Spectacular packaging, great website and I’ve ordered from them before and have to say that the stuff does get there in one piece. The best looking thing they had there was the Joseph Schmidt Chocolate Bowl ($34.00). No, it’s not a bowl for chocolate, it’s a bowl made from chocolate. Shazaam! I can’t link directly to the products there but check out the regular gifts like Chocolate Tower Tiers ($75-$125), Caramel Dominos ($45.00), Chocolate Ornaments ($20), and Pig & Piglets (it’s like a Trojan pig, you crack open the pig and pigs come out! - $34.00). Fear not they have an Under $25 Section. (You can also order the chocolate bowl directly from Joseph Schmidt.)
Lake Champlain Chocolates - check out their amazing online store. I really enjoyed their 5 Star Bar and their medallions but I’m sure everything is great. Check out their sale items too, there’s some great deals in there.
Chocosphere for online ordering of most of the top brands of chocolate - a good place to go if you want to combine different chocolate brands in one candy gift.
Wilbur Chocolate - of course I’ve talked about my favorite chocolate before. What’s cool is that it’s not that expensive, even for their top of the line pacakges. My favorite is the Bud filled Milk Bottle ($16.09) but they also have the following Super Assortment in a box ($49.99), Tier of Treats ($63.79) and the more cost efficient selections like the Crock ‘o Buds ($26.99) and the Cocoa Mug ($10.99). You can’t order online, you have to either fax or call it in (800)2WILBUR. (My reviews here.)
Candy All Year Round
Candy of the Month Club from Candy Warehouse - three levels: Bazooka Joe, Gruffi Gummi Bear and The Thurston Howell Chocolate Package.
Seventy Percent has a chocolate tasting club where they send you a different 70%+ chocolate every month. Chocolate Connoisseur’s Club includes three bars (or more) plus tasting notes for each of the featured items. Based in the UK, they have access to chocolates that I’ve never heard of. Prices start at 13.95 pounds per month plus a 3.95 pound surcharge for non UK addresses. Without making a huge committment you can also pick up one of their “Chocolate Hampers” which feature incredible selections.
For Stockings / Gelt
For more stocking stuffers check out Cost Plus World Market or some similar store in your area. Ours carries not only a huge selection of international foods and candies but also gift kits, baskets for making your own and tins of retro candy, nostalgia items and of course cute stuff. Their prices are far and away more affordable than someplace like Williams Sonoma or Crate & Barrel but probably the same stuff.
Other Gift Guides
UPDATE: Here are a few things I left out!
Plush Puffs (reviewed here) is featuring a great new gift basket that allows you to pick your assortment of three packages of their gourmet marshmallows. $27.99 (but there are gifts for all price ranges).
Yum Boxes ($48 for a set of 8) - I’m not sure if this is a gift idea or an idea for your next party. They’re cool little invitations for parties that include candies and handy mailing boxes. They’re pricey but maybe something you can custom make at home.
Regular reader Desertwind suggests Allentown’s own Josh Early Candies which looks kinda like a Pennsylvania version of See’s with their black and white logo and focus on nuts, chews & toffees.
Last, I completely forgot Scharffen Berger! I went to their factory last week and was enchanted with their stuff in the gift store. How can you resist their chocolate shirts with the messages: (semi) sweet, (bitter) sweet and (extra) bitter ($14.50). Sassy! Oh, and they have chocolate too. Can I recommend their panned chocolates ...ooh, I already did!
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
Most folks grew up somewhere near some sort of factory or have visited one. Some are absolutely terrible neighbors. I can remember living in Humboldt County and dreading a shift in the wind which would bring the acrid, burning sting of the pulp mills’ stacks to Arcata.
However, I also remember living near Hershey, Pennsylvania and getting a wonderful whiff of chocolate when passing through town (well, we also smelled peanut butter from the Reese’s plant, which was sometimes a little burnt from the roasting process and not that pleasant).
Chicago has its own problems right now as the EPA is cracking down on local chocolate manufacturer Blommer. The EPA has ordered Blommer to install equipment to remove the sweet emissions from their plant. (Image credit: Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
I love eating candy but I think one of the things that makes it so appealing is the look of it. There are a lot of great photographers out there taking awesome shots of candy.
Of course one of the best things about candy is the continuity, I love a whole frame filled with the same thing, sweets!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.