Friday, August 18, 2006
My recent shopping spree at Mel & Rose’s has a little story attached to it. A commercial was recently shooting on our street and the production crew paid us $300 for the inconvenience of having other people park in our driveway and the fact that they were going to wake us up 90 minutes earlier than they told us. I vowed to spend $100 of that on import/upscale candies (I consider it an investment in Candy Blog!). So off to Mel & Rose’s while the crew was making a ruckus and fouling the air with their diesel generators.
I was very tempted to get the Nougat de Montelimar again, but they had quite a few other import varieties, so I thought since someone else was footing my experimentation bill, I’d branch out to other continents.
Massam’s Deluxe Nougat is about as far flung as I could find, made in South Africa. It’s a lovely chunk of nougat, about the size of half of a Snickers bar. The white inside wrapper on it is actually a potato starch paper that’s edible. The nougat itself is not quite hard and not quite soft. The almond distribution is a little uneven. I had two bars, the first one had a great balance of them, but the second one had a complete void of almonds on one half and then a nice amount in the other half.
The taste of the nougat is sweet and smooth and the starch of the potato wrapper gives it a rather cereal quality. It’s odd, as I get to the end of the chew it reminds me of Cheerios. The honey notes weren’t as rich as I’d hoped, but these bars are pretty good in their own right. I had a little trouble biting them, so for the second bar I started cutting it with a knife and it worked a bit better.
At a dollar twenty-five a piece for an imported nougat (they’re a little over an ounce each when I weighed them, but there’s nothing on the label) they’re pretty good. I might pick them up again, especially for the novelty of the potato paper.
For the record, I only spent $50 on candy that day, including a tasting kit of Michel Cluizel that I’ll have a review of soon. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I guess you should never go to a candy store AFTER lunch. I bought a new bike with the rest of the money.
This nougat is both Kosher (Parev) and Hallal.
Friday, August 4, 2006
I don’t know if I would have noticed, except that the Sav-on had both the old version of the bar (sans peanuts) and the new one side by side and I was curious why the packaging was suddenly different and what made the new one “more satisfying.”
So I purchased both and went off to the Candy Blog labs to do some analyses. First, the bars say they weigh the same, but when placed on the trusty postal scale the More Satisfying with Peanuts version came in at exactly 2.0 ounces and the Less Satisfying with just Almonds clocked in at 1.9 ounces. What’s even more puzzling about this is that the label says that they weigh 1.76 ounces ... at least Mars is generous.
The original version shown above was easier to slice and seemed more “solid”. There weren’t copious amounts of almonds, but a fair amount. The bar was rather bland, as I mentioned in my review before. But there is something missing here, a toastiness, some sort of flavor.
So the big thing I noticed right away was how difficult it was to slice this bar easily. It was kind of mucky ... not melted or anything, just not as structural. I think there may be more caramel now. Instead of just going back to a better tasting nougat, the Mars folks created the hybrid Snickers/Mars Frankenbar. It’s a Mars bar that tastes like a Snickers. Really, why buy this? It doesn’t taste like almonds ... if anything, it’s just a Snickers bar that’s a little smaller.
As a touchstone I went out and bought/consumed a standard Snickers bar. It really tasted no different except the Snickers Almond was a little crunchier because almonds are bigger than peanuts.
This got me to thinking about the ingredients, so here’s a run down of the top contents of the Less Satisfying Snickers Almond, More Satisfying Snickers Almond and the Satisfying Snickers (Peanut):
LS Snickers Almond…...MS Snickers Almond…..Plain Old Snickers
But let’s go back to that statement on the new Snickers Almond bar ... what exactly makes satisfaction?
Less Satisfying Snickers Almond: 230 Calories & 1.76 ounces (that’s 131 calories per ounce)
Could satisfaction be another word for caloric density?
While I find the More Satisfying Snickers Almond a little more tasty than before, its resemblance to the classic Snickers Peanut makes it superfluous. There are so few almond choices out there, why take this one away? I’m giving the Now More Satisfying Snickers Almond bar the same rating I gave the original.
(I’m also a little miffed that I consumed about 750 calories for this one review! I just hope none of them contained mouse droppings.)
Note: I looked at the Snickers website and they still list the old ingredients for the Snickers Almond bar.
UPDATE 9/2/2008: Well, the old new Snickers Almond is back. Here’s a brief revisit with the bar:
I like the bar (though I prefer the dark chocolate version) and I’m glad they brought it back.
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
Part of the reason for the stop in San Francisco on my recent vacation was to experience the Ferry Terminal Marketplace. It’s home to a bunch of artisan food companies, restaurants and other people associated with the food crafts. Plus, on Saturdays there’s a farmers market.
There are a couple of sweets locations in the Ferry Terminal including a Scharffen Berger store and Recchiuti Confections but for this trip (I’ll be going back again in September) I thought I’d look at Miette Patisserie.
The store is drop dead cute and reminds me of a forties/fifties-era cookbook. They had a huge selection of cakes and hand-held pastries. But I was interested in candies, of course. There was a large display of handmade lollipops which looked gorgeous and came in sassy flavors like cotton candy, grape and pink lemonade. None of the flavors were marked and the colors weren’t enough for me to discern the code so I passed them by for now.
Instead I was attracted to their Parisian Macaroons (which are not the coconut ones we’re most accustomed to in the States). These macaroons are a hazelnut or almond and egg white based cookie with a filling of some sort. Like a super decadent sandwich cookie. They were $1.50 each ... a little on the pricey side so I didn’t taste one of each flavor (I think there were six varieties).
I picked out:
Hazelnut: a vanilla cookie with a rich nutella-style filling. Sweet and rich but still light and flaky.
Rose Geranium: a delicately floral flavored cookie with a buttery light cream filling in the sandwich. My favorite.
Vanilla: a little sweeter because there was no strong flavor to balance it, but quite nice after a long walk and pleasant lunch.
By the register they also had three large jars of handmade caramels wrapped in wax paper. They were two for $1 so I had two of each.
Vanilla & Lemon - the wrappers were identical and I’m sorry to say that they all tasted the same. The caramels were nicely soft and sweet and of course had a wonderful slightly burnt sugar taste.
Fleur de Sel - a little darker tasting and with a nice warming sensation of instant salt. Instead of a regular caramel with a little series of grains of salt on the surface as I’ve had at other places, here the salt is completely integrated. The salt really brings out the caramelized notes, but it’s also a bit strong and made my throat sting.
UPDATE: A kind reader, Dan, has informed me that these are made by the Little Flower Candy Company, which makes sense based on the flavor array.
I’m sure their cakes are great and there’s the added bonus that they use organic ingredients whenever possible. Not that something like that makes a pastry more wholesome or anything! The macaroons can be ordered on their website, but not the caramels or lollies. The items are pricey, as is usually the case with labor intensive items. Overall I think I prefer the caramels and macaroons from Boule but since San Francisco doesn’t have a Boule, I can see myself stopping in here on my next trip for a little something to eat. I’m especially interested in trying their Lavender Shortbread (I know, I’ve totally diverged from candy all of a sudden ... I was on vacation!).
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
I first heard about Chuao Chocolatier a couple of months ago but haven’t been able to visit them until this weekend. The main location is in Encinitas and they have other shops in San Diego. But they also have one at the Irvine Spectrum, so on a blazingly hot Sunday afternoon my husband and I stopped by to see what it was all about. Let me just say this, if this is the direction that upscale chocolate is going, I can fully support it.
The shop is spare and simple with lots of dark wood touches and reflects more of a wine connoisseur aesthetic than candy. I greeted the women behind the counter (I’ve never done this before) ... I introduced myself and gave full disclosure that I’m a candy writer and boy did I get the full treatment! But seeing how well Melissa, the manager, did her tour of the company through samples of most of their product lines, I get the sense she does it for anyone who’s interested. She was knowlegable, enthusiastic and completely engaging.
First, a little about Chuao. It’s one of those stories about people who follow their passions. Michael Antonoris (once a biomedical engineer and MBA before he “stopped chasing his ego and started chasing his culinary passion,” and went to Paris for two years to study Pastry and Chocolaterie at the ?cole Lenotre). Born in Venezuela, he brought not only his culinary aesthetic to candymaking, but also the native cacao from the region. His chocolate source is El Rey Chocolate. You can read lots more on their website about the history of the company and other press clippings.
The first sample we tried was their flavor of the month for July, which is a beer (San Diego produced Stout) infused chocolate - with a strong wheat/yeasty flavor to the chocolate ganache, it was intriguing and brought out the best of the beer and the chocolate.
She also let us try last month’s (after all, it was only July 2nd) intriguing little egg which was filled with chocolate, olive oil and sun-dried tomato filling. I really liked the olive essence in there, but I’m not a huge fan of sun-dried tomatoes, but they seem to work in there. I could see those going really well with a wine and cheese assortment.
Other wonderful morsels she gave us to try included:
Chocolate Covered Orange Peel - lovely dark chocolate surrounding soft and intense orange zest. Not too syrupy sweet and not the least bit bitter.
Chocolate Covered Ginger - this is no ordinary candied ginger, the pieces are plump and juicy and have no fibery bits. Sweet and with a gentle burn that lasts long after the chocolate is gone.
Coco Nib Snack - fine little nibs a little smaller than peppercorns and caramelized/tossed with a little salt and chili. Fascinating little morsels, not too sweet but also doesn’t have any of that bitter/acrid flavor that some plain nibs have. No fibery bits either. I’m not sure if I’d eat them straight, but I’d love them tossed on a salad or maybe some ice cream.
Even though it was insanely hot, we still tried a little bit of their hot chocolate. They have two varieties, the traditional Abuela and Spicy Maya. They weren’t as thick and milky as many that I had on my last NY trip, but the flavors were really great. I enjoyed the Maya best, as the spice wasn’t too overwhelming, but supported the floral and wine notes of the chocolate.
But the time eventually came to pick out some things to take home.
I picked out a box of 9 pieces:
Melao - salt butter caramel - this one was quite reminiscent of the Sahgun salt caramel I had earlier this year. Quite soft, almost juicy, with a slight grain to the caramezlied sugar and a round sweet flavor dosed with salt to bring out the flavors.
Candela - spicy macadamia praline - very strange - it’s grainy, but not in an unpleasant way. Salty, crispy and with a soft spicy finish, the center is more like eating a cookie dough than a chocolate. For the record, I love cookie dough.
Cardamom - cardamom infused ganache - fresh and lightly infused with that cardamom note that I love about Indian food. Buttery smooth and rich. I would have liked more cardamom, like the Vosges one I tried in NYC.
Modena - strawberry caramel with balsamic vinegar from Modena - this was just plain strawberry as far as I could tell. Nicely fruity and aromatic, smooth and refreshing with a good balance of notes for the dark chocolate, but I wasn’t really getting the balsamic notes.
Chevre - goat cheese, pear Williams and crushed black buttercream - fascinating and probably addictive. At first the dark chocolate ganache is tangy, like a goat cheese. Then the black pepper infusion coming to the surface. The pear played a minor note, but the black pepper pieces were incredible, as they were softened by the chocolate and more like small, spicy raisins.
Zen - green tea infused ginger ganache - wonderful plump pieces of crystalized ginger in a dark chocolate ganache with only a hint of tea. Not too sweet - a good subtle balance.
Gran Cacao - bittersweet ganache with 73% cocoa - a lovely and rich ganache with a good buttery start and some good floral and berry notes.
Cambur - soft banana and brown sugar caramel - imagine a fried banana, drenched in caramelized sugar and then drizzled with chocolate. Mmmm. Intensely banana, but thoroughly authentic tasting. Rich and sweet. By far my favorite of them all.
Picante - California raisin fondue and Napa Valley cabernet caramel, spiced with pasilla chili and cayenne pepper - tart and with fruity/jammy qualities but with an immediate burn in my throat from some fresh tasting chilis. There are some wine notes, but mostly a grape and chili flavor mixed with the dark chocolate but the caramelized sugar is completely lost. I wouldn’t have minded a little hit of molasses or brown sugar in there.
On the whole, I’d say that the line of uncommon flavor combinations is much like Vosges and of similar quality. Where Vosges seems to angle itself towards women, Chuao seems incredibly masculine. The flavors are bold and uncommon and assertive. Flavors are borrowed from outside the candy realm with excellent results. But when they’re inside the sweets oveure, they’re really at their best. The spiced flavors are wonderful but I really enjoyed the caramelized items like the Cambur.
I’m definitely planning on stopping there again, it’s exceptionally convenient when I’m down in Orange County visiting with my husband’s family and it looks like they will continue to develop new flavor combinations that will keep my tongue occupied. They also offer classes, which I would love to take (but only at the Carlsbad location), so maybe someday I’ll become a master chocolatier, too. If you’re a wine or beer lover, they also have tips and product lines for serving them together.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Ritter Sport is going over to the dark side.
I picked up three new bars (or newish) while at the All Candy Expo and I have to say that they’re exceptionally good.
First, I found out that Ritter is the #2 imported chocolate brand in the United States. Who knew?
Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts - this bar is studded generously with hazelnuts. Not quite as many as the wrapper implies, but I’ll tell you there are plenty in there. The dark chocolate is a semisweet with good floral notes and a slightly smoky bite to it. A little dry, it highlights the nuts really well. Not at all sticky or cloying like the milk chocolate can be, this bar is incredibly munchable. Of the three that I brought back, this one was gone first.
Amargo Extrafino - Fine Extra Dark Chocolate - 71% Cocoa - this was a gorgeous bar (and featured in that page in the National Post, if I might gush). The scent is intoxicatingly rich. Smoke, tobacco, tea and dark berries all waft from its dark scored squares. It’s pretty quick to melt for such a dense bar and it’s very smooth. The berry and cherry notes are quite evident as well as a sharp immediate bitter/acidic bite that mellows quickly to its more roasted and alcoholic notes of cognac. For an inexpensive high cacao bar, this one is very good. Complex but still edible. It goes great with something with a salty/crunchy bite like dry roasted & salted almonds or pretzels.
Feinherb a la Mousse au Chocolat - the same dark chocolate that’s found in the hazelnut bar is in this one, except this has a softer filling inside the squares. Not a fluffy mousse, more like a firm, creamier center like a Frango. It’s nice, but after the intense, complex darkness of the 71%, this one tasted very sweet (and I tried it on a completely different day than the 71% day).
After the other not-so-tasty things I was eating earlier this week, the Ritter Sport dark bars were quite a treat. I can recommend all of the, but if you’re a dark fan and can find these inexpensively (less than $3), it’s quite a deal for chocolate of this quality (no wonder they’re #2).
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
No, you’re not seeing double - I did post a review of something very similar this morning. Like the Golden Bonbon I picked up, these are smaller torrone-style nougats that are individually wrapped for freshness and easy snacking. If you think they look suspiciously similar and are confused because they have the same initials, it’s not by coincidence. Golden Bonbon used to run the Golden Boronia facility but sold it recently.
Trust me, Golden Boronia made a good deal. These are tasty candies that rival the Golden Bonbon ones. The biggest difference is the flavor set. Both have the standard Almond and Coffee (though I didn’t taste the Golden Bonbon version of that) but then they diverge. Golden Boronia are made in Australia - another country known for their nuts.
Almond - sweet smelling without a trace of amaretto notes. The almonds are fresh and the nougat is soft and smooth. Not as much of a honey hit as I like, but very pleasant.
Apricot - sweet and complex apricot aroma that highlights the honey flavors. Almond and apricot are wonderful companions and the light sweetness of the nougat combined for a very satisfying treat. Well, it was satisfying while I ate it. Now I want another one.
Green Tea - this was the one that stopped me dead in my tracks at the All Candy Expo. I love green tea and the delicate flavor seems a logical match for nougat. The nougat smells like sweet green tea and tasted like a sweetened matcha. The nougat is even a soft earthy green color. It’s a little grainier than the others, but the refreshing and lasting green tea flavor is really nice. There’s a slightly darker note of flavors in there, as match often has, but none of the bitterness that I sometimes find in matcha candies.
Cappuccino - it smells like sweet, sweet coffee. The color is a little darker, like it’s been toasted. The coffee flavor is more like espresso than a milky coffee. It tastes a lot sweeter than the others do, for some reason. The flavor is nice, not too strong but missing the honey notes that I love so much in my nougats.
All of the flavors (plus Peppermint) come in a crunchy version. The crunchy version tastes more like the crisped outside of a toasted marshmallow. They’re nice (the peppermint is very strong) but I prefer the soft ones.
Their website says they’ll ship anywhere and I tried making an order for a 1 kg mix (about $21 USD) but the shipping was going to be an additional $52 ... I made a request for where I can find them locally cuz I don’t like to pay more in shipping than for the actual product.
I’ve mentioned before of my love of French nougat and Torrones. Part of it nostalgia and part of it is that they’re a really terrific candy. While I was at the All Candy Expo, I was intent on finding a year-round supply of affordable Italian/French-style nougats.
Golden Bonbon is made in Canada with an Italian family recipe (I even met Mr. Mazzucco). They make both soft and crunchy nougats, but I concentrated my tasting efforts on the soft ones because that’s what I prefer. Golden Bonbon boasts of their family’s long experience (three generations) making nougats and use traditional copper bowls and say that half the weight of the nougat is just almonds. Let me tell you, those were some tasty almonds, too.
Almond - nice delicate almond scent and plentiful almonds both whole and pieces in the mix. Only a light touch of honey but very smooth and a slight hint of amaretto.
Orange - I can see the orange bits in the mix and it certainly smells orangey. The orange flavor brings out the honey notes, but the orange rind pieces can be a little tough. But the flavor combinations including the bold orange oils of the zest is really nice.
Cranberry - like the orange, you can see the large pieces of cranberry in here. It has a wonderful dark fruity aroma. The nougat is soft as are the cranberry bits. They add a nice floral, fruity and sour bite to the nougat, but I’m not that wild about it compared to the others.
Maple - the nougat on this one was slightly darker than the stark white of the others and smelled a lot like maple. Sure enough it tastes like maple, with its dark smoky tones and rich sweetness. It goes nicely with the almond and is certainly tasty, but it’s not really what I want in my nougat.
The company says that they have wide distribution in both the USA and Canada and I think I’ve seen them at Cost Plus World Market ... now I need to look closer. I don’t know about the pricing, but if I can find them for less than $20 per pound, I think I may have a new favorite. I would probably stick to the regular almond ... possibly the orange, but I’m kind of curious about the coffee flavor they have too that I didn’t get to sample.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
It’s hard to believe that I’ve never really had the Lindt Lindor truffles before this. I’ve always looked at them like they’re some sort of compromise ... they’re not a candy bar and they’re not a product of a fine chocolatier. So they never really fit the bill at any given moment.
But let’s just start with me saying that I’m surprised at how good they are, and how glad I am to find their newest one that was sampled at the All Candy Expo was the 60% Extra Dark Truffle.
I’ve enjoyed the Lindt bars for quite a while, as they were always easy to find and a rather upscale pure chocolate indulgence at a time when it was pretty hard to find such things ten years ago.
In order to see how dark this new truffle was, I decided to try the array from white to extra dark.
White Chocolate (yellow wrapper) - sweet and milky smelling with a strong vanilla note. Buttery and light in the middle. No real flavor to it, just sweet and creamy.
Dark Chocolate (blue wrapper) - nice chocolatey aroma, with some fruity notes. The shell is creamy and smooth and of course the filling is buttery light, but perhaps a little greasy feeling. It could use more cocoa solids in it to give it more flavor. A really good, solid performer. I didn’t know what flavors I had, so I checked at the grocery store and these were 44 cents each there (and I’ve seen them cheaper). For a quick, single pick-me-up, they’re quite the bargain.
Extra Dark Chocolate (black wrapper) - rather fruity smelling with a slight note of coconut. The shell was buttery smooth with a rather noticeable bitter and dry bite that really offset the creamy center. Now that I’ve tried them side by side, I much prefer the Extra Dark because the complex flavors of the shell offset the light, creamy, almost-liquid truffle center.
Hazelnut (bronze wrapper - not pictured) - this one got smashed on the way home and I didn’t think it was fair to take its picture in that state. The center was light and buttery and studded with little hazelnut pieces. It was very sweet and light tasting, but missed some of the darker caramelized notes that I enjoy with many hazelnut products.
Overall, I don’t think I’d turn down these truffles as a gift, but the only one I’m likely to buy for myself is the 60% Dark, as the complexity of it balances the rather heavy fat. They’re a good deal as a small indulgence you get at a grocery store since you can buy them as singles. I’m pretty sure if I had a half a pound of them they’d disappear pretty quickly, whether they were my favorite flavor or not.
UPDATE 10/5/2009: I’ve had more opportunities to try these over the past few years. Lately I’ve been finding the flavor to be a bit “empty”. There’s a wonderful texture, but the slick & oily center seems to dilute the rich chocolate flavor I expect. I’m downgrading them to a 7 out of 10, as I’m finding I’m more likely to give them away than eat them myself.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.