Monday, June 5, 2006
I had to look up what a praline is, because I’ve seen so many different versions over the years. And it’s really not helped me to figure out what exactly is and isn’t a praline. In Europe a praline is usually a nut and sugar paste, often used as a filling.
But for the purposes of this post, in the American South the praline is a highly nutted fudge - composed of sugar and butter and sometimes cream that’s caramelized to a dry, crumbly, melt-in-your mouth consistency. Some pralines, such as those from Texas are a bit softer like a caramel.
These pralines, in plain and chocolate are from the Charleston Candy Kitchen (they also have a store in Savannah), a gift from my vacationing neighbors. They’re sizable plops filled with plump and sweet pecans. The candy mixture melts in the mouth with a slight cooling feeling. At first there’s a slight grain of the sugar and a moment later it’s all collapsed into a thick and sweet syrup on the tongue with a strong pecan/maple flavor.
The chocolate ones had the addition of cocoa to them, but it wasn’t quite as satisfying as a good chocolate fudge because it lacked that creamy component. They were tasty, but the plain ones were more satisfying in their pure expression of pecan-ness. I ate them all ... it was probably well over a half a pound and it took me about 30 hours, but I wolfed all four pieces down. I’m glad they didn’t come with a nutrition label.
Pralines are kind of like fudge. I don’t often buy them but if I do have them, it’s a regional thing. Kind of like salt water taffy ... it’s the kind of candy you bring home from a trip. Maybe next week I’ll blog about the chocolate covered macadamia nuts from Hawaii.
Does anyone else know of regional candies that folks bring back as gifts? What was the best one you got?
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Edelweiss Candy Kitchen in Beverly Hills is an old fashioned candy store. From the classic awning outside to the displays inside, it was like I’d stepped back to 1953 (they’ve been there since 1942) and perhaps Julie Andrews would step out from the counter in her Sound of Music outfit and sing a little song about a the wonders of chocolate.
There’s even a sign on the back wall that purports that the famous I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel get jobs on the factory line at a candy company was conceived of here when Lucille Ball saw the conveyor in the back. In truth the episode ended up being filmed at See’s (in Culver City, I think).
The store shelves are filled with plenty of novelty chocolate items and glass jars filled with everyone’s favorite candies available by the scoop. They had gummies, licorice, misty mints, Swedish fish, foil covered chocolates, panned nuts ... just about anything you might want. But I went for the things that I can’t find everywhere. They make their own custom chocolates on site and are rather well known for their candied and chocolate dipped fruits. At $28 a pound, they’re certainly not cheap, but also not the most expensive candies I’ve come across. Especially in Beverly Hills.
Here’s what I picked up:
Chocolate Covered Candied Orange Slice - this one was not nearly as good as the Jacques Torres I had in NYC. The orange was firm, but the peel was a little too tough in spots, especially on the edge that wasn’t dipped in chocolate. However, it wasn’t too sticky or too sweet, so the flavors were wonderfully deep and complex.
Chocolate Covered Fig - the amber-colored fig was plump and sweet with a strong tart bite to it that mixed well with the chocolate. That fresh herby taste of the fig goes so well with chocolate, I was sorry I didn’t get more of these. After eating dried figs all week, it was nice to have something plump and juicy ... and of course covered in chocolate.
I wish all the chocolates were a bit glossier - they’re a little dull looking but I’m not sure if that affected the taste or texture much.
I don’t remember what the little chocolates in cups were called (and there’s no reference to them on their website), but it was described as ground almonds and honey in either dark or milk chocolate. I got one of each. The milk chocolate one was pleasant, not too sweet and not too milky. I couldn’t really taste the honey, but the almond flavors mixed with the chocolate and the slightly chewy, crunchy bite of the nuts was nice. I liked the dark chocolate one a bit better, as the flavors of the chocolate were more complex and I could detect the honey tones.
I’m not suggesting that anyone order up some over the phone, but if you’re in Beverly Hills and looking for something authentic, this might be a nice stop amidst the Cartier and Tiffany and Prada overload. If you want some tasty chocolate that’s not too expensive then I always suggest See’s. But since there isn’t one in this area of Beverly Hills, Edelweiss might be nice.
Edelweiss Candy Kitchen
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
I don’t know what came over me when I went to Mel & Rose, but I bought this super-expensive nougat bar.
Here it is May, and I’m really missing my Christmas Torrones and I was weak and overwhelmed while browsing at Mel & Rose. It’s such a pretty looking bar too, look at all those nuts and the sticky white nougat.
The label is in French, except for the ingredients: Sugar, Almonds 28%, Glucose Syrup, Lavender Honey 7.5%, all flowers honey of provence 7.5%, Pistachios 2%, wafer of egg white, Vanilla natural aroma.
There’s not a single ingredient in there that doesn’t have my mouth watering. And it’s not just plain honey ... it’s Lavender honey! Yum.
Let me tell you, it’s divine. The honey flavors come out loud and clear here, more than any other French nougat that I’ve had (and I’ve had co-workers bringing me the stuff directly from France for the last 10 years). The honey is strong and musky and slightly floral. The delicate, light nougat is sweet without being cloying or sticky. It’s lightly fluffed which allows the honey and almond flavors to permeate the bar. The nuts are dreamily crisp and firm.
As it’s thinner than a regular Torrone block, it’s easy to bite off a bit, but hard to resist cramming the whole thing into my maw.
Though I balked at the price ($5.99) after I’d paid (I wasn’t paying attention), once I started photographing it and noticing the density of the nuts and glossy nougat, I knew I hadn’t made a mistake. Opening the wrapper and biting into it only confirms that.
Part of me never wants to go back to Mel & Rose because I will be obligated to buy this again, which of course will keep me from trying something new (or several somethings since this was $6), but it’s soooo good.
Even if you think you’ll never run across this nougat bar, browse around their website (or visit them if you’re in France). Here are some fun things I learned:
They produce 168 tons of nougat a year, using 33 tons of almonds ... that’s 45% of the almonds grown in Provence every year! They detail the process of making it, too (though some of the translations are a little wonky). The website says that you can order online, but I have no idea about the exchange and delivery to the United States. If you do end up ordering, please report back on how it went (and order some marshmallows and let me know how they are).
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Instead of just the normal fundraising candy bars, Smiles by Joanie’s Smiles are are chocolate bars infused with tea and other natural flavors that stand on their own as tasty treats. The hook here with the fundraising aspect is that money from the sale of each bar goes to Operation Smile which sends volunteer medical teams all over the globe to repair facial deformities in kids and adults. I was approached to taste the bars a couple of months ago, so I’ve had a lot of time with them (I was waiting for their website to be up and for them to be more widely available).
The bars were very simply produced - two ounces each, wrapped in foil and then a paper overwrap. The bar is pre-scored into 12 little pieces with each embossed with the smiles script logo. No gimmicky packaging, just tried and true presentation. It’s the flavors that count here ... so let me count off the flavors to you:
Rosemary Hibiscus Tea - I was certain I wouldn’t like this one before I even tried it. I’m not a big fan of hibiscus, so how could combining it with rosemary (a rather savory and strong herb) and white chocolate be a good idea? Frankly, after the first bite I didn’t like it. The hibiscus gave the white chocolate a yogurt tang but without any satisfying fruit flavor to go with it. Then I took a few more bites and the rosemary flavor really grew on me and took center stage. It’s not terribly sweet and doesn’t give me a sore throat like bad white chocolate does ... it was smooth and creamy and had a little sass to it.
Cranberry-Ginger Tea - mellow milk chocolate with a smooth and creamy consistency with a spicy, lowgrade burn of ginger. Later the tannin and cranberry notes come out in a lingering berry bite. The bar has the woodsy, rooty smell of ginger. There are the occasionally grainy bits from the tea, but this is a pretty smooth and zesty bar.
Wild Raspberry Tea - it smells like raspberry and has the floral flavor to it. The milk chocolate, which can often have a tart bite also helps to bring out the fruitiness and berry notes here. There are also the occasional fruit bits in there, giving it a chewy tart burst. The chocolate has not dairy milkiness that I usually associate with milk chocolate, instead it’s smooth and a little fudgy.
Coconut-Green Tea - this bar smells like summer. Profuse wafts of coconut emanate from this bar, just sitting next to it reminds me of those girls who would come to the pool but never swim. They’d sit together with their sunkissed hair and lanky bodies slathered with tanning oil ... something I could never use. (If there were a freckle oil, well, then we might have something.) That toasted, glossy association translates well to this dark bar. Smooth and buttery, the tea takes a backstage to the coconut, which brings only flavor here, there are no chewy bits.
Herbal Chai Tea - this bar smells like I’ve stepped into a spice shop. It’s all warm and woodsy: cinnamon, fennel, orange and a little rooty waft of ginger. A little bit grainy because of the real spices in there, it’s still quite smooth and bursting with different flavors. The cinnamon dominates, but the fennel and black pepper are still discernible. The tea here is the Amber Roobios, which brings its own floral/fruity notes. It’s quite a riot of flavors in there.
My favorites in order (as determined by which I finished first) were the Pistachio-Green Tea White Chocolate, Herbal Chai Dark Chocolate, Coconut-Green Tea Dark Chocolate, Rosemary Hibiscus White Chocolate and last the Wild Raspberry Milk Chocolate.
I have to congratulate Joanie for coming up with such interesting flavor combinations but I think if there’s one thing that I find a drawback to them, it’s the price ... however, unlike many high-end bars, there is nowhere else to get a Hibiscus Rosemary White Chocolate or Coconut Green Tea Dark Chocolate bar, so they’ve cornered that end of the market.
The bars are now on sale at Whole Foods and soon at Bristol Farms and Gelson’s (SoCal) markets as well as through Amazon (click through on their website). Amazon doesn’t seem to offer an assortment pack or sales by the box, which is too bad because I really didn’t know which I was going to like by the description. They were just introduced last week, so they may be adding more purchase variations.
Monday, May 22, 2006
It seems like some parts of the country are known for different confections. The South does wonderful things with pecan pralines, San Francisco has a wonderful way with dark chocolate, the Jersey Shore has its salt water taffy. Now I’m noticing that Colorado is attracted to toffee. My neighbor got this as a gift at the office from a co-worker returning from Colorado. It’s, apparently, the thing that people bring back from Colorado.
These thick slabs of almond toffee are described thusly on their website:
Instead of pieces of almonds dotting the toffee, this toffee has generous whole almonds. The slabs are extra thick and the chocolate coats both sides with an extra dusting of powdered almonds. The toffee has a crisp bite with a strong buttery taste to it. It cleaves well and melts on the tongue with a good salty bite and caramelized sugar flavor.
I can see why Enstrom’s is so highly regarded. This is tasty toffee. The only thing that bugs me about is the whole slab idea. I’d prefer my toffee to be in regular pieces that I can pick up and bite or pop in my mouth whole. But if that’s my biggest complaint, well, I don’t have much to complain about. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with any of the toffees I’ve had from Colorado (see Silver Bear).
Friday, May 19, 2006
This version of the Cafe-Tasse bars are long and thick and frankly, I prefer this format to the flat ones. It’s more compact and I like a good thick piece of chocolate.
The design on these is quite lovely too. Soft, matte paper with some stylish engraved designs. Easy to read and color coded, too!
Extra Noir this super dark 77% cocoa bar is quite rich. Instead of sacrificing buttery smoothness for high cacao, I think they’ve lowered the sugar content, which is just fine with me. The bar has a strong smoky flavor with many hints of tobacco and vanilla. It has a rather dry finish that’s not exactly astringent, but leaves a rather chalky feeling in the mouth. Still, it has a fantastic melt on the tongue, just slipping around in all it’s cocoa-butter goodness. It’s not sweet, but at the same time, it’s not blisteringly bitter - just dense.
Noir Praline this bar smelled much sweeter than the others, and had a rather fruity aroma as well. The dark chocolate shell looked the same as the other bars, but inside it was as sweet. After having the creamy richness of the Baci bar, this one really can’t compare. It’s missing that buttery lightness and depth of flavor. I’m not saying it’s not tasty, it’s just had more sugar and sweetness than hazelnuttiness.
Noir Orange after sampling the super dark bar, this one seemed quite sweet at first. This bar is only 54% cocoa, so there’s plenty of room for that cocoa butter base as well as sugar and an ample supply of little candied orange bits. The candied orange peels threw me, they’re kind of crystallized, so a bit more sharp and hard than pliable and forgiving. The texture mix aside, the orange infusion is intense and profuse. This is nothing like the Terry’s Chocolate Orange. This is a full chocolate experience with a little fruit essence thrown in. After a while I was hoping for the chewy bits of orange peel. This was by far my favorite of the three.
These were a gift but I’ve seen them for sale at Cost Plus World Market, Economy Candy in NYC and online at Chocosphere (the chocolate covered lemon peel looks divine).
Thursday, May 18, 2006
One of my favorite treats we’d get in our Christmas Stocking were Baci. If you’ve never had this little Italian chocolate, you’re missing something. It’s a hazelnut nougatine with chopped nuts topped with a whole hazelnut and covered in a thin shell of rich dark chocolate. They’re wrapped in silver foil with blue printing and wrapped around the chocolate is a little piece of glassine with a saying about love or kisses in four languages, after all, baci means kiss in Italian.
Instead of individual morsels, the Baci Bar is a thick semisweet chocolate bar with domed sections filled with a mix of chocolate, hazelnut paste and crushed hazelnuts.
Holy moly, it’s good.
Seriously good. The chocolate is rich and buttery with a slight bitter and dry hit to it - which offsets the super-sweet and nutty, thick filling. The little bits of nuts give it a wonderful crispy crunch. There wasn’t a bad nut bit in the bunch.
If there’s anything at all wrong with it, it’s that it’s kind of soft. It’s getting warm here in Los Angeles, and eating a bar like this mid-day is just plain messy. No matter, I’m having the rest of it for breakfast ... see, I’m flexible! I miss the whole hazelnut you get the with traditional Baci, but the chocolate ratio here is amped up a little, which I like just as well.
Now that I’ve raved about this bar, I fear I will never have another one. I’ve looked around on the Perugina/Nestle site and find no reference to this bar. It was generously transported directly from Italy to me by uber-blogger, JozJozJoz. Maybe if you’re in a European airport you’ll spy one.
Perugina is an Italian company, started in the 20s but was bought out by Nestle in 1985, which explains their wider distribution in the United States late in the last century.
Monday, May 15, 2006
I couldn’t resist picking this Pocky up last week when I was in Little Tokyo. I promised myself that I wouldn’t buy any candy because I already have a huge backlog, but everyone kept saying how good the Almond Crush Pocky is.
Each of the four little silver/clear pouches hold six sticks, which is a nice portion size - a little under 3/4 of an ounce. The nutrition label says that three packets is a portion, but I’ve been pretty happy with a single packet at a time.
The snack smells like freshly made waffle cones. Sweet, a little caramelized, a little nutty and thoroughly chocolatey. The chocolate is rich and dark and has a nice glossy sheen. The almond bits aren’t really that noticeable as a distinct crunch, but they provide a good bit of texture (and a whallop of protein - there are 2.5 grams of protein per ounce). The slight sweetness and crisp of the biscuit stick pulls it all together and keeps me munching all the way down to the uncoated nubbin.
The ingredients on these don’t list any hydrogenated fish oils, but the last ingredient on the list is MSG (monosodium glutamate), which is a little disappointing, but caused me no ill effects. The sodium content overall for this snack is high though - at about 220 mgs per ounce.
All that aside, it’s not too sweet, it’s not too dry, it’s not too bland. It’s just right.
See all the other Pocky posts here.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.