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.
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
Look, they’re little candy bars shaped like hippopotami! How can you not want one?
The first thing I thought of, of course, is the children’s board game, Hungry Hungry Hippos! Except in this case, you eat the hippos instead of the hippos eating marbles.
Why are they Happy Hippos?The candy is basically a formed wafer shell filled with a hazelnut cream (think Nutella) and partially covered in a white coating. It comes in two varieties - Biscuit (unwrapped) which is all vanilla and milk and Cacao (wrapped and smashed) which is half hazenut/milk filling and half chocolate paste. Wouldn’t you be happy if you were filled with hazelnut paste?
The Biscuit one reminded me a lot of the Kinder Bueno I tried last year, but not quite as chocolatey. The appeal is certainly the little look of the hippo as you bite off his head.
The Cacao has a much richer flavor set with the addition of the chocolate cream. It’s a little sticky and not quite as tasty (at least in recollection) to the Kinder Bueno. The crunch of the wafer shell is pretty awesome though. If you like KitKat’s little wafers and wish there were more in there, this might be a bar to seek out (or its cousins - Kinder Bueno, Duplo or Tronky).
POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:55 am
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
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.