Tuesday, May 2, 2006
I talk about Trader Joe’s a lot as a candy source; the store opening in Manhattan was big news. But on my trip to NYC, I found that they already have an extraordinary store, Fairway. We pretty much stumbled upon the market while walking back from the Upper West Side to our hotel in Times Square.
Like Trader Joe’s the store focuses on more gourmet, upscale or wholesome fare, with many items sold with their private label but at super-delicious prices. The best part, of course, was their candy section. They had a huge aisle of pre-packaged bulk nuts and panned chocolate goods, most of which made by Koppers.
The first thing that caught my eye were these little M&M sized dark chocolate goodies called Cayenne Pepper Savory. It was just what I was looking for all these years, a peppered chocolate in easy to eat morsels. But when they say Cayenne Pepper, they really mean it. It’s far too spicy for comfort. I might try putting them in cookies or something, but it’s too bad, the chocolate is really nice, but the afterburn is serious. ($5.99/lb)
Of course I have a hard time believing that they really were that hot, so after a couple of days I try another one. Same result ... whoo! I don’t know, it’s growing on me.
This was by far the best of the Koppers finds. It’s little cubes of dried apricot covered in dark chocolate. So simple. The chocolate has a nice smoky, dark bite. It’s sweet but doesn’t overpower the natural sweetness and tart chewy bite of the apricot.
It’s nice to find an affordable version of the glace apricots that I’ve seen at the upscale chocolatiers. Of course these don’t replace them, but they’re portable and high quality. ($5.99/lb)
Oh, I had such high hopes. Look at them, they’re gorgeous! Dark and glossy and sweet smelling. But there’s something so wrong about the taste and even though I’ve been sampling these for weeks, I can’t quite put my finger on it. They chocolate is sweet, but bitter. Smooth but a little waxy and it has this odd dairy taste to it, even though it’s dark chocolate. The malted center is not really malty or maybe the chocolate is overpowering it. I was just so disappointed. ($4.99/lb)
And here’s the big secret - Fairway sells Lake Champlain! Only it’s their house brand and it’s far cheaper. I picked up two 5 Star Bars and they were only $2.19 each! I picked up the Caramel one, just to make sure the Fairway house brand was truly the same as the Lake Champlain, and I also got this one, the Fruit & Nut Bar.
This stunning 2 ounce brick ‘o chocolate is dark chocolate on the outside, filled with a hazelnut praline (think Caffarel’s Guanduia) studded with pecans and dried cherries. Now I know I say that I don’t like cherry flavored things, but I have no problem at all with the real ones. This bar was really nice, the dark chocolate was bold and reigned in the thick flavor of the hazelnut praline quite nicely.
The nuts weren’t as numerous as I’d hoped, but the bite of the sour cherries and the chewy texture was a nice mix. I do like the inventiveness of mixing pecans and hazelnuts - two sadly neglected nuts in American candybars. Of the two that I’ve had now, I still prefer the Caramel bar, but this one is certainly interesting and I’m wondering how it compares to the 5-Star Hazelnut bar.
Fairway had a large selection of candies, both in their own packaged bulk items like the Koppers, upscale brands like Scharffen Berger and Valrhona. I also saw a huge variety of imported candies like European brands like Cadbury and Nestle (not the American versions).
Saturday, April 29, 2006
I didn’t do a very good job of finding a lot of stuff at the end of Candy Season with the post-Easter sales. I think I did much better on the post-Valentines front and here’s one of the items I picked up at that time.
I’d never heard of Stephany but the side of the box said “always the perfect gift” which must also mean, “always the perfect after holiday bargain.” Though the box had hearts on the outside, nowhere did it say Valentines Day or love or anything like that, so I thought it could just be their regular design. It also had a smart little label that said that the candy was good until June 1, 2006!
Inside the box were four pieces of almond toffee covered in chocolate and rolled in crushed almonds. The chocolate was thick and sweet and the toffee hard but with a good toothsome cleave to it. The toffee had a good salty bit to it and the chocolate far outweighed the toffee in sweetness. The ample nuts were good and fresh.
What was also nice was the price and the fact that I could get something from Colorado (what is it about Colorado and toffee?) at my local Target.
But I guess the big news here is that Stephany’s Chocolates is no more. They closed down their factory and retail stores about 10 days ago according to news reports. I considered not posting anything at all about this candy, but I figured I bought it and took a photo and then ate it, I may as well document it so that other candy fans will know what happened.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
On my recent tour of New York City Chocolatiers, I took as many suggestions from readers as my poor blistered feet would accept. Luckily Pierre Marcolini on Park Avenue was only a few blocks from the office I was working at. It’s hardly a place the Candy Blogger belongs, after all, I’m just a girl in search of pretty sugar. It doesn’t have to be fancy and I certainly don’t care for those upscale prices. But candy is an adventure!
The Pierre Marcolini shop is everything you’d expect. From the elegant Tiffany-style storefront & rich wood paneling to the pretty counters and displays of chocolates. But, the sales staff was friendly and knowledgeable and hardly turned up their nose a someone who wanted to partake of their smallest box.
While I was getting the lay of the land, I ordered a small cup of hot chocolate, what was most surprising was that this demitasse was the least expensive cup of hot chocolate I had my entire stay in NYC ($2.50). Even though it was a scant 2 or 3 ounces, it was plenty to satisfy me and let me know what I was in store for with their more solid chocolate offerings.
Massepain Nature - “Paste of ground almonds with a powdered sugar in dark chocolate” - My most adventurous choice was this marzipan. While I was talking to the young woman behind the counter, I asked if it had a strong amaretto, and she replied that it did not, it was much more on the chocolate and almond side of things. I went for it. It was a rather mousy looking little chocolate, but maybe that was my prejudice coloring my estimation of its beauty. The marzipan was soft and almost crumbly without being oily or even at all sweet. I’d like to call it sandy, but it wasn’t quite that either. It was very almondy but had a rather obvious amaretto taste to it. I didn’t find it unpleasant but certainly not the first thing I’d opt for in the future. The most surprising part was how filling this was. I was hardly hungry after tasting this one.
Coeur Framboise - “Dark chocolate raspberry infused ganache in a white chocolate shell” - these were positively radiant, like cabochon garnets, pomegranate seeds or candied apples. Inside is a dark chocolate ganache with raspberry essence, covered in white chocolate and then slicked with the translucent red gloss. The berry flavor was lovely, not terribly perfumy, but sweet and smooth with some very strong chocolate notes and a slight tang to it from both the fruit and the cocoa.
Quatre Epices - “Infusion of cinnamon, clove, cardamom and ginger” - I wasn’t sure how the clove was going to play on this one. The center was a little fudgy and not buttery like a truffle and I wondered if I didn’t eat them quickly enough. The spices combined well, with ginger playing a big part without causing a lot of burn. I didn’t really detect any clove at all, but then again, I didn’t get much of a cardamom note either. The texture felt more like a marzipan than a truffle in the end.
Th? Citron - “Dark chocolate ganache infused with tea and fresh pieces of lemon and lime” - May I refer to this as a manly truffle? The tea and citrus was amazing - tart without overpowering the chocolate and it gave the whole thing an “Old Spice” feeling (not in a bad cosmetic sort of way). The acid notes of both the chocolate and lemon and lime played well together with only the slightest sweet hint.
Thym Orange - “Dark chocolate ganache infused with fresh thyme and orange peels” - wow, the thyme here was very strong and reminiscent of the piney tones of rosemary or fresh oregano. They flavors combine well, the dry astringency of the chocolate and the balsam notes of the herbs. I really didn’t catch the orange in the mix but I didn’t actually miss it.
Violette - “Dark chocolate ganache infused with flowery Violette” - this tasted as lovely as it looked. The violet was not strong or soapy at all, simply fresh and rather reminiscent of berries without the tartness. The flowery feel lasted in my mouth for quite a while and would be a welcome change from coffee-breath.
Pierre Marcolini - “72% cocoa content, combination of beans from the Venezuelan regions Sur de Lago, Carenero and Rio Caraibe” - shockingly buttery and smooth, this one just melted away on my tongue with some gorgeous woodsy notes of oak, black cherry and vanilla. A wonderful way to complete my small box, with a crisp, dry finish.
The quality was wonderful and the packaging spare and elegant. I appreciated that the labels were obvious for most of the candies, so I had no trouble deciphering which was which ... most of the names were printed plainly. The flavor combinations were wonderful though never quite as described as far as I could tell. The whole line felt very masculine, which isn’t a good or bad thing, just something noticed after infused chocolates from quite a few places in NYC.
Pierre Marcolini Chocolatier
Their website, though it contains wonderful photos and info about all the chocolates they offer is painfully slow because they haven’t optimized their images for the web, so consider yourself warned.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
This little shop down in SoHo on Broome Street is just too cute for words. The first thing I was drawn to when I stepped in the door was a display of tiny metal lunchboxes filled with hot chocolate mixes. I just wanted the lunch box ... the combination of the signature blue and gold was just delicious in and of itself.
I restrained myself from marching up to the counter with my special request and instead looked around at the adorable and imaginative offerings. Almond brittle shaped like cocktail olives (in green and black), little candies shaped like pebbles, dragees (upscale candy coated chocolates) in addition to their super-cute square and imprinted chocolate truffles.
Again I tried to savor the place, so I ducked into the back room where the coffee and chocolate bar was. I ordered up an Aztec Hot Chocolate, American-style ($6), which meant it was made with milk, not water. Not a spiced chocolate, just dark and rich, it was a sizeable cup (and I’d just been to Vosges not two blocks away) with a wonderful no-too-sweet creaminess.
The smoothness can be attributed to something I read on the website: “Maribel’s own divinely decadent recipe contains NO COCOA POWDER but instead is made from the purest Belgian cocoa and most refined sugar.” I wonder if the packets they sell can rival what I drank there, but it’s probably worth a try someday.
Earl Grey Tea - the beautiful squiggly one was buttery and chocolatey but had only the slightest hint of bergamot but a nice dry acidic hit which I’m guessing was from a tea infusion.
Caipirinha - a lighter (milk?) chocolate infusion with a tart bite to it ... honestly, I didn’t even know what the word meant until I looked it up after I ate this one. It’s an alcoholic drink of lime juice, sugar and a spirit called Cacha?a which is distilled sugarcane juice.
Spices - a tasty and slightly sweet blend of dark chocolate and spices felt like buttery cinnamon toast. There was no cruel burn to this spice infused truffle, just a woodsy fragrance.
Lavender - supple and smooth, this had a nicely fragranced tone to it but it was mostly sweet and buttery chocolate.
Mystery - I have no recollection of what this one is, and it’s not shown on the little printed guide that came in the box. It’s dark chocolate on the outside and the center is milk chocolate with a tart overtone without any citrus notes at all. I have no clue. It was nice but lacked enough definition for me to say what it was.
Gianduja - this was not at all what I expected. I figured it would be a sticky milk chocolate like the Caffarel morsels, however, this was based in dark chocolate and thick and buttery. It had a slight nutty grain to it, but that texture was pleasant and the whole thing was suffused with hazelnut goodness. Unlike the Caffarels which demand a glass of water right after eating, this little chocolate demands that you pop another one in your mouth. I only bought one ... wah!
My biggest disappointment came with my purchase of three pates de fruit ... I traveled with them in the same box as the truffles and I’m guessing that the packaging was not airtight enough for them and they were dried out, crunchy rocks when I got them home and took their picture on Saturday (they were purchased and packaged on Thursday). Don’t get me wrong, I still ate them, and they were still flavorful and intense concentrations of fruit, but I was hoping for a repeat of my wonderful experience with the Boule pates.
Overall, they’re exceptionally pretty and wonderfully smooth but the infusions weren’t quite as distinctive as I’d hoped for the price. If you’re looking for something more subtle than Vosges, these might be a good option. The sell via their website. If you’re in SoHo, it’s worth the trip, especially for a little break in their coffee/cocoa bar (where they also have pastries).
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:41 pm
One of the best things about going to New York City is I always know I can find great Halvah there, and often Turkish Delight. I know that it’s not everyone’s favorite candy, and I’ll wager that many candy aficionados haven’t even tried it before.
Let’s face it, traditional halvah as sold at the counter of a candy shop or deli is never very appetizing. I remember the first time I had halvah; my mother returned from New York City with some wonderful baked goods (including some sort of super decadent flourless chocolate cake from Dean & Deluca) and a slice of this stuff. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed at first. What was it? How do I eat it?
Halvah (also spelled halva or halwa) is basically a crystallized paste of sesame seeds (tahini) and sugar. There are often other additions, such as nuts, dried fruit or chocolate. It can be further dressed up and dipped in chocolate or rolled in nuts.
I’m rather fond of plain halvah with pistachios. The stuff that I get here in Los Angeles is usually prepackaged and who knows how old. This halvah that we picked up at Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side ($7.99/lb.) was fresh and crumbly and smelled wonderfully of sesame and vanilla. To eat halvah I usually break off a few small pieces (each about the size of a walnut) and put them in a little ramekin and then eat it with my fingers, sometimes breaking the pieces into smaller bits. Since there’s a crystalline structure that forms as the halvah cools, it cleaves better than it cuts.
The taste is hard to describe but it’s basically a sweet paste of sesame kind of like a light, sweet peanut butter. It’s not quite like marzipan, which doesn’t dissolve completely because of the almonds. Some folks don’t like the texture, some don’t like the smell of sesame (I can’t stand the smell of toasted sesame oil, so it’s a wonder that I like this stuff at all). It’s buttery and smooth as it melts on the tongue and is quite filling. The pistachios add a dash of nuttiness to it. Overall, halvah has a slight malty taste to it, which might be why I’m attracted to it.
It’s amazing to think that I’ve never had chocolate covered halvah before, but I guess I just don’t shop at the right stores. I found these at Economy Candy around the corner from Russ & Daughters. Outside is a sweet chocolate and crushed almonds and inside is a marbled chocolate halvah cube.
They’re quite messy to eat, as you can imagine. The halvah in these is a bit softer and a little oilier. The sweet chocolate and nuts make for a very filling treat, but quite addictive. I bought a half a dozen of these (they were 50 cents each) and proceeded to eat three of them that afternoon and had to make another trip to buy more because I promised to bring some back for my mother-in-law. Who knows how many will make it to the weekend when I am going to present them to her.
I know that there’s been a huge surge in interest in Turkish Delight (also known as Turkish Paste or Lokum) since The Chronicles of Narnia came out, and I wrote a bit about that here. I like Turkish Delight in most flavors, but I’m a little unusual in that I appreciate floral flavors in my candy. It’s rather hard to find good, fresh Turkish Delight in the United States. There’s the prepackaged stuff, but I’ve heard it’s a far cry from the fresh stuff you can get in the markets in the Middle East.
This Turkish Delight was new for me. I usually get the plain squares that are flavored rather traditionally with rosewater, mint, lemon, orange or orange blossom. This was pistachio and rosewater. Let’s face it, it’s rather unappealing looking. Just a slice of jelly with pistachios embedded in it and covered with powdered sugar. At the counter where I picked it out at Economy Candy ($8.99/lb.), it was displayed as a long log, spiraled into a rather odd looking white lump. But this trip was about adventure.
Turkish Delight needs to be eaten fresh, so I ate most of this while I was still in NYC, saving about four slices (there was a half pound minimum) for the photos when I got back. This is addictive stuff and I can see why Edmund got into so much trouble even with the un-nutted stuff. It smells like light flowers and of course sugar. Biting into it, the suspension of the rosewater jelly has made the pistachios soft and buttery. The mix of the nuts which are also known for their perfumy qualities and the lightly sweet rose jelly is quite stunning. I found myself chewing and swallowing quickly just so I could take another bite. Sometimes I’d hit a spot where there was a lot of jelly and got to revel in the fragrant stickiness and other times it was all nuts. Of course every once in a while you get a bad nut and that’s no fun.
I don’t recommend it for everyone. If you’re the type of person who likes Spice Jelly Beans or the more fragrant Indian spices like cardamom and star anise, you might like Turkish Delight.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
I’ve never had a GooGoo Cluster, but I figured if I’m going to start, I’d better start at the top. I found these GooGoo Supreme at Economy Candy in NYC, which had just about everything ... except the regular GooGoo Cluster of course.
The GooGoo Supreme is made of marshmallow, caramel and pecans, all covered in milk chocolate. It’s a bit smaller bar than its bigger brother, the GooGoo Cluster, I’m guessing because of the inclusion of a premium ingredient like pecans. I prefer when companies just downsize the entire bar so that the proportions can be maintained, instead of just skimping on an element like the nuts.
I was rather excited about this combination as pecans are one of my favorite nuts and caramel and milk chocolate sound like great elements ... I wasn’t keen on the marshmallow idea, but something has to be the goo.
It’s not really gooey at all. It’s more like a turtle with a soft nougaty center. The milk chocolate is very sweet and has a slight waxy quality to it, but I’m wondering if my bars weren’t the freshest. The first one I opened (pictured) was a little chalky. The second one (the one reviewed) was quite a bit better in texture. The pecans are nice and super-abundant and the caramel gives it a soft chew. However, the whole thing descends into a sugary graininess towards the end that is just too sweet for me.
I don’t know if the bar was not fresh enough, so if I see another, I might give it another go around. I’m also still curious about the GooGoo Cluster, as I’m a fan of peanuts and caramel together.
Some history: the GooGoo Cluster boasts being the first combination candy bar (there were plenty of chocolate bars before that, but no one had thought of making combinations of ingredients and individually wrapping them like chocolate bars).
Monday, April 17, 2006
Whoo hoo! I had quite a morning down in SoHo on my last day in NYC. My first stop was at Vosges. I’d already been in NYC for a week, and I’d resisted the temptation to go upscale. But I’d done all the other scales and the trip had been pretty cheap, so here I was, throwing caution to the wind.
I’ve already tried several of the Vosges chocolate bars and though they’re fantastically expensive for chocolate bars ($6.75 each), they had flavor combinations you just don’t get from anyone else in that price range.
But I really needed to try the truffles, again, because of the flavor combinations.
Stepping into the shop, it was larger than many other little places I’d visited in NYC and it didn’t hurt that it was a Thursday morning and the only other person in the shop besides the woman behind the counter was a messenger who seemed a little lost and grateful for a little sample of chocolate before he got his bearings.
As I got my bearings by taking a few of the same samples (one was the Red Fire chocolate and the other was their version of guanduia) and became accustomed to the vibrant purple tones, I ordered a hot chocolate. They had three to chose from, a standard European style dark hot chocolate, a Red Fire, which I’d already had several of since I came to NY and then the last option on the board was a Hot White Chocolate. Now I’m not normally one to go for these sorts of things, but I hadn’t had anything to eat so far that morning (it was a little after 11AM) but it was described as an infusion of white chocolate and lavender with lemon. Sounds good enough for me. I wasn’t disappointed. It was served in a tall, narrow cylinder of a glass and it was spectacular. It was like drinking a creme brulee, but not quite so syrupy rich. Not nearly as sweet as I expected, it was creamy and rich and the citrus/floral infusion kept it feeling light and refreshing. I don’t mind spending that much at all, because I know it’s something I’m never going to make at home.
While drinking I had plenty of time to look over the truffles to make my selection:
Absinthe - an infusion of anise, fennel and pastis - lighter and more woodsy than licorice, the smooth ganache blended well. The top was sprinkled with ground Chinese star anise, which was the only part that I didn’t like, as it added a little too much grain to the experience.
Ellateria - Holy Moly! It’s the Holy Grail of cardamom chocolates. Why don’t they make a chocolate bar like this? The ganache is an infusion of dark chocolate with cardamom and white poppy seeds with more sprinkled on top. The whole box was fragranced by the cardamom, these were smooth and flavorful and just made me want more. It’s rare when a truffle makes me want to pop another in my mouth.
Poivre - yes peppercorn truffles and boy howdy is the burn nice. Telicherry black and Muntok white peppercorns in a smooth ganache and some extra crushed peppercorns on the top for a lingering tingle.
Tlan Nacu - I couldn’t even remember which one this was when I bit into it and I had to look it up. It was a nice, dark chocolate truffle with seemingly no essences to it. It turns out it was Vanilla. Hey, it was! Mellow and sweet, vanilla is a wonderful complement to chocolate.
Naga - of all of the truffles I picked out, this is the only one I had tried in bar form. Naga is coconut and curry in milk chocolate. It’s quite a stunning combination, with a strange milky quality and of course the tickly tingle of curry.
Sal del Mare - a salted caramel. This one still qualified as a truffle though. the lighter chocolate shell had two chambers, the bottom was flowing salted caramel and the top was chocolate ganache. The caramel was smooth and sweet and with a salted bite and the chocolate set it off nicely. Not nearly as shocking as some other salted caramels and this one had the added bonus of a pine nut on top to mellow all the flavors together.
(Yes, there are more truffles in the box than listed here, I did some doubles and one just for my husband that I didn’t taste.)
Overall, I think that the Vosges shop is a great destination, a little treat for yourself if you’re in one of the cities where they have a store (Chicago, NYC and Las Vegas). The quality is superb, the freshness and combination of flavors set them apart from many other trufflers. Whereas many of the other truffles and chocolates I experienced (Pierre Marcolini & Marie Belle) on this trip were the flattened kind, Vosges makes them as generous spheres that give you ample ganache for really appreciating the flavors. I don’t see myself ordering them online, but I know I’ll make an effort to see their flagship store in Chicago when I’m there in June.
The store also features some clothing and candles and other lifestyle paraphernalia, but I’m not about to start reviewing the branded merchandise that goes with chocolate. There’s a long bar with stools for sitting and enjoying a drink or truffle on site with a friend or as a solo treat, and if you play your cards right, you can get out of there for less than $10.00. But if you’re looking for a real splurge, they have a “Club Haut-Chocolat” where they’ll send you a box of nine for 13 months for a mere $490. That’s love, baby.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:33 pm
Friday, April 7, 2006
While I’m partial to Pocky, I’m trying to open up and try a few of the other dipped cookie sticks from Japan. Last week it was Yan Yan, this week I bring you Lucky Mini Almond Black.
These petite little sticks of chocolate flavored biscuit stucks are covered with a mix of dark chocolate and crushed almonds. Like Pocky, there’s a little bit of uncovered stick so you can grab it and not worry about melting the chocolate as you nibble.
The package holds a brown plastic tray with two sections filled with the sticks. Each stick is about 2.5” long. There are plenty of almonds and it’s got a good mellow crunch to the biscuit without being too sweet.
The ingredients have some oddities, including things like “cheese powder” and “cream powder” but these definitely have no hint of the cheesiness of the Yan Yan.
Overall, as a nuttier version of Pocky, this is pretty good. I actually like the high ratio of chocolate and nuts and the slightly flavored biscuit. It’s no Men’s Pocky, but it’s a great afternoon snack that doesn’t feel too decadent.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.