Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Last year I read the book Sweets: a History of Candy by Tim Richardson. For a book about candy, there wasn’t much of the “modern” candy that we’re familiar with, instead a large portion of the book was spent on tracing the evolution of sugar and early candied fruits. Later it documents the rise of pastilles in the mid 1500s in Europe as sugar became available. The most basic definition is “a kernel of something coated with sugar.” It can be a nut (like Jordan Almonds) or a seed, like Anis de Flavigny.
The pastille was often the work of a pharmacist or herbalist, not a confectioner. They started with seeds or herbs that were prescribed for various reasons (fever, digestion, impotence), then coated with sugar syrup, tossed in a pan and repeated until layer upon layer is built up. The most talented pharmacists made beautiful pastilles that looked like shimmering opalescent spheres and were kept as if they were treasures as well, inside ornate boxes, often locked by the lady of the household.
Anis de l’Abbaye Flavigny may have one of the longest histories of a candy, as the town of Flavigny may have been making the little candies since Roman times. Whatever the timeline and beginnings may be, in modern times the pastilles have been made by confectioners in those largely unchanged traditions. Anis de Flavigny is one of those companies that has been carrying on for hundreds of years. Each pastille takes fifteen days to make ... they are labor intensive (though the materials themselves are rather cheap). They still start with a single fennel seed and (as you can see from the photo) a sugar syrup is poured over it, tumbled until dry then repeated dozens of times. (See the Anis de Flavigny site.)
Anis de Flavigny makes a large array of delicately distinctive flavors, all rather classic and old world.
Anise, Licorice, Rose, Violet, Orange Blossom and Mint. The tins tell a little story as two lonesome young people pine in solitude, then meet, share their candies and finally consummate their affection (on the violet tin - which modestly only shows us the flowers and not our young lovers).
I’m quite taken with them. I’ve been eating them since I was a kid. I know they’re not particularly snazzy. The tins are simple (though redesigned recently, they still look classic) and the candy unchanged by time and trends.
The only trend it appears they’ve responded to is that they now have an Organic line. The only difference I can tell is that the sugar is not pure white, so the little pastilles are a little beige. I kind of like the look. The flavors are the same, though I did have Ginger in the organics that I’ve not had in the regular ones.
The little candies have a slightly soft and rough feeling to the surface. The sugar itself is dense and even the package warns you against crunching them. (I do, but they have to get down to about a third of their size.) I liked to eat mine two at a time, rolling them around on my tongue like Chinese health balls. The friction of the pastilles against each other releases the sugar a bit faster. Call me impatient. But I do have a dexterous tongue and can also tie a cherry stem in a knot with it. Not that I eat cherries that often.
The floral candies (orange blossom, violet and rose) have a lovely soft flavor to them without feeling soapy. They’re great for getting rid of bad breath, especially since they take so long to dissolve. The spicier flavors like anise and licorice are rooty and natural tasting without feeling artficial (pretty much because they’re not). The mint is softer than many of the modern super-mints like Altoids with a smooth melt on the tongue and an even amount of mint. The flavor is strong as you dissolve the first few layers away and then mellows out. Towards the center the gentle hint of anise from the fennel seed emerges.
I was quite excited to have a full set of their most popular flavors, which I picked up at the Fancy Food Show in January. It’s taken me months to get through all of them. Not because I didn’t want to eat them, but they just last so dang long. I love each and every flavor. Yes, they’re really expensive at $2 to $3 a tin. (I don’t know why I can’t find the assorted package online.) I prefer them to just about every other breath mint on the market. It was a little unclear if the organic line will be available in the States because of the differing certification processes.
Italy also has their long-standing tradition of panned sweets with the Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano company. They not only do the small pastille dragee but also a wider variety of panned spices, fruits and nuts. I’ll have a profile of those at some point as well.
Friday, April 6, 2007
Pure Fun sent me some Fair Trade and Organic Cotton Candy last year (who knew such a thing existed?). It’s really not that they created a more socially responsible treat that got me, it was that they made it in Root Beer and Maple flavors! This year I got to visit them at their booth at Expo West. Let me say that they’re the best kind of candy people - friendly, inviting and eager to share. I see the whole ample samples as a sign of confidence in their product.
And I’m not let down. Their candies don’t look like a compromise when it comes to all the best things about hard candies: they look tasty. Glossy, luminous, brightly colored and with a wide assortment to please most folks.
The Citrus Slices are drop dead gorgeous. And the taste does not disappoint. They’re tart, flavorful and just the right size (a little smaller than a regular starlight mint). Lime, Orange & Lemon. (Everyone knows I would also like to see a grapefruit in this mix.)
Barrels of Fun - root beer float with vanilla. I would have preferred a straight root beer barrel, but this was nice. More on the smooth and creamy side of things than the zesty tingle of a root beer.
Chocolate Meltdowns - tangerine, raspberry & pepsin with chocolatey centers. These were the ones I liked the least of all of them. The flavorful outsides were great, but the lack of chocolate punch on the inside made me wish they were just plain old solid candies.
Fruit Rocks - goji berry, pomegranate, honey lemon & sour green apple. Really sassy and flavorful. I can’t say that Goji Berry is really my favorite flavor in the world, but the honey lemon was great and a less artificial tasting green apple rocks.
I tried Yummy Earth last year at the All Candy Expo when they introduced their all natural Organic Lollipops. Not just the plain old flavors like lemon and orange but also pomegranate, raspberry and watermelon.
They have a line of hard candies to go with their lollies in both fruity flavors and peppermint. These are a little different, a little smaller than regular hard candies.
Larger than Altoids but smaller than regular hard candy disks.
I covered Wet Faced Watermelon, Cheeky Lemon & Pomegranate Pucker over here. The new flavors for me were:
Mango Tango - this pretty little swirled candy. I’m not sure what the mango was tango-ing with, but it was definitely tropical. Kind of like a Bonne Bell lipsmacker with a REAL kick of flavor.
Peppermint (not shown) - this was very strong, much like an Altoid only smoother. I took these on Whale Watching trips all winter.
Either one of these brands has the right attitude ... don’t make your candy look all mousy and plain ... jazz it up with vibrant colors to match their vibrant flavors.
Of course they’re a little more expensive, but my guess is that the economies of scale will kick in as more people demand organic and all natural stuff and the prices will drop.
I’ve seen some of the Yummy Earth in Whole Foods but you can also buy direct from them on their website and Pure Fun is available at Whole Foods.
Both products are organic, gmo-free, no artificials flavors, no synthetics, no gluten, no casein, kosher, vegetarian ... and vegan ... whew!
Monday, March 26, 2007
I thought I was done with the series of Easter candy, but then I remembered that I had these organic treats that I picked up at Show West.
Surf Sweets is a line of organic candies made by Santa Cruz Nutritionals. No artificial colors, no artificial sweeteners, non-GMO and gluten free but they look and taste just like mass-consumer brands.
The treats I’m sampling are their Jelly Beans, Fruity Bears and Gummy Bears. Since their colors are natural, they look a little more muted than many other candies, but still very pleasant and sparkly. Surf Sweets are also fortified with vitamin C (though it takes half a package to get a full day’s supply).
The jelly beans started off with a bang when I picked up the light yellow one and found it to be a tasty grapefruit. The beans are about the size of Jelly Belly, but a little less regular in shape. The shell was a little more grainy than many other jelly beans I’ve had lately, but very fruity with a good balance of sweet and tart. The other flavors, as far as I could tell were: Lemon, Orange, Cherry (no bitter aftertaste!) and Strawberry.
These are marked Vegetarian on the package, using fruit pectin as the gelling agent. They do have beeswax on them so some vegans may find them objectionable.
The little sugar sanded bears are very cute. They seem to come in the same flavor set as the jelly beans: Grapefruit, Lemon, Orange, Cherry & Strawberry.
I liked these a lot. I liked them a lot more than the jelly beans because the flavor was in the jelly, not in the sugary coating. The citrus flavors were my favorite.
These are also marked vegetarian but contain beeswax.
The Gummy Bears honestly looked no different than any other gummi. The little bear shapes were rather like the Trolli with their well definted paws and eyes. The gummi texture was bouncy with excellent well rounded flavor - good sweetness, good fruit and good tart. The flavors themselves were a little muddier in their distinctiveness. There was a berry, lemon and orange. There may have been two berry flavors, the colors weren’t that different and neither were the flavors.
These were not vegetarian because of the presence of gelatin and not completely organic.
I found them online for $1.75 a bag, which is about $10 a pound ... a bit more than Jelly Bellies and other gourmet sugar candies. If you’re looking for a slightly more wholesome candy for your kids (especially for their Easter basket) that doesn’t look like a compromise to them (unless they’re reading the packages), this is a great option. The flavor and eating experience is exactly the same - so your kids won’t feel like they’re getting a compromise candy. Let’s face it, part of the appeal of candy to kids is the look of it, and these gummi bears, in the palm of your hand, look like gummi bears. They won’t miss the artificial colors.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Theo Chocolate is a new company that makes fair trade, organic chocolate from bean to bar (and bonbon) right in Seattle. Think about it ... they start with the raw materials and create not only the chocolate but go on to craft the fine ganaches and couveture - all without the use of pesticides, hormones or chemical fertilizers and giving the cacao folks a fair price for their beans. There are very few chocolate makers out there that do that, anywhere in the world, let alone here in the states. The only one that even comes close in the bean to bonbon arena Michel Cluizel in France.
I got to try just about everything Theo Chocolates makes at the Fancy Food Show last month including their Confections Collection.
Earl Grey - a beautifully smooth ganache with a rich and dark blend of tea and bergamot flavors in equally rich chocolate.
Ivory Coast - the essential chocolate truffle, dark and smooth with a buttery feel that helps with the woodsy and bitter notes of the chocolate.
Peanut Butter & Jelly - yes, right next to the most upscale of all chocolate expressions is the PB&J except this peanut butter is a praline (kind of crystallized) with a raspberry fruit paste to die for.
Fig Fennel - this has to be the homerun hit of the entire box. Not just because it’s so wonderfully flavorful, but because I’ve never had this combination in quite this way before.
Mint - it’s like it was muddled just for me only moments ago ... the mint tastes that fresh.
Peanut Butter - like the PB&J, this one has a peanut butter praline that’s not sweet at all but has a wonderful woodsy, nutty crunch to it. A little dry.
Scotch - exceptional with its savory smoky notes like tobacco and leather mixed in with the butter and raisin notes of the chocolate.
Burnt Sugar - I’ve had several of these now, the effect is rather like a light creme brulee, with all the flavor of the crusty sugar top and all the creaminess of chocolate and heavy cream in the truffle.
Lemon - the white truffle of the pack, it’s really lemony without being sticky white-chocolate sweet. It has both the tangy notes and the zesty flavors.
Vanilla - very vanilla, with little flecks of it in the ultra-smooth ganache and an overall bourbon note.
(I shared this box with my husband and he ate the Ginger truffle.)
These might be my new favorite chocolates, if only they were easier to get a hold of. I’ve not been to the factory, so I don’t know if you can just go in there and buy singles (or a whole box of one flavor). No compromises ... that’s what it’s all about. It’s still a guilty pleasure, but fewer things to feel guilty about.
I also have a complete assortment of their bars that I’m working my way through, so stay tuned for the reviews of those.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
I’ve been more pleased with Russell Stover over the years. It could be that my tastes have mellowed or it may be that Russell Stover is making better quality product, but they’re still not a go-to brand for me. What really surprised me is their move into organics. So I picked up their Organic Pecan Delights just before Valentine’s Day. They come in a peg bag that’s all green and matte looking with a little burst of rich gold for the “organic” banner. It’s also heralded as “gluten free” which I would love to hear if I were someone who was hunting in the candy aisle for something I could eat.
Pecan Delights are a pecan cluster with caramel covered in milk chocolate. All ingredients are organic, except maybe the sea salt and it’s unclear if the soy lecithin is.
These are upside down. The caramel is on the bottom, the nuts (in pieces, not halves) are on the top and the whole thing is covered in chocolate. Don’t worry, it’s not that big of a faux pax as candy constructions go.
They’re a little small but a nice barely two bite piece of candy. The nuts are fresh and the caramel is decent. It’s chewy and not too soft or sweet. The chocolate on the outside is a little odd, it’s not quite the European powdered milk taste, but close, with a slight gamey quality to it. (It reminds me of the Thompson’s Organic Milk Chocolate.)
Overall they’re not my favorite pecan caramel cluster I’ve had, but I did finish the bag (it was only 3 ounces total), which is a testament to their freshness. The ingredients label is much more comforting than some other Russell Stover goodies, so there is that consolation. I wish they came in dark chocolate, but for a first step into organics they’re no-compromise. They also have their rather good coconut bar available in their organic line (also only in milk chocolate). If price is the object and not the organic status, stick with See’s.
On a completely side note, Russell Stover is having a big clearance sale on their Valentine’s candies on their website. So if you’re ga-ga over their Coconut or Strawberry Hearts, this might be the time to stock up.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
I got this fabulous box of from CocoaVino as a Christmas gift. Cocovino is one of those companies that sells the story & the experience as much as the product. The pride themselves on their Eco-Forward ideals (organic ingredients, fair trade, wind powered kitchen and environmentally sensitive packaging).
The collection is simply called BonBons. The array features six different flavors arranged in pairs, each with a different chocolate and spirit/wine combination.
Bacchanal - Malbec and dark chocolate - dark and complex, it has a lot of the fruity raisin and plum flavors you’d expect from a wine grape.
Roman Holiday - espresso and Sambuca - a mild chocolate and coffee mix, nice and smooth without bitterness.
Tango Nostalgico - dulce de leche and Spanish Mintilla Moriles wine - interesting, but I don’t think the tang of the wine mixed well with the caramelized milk.
Raspberry Beret - raspberry, as you’d expect. Fragrant and fruity, a classic combo with chocolate. Not much of a tangy bite, but that’s no problem for me.
Baci al Limone - limoncello in white chocolate. I’m a big fan of limoncello (though I find it a bit too sweet and like to add some extra lemon zest to it) and of course the smoothness of a white chocolate is a great base, especially with the balance of the dark shell.
Queen of the Harvest - Sherry and dark chocolate - even darker than the other chocolates. I wasn’t able to get many of the sherry notes as they blend so well with the normal chocolate flavors. Tasty.
The other item on their site that intrigues me is their Fig Caramel. (Please chime in if you’ve tried them.)
As a Valentine’s gift, these are an excellent idea for a foodie or as a sensual gift to share with someone special. The BonBon box comes with each of the flavors in pairs, so it’s a natural idea that you could both have one and discuss the different textures and notes that you sense. They’re a bit on the expensive side (this box retails for $31) but then again everyone is getting paid a living wage and someone had to build those windmills.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Premium Organic : Smooth Organic Dark Chocolate with Cherry (70% cocoa). Yes, it’s dark. The bar is gorgeously glossy and smells of tart fruit, smoke and coffee. For such a dark bar, it is sweet. It has a nice melt, but a slight chalky feel on the tongue. The black cherry comes across with all the floral fragrance, but without much of the tartness that characterizes the dried fruits.
Though I’ve professed that I don’t like cherry flavor, I have no problem with actual cherries, so this was an agreeable bar.
This bar is organic and fair trade.
Dark Chocolate with Raspberries (70%). This bar has an equally smoky taste to it, dark and floral with some woodsy notes. It’s not as sweet as the cherry bar, but has the same sort of grain on the tongue towards the end of the melt. There are real bits of raspberries in there (including the seed) which give a little tangy zap every once in a while. The infusion of raspberry flavor wasn’t really there, but the scent lingered over the whole bar. This went really well with coffee or a savory snack like salted almonds or pretzels.
This bar is ethically traded.
I went to Target last night and noticed a nice selection of the Premium Organic line right at the check out stand candy rack. So this brand is getting much easier to find. Have you spotted it anyplace other than the Whole-Foods-style markets?
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
It seems kind of weird to want to find milk chocolate without milk in it, but I know that there are some folks that are dairy free and are looking for that creamy consistency of a milk chocolate without the milk in it. If you’re a vegan it’s not like you can’t have chocolate, after all, the cacao bean is just another seed. But in this day and age, you’d be amazed at how often dairy products are put into even what should be plain old dark chocolate.
Enter Terra Nostra which offers a non-dairy line made with Rice Milk which is also organic to boot!
Ricemilk Choco - 57% cacao solids. The plain Ricemilk Choco has a pleasant sweet smell with a light chocolate aroma. The look of the bar is also pretty becoming, light and glossy with a good snap. On the tongue it has a good buttery melt, but it’s extremely sweet. There’s also a nutty taste to it, and upon looking at the ingredients I understand why, there are ground hazelnuts in there! It’s kind of like a super-mild guandujia.
The thick sweetness wasn’t quite to my liking, but I had high hopes for the rest of the line.
Ricemilk Choco with Almonds - 57% cacao solids. The almonds make a huge difference in the flavor of this bar for me. The mellow nuts balance out the sweetness. There’s a more noticeable hit of salt in this bar too, even though I know it’s the same chocolate, the sweetness of the almonds gives it a great balance.
The almonds are just slivers and pieces, not full nuts, but I kind of prefer mine that way. They were rather light in color, not a toasty brown, so they added more texture than flavor.
Ricemilk Choco Dark Truffle Center - 56% cacao solids. This bar has a ricemilk chocolate outside and a dark truffle inside. The truffle center is rather solid, though slightly softer than the chocolate itself. The light bar here is sweet and the filling is a little less so, but still very buttery. Most truffles are made with the addition of dairy fats (cream or butter) to chocolate to create that hyperfatty tongue-feel. Instead this truffle uses unknown vegetable fats, which I don’t usually care for, since they have a different melting point than dairy fats and of course cocoa butter (yes, cocoa butter is a vegetable fat, but it’s a very special vegetable fat).
Of the three bars, my first favorite was the Almond one, second is the Truffle. I really didn’t like the plain one at all, it was just too sweet without any interesting texture or other notes to it.
Overall, I have to say that I’m impressed and pleased with this vegan line. I usually approach dietary substitutions with trepidation - I’m the type of person who would rather drink their coffee black than use non-dairy creamer. When it comes to choosing between a mock product or nothing at all, I usually go for nothing and wait until I get get a hold of the real thing. But Terra Nostra has done a good job here of bringing the creaminess to their already great organic dark chocolate that emulates the milk chocolate experience pretty well. I’m guess the fact that rice milk is already pretty sweet is what makes the plain bar a little over the top for me.
All the bars are certified organic an stamped with the Equi-Trade fair trade symbol.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.