Wednesday, April 26, 2006
One of the most talked-about candy stores in New York City has to be Dylan’s Candy Bar. Unlike Economy Candy, Dylan’s is all about display and experience. Also unlike Economy Candy: you pay a premium.
Located on Third Avenue at 60th Street - it’s a tony address - though not quite Park Avenue it is kitty-corner from Bloomingdale’s. If I could compare the store to something it would be FAO Schwartz. The store is brightly lit and on two levels. The street level boasts a large ice cream bar and featured huge Easter displays when I visited. The ceiling fixtures and shelves are candy themed, with large panels looking like some sort of vine of lollipops growing into the ceiling and large rainbow colored candy canes.
Dylan’s Candy Bar sells a huge range of products, both edible and wearable. The big feature, of course, is candy. The cornerstone is bulk candy and the bins are everywhere. They had a huge selection of all the sugar candy you can think of: gummis, Jelly Belly, Dubble Bubble flavored gumballs and licorice. They have chocolate too, from M&Ms (Colorworks), chocolate covered Oreos and malted milk balls as well as their own line of fine chocolates and flavored Belgian chocolate bars.
There were plenty of folks on hand to help out, none of the lines were very long (I expected the place to be crowded before Easter, but I did make sure to go on a weekday at lunch instead of on the weekend). The salesfolk seemed knowledgeable about the inventory too, which is a pretty big accomplishment with such a wide number of products. The prices for the bulk candies ran about $9.99 and they had some funky stuff, not just in the bulk bins but some fun displays. They had a HUGE selection of PEZ and a great big display of favorite candies chosen by famous people on the lower level. (Frankly, I don’t care much what famous people eat ... I’ll probably care when they ask me to do a custom mix.) There’s lots to look at and do in the store and I saw some children running around having the time of their lives (and their parents looked pretty pleased, too).
Their website features quite a few regional candy bars, so I was hoping to find an Idaho Spud, but it seems that they were fresh out. But I was able to find my Nut Goodie there and I also picked up a few other items that I’ll write about soon. There were also some funky items in the bins, like banana flavored gummi bears and a large selection of candy sticks in a wide variety of flavors and lollipops of all shapes, sizes and colors.
As I mentioned, Dylan’s Candy Bar has their own line of chocolate bars, so I picked up a nice assortment. They come in 10 different flavor combinations, but I picked of the little 1.75” tasting squares as an introduction:
Dark Raspberry - it was a nice dark chocolate bar. Not terribly sweet with a good overtone of raspberry essence to it, but none of the tart bite. The berry flavors mixed well with the earthy and fruity notes of the chocolate itself.
Dark - glossy and dark, there was no indication of the cocoa content here or on the website. It was nice, a little on the smoky side, but very smooth and a tad bit sweet.
Hazelnut - this bar is in the Guanduja-style, the first ingredient is hazelnut paste and the rest of the bar is made up of milk chocolate. It’s soft and creamy and a bit sticky feeling. The overwhelming flavor here is not the hazelnuts but the whole milk powder. The nuts add a level of satisfaction to the bar, but the milkiness just beats the nuttiness out of it to my dismay.
Dark Espresso (unwrapped) - a nice snap but a fair bit of grain in this bar from the ground coffee in it. The coffee flavor itself was good but completely overwhelmed the chocolate flavors and it seemed much sweeter than the Raspberry bar.
Can you tell I’m underwhelmed?
Maybe it started with their frustrating website, maybe I’m spoiled, but I want more info on my purchases. (I had a similar experience in the store.) Maybe I have no idea what a clodhopper is and the clothing ... maybe they could give me info on the fiber content. I want to know how much is in the package, and I want some indication of ingredients.
Maybe the article I read last year about Dylan Lauren rubbed me the wrong way and that’s colored my evaluation of the store. The NY Times line that got me was this:
What’s most interesting is that as I was there, I did not see “The Candy Girl” shopping there. I’m not the sexy, young, thin woman she pursues as a demographic (though maybe two out of four counts). As much as she might be positioning herself that way, the store is about kids - the displays obviously acknowledge that as there was quite a bit of the merchandise marketed to the under-four-foot set. While the store makes it socially acceptable for an adult to come in there and make a purchase(s), a destination like this will always be about children.
The other frustration is the price. Candy bars like the Nut Goodie I picked up are $1.49 and the bulk candy, such as Swedish Fish, in a plain plastic bag is $9.99 a pound. The same candy bar at Economy Candy is $.69 and probably about $1.00 at any of the many corner stores in NYC. The same Swedish Fish at Economy Candy were $3.49 a pound. What are you paying for here? Convenience of the address? Packaging? Isn’t that what Ralph Lauren has been selling us for years anyway? Except RL wasn’t taking Levi’s 501s and slapping his own logo on them and selling them for $100 a pair. Is Dylan’s Candy Bar doing that by taking other brands of candy and just dumping them into a clear plastic paint can?
Though I struggle with the the premium I pay at Vosges or Jacques Torres (which is like a fantasy land as well) I can rationalize it because they own their merchandise; they formulated it, they invented it, they make it. When I go into a mega-mart like Target or Toys-r-Us I expect better prices. Dylan’s just throws all of those expectations out the window. Sure, they have their own line of chocolates, but they sell everyone else’s too. They’re just selling you a brand, a bag and a logo. Sure, I have a similar complaint with the candy stores in malls where everything is in bulk bins and they’re selling it all for $8 a pound, whether you’re picking up plain old peppermint hard candies, gummi bears or M&Ms. But when I’m in Santa Rosa, CA, my candy store choices are limited and I accept the premium for variety. Dylan’s is in NYC, one of the most candy cities I’ve ever visited and Economy Candy is a scant four miles away.
I did enjoy browsing the displays, but the frugal part of me couldn’t get over the prices or the sheer gall of selling something that probably cost about $2 a pound wholesale for $10. There were candies there that I haven’t been able to find in other stores, so I appreciate that there were unique items there and there was a wide price range as well so you could get out of there with a bag of candy for under $5 with careful decision making. Part of the attraction of candy for me has always been its affordability and Dylan’s takes that part of the fun away. It’s no longer a simple pleasure, it’s an expensive one.
As the Candy Blogger, I’ll probably return. But as a simple candy consumer, it’s not a place I’d patronize. I found my second home in New York, it’s Economy Candy.
Dylan’s Candy Bar
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Oh dreadful day, I’m gonna just relieve you of any curiosity about these. They’re just bad.
Necco Smoothies are a new set of flavors of the good old fashioned Necco wafers. Smoothies, I’m guessing, are supposed to be fruit shake flavors. The package says: Blueberry, Banana Caramel, Tropical, Peach and Strawberry Creme.
The colors just weren’t doing it for me either. The chalky tablets looked more like antacids or perhaps some barrettes I had when I was in middle school. But I closed my eyes and went for the taste test:
White = Tropical: What does that mean? I think it was supposed to be pina colada or something with coconut in it. It was mild and pleasant. Not overtly flavorful, but simply sweet.
Yellow = Banana Caramel: Hey, this one’s pretty good, it reminds me of the long-lost Wacky Wafers. It’s not all banana, there’s a little hint of the caramelized sugar in there.
Orange = Peach: I know I mention my feelings for cherry flavored things from time to time, and this means that I’ve neglected my detestment for all things peach flavored. Don’t get me wrong, I love peaches. I just don’t like peach flavored things.
Blue = Blueberry: things flavored like blueberries never taste like blueberries. In fact, blueberries have very little flavor to me; they’re all about the texture. Sure, they’re sweet and tangy, but when you close your eyes and forget about what you’re eating, they taste kind of like iced tea. Maybe it’s the antioxidants or polyphenols or whatever in there that tea and blueberries have in common, but I’m happy to eat fresh blueberries but I don’t want blueberry flavored things.
Pink = Strawberry Creme: The strawberry flavor is very strong and has a slight tang to it, like a yogurt. It wasn’t offensive or off balance like the peach, but it wasn’t really that pleasant either. The chalkiness of the candy itself and the attempt at a creme flavor just reek of insincerity.
Now, I might be alone here in my estimation for these. Amy, my neighbor and co-worker seems to think that these are pretty good. She liked the Peach, she liked the Blueberry! Hey, that makes me the best next door neighbor ever ... all the flavors I don’t like, she’ll eat.
What I’ve always liked about the original Neccos is that I will eat all the flavors (except clove). So there’s value there. Same with Lifesavers, SweeTarts, Skittles and Starbursts. Sure, there are flavors I don’t like, but it’s usually one. If I’m not going to eat 3/5 of the flavors in a roll of Smoothies, it’s a total loss as far as I’m concerned.
Anyway, so you can see from the photo what the color/flavor distribution in this roll was. So I’ve eaten all the Banana and the Tropical, and I’m left with this huge pile of Strawberry, Peach and Blueberry. I wonder if they’ll make good sidewalk chalk?
Note: Do take a moment and visit the Necco website. It is a little behind (highlighting Easter candies, but maybe they’re just letting people come look at the stuff because they’re still buying it on sale) but it’s nicely done and provides a lot more information about their history and candies than many other sites run by bigger companies. There’s even a section that shows how Necco Wafers are made.
Monday, April 24, 2006
You know if I’m not eating candy or writing about candy, I’m out on the internet reading about candy and looking at candy photos.
Last week I stumbled across two incredible sets of photos on Flickr, here’s a small sample:
I emailed him, and he gave me the story behind it. He collected a barrel of candy (50 gallons!) for Halloween as part of his work as a youth pastor. They did a huge challenge called the Pumpkin Hunt for middle and high school aged kids, kind of like a treasure hunt:
Wow, way harder than Trick-or-Treat, but it sounds a lot more fun. I wonder if the winner got the whole 50 gallons?
About a month ago a friend went to Seattle. Being a good friend she asked me if I wanted anything (knowing it would be a candy request). I told her that several people recommended Fran’s Chocolates, specifically their salt caramels. I even emailed her the locations of their shops to help her find the place.
Well, as luck would have it, she was up there for a panel discussion and one of the hospitality gifts was this package of Gray Salt Caramels ... so they must be famous!
The side of the package heralds them as “Award Winning! Soft butter caramels sprinkled with flavorful gray sea salt harvested off the Brittany Coast.”
I had to do some digging, I saw on their website that the caramels won the 2003 NASFT Outstanding Confection award, but I had no clue what NASFT was. Turns out it’s the The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, so I guess it’s like the Oscars (tm) for fancy food. (The run the fancy food shows in San Francisco, Chicago and New York ... something for me to put on my list o’ things to do.)
The caramels are covered in dark chocolate which helps to highlight the flavors. The caramel is sweet and the chocolate is smooth and creamy and the salt make it all pop. If anything, the salt makes it all taste creamier and richer. The salt itself had a more musky, deep flavor to it than regular table salt (yes, I tried the salt grains alone).
Salted Caramels are all the rage now, I’ve seen quite a few varieties in the past year or so, but I guess Fran’s was one of the first to present them. The large salt grains give a good textural addition besides the obvious salty pop. They’re very satisfying and vibrant on the tongue, but they don’t beg to be eaten over and over again. I had the package for quite a while and didn’t eat them all in one sitting, nor did I want to.
They’re fantastic, but they feel very special. I wouldn’t want a whole box of them, but I’d like a box of Fran’s candy and have a few of these sprinkled in (like this mix).
I’m definitely keen on trying other chocolates in Fran’s line. You can read more about the history of this Seattle Chocolatier on their website.
Kate at Accidental Hedonist also posted about these last week! So at David Lebovitz’s suggestion, I ate the last one upside-down, so that that salt hit my tongue first ... quite intense!
Friday, April 21, 2006
One of the must-see chocolate places in NYC is Jacques Torres. Even if you’re not a fan of their chocolate or have little money, it’s still an event. There are two locations in New York, one in Brooklyn and one on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Billed as Chocolate Haven, it truly is a delight for the eyes. The factory is wide open to witness from the street as they craft their handmade chocolate bars and when I was there they were packaging all of their hand-cast Easter goodies. From inside the store you get more than a view, you also get the scents and sounds.
But the best way to appreciate the innards of chocolate making though is from the Chocolate Haven shop. The glass walls enclose this little slice of sweetness and there’s ample room to move around and stop for a cup of hot chocolate at the chocolate bar.
I had a cup of custom blended Wicked (spiced chocolate) and Orange. It was smooth and sweet but not at all sticky. However, it was so rich and the portion (the smallest) was far too much for me to finish. As much as I tried, I couldn’t manage more than half of it.
Again, a little cup of hot chocolate helps me to keep my wits about me in such a place, it satisfies the chocolate craving and keeps me from going nuts and buying everything or gobbling it up as soon as I get away from the cash register with my purchases.
These little bunnies are just cute as bunnies. They’re each a little bigger than my thumb (which is kinda small) and were a good sampling of the Jacques Torres chocolate. The package was very light and as I guessed, they’re hollow ... so the whole thing weighed about 1.4 ounces. It cost $5.
The Dark Chocolate bunny tasted much like the hot chocolate. Smooth and rich with a slight dry finish, it wasn’t terribly complex but had some good woodsy/smoky qualities. I’m guessing this was the house blend variety of their chocolate which is 60% cocoa. The Milk Chocolate was quite sweet and has the European flavor to it, it was also very smooth but with a more fudgy quality to it. It’s one of those milk chocolates that begs you to eat more of it. The White Chocolate was really quite nice too. It’s true white chocolate in the sense that it’s made with cocoa butter and not tropical oils. It smelled very sweet and in fact tasted that way too, but had a slight caramel/vanilla note to it that made it much better than a bowlful of sugar.
They were all very nice, but for the price, first, I’d want solid chocolate. At this rate a pound of little bunnies would be over $50. I understand that more intense products like truffles demand a higher price, but these hardly qualified for such a premium. Not when the single bars of 3.5 ounces sell for $4.
This was my favorite purchase. I almost missed these too, they were placed up at the register and if I hadn’t already picked out the bunnies, I wouldn’t have even bought anything.
These are candied slices of orange that are then dipped in dark chocolate. They are absolutely gorgeous confections. I just couldn’t resist buying them because I knew they would photograph well. Luckily I love candied citrus peel, so I was really looking forward to these. They were just as dense and rich as I’d hoped. The orange slices were soft and juicy and not too sweet. The rind carried strong orange essences without the slightest bit of bitterness. A well-candied citrus rind bears more fruit flavor than a marmalade, which often tastes of sugar syrup.
I’ve not tried the rest of the Jacques Torres line of chocolates, so I can’t comment on the truffles or other chocolate covered goodies. They’re pricey though, but the visit to their shop provides a bit more value to the brand. I give them higher marks than the sole merits of the chocolate in the bunnies, the orange was extraordinary and gives me the confidence to recommend the other chocolate covered goodies I saw. There were fun items like chocolate covered corn flakes, graham crackers and cranberries and traditional fare like apricots, ginger and pretzels. Where the Scharffen Berger line has always been rather traditional in its expression (and I love that) I don’t care so much for the chocolate, just for the filling. Here the chocolate worked as the perfect complement to the orange and I reckon it would make even pedestrian items like corn flakes tasty.
Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven
I was prompted to seek out this Pearson’s bar after enjoying both the Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll and later the Bun Bars (especially the Maple Bun).
But here’s the question, how is this one different from the Bun Maple? Both are a maple fondant center covered in peanuts and milk chocolate. I had to taste it to find out.
There is no difference in size, they’re both 1.75 ounces and their packaging is sized identically. In fact, they look strikingly similar.
But they don’t taste the same. I don’t know what to attribute this to, but the Nut Goodie is neither a Maple Bun nor a Vanilla Bun. Since I had the wrapper from the Bun still lying around I did a comparison:
Maple Bun Bar.....................................Nut Goodie
So there you have it, they’re different. The Maple Bun, though it lists no maple flavoring, had a stronger mapleness to it, but the Nut Goodie is no slouch. It’s a good bar. The fondant center is a little more dense and has a good sweetness with a balanced slight hit of salt that brings out a more subtle maple/toasted note to it. The nuts are top notch and the milk chocolate is smooth and sweet and of good quality.
I doubt I’ll see many of these around, but if you’re a Maple Bun fan and you can’t find those, this might be a tasty substitute. I’d still like to see these made in a bar form instead of the plop, as it’s a bit harder to eat.
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.
It’s not that I’ve never had Chuckles, but it’s been a very, very long time. I don’t actually know who eats Chuckles. It’s not me. And it’s pretty hard to figure it out because I never see them being sold, let alone being eaten.
The last time I remember seeing them was in a vending machine on the campus of Kent State University in the basement of the building where my father worked ... this would be around 1978. I probably bought them. I loved that vending machine, it was super-cheap and sometimes dispensed two candy bars, it was like a slot machine! (Except when you win candy you can’t really stuff it back in the coin slot to try to win more.)
What sets this flavor assortment apart is the first one:
Licorice - light and refreshing, a completely different experience from the doughy/molasses experience of black licorice vines. The licorice isn’t overpowering but nice and smooth.
Cherry - this is one of the worst and for lots of personal reasons. It reminds me of medicine, like so many of those cough potions and penicillin elixirs of my youth, I just can’t bring myself to like cherry that much. This is sweet and strong and has a slight bitter, poison note to it that I’m never sure is the color or the actual cherry flavor.
Orange - wonderfully zesty without much of a tart hint to it at all. It was so orangy that it left a slight burning tingle to the inside of my lips. Maybe Chuckles can be called the Altoids of jelly candies?
Lemon - zesty, light and sparkly. The zest actually lends a little bitter note in the middle to this one, but I don’t mind it a bit because it reminds me of real lemon rinds.
Lime - well, there’s always the underdog in every flavor mix and lime is it here. It’s everything you’d expect from a circa 1920 lime candy - the essence of a clean floor. It’s kind of sad that the fabulous flavor of lime was co-opted by the cleaning moguls, but there you have it, for at least two generations the scent of lime just can’t be separated from the smell of a clean bathroom. Even with all its baggage, I still ate the whole piece (not true with the cherry one) and wondered what was so bad with associating a piece of candy with sparkling tiles?
Now, I like jelly candies. I do find myself pining for Spearmint Leaves and Orange Slices from time to time, but I don’t really care for buying a half pound of them, which is usually how they’re sold. But then again, when I want Spearmint Leaves, Chuckles aren’t going to scratch that itch and maybe if I’m in the mood for citrus, I’m not going to want that licorice or cherry. The point is, no one else sells a single serving of jelly candies like this and these are really good versions of a jelly candy because the flavors are so intense. Now I’ve gotten myself all worked up and I’m a little sad they don’t sell these around here.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.