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?
Friday, June 2, 2006
All the upscale chocolate bar makers are doing single origin bars lately. I was pretty excited about the Dagoba bars, because they’re organic and they’re ethically traded (some is Fair Trade Certified). I’ve enjoyed Dagoba chocolate in the past and my only complaint really has been that they’re skimpy on the inclusions when they feature nuts or fruit.
I’ve not seen this array of tasting squares in stores, so I ordered it online.
The assortment contains four each of the Pacuare and Los Rios, and only two of the Milagros. The little tasting squares are 9 grams each and have the same design on them - a set of crossing lines and then a little V with some leaves, which I’m guessing signifies varietal.
Pacuare - Costa Rican Trinitario (68%) - lovely medium chocolate brown tones with a good snap and instant melt on the tongue. Strong smoky & toasted notes and tart bite. There are some interesting charcoal elements with a little bit of a pepper burn right before the finish. The acidity is only noticeable at the start and it finishes quite sweet.
Los Rios - Ecuador Arriba (68%) - dark and lustrous. Immediate coffee notes with a good buttery melt. Rather Sweet and not too acidic but a strongly dry finish. The oddest flavor note I found in this bar (consistently across several of the squares) was an olive note. I thought I was nuts at first but with four bars to try, I noticed it on two of them.
Milagros - Peruvian Amazonia (68%) - wonderfully buttery with some notes of cinnamon and raisin. A nice dry finish with a little tart, acidic bite. The smoothest of the bunch. (This variety is certified Fair Trade.)
Overall the buttery quality and smoothness of the chocolate shines on these. Not at all chalky, they are a bit on the sweet side. I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing these bumped up to 70% cacao and just reduce the sugar not the cocoa butter.
The texture and taste on these feels much more accessible than some of the Scharffen Berger, Chocovic or E. Guittard. I haven’t done a head to head mixing brands yet, but maybe someday.
The tasting squares option is expensive, but you can get the larger bar assortment if you’re not looking to share.
Note: Dagoba did recall some of their chocolate recently due to lead content and the Los Rios 68% part of the single origins line was part of the recall. It appears that the lead contamination happened somewhere in the supply chain (the cacao), not in the manufacturing. Los Rios is not available yet (as far as I’ve seen) but the other affected lines like Eclipse are just getting back on shelves now.
Thursday, June 1, 2006
When I came up with the idea to do this head to head comparison, it was because of the most obvious similarities between SweeTarts Shockers and Mentos Sours. They’re both rolls, they’re both sour and they’re both chewy pastilles. But they have completely different flavor mixes (the only flavor in common is green apple), different shapes and rather different takes on what a sour chew should be.
Mentos has always been known for intense chewy mints, so it seems only natural that they’d develop Mentos Sours. The package is a little odd because it says “The Chewy Mint” above the Mentos logo ... but these are not mint flavored. I guess “mint” has become a kind of candy, not a flavor.
Mentos Sours come in three flavors: Watermelon, Green Apple and Lemon. The colors are beautiful, and if they weren’t candy you’d want to string them into a chunky beaded bracelet. The finish on them is matte and not quite a continuous color. They don’t smell like much.
They’re soft and chewy, the shell is a tad bit waxy only lightly sweet. Upon biting into them the flavor erupts.
Green Apple: typical fresh sour flavor. Not too tart.
Watermelon: at first it’s sweet, like a cotton candy flavor with some floral overtones, then it kicks into sour gear. This is a really nice flavor, not too chemical tasting.
Lemon: immediately it has a good zesty essence to it and then the sour follows quickly behind to combine into the protype of lemony goodness.
Basically, they’re nice without being radically toxic feeling on the tongue. There’s a strange waxy thing that develops at the end of the chew though. I’m not sure if it’s the remnants of the “glazing agents” on the shell, but it’s an odd, undissolveable substance on my teeth that tastes only vaguely like the chew.
Mentos Sour are made in Brazil. (Note: the packaging I have may not be the way you see it in the stores - the website shows them in little reclosable boxes.)
Green Apple: intense and chemically flavored, it dissolves away into a sweet grit pretty quickly.
Orange: oh, this is the best! There’s an immediate blast of blisteringly sour tangerine on the tongue. Not as long lasting in the chew department as the Mentos.
Grape: it’s like a Purple Pixy Stix made chewy. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it. (TMI Alert - for some reason the grape ones make me burp.)
Cherry: the sour outside tastes like a very cherry candy, much like the SweeTarts, but with a stronger flavor instead of just more sour.
Blue Raspberry: an immediate sour hit is followed by some fragrant notes that remind me of cotton candy and violets.
All of the Shockers are intensely sour on the tongue from the moment you place them in your mouth but then mellow out to have a pleasant cooling sensation towards the end, but the chew doesn’t last long before they descend into sugary grit.
As all round chews, the Mentos Sours are middle of the road - they’re exceptionally pleasant and can be shared with adults who might ordinarily be afraid of something called “sour”. The SweeTarts Shockers, on the other hand, are a blast but you can’t keep eating them if you’d like to preserve the tasting functions of your tongue.
The packages hold slight different masses - SweeTarts Shockers clock in at 1.65 ounces (which the label says is three servings) and Mentos Sours are 1.32 ounces (which the label says is 14 servings ... one Mentos is a serving). Both contain hydrogenated oils, but not enough to warrant any fat content on the nutrition label.
Personally, I love the Shockers, if only for the intense orange ones. But the Mentos Sours have a much longer, consistent chew, especially the full flavor of the lemon ones, and I would probably pick them up in a pinch.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:30 am
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
I’ve seen these Hershey’s candies called Cajeta Elegancita at the 99 Cent Store for a while, but I didn’t buy them for myself. My sister, in Pennsylvania, gave them to me.
The Elegancita (little elegance) bars are part of Hershey’s attempt to capture the Hispanic market in the United States. However, it seems that they didn’t do all of their research. Cajeta, in Mexican-Spanish is a flavor where milk is slowly condensed and caramelized, kind of like dulce de leche. It’s very well known not only in Mexico but in many border states and you can even find it in fine restaurants (I had a cajeta flan at Ciudad in Los Angeles, which is run by those Too Hot Tamales). The important thing to know is that cajeta also means “little box” which in Argentina is a euphemism for a part of, um, a woman’s anatomy. But hey, maybe that’s a selling point.
The candy is branded as part of Hershey’s La Dulceria Thalia (Thalia’s Candy Store). Thalia Sodi is apparently quite a big music star. Of course, I don’t follow stuff like that ... and don’t think that it’s that I’m ignoring the Hispanic music scene, I also didn’t recognize that Carrie Underwood was doing special promotions last year for Hershey’s. I’m obviously not their target market.
But no amount of star power matters when it’s candy. Cajeta Elegancita is a series of bland wafers with a milky cream center layer and then a partial milk chocolate dip. I was hoping it would be like the long-gone Bar None (which may or may not still be made in Mexico).
Cajeta is very distinct tasting, very milky. It has a bit of a coconut twang to it, a little tartness as well. It’s interesting, but not very compelling for me. The condensed milk flavors completely dominate the chocolate, so it’s rather one note in the end. The delicate wafers do give it a nice crunch and texture, but not enough for me to go for this bar instead of a Heath if I’m feeling like something caramelized.
The package doesn’t have a lot of candy in it - at only 1.1 ounces, it’s rather scant for a commercial candy bar. However, at 170 calories and no trans fat, it’s not a bad little indulgence. The dairy taste makes it very satisfying as a little treat and of course the fact that there’s only 1.1 ounces means there’s little chance of eating too much.
Now, if they wanted to do something more chocolatey, I’d be all for it.
Also in the La Dulceria Thalia line are special flavors of Jolly Ranchers - tropical and spicy ... I’m kind of curious about the spicy ones, so I’ll get back to you on that!
(See also: Nestle’s La Lechera, which is a sweetened condensed milk product just launched in squeezable bottles to use as a sweet condiment & this story about Hershey’s move to capture the Hispanic market in the US)
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
On my thrice yearly trip to Beverly Hills to get my hair cut, I was lucky enough to go on a weekday (Friday) this time, which meant I could finally visit K Chocolatier.
They’re only open Monday-Friday ... I haven’t a clue why, but that’s the way it is. The shop is tiny. Think of a Fotomat Booth, oh, wait, they don’t have those anymore. Anyway, it’s tiny. The photo you see on their website shows the ENTIRE store. No need for a wide angle lens or positioning yourself across the street for that photo.
K Chocolates were created by Diane Kron, who I guess is one of those “chocolatier to the stars” people because they mention that kind of stuff a lot on the website. I have no idea if movie stars, TV networks or banks have good taste in chocolate. But they’re certainly not wrong in picking K Chocolatier because it is good stuff, just freakishly expensive.
The nice thing is that the shop offers free tastes of EVERYTHING. There’s a little dish on the counter with a select few goodies so I tried all of them.
K Chocolatier is known for their little K Bears, which are crisped rice in milk, white and dark chocolate. They’re super cute, about the size of a Teddy Graham. The milk chocolate one was very milky, quite sweet but very smooth and of course the crisped cookie/rice was fun. The dark chocolate was much smoother, with an ultra buttery dark chocolate with a really satisfying smoky taste to it. The white chocolate wasn’t very sweet, but very milky and not enough vanilla for my tastes.
The sampler tray also had their famous K Chocolate Truffles, which were little squares about the size of sugar cubes dusted in cocoa. They were not sweet at all, smooth and with some very complex coffee and woodsy flavors. There was even a bit of a salty hint to it.
My favorite free item was the K Spanish Orange, which was chocolate covered candied orange rind. That smooth and buttery chocolate was the perfect complement to the zesty and slightly bitter orange peel.
But I was there to get something I couldn’t get anywhere else, which is one of the reasons to shop an exclusive store like this.
I wanted to try their Vodka chocolates. And they let me! There were two varieties - K Vodka Shots and K Vodka Martini. They were a little smaller than a standard malted milk ball and a little flat on one side. The little spheres of dark chocolate held a crunchy sugar shell and inside that, a burst of real vodka. Not cheap vodka either, this was good stuff. After trying both I opted for a small box of the K Vodka Martini - it had a touch of vermouth in it that gave the alcohol a good balsam/citrus note to it that really brought out the fruity/floral notes of the chocolate.
But the sad part is that they were $40.00. Seriously. But I bought them anyway. And they were good. They weren’t a huge hit at home though and of course you have to practice a little self control as that’s real alcohol in there. (Okay, it wasn’t a lot, but I can get a buzz off of a half a dozen of them). The other irritation with the store is that nothing is marked with a weight or size of any kind. I don’t know how much chocolate I bought. Was that a half a pound? A full pound? Do they all weigh the same?
I’m a big fan of alcohol/chocolate cordials. As a touchstone, I bought the Trader Joe’s holiday box of vodka filled chocolates for New Years. They were nice, they had different fillings - orange, lemon and raspberry vodka inside of dark chocolate shells. But the vodka wasn’t very high quality, so they didn’t quite have the sassy snap that K Vodka Martinis do. I suppose you get what you pay for, the Trader Joe’s box was about $5.
Will I buy K Chocolatier products again? Probably not, but I’m glad I did.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 12:07 pm
I don’t know what came over me when I went to Mel & Rose, but I bought this super-expensive nougat bar.
Here it is May, and I’m really missing my Christmas Torrones and I was weak and overwhelmed while browsing at Mel & Rose. It’s such a pretty looking bar too, look at all those nuts and the sticky white nougat.
The label is in French, except for the ingredients: Sugar, Almonds 28%, Glucose Syrup, Lavender Honey 7.5%, all flowers honey of provence 7.5%, Pistachios 2%, wafer of egg white, Vanilla natural aroma.
There’s not a single ingredient in there that doesn’t have my mouth watering. And it’s not just plain honey ... it’s Lavender honey! Yum.
Let me tell you, it’s divine. The honey flavors come out loud and clear here, more than any other French nougat that I’ve had (and I’ve had co-workers bringing me the stuff directly from France for the last 10 years). The honey is strong and musky and slightly floral. The delicate, light nougat is sweet without being cloying or sticky. It’s lightly fluffed which allows the honey and almond flavors to permeate the bar. The nuts are dreamily crisp and firm.
As it’s thinner than a regular Torrone block, it’s easy to bite off a bit, but hard to resist cramming the whole thing into my maw.
Though I balked at the price ($5.99) after I’d paid (I wasn’t paying attention), once I started photographing it and noticing the density of the nuts and glossy nougat, I knew I hadn’t made a mistake. Opening the wrapper and biting into it only confirms that.
Part of me never wants to go back to Mel & Rose because I will be obligated to buy this again, which of course will keep me from trying something new (or several somethings since this was $6), but it’s soooo good.
Even if you think you’ll never run across this nougat bar, browse around their website (or visit them if you’re in France). Here are some fun things I learned:
They produce 168 tons of nougat a year, using 33 tons of almonds ... that’s 45% of the almonds grown in Provence every year! They detail the process of making it, too (though some of the translations are a little wonky). The website says that you can order online, but I have no idea about the exchange and delivery to the United States. If you do end up ordering, please report back on how it went (and order some marshmallows and let me know how they are).
Monday, May 29, 2006
In honor of the Memorial Day Holiday, I thought I’d do a candy that you usually find when you’re at a big summer event. Cotton Candy is one of those treats that I think most of us enjoy on the midway at the fair or other vacation spots. I’ve never bought cotton candy (or candy floss as the Brits and Canadians call it) for home consumption.
Pure Fun’s candy floss has a unique twist - it’s organic and all natural. That’s right, it’s made from pure, organically farmed cane sugar and a touch of natural flavoring/colors. They also make note that it’s vegan, which is kind of funny because I’ve never had cotton candy made with animal products before (I know some vegans take exception to commercially processed sugar because it might be filtered through charcoal that might contain animal bones).
The packaging also bills that there are no trans fats and no cholesterol. Well, I’m sorry, but DUH! I’m not sure who doesn’t know that cotton candy is spun sugar and how could it have any fats - good, bad, trans or otherwise? It’s also low in sodium, why isn’t that on the label? But the important thing is that this 1.5 liter tub contains only 2.12 ounces of sugar. I was watching Unwrapped over the weekend and one segment mentioned that good cotton candy is 80% air. You can eat the whole tub and it’s only 240 calories (all carbs though).
One serving is said to be a quarter of the tub. Which was actually a satisfying amount for me. I’m not sure if you could put a tub like this in front of a kid and expect them to eat only a portion. Of course, I’m not sure how you’d “serve” it otherwise ... take out the scissors and cut off a quarter of it and put it on a plate?
Okay, enough of the snarking. They were nice enough to send me five tubs containing four flavors ... so let’s get to it!
Canadian Maple - this was pure genius! How could there not be a maple cotton candy before now? It’s a natural flavor combo and the taste is insanely good. Woodsy and sweet and of course the texture of the fluffed sugar is sublime. This one had the best texture of the four, ultra smooth and superfine. Since they gave me two tubs of this, I took one next door and everyone thought it was “expletive-deleted-good.” By far this was everyone’s favorite who tried them all (including me).
Root Beer - I was expecting something subtle here, as cotton candy isn’t really known for “flavor” but the root beer here was intense. A good, slight, wintergreen burn after it dissolved kept me eating more and more of it. It’s like a spun root beer barrel!
Licorice - I’m not sure how this is going to go over with other people, but I thought this was an excellent flavor. It smelled a little medicinal, but on the tongue it was great. It was like a black jelly bean, except my tongue didn’t change color and there are no sticky bits stuck in my teeth. It’s a lovely
Bubble Gum - I’d heard about this before and so I saved it for last. It doesn’t smell quite right and looks an awful lot like insulation. A little musty odor combines with the sweet sugar. Holy Moly it’s bad. I don’t know why it’s bad and I’m not sure I want to know, but the taste is off. Bubble gum flavor (as in Bazooka) has always had a little wintergreen hint in my mind and then there are bubble gum flavors that are a little fruity like JuicyFruit ... this was neither. This was just a jumble of bad associations wrapped up in sweet. Pure Fun needs to dump this flavor or seriously reformulate. If I hadn’t read other reviews of this flavor, I would have thought I had a bad batch.
They make one other flavor, Cinnamon, that wasn’t in my assortment, but if it’s as good as the Root Beer, I’m on board. Their website even has recipes for using candy floss as a pie topper, for sundaes and even in martinis.
I don’t think that pure sugar can ever be considered a health food, but without the addition of preservatives, artificial flavors or colors as well as their organic, vegan and Kosher certifications, Pure Fun has removed any trepidation anyone might have for buying a cool and sweet indulgence. The smallish tub also controls portions. I honestly didn’t think I would like this as much as I did, but I’ve found myself sneaking little bits of fluff over the past few days of all three of the good flavors.
The only issue at the moment is where to buy this fluff. They’re not in stores yet (or at least not according to their website) and everyone who has tasted it has found it via a show of some sort (Candy Expo Toronto or Fancy Food Expo). They don’t even sell it directly through their website. I’ll try to post an update when I hear that it’s for sale. I don’t even know what the expected price is for one of the tubs. I’d be willing to pay as much as $4 for it.
UPDATE: I almost forgot, check out the Candy Critic - he’s also gotten a hold of some, and you can see how he does his reviews (which really isn’t that different from how I do mine).
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:18 am
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.