Friday, August 6, 2010
One of the most exciting parts of my recent trip was a visit to a real, working candy factory. I didn’t get a special tour or anything, but I always like to get close to the source of candy - even if it’s through a wall of glass. The Albanese Candy Factory is easy to get to, at the junction of I65 and RTE30. (Though Google Maps took me on a far more direct but slower route through the neighboring Indiana towns from I80.)
The factory is nicely situated with a large parking lot and a charming “house” entry for the candy store and tour portion of the facility. Entering the space, at first it just looks like a huge candy store - probably about 2,000 square feet of not just Albanese Candy, but oodles of other bulk items in bins, novelties and classic favorites from all sorts of manufacturers. At the back of this space is the tour.
No photos were allowed of their candy factory tour, which amounts to walking along one wall of the factory and peering into the active operation. I was able to see the starch molds stacked up and ready to be fed into the depositor, which squeezes out the gummy goo that becomes the bears. The next steps were a bit hidden, but the next conveyer showed the completed gummi bears on a belt being tossed around and bagged up. (The true intervening step is that the gummy bears cure for a while in their molds, are then cleaned of their corn starch coats & given a little shine in a tumbler called a panning machine.) The bears were then bagged up and robots came in and created huge boxes then pallets that were moved around.
The space is just a wide carpeted ramp with a few videos to demonstrate and explain the processes. It’s wheelchair accessible and easy for folks to spend as much or as little time on as they want.
I was really interested in the candy store and I wasn’t disappointed. First and foremost they sold Albanese Candy. By the door were piles of boxes of “seconds” at reasonable prices - a 5 lb box of Peach Rings was $8. Great for a party.
The perfect candy was sold either in pre-packs or at one of the three bulk candy stations. There were plenty of helpful and knowledgeable staffers there. All of the items that weren’t individually wrapped were packaged up by request by the staff. They stood there with their tongs, scoops, plastic bags and gloved hands at the ready for any request. They had every Albanese gummy candy I could think of. The standard items were all $2.49 a pound - a great price as anyone who has been to Dylan’s Candy Bar or other mall bulk candy shop will recognize. (Those shops sell Albanese Candy for anywhere between $9 and $14 a pound.)
I picked out their new Natural Sour Poppers, Gummi Butterflies (now in small and large sizes) and Gummi Fishes. I’ve actually had the last two items before, but I thought I’d try them again, especially because I wanted a standard flavor to try against the natural ones.
The packaging was nice. Just little stand-up zipper plastic bags. What I appreciated was the each one got its own label that did list the ingredients for the product - a rare service when buying in bulk. These little four ounce bags were just $65 cents, quite a deal for getting exactly what I wanted.
The new Natural Sour Poppers are cute little smiley faced buttons of gummis. I have no idea what the flavors are supposed to be, or even how many are in the assortment. I didn’t try to overthink them, I just ate them.
Though there’s no sour sanding on them they’re still quite tangy right from the start. They’re soft and squishy with good, well rounded flavors but very much on the sour side. I could pick out the cherry, lemon, orange and pineapple ones, there might have been green apple, fruit punch, strawberry and maybe watermelon in there.
I liked that there were no weird aftertastes associated with the coloring, though the flavors were less vibrant than the traditionally produced ones. They recognizable “emoticon” shape will probably be quite fun for kids. I also appreciate that they’re the same price as the unnatural gummi products.
I’ve reviewed the stunning-looking Albanese Gummi Butterflies before. I’m not quite sure why I picked them up again, but I was enchanted by their appearance. The wingspan on the large ones is a full 3 inches. The small ones are less than half that, at about 1.33 inches across and the same thickness.
Combining the two sizes was actually more satisfying for me than one or the other. I liked the look of them together, the small ones gave context for the large sized shape (which often get folded up). The flavors are the same charming Albanese cherry, orange, grape, punch and apple. I especially liked the orange ones, but found the cherry to have the robust woodsy notes and not too much red food coloring flavor.
Albanese’s chocolate products are far less well known. I picked up only one chocolate item to review, their Dark Chocolate Caramel Marshmallow. The prices on the chocolate items varied depending on the product itself. They had a good selection of traditional chocolate treats like toffee, fruit creams, caramels and nuts. They’re packaged just like the gummis, into little zipper bags.
The Caramel Marshmallow is smaller than the See’s Scotchmallow. A nicely domed piece, they were in pristine, unmarred condition when I bought them but got jostled around a bit in transit (drove to Chicago from there, then flew back to Los Angeles four days later).
It has a nice dark cocoa scent, a little sweet but woodsy. The bite is not at all like I expected a marshmallow to be. Instead of a latexy puff, it was more of a light fluffed cream. It still had a little chew to it, but not at all like I was accustomed to with See’s or Russell Stover. The flavor was barely sweet and had a light hint of vanilla to it (they use both real vanilla and vanillin in them). The caramel was soft and chewy but lacking much of a salty or burnt sugar punch. The dark chocolate was decent quality and well tempered though not complex. They’re certainly edible but of course don’t hold a candle to my favorite, the Scotchmallow. Since they’re about the same price at $11.99 a pound, I can’t see myself getting these again - even though I know they’re extremely fresh.
The diversity of candy offerings in the store is amazing. They had a huge selection of nostalgic favorites, such as swirl lollipops, candy buttons, wax lips and theater box favorites. I lucked out and found Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy as well as the more recent Doscher’s French Chew. They also had a great wall of individually wrapped candies which included Mary Jane’s, Anise Squares, Honey Drops and all sorts of items from Atkinson’s like their Peerless line. I picked up Angel Mints and my mother found Sen Sen and got a tin of Anis de Flavigny. Prices for the candy that they don’t make there is a little more than a drug store but less than most other candy stores.
The shop is only about one hour outside of Chicago and a half an hour south of Gary, Indiana. So if you’re in the area, it’s a nice place to stop. (Though it’d be nice if they also had coffee, we really needed some to go with our toffee that we ate in the car.)
Albanese Candy Factory Outlet Store
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Beverly Hills is a different world from the funky and uneven aesthetics of Silver Lake where I live, even though they are only about twenty minutes apart by car. While Silver Lake has a few chocolatiers and bakeries that carry fine confections, Beverly Hills has been at it far longer and has international muscle behind many of its biggest names.
For quite a few years folks have been telling me to try Teuscher. People rave, far and wide, about their Champagne Truffles. I even went into the Teuscher shop in Rockefeller Plaza in New York a few years ago but the shop was packed with people and the ambiance was a little too fussy, confining and precious for my tastes.
As the years went by the fact that I hadn’t tried their chocolates was becoming a glaring omission in my chocolate experiences. So when I was contacted by a representative of the Beverly Hills outpost of the Swiss-based Teuscher, I thought the time was ripe. I arranged to visit their petite shop and cafe in Beverly Hills located on the corner of Brighton Way and Camden, a scant block off of Rodeo Drive.
Teuscher is a Swiss chocolatiers but they have fourteen North American locations in addition to their shops in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. All chocolates are made in their Zurich facility and express shipped regularly (usually once or twice a week) to the shops. Their array of chocolates is rather standardized, regardless of the location. They make a variety of truffles, nut-based confections like marzipan and gianduja. They also have classics like candied fruits (dipped in chocolate), nut clusters and novelty molded chocolates (usually seasonal selections).
I was introduced to Avivia Covitz, the owner of the Beverly Hills shop. She charmed me with her tales of pairings of chocolates, eating two at a time to increase the vast variety that already existed in single pieces to create even more unique confectionery experiences. (Kind of like me and my mash ups ... though I’m sure she’s classier and doesn’t actually smash them together.) She guided me through the offerings and I chose about 15 pieces (from the dozens available) as an introduction to the fine chocolates.
Since their Champagne Truffle is so well known, I picked up three - two in milk chocolate and one in dark chocolate. They look more like rum balls that truffles to me, especially the milk chocolate ones which are very light brown with a white confectioner’s sugar dusting. They’re not round, more narrow and tall. It’s a sweet flavor right away as well, but my concerns about it being too sweet were quickly dispelled. The flavor isn’t quite champagne but more of a deep yeasty and white wine grape note. There’s no fizz or bubble, but a crisp and dry finish.
The dark, in my opinion, was even richer and a little more yeasty. They’re dusted in cocoa, so far less sweet right when it’s placed on the tongue. The texture is smooth, with a little pop of flavor at the center where the champagne cream center is.
I also tried their newer truffle, the Vodka Truffle. This one was wrapped in silver foil and after being unsheathed the molded sphere looked rather like a Lindt Lindor truffle though the center was vastly different. The dark chocolate had berry notes and a little astringency. The truffle center was quite gooey (Aviva cautioned me that it was to be popped in the mouth whole, no biting in half) and had a strong alcoholic bite along with a smooth dark chocolate liquor flavor.
I’m a huge European nougat fan, so seeing this piece was encouraging. Also seeing the wide use of nuts such as pistachios, walnuts (even though I can’t eat them), hazelnuts, almonds and of course hazelnuts made me happy.
The Montelimar nougat is dipped in chocolate on all sides except for the top. (which is a little dry). It’s a little grainy but still soft and chewy. The nuts (pistachios and almonds) are fresh and the honey notes are definitely a plus. The nougat still has a wafer on it, which kind of confusing because it doesn’t seem to be necessary and creates a kind of cereal flavor to the chew.
One of the big things I noticed in the Teuscher line is the liberal use of honey, which I think is far under-utilized in chocolates.
The Honey Caramel covered in dark chocolate was delightful. I love honey, I love chocolate and I love caramel. That doesn’t always mean a good combination will result, but in this case it does. The caramel has a dark flavor, a malty note and the beeswaxy and floral vibe of honey. There are also little bits of almond in there, which bring the whole thing together with a bit of texture.
There’s a large array of marzipan at Teuscher, which I found fascinating. The little logs like this are simply adorable and promised to have a large proportion of chocolate to the almond paste filling. (I believe it also came in pistachio.)
Sweet with a powerful almond extract flavor. The dark chocolate is creamy and offsets the sweetness well. The texture of the marzipan is dry but holds together without being sticky.
I also tried a Zebra Gianduja which is a striped combination of milk, white and dark hazelnut paste neatly dipped in dark chocolate similar to the Montelimar. The hazelnut notes were lost in the sweetness and the texture was just a little dry. Still, the nut notes were very fresh.
I was fond of the idea of these. They’re simply called Crunchy Chocolates and they come in milk and dark chocolate. They’re a homey dab of chocolate studded with little crunchy bits of honey and nuts. It’s like comfort candy. They’re basically everything I’ve always wanted a Toblerone to be. The chocolate is smooth and creamy with its own flavors. The honey bits give an added flavor punch and almost a salty note. The almonds give crunch and their own buttery note. I liked their thin shape, which made it easy to bite but thick enough to have lots of inclusions.
I always like to try the candy kitchen classics when I go to a new chocolate shop. I feel like I can learn a lot about the attention to detail when a chocolatier does something as simple as candying some orange peel or ginger. There are lots of ways to do it well, so it really just gives me a sense of where their sensibilities are.
Teuscher’s sensibilities in the candied fruit rind arena are right in line with mine. The Candied Orange Peel is dipped in dark chocolate. Moist and almost jelly-like, there’s no hint of sugary grain. It’s rather sweet but all of the zesty notes of the orange are preserved and just a light hint of the bitter orange oil. It goes well with the dark chocolate couveture.
The Chocolate Dipped Candied Ginger was a similar glace style. Tiny little ropes of roots, simmered in sugar until tender, then dipped in chocolate. These had a little extra flair with the white chocolate racing strip around the bottom. It was just a little accent that didn’t detract at all from the dark chocolate and the earthy notes of the ginger, just a little tip of milk flavors into it.
Belle Epoque was the only other truffle I picked up, again it was an alcohol inspired and infused one. This is a dark chocolate ganache with Gran Marnier. I loved the look of it and have found that I prefer enrobed or dipped truffles to molded ones.
There is a strong whiff of alcohol and orange zest. Little notes of tobacco and oak along with chocolate pudding. It’s definitely one of my favorites and would probably win out on my list of things to eat from there on a regular basis because it was just less sweet than the Champagne. (And given the choice, I’d probably opt for an aperitif of Gran Marnier over a flute of champagne.)
After completing my selection of the complementary fine chocolates, I also decided to also buy a few other items to get a sense of the rest of the Teuscher line of offerings. One of the charming items that vary from season to season are the molded chocolates. When I was in the shop before Thanksgiving, they had turkeys.
I was drawn to the Chocolate Bees. (I have no idea if they have a formal name, as there’s nothing on the package.) They came in a double layer mounded on a four inch by six inch gold foil tray. That was wrapped in clear cellophane and decorated with a narrow, yellow gossamer ribbon.
The milk and dark chocolate bees have a wingspan of two inches. But they’re not just milk and dark chocolate novelties. They’re dotted with honey crystals and almond bits. The texture wasn’t quite as dense and flavorful as the Crunchy chocolate pieces mentioned above. Instead these were a bit more like a Toblerone piece. Not quite as vibrant or intensely textured. Still very pretty and fun.
I also picked out a few straight Gianduja (they pronounce it John-Do-Ya) hearts. They’re beefy, over two inches wide and almost an inch high. One was milk chocolate (blue) and the other dark (orange).
The flavor was more milky and sweet chocolate in the milk chocolate than hazelnuts. This was my feeling about all the gianduja items from Teuscher. I’m assuming this is just the Swiss style, though I also noticed it with the Belgian brand Leonidas as well. Since I prefer more hazelnut and darker chocolate flavors, even then dark version here didn’t quite satisfy me and I didn’t end up finishing them. (Part of it is that I was so enamored of the Pralus Creme de Noisette that it’s going to become one of my standards.)
Orange Marzipan covered in Dark Chocolate
The final item I picked up, also foil-wrapped like the above hazelnut hearts, was an orange marzipan piece. This was more like a decadent candy bar. The marzipan was moist, a little sticky but with a great citrus zest note instead of amaretto. The almond texture and flavor still came through, but without the bitter almond flavoring that so often pervades European marzipan. This is definitely one of the highlight pieces for me. I liked that it wasn’t fussy and if I were wandering around Beverly Hills and wanted something to go with my coffee (they do have a highly regarded coffee bar), this is a good impulse item for me.
My hesitations with the products are really minor. I’m not that keen on the packaging or the design of the shop. The confections are well labeled in the chocolates case, which is great for people like me who must avoid a particular item like walnuts, but the rest of the items were not. The foil wrapped items were just color coded and once you left the shop, well, you’d better have a good memory. The little trays of molded items are see through, so you can, well, see them but no ingredients or even product names. My feelings are that the look and feel of the place is dated, but if you’ve been shopping there for a dozen years, you might feel like they’re dependable and consistent ... so I can’t really fault them for that.
The milk chocolate and hazelnut items were on the sweet side for my preferences, but the dark truffles, especially the Belle Epoque are right up my alley. I will definitely plan on trying more of the flavored marzipans and the caramels since I was so fond of the Honey Caramel.
The prices are on the high side at over $70 a pound (an 8 ounce box of 16 Champagne Truffles is $37.50) and the website doesn’t allow you to build a custom box. However, in the store you’re free to get exactly what you want. I think the Champagne Truffles are worth the diversion if you’re in Beverly Hills (or any other neighborhood that has a shop) but I don’t think I’d special order them on the internet unless I was certain they were going to be spectacular and just what I wanted.
My trick when visiting Beverly Hills is to park in the valet parking garage on Dayton Way just off Rodeo Drive. It’s free for the first two hours during the day. Teuscher looks like a great spot to hang out sipping coffee at the sidewalk tables and sampling a little box of chocolates while people-watching.
teuscher chocolates Beverly Hills
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Payard Patisserie was at the top of my list. Started by French pastry chef Fran?ois Payard, he grew up immersed in confectionery and pastry from an early age in his grandfather’s shop. Since the New York City Payard shop closed, the Caesar’s Palace location is the only place to get the full Payard experience in the US. (There are shops in Japan and Korea.)
I had a tough time finding the shop, as it’s tucked in the immense Caesar’s Palace maze of casinos and restaurants. The Payard website is no help, as it doesn’t even say where it is in Las Vegas, and the Caesar’s website is equally vague. So I just wandered, starting at the main entrance and winding my way through the labyrinth. Once I did find it, it pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks. The curving facade in rich brown hues, the ornate light fixtures, the long glass counter filled with pastries & treats and the sheer size of it are quite breathtaking.
It is a full French bistro with soups, sandwiches and crepes but the displays definitely focus on the decadent desserts, confections and chocolates.
Luckily I’d briefed myself on their website before going, so I knew what I wanted to pick up, what I wanted to see in person. Of course I also go to most shops with an open sense of exploration - I’m ready to be enchanted and sucked into it all.
I picked up one dessert and a one half pound ballotin which seemed to highlight most of their chocolates well. (I briefly considered their Bergamot Truffle Perfume as well, but realized, I like to eat chocolate, not smell like it.)
The dessert was a decadent piece, mostly a firm chocolate mousse with a core that featured a hazelnut nougatine. It was much larger than I think one person needs to eat, but for only $8.00 it actually felt like a good value for Las Vegas (and upscale chocolate in general). The chocolate was deep and rich, the heavy cream was evident and the texture, besides the crispies mixed in the center, was velvety smooth. Considering all the walking I did (about three miles just that night), I didn’t feel at all guilty about eating it.
The location is not right off any casino floor, so it’s quite quiet and would likely be a great spot to sit and enjoy a coffee drink and sweet. It’s not quite a sidewalk cafe, as it is actually inside and there’s something about carpeting that can really suck the bustle out of a crowd.
The Half Pound Ballotin features about 25 pieces of chocolate, and from the website sounded like a good variety of items. Also, at $28 for the box I was actually convinced it was a good deal. It’s like a little brick, about 4.5 inches long and 2.5 inches high but of course weighing a little over 8 ounces with packaging.
The box is actually crammed full of chocolate. It’s in three layers, each separated only with a bit of waxed/corrugated paper. There are no goofy preformed trays or fluted paper cups. Just a box of chocolates.
There was also no guide, though when I asked at the counter when I purchased it, I was told there was one in there. So I have to simply guess at a lot of these. The chocolate did pretty well. Though it was in the 80s during the day in Las Vegas, I kept the box in my hotel in an insulated cooler, just in case the air conditioner (set on 76F when I was out) didn’t kick in.
Mendiant Noir - Dark chocolate wheel, topped with dried fruits and nuts
I love mendiants simply because they show their cards. It’s a disk of chocolate with some fruit or nut stuck in it. They’re like elegant chocolate bark in easy to eat pieces.
As you might be able to tell, I got two pieces in my box, one white and one dark. The white one had pistachio, almond and yellow raisin. The white chocolate was smooth but sweet, the nuts set it off well. My dark chocolate piece had hazelnut, almond, yellow raisin and walnut. So I broke off the piece with the walnut in it and ate the rest. The dark chocolate was velvety smooth and the hazelnut took center stage as the predominant flavor and texture with a little chewy raisin with some wine notes towards the end.
Also in the box were two orangettes - generous strips of candied orange peel covered in dark chocolate. They were soft and chewy and not overly sweet.
Each of the chocolates in the box are rather small. They’re one inch square and about 1/3 of an inch high.
Chagall - Milk chocolate wafer with praline covered in dark chocolate
This little piece was delightful. The center is a praline, which is a bit of crispy wafers all smashed into teensy bits (think of the wafer of an ice cream cone or a Pirouline stick). It has it’s own toasted flavor and of course a bright and satisfying crunch. It’s mixed in with a milk chocolate paste with a slight sugary grain to it. The dark chocolate keeps it from being to sickly sweet, as does the minute portion.
I was surprised that the Payard name was on this one in particular, I would have assumed it would be a plain or classic ganache version.
Degas - Dark and milk chocolate ganache with coffee beans covered in dark chocolate
This one was easy to pick out of the mix since it said cafe on the top. The flavor was quite mellow and thankfully the coffee was fully integrated and there was no hint of graininess or chewy fibery bits.
Monet - Milk chocolate and cinnamon ganache covered in dark chocolate
This piece has a textured top, kind of like the chocolate version of a 70s hologram sticker. The scent is quite cinnamony, so I was able to assign this one to its name rather easily. The ganache center is lighter and sweeter than some of the others without as much chocolate richness.
Palet d’Or - Vanilla rum ganache covered with dark chocolate, finished with gold decoration
If I didn’t know there was a vanilla rum ganache bonbon in this mix, I wouldn’t have been able to peg this one. It tasted like a rich, dark chocolate truffle. I didn’t get the buttery hints of molasses or alcohol from it, but it sure tasted like rich chocolate. One of the pair that I had was a little grainy.
Gauguin - Milk chocolate ganache, flavored with Kirsh and Grand Marnier covered in dark chocolate
I enjoyed the light touch of orange essence in this bonbon, it was a well rounded flavor without overpowering the chocolate notes. I got a slight bit of grain to it around the edges, but also a bit of zest, so I didn’t know if there was actual candied orange peels in it.
Van Gogh - Pistachio almond paste covered in dark chocolate
This one was in the top layer and I was a little scared when I saw that they were a tad bloomed. Luckily they were an isolated incident. The chocolates are a pistachio green innard that tastes distinctly of pistachio - that fragrant and grassy flavor. The texture is marzipan but also a bit of a grain from sugar (or it had crystallized). I wasn’t that fond of these pieces.
Bonnard - Milk chocolate ganache and caramel covered in dark chocolate
I believe this is the piece with the script P on it. The ganache is rich and buttery with a very slight velvety grain and a burnt sugar flavor. There was also a light bitter note towards the end.
Picasso - Dark chocolate ganache infused with Earl Grey Tea
This beautiful piece was spot on perfection. The shell was nicely tempered, the center had an immediate blossom of bergamot when I bit into it. But instead of just being a citrus peel flavor, it was an actual black tea, the whole cup, if you will. The dark chocolate maintained its own flavors of dark berries and had a bitter woodsy note while the black tea flavors and tannins did their part. Silky smooth melt and refreshing dry finish.
Rocher Noir - Dark chocolate mixed with a crispy wafer
I was a bit surprised when I got to the bottom and found these. They look kind of prickly. The chocolate coating looked thin and cheap.
I was very wrong to judge these based on appearances.
The milk version is light and crispy with an insane buttery flavor & fattiness to it. The crispy wafer bits are those same dark toasted bits, but larger here than the other nougatine ganache. It’s a definite cereal taste. The chocolate isn’t really a note here, it’s more like a malty flavor.
In the noir (dark) version it looked like a coconut haystack. Instead it was the malty & crispy wafer bits with a mellow cocoa flavor. The decadence comes from a slick and sweet chocolate that holds it all together. It’s a bit cool on the tongue and is very satisfying.
Finally, at the bottom with the rochers were the classic chocolate truffles. These little handformed spheres are darling.
Upon the first bite these were not plain dark chocolate. They’re boozy, but not stinging with alcohol. The significant notes are vanilla and tobacco with deep oak and cherry in there. They’re supposed to be Vanilla Rum, but they’re like pushing my face into a bag of pipe tobacco. Not unpleasant at all, but quite dense and difficult to tease out all the flavors and complexity.
For those looking for Payard in Caesar’s Palace, I recommend this map (which I found when I was trying to write this up). The bistro is located on the main level, just off Appian Way (where the statue of David is) and across from Rao’s restaurant.
I can’t vouch for the bistro food, but the desserts do look luscious and I was very happy with mine. I wish they offered the chocolates by the piece, but if you’re shopping for a gift, they’re definitely a great place to stop in and get something truly worthy of the Las Vegas prices. There’s obviously a lot of care and thought that goes into the creation of these bonbons. I also tried the Parisian Macarons, which was a little too brightly colored for my tastes (yes, I mean taste) but wonderfully scrumptious single bites. (I recommend eating those immediately, they do not keep more than 3 days.)
I would definitely visit again if I were in Las Vegas, though I don’t know if I would order from them online as I have a lot of options available locally. But it’s nice to know that option is available.
UPDATE 10/29/2009: Payard may have a new Manhattan location soon called Francois Chocolate Bar at Mauboussin Jewelers on Madison Avenue. Opening November 4th. (NY Times DinersJournal.)
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Last year I made a trip up interstate 101 from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Yes, it’s actually longer than taking I5, but I thought it would be interesting to stop at a few candy shops along the way. One that I was interested in was Sweet Earth Chocolate at about the halfway point of San Luis Obispo.
At that time they were operating out of a space in Splash Cafe in SLO. A few months ago they moved into their own candy kitchen and cafe space just down the street. (More about that here.) I was eager to see the expanded offerings from this unique confectioner that uses organic and fair trade chocolate.
Their new storefront is charming and inviting ... and large! You can get coffee drinks, sit and enjoy your purchases but I was there for the chocolate to take on my vacation.
Their candy cases had a nice mix of both comfort candies (chocolate dipped pretzels, house-made jellies, chocolate covered cookies, turtles and marshmallows) and truffles. What sets them apart from many chocolatiers is their line of vegan items. (Here’s the in store menu.)
The store is more than just chocolate though, there’s also information about how fair trade directly affects the communities that participate and some other fun and unique gifts.
Bakers will also enjoy access to fair trade baking chips & cocoa. For those in a hurry who don’t want to select their own box, there are also packages of pre-packed candy cups, chocolate covered goodies and of course their line of chocolate bars.
I picked up quite a bit of stuff. First, I selected a few items from the “comfort candies” section for me to munch on while on vacation. This included their chocolate dipped pretzels, toffee & chocolate dipped pretzels and some turtles. Since those weren’t for review I also got a box of nine truffles.
The truffles are well priced at 1.50 each though I found them a tad on the small size but mercifully free of the “too hot for the box” styles that chocolatiers have been using lately with artificial colors & cocoa butter ink transfers.
The Espresso truffle was one of those rare modern truffles that actually looks like a truffle. The small sphere smelled woodsy and sweet. The bittersweet chocolate shell gave way to a smooth center with a good pop of espresso flavor. A little acidic but a crisp finish with a little fruity twang. There were a few fibery bits of the coffee beans though at the end.
This dark chocolate triangular piece holds a sweet if slightly grainy cream with a light touch of ginger.
I liked the texture and the woodsy flavor of the ginger. It didn’t have a warming burn, but a pleasant note of the root mixed with a not-too-sweet fondant-like cream. The dark chocolate shell was thick enough that there was no leakage and also provided a bittersweet background to the earthy flavors.
It was a good sized piece as well.
This was definitely one I was looking forward to. I love the combination of cardamom and chocolate.
The center of this truffle also had a bit of a graininess to it, I think, because of the crystallized ginger.
The cardamom was quite overwhelmed by the chocolate & ginger flavors at first, but emerged later and gave me a fresh & lingering aftertaste.
I admit that I was confused by this one. I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was when I got home. I don’t think it did well on the trip either, something about the central coast being very humid this time of year made the outside tacky.
So when I took it out to photograph it, I was puzzled. So I bit into it and yes, the flavor did remind me a bit of a Milky Way, but I still didn’t put it together until days later when I was trying to write this up and looked at the Sweet Earth Chocolates website.
Anyway, it was sweet and milky and yes, it did have a little malty hit to it. But the outside was like the sticky, stale inside of a seafoam candy so the whole thing was a bit chewy. Not unpleasant, but not “truffle-like.” I’ll give it another go though, as I’m always game for some malt.
Sweet & slightly grassy tasting center with little bits of hazelnuts. Milky and entirely addictive.
This would make an excellent chocolate cup too, I would love a bigger bite ... or more of them. And maybe some in dark chocolate. Yes, a true winner. (I’m wondering if you can make a dark chocolate gianduia that’s vegan.)
Finally, I got two of the classic dark chocolate truffles. They come in a full cream version and a vegan version.
The Vegan Dark Chocolate truffle is cute, a small hand rolled sphere with a flurry of zigzags of chocolate for decoration. The aroma is dark and woodsy chocolate. The bite is soft and the center is smooth. It’s barely sweet and has a strong woodsy & tangy flavor that comes through ... then a note of coconut and a rather bitter & dry finish.
The dairy Dark Chocolate truffle has a similar look, with its decoration mostly parallel stripes. The center seemed just a bit softer but also a bit smoother. The tangy bite wasn’t there at all. The chocolate flavors seemed more pronounced, though the chocolate shell still participated with quite a bitter chocolate bite & dry finish.
On the whole, I find the Sweet Earth Chocolates 65% dark chocolate a bit on the astringent side. The dairy cream centers worked well with this and some of the flavors combined well to tip it more towards woodsy or berry/raisin.
What’s so refreshing about the shop & the chocolates is that they’re so approachable and fresh-tasting. I didn’t feel assaulted by political messages about fair trade and organics - for the most part the shop is about the wholesome enjoyment of freshly made chocolates ... that happen to be organic and fair trade.
If you’re in San Luis Obispo or passing through during business hours, give it a try:
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Sweet Offerings is a quaint and well designed shop. It’s on Burton Drive in the eastern section of town, just down from the famous glass shop called Seekers.
The simple interior is classic & clean. A black and white theme with a brick red painted floor, it’s crisp and inviting and allows the chaos of colors of the different candies to pop.
Most of the candy offered is prepackaged. There’s a wide variety of mass-manufactured and hard to find favorites like Sky Bar, Mallo Cups, Chuckles and Fizzies but also higher end items like Marich panned nuts, Vosges & Lake Champlain chocolate bars.
For the most part the candy collection appears aimed at adults. Sure they have some kid-appealing items like some novelties and of course candies for all ages. But many of the items look like they’re just for grown ups, like a collections of caramels, licorice, Jelly Belly confections, Brix chocolate designed to pair with wine or fruit pate and even some honey.
The bulk candy wall was devoted almost entirely to Koppers items - their gourmet Malted Milk Balls and Cordials were prominently featured. The bulk wall was priced at $2.95 per quarter pound, which isn’t too bad for chocolate these days.
They also had a large glass enclosed counter with two cases where they featured several different brands of fine chocolates. Roger’s Chocolates took up one full case and the other had a mix of classic candy items like chocolate dipped orange peels, dipped pretzels, truffles and some novelty shaped candies.
The prices were higher than a drug store, but less than some other tourist traps I’ve been in. The candy I got there was all fresh (I bought my Victoria Creams, a Pecan Divinity Bar and a package of Marich Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews) and in good condition.
While they don’t have everything I could possibly be looking for, the collection of products was well curated - there was something there to satisfy just about every craving, whether it was for sizzling cinnamon, root beer, chocolate, salty sweets, super sours, chewy, nutty, gummi, cracklin’, gum, a lollipop or just something new.
It’s definitely a shop that I’ll make a point to come back to when I’m in the area.
UPDATE 9/13/2011 - I stopped by the shop again last week while vacationing in the area. The first time I stopped by in the middle of the afternoon, they were inexplicably closed, with just a note on the door saying that they would be open the following day. I returned later in the week and they were indeed open. The offerings in the store have changed since my last visit. The inventory did not seem quite as lush or diverse, but they still had the bulk items and lots of nostalgic classics. My biggest disappointment was the fact that they no longer carry Roger’s Creams. Their chocolate counter is now populated with some unbranded chocolates. I purchased some chocolate covered candied orange peels and a couple of pieces of honeycomb. Both were good and at $19.99 a pound I thought they were well priced. I still missed picking up the Roger’s Creams though.
Monday, August 10, 2009
I’ve been meaning to hit Robitaille’s Fine Candies in Carpenteria, CA for a few years now. They’re in a cute little seaside town just south of Santa Barbara known for its excellent beach. Of course no seaside town is complete without a candy shop. Robitaille’s makes their own fudge and some chocolates along with what they consider themselves most famous for, their Inaugural Mints.
The shop is much larger than I expected, perhaps because I thought that their 400 square foot candy kitchen included the store floor ... instead it’s a large open space that houses three full aisles of pre-packaged bulk candies.
I made a beeline for the mints and had several versions to chose from.
They sell two different sized packages of the mints, eight ounces and four ounces ... all standing on end like little record albums. I chose a box of the classic red, white and blue ones in the smaller four ounce size.
I wasn’t quite sure what they were, since the honor of an official mint for an inauguration made them sound exotic or perhaps even unique.
It turns out they’re not. It says on the website Do not let the colors fool you. These are all made from white chocolate. Sadly that’s not quite true. Maybe it was at one time, but the ones I picked up are sugar, partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil and then some cocoa butter followed by some milk products and other things like sorbitan monostearate that sound like they don’t need to be in there. So at least there’s some white chocolate in there. (And a heavy heaping of food coloring, as you might imagine.)
I admit, I was still enchanted with them. They look like glossy, patriotic tiddlywinks
Though they boast about being handmade, they’re really just little puddles of peppermint flavored white confection (see Smooth n Melty Mints) which probably taste just as good spewed out of a machine.
That said, I liked them! They’re smooth, they’ve very sweet and minty and have a good silky melt on the tongue. I appreciated that they weren’t covered with little nonpariels so at least there was something unique about them.
They come in a few different color variations - pastels, harvest colors and red, white & green for Christmas. I would probably prefer just plain white ones if I could.
The store itself has a huge selection of other candies, something for everyone. There is a whole display of items between the fresh fudge and the house-made candy case of sugar free candies. Then there are many aisles filled with shelf after shelf of items. There’s a good selection of licorice including salted from Europe and Australian style along with German (Haribo wheels) and American version of allsorts. There were flavors and flavors of salt water taffy, lollipops the size of your head. All colors of M&Ms (in single color packages), rock candy in all colors, compressed dextrose candies (Runts, pacifiers, little stars, little daisies) and then jelly beans and all sorts of chocolate coated things like pretzels, honeycomb, marshmallows & graham crackers.
The prices of the candies varied and were by and large decent. Some chocolate candies were $12.95 a pound and the sugar candies were usually about $5.95 a pound with others somewhere in between. Most prepacked items were 4-8 ounces, so the choice of sizes wasn’t that great.
There were also shelves and shelves of candy favorites especially hard to find independent companies like Annabelle’s, Necco and Tootsie. No vacation destination is complete without a selection of a few dozen candy sticks, which are right up by the check out counter.
One of the other items I picked up in the candy case was something I saw on their website and was even more impressed with in person. The Dark Chocolate Turtle (they also come in milk and white chocolate).
This sizable patty is 3.5 inches across and exquisitely formed in layers. A dark chocolate disk as a base, glossy caramel, then a few pecans then another dollop of dark chocolate.
The caramel had a nice pull, good chew and excellent burnt sugar & butter flavors. The dark chocolate was semisweet with good fruity & toasted flavors to go with the woodsy pecans. Some spots seemed to be mostly chocolate but the whole effect was a satisfying candy. The price was pretty decent as well, each piece was about $1.50 each and might I say they were just slightly too big for me. (I cut most of them in half and shared.)
Robitaille’s Fine Candies
Monday, June 15, 2009
On Friday I took a little trip up to Universal CityWalk at Universal Studios to see what the state of candy is there.
This wasn’t the first time I was there, I visited with Sera from The Candy Enthusiast last summer, but this time it was during the day and I had more time to browse around and take notes (instead of just buying candy).
There are three main shops that have candy and each offers a bit of a different menu.
This shop is quite bold and colorful. The inventory is also pretty wide. It includes many fine chocolate bars from local companies like Chuao to brands like Santander, Ritter Sport, Valor, Cadbury, Green & Blacks, Lindt & Ghirardelli and packaged chocolate candies from Turin & Marich plus some generic chocolate blocks.
But what is most interesting about this shop, especially for those who are travelers and want to experience something different, is the candy case.
On my first visit there I picked up some fun items like candied pumpkin and candied sweet potato. This time around all these seemed to have were tamarind balls (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and only two varieties of a version of dulce de leche that’s like a Mexican style Penuche. Then there were the mango & chili items plus other traditional tamarind confections.
The prices were decent, especially for the fudge. For the prepackaged chocolate bars it’s quite a bit steeper. For the Ritter Bars they were $3, the Valor were $5 ... a stop a the Target or Cost Plus World Market within a stone’s through would be about a third off.
Then there’s the stuff in the barrels. Real Mexican candy like Pulparindo, Pelon Pelo Rico, de la Rosa Mazapan & ChiliBonchas. All for the low, low price of $11.90 per pound. Go to just about any grocery store in Los Angeles and the same stuff is about $2 or $3. But hey, that’s what vacation is all about - overpaying for most of the things you don’t allow yourself to buy at home.
The nice thing is that theming isn’t like everything else. It’s not sterile, it’s not overly precious ... it’s just a candy shop that acts like a candy shop. The counter help seemed rather knowledgeable about their candy offerings and seemed partial to the flavors of the Mexican & Latin American items. They also serve hot chocolate.
Sparky’s is more than a candy store, think of it as a gift store with a collector’s bent. They have Pez, lots and lots of Pez. Plus other little items in licensed lines Hello Kitty, Betty Boop and Hot Wheels.
They have the standard bulk candies like Jelly Belly and a rather large selection of specialty flavored taffy. But mostly they have packaged candy with the theme of classics & nostalgic offerings. Theater size boxes of all the standards (that are usually on sale for a dollar at the drug store are $3 here). Hard to find candy bars like Sky Bar, every flavor of Charleston Chew, all of the Annnabelle’s bars, Clark Bars, Idaho Spuds and Bottlecaps. Those felt a little more reasonable at $1.50 (my local 7-11 is charging $1.29 for candy bars now).
The staff here also seemed to really know their candy, I witnessed as they were able to direct a customer to a bar based only on the description of it (turned out to be a Sky Bar).
This completely tricked out and themed candy store is the largest by far. The spartan white walls & displays include some amazing original art direction.
Instead of going for childish renditions of candy & rainbows, they’ve done some really nice work here to set themselves apart. It’s part Sephora and part Juicy Couture. (Definitely geared towards women.) Glam candy. Pre-sexualized for your fetish-ization.
I know it sounds like I’m critical of it, but I rather enjoyed the imaginative photos gracing the walls - women swimming with Swedish Fish. Gummi Worms eaten with chopsticks by a stylized Geisha. A full on 18th Century French pouf wig made of red licorice on a starkly powdered face with bright lips to match (image here).
The bulk bins go for $11.60 a pound and feature mostly sugar candy. They have a nice selection of dextrose candy like Cry Baby Tears and more generic items in different shapes & colors like Runts & bananas. There are plenty of gummis, from single flavor bears from Albanese to some of their more spectacular creations like the Gummy Butterflies. Gummi cherries & Peach Rings as well as the various sour belts. Then there are standards like Good n Plenty, licorice twists, Lemonheads, Cinnamon bears, Hot Tamales and so on. There is a small selection of chocolate items in bulk, just chocolate covered nuts, a few gourmet malt balls and mini Butterfinger type bars.
In the candy bar area, they are similarly stocked & priced as Sparky’s, though they carry a few more of the penny candy style items like paper dots and wax lips.
Then at the very back of the store is the M&Ms Color Wall. Every color of M&MS you could want, make your own custom mix. (Same with Jelly Belly.)
I found the Wazoo bars there (very hard to come by these days) so I picked up the Wild Berriez I hadn’t tried yet and some pretty looking dextrose candies, a crazy set of gumballs plus a few other munchables. I got out of there for less than $5 and my parking validated.
The biggest selling point, besides just a fun place to gawk at candy is the merchandising of candy brands. You can get ear buds branded with Sugar Babies, lip balm or gloss in a gajillion different candy flavors, coffee mugs, crazy tee shirts, a Twizzlers messenger bag, pillows shaped like your favorite candies ... there’s a lot of non-edible stuff in there.
IT’SUGAR is a small chain with stores in all the hot tourist spots: Atlantic City, Myrtle Beach plus smaller outposts in Miami, Long Island, San Diego, London, Manchester, New York City, Las Vegas and Ft. Lauderdale.
There’s definitely something to satisfy your sweet tooth if you’re at Universal CityWalk. (The insiders trick is to valet park for 2 hours for free with validation on weekday afternoons, see their current rules.)
Universal Sudios CityWalk (Hollywood)
Monday, December 22, 2008
Menu for Hope is back for its fifth year and is as big as ever. The multi-blog effort is headed by Chez Pim and raises money for the United Nations World Food Programme.
It’s a raffle where various bloggers, individuals and companies have donated food-related items.
Here’s my annual roundup of confectionery goodies up for grabs this year. (You can see the complete list of goodies here.)
Each raffle ticket is $10. Please be sure to read the complete listings about any geographical or timing limitations before you buy your tickets.
Item Number: EU04
Description: 2 boxes of Parisan style macarons from Petites Bouches
A pair of sligtly crisp nut-flecked cookies sandwich the most luxurious buttercreams and the creamiest ganache made from premium Valrhona Chocolate. Made from raw organic almonds and organic brown eggs. (US only.)
Item Number: EU02
Description: A stack of hand-chosen, just for you, real Swiss chocolate bars. This was one of the prizes I really wanted last year.
You get to pick your preference for nuts or not, milk or dark ... an awesome opportunity to get a different taste every week.
Item Number: UE05
Description: Small Box of LA Burdick Chocolate Mice
I tried these earlier this year, they’re simply too cute - little truffle mice with almond slice ears ... everything is edible except for the tails.
Item Number: UE11
Description: La Maison du Chocolat’s Shimmering Snowflake Coffret
Over a half a pound (about 29 pieces) of delicate chocolate creations. Includes the holiday flavors: chestnut, orange confit stick, dark ganache with banana, milk ganache with ros? Champagne, milk pralin? feuillet? with hazelnuts and almonds, almond paste with citrus zest, and dark plain ganache. (U.S. only)
Item Number: UE12
Description: Five boxes of Garrison Confectioners handcrafted chocolates inspired by PAMA Liqueur
The PAMA Tart is a heavenly layered chocolate ganache and graham cracker crust treat laced with pomegranate flavor. The PAMA Cosmo, a great twist on the classic drink, delivers a flavor explosion by coupling premium vodka with fresh, invigorating lime juice. But the true test of a cordial is its ability to stand to toasted nuts, and PAMA passed with flying colors with Garrison"s Nutty PAMA creation. It combines a perfected blend of roasted nut and pomegranate for a truly indulgent experience.
Item Number: UE17
Description: The ‘Studio Collection’ Box by Chocolatier Oliver Kita
A retail value of $40, this box 16 deliciously creative sweets.
Item Number: UW23
Description: BonBonBar Tower of handmade candy bars, caramels, and marshmallows.
3 Caramel Nut Candy Bars, 3 Malt Candy Bars, 3 Orange Candy Bars, 3 Single Malt Scotch Candy Bars, 12 Vanilla Marshmallows, 12 Passionfruit Marshmallows 1 Container of Hot Chocolate Mix
Item Number: UW24
Description: Scharffen Berger Chocolate Gift Package
5 pounds of petit baking squares, The Essence of Chocolate cookbook plus an (extra) bitter t-shirt.
Item Number: EU03
Description: US$50 gift certificate from bento supplier J-List.com PLUS 3 bento books
JList is an awesome place to find all sorts of Japanse treats like Mentos, limited edition KitKat and HiCHEW.
Item Number: EU06
Description: Damian Allsopp chocolates
Christmas chocolates from Fortnum & Mason . Damian is unique in his use of water-based ganaches. This creates fabulously intense flavours such as pear and anise, salty liquorice and “Christmas.”
Item Number: CA08
Description: Gift box from Kerstin’s Chocolates
12 high quality, Edmonton-made chocolate bars from Kerstin’s Chocolates. (Canada only.)
Raffle ends on December 24th. Winners will be announced in January.
See this page for the complete list and directions for how to purchase the tickets from Firstgiving.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.