Saturday, April 26, 2008
I’ve been to San Francisco quite a lot, I love the city, mostly because I know so many great people here. But also because it has such a wonderful confectionery tradition. San Francisco is a candy town. I spent my first night after driving up at the Ocean Park Motel, way over by the ocean (a part of San Francisco I’ve never explored before). After checking in I took a walk, got some eggs at a diner and then walked down to the beach where I spotted a whale and watched it for about ten minutes as it made its way north to its feeding grounds (kinda like me!).
In the past three years I’ve visited Miette Confiserie, Ricchiuti Chocolates, Jelly Belly’s factory, Scharffen Berger, Charles Chocolates (in both their old & new location), CocoaBella, Fog City News and The Candy Store.
On Friday morning I packed up my car (my destination was Oakland for a meeting at 4PM at the National Novel Writing Month headquarters, but there were many zags and zigs along the way) with a nicely chilled cooler ready to be filled. Well, it actually held three boxes of candy bars and another six or seven pounds of other stuff for the staff to munch on.
Here’s how the day went:
Sampled: Caffarel flower bud, Domori Porcelana?, Vegan/Raw chocolate from Marin and something else that I’ve spaced on completely.
I had an absolutely awesome talk with Jack who runs the place. He’s tasted everything there and is really committed to his inventory. He tries to carry the best bars that each company has to offer (so you won’t find all of the Domori ... or anyone’s line). He also does a lot of repacking, so you can just buy a package of two Lillie Belle truffles, and then two Cluizel Champignon ... it’s the best thing for candy lovers who are still searching for the most amazing experiences. (And if it’s not an amazing experience, then you’re only out a couple of bucks!)
Sampled: Ecuadoran single origin bonbon.
An interesting new space. Rather clinical and spare, it reminds me more of Los Angeles than San Francisco. The selection is immense and includes Elbow’s bonbons and prepackaged items (bars, chocolate covered nuts & gift packages) as well as a brief menu of cafe selections. I made my chocolate selections (picking some of the items that I’ve tried before like the Strawberry Balsamic that used to be in white chocolate and is now in dark) and picked out a hot chocolate. I had it prepared to go, but did sit for a moment in the lounge area. The woman who prepared my chocolate that morning (it was about 11 AM) said that things would usually get very busy in the evening, as it was a popular after dinner spot for people to come on Friday and Saturday nights. (This is exactly the thing I want in walking distance from my house!)
After making some notes for myself I walked over to:
Sampled: Haribo Smurf (actually a raspberry jelly candy, not a gummi)
Again, a lovely experience as I got to chat with Caitlin (one of the owners) about Napoleon bonbons & the little tins they come in, licorice and the lack of similar candy shopping in Los Angeles. (Though we’re coming along.)
I found out about the shop on SFGate.com. It wasn’t quite as impressive as the story (and comments) made it sound. It was very small, I didn’t feel like I could look at everything and I was rushed (and didn’t get to finish ordering my items before my card was swiped and I ended up paying cash for my Turkish Delight). I actually meant to try a couple of other things, but didn’t see them until after that ... sigh, there’s always next time. The cool thing is that it’s walking distance to Fog City & not far at all from the Ferry Terminal.
Fog City News
Total: $27.92 (Discount! 20%)
Sampled: Michael Mischer Salted Peanut Butter Cup (awesome but really salty) & Amano Ocumare. Had an excellent talk with Adam, who runs Fog City. (He recognized my name when I signed up for the newsletter so I could get some discounts on my bars. I don’t necessarily hide my identity but I don’t go up to the counter and say, “I blog about candy, now gimme some!”) They have an awesome sale on Amano right now (25% off) if you’re in the neighborhood. My favorite is definitely the Ocumare.
I stopped as I was walking down the street because I spied some La Florentine Torrones, but was so pleased to find the BruCo Anise bar.
I read about this shop on Chowhound and definitely wanted to see how it measured up to the grand San Francisco tradition. It has a very young vibe to it, it feels much more “accessible” to children. They have a great selection of gummis, traditional favorites (candy jewelry) and some crazy hard to find items like C.Howards, UK import Cadbury bars, a really good selection of Koppers ... I could go on and on. The prices per pound are specific to the candy (instead of just pricing the whole shop at one point which makes things like Smarties crazy expensive and chocolate malt balls kind of reasonable), so you get what you pay for.
I had other places on my list, like Z Cicciolato and XoX Truffles but I really needed to balance out my purchases of perishable items, so they’ll have to wait until I return in the summer.
I’m kind of logging all this stuff so you’ll know what sort of items you can buy at these shops, and what they cost. (And also because I have a tendency to forget these things.)
Total spent today: $153.77 (yeah, I’m kind of feeling candy buyers remorse, mostly because I haven’t actually eaten any of it, I just get to look at it and tally up how much money I spent, not how much enjoyment I’m getting).
I’m in Oakland, CA right now, just back at the apartment I’m staying at for a little rest. Mostly I wanted to take a moment to begin documenting what I’ve been doing. Usually when I come up for a weekend, I pay for my lodging (as well as the gas). This time I’m fortunate enough to have a friend putting me up for two days (thanks Chris!) so with the money I’ve “saved” I’m throwing it all into candy. (I have to wonder if I can actually spend $150 a day on candy ... hmm.)
On Thursday morning I headed up to San Francisco for a long weekend. Usually when I go to the Bay Area from Los Angeles I take the 5, which is very fast and efficient but rather boring (as there’s very little of interest to candy-minded people besides what can be found at a gas station). So I decided to take the slightly longer & slower 101 N route.
Along the way I had three stops planned (I would have stopped in Santa Barbara, but I passed through town at about 9:30 AM, before some of their promising shops open, so that’ll be later this summer when I go up for one of my whale watching adventures).
San Luis Obispo is about three and a half hours north of Los Angeles, so it’s a pretty quick drive and a logical place to stop for a cup of coffee anyway. Sweet Earth Chocolates is an organic & fair trade confectioner based right there, they also sell their sweets right from the Splash Cafe, so it was perfect rest/candy stop.
Sweet Earth Chocolates @ Spash Cafe
Here’s what I picked up (some for later review):
(plus a vegan turtle sample)
This is also the point where I stopped for gas. That was $33.57 (I have a Prius ... which doesn’t hold a lot of gas, so even at $4.09 a gallon, I only needed 8.2 gallons).
The other high priority stop for me along the way was in San Jose, which is another three hours north of San Luis Obispo.
Holland Pastry & Gift Shop sells a huge selection of licorice, and in all sorts of different sizes of packages from the original manufacturer. Now that I’ve sampled quite a bit from my other candy trips, I was ready for some bigger bags of the tried & true favorites and some more experimentation. The best part about the shop is that everything is a fraction of the price I’m paying at the upscale shops. Of course without all the fancy packaging, ambiance and prime location in choice neighborhoods, too.
Holland’s Best (aka Holland Pastry & Gift Shop)
(plus a trollendrop sample)
The last stop was mostly because I was there, literally, it was just an exit off the freeway. So I stopped at the See’s Factory, which has a little store attached. Now, as far as I know, See’s rarely has “outlet” sales. I know that some folks pick up after-holiday merchandise there on sale, but that’s pretty rare. I didn’t find any grand deals there, but I was happy to see the homeland of happy-habit chocolates.
(plus a Mocha Truffle sample)
So that total for Thursday: $122.66 (includes departure cup of coffee at Winchell’s in Silverlake).
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Easter is in full swing as the Valentine’s candies are gone from the shelves and replaced by a profusion of pastels. It comes a bit earlier this year, March 23rd.
I did my regular seasonal circuit of the major retailers to see what was returning, absent and new:
There’s a hoarde of new eggs this year. Notably from Russell Stover (who has always done the larger enrobed eggs). I’ll have a roundup of those later next week and even a new one from Princess for UK readers.
Wonka has again mucked up the classicly wonderful SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies. The first year I reviewed them they contained Grape, Apple, Lemon & Cherry. Last year the lemon were dropped. This year they replaced the Apple with Blue Tropical Punch. Yuck. I am official on the wagon and refuse to buy these any longer as the only ones I’m interested in now are the Grape.
I’ve seen some “bunny corn” but still no sightings of the spring mix MelloCremes from Brach’s. You can get a quasi-substitute from Jelly Belly though.
Hershey’s has plenty of Kisses to chose from, including the return of the Coconut Creme Kiss, Vanilla Creme, Orange Creme & Lemon Creme, Pastel foil versions of regular, caramel, almond and dark chocolate and Pastel Kissables.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Baldinger’s is in Zelienople in Butler County north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and billed themselves as having Foods from All Nations. What they were known for though was their incredible candy selection, including their actual penny candy that cost a penny a piece.
Baldinger’s was a family affair, started by Dorothy & Allen Baldinger in 1933. They started as a roadside fruit stand and carried other food items and items like cookie cutters and later found that the candy was a real hit. After the Baldinger’s died, the store passed to Dorothy’s sister, Lois Dodge. Dodge left the day-to-day business of the store to Betty Sabo, who managed the store, she started working there in 1943 as a teenager. But the land under the store was recently closed with the understanding that the store would stay open as long as Betty Sabo continued to manage the store. This was complicated recently when the owner, Lois, passed away. The store is slated to close in June of this year.
While the rest of the world seemed to pass them by, including I-80 and the Turnpike leaching more traffic from route 19, they never even updated the original cash register that never rang more than $9.99. When I was there, my purchases were written up on a slip of paper, added by hand but the cashier.
Baldinger’s boasted an excellent collection of candies. Much of it was bulk items and classic hard-to-find items like anise squares, Nik-l-Nips, wax lips and Mary Janes. They had seasonal candies as well, as that’s half the fun of candy along with candy bars from all over the country, limited editions and not the just the biggies. I also found a great selection of Dutch and other European Licorices and at only $6 a pound (half of what I pay for them at other places in San Francisco).
If you’re in the neighborhood before summer, it’s definitely worth a trip to see them, a little piece of history, before it’s gone. It’s a completely different kind of nostalgia than the manufactured (Dylan’s Candy Bar) and franchised (Powell’s Sweet Shoppe) style that has replaced it. (It’s kind of in the Economy Candy style.)
The penny candy selection is what I’d call “obligatory” since it contains very small pieces of candy, all made in Brazil or Mexico and not any names you’d recognize. But once you get up into the five cent and by the pound stuff, it’s all pretty good. I picked up individually wrapped Goetze’s Caramel Creams, various boxes of Lemonheads & other fruit heads, a full set of Pearson’s, a limited edition Take 5 chocolate cookie, Boyer’s Mallo Cup & Smoothie. I also got a bunch of Peerless candies (but I just ate those, they weren’t for reviewing). All the prices were great when I was there 65 cents for any candy bar (they also had some import consumer bars) and the bulk candy ranged from $2.00 a pound to $4.00 a pound. Mind you this was 2006, but I doubt that much has changed.
22105 Perry Hwy
UPDATE 4/9/2008: It looks like Baldinger’s may get a new location and continue! Check out this story in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. I’ll check up on the new space next time I’m in Pittsburgh.
UPDATE 5/29/2008: The new address is 519 Perry Highway (Rte 19) - they’ll be across the street from the Exxon station. They expect to move into the larger space sometime in July. So if you’re planning on stopping by this summer, just call ahead to see where they’re at.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Since it was predicted to be so nice, and I had such a great experience with BonBonBar, I ordered two chocolate bars on Monday, February 11th from the beta chocolate company TCHO, located in San Francisco.
It’s February and the predicted high temperature all week was 66 degrees. At 1:30 PM today it was 65. Ideal, really, for chocolate.
However, the package shipped on Tuesday, February 12th and only arrived at my door on February 15th. Hardly Priority Delivery if you ask me. And really slow for door to door service a scant 400 miles apart and to major metro areas.
They came in a silver metallic bubble-wrap envelope (folded in half). It felt hot to the touch. I opened it immediately and pulled the bars out. They too were hot ... and squishy.
There you have it.
TCHO was co-founded by a space shuttle technologist. I’m not sure what end of all of the technologies integrated into the space shuttle he was involved in, but it couldn’t have had anything to do with insulating or maintaining optimal operating temperatures. Or getting things to arrive on schedule.
I’m not going to give it a full review at this moment. I ate most of the melted parts of the bar shown. It’s rather tangy, has some clear coffee and dark berry notes. It’s smooth, but not super-smooth (even a few gritty bits) and doesn’t have the buttery quality that I love so much about great chocolate.
I sent a note to the company before posting this, letting them know of the poor condition the package arrived in. (I’ll let you know the resolution of that.) The 50 gram bars are $4 each and the shipping was $5.
Since I took that photo the bar has re-solidified, poorly tempered now with swirls of dark and light and an irregular texture. So sad.
The plain truth is that I get a lot of gooey chocolate. Rarely stuff that I order, usually things that are sent to me as samples, and I’ve come to accept the fact that PR folks simply don’t know how to put together a box that can survive for 24 hours without getting melted. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed it’s that package that are packed tightly do the worst. A little airspace between insulated walls does wonders. In the case of this package, a reflective package is great but once it heats up to the ambient temperature of the delivery truck’s interior, it’s actually conducting the heat to the contents, not protecting it.
I think I’ll stick to buying my bars in stores.
(The good news is that I have a lovely box of Valerie Confections’ Lemon & Hazelnut Nougat that my husband gave me for Valentine’s Day to console myself.)
UPDATE: Looks like a very prompt note from TCHO was caught in my spam filter around 3 PM (very quick!). They said that they hadn’t implemented hot weather shipping yet, but will re-evaluate that. They’re sending out a replacement package next week. Looks like I can be a beta tester for both the chocolate and the shipping! (Honestly, it appears that more of the problem is with how long it took for the package to get from SF to LA.)
UPDATED UPDATE 2/19/2008: Wow, when TCHO says they’re gonna put some new bars in the mail, they mean same day. They arrived today and in good condition.
Friday, January 4, 2008
I think my best score was in the baking aisle at Von’s where they had Smooth & Melty mint chips on sale for $1.24 for 12 ounces. (I also bought two bags of the regular Guittard Chips which were also 66% off, you know, just cuz.)
I have to call ludicrous hooey on this product on the Williams-Sonoma site: Handmade Peppermint Snow (6 ounces). Guess what it is? Yes, you are correct, it’s crushed red and white peppermints. Handmade peppermints. All in this lovely jar and marked down from $10 to $6.99 ... what a deal!
Crate & Barrel has Mini Mighty Marshmallows (4.5 ounces) marked down from $6.95 to $1.75.
Dean and Deluca has one fabulous deal to report, these Karmamel Kickbacks (21 ounces) marked down from $48 to $12. They sound really good, “includes chocolate, chocolate nut, kahlua, mint, nougat caramel and pecan nougat center. Individually wrapped in a gift box and adorned with red ribbon.
Godiva is offering up to 50% off in their post-holiday Chocolate Covered Sale.
Artisan Sweets has a deal on French Candied Chestnuts marked down from $50 to $25.
Lake Champlain has had a few interesting items cycle in and out of their sale bin. Check out the current list here.
Chocosphere always has chocolate on sale in their bargain basement. Right now they have some Domori bars for half off. Always something good to take a chance on in there.
Have you found anything ridiculously cheap lately?
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Right after All Candy Expo closed, I scrambled off for a much-anticipated visit with family in the Pittsburgh area. My mother came and got me at my brother’s and we went off to Farrell, PA to see Daffin’s Candies factory and then to Sharon, PA and the “World’s Largest Candy Store.”
The Daffin family has been making boxed chocolates for over 100 years and at their factory in Farrell, Pennsylvania since the late 40s.
Daffin’s offers free tours of their factory (usually only for groups of 12 or more, but they made an exception for me & my mom). We were graced with Johanna as our guide, she’s been with Daffin’s for over 30 years, starting part time as seasonal help in packing orders and now works full time on the floor. I’ve had quite a few tours over the past few years and this was the first time I’d had one from someone who’d paid their dues at just about every station in the factory (instead of the person running the company or hired just to lead tours).
The tour started with the chocolate. A huge, closed vat (kind of like a large double boiler but looks like a humongo hot water heater that holds 300 gallons) keeps the chocolate at a consistent temperature day and night. (On that day it was filled with milk chocolate, other periods they fill it with dark chocolate when they’re running that product line.) The milk chocolate is made to their specifications by Peter’s Chocolate.
The candy is made pretty much just like you’d do at home, only on a larger scale. Since Daffin’s makes mostly cream centered candies (and some barks), they have large copper kettles for creating nougats, buttercreams and meltaways. The centers are spread on cooling tables, then cut into pieces and are then fed into an enrober on the line. They were prepping several tables of stuff, it looked like fudge and an almond nougatine while we were there.
The main highlight of the tour was watching as they made their Milk Chocolate Covered Cherries from start to finish. The cherries are tumbled in a small panning machine (it looks like a cement mixer) to cover them with a syrup and then sugar coating. The little cherry blobs are then placed on a conveyor on top of little bases of chocolate. They go through two curtains of chocolate then a cooling tunnel. Then they’re boxed up and set for shipping.
The other specialty of the house is molded chocolates. Daffin’s is known for their huge variety of pops and chocolate creatures for every holiday. We saw them making chocolate witches, pumpkins and even starting on the Thanksgiving turkeys already.
They had some other lines as well as the enrober. The other was a depositor, which as the name suggests, deposits chocolate into a small mold (or bars, I’m guessing). In this case it was a little daisy shaped mold that got a peanut butter meltaway center. Just like the cherries, once the piece was formed the tray of chocolates went into a cooling tunnel. The tunnel then flipped over and the chocolates came out of their molds. (If they didn’t there was a helpful fellow on the line who gave them a good smack.) Another set of workers pulled the individual candies off the conveyor and put them into boxes (and checked them as well, tossing aside the mal-formed pieces).
The factory has a special tour before Easter each year called Swizzle Stick Day. It’s very popular with families in the area. The free tour is capped off with a Swizzle Stick - the visitor gets to pick any “center” such as raspberry cream, nougatine, etc. Then it’s put on a stick and fresh dipped in chocolate right there!
The real attraction to Daffin’s however, is not their factory tour. It’s their store in nearby Sharon, Pennsylvania. While they’re proud to talk about their “Chocolate Kingdom”, I find their strangely scaled statues of animals, castles and little towns to be kind of creepy and not the slightest bit engaging. Sure, they’re covered in chocolate ... but since I can’t eat that (who knows how old they are?) what’s the point? I wanna buy something!
They say that it’s the “World’s Largest Candy Store” and though I’m not certain what the criteria would be ... I’m impressed. They not only sell their own chocolates from the factory, they also have a huge selection of candy from all over the world. It’s not about the ordinary candy bar here, but pre-packed 8 ounce bags of everything. Gummis, jellies, jelly beans, Jordan almonds, mints, licorice and sours. Most were $2 to $3 a bag. They also had large pick-a-mix areas with individually wrapped hard candies (maybe 100 different bins?) for $3.49 a pound and some salt water taffy bins, too.
The store is quite different from Dylan’s Candy Bar, which has a lot more candy bars and focuses on hip design and of course the bulk items aren’t prepacked. But everything here is about 1/3 the price. It’s not quite Economy Candy either, which has far more packaged international items like mints from Italy, bars from England and of course all the regional American specialties. It’s also, well, in Sharon, PA ... so it’s not like either of those two stores are within spitting distance.
From their candy counter my mother and I picked out some of their barks. We got the Potato Chip Bark and Pretzel Bark (and something else I can’t remember that had marshmallow in it). I also got some Sugar Mints.
I’d been looking for these since I ran across a thread on RoadFood.com over a year ago. They go by a lot of different names (MerriMints, Sherbet Mints, Melty Mints, French Cremes), but they’re basically just sugar (some recipes call for a little butter) with a little flavoring and color that are dolloped out (usually with a ridged side) and dried. Think of them as frosting disks!
I selected one of every flavor - Peppermint, Lemon, Orange, Cinnamon, Wintergreen and Root Beer. The melt easily on the tongue and were lightly flavored. All were great, except for the cinnamon, which was a maroon-red and tasted so bitter (food coloring!) that I couldn’t eat it. They were really reasonably priced. I think they were $8 a pound and I requested four of each flavor ... which came to $1.75!
The other barks were merely interesting. I’ve decided that Daffin special milk chocolate mix is far too sweet for me. Even with the mixed in items of the salty chips or pretzels, a little piece was all I could handle. I’m rather sad I didn’t try any of their dark chocolate items. (But I might return there sometime before Christmas or something because they have such a great selection.)
I really enjoyed their store, everyone was wonderfully friendly. I would definitely shop there again, but the chocolates are just not my style. Too old-school sweet for me.
Daffin’s Factory & Chocolate Shoppe
Daffin’s Chocolate Kingdom & World’s Largest Candy Store
Thursday, October 4, 2007
The National Confectioners Association (the people who run the All Candy Expo) released a list of what they call America’s Top 10 Sweet Spots for Halloween.
Here are their cities with my notes:
1. Hershey, Pa. Yes, they mentioned the Hershey empire with the park and Chocolate World and the Spa at The Hotel Hershey. But what you may not know is that there are lots of other confections within an hour of Hershey. Don’t miss Lititz, PA, home of Wilbur Chocolate and a fantabulous outlet store (with far better prices than you’ll find at the Chocolate World mall). Also in Souderton, PA, Asher’s Chocolate, Wolfgang in York, PA.
2. New York, N.Y.—They mention M&Ms World & Hershey’s in Times Square, Jacques Torres and Dylan’s Candy Bar, but miss many of the other confectionery delights: MarieBelle, Kees, Vosges, Pierre Marcolini, Max Brenner and Economy Candy. (See my New York Guide.)
3. Orlando, Fla.—I’ve never been there. The highlight Disneyworld and other mass-produced candy meccas like Dylan’s Candy Bar & Ghirardelli stores.
4. San Francisco, Calif.—this is a huge confectionery town. Ghirardelli, Scharffen Berger, Jelly Belly (in Fairfield) as well as Joseph Schmidt, CocoaBella, the new Charles Chocolates cafe and factory as well as some really great candy shops and don’t forget the Ferry Terminal (Recchiuti & Miette). I’ll have more in December. (Here’s my current guide for the Bay Area.)
5. Chicago, Ill.—Home of Ethel’s, Blommer, Ferrara Pan, Tootsie and a bunch of other companies that don’t offer tours but you can snuggle down at one of the five Ethel’s Chocolate Lounges. Vosges calls Chicago home, as well.
6. Los Angeles, Calif.—This is where I live and I can tell you that the press release was talking about Anaheim in nearby Orange County. (I did a little bit on Disneyland here). No factory tours for you here, but plenty of chocolatiers like Boule, Compartes, Valerie Confections, Jin Patissiere and Artisan du Chocolat. (Here’s my local shopping guide.) Don’t forget about See’s ... if you don’t live on the West Coast, it’s a must stop that won’t break your budget.
7. Boston, Mass.—the one time I visited Boston, I don’t think I had ANY candy (but made a wonderful trip to Filene’s Basement back when it was actually in the basement.). They highlight Boston’s part in making Halloween the holiday that it has come to be (but I can’t eat history!)
8. New Orleans, La.—again, another one I’ve never visited, but any city that loves coffee, pecans and boiled sugar is going to be a favorite. They suggested Evans Creole CandyFactory, Laura’s Candy Shop and Aunt Sally’s Praline Shop (I got some of their pralines at the All Candy Expo).
9. Las Vegas, Nev.—There’s really nothing unique in Las Vegas, except for the sheer density of it all. There are many large branded stores and fine European chocolatiers that want you to sugar up with them. M&Ms World, Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge, & Vosges.
The Pacific Northwest is conspicuously absent from this list. Portland and Seattle are amazing chocolate, toffee and caramel towns ... not that I’ve toured them with that in mind ... yet. If anything, Los Angeles and Orlando don’t belong on that list.
If you don’t feel like going too far afield, I did a little map last year with the confectioners I’d tried so far ... maybe you can make a little vacation for yourself for the price of a box of chocolates.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.