Friday, May 9, 2008
Since the temperatures were back in the nineties in Los Angeles and I just returned from a long road trip, I thought I’d discuss chocolate storage for cocoa butter hostile climates.
Freezing or even refrigerating chocolate can encourage sweating (condensation) and transfer of odors from other foods. I simply don’t use my fridge for my candy. It’s never worked out very well, it’s too cold. Also, if you do end up freezing your chocolate, it’s important to bring it back to room temperature slowly - first in the fridge, then into a cool room. (Too much work & planning! I want my chocolate now!)
If you have a nice cool cupboard (preferably on an inside wall away from appliances that get warm), just keeping your chocolate sequestered should be fine. I have a set of Pyrex containers that won’t transfer odors and seem to give a bit of insulative protection. It also helps to have a climate controlled house. I don’t have central air and Los Angeles can experience some wide swings, temperatures inside my house go from the low sixties to over 100. (I’ve taken clothes out of my dresser that feel like they just came out of the hot dryer.)
These glass containers at the moment reside in my Chocolate Fridge. Technically it’s a wine fridge (meant to hold a dozen bottles). I’ve repurposed it to hold chocolate by amping up the temperature to 65 (instead of 55, which is where you’d probably keep your wine). Because wine fridges don’t dehumidify, the glass is also good for protecting against moisture. It also helps to prevent transfer of flavors and odors. Mint and Coffee items are additionally wrapped in ziploc bags and kept in separate containers from other non-flavored chocolates.
That’s what things looked like about a month ago. I ended up taking out two of the shelves and just stacking some of the glass containers because I have so much stuff. Yes, be sure to stagger things to encourage circulation, but also remember that a full fridge is more efficient than an empty one because the stuff inside insulates itself.
I bought a little thermometer to keep on the inside as well to monitor the temperature. There wasn’t anything on the settings, just low-med-high, so I wasn’t sure what I was getting, right now I have it set on low and the temps have been 62-65 ... well within the ideal range. (That little white thing at the bottom is a container of baking soda, also to absorb odors.) Some folks also love to use charcoal briquettes to absorb odors and control humidity - just be sure to get ones without lighter fluid in them, which will result in an unpalatable flavor.
While this is elegant and all that, it’s also expensive to buy and of course requires electricity (no good for brown outs in the summer heat). However, if you’re the type of person who is spending $8 a piece on bars, or place orders online for quanties far larger than can be consumed in a week, it may make sense in the long run.
Not only that, it doesn’t hold that much (well, not enough for me). So my second line of defense is a series of Insulated Coolers (ice chests) in my closet. This closet happens to be in the north-west corner of the house which is naturally shaded in the late afternoon by my neighbor’s house. Inside the cooler I layer my candies ... full boxes on the bottom (I still have some Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road bars left), then a layer of cold packs. At the moment my cooler isn’t really that good, I’m planning to upgrade to a better insulated ones (called 5 day coolers by Igoo).
I don’t actually freeze the cold packs I use, but sometimes I toss them in the fridge overnight. I don’t want to freeze anything or shock it, I just want to keep the climate consistently under 70 degrees. When I put them back in, I usually wrap them in a paper towel, just in case they cause a bit of condensation. (I’m thinking of making sleeves for them out of old fabric napkins. Cold pack cozies, anyone?)
Then if I don’t have any other candies that must be kept cold I fill in with other candy, just for insulation value. If I don’t have any candy sitting around sometimes I use throw pillows or bubble wrap. A full cooler will stay cool better than one with a large gap of air in the top. When returning from San Francisco, because I took more candy up there than I brought back, I ended up stuffing two wool sweaters on the top of the cooler as insulation from the glaring sun from my hatchback window. I also placed a windshield reflector over the cooler to give an added measure of protection against heat.
Another solution is water bottles. I have quite a collection of sport bottles that I just fill with tap water. The large mass of room temperature water provides yet another layer of insulation. I could also put them in the fridge for a while should the temps rise (this is a great solution if you don’t have access to those cold packs - but again, if it’s humid they will sweat, so put them in a clean cotton sock or something).
I also have an old styrofoam cooler box that I got a gift of cheese in once. For the most part, I just put stuff in there as a storage space for things I pick up on sale (my Hershey’s Eggs in this case), but as it’s been getting warmer I’ve tossed a few cool packs on top.
For shorter trips around town, remember that your car is a portable solar oven. Leaving stuff in the trunk or back seat is asking for moltency. Again, a cooler is a wise choice, and those insulate lunch bags can be rather helpful as well. If you have no choices, put lots of layers around the chocolate and water bottles or any large volume of liquid is your friend.
I have a couple of other smaller options as well. Inside my purse I carry this little anodized aluminum sunglass case. It doesn’t have much insulation value, just a little fuzzy lining, but the fact that it’s durable metal helps to minimize direct transfer of heat to a precious candy bar that might pick up at a deli such as this valuable BonBonBar from Joan’s on Third.
Finally, for carrying to parties or a special picnic, why not consider this wide mouth Soup Thermos:
As I found out, it doesn’t do much to protect candies from changes in air pressure.
Here are some other resouces about how to store your chocolate goodies:
Do you have any solutions, or words of warning?
Sunday, April 27, 2008
My Saturday schedule in the Bay Area was focused on the East Bay (Oakland, Emeryville and Berkeley). I had a meeting in the morning and a dinner planned, so my mid-day hours were devoted to the further amassing of sweets.
I didn’t buy as much, mostly because I already have so much stuff from my previous days, these were kind of informational, not acquisitional.
Michael Mischer Chocolates
Sampled: raspberry truffle
Lovely shop that is at once spare and comfortable without feeling sterile. There are even some sugar-free selections. Michael Mischer himself was there, I asked him about the salted peanut butter cup that I tried the day before at Fog City, alas, he didn’t have any more of them. So I got a plain peanut butter and a salted caramel ... I can put them in my mouth together.
Sampled: chocolate covered matzah, triple chocolate hazelnut
I stopped into this old fashioned candy shop & gift store. I didn’t buy anything there, not because it’s not a good store, but much of the inventory is stuff that I’ve already reviewed. They have a nice selection of class bulk candies (sour balls, mary janes, imported hard candies, Koppers cordials, etc.), some chocolate candies in the case and the usual fun candy novelties.
No samples. I asked about the Pralus bars, the fellow said that the best was the Sao Tome, but beyond that, I couldn’t seem to get much interaction going about the chocolate. (Two of the folks were eating and the manager was chatting with some regular customers.) It was probably one of the loudest cafes I’ve been in for quite a long time. I’ve been in the shop before, so I think I just caught them at that bad moment after the lunch rush while everyone needs a little break. They have an amazing selection of chocolate bars on display, like some cafes will have poetry books.
Total for the day: $110.42
I’m packing up my car this morning to get ready for the drive back to Los Angeles. This time I’ll be taking the 5 South, which goes through the intensely-agricultural San Joaquin Valley. Not really much to stop for candy-wise. That’s fine, I have plenty.
You can look forward to the inventory from my three day adventure to be photographed copiously and reviewed here.
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?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.