Friday, September 14, 2007
I did a guest post on Gridskipper.com of some Los Angeles chocolatiers. They have an awesome system of mapping everything. However, they gave me an itty bitty box to cram into it everything I thought was important about each one. If you’re looking for more, I’ve linked everything up here to my yummilicious reviews along with a grand listing you can print out if you want to do a little tour of Southern California chocolates.
Yes, yes, I know I still need to visit Compartes.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Though my recent vacation was not as candy-filled as some other trips I’ve taken, I did get to stop at an actual candy factory outlet store. Unlike other “company stores” such as Hershey’s and M&Ms World in Times Square, this store features many factory seconds at hugely discounted prices.
Chocolates a la Carte is located in Valencia, CA in a non-descript industrial park just on the other side of route 126 from Six Flags Magic Mountain and a stone’s throw from I5. The store is only open two days a week and for rather brief hours to boot, but the timing of my trip couldn’t have been more perfect. The company makes a wide variety of chocolate products. Many of them you’d never know were theirs, they make little chocolate pieces that are used as accents on desserts and bakery goods or found served with coffee service at fine hotels and restaurants. Some of their other lines are manufactured for other companies as well as for their own brand called Signature Chocolates by Rena.
Getting into the store is more like a private shopping appointment. We entered the two story reception area and were greeted by the receptionist who called for the marketing person who operates the store. She unlocked the little room which was the sum total of their outlet store. I’m guessing in cooler months it’s probably open more continuously ... it was 98 degrees at 4:00 when we stopped there last week ... not really chocolate weather
The store however, does not disappoint in both its breadth of inventory nor in savings.
The products I was most interested in were the Truffle Tiles (which are so much like the ones at Choxie it makes me wonder) and Truffle Pops (which I saw at Bristol Farms but somehow couldn’t pony up the $6 for the set of 3). But of course there was plenty to choose from.
The truffle tile selection was a little sparse - so I picked up their classic trio collection for $3.50. I was also pleased to find the truffle pops available individually, though only in the Brut Dark Chocolate variety (which I figured was the best anyway) for only $.50 each. Holy Moly! Those puppies are $2 each in stores! So I bought $2 worth (four of them).
Truffle Tiles ($3.50 for a box of 3) - well, I’m never as keen on molded truffles as I am on dipped ones, so there’s a strike there (but hey, I’m the one who bought them so I can hardly hold it against them). The proportion of chocolate to filling in the tiles, as you can see from the photo is heavy on the chocolate coating, light on the filling. This means that either the filling is intense or so washed out that it really only contributes a speck of texture. These were middle of the road for me. Not intense, but certainly fresh and fun.
6 out of 10
Truffle Pops (50 cents each) - here’s a home run at 50 cents each. The shell is much thicker on these than a regular truffle, but the filling is definitely intense and creamy (and not even runny given its exposure to 85+ degree heat in the evening in my house). While I’m not usually keen on “painted” chocolates, especially ones that have sparkles or luminous metallic colors (mostly because I have no idea what I’m eating) this looked edibly appealing and smelled pleasantly of woodsy chocolate.
8 out of 10 at this price, they’d make a wonderful wedding or party favor, but probably down to a 6 out of 10 at four times the price.
Brandy Disks ($2.50 for a bag of 6) - these little dark chocolate disks with white chocolate squiggles were exquisite. If I were to go back there and find a huge bag of them on sale, I’d jump at them. The center is a Florentine-style caramelized cookie thing and then the chocolate coating. The center was crisp and crunchy and a little chewy like toffee can be ... a touch of salt and dark caramelized sugar flavors. The dark chocolate offset it nicely. I ate three in one night after I photographed them.
Seriously addictive ... I give them a 9 out of 10.
Salted Caramel Truffles ($3.00 for a bag of 8 “seconds”) - these little guys may not have been the prettiest thing I purchased, but they were tasty. The center was part truffle cream and part caramel. It was a bit on the custardy side, smooth and creamy but without much flavor but a nice little hint of salt. I wasn’t wild about them, but liked them well enough to eat them after the Brandy Disks were gone.
I give them a 6 out of 10.
As for the prices, they’re sometimes less than half the retail price charged on their own website:
Monet’s Palate(TM) Chocolate Couture $26.95 on website - $12.50 in person
While most of the the prices are great, as an outlet store you never know what you’ll find there. Also, some of the items they sell are retail quality, others are slightly flawed. I was told that the truffle pops weren’t quite up to snuff in their bronzy coating, but they looked fine to me. But the little salted caramel truffles did have some aesthetic and functional problems (some of them had little coverage holes in them), so they’re fine for eating but I don’t know if I’d give them as gifts or use them as a wedding favor or anything.
The chocolate they use for their creations is a combination of Callebaut, Guittard and Valrhona (usually marked as such).
I guess the caveat is if you see something while you’re there, buy it because you don’t know if it’ll be there when you go bag. You could probably buy one and try it right there in order to decide if you want more. (Seeing how the Truffle Pops are only 50 cents, how could that be a bad idea?) I would have bought more of the Brandy Disks if I followed my own advice.
Chocolates ? la Carte
As outlet shopping goes, I give this an 8 out of 10, I’ll definitely go back when the opportunity presents itself.
Monday, July 16, 2007
For quite a while I’ve resisted going to visit L’Artisan du Chocolat, one of the few true chocolatiers here Los Angeles. (Jin Patisserie also falls into that list, but is in Venice so it may as well be in Santa Barbara.)
I can’t really explain my lack of interest, perhaps I doubted that they were any good. Perhaps it’s that I don’t like pretty painted looking chocolates ... there’s something about the idea of things that look like acrylic nail tips that just turns me off. But I’ve eaten and enjoyed such things (Christopher Elbow). Perhaps I resented their high prices. But then I have to look at my own hypocrisy of spending about a hundred bucks in one day walking around to three chocolate shops in New York City. There’s something about believing that something good can’t be just around the corner ... how special could it be if you could go there every day?
I went over to 1st Street, which is about two miles from my house and two miles from my office at lunch on Friday. Parking was super simple, so I don’t have that to whine about. The shop just so happens to be right next to Valerie Confections’ (which precipitated the visit) new shop that opens officially today.
The space is charming. A brick facade outside and bright yellow walls and green accents inside. The display case had a decent, if scant, assortment (the Salon du Chocolat was on Saturday and they were going to be closed, which I’m sure prompted the limited inventory). They were advertising their summer flavors in the window, so I made sure to pick out a few of those.
I got a box of nine chocolates (and gave one to my husband of his choice ... raspberry). I wrote down my selections, but not what they looked like so it was a bit of a struggle to figure some of it out (I took a couple of reference photos but even those weren’t much help when it turned out that they weren’t labeled in the case either). Their website offered no key.
Because the team at L’Artisan du Chocolat sells right out of the candy kitchen, I get the feeling that these were all very fresh (and there was certainly nothing in the flavor when consuming them that dissuaded me). I don’t mind a smaller selection if it means that everything meets a high standard. L’Artisan has been known for the past three years or so for their European style of molding and dipping, high chocolate content & fine ingredients along with a special penchant for interesting flavor combinations. I enjoy this with Chuao as well, and while at Chuao I get a rather masculine vibe from the flavors and the whole aesthetics of it, I get a neutral vibe from L’Artisan (and I get a feminine vibe from Vosges).
Cucumber & Vodka: Dark chocolate shell with a white chocolate cream center. There’s a light fresh flavor of cucumbers and faint little crunch of them in the background. The vodka adds a light alcoholic touch, it’s not a burning feeling, just a light tingle.
Basil: this one was very interesting in the best way possible. The basil was immediately apparent and reminded me of both licorice and basil and rosemary all at once. Fresh and clean and woodsy.
Fennel: a nice little square with an embossed design on the top. The shell is nice and dark and the center is super creamy. I wasn’t getting much in the way of fennel though. Just some grassy sort of flavors. Both fresh herb shapes were really cute and probably my preference for designs (embossed but not painted).
Classic: this was a perfect little sphere, dusted in cocoa powder. It’s soft and buttery and has a slight salty hint (cooca powder often does that for me). A little woodsy, very smooth and satisfying.
Rose Petal: quite floral but not in a soapy way. fresh and with a slight fruity edge, this was not in the least bit soapy tasting like some rose items can be. The ganache was a little custardy, but smooth and not too sweet.
Tomato: fresh and with a slight fruity edge, I honestly wasn’t sure it was the tomato one at all. The ganache was a little custardy, but smooth and not too sweet
Lemon Mousse: this was one of the few that smelled like the flavor it was supposed to be before I even bit into it. The mousse in the center is chocolate (I didn’t know if it was going to be white). It’s definitely a zesty lemon, with little bits of lemon rind in the ganache. A little on the tangy side and definitely lemony. Very satisfying (especially since it was such a big piece).
Pomegranate: pomegranate is one of those fruity flavors that I think goes very well with chocolate, mostly because it has some dark syrupy and molasses notes to it. This one is bursting with pomegranate flavor ... a little like raspberry and a little like rose and a bit of a lemon tang to it.
The 9 piece box was $22 ... probably more than I want to go for on a regular basis. Their website also mentions that they do boxes by the pound as well, starting with a half a pound (I found this was the most cost effective at Recchiuti in San Francisco as well.)
It took about four pieces to sway me ... I’m still not keen on the design of all the truffles, but it’s something I can overlook when the flavors are solid and authentic like this. They’ll get another visit from me, if only because I missed out on quite a few flavors after checking the website.
Other flavors that I didn’t try that were stocked at the shop were: Kalamata Olive, Ginger, Mild Chili, Pina Colada, Maple Syrup with Cinnamon & Cloves, Vanilla, Kumquat and Chestnut. I’m also interested in Caramelized Banana, Spicy Hot Chili Pepper, Lavender, Rosemary, Candied Citrus & Ginger. They were also out of the dark chocolate Three Teas which I’m sure are great.
What I really wanted was a place to sit down and have a cup of coffee or tea with my purchases. Perhaps 1st Street will become a new artisan confection mecca. As a place that’s convenient for me to go and pick up a small assortment (I’d like to just buy three and not have the whole box/packaging thing) I’m going to explore it further. I still am not convinced that it will surpass Chuao as a favorite local chocolatier (their quality is comparable, but the flavor sets are a little different) ... I think only the Caramelized Banana will be able to tell me.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:24 am
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Earlier this week I got an email from someone looking for a local source for the Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. In my brief research (I already knew two places that carried them, but did some more digging to be thorough), I found a local store that sells more than Bertie’s Every Flavor, but it seems every flavor of Jelly Belly too!
They’re called the Jelly Bean Factory and have been selling Jelly Belly since the very early years of the brand (Fosselman’s Ice Cream Store was the first place to sell them, then I’m guessing Jelly Bean Factory was the first actual candy store). In addition, they run a webstore called JellyBeans4U.com.
The vast majority of their inventory is Jelly Belly. From the beans sold in prepacks, novelties or assortments to the pick-a-mix beans, they’ve got just about everything. They candy counter is just like an ice cream shop, with tubs of each bean on display and you can even request a taste of any flavor you like!
I picked up a box of the Bertie Bott’s. I’ve resisted them until now. I’ve tried a few of the more normal flavors (Soap, Grass, Black Bepper - all very good) but have avoided things like Sausage (I don’t eat pork anyway), Pickle, Ear Wax and Earthworm. I’m going to see the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix tonight, so I figured that was an appropriate item to sneak in.
The other items I’ll be sneaking in are some Rum Cordials and they also had some little “overrun sample packs” of different items for $1 (most are about 2 ounces) so I got some licorice pastilles and gummi grapefruit slices. In general prepackaged bulk candy irritates me, because I’d really like to be able to pick my own portion size, but if you want fresh candy, it’s often better to go for the prepack. I don’t mind buying a half pound of the cordials in this instance. But they do let you pick your portions on the Jelly Belly, so they’ve got their priorities and marketing position straight.
The staff was helpful and friendly. The only caveat is if you want to pay by credit card they have to run next door to the pet shop to run it. In a way I found that charming (I ended up scraping together the $10 in cash for my purchases) but I can see it being a little irritating if you’re in a hurry.
All Jelly Belly are $6.79 a pound (they’re $8 a pound at the Jelly Belly site ... I’ve seen them cheaper sometimes at the grocery store, but I’ve also found them stale there).
The Original Jelly Bean Factory
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10:30 am - 6:00 pm
Parking is on the street or your can park in the Rite Aid parking lot on the corner and hope they don’t tow you.
Monday, July 2, 2007
Okay, weigh in on where you found the Elvis Reese’s Peanut Butter and Banana Creme cups!
I’ve seen them at RiteAid in Los Angeles in both the regular size two packs and the miniatures. (Original review here.)
Here’s an article from today’s Baltimore Sun on the subject (with some other interesting suggestions for Elvis-themed candy combinations as well).
Monday, June 25, 2007
The first thing I was looking for at the Candy Palace at Disneyland was something unique. Why should I eat something that I can get anywhere? So I scoured the store to find something that was made only for sale at the Disneyland candy stores. Sadly, there really wasn’t anything there like that, so I settled for something that I thought I’d like that had a novel take ... the Dark Chocolate Pretzels in the shape of Mickey Mouse.
They were sold in a couple of different formats, a simple plastic baggie tied with a bow with a stack of four (mostly shopworn though), they had singles in the candy case for $1.25 each and then a nice box with 8 ounces of dark chocolate pretzels for $9.95. The box had all the classic Disney characters on it. Nothing from this century (the most recent characters on there are Beauty & the Beast and The Little Mermaid). The box looked like it protected the contents well (shaking it actually didn’t yield much in the way of sound, which is a good thing).
The pretzels are gorgeous! The dark chocolate is glossy, thick and with cute little scribbles to make it extra dense in spots. They’re in a deep tray, leaning against each other in little slots, eight pretzels total. (So that makes them 1 ounce each.)
Only one was broken.
The pretzels themselves are bigger than I’m used to, at first I thought they were stale but then I realized they were just really crunchy and a bit dense ... which kind of keeps them from being crispy in the way I’m accustomed to. The chocolate is good quality, not too sweet and with a good balance of smoky notes and a dry finish. The pretzel is only lightly salted, so this remains a sweet treat. Unfortunately this “dark” chocolate has milkfat in it, so it’s not for vegans. It is Kosher though (I don’t think anything in the candy case is). 8 out of 10
For the record I also tried a Milk Chocolate Pretzel out of the candy case, which I ate as I left the park. It tasted like, well, candy case. The pretzel was a little stale and the chocolate bland.
The candy case has a huge variety of chocolate treats in it. Nut clusters, caramel patties, peppermint patties, chocolate dipped crisped rice treats, chocolate marshmallow bars on sticks, little cups with white chocolate mixed with cookie bits, milk chocolate with M&Ms, chocolate haystacks, toffee, and of course the chocolate covered pretzels mentioned above.
I was drawn to the Milk Chocolate Caramel Marshmallow Bar. It’s about the size of a Snickers bar, though not quite as dense in hand. I was hoping for something to approach the See’s Scotchmallow.
Inside the bar the caramel and marshmallow are in equal proportions. The caramel is thin, though chewy and smooth (but lacking some deep burnt caramel flavors). The marshmallow is moist and springy and not too sweet. The milk chocolate is okay, sweet and milky and pretty smooth. It’s a sweet bar, but the marshmallow makes it feel both satisfying and light at the same time. $1.95 ... I give it a 7 out of 10.
I had very low expectations for the Small Mickey Turtles. The large ones in the case, though attractive in shape and size were a bit bloomed. The little ones weren’t quite as pretty, but the price was certainly better for someone who was looking for variety.
My expectation for something called a “Turtle” is this: caramel and pecans covered in chocolate. I like my caramel to be soft and chewy, but also flavorful to provide more than a textural counterpoint to the nuts. Pecans are a strongly flavored nut, so a good caramelized caramel is important.
The Mickey Turtle is a huge disappointment. The nuts didn’t taste fresh. The chocolate had more of the flavor of the refrigerator case than of chocolate and the caramel was less like caramel and more like a fudge or pecan praline (a chocolate covered pecan praline would be delightful, too).
Oddly enough the “turtle” pictured here with the white stripes wasn’t a turtle at all. I think it was supposed to be a truffle, but it tasted a bit more like a piece of fudge covered in chocolate. Again, it tasted like refrigerator more than chocolate.
The large (bloomed) Turtles were $3.00 each. The mini versions were 94 cents. Not bad as price goes, but it’s certainly not worth it. I give these (even the accidental “truffle”) a 5 out of 10.
If you’re coming to California and want a special candy treat to take home, go to See’s. The prices are better, the candy fresher and of course it just tastes better. (And I’ll wager you won’t stand in line as long ... most California airports even have a See’s kiosk.)
Next, I’ll try some of the prepackaged candy bars!
I went to Disneyland last week with my family. This was my niece and nephew’s first visit there and my third (though I never got to go as a child). They had their priorities (meeting the Princesses and Jedi Academy, respectively) and I had mine.
Before going to the park I did some reading about what’s there. I found out that there is a candy store on Main Street called the Candy Palace that has been there since the park first opened fifty years ago. (There are very few candy stores in southern California that can say the same.) They actually make their own candy on site (fudge, chocolate cups, dipped apples, etc.). Of course I fully expected everything to be expensive and I wasn’t disappointed on that front.
So, what can you expect to find at Disneyland?
The store is themed like an older arcade. The center section of the store features those machines that you put a penny and two quarters into to make a souvenir and pick a stamp to smash into the penny. There were also some old fashioned fortune telling games and nickelodeons. And of course fudge. Lots and lots of fudge.
There are three counters. The center one by the door sells fudge and salt water taffy. Behind that is a short wall of jelly beans (Jelly Belly, I’ll wager). At $12 a pound, they’re pretty pricey, but you can buy a quarter pound, which I suppose isn’t so bad if you’re getting exactly the flavors you want.
At the side counter, by the candy kitchen that faces the street, they sell peanut brittle and dipped apples (candy, chocolate and caramel) along with some other things.
Then in the back the store opens up and there’s a large center counter with a refrigerated case that sold all sorts of chocolate treats (most made on site). This ranged from chocolate dipped strawberries to chocolate dipped pretzels, caramel cups, rocky road, a few different varieties of turtles and nut rolls and even some sugar free items.
The rest of the store is devoted to prepackaged items in different themed “brands”. There were the Goofy items which are all non-chocolate like taffy, red licorice, gummi and compressed dextrose. Most were in character shapes. Goofy also had a Pucker Powder dispenser (one of two in the park that I found). Other items were tins of chocolates (truffles, nut clusters and chocolate covered pretzels). There were items for Pirates of the Caribbean (swords filled with tart candy “treasure”) and Princess items (pastel tarts and lollipop).
Mickey Mouse has his own line of chocolate bars (milk, dark and milk with almonds) and lollipops. Prepackaged can be good if all you want is a little pick-me up. You won’t find any other candy in the park ... no Snickers, no Hershey bars, it’s all Disneyland branded sweets.
Prices were pretty clearly marked on most items, which is always a relief. Some were rather reasonable like the chocolate bars at only $1.25 each. Others seemed absurd, such as $4.00 for a little clear 2” plastic cube with some gummi bears in it for $4.00.
The clerks were super-friendly and patient, as you’d expect at Disney, but it’s worth noting. They were also knowledgeable about the products ... except the woman who ended up ringing me up couldn’t find the little SKU to ring in some of my items from the cooler case ... but we found it! Around the corner in the same building is a little ice cream shop as well, and outside of that a small plaza with tables to consume your sweets. I had a $2.69 bottle of water for the day and snacked on a soft pretzels (shaped like Mickey, natch). Mary Poppins and Bert came by for a while and danced to the ragtime piano music and signed autographs (we suspect that the Mary Poppins was the same cast member we met earlier as Princess Belle).
Other stores ...
Pooh Corner is over in Critter Country tucked away in a corner and themed the Huny Spot. The store was nearly deserted when I went in there the first time, it was after lunch and I guess everyone was back on the rides. They have a smaller candy counter that has the same chocolate dipped goodies as well as a selection of cookies. There was a large display of Goofy Candy, the sour, Pucker Powder dispenser, and of course the lollies.
I liked the Pooh Corner shop a bit better, even though the selection wasn’t as wide. Perhaps it’s because it wasn’t as mobbed, or maybe it’s just because I like Pooh (and the Tao of Pooh).
Now, those are just the two actual candy stores. Don’t get the impression that’s the only place you can find the stuff! Just about every store I went into had some version of the lollipop display. They offered the unicorn style twisted pops, swirly pops with Mickey or the Princesses on them and some large sour pops in the Goofy brand. There were also some Mickey Head shaped pops that came in little bundles that I picked up.
There are also cotton candy vendors everywhere (though none to be found at 9:30 in the morning, I guess Walt Disney doesn’t think it’s appropriate breakfast fare). Cotton Candy is $3 and sold in bags. I never found a cotton candy maker. Though the stuff sold in these little carts was certainly fresh, half the fun is watching them twist it all up and that wonderful burnt sugar smell.
Later, I’ll have a roundup of reviews of some actual candy ... how good is something that costs twice the price of stuff found outside of the park? I spent $35 ... how much do you think I got and how much of it was any good? As for the stores, I give them an 8 out of 10, for the variety, perky sales staff and cleanliness.
Here’s the list of reviews:
Friday, June 8, 2007
Father’s Day is Sunday, June 17th so I thought I’d throw something out there for the chocolate lovin’ fathers of America.
I had the opportunity this week to try two different personalized chocolate message services. They’re both great, if a little expensive for shipping because of the heat in summer months. But the originality can’t be beat. It’s like an edible greeting card.
First up is Chocotelegram. Based in Toronto, Chocotelegram was actually founded in Europe. You can order from their pre-fab messages or have them typeset your message using their letter picker. You can even decorate the blank spaces with icons (stars, smileys, trees, hearts & clovers).
The chocolate is made by Barry Calebaut. Each little square is about a third of an ounce, making a whole tray of 21 squares about 7 ounces. I only tried the milk and found it very creamy, if a little sweet, but super-smooth and satisfying. The package sent, as shown, is only $17 plus shipping. There are lots of options on their website, including an upgraded box and larger letter arrays. I really liked the molding on the letters, it was crisp, attractive and legible.
The second company that contacted me last week was ABChocolates that makes the Chocolate Dispatch. The Dispatch has a wonderful design flair, from the exterior packaging (wrapped in some corrugated paper with a seal) down to the sassy wooden box with the message printed right on the front in true telegram style. Even when the chocolate is gone, the message lives on.
Under the sliding top the chocolates are held firmly in place with foam underneath and some waxed paper filler on top. Pull that off and you get a personalized chocolate message. Each letter weighs a little less than a third of an ounce giving the box of 32 a net weight of 9.5-10 ounces . The letters are a little more homespun feeling than Chocotelegram’s. They’re a combination of white chocolate letters on a dark or milk chocolate square. The white is, you know, white chocolate. The milk is nice, creamy and not too sweet with a strong milky component. The dark is good, if a little grainy sometimes (but only as a counterpoint to the silkier/stickier milk chocolate).
While Chocolate Dispatch only comes in two sizes, they offer a lot of customized options with different labels on the front (Birthday Dispatch, Get Well Dispatch, Valentine Dispatch, etc.) which would mean that you could send out several of these over the course of the year and the boxes would all be keepsakes.
There’s a breakdown listed below. I liked both of the products a lot, though I don’t know that many people that I’d send something like this to. (Here’s a hint though, if you’re doing a wedding, see if you can do initials. “C & M” in little three character boxes, that’d be so cute!) Chocotelegram had the best tasting chocolate, but I really liked the box and whole top-to-bottom design aesthetic of Chocolate Dispatch. If you’re a mom helping your kid pick out their gift to dad, the letter-picking interface is a fun experience all on its own. (Chocotelegram has one too, but it’s just not quite as enjoyable.)
I give both services a solid 7 out of 10.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.