Thursday, February 8, 2007
Today I’m going to do all boxed chocolates all day long. Perhaps a half a dozen of them. However, there are a few chocolatiers that have entered my radar (mostly from the Fancy Food Show) that I can offer little bites on (to supplement the Chocolate Gift Guide):
Bissinger’s - it appears that this 80-year-old St. Louis, MO, chocolate company has reinvented itself, with a more modern look and updated flavors. The catalog they sent me after the Fancy Food Show was certainly tempting. I tried some of their marshmallows, and Spa Chocolates as well as their tasty Green Tea Gummi Bears. Order online of locate one of their retail stores. Moderate prices and elegant/fun packaging.
Lillie Belle Farms - based in Jacksonville, OR, this chocolatier uses organic (and fair trade when possible) ingredients, many of which are grown on the farm. Innovative flavor combinations, tasty caramels, smooth truffles ... I really liked the black pepper truffle I tasted at the Fancy Food Show. Order online or find in stores in Oregon. Moderate to expensive.
Valerie’s Confections - Los Angeles based toffee-maker and confectioner, they have a great sense of elegance paired with comfort-candies. They have a special Valentine’s confection assortment (free local delivery if you use the code VAL when ordering $40 or more). Order online or pick up at a local store. Expensive. (Full review of other items here.)
B.T. McElrath - a Minneapolis-based chocolatier. I tried a few of their assortment at the Fancy Food Show and was pleased with them. The truffles and seasonal offerings are lovely to look at. They’re sold via their website and I saw many of their smaller mixed chocolate boxes at Whole Foods last weekend. Expensive.
If you’re looking for some other opinions on fine chocolates, check out these stories:
Consumer Reports tries out fine chocolates (from 2006), and a second write up based on the NY Chocolatiers mentioned.
UPDATE: February 12, 2007: Consumer Reports has done another taste test. Though you have to be a full subscriber to see all the results, here’s a brief report of how everyone did.
Sunday, January 7, 2007
I found a new candy store about six months ago but it’s taken me a while to get back there to fully explore it with photos.
It’s called Munchies and is located in West Los Angeles selling a very wide selection of candies from all over the world, all Kosher.
The main feature of the store is their extensive collection of Kosher goodies: jellies, halvah, chocolate covered nuts and fruits (lots of Koppers line) as well as a full selection of Paskesz (from Israel) bars and bags. They also have a decent range of European gourmet bars. For the most part though, it’s not a gourmet shop. It’s a store for plain old candy - a great place to go with kids or to tap into the kid inside of you as you gaze at the yards and yards of bulk bins.
Prices are pretty good. The bulk bins range from $4.00 a pound up to $10. I picked up:
Candy Blox (like SweeTarts, only shaped like Legos) - very dense and of course sweet.
I spent $11.04 for everything.
The best part was my husband was able to amuse himself in the back corner browsing their rather large selection of Kosher wines.
Closed Friday evenings and Saturday until sundown
They have a website, but I wouldn’t judge the store based on it. It’s a clean store in a charming neighborhood. Parking is likely to be difficult on weeknights (they are open late) but pretty easy on a Sunday afternoon. (If you do want to visit in the evening, park in the public lot behind the Walgreen’s on Robertson & Pico and walk the half a block to the store.)
(The little gallery module above is a thing I’m trying out, let me know if you like it or if you have technical problems with it.)
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Yes, it’s time to prowl the aisles of your favorite store for excellent deals on holiday-themed candies.
Crate & Barrel always has good stuff this time of year. Stuff I’d never buy at full-price, but at half off or more, the sassy packaging and classy looks make for pretty good deals.
This year’s highlights in the sale include Cookie Joys for $5.95 instead of $17.95. The Chocolate Enrobed Caramel Corn is also a good deal (though I’m not sure if I’d want any) at $4.95 down from $14.95.
Check out the whole array of goodies here.
Williams-Sonoma doesn’t have quite the deal going on though, with average discounts of only 25% right now. Mostly the stuff isn’t that interesting, though much of it isn’t exactly holiday themed.
Check out the whole list here.
Dean and Deluca is still super-expensive, but there are some deals to be had.
One that caught my eye before Christmas was this normally $100 array of nougats and candied almonds from Arnaud Soubeyran (yes, that fantastic confectioner that makes the nougats I love). It’s marked down to $50.
More modestly they also have a selection of Hammond’s hard candies (ribbon, citrus slices and cinnamon drops) for only $7.50.
See the entire sale list here.
Lake Champlain is also always good for a bit of a sale after any candy holiday. They have a good array on sale and not all of it is even holiday themed. Check here for the latest.
Godiva is also promoting their “Chocolate Covered Sale” boasting 50% off ... that means the 36 piece box that’s usually $42 is now a much more reasonable sounding $21. That green and red bow doesn’t matter, does it?
In stores you’ll find good deals as well, so keep an eye out!
Monday, December 11, 2006
Here are some great candy and sweets-themed raffle prizes for this year’s Menu for Hope (raising funds for the UN World Food Programme):
David Lebovitz is offering up one of his Paris chocolate tours. Must get yourself to Paris in order to claim it.
A Japanese Wagashi Making Kit from Obachan’s Kitchen & Balcony Garden. If you’ve never had wagashi, keep an eye out for it during the New Year, it’s both beautiful and tasty - it’s like the mochi ice cream you get at the sushi restaurants but 100 times better.
She Who Eats is offering up an assortment of European and American chocolates. All dark chocolate. All right already! I’m entering!
A mess o’ Swedish sweets (candy and chocolate) from Clivia’s Cuisine. I have no idea what’s in there, but I hope it’s licorice!
Fair Trade hamper of coffee from Republica, Cocolo chocolate, Hope honey,fairtrade rice, handcream and a handbag as well! All donated by Mocktale!
Ala Cuisine has donated the “Ultimate Chocolate Tasting Kit” ... I have no idea what’s in there, but it looks like some Michel Cluizel at the very least.
Two dozen hand made chocolates from Linda at Kayak Soup ... not only do they come in a hand painted box, but once you win you can even do a bit of personalization to it!
There are oodles of other fine prizes and you can choose to throw all of your donation tickets ($10 each) towards one item, or break it up.
Here’s what you have to do to donate:
(They’re still in the process of adding prizes so check ChezPim for the latest!)
1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope.
2. Go to the donation site at http://www.firstgiving.com/menuforhopeIII and make a donation.
3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you’d like in the ‘Personal Message’ section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code?for example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 for EU02. (Please use the double-digits, not EU1, but EU01.)
4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.
Entry deadline is December 20th at 6PM Pacific time.
Check back on Chez Pim on January 15 for the results of the raffle.
Here’s the last of the Gift Guides for 2006! Have a look at last years, this is just a supplement to that ... there are lots of great ideas out there in addition to giving folks actual candy, so keep an eye out for these candy-themed gifts.
After the holidays you might want to do more than send your notes, you might want to scent them too. Try these Scratch & Sniff cards for $8 a pair.
Candy Games and Amusements
Bring the arcade experience into your home and burn some calories by frustrating yourself with the Candy Grabber for $35 (not including candy).
Jelly Belly 24 piece jigsaw puzzle ($4.95) a great stocking stuffer that will be around long after the candy is gone.
Chocolate-Opoly - $24.95
For some more interactive game fun, try the Candy Volcano for $21.99
Stocking Stuffers & Entertaining
Candy Shot Glasses ($4.95 for 6) - I have no idea if they make a sticky mess or if it’d be totally cool to smash them when you’re done.
M&Ms solo teapot in three different colors. Good for tea, or maybe even hot chocolate! ($23) For some bizarre reason you cannot have this shipped to California, so if you live there, try the M&Ms calculators for $10
Tootsie Roll Scarf ($24) - nothing says appreciation for retro candies like a scarf in the Tootsie Roll colors.
If that’s too casual for you, demonstrate your professionalism with a Sugar Daddy Business Card Holder for $29.00.
If you make the $40 minimum purchase, they’ll throw in a Tootsie Roll Car Air Freshener. There are loads of stocking stuffer ideas there at Tootsie.
Hershey Baseballs - they’re real baseballs, not chocolate. At least they won’t melt on the field.
For the gift that keeps on growing, how about a symbolic piece of the candy world. Try OneShare.com for single shares of stock for Wrigley, Tootsie, Hershey’s and more. You can order just the share or get it frame with a special engraving to personalize it. I’m not sure if it means that you get the annual report for the company or not.
Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams by Michael D’Antonio.
Jewelry & Adornment
If you like the idea of a candy charm bracelet, there’s a whole series of items in the Pugster Fun Jewelry line that are pretty inexpensive.
Tootsie Candy up your iPod for $5.95.
Lemonhead or Atomic Fireball mugs for only $6.95. There are plenty of other fun Lemonhead items there too (tees, shirts, and caps).
Candy University Mugs ($18.00)
Max Brenner’s Hug Mug made just for hot chocolate with a special shape to cup between your hands.
Baby Chuck Taylor hi tops in peppermint stripes. $24.99
The strangest entry in the brand tie in merchandise has to be these cute Cow boots from Goetze’s Caramel Creams (makers of Bull’s Eyes and Cow Tales). At only $19.95 I’m kind of wishing it rained more where I live.
They also have hats and an umbrella ... and if you live in an area where it’s hard to find Goetze’s, you can order right there for more than enough to stuff your stocking.
Jelly Belly Embroidered Tee $22.99 is one of the more inventive garments on their site. They also have some luscious looking hoodies, ringer tees and caps. But the thing you really need to click through and see are the pro-styled bib bicycle shorts.
Inventive Individuals on Caf? Press & Zazzle:
Gummi Bear Mob - yes, this gummi bear has a posse.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Sometimes just giving someone a box of candy doesn’t feel special enough. You know, when you give someone a sweater, they wear it over and over again. The cool solution for the consumable nature of this type of gift is to spread it out over a long period of time. Lots of candy companies now offer Candy of the Month clubs, so that loved one gets reminded once a month that you know their passion.
Here’s a roundup of a few options:
Ethel M - Chocolate Club ($99-$299) - 3, 6 & 12 month subscriptions for regular deliveries of chocolates.
Jelly Belly - Bean of the Month Club ($68.99-$249) - Choose 3, 6 or 12 months of Jelly Belly candies delivered 2.2 lbs at a time. Includes dispenser and shipping charges.
Licorice International - Candy of the Month Club ($178) - three different packages for candy lovers, black and red licorice lovers and black licorice purists.
Lake Champlain - ($115-$395) Chocolate of the Month - choose 3, 6 or 9 months of fine, all natural, Kosher chocolate selections.
Dale and Thomas - ($86-$455) Popcorn of the Month - choose from a large variety of clubs that range from 3 months to 12, could be a variety of savory and sweet popcorns as well as other sweet treats.
SeventyPercent - Chocolate Connoisseur’s Club (varies) - based in the UK but ships worldwide. Focuses on high end chocolate bars from all over the world, plus discussions in their forums about the monthly selections.
Recchiuti - Club Recchiuti ($125-$425) - 3, 6, 9 & 12 month memberships with a wide range of products delivered throughout the year.
Flippin’ Fudge - Fudge of the Month Club ($348) - a different flavor of premium fudge every month.
Candy Warehouse - Candy of the Month Club ($99-$139) - various versions, one featuring nostalgic favorites, one for gummi fans and another for chocoholics.
Have you ever been gifted a candy of the month club? Any tips or recommendations?
Saturday, December 9, 2006
I was poking around a couple of weeks ago at my Holiday Gift Guide from 2005 and was (if I may say so) pleased that it’s still a pretty good guide. So instead of just doing the same thing over again, I thought I’d kind of do a summary of where I’ve been this year but also use it as an opportunity to help you Go Regional!
There are a couple of ways to look at this. You can give folks something from their own area, which is a great gift because it means that they can go back there, or you can give them something from your area, as a way of personalizing the item. Or you can give them something from a place they’re planning on visiting, kind of like a proactive welcome wagon.
(you can make fun of my map and the way I divided up and named the regions ... I have no idea what I was thinking)
West Coast (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho & Nevada)
Recchiuti (San Francisco) - fine chocolates from Michael Recchiuti located in the Ferry Terminal in San Francisco. Lots of herbal combination infusions, uncommon ingredients and savory inclusions. Known also for their sauces. (order online) Expensive
Charles Chocolates (Emeryville) - no company-run store, so you can only order online or find them at other chocolate shops. Many items such as the triple coated nuts and the high-end bars would make excellent stocking stuffers. (order online) Expensive
Cocoa Bon (Los Gatos) - a perfect supplier of stocking stuffers, their cute little chocolate tins are filled with more than chocolate wafers, they also have spiced caramels, toffees and chocolate covered coffee beans. Check out their cocktail-inspired jelly beans, too. (order online) Moderate
Chuao Chocolatier (Encinitas) - Venezuelan inspired chocolatier with tasty truffle combos and some truly strange ones as well. Tasty chocolate bars (I liked the nib one) in other stores. (order online) Expensive
Big Island Candies - why should Hawaiians have all the fun at the beach? Macadamia and Coffee items are to be expected, but don’t forget the traditional truffles and dipped shortbreads. (order online) Moderate
Chocolate Shops to Explore in Person
CocoaBella (San Francisco) - great chocolate shop, especially if you want to combine chocolates from a variety of chocolatiers: Amadei, Christopher Elbow, Charles Chocolates, Knipschildt Chocolatier, Marquise de Sevigne, Michel Cluizel & Pralineur Van Coillie. You can build a custom, mixed maker box or order one of their World’s Best Chocolates boxes. (order online) Expensive
Sahagun (Portland)- no shipping here, just fresh and tasty candies straight from the kitchen to your mouth. Expensive
Mel & Rose Wine & Spirits (Los Angeles) - feature a wide selection of consumer chocolates and candies from around the world that are great as stocking stuffers, but also an excellent variety of couture and high end bars and boxes from MarieBelle, Michel Cluizel, Vosges, Valerie Confections as well as, you know, wine & spirits. (Their website) Inexpensive-Expensive
Mountain & Prairie Region (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota & North Dakota)
Hammond’s Candy (Denver, CO) - beautiful hard candies made by hand. (order online) Inexpensive
Midwest & Ohio River Valley (Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky & West Virigina)
Northeast (Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont & Maine)
Southern Eastern Seaboard (Tennesee, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina & Georgia)
Flippin’ Fudge (Canton, GA) - tasty gourmet fudge in cute individually wrapped pieces and fun flavors (I liked the peanut butter). (order online) Moderate
Gulf Coast & Texas (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma & Texas)
Laura’s Candies (New Orleans) - open again after Hurricane Katrina, known for their wide selection of traditional and chewy pecan pralines, modest prices and heritage in the French Quarter. (order online) Moderate
Norman Love - stunningly presented chocolates in inventive and comfort food styles. (order online) Expensive
Susie’s South Forty Confections (Midland, TX) - chewy pralines, extraordinarily dense almond toffee and other gift items. (order online) Moderate
Nothing there to your liking? I’ll have more ideas for candy lovin’ gift givin’ over the next few days!
UPDATE (12/10/06): Looks like I’ve been Farked. Welcome new visitors. Just to clarify if you’re not a regular Candy Blog reader, my recommendations above are for places I have actually TRIED and LIKED. Yes, there are gaps and I appreciate everyone’s suggestions for the new year ... it all sounds very tasty!
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
On my last San Francisco visit, after the night of the chocolate induced coma, I went to visit a chocolate factory. Unlike the Scharffen Berger factory that I saw last year around this time, I went to a place where they make more than just bars. Charles Chocolates in Emeryville makes heavenly concoctions under the direction of Chuck Seigel composed of fine chocolate, premium nuts (roasted on the premises), fresh fruits, teas and of course lots and lots of sugar & butter.
What sets Chuck apart from some other chocolatiers I’ve met is his lack of pretension (he admits not only to eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Snickers, but he likes them!) but also his conviction to make candies to his standards and no one else’s. By example, we were talking about the new craze for salted caramels. He makes his own (chocolate and plain - review below) but doesn’t bother with the little salt crystals on top because he thinks that the texture gets in the way of the pure caramel and salt experience. He also makes his own marzipan from scratch and infuses it with citrus. I watched as they made a batch of lemon marzipan, and if I ever said here that I didn’t like marzipan, it was because I hadn’t tried Chuck’s. It’s sweet, mellow, nutty and zesty without that bitter medicinal taste of amaretto that so many others have.
Chuck is known for his nuts, which are roasted a little darker than others, he says to bring out more of their intrinsic flavors. I’m actually a big fan of raw nuts, so I was worried that these would be burnt and acrid tasting.
My problem with roasted nuts up until Charles Chocolates has obviously been quality control. His Triple Chocolate Almonds were divine. Instead of being just dark or milk chocolate, it’s both. There’s a rich milk chocolate layer and a dark chocolate layer (or maybe two, who knows, I couldn’t be bothered with dissecting them) and then they’re rolled in cocoa.
The little tin they come in is pretty fun too. They’re sealed in not only with a plastic wrap around the whole cylinder, but there’s also a little plastic cap inside the metal one. Air is the enemy of nuts, so Chuck has done his utmost to keep rancidity at bay. Not that I had them long enough. Of the haul that I left the factory with, this was gone within the first week ... and I only begrudgingly shared.
One of the other items sold in a tall clear tube are one of Charles Chocolates signature items, the Orange Twigs. It’s a milk chocolate ganache infused with orange and then dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in confectioner’s sugar. They look a bit like little twigs, I guess.
I wasn’t that keen on them. They were sweet and yes, the orange flavor came through, but I didn’t get a lot of chocolate to the whole thing.
If you’re curious about the box shown above, yes, that’s made entirely of chocolate. The bottom is made from fine dark chocolate and the lid of white chocolate. Inside were two layers of salted caramels. The caramels are small and soft, then covered in a thin layer of dark chocolate and decorated with a lightly embossed design.
The soft chew of the caramels was definitely buttery and creamy, but also had a slight grain to it. The salt hit was mild and pleasant and set off the chocolate well. But I didn’t care that much for it. Though the flavor was there, something a little off to the texture. It was like the whole thing wasn’t properly emulsified.
The chocolate caramel was interesting, but an intense buttery mouthfeel and a dark smoky taste to it. It also had less chew to it than the salted caramel and while I enjoyed the flavor, the texture just wasn’t for me.
The chocolate box itself was very good. I was afraid it was going to to suffer from being “functional first” but the chocolate was so good that over Thanksgiving the family busted up the box pretty quickly while there were still caramels inside. (Yes, I was sharing!) The white chocolate top wasn’t quite as notably tasty, I’m not sure why, but it tasted a little musty. White chocolate is tricky stuff, because the cocoa butter will absorb nearby scents and odors. I transported and stored the chocolate box in a cooler that also had some coffee infused bars, and I think there might have been some “contamination” there.
Other items that I tried and can heartily recommend are the Pate de Fruit (both fruit and wine flavors, so true to life), The Tea Collection (flavors that complement and rival the chocolate without overpowering it) and of course the boxed chocolates (many of which I sampled at CocoaBella - post #1 & post #2).
Charles Chocolates aren’t cheap at $54 per pound, but comparable with other high end chocolatiers. Some chocolatiers (like Recchiuti, another Bay Area chocolatier) are very focused on spices or fruits, Charles Chocolates seems to do a great job at raising mundane and common ingredients to gourmet levels, giving the ordinary like almonds luxury treatments.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.