Friday, April 21, 2006
One of the must-see chocolate places in NYC is Jacques Torres. Even if you’re not a fan of their chocolate or have little money, it’s still an event. There are two locations in New York, one in Brooklyn and one on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Billed as Chocolate Haven, it truly is a delight for the eyes. The factory is wide open to witness from the street as they craft their handmade chocolate bars and when I was there they were packaging all of their hand-cast Easter goodies. From inside the store you get more than a view, you also get the scents and sounds.
But the best way to appreciate the innards of chocolate making though is from the Chocolate Haven shop. The glass walls enclose this little slice of sweetness and there’s ample room to move around and stop for a cup of hot chocolate at the chocolate bar.
I had a cup of custom blended Wicked (spiced chocolate) and Orange. It was smooth and sweet but not at all sticky. However, it was so rich and the portion (the smallest) was far too much for me to finish. As much as I tried, I couldn’t manage more than half of it.
Again, a little cup of hot chocolate helps me to keep my wits about me in such a place, it satisfies the chocolate craving and keeps me from going nuts and buying everything or gobbling it up as soon as I get away from the cash register with my purchases.
These little bunnies are just cute as bunnies. They’re each a little bigger than my thumb (which is kinda small) and were a good sampling of the Jacques Torres chocolate. The package was very light and as I guessed, they’re hollow ... so the whole thing weighed about 1.4 ounces. It cost $5.
The Dark Chocolate bunny tasted much like the hot chocolate. Smooth and rich with a slight dry finish, it wasn’t terribly complex but had some good woodsy/smoky qualities. I’m guessing this was the house blend variety of their chocolate which is 60% cocoa. The Milk Chocolate was quite sweet and has the European flavor to it, it was also very smooth but with a more fudgy quality to it. It’s one of those milk chocolates that begs you to eat more of it. The White Chocolate was really quite nice too. It’s true white chocolate in the sense that it’s made with cocoa butter and not tropical oils. It smelled very sweet and in fact tasted that way too, but had a slight caramel/vanilla note to it that made it much better than a bowlful of sugar.
They were all very nice, but for the price, first, I’d want solid chocolate. At this rate a pound of little bunnies would be over $50. I understand that more intense products like truffles demand a higher price, but these hardly qualified for such a premium. Not when the single bars of 3.5 ounces sell for $4.
This was my favorite purchase. I almost missed these too, they were placed up at the register and if I hadn’t already picked out the bunnies, I wouldn’t have even bought anything.
These are candied slices of orange that are then dipped in dark chocolate. They are absolutely gorgeous confections. I just couldn’t resist buying them because I knew they would photograph well. Luckily I love candied citrus peel, so I was really looking forward to these. They were just as dense and rich as I’d hoped. The orange slices were soft and juicy and not too sweet. The rind carried strong orange essences without the slightest bit of bitterness. A well-candied citrus rind bears more fruit flavor than a marmalade, which often tastes of sugar syrup.
I’ve not tried the rest of the Jacques Torres line of chocolates, so I can’t comment on the truffles or other chocolate covered goodies. They’re pricey though, but the visit to their shop provides a bit more value to the brand. I give them higher marks than the sole merits of the chocolate in the bunnies, the orange was extraordinary and gives me the confidence to recommend the other chocolate covered goodies I saw. There were fun items like chocolate covered corn flakes, graham crackers and cranberries and traditional fare like apricots, ginger and pretzels. Where the Scharffen Berger line has always been rather traditional in its expression (and I love that) I don’t care so much for the chocolate, just for the filling. Here the chocolate worked as the perfect complement to the orange and I reckon it would make even pedestrian items like corn flakes tasty.
Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
This little shop down in SoHo on Broome Street is just too cute for words. The first thing I was drawn to when I stepped in the door was a display of tiny metal lunchboxes filled with hot chocolate mixes. I just wanted the lunch box ... the combination of the signature blue and gold was just delicious in and of itself.
I restrained myself from marching up to the counter with my special request and instead looked around at the adorable and imaginative offerings. Almond brittle shaped like cocktail olives (in green and black), little candies shaped like pebbles, dragees (upscale candy coated chocolates) in addition to their super-cute square and imprinted chocolate truffles.
Again I tried to savor the place, so I ducked into the back room where the coffee and chocolate bar was. I ordered up an Aztec Hot Chocolate, American-style ($6), which meant it was made with milk, not water. Not a spiced chocolate, just dark and rich, it was a sizeable cup (and I’d just been to Vosges not two blocks away) with a wonderful no-too-sweet creaminess.
The smoothness can be attributed to something I read on the website: “Maribel’s own divinely decadent recipe contains NO COCOA POWDER but instead is made from the purest Belgian cocoa and most refined sugar.” I wonder if the packets they sell can rival what I drank there, but it’s probably worth a try someday.
Earl Grey Tea - the beautiful squiggly one was buttery and chocolatey but had only the slightest hint of bergamot but a nice dry acidic hit which I’m guessing was from a tea infusion.
Caipirinha - a lighter (milk?) chocolate infusion with a tart bite to it ... honestly, I didn’t even know what the word meant until I looked it up after I ate this one. It’s an alcoholic drink of lime juice, sugar and a spirit called Cacha?a which is distilled sugarcane juice.
Spices - a tasty and slightly sweet blend of dark chocolate and spices felt like buttery cinnamon toast. There was no cruel burn to this spice infused truffle, just a woodsy fragrance.
Lavender - supple and smooth, this had a nicely fragranced tone to it but it was mostly sweet and buttery chocolate.
Mystery - I have no recollection of what this one is, and it’s not shown on the little printed guide that came in the box. It’s dark chocolate on the outside and the center is milk chocolate with a tart overtone without any citrus notes at all. I have no clue. It was nice but lacked enough definition for me to say what it was.
Gianduja - this was not at all what I expected. I figured it would be a sticky milk chocolate like the Caffarel morsels, however, this was based in dark chocolate and thick and buttery. It had a slight nutty grain to it, but that texture was pleasant and the whole thing was suffused with hazelnut goodness. Unlike the Caffarels which demand a glass of water right after eating, this little chocolate demands that you pop another one in your mouth. I only bought one ... wah!
My biggest disappointment came with my purchase of three pates de fruit ... I traveled with them in the same box as the truffles and I’m guessing that the packaging was not airtight enough for them and they were dried out, crunchy rocks when I got them home and took their picture on Saturday (they were purchased and packaged on Thursday). Don’t get me wrong, I still ate them, and they were still flavorful and intense concentrations of fruit, but I was hoping for a repeat of my wonderful experience with the Boule pates.
Overall, they’re exceptionally pretty and wonderfully smooth but the infusions weren’t quite as distinctive as I’d hoped for the price. If you’re looking for something more subtle than Vosges, these might be a good option. The sell via their website. If you’re in SoHo, it’s worth the trip, especially for a little break in their coffee/cocoa bar (where they also have pastries).
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:41 pm
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
A kind reader, shortstop, suggested that I make a journey to Kee’s Chocolate.
As I was already planning a little walk around SoHo on my last day in NYC, it seemed like a natural addition. I did a little reading and found that there were two things on my list that I had to try: the Creme Brulee and the Smoked Salt Truffle.
The shop is tucked on a small street between Broome and Houston and I arrived while they were in the middle of making their chocolates. There were three people in the store, four with me and it was rather cramped. The store isn’t fancy like Marie Belle (tomorrow’s entry) or Vosges - it’s tiny and spare but clean and of course smelled wonderfully. They were unmolding the Smoked Salt Truffles as I came in so I knew they were fresh.
I felt a little on the spot, most of the time I like to just blend in with the background and watch, but in such a small space, I had to get down to business and not fuss around with thinking and observing. That, and they wouldn’t let me take any photos inside either. So, here’s what I had:
Creme Brulee - this isn’t a truffle, this is something you just have to experience. The large morsel (not pictured) has faceted sides and a thin shell. You pop the whole thing in your mouth and the chocolate quickly shatters away and you’re left with a cool burst of creme brulee. It’s creamy and smooth, sweet and a real experience. You probably have to eat it while you’re there or very soon after purchase.
Smoked Salt - a really different truffle, this one was in a molded shell and the chocolate was rich and had a wonderful dryness and the salt was strong without being offensive. The addition of salt brought out some of the smoky and woodsy notes of the chocolate that I wasn’t noticing in the other truffles.
Blood Orange - a lovely, plump chocolate truffle with a slight tang to it, but not zesty. It was good, but not really what I was expecting as it had only a slight flavor to it.
Earl Grey - a really good dark chocolate truffle, but the infusion of Earl Grey was not apparent in the slightest upon eating it. A little later, I did detect the slightest aftertaste of bergamot, but it was not nearly as strong as I would have liked.
Jasmine - whoo! a beautiful tasting truffle - strong overtones of jasmine scent and a lingering perfume as well, this was the best of the infused truffles but I guess I’m spoiled and want a little more flavor to my flavors.
What I really enjoyed about the experience and the chocolates was the complete lack of extraneous packaging and decoration at the shop. Don’t get me wrong, the immersion at places like Vosges or Jacques Torres is wonderful, but let’s face it, once you leave the shop and take the chocolate out of the box, what really matters? What happens in your mouth. On the whole, this was an exceptionally pleasant oral experience. I wish the flavors were a little more vibrant, but the chocolate was wonderfully smooth and the Creme Brulee is truly unique. The chocolates don’t travel particularly well either, two of the truffles were cracked when I got them home and of course the Creme Brulee pretty much has to be eaten within a fifteen square block radius (okay, I’m making that part up, but we all know about the Saga of the Valomilk).
The one silly thing that I did, amidst all that lack of artifice was that I neglected to ask prices for anything and I can’t recall how much it was. (The whole shebang was about $12, I think.)
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:34 pm
Monday, April 17, 2006
Whoo hoo! I had quite a morning down in SoHo on my last day in NYC. My first stop was at Vosges. I’d already been in NYC for a week, and I’d resisted the temptation to go upscale. But I’d done all the other scales and the trip had been pretty cheap, so here I was, throwing caution to the wind.
I’ve already tried several of the Vosges chocolate bars and though they’re fantastically expensive for chocolate bars ($6.75 each), they had flavor combinations you just don’t get from anyone else in that price range.
But I really needed to try the truffles, again, because of the flavor combinations.
Stepping into the shop, it was larger than many other little places I’d visited in NYC and it didn’t hurt that it was a Thursday morning and the only other person in the shop besides the woman behind the counter was a messenger who seemed a little lost and grateful for a little sample of chocolate before he got his bearings.
As I got my bearings by taking a few of the same samples (one was the Red Fire chocolate and the other was their version of guanduia) and became accustomed to the vibrant purple tones, I ordered a hot chocolate. They had three to chose from, a standard European style dark hot chocolate, a Red Fire, which I’d already had several of since I came to NY and then the last option on the board was a Hot White Chocolate. Now I’m not normally one to go for these sorts of things, but I hadn’t had anything to eat so far that morning (it was a little after 11AM) but it was described as an infusion of white chocolate and lavender with lemon. Sounds good enough for me. I wasn’t disappointed. It was served in a tall, narrow cylinder of a glass and it was spectacular. It was like drinking a creme brulee, but not quite so syrupy rich. Not nearly as sweet as I expected, it was creamy and rich and the citrus/floral infusion kept it feeling light and refreshing. I don’t mind spending that much at all, because I know it’s something I’m never going to make at home.
While drinking I had plenty of time to look over the truffles to make my selection:
Absinthe - an infusion of anise, fennel and pastis - lighter and more woodsy than licorice, the smooth ganache blended well. The top was sprinkled with ground Chinese star anise, which was the only part that I didn’t like, as it added a little too much grain to the experience.
Ellateria - Holy Moly! It’s the Holy Grail of cardamom chocolates. Why don’t they make a chocolate bar like this? The ganache is an infusion of dark chocolate with cardamom and white poppy seeds with more sprinkled on top. The whole box was fragranced by the cardamom, these were smooth and flavorful and just made me want more. It’s rare when a truffle makes me want to pop another in my mouth.
Poivre - yes peppercorn truffles and boy howdy is the burn nice. Telicherry black and Muntok white peppercorns in a smooth ganache and some extra crushed peppercorns on the top for a lingering tingle.
Tlan Nacu - I couldn’t even remember which one this was when I bit into it and I had to look it up. It was a nice, dark chocolate truffle with seemingly no essences to it. It turns out it was Vanilla. Hey, it was! Mellow and sweet, vanilla is a wonderful complement to chocolate.
Naga - of all of the truffles I picked out, this is the only one I had tried in bar form. Naga is coconut and curry in milk chocolate. It’s quite a stunning combination, with a strange milky quality and of course the tickly tingle of curry.
Sal del Mare - a salted caramel. This one still qualified as a truffle though. the lighter chocolate shell had two chambers, the bottom was flowing salted caramel and the top was chocolate ganache. The caramel was smooth and sweet and with a salted bite and the chocolate set it off nicely. Not nearly as shocking as some other salted caramels and this one had the added bonus of a pine nut on top to mellow all the flavors together.
(Yes, there are more truffles in the box than listed here, I did some doubles and one just for my husband that I didn’t taste.)
Overall, I think that the Vosges shop is a great destination, a little treat for yourself if you’re in one of the cities where they have a store (Chicago, NYC and Las Vegas). The quality is superb, the freshness and combination of flavors set them apart from many other trufflers. Whereas many of the other truffles and chocolates I experienced (Pierre Marcolini & Marie Belle) on this trip were the flattened kind, Vosges makes them as generous spheres that give you ample ganache for really appreciating the flavors. I don’t see myself ordering them online, but I know I’ll make an effort to see their flagship store in Chicago when I’m there in June.
The store also features some clothing and candles and other lifestyle paraphernalia, but I’m not about to start reviewing the branded merchandise that goes with chocolate. There’s a long bar with stools for sitting and enjoying a drink or truffle on site with a friend or as a solo treat, and if you play your cards right, you can get out of there for less than $10.00. But if you’re looking for a real splurge, they have a “Club Haut-Chocolat” where they’ll send you a box of nine for 13 months for a mere $490. That’s love, baby.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:33 pm
Thursday, April 13, 2006
I’m heading back from New York City to Los Angeles this evening but I thought I’d just give you a tantalizing list of all the places I’ve been this week:
Economy Candy - cheap candy, great selection, packed to the rafters
I’ll have more later (I’ve made lots of purchases but haven’t eaten anything yet). Thanks to everyone who made suggestions - every piece of advice was awesome.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
I’m candy trippin’ ... I’m in New York City, New York this week and I’m trying to hit all the best candy stores Manhattan has to offer. The amazing thing is that there are so many of them. What’s even more amazing is the ubiquity of candy here. It seems a bit harder to find candy in Los Angeles, sure, it’s at the grocery store, the drug store but the breadth and scope of candy in New York far surpasses any other city I visit. My guess is that New Yorkers need more energy. Folks walk everywhere or take public transportation and that takes a lot out of you. Well, it’s not like candy is the only choice they have, fresh fruit abounds, but I suspect there’s less guilt about it here.
Economy Candy has been in business for nearly 70 years and has an incredible selection. They feature both domestic candy by the bar: Hershey, Nestle/Wonka, Mars (including Colorworks M&Ms), Jelly Belly, Atkinson, Annabelle’s, Pearson’s, Tootsie and probably plenty of others. They also had an exceptional selection of consumer candy bars from Europe, like Cadbury’s Flake series, Aeros, Lion bars and even some Israeli bars from Elite. But there were also other high-end bars from Scharffen Berger (great prices), Cafe Tasse (review soon!), Cote d’Or, Droste, Feodora, Lindt, Niederegger, Ritter, Toblerone and even those Chick chocolate bars.
The place is literally packed to the rafters, the shelves go up at least ten feet and I had trouble remembering to look high and low to keep from missing things. They had Dutch and Finnish licorices by the pound, every possible gummi and jelly you might want (yes, I got a half pound of Swedish fish, all red)
Because this is the week of Easter and Passover they had special displays to meet both needs. After all, candy is inclusive, not exclusive. There’s no rule that says that a dark chocolate egg can’t come to a seder (Kosher of course) and wouldn’t some chocolate covered matzohs might be a fun inclusion in an Easter basket.
My favorite there was their selection of Halvah. They have all the Joyva versions, marbled, plain, nuts ... but they also had the little morsels of halvah dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in almonds. Heaven! The halvah is flaky, not too sweet and melts in your mouth. It’s terribly messy stuff and I was eating mine over the trash basket in my hotel room.
There were a few things they don’t carry, in case you were wondering. There’s not much of anything from Asia and nothing that crosses over into the cookie family. They do, however, have a large selection of dried fruits and nuts. But you’re not going to do much better on prices, especially in NYC. There are some other candy stores, sure, but they charge a premium just because of the name on the bag. Economy is true to its name. Plain old sugar candies (hard candies, Mary Janes, Tootsie Rolls, etc.) are less than $2 a pound. Jelly Belly - $5.99 a pound ... Jordan Almonds - $3.99 a pound ... Gummis - $2.49-$3.99 a pound. All prices are good on their website, too.
The places is overwhelming. Even though I immersed myself in their website before we went, just to make sure I was familiar with their products, I still didn’t know where to look. I was expecting a huge store, and in all fairness, it is. But it was packed with people (if you can, go earlier in the morning on weekends or try a weekday). I might have to go there again (yes, it’ll be my third visit) just because I know I missed some things (and I was with other people both times).
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
We all have Valentines stories and I’ll wager that a good many of them involve candy of some sort. The holiday is inextricably tied to the motto “sweets for the sweet.”
There are lots of stories about Valentines on the news, whole TV specials on the Food Network and of course blog entries. You don’t need me telling you about the history of the heart-shaped box or give you a profile of a man who collects Victorian Valentines. This is the one day where you can get your sugar fix anywhere and everywhere. And I hope you do, because days like this are pretty few and far between.
In a way, CandyBlog.net isn’t about any of that. I’m about candy every day and everyday candy.
That said, this is a good time to talk about Candy Season.
I know I’ve mentioned Candy Season quite a bit. Basically there are four major Candy Holidays in the United States and it starts with Halloween. Then there’s Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. Candy Season happens to also coincide with cooler weather, which is good for chocolate treats.
Candy Season is a time of great plenty for candy ... limited editions, special shapes and colors and of course sales. Indulgence in candies is perfectly acceptable and encouraged. But what’s best is the fact that candy is packaged for each holiday and quickly becomes dated. Which is great on November 1st, December 26th and of course, tomorrow, February 15th. Half off days.
The candy is just as good (if not better) when it’s cheap. Maybe you buy something you’d never tried or twice as much. Valentine’s candy is even better because it’s cute and often meant to be shared.
While this is supposed to be a day for Lovers, when I was growing up Valentine’s was celebrated in our household as a purely candy holiday, a holiday of giving, usually smaller gifts like mini-Christmas stockings.
Usually my mother gave each of us children a little box of candy. It was usually a heart shaped box of Russell Stovers from the drug store (and of course I’d promptly trade my chocolate covered cherry for a nut cluster or caramel with my brother or sister). But one year, for some reason, she went above and beyond. She went to real chocolate shop in the city and picked out a custom tin for each of us with a specific mix. Mine was full of caramels, chocolate covered nuts and coconut creams and not a single cherry in the mix. I kept the tin for years, putting my tips in there and usually spending the money on candy (my brother thought all the cash was in my Tootsie Roll bank ... hah!).
I’ve certainly gotten plenty of other candy gifts for Valentines since then. Even a goofy little box of Necco conversations hearts are always welcome. I know it sounds hokey, but it is the thought that counts and when someone thinks of buying me candy and they don’t present me with a box of chocolate covered walnuts, cherries and marzipan ... it’s all good. It’s all love.
And I’m gonna love stopping at the store(s) tomorrow. That’s when you can expect some special things on CandyBlog.net. Only one more Candy Holiday to go after this before the end of the season!
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
I guess as Valentines approaches candy is more on the mind of adults than usual. Here are a few links about candy and chocolate from around the web:
The New York Times has a great story in their food section about single origin chocolates that starts with chocolate tastings, which may become the new wine tastings, where customers are given brief histories and specs of the growing regions and then taste samples but also discusses the politics and practicality of fair trade and organics as it pertains to quality product.
Chocolate that Flashes Its Passport by Kim Severson
The Los Angeles Times has a great story that traces the origins of chocolate making in California (which is a far longer history than you’d suspect) and how the new mavericks of chocolate crafting are making the West Coast their home. The photos are tasty too (incuding a huge shot on the front page of the Food section).
Toodle over to a Travel article about Barcelona and hard candies, with a delicious photo to boot. Barcelona: Hard Candy by Lisa Abend about a couple of Australians making traditional pulled hard candies in Spain.
A Bag That’s Good Enough to Eat (shown) by Ken Bookman
Taste Test: From Local Chocolatiers - a lovely gallery, tasting notes and recommendations on DC’s favorite candies. (Remember, the Washington Post was the one who helped folks sort through their holiday gelt.)
For those of us not in the area or shipping elsewhere, you might want to check out Taste Test: Valentine’s Chocolates by Mail.
While you’re on the site you might want to check out their interesting article about Chicago, which was once the candy capitol of North America. Sugar subsidies and corporate consolidation has led to a downturn in domestic production of candy in the Windy City. Chicago is Home Sweet Home to Fewer Candy Factories by Kari Lydersen.
Read up! Eat up!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.