Sunday, December 25, 2005
Stockings are one of my favorite traditions of Christmas. I’ve written before about my love of the stockings Santa brought us as children. They were eclectic mixes of little gifts, novelties, traditional American chocolates, gelt and international confections. These were candies that we didn’t get any other time of the year, not in Easter baskets and certainly not in Halloween trick-or-treat bags.
For the past few years I’ve also continued this tradition with my friends when I’m in town for the holidays. We often host a Christmas Eve dinner for friends and I give out a version of these stockings to my guests.
Our family tradition is that everyone has a stocking and it must be at my mother’s house in order for Santa to find it and fill it. Instead for my guests I put their goodies in fabric wine gift bags. They’re pretty and because they’re reusable they’re a gift as well. I found this excellent assortment in Chinatown much less expensive than at the wine store or Cost Plus. As this year was an all-couple affair, each couple got a stocking.
The cornerstone of a stocking is candy. The Santa of my childhood seemed to favor a mix of nuts in the shell (which were obviously pretty but were also intended to minimize the actual candy content). Those nuts were immediately sorted out of the candy mix and placed in a bowl on the kitchen table. My stockings skip right to the punch - chocolate. This year we picked up a mix of chocolate coins, Hershey’s Kisses (plain, thank you), Hershey’s Mint Miniatures Mix & Butterfinger Jingles, Brachs hard candy/toffees and the Trader Joe’s Torrones.
A stocking wouldn’t be much fun without some sassy little toys and additional candy. So I assembled a bunch of stuff, some from the 99 Cent Store, others I picked up here and there. Everyone gets a special big candy, usually just for their tastes: Toblerone bar, Jelly Belly Assortments, Bazooka bubble gum, mints (those round things are mints that look like roller blade wheels) and some grapefruit pastilles. The things that look like ice cream cones are scented bubbles (non toxic for those folks who have pets who like to play with bubbles like we do).
And there it is, all stuffed to the seams! (Okay, I have a problem with trying to stuff too much into them.)
Everyone goes home happy and if they have a long way to travel they’ve got a snack along the way. Of course you can scale up or down for finances and it’s always a good idea to keep your eye out year round to find the stuffers. Things like little notebooks, lip balm, ornaments or even CDs are good fun things to add.
(click on any photo for larger, yummier goodness)
Monday, December 19, 2005
One of the best things about candy is that the manufacture of it is as delightful as the shopping and tasting part. It’s not at all like the whole “where does meat come from” thing, knowing how the candy is made actually makes me appreciate it more. I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago and set some time aside to head out to Fairfield to visit the Jelly Belly factory.
The location is rather ordinary, right off the highway in an industrial park that holds a few other confectionary concerns and an olive oil place, too. As unassuming and corporate as the outside looks, as we all know about jelly beans, it’s the inside that matters.
Jelly Belly has an exceptional free tour for anyone who makes the forty minute trip from San Francisco, but I was lucky enough to get a personal tour from Tomi Holt, the publicist for Jelly Belly.
Or first stop was actually the tasting bar at the factory store. This is actually the best reason for the drive. You can try EVERYTHING they make here. They have all of their candies available for tasting, every jelly bean, every JBz, all of the licorice, the fruit jellies and even the gummis and sugar free assortments. If you’ve ever been curious about anything that they make, this is the place to try it. I had a few JBz and some of the new mint trio Jelly Bellies before we donned our hairnets.
I got the star treatment with full access to the factory floor (regular visitors are restricted to balcony area that still gives an impressive view of all aspects of the process and of course the smells). Jelly Belly built the factory in 1986, but what’s really fascinating is that the Goelitz, owner of Jelly Belly, has been making candy since 1869 and has been in business since 1896. Goelitz is best known for their excellent candy corn, which is made by many companies, but Goelitz is often credited as the first one to make they layered orange, yellow and white version which has certainly become the standard.
The Jelly Belly factory is a huge facility that produces hundreds of different kinds of candy (most of them jelly beans) but they also do panned nuts (Jordan almonds), chocolates (JBz, Chocolate Malt Balls, Dutch Mints), gummi bears, licorice (pastels & bridge mix) and jellies (raspberries, fruit jellies & peach jells). Just about all of their candies are panned. Panning is a process where a candy center is created and then tossed into a huge pan that looks like a cement mixer. Syrups, flavors, colors and/or chocolate are added to coat the candy center, layer upon layer, until the candy is just right and can be polished up and packaged.
First, just about all Jelly Belly candies start as a sugar/corn syrup and corn starch mixture that’s boiled to the appropriate temperature and mixed with whatever flavors the recipe requires. Many recipes contain real flavor ingredients - so blueberry Jelly Bellies have blueberry puree in there. The biggest difference between Jelly Belly jelly beans and most others is that they flavor the center. An ordinary jelly bean is just a plain sugar jelly. A Jelly Belly will have a specific flavored center and then an additionally flavored shell.
On the day I was there, they were making jelly beans. Lots and lots of jelly beans. We started in the kitchen which is a hot room with several large machines side by side. Okay, it doesn’t look much like my kitchen, but it did smell like pina colada. It was here that Tomi showed me the secret to most the jelly candies that we all know and love. Corn Starch Trays. Each bean is molded by depositing the hot candy soup into a tray made from plain old powdered corn starch.
Picture a deep cookie pan filled with corn starch, then it goes through a conveyer where a mold of the centers is pressed into the corn starch (1,260 per tray). The starch is just stiff enough to hold the form and a little further down the line the depositor squirts the little center in there. While I was there watching one of the candy makers was there watching the consistency of the jelly to assure the quality. The starch trays are unloaded from the conveyer onto open racks where they set up for a day in the climate controlled room.
Next the trays are then dumped out—each tray is turned over where the corn starch falls apart and the centers are sifted to remove the corn starch that clings to it. The corn starch is sifted and reused for new trays. Then they go onto a conveyer where they get a quick steaming to get them a little sticky and they are “sanded” with sugar. For some candies like a fruit pectin, this would be the end of the line. But the Jelly Belly is just getting started. Tomi pulled some of these out for us to try (they were still warm from the steaming)—they were orange. Instead of the zesty tart flavor, these were must mellow and sweet with a nice boost of orange essence. I knew it was going to be interesting to see how a Jelly Belly is built.
The Jelly Bellies get loaded intro trays where they cool, set and wait for their next coat. As most of the centers can look the same, each tray is marked with codes and dates. Different centers get different treatment as some get more rest or less rest before and after their engrossing. Each tray weighs 25 pounds when filled with the Jelly Belly centers. At their appointed time the centers are sent to the engrossing pans. 10 trays of 25 pounds of centers are dumped into one of the pans. Then a master confectioner mixes up the elixir that becomes the candy shell. It’s a tricky process that involves a bit of art as they tumble the centers and pour in pitchers of the mixtures and sometimes use air blowers to speed the process.
It takes four coats over about two hours to make the shell and they keep dozens of these panning machines going at any time. So, have you been wondering how much of a Jelly Belly is shell? I asked one of the confectioners there as he was turning off the rumbling, tumbling machines and he said that they put in ten trays of centers, which weigh 25 pounds each. And when they’re done, they get about 375 pounds of beans out—that’s right, one third of the weight of a Jelly Belly is its shell. What’s more, that confectioner added more than 125 pounds of syrups and flavors to the engrossing beans—you’d have to account for evaporation, which is part of the shell making process. It’s a grueling job, if you ask me. There they are, all day pouring and managing these tumbling pans. There are fifty different standard Jelly Belly flavors alone, so the list of possible combinations is huge. It’s a really interesting process. While we were on the floor one row of pans was making Sizzling Cinnamon and the other was working on Tangerine. The smell of the cinnamon was pretty overwhelming. I’m just glad they weren’t making their newest flavor, Roasted Garlic.
You may have noticed that some Jelly Bellies have mottled colors. Those are added at the very end with special coloring agents that don’t integrate into the whole shell.
The beans are then tumbled again in another pan to polish them up with a confectioner’s glaze. It’s kind of like a rock tumbler.
Then the trays go back to the warehouse to wait. The beans’ flavors integrate while they cure and then when they’re ready to go they get loaded back onto a conveyer where they are sorted into a tray that places them in a huge printer that gives them their white ‘brand’ of Jelly Belly. All Jelly Bellies get printed in white, even the white ones. It’s this extra step that you can use to make sure that the bulk beans that you’re buying out of a bin at a candy shop are real Jelly Bellies.
Once the beans are branded, they’re boxed. The beans are stored in the cardboard boxes until they’re called for, for whatever mix they’re making. They un-box the beans onto a huge conveyer that sends them to a tumbler that mixes them together. The tumbler we got close to was making a combo that looked like sour lime and orange—kind of like peas and carrots. It’s mesmerizing to see them tumbling in mesh drums that must be four feet high with little holes in it that keep the air moving and the rejected small jelly beans will fall through. The noise is incredible, you wouldn’t think that so many jelly beans just rustling around could be so loud, but most of the crew on the floor in this area of the factory wears ear protection.
All along the way are the factory personnel assuring the quality of the beans, but there are mechanical methods as well. If a bean makes it all the way through the process to be a “complete” bean but is rejected for size or shape, they’re called a “Belly Flop.” Belly Flops can be purchased in one place, the Jelly Belly factory. When I was there they were selling them in various mixes for half the price of real Jelly Bellies.
At the end of the factory part Tomi and I went back to the lobby where she took me through the wall of history that detailed the rise of the company, the family history and of course the Ronald Regan memorabilia (he was a huge fan of the confections since they started and could be credited for bringing them to national attention in the early eighties).
Of course at the end of that Tomi and I adjourned to the factory store again and spent more time with Barbara at the tasting bar where she continued to feed us whatever we wanted to taste. I even gave some of the Bertie Botts(tm) flavors a try and rather liked the grass, black pepper and soap flavors. But what impressed me most after tasting such a wide range of the products they offered, no matter whether they were to my liking or not, the quality is excellent. The amount of flavor they pack into such small bits of candy is amazing and obviously is what sets Jelly Bellies apart from other jelly beans. The strange thing is that when I went on the tour I was pretty much neutral on Jelly Belly. They’re good, I never argued with the quality, but now that I’ve seen them made and tasted the full range of flavors, I’m hooked on some of their other products. See my full review for an exhaustive list of some of the things I’ve tried in the past few weeks.
They run the tours six days a week, but the factory doesn’t operate on Saturdays, so try to make it on a weekday for the full experience. Check their website or call ahead for hours. They also have a cafe on site (and a room you can rent for parties).
Also, if you’re in the Midwest you can tour their Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin warehouse too, which also has a full store and tasting bar.
(All inside the factory photos courtesy of Jelly Belly.)
Friday, December 16, 2005
I went to a new candy shop last weekend. I was on a quest for Ribbon Candy which seemed oddly difficult to find. I found The Candy Baron in Santa Monica. A small chain of shops, they seemed a good alternative to the mall shop called Sweets Factory.
The Candy Baron’s main product is bulk candy. They have the usual selection of Jelly Belly candies as well as taffy, hard candies, gummis, candy buttons and licorice. Their prices weren’t bad, most stuff going for between $5.00 and $6.00 a pound. They also have harder to find nostalgia/regional items like Goetze’s Caramel Creams (bull’s eyes), rock candy, Mary Janes, Walnettos & Squirrel Nut Zippers. They also had a decent selection of international candy bars. Though they were priced at a mind-blowing $2 each, if you’ve really got a jones for a Coffee Crisp, that’d be the place to check out.
They’re just off the Promenade in Santa Monica on Santa Monica Blvd.
There are only five locations total (Santa Monica, Laguna Beach, Long Beach, San Francisco and Eugene, OR) but they do have a website where you can order and have it shipped to you.
I’m still on a quest for a good place to buy inexpensive bulk candies in Los Angeles. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m ready to go.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Here’s another item to add to the list if you’re looking for something to bring the hostess this holiday or maybe just a stocking stuffer.
No, not shotglasses for Peppermint Schnapps, these are shot glasses that are made from peppermint sticks.
I saw them today at both Urban Outfitters (you can order online) and Cost Plus World Market (a dollar cheaper). As a side note, I’ve also seen plenty of chocolate liqueur cups which are great for serving dessert cognac. If you’re looking for a way to add candy to a mixed drink (besides a lemon drop to a lemon martini or cinnamon imperials to a sweet martini) you might want to check out the new Twizzler Strawz.
They’re made for Slurpees and are just regular Twizzlers that are bigger so you can use them like a straw and get added flavor (and eat them). For cocktails, just snip them in half for a martini glass or lowball.
Thursday, December 8, 2005
Here it is, your guide for what to get those candy obsessed people on your gift list. Some of this is stuff I’ve bought before, some is stuff I’d like to get and of course some is just something I’ve read about and thought was cool. Feel free to leave comments to expand this list!
Games & Diversions
Do you have a Poker fan in your life? There are lots of poker themed candies out there now. The simplest is instead of chocolate coins, get them chocolate poker chips. They have a huge selection at Candy Warehouse of chocolate novelties including playing cards, racked chips, dice and other gambling themed items. Of course you can also find candy themed playing cards (I have some Hershey’s Kisses ones) but I don’t know how the Poker club would feel about that. Candy Corn shaped playing cards by the dozen, Candy Hearts playing cards ($4.95), or go for a whole Chocolate Casino Kit ($17.99). You can’t eat it, but it’s stilly pretty sweet: Chocolate Monopoly ($21.08) - called Chocolate-opoly.
If you really want to get into candy making, Candy Crafts is a great place to start. They have kits you can use to make your own candy gifts or give to someone else.
Crazy Candy Art kits where you can make sand art with candy powder (or just guzzle the half gallon bottles of the stuff).
Paper Goods & Art
Don’t forget how welcome a candy poster might be for your sweet-toothed recipient. Art.com has a huge selection of candy photography and classic advertising recreations. You can get them framed (starting at $50) or unframed ($6.99+). May I recommend the Andy Warhol version of the Lifesavers ad, “Do Not Lick This Page? (144.99 framed.)
We’ve all seen the bowls of Murano glass candy. Either you hate it or love it, but if you want to give it to someone, here’s a cool site that seems to have excellent prices and a pretty wide selection. Rebecca’s Unique Glass ($6.99-99.99). Don’t forget to pick up a jar or bowl for it!
Keeping Candy in Your Life
Here’s something that I’d be happy to get. It’s actually for spice storage, but I think it’d be super cute to buy this and fill each of the little tins with fun, tasty and colorful candy. Magnetic Spice Storage ($12.99). You can do the same thing with just about any spice rack/storage solution. Filled with pretty pastel Jordan Almonds, Skittles, M&Ms, Kisses (or the new Kissables) or anything your recipient would find tasty is a fantastic and pretty inexpensive gift that keeps on giving.
Purse/Clutch made from candy wrappers ($22-$235) - even if you don’t buy any, they’re just so cute!
Dispensers and Holders (actually designed for that purpose)
Don’t forget the fun with the Candy Poopers. Especially if someone’s a fan of animals and candy (how could you not like both). There’s even a Penguin Pooper now, so go ahead and bundle it with the March of the Penguins DVD. (My original review here.)
Ornaments & Decoration
Whole Body Indulgences
Candy for the Feet
Candy as Protection
Of course you can take candy to the pool or shore with beach towels that look like candy packages: Candy Bar Beach Towels (14.99) - they come in Tootsie Pop, Dots, Charms Blo Pop and Sugar Daddy. You can also order directly from Bazooka for the Bazooka Bath Towel ($17.99 + 25 comics)
If you want more from your beach towel, how about one that doubles as a game board. Catch this one fast, it’s already on clearance at Bed Bath & Beyond: CandyLand Beach Towel Game! ($7.99 clearance).
Edible Gifts (something for everyone)
Sushi lovers might enjoy any of these Koo-ki Sushi ($12-$65). If you were looking for these gummi sushi, that I reviewed before, unfortunately it looks like they’re discontinued. But maybe someone on your giftlist is a Manga/Anime fan? Jbox has a great candy kit ($25.00) that includes a variety of KitKats, Pocky and fruity snacks like Lotte blueberry gum.
Crate & Barrel - Food/Candy (prices are a bit steep but the tins & packaging are pretty cool)
If you didn’t blink with the prices at Zabar’s, well head down to SoHo to Dean & Deluca. Spectacular packaging, great website and I’ve ordered from them before and have to say that the stuff does get there in one piece. The best looking thing they had there was the Joseph Schmidt Chocolate Bowl ($34.00). No, it’s not a bowl for chocolate, it’s a bowl made from chocolate. Shazaam! I can’t link directly to the products there but check out the regular gifts like Chocolate Tower Tiers ($75-$125), Caramel Dominos ($45.00), Chocolate Ornaments ($20), and Pig & Piglets (it’s like a Trojan pig, you crack open the pig and pigs come out! - $34.00). Fear not they have an Under $25 Section. (You can also order the chocolate bowl directly from Joseph Schmidt.)
Lake Champlain Chocolates - check out their amazing online store. I really enjoyed their 5 Star Bar and their medallions but I’m sure everything is great. Check out their sale items too, there’s some great deals in there.
Chocosphere for online ordering of most of the top brands of chocolate - a good place to go if you want to combine different chocolate brands in one candy gift.
Wilbur Chocolate - of course I’ve talked about my favorite chocolate before. What’s cool is that it’s not that expensive, even for their top of the line pacakges. My favorite is the Bud filled Milk Bottle ($16.09) but they also have the following Super Assortment in a box ($49.99), Tier of Treats ($63.79) and the more cost efficient selections like the Crock ‘o Buds ($26.99) and the Cocoa Mug ($10.99). You can’t order online, you have to either fax or call it in (800)2WILBUR. (My reviews here.)
Candy All Year Round
Candy of the Month Club from Candy Warehouse - three levels: Bazooka Joe, Gruffi Gummi Bear and The Thurston Howell Chocolate Package.
Seventy Percent has a chocolate tasting club where they send you a different 70%+ chocolate every month. Chocolate Connoisseur’s Club includes three bars (or more) plus tasting notes for each of the featured items. Based in the UK, they have access to chocolates that I’ve never heard of. Prices start at 13.95 pounds per month plus a 3.95 pound surcharge for non UK addresses. Without making a huge committment you can also pick up one of their “Chocolate Hampers” which feature incredible selections.
For Stockings / Gelt
For more stocking stuffers check out Cost Plus World Market or some similar store in your area. Ours carries not only a huge selection of international foods and candies but also gift kits, baskets for making your own and tins of retro candy, nostalgia items and of course cute stuff. Their prices are far and away more affordable than someplace like Williams Sonoma or Crate & Barrel but probably the same stuff.
Other Gift Guides
UPDATE: Here are a few things I left out!
Plush Puffs (reviewed here) is featuring a great new gift basket that allows you to pick your assortment of three packages of their gourmet marshmallows. $27.99 (but there are gifts for all price ranges).
Yum Boxes ($48 for a set of 8) - I’m not sure if this is a gift idea or an idea for your next party. They’re cool little invitations for parties that include candies and handy mailing boxes. They’re pricey but maybe something you can custom make at home.
Regular reader Desertwind suggests Allentown’s own Josh Early Candies which looks kinda like a Pennsylvania version of See’s with their black and white logo and focus on nuts, chews & toffees.
Last, I completely forgot Scharffen Berger! I went to their factory last week and was enchanted with their stuff in the gift store. How can you resist their chocolate shirts with the messages: (semi) sweet, (bitter) sweet and (extra) bitter ($14.50). Sassy! Oh, and they have chocolate too. Can I recommend their panned chocolates ...ooh, I already did!
Monday, December 5, 2005
Yes, finally a board game based on snack food. And why not? There are board games based on strategy, knowledge of other specific topics like sports or music or all trivia ... it’s about time someone leveraged snacks into a game for grownups (let’s face it, you can’t play CandyLand all your life).
Here’s a game called Eat It!
Friday, November 11, 2005
My mother gave me an excellent gift about a year ago. First, she knows my love of anodized aluminum (I should have a blog about that too!) and of course she knows of my love of organizing things:
I’m sure when she bought it she thought it was for eyeglasses or sunglasses. But it’s obvious to me that it’s intended for safely carrying your candy:
Yes, this durable metal case not only protects your precious candy bar (or two) from getting crushed at the bottom of your purse, backpack or messenger bag, it also provides welcome insulation against temperature variations.
You can also keep smaller wrapped candies in there, like a bunch of Kisses, Tootsie Rolls or hard candies. It’d even be good for lollies and Sugar Daddies.
Most glasses cases are great for this purpose and would be a welcome gift (filled of course) for any candy lover. Pencil cases also work equally well for this purpose.
Tuesday, August 9, 2005
An ever helpful reader suggested a couple of weeks ago that I visit India Sweets & Spices in Los Feliz to find some other international candies.
Boy did I score.
India Sweets & Spices is a non-nonsense grocer and vegetarian restaurant. The store appears to have no air conditioning, so upon entering it has a musky and damp smell of curry (which I find exceptionally comforting). A large store, there are rows and rows of premade curries, curry powders, spices and seeds by the pound, in addition to other Indian products like shoes, clothes, cookware, incense and groceries. There was a row of freezers which sit idle and empty but what was most fascinating was the fridge section which had a large selection of dairy products and CANDY!
Yes, they kept their candy in the fridge and bless them for that.
Most of the candy was Cadbury and Nestle, with some other brands that I’d never heard of (the Dido bar seems to be a KitKat and the Tadelle is just plain good). I’m most excited because I found a Curly Wurly. For those of you old enough to remember, in the States there was a candy bar called Marathon. It was a braided length of caramel covered in chocolate. It came in a red package with a ruler on the back. It was discontinued years ago, but our European friends still have their version and now I get to try one.
More info on each of these purchases later!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.