Wednesday, September 28, 2011
In January of this year I visited Amsterdam for the first time. I was fascinated and delighted by the sweets culture of the Dutch. My visit to the city was almost completely on foot. I arrived in a plane and left on a train, but the rest was just walking around within the area of the city known as the Canal Loop. Here’s my reference map.
I stayed right around the corner from the grand flower market, which wasn’t quite in its full glory as it was late January and many of the items they were selling were just bulbs. My goal when I visit most places is to experience candy as the locals do. Sure, I go to the touristy shops, but I love to see how candy is merchandised in grocery stores, convenience shops, vending machines and drug stores. What I found while in Europe is that candy is thriving and it’s for adults and children.
Amsterdam is a great city to visit any time of year, it’s easy to walk (or take public transportation) and really explore. As I’ve mentioned before, I like to balance my visits with tourist things (canal walks to historical locations & museums) along with living like the locals (grocery shopping, local markets and restaurants). Most of the people I encountered spoke English and I learned most of the common phrases in Dutch very quickly; reading signage (if it wasn’t in English) was also pretty simple with a smartphone dictionary app.
As with most European metropolitan areas, they’re not shy about sweets. Bakeries and access to chocolate and candy abounds. I’ll have more on my candy spotting in future posts. But here are three chocolate shops I visited in Amsterdam:
This is a little tea room style shop, the front is a chocolate counter, but up a few stairs past this and the shop widens out to a little cafe for tea, coffee and pastries.
The style of the chocolates is pure classic. Creams, truffles, candied fruits, caramels and chocolate covered nuts.
They had a good selection of gift chocolate in little stand up bags (chocolate covered nuts dusted in cocoa and powdered sugar, orangettes and boxes of Valrhona chocolate) appropriate as a hostess gift or to take home and enjoy. But mostly the shop seemed to be small baked goods (dipped Florentine) and chocolates.
I picked out a small selection of chocolates by the piece. They did have gift boxes, but I had mine in a little paper bag and took them back to the office to taste with my cappuccino.
My favorite by far was the Honey Caramel with Hazelnuts & Dark Chocolate pictured there a little bit in the back. It was a caramel with a light touch of honey filled with whole hazelnuts. It was sliced and then dipped 3/4 into dark chocolate. A soft chew with lots of dark notes.
I also got a cappuccino & cognac (the twisty thing with a coffee bean on top) which was fluffier than most of my truffles and had a good leathery tang to the coffee notes and the The which was a little “dry” because it was on the intense side. In the back, the flat topped one is a nutmeg and wafer ganache: a bit of feulletine and some rich spice in a milky ganache. (I don’t remember what the other one in the front was - my guess is a dark chocolate, since I usually try to get a plain chocolate). I would definitely stop at this shop again. There are two locations.
The shop that I most wanted to visit was called Puccini Bomboni which also has several locations. My hotel was equidistant from both shops yet I had a bit of trouble getting there. For some reason the morning I decided to make that my coffee stop I chose to go to the Singel location only to realize that they didn’t open until 11 AM. The next day I tried going to the other location on Staalstraat but didn’t make it before they closed at 6 PM. On my third try I did get back to Staalstraat and because of my difficulties, I felt the need to buy nine chocolates.
The shop on Staalstraat is quaint and well situated on a quiet corner. They had lots of impulse items, prepackaged chocolate straws, nougats, chocolate covered nuts and house-made chocolate bars. The shop is lit in amber and had a warmer feel than Pompadour. Still, it was an overwhelming shop, mostly because the chocolates are huge. Seriously, they’re enormous chocolates.
The counter is arranged with what seemed like two dozen varieties. I pondered (and took a few photos) while the woman in the shop fetched an appropriate box.
I was attracted to the less common flavors and of course the liquor infused ones. I can’t remember exactly what I picked up but it went something like this:
Aniseseed, Cognac, Cointreau, Lemongrass, Drambuie, Coffee, Mint, Nutmeg and Hazelnut Marzipan.
Each piece is substantial, some were over two inches long. They were lighter than I expected, the ganache center, made with all natural ingredients were lightly frothed into something that was more like a mousse than a dense truffle.
It was too much chocolate for me, even eating two a day, I found myself overwhelmed with them, because each piece was so huge. The liquor flavors weren’t intense in the way that some alcohol infused kinds can burn. Instead they go more of the flavor in there, so the cognac was leathery and smoky while the cointreau was just a touch orange. The nutmeg was a dreamy, creamy comfort with just a touch of the woodsy and aromatic spice.
I want to eat more of these, but I know that if I ever go back there again I’m going to end up in the same boat - too much chocolate all at once. So my tip to travelers is to make this your stop on your first day, not the last day. I would have gladly traded one of my dinners made of black bread and yogurt for Hazelnut Marzipan.
Vanderdonk is a little different from the other two I visited, they carried a lot of other chocolates from all over the world: Pacari, Taza, Bonnat, Pralus, Valrhona, Venchi and even some Dean & Deluca items. Their website has a good listing of the brands that they carry, the shop is nicely designed and well curated with only a few items from each of the brands.
They also had a selection of house made chocolates. I picked out three as a dessert for my soup lunch before I visited Rijksmuseum.
It was rather cold on that day and for some bizarre reason I decided to eat al fresco. It was probably less than 50 degrees and I huddled on a wind whipped bench by a duck-graced canal around the corner from the museum and sipped my quickly chilling squash soup before diving into my chocolates. The pieces were dense and had very mild flavors. They weren’t my favorite chocolates from the trip but they were a wonderful appetizer before strolling the museum and seeing Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid in person. (It’s much smaller than I expected, and even much bluer.)
If I’m in the city again, I do plan on visiting again to sample the other chocolate that they carry.
Vanderdonk Fine Chocolates
My visit was much more than chocolate, but I’ll have some thoughts about candy and licorice at a later date.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
While on vacation last week, I made a point of tracking down some locally made candies along the Central Coast of California. First up is Mehlenbacher’s Taffy which is made in Paso Robles, California.
The taffies are sold in long pieces, about the size of a cigar, quite different from the normal nugget or little twist. Each is 1.25 ounces, so I consider it a full serving of candy. The pieces are about 5 inches long and wrapped in a tough, thick cellophane and twisted at the ends.
The ingredients are very simple: corn syrup, cane sugar, butter and then flavorings and coloring (though not all are colored). They’re had pulled in the traditional fashion on a hook and then hand portioned and wrapped. They make 51 different flavor varieties, though none of the stores I found carries more than a dozen.
Here’s a little video from a local TV station about the company:
I first saw Mehlenbacher’s mentioned in a Martha Stewart spread (I think as a suggestion for wedding favors). So when I was in Paso Robles last year, I picked up the assortment you see pictured in this review. Then I ate them and didn’t review them. (Or maybe I lost a few.) So when I returned to the area again, I made a point of finding some more. However, I didn’t match the flavors, one for one. So the photos differ a little bit.
Root Beer is one of my favorite flavors of all time and one that goes really well with taffy. The root beer is good, I liked its blend of earthy flavors like ginger and pine along with a little menthol and wintergreen kick.
Root Beer Float is a twist of caramel and cream colored taffies. The root beer flavor is snappy, with a good wintergreen freshness to it along with a creamy butter and vanilla note to it.
Iced Coffee smells pretty rich, like a sweet, sugary coffee. The flavor isn’t quite that intense and has a creamier flavor than I anticipated (I figured it would taste like black coffee). It’s very much on the bitter and strong side of the coffee flavors, but really watered down with the sugary sweetness.
Peanut Butter was a mild looking, almost vanilla taffy. The flavor was sweet and had a great peanut butter note to it and was very smooth. I could have used just a little hint of salt, or maybe they should make a flavor called Sea Salt Peanut Butter for those who crave that.
Peanut Butter Cup is a twist of both the chocolate flavor taffy and the peanut butter. The scent was like peanut butter and cocoa. The chocolate part of the taffy wasn’t very chocolate (not like a chocolate caramel or anything that intense). It was all very mellow and woodsy, with a slightly chalkier chew from the cocoa and real peanut butter. Like the peanut butter, I think it would benefit from just a dash of salt.
Neapolitan is a twist of the classic strawberry, vanilla and chocolate flavors. The scent of the strawberry dominated, with its soft floral and toasted sugar notes. But the flavor of the twist as a whole was just sweet and pleasant. The chocolate and vanilla didn’t do much and the strawberry was little more than the smell. The chew was soft and lasted a long time with no grainy finish.
Wintergreen was rather medicinal, cooling on the tongue but just didn’t feel like candy. This was a flavor I tried in my original assortment and didn’t pick one up on my re-do.
Hot Cinnamon is a twist of white and red. It was weird. The ingredients said it was only flavored with cinnamon oil, but it had a huge clove note to it, so much that my mouth was literally numb at one point, like clove oil often does. It wasn’t a hot, sizzling cinnamon. I liked the intense flavor and soft chew of it, but I did actually want more of the woodsy cinnamon notes.
Banana is bright yellow and completely artificial tasting, though the label said “banana extract” not artificial banana flavoring. It’s sweet and a little toasty, like a marshmallow. I enjoyed it quite a bit and think it would pair well as a twist for many of the other flavors. (Banana-Peanut Butter-Chocolate might be fun.)
The prices varied quite a bit. The first time I bought them at the farmers market on the square in Paso Robles (Spring 2010), this time I picked them up at Jack Creek Farms in Paso Robles for $1.50 each and some other flavors at Candy Counter in Cayucos for $1.75 each. The Mehlenbacher’s Taffy website (warning, it autoplays music) has them for $1.85 a stick.
On the whole, I’m not a big taffy fan. I appreciate the simplicity of the product, but once the flavor goes beyond a good malty molasses, I lose interest pretty quickly. So many taffies that I’ve tried taste about as interesting as the wax paper they’re wrapped in. This was different, Mehlenbacher’s is definitely doing something different here. It could be the use of real butter or the attention to the pulling of the boiled sugars. I’m still not inclined to keep buying it for an every day treat, but there are a few other flavors I’d like to try and I’m always up for some root beer.
I’d love to see an all natural line from them too, something with natural flavorings (though many are actually naturally flavored with extracts or peanut butter/cocoa) and natural colors - that would really set them apart.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Papabubble is an artisan candy shop that first opened in Barcelona, Spain in 2004. There are now shops in eleven cities around the world including Tokyo, New York, Hong Kong and Moscow. I visited the one in Amsterdam while I was in Europe earlier this year.
One of the conceits of the shops is that all candy sold there is made there. And all the candy they make is just plain old hard candy ... I say plain because the recipe and basic steps are quite simple. But the technique and craft is extraordinary. The centerpiece of the store is the candy kitchen, where the boiled sugar and glucose mixture is poured out onto heated tables to be flavored, colored and crafted.
The Amsterdam shop is tucked away on a narrow street (aren’t they all?) called Haarlemmerdijk a little to the northwest of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station. I took a tram over there then walked back to the station on my last morning in town.
This video features they New York store, but is still a great representation of how the candy is made at all the shops.
The shop, like many in Amsterdam, was narrow. (At one time property in the city was taxed on its width.) It’s quite deep and I was surprised to see at the back of the store area was a series of steep stairs, about five of them, that led down to the kitchen area. Like the video shown above, the work area for the candy makers is a long table with a clear glass backsplash so that customers can watch them do their work. There’s also the added advantage of looking down into the area from above as well.
The store is well stocked with previously made merchandise. All the items are hard candies, some are single flavors in a package, some are cut rock and others are pillow shaped confections.
When I visited at the end of January, the pair of candy makers was just finishing up their latest batch of heart shaped lollipops. Not much to photograph there, just bagging the glossy candies. They did look great though.
What I really wanted though was to taste the diversity of the candy flavors that they used, and hopefully find an assortment that showcased what was unique about the Amsterdam Papabubble, as each shop does things customized to their own culture. I found a mix called Pillow Fight.
The bags are a tough matte silver back with a clear pocket on the front. They held 160 grams and cost 4.95 Euros - about $7.00 at the time. I thought that was a lot for about 5.6 ounces. But then again, it was made by real people, right there, and probably recently.
Pillow Fight is a mix of classic herbal and spice flavors, all in the pillow shape, which is made by taking a long rope of the hard candy and crimping it to make the mouth-friendly shapes. The other style of candy they make is what most folks know as Cut Rock. This is the same basic rope but usually has a design on the inner core that’s revealed when the rope is cross sectioned (one variety in my mix was this cut rock, as you’ll see below).
The package didn’t look like it was going to do a great job of protecting its valuable contents. The little pillows already looked like they had a light sanding of pulverized brethren on them already. But my concerns were unfounded. The way they mix up the candy, the ends get a little worn and there is a bit of sugary dust at the bottom of the bag. But everything was quite dry (which keeps it from becoming sticky and losing its shine). All I needed to do when I got them home was pour them out on a paper towel and lightly roll around to shine them up.
The other style of packaging they have are little plastic jars. They’re great to look at and of course hold more candy and are probably easier to serve yourself from.
Lavendel (Lavender) - purple stripes - these were by far the prettiest little pillows. The lavender flavor is a lot like rosemary, a strong oily and mentholated flavor.
Anijs (Anise) - black & white stripes - this was a mild and flavorful anise drop. Sweet and with a great crunch ... I like to crunch my candies. The pillows seem to have a lightly aerated center. Basically, the warm candy mixture is pulled on a hook like taffy to add a little air into it which gives it a little bit lighter texture and smooth melt.
Bergamot - light orange with orange stripes - this was similar to the lavender, it’s aromatic and sweet but has a balsam note to it. I didn’t feel like it was quite bergamot, but it still had a citrus zest quality to it.
Beterschap! (Cough Drop) - This was the only cut rock in the bunch - round cream color with red cross in center - the word beterschap means “get well”. It tastes rather like a cough drop - part cola, part cinnamon and part menthol. It was one of the most strongly flavored candies in the bunch.
Cola - yellow & orange stripes - is rather bold. It’s tangy and has a strong lime and nutmeg note to it. I liked it, but that’s likely because I appreciate cola candy because it’s not that common in the States.
Mojito (Lime & Mint) - light green and yellow stripes on a clear background - this one was tangy and minty. Kind of like a cough drop. Mojitos aren’t a favorite drink of mine, but are more successful for me because fresh spearmint tastes so different from spearmint candy. This version had a lot of lime oils in it, which made it much more medicinal for me.
Scherpe Kaneel (Sharp Cinnamon) - magenta and green - the color didn’t say cinnamon, but it was most definitely sizzling cinnamon.
Lemongrass Gember (Lemongrass Ginger) - yellow & green - this was very bold, the ginger notes were strong and a little more on the side of extract than the earthy, fibery root is fresh. The lemongrass did feel authentic though, not too sweet and no hint of tartness.
Eucalyptus (aqua with white stripes) - wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped, but still smooth and soothing with a light freshness. It was so mild, for a while I wasn’t sure what it even was until I looked at the little flavor guide.
I would love to spend more time at the shop and to have seen them making candy from start to finish, unfortunately my schedule didn’t allow it. (They open at 11 AM and my train was departing at 12:20 PM and I just didn’t hit it right when I arrived a little after eleven and they said they wouldn’t be ready for more crafting for another 30 minutes.) Of course my dream would be to learn how to make candy like this from start to finish. It looks like a lot of work and care goes into it, along with a bit of personality - each shop has a slightly different offerings based on the artisans themselves and the culture of the clientele.
The candy is expensive, but it really is to notch, far and away better than the similar Christmas mixes I sometimes pick up at the drug store. Besides, candy that you saw being made always tastes better, just like kettle corn and cotton candy. I plan to visit the New York store for sure next time I’m in the city and if you’re traveling the world, check to see if there will be one near you.
I give the shop a 9 out of 10 and the candy itself an 8 out of 10.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
There appeared to be fewer new Valentine’s candy introductions in 2011, but many of the tried and true favorites are back on store shelves. Here’s a look at what I’ve been able to find:
In 2010 Necco introduced their new packaging, flavors and colors for the classic Sweethearts. (See the comparison of the two here.) This year the classic version was to return, though sold only at discount stores. The only confirmed sighting of the candy is at Family Dollar. Frustrated lovers of the classic version are turning to eBay and message boards to purchase the limited supplies.
Dove Promises are available in several different variety packages in both Valentine’s themes and the standard colors.
Heart Shaped Junior Mints (original review)
Nestle & Wonka
SweeTart Hearts (original review)
Reese’s Hearts (foil wrapped molded hearts filled with Reese’s peanut butter - original review)
Dark Chocolate Truffle Hearts (original review)
PEEPS Chocolate Covered Raspberry Flavored Hearts - I have not actually seen these in any store.
Conversation Beans (original review)
Heart Shaped Boxes (original review)
Other Items of Interest
See’s has Cinnamon Hearts and Cinnamon Pops again. (original review)
Elmer’s Chocolate boxes (original review) are back on store shelves
Lindt Lindor Truffles Limited Edition - Milk Chocolate with a Smooth White Filling
Ghiradelli Luxe Milk squares selection in Valentine’s packaging (original review)
Ferrara Milk Chocolate Strawberry Ball (original review) the twist here is that the segments have little love messages on them.
Gimbal’s Honey Lovers and Cherry Lovers jelly bean heart mixes - not strictly Valentine’s day, but certainly appropriate (Cherry & Honey reviews)
So what are you seeing on store shelves, or maybe not seeing this year? What are your tried & true favorites?
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
It’s hard to keep track of what’s new and what’s returning on store shelves for Christmas. I’ve found there aren’t that many new introductions, but there are plenty of tried-and-true favorites back again this year.
I think a lot of candy companies introduced limited editions as a sort of test marketing and found that bringing back fringe favorites on a regular schedule satisfies those who crave the special items but doesn’t detract from their regular product lines.
Here are a few candies that I’ve reviewed in the past and a few new ones I’ve spotted on shelves again this year. Just because something is not on this list doesn’t mean it’s not made this year, just that I haven’t been able to track it down.
• Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses (old review when they were made with real white chocolate)
• Peeps Chocolate Covered Peppermint Trees (Milk & Dark Chocolate)
• Paul Frank Nestle Crunch Bar (can be a greeting card - see above photos)
Mars & Wrigley’s
• Life Savers Tin - holds 7 rolls of three different varieties - comes in Butter Rum, Cherry or 5 Flavor package design
Farley’s & Sathers + Brach’s
• Brach’s Christmas Nougats (Peppermint & Wintergreen - no one has seen Cinnamon on shelves - review)
• Tootsie Roll Candy Cane Pop Drops (review)
• Ribbon Candy (I suspect this is just a repackage of Sevigny’s, as so few companies make this now)
• Swedish Fish (red & green) in bags or theater boxes
Other Items of Interest
• Giant Toblerone Bars
What are you looking forward to most? And what are you having trouble finding this year? What did I leave out?
Friday, October 15, 2010
Since this is the sixth Halloween I’ve covered on Candy Blog, it’s hard to find Halloween candies to feature that I haven’t reviewed before. So I thought I’d do a run down of what I’ve been seeing in stores again this year for the Halloween Season. These are just candies that are special to Halloween, not regular candy in large bags or with special wrappers.
FARLEY’S & SATHERS (BRACH’S)
NESTLE & WONKA
RUSSELL STOVER & WHITMANS
What have you seen in stores ... or what have you had trouble finding this year?
Friday, August 6, 2010
One of the most exciting parts of my recent trip was a visit to a real, working candy factory. I didn’t get a special tour or anything, but I always like to get close to the source of candy - even if it’s through a wall of glass. The Albanese Candy Factory is easy to get to, at the junction of I65 and RTE30. (Though Google Maps took me on a far more direct but slower route through the neighboring Indiana towns from I80.)
The factory is nicely situated with a large parking lot and a charming “house” entry for the candy store and tour portion of the facility. Entering the space, at first it just looks like a huge candy store - probably about 2,000 square feet of not just Albanese Candy, but oodles of other bulk items in bins, novelties and classic favorites from all sorts of manufacturers. At the back of this space is the tour.
No photos were allowed of their candy factory tour, which amounts to walking along one wall of the factory and peering into the active operation. I was able to see the starch molds stacked up and ready to be fed into the depositor, which squeezes out the gummy goo that becomes the bears. The next steps were a bit hidden, but the next conveyer showed the completed gummi bears on a belt being tossed around and bagged up. (The true intervening step is that the gummy bears cure for a while in their molds, are then cleaned of their corn starch coats & given a little shine in a tumbler called a panning machine.) The bears were then bagged up and robots came in and created huge boxes then pallets that were moved around.
The space is just a wide carpeted ramp with a few videos to demonstrate and explain the processes. It’s wheelchair accessible and easy for folks to spend as much or as little time on as they want.
I was really interested in the candy store and I wasn’t disappointed. First and foremost they sold Albanese Candy. By the door were piles of boxes of “seconds” at reasonable prices - a 5 lb box of Peach Rings was $8. Great for a party.
The perfect candy was sold either in pre-packs or at one of the three bulk candy stations. There were plenty of helpful and knowledgeable staffers there. All of the items that weren’t individually wrapped were packaged up by request by the staff. They stood there with their tongs, scoops, plastic bags and gloved hands at the ready for any request. They had every Albanese gummy candy I could think of. The standard items were all $2.49 a pound - a great price as anyone who has been to Dylan’s Candy Bar or other mall bulk candy shop will recognize. (Those shops sell Albanese Candy for anywhere between $9 and $14 a pound.)
I picked out their new Natural Sour Poppers, Gummi Butterflies (now in small and large sizes) and Gummi Fishes. I’ve actually had the last two items before, but I thought I’d try them again, especially because I wanted a standard flavor to try against the natural ones.
The packaging was nice. Just little stand-up zipper plastic bags. What I appreciated was the each one got its own label that did list the ingredients for the product - a rare service when buying in bulk. These little four ounce bags were just $65 cents, quite a deal for getting exactly what I wanted.
The new Natural Sour Poppers are cute little smiley faced buttons of gummis. I have no idea what the flavors are supposed to be, or even how many are in the assortment. I didn’t try to overthink them, I just ate them.
Though there’s no sour sanding on them they’re still quite tangy right from the start. They’re soft and squishy with good, well rounded flavors but very much on the sour side. I could pick out the cherry, lemon, orange and pineapple ones, there might have been green apple, fruit punch, strawberry and maybe watermelon in there.
I liked that there were no weird aftertastes associated with the coloring, though the flavors were less vibrant than the traditionally produced ones. They recognizable “emoticon” shape will probably be quite fun for kids. I also appreciate that they’re the same price as the unnatural gummi products.
I’ve reviewed the stunning-looking Albanese Gummi Butterflies before. I’m not quite sure why I picked them up again, but I was enchanted by their appearance. The wingspan on the large ones is a full 3 inches. The small ones are less than half that, at about 1.33 inches across and the same thickness.
Combining the two sizes was actually more satisfying for me than one or the other. I liked the look of them together, the small ones gave context for the large sized shape (which often get folded up). The flavors are the same charming Albanese cherry, orange, grape, punch and apple. I especially liked the orange ones, but found the cherry to have the robust woodsy notes and not too much red food coloring flavor.
Albanese’s chocolate products are far less well known. I picked up only one chocolate item to review, their Dark Chocolate Caramel Marshmallow. The prices on the chocolate items varied depending on the product itself. They had a good selection of traditional chocolate treats like toffee, fruit creams, caramels and nuts. They’re packaged just like the gummis, into little zipper bags.
The Caramel Marshmallow is smaller than the See’s Scotchmallow. A nicely domed piece, they were in pristine, unmarred condition when I bought them but got jostled around a bit in transit (drove to Chicago from there, then flew back to Los Angeles four days later).
It has a nice dark cocoa scent, a little sweet but woodsy. The bite is not at all like I expected a marshmallow to be. Instead of a latexy puff, it was more of a light fluffed cream. It still had a little chew to it, but not at all like I was accustomed to with See’s or Russell Stover. The flavor was barely sweet and had a light hint of vanilla to it (they use both real vanilla and vanillin in them). The caramel was soft and chewy but lacking much of a salty or burnt sugar punch. The dark chocolate was decent quality and well tempered though not complex. They’re certainly edible but of course don’t hold a candle to my favorite, the Scotchmallow. Since they’re about the same price at $11.99 a pound, I can’t see myself getting these again - even though I know they’re extremely fresh.
The diversity of candy offerings in the store is amazing. They had a huge selection of nostalgic favorites, such as swirl lollipops, candy buttons, wax lips and theater box favorites. I lucked out and found Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy as well as the more recent Doscher’s French Chew. They also had a great wall of individually wrapped candies which included Mary Jane’s, Anise Squares, Honey Drops and all sorts of items from Atkinson’s like their Peerless line. I picked up Angel Mints and my mother found Sen Sen and got a tin of Anis de Flavigny. Prices for the candy that they don’t make there is a little more than a drug store but less than most other candy stores.
The shop is only about one hour outside of Chicago and a half an hour south of Gary, Indiana. So if you’re in the area, it’s a nice place to stop. (Though it’d be nice if they also had coffee, we really needed some to go with our toffee that we ate in the car.)
Albanese Candy Factory Outlet Store
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Beverly Hills is a different world from the funky and uneven aesthetics of Silver Lake where I live, even though they are only about twenty minutes apart by car. While Silver Lake has a few chocolatiers and bakeries that carry fine confections, Beverly Hills has been at it far longer and has international muscle behind many of its biggest names.
For quite a few years folks have been telling me to try Teuscher. People rave, far and wide, about their Champagne Truffles. I even went into the Teuscher shop in Rockefeller Plaza in New York a few years ago but the shop was packed with people and the ambiance was a little too fussy, confining and precious for my tastes.
As the years went by the fact that I hadn’t tried their chocolates was becoming a glaring omission in my chocolate experiences. So when I was contacted by a representative of the Beverly Hills outpost of the Swiss-based Teuscher, I thought the time was ripe. I arranged to visit their petite shop and cafe in Beverly Hills located on the corner of Brighton Way and Camden, a scant block off of Rodeo Drive.
Teuscher is a Swiss chocolatiers but they have fourteen North American locations in addition to their shops in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. All chocolates are made in their Zurich facility and express shipped regularly (usually once or twice a week) to the shops. Their array of chocolates is rather standardized, regardless of the location. They make a variety of truffles, nut-based confections like marzipan and gianduja. They also have classics like candied fruits (dipped in chocolate), nut clusters and novelty molded chocolates (usually seasonal selections).
I was introduced to Avivia Covitz, the owner of the Beverly Hills shop. She charmed me with her tales of pairings of chocolates, eating two at a time to increase the vast variety that already existed in single pieces to create even more unique confectionery experiences. (Kind of like me and my mash ups ... though I’m sure she’s classier and doesn’t actually smash them together.) She guided me through the offerings and I chose about 15 pieces (from the dozens available) as an introduction to the fine chocolates.
Since their Champagne Truffle is so well known, I picked up three - two in milk chocolate and one in dark chocolate. They look more like rum balls that truffles to me, especially the milk chocolate ones which are very light brown with a white confectioner’s sugar dusting. They’re not round, more narrow and tall. It’s a sweet flavor right away as well, but my concerns about it being too sweet were quickly dispelled. The flavor isn’t quite champagne but more of a deep yeasty and white wine grape note. There’s no fizz or bubble, but a crisp and dry finish.
The dark, in my opinion, was even richer and a little more yeasty. They’re dusted in cocoa, so far less sweet right when it’s placed on the tongue. The texture is smooth, with a little pop of flavor at the center where the champagne cream center is.
I also tried their newer truffle, the Vodka Truffle. This one was wrapped in silver foil and after being unsheathed the molded sphere looked rather like a Lindt Lindor truffle though the center was vastly different. The dark chocolate had berry notes and a little astringency. The truffle center was quite gooey (Aviva cautioned me that it was to be popped in the mouth whole, no biting in half) and had a strong alcoholic bite along with a smooth dark chocolate liquor flavor.
I’m a huge European nougat fan, so seeing this piece was encouraging. Also seeing the wide use of nuts such as pistachios, walnuts (even though I can’t eat them), hazelnuts, almonds and of course hazelnuts made me happy.
The Montelimar nougat is dipped in chocolate on all sides except for the top. (which is a little dry). It’s a little grainy but still soft and chewy. The nuts (pistachios and almonds) are fresh and the honey notes are definitely a plus. The nougat still has a wafer on it, which kind of confusing because it doesn’t seem to be necessary and creates a kind of cereal flavor to the chew.
One of the big things I noticed in the Teuscher line is the liberal use of honey, which I think is far under-utilized in chocolates.
The Honey Caramel covered in dark chocolate was delightful. I love honey, I love chocolate and I love caramel. That doesn’t always mean a good combination will result, but in this case it does. The caramel has a dark flavor, a malty note and the beeswaxy and floral vibe of honey. There are also little bits of almond in there, which bring the whole thing together with a bit of texture.
There’s a large array of marzipan at Teuscher, which I found fascinating. The little logs like this are simply adorable and promised to have a large proportion of chocolate to the almond paste filling. (I believe it also came in pistachio.)
Sweet with a powerful almond extract flavor. The dark chocolate is creamy and offsets the sweetness well. The texture of the marzipan is dry but holds together without being sticky.
I also tried a Zebra Gianduja which is a striped combination of milk, white and dark hazelnut paste neatly dipped in dark chocolate similar to the Montelimar. The hazelnut notes were lost in the sweetness and the texture was just a little dry. Still, the nut notes were very fresh.
I was fond of the idea of these. They’re simply called Crunchy Chocolates and they come in milk and dark chocolate. They’re a homey dab of chocolate studded with little crunchy bits of honey and nuts. It’s like comfort candy. They’re basically everything I’ve always wanted a Toblerone to be. The chocolate is smooth and creamy with its own flavors. The honey bits give an added flavor punch and almost a salty note. The almonds give crunch and their own buttery note. I liked their thin shape, which made it easy to bite but thick enough to have lots of inclusions.
I always like to try the candy kitchen classics when I go to a new chocolate shop. I feel like I can learn a lot about the attention to detail when a chocolatier does something as simple as candying some orange peel or ginger. There are lots of ways to do it well, so it really just gives me a sense of where their sensibilities are.
Teuscher’s sensibilities in the candied fruit rind arena are right in line with mine. The Candied Orange Peel is dipped in dark chocolate. Moist and almost jelly-like, there’s no hint of sugary grain. It’s rather sweet but all of the zesty notes of the orange are preserved and just a light hint of the bitter orange oil. It goes well with the dark chocolate couveture.
The Chocolate Dipped Candied Ginger was a similar glace style. Tiny little ropes of roots, simmered in sugar until tender, then dipped in chocolate. These had a little extra flair with the white chocolate racing strip around the bottom. It was just a little accent that didn’t detract at all from the dark chocolate and the earthy notes of the ginger, just a little tip of milk flavors into it.
Belle Epoque was the only other truffle I picked up, again it was an alcohol inspired and infused one. This is a dark chocolate ganache with Gran Marnier. I loved the look of it and have found that I prefer enrobed or dipped truffles to molded ones.
There is a strong whiff of alcohol and orange zest. Little notes of tobacco and oak along with chocolate pudding. It’s definitely one of my favorites and would probably win out on my list of things to eat from there on a regular basis because it was just less sweet than the Champagne. (And given the choice, I’d probably opt for an aperitif of Gran Marnier over a flute of champagne.)
After completing my selection of the complementary fine chocolates, I also decided to also buy a few other items to get a sense of the rest of the Teuscher line of offerings. One of the charming items that vary from season to season are the molded chocolates. When I was in the shop before Thanksgiving, they had turkeys.
I was drawn to the Chocolate Bees. (I have no idea if they have a formal name, as there’s nothing on the package.) They came in a double layer mounded on a four inch by six inch gold foil tray. That was wrapped in clear cellophane and decorated with a narrow, yellow gossamer ribbon.
The milk and dark chocolate bees have a wingspan of two inches. But they’re not just milk and dark chocolate novelties. They’re dotted with honey crystals and almond bits. The texture wasn’t quite as dense and flavorful as the Crunchy chocolate pieces mentioned above. Instead these were a bit more like a Toblerone piece. Not quite as vibrant or intensely textured. Still very pretty and fun.
I also picked out a few straight Gianduja (they pronounce it John-Do-Ya) hearts. They’re beefy, over two inches wide and almost an inch high. One was milk chocolate (blue) and the other dark (orange).
The flavor was more milky and sweet chocolate in the milk chocolate than hazelnuts. This was my feeling about all the gianduja items from Teuscher. I’m assuming this is just the Swiss style, though I also noticed it with the Belgian brand Leonidas as well. Since I prefer more hazelnut and darker chocolate flavors, even then dark version here didn’t quite satisfy me and I didn’t end up finishing them. (Part of it is that I was so enamored of the Pralus Creme de Noisette that it’s going to become one of my standards.)
Orange Marzipan covered in Dark Chocolate
The final item I picked up, also foil-wrapped like the above hazelnut hearts, was an orange marzipan piece. This was more like a decadent candy bar. The marzipan was moist, a little sticky but with a great citrus zest note instead of amaretto. The almond texture and flavor still came through, but without the bitter almond flavoring that so often pervades European marzipan. This is definitely one of the highlight pieces for me. I liked that it wasn’t fussy and if I were wandering around Beverly Hills and wanted something to go with my coffee (they do have a highly regarded coffee bar), this is a good impulse item for me.
My hesitations with the products are really minor. I’m not that keen on the packaging or the design of the shop. The confections are well labeled in the chocolates case, which is great for people like me who must avoid a particular item like walnuts, but the rest of the items were not. The foil wrapped items were just color coded and once you left the shop, well, you’d better have a good memory. The little trays of molded items are see through, so you can, well, see them but no ingredients or even product names. My feelings are that the look and feel of the place is dated, but if you’ve been shopping there for a dozen years, you might feel like they’re dependable and consistent ... so I can’t really fault them for that.
The milk chocolate and hazelnut items were on the sweet side for my preferences, but the dark truffles, especially the Belle Epoque are right up my alley. I will definitely plan on trying more of the flavored marzipans and the caramels since I was so fond of the Honey Caramel.
The prices are on the high side at over $70 a pound (an 8 ounce box of 16 Champagne Truffles is $37.50) and the website doesn’t allow you to build a custom box. However, in the store you’re free to get exactly what you want. I think the Champagne Truffles are worth the diversion if you’re in Beverly Hills (or any other neighborhood that has a shop) but I don’t think I’d special order them on the internet unless I was certain they were going to be spectacular and just what I wanted.
My trick when visiting Beverly Hills is to park in the valet parking garage on Dayton Way just off Rodeo Drive. It’s free for the first two hours during the day. Teuscher looks like a great spot to hang out sipping coffee at the sidewalk tables and sampling a little box of chocolates while people-watching.
teuscher chocolates Beverly Hills
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.