Thursday, December 7, 2006
Part of the fun of Candy Blog is going around town buying sweets because it’s, you know, for the blog. But even with my wide travels, there are still things in my very own city that I’ve never heard of. And shame on me for not seeking them out! I got an email from a blogging friend of mine who wanted to hook me up with a candy making friend of his. (Any candy making friends of yours are always welcome as friends of mine.)
Thus I was introduced to Valerie Confections. I’ll skip right to the point. It’s freaktastically good.
I’ve been introduced to a lot of toffee and I wasn’t that keen on finding yet another toffee company, but they currently have a seasonal Holiday Nougat. The nougat is in the soft French style, with a mellow flavor, soft chew and intense orange flavor and then studded with crunchy almonds. It’s all covered in excellent bittersweet chocolate and dusted with some flakes of real gold.
The nougat is firm but very soft with small candied orange pieces that give a burst of zest to it all over again.
The pieces are large and generous (about 1.75” square) and drop dead gorgeous.
I was so excited at how beautiful and tasty they were that I invited over my neighbor who has been around the world and shared a piece with her, saying that it was “really, really, really good.” She instead corrected me saying that it was “really good, really good, no, really good.”
I shared half that box of Holiday Nougat, which is often the way I feel about great candy. Part of me wants to hoard it and gobble it up and part of me wants to give as many people as possible the same experience I’ve had. The latter usually wins out. The nougat experience, however, was also encouraging for the toffees that were still sitting in my studio.
Like the Holiday Nougat the toffees were just lovely. The packaging is amazing. The boxes are soft looking and the simple grossgrain ribbon give an air of sophistication that is seldom imparted to the pedestrian toffee.
The toffee assortment that engaged me most, of course, was the The Debut which was all bittersweet chocolate - Almond, Almond Fleur de Sel, Ginger, Mint, Orange and Classic Toffee.
Let me just say this about the the toffee itself. Imagine butter that’s been sweetened to the point that it’s crisp and caramelized. That’s this toffee. It cleaves in the front teeth in a way that almost crumbles, but without all those flecks that toffees sometimes leave.
The pieces are thin, unlike many rustic toffee planks out there. It’s incredibly buttery. Each of the toffee squares is a different flavor. They were all perfectly balanced with the Ginger as a special standout in my mind because of the way the earthy notes of the ginger blend so well with the burnt sugar flavors.
The Peanut Assortment was rather different from the toffee. It was crunchier and less obviously sweet. Half the pieces were milk and half dark, all were sprinkled with fleur de sal and topped with a single red-skinned peanut. The salt dominated here and brought out the very smoky and roasted notes of the peanuts. It was like a peanut brittle that was completely integrated (the nuts were crushed so it was more the flavor than texture). It’s little grainier than the regular toffee but very satisfying.
Valerie Confections also features a Milk Assortment which is more than just a milk chocolate version of the Debut, it features two flavors unique in this set: Hazelnut Toffee - plus Gianduja Rocher as well as the Almond, Almond Fleur de Sel, Mint and Classic. Nut fans may also be intrigued by the The Almond Assortment, Gianduja Rocher Assortment or Hazelnut Assortment.
High quality ingredients, attention to detail, freshness and spectacular presentation all mark these as premium candies. They’re expensive at $20.00 for a six piece box (96 grams) of Toffee and $50.00 for the insanely delicious Holiday Nougat. Great presents or hostess gifts. Also keep them in mind if you’re one of those people who are angling for a high-end wedding favor since they do custom orders and packaging. I can definitely see myself buying the Holiday Nougat again, but I think I’d only pick up the Toffee as a gift or for a special occassion ... unless I found a store that let me buy just one piece (then I’m in trouble).
Monday, September 18, 2006
One of the things I’ve always struggled with when evaluating fudge is that it’s so unappealing looking (I have this problem with toffee, too). You usually just buy it in lackluster chunks and then you have to figure out how to slice it up and how big is a serving supposed to be? How do you close it back up without the edges getting crusty?
Flippin’ Fudge contacted me a few weeks ago to tell me about their new fudge and I was kinda skeptical, mostly because I really didn’t want to take photos of amorphous lumps of sugar and chocolate. Well, when it arrived, I realized that Tim & Liz Young at Flippin’ Fudge has figured out how to make fudge look great.
First, the box it came in. It was a white lidded corrugated shipping box that had the logo on it, you open it (easily, not with a lot of struggle) and inside is the smaller box padded by some confetti colored packing shreds.
The real treat is inside, each piece of fudge is individually wrapped in a royal purple/magenta piece of foil and labeled with the flavor.
All the fudge has a very good “bite” to it. It’s soft without being limp, firm without being chalky. None of it is particularly sweet right out of the gate, instead the chocolate flavor predominates and there’s less milky mellowness to it.
Dark Secret - a plain fudge but with a bit more of a chocolate kick. The fudge itself is smooth and dense, without being the slightest bit sticky. It’s missing that crystalline crumbliness that I kind of like in cheap fudge, but where that’s lacking the signs of bad fudge you’ll find lots of flavor.
Wake Up Call - coffee and chocolate, what could be better in the morning? This was a nice mellow chocolate fudge, but I never really got the coffee flavor kick out of it. It had a slightly more acidic bite to it, but no really smokin’ coffee to wake me up.
Skippy’s Surprise - a layer of chocolate fudge, a layer or peanut butter fudge and then another layer of chocolate fudge. The peanut butter is ultrasmooth and creamy and has a strong roasted nut taste. A little kick of salt and you’ll be searching the assorted box for more of these. Very satisfying.
Fuzzy Bubble - this is peach champagne fudge, and I’m sure lots of folks think this is a good idea, but I just have to exempt myself from this one. I really don’t care for mixing peach with chocolate for some reason and this fudge is no exception.
Citrus Shot - It’s a rich orange, with more essence to it than tart juicy taste. I’ve always loved the combo of orange and chocolate. This could be kicked up a notch, but it’s still wonderful.
Toffee Crunch - A nice salty hit with a buttery smell and taste of caramelized sugar mixed in with the chocolate.
Island Retreat - Coconut and chocolate is a great combo. If you like Mounds bars but don’t want to be bothered with all that actual coconut to chew, is a great option. All the flavor is there, that sort of floral fragrance, nutty bite and of course the chocolate smoothness to wash it down. It seriously made me think of summer and walking around the boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ.
Overall the fudge is very different from what I’m used to. I looked over the ingredients and noticed that they all have
(I emailed with Tim and he said that there’s no peanut butter in the non peanut butter flavors, so his secret of how he makes it so smooth is his alone) without adding the milky-sticky texture that sometimes turns me off.
I did all this without looking at the price so as not to color my judgement one way or the other. The standard mixed box that I got is 12 ounces and contains 16 pieces. It costs $20.00 but the larger 28 piece assortment (about 21 ounces) is a better deal at $32. The site is well laid out with a good variety of product combinations and you can calculate the shipping before you check out, but all shipping is done through FedEx, which can cost a pretty penny for overnight but the ground shipping isn’t too bad.
UPDATE 10/14/2006 - you can win a $50 gift certifcate!
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
The lovely folks at Endanged Species thought I should try more of their bars (well, so did the lovely Candy Blog readers in the comments section). They happily sent me a small selection to try, here are a couple of the milk chocolate bars.
Milk Chocolate with Peanut Brittle - there’s an elephant on the package! I’m guessing because elephants like peanuts. The base of this bar is a very dark, rich milk chocolate with 52% cocoa content. In fact, it’s so chocolatey that the sugar (made from water-filtered beet sugar) is third on the list of ingredients instead of first in most milk chocolates. That’s not to say that the chocolate isn’t sweet, but it also has an intense creaminess to it that I’ve found very rare in other milk chocolates. The dairy component is quite rich but it doesn’t feel sticky.
Sprinkled in there are peanut brittle chips. They have a nice salty bite and crispness and add a good peanut crunch. I’d argue that it isn’t really peanut brittle but toffee, since it’s so buttery, but I don’t feel that argument much matters.
This is a fantastic bar that may convert some folks who say they don’t like milk chocolate because it’s too homogeneous tasting but it still retains its munchability. I ate the whole bar in a matter of two days. 9 out of 10.
Milk Chocolate with Rice Crisp - this bar has a manatee on the front. I doubt manatees have a fondness for rice though as vegetarians I don’t imagine they’d be adverse to it. This bar contains the same dark 52% cocoa content milk chocolate. This bar has a slightly smokier taste to it, which I’m guessing is added by the crisped rice. The first third of the bar, I hated it. The crisped rice tasted bitter and burnt to me. But I thought maybe I just had a bad rice crisp or two. I waited a day and tried it again. The crisped rice still reminds me of those bits of barely popped popcorn that end up in the bottom of the bowl. Very toasted tasting and with a much denser crunch.
Though the second try was more successful, I just wasn’t keen on the rustic taste of the rice crisps. There weren’t enough of them to make it a really crunchy bar and the intense flavor they added didn’t thrill me. I’m a huge fan of grains and eat a lot of them (barley is my favorite, if you didn’t already know) but this just wasn’t my thing. 6 out of 10.
Endangered Species is now based in Indiana (they moved from Oregon last year) and the make ethically traded chocolate bars in a huge variety of flavor combinations. The cool part is that the commitment to the environment goes to all facets of the production and marketing. The packages are printed on recycled paper and with soy-based biodegradable inks. The 10% of all profits are donated to animal conservation causes. Each bar is branded with a different endangered animal and the inside of the wrapper has that animal’s story. There are often coupons as well and tips for making small changes in your life to lessen your impact on the environment.
Though the bars are all natural, these are not organic (though there are other bars in their repertoir that are). Some of the cocoa beans that they acquire are Fair Trade certified and others do not have the certification but are ethically traded. Their packaging and story helps them to appeal to kids moreso than other wholesome-branded chocolates.
Friday, July 7, 2006
P Whattles? P-Nuttles! I make fun of it, but it’s really a pretty cool name for a candy.
Sometimes I forget about the blessed simplicity of some classic candies.
The uneven looking little morsels are simply panned peanuts coated with a crunchy toffee. Sweet with a solid salty hit, they’re dependably tasty. No worries if you come across a nut that’s lost its toffee coat, that means more crunchy shell at the bottom of the package.
These are great to put on ice cream or of course a good summertime sweet that won’t melt.
After my bad peanut experience yesterday, I was very happy with these. Not a bad nut in the bag, and considering how many that was, those are good odds. The only problem I have with them is that I have no idea where to buy them. I’m going to have to keep my eyes open for sightings in the wild, but at least I know I can get them online. I wouldn’t be surprised to find them at 99 Cent stores, as I’ve often found Cup-O-Gold there.
Monday, May 22, 2006
It seems like some parts of the country are known for different confections. The South does wonderful things with pecan pralines, San Francisco has a wonderful way with dark chocolate, the Jersey Shore has its salt water taffy. Now I’m noticing that Colorado is attracted to toffee. My neighbor got this as a gift at the office from a co-worker returning from Colorado. It’s, apparently, the thing that people bring back from Colorado.
These thick slabs of almond toffee are described thusly on their website:
Instead of pieces of almonds dotting the toffee, this toffee has generous whole almonds. The slabs are extra thick and the chocolate coats both sides with an extra dusting of powdered almonds. The toffee has a crisp bite with a strong buttery taste to it. It cleaves well and melts on the tongue with a good salty bite and caramelized sugar flavor.
I can see why Enstrom’s is so highly regarded. This is tasty toffee. The only thing that bugs me about is the whole slab idea. I’d prefer my toffee to be in regular pieces that I can pick up and bite or pop in my mouth whole. But if that’s my biggest complaint, well, I don’t have much to complain about. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with any of the toffees I’ve had from Colorado (see Silver Bear).
Saturday, April 29, 2006
I didn’t do a very good job of finding a lot of stuff at the end of Candy Season with the post-Easter sales. I think I did much better on the post-Valentines front and here’s one of the items I picked up at that time.
I’d never heard of Stephany but the side of the box said “always the perfect gift” which must also mean, “always the perfect after holiday bargain.” Though the box had hearts on the outside, nowhere did it say Valentines Day or love or anything like that, so I thought it could just be their regular design. It also had a smart little label that said that the candy was good until June 1, 2006!
Inside the box were four pieces of almond toffee covered in chocolate and rolled in crushed almonds. The chocolate was thick and sweet and the toffee hard but with a good toothsome cleave to it. The toffee had a good salty bit to it and the chocolate far outweighed the toffee in sweetness. The ample nuts were good and fresh.
What was also nice was the price and the fact that I could get something from Colorado (what is it about Colorado and toffee?) at my local Target.
But I guess the big news here is that Stephany’s Chocolates is no more. They closed down their factory and retail stores about 10 days ago according to news reports. I considered not posting anything at all about this candy, but I figured I bought it and took a photo and then ate it, I may as well document it so that other candy fans will know what happened.
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
See’s recently moved into the “candy bar” arena with their Awesome collection. They’re candy bars you can buy singly at their stores or in boxes of eight bars. They’re a buck a piece and prepackaged and a pretty good deal for a premium candy bar (unlike Lake Champlain’s 5 Star line).
See’s packaged an old favorite, peanut brittle into a compact bar and covered it with chocolate. It’s less of a nut brittle and more of a toffee though, in my opinion, but the recipe is absolutey for brittle (baking soda being the operative ingredient).
The bar is a little tiny, at only one ounce, it’s a little less of a candy bar than I’m used to. But the whole peanuts and salty brittle is a really great combination. It tastes really salty, but when I checked the sodium content, it’s not really any different than any other standard nut candy bar like a Reese’s or Snickers. The milk chocolate coating is sweet and smooth. The bar crunches and flakes easily with a slight foamy texture (that’s brittle for you). I liked the bar, but it’s not going to knock the Awesome Nut & Chew bar from that top spot in my mind.
I’m glad See’s created some more portable versions of their best candies. I’m just waiting for a Scotchmallow version in dark chocolate. I read in Los Angeles Magazine that the candy bars were actually created by the workers at the factory, who had been making them with short ends for themselves and as gifts when the corporate folks decided it was a really good idea. I know it sounds odd, but for dieters, these could be a good option. The bars are smaller than standard candy bars (this one is an ounce, the Nut & Chew and Walnut Brittle are 1.5 ounces) so you can feel indulgent without being tempted by a full box of mixed chocolates. I’m a firm believer in giving yourself what you crave, in moderation. Because there are a lot of nuts in all versions they’re very filling (the protein and all).
Wednesday, February 1, 2006
Toffee is a strange thing. It’s like caramel gone too long on the burner, but it becomes its own special delight. In the United States, toffee is generally hard caramel: a mixture of sugar and butter. It’s boiled slowly to “hard ball” stage and then cooled, usually as flat pieces. What’s so wonderful about it is the way it cracks. It’s completely irregular. It flakes, it crumbles and it fractures. It’s buttery and sweet and often has a nice salty twang to it that cuts through the stickiness. (In the UK they also have soft toffees, which confuses the heck out of me, until I start eating them and then I get distracted. Mmm, toffee.)
I got these full-sized samples directly from Brian at Silver Bear Toffee in Colorado. The first indication of their decadence is that the label says “refrigerate,” now that’s fresh toffee!
The ingredients are pretty compelling too: chocolate, almonds, butter, sugar and corn syrup. Each package was a little white box with planks of broken up toffee. The toffee was then covered in chocolate on top and sprinkled with more almonds. The dark chocolate one was my favorite as the smoky and smooth chocolate matched the sweet and salty toffee perfectly. The toffee was so buttery though that sometimes my chocolate fell off the slab. No matter. Toffee is casual; toffee is jeans and a tee.
While I may have said I preferred the dark chocolate one, the milk chocolate one disappeared first (it could have been that toffee snitching elves were visiting my kitchen). The toffee crumbles wonderfully on the teeth and becomes a smooth and buttery experience on the tongue. There are lots of nuts in both versions but not in huge pieces, which I prefer (otherwise it’d be nut brittle).
When I eat commercial toffee bar, like a Heath bar, my usual custom is to eat the chocolate off first and then eat the toffee slab by itself. I have no desire to do that with this stuff, I want to eat the whole thing: the chocolate, toffee and nuts all at once.
The webstore isn’t open yet (I was hoping it would be in time for Valentine’s) but you can still order by phone:
Silver Bear Toffee
Toffee is $15 a pound and
$8.00 by the half pound. Mine came boxed well with a cold-pack to keep it from melting (not really an issue in the winter).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.