Wednesday, July 5, 2006
I first heard about Chuao Chocolatier a couple of months ago but haven’t been able to visit them until this weekend. The main location is in Encinitas and they have other shops in San Diego. But they also have one at the Irvine Spectrum, so on a blazingly hot Sunday afternoon my husband and I stopped by to see what it was all about. Let me just say this, if this is the direction that upscale chocolate is going, I can fully support it.
The shop is spare and simple with lots of dark wood touches and reflects more of a wine connoisseur aesthetic than candy. I greeted the women behind the counter (I’ve never done this before) ... I introduced myself and gave full disclosure that I’m a candy writer and boy did I get the full treatment! But seeing how well Melissa, the manager, did her tour of the company through samples of most of their product lines, I get the sense she does it for anyone who’s interested. She was knowlegable, enthusiastic and completely engaging.
First, a little about Chuao. It’s one of those stories about people who follow their passions. Michael Antonoris (once a biomedical engineer and MBA before he “stopped chasing his ego and started chasing his culinary passion,” and went to Paris for two years to study Pastry and Chocolaterie at the ?cole Lenotre). Born in Venezuela, he brought not only his culinary aesthetic to candymaking, but also the native cacao from the region. His chocolate source is El Rey Chocolate. You can read lots more on their website about the history of the company and other press clippings.
The first sample we tried was their flavor of the month for July, which is a beer (San Diego produced Stout) infused chocolate - with a strong wheat/yeasty flavor to the chocolate ganache, it was intriguing and brought out the best of the beer and the chocolate.
She also let us try last month’s (after all, it was only July 2nd) intriguing little egg which was filled with chocolate, olive oil and sun-dried tomato filling. I really liked the olive essence in there, but I’m not a huge fan of sun-dried tomatoes, but they seem to work in there. I could see those going really well with a wine and cheese assortment.
Other wonderful morsels she gave us to try included:
Chocolate Covered Orange Peel - lovely dark chocolate surrounding soft and intense orange zest. Not too syrupy sweet and not the least bit bitter.
Chocolate Covered Ginger - this is no ordinary candied ginger, the pieces are plump and juicy and have no fibery bits. Sweet and with a gentle burn that lasts long after the chocolate is gone.
Coco Nib Snack - fine little nibs a little smaller than peppercorns and caramelized/tossed with a little salt and chili. Fascinating little morsels, not too sweet but also doesn’t have any of that bitter/acrid flavor that some plain nibs have. No fibery bits either. I’m not sure if I’d eat them straight, but I’d love them tossed on a salad or maybe some ice cream.
Even though it was insanely hot, we still tried a little bit of their hot chocolate. They have two varieties, the traditional Abuela and Spicy Maya. They weren’t as thick and milky as many that I had on my last NY trip, but the flavors were really great. I enjoyed the Maya best, as the spice wasn’t too overwhelming, but supported the floral and wine notes of the chocolate.
But the time eventually came to pick out some things to take home.
I picked out a box of 9 pieces:
Melao - salt butter caramel - this one was quite reminiscent of the Sahgun salt caramel I had earlier this year. Quite soft, almost juicy, with a slight grain to the caramezlied sugar and a round sweet flavor dosed with salt to bring out the flavors.
Candela - spicy macadamia praline - very strange - it’s grainy, but not in an unpleasant way. Salty, crispy and with a soft spicy finish, the center is more like eating a cookie dough than a chocolate. For the record, I love cookie dough.
Cardamom - cardamom infused ganache - fresh and lightly infused with that cardamom note that I love about Indian food. Buttery smooth and rich. I would have liked more cardamom, like the Vosges one I tried in NYC.
Modena - strawberry caramel with balsamic vinegar from Modena - this was just plain strawberry as far as I could tell. Nicely fruity and aromatic, smooth and refreshing with a good balance of notes for the dark chocolate, but I wasn’t really getting the balsamic notes.
Chevre - goat cheese, pear Williams and crushed black buttercream - fascinating and probably addictive. At first the dark chocolate ganache is tangy, like a goat cheese. Then the black pepper infusion coming to the surface. The pear played a minor note, but the black pepper pieces were incredible, as they were softened by the chocolate and more like small, spicy raisins.
Zen - green tea infused ginger ganache - wonderful plump pieces of crystalized ginger in a dark chocolate ganache with only a hint of tea. Not too sweet - a good subtle balance.
Gran Cacao - bittersweet ganache with 73% cocoa - a lovely and rich ganache with a good buttery start and some good floral and berry notes.
Cambur - soft banana and brown sugar caramel - imagine a fried banana, drenched in caramelized sugar and then drizzled with chocolate. Mmmm. Intensely banana, but thoroughly authentic tasting. Rich and sweet. By far my favorite of them all.
Picante - California raisin fondue and Napa Valley cabernet caramel, spiced with pasilla chili and cayenne pepper - tart and with fruity/jammy qualities but with an immediate burn in my throat from some fresh tasting chilis. There are some wine notes, but mostly a grape and chili flavor mixed with the dark chocolate but the caramelized sugar is completely lost. I wouldn’t have minded a little hit of molasses or brown sugar in there.
On the whole, I’d say that the line of uncommon flavor combinations is much like Vosges and of similar quality. Where Vosges seems to angle itself towards women, Chuao seems incredibly masculine. The flavors are bold and uncommon and assertive. Flavors are borrowed from outside the candy realm with excellent results. But when they’re inside the sweets oveure, they’re really at their best. The spiced flavors are wonderful but I really enjoyed the caramelized items like the Cambur.
I’m definitely planning on stopping there again, it’s exceptionally convenient when I’m down in Orange County visiting with my husband’s family and it looks like they will continue to develop new flavor combinations that will keep my tongue occupied. They also offer classes, which I would love to take (but only at the Carlsbad location), so maybe someday I’ll become a master chocolatier, too. If you’re a wine or beer lover, they also have tips and product lines for serving them together.
Monday, July 3, 2006
Simplicity is a beautiful thing.
Peanuts and chocolate, chocolate and peanuts.
I picked these up at the All Candy Expo. They weren’t sexy, they’re not new ... they’re just milk chocolate peanuts.
The peanuts were fresh and good quality. Not the super huge ones that are all standardized sizes, but I didn’t have a bad peanut in the bag, so I appreciate their ability to screen out the yucky ones. They have a nice, thin coat of milk chocolate, so it’s more peanut flavor than chocolate. They have a glossy sheen, which means that they don’t melt together so easily even on blisteringly hot days like today.
Honestly, I think these are much better than Goobers, they’re not quite as sweet and the peanuttiness shines through. I’ve seen these before in the concession sized boxes at movie theaters and I always passed them by because I thought they were a cheaper version of Goobers (or Peanut M&Ms). But they’re actually really good and fresh tasting.
Because there’s more peanut than chocolate in there, there’s not as much sugar either. So if you’re into a sweet little snack and can handle the fat content of the peanuts this is a good snack with lasting energy because of the protein hit.
Friday, June 30, 2006
I’ve been reading a lot of candy books lately, so it was nice to be approached to read something a little different: a virtual book tour.
Much of the book speaks to me for the sole reason that Ayun is a scant two years older than I am, so we have many of the same perspectives on pop culture and experiences with food (and candy). It traces her life from picky eater with a gourmet cook mother to ‘food adventurer’ to mother who has a picky eating daughter of her own.
(Though I was also a picky eater as a child, I chalk that up to bad, recurring throat infections that sapped the fun out of eating. But the book did capture the parental battles about eating very well, no matter the reason for why we wouldn’t even put the stuff in our mouth.)
Ayun has far more fun with her pickiness and, of course, uses those incidents to full effect in her book.
Here’s a bit of our discussion on the book and perspectives:
Candy Blog: Do you think that you were picky when it came to candy or just when it came to meals?
Ayun: candy? no. the only thing i didn’t like was black licorice and conversation hearts. they both made me feel like I was going to throw up in the car. I got over the conversation heart thing when we used them as props in a short NeoFuturist play called “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”. I would eat so many of them backstage that we’d wind up with a shortage - they were to be smashed with a hammer at certain strategic points in the song, “My Funny Valentine” but somehow we always kept coming up short, the hearts giving out long before the final line.
Candy Blog: What are your daughter’s favorite candies now? Does she share some or your loves/hates?
Ayun: Watermelon gum balls from the laundromat, lollipops that the guy at the liquor store gives her, and m&ms. Anything she can get her hands on, basically. She loves it when there’s a pinata at a birthday party. She stashes her portion on this little shelf at the head of her top bunk, where I can’t effectively monitor it. On those rare occasions that I change the sheet, I find a goodie bag full of empty wrappers.
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
Candy Blog: I’ve often regarded candy for children as one of the first ways that we express our independence from our parents. We’re given allowance or sometimes free run in a store to pick out one thing ... you remarked in the section on camp that you didn’t really have that luxury before. Did you notice this among your peers, that they had more discretionary cash or greater abilities to procure the snackstuffs that they loved?
Ayun: Yes. I was a very late bloomer with regard to bicycles. I had this little green Schwinn from which I refused to let the training wheels be removed. One weekend, we went to visit my father’s longtime friends, the Ackermans in Columbus Ohio, whose youngest child Sally, was a year my junior. Mrs Ackerman gave each of the kids, including me, a dollar - a princely amount - so that we could ride bikes to the drugstore for candy. Well, I was sort of stricken, because none of their bikes had training wheels, but they did have this old red bike named Rosie, who had no rubber left on her wheels, just the metal rims. These were wide enough, and unyielding enough, to give me the confidence it required to ride to the store with the rest of the herd, where following Sally’s example, I bought my first Marathon Bar. And when we got back to Indianapolis, I had my father remove the training wheels from my green bike and immediately pedaled away.
Candy Blog: You write in several instances about your consumption of raw materials when in search of a sugar fix. I, too, discovered Jello-O powder (pineapple was my favorite) at an early age, and my frugality meant that I could find them on sale at 10 for a dollar and stock up on quite a bit of it with my paper route money. What sorts of pantry items would you eat dry?
Ayun: Tang. My grandmother always took a jar of it with us when we drove to Florida. I had to be extra sly when mainlining that stuff, what with my mother and both grandparents on the other side of the vinyl accordion curtain separating the vanity outside the bathroom from the rest of the motel room. The thing about dry Tang is it was so light, it looked like it was steaming. There was always a cloud of these micro-fine crystals hovering above the spoon.
When that sour Super Lemon candy started appearing in all the Asia markets, I thought, “Oh, no problem. I can handle that molehill.” I’d spent years training with Tang.
I also liked eating Nestles Quik straight from the can.
About a month ago, after reading the excerpt above I agreed to do this little featurette, so I send Ayun a little box of candies. It had some SweeTarts, Laffy Taffy, Chewy SweeTarts, Pixy Stix and other pure sugar concoctions.
Candy Blog: So, what did you eat from the package I sent? What did your daughter consume and what do you see in her tastes as with yours?
Ayun: I don’t think the kids got a single piece of it. It has been a pinata-heavy month. As for myself, I started out with the gummy insects, a Sweet Tart product apparently, and I felt guilty for gnashing them up so mindlessly, while watching Deadwood. I cleansed my palate with some Laffy Taffys (I slowed down long enough to see that there’s a joke printed on each wrapper. I’d always assumed that Laffy was the only thing marketing could come up with to rhyme with Taffy.) Then I started on the Chewy Sweet Tarts. We had the big ones at Gnawbone, but they were never Chewy. Chewy is new(y). Then I got kind of disgusted with myself and worried that my spleen would give out from all that sugar, so I boxed it back up and then we took it to Coney Island with us for the kids to throw at the crowd when we marched in the Mermaid Parade. Now THAT was a good use of cheap, artificially flavored candy.
Candy Blog: What do you think about candy today? There are certainly more “wholesome” candies available now that actually taste good, in addition to some really disgusting indulgences of course. Are there things you wish you could have had when you were a kid? Are there things you wish they still made or that you miss being able to have?
Ayun: Those little Gummi candys that resemble miniature versions of non-candy type foods are pretty cunning, the sushi and pizzas and such. Milo received a gummi Crabby Patty, and it was quite the hit until he tasted it.
You know what I miss? Zots. Their packaging was so imperfect, but it was so worth it when you sucked a hole through the hard candy and that citric acid stuff inside started to effervesce. A few years ago, I got it into my head to make homemade bath bombs and I went to every restaurant supply on the Bowery looking for citric acid to no avail. Found it at an herb store in the Village that leans rather heavily on whimsical ceramic teapots and fairy-related merchandise. When did citric acid go so out of style?
I’m really into the Aji Ichiban stores in Chinatown. though the dried, salted plums took some getting used to, even for someone like me, who is constitutionally bound to order things like salted plum soda in Vietnamese restaurant, because it’s a more vibrant part of the experience than say, Diet Coke. Every year, they have these compelling little capsules that you can fill with hard candy. One year it was pigs. This year it seems to be metallic pineapples…
This is what they call a novelty item.
I don’t have a real review for it, because I’m a stodgy old fart and I refuse to roll my candy syrup onto my tongue. But it also might be that it really looks like my incredibly unappetizing Ban unscented roll on antiperspirant/deodorant.
However, I did give my nephew this grape Rolly Pop for his opinion. Because he’s almost seven years old, there are a lot of things he’s more willing to try than I am.
First, what is it?
A Rolly Pop is a bottle, not unlike a small bottle of Ban Roll On, that contains a sweet and tangy syrup that you apply directly to your tongue.
We tried it out on my last visit two weeks ago and it went over pretty well. It seems that it might be easier to just suck on the roll top than roll it around on your tongue. He didn’t finish it all in one sitting, so he put the cap back on and when he came down for breakfast the next morning, the roller ball wouldn’t roll. A little time under the tap with some warm water did the trick.
Honestly, I’m worried about the sanitary aspects of this candy. You roll it on your tongue! (It’s kind of like backwash ... maybe it’s back rub ... no, that doesn’t sound right.)
Anyway, the syrup doesn’t change the color of your tongue, which is a big thing with kids these days. It’s probably better that it doesn’t though, since I’m sure that means that it’d stain things, too. At the end of my nephew’s evaluation of this I asked if he would buy it again and he kind of shrugged. He said he wished it was more sour (he’s a sour fan) but I read that they are coming out with a set of sour flavors for Halloween. He did finish it, so that’s a positive sign that means I’ll give this one a five out of ten on his behalf.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
I’ve been a fan of Sprees since they first came out. They’re the more attractive out-of-town cousin of the SweeTart (who is of course your mousy best friend). They’re tasty and drop dead gorgeous when spread out on your desk in neat rows of colors like some sort of stereo equalizer display.
Chewy Sprees happened onto the scene a while back, but I never paid much attention to them. But then I got a hold of these Mini Chewy Spree. They come in these cool little plastic packages that look kind of like popsicles and have a little flip top.
The color array is exactly the same as their larger, harder counterparts. Red is cherry, Yellow is lemon, Purple is grape, Orange is orange and Green is now apple (though it used to be lime back in the day).
Chewy Spree are, well, chewy. The outside of them is lightly flavored and completely sweet. But there’s no candy shell to it, just an inside that’s soft and chewy. They’re actually easily crushed with your fingers, like M&Ms are. But they’re lacking the “Kick in the Mouth” that the package heralds. (It says the same for the rolls of regular hard Spree.)
They’re just not as sour, not as flavorful. They’re not bad, they’re just ... I dunno, shallow.
As cool as the plastic tube they come in (that says “flip your lid!”), I feel a little bad about the overpackaging. But to allay my guilt about that, I looked around on the Nestle website and they have crafts that you can do with the empties (a Rain Gauge). At the moment I’ve got one filled with band-aids and alcohol wipes as a little first aid kit. You could store little things in there too, or refill with bulk candies. I think you also might be able to make your own popsicles with them, too.
But as the price difference goes, I think I’ll stick with the regular roll of Sprees and their minimal packaging and true “kick in the mouth” taste.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
I don’t think I’m a fudge fan. I know it sounds a little weird, but I find fudge a little too sweet and not chocolatey enough. Every once in a while I’ll come across a piece of fresh fudge that brings that additional fudge element to it - that crumbly melt in your mouth quality. I don’t know if that’s something that’s supposed to be in fudge or if it’s bad fudge, but that’s the way I like it.
That’s one of the reasons I avoid pre-packaged fudge, it just never has that fresh, light and rich feeling to it. But still, I was pretty interested in the Jim Beam Chocolate Bourbon Fudge from Country Fresh Food & Confections of Tennessee - I figured they knew what they were doing. Their booth at the All Candy Expo seemed constantly mobbed. I tried a few pieces of their liquor flavored fudges and found them a little dry and tasteless, but I figured that was because they were sitting out on plates all day.
But the place was packed in there was a bit of a buzz about the liquor fudge, so maybe I’ve got this whole thing wrong (but know that there’s not actually any alcohol in there, just some natural and artificial flavors). Maybe everyone but me loves the stuff.
Here’s the thing: I don’t know much about find Kentucky Bourbon. So when I tried this fudge, it tasted like bubble gum to me. Chocolate, fudgy bubble gum. That bubble gum flavor is hard to pin down, but now I’m pretty sure it’s bourbon or rum or some liquor flavor that kids aren’t sophisticated enough to like yet. The line of alcohol flavored fudges also come in Kahlua, Malibu, Sauza, Tia Maria & Courvoisier.
The texture is a little gummy as well, the melt in your mouth quality just isn’t there. It’s nicely chocolatey and ultra smooth, but it’s just not that wonderful new crystalline arrangement that fresh fudge usually has.
I’ve gotta give this a pass. However, I’m going to try some fresh fudge on Friday night and local folks are welcome to join me at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles (3rd & Fairfax) from 6PM to 9PM to try some Littlejohn fudge (and perhaps toffee while we’re at it).
Monday, June 26, 2006
“It’s the candy bar that makes Idaho famous,” whispers the barely visible black print on brown at the bottom of the wrapper. If you love those memory foam mattresses, you’ll love the Idaho Spud.
Well, maybe it’s not quite like that, the Idaho Spud has been around since 1918 ... so maybe tempurpedic was inspired by the candy bar!
So really, what is it? It’s a dense, chocolate-flavored marshmallow covered in fake chocolate and then dusted with coconut. Of course it all looks like a potato.
First, I have to say that I didn’t eat the whole bar ... because there are hydrogenated oils in there. Not just a trace like most candies, I’m talking 1.5 grams.
The center of the bar is rather odd, like a cross between a custardy jelly and marshmallow. The chocolately coating doesn’t seem to stick well to this firm foam, so when you bite into it, it kind of flakes off. The dominant flavor is coconut, which I always like.
The fake chocolate isn’t very pleasant - kind of greasy and crumbly. The whole bar has a rather maple flavor to it, which might be the coconut. The firm marshmallow center is actually really interesting and I enjoyed the firm texture and density of it with the light tough of chocolate. But the combo of high trans fats and the mockolate just turned me off. For the last third of the bar I peeled off the chocolate coating and just ate the center. I’m a big potato fan, so I’m not going to let this dissuade me from my actual favorite Idaho export, but I don’t think I’d ever give one of these to someone as a treat when I returned from a vacation in Idaho.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
So, I’m walking around the All Candy Expo, minding my own sweet business, and I walk past the Just Born booth (which is pretty close to the entrance) and there are some free samples for eating right there on both sides of the aisle. One side has the new Hot Tamales Fire and the other has the Mike and Ike Tangy Twisters. The first couple of days I made sure that I grabbed a couple of Hotter Tamales when I walked by because I love them so. But at some point I found myself on the other side and I picked up a Tangy Twister ... not being terribly fond of Mike and Ike, but you know, it’s free and it’s my job and all.
Well, zowie if that wasn’t good. Turns out it was a pineapple one and it was zazzy.
So I picked up two packages to bring home for a full review.
All of the colors, except for the raspberry red ones look like highlighters.
The Tangy Twister flavor set goes like this:
Dark Red/Raspberry - nicely floral with a good sour kick before it turns sweet and bland.
Yellow/Pineapple - shazaam, I want to buy a whole bag of these. The flavor is tart and sweet and very much like pineapple with some nice floral notes and a smidge of and herbal bitterness.
Red/Cherry - what can I say, it’s cherry? It’s got a nice tart bite and a full rounded flavor of woodsy notes.
Orange/Citrus Punch - I’m a big citrus fan, but this one just doesn’t float my boat. It’s too much punch and not enough orange or lemon or whatever it’s supposed to be. It reminds me of those “juice drinks” that I had at other kids’ houses when I was a child.
Green/Apple - intense green apple flavor and very tart at first, a little on the chemical side.
The Mike and Ikes live up to their name. They are tangy. Unfortunately the flavor set doesn’t wow me. I loved the pineapple and the raspberry runs a close second but the rest of them are just ones I’ll eat, not ones that I’d pick out of a mix to consume. I usually like to have over 40% of a mixed flavor set to be ones that I’m ga-ga for. However, if you’re the kind of person who loves green apple, punch flavors and of course cherry in addition to the fantastic pineapple, this might be a good fruity mix for you. They certainly get higher marks from me than a standard mix of Jelly Belly candies. With Jelly Belly I can’t just buy a mix, I have to do my own from the bulk bins because I find so many flavors unappealing a box of the mix is pretty much worthless to me.
The back of the package exhorts “Bursting with Fruit Juice Flavor!” and sure enough on the ingredient label the fourth ingredient is Pear Juice from Concentrate. What is it with pears and tangy fruit candy?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.