Friday, December 29, 2006
Here’s another trend among cooks that’s filtered into the candy world: artisan salt. The most common place to find this in confections is in caramels. Sometimes it’s grains of sea salt sprinkled on top, sometimes it’s just a saltier caramel. It’s not like caramels didn’t always have salt in them. When I make my own caramels I usually use both salted butter and a pinch of salt because I think it brings out the caramelized flavors better.
But of course the gourmets weren’t satisfied with plain old table salt or the more upscale Kosher flake salt, now they insist on curiously-colored and super-expensive sea salt crystals from Hawaii, France or New Zealand. They like to remind us of the grand history of salt and how our word for salary comes from the same root and why that means we should pay oodles of money for dried sea water. Frankly, it all looks like the stuff that we used to throw on the sidewalk when it got icy.
All that said, I welcome the new attention to salt as a way to bring out natural flavors. And I welcome Trader Joe’s foray into the salted caramel market because it’s actually affordable. The Shaker-style box that they come in is cute. Inside the box are two plastic bags with 7 ounces of caramels each. Not really as pretty on the inside as I might have hoped for $6.99 a box (maybe a little wood shavings or excelsior?).
The caramels are beautiful. Luminous and even looking, they’re smell like butter and burnt sugar. They’re individually wrapped in neatly folded clear cellophane. They’re sizeable morsels as well, each is two bites in my estimation. They’re firm to the touch but easy to bite apart.
While some salted caramels have grains of salt sprinkled on top, these are completely incorporated (like the Charles Chocolates and unlike the Fran’s) The salt is very apparent on the tongue but the smooth chew and the buttery mouthfeel come through loud and clear.
I liked them. I’m not sure I really want to eat all 14 ounces of them (that’s what’s good about the two packets in there instead of a large single one), so I might come up with some interesting things to do with them, like making a hard sauce for bread pudding.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Flavor 70 Cinn is 70% cacao with a hint of cinnamon over cacao nibs. The last time I tried SweetRiot I gravitated towards the darkest as well.
The light hit of cinnamon was more evident in the scent than in the taste. There’s a little spicy kick on the tongue at the start, but basically it’s a rich roasty chocolate taste with a solid acidic hit and a mellow bitterness. The nibs themselves were crunchy and not the slightest bit fibery (which is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to nibs).
I covered SweetRiot and nibs pretty well in this review back in the spring, so check that out.
Each SweetRiot tin comes with a little geography “fortune” and mine went like this:
SweetRiot also has a “riot club” where you can select from two different delivery plans so you can get your cacao nib fix regularly (and at a better price). They also have their sets that bring the price down when you buy a mix of three. Ordering a whole box of 12 of course brings the tins down to $4 a piece. Still, not to sound like a broken record, it’d be nice to buy a quarter pound or half pound on the website and be able to refill my little tin myself.
Friday, December 22, 2006
In case you haven’t figured out already with the irregular posting this week, I’m traveling. But here’s something fun you might want to pack (or pick up as a stocking stuffer) when you’re on the road. They’re called ChocoPods and are made by Chuao, the SoCal based chocolatier. ChocoPods come in two flavors, Nutmeg and Spicy Maya.
Each is a little disk of chocolate shaped like a cocoa pod featuring dark chocolate (60% cacao) and a mix of spices. The idea is you take a little bite of chocolate and a sip of your coffee for an enhanced flavor experience for both. After all, chocolate and coffee both come from beans. (They really are a great match.)
The ChocoPods are intended to be sold at coffee houses where you’d see them right by the register instead of some mints or a croissant. It’s not a whole bar size, just 11 grams, which is the perfect complement to a cup of coffee or cappuccino. With only 60 calories in the little portion, it’s something you can work into your diet as a little treat every once in a while. The suggested retail of $1.00 to $1.25 makes them cheaper than the actual cup of coffee at most places!
Spicy Maya is pretty bold. Eating it solo, there’s a solid cayenne pepper kick to it in addition to some other notable spice notes like cinnamon and cardamom. But where the throat burning is an issue eating it alone a little swig of coffee settles the flavors out considerably. The bars themselves are sweet, but since I take no sugar in my coffee, I found it to be just the right amount to cut through the coffee’s strong notes. The bars aren’t terribly buttery either, but again, the warmth of the coffee makes a big difference.
Nutmeg is really nice. Very woodsy tasting with lots of earthy notes with not just nutmeg but a touch of eucalyptus, cardamom and sandalwood. This would be great in the evening by a roaring fire.
As chocolate bars to eat solo, they’re pretty good, but I think that Chuao has hit on something for the coffee house set. Most of the time I don’t feel like a whole hot chocolate, but I do want a little something chocolate. I often bring my own, so it makes sense that the coffee house would also want to sell me that too. The fact that they have the unusual flavors makes the whole thing feel a little more like an indulgence.
For only a buck, I would certainly give these a go every once in a while. I haven’t seen them at any coffee houses yet, but maybe soon. You can order them at the Chuao website.
Monday, December 18, 2006
My sister sent me a wonderful Christmas gift, which I opened early. It was an assortment of Clear Candy from Regennas in Pennsylvania. They were adorable little red, green and yellow hard candies in different toy shapes.
My assortment did not disappoint. I was a little sad that four of them were broken beyond practical use. The group of twenty included a few duplicates and unfortunately one of the uniques, a red steamboat, was among the broken. Other shapes included a nursing cow, chicken, duck, elephant, rhinoceros, cow, tin soldier, dog, cat (with a broken ear, just like my mother’s real cat!), pig, locomotive, a wolf and finally the most enigmatic of them, an angel on a lion. All the toys are three dimensional (some, like the locomotive are kind of flat, but shaped on both sides) unlike other more common lollipops which are shaped only on one side. They all have a little base and can stand up, it might be fun to have a chess set made out of these (well, not if you live in a humid climate).
My favorite has to be the least toy-like of all of them, the wonderful green alligator (or maybe it’s a croc, it’s hard to tell).
If there’s anything bad about these, it’s that they’re so dense that it’s hard to break the more solid and prickly ones in order to eat them. The toy shapes don’t really lend themselves to sucking whole unless you’re keen on making lots of noises (I guess that’s why the lollipop versions are so popular).
The taste is like cotton candy or sunshine or love ... one of those, or maybe they’re all the same. They’re smooth, with few if any voids, delicate and soft on the tongue as they melt ever-so-slowly. All the colors are the same mellow sugar flavor. They are absolutely the best barley sugar candies I’ve had in my adult life. Some places flavor them, I like the plain sugar flavor best.
The only real detraction for me with these was the slight metallic flavor when you first start eating them. My guess is it’s either the mold or the light oil coating they have to keep them from sticking. I didn’t notice it on all of them, but when Amy also mentioned it, at least I knew I wasn’t imagining it. The other bad thing, of course, is that they’re so freakishly hard to find.
It’s sad that barley sugar candies aren’t made much any longer. I know they’re not as flashy as some of the new themed candies, and I understand the labor involved in these and the craftsmanship involved with the original molds is substantial. Regennas, in its fourth generation, only makes sweets for Christmas and Valentine’s Day and they’re all done for this year.
There’s another barley sugar candy company that I know of by Melville’s (you can order them here) which has an annoying site that plays music you can’t turn off. They have a huge variety of pops (including the excellent honey spoons).
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Nope, not a Limited Edition find, Hershey’s has just jumped in and added the KitKat Caramel to their repertoire. Instead of being the four finger bar, this one is modeled on the super KitKat single finger (thumb?).
I didn’t like this format bar when it was the “Extra Crispy” one, so I was dreading this one a bit.
It smelled buttery, which I found rather pleasant. My bar had a caramel leak (much like the Valomilk) which meant that the caramel reservoir at the top of the bar was a little scant when I bit into it. Later in the bar the caramel density picked up to their intended levels, which was a nice proportion. It’s a sweet bar, but the caramel has a buttery and salty snap that mellows out the sugary, grainy chocolate, bland wafers and grainier cream filling.
If anything, there was too much chocolate on the sides of the bar. Perhaps it’s structurally necessary, but I found it interfered with my caramel enjoyment. The other annoyance with this bar is that you can’t put it down. I mean, you can, but the caramel flows out and you’ve got yourself a sticky cara-mess.
I still prefer the original KitKat, but the salty bite of the flowing caramel is compelling so I’ll give this one another try at some point.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
This stuff, Shaymee’s Aussie Toffee, isn’t actually from Australia, but made right here in California.
They boast about their real, all natural ingredients including organic cane juice and fresh butter as well as their genetic predisposition to great toffee on their website. They also list a long variety of flavor combinations for their bulk toffees: Dark Chocolate Macadamia (shown), Dark Chocolate Espresso, Dark Chocolate Almond, Milk Chocolate Almond and Milk Chocolate Pecan. They also have single serving packages that have three pieces (2 ounces) of the Almond in both Milk & Dark Chocolate.
The wide array of nut combos have one thing in common, a hefty plank of sweet, salty and crisp toffee at their center. A good buttery (and chocolatey) scent combined with a good cleave of the toffee. The pieces were about four bites each for me. The were very buttery tasting with a mellow salty hit that kept everything in balance.
The nuts weren’t overly abundant in any of the varieties, but definitely gave a flavor definition to all of them. My favorite, even though it was milk chocolate, was the Pecan. The Almond was quite good, with a good nutty taste and a slightly crumblier texture than the others. Macadamia reminded me of coconut, it felt a little butterier. Espresso was dark and mysterious and quite tasty to have the bitter bits of coffee in the chocolate to balance out the sweet caramelized sugars. The quality of the chocolate was particularly good - mellow and creamy without even a hint of chalky grain.
I supplied a large assortment of these to the family over Thanksgiving alongside the Charles Chocolates and everyone was duly impressed with both.
I love that the pieces are regular and dipped in chocolate. I much prefer that to the rustic broken planks that always seem to have the chocolate fall off of the last pieces in the box.
The best part about all these toffees is the price. You can pick up a half pound on Amazon for $7.19 ... less than $15 a pound for premium toffee? Sure the packaging isn’t as elegant as some others, but stuff it in a gift basket with some nice coffee or hot chocolate and someone will definitely love you. If I have a criticism it’s that all the toffees look the same when dumped out of the package. Once I mixed them together on a plate for serving to friends I completely lost track of which was which. (Of course as a good hostess I offered to bite everyone’s toffee pieces to discern the nut.)
You can also buy it in plenty of Whole Foods-styled stores all over the West. If you’re in the store and want some toffee, definitely give the single serve package a go.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
I’m not sure what’s taken Reese’s so long to come out with a Butterfinger-like candy bar. Maybe when Hershey’s bought 5th Avenue they made some sort of a deal. But here it is, 2006, some 88 years after the introduction of the Reese’s Peanut Butter cup and they’ve done it.
Instead of being a clone of the 5th Avenue, Butterfinger or Clark Bar, this one has both that layered crispy peanut butter crunch in the center, a supposed stripe of peanut butter as well as a liberal sprinkling of crushed peanuts and then milk chocolate.
The effect is a rather creamy and very crunchy bar. The textured center provides that high-frequency crisp and the nuts provide the low frequency crunch. The center has a salty hit to it that also gives it a little zing along with a good dose of molasses, which always pleases me. It also has 5 grams of protein, which is a pretty good density for a bar that’s more candy than nuts.
The crispy center was also lighter than the dense and sometimes inconsistent Butterfinger bar. The biggest drawback here is that Hershey’s has again skimped on the chocolate on the outside and gone for the marginal stuff that has PGPR in it.
If there’s one thing that really turns me off for this bar it’s the promo they’re running with its introduction. You can vote on their website for Crunchy or Creamy? and win a car based on your vote. Crunchy people win a Hummer H3 (blech) and Creamy people are entered to win a Corvette Coupe (meh).
My preference for this type of bar is the 5th Avenue, but those are extremely hard to find. If Hershey’s is planning on making these as widely available as other Reese’s products, this might be a new bar added to my repertoire.
Monday, December 11, 2006
I guess the newest thing in candy canes in the past 50 years was the introduction on different flavors. Yeah, there are also different shapes and sizes as well, but the candy cane is pretty much a hard candy.
The Chocolate Filled Handmade Candy Cane seeks to be beyond the plain hard candy stick. This seven inch cane in peppermint has stunning red and opaque white strips and of course the advertised chocolatey filling.
The hard candy shell has a chocolatey filling twisted through it. It’s not a lot of chocolate, I had three of these canes and the one pictured above is the most chocolatey of the three. The mint candy is nice with a strong peppermint flavor. The inside features a pink and slightly foamy center which gives the whole thing a good crunch.
The chocolatelyness is not that intense, it certainly mellows out the intensity of the peppermint and gives a little fudgy burst every once in a while. As a chocolate person, I was a bit disappointed. As a hard candy fan, it was far superior to those “chocolate” starlight mints (I usually spit those out). The chocolate here is made from cocoa and coconut & palm kernel oils ... so not really chocolate at all, just a chocolate syrup.
They’re a bit on the expensive side but they are drop-dead gorgeous and a great upscale stocking item. I’ve seen the Elegant Sweets line around a bit more lately. I saw some of their Christmas tree shaped lollies (in cherry & green apple) at a store called Cuvee on Robertson in Los Angeles yesterday and ran across these canes at Harry and David while I was in San Francisco the weekend before.
Besides their holiday line, they have some freakishly stunning candies all year round. You can expect them to turn up here again in the future.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.