Monday, June 5, 2006
I had to look up what a praline is, because I’ve seen so many different versions over the years. And it’s really not helped me to figure out what exactly is and isn’t a praline. In Europe a praline is usually a nut and sugar paste, often used as a filling.
But for the purposes of this post, in the American South the praline is a highly nutted fudge - composed of sugar and butter and sometimes cream that’s caramelized to a dry, crumbly, melt-in-your mouth consistency. Some pralines, such as those from Texas are a bit softer like a caramel.
These pralines, in plain and chocolate are from the Charleston Candy Kitchen (they also have a store in Savannah), a gift from my vacationing neighbors. They’re sizable plops filled with plump and sweet pecans. The candy mixture melts in the mouth with a slight cooling feeling. At first there’s a slight grain of the sugar and a moment later it’s all collapsed into a thick and sweet syrup on the tongue with a strong pecan/maple flavor.
The chocolate ones had the addition of cocoa to them, but it wasn’t quite as satisfying as a good chocolate fudge because it lacked that creamy component. They were tasty, but the plain ones were more satisfying in their pure expression of pecan-ness. I ate them all ... it was probably well over a half a pound and it took me about 30 hours, but I wolfed all four pieces down. I’m glad they didn’t come with a nutrition label.
Pralines are kind of like fudge. I don’t often buy them but if I do have them, it’s a regional thing. Kind of like salt water taffy ... it’s the kind of candy you bring home from a trip. Maybe next week I’ll blog about the chocolate covered macadamia nuts from Hawaii.
Does anyone else know of regional candies that folks bring back as gifts? What was the best one you got?
Friday, June 2, 2006
All the upscale chocolate bar makers are doing single origin bars lately. I was pretty excited about the Dagoba bars, because they’re organic and they’re ethically traded (some is Fair Trade Certified). I’ve enjoyed Dagoba chocolate in the past and my only complaint really has been that they’re skimpy on the inclusions when they feature nuts or fruit.
I’ve not seen this array of tasting squares in stores, so I ordered it online.
The assortment contains four each of the Pacuare and Los Rios, and only two of the Milagros. The little tasting squares are 9 grams each and have the same design on them - a set of crossing lines and then a little V with some leaves, which I’m guessing signifies varietal.
Pacuare - Costa Rican Trinitario (68%) - lovely medium chocolate brown tones with a good snap and instant melt on the tongue. Strong smoky & toasted notes and tart bite. There are some interesting charcoal elements with a little bit of a pepper burn right before the finish. The acidity is only noticeable at the start and it finishes quite sweet.
Los Rios - Ecuador Arriba (68%) - dark and lustrous. Immediate coffee notes with a good buttery melt. Rather Sweet and not too acidic but a strongly dry finish. The oddest flavor note I found in this bar (consistently across several of the squares) was an olive note. I thought I was nuts at first but with four bars to try, I noticed it on two of them.
Milagros - Peruvian Amazonia (68%) - wonderfully buttery with some notes of cinnamon and raisin. A nice dry finish with a little tart, acidic bite. The smoothest of the bunch. (This variety is certified Fair Trade.)
Overall the buttery quality and smoothness of the chocolate shines on these. Not at all chalky, they are a bit on the sweet side. I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing these bumped up to 70% cacao and just reduce the sugar not the cocoa butter.
The texture and taste on these feels much more accessible than some of the Scharffen Berger, Chocovic or E. Guittard. I haven’t done a head to head mixing brands yet, but maybe someday.
The tasting squares option is expensive, but you can get the larger bar assortment if you’re not looking to share.
Note: Dagoba did recall some of their chocolate recently due to lead content and the Los Rios 68% part of the single origins line was part of the recall. It appears that the lead contamination happened somewhere in the supply chain (the cacao), not in the manufacturing. Los Rios is not available yet (as far as I’ve seen) but the other affected lines like Eclipse are just getting back on shelves now.
Thursday, June 1, 2006
When I came up with the idea to do this head to head comparison, it was because of the most obvious similarities between SweeTarts Shockers and Mentos Sours. They’re both rolls, they’re both sour and they’re both chewy pastilles. But they have completely different flavor mixes (the only flavor in common is green apple), different shapes and rather different takes on what a sour chew should be.
Mentos has always been known for intense chewy mints, so it seems only natural that they’d develop Mentos Sours. The package is a little odd because it says “The Chewy Mint” above the Mentos logo ... but these are not mint flavored. I guess “mint” has become a kind of candy, not a flavor.
Mentos Sours come in three flavors: Watermelon, Green Apple and Lemon. The colors are beautiful, and if they weren’t candy you’d want to string them into a chunky beaded bracelet. The finish on them is matte and not quite a continuous color. They don’t smell like much.
They’re soft and chewy, the shell is a tad bit waxy only lightly sweet. Upon biting into them the flavor erupts.
Green Apple: typical fresh sour flavor. Not too tart.
Watermelon: at first it’s sweet, like a cotton candy flavor with some floral overtones, then it kicks into sour gear. This is a really nice flavor, not too chemical tasting.
Lemon: immediately it has a good zesty essence to it and then the sour follows quickly behind to combine into the protype of lemony goodness.
Basically, they’re nice without being radically toxic feeling on the tongue. There’s a strange waxy thing that develops at the end of the chew though. I’m not sure if it’s the remnants of the “glazing agents” on the shell, but it’s an odd, undissolveable substance on my teeth that tastes only vaguely like the chew.
Mentos Sour are made in Brazil. (Note: the packaging I have may not be the way you see it in the stores - the website shows them in little reclosable boxes.)
Green Apple: intense and chemically flavored, it dissolves away into a sweet grit pretty quickly.
Orange: oh, this is the best! There’s an immediate blast of blisteringly sour tangerine on the tongue. Not as long lasting in the chew department as the Mentos.
Grape: it’s like a Purple Pixy Stix made chewy. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it. (TMI Alert - for some reason the grape ones make me burp.)
Cherry: the sour outside tastes like a very cherry candy, much like the SweeTarts, but with a stronger flavor instead of just more sour.
Blue Raspberry: an immediate sour hit is followed by some fragrant notes that remind me of cotton candy and violets.
All of the Shockers are intensely sour on the tongue from the moment you place them in your mouth but then mellow out to have a pleasant cooling sensation towards the end, but the chew doesn’t last long before they descend into sugary grit.
As all round chews, the Mentos Sours are middle of the road - they’re exceptionally pleasant and can be shared with adults who might ordinarily be afraid of something called “sour”. The SweeTarts Shockers, on the other hand, are a blast but you can’t keep eating them if you’d like to preserve the tasting functions of your tongue.
The packages hold slight different masses - SweeTarts Shockers clock in at 1.65 ounces (which the label says is three servings) and Mentos Sours are 1.32 ounces (which the label says is 14 servings ... one Mentos is a serving). Both contain hydrogenated oils, but not enough to warrant any fat content on the nutrition label.
Personally, I love the Shockers, if only for the intense orange ones. But the Mentos Sours have a much longer, consistent chew, especially the full flavor of the lemon ones, and I would probably pick them up in a pinch.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:30 am
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Edelweiss Candy Kitchen in Beverly Hills is an old fashioned candy store. From the classic awning outside to the displays inside, it was like I’d stepped back to 1953 (they’ve been there since 1942) and perhaps Julie Andrews would step out from the counter in her Sound of Music outfit and sing a little song about a the wonders of chocolate.
There’s even a sign on the back wall that purports that the famous I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel get jobs on the factory line at a candy company was conceived of here when Lucille Ball saw the conveyor in the back. In truth the episode ended up being filmed at See’s (in Culver City, I think).
The store shelves are filled with plenty of novelty chocolate items and glass jars filled with everyone’s favorite candies available by the scoop. They had gummies, licorice, misty mints, Swedish fish, foil covered chocolates, panned nuts ... just about anything you might want. But I went for the things that I can’t find everywhere. They make their own custom chocolates on site and are rather well known for their candied and chocolate dipped fruits. At $28 a pound, they’re certainly not cheap, but also not the most expensive candies I’ve come across. Especially in Beverly Hills.
Here’s what I picked up:
Chocolate Covered Candied Orange Slice - this one was not nearly as good as the Jacques Torres I had in NYC. The orange was firm, but the peel was a little too tough in spots, especially on the edge that wasn’t dipped in chocolate. However, it wasn’t too sticky or too sweet, so the flavors were wonderfully deep and complex.
Chocolate Covered Fig - the amber-colored fig was plump and sweet with a strong tart bite to it that mixed well with the chocolate. That fresh herby taste of the fig goes so well with chocolate, I was sorry I didn’t get more of these. After eating dried figs all week, it was nice to have something plump and juicy ... and of course covered in chocolate.
I wish all the chocolates were a bit glossier - they’re a little dull looking but I’m not sure if that affected the taste or texture much.
I don’t remember what the little chocolates in cups were called (and there’s no reference to them on their website), but it was described as ground almonds and honey in either dark or milk chocolate. I got one of each. The milk chocolate one was pleasant, not too sweet and not too milky. I couldn’t really taste the honey, but the almond flavors mixed with the chocolate and the slightly chewy, crunchy bite of the nuts was nice. I liked the dark chocolate one a bit better, as the flavors of the chocolate were more complex and I could detect the honey tones.
I’m not suggesting that anyone order up some over the phone, but if you’re in Beverly Hills and looking for something authentic, this might be a nice stop amidst the Cartier and Tiffany and Prada overload. If you want some tasty chocolate that’s not too expensive then I always suggest See’s. But since there isn’t one in this area of Beverly Hills, Edelweiss might be nice.
Edelweiss Candy Kitchen
I’ve seen these Hershey’s candies called Cajeta Elegancita at the 99 Cent Store for a while, but I didn’t buy them for myself. My sister, in Pennsylvania, gave them to me.
The Elegancita (little elegance) bars are part of Hershey’s attempt to capture the Hispanic market in the United States. However, it seems that they didn’t do all of their research. Cajeta, in Mexican-Spanish is a flavor where milk is slowly condensed and caramelized, kind of like dulce de leche. It’s very well known not only in Mexico but in many border states and you can even find it in fine restaurants (I had a cajeta flan at Ciudad in Los Angeles, which is run by those Too Hot Tamales). The important thing to know is that cajeta also means “little box” which in Argentina is a euphemism for a part of, um, a woman’s anatomy. But hey, maybe that’s a selling point.
The candy is branded as part of Hershey’s La Dulceria Thalia (Thalia’s Candy Store). Thalia Sodi is apparently quite a big music star. Of course, I don’t follow stuff like that ... and don’t think that it’s that I’m ignoring the Hispanic music scene, I also didn’t recognize that Carrie Underwood was doing special promotions last year for Hershey’s. I’m obviously not their target market.
But no amount of star power matters when it’s candy. Cajeta Elegancita is a series of bland wafers with a milky cream center layer and then a partial milk chocolate dip. I was hoping it would be like the long-gone Bar None (which may or may not still be made in Mexico).
Cajeta is very distinct tasting, very milky. It has a bit of a coconut twang to it, a little tartness as well. It’s interesting, but not very compelling for me. The condensed milk flavors completely dominate the chocolate, so it’s rather one note in the end. The delicate wafers do give it a nice crunch and texture, but not enough for me to go for this bar instead of a Heath if I’m feeling like something caramelized.
The package doesn’t have a lot of candy in it - at only 1.1 ounces, it’s rather scant for a commercial candy bar. However, at 170 calories and no trans fat, it’s not a bad little indulgence. The dairy taste makes it very satisfying as a little treat and of course the fact that there’s only 1.1 ounces means there’s little chance of eating too much.
Now, if they wanted to do something more chocolatey, I’d be all for it.
Also in the La Dulceria Thalia line are special flavors of Jolly Ranchers - tropical and spicy ... I’m kind of curious about the spicy ones, so I’ll get back to you on that!
(See also: Nestle’s La Lechera, which is a sweetened condensed milk product just launched in squeezable bottles to use as a sweet condiment & this story about Hershey’s move to capture the Hispanic market in the US)
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
On my thrice yearly trip to Beverly Hills to get my hair cut, I was lucky enough to go on a weekday (Friday) this time, which meant I could finally visit K Chocolatier.
They’re only open Monday-Friday ... I haven’t a clue why, but that’s the way it is. The shop is tiny. Think of a Fotomat Booth, oh, wait, they don’t have those anymore. Anyway, it’s tiny. The photo you see on their website shows the ENTIRE store. No need for a wide angle lens or positioning yourself across the street for that photo.
K Chocolates were created by Diane Kron, who I guess is one of those “chocolatier to the stars” people because they mention that kind of stuff a lot on the website. I have no idea if movie stars, TV networks or banks have good taste in chocolate. But they’re certainly not wrong in picking K Chocolatier because it is good stuff, just freakishly expensive.
The nice thing is that the shop offers free tastes of EVERYTHING. There’s a little dish on the counter with a select few goodies so I tried all of them.
K Chocolatier is known for their little K Bears, which are crisped rice in milk, white and dark chocolate. They’re super cute, about the size of a Teddy Graham. The milk chocolate one was very milky, quite sweet but very smooth and of course the crisped cookie/rice was fun. The dark chocolate was much smoother, with an ultra buttery dark chocolate with a really satisfying smoky taste to it. The white chocolate wasn’t very sweet, but very milky and not enough vanilla for my tastes.
The sampler tray also had their famous K Chocolate Truffles, which were little squares about the size of sugar cubes dusted in cocoa. They were not sweet at all, smooth and with some very complex coffee and woodsy flavors. There was even a bit of a salty hint to it.
My favorite free item was the K Spanish Orange, which was chocolate covered candied orange rind. That smooth and buttery chocolate was the perfect complement to the zesty and slightly bitter orange peel.
But I was there to get something I couldn’t get anywhere else, which is one of the reasons to shop an exclusive store like this.
I wanted to try their Vodka chocolates. And they let me! There were two varieties - K Vodka Shots and K Vodka Martini. They were a little smaller than a standard malted milk ball and a little flat on one side. The little spheres of dark chocolate held a crunchy sugar shell and inside that, a burst of real vodka. Not cheap vodka either, this was good stuff. After trying both I opted for a small box of the K Vodka Martini - it had a touch of vermouth in it that gave the alcohol a good balsam/citrus note to it that really brought out the fruity/floral notes of the chocolate.
But the sad part is that they were $40.00. Seriously. But I bought them anyway. And they were good. They weren’t a huge hit at home though and of course you have to practice a little self control as that’s real alcohol in there. (Okay, it wasn’t a lot, but I can get a buzz off of a half a dozen of them). The other irritation with the store is that nothing is marked with a weight or size of any kind. I don’t know how much chocolate I bought. Was that a half a pound? A full pound? Do they all weigh the same?
I’m a big fan of alcohol/chocolate cordials. As a touchstone, I bought the Trader Joe’s holiday box of vodka filled chocolates for New Years. They were nice, they had different fillings - orange, lemon and raspberry vodka inside of dark chocolate shells. But the vodka wasn’t very high quality, so they didn’t quite have the sassy snap that K Vodka Martinis do. I suppose you get what you pay for, the Trader Joe’s box was about $5.
Will I buy K Chocolatier products again? Probably not, but I’m glad I did.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 12:07 pm
Friday, May 26, 2006
I know this sounds really weird, but I’ve never had Airheads before. It’s not that I shunned them, but they really never entered into my field of view at all. Sure, they’re on the racks at the 7-11 and in assorted bags at Target, but I didn’t quite know what they were, and they never really
piqued my curiosity. But I’m probably alone in that and I probably should remedy it.
So imagine my delight when I came home from work and found a box of candy from Perfetti Van Melle (the company that makes both Airheads and Mentos). I’ve been corresponding with Pete in Marketing, but we’d never talked about sending me anything. I can only guess that I’m on a list because of my registration for the All Candy Expo. That is the BEST MAILING LIST EVER!
What was even more fun is the timing of one of their co-marketing pushes - a tie in with the new Pixar/Disney animated film, Cars. (The movie premieres today at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway and gets its full release on June 9, 2006.)
This packet of 6 Airheads bars has the regular flavors: Watermelon, Cherry, Blue Raspberry, Mystery White and also includes two new flavors - Mater Punch and Burnt Rubber. Okay, that last one doesn’t sound that good to me.
So, Airheads are planks of a chewy, taffy like substance. I’d always thought they were like LaffyTaffy or TangyTaffy, but they’re really not. Airheads are about 5” long and about 1” across and pretty thin.
Airheads are soft and pliable and have an easy chew that has a slight, sugary grain to it. They’re very flavorful and not unlike Mentos in their texture (also made by the same company). What’s nice is that it’s not sticky like I expected. There’s no worry about pulling out fillings.
Watermelon: juicy and tart. A little bit on the chemical side of the flavor, but it aroma is nice and sweet.
White Mystery: it tastes rather like green apple to me. Tart and fruity with a little floral note to it.
Cherry: sweet and tart with a strong dark cherry/woodsy flavor to it. Of course it’s not my favorite flavor, but I ate the whole thing. Imagine what cherry fans would think.
Blue Raspberry: surprisingly more complex than I thought. It’s got a nice tart and sweet thing going, but also a really good floral balance for the fruity berry flavors.
Mater Punch: Mater is one of the characters in Cars, he’s a rusted out tow truck, and I think Mater is short for ToMater ... maybe he used to be red. I was hoping he’d be tomato flavored. No such luck. He’s fruit punch flavored. Heavy on the citrus and whatever that “fruit punch” flavor is, it’s tangy and sweet but the smell is definitely chemical in origin.
Burnt Rubber: Yeah, I had no idea what to expect for this flavor - I was kind of hoping they went Bertie Bott’s and actually made a burnt rubber taffy. The bar was dark purple, almost black, but it was quite obvious that it was grape. It was like a sweet & chewy grape SweeTart.
Overall, the Airheads that I tried were pretty cool. Summer is tricky for candy, especially in SoCal where chocolate starts to get dodgy even in May. Taffies and other sugar candies are a good way to make it through summer with tasty treats that can stand the heat. The one flavor in their repertoire that I’m more interested in that wasn’t in the mixed bag is orange, so I’ll pick that up at some point. I don’t see myself buying these very often, but I wouldn’t turn one down.
Mentos has come out with some Sours that I suspect are rather similar to Airheads fruity flavors, so I’ll report back on that soon.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Instead of just the normal fundraising candy bars, Smiles by Joanie’s Smiles are are chocolate bars infused with tea and other natural flavors that stand on their own as tasty treats. The hook here with the fundraising aspect is that money from the sale of each bar goes to Operation Smile which sends volunteer medical teams all over the globe to repair facial deformities in kids and adults. I was approached to taste the bars a couple of months ago, so I’ve had a lot of time with them (I was waiting for their website to be up and for them to be more widely available).
The bars were very simply produced - two ounces each, wrapped in foil and then a paper overwrap. The bar is pre-scored into 12 little pieces with each embossed with the smiles script logo. No gimmicky packaging, just tried and true presentation. It’s the flavors that count here ... so let me count off the flavors to you:
Rosemary Hibiscus Tea - I was certain I wouldn’t like this one before I even tried it. I’m not a big fan of hibiscus, so how could combining it with rosemary (a rather savory and strong herb) and white chocolate be a good idea? Frankly, after the first bite I didn’t like it. The hibiscus gave the white chocolate a yogurt tang but without any satisfying fruit flavor to go with it. Then I took a few more bites and the rosemary flavor really grew on me and took center stage. It’s not terribly sweet and doesn’t give me a sore throat like bad white chocolate does ... it was smooth and creamy and had a little sass to it.
Cranberry-Ginger Tea - mellow milk chocolate with a smooth and creamy consistency with a spicy, lowgrade burn of ginger. Later the tannin and cranberry notes come out in a lingering berry bite. The bar has the woodsy, rooty smell of ginger. There are the occasionally grainy bits from the tea, but this is a pretty smooth and zesty bar.
Wild Raspberry Tea - it smells like raspberry and has the floral flavor to it. The milk chocolate, which can often have a tart bite also helps to bring out the fruitiness and berry notes here. There are also the occasional fruit bits in there, giving it a chewy tart burst. The chocolate has not dairy milkiness that I usually associate with milk chocolate, instead it’s smooth and a little fudgy.
Coconut-Green Tea - this bar smells like summer. Profuse wafts of coconut emanate from this bar, just sitting next to it reminds me of those girls who would come to the pool but never swim. They’d sit together with their sunkissed hair and lanky bodies slathered with tanning oil ... something I could never use. (If there were a freckle oil, well, then we might have something.) That toasted, glossy association translates well to this dark bar. Smooth and buttery, the tea takes a backstage to the coconut, which brings only flavor here, there are no chewy bits.
Herbal Chai Tea - this bar smells like I’ve stepped into a spice shop. It’s all warm and woodsy: cinnamon, fennel, orange and a little rooty waft of ginger. A little bit grainy because of the real spices in there, it’s still quite smooth and bursting with different flavors. The cinnamon dominates, but the fennel and black pepper are still discernible. The tea here is the Amber Roobios, which brings its own floral/fruity notes. It’s quite a riot of flavors in there.
My favorites in order (as determined by which I finished first) were the Pistachio-Green Tea White Chocolate, Herbal Chai Dark Chocolate, Coconut-Green Tea Dark Chocolate, Rosemary Hibiscus White Chocolate and last the Wild Raspberry Milk Chocolate.
I have to congratulate Joanie for coming up with such interesting flavor combinations but I think if there’s one thing that I find a drawback to them, it’s the price ... however, unlike many high-end bars, there is nowhere else to get a Hibiscus Rosemary White Chocolate or Coconut Green Tea Dark Chocolate bar, so they’ve cornered that end of the market.
The bars are now on sale at Whole Foods and soon at Bristol Farms and Gelson’s (SoCal) markets as well as through Amazon (click through on their website). Amazon doesn’t seem to offer an assortment pack or sales by the box, which is too bad because I really didn’t know which I was going to like by the description. They were just introduced last week, so they may be adding more purchase variations.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.