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Friday, August 10, 2007

Romanego Dragees, Cordials & Fondants

Confetti Antica Dragee Mix

Sometimes I look at candy and I think, “How did they do that?” And while the why isn’t as important as the taste, sometimes I’m so curious about it I can’t fully enjoy it until I know.

Earlier this year I went to the Fancy Food Show and met the Romanego family briefly through one of their California distributors, Dawn at ArtisanSweets.com. The Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano company has been making panned sweets and preserves in Genoa since 1780. While I don’t always buy into tradition and personality as it relates to products, because all that’s really important is what goes in my mouth, I’ve gotta say that I have been fascinated with Romanego’s offerings from both sides.

In the southern Italian region of Puglia, the peasant women would prepare for their guests bottles of liqueur brightly colored with ruby red spices, intensely green mint, bright yellow lemon, or dark brown coffee. Romanengo has gleaned their Roseoil drops from this ancient Italian tradition and have excluded the alcohol. Using the ancient starch mould visible to the right, and pipetting the sugar containing the petals, fruits, or essences into each small hole is the start of the process of obtaining the Roseoil drops. In contact with the starch, the sugar forms a crust that contains the liquid roseoil inside, and the final result is visible below. (source)

I had no idea (and still don’t fully understand the process) how they suspended the liquid inside a sugar shell and I didn’t get to try them at the Fancy Food Show. I was afraid to make a full order of the cordials, mostly because I wanted to try everything they make and party because they’re pretty expensive, so I ordered the Confetti Antica Dragee Mix which has panned nuts (pistachios, pine nuts & almonds), the cordials assortment, orange peel and cinnamon.

image

All of the cordials I’ve had up until this have been chocolate. These, as described above, are like Jordan Almonds, except instead of an almond in the center there’s a flavored liquid. I couldn’t quite tell the difference between them all, possibly rose, orange, cinnamon, clove and anise.

They’re just so beautiful. Smooth, pastel, sugar pebbles. The cordial center, as mentioned above, isn’t alcoholic, but is kind of thick without being overly syrupy. I found them pleasant, but I probably wouldn’t want a whole tin of them, just a few of them mixed in with the nuts is good enough for me.

Romanego Confetti Antica Dragee MixThe nuts ... what can I say about the nuts ...

You know how there’s that thing called “pistachio flavor” but it doesn’t really taste like pistachios. These taste like that. Not in fake “flavored” way, the pistatchio is soft and chewy and it has a bit of a grassy flavor, maybe a little bit like melon and a bit like flowers. The crisp little sugar shell wraps it all up.

The pine nuts were great, I just loved how peppery and smooth they tasted. I love popping pine nuts when I’m cooking (note: that doesn’t happen often) and having them in a candy is truly a rare joy.

The almonds were huge, seriously huge and flat. It was like these were pastel colored skipping stones or something. The almonds inside were sweet and buttery. The shell wasn’t too thick as to make you think that there wasn’t a nut inside.

The two other items look like bleached coral. The larger piece is a candied orange peel that is then panned in a white sugary coating. It’s all bumply and really does look like a little stalk of tumbled white coral. The orange peel isn’t very sweet or jelly-like as some can be. It’s pretty subtle, as you can see from the cross section, there’s a pretty thick coating on there. The other one were smaller pieces very irregular in size and rather delicate called Cannellette. Inside each piece was a little bit of cinnamon. Instead of tasting like “cinnamon flavor” like Atomic Fireballs, these had the authentic taste of woodsy cinnamon (which is sweet all on its own).

Romanego FondantAs a little bonus Dawn threw in a set of the Romanego Fondants, which I also wanted to try (but ended up getting a nougat instead because I gave myself a budget). I’m not sure how she knew that I wanted to try them, but thank goodness she did. (Note: I paid for everything else in the order and didn’t announce to her that I was ordering or anything, I think she just saw my order there and we’d emailed about the All Candy Expo next month a little while back ... I certainly didn’t expect any freebies.)

The pastel wrappers (each in a different color to represent the flavor as well as being printed in Italian in gold inks) are lovely to look at. Not too ostentatious, but still strikingly elegant. I feel like I need to brush up on my origami to play with them.

Fondant is a tough thing to explain and an even tougher thing to photograph. I chose the raspberry one because it was the only one that wasn’t pure white. They were like sugar cubes (well, two sugar cubes side by side in size), but the crystals were much smaller. They sparkle like snow.

Fondant like the dragees doesn’t have a lot of tricky ingredients, it’s pretty much all sugar. But it’s the careful heating and cooling that forms a soft matrix, kind of like a fatless fudge.

Romanego FondantsLampone - at first I thought the raspberry was too light, but as I ate a second bite I realized it was just the lightest floral essence of the raspberry and it was really refreshing.
Albicocca - this one was apricot, which is a rather uncommon fruit flavor in most circles.
Limone - wonderful light lemon flavor smooth and creamy melt.
Fragola - strawberry, which always reminds me of summer. A little caramelized flavors in the background along with the light flavor of flowers an berries.
Pera - delicate and kind of on the woodsy side of the pear flavors.
Menta - absolutely pure mint flavor, it’s hardly even sweet. Not curiously strong, but pretty intense.
Arancio - fresh orange zest taste.
Banana - hey, here’s a name I recognized! It was sweet and interesting, more like cotton candy than banana, but definitely something I’d eat again.

Overall, they’re expensive treats. Not something I’d eat every day, or probably even every month. I’ve heard of some folks using these as wedding favors, which would certainly be a lovely thing to find at your table and would lend a special elegance. Their unique offerings, such as the cordials, pistachios, pine nuts and cannellette set them apart from other Jordan Almond vendors. But they’re time consuming to make, so you get what you pay for.

Since sugar panning was invented as a way of preserving nuts and seeds as confectionery items, I have to admit that these keep very well in a pretty jar or tin, so you can enjoy them as a decorative item as you slowly make your way through a batch.

You can order Romanego products from ArtisanSweets.com or ItalianHarvest.com (I’ve not ordered from them, but enjoyed their website and large selection but their prices seemed a higher than Artisan Sweets). If you are in Genova, I highly recommend stopping at one of their shops:

Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano (opened in 1814)
via Soziglia 74 r
16123 Genova
Italy
tel. +39 010 247 45 74

Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano (opened in 1930s)
via Roma 51 r
16121 Genova
Italy
tel. +39 010 58 02 57

If you’ve been there, please tell me how it was!

UPDATE 8/14/2007: I got an email from Dawn at ArtisanSweets that clarified a few things.

The Cordials I got in the Dragee Mix are not the same as the Rosolio Drops that Italian Harvest sells. The cordials have a harder shell ... I’ve not seen them side by side, but I do recall the Rosolios being quite a bit smaller and more translucent when I saw them in January.

Second, Italian Harvest doesn’t carry the Dragee Mix I reviewed above (though they carry many of the elements individually), apparently that item is exclusive to Artisan Sweets. (And the price per ounce on everything at Artisan Sweets appears to be quite a bit lower - they also recently stopped using tins as mine was pictured and instead give you more candy in a bag.) It’s a really nice way to try a good sampling of their product line instead of committing to a whole package of one item.

Related Candies

  1. Confetti & Agrumetti
  2. Anis de Flavigny
  3. P-Nuttles
  4. Fairway NYC
  5. Treat Trip: Jelly Belly Factory
Name: Confetti Antica Dragee Mix & Fondants
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano
Place Purchased: ArtisanSweets.com
Price: $14 & free samples
Size: 4 ounces
Calories per ounce: unknown
Categories: Hard Candy, Nuts, Italy

POSTED BY Cybele AT 8:19 am     Comments (11)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Werther’s Caramel Coffee Hard Candies

Werther's CoffeeI was standing in the drug store last week staring at the candy aisle. There were lots of new things, one that caught my eye was the Werther’s Caramel Coffee hard candies, mostly because I got an email the week before extolling their virtues (thanks for the suggestion .

So I thought, I should pick some up. I didn’t want a lot of them, but luckily they had two sizes. A 3.5 ounce bag, which is a nice size for sampling, reviewing and sharing. And the second bag was 5.5 ounces ... a little more than I wanted to buy. The price? Both were $1.99. Neither were on sale. They were just the same price. So I bought the larger bag (what, am I stupid?).

The little hard candies are like the Werther’s Original, a creamy toffee or buttery hard candy.

image

They’re attractively packaged, each individually sealed in its own easy to open gold mylar pillow. No, they’re not in the twist wraps like the original Werther’s Original which I really need to cover, but you can check out this review of the classic by Jamie on Candy Addict.

These little disks are exceptionally pretty. They have a pleasant swirl of two different colors (though I can’t really tell the difference in taste between the pieces) that look like black coffee and coffee with cream.

The flavor is, well, very sweet and creamy. The coffee comes out as a little bit of a background hint to the stronger toffee/caramel. It’s missing a bit of the salty hit that I enjoy with Werther’s Original. As coffee hard candies go, these don’t rival the other set that I’ve had from Bali’s Best and United Coffee. But if you’re the type of person who likes their coffee sweet and perhaps enjoys Caramel Macchiatos (I’m sorry, I’ve never had one so I can’t really compare it), this might be a fun little pocket treat.

I enjoy crunching them, they have a wonderful way of cleaving in flakes and shattering. Of course then it kind of becomes a sticky mess in my teeth, but that gives me something to work on later. They’re exceptionally smooth, which makes for a good candy to be patient and dissolve in your mouth. No voids whatsoever, so it’s not going to cut up the roof of your mouth like some candies like butterscotch disks can.

Werther’s Original are a great summer candy. They give you that creamy boost like chocolate but they’re so freakishly durable - you can leave them in a hot car or let them get frozen and you can even dunk a package of these babies in the ocean and they’re gonna come out of the package exactly the same.

Notes from the package: may contain wheat products, definitely contains milk & soy. Each candy is about 20 calories (more than most hard candies because they’re made with cream & butter). Made in Germany. These also come in a sugar free version (that I’ve not tried, but perhaps someone else can weigh in on how they are).

Related Candies

  1. Trader Joe’s Espresso Chocolate
  2. Storck Chocolate Riesen
  3. Vertigo Pops
  4. Pocket Coffee
  5. Bali’s Best Coffee & United Coffee Candy
Name: Werther's Original Caramel Coffee Hard Candies
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Storck
Place Purchased: CVS (Silverlake)
Price: $1.99
Size: 5.5 ounces
Calories per ounce: 121
Categories: Coffee, Hard Candy, Germany, Storck

POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:56 am     Comments (10)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Associated Press Follows up on GMA Petition to the FDA

There was a cool article out of the AP that got featured on Yahoo News and CNN yesterday about the FDA Petition from the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

imageHere’s some video as well.

You can read Sweet Debate: What is Chocolate by Andrew Bridges here on the Star-Telegram or CNN.com or the Roanoke Times.

Bridges did a great follow up on the story, which is refreshing when so many of these issues seem to drop off the face of the map.

Cool things:

  • It mentions that there were 1,500 responses to the FDA on the Citizens Petition ... way to go chocolate fans!

  • It mentions that this may have an adverse effect on the economy of cacao growers and middlemen in the tropics. There are 50,000,000 people around the globe that make their living from chocolate, of course this has huge economic ramifications, even if it ends up being a 5% fat swap in chocolate.

  • It makes mention (towards the end) of the positions that Mars, Nestle and Hershey put on the record back in 2000. (A story, I might add, that I covered here back in this post.)

  • Big Chocolate doesn’t want to comment any longer ... Hershey’s, Nestle, Mars, the CMA ... they didn’t have anything to say for the article.

  • You can read the FDA statement that they put out around the time when the public comment period ended.

    Here’s the interview I did for NPR last month about it where I think I took an admirable stand against some of the GMA’s positions.

    Related Candies

    1. Other things in the FDA Citizen’s Petition
    2. Washington Post: It’s not Over
    3. LATimes Editorial
    4. FDA Chocolate Definition Change
    5. Don’t Mess with Our Chocolate!

    POSTED BY Cybele AT 1:18 pm     CandyFDANewsComments (2)

    Mentos Plus Citrus Mix

    Oh, the lovely commenters here are blessed, blessed friends to have told me of this Mentos assortment ... the assortment of my dreams!

    image

    Citrus candies are my absolute favorite and of course the Pink Grapefruit Mentos are divine. There are parts of the world where you can get these, Mentos Plus Citrus Mix. They’re fortified with Vitamin C and come in an assortment of three flavors: orange, pink grapefruit and lime.

    At first I was thinking, Lime? Why not Lemon? But they pulled it off, a Lime as spectacular as Pink Grapefruit is. It’s zesty and slightly bitter but doesn’t give me any images of housecleaning products. Just clean, clean limes.

    Orange was nice and juicy. Not quite zesty enough for me, but far and away better than the American Orange Mentos that we get in the regular mixed Fruit roll here.

    Here’s another curiosity from the label. The Fuji Apple ones I reviewed didn’t have gelatin in them (and were halal) but mentioned Gellan Gum. This box has no gelatin or gellan gum, instead lists starch and gum arabic as the thickeners. It also bears the halal seal. I find it amazing that Mentos have so many different recipes worldwide. (This package also contains 2.5% fruit juice.) If you don’t have any problems with sugar these look like they’re vegan (no beeswax or insect-derived colors) but please read all labels as I’m finding that this may not be the case with every package.

    The package is about 1.5 ounces (42 grams) and I counted 18 pieces in the box. The vitamin C content is 4 mg per piece.

    These should definitely be made available in America. If they’re not going to give us rolls of the Pink Grapefruit, they should really include them in a mix like this. They’re just so darn pretty, too. Repackage them for weddings in little clear boxes to show off the delicate pastels and they could knock Jordan Almonds out of favor.

    Special thanks go out today to Santos for bringing me these three lovely (if now empty) boxes of Mentos. These were made in China for the Philippines. I think they also sell them in Australia. Has anyone else spotted them for sale in their area?

    Related Candies

    1. HiCHEW Yuzu & Valencia
    2. Pure Fun & Yummy Earth Organic Hard Candies
    3. Mentos Berry Mix
    4. Sunkist Fruit Gems
    5. Pink Grapefruit Mentos
    Name: Mentos Plus Citrus Mix
      RATING:
    • 10 SUPERB
    • 9 YUMMY
    • 8 TASTY
    • 7 WORTH IT
    • 6 TEMPTING
    • 5 PLEASANT
    • 4 BENIGN
    • 3 UNAPPEALING
    • 2 APPALLING
    • 1 INEDIBLE
    Brand: Perfetti Van Melle
    Place Purchased: gift (thanks Santos!)
    Price: unknown
    Size: 1.5 ounces
    Calories per ounce: unknown
    Categories: Chew, China, Perfetti Van Melle

    POSTED BY Cybele AT 10:29 am     Comments (13)

    Tuesday, August 7, 2007

    Atomic Fireballs

    Atomic Fireballs were invented in 1954 by Nello Ferrara, the son of the founder of Ferrara Pan. The spicy flavor and the exceptionally long lasting candy was instantly popular (coupled with the pop culture obsession with all things atomic at the time).

    imageAtomic Fireballs are made in a process called hot panning, where layers of sugar syrup and flavor are deposited on a single sugar grain core. The pans are hot as they tumble the developing candies through this long process. It takes two weeks and at least a hundred layers to make the familiar spicy jawbreaker. You can see the process here at the Ferrara Pan website. Ferrara Pan sells over 15,000,000 every week!

    Atomic Fireballs come in two sizes, a little pea sized one in boxes similar in format to the Lemonhead and the more popular full-sized, individually-wrapped jawbreaker. (Ferrera Pan still makes Red Hots, which are cinnamon imperials and though they’re nice they’re NOT the same thing.) I haven’t seen the little ones in years, but a quick search on the internet indicates that they’re still around. (Here’s a great shot of their old packaging.)

    It’s still easy to find Atomic Fireballs individually wrapped, usually for a nickel or dime each at checkout stands at convenience stores or liquor stores.

    imageAll that history and nostalgia aside, how are they?

    The outside is rather mild. The shiny ball is smooth and takes a moment to release a strong blast of cinnamon (and a little bitterness too for those who can taste Red 40). Either I’ve become extremely resilient over the years (and judging from my inability to eat my husband’s chili, I’d say not) or they’ve decreased the hotness of this product.

    The cinnamon was definitely tingly and spicy but didn’t really gain any momentum until the second “major” layer. I recall not being able to hold one in my mouth for very long as a kid ... it’s no issue at all now.

    I also think the texture has changed slightly. It feels a bit lighter, a little more chalky now. It loses flavor after that second internal layer. I had no problem crunching one open for the cross section with some nutcrackers ... something that was extremely difficult years ago because of the density (and possibly they were larger back in the olden days). The best way when I was a kid to break them open was to drop them onto concrete. This was more fun with the old full-sized Everlasting Gobstoppers because they had colored layers.

    Fireballs were one of those candies I enjoyed eating while reading and later on long car trips where I found the hotness kept me alert while driving. I’m a cruncher, but the sphere has to be dissolved down to at least a third of its original size before I can crack it open with my teeth. I wish they were as strong as I remember them, they’d get a full on 9 out of 10 if they did. But this watered down version is still a fun 7 out of 10.

    Other fun things I found out while researching this:

  • In Europe they’re called Atomic Fire Blast.

  • Robert at Candy Addict had a sweet (and spicy) flashback

  • Each large sized Atomic Fireball has 20 calories (if you’re able to eat the whole thing) and weighs 5.67 grams (.2 ounces)

  • The bag I bought says it was produced in a factory that also handles peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat, soy and eggs ... all that’s missing from the list of allergens is BEES!

  • This package was made in Mexico, I’ll try to find out if they still make them in the United States.

    Related Candies

    1. Anis de Flavigny
    2. Goodbye Reed’s
    3. The Lemonhead & Fruit Heads
    4. Choward’s Violet
    Name: Atomic Fireball
      RATING:
    • 10 SUPERB
    • 9 YUMMY
    • 8 TASTY
    • 7 WORTH IT
    • 6 TEMPTING
    • 5 PLEASANT
    • 4 BENIGN
    • 3 UNAPPEALING
    • 2 APPALLING
    • 1 INEDIBLE
    Brand: Ferrera Pan
    Place Purchased: 99 Cent Only Store (Harbor City)
    Price: $.99
    Size: 6.25 ounces
    Calories per ounce: 66
    Categories: Hard Candy, Mexico, Ferrera Pan

    POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:37 am    

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