Tuesday, December 13, 2005
There’s been a lot of talk on the internets about Turkish Delight, also known as Turkish Paste or Lokum. Most of this sudden interest is because of The Chronicles of Narnia movie that just came out.
If you’re not familiar with the books, this sweet treat plays a pivotal role in the story as the second youngest child, Edmund, meets up with the White Witch who seduces him with the promise of as much Lokum as he can eat. Some people wonder how he could betray his siblings over a simple sweet (which was bewitched) but you have to remember that the story takes place during WWII when sugar was very hard to come by, even for children in middle class families. I’m enough of a sugar freak to have done some things that were probably not well thought out because I needed my fix that I can sympathize in a way for Edmund. (And he does redeem himself.)
Turkish Delight is rather unknown in the States and probably with good reason. Americans are not really familiar with floral flavors and delicate candies such as these. They don’t really keep well, so it’s easy to get stale Turkish Delight, which only leads to disappointment. I’ve had my share of crusty Turkish Delight over the years which has made me question why I like it, but there’s something so elusive and sublime about it, I’m tempted to travel to Turkey just to partake of the freshly made stuff. Here’s a fabulous first-person account on Lulu’s Lulu Loves Manhattan blog.
Turkish Delight is a rather simple jelly candy made from sugar, cream of tartar, corn starch and a little flavor. It’s quite different from other jelly candies in that it doesn’t have any gelatin or pectin to firm it up, just the corn starch. (This makes it a good candy to get/make for Vegan friends.) This is a kind of unstable mixture which can go bad rather quickly, so Turkish Delight is always best fresh. Covering it in chocolate is actually a pretty good way to keep it fresh, as Fry’s has found with their Turkish Delight bar
Classic Turkish Delight is usually Rose flavored but can be mint or lemon. There are other varieties that include nuts (hazelnuts or pistachios are popular), coconut and of course other fruit flavors like strawberry, raspberry, apricot and I even saw this recipe on Becks & Posh for Cardamom Rose which sounded really good to me. I tried making Turkish Delight several times as a teen (having been told that the fresh stuff was the best) but never quite succeeded. A recipe probably would have helped. Heaven help the teen who has only the ingredients label to go off of; my mother was very patient with the strange pans of fragrant goo my sister and I created.
I’ve always been fond of aromatic flavors, I don’t know if it’s because I used to eat flowers as a kid (not just violets and rosepetals but also honeysuckle and nasturtiums) but I find them very intriguing. I later worked in an herb shop as a teen where I was exposed to many amazing teas, flowers and herbs. They’re beguiling because they taste like they smell. And they have a wonderful aftertaste. There’s been a huge resurgance of floral flavors lately in upscale cooking/food - I’m seeing a lot of rose flavored, lavender, violet as well as some of the more woodsy flavors like anise/licorice/fennel, rosemary and the essences of bergamot, orange and lemon (and I’d love to try some calamansi).
Still, there will be detractors for any candy and I have no problem with that either. There are lots of candies out there I detest, such as Marzipan (though I keep giving it a try hoping that I’ll change my mind because the concept is sound) and if everyone liked the same thing, there wouldn’t be much of a need for this blog. Snarkmarket had an interesting post with fascinating comments, and Slate had an article which prompted me to write this post.
I think part of it is about engaging the imagination. I like tasting new things, especially ones specific to a region or culture. It helps me to connect. Open your mouth ... and your mind!
Name: Xocoatl Venezuelan 73.5% Dark Chocolate Bar
My sister-in-law brought this for Thanksgiving (she brought a lot of stuff and we didn’t get to this that evening). It’s part of the whole trend in authentically flavored chocolates in the Aztec tradition. This bar is from a company called Xocoatl - A Master Chocolatier (which I still haven’t quite figured out how to pronounce, though I excel at saying Huitzilopochtli ). Here’s a list of Aztec Gods in case you were wondering about their names. Xocoatl was the fire god, which only makes sense that so many folks are naming their spicy chocolate after him. As Chocolate is a New World discovery, it’s natural thatchocolatiers investigate the roots of the food and its original preparation. Though few people drink it as it was originally made as a peppered, salted and spiced drink mixed with milk or water, we can learn a lot from the original preparations about the complex flavors inherent in the beans.
The gold wrapper not only makes this bar look precious, it’s actually really good protection from odors and probably reflects a little hit that might come its way in an ordinary day. It’s a pretty big bar too, rather flat and about the size of a 3x5 card. The bar I got was exceptionally fresh, with a good snap and wonderful aroma. The major smells from the bar are woodsy and with a big pop or rum/vanilla. The bar is smooth, but not terribly buttery. Not at all grainy, the spicy part doesn’t hit until the morsel has melted completely on the tongue. There’s a dry finish that helps to deliver the slight heat from the spice andcinnamon.
I wish it were just a little smoother, a little more buttery, but at 73.5% cocoa solids, they packed a lot in there. It’s not overly sweet and very flavorful. If you are in the area and check out the shop, I actually recommend their Mayan Hot Chocolate, which has a wonderful Mexican style like Ibarra hot chocolate mixed with some spice but most notably almond bits which give it a bit of nuttiness and smooth everything out. I’m also curious to try their fruit and nut bars sometime. They do a violet and rose petal that sounds right up my alley.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Monday, December 12, 2005
I’ve been telling people for years that the things that we think are bad for us like coffee & tea (ulcers & stained teeth), chocolate (fattening & empty calories) and nuts (fattening) are just not true.
New evidence has come forth that chocolate has wonderful antioxidant compounds and when eaten in moderation and hopefully dark it also adds iron, minerals and fiber to the diet. Similar things are being said about coffee and tea now with green tea now found practically everywhere.
Now those fatty nuts are being debunked. Not only are they a good source of protien (especially for those who eschew meat), but also fiber and essential amino acids. Now it seems they’ve been shown to have cholesterol lowering properties. The American Chemical Society (whose website I sometimes end up at looking for the American Cetacean Society) released a report a few weeks ago revealing the test results of the concentrations of phytosterols, a class of plant chemicals that have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and improve heart health. They ranked 27 nuts and grains.
The highest concentrations were found in Sesame Seeds and Wheat Germ but Pistachios and Sunflower Kernels weren’t far behind. So gobble up that Halvah! Have some Pistachios (perhaps in a French Nougat) and why not pick up some of those fantabulous Chocolate Covered Sunflower Seeds I reviewed. At the bottom of the list were Brazil Nuts and Walnuts.
The Detroit Free Press has a fun article about the candy most commonly associated with Christmas: Candy Canes.
It includes sources for sugar-free candy canes and other candy cane merchandise.
But here are the fun facts from Candy USA about the twisted sticks:
Name: Chocolate Malt Balls Assortment
I ate all of these. The last three for breakfast this morning. I picked them up courtesy of my trip to the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, CA back on December 2nd. Nothin’ like fresh from the factory candy. The balls had a beautiful glossy sheen and smelled sweet and toasty upon opening the bag.
I didn’t see these specific candies available on the Jelly Belly site, but they have some fun Christmas color mixed ones (kinda like those Easter ones that we’re all probably familiar with).
If there’s one thing I learned on my trip through the factory, it’s that Jelly Belly knows how to pan candies. You’re wondering what panned candies are? Picture a small cement mixer (one of those little ones, not the truck). They take a nugget of a candy, be it a nut, a jelly center or a sphere or malt crisp and toss it into this tumbling pan. Then they add stuff to it, liquids that coat every surface of the center. Sometimes the coatings are just sanding sugar, sometimes they’re chocolate like these malt balls and sometimes they’re sugars that make a crisp shell like on a Jordan Almond. And they keep doing it, until they’re coated to the proper depth. Then they get a spiffy shine and are packaged up.
The chocolate was nice, sweet without being sticky and milky with a good snap. The centers were crispy and crumbly and melt in your mouth. The malt was nice and strong, providing a toasted taste to the centers which goes nicely with the mild milk chocolate. They’re less “dairy” tasting than the Wilbur Milk Chocolate Malt Balls which I’m also mad for.
I don’t know of many places that carry the full line of Jelly Belly’s “Confections” line, but they’re worth picking up when you do find them. I’ll have lots more reviews when I get my factory tour review up this weekend. They’re about twice the price of the Wilbur balls. But, if you’re ordering from Jelly Belly already, I also recommend their Chocolate Dutch Mints (and their mint lentils, which don’t seem to be on their site).
Rating - 8 out of 10
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Here’s another item to add to the list if you’re looking for something to bring the hostess this holiday or maybe just a stocking stuffer.
No, not shotglasses for Peppermint Schnapps, these are shot glasses that are made from peppermint sticks.
I saw them today at both Urban Outfitters (you can order online) and Cost Plus World Market (a dollar cheaper). As a side note, I’ve also seen plenty of chocolate liqueur cups which are great for serving dessert cognac. If you’re looking for a way to add candy to a mixed drink (besides a lemon drop to a lemon martini or cinnamon imperials to a sweet martini) you might want to check out the new Twizzler Strawz.
They’re made for Slurpees and are just regular Twizzlers that are bigger so you can use them like a straw and get added flavor (and eat them). For cocktails, just snip them in half for a martini glass or lowball.
Friday, December 9, 2005
Last weekend I went to San Francisco for important candy and novel writing business (the best of both worlds). On our last day, Robin insisted that we visit Tartine (18th & Guerrero). She said they were reputed to have the best chocolate croissants. So before I scrambled off to my meeting and she went to explore the Ferry Terminal we went over there. We were determined enough to give them a try that we made three ever-widening circles around the place in search of a parking spot. We ended up two and a half blocks away and found the place to be mobbed when we entered. But it looked good from the back of the line. It looked even better when we got up to the bakery case which was filled with amazing heaps of cookies, tarts, pastries and cakes.
I bring this up because that’s where I saw the Rochers. Rochers are basically soft chewy meringues, usually with nuts in them. At Tartine they had them in two varieties: almond and cacao nibs. Gah! Heaven! I wish I’d taken some photos of them, but suffice to say they were little glossy dollops of delight. I bought a half a dozen. Now I wish I’d brought more.
So, the reason I bring this up is that it sparked me to try my own mashup this afternoon. I’ve got these Plush Puffs “leftover” and of course I’ve had this tube of Scharffen Berger chocolate covered cacao nibs on my desk. too. The vanilla marshmallow was just crying out for a little something. Cacao nibs. That’s what it wanted.
So, I tore the marshmallow in half, revealing it’s sticky interior and mashed it into the nibs. Yum. Repeat as necessary (it’s my mess o’ nibs, I can double dip!). Vanilla bean and cacao was a great combo. The bittersweetness of the chocolate and crunchiness of the nibs was a nice combo with the sweety chewiness of the marshmallows. I also tried it with the cinnamon one and though not quite as pure a combo because of the spice of the cinnamon, it was very tasty. Maybe I’ll try the peppimint next. (click photo for larger version)
Name: Plush Puffs Assortment
Yes, artisanal marshmallows. And why not? The stuff we’ve been getting from Kraft are not what marshmallows are capable of. And those things that you find in cereal? Please, let’s not even grace them with the name marshmallow. They’re not even marshy!
I was sent a generous sample pack from Ann of Plush Puffs, which is based here in Los Angeles (Sherman Oaks, to be exact). The weird thing is that until I started Candy Blog, I didn’t really think much of marshmallows. Besides the See’s Scotchmallows, there were very few marshmallow things that I would even try. Peeps were never on the menu, but I have been known to toast marshmallows, if only because they’re the only grillable dessert I know.
Instead of just plain marshmallows, Plush Puffs are flavored with intense combinations of spice, nuts and/or fruit essences:
Caramel Swirl - I think I’d rename this one to “sticky toffee” because it had a nice carmelized sugar note to it and it was sticky. It was very sweet and had a little bit of caramelly fudge topping on it.
Chocolate Chipetta - this is the only one that doesn’t feel “sweet” to me. It’s rich and toasty tasting with a good chocolate hit. One of my top three flavors.
Maple Pecan - holy moly! These were really good. The maple flavor wasn’t artificial or chemically like some candies can be. It was a good sweet woodsy backdrop to the sweet, chewy foam. It had almost a toffee-like flavor and I even had a few pecans in mine.
Peppi-Mint - it’s like a fluffy candy cane! Seriously minty, like someone’s made a foam Altoid or something. The color and texture looks more like a cake than a marshmallow but the intense flavor made me want to eat both but I settled for doing a mash-up with the Chocolate Chipetta which was really good. One of my top three flavors.
Toasted Coconut - this one smelled divine and tasted just a good. I love coconut and I love the nutty smell that reminds me of the beach and all the kids that could tan wearing that coconut oil suntan lotion. One of my top three flavors.
Sydney’s Cinnamon - this was not my favorite, though I had high hopes for it. It’s definitely cinnamonny, but it also has cinnamon oil, which gives it more of a candy hit than a spiciness (like eating a cinnamon hard candy). But where this puff really showed itself was in the toasting. (see below)
Vanilla Bean - I know, vanilla, kind of bland. It wasn’t really bland, a little salty and it just didn’t wow me. I think this would be good with something else, like maybe over pie or toasted or in s’mores.
Sam’s Sour Lemon - these had a gorgeous zesty lemon smell and pretty creamy and vivid yellow swirls in them. Calling them “sour” lemon doesn’t work at all for me (in fact, I would call them “zesty” lemon instead) but the flavor is really nice and mellow. I also didn’t care much for the mix of textures wtih the crunchy lemon sugar but it’s not a dealbreaker or anything.
There’s one more flavor on their list that for some reason I didn’t get in my grab bag, which is the one that sadly interested me most - Orange Honey. The honey flavor is not that noticeable in the other Plush Puffs but is one of the things that I’ve always found so intense about the See’s Scotchmallows. (I guess I’ll have to place an order.)
Per the recommendation of Ann at Plush Puffs, I tried some in my tea and of course toasted some of Sydney’s cinnamon:
I brewed a cup of Revolution Lavender Earl Grey tea and and dropped in about a quarter of a puff (I didn’t want to overload). As I took the photos I noticed the marshmallow dissolving into a beautiful aromatic foam. I enjoyed the combination of flavors, the creaminess of the marshmallow, the interaction of the botanicals of bergamot, lemon and lavender was really nice. And of course the sweetness of the puff was a nice change from my usually naked tea. Even after I’d slurped off the foamy dissolved puffiness there was still a nice lingering sweetness and lemony flavor. Definitely a cool way to decorate an ordinary after-dinner or afternoon tea. I still prefer my naked tea, because that’s just the way I am.
The drink marshmallows were invented for, of course, is hot chocolate. I got some amazing Mayan Hot Chocolate mix from Xocoatl from my sister-in-law at Thanksgiving which I made here at the office with some milk in the microwave. In went a half of a Sydney’s Cinnamon. Instead of dissolving in a bubbly foam and spreading across the surface like the lemon one in the tea did, this one hung together really well. But once I tried poking it with a spoon it melted completely. I scooped it up like some sort of dessert soup with some of the hot chocolate and enjoyed that until all I had left was my cocoa broth. The spice of the cinnamon went really well with the Mayan chocolate which already had a hit of spices in it.
I kept a few of the Sydney’s Cinnamon aside for toasting. I loaded one up on a carving fork because I know that a single prong really doesn’t do very well with a marshmallow. I put it over the open flame on the gas burner on my stove and it carmelized so beautifully and left the house smelling so good, I think I’ll just start toasting these like incense. Here’s a tip about toasting them. They’re huge. They’re actually too big to toast whole. There’s no way to get a fully molten center (I do not like medium rare toasted marshmallows) with a marshmallow this size. What is so intense about these is that they melt even at moderate heat, which turns them into this molten, intense foamy sauce with a crispy carmelized shell. In the future I think I’ll slice them in half and then have a greater surface area to center ratio.
I’ve been looking for a summer dessert to have after grilling and this just might be the thing. Everyone can choose their own flavor and I think it’d be really cool to make some grown-up s’mores and drinks with them. They don’t quite fit into the “candy” family for me for some reason. They feel more like food, maybe that’s because they’re so satisfying and slightly saltier (more savory) than an ordinary marshmallow.
I should go back and add them to the gift guide, especially since they have baskets where you can choose the selection of flavors. Also, if you’re dubious about them, you can try their “scraps” which are not quite perfect marshmallows. I love factory stores. Overall this is the kind of thing I’d like to offer guests at a party and I can see myself ordering them for a summer grill or maybe part of dessert a holiday cocktail party. I don’t see myself just ordering them to eat, maybe it’s because they feel kind of precious being handmade and all, I just can bring myself to just wolf them down like so many handfuls of M&Ms or Skittles.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.