Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Happy Licorice Day! Did you know it’s National Licorice Day?
So, it’ll be all licorice all day here on Candy Blog ... if you don’t like the black stuff, just move along and come back tomorrow and it’ll be something chocolate or maybe something nutty or perhaps something sour. If you do like licorice, well, browse around through my archives by clicking on the Licorice category for all the licorice reviews.
I picked up an assortment of Dutch licorices when I was in Pittsburgh. Because this is real licorice which can have side effects when consumed in large quantities, I’ve been tasting it responsibly for the past six weeks or so.
Beehive Honey Licorice - these little black beehives boast 8% honey! They’re smooth and soft and instead of the strong charcoal flavor of molasses as a base, these boast a fine honey flavor with the nice woodsy and sweet qualities of licorice. They really don’t taste anything like a licorice vine that I’m accustomed to, reminding me more of an herbal tea.
Katjes (kittens) - these are dark looking and a little firmer with glossy black coats. The licorice flavor is strong and melts away to be rather watery on the tongue because it doesn’t have molasses or wheat flour in it like many of the vines do. Good flavor and good balance. Of all of them these went best with coffee because of the clarity of the flavor. I actually enjoy the mix of coffee and anise or licorice together, which I think is a pretty common Italian combination.
Zout (salt) - yes, this is the single salt version of the Dubbel Zout I tried after Christmas. These are lozenge shaped (diamond) and bear the Zout label on them, lest you get confused in a mixed bag! Wow, I’m so glad I gave these another try. They certainly have a zing to them, though it’s not the same electric thing that I had with the DZ. The salt really brings out the licorice flavor without tasting too sweet (which licorice often suffers from). This version also doesn’t have the strong ammonia quality that the others I’ve tried, though towards the end where I was finding little bits in my teeth I did get the strange sensation of basement or catbox. I’m still not sold on it, but I didn’t spit out ANY of the pieces I ate. (I know, faint praise.)
Klene Muntdrop - a little coin, mine came in denominations of 1, 5 & 10. Very mild, not too sweet. I let mine get stale (not on purpose, but it seems that a paper bag isn’t the proper way to store them), but they’re kind of pleasant that way too. They melt away into a kind of woodsy, sticky goo. Still, there’s an odd note to the flavor that’s slightly acidic and slightly musty. I’ve had a bit of a cold lately and these are kind of nice in a “keep your throat happy” way.
Wax Seals - I have no idea what these are called or who makes them, but they’re fantastic! They look like little stamps made in wax, like you’d seal a letter, but maybe they’re coins. They’re mellow and smooth and ultra soft (where the other ones go stiff and hard in the paper bag, these stayed soft and yielding). They have a good molasses bite without the wheat flour doughy quality that some other American and German vines can get.
If you’re feeling adventurous, just get a mix of things. The cool part is that each little licorice is quite unique in how it looks and it shouldn’t be hard to find them again and get just the ones you liked. I only gave these a 6 out of 10 as an average, but a mix of the beehives and wax seals would get an 8 out of 10 on their own.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
I’m candy trippin’ ... I’m in New York City, New York this week and I’m trying to hit all the best candy stores Manhattan has to offer. The amazing thing is that there are so many of them. What’s even more amazing is the ubiquity of candy here. It seems a bit harder to find candy in Los Angeles, sure, it’s at the grocery store, the drug store but the breadth and scope of candy in New York far surpasses any other city I visit. My guess is that New Yorkers need more energy. Folks walk everywhere or take public transportation and that takes a lot out of you. Well, it’s not like candy is the only choice they have, fresh fruit abounds, but I suspect there’s less guilt about it here.
Economy Candy has been in business for nearly 70 years and has an incredible selection. They feature both domestic candy by the bar: Hershey, Nestle/Wonka, Mars (including Colorworks M&Ms), Jelly Belly, Atkinson, Annabelle’s, Pearson’s, Tootsie and probably plenty of others. They also had an exceptional selection of consumer candy bars from Europe, like Cadbury’s Flake series, Aeros, Lion bars and even some Israeli bars from Elite. But there were also other high-end bars from Scharffen Berger (great prices), Cafe Tasse (review soon!), Cote d’Or, Droste, Feodora, Lindt, Niederegger, Ritter, Toblerone and even those Chick chocolate bars.
The place is literally packed to the rafters, the shelves go up at least ten feet and I had trouble remembering to look high and low to keep from missing things. They had Dutch and Finnish licorices by the pound, every possible gummi and jelly you might want (yes, I got a half pound of Swedish fish, all red)
Because this is the week of Easter and Passover they had special displays to meet both needs. After all, candy is inclusive, not exclusive. There’s no rule that says that a dark chocolate egg can’t come to a seder (Kosher of course) and wouldn’t some chocolate covered matzohs might be a fun inclusion in an Easter basket.
My favorite there was their selection of Halvah. They have all the Joyva versions, marbled, plain, nuts ... but they also had the little morsels of halvah dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in almonds. Heaven! The halvah is flaky, not too sweet and melts in your mouth. It’s terribly messy stuff and I was eating mine over the trash basket in my hotel room.
There were a few things they don’t carry, in case you were wondering. There’s not much of anything from Asia and nothing that crosses over into the cookie family. They do, however, have a large selection of dried fruits and nuts. But you’re not going to do much better on prices, especially in NYC. There are some other candy stores, sure, but they charge a premium just because of the name on the bag. Economy is true to its name. Plain old sugar candies (hard candies, Mary Janes, Tootsie Rolls, etc.) are less than $2 a pound. Jelly Belly - $5.99 a pound ... Jordan Almonds - $3.99 a pound ... Gummis - $2.49-$3.99 a pound. All prices are good on their website, too.
The places is overwhelming. Even though I immersed myself in their website before we went, just to make sure I was familiar with their products, I still didn’t know where to look. I was expecting a huge store, and in all fairness, it is. But it was packed with people (if you can, go earlier in the morning on weekends or try a weekday). I might have to go there again (yes, it’ll be my third visit) just because I know I missed some things (and I was with other people both times).
A kind reader pointed out that there was a limited edition chocolate covered Payday bar out there. It took me a couple of months to find it (at the Walgreen’s down the road from me, that I don’t usually go to and only in the King size). Of course now that I’ve found it, I’ve seen it everywhere here in New York City.
Honestly, it seems like the perfect candy bar for NYC - it’s all brown and lumpy, just like Eighth Avenue, which is all torn up now. And it has a slightly abrasive but essentially sweet center plus it’s packed with nuts! I keeeed! I keeed! This is not the first time Payday has had a chocolate covered version in their repertoire, it was part of the line years ago (I think in the 80s). I doubt it’ll be the last time they bring it back.
I love Payday bars. They’ve got far more nuts than most other candy bars, and that’s a plus for me. The nuts on the bar are slightly salted and the nougat center is kind of crumbly and even though it’s sweet, it has a little bit of a caramelized sugar note to it. The chocolate covered Payday features milk chocolate. It’s rather sweet and pretty much overpowers the salty snap of the peanuts.
Payday bars are a good warm weather candy bar. They’re exceptionally satisfying and because they don’t have chocolate in them (the regular ones) there’s little worry about melting (and re-solidifying). They also pack a huge whallop of protein in them, which I find creates a very filling and satisfying snack. For those of us with low blood sugar problems, a sweet that has some protein in it will keep you from having a blood sugar crash.
As chocolate peanut bars go, I think I’d rather have some Peanut M&Ms or a Snickers Bar instead of a chocolate Payday. It’s not a bad bar, just not the most satisfying version of this combination out there.
UPDATE: It seems that this version was shortlived, but you can still find a mockolate (fake chocolate) covered version called Payday Avalanche that looks to be a permanent addition to the line. (So be aware that some comments to this review are actually referencing the fake chocolate version.)
Monday, April 10, 2006
Last year my favorite discovery was Scharffen Berger’s Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs. I think I might be in love all over again with the nibs from sweetriot. For those of you who haven’t been following along, cacao nibs are roasted cocoa beans that are ready to be made into chocolate. Everything that makes chocolate chocolate is inside the bean, the cocoa butter and what becomes cocoa powder. A plain cacao nib is rather sour, kind of grainy and has very little of the buttery crunch we associate with most nuts. It’s more like eating a coffee bean than a peanut. As a solo snack, they’re an acquired taste, but they make a great addition to salads or thrown into muffins or cookies.
Sweetriot sent me this fun little “spring fling” pack, which holds three different little upright tins of chocolate covered cacao nibs - each covered with a different blend of chocolate. 50% cocoa solids, 65% cocoa solids and the masterful 70% cocoa solids (with a hint of coffee).
The little tins are rather small, and to be honest when I first read about these on CandyAddict early this year I thought they were extremely expensive. At $6 each for a tin (regular price), it’s about five times the price of the Scharffen Berger nibs (which I already thought were pricey).
What is especially compelling is the mission of the company and that they’re fair trade (though not certified yet). They’re also Kosher, gluten-free and made with non-genetically modified soy lecithin (also called GMO-free).
What’s also different about these and the Scharffen Berger is that the coating on the nibs is quite a bit thicker. Where the Scharffen Berger nibs were bumpy and craggy, the Sweetriot “peaces” are smooth like little nuggets of tumbled chocolate.
I started with the Flavor 50, and I’m not sure you can make it out in the photo, but they’re more milk-chocolate looking than the rest. They’re actually very sweet and mellow and had a very clean taste to them, that seemed to have more vanilla coming through than most chocolate. Each little tin includes a “fortune” which has a piece of trivia about where the cacao comes from. In this tin it said: “Cacao Country Brazil shares boundaries with every South American country but Chile & Ecuador.”
Next was Flavor 65, which has a very strong acidity and bitterness to it, with notes of cherry and apricot but a very strong scent of rum and cedar shavings. Like a complex wine, these make you want to keep shoveling them into your mouth so you can try to pin down the notes. The trivia snippet here: “The first inhabitants of Cacao Country Peru were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in Peruvian caves.”
The last was Flavor 70, a deep rich experience whole. I was expecting them to be as bitter and astringent as Flavor 65, but they were actually more mellow, but equally dark and complex. The coffee note was not overwhelming and this tin was sweeter smelling. There’s a dry finish and the fruity notes blend together without an overpowering single flavor coming through. The chocolate is smooth and of course the nibs provide an interesting nutty crunch. The geography trivia here: “Together, Cacao Countries Ghana, Cote d’Ivorie, Nigeria and Cameroon produce 70% of the world’s cacao.”
By far the balance of chocolate to nibs is better in the Sweetriot over the Scharffen Berger nibs. The only thing I have trouble getting over here is the price. While I support Fair Trade, I also don’t care for overpackaging of items. Yes, they’re cute and the artwork on the tins is certainly original. The only option for purchase here is in the tiny tin, and maybe I just want to buy a pound of them and keep refilling my individual tin. But the company is young and I’m willing to be patient for more options on purchasing. For now they’re fantastic-tasting and hard to beat on that score, but they cost a pretty penny (and when I say penny, I mean that each little morsel is more than a penny!).
If you’re a true chocoholic, now might be the time to give these a try. They’re on sale through April 14th at 25% off on the website. They are sold at a limited number of brick-and-mortar locations, but check their website for the latest updates.
UPDATE: I found them in the wild! I saw them at a health food store in Greenwich Village - and the going price is only $4.99 ... much better than the expected $6.00 (based on their web price). If you think about how much you’re willing to spend for a latte or ice blended whatever (or hot chocolate), it’s really a comparable treat and of course it’s small enough to tuck in a pocket or your bag.
UPDATED UPDATE (12/28/2006): The prices on the website have come down quite a bit, buying a box of 12 means that tins are only $4 each now. The 3 pack flavor set also has a price reduction (the packaging varies by season).
Today marks one year since Candy Blog was born!
If you look back through the archives, you’ll notice quite a few things have evolved in only a year. The rating system and of course the entire site design changeover back in November. Since then I’ve reviewed well over 300 candies (I don’t know the precise number) from more than 25 countries.
Of course my obsession with candy has not waivered. In fact, this week I am in New York City and have completely immersed myself in a quest for candy and candy stores. I’ve already visited Economy Candy (everything under the sun), Russ & Daughters (halvah) and Jacques Torres (chocolate). Today I’ll probably head over to Maison du Chocolat and perhaps later this week Dylan’s Candy Bar, Marie Belle, Aji Ichiban and Vosges. If you have suggestions for Manhattan candy stores, leave a comment!
One of the most exciting things about the blog for me has been connecting with so many people and hearing your thoughts and experiences on candy. Each day, each post and each comment just cements my belief that the love of candy is a celebration of community and all the great things that we have in common. I’m so honored that I have so many faithful readers and I hope you all enjoy yourselves and of course it’s great to see the traffic on the site grow and grow each month.
In celebration of the anniversary of Candy Blog, I’m planning a special drawing for some candy next week (when I get home), so everyone gets to share in the fun! (Image swiped from CandyBaskets.com)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.