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?
Sunday, June 4, 2006
Technically the All Candy Expo starts tomorrow. Not really the meat of it - not the show floor. But tomorrow I fly to Chicago and check into my hotel and get my press badge and even attend some seminars about candy marketing and trends.
I’m trying my best to be prepared. Over the weekend I was at a party and met up with a family friend in the candy marketing biz and she and I talked at length about anything and everything much to the amusement of my sister, soon-to-be sister-in-law and mother. It was good prep to know whether or not I can hold my own with this country’s great candy providers.
Then this evening, since I’m in Pittsburgh for the weekend, I went off to have tea with Jon Prince of Candy Favorites in McKeesport (the man who started my Saga of the Valomilk). He and I had a great time talking about candy and he gave me some insider tips on how not to be overwhelmed by it all and cautioned me that it’s not a good idea to eat several pounds of malted milk balls at once. (Yes, I know this intellectually, as I’m sure he does, but sometimes you get carried away.)
I have an insanely early flight (6AM) which gets me in insanely early (6:30 AM thanks to the rotation of of the planet). But hopefully this will give me a good jump on the day. I also hope to be able to post several times a day, I’ll report back on my connected-ness.
Friday, June 2, 2006
Starting Monday I’ll be blogging from Chicago. If it’s a product preview/review it’ll be on the front page of Candy Blog, otherwise it’ll be on my special Candy Expo Diary. I’m hoping to post lots of photos on Flickr as well.
Daily reviews will continue, as usual, below.
The All Candy Expo is a trade show for buyers and sellers of candy. Why is it such a big deal to me?
The show is primarily for candy manufacturers to show off their wares on the floor of the McCormick Place in Chicago. The attendees are primarily candy buyers for the major candy outlets in this country: grocers, convenience stores, vending machine suppliers, drug stores & discount stores but there are a fair number of attendees such as brokers, candy/gift store owners and other internet stores.
It’s the one place to see it all at one time. Hundreds of exhibitors (about 450 booths) who get to hook up with 20,000 potential buyers. The Expo goes from Monday, June 5th through Thursday, June 8th. The show floor is only open from Tuesday morning until Thursday at noon. It’s a lot to take in with only a limited amount of time.
There are also seminars to learn more about trends and business concerns for the industry. A limited number of press people attend the Expo each year but the internet press such as blogs are getting more respect and have been fully integrated into the press policy this year.
The All Candy Expo is run by the National Confectioners Association.
So why do I want to go, beyond the free candy? (Yes, apparently there’s a lot of free candy.) Well, it’s an opportunity to see the middle part of the process of the candy sales business in the United States. The candy is made, but no one’s stocking it yet. How does this happen? What determines what we see at our stores?
I’m going to try to find out.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.