My Facebook Post, 30 March 2011, 10.30 am:
"Late last night, watching Deadliest Warrior, Doritos ad featuring a guy who licked other people's fingers, pants, etc. gave me nightmares... Bon appétit to the rescue!" CHOCOLATE . COVERED. CHEETOS.
Featured in Bon Appétit Magazine's "Kookery" Column, a genius by the name of Cereal Baker:
In which spirit, Jedi Jasmin and I required (notice my arm being adequately pre-twisted to the suggestion) an expedition to Penzey's Spices in Menlo Park. A crucial element of the Magical Meatloaf recipe eluded our memories and as we scrambled to find a JoC Jedi on our contact list within reach of their tome, the Penzey's Goddess says "OH! Well, we just have one here at the desk!" Penzey's is my very own heaven. You may labour under the notion that this is a boutique in a historically higher-income area code.
The voice in your head? I quote it: "TCHAH! a high-end SPICE store????" Seriously. Without diminishing the quality of the shop, the knowledgeable staff and the cornucopia of herbs and spices, this is like buying wholesale from a spice merchant. Take note the next time you stop at your supermarket and price the following--write it down: Cinnamon, Cumin, Basil, Ginger, Pepper and two of your own favourites. Check Penzey's online (they were originally mail order) and notice the precise size/price comparison and begin to apply those differences to the rest of your spice drawer. They do nothing else but buy high-quality stuff you will actually use for ridiculous prices. Worth the drive.
We noticed, upon exiting, a sweeties shop, Sugar Shack. I ran across the street so fast there is no lovely photo of the shop front.
After I ravaged the inside, I snapped one tasteful shot of the lovely front counter:
It is an utterly charming confection of a place, slender and pink as a little girl's birthday chocky box with crisp white gingerbread and latticework framing the candy cart, the back counter and the open pick-mix bins of sours, gummies, licorices, malt balls and fruit slices.
First, I am a Candy Freak. If candy is your zen, you must read Candy Freak by Steve Almond, a fellow OCD from Palo Alto, whose loving yet obsessive pilgrimage several years ago to the last family-owned candy makers in America made my tiny toes tingle. This is a man who, upon finding dark chocolate Kit Kats (check CandyDirect.com) were being tested in his market proceeded to find and buy cases of them and hide them in his house. Props to that, my Chocolate-Coated Homey.
A second, more historic look at the rise of American candy making is Emperors of Chocolate, which is fascinating and focuses mainly on the Hershey and Mars families, but is noticeably lacking in A) Pink and White Striped Awnings and Gummy Worms; or B) Tours of Jelly Belly and Annabelle Lee factories where things might be tasted while the foreman looks the other way.
For Science--SCIENCE!--I obtained a sampling of several types of candy for review:
1) Licorice Pinwheel: I hate black licorice. Always have, as well as root beer. So here's a dark black pinwheel, perfect and shiny, I'll just have to bite the bull-- I LOVE BLACK LICORICE!!! This is thick and slightly salty--maybe floral but savoury at the same time? It's just divine and redeems Licorice as an art form as candy should be, from the weird funky-tasting stuff from the blue-and-white striped box. WIN.
2) Raspberry Licorice Chunk: Extremely fruity, possibly a bit too soft and not chewy enough. Definitely some citric acid in there for bite. GOOD.
3) Easter Corn: I also LOVE Candy Corn. This is also open stock, and yummy. And very very pretty. Which is, well, pretty, but not so good for a Vampire Effect, unless you're trying out for the lead in the school production of Bunnicula, Vampire Bunny. BWOOOHAHA.
4) Toffee Dark Chocolate Pecan Bark: OoooooOOOOooooohhhhhhyaaaaaaahhhh. Salty. Sweet. Darkly developed toffee. Perfectly balanced toffee/chocolate/nuts. Just crumbly enough, so none of that Dentistry Panic. Seriously, in my adult life I have accrued over $10k in out-of-pocket Dental Co-Pay, so a beautifully cooked toffee that doesn't threaten my 401K is: MAGIC.
5) Milk Chocolate Turtle: This is an in-store confection. Light to the bite, not a lot of resistance, despite it's thickness. Also there doesn't seem to be enough caramel presence, the main impression is really the pecan, and a bit disappointing. A turtle should tie you up with dark burnt salty caramel and coat your lips with well-tempered chocolate. BAH.
6) Bounty Bar: From the UK. They have a shelf of UK chocolates, and there are many places on the internet that will explain/expound/complain/compound the differences between US and UK candy. They're different. Wahoo. It's what makes the world cool. First, it is akin to a Mounds bar, and Everyone has an opinion on Coconut. If yours is Wahoo!, then I will further posit the Bounty bar is more pleasantly coconutty in terms of tenderness and natural flavour. It is slightly less sweet, the chocolate is in the UK taste, so slightly smoother and slightly sweeter. I love it.
7) Maltesers: Toss those Whoppers, what you don't know you're missing in a Malt Ball is a slight sour-milk component that Maltesers get better than the Whoppers. And the chocolate thing again. It's just a better combination.
We departed downtown Menlo with a bag chock full of Penzey's goodies and candy, whereupon I realised it was nearly 3pm and I had neglected lunch. Toffee Bark contains Dairy and Nut Protein, for Your Information. Tell your mother The Joy of Cooking Fairy says so.