Category Archives: Candy

Chuao Salted Chocolate Crunch Bar

DSC01205We promise we’re not going to turn completely into a chocolate blog, but it is the time of  year when exceptional chocolate is everywhere and we just have to share it!  The latest find came at REI, for goodness sakes, the last place one might expect to see gourmet chocolate.  The cashier’s enthusiasm when he saw we had picked up this chocolate bar was an early indication we were onto something good.

The Chuao Chocolatier website’s tagline promises “unusual, unexpected & delicious chocolate”.  The “unusual, unexpected” part was evident from the chocolate bar wrapping which identified breadcrumbs as the source of the “crunch”.  We only had “delicious” to confirm, and confirm it we did.  The 60% cocoa is decadently dark and exquisitely smooth.  Had it been only a dark chocolate bar, it would have been completely satisfying.  The addition of salted breadcrumbs to the chocolate was candy-making genius.  The breadcrumbs are so small and fine they are practically invisible in the chocolate bar, but their delicate crunch is divine.  The company logo and cocoa beans embossed into the chocolate make this one beautiful candy bar.

Chuao (chew-WOW) Chocolatier was founded in 2002 by Master Chef Michael Antonorsi and his brother Richard.  DSC01214These Venezuelan brothers’ ancestors grew fine cocoa on their family farm, so chocolate is part of their heritage.  Chef Michael loved food and cooking from an early age, but pursued a business degree, then established a successful high-tech firm with Richard.  In his mid-30’s, his love for the culinary arts won out over his business career, and he took his family to Paris so he could complete classic French culinary training.  After Chef Michael finished his education, he and Richard opened their first chocolate café and boutique in Encinitas, California.  With Chef Michael’s creativity and Richard’s business skills, the venture has flourished with additional cafés and a national wholesale business.  Their success is rooted in their respect for the family’s history in the cocoa trade and their commitment to using ethically sourced cocoa from their native Venezuela.

Chef Michael has some delectable treats to tempt the adventurous chocolate-lover.  The Honeycomb Bar is a combination of caramelized honey bits and dark chocolate.  The milk chocolate Maple Bacon Bar has crispy bacon bits with a touch of maple flavor and bonfire smoked sea salt.  YUM!  There are more selections of chocolate bars, bonbons and hot chocolate to delight friends, family or yourself.  You have to check out the stylish design of the website and product packaging, and order some of this delicious chocolate or ask for it at a fine retailer.

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Sconza Dark Chocolate Raisins

If the mention of chocolate covered raisins conjures up memories of an overpriced box of dry fruit covered in waxy chocolate at the movies, it’s time for a reboot.  Sconza’s Chocolate Caramelized Cashews rocked our candy jar, and it was just a matter of time before we tried another selection from their product line.  Allen isn’t a fan of raisins, so it fell to me to be the primary taste tester.  I’m always up to the challenge if chocolate is involved!

Dark Chocolate RaisinsSconza’s bag promises plump, oversized raisins and they deliver.  They are large, juicy, and delicious.  The chocolate?  Definitely dark, lusciously creamy and possibly addictive.  These candies bear no resemblance to their vending machine counterparts.  Although I enjoy a number of chocolate covered fruits, chocolate covered raisins have always been my favorite and Sconza’s Dark Chocolate Raisins are definitely the best I have ever eaten.  Not only are they delicious, they can also be part of a healthy snacking program.  Double bonus!  Raisins are a good source of iron, which is essential in producing hemoglobin to transport oxygen through the blood to all the cells.  They are a high fiber snack, so are a helpful digestive aid.  Women can benefit from the calcium and boron in raisins to maintain bone health.  Like other dried fruits, raisins provide beneficial antioxidants.  The oleanolic acid found in raisins destroys the bacteria that causes tooth decay.  To that impressive list, add the healthy aspects of eating dark chocolate (in moderation, of course), and this is a very low-guilt goody.

Three generations of the Sconza Family have been committed to providing high quality candies, following the traditions established by Italian immigrant Vincenzo Sconza in 1939 in San Francisco.  Visit the company’s website and order some treats for yourself or as a tasty stocking stuffer for someone special.


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Candy We Love for Christmas

Whether for a great gift, a holiday get-together or your own personal enjoyment, tis the season for candy.  There’s no doubt our list of awesome artisan and gourmet candies will continue to grow, but we have some great options to make your holidays just a little sweeter.  No matter what your taste or budget, there are things on our list that you will love, too!

Karen and Jim found Brooke’s Candy Co. Old English Almond Toffee.  Brooke is a recognized Indiana Artisan, and her 2-ounce handmade toffee bar was off-the-charts good.  Brooke has a beautiful assortment of Belgian chocolates that would make delightful gifts.

Without a doubt, Dillon’s Gourmet Peanut Brittle is the best we have ever tasted.  It is so very hard to stop eating this chock-full-of peanuts, thin and delicate brittle!

While not an artisan product, yummy and budget-friendly Kirkland Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are wrapped in holiday-red foil.  A 60-ounce bag would provide ample candy for children’s gift bags or an office candy jar.

I’ve already bought Sweet’s Milk Chocolate Orange Sticks for my mom’s Christmas stocking!  She and I share a love for all things chocolate and orange, and we love Sweet’s vintage look and taste.  Try their raspberry or cabernet sticks, too.

Kopper’s Milk & Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels would be perfect for a holiday gathering because in one bag, you can satisfy both milk and dark chocolate lovers.  The caramel and sea salt combo is simply amazing.

Would Christmas be complete without candy canes?  We think not.  Hammond’s Peppermint Candy Canes are handmade, and bring a traditional touch to the holidays.  Hammond’s has other candy cane flavors to choose from, too.

John Kelly Chocolates will rock your Christmas with their luscious truffle fudge bars.  Whether you go with classic peanut butter or a creative chile-chocolate combo, these truffle bars are decadently delicious.

Santa, please leave some Sconza Chocolate Caramelized Cashews in my stocking! Rich cashews, a thin toffee shell, smooth milk chocolate and sea salt make these irresistible snacks.

Toffee Treat’s White Chocolate Cranberry Pecan Toffee is a delightful departure from the usual milk chocolate toffee, and owner ML Dubay’s commitment to give part of her proceeds to cancer charities means your purchase helps make a difference in a cancer patient’s life.  Sweet!

Finally, if homemade candy is on your schedule, buy some Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Baking Chips and try this Cappuccino Fudge.  It’s an easy and impressive treat!

Which one of these goodies will be on your Christmas list?  Leave a comment on or before Wednesday, December 12th and one person will be chosen at random to receive a special Christmas treat from Foods We Love!

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Toffee Treats White Chocolate Cranberry Pecan Toffee

Toffee TreatsMary Louise (ML) Dubay ‘s Christmas traditions included making toffee from a “secret” recipe with her grandmother each year.  She continued the toffee tradition for years, gifting friends and co-workers with her sweet treats during the holidays.  Many of them encouraged her to start a toffee business, but she was happy in her corporate career.  A change of direction often comes unexpectedly, and for ML, one was precipitated by a cancer diagnosis.  She left her corporate position, spent some time volunteering for Legacy Brain Foundation, a Texas organization that raises funds to provide financial assistance to cancer patients and their families, and she made her special toffee.  Along the way to a successful candy business, she was encouraged by her husband, Chef Duane Dubay, and Food Network celebrity Paula Deen.

I love toffee, and I’m pretty convinced that people who don’t like it just haven’t had good toffee!  However, finding said good toffee can be a bit of a challenge, and we have had our share of disappointments.  I was excited to find Toffee Treats at Central Market, especially because the package I picked up had some of my favorite ingredients: white chocolate, cranberries and pecans!


The toffee has generous measures of fruit and nuts.  The toffee layer is superb — perfectly golden brown without even the slightest hint of stickiness.  The buttery caramelized sugar base is complemented by luscious, creamy white chocolate.  Could this get any better?  A bigger box of toffee, perhaps?  Fortunately, Toffee Treats’ website has lots of options.  You can select from several flavors in addition to the white chocolate cranberry pecan:  milk chocolate almond, dark chocolate almond, or Hatch chile dark chocolate almond.  ML offers package sizes from 1/4 pound to a full pound of toffee, and she has a combination box with several flavors.  Her creativity is evident, not only in the lovely toffee we tried, but also in chocolate almond “olives” in a martini glass.  Check it out on her website.  I can imagine setting several of these on a holiday buffet table.

If you have been following our blog for any amount of time, you know we love a good product with an equally good back story.  ML’s courage in battling cancer, her generosity in donating part of her profits to cancer charities, and her scrumptious toffee totally hit the mark for us!

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Dillon’s Gourmet Peanut Brittle

DSC01134Peanut brittle might be my favorite non-chocolate candy, and I make pretty decent peanut brittle from my grandmother’s recipe.  I don’t think I’ve mastered the recipe quite as well as my mom has, but I have a long list of things I wish I could do as well as my mom.  Good peanut brittle should not require a jackhammer to break and it should not be sticky, but should have a delicate crunch.  I don’t buy peanut brittle very often, because it is frequently too hard or too sticky.  Nevertheless, I went out on a limb and bought a small package of Dillon’s All-Natural Peanut Brittle at Central Market.  The cheerful packaging caught my eye, as did its claim of “thin and all natural”.  When I removed the candy from the package, it was very thin and delicate, with a beautiful light golden color.  So far, so good.  The tasting went even better.  The general consensus of all who tasted it was “wow”!  Without a doubt, Dillon’s peanut brittle is the best I have ever eaten.  (Sorry, Mom!)  Not only did it have a fantastic crunchy texture, the buttery flavor and plentiful peanuts made it positively perfect.

Dillon Candy Company’s history began in 1918 with George Dillon making candy in the back room of a grocery store in Brunswick, Georgia.  After retiring, George established his own business in a converted horse barn behind the family home.  Demand for his candy soon brought other family members into the business to help with production and delivery to area merchants.  George’s widow and daughter incorporated the business after his death in 1983 and began a controlled expansion program.  Today, the candy is manufacturing in a 20,000 square foot facility, but the delicious peanut brittle is still hand-stirred in copper kettles in small batches, then hand-stretched.


Dillon Candy Company also offers pecan brittle, candy coated nuts, pralines, divinity, nut rolls and marshmallow pecan puffs on their website.  A box of five 8-ounce trays of peanut brittle is just under $21, a great option for stocking stuffers!

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John Kelly Chocolates

For me, every visit to a gourmet market involves an extended stop on the chocolate aisle.  Maybe I feel a tremendous responsibility to keep you informed of all the great chocolates available on the market today.  Maybe I’m just a chocoholic.  Yeah, it might be the latter.  John Kelly Chocolates caught my eye on a recent shopping trip.  The gold foil wrapping on the truffle fudge bars was just a hint of the decadent taste we were about to enjoy.  We chose their peanut butter and chipotle ancho chile flavors to try.

The silky chocolate coating on the handmade bars was beautiful.  We noticed the two bars had different designs, which is part of the John Kelly signature.  Each flavor has a distinct symbol swirled onto the top of the candy.  We sliced each bar to reveal a truffle fudge center coated generously with semi-sweet chocolate.  Both flavors were amazing.  Allen leaned toward the peanut butter (of course).  A thick layer of peanut butter fudge rested on dark chocolate fudge for a very classy upgrade of the ever-popular peanut butter and chocolate combination.  Because I love sweet and savory duos, the chipotle ancho chile was my first choice.  The dense fudge was a good match for the complex pepper flavors.  The wrapper indicated the peppers are “mild”, but some people might find them just a little too spicy.  Allen was one of those, so he happily agreed to finish off the peanut butter truffle fudge bar.  The 2-ounce bars we purchased are promoted as individual servings, but honestly, these chocolates are so rich they could easily be treats for two.

Of course, I was wondering how John Kelly got his start in the chocolate business.  I was surprised to learn there is no John Kelly; instead John Kelson and Kelly Green combined forces to create a luxury chocolate line, and combined their first names to identify their company.  According to a Foodcrafters video interview, they began with a friend’s usually smooth fudge recipe, elevating it almost to ganache status.  They have developed a very nice variety of additional flavors including cappuccino with walnuts, chocolate with walnuts, chocolate, dark chocolate with walnuts, dark chocolate, raspberry, white chocolate vanilla with walnuts, chocolate and caramel with Hawaiian alaea sea salt, dark chocolate with French grey sea salt, peanut butter with Himalayan pink salt, and walnut caramel clusters with Mediterranean sea salt.  Could you look through that list and honestly say you couldn’t find at least one you would love?  I don’t see one I wouldn’t love!

In addition to the 2-ounce bars, John Kelly Chocolates offers 8-ounce bars and 1-ounce “bites”.  Their products come in gorgeous packaging, which would impress your most discriminating business client or friend.  The candy is widely available in upscale retailers and gourmet markets, and you can also order directly from John Kelly Chocolates.

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Hammond’s Peppermint Candy Canes

Aren’t candy canes the quintessential Christmas candy?  I stopped short in the grocery store last week at a beautiful display of candy canes in multiple flavors — root beer, cinnamon, cherry, strawberry, and of course, peppermint.  On closer inspection, I was amazed to read that the candy canes were handmade.  I grabbed a peppermint candy cane and hurried home to do some research and tasting.

Hammond’s Candies opened in 1920 in Denver.  When Carl Hammond announced on his first day of high school that he didn’t need any more education, his mother allowed him to quit school on the condition that he get a job.  He found a job as an apprentice candy-maker, which set the course for his career.  Like the owner of many new business ventures, Carl did it all.  He developed the recipes, made the candy, and sold it.  As demand for his candies grew, so did the company.  Hammond’s gained national status in 1995 when Williams Sonoma offered the handmade candies in their stores.  Three generations of the Hammond family led the company until 1999.  The current owners have expanded the company while continuing the handmade traditions, and maintaining the high standards of quality that were important to Carl.  Company tours (fun!) became part of Hammond’s operation, with an annual Candy Cane Festival in December being the high point of the year.

I’ve been doing some extensive taste-testing as I have been working on this post, and there’s just something about a candy cane that brings a smile to my face.  It isn’t just that I love the taste of peppermint, although Karen and I had both a major obsession with peppermint candy when we were in high school.  Candy canes bring out the kid in all of us, no matter our age.  Hammond’s peppermint candy canes are simple perfection.

You can find Hammond’s candy canes in many fine retailers, or order directly from their site.  They have many other varieties of candy to choose from, but this time of year, it’s all about the candy cane!

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Sconza Chocolate Caramelized Cashews

As we go into the holiday season, we may go a little heavy on reviewing sweet treats.  Finding stocking stuffers and thoughtful gifts for neighbors, teachers, friends and co-workers can be a real challenge if you want something a little different.  Our challenge is to provide you with some new options, from truly artisan, handmade treats to more traditionally manufactured goodies produced by family businesses.  One such family business is Sconza, a candy company established in 1939 in the San Francisco Bay area by Italian immigrants, Vincenzo and Maria Sconza.  The couple made and sold peanut brittle from their kitchen, and today a third generation of Sconzas is keeping the family promise to craft only the highest quality candies.  The Sconzas sell candy under their own label, but also contract with other companies, so we may have already eaten Sconza candies without being aware of it.  The company’s website features several videos about the candy-making process that are very interesting.  Watch them with your children!  It was also impressive to see the hands-on participation of Sconza family members in the day-to-day business.  Vincenzo and Maria Sconza would no doubt be proud of the way their tradition of quality has been upheld through the years.

We chose Sconza Chocolate Caramelized Cashews to try for two reasons.  First, Allen and I both really love cashews.  Second, I didn’t realize Sconza also offered Lemoncello Almonds:  roasted almonds covered in white chocolate and lemon cream!  I’ll be trying those soon..very soon.  The chocolate caramelized cashews were terrific, though.  The nuts are perfectly roasted and crisp.  They have a crunchy caramel coating, which seems similar a thin toffee shell.  The cashews are finished with a generous drenching in smooth milk chocolate.  Somewhere in the process, they receive a sprinkle of sea salt.  I don’t see how it could be possible to just eat one!

Sconza has a fantastic assortment of candies.  From premium chocolate covered fruits and nuts to their trademarked “Jordanettes” (Jordan almonds), there is something to appeal to every sweet tooth.  Their holiday candies include eggnog almonds, candy cane almonds, and spiced chocolate cranberries.  Yum!  The 5-ounce bags they offer are the perfect size for stocking stuffers.

Sconza does not sell products directly on their website; instead they direct customers to Groovy Candies online.  You can also purchase from Amazon if you can’t find them locally.

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Koppers Milk & Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels

Do you start thinking about the holidays as soon as the weather gets cool?  As magazines and store displays tempt us with holiday decor and goodies,we start thinking about our own plans.  Candy is always part of the plan — a big part.  Karen makes her pecan pralines, and I make caramel pecan turtles, but sometimes gift lists run long and time runs short.  This year, I’m looking for quality candies to help round out gift bags and for holiday gatherings.

I recently found a bag of Koppers milk and dark chocolate sea salt caramels in a specialty shop, and of course, it called my name.  These candies are a real treat.  The caramel strikes the perfect balance of creamy chewiness, the sea salt counters the sweetness of the caramel. and yummy, creamy chocolate covers it all.  Kudos to Koppers for pleasing both milk chocolate and dark chocolate fans in a single package!   The chocolate sea salt caramels would be great for a dessert buffet, in a gourmet gift basket, or as a simple stocking stuffer.

Koppers Chocolate was founded in 1937 in Greenwich Village, New York.  Seventy-five years and three generations later, the company is still family owned and operated.  They pride themselves on combining the best of old world quality and modern techniques, and are recognized as innovators in the industry.  I was very surprised to learn they were the first to manufacture small disks of chocolate covered in colorful candy shells – the predecessors to M&Ms!  They started drenching espresso beans in chocolate more than 40 years ago.  Their current incredible array of chocolates includes such unusual selections as chocolate covered pink peppercorns and eggnog cordials.  Be sure to check out CNN Money’s report on this historic American candy company on Koppers website.

Koppers offers some of their most popular candies on their website, and there is an even wider selection available on Amazon, although many selections are available only in 5 or 10-pound bags.  That might not be such a bad thing!  Koppers also customizes candies for weddings and other events.

Footnote:  As I did a final review of this post, we were watching news reports of Hurricane Sandy moving into the New York area.  I started to reschedule the post since Koppers is located in New York City, but decided to publish it as planned.  Koppers and many other artisan, specialty and gourmet food producers in the path of the storm could be facing some big challenges just as the busy holiday season begins.  Power outages can cause loss of perishable inventories, flooding can damage or destroy facilities and equipment, and employees who face their own personal and family challenges may not be able to focus on their jobs.    Food businesses that can resume operations quickly after the storm may face reduced demand from customers in their immediate areas.  Please support food artisans in the northeastern seaboard area this holiday season.

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Kirkland Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Okay, this food we love isn’t artisan and it isn’t made by a family business, so these peanut butter cups fall into our simply sensational category!  Peanut butter and chocolate is a classic combination that appeals to almost everyone.  Like us, you have probably eaten your share of the national brand peanut butter cup and frankly, enjoyed them.  But while the national brand’s peanut butter is a little dry, maybe even chalky, the peanut butter in Kirkland’s brand is so, so creamy.  There really is no comparison when it comes to the chocolate, either.  Everyone we have shared these treats with has become an instant fan.  The peanut butter cups come in a 60 oz. bag, convenient for sharing (or not).

So what could be better than Kirkland’s Peanut Butter Cups?  Kirkland’s Peanut Butter Cups in peanut butter cup ice cream!  This recipe doesn’t call for any eggs, so it is quick and easy to prepare.

PEANUT BUTTER CUP ICE CREAM                                                                       

Source:  Cuisinart            Servings:  About 14 half-cups

  • 1 1/8 cups creamy peanut butter (good quality, not all natural)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped chocolate peanut butter cups
    (about 14 Kirkland Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter cups)

In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixer or whisk to combine the peanut butter and sugar until smooth.  Add the milk and mix on low speed until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 to 2 minutes.  Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla.  Turn the ice cream maker on, pour the mixture into the bowl, and let mix until thickened, about 25 to 35 minutes.  About 5 minutes before mixing is complete, add the chopped candy through the top and let mix in completely.  The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture.  If a firmer consistency is desired, place in an airtight container and place in the freezer for about 2 hours.  Remove from the freezer about 15 minutes before serving.

Tool tip: The Cuisinart 2-Quart Ice Cream Maker might be my favorite specialty kitchen appliance.  It is easy to operate and a cinch to clean.  When the ice cream is completely processed, it has the consistency of soft serve ice cream or yogurt.  We prefer firm ice cream, so I always allow for additional time in the freezer before serving.  Be sure to plan ahead when you want to make ice cream, as the freezer bowl needs to stay in the freezer for at least 24 hours before you use the ice cream maker.  I have plenty of freezer space, so I store the freezer bowl in the freezer all the time.  If you are providing ice cream for a large group, the 2-quart capacity might not be adequate, but I enjoy making small batches so we can have a variety of flavors more often.

Where to buy Kirkland Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups


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