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Archive for Special Sweets

TODAY IN FOOD: It’s National Chocolate Caramel Day

Bequet Caramels
Celebrate with Béquet‘s Salt Chocolate Caramels, shown here with Espresso and Mocha.
  Today is National Chocolate Caramel Day. No arm twisting needed! While the traditional caramel flavoring is vanilla, the buttery bites have been variously flavored with chocolate, coffee, maple, lemon, habañero—whatever appeals to the imagination of the candy maker and palate of the buyer (and, let us tell you—the habañero caramels from Cowgirl Chocolates are the bomb—and a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week). We went crazy for caramels last summer and nibbled on every one we could find, culminating in a review of our favorite caramels. People keep sending us more to taste, but we haven’t yet found any that we want to add to the list. Quality caramels are made with sugar and brown sugar, butter, heavy cream and the best flavorings (sea salt versus ordinary salt, the best maple or chocolate flavor, etc.). Like anything else, you can’t scrimp on the quality of your ingredients. It needs to be real vanilla, the freshest butter, etc., etc., etc.
Caramel is sugar that is melted into a syrup and cooked until the sugar crystals turn into a dark amber liquid. In this form, it can be used to coat nuts (that’s what pralines are) and popcorn (called “toffee popcorn”). Whisk in some butter, remove it from the heat and add cream, and you have a delicious caramel sauce. Cook those ingredients to what is known as the “firm ball” stage (245°F), and you get buttery, chewy caramel candy. Keep cooking the caramel to the “hard-crack” stage (290°F) and you’ll get crunchy toffee. Read about more of our favorite caramels in the Old-Fashioned Candy Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Lisa’s Cookie Shop

NIBBLE readers have the option to read our Top Pick Of The Week product review on TheNibble.com, or get it by email. It is emailed on Tuesday mornings at 8 a.m. By 8:37 a.m. on Tuesday, we got an email from this week’s Top Pick, Lisa’s Cookie Shop, saying that their “website was being hit like crazy” and they were “receiving a ton of online orders.” What does this mean?

1. People really like chocolate chip cookies, and Lisa’s other offering, bar cookies.
2. Photographer Claire Freierman did a very convincing job, making those cookies and bars look great on the page.
3. People are up really early reading their email, because the Top Pick has a national readership, and only about 25% live on the East Coast.

  Chocolate Chip Cookies
Lisa’s crunchy chocolate chip cookies.
The crisp, crunchy, wonderful chocolate chip cookie group includes Chocolate Chip Coconut Chocolate Chip cookies and Kitchen Sink (with cranberries and macadamia nuts). You could make meal of these cookies and never feel ill, they seem so wholesome and nutritious. We know, as we’ve done it five or six times while “researching” the review. Just the fragrance of butter, chocolate and other fine ingredients leaping out of the bag might be satisfying enough for those who feel the need for restraint. The soft, chewy Pecan Bars and Raspberry Bars are equally magnificent. The Pecan Bar is like a pecan-coconut pie-in-a-bar. And THE NIBBLE staff flipped over the moist, tender Frazzleberry Cookies—shortbread thumbprint cookies, rolled in coconut with a big well of lush raspberry jam. Everything is baked to order, so read the full review and order yours. Find more of our Top Picks Of The Week in the Top Picks Archives on THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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NEW PRODUCTS: Starbucks Chocolate

Chocolate lovers: New temptation has been put in your path. Starbucks has launched a new collection of artisan-style chocolates, developed with the Artisan Confections Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Hershey Company (the subsidiary includes Dagoba Chocolate, Joseph Schmidt Confections and Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker). Master chocolatiers have created a portfolio of chocolates with flavors inspired by Starbucks coffees and Tazo teas. And, they are darned good. Made with high-quality cacao and other premium natural ingredients, the collection is artistic, flavorful…and extremely affordable. It includes Tazo Chai, Passion[fruit] and Citron tea-infused chocolate tasting squares; Caffè Mocha, Chai, Espresso, Caramel Macchiato and Madagascar Vanilla Bean Truffles; and Milk Chocolate Covered Caffè Verona Coffee Beans. For those who like their chocolate plain, there are dark, mocha and milk chocolate bars and tasting squares. The tea-infused tasting squares are dynamite—perfect with a cup of coffee or tea, or just a burst of fine chocolate. The Citron square is an epiphany, Passion is perfect, and the Chai is enchanting. The milk chocolate-covered coffee beans are among the best we’ve ever had, plump and robust (and let’s face it, if these two companies together can’t master a chocolate-covered coffee bean, who can?). And yes, the truffles are very good too.   Starbucks Chocolate
Look closely at the shape of these bonbons, filled with chai-flavored creme: They’re tea cups!

But the best thing is the low price: The various bags and boxes retail for $2.99 to $5.99 (individual packages) at grocery, mass retailers, club and drug stores nationwide. Alas, the chocolates are not available in Starbucks stores at this time…but I suppose we’re lucky. It would be just too easy to get a bag of chocolate with that cappuccino. Every day.

Read our full review of Starbucks Chocolates.
– Read about more of our favorite chocolates in the Chocolate Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.
– Read our review of Dagoba Chocolate.

– Read our review of Scharffen Berger Chocolate.

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FOOD HOLIDAY: St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day will be celebrated on Monday, March 17, 2008, honoring the feast day and date of death of the priest and patron saint of Ireland, who died on March 17th around 460 C.E.

The first St. Patrick’s Day parade actually took place not in Ireland, but in New York City on March 17, 1762. Kilted bagpipers and drum corps drawing enormous crowds (a few years ago, we joined them to see both a kilted Sean Connery and a suited Mayor Bloomberg march).

These days the holiday is celebrated not just by people of Irish descent, but people of all backgrounds, in the United States, Canada, Australia, and even in countries where there is no Irish population, such as Japan, Russia and Singapore.

In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day was traditionally a religious holiday (pubs closed). But in 1995, the government decided to use St. Patrick’s Day as an opportunity to drive tourism. It is now a multi-day celebration featuring parades, concerts, fireworks and other attractions.

 

Shamrock Cookies

Bake shamrock cookies for a St. Patrick’s Day treat. Photo courtesy Eleni’s.

 

Corned Beef And Cabbage and Irish Soda Bread are some of the favored treats of the day, along with Irish beer, Irish Cheddar, Irish Coffee and anything green—from bagels and beer to broccoli soup and green-tinted chocolate chip cookies (add 1-1/2 teaspoon green food color to your favorite recipe).

Our own NIBBLE celebration focuses on food and drink, starting with a selection of sweets you can order for gifts, a St. Patrick’s Day party, or just to treat yourself and your family. Take a nibble of our recommendations.

  

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ENTERTAINING: Academy Award Nominee Cookies

Academy Award CookiesWho wouldn’t want to take a bite out of Johnny Depp?   Invite the Best Actor and Best Actress nominees to your Oscar party—at least, in cookie effigy. Every year, we spring for these cookies from Eleni’s, a New York City bakery that specializes in hand-decorated cookies in every conceivable design. They outdo themselves with their Academy Award cookies, creating a set of Best Actor and Best Actress cookies with great likenesses of the performers. The only downside: 16 of these cookies are about $60, plus shipping. But, sometimes fun doesn’t come cheap. Read our review of Eleni’s Cookies, and find our other favorite cookies and brownies in THE NIBBLE online magazine.
 

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