Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Candy

For Valentine's Day, Le Bon Garcon limited-edition caramels


It's that time of year: time to start thinking about giving sweets to the sweet. Le Bon Garcon, the L.A. caramel maker founded by pastry chef Justin Chao, has Valentine's Day gift boxes featuring a new caramel flavor called Caramour that gets its subtle pink tinge from blood orange puree. 

Chao, who graduated from Ecole Gastronomique Belluet Conseil and worked at Le Meurice in Paris, started Le Bon Garcon in 2010 -- making the caramels with Plugra butter and wrapping them by hand. The blood orange Caramour caramels are available for a limited time. Other flavors include sea salt, mango-passion fruit and macadamia nut. Place Valentine's Day orders online by Feb. 7.  



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Photo credit: Le Bon Garcon

The Sweet Tooth: Fall treats, L.A.-made

Compartes Chocolatier's spicy Mexican hot chocolate skull popsForget the bagged Halloween candy. Get your sugar fix with these seasonal sweets, all handcrafted in Los Angeles:

Compartes Chocolatier's spicy Mexican hot chocolate skull pops are made from single-origin dark chocolate and infused with spices like cayenne and cinnamon. The pops, hand-painted with gold glitter, cost $5 and can be purchased at the chocolatier's Brentwood location. 912 S. Barrington Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 826-3380, compartes.com.

Pasadena artisan creamery Carmela is making batches of pumpkin spice ice cream, currently on the farmers market-inspired menu. Co-founder Jessica Mortarotti suggests serving the ice cream as a float with a good spicy ginger beer (see below). 2495 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 797-1405, carmelaicecream.com

Pasadena artisan creamery Carmela is making batches of pumpkin spice ice creamI Heart Pies is a Los Angeles-based pie company specializing in sweet and savory pies made with simple, fresh ingredients. In addition to the traditional pumpkin and pecan pies, its fall offerings include playful flavors such as purple forest pie, made with Dutch spice cookies and black currants, and cracker jack pie with a rich, salted caramel mousse, a layer of peanuts and chocolate mousse in a cookie crust. Pie prices are $16 to $25 and can be purchased at the North Hollywood farmers market on Saturdays or online at iheartpies.com.


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Photo credits: Compartes (top) and Jessica Mortarotti (bottom)

Tickling chocolate: Chuao's Firecracker

Firecracker (1 of 1) Just discovered: thrilling chocolate bars from  San Diego County's Chuao Chocolatier. How do you pronounce it, though? Chew-wow.

If the dark stuff laced with hazelnuts and liqueurs doesn’t tempt you anymore, try one of the gutsy flavors from two Venezulan-born brothers, Michael and Richard Antonorsi. Named for the famous cacao-producing region of Venezuela, the bars are made with ethically sourced chocolate. The founders also contribute funds to La Fundación Proyecto Paria, which provides technical assistance to cacao growers in Venezuela’s Paria Peninsula. 

My favorite is the Firecracker, caramel chocolate truffle fired up with chipotle chile. But there’s also some devious popping candy in there to tickle the tastebuds. The Panko bar is fun, too: dark chocolate with toasted panko breadcrumbs and sea salt. For best effect, chill the chocolate bars in the freezer before eating, especially in this weather. About $4.99 for a 2.8-ounce bar.

Available at Chuao Chocolatier Cafes in San Diego, Del Mar and Encinitas and at select Whole Foods Markets, Bristol Farms and Gelson’s, as well as the occasional wine shop.

 For more info visit www.chuaochocolatier.com. You can also order online or by calling (888) 635-1444.


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Photo credit: S. Irene Virbila/Los Angeles Times

The Sweet Tooth: Paso Almonds brittle

Brittle on Table What is it? Paso Almonds brittle. Perfectly crunchy, addictive almond brittle that's chock full of roasted almonds -- there are more almonds than brittle. It tastes super-fresh, isn't too sweet and doesn't stick to your teeth. 

Who makes it? Almond grower and candy maker Rusty Hall started selling his brittle at San Luis Obispo's Thursday night farmers market in 1992. It's been a hit ever since (and Hall now also sells Sweet Hots, which are bits of brittle tossed with chipotle and salt; brittle corn, made with popcorn and lots of butter; and gluten-free biscotti and blondies -- also with lots of almonds). The brittle is made in small batches at his commercial kitchen in San Luis Obispo. The almonds are roasted as the caramel for the brittle cooks and just as they come out of the oven, in a feat of proper timing, are added to the brittle. Because there are more almonds by weight than brittle, "it keeps it from getting too hard and gives it that really nutty taste to it," Hall says.  

Where to get it? Beverly Glen Pharmacy, 2946 N. Beverly Glen Circle, Los Angeles, (310) 475-0568; Joan's on Third, 8350 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (323) 655-2285, www.joansonthird.com; Lancer Automotive (sold as Motorman Munchies), 8151 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (323) 653-1100, www.lancerautomotive.com; Sweetsalt Food Shop, 10218 1/2 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake, (818) 509-7790, www.sweetsaltfoodshop.com. And by mail order; for more info, go to www.pasoalmonds.com.  


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Photo credit: Paso Almonds

Counting down to Easter with our favorite Easter candy: The classic hollow bunny

Bunny300 Happy Easter everyone!

We've counted down to Easter by celebrating some of our favorite Easter candies. What are your favorite Easter candies? On this, we can all agree: It just wouldn't be Easter without finding the classic hollow chocolate bunny in your Easter basket this morning. (Dontcha just want to bite his ear off?) And if you have one, there's a good chance it comes from R.M. Palmer Co.:

Price: $.99 to $11.99, depending on size

Where you can buy it: CVS, Amazon, 99 Cent Store, Ralphs, Stater Bros. and many other stores

Claim to fame: The hollow chocolate color Easter bunny with colorful packaging. The company is famous for giving its bunnies “Palmer Personalities” such as "Baby Binks," "Timid Timmy," "Flopsy" and "Wooly Willy.” One personality, “Da Bunny” comes with a yellow bling chain with a large “D.”

How it has changed over the years: There's a new basket bunny, a hollow mold made with a "Double Crisp confection," foiled in one of 3 color foils and packed into a themed window box. And there are now Easter "buddies," such as a bunny paired with a duck and a chick, also packed in themed window box.


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Caption: The Palmer “Sunny” hollow milk chocolate Easter bunny. (Kolin Toney / Flickr)

Counting down to Easter with some of our favorite Easter candy: Pez

Pez We're counting down to Easter by celebrating some of our favorite Easter candies. So far, we've covered the Whitman's Sampler, Cadbury Creme Eggs, Godiva and See's chocolates, and Peeps. Here, we consider the Easter-themed Pez dispenser.

Price: $1.79 for most dispensers, which come with two rolls of candy. Six-packs of candy sell for $1.59.

Where you can buy it: Grocery stores, dollar stores, drugstores, and some toy stores

Claim to fame: Pez bills itself as “the pioneer of interactive candy” and “an alternative to smoking.” The dispensers are collectible items, and new ones are introduced regularly to keep up with popular-culture names and trends. In October 2010, a rare dispenser depicting a white elephant sold for more than $6,000 on EBay.

Has it changed over the years? Pez was invented as a breath mint in 1927 in Austria. Fruity flavors were introduced in the 1950s to target children in the U.S. market. Dispensers took many forms -- cigarette lighters, guns, plush animals. Chocolate-flavored Pez rolls came out in 2008. Other flavors include Cola and Sour.

Bottom line: PEZ Candy Inc. is a privately owned business and does not release sales figures to the public. But various reports suggest that demand has increased in recent years. The company has become more aggressive in offering seasonal items, including a variety of Easter bunny dispensers. In 2009, Pez’s Easter sales posted a 7% jump over the previous year.


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Photo: Clare Abreu

Counting down to Easter with some of our favorite Easter candy: Peeps

You know it's Easter when the Peeps arrive and take over the supermarket shelves.

We're counting down to Easter by celebrating some of our favorite Easter candies. What are your favorites? What did we miss? So far, we've covered the Whitman's Sampler, Cadbury Creme Eggs, See's chocolates and Godiva chocolates. You can read them all here. But nothing says Easter quite like a marshmallow chick.

Price: $1.99 for 10 peeps

Where you can buy it: Grocery stores, drugstores

Claim to fame: Peeps, most popular around Easter, have a reputation for being indestructible.

Pedigree: Peeps were born in 1953, tediously made by hand in a process that took 27 hours to create a single marshmallow. In 1954, the company mechanized the process and it now takes six minutes to make one Peep. Starting with orange pumpkin-shaped Peeps for Halloween in 1958, the company soon began making shapes other than the familiar chick, so we can get our fix year-round: ghosts and cats for Halloween, hearts and teddy bears for Valentine’s Day and snowmen and trees for Christmas. Sugar-free marshmallows debuted in 2007 and the newest Peeps are dipped or covered in chocolate.

Fan favorite: According to the latest survey, the chick still holds the No. 1 bestseller spot, though it has at times been closely challenged by the bunny. Yellow is the bestselling color.

Sales figures or production figures over the last five years: The privately owned company produces over 2 billion Peeps a year -– enough to circle the Earth twice. Eight hundred million of those are for Easter alone.


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Photo: Kelsey Ramos

Counting down to Easter with some of our favorite Easter candy: See's chocolates

Easter-eggs We're counting down to Easter with some of our favorite Easter candy. We've already used this as an excuse to gobble up and "research" Cadbury Creme Eggs, Whitman's Sampler and Godiva chocolates. (Click here to read where we are in the countdown.)

Today, we take a look at a homegrown favorite: See's chocolates, including the signature rocky road chocolate Easter eggs, which are hand-decorated at the See's operation on La Cienega Boulevard.

Price: Varies, but includes $6 for a bag of milk chocolate foil eggs,  $39.80 for an extra fancy assortment, $11.05 for a rocky road Easter Egg, shown here, and $5.60 for my favorite (in case you were wondering): Scotchmallow eggs.

Where can you buy them: Available online and in shopping centers such as South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa or Westfield Shopping Center in Culver City.

Claim to fame: See's Candies is celebrating its 95th anniversary, and was the training ground for Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance for the famous "I Love Lucy" conveyor-belt scene. Come Easter, the La Cienega operation looks like a sweet, sugary garden as employees hand-decorate each Easter egg candy. It is a busy time because each egg must be made at the very last minute. "We don't use preservatives," explained spokesman Richard Van Doren. "These are not meant to be sitting around on a shelf." In all, See's will probably produce about 5 million chocolate eggs this season.

How have things changed: "Actually, our existing line hasn't changed all that much. It's been around a long time, so certain items become a tradition for families."

Is it us, or has Easter candy exploded this year? Van Doren says it's not our imagination. Easter is late this year -- coming at the end of April. And the last big "candy" holiday was Feb. 14. Purveyors are taking advantage of that big gap to roll out items that well enjoy a longer display period. And consumers are gobbling it up, he says. "Due to the separation of Valentine's Day and Easter, that's a big gap to go without some sort of fun holiday. There's an impulse to pick up one of the decorated eggs, or something else."

How does Easter rank in terms of sales? "Easter is our second-largest holiday, after Christmas. Valentine's Day is No. 3."

Who buys more chocolate? Men or women? "70% of our customers are female, until you get to Valentine's day. Men procrastinate and then line up on the 14th, or else they'll go home and get in trouble."


This is what a Scandinavian Easter looks like

Impress your guests. Stuff a leg of lamb

Meet the princess of Peeps

-- Rene Lynch
twitter.com / renelynch

Photo credit: See's Candies

A delightful look at the making of Turkish delight


Here's a sneak peek at what's coming in Thursday's Food section:

Are you a fan of C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" series? If so, then you recall reading about Turkish delight, the confection that the White Witch uses to enchant a naughty little boy. And you might have wondered -- as I did -- what is Turkish delight? This week's Artisan brings you behind the scenes at a local pastry shop that specializes in Turkish delight and has done so for three generations. Click here to read more and take a look at this photo gallery of the making of Turkish delight.


Homegrown: More artisan fare in and around Los Angeles 

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: A tray of freshly made pistachio Turkish delight treats at Nory Candy & Pastry in Winnetka. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times

The Best: Torrone from Caffe Sicilia in Noto

IMG_1681 If I could be magically transported somewhere right this minute, like Dorothy in her sparkly red shoes, I'd like to be left off, please, at Caffe Sicilia in Noto, Sicily. I'm still dreaming of breakfast there--a bowl of icy almond granita with a soft tender brioche. I can't replicate that granita, but I just received a box of torrone from the shop as a present.  

I have to get more. This torrone is not the break-your-teeth variety, but soft and yielding, perfumed with honey from the Iblei mountains, and loaded with almonds from Noto. I nearly groaned when I took the last bite.

It turns out, though, I don't have to go all the way to Noto to resupply my stash. The online Italian grocery Gustiamo sells Torrone di Mandorle di Noto from Caffe Sicilia, a phenomenal pastry shop founded in 1892.  And if you get on the horn (or start clicking that mouse) right now, you might be able to get some shipped in time for Christmas. If not, consider a gift certificate.

Unfortunately, no picture of the actual torrone: I ate it all before I finished writing it up. 

Gustiamo, www.gustiamo.com; 1-877-907-2525. Torrone di Mandorle di Noto, $17.50; Torrone di Pistachi di Bronte, $27.

--S. Irene Virbila

Photo by S. Irene Virbila


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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.