Sunday, January 17, 2010

Valomilks make the world go 'round

About halfway from Austin to my parents' house lies a small landmark of a building known as the Dutchman's Hidden Valley. Reminiscent of road trips across languishing highways, the dilapidated signs that mark the 15--10--5--and 1--mile to the store serve as reminders of the anticipation that a quality old-fashioned rest stop must can conjure up in an age when electronics didn't dominate the road trip. (Personally, my favorite activity as a young road-tripper was marking a legal pad with each kind and how many 18-wheelers we saw in a day. When your Texan family drives to Canada for summer vacation, you've got to do something to keep from having a permanent blur of grassy fields in your vision.)

Entering the Dutchman's Hidden Valley is kind of like searching through your grandmother's back room: There's some antiques, some frilly rose water - but more importantly there's a hell of a lot of candy. After roaming through the antiques section (which I swear hasn't changed since before I was born) you stumble upon the workers who are making a batch of homemade candy which they sell--most often, the salt-water taffy which has caused yours truly to lose more than a few baby teeth. The stuff is sticky and addictive, with a soft touch that I haven't found in other salt water taffies. In front, the business sells their handmade candies, fudge and chocolates as well as old-fashioned candies that are brought in from other institutions.

Catching up on reading a few books before my last trip up north, I stumbled upon Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America. The author, a professor with a voracious sweet tooth, roams across America in search of the historical and sometimes extinct types of small-batch candy that used to dominate the American landscape. Today, many classic candy bars are manufactured by Hershey's, Nestle, or Mars - but the really interesting bars are the ones that have stood the test of time. One of my favorite childhood treats, and one that I can always find at the Hidden Valley, is Valomilk marshmallow chocolate cups. Steve Almond, the author of Candyfreak, dedicates a chapter to the ridiculous process of shipping easy-melting chocolate marshmallow cups in hot summer months to the southern institutions that enjoy stocking them. The Sifers Candy company makes only Valomilks and from easy-to-read ingredients, which is always a plus.

But, of course, the best part is the candy itself. What's there to say about a runny marshmallow cup? It's messy, sticky, and a very unique sugary experience.

This is what it looks like after you take a bite - the chocolate cracks open and starts oozing. It's not the same as marshmallow fluff - instead, it's much stickier and runnier, so the creme gums up the inside of your mouth just long enough until the solids from the chocolate help un-stick the mess from your tongue. And then you want more, which is how the good candy bars keep selling. Speaking of which... go try Valomilks for yourself!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Battle Orange and the Life of a Croquembouche

Last night, I attended an Iron Chef (tm) gathering where the secret ingredient was oranges. I started searching tastespotting's nifty feature for searching tags and came across zested's chocolate orange croquembouche and I knew we had a winner. I really wanted one of these for my wedding cake, but I was afraid we'd all die of food poisoning in the 100-degree heat with all the custard insides.

Was it ridiculous to construct? Yes. Messy? I'm still cleaning sugar off my back porch. Fun? Oh, heck yes.

zested's directions are great and easy to follow. They chose to adhere the croquembouche together with chocolate, while I went with caramel... and then we had a hell of a time making it come apart. A quick search reveals that traditionally couples must break their croquembouche with a champagne bottle, which definitely would have come in handy last night. Instead we used a fork, a knife and some arm power to dismantle the thing.

I would highly recommend trying to make cream puffs at least once - it's barely harder than making cookies and so much fun!

As for spun sugar, this quick tutorial helped me make quick use of the leftover caramel post-construction.

Any ideas on removing hardened sugar from a cement porch?