Serious Eats: Chicago
Report From the Sweets and Snacks Expo, Part IV: My Stars of the Show
I've already regaled you with stories of exciting new treats from the multinational candy companies, top products from small American companies, and some of the best items from around the world. All that's left is to present the five things that stood out the most, and to leave you with a massive slideshow.
These five are not to be confused with a Top 5 list. For one thing, if I were to do a Top 5 list from any candy show, all five items would be chocolate. For another, any attempt to do a Top 5 list would be skewed by the fact that I ate so much candy in such a short time frame that there were definitely moments of sugar fatigue that skewed my perspective.
So instead, here are five outstanding candies, either new or not widely available in the U.S., that I think best exemplify the Expo.
1. Fearless Chocolate's Goat Chevre and Fig Bar
By the time I got to the "Gourmet" section of the Expo at the end of the first day, I was both exhausted and giddy from being on my feet all day while consuming massive quantities of sugar. My plan was just to look around and come back the next day. That plan changed dramatically when I came upon Fearless Chocolate Co., a table that I would return to a couple more times over the course of the Expo.
Fearless is a two-year-old Bay Area company that makes organic, single-source chocolate that actually qualifies as raw food as the cocoa never reaches 118°F during processing. Relying on Rapadura Sugar, the least refined sugar they could get their hands on, the company has five dark chocolate bars ranging from pure dark to one with hemp, chia and flax to an exquisite hibiscus and ginger bar. Those bars were fantastic, but not the reason the company is in this post.
This year, Fearless launched a new line of chocolate bars under the MORE! name. There are three different bars available. The one featuring tamarind and ancho chile and the one with macadamia nuts and toasted coconut curried caramel are both fantastic. But the goat chevre and fig bar (pictured above), which seamlessly blends rich chocolate, sweet fig and savory pistachios, was beyond exceptional.
2. Chuao Chocalatier's Honeycomb Bar
A second California-based company that introduced some amazing chocolates at the show was Chuao Chocalatier. Most established gourmet chocolate companies were noticeably absent from the show, but Chuao, which has been around since 2002, has three stores and is widely available nationwide was there introducing three new infused dark chocolate bars to the masses. The Coffee and Anise (espresso and star anise) and the Coco (coconut, almond, cinnamon and coriander) were both delicious, but it was the Honeycomb, a simple combination of dark chocolate and crystallized honey that really stood out.
3. Brause's Fizzy Bottles
In last year's recap, I mentioned Brause, a German candy that's like a slightly fizzy version of Smarties but with much more distinct flavors. That these did not get picked up by any American distributors at last year's show is staggering to me. The unique, delicious candies would, to my tastes, jump to the forefront of the Smarties/Sweet Tart/Necco Wafer type candy category. Hopefully, the company had better luck at this year's show. Until then, have German friends send you some or scope out German specialty shops like this one.
4. RJ's Licorice
As noted in an earlier post, the Expo showed a huge surge of interest in black licorice. I tried every kind I saw at the Candy Expo and my favorite, by far, was the product from RJ's, a New Zealand licorice confectioner. This remarkably soft but not close to overly chewy candy has a deep licorice flavor that's among the best I've had.
I only wish it were possible to take a more appetizing picture of a black licorice log that could inspire licorice-haters to give the stuff one more chance. Fans of black licorice would be wise to seek out this relatively inexpensive import immediately.
5. Patrick Donovan's Clotted Cream Fudge
Also from New Zealand was clotted cream fudge from Patrick Donovan's. Not yet available in the United States (the importer/distributor will have it in late June or July), this fudge has three things going for it. First, it is clotted cream flavor, a taste that's woefully underappreciated in this country. Second, the texture is about as good as most freshly made fudge; it's not plagued by the overchewiness common in mass produced versions.
Having had some time to reflect, this one is not close to my top five candies from the show, but it definitely stood out as unique and delicious, and it's one I will seek out to buy in the future.
Ultimately, an event like the Sweets and Snacks Expo isn't about picking the winning candy. After all, the real winners are anyone who gets into the hallowed hall.
Yes, most of the people wandering around and gorging on candy are actually doing it for business purposes, but I can't imagine any of them consider it a chore. Given the looks I saw on people's faces, I think that, understandably, many of them thought they were pretty lucky to have a job requirement like attending the Expo.
Serious Eats would have to turn into Serious Candy for me to describe everything I saw and ate at the Expo, but that's not going to happen. So instead I'll leave you with a slideshow of most, but far from all of the candy I got at the show (121 photos in all). If you have questions about anything pictured that I didn't mention in any of the reports, feel free to ask in the comments.