What is taffy? Let’s make some sense of this oddly confounding chewy sweet.

I’ve been spending a whole mess of time perfecting my taffy recipe lately, and whenever some poor soul gets me going about it, the first question is almost always the same: “Wait, what’s taffy again?”

For such a prosaic candy — you can buy some version of it quite literally at every gas station and corner shop across much of the world — taffy has a bit of an identity problem.

First, it doesn’t have a clear, unambiguous category name, at least not in English. (Unlike, say, gummies. Use that word and everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about.)

Continue reading What is taffy? Let’s make some sense of this oddly confounding chewy sweet.

Autumn, dammit.

Ok, I’ll be the first to admit that my recipe development and posting and launch have been going painfully slowly. But — BUT! — don’t be fooled. Things are happening, quietly, behind the curtain. Stirrings are stirring. Autumn brings good things.

Long story short: I had to quit my day job. Now that it’s done with, you can expect more from me. I won’t break your heart again, I swear.

Coming up next: more than you could ever possibly have wanted to know about taffy.

Continue reading Autumn, dammit.

Sugarfina Candy doesn’t make candy. Maybe that’s ok? But maybe it isn’t?

Sugarfina is one of those self-described “luxury boutiques” that takes a quotidian idea — the candy shop — and tries to elevate it with a curated inventory and an eye for design.

They’re pure Beverly Hills: all light and airy and white and Wedgwood blue, with “candy concierges” who presumably compliment your exceptional taste while selecting the perfect palette of gummi bears for your engagement party.

Normally, the thought of being approached by a personal shopper makes me slither out of my skin and down the nearest storm drain.

But, the things is, Sugarfina has some genuinely fantastic candy. I’ve been stalking them online for a few years, so when a small Sugarfina shop opened inside Vancouver’s new Nordstrom’s department store, I popped in for a look. Continue reading Sugarfina Candy doesn’t make candy. Maybe that’s ok? But maybe it isn’t?

What is turrón? Seriously, Spain, I need to know.

Turrón is nougat. Right? I thought I had a pretty good idea of what turrón is before I went to southern Spain. Now I’m not so sure.

Here’s what I do know. Turrón (in Spanish), torró (in Catalan and Valencian) or torrone (in Italian) is an almond-based sweet whose roots apparently stretch back to 15th century Islamic Iberia, drawing from Arab and Berber confectionery tradition.

Today in Spain, it’s associated closely with the Valencian Community and in particular the cities of Alicante and Jijona — although it’s eaten as a Christmas treat throughout Spain and the former Spanish empire.

I thought I had a pretty good grip on the general idea behind turrón: it’s a type of nougat made with honey and almonds. Usually orange blossom honey. Usually marcona almonds. Sometimes soft and chewy. Sometimes hard and barely chewy.

Continue reading What is turrón? Seriously, Spain, I need to know.

Quin Candy in Portland, Oregon is the real deal.

In my various travels, I’m still surprised at how rarely I come across honest-to-goodness, small-scale, quality-focused candymakers.

I don’t mean chocolatiers or bakers or pâtissiers, which every bigger city is lousy with. And I’m not including marshmallows, because damn those evil things to hell.

I mean candy. Actual candy. Sugar confectionery.

In this sense, Quin Candy is the real deal. Founded by Jami Curl in Portland, Quin makes everything by hand, more or less from scratch, and actually focuses solely on candy. That gets a major fist pump from me.

Continue reading Quin Candy in Portland, Oregon is the real deal.

The year is 2016. What’s Mr Dach gonna do about it?

New Year’s resolutions are like dreams. Everyone has them, and nobody really wants to hear about other people’s.

So this isn’t about resolutions. It’s about predictions. They came to me over the holidays in a quiet moment in a tiny 1920s log cabin on Storm Mountain in Banff National Park, with nothing to distract me but a napping husband, a few bottles of beer, and my notebook. Ridiculously precious, I know, but there you have it.

Continue reading The year is 2016. What’s Mr Dach gonna do about it?

New York proves a point about craft candy.

Between work and fun, I’ve been doing a lot of travel lately.

Although I start to get mini panic attacks thinking about all of the things that I’ve left unfinished back home, one big plus of all of this travel is getting a chance to see for myself what’s going on out there in the world of craft-scale sugar confectionery.

The answer: not a staggering lot.

Take New York. I was just there for a week, and canvassed a bunch of folks about their favourite local makers. In a city that’s absolutely lousy with great restaurants and patisseries and chocolatiers, I managed to find a grand total of three real, live, artisanal candymakers — only one of them truly local.

Continue reading New York proves a point about craft candy.

Over in Iceland, wild food is alive and well — at least in the gift shops.

The hubby and I just got back from a belated honeymoon of sorts. We packed up the backcountry gear, flew to Reykjavík, rented a 4×4, and spent two weeks wandering and camping around the country. (Okay, okay, there were a few nights in nice cozy hotel beds mixed in there.)

Somewhere between double-takes at the scenery and spit-takes at the price of a pint, I managed to nibble on some of the flora and take a gander at how it’s used in local restaurants and packaged foods.

My impression: Iceland, like many places in the “developed world,” is currently in a revival phase when it comes to wild foods and traditional foodways. Although it’s spearheaded by small producers, they are without a doubt being spurred on by the massive influx of hungry, curious tourists that the country has welcomed in recent years.

This revival is also getting nudged along by a crew of fledgling craft breweries and distilleries, some of which — like Reykvajík Distillery and Borg — show a fantastic eagerness to explore wild ingredients. From nice safe stuff like bog bilberries (Vaccinium uliginosum) to more challenging additions like Arctic thyme (Thymus praecox subsp. arcticus) and malt smoked over the shit of Icelandic sheep. (FYI: Didn’t try it. But only because a single bottle was 3,000 króna, not because I wasn’t intrigued.)

Continue reading Over in Iceland, wild food is alive and well — at least in the gift shops.

Respectin’ the pectin (and playing with pâte de fruit)

Traditional pâte de fruits have a lot going for them. Namely, they’re made with a high proportion of fruit, which translates into complex and often intense flavour that retains much of the character of a particular harvest.

That said, they aren’t my go-to jelly candy. As I went on and on about in my last post, they’ve got a few big things working against them.

  • Sweating. It isn’t just about aesthetics. Sweating leads to crustiness, sugar crystallization, and can contribute to spoilage from too much water activity.
  • Flabbiness. Traditional pâte de fruit is very tender, to the point of basically blowing apart in your mouth with zero resistance. After two bites, I think it can get pretty gross.
  • Jamminess. Cooked flavours are great in the right context (yay, pie). But heat destroys fresh, bright flavours and tends to erase the distinctions between different harvests, cultivars, or wild strains.

And yet, I’m not ready to give up on pâte de fruits. It’s still great stuff, and there’s definitely a kind of romance to the idea of cooking down little else but fruit and sugar and, ta-da, out comes candy.

Continue reading Respectin’ the pectin (and playing with pâte de fruit)