Friday, December 14, 2007

What is it about a British Candy Bar?

Every so often I meet someone on my Chocolate Tours who has no interest in the "fancy stuff." Unimpressed by a Recchiuti burnt caramel truffle, bored by a Scharffen Berger bittersweet nibby bar, appalled by a Richart carrot coulis - he wants something sweet. And most Americans have grown up equating chocolate with sugar. After all, if Hershey's contains less than 10% cacao, it's no mystery what's in the rest of it.

But we aren't the only country addicted to sweet candy bars. A visit to the newly opened Fiona's Sweetshoppe in Union Square reminded me that the British candy bar is in no danger of being steamrolled by the artisan chocolate movement. Curly Wurlys, Milky Bars, Crunchies, Mars Bars, the Cadbury Flake - Fiona carries them all and they are selling. This miniature shop is really dedicated to candy first and foremost. Fiona, a British MD on leave, is surrounded by glass jars of candy with the most beguiling names: "liquorice broomsticks," "coconut mushrooms," "sherbet strawberries," and "toffeed brazils." It is an expat's paradise; in my short visit I witnessed several women pop in for particular tastes they enjoyed from their childhood, but can't find anywhere else in San Francisco.

This summer Kim Severson at the NY Times reported on the obsessive pride many Brits have for their kind of candy bars. They turn up their noses at Hershey, pointing out a waxy taste that will never match rich, creamy British bars. Both have plenty of vegetable fat, sugar and artificial flavors, but the owner of Tea and Sympathy claims that the British use fewer stabilizers and that's why their bars taste better.

Before I left the store, Fiona offered me a "Fry's Turkish Delight" bar - something I remembered from the British novels I used to curl up with as a child...Ah yes, the Chronicles of Narnia! Edmond is seduced by the White Witch when she offers him as much Turkish Delight as he can eat. (Liesl Schillinger wrote a funny piece for Slate on this titled "The Lion, the Witch and the Really Foul Candy") Now that's a bargain that wouldn't go far with any American child, for whom flowers and chocolate just don't mix. The Turkish Delight bar is simply rose flavored jelly surrounded by milk chocolate. Just one sniff convinced me to repurpose it as a 6th night of Chanukah gift for my husband, who said it tasted like soap. Old chocolate habits die hard.

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