Winter Break Trip Roundup

Happy New Year’s Eve! I get to fly home to Austin today. Hooray! I shall be traveling with a wheeled carry-on suitcase literally half-full of candy. Hooray! And that’s not even counting my bag of Jelly Belly Flops. Hooray!

Many thanks go out to my parents, who decided we were past due for a family vacation and then proceeded to let me drag them from candy store to candy store. And for buying me the Vosges stuff, the See’s box, and the Jelly Belly Flops. And for offering to buy me an assortment of Scharffen Berger mini-squares, which I passed on mostly out of guilt, as they’re quite pricey, and my parents would never buy them for themselves.

Here’s a rather lengthy round-up of all the places I visited and what I bought, to be expanded upon in the coming days, weeks, months, etc.

Las Vegas

Vosges Haut Chocolat in the Caesar’s Palace Forum, where I picked up an assortment of their mini-bars and two truffles, the Lion and the Tlan Nacu. A bright store with pretty displays, friendly staff, and a hot chocolate bar. $24 for the mini-bar assortment and $5.95 for the truffles (yikes!).

Two Lily O’Brien’s truffles ($1.50) and a piece of Italian nougat ($0.75) at some Italian cafe in the Venetian. Lily O’Brien’s doesn’t sound very Italian to me…

Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge in the Fashion Show Mall, where I had a yummy pumpkin spice latte. Cozy sofas for lounging, and a free sample to all who entered. I tried a cheesecake chocolate and walked out with a gingerbread, a PB&J, a honey truffle, and a cinnamon truffle. $6 for the latte + 2 chocolates, $3 for the other two truffles.

Ghirardelli near Harrah’s, where I shelled out $8 (that’s the half-off price) for 36 of their holiday assortment. I enjoyed the free sample of the peppermint bark they handed out but was displeased to find that my assortment contained 9 peppermint bark, 9 cinnamon spiced almond, and 18 eggnog, as the assortment was supposed to also include peppermint bark made with 60% cacao and because eggnog was my least favorite of the bunch. I was even more displeased when the Ghirardelli shops in San Francisco had the same assortment with all 4 varieties at about $5.50 for 25.

Godiva in the Fashion Show Mall, where I entertained the notion of buying a box of their holiday truffles at half off, then decided against it, because why go all the way to Vegas for Godiva? I did, however, try to buy a lone gingerbread truffle, was told they were out, and was snuck a free eggnog truffle by the nice guy behind the counter to make up for it, I guess. I appreciated it, even though I ended up awkwardly sneaking out of the boutique with my free booty.

Arizona

Prickly Pear candy (looks like jelled prickly pear) at some gift shop on the way to the Grand Canyon for $2.

California

Jelly Belly Factory, where I indulged in free samples while waiting in line and at the sample bar, bought some of their holiday candies (all half off, so $4 a lb.), bought a mini bag of only the weird Bertie Bott’s ($8 a lb.), and left with a 2 lb. bag of Jelly Belly Flops (misshaped Jelly Bellys; $8 for 2 lbs). Actually, we left with 3 bags since they were buy 2 get 1 free, but only one is for me to bring back to school. The tour was fun, everyone got a little free bag of beans, and they even kept the store open late since the line for tour was so long that we ran over closing time.

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See’s, where I picked out a “half-pound” box of assorted deliciousness (1 of lots of things plus 3 scotchmallows) to bring back to school and slowly savor (since Mom and Dad bought a one-pound box of their own that I would presumably get to steal from). About $9 for my box, I believe. They’re sold by weight at $14.50 a pound, which is an incredible price for such yummy goodness.

Scharffen Berger Factory, where we got a nice forty-five minute talk on the chocolate making process, supplemented by tastings of raw nibs, their 70%, 62%, and 41% bars, and their dark nibby bar. Unfortunately, the factory itself wasn’t running because of the holidays (wish they’d mentioned that on the website), but we still got to walk through and see the equipment. I bought additional tasting squares of their extra dark (82%) and their mocha bar, which came out to less than $2. Considering all the chocolate I got to taste on the tour and how pricey Scharrfen Berger is, I think I came out ahead on this stop.

Ghirardelli Square, where there are now at least 3 separate Ghirardelli stores/cafes to shop in, all within the square, a space no bigger than a football field (I’m guessing). I went in all three to see how they differed and was handed a square of their milk with caramel each time. Didn’t eat any of them.

The Candy Store, a brightly lit and cutely laid out shop run by a husband and wife or brother and sister (unsure which) who were very nice and quite helpful. They carry high end and lower end candies and are a tad more expensive than Economy Candy on their international bars. I bought a Nestle Lion ($2.50), a mango/brazil nut Zotter bar ($8), 4 lemon and 4 orange Zotz ($2), a Hammond’s marshmallow-filled caramel ($1.50), and two little individual chocolates that brought my final total to $15 something. I just noticed on their website that you get a free reusable shopping bag for spending $25. Should’ve bought more Zotz (I didn’t know they came in those citrus flavors; I love ’em!) and another Zotter (there was a cheese-filled one that I wanted to try just for the hell of it).

XOX Truffles, which turned out to be more hip coffee shop than truffle boutique. Small handmade truffles of the lumpy variety at $0.75 a pop. I bought a green matcha, an Earl Grey, a cinnamon, and a liqueur de noissette (hazelnut).

Recchiuti Confections in the Ferry Building Marketplace, a chic chocolatier with gorgeous truffles. Also expensive, especially in the boxed form. A silver box of two truffles with a bow was, I think, $6. I bought a pink peppercorn & star anise and a honeycomb malt, and the two “only” set me back $2.75, which was a nice surprise. I could have afforded to buy a couple more.

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Miette Patisserie also in the Ferry Building Marketplace. I debated their macaroons and cakes but passed, as I wasn’t that hungry. I nearly bought one each of their various handwrapped fleur de sel caramels, then realized I still have several Das Caramelini’s fleur de sel Chai Latte caramels left from the sample I was sent (review to post soon), so I just bought a $0.50 something. The salesgirl couldn’t really tell me what they were or if they came in several flavors or just one. I only bought it because I had two quarters in my purse.

Scharffen Berger, again, this time in the Ferry Building Marketplace. At this point, it was nearly 5 pm, so I knew I’d never make it to the proper Joseph Schmidt store before they closed (at 5). So, thanks to Hershey’s artisan confections umbrella, I bought several Joseph Schmidt truffles at the Scharffen Berger store. Specifically, a mini pomegranate and a mini Mexican chocolate ($1.25 each) and a full-sized vanilla cognac and lemon meyer (because they were half off, making them also $1.25 each).

I also picked up an Annabelle’s Rocky Road ($1.25), a Snicker’s Nut ‘n’ Crunch ($0.69), a green apple Abba Zabba ($0.69), Hello Kitty compressed sugar candy things in peach, cola, and green apple ($0.75 each), and dark chocolate dipped honeycomb (disappointingly, the honeycomb was the styrofoamy version rather than the true, dark sponge version) and dark chocolate dipped orange peel (about $5 worth, at $20 a pound, which was not posted anywhere, leaving me kind of cranky at the absurd price).

I didn’t get to visit Charles’ Chocolates, as the Scharffen Berger tour took up over an hour, and my parents wanted to go grab dim sum. I also missed Fog City News (closed on Sundays), Cocoabella, and Chocolate Covered. Probably a good thing, as I’m now po’ after spending so much at the places I did visit. But hey, the last time my family went on vacation together was four years ago (and all that time was spent on college visits), and everything but the truffles will keep nicely long-term. And you only live once.

And now, intrepid readers who actually made it this far, a reward for your dedication in reading a long long post with no pictures. Leave a comment with a real email address (only I’ll be able to see it, and I have no mailing list to add you to) by midnight on January 13th. At least five of you (if there even are that many of you) will receive a candy somethin’ somethin’ in the mail courtesy of me at no charge to you. It may be Jelly Bellys, it may be some Ghirardelli squares, or it could be something else out of my candy stash. But it will fit inside a standard sized envelope and it will only be mailed to intrepid readers in the U.S. because I spent all my money on candy.

EDIT: To clarify, I will draw at least 5 names from all who comment by the deadline. Good luck!