Category: Chocolate


Rant: “Salted Caramel”

Even the President has gone crazy for Salted Caramels

Even the President has gone crazy for Salted Caramels

OK people, we need to have a heart to heart.  There is a trend right now with “Salted Caramel”.  Look!  Salted caramel cake!  Oh boy!  Salted caramel mocha!  Wow!  Salted caramel ice cream! Sigh.

Gross.  Seriously people?  GROSS. This trend has been driving me batshit.

“Salted caramel” is NOT supposed to just be salt-y caramel.  Salted caramel is divine.  Salt-y caramel is disgusting!  What’s the difference?  Well, it seems this all started in France, where a famous candy store started sprinkling fleur de sel on their caramels.  The fad took hold and now every idiot from Starbucks to Wal Mart is adding a ton of salt to their caramel-flavored stuff and is selling to it the masses like it’s some gourmet flavor that has recently been invented.  Ug.    Call it “Salted Caramel” or “Salted Chocolate” and people are snatching it up and handing over fistfulls of cash.

OK, the soap box is out – and here you go… Salted caramel is regular caramel that has rock salt, fleur de sel, or another non-processed salt added at the end either on top as a finishing salt or it is folded in past the stage where the salt can dissolve and incorporate fully into the item.  You have to use specific types of salts that do not melt or dissolve so they remain in large crystals.  You do NOT want it to effect the overall composition of your treat and make it salty.

Why?  When your teeth bite into a crystal of salt while a sweet thing is in your mouth, it gives a jolt to your palate intensifying whatever you are eating.    It’s a trick on your taste buds and pleasure receptors.  This is an experience that does not happen with a big’ole spoonfull of table salt added to super sweet Criscocream icing, table salt added to the fake caramel syrup in your caramel mocha, or the table salt that Wal Mart is throwing in their cheap-ass ice cream.

PS – I’ve always had a salted chocolate cake on my menu, only I called it “Dark Chocolate Fleur De Sel” because I actually spend the money on imported fleur de sel from France.  But as a test, I changed the name of the cake to “Salted Dark Chocolate” and left the cupcakes called “Dark Chocolate Fleur De Sel” in February, just to see if people would respond better to the words.  Same recipe, same cake presentation, same cupcakes.  Guess what my #1 seller was last month?

Fleur De Sel... I mean Salted Dark Chocolate :D

Fleur De Sel... I mean Salted Dark Chocolate 😀

Yup.  It’s a damn tasty cake, but still, I was very surprised at how many I sold just by changing the name.  So OK, I’m not above riding a fad to sell my cake, so I am permanently changing the name of both the cake and cupcakes.  AND… as an added bonus, introducing…

Salted Caramel

Salted Caramel Cupcakes - Devil's food cake with a salted caramel Swiss meringue buttercream made with imported fleur de sel.

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So many Massas, so little time

Every one one of these is a Massa.

There are many different brands of fondant, and like any product, you have the cheap stuff that is pure crap in flavor and workability (Wilton), stuff that works great, tastes like paste but is a good price point (Satin Ice, Fondex), and so-called gourmet stuff that’s expensive, supposed to have the best workability and is supposed to taste fantastic. Long ago I dedicated myself to only using products that enhance the flavor and performance of my cake and am willing to pay a higher price point for it, so finding the perfect fondant was no small task.  Here in San Francisco I was fortunate enough to come across Massa Ticino Tropic made by a company out of Switzerland called Carma.  I love it.  I love working with it and I love how it tastes.  Confusingly, there is another brand of “Massa” made by a company called Albert Uster Imports (AUI), also out of Switzerland.  So many people in the cake world get the two brands confused, not realizing they are two totally different manufacturers.  They often say stuff like “Massa is the best!” generally followed by “but it’s too expensive”.  True, compared to those 20 pound pails of Satin Ice that generally run about $2.50/pound plus shipping wholesale, the gourmet AUI and Carma cost considerably more, as you’ll see below.  But I always ask, what brand of Massa is “the best”?  They say… “huh?”  I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to someone that has actually had both brands and knows what the differences are.  Add to it that AUI has 2 different Massa fondant lines and it’s just mass confusion.  So I wanted to know, what’s the difference between the 3 Massas?

I happen to be a lucky girl.  I regularly use Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic, but recently was inspired to contact Albert Uster Imports to see if I could get samples of their fondant for a fondant throwdown.  They were so kind to send me a ¼ bucket of Massa Grischuna Americana and small samples of Massa Grischuna Neutral, White Chocolate Massa Grischuna, and some Dark Chocolate Massa Grischuna.  I’ve compared them and wanted to share my opinions with you.

This product review is not so much for the general public because neither AUI nor Carma fondants are something you are going to find at your local cake store, although both can be purchased online by anyone.  This post is for my decorator peeps that have wanted to know what the differences are but haven’t had the opportunity to put them side-by-side, or for my other decorator peeps that use Satin Ice but are interested in switching to a higher quality product but don’t know which one to switch to.  I am in no way affiliated with any of these companies, and am not getting paid for my opinion, although I wouldn’t turn any money down if Carma or AUI happen to want to start giving me money :D.

First, definitions.  According to the AUI website, Massa Grischuna Americana is “completely opaque with a soft consistency for a perfect all-white wedding cake”.   It is the most expensive of all their fondants and I was told it was “the best” that they offer.  I’ll be referring to it simply as “Americana”.  Massa Grischuna Neutral is described as “easy-to-use rolled fondant with a wonderful soft consistency”.  This seems to be their standard line of fondant, with Massa Grischuna Neutral coming in white, ivory, chocolate, white chocolate and 2 pre-dyed colors that change seasonally.  I’ll be referring to the white fondant sample I got as “Neutral”.  Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic is described as “for covering special occasion and wedding cakes, for decorative purposes and display items.  Suitable for coloring, easy to roll out and shape.  Special recipe for tropical climates – Especially suitable for small decoration pieces, dry quickly.”  To make this easy, I’ll be referring to Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic as “CMTT”.  Neutral is supposed to be a direct competitor to CMTT and AUI’s Americana is supposed to be “better” then both.

Ground Rules:

Fondants were tested based on cost, flavor, workability, texture and appearance STRAIGHT OUT OF THE PAIL.  Adding additional chemicals like tylose powder or gum-tex to get a more workable consistency or to make a gumpaste alternative was not tested, nor did I mix one brand of fondant with another to make hybrid fondants.  I only the used standard fondant helpers like corn starch to prevent sticking, powdered sugar to help with consistency,  and shortening if the fondant became too dry (if necessary).

Balls of Massa

Balls of Massa

Company Differences

Albert Uster Imports have representatives, distribution hubs, and customer service in the US.  They participate at trade shows and even have a Facebook  and Twitter page.  Carma is not in the US, and their website has some really horrible English on it.  All information about Carma as a company I get from my food distributor, but it does look like they have a customer service rep in Chicago that it never occurred to me to call.  For ordering information please go to their websites and inquire direct with them, or use your Google-Fu to find retail websites.

Size

CMTT comes in 15.4 pound pails. AUI’s fondant comes in 13.4 pails.  AUI does not sell wholesale so if I needed a pail I’d have to order it online just like everyone else.  Americana runs a whopping $79.90 (that’s almost $6/pound) plus shipping.  Neutral is less expensive at $61.97/pail.  I can’t tell you how much I pay for my pails of CMTT because the price list from my gourmet food distributor is confidential, but I can say that I pay a lot LESS then I would for AUI (all versions) but more then Satin Ice, and I can pick it up or have it delivered thru my local distributor for free.

Winner:    Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic.  The 2 extra pounds over AUI in the pail make it a better price point even if I had to pay for shipping.

Ingredients

All commercial fondants seem to have one or more hydrogenated oil product in it, and both Carma and AUI are no exception.  I hate that.  Really hate that.  The only way around it is to make your own fondant.  Believe me, if I had the space and time I would.  Real homemade fondant is out of this world delicious, but I’ve already covered in a past blog post that I need to use commercial fondant at this time.

Winner:  Having only the ingredients listed on the Americana pail vs, Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic, Carma wins.  It has fewer ingredients listed on the pail.  I don’t really know what they are, but I stick with the rule of thumb that “less is more” when comparing labels.

Texture/Workability

CMTT has a heavy texture that you could almost describe as gritty?  When you initially get it out of the pail it feels dry until you start working it.  It quickly smoothes out and becomes elastic and somewhat soft.  You don’t even really have to get it super soft to roll it out, in fact I find the more I work it the harder it becomes to work with.  I’ve never gotten elephant skin and pockmarks are easy to polish out.  I easily lift it on my arms to cover a cake (up to 24” diameter) rolled at 1/8 “ thick.  Air bubbles are easily taken care of with a pin and a fondant smoother, it polishes to a nice sheen, dries to a nice crust, polishes beautifully, stacking is a breeze, and decorating on it is easy.

Americana has a much finer, sticky texture right out of the pail.  I actually had a problem getting some out it was so sticky.  Once you start working it, it gets even sticker, and I had to add corn starch to my silicone fondant mat just to kneed it, which I generally don’t have to do until I start to roll.  It’s very elastic, dare I say droopy.  Rolled at ¼” thick, I lifted it to cover a 6” test cake and it started stretching on my arms.  I got it on the cake and started smoothing with my hands but it tore in several places, stuck on itself and it puckered at the base.  It also thinned out in spots to the point where I could see the cake under it.  Because it was so sticky I couldn’t smooth the pucker and it frustratingly kept sticking to my fondant smoothers so I had to dust the entire surface with corn starch.  Still couldn’t get dents and puckers out.  After a few minutes you could see the shape of the cake and filling under it and I couldn’t imagine what would happen if I started getting an air bubble.  I can’t see being able to pop the bubble and working the fondant back into shape.  I pulled it off, kneaded in powdered sugar, rolled it really thick (1/4”) and was almost able to get the same coverage as CMTT.  It was still sticky though, and no matter what I did I couldn’t get the puckers out at the base of my cake.  I should also mention that they weren’t kidding, Americana is opaque and weird looking to me, where Neutral and CMTT is white.  I’ve been told that the opaque quality means it will stay true to color if you add coloring, but what a wet mess I imagine it would make as soon as you start to add gel color to this fondant that is already super soft, you would have to use powder color.  I don’t get the whole “perfect all-white wedding cake” that they advertise since this stuff just looked weird and if you take a look at the photo I’ve included, Americana is NOT as white as the fondants I am comparing it to.  Lastly, I don’t think you could use this on a chocolate or red velvet cake.  You’d be able to see right through it.

Due to the small sample of Neutral, I didn’t have enough to cover a cake so I can’t judge it fully at this point, but the texture on my fingers was right in the middle of Americana and CMTT.  A little sticky, but with some depth and a bit of grit.

Winner:  Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic.  After all the problems I had with the Americana to cover my cake this is a no-brainer.

How It Dries

I admit, I did not allow my tester cake to sit covered in Americana, I ended up pulling it off and using CMTT for the finished cake because of the reasons I described above.  But I though I’d try and use it for some dried fondant pinwheel decorations I needed to make for a cake the following day.  I again had problems getting the texture right with the Americana, it rolled really thin but stuck to everything, including my exacto knife no matter how many times I cleaned my blade.  I had to let it sit before I could really cut stuff out of it without it stretching and sticking.  It also dented really easy, which was really annoying.  The following day it was still bendy without being brittle.  This is actually not a bad thing, you can made decorations in advance and still have some room for error when you fit them to a cake and you can carefully manipulate your mostly-hard pieces of Americana without them breaking.  I see this being really great for bows and flowers too, assuming you don’t dent your pieces with your fingernails.

CMTT cuts into anything right out of the bucket and dries almost as hard as gumpaste very quickly as advertised.

Due to the small sample I was unable to judge Neutral properly.

Winner:  Toss up – Being able to cut straight out of the pail and have pieces dry quickly using Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic is great when moving fast, but I can see the advantage of cutting decorative pieces out of Americana and have them dry so they are easy to handle but still slightly bendy so they will still mould onto the cake easy.  I’ll be doing more test pieces in the future.

Flavor

CMTT smells divine as soon as you open the pail.  It’s a mix of marshmallows and sugar, it smells sweet and decadent.  Fresh CMTT tastes really wonderful and I don’t taste any chemicals, which is unusual for fondant.  It does have a slight gelatin mouth feel.  Once it dries on a cake it has a nice crust on the outside but is slightly gummy on the inside.

As soon as I opened the pail of Americana I honestly would not have been able to identify the contents as food, let alone something sweet.  All I could smell is chemicals and plastic (from the bag it’s sealed in).  It didn’t taste much better.  It is not as gritty on the tongue as CMTT but is more gelatinous.  Something strange happened, once my pinwheel dried it lost all flavor.  I didn’t even taste anything slightly sweet.  I guess that’s a bonus for people that hate fondant since it won’t add any flavor to the cake.  I have not tried to add extract to the Neutral to see how it takes flavoring, but I have done it with CMTT, the only flavor it takes well is almond.  I think it’s because it has it’s own flavor and it doesn’t mesh too well with other extracts like lemon, orange or hazelnut.

Neutral did taste decent, it was sweet like CMTT and had the same slightly gritty mouth feel, but it left a nutty chemical aftertaste.

Winner:  2 blind taste testers chose Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic over both AUI fondants, and I agree with them.  Carma tastes better and compliments the flavor of the cake.

AUI White and Dark Chocolate Fondant

Carma doesn’t make a chocolate or white chocolate version, so really, the whole reason I got a hold of these AUI products was to get my hands on a tasty commercial chocolate fondant.  As you can probably tell though, I do have a bias, I used to make both white and dark chocolate fondant from scratch using high quality chocolates for both.  Being a chocolate snob, I turn my nose up to products like candy melts that contain no real chocolate and anything with “chocolate flavor”.  Homemade chocolate fondant tastes like a rolled out bar of chocolate on the cake, or like a nice coating of ganache.  I had high hopes for AUI because I know a lot of top cake artists use it and claim the flavor is wonderful.  I completely disagree.  The dark chocolate tastes like a Tootsie Roll.  Now, I know, lots of people like Tootsie Rolls, but I don’t.  I don’t think they taste anything like real chocolate.  Tootsie Rolls aren’t even made with real chocolate, and even though I only got a small sample envelope of the dark chocolate fondant and didn’t see an ingredient list, I’d be surprised to see this have any real chocolate in it at all.  I was extremely disappointed in the flavor.   Due to the small sample I was unable to test it on a cake, but I did use it to make ball centers for some flowers.  Not the most challenging of tests, I know.

I did, however, have enough white chocolate fondant to put on a cake.  It is a little opaque and softer and stickier then CMTT.  The flavor is not too bad, again not having an ingredients list, I would be surprised it was made with any cocoa butter either.  I mean, I wouldn’t sit down and nom on it, but I don’t think it’s too bad.  But I have to say, judging on it’s workability I was pretty impressed.  Getting it on the cake went as easy as my beloved CMTT rolled at 1/8”, it was nice and smooth, it adhered to Swiss meringue buttercream really nice with NO air bubbles.  I was able to roll it really thin to cover the cake drum and it dried on it overnight decently.  My complaint is that it does not dry very much.  CMTT almost creates a shell around your cake and it takes a real slip up to dent it, and the dent will smooth right out using a piece of fondant or your fondant smoothers.  The AUI’s white chocolate dried to the touch, but it stayed soft after 24 hours.  So soft smooshing the cake was really easy, and smoothing it back out wasn’t.  Decorating on it was really interesting, my ruler left dents just touching it,  I had a hard time scoring it, and I couldn’t do some of the decorative elements to the surface that I had originally planned like some crimping and some shell indentations because my tools bent the fondant in, instead of just marring the surface of the fondant.  In the end I adjusted my design and made it work.

Finished Cake using AUI's White Chocolate Massa

Finished Cake using AUI's White Chocolate Massa, with white chocolate massa fondant flowers, black royal icing swag, and gold royal icing swiss dots. Purchased topper. Red velvet cake with vanilla bean Swiss meringue buttercream.

Conclusion

I’m dismissing using Americana to cover a cake.  That was an exercise in patience that I don’t have.  I plan on using up what I have making decorative pieces.  That leaves CMTT vs. AUI’s Neutral.  Without having a full sample of Neutral I can’t be sure, but I imagine it probably performs as well as AUI’s white chocolate massa as far as workability to get on a cake.  The only mystery is if Neutral stays soft like the white chocolate version, making it difficult to design on.  But right now, If I had to choose between Carma’s Massa Ticino Tropic and AUI’s Massa Neutral, I’d go with Carma’s because it tastes better, has a lower price point, and handles as you would expect your fondant to handle.   As for the chocolate versions, I disliked the flavor of the dark chocolate so much I can’t see ever using it, but I am was mostly happy with the white chocolate once my cake was decorated.  But honestly?  I didn’t like it enough to want to buy a full pail and start using it regularly.  I will be sticking with making my own chocolate fondants in the future.

I want to thank Albert Uster Imports for supplying me with the samples used for this post.  Your customer service is top notch.

Hey!  Agree?  Disagree?  Questions?  Leave a comment!