Top Pick Of The Week

June 26, 2007

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Peanut Brittle - Pistachio Brittle

Not your grandmother’s peanut brittle: crunchy, great nutty flavor and a bit of heat. In the red bowl, Pistachio Brittle. In the yellow bowl, Peanut Brittle. Photo by Naheed Choudhry.

WHAT IT IS: Classic candies—caramels, nut brittles, toffee, caramel corn and more—both regular and variously tinged with cayenne, ancho, chipotle and habañero chile.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: Artisan renditions of grandma’s favorite candies, with a touch of contemporary sweet heat.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Chile invigorates the classic candy. The spicy pistachio brittle makes us think, “Why doesn’t everyone make this?”
PRODUCT FIND #2: Wisconsin Artisan Cheeses. Some picks from the state that wins the most awards for its cheeses.
ENTERTAINING IDEA: Red Wines For Summer. Who says you have to drink white wine in the hot weather?

Cowgirl Chocolates:
Hot Gourmet Candy

Cowgirl Chocolates sells a variety of chocolate products. But the really hot stuff at this western outpost is the non-chocolate candy: a spectacular pistachio brittle spiked with three types of chile, memorable habañero caramels, a mildly spicy toffee and yummy flavors of caramel corn. Even if spicy candy isn’t your thing, if you enjoy salsa and chips, let us nudge you to try it—it’s awfully good! The spice levels range from barely there to moderately sizzling. The latter had us calling out yee-hah! for more—and we always choose the “mild” salsa over “medium.” For folks who don’t like any heat, there are chile-free varieties like Peanut Butter Brittle, a softly-crunchy peanut butter lover’s delight. Order a large box, or you’ll regret it.

Head Cowgirl Marilyn Lysohir is a fine artist who makes absolutely breathtaking, large ceramic sculptures. We would gladly own every piece. But as we have neither the means nor the space to acquire her fine art, we content ourselves with her fine candies—an art unto themselves. The packaging, which has won two awards, is also artful—colorful, die-cut, corrugated boxes, tied with grosgrain or gingham ribbon and a silvery Western-theme button (a sheriff’s star, hat, boot—buy enough boxes and you can revamp a child’s shirt). Cowgirl Chocolates candies are a gift solution for any occasion. But before you give them away, think of yourself first, and enjoy every bite.

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  • Read reviews of more of our favorite gourmet candy.
  • See the Table of Contents of the June issue of THE NIBBLE, plus the prior issues archive and our most popular articles.
  • All of the Top Picks Of The Week are permanently archived on, in chronological order and by product category.
THE NIBBLE does not sell the foods we review
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Our recommendations are based purely on our opinion, after tasting thousands of products each year, that they represent the best in their respective categories.

Candy Is Dandy

Crystal Candy Box Lenox Gift Of Knowledge Candy Bowl
Crystal Candy Box. With or without candy, this elegant and exotic 24% lead crystal candy and nut dish will look stunning on your table. Measures 5" x 7". Click here for more information or to purchase. The Ultimate Candy Book: More than 700 Quick and Easy, Soft and Chewy, Hard and Crunchy Sweets and Treats, by Bruce Weinstein. Make your own toffees, caramels, and seven types of brittle. Click here for more information or to purchase. Lenox Gift of Knowledge Crystal Candy Bowl. This special 6-3/4" diameter bowl is tinged with pink and called “Gift of Knowledge” because a portion of sales goes to Click here for more information or to purchase.

Cowgirl Chocolates: Hot Candy



For ten years, Cowgirl Chocolates of Moscow, Idaho has been spicing up the Old West—and points east—with a line of chocolates and candies that are energized with chiles. Cowgirls obviously like a bit of kick in their sweets—and as people across America like their food spicy and spicier, why not their candy, too? 

Moscow, population 22,000, is located in the vertical finger at the north of the state that makes Idaho so distinctive-looking on the map. It sits close to the Washington border; the nearest large city is Spokane, 85 miles to the north. The area was, until relatively recently, the unsettled west, inhabited only by the Nez Perce and other Native Americans. Miners and farmers began arriving in northern Idaho after the Civil War, but the first permanent settlers didn’t arrive until 1871. Due to an abundance of camas, a wildflower whose bulbs were a calorie-rich food source for the Nez Perce and also a favorite fodder for the farmers’ pigs—the early settlers informally named the area Hog Heaven. When the first post office opened in 1872, the town was called Paradise Valley. In 1875, the town was renamed Moscow. As the story goes, five men met to choose a name for the town, but could not reach consensus. Postmaster Samuel Neff, who was born in Moscow, Pennsylvania, completed the official papers for the town and selected the name Moscow.

Well over 100 years later, another Pennsylvanian ended up in Moscow, Idaho: sculptor Marilyn Lysohir. There was plenty of space to craft her large artworks, and with her experience working in a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania, she decided to open a chocolate business. After sampling her first truffle, which was espresso-flavored, someone commented that it tasted like cowboy coffee.* Marilyn liked the “cowboy” concept, tweaked it to “cowgirl,” and Cowgirl Chocolates was born. She researched and found her “patron cowgirl,” May Lillie, another Pennsylvanian. May’s story, which you can read on the Cowgirl Chocolates website, is fascinating. A teenage society girl from Philadelphia, she fell in love with a performer in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show when it came to town. “Pawnee Bill” Lillie proposed and carried her west to Kansas, where she learned to ride, rope and shoot from the Pawnees and became a Wild West Show star performer herself.

May Manning Lillie, around 1890, as a performer in
Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show. Photo courtesy of the
Oklahoma State Historical Society, for “Pawnee,
Oklahoma: Where the West Remains,” an Oklahoma Local Legacies project.

May Manning Lillie obviously yearned for a spicier life than the one she had been born to. If you’re ready to nibble on something spicier, read on.

*Drunk by cowboys out on the range, the coffee was rough-ground and boiled in a pot over the fire, without the benefit of “coffeemakers” or filters. It was black, strong and thick.

Pistachio Brittle - Cowgirl Chocolates
Pistachio Brittle: Whoa dogies, it’s good. Photo by Naheed Choudhry.

Pistachio Brittle


One of the most memorable confections we’ve had in a long time, this pistachio brittle is jumping with great pistachio flavor. That says something, because it’s also sizzling with chile heat—cayenne ancho and habañero. The achievement of this brittle is that it manages to deliver it all: sweet candy flavor, hitting every flavor ingredient in the recipe, along with a ratcheting level of chile that, amazingly, never covers up the other ingredients or burns your taste buds.

A crunchy delight, chock-full of fresh-tasting nut meats, butter, sugar, corn syrup, vanilla and chile (plus a bit of baking soda, which makes the brittle more tender to the teeth), the candy is made in small batches in a copper kettle. It comes broken up into pieces somewhere between a quarter and a half dollar, so that you can add a little sizzle to your life in sensible portions.

Peanut Brittle

Goober Heaven awaits in the form of two peanut brittles, neither of which is spicy.

  • The classic Peanut Brittle is a nicely balanced chewy brittle, not very sweet with lots of peanutty taste (see the photo at the top of the page). Swapping out peanuts for pistachios, the ingredients are the same as for the Pistachio Brittle, minus the chile.
  • The real eye-opener is the Slow Roasted Peanut Butter Brittle, made with lots of “slow roasted” peanut butter. Regular peanut brittle doesn’t contain peanut butter. The added PB creates a softer consistency and tons of peanut butter flavor. You still have whole peanuts, crunchiness and the shape of peanut brittle, but it also melts in your mouth. We haven’t seen anything like this before, and it’s wonderful. Any peanut butter lover would be grateful to receive a box. And we’d sure like another!

On the spicy side, there’s a Copper Kettle Brittle made of mixed nuts, including peanuts, with spice.

Peanut Butter Brittle - Cowgirl Chocolates
Chewy Slow Roasted Peanut Butter Brittle. Mercy me,
that’s fine peanut butter candy. Photo by
Michael Steele.

Spicy Habanero Caramels - Cowgirl Chocolates
Buckin’ Hot Habañero Caramels. Jumpin’ Jehosaphat! Never had ‘em before, but now we don’t want to live without ‘em. You can enjoy them with hot or cold tea, coffee, milk, cocoa—even a beer!

Buttery Habañero Caramels

“Hold on to your hats,” advises the container. For sure, anyone picking up what looks like a wholesome buttery caramel will find himself on a metaphorical bucking bronco—in a nice way.

Buckin’ Hot Habañero Caramels are made with brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, cream, milk, sugar, vanilla, salt and habañero powder. The habañero isn’t dangerous. Our guess is that the powdered form kicks it down a notch or three to merely jalapeño strength. (The Pistachio Brittle seems much hotter.) This is happy heat—enough to be exciting, but nowhere near the boiling point.

As a result, your taste buds aren’t seared, and the butter, sugar, vanilla and habañero unite in a modern symphony—we’d like to say Aaron Copland’s “Third Symphony,” but somehow his “Rodeo” and “Billy The Kid Suite” seem more appropriate with Cowgirl Chocolates candies. The link will lead you to a CD that’s a bargain because it’s an older recording, with the great Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic.

People who enjoy an old-fashioned caramel never envisioned anything like these Buckin’ Hot Habañeros. We’ve enjoyed them every which way—with coffee and tea (hot and iced), juxtaposed with a glass of cold, soothing milk, even with a beer. If you know folks who like a bit of spice and great music, send them the caramels and the Aaron Copland CD. They’ll go plum crazy.

Toffee, Caramel Corn & More!

The quality Cowgirl candies just keep coming:

  • Hazelnut Toffee arrives in large pieces, dipped in bittersweet chocolate, dusted with hazelnuts.  This quality, buttery toffee has just a small amount of cayenne pepper—not enough to deter regular toffee eaters but enough to make this one of the more interesting toffees we’ve had in a while. It’s a winner. Watch for a longer review soon in our Toffee & Buttercrunch Section.
  • Caramel Corn is another surprise. Hot Caramel Corn With Nuts & Chocolate is coated in real caramel, and accompanied by chocolate-coated popcorn, brown sugar-coated pecans, roasted cashews, lilting notes of vanilla and just a tiny hint of chile spice. It’s our favorite corn. By comparison, the tasty Pumpkin Spice Caramel Corn (that's spice, not spicy) is practically health food—if you ignore the sugar, brown sugar and butter on the ingredients list and focus on the vanilla granola, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and almonds. Eat this one and you’ll feel like a healthy farmer: It received top votes from other tasters. There’s a bit of cayenne and paprika in the mix, but this isn’t really a spicy product. Chipotle Vanilla Caramel Corn is the least complex. With lots of sugar but only the softest of heat, people who don’t like spicy foods could be snookered into eating it. It’s a satisfying sweet treat: The contents disappeared quickly.
  • Spicy Caramel Nut Clusters are the size of large marshmallows but exactly the opposite in character: dense mouthfuls of almonds, cashews, hazelnuts and pecans (not much caramel) enrobed in dark chocolate. With ancho, cayenne and habañero chiles, the heat level is as high as the Pistachio Brittle, which makes this a sassy mouthful of nuts, chocolate and chile.

As you may surmise, this was not a tough day of tasting at the Nibble Corral. Mosey on over to the website and get yourself a batch of everything we’ve mentioned. The modern-day Pony Express will deliver your order posthaste.

—Karen Hochman

FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to anyone who loves candy or needs to give gifts to people who do.

Classic Candies—Regular and Spicy

  • Buckin’ Hot Habañero Caramels*
    Half-Pound Tin
  • Caramel Corn
    Hot Caramel Corn/Nuts & Chocolate,*
    Chipotle Vanilla Caramel (called
    Vanilla Granola on the website)*,
    Pumpkin Spice Caramel
    8-Ounce Box
  • Hazelnut Toffee*
    8-Ounce Box
  • Peanut, Pistachio* and Triple Nut
    10-Ounce Box
  • Slow Roasted Peanut Butter Brittle
    8-Ounce Box


Purchase online at

(look in the CG Treats section for these products) or telephone 1. 888.882.4098. Other sizes are available.

Cowgirl Chocolates
The packaging is so handsome, you’ll want to keep it after the candy is gone. From left: Peanut Brittle, Slow Roasted Peanut Butter Brittle, Pistachio Brittle and Spicy Habañero Caramels. Photo by B.A.Van Sise.


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