Wednesday, October 25, 2006
There were people who wanted me to do this. There were readers commenting that I should be covering Halloween goodies. So here goes. I went to the drug stores over the weekend and found all the pumpkins, most of them marshmallowy.
I did a roundup earlier this year of Easter eggs from Russell Stover and I was pleasantly suprised by the taste and quality of them, so it wasn’t hard to purchase these (though they were only on sale for 50 cents each).
This one really appealed to me because it reminded me of one of my favorite candies ever, the See’s Scotchmallow (always best in the dark chocolate single pieces, not the milk chocolate “bar” thing). The pumpkin shape out of the package is actually pretty good. It has some shape and definition, which I enjoyed quite a bit.
It smelled sweet and not a bit like chocolate. The caramel is soft and flowing and the marshmallow firm and bouncy but very moist. The combination of all the textures is nice, but the caramel doesn’t quite have that toasted sugar taste and it’s not quite salty enough to balance out all the other sweetness.
I have to say, after staring at the packaging for Russell Stover for the past couple of days, I’ve decided I don’t really like it. It has a sort of faux Peanuts feel to it that I find a little sad. Maybe it’s that the colors are too much like Easter and I feel like Charlie Brown and this might be the equivalent of getting a rock in my Trick or Treat bag.
This was certainly the best looking pumpkin of the whole bunch. It was thick and had a well-defined and easily recognizable shape. The bite was nice, with the soft and fluffy marshmallow center, but it lacked a vanilla punch. It just lacked flavor. The chocolate couldn’t carry it, because it didn’t have much flavor of its own, though it’s not like it was bad, just sweet and without any sort of dairy component to even give it a little kick.
I love the purple package. I really do, but it kind of confused me. Hershey’s is positioning purple as their color for dark chocolate (they use it on the Dark Kisses and those dark jewel tones on the Special Dark packaging). But no, this is milk chocolate.
I figured if I was disappointed with the lack of flavor in the Russell Stover marshmallows, Hershey’s would pick up the slack. After all, Hershey’s is known for their distinctive milk chocolate. This one was packaged nicely, a much bigger package than the Russell Stover even though it was slightly lighter. The marshmallow is nice and lofty and has a more firm latexy quality to it. Dryer and with a distinctive fake vanilla flavor, the marshmallow certainly had some personality. The chocolate on here was not really up to the challenge though. Too grainy, too sweet and just not creamy enough for me. I kinda scraped it off with my teeth so I could have more uninterrupted marshmallow. (This pumpkin was made in Canada.)
Everyone’s well aware of my love of Reese’s but this has to be the ugly duckling of the pumpkin bunch. It barely even looks like a pumpkin, it was difficult to extract from the wrapper and has a plain old greasy appearance and feel.
Now, all that aside, it’s a Reese’s Egg ... and I love Reese’s Eggs. They’re different from Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the ratios are different and though they tried to recapture this difference with the Reese’s Limited Edition Bars earlier this year, I think these unattractive lumps offer something compelling enough to warrant making them seasonally. The center is firm and a little crumbly, a mix of salty, grainy and sweet with a thin and sticky milk chocolate coating that adds a little more sweetness to the mix.
I’ve saved the best for last. Last spring I tried my first Snickers novelty item, it was a Snickers Easter Egg. I actually liked it quite a bit and found it different enough from a regular Snickers bar to put it in the same class as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg (ratios and all that). For some reason the Snickers Pumpkin might have a slight edge on the Egg. It might have been because I couldn’t easily re-wrap the pumpkin in its foil wrapper, I had to eat it right away. Well, it might not technically have been eaten ... it might have been gobbled.
There aren’t as many whole peanuts in the pumpkin, but there’s a definite nuttiness to it. The nougat seems moister and flavorful and the soft caramel is smooth and has a little toasted salty hit to it that helps out the whole thing. The chocolate is merely adequate, but smooth enough to support the whole (and of course give it the lovely pumpkin shell).
If you’d like more opinions on the other pumpkin shaped goodies, coincidence has it again that Rebecca has posted on the Hershey’s orange pumpkins and Joanna has both orange flavored ones that I couldn’t bring myself to purchase.
All of the pumpkins I listed were 50 cents each on sale. If you’re looking for stuff to throw into the Trick or Treat bags, stick with the tried and true candies, they’re less expensive (when on sale most fun sized bars can be 10 cents each). If you’re looking for a little treat for yourself, it’s not a bad gamble. Overall I’m giving them all a 4 out of 10. They’re benign ... they’re not the epitome of their genre, but they’re not embarrassments either.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Like Candy Corn, Peeps and Peanut Butter Kisses are one of those seasonal candies that people either love or hate. I’m gonna go ahead and say right now, I’m on the side of love here.
I don’t know if I’ve ever had “name brand” peanut butter kisses before, these are the first I’ve ever seen that have anything on the black & orange wax wrappers. Made by Necco, Mary Jane Peanut Butter Kisses are a molasses taffy with a little blurp of peanut butter in the center.
The molasses taffy is soft and flavorful, with a rustic taste of mellow molasses with a little smoke and woodsy maple in there. In the center (or somewhere near there) is a pocket of peanut butter, a little crumbly and of course nutty and roasty tasting. The salty hit of the fatty peanut butter is a great combo with the sweet taffy. I much prefer them to the traditional Mary Janes, which I find not only a little too hard but also not enough of a “concentrated peanut butter” dollop.
Since these are not a spectacularly popular candy, with their rather mousy wrappings and bland colors they’re easily found dirt-cheap in the remainder bins after Halloween, which is when I prefer to buy them. If they’re a little old and stale, a little warm-up in the palm of your hand will revive them.
Some other notes: Mary Janes were originally made by the Miller Company starting in 1914, which was later bought by another taffy company called Stark Candy Company that continued the Mary Jane tradition. In 1990 Stark sold out to Necco, who continues to make the traditional Mary Janes pretty much unchanged from its original format.
Monday, October 23, 2006
Yeah, candy corn. What can I say about candy corn? Some people love it, some people hate it. Joanna at SugarSavvy.net already covered one of my favorite passages about candy corn by Lewis Black.
Based on her review I went off in search of candy corn last week. My results were dismal. I came home with one bag. Some stores did not have ANY candy corn at all (well, some also had CHRISTMAS candy out already so they had the lame reindeer corn). I picked up the Brach’s Autumn Mix. It’s a mix of pumpkin mallowcreams, candy corn and Indian corn.
Brach’s always makes nice looking, high quality candy. Their candy corn is no different and uses top-notch ingredients. Though candy corn is basically sugar and corn syrup boiled into a stiff fondant, Brach’s throws a little honey in there for taste besides the colorings.
The candy corn is big and narrow. Good definition between the colors, bright and with an attractively sweet smell. It’s soft and a bit grainy, but I kind of like that. Plain candy corn is eaten by putting the entire thing in the mouth and chewing.
Another variety of candy corn that is seen from time to time is often called “Indian Corn” but is really chocolate candy corn. Well, kind of chocolate. Someone walked by a vat of candy corn batter with a chocolate bar.
In order to rationalize the purchase of Indian corn, one must eat it by biting off the chocolate bottom first. It tastes like candy corn, but perhaps with a tint of a Tootsie Roll chocolatey-ness added.
The big plus in this bag of the Autumn mix is that it has the pumpkins in it. They’re a dense, semi-soft piece of sugar. There’s a throat burning sweetness that makes you want to go back to eating the candy corn for a moment until the lure of the large, compact sugar-singularity calls to you again. By the time you learn your lesson, the bag is empty, your teeth hurt and your stomach aches.
When I was in grad school I saw a production of a play called Seventy Scenes of Halloween by Jeffrey M. Jones. Candy corn is featured heavily in it. I don’t know why I mention that, but you know, in case someone was looking for advice on what plays to include in a candy themed theatre festival, I’d love to help!
I like candy corn as a concept. I like it as decoration. I don’t think it’s great as a candy, but I have to give it a passing grade because I keep eating it. I really like to buy it when it’s 10 cents for a pound of it sometime in late November. Then it scores a 7 out of 10.
For another view on Brach’s Autumn Mix, Rebecca coincidentally posted on the same product today.
Friday, October 20, 2006
The word is out that Jay Leno is going to do a piece on tonight’s show about Halloween candy.
So tune in to see the latest along with guests Amanda Peet (from Studio 60), John Landis & The Spiridellis Brothers and musical guest JoJo.
The word is also out that they’re going to feature some gross candies, including the Lick Your Wounds candy scabs. In case they don’t decide to include them, here’s a YouTube video made by CandyWarehouse.com about them:
(Link to video if the embed doesn’t display.)
Why is the American KitKat packaging so boring? I mean, look at this box that the Malaysian version of KitKat in the limited edition flavor of cappuccino came in. You may not be able to tell, but it’s actually embossed as well (click on the photo for a larger version).
I’m a fiend for coffee, but since I limit myself to two cups a day on weekday and one a day on weekends, I need to get my coffee fix in other ways too. There are very few coffee bars, so I’m always keen to try these limited edition ones. The American KitKat came out with a limited edition coffee flavor last year, which I rather liked.
This limited edition flavor is made by Nestle and comes in two individually wrapped two finger bars. Upon opening the wrapper it smells not like coffee but more like maple and yogurt. These are not bad smells, kind of tangy ... very sweet and with a woodsy essence. But still, the espresso scent of a cappuccino was missing. It tasted sweet, a little grainy but the crunch of the wafers was nice. The tang was a little odd, but not unpleasant. Overall, I’d say this tasted more like a Spanish flan than cappuccino. This is not a bad thing ... I love flan.
If I were presented with this bar again, I don’t think I’d buy it. It misses the chocolate note that I buy chocolate bars for but still a good thing to have at least once.
Note from the package: this candy is certified Halal.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Today there was news of TWO candy companies swallowing up others:
Jelly Belly has released word that they’re buying Ben Meyerson Candies based right here in Los Angeles. Ben Meyerson is known for their Big Cherry and line of Sunkist Fruit Gems. The manufacture of the Fruit Gems seems like a natural fit for Jelly Belly and facilities will migrate to Fairfield and/or Illinois. Ben Meyerson is a third generation family company and seems to be selling as Robert Meyerson, the current head, is retiring. Link to full story.
Hershey also announced today that it’s buying Dagoba, the Ashland, Oregon based chocolate company. This is the third small chocolate company Hershey has bought in the last 18 months (Joseph Schmidt and Scharffen Berger are the other two). No word in the articles I read as to whether Dagoba will fall under the Artisanal Chocolates umbrella that was formed to encompass JS & SB. Hershey has been making great strides towards more responsible cocoa growing, with their sponsorship of educational and outreach programs, especially in Africa. Hopefully their purchase of Dagoba will enable them to make Hershey the largest ethical chocolate company in the world (a girl can dream). Link to story.
Sometimes a candy is so gorgeous it stops me dead in my tracks. Not that it looks tasty, it’s just so darned photogenic. Intense colors, fun textures, inventive shape ... it’s all so compelling.
I’ve seen these bears in bulk bins all over the country and didn’t know who made them until I went to the All Candy Expo. Turns out Albanese Confectionery makes a lot of gummis, including the exotic flavors you’ll find at Dylan’s Candy Bar (banana was really interesting!) and the super cute Gummi Army Men. I even unwittingly had one of the huckleberry ones last year. An ‘A’ on a gummi bear’s tummy means Albanese (the best way to spot them in bulk bins), another difference is they’re also a little larger than a Trolli or Haribo bear.
The most freakishly beautiful candies of their line are their Krunchy items. Krunchies are soft gummis coated in little crunchy nonpareils. The mix of the soft bouncy texture of the gummi combined with a little sour bite of the “sticky” element and then the crunchy candies is just plain fun. (But you know, it’s functional too, the candy coating also keeps them from sticking together.)
They make other varieties of the Krunchy items such as gummi rings, worms and hearts and most come in different colors for different holidays.
These gummis come in six flavors: Cherry (red), Lemon (yellow), Watermelon (pink), Apple (green), Orange (orange) and Raspberry (blue). As usual, the citrus ones were my top faves, but the apple and raspberry were ranking pretty high, mostly because gummis in that flavor aren’t that common. But the weirdest part was the watermelon one, it just had a weird bitter aftertaste to me ... and the stranger thing is that I had the same experience with the Sandy Candy watermelon flavor too, so maybe there’s just something that reacts oddly with me.
If you see them in bulk bins, fear not! They’re as tasty as they are pretty.
(Albanese has a limited web store but the prices are FANTASTIC, usually you pay a premium when you order right from the company, like M&Ms or Hershey, but they have gummi bears for $2.29 a pound plus shipping. However, they ask some strange and personal details like age and gender. Let me know here if you ever order from them. They also have a factory store in Indiana, which I plan to visit someday.)
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
As National Novel Writing Month approaches my mind turns to writing-friendly candy. This is a tough category. Not only does the candy need to be neat (no sticky bits to get in the keyboard) but it also has to support the work at hand. In years past I’ve nibbled on licorice vines, Reese’s miniatures (not really recommended as they are a two-handed candy), M&Ms and orange Tootsie Pops.
This year I think I’ve found my new writing candy. It’s a little expensive at $6.50 for 150 grams (about 5.25 ounces), but writing a novel in a month is an indulgence anyway and if a few hard candies can keep me on task and perhaps ingest a little less caffeine, I’m all for it.
The Apothecary’s Garden is a line of hard candies made by Sweet Botanicals of England. Infused with different herbs and spices, they’re all drop-dead gorgeous little morsels. Not only that, they’re all natural. No freaky sweeteners, they’re just sugar, corn syrup and some spices with a little juice for color. The come in a clear plastic container, which of course gives you full view of their mouthwatertingness. (The only bad thing about this packaging is that I found them to be positively DIFFICULT to recap.) Today I’ll tackle the spices:
Cinnamon & Clove - gorgeous red spheres with white stripes. They’re the size of marbles and smell of Christmas. I’m not usually keen on clove, as it reminds me of dental procedures, but this was more on the mild side. The cinnamon was spicy and has a pleasant and mellow burn with the slight floral note of the clove that was more on the violet end than the medicine side.
The candy itself is dense and sweet with few, if any, voids that can make for sharp edges to cut your tongue.
This candy would be appropriate for novels taking place on damp moors, alien infested swamp planets and anything set during the Civil War.
Chili (a useful digestive aid) - delicate little candies, no larger than a dried garbanzo (the smallest of all I tried). They’re lightly pink and have the disarming smell of cotton candy. On the tongue they start with a slight floral note of rose and are clean tasting. But after a moment the chili spice kicks in. It has a little burn, but something I feel on the tongue, nothing in the back of the throat.
This candy would be appropriate for writing time travel scenes, large spans of exposition in any style novel and of course anything set in the Southwestern US, Mexico or Central America.
Licorice & Anise (Helps Coughs and Catarrh) - beautiful large medallion-like pieces, they’re the largest of all the Apothecary’s Garden candies I tried. They’re also not a solid hard candy but a filled candy. The hard shell is a mellow licorice flavor with a liberal note of both anise and molasses (the ingredients lists brown sugar treacle). Inside is a soft, moist and grainy center of a rich brown sugar that soothes the throat (and tastes good!).
This candy would be appropriate for steampunk novels with characters involved heavily in action scenes, anything set in the middle ages, circuses or in cold climates and of course action-adventures that involve going places without proper vaccinations.
Ginger & Orange (Useful for Travel Sickness) - these are long hexagons that are squashed into rods. The smell slightly of orange and on the tongue they immediately get me tingly with a little tangy bite and the spice of the ginger. There’s a definite rooty flavor to these that overpowers any orange essence other than the color and tangy quality.
I can’t attest to their ability to stave off motion sickness, but I will in a few months when whale watch season opens and I hit the nearshore seas. I have, however, found that ginger is good for keeping the queasies at bay, so I’m looking forward to giving these a real test.
This candy would be appropriate for novels with sea voyages or taking place on spaceships with questionable inertial dampeners/artificial gravity. It is also good for consuming during scenes involving early pregnancy and dizzying passages describing architecture.
I have lots more flavors and I’ll be posting about those soon. At $6.50 a package, they’re a wee on the expensive side. But they’re also not a candy you gobble down, so they last a while. The flavors are unique and it’s obvious the attention that’s paid to their creation, so I’d be willing to pay a little more. Right now the only place I know to get them in the States is ArtisanSweets.com (they sent me the samples) ... but they also sell the Montelimar Nougat that I love so much, so you know, you could get some of that at the same time.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.