Friday, November 30, 2007
I had hoped to do a good history of Sprees and the newer Chewy Sprees for this review. What I found is that like many large families, the kids in the middle or towards the end get kind of lost in the shuffle. The novelty of their existence is lost and though they grow up admirably strong and fetch a good price when sold (oh, wait, we don’t sell kids any longer, do we?), it’s just not as interesting as the first.
So info is kind of scant. Sprees came along sometime after SweeTarts, which came after Pixy Stix and Lik-m-Aid and were made by Sunline (Sunmark) brands (a little history here). I remember eating them as a kid. I loved the bright colors and the sound they made in my pocket (or when I unwrapped them from their roll and put them in the Gold Mine Gum bag I had because they both had that sunshine sweet juicyfruit scent). Sunline later sold out to Nestle which kind of folded the candies under the Wonka brand. The product, however, was happily unchanged except for the swap of Green Apple for Lime a few years back.
Chewy Spree come in a few different formats. You can get them in the bags shown here that holds 1.7 ounces and I believe they may still make the 1.73 ounce rolls. They also have a little plastic container of Chewy Mini Sprees that I’ve tried before as well.
The original Sprees are a compressed dextrose tart with a bright candy shell. The Chewy Spree, however, is less tart. I don’t know why, but it is. They’re a mellow version of the Spree, which I’m guessing sets it apart from the much bolder SweeTarts Shockers, which have a sour flavored candy shell and tart chewy inside.
They come in Grape, Orange, Lemon, Green Apple and Strawberry, otherwise known as the “don’t rock the boat” flavors of middle/later children.
The package, however, gives little indication about what’s inside. Simply called Mix’d Berry, it occured to me that besides telling us that it’s a kick in the mouth, Spree packages offer no explanation of what they are. Most candies do! (And I often like to dissect those statements.) There’s no listing of flavors, and even the colors on the front of the package bear little resemblance to the real-life ones.
Then I realized I didn’t figure out which color was which flavor, so I had to stop at the 7-11 this morning and buy another package. And for the life of me, after actually paying attention, I can’t figure it out.
Pink tastes like watermelon to me. I don’t think that’s a berry, even a mix’d one. Blue is raspberry, not terribly tart or intense, it has a good fragrant quality to it. The other two, I just didn’t know what they were. And after two packages, you’d think I would have figured it out. Purple might be mixed berry or maybe blueberry. I’ve never been good at figuring out what “flavor” blueberry is in candies. Red has me completely flummoxed. I suppose it could be Cherry?
They’re pretty, but I think I’ll stick with the regular hard Sprees.
Chewy Sprees have egg albumen in them, so are not suitable for vegans.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I’m still in a licorice mood and have been feeling more like “eating licorice” as it’s called. This means it’s soft and chewy and not too harsh.
I got a wonderful full sized sample of the Soft Licorice from Finnska at the All Candy Expo in September from the Gerrit J. Verburg Co. It’s just what I needed. I found the package charming, though every time I looked at it I wondered what an ostrich would be doing on a Viking ship.
The little twist are soft, perhaps a little sticky. They’re pure black and a bit glossy. They don’t smell like much, a little earthy, a little smoky.
They’re not super sweet, not very licorice-y either. In fact, there’s no molasses in there, which is one of the flavors I’m accustomed to in my wheat-based licorice chew. It’s also really low in calories.
It took me about a half a dozen of them before I figured out what they taste like. Beets. (Maybe beets baked in Ouzo.)
I know, it sounds horrible. But it’s great. It’s sweet and woodsy and a little bit like dirt or roots. It doesn’t feel cloying or sticky. It’s good munching candy. I’ve eaten the whole box. It’s rather different from Panda, which has a doughy texture to it sometimes and stronger anise and molasses tones.
This particular Finnska is also organic!
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
As we head into December, I start looking at candy with an eye towards Christmas stockings. What makes good stocking candy? Well, small individually wrapped portions are a good start. Seasonal flavors, pretty packaging and some sort of exotic selling point also help.
When I was up in San Francisco, these little Caffarel Fig and Chestnut chocolates. I wasn’t quite sure what they’d be, they were sold at The Candy Store out of a pretty jar. There were several varieties (I think something walnut and a bunch of others that I’d tried before) so I went for these that were new to me. The pretty foil showed a green fig, a cut fig and a ripe fig bursting at the seams. Everything I got at The Candy Store was fresh and perfect, these were no exception.
At the bottom they have a little sticker with the Caffarel logo. The fig ones all say fico and the chestnut one says castagna. I was expecting a gianduia center with a fig flavor or chestnut flavor.
Upon biting into the first fig one for this photo, I found that it was not a chocolate or nut paste center. Instead it was a molded dark chocolate piece with a flowing fig filling. Kind of like a syrup with real fig in it, it’s a pretty intense fig flavor like a jam. A little like honey, it’s a fresh taste of raisins and similar in smell as sitting next to a fresh pile of firewood.
I never cared much for figs as a kid. I had to make a very concerted effort to “like” Fig Newtons. It really wasn’t until I moved to my present house that has a fig tree and I started eating them fresh off the tree that I understood the appeal of them. (And the fact that the tree is so wonderfully fresh and fragrant nine months out of the year.)
There were little bits of fig in there, a few seeds to really sell the fact that it’s figs. I love these. I really, really love these. I love the shape, I love the size, I love the foil wrapping and the fact that they come in three different versions. I’ve eaten them all. I didn’t love the price, but I’m trying not to think about that ... I’m trying to figure out where to buy more of these. (I don’t recommend them for kids who haven’t already expressed a strong desire for figs though.)
The chestnut one also had a flowing center, though not quite as thin and gooey as the fig. This one was slightly textured, like a caramel or dulce de leche (but no cream, per se). Sweet and a little roasted, it tasted like a marron glace but without that worry that it’d be a tough one. It didn’t really thrill me, but I’m not a huge chestnut fan.
Now I have to apologize to everyone who now wants to try these and is in the same position as I am ... outta luck! If you know of another place (The Candy Store does not do web orders) that sells them online, please post!
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
First, the description: Real Junior Mints (tm) made with a real candy crunch. Are there fake Junior Mints (tm) out there ... is this an issue? There are other dark chocolate peppermints out there, sure, but is there anything that’s trying to occupy the Junior Mints (tm) niche? What makes them Junior Mints anyway? Is it the dark chocolate and flowing fondant? Because the Junior Mints Deluxe had the Junior Mints name. So it’s not size or proportion.
The thing I have the real hangup on is the “CRUNCH!” that they advertise. The little image on the box shows what looks like a Starlight mint, which is basically a hard candy with peppermint flavoring ... they’re good crunched up and put in things (see my list o’ uses for Candy Canes). At first I though they were nonpareils, which are little spheres of sugar found on SnoCaps.
But on closer examination they weren’t. They’re too irregular. So I read the ingredients: Sugar, Semi Sweet Chocolate, Corn Syrup, Flaked Corn, Yellow Corn Flour, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Corn Starch, Confectioner’s Glaze, Modified Food Starch, Peppermint Oil, Invertase, Invert Sugar Syrup, Artificial Color (Red 40) and Corn Syrup Solids.
In an effort to figure out what these nibbles are, I’ve boldfaced those ingredients that are not found in regular Real Junior Mints (tm). Seems like we have some red polenta or something. Definitely not crushed Starlight Mints (like those little candy flakes on the Peeps Peppermint Stars). One thing I’m quite sure of, they’re not that tasty. They don’t dissolve like a bit of candy crunch should, but they do remain crunchy no matter how long you roll them around in your mouth!
They just don’t look that good. They look like they fell in something. I like traditional Junior Mints, they’re pretty! Usually so slick and dark, these are lumpy and malformed. The taste is pretty much the same but the crunch isn’t crunchy enough, doesn’t add any pep to the whole thing. If it was real candy (you know something that you’d actually buy and eat separately ... tell me you’d eat flaked corn, yellow corn flour, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and corn syrup solids!) then I think they’d have something. I haven’t been particular fond of the other versions of Junior Mints so far: Pastel, Inside Out or Heart Shaped (only because the red ones tasted weird). I think I’ll just stick with the Real Junior Mints from now on.
Monday, November 26, 2007
One of the regional candies that I haven’t reviewed here before is Sponge Candy. Sponge Candy is best known in the Buffalo, NY area. The history of Sponge Candy is kind of murky, but variations of it exist in in Australia (Violet Crumble or simply Honeycomb), Cinder Toffee (UK), Sea Foam (Pacific Northwest) and Molasses Puffs (St. Louis area).
Sponge Candy is basically a hard candy, just boiled sugar and corn syrup, but just as its taken off the heat some baking soda and vinegar is added to foam it up as it cools.
The resulting block of frothed sugar is mostly air. It’s a strange and very light hardened sugar that smells lightly of molasses or caramel (though there is is no butter or molasses in most versions). Think of it as the candy version of pumice.
The Sponge Candy I got is from Parkside Candy, which looks like a charming, classic ice cream shop in Buffalo. They a few versions of their Sponge Candy including milk chocolate covered and orange, but I chose the classic Dark Chocolate Covered Sponge Candy.
The pieces varied slightly in shape and size, but all were about two bites and 1.5” square. The chocolate enrobing was thin and in good proportion to the honeycombed sugar foam.
The sugar center had a nice smoky note to it with a little salty hit (even though there was no salt listed on the ingredients it might have come from the sodium bicarbonate). It melted nicely on the tongue or could be quickly chewed (though it gives off a strange sound like crunching styrofoam).
There were a few pieces at the bottom of the box where either there was a gap in the coating or it broke. This allowed moisture to get into the sponge, which deflated it. It creates a tacky, sticky texture and while I’d eat it, just out of curiosity, it’s not a selling point. I’ve also had Sponge Candy from a local shop in Los Angeles called Littlejohn’s. It’s a very different texture (and might actually be called Honeycomb), but similar burnt sugar flavor with a thicker chocolate coating.
Overall, I like the stuff. The one pound box is substantial. I felt satisfied after two or three pieces and I know that weight-wise that was a pretty small portion. I liked the texture and strong flavor much better than the Violet Crumble, and it doesn’t hurt that this was nice semi-sweet chocolate on the outside.
I paid quite a bit for my one pound box at The Candy Store, $25 actually. It’s only $16 on Parkside Candy’s website ... but I also didn’t have to pay for shipping. A smaller sized box would have also suited me better, but luckily I’ve had guests over the Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend to help me out with the box.
See G’s review of Fowler’s of Buffalo Sponge Candy.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
One of the great new products I picked up in San Francisco last weekend was the new Akoma Extra Semisweet Chocolate Chips from Guittard. They’re Fair Trade certified from beans sourced from West Africa (one of the hotspots of poor working and wage conditions for plantation workers).
Unlike the standard Guittard semisweet chips, these are 55% cacao ... just a smidge darker than the usual chips. They come in a sassy metallic pink package instead of the also-easy-to-spot gold package for regular Guittard Dark Chocolate Chips.
The chips have a nice rounded chocolate flavor. Some strong berry notes, a little light smokiness and a good creamy melt. They maintain their shape when baked, as all good chips do. The ingredients are pretty simple as well: cacao beans (fair trade certified), sugar, soy lecithin and real vanilla.
I haven’t seen them in stores in Southern California yet, but you can definitely buy them at Chocosphere for the same price as their regular chips. So good fuzzy feelings for Fair Trade and still a decent price.
Dice the peel of the orange and place in a microwave safe cup with 1 cup of milk with five crushed cardamom pods. Microwave until warm, stir and let sit for 30 minutes, then stir again and heat again. This can be done a day ahead of time and refrigerated (this will make the orange peel especially soft).
In a sauce pan put the 1 cup of pre-made milk mix (dig out the cardamom pods) along with the other 3 cups of milk, sugar and the loosely beaten eggs. Clean and crush the cardamom in a mortar & pestle. Add to the mix, warm over low heat.
Put half of the bread into the bottom of the baking pan. Add half of the milk/egg mixture to the pan. Stir to combine and get the bread soaked. Take half of the chips and cover the egg/bread mixture. Then put the rest of the bread into the saucepan to get it completely wet. Add that to the top of the baking pan. Sprinkle more chips on top.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes. The pudding will pull away from the sides when done and the center won’t move. It’s a pretty dry bread pudding, so try it warm with a little milk or perhaps some ice cream or whipped cream.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
It’s odd how different caramel can be and still be called caramel. I’m pretty keen on the firm and chewy stuff, I really like a pure emulsified texture as well. I voted for that one.
I was outvoted. That’s okay any soft and flowing kind is good too, if it has a nice burnt sugar and butter flavor. I’ll even eat something so hard and tacky that it threatens dental work (Sugar Daddy).
It’s amazing that something so simple can be so tasty!
Friday, November 23, 2007
Last week I had the opportunity to share lots of my candy with some wonderful and dedicated writers who spent part of National Novel Writing Month raising money on our behalf. Though I missed my fundraising targets, I’m so happy that everyone else was able to hit theirs. I hope I more than made up for it with a super-duper-deluxe Candy Buffet.
I took about 100 pounds of candy with me (though not all of it was on display) and put it in a variety of vases and glass containers I’ve gathered over the years. The individual candies included: Brach’s Orange Slices, Brach’s Butter Toffee, A&W Root Beer Barrels, Butterscotch Disks, Ice Blue Mints, Cinnamon Disks, Filled Strawberries, Milk Maid Caramels & Milk Maid Royals, Brach’s Salt Water Taffy, Koppers Chocolate Covered Almond Jewels, White Chocolate Pearlescent Almonds, Koppers Milkies and Koppers Mint Lentils and finally some mini Gummi Bears (the most popular of all).
It’s an odd relief to get rid of so much candy all at once. Especially to folks who actually want it.
I’ll have more, probably in the New Year, about what I’ve learned about candy buffets, including how to present them, ideas for packaging and design and how to figure out how much candy you’ll need.
While I’d love to go on about the trip or do a review today, it’s late and I’ve been visiting with family and friends from out of town (and still trying to get back in the game on my novel).
So here’s the week in review, short as it was:
Monday: Brach’s Soda Poppers (6 out of 10)
Tuesday: Ice Cubes (5 out of 10)
Wednesday: Hotel Chocolat Crostini Fruit & Nut Slab (7 out of 10)
Thursday: Licorice Assortment (7 out of 10)
Average for the week: 6 with 25% chocolate content.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.