Friday, January 11, 2008
On New Year’s Eve we tried something a little different. For the past few years we’d done grown-up things, like have a nice dinner party where my husband makes an excellent feast of something like homemade pot pies or a roast of some kind.
This year it was bit more low key, but I usually make the dessert so I decided to make it more interactive.
Specifically, after giving my studio a little purge, I gathered up the errant and orphaned candies into a bowl, bought two tubes of Pillsbury Crescent Roll dough and pre-heated the oven.
My neighbor Robin and I just took what was lying around and wrapped it in dough and baked it.
She was very conservative, erring with items that actually sounded good. Things like shaved chocolate with crushed almonds. Orange marmalade. Shaved chocolate with orange marmalade and so on.
I, on the other hand, was curious to see what would happen with things that didn’t necessarily sound good at first. My experiments included:
The process is pretty simple. Just follow the directions on the package of your Pillsbury (or other brand) Crescent Rolls. My biggest suggestion is to use baking parchment on your baking sheet, as it is extremely likely that something will leak and this prevents sticking and makes cleanup a snap. I baked them for the recommended time and found that the centers generally ended up hot and melted but not burned.
In general simpler, consistently textured items work best. While I enjoyed the less-sweet taste of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in a Crescent, it was kind of dry because of the baked peanut butter and smaller proportion of chocolate that seemed to creep into the corners. A similar thing happened with the 3 Musketeers Mini. First, the Mini is too small, I think a Fun Size would work better. Second, the center stays intact but the chocolate goes everywhere. The center also seems to get a bit more grain to it, especially if you left the roll cool completely. The Peppermint Pattie was rather dreadful, as the center became inconsistent ... a little chewy in places and in other places downright chalky. The Pecan Pralines turned out fantastic, just like a Pecan Sticky Bun filling. The M&Ms’ shell seemed to lose its color (that’s the lavender blob in the first picture), which I’ve never had happen before with baking with M&Ms, there must be more moisture in crescent roll dough than cookie dough. The Lemon Jelly was tasty and moist but a little bland. The Java Twix was baffling, we couldn’t figure out what it was, it was just sweet and grainy. A twice baked cookie is probably not a good idea. (Though I’m still curious about what would happen with a KitKat.)
For the record, Robin’s Shaved Dark Chocolate with Blood Orange Marmalade was good, probably the best of the bunch.
After tasting about eight of them, we all felt a little sick and the rest remained untouched, so I can’t say whether they were considered successes or not. They’re definitely better right out of the oven, so if you’re making them for a small group, try baking three or four at a time in succession instead of all at once to pace yourself.
For kids it’s a fun little, “no mess, low stress” thing to do, maybe even for a party. I can also recommend marking them somehow ... we couldn’t figure out what some of them were and it’d only been 20 minutes since we made them! (Okay, it was New Years and we’d already had a bottle of wine.)
This is definitely an experiment I plan to continue. I saw that Pillsbury makes a jumbo roll, which might be better for larger candy bars, like a Snickers Fun Size. I also want to know what happens when you put taffy, hard candies, marshmallows or caramels in there. You can also just use candy-like ingredients like Nutella, Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chips, Sprinkles, Crushed Candies and so on ...
So, have you ever tried something like this and how did it turn out?
I give the results of this project a 6 out of 10.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
I wasn’t quite sure what it was (and it was $12) but was led to believe that some in the assortment were nougats (hey, they’re French, I love French nougats!) and jellies. Though they’re kind of a traditional Christmas sweet, they’re actually available year round.
The pretty little wax-paper-wrapped treats had little curly fringes and inside the wrappers are little riddles, quotes or cartoons. In France you can just buy them by the handful, and I must admit they’re so cute I wouldn’t mind finding a Christmas stocking stuffed with them. They’re popular in the Lyon region, the legend says that they originated in a confectionery shop owned by a man named Papillot and were invented by one of his workers who was trying to create something pretty to woo a co-worker. Papillot saw the marketing possiblities of the frilly wrapped treats immediately as did the customers. Of course I’m not sure if this is just legend or not. Papillotes means curly papers if I’m to believe some web translators. Are curly papers in general named for this candy or did the man who own the candy shop bear the name Mr. Curly Papers? (Could someone who speaks French educate me?)
Whatever the origin, they’re cute and come in four varieties:
Red = Pistachio Creme - okay, maybe it’s not pistachio, maybe it’s marzipan. Anyway, it’s a little too floral/medicinal for me. The good news is that there were only two of these in my assortment.
Green = Hazelnut Praline - this one has a dark chocolate shell with a light nutty truffle filling with a strong hazelnut note to it. Creamy, smooth and satisfying.
Blue = Orange Truffle - this one was easy to tell apart, it smelled strongly of orange zest. The milk chocolate was a little sweet, but the pieces of orange peel in there and the creamy texture of the whole thing was quite nice.
Pink = p?tes de fruits - I’m guessing this was a pear jelly, it was sweet and flavorful with that little bit of pearish grit to it. Not really the best flavor for me, but nice enough. I would have preferred a citrus or perhaps a raspberry.
The mix I got favored the green & pink wrappers with the exception of two red and two pink, so I lucked out with getting my favorites in quantity.
The little riddles were, well, like those little riddles you get in candy:
The answer is une armure. Oh, man, that’s funny! (Thanks to Wikipedia I now know that the French also suffer from Knock Knock jokes, which they call Toc Toc.)
They’re a fun traditional treat the would make a nice little cultural exchange or just a bright little display on a table at a party. The chocolates are good, not phenomenal, but the story and interactivity with the little curls and wrappers is what sets these apart. (Here’s another French-filled review from Moko Wants Candy.)
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Sometimes I order stuff on the internet because I like the sound of the name. I saw Kasugai’s Fruits Lemonade (also known as Ramune Iro Iro) on JBox.com and since I was already ordering a gazillion rolls of Pineapple Mentos, so I figured I should get some other stuff too.
From the description it was clear that these were just compressed dextrose candies like Smarties or SweeTarts. But the intriguing part was it looked like they came in pineapple. As I was in a pineapple mood, it was quickly in my cart and on its way to me.
The little package is cute and has a variety of different sizes. Some are large sweets, about the size of four quarters stacked up. Others were little tablets in rolls - some were tiny, others were a little bigger (like the size of American Smarties).
Most of the rolls were of all one flavor: Lemon, Strawberry, Pineapple, Kiwi or Orange. They were color coded and had little images of the fruits, so I had no trouble figuring out what I was going to get. (Well, the green one was a bit of a puzzle, but I eventually figured out that it was Kiwi, either that or a honeydew.)
There were a couple of rolls that were combinations of flavors. It was extremely hard to tell as they weren’t really different colors. I kind of liked that it was all about the flavor and there were no colors in there.
The texture was softer than Smarties ... in fact, the large ones were downright powdery. There was one larger roll (shown above) that had truly dense ones, but the rest were about the same. While I like a softer style most of the time, because you get right to the flavor, these had an odd chalky taste to them. It was like there was something else in there along with the sugar, maybe some sort of calcium carbonate and I’m actually getting some nutrition or something.
Overall the flavors were more intense than Smarties, but not as flavorful as SweeTarts. They weren’t truly sour through, not like a lot of other ramune products I’ve had. However, the high proportion of Pineapple items in this was what made it truly tasty. Sure it’s called Lemonade Mix, but it was really all about the Pineapple.
As a small side note, I’ve been experimenting with my husband’s Nikon D70 DSLR. He shot the two photos above in a little session we had over the weekend. I’m debating a move away from my point & shoot Sony DSC-V3. While I love my little camera, the control I have on the focus is a little frustrating sometimes. For now I’ll just borrow his for a while. (I think his photos turned out fantastic. It’s very hard to get a crisply focused shot on cellophane items, and the control on the depth of field is also amazing.)
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
You know what makes a candy satisfying? Sweet fat and protein. It’s a delicate balance, but I find that peanuts are usually up for the job. Mars pretty much knows that and designed the Snickers bar to take full advantage.
When I first heard about the Limited Edition Snickers Nut ‘n Butter Crunch I was wondering if it was going to be a Butterfinger knockoff, as the Butter Crunch portion of the name might indicate. Then I wondered if it was a remix of the Snickers Cruncher. But it turns out it’s something altogether different.
Instead of nougat, peanuts, caramel and milk chocolate in the regular Snickers, this new Snickers Nut ‘n Butter Crunch is peanuts and some sort of peanut butter mass (something they call “peanut butter taste” on the wrapper) in milk chocolate. I’d characterize this stuff as a chewy peanut butter fudge or maybe a chewy peanut butter nougat. I think it falls into the nougat camp since there are egg whites in there.
The bar is a little smaller at 1.71 ounces, but still rivals the fat content of the regular Snickers which is 2.07 ounces.
It’s odd, because the texture of the bar makes me think that there’s some caramel in there, it is definitely chewy. But look at that cross section ... it’s jammed full of that “peanut butter taste.”
I like it, I really really like it. I actually like that it’s smaller than a regular Snickers bar, which is always just one bite too much for me. I like the solidness, I like that it’s less sweet and I actually like that it has 5 grams of protein. I’ll be curious to see if this becomes a regular item like the Snickers Dark did.
Monday, January 07, 2008
I was at the grocery store and saw these “petite mint chips” on post-holiday sale. At only $1.24 for a 12 ounce bag, I could hardly resist. Sometimes I find myself spending six or eight dollars a pound for these little beauties in pastels at a candy shop when I get one of those strange cravings. They come in two different sizes, the regular which are the size of a squat Hershey’s Kiss and these that I picked up are the petite size that are like little chocolate chips.
What are Smooth n Melty? Sugar, partially hydrogenated oils and mint ... and a few nonpariels thrown in for a little crunchy texture.
While that doesn’t sound good, they’re simply buttery melting mints. They’ve very sweet but not too minty. There’s a milky component to them, but it’s not an overwhelming dairy flavor. They’re completely unsatisfying in the sense that I have to eat them one after another until the whole bag is gone. (Well, there are a few left in the bag right now.)
The only thing I didn’t like about this “baking chip” variety over the pastels is that I had that little bitter taste from the red nonpariels (red dye #40 again).
Back in ‘06 when Hershey’s introduced their Candy Cane Kisses I was so excited. They were Smooth n Melty, only made with cocoa butter instead of partially hydrogenated tropical fats. Sadly Hershey reformulated those seasonal Kisses so they are no longer made with just cocoa butter so I didn’t buy them this year.
Now if the partially hydrogenated thing puts you off, I did talk to Gary Guittard about Smooth n Melty. He said that they are working on reformulating them to include no trans fats. (But Guittard has no plans to make a real cocoa butter version, drat!) You can also get the mint disks without the nonpariels on them (usually for melting & candymaking) but I prefer the little crunch.
Friday, January 04, 2008
I think my best score was in the baking aisle at Von’s where they had Smooth & Melty mint chips on sale for $1.24 for 12 ounces. (I also bought two bags of the regular Guittard Chips which were also 66% off, you know, just cuz.)
I have to call ludicrous hooey on this product on the Williams-Sonoma site: Handmade Peppermint Snow (6 ounces). Guess what it is? Yes, you are correct, it’s crushed red and white peppermints. Handmade peppermints. All in this lovely jar and marked down from $10 to $6.99 ... what a deal!
Crate & Barrel has Mini Mighty Marshmallows (4.5 ounces) marked down from $6.95 to $1.75.
Dean and Deluca has one fabulous deal to report, these Karmamel Kickbacks (21 ounces) marked down from $48 to $12. They sound really good, “includes chocolate, chocolate nut, kahlua, mint, nougat caramel and pecan nougat center. Individually wrapped in a gift box and adorned with red ribbon.
Godiva is offering up to 50% off in their post-holiday Chocolate Covered Sale.
Artisan Sweets has a deal on French Candied Chestnuts marked down from $50 to $25.
Lake Champlain has had a few interesting items cycle in and out of their sale bin. Check out the current list here.
Chocosphere always has chocolate on sale in their bargain basement. Right now they have some Domori bars for half off. Always something good to take a chance on in there.
Have you found anything ridiculously cheap lately?
Last fall they introduced the seasonal Autumn Mini Mix that had Strawberry, French Vanilla and Mocha Cappuccino. I was quite surprised that I liked the Strawberry and was rather excited to hear of the new flavors coming out this year: Cherry 3 Musketeers for Valentine’s Day and Raspberry 3 Musketeers for Easter.
Like the new 3 Muskteers Mint (not a limited edition item), these are covered in dark chocolate.
I admit that I approached these with a bit of trepidation. I’ll also admit that my strong dislike of cherry flavored candies has dissolved into the “don’t prefer” column. I eat cherry things in service of my reviews and sometimes when no one is looking.
This little morsel is quite cute. They smell very strongly of maraschino, even before I bit into it. They center on this one is very strongly pink, almost fuschia courtesy of my nemesis Red 40.
The center is fluffy and has the slightest salty hit to it that offsets what is otherwise an ordinary cherry flavored fluff. The dark chocolate shell is pretty thin, but passably creamy.
There are a few varieties of the little wrappers for the individual candies. Some are pink, some are silver with little hearts. They also feature little “conversation” sayings like, “Hug Me”, “Be Mine” and “Crazy 4U”. Kind of fun, though until I read the package I didn’t realize they were there.
When I was offered this preview of the new 3 Musketeers flavors by some PR folks for Mars, it was the prospect of trying the Raspberry 3 Musketeers without having to search five or six stores to find them.
The format here is the same, dark chocolate covering a raspberry flavored fluff center.
The package here specifies that it’s a Limited Edition item and has some crocus on the front in addition to the freakishly glossy raspberry close-ups.
The individual pieces are also pink, though two different shades. They don’t have any sayings on them, as I don’t think Easter really lends itself to such things and usually sticks with symbols of spring like bunnies, chicks and eggs.
These do not smell quite as strongly as the Cherry ones, but are still sweet and fragrant. The scent is rather like flowers and a bit like berries with a little woodsy component that I can only say smells like raspberry seeds. It also smells like chocolate, hooray!
The interior fluff is only lightly lavender (Red 40 and Blue Lake 5 in here!). It has the same fluffy texture, very sweet but with a good airy melt on the tongue. The raspberry flavor is all on the sweet side, no tangy bite.
I preferred the Raspberry by a longshot, but I still think as a fruit 3 Musketeers go, I liked the Strawberry from last fall best. I think these work well as minis, but I doubt I would be able to stomach a full sized bar or even the pair of smaller bars like the Mint 3Musketeers in these flavors. The small size is ideal.
Honestly I would have preferred a mix of flavors like the Autumn Mini Mix. Strawberry, Raspberry and Cherry all in one bag would have suited me fine.
I’ve heard from readers that the Cherry ones are now appearing in stores with the Valentines merchandise, so keep your eyes peeled. The Raspberry should go on store shelves after Valentines (but you never know, I found Russell Stover Maple Eggs in with the Christmas stuff at Walgreen’s this year).
UPDATE 2/17/2009: The Cherry & Raspberry returned for 2009. Raspberry is on the shelves with the Easter merchandise.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
I wrote this February 16, 2007 and it’s been sitting in my drafts folder ever since. I opened it up because I was researching some of the info in here because my husband has a bit of a cough right now. I’m not sure why I never posted this.
So I went to the doctor today. Because I’ve lost my voice. Because I’ve been coughing a lot. Because I have asthmatic bronchitis.
Blah, blah, blah.
I go round and round with this. I’ve been getting bronchitis rather regularly since I reached adulthood. (However, this is the first case since I started on Singulair two years ago, so cutting my incidence in half is a success in my book.)
While I was waiting for the doctor (who kindly fit me in on a Friday late in the afternoon on a holiday weekend) I was reading a magazine called WebMD. Mostly because all of the other magazines available were either golf related or about parenting. This one had Hugh Laurie on the cover, who is not a doctor but plays one on TV (and plays an American, to boot).
It was filled with lovely factoid pages, with a special section that advised me to use the first stall in a public bathroom because it’s the least used and least germy and to never, ever touch the handrails on an escalator ... because after all, I don’t want some rhino virus on my fingers when it’s much better to stumble face first into those spiky edges of the moving stairs ... much better to embed those germs into open wounds. But again, I digress. Somewhere there was a page that mentioned that chocolate is a good cough suppressant.
At that moment I think I hacked up part of my lung and then went and had it X-rayed to be sure. (To clarify, they X-rayed my chest, I discretely disposed of the thing I coughed up.)
I made a mental note that I had to research this further, however, I went home with a lovely prescription for a promising cough medicine called Tessalon (you remember him from the Lord of the Rings books, right?), so it was only kind of in the back of my mind at that point.
After several hours of feeling better (though still unable to speak above a whisper), I recalled my mission:
In November 2004, the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology published a study that examined the efficacy of using theobromine in chocolate as an anti-tussive (cough suppressant). The study found that 1000 mgs suppressed coughs as well as codeine for four hours with no side effects. (Check this out: Theobromine inhibits sensory nerve activation and cough.)
Last time I tried to go to the store and buy pure theobromine I was stymied.
Now, my big question is how much chocolate do you have to eat to get that 1,000 mgs of theobromine?
Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Bar (1.45 oz) has 184mg of Theobromine
It’s obvious the best bang for the buck is gonna be straight cocoa. So, one tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa has 12 calories and 111 mgs of theobromine. So if I need to consume 1,000 mgs every four hours, I’ll need to eat ... um, a lot of cocoa (9 tablespoons/108 calories per dose and figure I’m awake for 16 hours a day that’d mean 36 tablespoons/432 calories). That’s a lot of calories with very little enjoyment. (I’d figure I would put them in gelatin capsules and swallow them.)
Now of course the tastier way to do involves actual chocolate. I don’t think I’d be able to stomach the amount of baker’s chocolate required, so let’s just go with the assumption that an ounce of high quality very dark chocolate (70%+) has about 300 mgs of theobromine. So 3.5 ounces is required, which just so happens to be the normal size for many premium bars. I would figure I would buy them by the box, because I’ll be needing to eat four of those a day. And logging 550 calories on average with each one ... um, yeah, that’s pretty much whole whole day’s caloric intake (on days where I’m particularly active, I might add).
The average price for a premium super dark bar is about $3.50 ... so it would cost $14 a day. But then again, because it’d be my full day’s worth of calories, I wouldn’t have to cook or eat anything else!
The thing to take away from all this though is that a strong cup of hot chocolate when you have a serious cough just might be the best thing for you. Try one quarter cup of good quality cocoa, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 8-10 ounces of milk. Heat over the stove in a small saucepan or in the microwave. Be careful not to boil. Drink. Feel better.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.