Tuesday, May 20, 2008
One of the more timely items I got from the All Candy Expo folks is this box of Crackheads candy. It’s been around for at least a year, but I haven’t seen it in stores.
I first saw them on ThinkGeek and reviewed on CandyAddict. I wasn’t terribly interested in them, after all, they’re just chocolate covered coffee beans, not exactly an innovative new product. The unique selling proposition in this case is that they’re in “single serve” boxes and come as a mix of both white chocolate and dark chocolate coatings.
The boxes look similar to Lemonheads or Boston Baked Beans. Easily portable and resealable.
They’re really nicely panned coffee beans. Though they’re not all consistent in size, the panning is excellent with shiny coats and well-tempered chocolate. The white chocolate is real white chocolate made with cocoa butter. The mellow malty milky flavors go really well with the coffee bean. This was the first time I’d had a white chocolate coated one, and it’s a natural match - the fatty sweetness with the dairy flavors are pretty much a dense version of a latte.
The dark verison are not nearly as sweet, but still provides a nice counterpoint to the dark and lightly bitter beans. The beans are crunchy without being fiberous or too burnt tasting. My box had a bit more white chocolate to it, but I was okay with that.
The “creator” of Crackheads, John Osmanski, was on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch last night on CNBC. The segment was One Minute to Millions where they featured a panel of three experts: Kevin Nealon (who was there promoting his book and probably provided the consumer point of view), Pam Macharola of Blair Candy and Brian Pipa of Candy Addict!
The product was introduced with a little pretaped segment. It made no mention of the fact that chocolate covered espresso beans have been around for at least 30 years. They’re pretty widely available, at least in specialty stores or at coffee locations like Starbucks (and of course the new Hershey’s Starbucks chocolates). While the back of the box has a breakdown of caffeine content of other beverages (cocoa, cola, tea, coffee & espresso), it doesn’t exactly spell out the caffeine content of the actual product. However, the Crackheads website pegs it at about 120 mgs (about half of a cup of coffee).
Osmanski introduced the product as a solution to those low caffeine moments, especially for students and academics.
The new tagline “because everyone’s addicted to something” works well with the name. The product packaging has been redesigned since my sample (you can see the new one here). But the general consensus from the panel was that the name would never have the wide appeal that would guarantee it placement on the shelves of stores like Walmart (which might be necessary to make millions off a single $2 product). Instead it would probably stay in places like Think Geek and coffee houses (where it’s currently found).
While I think it’s a good quality product, the packaging feels a bit downscale, not rising to the $2 per package price tag - which translates to over $24 per pound (the Starbucks version is about $12 a pound). The name, which tries to co-opt drug culture fails ... there may be other names that might fit the addiction tag better (but I’m not going to come up with it here, Osmanski has a blog if you want to give him feedback directly). Perhaps coming up with two lines, one under this name and another more mainstream version would be a success story worthy of follow up on Donny Deutsch.
(I suspect that Osmanium doesn’t actually manufacturer these, just repacks them, as they package says that they are made in a facility that processes peanuts & tree nuts. The website also says that they’re Kosher. My prime candidate as the maker of these is Koppers Chocolates.)
Name: Firecracker ChocoPod & Firecracker Chocolate Bar
Name: Sea Salt Almonds, Sea Salt Cashews & Fruit and Nut Mix
Name: Milk Chocolate with Peanut Butter Filling
Monday, May 19, 2008
As I mentioned before, the National Confectioners Association, which runs the All Candy Expo, sent me a box of goodies so I wouldn’t feel left out by not attending.
The package says that it’s 20 lbs (last year I brought home 60 lbs ... but I think I ended up giving away about 20). It’s a fabulous assortment.
While there are a few things that I’d never pick up for myself, things like jerky, chips, and many packages of gum, those quickly found homes. But there were also plenty of samples, full sized things, that I might not have been able to score by myself on the floor. Some other items I’ve already found in stores and reviewed here (Wonka Giant Chewy Nerds, Starburst Gummi Bursts, Figamajigs, Craves, and a few others).
Here’s a small sampling of the items I’ll be able to talk about this week:
The bold ones are those that I’m planning reviews of (but ya never know). There are dozens of other items that were in the box, of course, but not things that are likely to be included on Candy Blog.
The photos shown here are from a reader, Michael J. Hartman, who is working behind the scenes. These were taken on Saturday as everything was being loaded into the McCormick center for the show. Some of the very elaborate booths require cranes to assemble and of course days.
You can check in here as I upload my photos on Flickr.
Name: Emergency Chocolate
Name: M&Ms Premiums
Name: Baskin-Robbins Soft Candy
(images courtesy of the manufacturers’ press kits)
I picked up a short assortment of Lillie Belle Farms chocolates while I was in San Francisco. I got the Cayenne Caramels, Smokey Blue Cheese Truffles, Lavender Caramel & Marzipan Fig. They each came in a set of two, just tucked simply into a cellophane bag, for the rather reasonable price of $4 per pair (except for the Cayenne Caramels, they’re small so there were three of those).
I liked the ability to pick and chose what I was going to get. I’ve see Lillie Belle Farms at Whole Foods, but usually just the blue cheese 5 pieces and for Candy Blog purposes, I really want a variety. But having two of each means I get a pretty strong sense of each chocolate.
Jeff Shepherd runs Lillie Belle Farms, and it’s a real farm in Oregon (not some made up name), certified organic, where he grows marionberries, raspberries & strawberries. That’s another thing that sets these chocolates apart, they’re not named for the creator, one of the few chocolatiers that’s not. (Exceptions: Godvia, Vosges & Hotel Chocolat.) Well, that’s not quite true, Lillie Belle Farms was named for Jeff’s daughter, Lillie and his wife Belle.
These are adorable little chocolate buttons. The only molded chocolate in the bunch.
It has to be molded because the caramel filling is downright flowing. It’s smooth, without a hint of grain and with an authentic creamy toasted sugar taste.
And when it says cayenne, it’s not kidding. There’s the initial squeal of hot pepper and then this low lingering burn afterwards. Unfortunately I’m a bit of wuss and thought it was too strong. Perhaps if I was eating them in combination with other chocolates (and the smaller size is welcome in that respect), but as solo pieces I really only think they’re going to be loved by folks who have that iron constitution.
I had no idea what this was, the package simply said Rum & Fig, which sounded like a fabulous combination in my book. Since it was wrapped in foil, I had no idea that it also included nuts. (I didn’t know what kind of nuts and didn’t have the internet handy so I made my husband eat one in order to confirm that it was almonds and not walnuts.)
Once on the internet I found that it’s rum & spice poached black mission fig which is then wrapped in marzipan and then dipped in chocolate & rolled in crushed almonds.
It was like, well, nothing else. It smells drunk, like amaretto and rum. The crunchy almonds are held together by a bit of a chocolate shell. The combination of chocolate and fig is quite difficult, as many of the fig flavors overpower the chocolate. Even though I didn’t catch much chocolate here, all the flavors worked so well together. It didn’t come off as sweet or decadent, but so complex, like hearing a song that will become your favorite for the first time and just wanting to hit replay a few times.
A stiff and chewy caramel, very smooth chew with a strong lavender zest to it (or whatever you call the oily essence of lavender). The chocolate and salt complement this well, I’m not sure if the caramel was too hard for me or not, it’s hard to tell when the pieces are a bit below room temperature.
It’s sweet and mellow and really the perfect texture of caramel for me, an ideal combination of sugar and cream that brings out the burnt sugar notes. That darkness combines well with lavender, which I find to be a darker essence like rosemary.
I believe this is what’s known as a signature piece. The ganache is mixed with Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue Cheese and then rolled in crushed toasted almonds. It looks kind of like a little cheese ball, and smells a bit like it too.
There is no hint of sweetness here. It’s tangy and smooth and has a bit of biting bitter hint. The nuts are probably the sweetest thing in the mix and provide a great crunch. As a piece of confection, it’s not quite satisfying since it’s rather salty. As something to just ignore labels and eat ... well, now there’s the way to wrap your brain around it. I do wonder how it would taste smeared on a table water cracker.
I’m definitely interested in picking up some more of Shepherd’s pieces, I chose the ones that I thought were most distinctive (that I could get my hands on) but there are far more that seem to be available only through his store, so when the weather cools off, I’ll probably place an order. Or visit his shop in Central Point, Oregon (north of Medford):
Lillie Belle Farms
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.