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
Sunday, May 18, 2008
First, I’m not going to the All Candy Expo in Chicago this year. The dates (May 20-22) are simply unworkable for me this time around. I’m not terribly upset about it, the last show was just in September and I still have a few items left from that to review! Next year’s show will revert to the original June dates, and I’ll be back in ‘09.
Through the wonderful assistance of the folks at the National Confectioners Association though, I will be able to bring copious amounts of coverage including reviews that week! (Instead of readers waiting until I return home - so maybe things will be even better from a reader’s perspective.) But if you also want some first-hand coverage, Candy Addict will be on the floor and I’ll do my best to point to other coverage as the week goes by.
Changes this year at the convention include some new policies. Children are no longer allowed at the show at all and the Candy Time Room, which was that fabled space where you could fill a single bag with whatever you wanted from dozens of bins of candy ... that’s gone. (I scored a couple dozen snack sized Ritter Sport bars last year, they were so good.)
The show used to be on a Monday-Wednesday schedule, this year they’re going Tuesday-Thursday. The exhibitors are already on the floor at the McCormick center this weekend, setting up their booths. Some are quite elaborate, while other smaller companies opt for the old table & curtain display. The smallest booths are 10 feet square. The largest ones occupied by “Big Candy” like Hershey’s, Mars, Jelly Belly, Wrigley, Ferrara Pan & Nestle are more than 50 feet square, which is bigger than most candy stores (and my house). As an attendee, all I ever care about is the ability to view their product line, sample items, perhaps take a sample home and of course talk to someone. The larger booths not only feature the candy but show off how global they may be (Hershey’s was sampling some of their Asian versions last year) as well as the advertising campaigns & marketing tie-ins. While I may not care about some NASCAR merchandising deal, there are plenty of stores that will.
The show is continuing to diversify to include more snacks (popcorn, chips, jerky, etc.) and gourmet confections. One of the cornerstone events will be the sessions under banner name “Taste of Gourmet” featuring Frederic Loraschi (Michel Cluizel) and Michael Antonorsi (Chuao). This year also shows the continuation of the “Gourmet Marketplace” are of the show floor where companies like Stephany’s Chocolates, Fannie May, Wolfgang, Bloomsberry & Co and other upscale (but not quite artisan) makers will be grouped together. I’ll have some reviews of their items to at least tip my hat towards the gourmet corner this year.
The show has a wide number of attendees. Most are buyers for large companies like Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’s, Rite Aid, grocery chains and other general merchandisers. Others are candy brokers & wholesalers, who are the middlemen for the smaller candy retailers. Most candy stores can’t afford the minimum purchases from the large factories, so they come to the show to see what’s new & how they’ll be marketed in the coming year, then they place their orders through the wholesale companies. Other people on the floor are publicists who work with different confectionery companies, writers from the industry or from consumer oriented publications (like bloggers) and finally, other candy companies.
I plan to give candy teases all week long as well, just announcements of new products that have caught my interest, keep an eye on the little sidebar to the left where it says “All Candy Expo” coverage. (Or sign up for my RSS feed and you won’t miss a thing.)
Thursday, May 15, 2008
I picked this bar up at Target. They’re not available at all Target stores, in fact, the only one I see them at is the Target in Harbor City here in the Los Angeles area. I think it’s cool that Target has regionally relevant offerings and while this isn’t exactly a local product, I’m sure the folks who requested it and buy it are happy to have a taste of home.
Bubu Lubu is a Mexican candy from Ricolino. It’s described on the package (in English and Spanish) as strawberry flavored jelly and marshmallow with chocolate flavored coating. I know, I know, why am I buying a mockolate product? How could I not! Look at that metallic blue wrapper, the white marshmallow character with the spiky Lisa Simpson hair and strawberry-flavored scarf & gloves! And the name, people, just say that name out loud a few times.
They don’t say so on the package, but many folks enjoy Bubu Lubu frozen. (I don’t happen to care for cold candy, but that’s just me, so I ate mine room temperature.)
Even the shape of the bar is fun, with its little curves.
Inside, it’s pretty obvious how it lives up to the description. A white marshmallow base with a stripe of fruity red jelly and then covered in a crackly mockolate coating.
The strawberry jelly is tart and smooth but overwhelms any delicate vanilla flavors the marshmallow may have. The marshmallow is bouncing and lightly foamy, kind of like a meringue. The jelly creates a bit of a grainy coating, especially when it comes into contact with the mockolate, so it’s yet another texture. The mockolate, well, it’s kind of waxy and only vaguely cocoa flavored. I consider it the edible container for the jelly & marshmallow, not a full participant in this confection.
The bar is rather light, even though it looks pretty big it only weighs in at 1.23 ounces (35 grams).
Since there’s really nothing else like this in the American candy bar world, I think it’s great that this is finding its way onto American shelves. Not really a bar for me, the strawberry isn’t authentically jammy enough. But hey, it was 50 cents, so it’s not like I can expect something extraordinary. If you’re watching your calories, the fact that there’s no chocolate in there and all that marshmallow & jelly means that it rings in at a modest 126 calories.
This actually isn’t the first time I’ve bought Bubu Lubu, but this was the best looking bar I’ve had so far. I’m not sure if I’m not getting them fresh, or this is just the way that they always look. I’m not sure I’d ever find this combination, even factory-fresh with top notch ingredients excellent, but I’m sure that there are many fans of the bar.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
I’ve been a little mad at Hershey’s and while it’s only partly because of this new Bliss line*, I haven’t been that eager to try it. Their website & advertisements for the candy are so bland and generic, they may as well substitute the shots of the computer animated candy with shampoo bottles.
I’m not the only one who wonders why Hershey’s is coming out with a Dove-style bite at this time. It’s not like Hershey’s doesn’t already have a premium creamy chocolate line, whatever happened to Symphony? That’s a great name ... why go off and invent a whole new line? It just seems so silly and useless. And why is it $4 for a bag ... the price is at least a third more than the standard miniatures? How good could it be? Seeing how they’re also pushing another new line of premium chocolates via their Starbucks tie in (stuff that’s actually, I dunno, premium), how is this going to cut through the clutter of choices?
Knowing myself and how my irritation can color my enjoyment of confections, I waited. (And while I waited, I read other reviews: CandyAddict & Chocolate-Snob plus Candy Critic’s special demonstration of why Canadians don’t lock their doors.)
Hershey’s is wise to create these little packets above, I spotted them at Walgreen’s (though the ones I have are free samples) for 50 cents and they include a coupon good for a dollar off of a regular sized bag (so if you like them it’s a good deal). Of course you can also get a coupon on the Hershey’s website for a dollar off without the sample purchase.
Each little packet had three foil wrapped Bliss bites (.76 ounces). No, no package to sample all three varieties: Rich & Creamy Dark Chocolate, Smooth & Creamy Milk Chocolate and Milk Chocolate with a Meltaway Center.
(The names are actually all in lower case, because women dig that, it makes them think that these chocolates cry watching movies on AMC with them and they’re not into yoga but they’re into champagne.)
rich & creamy dark chocolate: comes in a dark maroon foil (the same shade that I love as nail polish but just can’t pull off because I’m so pale and freckly). The little square melts well, and certainly has a silky texture on the tongue. The flavor, well, it’s kind of like hot chocolate - all middle of the road. (There is milkfat in this dark chocolate.)
smooth & creamy milk chocolate: comes in a rather odd purple foil, one of those purples that looks blue under florescent lights but purple under sunlight. Just to compare, I go a hold of a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate miniature to remind myself of the taste and texture. The Bliss bite has a silky melt, it’s rather sweet, a little sticky and has a less nutty and tangy taste than the regular Hershey’s chocolate. If you’re hesitant to try this because you don’t like the taste of Hershey’s Chocolate, this is definitely a different process that doesn’t have that yogurt flavor.
milk chocolate with a meltaway center: comes in rich brown foil. It doesn’t smell like much, but true to its name it does meltaway. This is because instead of being filled with chocolate, it’s filled with chocolate with an added boost of palm kernel oil. And before you go thinking that I don’t like tropical oils, I actually love them when they’re used properly. Instead of being used for a firm center like Frangos or a super-soupy one like Lindt Lindor Truffles, this strikes a nice balance ... think hazelnut paste, but a bit smoother.
I was surprised at how well Hershey’s delivered on the creamy part of their pledge (and without PGPR). They don’t satisfy me, really, they might have a great texture but lack the chocolate punch that would really make them a rich indulgence. Three pieces of the dark chocolate are 100 calories, the other two varieties are 110 calories for three pieces.
* For the record, some of the other things that have Hershey’s in the dog house for me would be: closing the Canada & California factories & moving production to Mexico, changing the chocolate on 5th Avenue to mockolate, changing the Candy Cane Kisses so they no longer have cocoa butter in them and backing the FDA petition to downgrade chocolate definition and even though I didn’t mind them that much, for changing Good & Fruity.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.