Wednesday, October 8, 2008
As the leaves start turning and the air becomes crisp in the fall, I love really filling treats like toffee. Of course Los Angeles isn’t cooperating with that right now and it’s 91 degrees at 11 AM, but maybe eating toffee will help change this Indian summer.
Ravensbark intrigued me because they were interesting variations on the same old theme of toffee covered with chocolate and nuts.
Ravensbark sent me an assortment of all their flavors: The Original, The Blondie, The Milkman and The Ravenator. All boast all natural ingredients, hand crafted in small batches in Texas.
Opening the box, it smelled like fresh baked snickerdoodles. Not spicy, just sweet and toasty.
The Original (shown above) is toffee covered in dark chocolate and covered in crushed almonds.
Each piece is nicely formed and with a good balance of chocolate to toffee. The chocolate is rather sweet and complements the toffee’s burnt sugar and creamy flavors well. The almonds add extra crunch.
The planks aren’t extrodinarily thick, like Enstrom’s, instead they’re a bit easier to bite and after chewing they kind of descend into a caramelly combination of the chocolate, nuts and toffee.
The Milkman is the same but with a milk chocolate coating. This one seemed to make the saltiness of the toffee pop, but it was also quite a bit sweeter.
The Blondie (shown above) is a white chocolate coating with almonds. The white does make this a much sweeter treat, but the almonds and salty toffee cut it well. It goes really well with strong coffee.
The Ravenator is the one that I was most interested in. Bittersweet chocolate, toffee and almonds with a spicy kick.
The spicy kick wasn’t overwhelming, just a subtle warmth towards the end of it but it balances it all out very well. Some spiced caramels I’ve had just blow me away and verge on torture. This gave me a bit of a lingering burn after a few pieces, and definitely stood out from the rest.
It’s clear that all the time and effort is going into the product itself, not the packaging. Each portion comes in a simple twist tied bag, nothing fancy. While the price is a bit steep but the same as other premium toffees like Enstrom’s & Littlejohn’s ... the bonus here is you can get assortments and packages less than a full pound. But don’t get the impression that this is just a clone of either of those, Ravensbark is a thinner toffee that provides a bit more balance between the chocolate and the boiled butter & sugar crunch and of course ample nuts.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
A few keen eyed readers and Candy Forums friends spotted the new Reese’s Bar. (I’m not sure what this is actually called. The wrapper says: Milk Chocolate Reese’s filled with Reese’s Peanut Butter. But that sounds infinitely silly and doesn’t even include that it’s a bar and not a cup.)
I’ve only seen it so far in a 4.5 ounce size and only at Walgreen’s. But it was on sale for $1.00 and has disappeared in the weeks since I purchased it.
It was easy to spot what with the Reese’s orange wrapper.
The ingredients list is incredibly long:
The bar is attractive and thick. Each lightly rounded section holds a portion of crumbly yet smooth Reese’s Peanut Butter filling.
What’s clearly evident about this bar is that it’s all about chocolate and less about the peanut butter than the traditional cups.
I usually prefer the high ratio of peanut butter such as the Reese’s Eggs around Easter, but for those looking for the opposite end of the spectrum, this is an interesting flip.
The difference in ratios aside, this bar is far harder to eat and share though certainly a good value.
What confused me most about this bar was that Hershey’s already has a peanut butter filled bar. I’ve even reviewed it.
It looks pretty much the same - 4.5 ounces and the same number of sections. Really the only difference in looking at them is that this bar says Hershey’s on top of each section instead of Reese’s.
But it is different. The center here is smoother and a bit stickier and perhaps even saltier.
The ingredients list is shorter by about a third:
I questioned the purpose of this bar the first time I tried it and why it was under the Hershey’s label and not Reese’s. I don’t know if both bars will continue to co-exist but if they have a limited number of slots I’d recommend dumping them both and concentrating on the quality of their core products. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s just superfluous.
Some Reese’s products are gluten free, but this one lists wheat in the ingredients.
Monday, October 6, 2008
A couple of years ago I raved about a product from Kandy Kastle: Gummi Lightning Bugs. It was both a candy and a novelty item and I was enchanted by the simplicity.
But when I spotted this on the shelves of the local 99 Cent Only Store, I just had to buy it. Not because I thought it was going to be good, but I was just too curious.
The Choco-Fudge Mallow Sundae is pretty big for only 60 cents (well, technically it’s 59.99 cents) and boasts that it’s Fat Free, Cholesterol Free and Low Sodium. Because the target market for these is always swayed by those selling points.
Basically the candy is a stack of flavored marshmallows in Strawberry, Vanilla, Chocolate, Green Apple. It comes with a little packet of Chocolate Fudge Candy Gel to pour over it as if it were a real ice cream sundae.
The candy is toweringly huge at about seven inches.
It comes tucked in a little waxed paper cup with the marshmallows firmly adhered to each other and sprinkled with colored jimmies.
If you think they look like Play-Doh, I agree.
When they said gel they weren’t kidding. When I first opened it, there were a few thin drips, but the rest was congealed inside. So I squeeze it a bit to mix it up and then tried to drizzle it out on the marshmallow scoops.
It came out in a thin stream then a few chunks.
The ingredients explain a lot: corn syrup, sugar, modified starches, water, sorbitol, potassium sorbate, artificial flavors, artificial colors (Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1 and Titanium Dioxide).
Note that this Chocolate Fudge Candy Gel contains no chocolate products whatsoever. I didn’t think it would need actual chocolate, but a pinch of cocoa might make a convincing fudge sauce.
It didn’t smell very good, kind of like fake vanilla, but not much else.
Then I was left with this sticky tower of dry and stiff marshmallows. It smelled like a cross between green apple flavor and new shoes.
I couldn’t eat it. I can’t eat it. I tried to take a bite of the chocolate marshmallow part, avoiding the sticky gel, but I couldn’t keep it in my mouth. It was cocoa-ish but had that green apple flavor to it as well. It was stiff and tacky and dry on the outside.
Just too horrible to consume but an incredibly cheap decoration if you’re looking for one. My inedible rating is probably unfair because I didn’t actual try very hard so if you’ve had this and loved it, please testify to my inaccurate description of the experience of not eating it below.
Patent Pending & Made in China.
Other braver folks: Riverfront Times.
Name: Skittles Crazy Cores (tm)
Name: Starburst FaveREDs(tm) Fruit Chews
Name: Starburst Sour Gummibursts
Name: Dove Creamy Cappuccino & Mandarin Orange
Name: Good ‘N Fiery(tm) Candy
Name: Cacao Reserve Truffle Crunch
(Images courtesy of the respective manufacturers.)
Friday, October 3, 2008
One of the classic and more distinctive products that See’s makes is their line of Lollypops. They’re made with cream and are more like a hard caramel than a normal boiled sugar hard candy pop.
The regular flavors shift around but right now they sell: Butterscotch, Chocolate, Vanilla and Caf? Latt?. I like all of them except for the chocolate. It tends to be grainier and if I have the option of actual chocolate right there at See’s, well that’s what I’m going to go for. But the one thing the pops have going for them is that they’re so darn durable. Summer-safe, creamy candy is pretty hard to find.
Every once in a while they bring out new flavors. This fall they have a limited edition Pumpkin Spice Lollypops that should be available until Thanksgiving.
The ingredients are pretty simple: corn syrup, cream, sugar, natural and artificial flavors, butter and yellow #5. I don’t know why they have to put artificial colors in there, but I guess I’m guessing that they’d look fine without it, maybe they don’t.
The packages are a little box that holds a bag of eight pops. Not a bad price either at only $4.80 for the set (60 cents each). Each paper stick pop is wrapped in orange mylar
See’s pops are big blocks. Kind of chunky and perhaps a little big for easy-to-eat suckers. (Sometimes I pull them off the stick and eat them as hard candies.)
These are rather light in color and don’t smell like much other than maybe caramel.
They’re very smooth and melt slowly. Extremely creamy and not overly sweet they’re also a bit bland.
I had the first one and thought maybe it was that my allergies were acting up and I couldn’t taste any of these pumpkin spices, so I waited a few days and checked my sinuses and had another. They sweet and creamy and taste a bit like creme brulee ... but I’m not getting any actual spices I associate with pumpkin custard like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice or ginger.
I wouldn’t call them bad, just nothing like the name would imply.
As a side note, earlier this summer they had a limited edition Root Beer. I got a hold of this while shopping with Sera of The Candy Enthusiast in July. She bought a whole package (the limited edition flavors are not sold individually like the classic ones are) and graciously shared two with me.
I loved them and went back in August to pick up a whole package for myself and was told they were all gone.
These pops were a wonderful mix of creamy smoothness, light sweetness and the spicy bite of root beer. It was kind of like a root beer float, but warmer. Root beer floats often suffer from tasting watered down when the ice cream mixes with the root beer, instead this had all the creaminess of ice cream and the intense flavor of root beer mixed together.
They’ll have Cinnamon Lollypops for Christmas. Each pop is 70 calories and they’re Kosher.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Here’s another attractive little treat I picked up at Harry & David. Like the Fall Leaves Fruit Gels, these are not found on their website, just in the stores. The Belgian Chocolate Hazelnut Pinecones are simply too adorable to resist.
Actually, I did resist. I saw them on a recent trip to the Bay Area and didn’t buy them, then went back to the store before I left town, even though $12.95 seemed a bit steep for 7 ounces of not-Caffarel gianduia.
They’re little pine cone shaped chocolates, some milk chocolate and some white chocolate with a filling of hazelnut paste.
They’re about the size of a walnut in its shell, a full dozen packed into the tall bag.
They come in three different varieties:
The dark green one has a milk chocolate shell with a smooth hazelnut & chocolate paste filling. They smell like sweet black walnut flavoring. (My hope was that I’m not actually sensitive to walnut flavor, just actual walnuts.)
It’s rather sweet but the nutty flavors blend nicely with the milky smooth shell and filling.
The white chocolate shell with brown speckles has a filling of hazelnut paste with little rice crunchies. The nutty flavors weren’t as apparent, but the crisps gave a nice salty & cereal texture boost.
The orange white chocolate with the reddish airbrushing has a smooth nut paste with a stronger dairy note to it and less of a cocoa flavor.
I preferred the milk chocolate one far and away, the others, while interesting combinations of textures and flavors were just too sweet. Maybe I wouldn’t have minded if the pieces were smaller.
The biggest selling point is that they are so well crafted. The size, shape, molding and airbrushing of the shadows makes these irresistible as a seasonal treat. I can say that because I was unable to resist buying them, but I’ve been able to subsequently resist eating them. Still, if I’m looking for a hit of hazelnut I’d probably prefer Caffarel, Perugina Baci or Ferrero Rocher (in descending order of price) especially since I’ve been able to get Caffarel for about the same price of $1.00 per piece.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
October is Fair Trade Month, which makes sense since Halloween is the number one candy holiday. A few years ago I’m pretty sure few people, especially candy fans even know what that meant, happily much of that has changed, both through education efforts and the simple ubiquity of the products displaying the logos. Fair Trade guarantees the growers of raw materials & makers of products a fair and liveable wage for their products, you can read more about it here. Luckily all sorts of fair trade products are becoming more available to regular consumers, even at big box stores like Target, grocery & drug store chains.
I’ve tried quite a few fair trade candies over the years, including Divine Chocolate. Divine is expanding more in the United States and has a broader range of products now than ever before. One of their representatives sent me a nice sampling of their products, so I’ll be reviewing them over the next month or so. The motto is Heavenly chocolate with a heart.
First, their standard 3.5 ounce chocolate bars. While fair trade chocolate isn’t hard to find, fair trade candy bars are. Yes a nice dark bar is all well and good, but sometimes I want a little more in my decadent treat (without enslaving any children in Africa for it either). With a retail price of about $3 a bar, it’s certainly no hardship for the chocolate aficionado. But of course the larger question is, how do they taste?
I tried this chocolate back in 2005 and while I can’t say whether they’ve changed the formula or way that they’re making the bar, I like it much better than I did then.
The packaging is lovely. Before it was a simple black wrap with their logo. The new package is a matte paper with a foil inner wrap. The decorative icons are fun and attractive, I spotted hearts, turtles, geese and something that’s either a comb or a Menorah.
The bar inside is wonderfully tempered. Shiny, even and no hint of bubbles or bloom. I like the thickness of the pieces and that the bar snaps easily into the little portions.
The scent is a little grassy and fruity.
On the tongue the cocoa butter melts quickly into a silky puddle. Flavors are middle of the road, there’s nothing difficult or loud about this bar. I get a little bit of coffee, cherries, olives, woodsy eucalyptus and very little acid. The finish is smooth and with only a slight bitter note but no dryness.
The high fat content makes this very munchable. I like that in a chocolate bar, though I know that some fans prefer a more intense concentration cacao.
99% of the ingredients are fair trade certified for this bar (this includes the sugar, vanilla and cocoa products - only the non-GMO soy lecithin is not).
Rating: 8 out of 10
The Divine Hazelnut Milk Chocolate is completely new to me. I tried the 27% cocoa plain milk chocolate and was struck by how the milky flavors reflected the European-style.
I think this package is the prettiest of the three. I liked the brown wrapper with gold and cream colored icons, it feels elegant, playful and subtly conveys that this is a milk chocolate product.
The ingredients in this bar, like the dark one go for fair trade when possible, though this one only clocks in at 69% with the cream, soy lecithin and chopped hazelnuts as traditionally sourced.
The bar is softer than its dark counterpart. Snapping it in half it’s clear that part of the reason is the plethora of crushed hazelnuts.
The bar smells milky, a little nutty and a little cheesy.
On the tongue it melts quickly but is a little sweet and sticky at first. Then come the flavors, the dairy flavors lean towards powdered milk, have a great smoky cocoa flavor and of course the hazelnut.
It’s not quite giaunduia, but it’s close. The bar overall is a bit sweet for me but fills that gaping hole out there for fair price fair trade candy bars that are more than straight chocolate.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
The cocoa content on this bar is a staggering 25%, which means it’s one quarter cocoa butter. Milk solids make up another 26%. (And the fair trade percentage here is 71%.)
Strangely enough the calcium content on a single serving is 16% of your RDA and 4 grams of protein. I wouldn’t call it a full serving of dairy, but it’s certainly not completely junk food.
The bar smells like Frankenberry cereal.
The little berry crisps dot the bar and look to be evenly distributed.
The melt of the white chocolate isn’t quite as even as the other two bars, it has a slightly fudgier grain to it, but it is smooth. The strawberry crisps are more than just little dried bits. They’re crunchy and tangy, with the floral scent of berries along with the high pitched tartness. But the tangy part isn’t intergrated into the white chocolate like the Meiji bar I tried recently.
If you have a soft spot for white chocolate and strawberries, I’d suggest giving this bar a try. I enjoyed it a lot more than the Frey but the Green & Black’s White Chocolate (plain) is still the gold standard for me.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
All of the bars are Kosher. I don’t know the full distribution of the bars but you can find some of them places like Whole Foods and other stores that carry natural products. Look for wider distribution soon as well as new products from Divine for the holidays. I saw some little foil wrapped milk chocolates themed for Halloween (available web only) on their site.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.