Friday, February 13, 2009
I have more candy than I will ever be able to review at my pace of 5-7 products a week. Here are a few items I’ve tasted recently and some notes on them (most gratuitous photos). So here are some small bites of a whole week’s worth of candy. Get ready to scroll!
I visited with Anne Hickey and the Plush Puffs’ crew when I was at the Fancy Food Show. At closing time they gave me a box of their Vanilla Bean Marshmallows. It’s new packaging for them, which I really like. It’s still spare and highlights the product well.
But what I liked best is that they’ve made the marshmallows a bit smaller. Now they’re 1” cubes instead of the larger version I tried several years ago. This means that when toasted the center gets molten before the outside catches on fire. (There are important physical laws that even marshmallows must obey.)
The box has been sitting next to my stove top and some evenings I’ll toast up two or three for dessert on the gas burner. It makes the house smell wonderful.
I visited a few times with Seth Ellis Chocolatier while at the Fancy Food Show. They had a lovely array of samples, but for some reason I eschewed their truffles and became obsessed with their Candied Lemons.
Perhaps it’s because of this little nugget from their website, “We candy the freshest organic lemon slices slowly, over twenty-five days, using a traditional European method to preserve the intense lemon flavors.”
The box contains one full lemon slice plus and extra quarter. Special bonus, the packaging is made with wind power (well, that and some tree pulp).
The candying doesn’t make the peel as soft as some others, but then again, sometimes that makes them gummy and flavorless. This definitely has a bitter bite and because the pulp is also still there, it’s quite tangy. The dark chocolate is creamy and also has a woodsy bite to it.
I must have been obsessed with lemon and lemongrass at the Fancy Food Expo because the other item I knew I had to bring home was L’Estasi Dolce Sweet Ecstasy Lemongrass Ginger Truffles.
Lemongrass is a bit of a strange flavor. I love it in Thai cooking (hot & sour soup especially). It imparts the zesty notes of lemon peel, but it has a soft side to it as well, that I can only compare to bubble gum.
These nicely sized truffles are a real ganache made with lots of real cream.
The center is soft and silky with an immediate soft flavor of lemongrass. Then there’s the warming power of the ginger. The woodsy ginger flavors never come forward, it’s just that little burn in the background. This all combines well with the slight dairy flavor of the cream and the mellow dark chocolate.
One of the Fancy Food Show items I mentioned in my show notes was Rubicon Bakery.
They not only make all natural, wholesome products right here in the United States, their mission is to help people in need by giving job training, jobs placement assistance to work their way out of poverty.
The package pictured here is a mock up used for the distribution of the samples, the real thing is much nicer.
They’re little meringue kisses, a little larger than a Hershey’s Kiss. The center is a crunchy fluffed egg white made flavorful by the addition of gobs of real freeze dried strawberries. To seal in the crispness, they’re dipped in bittersweet Guittard chocolate.
The freaky part about the whole combination is that it’s so tasty & satisfying yet so low in calories. They say that a serving of five is only 90 calories (about 100 calories per ounce, amazing for a chocolate product). So even if you ate a whole box of 15 bites, you’re still under the 300 mark of most king sized candy bars.
SFGate wrote about them last week too, those lucky dogs, it’s a local company for them.
These candies have single-handedly caused me to swear off of all Andes products except for the original Creme de Menthe.
The Mocha Mint Indulgence is a freak product. I don’t even know what it is. The pieces are ugly (sorry, no photo of the interior, this is supposed to be a tantalizing post). Putty brown mockolate over a layer of mint green confection like the center of the regular Andes.
It smells like minted cardboard. The texture is like grainy wax. The flavor is like musty Christmas candles found in a drawer at an estate sale.
To close is something to restore our confidence in nuts: Ococoa Nut Butter Cups made right here in Los Angeles by Diana Malouf. I picked them up from her in person before Christmas but never go around to posting the review.
More than just gourmet peanut butter cups, these are tall cups filled with exotic nut butters & fruits. The flavor array is: Classic Peanut Butter, Pistachio Date, Sesame Fig, Hazelnut Chocolate, Almond Cherry, Cashew Apricot, Marzipan Truffle, Macadamia Guava, and Sunflower Honey.
The box is elegant and substantial.
The cups are about an inch high with a cute ruffle of chocolate around the collar and an inch in diameter at the top.
They were a bugger to photograph the interior, luckily their website has the fantastic and accurate cross sections that you can peruse. This one is Guava jam & macadamia nut butter. Probably the best experience I’ve had with macadamias & guava, which aren’t really my fave, but done very well here.
I was attracted most to the Sesame Fig, which I gobbled up after taking a photo. The sesame paste is combined with chocolate to create a sesame Nutella of sorts, though quite firm. Inside the center was a reservoir of fig jam. The toasted & grassy flavors of the sesame went well with the fresh & slightly tangy notes of the fig. Sunflower Honey was next on my hit list. Sunflower seeds have such a distinctive taste. This center was like a creamed honey with sunflower flavors.
Cashew Apricot was really decadent, as the apricot’s pine-notes were offset by the deep toasted butter flavors of the cashews. The hazelnut was also stellar, the freshness of the nut butter was so different from many other guianduias I have regularly. (I shared some others and didn’t take complete notes on the rest.)
Unlike many nut creations that rely on salt to bring the nut flavors forward, Ococoa lets the sweetness of the nuts come through. The only problem I had with these, if it could be called that, was the construction. The chocolate cap on the top was very thick, so biting the pieces in half wasn’t very easy. While I don’t think it’s imperative that all chocolates be dissected, it meant that there was always a larger reservoir of chocolate at the end when sometimes I really wanted to end on a nut note.
They’ll set you back $22 for a 9 piece box.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
The newest item on the shelves is this Starburst Sour & Sweet mix. (It’s a little unclear if this replaces the Starburst Sour or not, but the actual words on the package are New flavors - Starburst Sour - Sour (6 chews) Sweet (6 chews).
The two sour flavors are Sour Watermelon & Sour Green Apple and two sweet flavors are Sweet Strawberry & Sweet Blue Raspberry.
Sour Watermelon - hot pink - this has an immediate sour bite that’s almost salty. The flavor other than that is the typical fake watermelon. It’s quite intense all the way to the end.
Sour Green Apple - acid green - quite tangy and juicy, there’s the plastic flavor of chemical green apple and just a little dash of apple juice flavor in there.
Sweet Strawberry - maroon - This was weird. I thought it was just a regular strawberry Starburst, but the flavor, maybe from being near the green apple, is much more artificial and less floral.
Sweet Blue Raspberry - cerulean blue - at first this seemed much too tangy to be called a “sweet” flavor, but then I ate a few more sours and it seemed a bit tamer after that. The raspberry flavor is mellow, a little jammy but not much in the floral notes.
The balance of sweet and sour was fun, especially since I don’t think I could eat a whole package at once. The sours seemed much more sour than the previous Starburst Sours I’ve had. I enjoy Starburst’s smooth chew and intense flavors. I think they could probably lighten up on the food coloring, seeing how they’re individually wrapped. But the flavor assortment was kind of boring, I’d love to see them really reach for some exotic, powerful flavors instead of these same retreads.
Starburst’s website is insanely annoying. It takes two minutes to load ... and then another two minutes once I clicked on “products” ... then clicking on nutritional info takes me to a Mars list of products (okay, no biggie, central databases are good) but I have to navigate that list AGAIN. It also doesn’t list this product specifically, it still has the old flavor array for the Starburst Sour on the Starburst site and not at all on the Mars site.
Starburst Sour still contain gelatin but are listed as Gluten Free on the package.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I was more than pleased with the Q.Bel Crispy Wafer Bars that I reviewed last week.
The other half of Q.Bel Foods’ all natural candy line are their Wafer Rolls.
Unlike the bars, which are made in The Netherlands and not Kosher, the Wafer Rolls are Kosher and made in the United States.
They come in three companion varieties: Dark Chocolate Wafer Rolls, Milk Chocolate Wafer Rolls and Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Wafer Rolls.
The packaging is a bit overly-protective and perhaps deceptive.
They come in a plastic wrap around a plastic tray. The tray does a good job of keeping the rolls in good shape. But I think if you’re going to position yourself as an all natural product, less packaging is a good idea. (Especially when your tagline is Be True - Be Honest - Be Good.)
I would suggest doing a sealed top on the tray with all the label on that and ditching the over-wrap. (Kind of like most yogurt got rid of the plastic lids and just went with a foil seal.)
The rolls are lovely to look at. A slender stick about .5 inches in diameter and 4.75 inches long, the enrobing is nicely rippled and usually has a matte shine to it. The sides were sometimes scuffed a bit from being tossed around in my bag inside the package.
The dark chocolate is quite dark looking though like the bar counterpart, did contain milk in the ingredients. Not that it would make any difference towards the non-dairy status of the bar. The wafer roll under the chocolate was crisp and flaky, with a light malty note, a bit of salt, it reminded me of a fresh waffle ice cream cone.
The chocolatey cream inside was also a dark and firm cream that melted pretty readily with the help of some palm kernel and coconut oils. It tasted a lot like a good cup of hot chocolate with some wafer cookies.
The portion size of two sticks means that the whole thing has only 120 calories. Even though a lot of them are from fat, the price tag alone should keep most folks who weren’t sent a whole box as samples from wolfing them down.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The Milk Chocolate Wafer Rolls looked a little different than their wafer bar counterpart, this time wrapped in blue instead of orange & red.
They smelled a bit more like milk and cereal with a little chocolate cake note to it.
The chocolate seemed a bit silkier and creamier than the dark version, but also much sweeter. The toasted-flavored wafer kept it from being too cloying.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Wafer Rolls smelled like fresh roasted peanut butter. (And I get to smell that often at the LA Farmers Market.)
The silky milk chocolate sets off the wafers, which seem even more flaky in this version than the others.
The peanut butter center on this tastes different than the wafer bar. The bar is sweet and sticky, a little oily. This is salty and pasty - just the right balance. The peanut butter is very strong with a slight bitterness to it, as it tastes very darkly roasted. (This version has 130 calories.)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Besides the packaging & price for the size (retail $1.39) I think these are a resounding success. They’re not unique, they remind me of Pirouline, except more decadent. Other products on the market that are similar are the Nestle Stixx, which I do like quite a bit but avoid because of all the hydrogenated oils in them. It might be nice to be able to get them in a large tray for entertaining. They’d be the perfect garnish for ice cream, sorbet or just an after-meal coffee.
Monday, February 9, 2009
I got a hold of the king size version (I don’t know if it comes in the regular size) via Nestle’s PR company who offered me some samples. I’ve been looking for them for about a month, as the Butterfinger Buzz Facebook page says they should be available at 7-11 and Walgreen’s.
The package is a little confusing. It says with as much caffeine as the leading energy drink. The whole package has 80 mg of caffeine (the same as an 8 ounce Red Bull). But the recommended portion is one half of the package which nets you 40 mg of caffeine. 40 mg is about the same caffeine as 3 ounces of brewed coffee.
The little bars are less than attractive. The mockolate coating isn’t very chocolatey looking, it’s much lighter than most milk chocolate and has a chalky, matte appearance instead of a silky & shiny look. It does smell a bit like cocoa and peanut butter with a small whiff of Cap’n Crunch cereal.
The crunchy peanut butter candy center is rather different from the regular Butterfinger. First, it’s an unnatural red/orange color (thanks to Red 40!). It’s also denser. I’ve eaten three of these bars, just in case it was just that one bar that was a little off from the norm. The middle half of the bar is more like a hard candy than the flaky peanut butter crisp.
Other than the color & texture difference, I can also state that there is a definite bitter bite to this. (Who knows if it’s just the caffeine or and added contribution of the detestable red food coloring?) The bitterness lasts as a slight metallic aftertaste for several hours, at least for me. I don’t have this problem with coffee, which also has caffeine and can often be bitter, but will fade away after I’ve swallowed it.
I know these will likely generate lots of interest, especially from students, gamers and long-haul truck drivers. It is nice to have the option to get a little candy boost with some caffeine. This integration didn’t quite make the cut for me, though.
Mars introduced Snickers Charged around this time last year, which was 60 mg of caffeine as well as B vitamins & taurine.
Honestly, if Nestle wanted to impress me, they should make a gourmet Butterfinger, with some of their real Swiss chocolate. And I can have that with a cup of coffee and really a buzz going.
Friday, February 6, 2009
One of the issues these days with candy bars isn’t the empty calories, it’s the ingredients. There’s a difference between bad for you (sound cue: giggle) and bad for you (sound cue: medical equipment).
I don’t usually feel bad about calories, fat or sugar. But I do feel weird about eating partially hydrogenated oils, artificial colors and flavors.
Enter Q.bel with their line of all-natural candy bars. No artificial colors, no artificial flavors, no hydrogenated oils, no high fructose corn sweetener and no preservatives.
The happy thing to report is that candy bars never needed any of the above to be good ... they just needed them to be cheap. So quality will cost you $1.39-$1.69 (but if you’re buying your candy at Whole Foods, that’s hardly a surprise).
Their inaugural line has six products. I’m going to review three of them today, their Crispy Wafer Bar which come in Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate and Peanut Butter.
The Dark Chocolate Crispy Rice Wafer Bar (purple wrapper) is a stack of three crisp, flavorless wafers filled with a chocolate cream, sprinkled with crisped rice and then covered in dark chocolate.
They come in a two pack of fingers. Each is about three inches long and three quarters of an inch wide.
If the photo and description sounds vaguely familiar to you, it might be because this is very similar to the Hershey’s Bar None. (Except there’s no peanuts in this version.)
The crunch is light and crisp, airy and a little like an ice cream cone. The chocolate is slightly bitter, creamy and sweet with a dry finish. The cream center is sweet and a little grainy but rather buttery.
The whole experience is extremely satisfying. It’s not really a chocolate bar, it’s definitely a candy. I am in love with this bar.
Rating: 10 out of 10 (as long as I can find it in stores)
The Milk Chocolate Crispy Rice Wafer Bars are just like the dark version except with 10 more calories.
They’re a lighter taste and seem to have more crunchies to them, but that just could be variations in the manufacture.
The scent is milky sweet with a slight cereal smell. There’s less of a chocolate punch here and more of a creamy, dairy milk chocolate event going on.
I was very pleased with it (and at first though this would be like Bar None, but it didn’t have the same punch).
Rating: 8 out of 10.
The Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Wafer Bars are a little different in that they don’t have the crisped rice. Instead of a chocolate cream filling they have a peanut butter filling between the wafers.
As I’m writing this I’ve been following the RSS feed from the FDA with all the recall warnings about peanut butter & peanut products. I’ve been assured by Q.bel directly and their website that they did not source their peanut butter from Peanut Corporation of America. (And it’s easy to believe them since these bars were manufactured in The Netherlands.
As with most nutty candies, this pair of bars clocked in with the highest calorie count: 190. (Don’t get the impression that these are dainty when it comes to calories, they’re dense in sugar and fat, clocking in on the upper range of the calories per ounce that I track.)
The bars are lovely to look at with their rippled coats of chocolate. They smell like fresh roasted peanuts.
The bite on these is very different. The peanut butter cream filling tastes unsalted and unsugared - so it’s a startling pop of real peanut flavor. But it’s very oily and soft, so when I bite into the bar, sometimes I’ve broken it because it’ll slide around (you can see the kind of crack it makes along the wafer line in the photo).
The peanut butter, while not crumbly or thick really sticks to my ribs. I found just one stick here to be very filling. The milk chocolate holds its own in this battle as well, giving a sweet and milky component to bring it all together.
Rating: 9 out of 10.
I’m so pleased that someone is making a quality product and I hope Q.bel becomes a standard in the confectionery industry. That you can make something with real ingredients and still make people want to overeat it. The packaging is compelling and appropriate. It protects the product inside, doesn’t take up too much space and gave me all the information I wanted to know. The images on the front are tantalizing and the bars actually look like that.
The portions may seem a little small, only 1.1 ounces, but they appear large because of the light wafers inside (maybe a little smaller than a KitKat bar). However, this also lowers the calorie count per portion, all are under 200 calories (which means those 100 calorie folks can just eat one). The price point is a little steep too, but if I were faced with an array of these and something like Nestle’s Crunch Crisp bar (which is a one-bar version of this filled with partially hydrogenated fats and covered with mockolate), I’d pick these at twice/thrice the price.
The other half of their product line is a series of Wafer Rolls in the same flavor array. (I’ll have a review of those soon.)
Q.bel did some liberal mailing of samples, so expect more reviews to pop up on the other food-oriented blogs. They did send me a silly-huge number of “samples” which were a box of each (20 bars) flavor. I’ve been very popular with my co-workers this week.
UPDATE: They should be available at most Whole Foods nationwide and online at Natural Candy Store.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.