Friday, April 10, 2009
I bought it because Hershey’s has tweaked their White Reese’s Peanut Butter products. They were once a real white chocolate coating with cocoa butter, but now they’re a hydrogenated tropical oil concoction.
So I was careful to read over the ingredients on the Russell Stover white chocolate: White Chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk, soy lecithin, artificial flavor & salt), peanut butter (peanuts, hydrogenated vegetable oils, salt) sugar, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, tapioca dextrin, dextrose and salt.
It’s a pretty sizable rabbit, though it’s also over-packaged. The box is 4.5 inches wide and 7.5 inches high but the bunny is only 3.25 inches at its widest and 5 inches at its tallest. The rabbit is inside the sealed box in a little plastic tray.
It weighs three ounces and this one cost me $1.50 which I didn’t find at all unreasonable.
Opening the box, it smells like Easter baskets - milky sweet and fake.
It’s a nicely molded Rabbit with good details. The proportion of white chocolate to peanut butter varies greatly, depending on where I bit into it. The edges and creases were loaded with more white chocolate and the domed portions were mostly peanut butter.
The white chocolate is sweet and surprisingly smooth. But it was oddly waxy, not in a bad way, just in a fake way, like it needed an authentic dose of real vanilla beans or something. The peanut butter center is the crumbly peanut butter with the slight grain to it. It’s salty and nutty, but also rather sweet, too. The effect of the product is that it burns my throat. I think I might like it with more peanut butter and less white chocolate, perhaps a version of the peanut butter egg?
It just didn’t thrill me much. I ended up eating the whole thing, but it took me about three weeks of nibbling on it now and then. But if you’re a white chocolate & peanut butter fan and are disappointed with Hershey’s turn towards the oily side, it might be a good option ... especially if they’re on sale starting Monday.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
While some folks find the Cadbury Creme Egg to be the ultimate achievement in Easter confectionery, be warned that there are some pretenders to that throne. At the stores this year I found two such “knock offs.”
I found Walgreen’s and CVS had their own eggs this year. The CVS brand is called Absolutely Divine and comes in gold foil with a purple and black logo ... which made me wonder if they were a dark chocolate product. The Walgreen’s version is in primary/secondary colors and comes in both the Creme Egg and Caramel Egg.
What could a store brand have to offer? Well, the first thing I noticed about these CCE simulations is that they’re bigger. In fact the shelf box for the Walgreen’s said that they’re 14% larger. These eggs are like the once powerful Cadbury Creme Eggs in their original 1.38 ounce size (CCE are now 1.2 ounces).
Walgreen’s had these generic looking Creme Eggs on sale this past weekend for 40 cents each, which is not much less than an actual Cadbury Creme Egg. What I found so surprising is that I’ve been to that Walgreen’s at least twice before during this Easter season and these weren’t out on the shelves.
It was tough to read the wrapper. What I did get was that these are made in Canada and the chocolate shell is made of real chocolate.
Biting into the egg was a bit tough. It’s a thick shell and I was greeted with a creme that resembled a cordial more than the fondant than I was used to.
The difference between the egg white and egg yolk wasn’t quite apparent, though the best I could tell was there were two different colors of fondant in there. The center was sticky and inconsistent. Sweet, flavorless with little patches of clotted graininess.
Rating: 3 out of 10.
Biting it was similarly difficult to the Creme version - the shell is thick and almost solid on either end with only a minor void for the caramel at the center.
The caramel isn’t chewy or flowing. Instead it’s more of a pudding-like goo. As far a flavor though, it’s like a good caramel pudding, it’s very smooth and has some toasted sugar flavors. The chocolate shell is a bit hard, a little grainy and very milky tasting.
As far as this brand goes, I rather liked this Caramel Egg ... not enough to buy it again, but as a simulation of the venerable original, it at least meets expectations.
Rating: 4 out of 10.
The CVS Absolutely Divine Creme Egg didn’t look like much in the store. There was no explanation on the display box, and actually finding the “creme egg” part on the wrapper was pretty tough sleuthing that involved carefully flattening the foil after unwrapping.
I fully expected these to be made in Canada like the Walgreen’s counterpart ... that they just came spilling off the line to be randomly divided into different groups for different foil wrappers. This was more shocking when I read that they have identical ingredients and molding. But origins aside, the important part is how much they cost and how they taste.
I paid 50 cents each for these.
The creme center was also similarly inconsistent, though not quite as flowing as the Walgreen’s version.
The chocolate shell was disgusting. It tasted like roasted cardboard. Musty, grainy and overly sweetened, perhaps steamed cardboard.
The sweet filling was completely overpowered by this too-much-bad-shell. And the name, well, they’re absolutely not divine.
Rating: 2 out of 10.
I have one other piece of not-so-shocking info. These are all sticky. Not something to be eaten while using a keyboard.
What I came away with is this: if you love Cadbury Creme Eggs, buy Cadbury Creme Eggs. If you don’t like Cadbury Creme Eggs, these aren’t going to persuade you that they’re a great candy. Spend the extra eight cents or whatever the price difference is and get the real stuff.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
The dietary restrictions during Passover not only mean no grains, chometz, except for matzo meal but also no kitniot (legumes). This means a lot of the ingredients commonly used for candy preparation are forbidden during this festival. No peanuts is obvious, but also no corn syrup, no soy lecithin, no cornstarch, no soy or canola oil.
Most observant Jews I know simply go without candy during this time or stick to the tried-and-true holiday specialties like macaroons or chocolate dipped matzo. I know that it’s possible to make great candy that’s Kosher for Passover - something that goes beyond the mediocre Manischewitz molded chocolate items.
The Gelson’s Market near my house had a nice display of Passover items near the entrance and I was pleased to see a few more upscale and decadent items than the common jelly slices. I picked out these Chocolate Dipped Mint Cremes from Manhattan Chocolates.
The box was pretty, just green themed on white with chocolate drip along the top. Inside it was a little less upscale. The mint cremes are nestled in little cubbies in a plastic tray, which isn’t such a big deal, except that the candies were much smaller than their little nooks, so they rattled around quite a bit when I carried them home ... and is probably why they look a bit scuffed. (A piece of that fluffy, corrugated waxed paper would probably help.)
The ingredients look great: Chocolate (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, vanilla), sugar, tapioca syrup, natural and artificial flavors. (During the rest of the year there’s soy lecithin in the chocolate and corn syrup instead of the tapioca syrup.)
There are 15 pieces in the box, which holds 6 ounces (so each piece is .4 ounces).
They’re rather tall, more like a cream chocolate than a patty, a little larger in diameter than a quarter.
The chocolate shell is nicely done, no voids or little leaky spots. They smell sweet and a bit like toasty hot chocolate. There’s only a slight whiff of mint.
Once I bit into one, the cream revealed its mintness. It’s soft, the cream is quite silky with only a slight small grain to it. It’s not flowing soft like a Junior Mint and not hard and crumbly like a York Peppermint Pattie ... just a bit in between.
The dark chocolate shell is sweet and not quite bitter enough to offset the very sweet center. But overall it’s a very good post-Seder treat to refresh the palate after those bitter herbs.
I wouldn’t call these glorious or anything, but if I were in a week where I was limited in my choices, the Manhattan Chocolates seem very promising as a line. They’re also lactose free - all year round.
Carl at the National Confectioners Association also found that Oh Nuts! has a great selection (and there’s still time to order before Passover ends).
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
In my joy of experimentation with Peeps and mashing their sticky innards into other foodstuffs, I’ve jumped from fun & tasty to the illogical conclusion of savory & disgusting.
(Okay, well, they’re not all disgusting.)
I like marshmallow Peeps as an idea, but not much as a confection. They’re fun to look at, pose & contemplate. But I don’t get much pleasure out of eating them. Pairing them with savory items was supposed to be a way to moderate their grainy over-sweetness.
I picked up a few things to try with my Peeps for 2009: Goldfish Crackers, Cheetos, Pepperoni (turkey for me) and Nacho Cheese Sauce.
Scroll slowly, otherwise you’ll overwhelm yourself.
Pepperidge Farms has come out with some new flavors & variations of the classic Goldfish Crackers. As a kid the Pizza flavored ones were my favorite but now I prefer the Cheddar. (Though given a choice I’d probably still opt for Cheezits.)
The new variation that I picked up is in their whole grains line. This one is Toasted Corn.
After reading over the ingredients, corn is pretty far down on the list. And they’re not really corn flavored, they taste more like those Chik’n Biskit crackers I used to like to drink with flat 7-UP in a friend’s basement as a pre-teen while we played with Troll Dolls.
The crunch and salt actually goes well with the sweet fluffy marshmallow and grainy sugar coating. It’s the dusting of garlic that the crackers seem to have that ruins it for me. A plainer cracker, like Saltines or Oyster Crackers is probably a much better and actually realistic Mash Up idea.
Nope, I went the other way:
I had trouble finding my favorite brand of plastic cheese. I usually buy Frito Lay, the stuff that comes in a squat can and probably has a shelf life of three years. All I could find is this Mission Cheddar Cheese Dip.
I’m sorry friends, I wussed out. I didn’t eat this. I thought it was fun to construct. In the future I think I might use different color Peeps than the traditional yellow. I think the green to simulate jalape?os and maybe the purple & pink to really make it jarring would have the best impact.
I did try Peeps on corn chips ... which is actually rather nice. The salty grains of the chips and the sweet sugar granules played nicely.
There’s probably a great idea in there somewhere for S’Mores Nachos using chocolate tortilla chips, chocolate chips, caramel sauce & Peeps. (All toasted under the broiler, natch.)
This is a Peep in that Mission Cheddar Cheese Dip.
The Mission Cheddar Cheese Dip is a bit too soupy and watery for me. I like a thicker, more gelatinous cheese sauce (or just real gooey, stringy cheese).
The cheese was tangy and salty and had a cheddar “flavor” to it. The combination with the Peeps wasn’t so much bad, but the tangy yogurt quality of the dip didn’t go well with the fake vanilla flavor of the Peeps. I don’t recommend you try this at home.
Cheetos now come in some insane flavors and textures. I like both the Crunchy Cheetos and the classic Cheese Puffs. (And some crazy sweet versions in other lands.)
Peeps have a definite advantage over Cheetos in several ways. Though Peeps are brightly colored, they don’t make a mess on your hands. And Peeps may actually be better when they’re stale.
It was funny how much more I tasted the corn when combined with the sweetness of the marshmallow. Corn (Grits) is a great breakfast cereal so this was like mixing my savory grits with my sweet grits. The crunchy texture was a good offset to the silky smooth marshmallow and the micro crunch of the granulated sugar.
The Flaming Hot Cheetos might be a fun experiment.
But really, when it comes to preserved meats and mashing names together, there’s nothing that can come close to Peeperoni. (It’s hilarious, I know!)
It took me a while to find turkey-based Pepperoni (as I don’t eat mammals, except for gelatin because I can’t possibly give up gummis), which I know is nothing like real pepperoni except that it comes in little disks and contains insane amounts of salt.
This Hormel Turkey Pepperoni smells like feet. I didn’t know if that was normal or not.
First, like the cheese sauce experiment, there is no “mashing the sticky Peeps into the pepperoni” action. Peeps don’t stick to pepperoni. It’s like pushing to north ends of magnets together.
So I broke out the toothpicks.
The salty and chewy texture of the pepperoni was a nice complement to the sweet fluffy chew of the marshmallow. I think part of the failure of this is the abject lack of fat in this turkey version.
As an alternative to this, I think a sweet Lebanon Bologna might actually be interesting, especially if fried and put together on some slices of sweet egg bread.
For even more Peepitude, here’s a list of some other Peep occurrences on the internet ... some you’ve probably already seen, but some you might not have. Serious Eats is also devoting this week to Peeps Week.
Here are my previous Mash Ups.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Russell Stover makes so many chocolate eggs, it’s taken me more than three years to get through them. (Well, I tasted all of them, I haven’t necessarily photographed & reviewed them all yet.)
The Russell Stover Truffle Egg is a rather small one compared to the other whipped center eggs. Still it clocks in at a full ounce, so it’s just very dense.
It’s a molded egg with a shiny, rippled milk chocolate shell and a milk chocolate truffle interior.
It smells like a decent rich milk chocolate. Sweet and with some hints of vanilla and milky cocoa.
The bite of the shell is good and crisp. The center is soft and fudgy, but not the slightest bit grainy ... though it’s not quite a silky melt.
The immediate flavor I got was not of chocolate but of rum. It’s a bit sweet but also has a little salt to it.
Looking over the ingredients, I was expecting tropical oils and hydrogenated fats, but instead it was pretty clean:
Milk Chocolate (sugar, whole milk, cocoa butter, chocolate, soy lecithin & vanillin), whole milk, natural flavor, salt and invertase.
It’s very rich and rather satisfying, so much so that a single egg was more than enough for me (though it only clocks in at 140 calories, so it’s not even as fatty as some other real chocolate candy bars).
Rating: 7 out of 10
The Russell Stover Caramel Egg is also on the small side. This one is a squat little buddy with perhaps too much packaging around it.
It smells milky and malty.
The bit is smooth, the milk chocolate shell flakes only a little bit. The caramel is soft and has a slight chew to it, but for the most part is more on the saucy side (though it’s thick enough that when I left the half of it sitting for a while, the center didn’t ooze out).
The caramel is satiny smooth, no hint of grain at all. The toasted and boiled sugar flavors aren’t pronounced, nor is the butter, but the overall dark sugar notes are there and go well with the sweet milk chocolate.
As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer a stiffer caramel chew, but this was enjoyable and actually more appetizing to me than a Cadbury Caramello or Cadbury Caramel Egg.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The have other shapes for different holidays. Just a couple of weeks ago I reviewed the Russell Stover Marshmallow Rabbits. They’re available for Halloween as a Pumpkin (also in orange flavor), a Valentine’s Heart and these eggs come back as Footballs in the Autumn/Winter.
The nice thing about this version is that it’s an actual portion. The Rabbits are a bit big for one sitting, unless you’re voraciously hungry or sharing. And they’re bound to be around at deep discount after the holiday. But eat them quick ... I’ve found that the marshmallow items don’t keep as well as the Coconut Eggs.
2008 - Creme Eggs (like Cadbury Creme Eggs):
I think the only ones I’m missing in review are the Vanilla Cream Egg and the Chocolate Brownie Egg. I haven’t seen them this year at the stores I frequent. But that means there’s something to look forward to next year.
Friday, April 3, 2009
For some reason people want Energy. I’m not quite sure why they’re looking for products specifically labeled that way, as my understanding is that all food contains energy. Calories are available energy from food. If it doesn’t have calories, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not food.
But consumers, I believe, have been duped into thinking that stimulants are actually energy. They’re not, they’re just, well, stimulants. Stimulants make you feel like doing stuff, as the general state of humans (if you believe advertising and general laws of physics) is to be inert and bored. Stimulants, though, don’t cure boredom or actually get anything done.
Caffeine is the most common stimulant and is naturally found in a product that masks the bitter and unpleasant taste of it very well: coffee. Caffeine also works as an additive in other products in smaller quantities, usually products with natural alkaloids, like chocolate or perhaps strong fruit flavors.
There are some other compounds which are also grouped into energy products: Taurine and B vitamins (Niacin, B6 and B12). These have their own distinct flavors, often known collectively as the “vitamin burp” taste. (You can read about these at Energy Fiend)
All of this writing, however, is just vamping. After trying my first Beechies Force Chewy Candy, I didn’t want to continue.
Lemon - it looks pretty good and the first crunch of the candy shell was a bright & promising sweet lemon flavor. But chewing it, well, I should probably start posting photos of my facial expressions. The first was something akin to “Wha? Is this really happening? Does this really taste like this?” kind of quizzical look. Then a bitterness set in, which caused me to furrow my brow. Then came a general distasteful look that someone might mistake for “May I spit this out in your hand please? Please! Right now!”
And then I waited for a couple of weeks. I reviewed a bunch of other stuff, even avoided reviewing yesterday by posting a new products announcement list. I carried the bags around with me in my “to review” package. The wrapper does say recharge - refresh - renew so I thought I’d try again.
Green Apple went a little better. The candy shell is tangy and has that comforting artificial apple flavor. Then ... well, it took a turn for the worse. The soft chew of the center, which is rather like a Mentos, had a bit of a bitter tingle. The flavor was that midrange bitterness that reminds me of dirty gym socks. But it was mercifully short
Strawberry was a beautiful red. Much prettier than any Mentos. The shell flavor was soft and sweet. The inner chew was musty and tasted like generic chewable vitamins.
935 mg of Taurine
This combination of chemicals does not give me energy, it gives me angry.
I emailed the company, Richardson Brands, to see if they actually still make these. They never responded. Their website doesn’t list them on a product page but includes them in the ingredients/nutritional section. I found record of them being offered at All Candy Expo in 2006, but under different flavors. The only place I’ve ever seen these for sale is at the 99 Cent Only Store, but I have seen them at multiple stores and the packages appear fresh and current.
The chew itself was odd looking, it’s olive green. Really nicely done olive green, but just not a color I associate with rich, roasted coffee. (But I do associate with unroasted coffee.)
The outer shell is sweet and has a mellow coffee flavor. The inner chew is rather promising. It’s sweet and has a latte taste - both creamy and with some good brewed coffee flavors. The bitterness is there, but rather believable because of the coffee flavor.
I still had the aftertaste of bitter B vitamins, but it didn’t feel as strange because there was no tangy fruit flavor component. I wouldn’t call these great, but compared to the fruit ones, they’re actually edible. They reminded me of the Chewy Coffee Rio.
The other trick I found is to actually chew it all up. When I ate my second Java, I left the candy shell dissolve. Bad idea, because that’s where the extra sugar was. The center chew is not as sweet, but if you let it dissolve like a hard candy, it’s not a bad either. They do end with coffee breath though, so have some real mint Mentos on hand for that (as a side note, there is a caffeinated version of Mentos available in Europe).
An 8 ounce cup of brewed coffee (yes, I actually drink just an 8 ounce cup) contains about 100 mg of caffeine but no calories. Each bag contains two servings (140 calories)... and for only a buck, it’s a pretty good price for an easily metered amount of caffeine. I suppose you can swallow them whole.
I can see these having their place. For travelers, especially those who don’t want to take in a lot of liquids, it’s a nice alternative to coffee or energy drinks. They’re extremely portable (although 14 of them do take up a bit of space).
The package says a serving is 14 pieces, but it holds on 25 ... so it’s just shy of two actual servings. They’re made in
Colombia, which knows a lot about coffee. I’m keeping the Java (4 out of 10) ones on hand for medicinal purposes but I’m throwing out the fruit ones (1 out of 10).
Thursday, April 2, 2009
While Candy Season is winding down with Easter less than two weeks from now, All Candy Expo is gearing up ... which means plenty of new product announcements.
Name: Dark Velvet - Champagne and Cognac
Name: Yogurt Coated Raspberry Soft Eating Liquorice
Name: DOVE Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate with Peanut Butter
Name: Gummy Puckerooms
Name: Gummy Sluggles
Name: Tic Tac Melon Mango, Holiday Twist & Pina Colada (Limited Edition)
Name: Impulse Chocolate Bars
Name: Gourmet Flavored Candy Corn
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
I picked up this package of Necco Paas Gummi Baby Bunnies at the Dollar Tree. I was a bit miffed even before I purchased it. As you can see from the photo, the bag is mostly empty. The product takes up, at most, a third of the bag ... though I have to say it did weigh a hefty nine ounces, which is a generous amount of candy for a buck. (The back of the package says “this product is packed by weight”, which I’m guessing means they’ve gotten some comments.)
The package design is rather lame. The illustration of the Easter Bunny with his basket of baby bunnies isn’t really very contemporary, and I don’t even know what’s going on with the yellow fluffy duck with red hiking boots in the background.
The package promises gummi bunny shaped candies in six creamy flavors. I’m accustomed to transparent gummis, these are opaque, but also apparently creamy.
All my other confusion and miffed-ness aside, these were a pleasant surprise.
These juvenile lagomorph confections are a little bigger than a gummi bear, clocking in at about one inch high. They’re soft opaque colors, matte and a little milky looking. The bag smells a bit like marshmallows and maybe a hint of circus peanuts.
Though the name says they’re gummis, they’re really not. There’s no gelatin in there (so I guess they’re vegan as long as you’re happy to eat modified corn starch, partially hydrogenated coconut oil and titanium dioxide). They look like mellocremes (fondant like Candy Corn), but they’re much smoother than that. They’re firm but give easily when bitten, not as sticky as a gumdrop, not as hard a Jujyfruits.
Banana - Yellow - I think this is the one that overpowers the bag. It’s a plastic-like fingernail polish flavor that wafts like some sort of VOC emission from an auto body shop. Still, I rather liked them, because I like fake bananas even though they made my lungs hurt.
Orange - Orange - rather like the lime one, the orange flavor is quite subtle. Reminds me of a creamsicle, or maybe the distant memory of the last creamsicle I ate about three years ago.
Cherry - Hot Pink - when I looked at this, I wasn’t scared of the cherry flavor, I was immediately turned off at the thought of all that Red 40 dye. The cherry flavor is stronger than the other flavors in the set. Then there’s a bitter component that I find pretty off-putting even if the cherry was rather nice.
Grape - Lavender - this was a baffling little rabbit. It tasted like the only one with a bit of a tangy bite, kind of like yogurt. But the grape flavor was barely there. It also had a bit of a bitter aftertaste.
Marshmallow - White - a rather believable toasted vanilla flavor. Smooth chew ... these are kind of what I’d always hoped Bunny Basket Eggs would be like.
Lime - Green - mellow lime flavor that lingers for a while, a bit of vanilla and it’s definitely smooth. A little bitter aftertaste.
They candies are soft and dry to the touch, so throwing them in the Easter grass out of the packaging like jelly beans is a decent option. They’re also cute enough to display in a jar or dish. (Really, anything is better than leaving in the lackluster package.)
Overall, I had no problem eating whatever I drew out of the bag, instead of picking through. (Though when given the opportunity, I threw the grape and cherry back.) The chew is soft and pleasant, not too sweet. They did tend to stick to my teeth, but not as much as something like Dots. They’re definitely worth the dollar I paid for them, but I really urge Necco to make the bag smaller by half, if only to save themselves some space & plastic costs.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.