Tuesday, May 12, 2009
For something as simple as a candy coated chocolate lentil, there sure is a wide variety of M&Ms products.
(IT’S SUGAR M&M wall at Universal City Walk)
This isn’t so much a review as a rundown of the products.
For the most part we buy M&Ms in single serve packages that hold an ounce or two of five different colors. Currently they come in Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Peanut, Dark Chocolate with Peanuts, Peanut Butter and Almond. (Then there are various limited editions like the upcoming Transformers: Strawberried Peanut Butter, last year’s Crispy Mint for Indiana Jones, Wild Cherry or Razzberry and the seasonal varieties like Milk Chocolate Mint and holiday color versions.)
Then M&Ms introduced Colorworks: the ability to buy individually colored or themed color mixes (circa 1996). Later they added in customized printing (2004). After that they allowed customers to not only add logos but now you can get your own picture on M&Ms.
Most recently M&Ms introduced their themed MyMMs.com tie-ins with Disney. These are called M&Ms Memorable Moments. (I got this bag as a sample from Mars’ PR folks.)
The theme on this assortment is Fairies. There are four colors & five imprints: Tinkerbell, Jasmine, Belle, “Believe in Magic!” and the M.
The candy itself isn’t very different (except for those of us who can taste artificial colors). I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t more images ... and the choice of the gals.
The colors are dark pink, green, yellow and teal. The printing was a little sloppy. The photo is of the best in the package, some were mottled with little splotches, that are all too familiar to me as a lefty. (The classic M&Ms are all imprinted in a creamy grey, not black.)
The other Disney assortments are:
The Disney themed are $12.99 for a 7 ounce bag and you have to buy at least 3. That’s over $29 per pound ... before you add the shipping. That’s some seriously pricey stuff - maybe dilute them with the plain colored ones ($6.99 for 7 ounces) to make the themed ones a little more precious.
Over the past few years I’ve been to a few parties & celebrations and have picked up some other customized M&Ms. Some were just text and some had logos on them.
Ordering from M&Ms there are a few options for pre-packaged favors. They can put them in little tins, clear boxes or tiny bags or you can just buy in large bags and put them in a buffet or bundle them up yourself.
Beyond the color mixes & pre-made icons, customized M&Ms are big. They’re a popular wedding and celebration item and of course the crazy internet kids like to go to mymms.com to probe the content filter of what they can put on their candies that won’t be censored.
Personally, I prefer a personalized container over the actual edible. After all, you want me to eat it.
On the whole, the Memorable Moments are passably unique and cute, but I think they’re really only for diehard fans of those characters. They’re extremely expensive for the actual product ... somehow I think just a properly themed box or other container would be a better deal.
If you have money to freely convert into perishable candy coated chocolate, well, this is pretty inventive.
Monday, May 11, 2009
The first time I tried a Sunspire product, I thought it was terrible. I was also rather irritated that they thought that their candy coated chocolate lentils were better just because they were all-natural, when they actually had more “sugar” in them than M&Ms. (Not that I subscribe to the belief that sugar is unhealthy in moderation.)
I was at Henry’s Market over the weekend and all the Sunspire candy bars were on sale, so I grabbed a bunch ... because if there’s one thing that makes me reconsider my opinion, it’s a reduced price. (Oddly enough free samples have less influence.) This Sunspire Peppermint Pattie was $1.25 (they’re usually $1.69).
On the front it says that it’s premium dark chocolate - all natural / nothing artificial.
The little mylar wrapper holds a 1.4 ounce pattie.
It’s a rustic looking pattie, a little thicker than a York Peppermint Pattie but also smaller in diameter. Still, they’re the exact same weight as a York. (No, that’s not a trick of the light, the center is actually a light amber color.)
The ingredients are impressive, if only for the adjectives involved in simple ingredients:
So while the ingredients are pretty wholesome, they’re not vegan and not processed in a facility that’s gluten free (nor peanut/nut free).
But for me it’s all about the taste. I was a bit worried that the dark chocolate would be too sweet, what with two sweeteners listed before the cocoa solids.
The chocolate shell is pretty thick, it has a nice toasted cocoa aroma with a hint of the minty sweetness within. It’s nicely tempered and has a good break but happily the little bits adhere to the fondant center.
The chocolate is much like chocolate chips as far as texture. Not extremely smooth, but with good flavor ... just a smidge on the dry and chalky side of things.
The fondant center is smooth, with a slight but consistent grain to it but overall it has a cool dissolve on the tongue. It’s a cross between the texture of the York Peppermint Pattie and Junior Mints. The peppermint isn’t that strong and there’s a pretty noticeable whiff of molasses in the whole thing. It makes it all seem rather “hearty.” There’s also a lot more chocolate to this than a York has (so there’s also more fat and more calories).
My opinion of Sunspire is a-changin’ ... this is a really good product. Yes, more expensive but also made in the USA. (But if I had my druthers for non-York mints, I’d probably go for the Ritter Sport Peppermint bar ... except it’s seasonal.)
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Though I wouldn’t call Los Angeles a candy city, we certainly have our share of sweet spots. I’m more likely to go to San Francisco for candy adventures than the west side, but after promising for several years I finally made it to Compartes Chocolatier to pick up some items for Candy Blog.
This wasn’t actually my first visit to the Brentwood shop, but certainly the first one in this century (I was a D-Girl in the 90s and my office was not far from there). I had to see the place since the new generation, Jonathan Grahm expanded the classic line of stuffed fruits & novelty molded chocolates with truffles & ganaches with inventive flavor combinations.
The shop is compact but has a lovely display area on the wall of the chocolates and the main counter that appears to be divided in to two areas: classic offerings and modern. (My distinctions, not theirs.) They serve gelato so there are a few tables inside and out front. (For those who follow Compartes on Twitter, I did spot Jonathan at his laptop tucked in the corner at one of the tables.)
The classic products are sold by the pound (as fruits & nuts tend to come in various sizes) while the truffles & bonbons are sold by the piece. The classics were $35 a pound and the bonbons were $2 each. I left the shop with $50 worth of chocolate in one rather large & heavy box.
The fig is glossy is and sticky. It looks like a light fig (green) like a Kalamata. I prefer black figs (Mission) mostly because they have darker flavors ... it’s like the difference between golden raisins & regular raisins. It’s very sweet at first, the figgy flavors are tangy, a little grassy from the seeds with some raspberry & floral-like green tea flavors. The dark chocolate offsets this well, especially by bringing in the creamy melt.
It’s definitely show-stopping beautiful. Best eaten fresh & quickly.
These tiny little fingers were wonderfully shiny on the peel edge. It was all peel, too, cooked in sugar syrup to a light and translucent tenderness - no trace of acrid & foamy white pith. The dark chocolate looked silken brown. Each piece was a combination of bitterness from the orange oils and dark chocolate, vibrant zest and sweet citrus & cocoa flavors. The texture was chewy & a buttery creaminess. Perfection.
Hazelnut & Orange in Dark Chocolate (not pictured)
These were simple little dark chocolate cups that could have easily been coconut haystacks. I was hoping that the combo of the chocolate & nuts with those awesome orange pieces would work ... sadly the whole thing tasted a bit “cheesy” and I couldn’t figure out why ... something about the hazelnuts lacking their nuttiness. I’ll pass on these in the future.
The ginger coins are tender and soft, a bit juicy. With citrus notes and a warm woodsy burn, the sweet candied ginger goes well with the bittersweet chocolate that has a slightly dry finish. There’s no trace of sugary grain here, it’s more of a smooth jelly texture. Beautiful to look and and expertly made.
I would buy a pound of these. Ginger is a root vegetable, right?
Mexican Hot - (skull & crossbones)
A strong mix of cayenne & black pepper notes in dark chocolate. The ganache is smooth while the dark chocolate flavors are woodsy with a slight tannin to go with the earthy pepper flavors.
Original - (blue stripes)
I try to buy these wherever I go. It’s always good to try the base for everything else. The chocolate enrobing was perfect, the little design on top was cute and easy to remember. The dark chocolate flavors were mild, the ganache was very buttery with a good smooth and quick melt.
Vanilla & Black Pepper - (stripes with dots)
I should have taken a photo of this, I didn’t realize it would be a white cream center until I bit into it far from the camera. The immediate hit was of vanilla and butter, in a cupcake sort of vibe. Then the peppercorns kicked in, giving the vanilla more of a rum & woodsy moderation. Rather sweet, but with a lingering brightness from the pepper & vanilla pods.
Jasmine Tea (pink flowers & blue lines)
The dark chocolate takes a back seat to the strong & musky floral notes of the jasmine. The tea adds a little pop of acidity to it that gives a fresh lingering feeling to this. The ganache is silky smooth and not too sweet.
Blackberry & Sage (blue & purple square mosaic)
The blackberry is a dark and jammy flavor with a light tangy touch, the sage brings it back around with an herbal splash - a bit on the strong side, so much so that I’m not sure I’d know that it was blackberry without a key. Still, a sage truffle is great.
This little ganache center was topped with some lightly candied (glazed) fennel seeds (instead of the brightly colored candy shells that most of us are familiar with). Fennel on its own has a light sweetness and anise flavor. These brought out the dark licorice and molasses notes of the chocolate. Smooth and satiny with a curious fibery crunch from the seeds.
Lavender Marshmallow in Dark Chocolate
Yes, it’s a bit jarring to see that bright lavender center. The marshmallow was moist, fluffy but dense. Sweet but not sticky, it had a good bite. The flavor was woodsy & floral - but a bit odd combined with the chocolate. The whole thing reminded me of bug spray ... though not in a bad way, just that the floral notes weren’t quite as balsam-ish as I’d hoped.
Coffee & Cacao Nib and Coffee
The ganache in this pair is flavored with real coffee, so there’s a slight grain to the otherwise silky center. The flavor was good, rich & bold. I liked the crunchy nibs but I’m not that fond of eating coffee beans when it messes up the texture of well-tempered chocolate.
Fleur de Sel Caramels
I’ve made it pretty well known that I favor “wet” caramels, that’s the chewy stuff that has a good stringy pull and long, smooth chew. These were the “short” caramel style and have a strong butter flavor. I wasn’t fond of the texture, which was a cross between fudge & caramel and the lack of toasted sugar notes.
Shichimi - (the spice dusted one) this is made of seven spices: red chili pepper, roasted orange peel, yellow and black sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, seaweed, and ginger. The spices here angle towards the toasted sesame and chili peppers. I didn’t get much citrus out of it. The whole thing kind of left my lips burning, but the chocolate & fatty ganache balanced it well. The only issue here was that the spices kind of got out of their cup and I caught a few of these flavors in the other chocolates I ate.
Smoked Salt - (square with black crystals on top) delicate and light chocolate ganache with an earthy & metallic aftertaste to the salt. I’m beginning to think that I don’t care for smoked salts. Often they remind me of a campground in the morning, that lingering scent of a fire gone out mixed with damp sleeping bags from the morning dew & coffee made in an aluminum pot.
Cashew Fruit - (gold sphere) - this wasn’t a ganache but a bit of gooey cream center, kind of like a runny creme brulee. The flavor was a bit like green bananas. Smooth, a touch of grassy brightness and sweet milk.
I loved the classic items. I’d go back and buy the orange peels (some of the best I’ve ever had), figs (though I’d like to have some candied figs too) and ginger medallions in a heartbeat. I thought the price was really competitive and fair ($30 when sold in full pound boxes) for a line that is so labor intensive and requires top quality ingredients.
The truffles & bonbons were good and I enjoyed some of the flavor combos and of course the plain one. The price was a bit higher than I’m willing to do for such small items unless they’re particularly unique. The great option though is that it’s a fun shop to visit, they’re very knowledgeable about their products (they’re made right there, after all). They also have a line of African-themed bonbons called Chocolate for a Cause that are made with African-sourced flavors (mango, coconut, cardamom, plantain, grains of paradise, red rooibus tea). They’re a fundraiser for Relief International and their projects in Darfur and include a bead bracelet. After getting emails about these for year and pretty much going there to pick up a box ... they were sold out.
If I’m in the area, I will definitely visit again. The bonbons change constantly as new produce comes into season & Jonathan experiments with new combinations so I give them a 7 out of 10. I’ll probably continue to taste the bonbons but will go home with the fruits/ginger so they get a 9 out of 10.
Compartes Brentwood Boutique Chocolate Lounge
Thursday, May 7, 2009
It feels like I’m reviewing a lot of Hershey’s products lately: Thingamajig, Good n Fiery, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Peanuts, Dark Chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Reese’s Select Cremes. But they’re putting them out and I’ve gotta try everything at least once.
I passed this by more than once (Candy For Dinner always seems to find new products first) mostly because I wasn’t in the mood: Twizzlers Sweet & Sour Filled Twists. But when the weather gets warmer, I seem to crave tangy.
I bought them in a long “bar” format that has four twists, two of each flavor: Cherry Kick! and Citrus Punch!
The twists are clean & shiny, like they’re made of vinyl. They’re similar to the Twizzlers Rainbow Twists, but I think these are just a little larger in diameter or at least not dried and stiff.
Of course, I gravitated towards the Citrus Punch! first. The yellow and red twists reminded me more of mustard and ketchup than lemon and cherry, but I still admit that they were glossy and appealing.
The bite is much softer than the regular Twizzlers, less like biting into some sort of extruded & dried acrylic paint. The gooey filling is soft and has a texture of buttercream frosting. It has an immediate tangy pop and a good mix of flavors, both citrus zest and the tartness. It reminded me of a fresh lemon tart.
Next up was the Cherry Kick! which I resisted. It’s lighter in color from the deep red & berry flavored Twizzlers. The texture is identical to the citrus package mate. The licorice twist is soft and chewy and has a mild sweet flavor. Then the soft center popped in with a very strong note of woodsy black cherry, cough syrup and artificial flavorings. As far as I was concerned, there are a lot of folks who are going to like the play of the mild chewy outside and the intense flavor of the inside.
I really just want to buy the Citrus by itself, perhaps I can pick them out if they package them in individual ropes for Halloween or something.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The Reese’s Select line has finally expanded beyond the initial offering of the Reese’s Select Cluster which launched in early 2008.
I spotted these new Reese’s Select Peanut Butter Cremes at Target over the weekend. They sport no banner that says “new” but they certainly weren’t there last month.
The 8 ounce bag is long and sturdy and kind of oddly puffed up. I assumed this was to protect the candy inside from getting smashed. (And air is pretty cost effective.) Inside are approximately 18 little individually wrapped pieces.
The pieces are about 1.5” inches square, slightly domed (a full 1 inch high). They have a little R medallion molded on the top for Reese’s.
I had a little trouble with the integrity of a few pieces. I thought I chose my bag well and was careful bringing it home, yet two of the pieces that I ate (I consumed about half the package) were smashed completely.
Aside from that, the little individual wrappers are sturdy and feature full ingredients info (many individually wrapped Hershey’s items do not).
The little pieces smell of sweet peanut butter.
The bite is interesting, the chocolate shell, though soft, is thick enough to give a big burst of chocolate texture and slight dairy taste immediately. The melt is smooth and rather silky. The center is not at all like a meltaway - this is a full on gooey cream. (Spreadable like room temperature butter.)
At first I was taken aback because I found it extremely salty. But it did balance the sweet milk chocolate well. The texture combination and the rounded flavors gives these pieces well earned decadence points.
In case you were curious, the ingredients are:
The sodium content isn’t as extreme as it tastes. It’s 95 mg for 36 gram serving, which is actually less proportionally than regular Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
These are not made in Mexico, like the Clusters, and these are also Kosher.
Overall, an interesting addition to the Reese’s line, a smoother melt and much higher quality than I expected. I enjoyed them quite a bit, and found that everyone else in the office did. Perhaps an 8 ounce bag isn’t big enough?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.