Monday, August 31, 2009
In their 85 years of existence they remained largely unchanged. Simple firm taffy in a variety of classic candy flavors wrapped in serviceable waxed paper and sold as changemakers (early on they were penny candy, but even today they’re purchased with pocket change).
Ownership of the company and recipes changed hands a few times. The earliest owner I know of was Sophie Mae based in Atlanta, Georgia. They made Slo Pokes, Black Cows, BB Bats and Kits. Back in 2004 they sold out to the Georgia Nut Company (of Illinois) which rolled them into their Family Brands.
. Georgia Nut sold the brand to Warrell (who also make Pennsylvania Dutch Candies and Katherine Beecher).
Kits are small stacks of taffy squares and BB Bats are a slightly firmer version on a stick. Both came in the same array of flavors: Chocolate, Peanut Butter/Molasses, Strawberry and Banana.
Chocolate was oddly salty. They taste a bit like brownie batter and less like chocolate than many other cocoa flavored taffy confections I’ve had.
They’re pleasant enough with a good stiff chew that doesn’t descend into grain at the end. But they lack even the chocolate punch that a Tootsie Roll has, instead these are more like a malty version of a piece of taffy than a chocolate one.
These are often sold online as Peanut Butter & Molasses flavor, though none of the little wrappers I have say that.
They’re a nice light brown like peanut butter. They smell a little nutty but mostly like sweet taffy.
These were soft and easy to chew. A little salty and after a few chews the peanut butter flavor came out. The molasses is only a light touch, rather like the Peanut Butter Kisses that come wrapped in orange or black waxed paper for Halloween. The flavor reminded me of Nutter Butters. They’re nice enough, the big selling point is that there are few peanut butter flavored chews out there and these are definitely not tooth pullers like Mary Janes.
Banana flavored items are those candies that folks are either going to love or hate.
They’re extremely yellow and out of the package smell like banana or Circus Peanuts.
The flavor is intense and chemical - I felt a slight burning in the back of my throat from these - maybe because they’re so sweet or maybe because the isoamyl acetate that makes up the flavoring is similar enough to fingernail polish remover.
The pink here is quite bright out of the uncolored wax paper. The strawberry flavor is all floral fragrance and no berry tartness. Towards the end of the chew I was getting the artificial flavor bitterness so these were the least appealing for me.
I’m not really in a position to review the BB Bats, I have a few of them, but I fear that they’re hopelessly old. Some say Family Brands of Skokie Illinois on them so I think they’re at least three years old (the Kits say Georgia Confections). The big difference between Kits & BB Bats is that the BB Bats were usually a bit firmer to hold up on the stick, but the flavors and texture were similar - meant for sucking instead of chewing.
Though Kits bear a passing resemblance to Starbursts in format, they’re actually more like Tootsie Rolls (though Tootsie never came in Peanut Butter). The fact that they’re sold in single flavor packs and mine cost only 30 cents each give these a special spot in the confectionery purchase pantheon. It’s sad to see a unique product like this disappear.
UPDATE: My apologies for not completely researching this - I had two different sources tell me of the discontinuation. What I didn’t know is that yes, it’s true that the factory that made them closed, but Warrell is currently in the process of transferring the manufacturing to another facility. The confusion arose when Georgia Nut sold off Gilliam but not all of the products, including the BB Bats, Kits and Slo Pokes.
So to sum up, there may be some interruption in supplies, but production will resume. Also, folks who were sad that they wouldn’t be around but hadn’t bought them in a while should probably try to buy them more often ... or else they might go away for good for lack of sales.
Friday, August 28, 2009
But I was in a nutty & nougat mood on vacation earlier this month, so I picked up this Wheeler’s Pecan Divinity bar. It looked like a fluffy change from French-style nougat. But after opening it and photographing it I was left wondering ... what is divinity?
Divinity is a mixture of sugar and egg whites and of course nuts (I usually encounter it made with walnuts). It’s kind of a cross between marshmallow and nougat - it has the fluffy texture but uses no gelatin like marshmallows do and doesn’t include honey like nougat often does. (More at About Candy.)
This particular divinity bar is quite large, about seven inches long, two inches wide and one inch high. Though that sounds big, it’s quite light - clocking in at only 4 ounces.
It looks like the innards of an old-school Mars Bar (what is now a Snickers Almond) except made with pecans.
Splitting it open it comes apart easily, with a slight graininess to the fluff apparent without even tasting it. I was a bit disappointed when I split it to see that the nuts weren’t incorporated completely, they were just sitting on top. It’s not that I wanted more nuts, but I like nuts that have been imbued with the sugars of a nougat or divinity as well as the flavor they impart.
The divinity smells like egg whites and vanilla. The texture is airy and light but extremely sweet - much sweeter than a meringue, which is mostly egg whites with a little sugar. Instead this was mostly sugar with a little eggs to bind it together. The nuts gave a good woodsy note to it, but they really weren’t as dense as I wanted.
The sweetness and graininess was just not what I was looking for in my store-bought divinity. But since I have so little reference to what real divinity is supposed to be like, I have little notion of whether or not this is good for what it’s supposed to be. In a vacuum I have to say that I’m hard pressed to finish the bar and that’s mostly a disappointment because I paid $6.50 for it.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
The name Toblerone comes from the founders name, Theodor Tobler and the word torrone, which is the name of the almond & honey nougat. There have been a few other sizes & shapes of the bar over the years as well as dark chocolate, white chocolate and layered versions.
This year was the first time I saw the new Toblerone Fruit & Nut in stores. The box is a curious design, half yellow, which is easy to dismiss as the regular variety and the other side is purple with a gradient in of the two colors in the center.
Even though it’s called fruit and nut, the only substantial difference here is the addition of raisins. (I wonder why they’re not currants, which I think would be more exotic and evocative of European mountains than plain old dried grapes.)
The bar smells sweet and milky with perhaps a little hint of malt or honey from the nougat. Breaking the pieces apart it’s easy to see the small raisins in there.
The chocolate is sweet and though it’s milky it’s more on the honey side of the flavors than Swiss dried milk flavors. The texture is smooth, but not quite silky. The little hard nougat bits provide a little difference in texture, but are often sticky & tacky - not quite crunchy or chewy. The actual almonds are hard to find (even on the ingredients list they’re below honey, which means there isn’t much).
I like the size & shape of the bar. It’s easy to portion & then store the rest for later in the box. (Though I did end up replacing the foil wrapping it came in with some more heavy duty kitchen foil because it was destroyed by simply opening it for the photo.)
It’s a pretty bar and certainly a bit of a change from the 100 year old traditional one ... was it worth waiting a hundred and one years for? No. I think if I’m going to go for an inexpensive European bar with raisins in it, I’m going to go for the Ritter Sport Rum Trauben Nuss (though I don’t think you can even get them in the States any longer). But if you’re a Chunky fan and looking for something that’s better quality and more pointy, this might be for you.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
One of the items I previewed at the Fancy Food Show back in January was something that might not even be candy. It’s called Hot Chocolate Mochi Krunch and it’s made by Impressions Fine Foods.
The product is a dark chocolate covered spicy tamari brown rice cracker. The crackers are made in Thailand, but they’re covered in chocolate right here in the US.
I finally found them at Marukai Forum in Gardena this weekend (while on an epic attempt to find Japanese KitKats for sale in Los Angeles). There are two varieties, the other is a non-spiced cracker covered in chocolate.
I’ve had other chocolate covered rice cracker candies before - usually the little banana shaped ones. This version is different in that the cracker is, well, cracker sized.
They look rather like giant snowflakes or stars. Each piece is about one inch across - kind of like a chocolate covered Honeycomb cereal piece.
They smell really intense. The scent is a cross between dark Dutched cocoa and soy sauce which is a woodsy caramelized grain smell.
The chocolate outside is a bit sweet immediately, but crunching into the cracker immediately releases the hot. The spice is a blend of chili and perhaps a little toasted sesame with a dash of salt. The sweetness of the chocolate dissipates quickly though the smoky flavors linger. The cereal flavors of the rice cracker kind of pull it all together at the end and quench the fire of the chili.
The whole effect is more savory than sweet, more snack than decadence.
I found myself munching on them and eating half the package in one day. They’re rather sizable & airy pieces so it feels like I ate a lot.
Yeah, I expect I’ll get them again. I might even try the plain version.
For those of you in the Los Angeles area, if you’re a fan of Japanese cooking, definitely stop by the Marukai Forum, it’s a membership store but it’s only a dollar for the day pass. I picked up HiCHEW on sale for 3 packages for 98 cents and Meiji Lucky (like Pocky) for only 49 cents a box. Great prices - especially for items on special, huge selection and not too far from the freeways. If you’re making an afternoon out of it, the Mitsuwa Marketplace is also just a couple of miles away down Western Ave in Torrance. They have a similarly large selection and good food court.
But if you’re also on the prowl for Japanese cuisine, I love spending time in Little Tokyo downtown which also has a Marukai Market plus another small grocery called Nijiya. (The Mitsuwa at 3rd and Alameda closed earlier this year.)
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
When on vacation I often pick up candy that fits in the intersection between my candy tastes (pretty broad) and The Man’s (not quite as broad but also includes many red flavors). Often we share things like Swedish Fish, Goetze’s Caramel Creams, dark chocolate with nuts or gianduia.
On our travels we selected some Marich 72% Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews at the Sweet Offerings shop. Yes, they were expensive at $6.95 for a 4.5 ounce package but they weren’t for Candy Blog, they were just for eating. But I enjoyed them so much and was positive that I’d be referring to them again that I needed to review them.
Well, I couldn’t find them. Instead I ended up with the pictured Marich Organic Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews which were similarly priced at Whole Foods.
The box seems like a little bit of overpackaging, but they do the job of protecting the candy inside (which is just in a cellophane bag). The box is 9 inches tall and 3 and a half inches at the base ... far larger than a four and a half ounce packet of candy really needs to be. It could easily be two inches shorter and not press on the candy at all. (But maybe they use the same format for a large variety of weights and this is simply efficient.)
Even though they’re called a Sea Salt Cashews, the sodium levels are quite responsible. The package says that there are 60 mg in a 40 gram serving (about 1/3 of the package).
First, these cashews are huge ... and then the thick dark chocolate coating is, well, thick. So they’re amazingly large. (I would compare them to my thumb, but I don’t really want to repeat the photos of my digits & candy.)
The chocolate is dark and slightly bitter, the grassy and clean flavors of the cashews come through with the deep woodsy and coffee notes of the chocolate. Just three or four of them were quite satisfying. They hardly seemed like a sweet treat though. I honestly did a double take with the first few 72% ones I ate - they hardly seemed like candy because they’re not sweet. It wasn’t the little bit of salt in there that made them seem like they weren’t sugary ... it was the fact that they weren’t sugary. The salt just brought out the flavors.
Some of the cashews seemed over-toasted, to the point that they were actually a creamy brown color, so they were far crunchier and of course had a darker, breadier flavor. I liked the lighter cashews, personally.
I kept the package from the 72% and a couple of the cashews and found that the non-organic ones were made with a darker chocolate, if that’s possible for it to be more savory. (Okay, full confession, that photo includes the packet of cashews from the organic in there, instead of photographing it empty, but believe me, you really can’t tell them apart by looking at them.)
These are incredibly tasty, easy to eat and even though the packages are small and expensive, it’s easy to be satisfied with only a handful. The ingredients and panning is superb - both packages were fresh & shiny.
Inside the flap on the organic version it says Brown is the new Green. Inside the 72% it says Rich, Dark and Gorgeous Has Never Looked Better.
Unfortunately the last ingredient on the list is resinous glaze, so even though the chocolate contains no dairy products, these aren’t vegan. (But they are Kosher.) Another curious note, the 72% dark version contains 20% of your daily RDA of iron! Finally, though I paid the same amount for both versions, Whole Foods is actually cheaper overall - they have the non-organic items for $4.85, which felt kind of like a deal at this point.
Monday, August 24, 2009
They feature dark chocolate and a fondant cream center, but the unique selling proposition here is crushed hard candy bits to give them a little crunch.
They come in a cute gable box. I liked it’s simplicity - it’s just a paperboard box, but looks cute and befits the classic contents. Inside the box is a cellophane bag with the chocolates ... not quite as elegant, but I’m sure much more efficient than the trays that Turtles usually come in.
I tried the Peppermint variety first.
They smell clean and minty with a little note of cocoa. While they’re called patties, they’re really not flat at all, they’re like a half-round candy.
The chocolate is very thick but nicely tempered with a good crack but doesn’t flake too much. The candy crunches are mixed in with the chocolate coating (pretty much just on the top).
The cream center is a mellow and smooth fondant - softer than a York Peppermint Pattie but firmer than the gooey version inside Junior Mints. The package shows that the center is pink, thankfully it’s uncolored.
The mint is quite powerful and lingering. Each piece is pretty sizable too - about 3/4 of an ounce. So it’s a good portion, it feels decadent and satisfying - and also comforting since it’s not terribly fussy.
The chocolate isn’t quite as creamy smooth as I would have liked, but it is real and if it weren’t for the egg white they used in the fondant these would be vegan.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The package is similarly themed with vertical stripes, this one obviously going with yellow. As an array the four varieties are quite attractive.
One of the issues of tossing enrobed chocolates into a bag like this is that they get a little scuffed up. These were shipped to me by Quality Candy, the company that runs King Leo these days, so they may be more bumped around than what you’d get in a store. (I haven’t seen these in stores yet but they’re supposed to retail for about $6.00 for a 6 ounce package.)
Unlike the Peppermint, these barely betrayed their cream flavor. They smelled a little like citrus oils, but mostly like sweet chocolate.
The centers of the lemon version were pastel yellow. The cream center is both tangy and sweet with a good pop of zest to go with it. The crunch in the chocolate and the comforting lemon flavor was pleasant and definitely different. The dark chocolate actually went very well with the lemon in this case - I got the distinct flavors of both without one winning out.
The cocoa flavors of the chocolate aren’t the most complex, but they stand well to the lemony notes.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I’m a sucker for orange and chocolate, especially orange and dark chocolate. But I admit that I was a bit dubious of the Orange ones going in, because I thought they were going to be more like an orange hard candy mash-up with some chocolate than a fine cream.
Opening the inner cellophane package, these smell like cocoa and a bit like peppery orange.
Like the lemon, the orange creams are tinted and slightly tangy.
The orange and dark chocolate goes well together and has a nice blend of both the citrus oils and the juicy orange notes. These were by far the crunchiest of the patties I had, which was quite refreshing.
I rather liked these two citrus varieties, especially as a summer chocolate treat because they didn’t seem as sickly sweet.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Quite simply, these smelled strongly of raspberry. It wasn’t so much that it felt artificial, it was simply that it was strong.
When I took the photos, I had a little dish of my sample pieces that I usually enjoy after dinner. In this case I had the little dish sitting by me in the living room. I ate the orange and lemon ones, but left this one sitting there overnight (the bitten one, I ended up putting the whole ones away for later). Well, the next morning I came down to the living room and couldn’t believe that one little candy could actually scent a room that size.
Scent aside, they’re cute and a little flatter than the others. The center also seemed firmer and crumblier than the others.
It has the same light tangy quality and the interesting combination of the creamy and bittersweet chocolate with the crunchy candy bits. Overall it was far too much raspberry for me, but I enjoyed the simulation of raspberry seeds with the hard candy.
Rating: 5 out of 10
King Leo was founded in 1901 and is thought to be the oldest trademarked candy brand in the United States. They were bought out by Quality Candy Company in 2000. At that time the brand was just a line of peppermint sticks (three versions), since then Quality Candy has expanded the flavors and variety of products. They’re made in state of the art facility in Tijuana, Mexico. (You can read more about it in this trade magazine article - warning PDF.)
Overall I liked them, but find the price point a little steep ... but then again looking over the ingredients they haven’t mucked it up with too many unwholesome things - yeah, artificial flavors, but it’s real chocolate and real vanilla. The initial offering of flavors is a good variety without being too weird so I expect them to do well.
Quality Candy sent me a huge box with one package of pretty much everything they make ... and I’m pretty sure they sent similar samples to other blogs, so expect to see a lot people talking about them for the next few weeks.
Candy Addict starts with their Choco-Crisps, Candy Yum Yum had some heat issues and put her Crunchy Patties in the fridge and is giving some away, Todo Candy has a great video that shows how humungo this box was.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Sometimes I buy things that I think are insanely expensive. This little box of Recchiuti dragee are just such a purchase. I saw them mentioned on CHOW and filed it away in my head that I should pick it up when I saw it.
The assortment is called Asphalt Jungle Mix. It features a riot of burnt caramel hazelnuts & almonds, cherries two ways and peanut butter pearls.
So when I found them at a little gourmet shop in Los Olivos on the last day of my vacation, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Partly because what I really wanted to try was the Peanut Butter Pearls. But this mix, besides having an awesome name, also featured hazelnuts & almonds ... but then there were cherries. I actually like real cherries and dried cherries are a pretty good approximation of the real thing ... so instead of getting the singular Peanut Butter Pearls I got the Asphalt Jungle.
The price online is $12.00 for 6 ounces. The price at this shop was $14.00. Yes ... insane. But I was also on vacation, and I’m also the Candy Blogger. Into the basket they went.
The assortment is pretty and luckily it was easy to figure out what everything was at a glance.
A beautiful little sphere, about the size of a pea. They’re a dark milk chocolate and rich peanut butter and a teensy cereal crisp center.
The effect is quite addictive. They’re barely sweet and even have little pops of salt sometimes. This is excellent movie food. I will buy these in the separate box.
These were inconsistent, but it really didn’t matter because they were also great. Some tasted like dark chocolate covered roasted hazelnuts, but every once in a while I got one that has a bit of a toasted sugar crunch to it.
I preferred the sugared ones. In the end, though it was very high quality I think I prefer the really chocolatey ones from Charles Chocolates (also made in the Bay Area and also similarly expensive).
Like the hazelnuts, these didn’t always seem to have their burnt sugar coating.
They chocolate was salty and dark and the cocoa on top of that wasn’t too powdery. The crunchy combination of all the flavors was nice and more on the savory side than sweet.
This was one time when I was a bit disappointed in the package. While it was pretty snazzy, I liked the spare design and minimalism, I actually wanted more information. The entire back of the box is blank except for a little footer at the bottom that has the Recchiuti logo & location. This would have been the perfect spot to include this little tidbit of info that’s on the website: dried Michigan tart cherries and candied wild Italian cherries drenched in dark chocolate with a light dusting of cocoa powder.
Both versions were tart, chewy and intensely cherry. They were like the best most cherry-ish Raisinets ever. (You know, if Raisinets were made with good chocolate.) Not quite for me, but excellent.
I liked this opportunity to try four different products in one package ... it saved me a lot of money because now I know that I want to eat the Peanut Butter Pearls for the rest of my life - they straddle that perfect line between decadent sweet and tantalizing savory. Perfect for sharing and though completely munchable and addictive, the 6 ounce package and the size of your bank account will keep your waistline in check.
Finally, I don’t know why I have an issue with paying this much for panned chocolates. I’ve been the to Recchiuti shop quite a few times and bought chocolates there that are $55 a pound ... why should I take issue with a variety mix for only $32 a pound? Is it because each one isn’t handcrafted like a truffle is? I don’t know ... but I hope I can get over it because it is good stuff. It might be because I’ve had excellent stuff at half the price (or even smaller fractions of the price) ... but good is good.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
I’ve heard about these giant jelly beans they grow down in Texas. They’re made by Judson-Atkinson Candies, which makes the popular Cherry Sours (not my favorite, but they do come in tangerine in the assorted mix) but are pretty hard to find.
I stumbled across this smart little half pound bag at Robitailles Fine Candies and carefully selected a bag that had all the colors. It was hard because there were only about 24 in the bag and seven colors.
You might think looking at that bag that it’s tiny or light, but these quantum singularities of sucrose are hefty. The bag might have been slightly bigger than a 3x5 card but then remember ... a half a pound! So if you’re looking for something to put in a sock instead of a roll of quarter when beating that guy who refuses to pay up on those bad debts ... this is the candy.
The photo above really doesn’t give the scale. They’re about an inch and a half long, but the picture makes them look like teensy licorice pastels.
So when I was shooting them, I though, I’ll put something in there for scale. For some reason instead of a coin or M&M, I went with my finger (because they’re about the size of the top two knuckles of my index finger). But then I remembered after looking at the photo ... my fingers are abnormal ... and not a very attractive addition to Candy Blog. (You can view it here.)
The Orange jelly bean is very crunchy and hard on the outside. The interesting aspect here is that it’s apparent that the jelly center is flavored. (Many regular pectin-style beans are not - the flavor is in the innermost layer of the shell.)
So the next flavor I tried was Cherry Red. This was, in fact cherry. It’s a soft and medicinal flavor, not tangy, just sweet but with a little cherry blossom note to it. I hated it.
Black Licorice is pretty intense. The anise flavor is light & bright but has a lingering burning sensation that builds up over the several bites that it takes to consume it. It lacks the deeper woodsy licorice notes but it’s still rather nice. The food coloring makes my tongue green/black and leaves a bitter aftertaste.
Purple Grape might be more vile than Cherry. It’s bitter and floral and insanely sweet.
Lemon Yellow is quite zesty which helps to balance out the sugary grain to the shell.
White Vanilla was confusing at first. I thought maybe it was coconut but then I realized that it wasn’t even vanilla, just kind of unflavored. But I was grateful for the break from food coloring.
Pink Strawberry tasted rather like bubblegum at first ... and may actually be bubble gum flavor for all I know. It was sweet and bitter and reminded me of bad childhood friendships.
I think there’s also a green one, but I didn’t get that in my mix.
The citrus ones were passably interesting. I have to say that they’re much better than the Hiding Eggs, but I wouldn’t call that a recommendation. I liked the novelty of the size and enjoyed feeling like a giant for a little while. But the intense crunchy shell (which is very much like the Easter marshmallow eggs) didn’t really do much more than add crunch & extra sugar instead of some flavor.
So this just goes to show that the proportions of modern jelly beans (both the Pectin Bean size and the chic Jelly Belly size) are optimal.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.