Saturday, October 31, 2009
Though today is Halloween, I’ve been inundated with a world of Mentos flavors thanks for Santos of Scent of Green Bananas. They were even part of a segment on Good Food on KCRW. I have a huge backlog of them, so here are a few new to North America flavors to highlight:
The Flavor of the Year: Watermelon Mentos are made in Vietnam. I don’t know what the market for them is, as the package is in English yet they’re not sold in the United States.
The pieces are a dusty green. The ingredients list all natural colors, which probably explains why they’re not really bright.
The flavor is all sweet and quite faithful to a watermelon granita or other sweetened watermelon product. It’s more of an interesting flavor than a compelling one for me. It’s authentic but I don’t really eat watermelon for the flavor, I’m more drawn to it for the refreshing texture and volume of water.
While I wasn’t blown away with them, two co-workers did give them raves, so I think it has to do with whether you’re fond of watermelon in the first place. The Watermelon is also found in the European Rainbow Mentos.
Juicy Orange Mentos Plus
I have no idea what’s different about these compared to the orange that’s found in the regular fruit mix. As far as I can tell, it’s just a plain old orange Mentos package with some extra vitamin C.
I was hoping for more citrusy pop, more zest, more tartness ... but the plus is just the fortification. Kind of like the candy version of Orange Soda.
The box is cool looking, it’s flatter than the American ones, which gives it a more elegant profile. And popping them will help me ward off the flu.
The Lemon Lime Mentos Plus say they’re lemon lime on the package, but the picture just shows limes.
The flavor is quite good, a mix of zest and mellow lime flavor without too much sour. It’s bright and clean without tasting too much like cleaner. This was the first package I polished off, so I must have liked them. There was a bitterness that reminded me of tonic water ... now someone just needs to get me some Gin Mentos and we’ll be all set.
They Mentos Plus are made in China but half the packaging (the back of the box and one side) are all in Korean.
None are my new favorites, but still interesting chews and great to share.
Friday, October 30, 2009
I was happy to see that Brach’s was expanding its Halloween offerings beyond candy corn. I love peanut butter and chocolate and though nothing really compares to the Reese’s products, a little foil wrapped sphere sounded good.
Brach’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins say they’re Rich Chocolaty Pumpkin With a Peanut Butter Center. There’s a companion product, the Brach’s Caramel Pumpkins. They’re both sold in 9.25 ounce bags and I was a little surprised to see that they weren’t even real chocolate. (The real shock came later, as you’ll see.)
The foil on the pumpkins comes in two different “faces”, one on each side of the sphere. There’s a happy one with its teeth missing (shown) and then on the other side is a triangle-eyed one. It’s an impressive look when they’re piled in a bowl. Each is one inch in diameter.
The foil is easy to peel off. At first I though mine were dented, but it turns out there’s a little divot in each where they’re molded. (But they are easy to dent as well.) The chocolaty ball inside doesn’t have any imprints on it, it’s just a sphere with a slight texture to it (like a miniature basketball).
The smell like wonderfully fresh roasted peanuts.
Biting into it, it depended on the temperature what the filling was like. When I first got these it was quite hot, so the ambient temperature was over 80 degrees and the peanut butter center was gooey and slick. It was quite nice, not quite a meltaway, but definitely a whole different experience from the dry and crumbly Reese’s peanut butter. When the weather cooled and I tried them again the peanut butter was firmer, a bit more dry but still quite smooth. The roast of the peanuts is dark with a slight bitterness to them. It’s salty and satisfying.
The coating is mockolate. Unlike mockolate products created by Hershey’s, these don’t have a trace of cocoa butter at all in them, It’s all partially hydrogenated palm kernel or palm oil. It’s quite cool on the tongue and has a bit of a greasy melt. It lacks all chocolate power, it’s more of a cardboard version of chocolate flavor. When it’s all chewed together it’s not as noticeable, but nibbled off separately it’s quite bad.
The Brach’s Caramel Pumpkins were even less appealing. (Well, the one thing they had going for them was 20 fewer calories per serving, but of course lacking all the nutrition that the peanuts provide.)
The foil wrapping is gold instead of orange but still has the same faces & green stem for hair.
They smell like butter flavoring and sugar.
The bite is similar, the chocolate-flavored-coating tastes grainier and of course lacks true chocolate flavor. The caramel filling is interesting, it’s a little like a pudding - sweet but not actually cloying. It’s smooth and not quite flowing but not stiff enough to be chewy.
The whole thing was a dreadful mess.
The worst part though was if you look closely at the photo above you’ll notice a tiny little logo on the sphere. It’s the R.M. Palmer logo.
These are just the R.M. Palmer Creepy Peepers! And Creepy Peepers are cheap - usually about a buck for a 6 ounce bag, these Brach’s things are over $3.00 a bag in stores.
I just don’t get it. Brach’s used to distinguish itself from the bagged candy as being just a little better ... this repackaging of something most of us wouldn’t dare touch is pretty creepy. I hope Brach’s gets its act together and goes back to its core value of quality candy.
If you like these, well, skip the Brach’s middle man and just get the R.M. Palmer. They sell them year round in sports shapes (I think that’s the basketball texture).
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Payard Patisserie was at the top of my list. Started by French pastry chef Fran?ois Payard, he grew up immersed in confectionery and pastry from an early age in his grandfather’s shop. Since the New York City Payard shop closed, the Caesar’s Palace location is the only place to get the full Payard experience in the US. (There are shops in Japan and Korea.)
I had a tough time finding the shop, as it’s tucked in the immense Caesar’s Palace maze of casinos and restaurants. The Payard website is no help, as it doesn’t even say where it is in Las Vegas, and the Caesar’s website is equally vague. So I just wandered, starting at the main entrance and winding my way through the labyrinth. Once I did find it, it pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks. The curving facade in rich brown hues, the ornate light fixtures, the long glass counter filled with pastries & treats and the sheer size of it are quite breathtaking.
It is a full French bistro with soups, sandwiches and crepes but the displays definitely focus on the decadent desserts, confections and chocolates.
Luckily I’d briefed myself on their website before going, so I knew what I wanted to pick up, what I wanted to see in person. Of course I also go to most shops with an open sense of exploration - I’m ready to be enchanted and sucked into it all.
I picked up one dessert and a one half pound ballotin which seemed to highlight most of their chocolates well. (I briefly considered their Bergamot Truffle Perfume as well, but realized, I like to eat chocolate, not smell like it.)
The dessert was a decadent piece, mostly a firm chocolate mousse with a core that featured a hazelnut nougatine. It was much larger than I think one person needs to eat, but for only $8.00 it actually felt like a good value for Las Vegas (and upscale chocolate in general). The chocolate was deep and rich, the heavy cream was evident and the texture, besides the crispies mixed in the center, was velvety smooth. Considering all the walking I did (about three miles just that night), I didn’t feel at all guilty about eating it.
The location is not right off any casino floor, so it’s quite quiet and would likely be a great spot to sit and enjoy a coffee drink and sweet. It’s not quite a sidewalk cafe, as it is actually inside and there’s something about carpeting that can really suck the bustle out of a crowd.
The Half Pound Ballotin features about 25 pieces of chocolate, and from the website sounded like a good variety of items. Also, at $28 for the box I was actually convinced it was a good deal. It’s like a little brick, about 4.5 inches long and 2.5 inches high but of course weighing a little over 8 ounces with packaging.
The box is actually crammed full of chocolate. It’s in three layers, each separated only with a bit of waxed/corrugated paper. There are no goofy preformed trays or fluted paper cups. Just a box of chocolates.
There was also no guide, though when I asked at the counter when I purchased it, I was told there was one in there. So I have to simply guess at a lot of these. The chocolate did pretty well. Though it was in the 80s during the day in Las Vegas, I kept the box in my hotel in an insulated cooler, just in case the air conditioner (set on 76F when I was out) didn’t kick in.
Mendiant Noir - Dark chocolate wheel, topped with dried fruits and nuts
I love mendiants simply because they show their cards. It’s a disk of chocolate with some fruit or nut stuck in it. They’re like elegant chocolate bark in easy to eat pieces.
As you might be able to tell, I got two pieces in my box, one white and one dark. The white one had pistachio, almond and yellow raisin. The white chocolate was smooth but sweet, the nuts set it off well. My dark chocolate piece had hazelnut, almond, yellow raisin and walnut. So I broke off the piece with the walnut in it and ate the rest. The dark chocolate was velvety smooth and the hazelnut took center stage as the predominant flavor and texture with a little chewy raisin with some wine notes towards the end.
Also in the box were two orangettes - generous strips of candied orange peel covered in dark chocolate. They were soft and chewy and not overly sweet.
Each of the chocolates in the box are rather small. They’re one inch square and about 1/3 of an inch high.
Chagall - Milk chocolate wafer with praline covered in dark chocolate
This little piece was delightful. The center is a praline, which is a bit of crispy wafers all smashed into teensy bits (think of the wafer of an ice cream cone or a Pirouline stick). It has it’s own toasted flavor and of course a bright and satisfying crunch. It’s mixed in with a milk chocolate paste with a slight sugary grain to it. The dark chocolate keeps it from being to sickly sweet, as does the minute portion.
I was surprised that the Payard name was on this one in particular, I would have assumed it would be a plain or classic ganache version.
Degas - Dark and milk chocolate ganache with coffee beans covered in dark chocolate
This one was easy to pick out of the mix since it said cafe on the top. The flavor was quite mellow and thankfully the coffee was fully integrated and there was no hint of graininess or chewy fibery bits.
Monet - Milk chocolate and cinnamon ganache covered in dark chocolate
This piece has a textured top, kind of like the chocolate version of a 70s hologram sticker. The scent is quite cinnamony, so I was able to assign this one to its name rather easily. The ganache center is lighter and sweeter than some of the others without as much chocolate richness.
Palet d’Or - Vanilla rum ganache covered with dark chocolate, finished with gold decoration
If I didn’t know there was a vanilla rum ganache bonbon in this mix, I wouldn’t have been able to peg this one. It tasted like a rich, dark chocolate truffle. I didn’t get the buttery hints of molasses or alcohol from it, but it sure tasted like rich chocolate. One of the pair that I had was a little grainy.
Gauguin - Milk chocolate ganache, flavored with Kirsh and Grand Marnier covered in dark chocolate
I enjoyed the light touch of orange essence in this bonbon, it was a well rounded flavor without overpowering the chocolate notes. I got a slight bit of grain to it around the edges, but also a bit of zest, so I didn’t know if there was actual candied orange peels in it.
Van Gogh - Pistachio almond paste covered in dark chocolate
This one was in the top layer and I was a little scared when I saw that they were a tad bloomed. Luckily they were an isolated incident. The chocolates are a pistachio green innard that tastes distinctly of pistachio - that fragrant and grassy flavor. The texture is marzipan but also a bit of a grain from sugar (or it had crystallized). I wasn’t that fond of these pieces.
Bonnard - Milk chocolate ganache and caramel covered in dark chocolate
I believe this is the piece with the script P on it. The ganache is rich and buttery with a very slight velvety grain and a burnt sugar flavor. There was also a light bitter note towards the end.
Picasso - Dark chocolate ganache infused with Earl Grey Tea
This beautiful piece was spot on perfection. The shell was nicely tempered, the center had an immediate blossom of bergamot when I bit into it. But instead of just being a citrus peel flavor, it was an actual black tea, the whole cup, if you will. The dark chocolate maintained its own flavors of dark berries and had a bitter woodsy note while the black tea flavors and tannins did their part. Silky smooth melt and refreshing dry finish.
Rocher Noir - Dark chocolate mixed with a crispy wafer
I was a bit surprised when I got to the bottom and found these. They look kind of prickly. The chocolate coating looked thin and cheap.
I was very wrong to judge these based on appearances.
The milk version is light and crispy with an insane buttery flavor & fattiness to it. The crispy wafer bits are those same dark toasted bits, but larger here than the other nougatine ganache. It’s a definite cereal taste. The chocolate isn’t really a note here, it’s more like a malty flavor.
In the noir (dark) version it looked like a coconut haystack. Instead it was the malty & crispy wafer bits with a mellow cocoa flavor. The decadence comes from a slick and sweet chocolate that holds it all together. It’s a bit cool on the tongue and is very satisfying.
Finally, at the bottom with the rochers were the classic chocolate truffles. These little handformed spheres are darling.
Upon the first bite these were not plain dark chocolate. They’re boozy, but not stinging with alcohol. The significant notes are vanilla and tobacco with deep oak and cherry in there. They’re supposed to be Vanilla Rum, but they’re like pushing my face into a bag of pipe tobacco. Not unpleasant at all, but quite dense and difficult to tease out all the flavors and complexity.
For those looking for Payard in Caesar’s Palace, I recommend this map (which I found when I was trying to write this up). The bistro is located on the main level, just off Appian Way (where the statue of David is) and across from Rao’s restaurant.
I can’t vouch for the bistro food, but the desserts do look luscious and I was very happy with mine. I wish they offered the chocolates by the piece, but if you’re shopping for a gift, they’re definitely a great place to stop in and get something truly worthy of the Las Vegas prices. There’s obviously a lot of care and thought that goes into the creation of these bonbons. I also tried the Parisian Macarons, which was a little too brightly colored for my tastes (yes, I mean taste) but wonderfully scrumptious single bites. (I recommend eating those immediately, they do not keep more than 3 days.)
I would definitely visit again if I were in Las Vegas, though I don’t know if I would order from them online as I have a lot of options available locally. But it’s nice to know that option is available.
UPDATE 10/29/2009: Payard may have a new Manhattan location soon called Francois Chocolate Bar at Mauboussin Jewelers on Madison Avenue. Opening November 4th. (NY Times DinersJournal.)
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Classic Lemonheads are one of my favorite candies. Even though I have to eat a huge variety of new to me candy for the blog on a regular basis, I still find a bit of room to indulge in Lemonheads from time to time.
There’s nothing else like the line of candies - a hard and mildly flavored candy core covered with a grainy and intensely flavored coating then a shiny coat.
A couple of years ago Ferrara Pan expanded the line with their Chewy Lemonheads. They’re kind of an amped up jelly bean. A chewy jelly center with the same grainy and blisteringly sour layer covered in a light shell. They came in the same flavors we were accustomed to with the Lemonheads and Friends.
Now Ferrara Pan is mixing it up again with new flavors, this time only in the Chewy line with their Tropical Chewy Lemonhead & Friends.
It’s an odd name, and kind of misleading. There are no Lemonheads (there are pink-lemonade-heads though) in here, now the name has become a brand and shorthand for a whole line of candies.
The unique proposition here is that there are two flavors in each piece. The shell is one flavor and the core is another. (Sounds kind of like Skittles Crazy Cores, doesn’t it?)
The flavors are Kiwi-Strawberry, Peach-Mango, Berry-Banana, Cherry-Watermelon and Pink Lemonade-Lemonade. The colors are muted and tropical, definitely different at a glance from the regular Lemonheads which are far brighter.
This blue shell is almost aqua and the inside is supposed to be yellow according to the key on the box, but it’s more green to me.
The shell is that blue raspberry flavor that was invented by confectioners and has little relation to any real fruit flavor. There’s no tangy layer between the shell and the jelly center. So it’s a sweet berry outside with a mild banana inside. It’s pleasant enough and did start off the tasting with a tropical bent.
The shell is medium green and the center is a light red.
The outside doesn’t taste like much, but there is a pleasant tangy pop between the layers on most of them (some were just all sweet). The strawberry center is floral and tasted a little like cotton candy. It’s mostly an inoffensive piece of candy. Not intense but just a little more interesting than a standard fruity jelly bean.
The red shell on this one has a lighter pink center. (A green shell with a red center would have been rather more like a watermelon though.)
The red is intense and bright and the cherry flavor is strong and medicinal without the robust sour cherry note that I was hoping for. (There was also that bitter aftertaste from the food coloring.)
Pink on the outside and yellow on the inside.
I don’t really know what pink lemonade is, most of the time it’s just lemonade with a dash of red food coloring, though I think classically it’s lemonade with strawberries. In this instance I think it’s the former. The outside is just a little bit lemony and the tangy layer is, well, only slightly tangy. The center does have a little lemon zest to it. All this really does is make me want a Lemonhead. As far as I’m concerned the Pink Lemonade-Lemonade Chewy Lemonhead is for wusses who can’t handle the real thing.
The outside is a great peachy orange color. The center is green.
Experience has taught me that I’m rarely pleased with peach or mango flavored candies. It’s not that I don’t love peaches or mangoes, but they’re very hard flavors to duplicate. Probably because so much of their flavor also depends on the texture. In this case the flavors are quite mild but passable. The peach outside is sweet and like canned peaches (lacking that balsam note that some candies try to include). The inside is a little more woodsy and green tasting, a little grassy and a little like pine. I can’t say I loved the, but I didn’t pick around them as much as the cherry.
I read a lot of other reviews on these when they first came out (I finally found them in stores here in California earlier this month) and I have to wonder if they punched them up recently. Or maybe they’re just plain inoffensive and I’m not angling for a fight. Because Mr. Lemonhead is my bestest lifelong friend.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Go big or go home is kind of a mantra in the snack world. Bigger, bolder, stronger, faster, louder, saltier, fattier, sweeter, higher, longer, brassier, sourer and crunchier all grab market share. They draw our attention because we seek novelty and claiming to be the mostest of something is, well, at least some kind of claim. Things like taste, satisfaction or quality are irrelevant.
So that brings me to the World’s Largest Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It looks like an amped up version of the regular package. Same proportions, just bigger.
Hershey’s has been making variations on the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup for over 50 years. Big Cups, Miniatures ... shapes for different holidays like the Eggs, Trees and Pumpkins. (And of course all the other flavors, chocolate coatings & inclusions.) But this, is obviously different.
The package is 10.5 inches long and 5 inches wide. Inside are two peanut butter cups, each is 8 ounces. So for $9.99 at CVS I was able to buy a pound of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. (Actually, a careful shopper would just buy the 40 ounce “Club Size” bag of miniatures for about $8.99.)
Inside the wrapper is a white paperboard tray that holds the two cups. The cups themselves differ from their un-endowed originals in that they are not contained by a brown fluted paper cup. These are structurally coherent enough to need no containers. (Though they still have the classic fluted sides.)
They’re 4” around on the top and 3” around at the base. As you can already imagine there are some strange proportions at work here when dealing with gigantism. In order to structurally contain the peanut butter I found that they’d fortified the chocolate. I tried biting one but found that the sides and corners were quite thick milk chocolate. Almost a half an inch thick in some places.
It’s really not a product for nibbling on. (Mostly because I simply don’t just munch on pieces of candy that weigh a half a pound. Like giant chocolate Easter rabbits, there’s a sanitary issue.)
This violates one of my primary rules of candy, which is that it requires some sort of tool. In this case it’s a knife to portion it. Most large chocolate bars are scored and can be broken into pieces. There is no other way to eat this other than huge bites ... which pretty much means you’re not sharing or you’re intimate enough with the other folks or so wasted you don’t care.
When sliced though, I have to say it’s rather charming. The triangles are like little slices of pie. Since each cup is 8 ounces, it’s easy to score it into 1 ounce slices ... or just quarter it for hefty 2 ounce pieces. Technically the nutritional panel suggests that a single serving is 1/6th of a cup, but I’ve always found cutting things into sixths harder than quarters/eighths.
The chocolate tastes much sweeter and slightly cool on the tongue than I get from a regular Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. The center peanut butter filling is dry and crumbly with a good salty note and only slightly sweet component.
My issue ultimately that there’s a lot of chocolate surrounding a large bulk of peanut butter. In the end I ate the top & bottom of the slice as well as the dense and grainy peanut butter filling but couldn’t bring myself to eat the super-sweet edge crust of chocolate.
I admit it’s a fun novelty and kind of a no-brainer inexpensive gift for a Reese’s Peanut Butter lover. I see it as a great option for social events, but hard to present as a “real” Reese’s peanut butter cup, since there’s no branding on it. (Maybe a disk to serve it on.)
In the end though it’s no replacement for the tried and true classic. So all it really does in the end is prove that the regular cups are ideal.
From the reports from the dear readers who alerted me to this monstrosity, they seem to be exclusive to CVS ... anyone else see them? (I’m hoping they’ll stick around for Christmas, as I think they’re a fun gag gift that’s actually functional.)
UPDATE December 2010: These are now in much wider distribution. I’ve seen them at 7-11 (for $12.99, I think) plus Target has them along with one pound Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.