Monday, November 30, 2009
Russell Stover has a large assortment of holiday treats in Santa-themed packaging. What’s nice about them is that they’re always fresh and moderately priced (often on dramatic sale for three for a dollar but usually about 50 cents a piece). I picked up every variety I could find this year:
What I noticed first was that the packaging is inconsistent in its design. Sure they’re all a mylar wrapper, but beyond that the Santas are different drawing styles with the Maple Cream, Strawberry Cream & Coconut Cream sporting the same Santa holding a gift aloft as he sits in a chimney. But The Peanut Butter Santa is more streamlined, the Marshmallow Santa has some freaky bright red cheeks and insanely short arms and finally the Marshmallow & Caramel Santa is in the style of the European Saint Nicolas complete with staff.
What I also found out is that the definition of “Santa Shaped” is pretty loose in Russell Stover’s world. It’s not quite as egg shaped, and maybe the tapering ends can be a feet/boots and a head. But really, it’d be best to just call these Christmas Lumps or Snow Clods.
The Peanut Butter Santa is pure simplicity: a peanut butter bar covered in milk chocolate. The shape of it is kind of figure-like. It’s the smallest of the pack as well, clocking in at only .75 ounces. It smells nutty and sugary and a little bit like peanut butter cookies. The milk chocolate is quite slick and melts easily, it has a light cocoa flavor to it. Most of all the salty peanut butter center is grassy-tasting. It’s a strange green flavor more like edamame than roasted peanuts.
It was tasty enough for me to finish it easily, but being small didn’t hurt either. The center is moister and a bit oilier than the center of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Tree (or Egg or Cup). This wasn’t a bad feature, just different.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I thought perhaps I’d tried these before and looked up to find that I reviewed the Maple Cream Egg way back in 2006. But the Russell Stover Maple Cream Santa is actually different. While the Easter version is coated in dark chocolate, the Christmas version is Milk Chocolate.
The amorphous lump didn’t remind me of Santa’s silhouette in the slightest but the maple cream flavor is a bit more Christmassy than Easterish so kudos for that, Russell Stover.
It’s been a while since I’ve had the dark chocolate version so I’ll spare us all comparisons. What I can say is that this is ludicrously sweet. The milk chocolate is sugary and not terribly creamy and the center while moist and fluffy is also throat searingly cloying and sticky. The maple flavor was simply a flavor, not something that felt natural or integrated into the candy itself.
Rating: 5 out of 10
While the Strawberry Cream Santa is also milk chocolate like the Cream Egg, this one lacks the pretty little swirls and curls on the top. It does smell a little like berries, but mostly it smells like milky chocolate. It’s quite sweet and has only a faint hint of strawberry and is rather similar to a Nestle Strawberry Qwik shake. I know it was really sweet, but I like the texture of the cream center that Russell Stover uses for both this one and the Maple Cream. It’s rather like a marshmallow cream, quite smooth and fluffy and moist without being runny.
Rating: 5 out of 10
The Coconut Cream Santa is also unlike the Cream Egg in that it’s milk chocolate, not dark chocolate. In this case as well, I think the sugar-laden milk chocolate is simply over the top. I like the coconut flake texture of the cream filling and the nice size of the piece, but the sugary quality of the chocolate with its grainy and fudgy melt is just too much. It’s amazing what a difference dark chocolate can make, but it does.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Things were looking up when I found the Dark Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Santa. I didn’t really expect this to be terribly different from the Easter Rabbit version, except that one was huge at two ounces and only in milk chocolate where I shopped.
This one was by far the most attractive of my Santa set, a nicely detailed figure of Santa Claus scratching his head. Unfortunately I smashed him somewhere along the way and his face was a little worse for it (or maybe he wasn’t scratching his head, maybe he was holding his hand over his nose and cursing me).
The marshmallow is latexy and has a chewy pull. Not too sweet and with a faint whiff of vanilla flavoring.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Of course this one looks like it could be a Mummy or Generic Figure for Unisex Bathroom Door.
It’s smaller in dimensions from the Dark Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Santa, yet it’s actually heavier, it’s the same 1.25 ounces as the Cream Santas. I’ve had the Caramel and Marshmallow Pumpkin before and found it interesting.
This one seems to be more evenly balanced between the caramel and the marshmallow. It’s dense for a marshmallow product, the marshmallow is fluffy and has a light hint of vanilla to it with a smooth and velvety melt. The caramel isn’t runny nor quite chewy but has a good stringy pull to it.
It’s lacking a punch like the See’s Scotchmallow, but for 50 cents and in the shape of a clothes pin, well, I don’t want to sound too ungrateful for a decent piece of candy especially since this one seems to have the proportions just right. I wish the caramel was a little more chewy, a little more salty, but still a fun piece.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The weekend began without much new candy. The purpose was to get rid of it. What some of you have gleaned over the years as regular readers is that I do product photography on the side for Candy Warehouse. When I’m done shooting the photos, I get to keep the rest. Well, that’s far more candy than I can eat, and even far more than my co-workers at my day job can handle. I even gave away this pile of boxes to Soldier’s Angels for our service folks far from home.
Still, I had lots and lots, so I volunteered to create a Candy Buffet for the National Novel Writing Month‘s annual fundraiser called The Night of Writing Dangerously held in San Francisco on Sunday, November 22nd. Since there were going to be two hundred attendees, each wonderful fundraisers that deserve copious amounts of sugar, I thought a pound per person would be appropriate. So I packed up my car with nine boxes. Three were candy jars and the rest were filled with candy.
I had two cases of York Peppermint Patties from an art director for a commercial shoot here in Los Angeles, Kencraft Old Fashioned Candy Sticks, two gallons of Kasugai Fruit Gummis, Koppers Limoncello Marzipan, Koppers Dark Chocolate Almonds, Koppers Hazelnut Sea Shell Brittle, Salt Water Taffy and Butterfly Candy Tarts. I was worried that wasn’t enough, so I contacted Mars and asked if they could donate something for our good fundraising writers who supported our programs to create writing curriculum for schools & libraries for free and they sent over 1,000 pieces/packages of Snickers, Skittles, M&Ms Milk Chocolate, M&Ms Peanut, M&M Minis and Dove Promises. On top of that, another local Los Angeles event planner had some M&M Premiums in those individual serving boxes for us to pop into the tote bags. Still, I was feeling like we were missing some basic candy food groups, so I spent some of my own money and ordered up 10 pounds of Albanese Confectionery’s World’s Best Gummi Bears, 5 pounds of their Sour Gummi Bears and 5 pounds of the Double Dipped Malted Milk Balls (I should have set a pound aside for myself, they’re so good).
So now I was not only feeling pretty good because our fundraiser raised $33,000 for our programs, I’d also unloaded a bunch of candy that was taking up a lot of space in my house and office. My process of celebration began with ... acquiring more candy.
Bi-Rite Market - 3639 18th Street, San Francisco.
Christopher Elbow - 401 Hayes Street, San Francisco
Miette Confiserie - 449 Octavia Street, San Francisco
The Candy Store - 1507 Vallejo Street, San Francisco
Then Monday morning I packed up my candy jars and headed tried to go to Harry and David near my hotel as they always seem to have fun holiday candies, but they weren’t open yet. I made my last stop:
Charles Chocolates - 6529 Hollis Street, Emeryville
So this isn’t the normal candy review, just a peek behind the scenes at a combination of my obsessions. But hopefully it gives you some sense of what kind of candy lifestyle is behind the Candy Blog. It’s a pretty good life, and for that I am thankful. Thanks for reading, thanks for leaving comments and most of all, thanks for making Candy Blog part of your life. Your support of it enables me to do all this other stuff to spread the sweet joy.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I like to cruise the aisles and look at all the great new and returning items. This year my eyes lit on the Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Delights.
The box describes them as a crunchy hazelnut treat surrounded with praline, crispy wafer and milk chocolate. While I assumed that they are like Ferrero Rocher, the image on the box didn’t quite show whether they were flat or round (maybe the wafer is just that, a little disc). The box is also rather deep, and though it holds 7.05 ounces, I wasn’t sure how the items were packaged. Were they individually wrapped and just tossed in there? How many came in a box? Were they in a tray or just stacked up?
When I got the box home and opened it, most of my questions were answered.
Inside the trapezoidal box are two trays. Each tray is sealed in cellophane and has eight sections. (16 candies total in the box.) Each little spot holds a Hazelnut Delight. At this point I confirmed that there were a heck of a lot like a Ferrero Rocher. They’re also made in Germany, which is one of the locations that Ferrero has manufacturing facilities.
The ingredients are impressive at first. The first item on the list is hazelnuts. After that it gets a little less enchanting. Ingredient #2 is sugar, which is absolutely expected in candy. #3 is vegetable oil (palm, rapeeseed and sunflower) and only after that do we get to the cocoa butter, wheat flour, chocolate liquor, whole milk powder, nonfat dry milk and cocoa ... then a bunch more stuff including more oils.
The pieces are slightly larger than one bite. It’s a lumpy, bumpy ball and most had a little drizzle of white chocolate across them. What’s nice is that they’re not individually wrapped in foil, so it smells amazing, like roasted hazelnuts and hot chocolate.
Biting into one, the construction will seem similar. It’s a milk chocolate shell covering crushed hazelnuts stuck to a hollow wafer sphere. Inside is a chocolate and hazelnut paste ... somewhere in there is a whole hazelnut.
The amazing part though is the hazenuttiness. It’s just packed with them. It’s a sweet treat, but there’s both the whole hazelnut at the center plus the crushed hazelnuts then that hazelnut paste in the middle. There must be the equivalent of three or four hazelnuts in there.
The chocolate coating is sweet and melts easily. The paste in the center is, well, pasty. It’s sticky and has a good cocoa flavor but not much on the hazelnut side, not a problem there, because the whole hazelnut pretty much takes care of that at some point. (In the photo cross-section I obviously hadn’t found it yet.) The wafer is crunchy and has a light caramelized sugar note to it, like good ice cream cones do. The crushed hazelnuts steal the show though, so crunchy and with such a distinctive roasted nut flavor I was quite enamored of these little delights.
The price is a bit steeper than Ferrero Rocher (which I’ve seen on sale at drug stores for less than 1/2 the price from time to time). But there are far more hazelnuts here and of course they were extremely fresh. I might buy them again as a hostess gift for someone I was certain is a hazel-nut. I think I’d prefer a dark chocolate version for myself.
Other items returning for 2009:
Monday, November 23, 2009
Last month I reviewed the new Ferrara Milk Chocolate with Almond Nougat, today I have the companion bar without the nuts and nougat bits. The new Ferrera chocolate line is to take the place of the chocolate products from Kraft that the company used to distribute from their Terry’s Chocolate Orange and Toblerone brands. They can be found at drug stores and discount retailers.
The Ferrara Belgian Milk Chocolate Bar is the same format as the faux-Toblerone, a long and domed trapezoidal shape with deep sections. The snap is good, though sometimes I had trouble cracking off just one segment and if I had a double I found it impossible to break that into two pieces. (So I had to eat two sections.)
The texture is quite smooth and creamy. It reminded me a little bit of Dove Milk Chocolate, but slightly sweeter. The silky melt and light caramel notes are pleasant. It’s a little sticky feeling in the mouth, but not overly thick. I prefer a less sugary bar but the fat in this one was a delightful mix of cocoa butter and whole milk.
The ingredients are all natural and the bar is Kosher. The package says the chocolate was made in Belgium but molded & packaged in the United States.
I was hoping for something a little deeper and richer, but for two dollars and the nice packaging I think it’s a good deal. I like the thick pieces compared to the flat tablet chocolate bars that are usually 100 grams, it makes the melt a little more interesting to have a chunky nugget. Since Toblerone doesn’t even make a nougat-less bar, it’s hard to even compare it. It’s not quite as satisfying as a Ritter-Sport which is in the same price category, but might make a prettier stocking stuffer in some instances.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I love it when the Candy Blog community points me to something new. We have a little conversation going on in the Candy Blog Forums about the 2009 holiday candy offerings. One that ruffy mentioned was Hershey’s Kisses Filled with Irish Creme. I found them at Target as well and I suspect since no one else has seen them anywhere else that they may be a Target exclusive this year.
Irish Cream is a combination of flavors and textures; it’s usually heavy cream, whiskey and coffee. Kisses filled with Irish Creme are less of that. There’s no actual whiskey in there, for starters. It’s a molded chocolate shell filled with a sugar and oil paste with some milk products (nonfat milk and whey) and artificial flavoring. So maybe a more accurate name would be Kisses filled with Sweet Flavored Whey Paste.
While my confidence level in them was low, I was also plenty curious. The dark green bag and gold wrappers with green fireworks on them were certainly appealing.
The smell, when I pushed my face into the bag, is actually mildly alcoholic. I don’t know how they did that, but it definitely has a bit of a whiskey note.
Out of the foil it’s even more noticeable - more than just bourbon vanilla, this smells like strong stuff. The chocolate flavors of the molded shell aren’t much. It’s smooth enough, with a slight fudgy grain that’s definitely candy-like. The center is a bit of a paste, thicker than the cordial creme in some of the Kisses. It’s not quite grainy and rather like a fondant. The center is a little bit salty so it has an immediate difference from the chocolate shell. The whiskey flavors of woodsy alcohol are there along with a slightly warm and cozy background note.
The liquor flavor though has an odd medicinal quality, especially later on. It’s like the after effects of Cepacol or some other throat anesthetic. Eating another one kind of gets rid of the benzocaine & menthol aftertaste by introducing the primary tastes of sugar, milk and whiskey flavored cheesecake.
I’m not blown away, but they are different than the last few flavors. But a true coffee flavored Kiss might be a nice change one of these days or an Egg Nog for the holidays.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I know some folks may have been worried that I wasn’t going to give Fannie May another chance after the disappointing Mint Meltaway yesterday. Well, no worries, as I also found the Fannie May Pixie at Walgreen’s on the same trip.
Again, it’s a pricey piece of candy - at $1.39 for a 1.5 ounce candy billed as Crunchy pecans in smooth caramel, drenched in rich milk chocolate. But a careful shopper might notice that Pixies go for $22.99 per pound on the Fannie May website yet these individually wrapped pieces work out to $14.83 per pound. (But they’re also available in dark chocolate on the website.)
Fannie May is famous for these turtle-like candies and I’m a huge fan of turtle-like candies. The ingredients look much better. There’s real chocolate, 50 fewer calories and no trans fats make it into the listing. (There is some hydrogenated vegetable oil on the list, but it’s very far down.)
Honestly, it’s a huge turtle. Far larger than I’m accustomed to. The ratios are a bit off from smaller ones, as far as I can tell. There’s a lot of caramel here and what seems like a lot of chocolate and not a lot of pecans.
The crunch of the pecans at the base is good, they’re crisp and fresh without that trace of fibery chew or rancid oily taste that some drug store turtles can get. The chocolate is creamy, not terribly milky but has a good snap to it and stays on the caramel center well. The caramel has a nice buttery flavor. It’s not quite a stiff chew but still has a good stringy pull and smoothness.
So while I thought it was a bit too large at first, I had no trouble finishing it (though I did it in two sittings).
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
It’s November, there’s a crisp chill in the air (yeah, it was in the fifties last night here in Los Angeles) which usually signals mint & chocolate combinations are in season. Last week I tried Dove’s new Peppermint Bark. This weekend my eye was drawn to this Fannie May Mint Meltaway in with the holiday candy at Walgreen’s.
First of all, I never see Fannie May all the way out here in the West Coast. Second, this was a drug store, someplace I didn’t expect to run across a boxed chocolate brand. I know many readers have been urging me to cover Fannie May, so into my basket they went without complaint.
Fannie May used to be a fine chocolate company, founded in 1920 and based in Chicago. In 2004 they declared bankruptcy and were bought up by Alpine Confections who already owned a similar Midwest confectioner, Harry London of Canton, OH. In 2006 they became part of 1-800-FLOWERS. So they’re not quite the tiny little boxed chocolate company any longer; this is what their website says:
So some of you caught that I said that they used to be fine chocolate. Well, read on and you’ll see where I take issue with including them saying they’re “fine chocolate” when they’re not using the “finest ingredients.”
The Mint Meltaway package is rather refreshing and easy to spot. It’s a rather clinical white with a little pile of the candies isolated in the middle of the wrapper. The top and bottom edges have simple evergreen boughs and pine cone trim. There’s actually only one piece in the package though the image shows three, but at 1.5 ounces, it’s definitely not skimpy. The package describes the meltaway as Rich chocolate mint center drenched in creamy pastel coating. Wow, creamy pastel coating, can you tell how much my
mouth is watering at that? What is creamy pastel coating? Here’s what takes up a portion of the back of the package:
You know what all that adds up to? 1.5 grams of trans fats. Most companies have mucked around with their serving sizes so that they can skirt in under the “you can say there’s no trans fats if you have less than .5 grams in a serving” but Fannie May, well, she’s bold. She’s out there with a huge 240 calorie portion (160 calories per ounce) that contains 49% of my daily value of saturated fats. And those actual trans fats.
The block is two inches square and a half an inch high. The soft, matte & dull green looks like a bar of soap or a vintage fireplace tile. It has a soft peppermint scent, not menthol nasal-passages-clearing-strong.
The white coating is rather smooth and not at all greasy. It’s not minty but also not really much of anything besides a texture and slightly salty. The chocolate center isn’t a soft meltaway, it’s a bit firmer, like a Frango. It melts quickly though, cool and chocolatey with a pleasant peppermint essence to it. After a while it gets a little greasy though, a little thin and watery.
The ingredients don’t warrant the $1.39 price tag when I can get the Dove Peppermint Bark made with real cocoa butter just a little further down the aisle. Or if you don’t mind the mockolate, just eat some Andes Mints.
Monday, November 16, 2009
When I was in London last time, my mother and I went to Portobello Road to the flea market. While there we stopped in a little basement cafe to get some coffee and had what turned out to be the best scone of my life. It was served with clotted cream. As far as I can tell, clotted cream is a cross between super-fatty butter and unsweetened whipped cream. I have no problem with either of those.
When I saw this Buchanan’s Scottish Clotted Cream Fudge at Bristol Farms over the weekend I thought about my positive experience with the clotted cream part of the name. I know that Scottish fudge is rather different from American fudge (notably that it’s not chocolate), kind of like a grainy caramel. Think of it as a cross between dulce de leche (or cajeta) and penuche.
Upon getting it home and reading the package, it didn’t sound quite as fun as the scone experience: Sugar, Corn Syrup, Milk, Vegetable Oil, Butter, Clotted Cream, Salt, Soy Lecithin, Mono & Diglycerides, Natural & Artificial Flavors. Well, color me bummed. Clotted Cream way down there by salt (of which there is approximately 212 mgs)? Piffle.
Well, I paid $5.99 for a quarter of a pound of it, I had to give it a try.
The package is long and narrow. Inside are two little bars. Each bar is pre-scored into six little pieces.
I have to say, it smelled fresh, like caramel and butter. And they do look fresh and stunning. The bite is quite soft, like a Kraft Caramel. It’s not chewy, but also not quite as grainy as fudge can be. The smooth kind of pliable dough does dissolve into a slight sugary grain, but also releases some bold toasted sugar and butter flavors.
It’s a nice vanilla fudge, but not worth $24 a pound. But now I want to try the fresh and wholesome stuff in Scotland, not stuff with artificial flavors and barely a splash of real clotted cream.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.