Monday, August 9, 2010
While many mints these days are touting how strong they are or that they’re sugar free, the Choward’s line just plugs away at the same mildly-flavored line. They’re not easy to find, so when I spotted these at the Albanese Candy Factory Outlet, I grabbed both the Choward’s Spearmint and Lemon. They have classic textured foil wrappers and list that there are 15 mints in the package.
Choward’s Spearmint are plain white, the ingredients list no colorings. The little squares are are nicely formed. They’re about 2/3 of an inch square and have an excellent embossed Choward’s logo across the center on both sides. They stack easily and have a pleasant texture of unglazed fine bone china.
The spearmint is completely mild. It’s sweet ... much sweeter than I expected. Since they’re made with actual sugar instead of dextrose, it’s noticeable. (Dextrose or glucose is said to have only 74% of the sweetness of sucrose.) Since it’s not very minty, it’s hard to pay attention to anything but the sweetness. But I suppose maybe it’s a good deal - you get more sweetness for the same number of calories.
I found them fun to eat, but really not much for a long-lasting minty freshness. As a breath freshener, well, they didn’t make things worse. Just a little sweet pick-me-up. I can see them going well with mild drinks like tea.
The Choward’s Lemon is a bit more of a curiosity. The ingredients are interesting in that the flavoring is just oil of lemon and citric acid (for tartness). I was expecting a bit of a lemon mint, instead it’s kind of like a SweeTart.
The crunch is smooth and hard and like the Spearmint, it’s quite sweet. But the citric acid gives it a little sour kick. The lemon oil is zesty and certainly more complex than SweeTarts. They less grainy texture took a little getting used to. Ultimately they were just too sweet for a sour chalky candy (I guess that’s why I like the dextrose-based ones) but I liked the texture quite a bit.
Friday, August 6, 2010
One of the most exciting parts of my recent trip was a visit to a real, working candy factory. I didn’t get a special tour or anything, but I always like to get close to the source of candy - even if it’s through a wall of glass. The Albanese Candy Factory is easy to get to, at the junction of I65 and RTE30. (Though Google Maps took me on a far more direct but slower route through the neighboring Indiana towns from I80.)
The factory is nicely situated with a large parking lot and a charming “house” entry for the candy store and tour portion of the facility. Entering the space, at first it just looks like a huge candy store - probably about 2,000 square feet of not just Albanese Candy, but oodles of other bulk items in bins, novelties and classic favorites from all sorts of manufacturers. At the back of this space is the tour.
No photos were allowed of their candy factory tour, which amounts to walking along one wall of the factory and peering into the active operation. I was able to see the starch molds stacked up and ready to be fed into the depositor, which squeezes out the gummy goo that becomes the bears. The next steps were a bit hidden, but the next conveyer showed the completed gummi bears on a belt being tossed around and bagged up. (The true intervening step is that the gummy bears cure for a while in their molds, are then cleaned of their corn starch coats & given a little shine in a tumbler called a panning machine.) The bears were then bagged up and robots came in and created huge boxes then pallets that were moved around.
The space is just a wide carpeted ramp with a few videos to demonstrate and explain the processes. It’s wheelchair accessible and easy for folks to spend as much or as little time on as they want.
I was really interested in the candy store and I wasn’t disappointed. First and foremost they sold Albanese Candy. By the door were piles of boxes of “seconds” at reasonable prices - a 5 lb box of Peach Rings was $8. Great for a party.
The perfect candy was sold either in pre-packs or at one of the three bulk candy stations. There were plenty of helpful and knowledgeable staffers there. All of the items that weren’t individually wrapped were packaged up by request by the staff. They stood there with their tongs, scoops, plastic bags and gloved hands at the ready for any request. They had every Albanese gummy candy I could think of. The standard items were all $2.49 a pound - a great price as anyone who has been to Dylan’s Candy Bar or other mall bulk candy shop will recognize. (Those shops sell Albanese Candy for anywhere between $9 and $14 a pound.)
I picked out their new Natural Sour Poppers, Gummi Butterflies (now in small and large sizes) and Gummi Fishes. I’ve actually had the last two items before, but I thought I’d try them again, especially because I wanted a standard flavor to try against the natural ones.
The packaging was nice. Just little stand-up zipper plastic bags. What I appreciated was the each one got its own label that did list the ingredients for the product - a rare service when buying in bulk. These little four ounce bags were just $65 cents, quite a deal for getting exactly what I wanted.
The new Natural Sour Poppers are cute little smiley faced buttons of gummis. I have no idea what the flavors are supposed to be, or even how many are in the assortment. I didn’t try to overthink them, I just ate them.
Though there’s no sour sanding on them they’re still quite tangy right from the start. They’re soft and squishy with good, well rounded flavors but very much on the sour side. I could pick out the cherry, lemon, orange and pineapple ones, there might have been green apple, fruit punch, strawberry and maybe watermelon in there.
I liked that there were no weird aftertastes associated with the coloring, though the flavors were less vibrant than the traditionally produced ones. They recognizable “emoticon” shape will probably be quite fun for kids. I also appreciate that they’re the same price as the unnatural gummi products.
I’ve reviewed the stunning-looking Albanese Gummi Butterflies before. I’m not quite sure why I picked them up again, but I was enchanted by their appearance. The wingspan on the large ones is a full 3 inches. The small ones are less than half that, at about 1.33 inches across and the same thickness.
Combining the two sizes was actually more satisfying for me than one or the other. I liked the look of them together, the small ones gave context for the large sized shape (which often get folded up). The flavors are the same charming Albanese cherry, orange, grape, punch and apple. I especially liked the orange ones, but found the cherry to have the robust woodsy notes and not too much red food coloring flavor.
Albanese’s chocolate products are far less well known. I picked up only one chocolate item to review, their Dark Chocolate Caramel Marshmallow. The prices on the chocolate items varied depending on the product itself. They had a good selection of traditional chocolate treats like toffee, fruit creams, caramels and nuts. They’re packaged just like the gummis, into little zipper bags.
The Caramel Marshmallow is smaller than the See’s Scotchmallow. A nicely domed piece, they were in pristine, unmarred condition when I bought them but got jostled around a bit in transit (drove to Chicago from there, then flew back to Los Angeles four days later).
It has a nice dark cocoa scent, a little sweet but woodsy. The bite is not at all like I expected a marshmallow to be. Instead of a latexy puff, it was more of a light fluffed cream. It still had a little chew to it, but not at all like I was accustomed to with See’s or Russell Stover. The flavor was barely sweet and had a light hint of vanilla to it (they use both real vanilla and vanillin in them). The caramel was soft and chewy but lacking much of a salty or burnt sugar punch. The dark chocolate was decent quality and well tempered though not complex. They’re certainly edible but of course don’t hold a candle to my favorite, the Scotchmallow. Since they’re about the same price at $11.99 a pound, I can’t see myself getting these again - even though I know they’re extremely fresh.
The diversity of candy offerings in the store is amazing. They had a huge selection of nostalgic favorites, such as swirl lollipops, candy buttons, wax lips and theater box favorites. I lucked out and found Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy as well as the more recent Doscher’s French Chew. They also had a great wall of individually wrapped candies which included Mary Jane’s, Anise Squares, Honey Drops and all sorts of items from Atkinson’s like their Peerless line. I picked up Angel Mints and my mother found Sen Sen and got a tin of Anis de Flavigny. Prices for the candy that they don’t make there is a little more than a drug store but less than most other candy stores.
The shop is only about one hour outside of Chicago and a half an hour south of Gary, Indiana. So if you’re in the area, it’s a nice place to stop. (Though it’d be nice if they also had coffee, we really needed some to go with our toffee that we ate in the car.)
Albanese Candy Factory Outlet Store
Thursday, August 5, 2010
On my recent trip to Ohio I was delighted to visit the local Aldi twice. I was worried there wouldn’t be much candy in the summertime, as I know that Christmas and Easter are the best time to visit Aldi’s candy section. I wasn’t disappointed with the variety of candy. I’ll have coverage in the coming weeks of many of my finds, but first the one that I was most excited about: Choceur Chocolate Crisp Bars.
This cute box holds a compact stack of little chocolate covered wafers with hazelnut creme. There are 10 little bars in there, each portion is two bars, but each finger is only 95 calories for those watching their tally.
The package describes them as crisp wafers and hazelnut creme covered in fine milk chocolate. What that amounts to is a hazelnut KitKat knock-off.
The little fingers are nicely wrapped in a stiff paper-backed foil. They’re 4.5 inches long and about .75 inches wide. They pieces are in three distinct segments though each of those is more than a bite.
I admit that I had a little trouble with keeping these from the heat. (No air conditioning for the first five days of my trip.) My other goods did fine, but for some reason the way I packed these wasn’t insulated enough. However, the texture and consistency is unmarred.
They smell slightly toasty and sweet with a little milky note. The bite is soft and very crispy. The hazelnut cream is a lot more forward than the cream filling in KitKats. The cream is in between the wafer layers (looks like only two layers instead of KitKat’s three) but also heaped under the domed top, too. The milk chocolate coating is sweet and has that European dairy twang to it. The crispy wafers are light and flavorless which allows the hazelnut cream to be the most recognizable note. There’s also a slight malty flavor to it all. The crisp and airy wafers along with the slightly sticky-sweet chocolate actually makes a good combination. A single bar isn’t quite enough to satisfy on its own, but again, two are the recommended dosage.
The price is great, they’re $1.79 for the box of 10, which means that each bar is about 18 cents. That’s a crazy good deal for a real chocolate product. (It also says on the package that there are no preservatives or artificial colors - but it’s not like it’s all natural or a particularly great list of ingredients which include fake vanilla and palm oil, albeit low on the list.)
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Dulce de Leche is a wonderful mix of milk and sugar, simmered down to the consistency of a smooth caramel or crumbly fudge. While it’s known mostly in the new world with regional variations in Central and South America, other countries have their own versions. The Polish Cream Fudge or Krowki (which means little cow) is made from milk, sugar, butter, glucose syrup (usually corn syrup here in North America), vanilla and cream. The preparation varies a little bit from Dulce de Leche but the result is the same: a tender and melt-in-your-mouth distillation of dairy and sugar.
I found these versions of Krowki at a wonderful market called Caputo’s in Illinois. The market has an amazing array of candies from all sorts of countries, though Poland was especially well represented. I was hesitant to travel with chocolate, so when I spotted the Krowki I knew I had to pick some up. They had three varieties: Luxury Cream Fudge, Sesame Cream Fudge and Chocolate Cream Fudge. I opted for the first two.
The bag was pretty simple, just a sticker with the essential information slapped onto a clear cellophane bag by the importer (Eagle Distributors Inc.). Inside the candies were in their more traditional wax paper wrappers (though still in Polish & English).
The Supreme Cream Fudge is so charming in the yellow, brown and white wrapper. Each piece is well protected, there’s also an inner glassine wrapper around the pieces and crisp folds to make the shape.
The pieces are little rectangular rods. They smell sweet, toasty and a little milky. They’re glossy and look like they could be caramels. Instead the bite is more intriguing than that. It’s a little bit layered. The edges are like a lightly grainy fudge and the center is like a dulce de leche, a little dollop of creamy caramel. The flavor is overall sweet but the texture provides a great mouthfeel. The grainy sugar crystals dissolve quickly and the milk notes keep it from being too sweet or sticky. It’s a bit lower in fat than some fudges, as it uses mostly milk instead of butter.
If you’re a fan of penuche or non-chocolate fudge, you might like this. I enjoy the variations in texture, the transition from the grainy to the creamy. The toasted flavors that toffee or caramel has aren’t quite there though.
I’d never seen sesame fudge before, so the Sesame Cream Fudge was just too much of a curiosity for me to pass it up. The little wrappers are similar, just a darker shade of peach instead of yellow.
It smells a little odd, very grassy - a little like tahini. I expected it to be like halvah, as I wasn’t sure if it was sesame seeds or sesame paste.
Instead it’s simply different. The texture is a little firmer, a little crumblier and drier than the Luxury Cream version. The flavor of the sesame seeds also make it less sweet. The seeds are light, not dark toasted. They give a little chewy note to it along with the green tea notes. The grainy milk fudge was good and satisfying.
I don’t know if I’d buy either of these again for myself, but the fact that they’re individually packaged little bites of milk fudge in such cute wrappers certainly warrants a look for sweets enthusiasts.
About three years ago I found a version of these being sold in the United States called Caramoos, which also came in an interesting variety of flavors (including Honey). This direct import version is quite a bit less expensive, even when purchased in small 6 ounce portions like this instead of the 2.5 pounds on Amazon.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
When I was in college I worked in a bakery called Chocoholics (known for their “Truffles in a Jar”) in Eureka, California. As the kitchen assistant I mostly did dishes, some prep work for bakery items (peeling apples & carrots) and dipping truffles. But one of my other tasks was to package up the frosting after the bakers did their work of making it. The German Chocolate Cake frosting was made once a week in huge pots on the stove and finished in industrial mixers that held five gallons. When it was done and cooled, I would put it in half gallon tubs to be used for the cakes. It was an amazing mix of custard-like caramel and coconut. When the tubs were filled, I was often able to get just a few spoonfuls out and set it aside in a little bowl as a treat. Gooey, sweet, nutty and with a great burnt sugar flavor. (Technically I think it was a custard, since there were eggs in it.)
While browsing a Dollar General near my mother’s house while helping her pack to move I found this package of Crown Homestyle Candy Caramel Coconut Tips. After reading the ingredients which are a mix of sugar, coconut, oil, milk and egg whites I thought maybe these were little dollops like German Chocolate Cake Frosting.
I don’t know much about Crown Candy, they’re based in Macon, Georgia and say that they’re the largest supplier of coconut candies in the United States. They have an array of products including toasted macaroon, Neapolitan colored Coconut Bon Bons and several different versions of these Coconut Tips, including chocolate.
The little dollops do look homestyle, as the name implies. Most are about 1.5” in diameter. They smell like toasted coconut and waffle cones. They have a soft, fudgy texture that smooth with only a slight grain to it. There’s a lot of coconut, so they’re quite chewy. The chew yields several layers of flavor, at first it’s the caramel/butterscotch sugar, then that sweetness of coconut, then a little lingering salty chew of the fibery bits of coconut. There’s a hint of milk in there too, which moderates what could be insanely sweet and cloying.
I really liked them, I find them so different from many other coconut candy. I appreciated that there weren’t any weird fake butter flavors in there - it’s allowed to just be what it is. They’d probably be good covered in bittersweet chocolate, too.
Monday, August 2, 2010
In 1888 Frederick Switzer founded F.M. Switzer and Co. in St. Louis. He sold licorice and other sugar-based penny candy from a push cart along the riverfront. The company did well and even managed to make it through the sugar shortages of World War II by concentrating solely on their licorice line since it required less sugar than other candies. In 1966 the Switzer family sold the company to Beatrice Foods. The company continued to thrive and by 1968 a second factory was added and the company became the largest licorice manufacturer in North America. As I’ve chronicled elsewhere on Candy Blog, Leaf then bought the Beatrice candy companies then Leaf was sold to Hershey’s. Hershey’s split up some of the Leaf product lines and sold some off and simply discontinued others that competed with their existing lines ... Switzer competed with Twizzlers.
So about eight years ago the Switzer grandsons decided to re-boot the abandoned company. It took a while, but by 2005 the candy was on store shelves in the St. Louis area and Cracker Barrel stores. About 18 months ago I finally spotted it in Ohio, but it wasn’t until my trip last month that I finally picked up a bag of their classic, real Switzer’s Black Chewy Licorice Bits.
I remember eating Switzer’s as a kid, the “bar” format was popular in vending machines in Ohio and back then there were pricing tiers for sugar candy and chocolate candy. Sugar candy was often quite cheap and that was attractive to a gal who would get her candy money from checking phone booth coin slots and pennies on the street. Despite the achievement of acquiring it, I don’t recall how much I liked it.
The bag of nibs was well priced for something that wasn’t on sale. The 10 ounce bag is generous and I like the nibs because they’re simply one bite. The ingredients list corn syrup first, then molasses, wheat flour, corn starch, water, sunflower oil, caramel color, licorice extract, salt and anise oil.
The candies are shiny and that gloss on them is sticky. But still, they’re fresh which is a plus. The bite is firm and slightly crumbly when chewed. They don’t stick to my teeth the way that some of the Aussie style stuff does. The flavor is odd, at first I was getting a strong rose note with the bitter molasses. The anise is stronger than the licorice, but the overall effect is that the candy isn’t too sweet. It’s not as molasses-y as I prefer, but the woodsy notes are decent. The texture didn’t end up satisfying me, maybe there wasn’t enough wheat flour in there.
It’s a unique flavor profile, much richer than Twizzlers or Red Vines but still in the same price range. The flavor was more like the new Broadway Rolls than Kookaburra or Panda licorice. I would probably buy these in the single-serve bars in a vending machine or convenience store if I was in the mood for mass-manufactured licorice. But it in no way dethrones my favorite, Good & Plenty.
More information about Switzer’s history: St. Louis Business Journal (2005), News Tribune (2005), a faded ad mural plus more shots of the old factory, a 1955 ad featuring Switzer’s as a low calorie candy, and a trade ad that also shows licorice suckers from the 70s.
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