Monday, October 18, 2010
Kraft Caramels are one of those products that transcends the definition of candy. Like chocolate chips, they’re also an ingredient in countless recipes. I’m more likely to see these bags in the baking aisle of the grocery store than the candy section.
Kraft Caramels were introduced in 1933, the same year Kraft brought Miracle Whip into people’s lives. In a strange twist, Kraft decided to sell their industry-standard caramels and spun them off with a few other brands to a new company called Favorite Brands. They made the caramels with the Kraft name for two years under the agreement, but after that they rolled them into their other candy brand, Farley’s and called them Farley’s Original Chewy Caramels. Well, I don’t know if you remember those years of not being able to find Kraft Caramels ... I’m not sure how brand aware I was at that time, but I think I considered myself confused and ended up buying Brach’s Caramels. Kraft got their caramels back in 2000 and I think they learned their lesson. (You can read more here.)
The caramels are packaged simply and perfectly. Each cube is wrapped in clear cellophane, like little gifts with the surprise spoiled with the transparent packaging.
The color is beautiful and mine were fresh, slightly soft and glossy. They smells sweet, like vanilla pudding. The bite is soft and easy, but not a stringy chew. It’s also not quite a fudge texture. This style of caramel is called a short caramel, the sugar and milk is completely emulsified so there are no sugar crystals. The sugar is caramelize, so it has a light toffee note to it along with the mellow dairy flavors of the milk.
The chew is interesting and flavorful, but lacks a bit of the stickiness that I desire in a caramel. I like a complex flavor and silkier texture. They’re sweet but at least have a salty note to balance that out. They stick in my teeth a bit, but don’t bind my molars together like some stale Sugar Babies can do.
The ingredients are decent enough for cheap candy: corn syrup, sugar, skim milk, palm oil, whey, salt, artificial flavor and soy lecithin.
I understand that one of the benefits to this style though is its versatility for recipes. They can be melted and added to other ingredients like swirled into brownies, drizzled on popcorn and of course their most popular use - caramel dipped apples.
There are 32 calories in each caramel cube and they’re still made in the U.S.A. Kosher.
Finally, an early TV commercial for Kraft Caramels:
While looking for Kraft Caramels these past few weeks, I stumbled on these smaller bags of Ferrara Pan Traditional Caramels. This little 6.75 ounce bag also included sticks for making the classic caramel covered apples.
Ferrara Pan is known for their panned candies (hence the company name) like Lemonheads, Boston Baked Bean and Atomic Fireballs. A boiled sweet like caramels is kind of out of place, but then again Ferrara recently branched out into chocolate, so why not caramel?
Turning over the bag to compare the ingredients I found something more substantially informative. Ferrara Pan doesn’t make these. They’re made by Embare in Brazil. Embare is a premiere candy maker in South America, known for their dairy-based confections like caramels and pudding mixes. Caramel has a fine tradition in South America, so why not go there for some great ones?
The cellophane seems a little heavier and is actually sealed at the ends. They’re soft enough to pinch. They don’t smell like much out of the wrapper.
The bite is much softer and chewier. They’re not quite a stringy caramel, but halfway between. They’re not as sweet as the Kraft variety, quite smooth and have a strong real vanilla flavor profile. The caramel notes are also great - a little toasty with just a hint or rum or molasses.
Each cube has 27 calories. I don’t actually mind that they’re made in Brazil and I appreciate Ferrara Pan saying exactly who is making the product.
On the left are the Ferrara Pan and on the right are the Kraft. They really do look the same.
The ingredient list on the Ferrara Pan version is longer: Sugar, corn syrup, skim milk, hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean, cottonseed and/or palm kernel), whey, milk, cream, salt, soy lecithin, mono- & di-glycerides, artificial vanilla flavor.
I can’t say which is better for recipes, but I preferred the texture and flavor profile of the Ferrara Pan. But I can’t say that I really loved either, if I really wanted a bite sized caramel, I’d probably go for Sugar Babies, pay a premium for See’s ... or make my own.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Since this is the sixth Halloween I’ve covered on Candy Blog, it’s hard to find Halloween candies to feature that I haven’t reviewed before. So I thought I’d do a run down of what I’ve been seeing in stores again this year for the Halloween Season. These are just candies that are special to Halloween, not regular candy in large bags or with special wrappers.
FARLEY’S & SATHERS (BRACH’S)
NESTLE & WONKA
RUSSELL STOVER & WHITMANS
What have you seen in stores ... or what have you had trouble finding this year?
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Unlike Circus Peanuts, Honeycomb Peanuts are more like you’d expect based on their size, shape and color. They look like peanuts, are about the same size as a small pair of peanuts in teh shell and actually taste like peanutty candy. They’re a light orange colored hard candy filled with a crunchy peanut butter center (kind of like the middle of a Butterfinger Bar).
I usually pick them up in bulk bins. They’re also considered a vegan candy.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
The first experience I had with fair trade chocolate as Equal Exchange exactly five years ago. I was in love with their ethics and their product. Fair Trade as a concept means that everyone in the chain to create a product for sale gets a fair payment. It also means that working conditions are safe and that child labor or slaves are not engaged.
The bars are now much easier to find and the breadth of the program and the product line has expanded over the years. I was sent this assortment of their darkest bars: Ecuador 65%, Very Dark 71% and Panama 80%. First of all, they’ve redesigned their packaging to great effect. The wrappers are simple and compelling and distinctive in the now cluttered world of chocolate bars. The focus is on the product and the producers, the inside of the wrapper details Equal Exchange’s programs.
Each bar is 3.5 ounces and is certified organic and Kosher. Unlike some Fair Trade bars, all of the ingredients in Equal Exchange’s dark bars are Fair Trade content.
The Organic & fairly traded Dark chocolate from Ecuador (the bar on the top of the pile) is 65% cacao content. The bar looks crisp and perfect, right down to the snap when I broke it in half. Each bar is sealed inside an opaque plastic sleeve to keep it fresh.
This bar did have a crunch to it, the tempering was crisper than the other two bars. It smelled of toffee and stewed fruits. It was sweet on the tongue at first but had a lot of flavors going on immediately, a light tangy note of apricots and then some more fudgy flavors like the tasting notes predicted. It was sweet and didn’t have the puddly melt like the others but still had a very fine texture.
The Organic & fairly traded Very Dark chocolate is 71% cacao content but doesn’t list the origin beyond “Latin America.” The bar was nicely molded, shiny and with no voids or bubbles. It had a slight red cast to it.
71% has a great blend of flavor characteristics. It has a rich scent, very woodsy with coffee and cherry notes. On the tongue I was getting more green notes, like olives and asparagus plus a little hint of charcoal. It’s bitter but also has a silky melt that’s also a little sticky.
The Organic & fairly traded Extra Dark chocolate from Panama is 80% cacao content. This bar was more of a smoky brown and had less of the red color that the other two had.
This bar smells distinctly like raisins, tangy and fruity with a little wine note to it. The flavor is the same: a strong tannin base but with berry and cherry notes. It’s a little tangy but with a great soft melt on the tongue and a light dry bite. For a very dark bar this is incredibly munchable, smooth and not too bitter or chalky.
I found myself drawn to both the 80% and the 65% for wildly different reasons, they were all distinct but those two fit my desire for rich chocolate at the moment. I liked the wrappers and the plastic sleeve that held its own (I was able to put the uneaten portions back in there without making a crumbly mess or melting it by handling too much).
Equal Exchange has also made some more “candy” version of their bars such as Organic Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt and Orange Dark Chocolate. I’ll have reviews of those soon. All of their chocolate is a pretty good value, retail for these bars is around $4.00 which is less than some of the more upscale bars but more than your standard Lindt or Ghirardelli.
They’re vegan, soy free and gluten free. They may contain traces of tree nuts, milk and peanuts.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
The package calls it the Finest Assortment of European Chocolates. They’re priced pretty well for an upscale styled hostess gift, I paid $5.29 for my box that weighs 8.8 ounces (that’s less than $10 a pound). The ingredients are heavy on the sugar and milk and a bit lighter on the cacao content, but it’s all real chocolate in there.
I picked these up mostly because I’ve never reviewed them. But I was also curious if there was a difference between these and the newer Werther’s Chocolates.
The assortment comes in a smart and spare little box. It’s made of thin card but styled to fit the sticks perfectly. There are 20 but only 7 varieties ... so the breakdown was a little odd for my tastes:
The little bars are three inches long and 3/4 of an inch wide. There’s a little score in the center to snap them in half easily. All are imprinted with the word Merci on each segment.
I didn’t take an individual shot of this one. It’s a milk chocolate bar, the wrapper has a purple band on it. The filling is a sweet cocoa paste that’s rather truffle like. It’s all quite buttery and melts well, there’s even a slight hint of salt to it. It didn’t do much for me, there’s something missing, probably a stronger chocolate note.
The focus on this piece is milk. Actually, it’s more like butter. The melt is silky smooth and quick with a slight grain to it. The dominant flavors are powdered milk, caramelized sugar and a light note of cocoa.
It’s a milk chocolate bar with a filling of sweet, milky hazelnut paste. It’s very sweet but has a good grassy and roasted flavor of hazelnuts to it. I’d probably prefer it in dark chocolate ... but then again if I were really looking for a gianduia fix I’d go for some Caffarel. It’s definitely rib-sticking.
Coffee and Cream
This was far and away my favorite. It smells like freshly ground coffee. There are two layers, a dark chocolate and a white chocolate base. The coffee is far and away the strongest flavor, so much so that I couldn’t really detect any chocolate notes in there. The texture is smooth and has an excellent melt that’s a bit firmer than the milk chocolate varieties. The coffee is bold with a light acidic note and a hint of charcoal and toffee.
The Dark Mousse is dark chocolate filled with a chocolate cream. The bar was beautiful looking, glossy and nicely tempered. The chocolate has strong berry notes with a little hint of black pepper and raisins. The mousse filling was a little more of a paste than a cream but wasn’t very sweet, it was like a good chocolate frosting. The whole thing had a lightly dry finish to it.
I was confused at this point about the difference between Dark Cream and Dark Mousse. Dark Cream was more like a dark bar, no filling as far as I could tell.
The flavor was like a dark milk chocolate, there were strong dairy notes, something I didn’t get at all from the Dark Mousse. It wasn’t as sticky or sweet as the milk chocolate and also had a hint of a dry finish to it without being chalky. It was firmer than the nut and milk versions of the little bars, but it was still pretty soft and melted quickly into a puddle in my mouth. (It was not swirled though like the Werther’s Dark Cream was.)
This was my second favorite variety. As far as I can tell it’s just the milk chocolate with crushed almonds and hazelnuts. The scent is still sweet and milky but has a great roasted nut flavor. The little nibs of nuts are chewy and fresh - mostly hazelnut comes through.
I enjoyed these, though I hesitate to say that they’d satisfy any of my strong chocolate cravings. This had a wonderful texture and luxurious melt, but not a lot of cocoa punch. I see them more as accompaniments than stand alone treats.
Each stick is about 73 calories (it does depend on the variety) and features 14% of your recommended daily allowance of saturated fats. (But there’s also a bit of protein, calcium & iron in there.) There are also a lot of allergens in here. The only ones that aren’t listed are eggs and of course shellfish.
As for the Werther’s Chocolates that Storck also makes ... I don’t see any reason to pick those up instead of these unless you’re only going by price. The ingredients seem a bit better, I like the packaging and the fact that you get a variety in the box is a plus in my mind (though if you don’t like all the flavors that’s a negative). They really are a great hostess gift and a nice item to have on hand to serve with coffee or dessert. A little stack along with some cookies would make an excellent little treat without being too fussy. And the word Merci doesn’t hurt, everyone enjoys a little thank you.
Monday, October 11, 2010
The Cadbury Flake has been made for 90 years by Cadbury and has a clever little story to go with it. The story goes that a line worker in the Cadbury factory noticed that the over-run of the one their molds made little folded sheets of chocolate that was a tasty way to eat the chocolate. They’re billed as The crumbliest, flakiest milk chocolate..
I’ve had a few of the Flake bars over the years and never quite understood them (and preferred the versions that were dipped in chocolate). They seemed chalky and sweet but not chocolatey. So I thought I’d give it another try. I got a hold of a very fresh bar (expires February 2011).
The ingredients are similar to all of the Cadbury’s UK milk chocolate offerings. This bar was made in Ireland and contains: Milk, sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, vegetable fat, emulsifier, flavoring. Milk solids are listed at 14% and the cocoa solids are 25%. So it’s a lot of chocolate and milk ... but there’s also a little bit of vegetable fat in there, which by United States FDA standards means that this doesn’t qualify as real chocolate.
Again, I’m coming to this bar with an outsider’s perspective. I didn’t grow up with it and I’ve never seen any advertisements for the bar. So taken at face value, the idea of a bar made of chocolate shavings is interesting, I like it when I find a pile of chocolate shavings on my dessert. The reality of the bar isn’t quite as attractive. It reminds me of elephant skin. It’s about six inches long and holds together well.
It smells a bit like cheesecake instead of milk chocolate. The dairy tang is like yogurt or cream cheese. It’s a bit crumbly upon biting, but not as bad as I’d feared. The texture is soft and chalky, but not quite fudgy. It dissolves more than it melts. It’s not sticky sweet, I think the milk notes cut that, but the cocoa isn’t quite as apparent for such a high cacao milk chocolate (as far as American chocolate goes for comparison).
The crumbly texture doesn’t feel decadent or indulgent to me, it just feels old or stale. The sour note to the milk wasn’t pleasant (though I can imagine becoming acclimated to it).
The bars are marketed as a low calorie, highly pleasurable experience. But they’re hardly low in fat, they’re about normal at 150 calories per ounce for chocolate, it’s just the portion that’s small at only 1.13 ounces per bar.
This bar is just a little shorter than the plain version, about 5 inches. It’s also made in Ireland.
The scent is a little nuttier, but still have the dairy note. This one also had a little more cocoa to it.
The bite was softer and the hazelnut was immediately apparent. There were little hazelnut bits and a nice roasted flavor overall. It seemed a bit moister and a bit fudgier ... but it also felt sweeter. So much so that my throat was seared by it after consuming half the bar.
I understand that these bars are remarkably different than others, but it’s just not something that appeals to me. The dryness just takes away all the fatty mouthfeel for me. I’m not keen on the fact that they’re not real chocolate, considering how expensive they are in the States, for that money I’ll get something that really pleases me.
Friday, October 8, 2010
One of my favorite global candies are Mentos because they reflect local flavors so well. Sometimes it seems unfair that other locales get such great flavors and in the US we’re stuck with a more limited assortment.
This little plastic jar of Mentos Mix Grape was given to me by Santos of Scent of Green Bananas. They’re sold in the Philippines and other parts of the Pacific. They’re actually made in Vietnam but Perfetti van Melle and have Halal certification, but all of the other packaging is in English.
Instead of a mix of fruity flavors, this combo pack has a mix of different kinds of grapes - purple, white and red.
Muscat - a green grape. This version has a light peppery flavor at first followed by something that’s more like apple cider and then a grape skin note. It also reminded me of hibiscus iced tea. Tangy and fresh.
Standard Grape (magenta) is the most disappointing of the bunch. It does taste like real grapes, but like a far away version of the, like I’m tasting concord grapes from across the street or watching it on TV.
Red Wine Grape (light pink) has an amazing flavor profile. It’s like white grape juice but with more of the grape skins flavors, right down to an almost-dry finish.
I’ve found with the Asian Mentos that the quality isn’t always consistent. Some are soft and chewy, others are crunchy in the middle. These were close to their expiry, but I experience this on a consistent basis with all varieties not made in Holland.
I love how Mentos gets subtlety. While grape isn’t my favorite flavor, I like how distinctive these are yet how well the package holds together and a single candy. I can pop them mindlessly or I can pull out the flavor I feel like at the moment. I wish that the American ones were like this, but then maybe I wouldn’t appreciate them as much.
These are Halal but not marked Kosher. They no longer contain gelatin (they use gellan gum) which is vegetarian ... but they also use carmine color, so they’re not actually vegetarian.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
After my review of Goody Good Stuff Sweet & Sour Mix & Match the company offered to send me updated samples. The Mix & Match I had was from an early batch of samples and didn’t have the final packaging. The hook with Good Good Stuff’s candy is that it’s free of many allergens and made with all natural colors and flavors. But the most interesting part of all this is that their “gummies” are completely vegetarian because they don’t use gelatin.
Instead Goody Good Stuff uses a combination of gelling agents (polysaccharides) such as carrageenan (from seaweed) and gellan (from bacteria). Traditional (true) gummis use gelatin, which is a protein. Though they all look the same in the finished product, the texture and behavior can be quite different.
So, the Goody Good Stuff Koala Gummy Bears are jelly candies. That’s cool. But wait a second, do they look like Koalas to you? Not to me. The ears are too small, the nose is all wrong. Most importantly these “koalas” have belly buttons. Koalas are marsupials (non-placental) and do not have belly buttons while bears are mammals and do have navels. They look like standard generic ursids.
But that doesn’t mean that this can’t be good candy. (Lots of candies are named incongruously, starting with Circus Peanuts.)
The Goody Good Stuff Bears come in five flavors/colors. The main difference between these and a traditional gummi is the texture. The Goody Good Stuff Bears are soft and chewy, but they’re more on the jelly side than the gelatinous side. When you take a regular gummi bear and pull it apart, eventually it will break - pull it long enough and it will simply snap, usually leaving clean edges and right angles. Pull a Goody Good Stuff Bear apart and it will stretch and stretch until it’s tiny little, sticky jelly strands. In the mouth the chew is similar until the dissolve comes, the Goody Good Stuff Bears dissolve into a bit of a sticky puddle. They remind me a little like okra mucilage ... in a good way.
The flavors are perfectly gummi-like:
Orange - good mix of zest and juicy tartness.
Strawberry - sweet and fragrant with a mild jammy flavor and light tangy note.
Lemon - strong lemon peel and oil flavors without as much of a tart bite as others.
Green Apple - very mild with notes of both apple juice and that unnatural “green apple” flavor. Bland but pleasant.
Pineapple - bold and floral with a little an authentic pineapple sizzle behind it all.
Though the flavors are not as intense as some other gummis, such as the ones from Japan, these are nicely flavored. The candies are well made, even though they’re all naturally flavored and colored, they’re vibrant looking and each tastes distinctive. They’re mainstream looking and tasting, I don’t think kids would know the difference.
The candies are made without any animal products (no gelatin, no insect-derived colors), however they do use a touch of beeswax so they can’t be considered vegan. They’re nut free, dairy free, gluten free, soy free and peanut free. They’re not easy to find in the US yet, but I expect that to change because of this important vegetarian distinction.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.