Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The Wonka Exceptionals Line is brand new this year, so it’s a bit surprising that Nestle already has a holiday version of one of their sub-brands when it seems like it took them decades to make holiday Gobstoppers.
The line of upscale Wonka Exceptionals includes new chocolate pieces. They’re little rectangles that are individually wrapped and feature a little bit of a different take on the standard morsel. The first introductions were Scrumdiddlyumptious (cookie pieces in milk chocolate), Chocolate Waterfall (milk & white chocolate swirled) and Domed Dark Chocolate (milk & dark stack) In addition, Wonka came up with Marvels and Fruit Jellies with all natural colors and flavors.
The holiday Wonka Exceptionals Peppermint Shortbread Chocolate Pieces come in a tall box like the Jellies and Marvels. (The previous Pieces I reviewed came in a purple hologram emblazoned bag.) Inside the slim box is a purple mylar pouch with the Wonka Ws all over it. The box only holds four ounces of the foil wrapped chocolates and at nearly $4 for the package, that’s a dollar an ounce. That’s about what I pay for See’s by the pound. (There are approximately 12 pieces in the box.)
So, Wonka is trucking along, reinventing the brand. They’re going for quality and recapturing the imagination that everyone loves so much in the Dahl books ... and then this Christmas candy comes along. The previous candies in this Exceptionals line have been good, a little expensive but they also have a unique selling position - they’re made with all natural flavors and colors. So I bite into one of these new milk chocolate pieces that have peppermint candy pieces and shortbread cookie morsels.
There are red bits in there. They’re bright red. They’re kind of minty but they’re also kind of bitter to me towards the end, there’s something slightly off about them. They have artificial colors in them. Why? They’re inside! Why would you put coloring in something that’s not even meant to be seen?
That aside, the milk chocolate pieces are creamy. They’re very sweet and don’t have a huge cocoa punch, it’s quite mild and overshadowed by the mint and a bit of the milky flavors. The candy pieces are crunchy and then there are little bits of shortbread sometimes - they’re a kind of sandy and crumbly cookie crunch that has a light salty note to it. But they’re really sandy sometimes, like cornmeal sandy.
The whole thing wasn’t working for me. It was too sweet and though most of the texture components were right (except for the lingering sand, like that stuff in your jeans pockets after going through the wash). I was irritated that I paid $4 for a box of candy I didn’t want to eat. They’ve already shown that they can do better, so I want Wonka to do better next time around.
I got a handful of these as a sample from Nestle at first, but I didn’t get the box or label with it, so that’s why I went out and bought them, so I could find out how expensive they were for myself and see that there Red #3, Red #40 and Blue #1 in there. Bah, humbug.
Monday, November 29, 2010
A couple of years ago Tootsie brought back their classic Tootsie Pop Drops. The package heralds them as Tootsie Pops without the stick! but they’re actually a mini version of a hard candy with a little filling of chewy, chocolatey Tootsie Rolls.
It only makes sense that they’d do seasonal versions, such as the Candy Cane Tootsie Pop in this smaller, sharable format. I believe these hit the shelves last year, but I didn’t find them until this year.
The 3.5 ounce box holds a thick foil/plastic pouch with the candies inside. I’m never keen on this “bag inside a box” package, but I do admit that all of the candies came out looking great, no chips or broken ones and it wasn’t just a bag of sugar dust.
I loved the look of them when I dumped them out of the bag. They’re thick and feel heavy and solid, like pieces of glass. The color of the candy is a very light and milky pink with red stripes. They’re smaller than a Starlight Mint but I find the size and shape excellent in the mouth.
The hard candy is smooth and has very few voids. The dissolve is good with a good mint flavor that has a few pops and sparkles of extra flavor on occasion. At the center is a small piece of a Tootsie Roll. I found the ratio to be a bit off, I’d like more Tootsie Roll, but still the chew of it is good. The flavor of the Tootsie Roll itself is always a bit disappointing, mostly because the chocolate flavor is often a bit musty and watery instead of woodsy and cocoa-ish. In this case there’s a hint of rum and less of the cardboard taste, probably because of the essence of Peppermint at play here.
There’s only the one flavor in the package, just like the old days when I would buy a roll of just Orange or Grape Tootsie Pop Drops. It would be fun to see these wrapped individually in wax paper and sold in rolls at least for the nostalgia value at Christmas. But the addition of seasonal flavors is a great touch that I hope Tootsie continues.
The new packaging advises that the Tootsie facility that made these is peanut free, gluten free, egg free and tree nut free. (It does contain milk ingredients and soy.)
Friday, November 19, 2010
Red package describes it as crunchy toffee and roasted California almonds, covered in premium dark chocolate. Like the other packages, it includes a couple of properly scaled images of the candies. They’re about the same diameter as a nickel or a quarter (they varied) and were thick.
These remind me a lot of Marich Triple Chocolate Toffee, which were a mix of milk, white and dark chocolate covered toffee bits. They remind me so much of them that I’m going to guess that Marich is the maker of all three of these candies.
The pieces are lovely. They’re dark and glossy and have a light buttery scent.
The chocolate is a little softer than some other panned dark chocolate candies. The chocolate is only 50% cacao and contains some butter so it’s not a very dark chocolate. It’s in the semi sweet range with some nice fruity notes and goes well with the dairy and nutty notes of the toffee. The melt is silky and smooth.
The toffee centers are perfect, they’re crunchy and buttery without being sticky or tacky. Sometimes there were little bits of almond in them, but not all the time. The toffee was rather salty and the overall sodium for the package was 170 mg, which is a lot for a candy. But I do have to say that the salt provided a really nice pop to the flavors, it came first then the buttery notes and burnt sugar came forward.
The ratios of a panned piece of toffee mean that these had a lot of chocolate. The chocolate was easy to cleave off and eat or allow to melt off to get to the toffee center. Or of course there’s the “crunch it all together” method of consumption. All have merits.
If you’ve ever hoped for a more decadent version of Heath Bars or Skor, these may be for you.
The package says no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It’s also gluten free. May contain traces of peanuts and of course has dairy, nuts and soy ingredients.
Trader Joe’s has done a nice job with all three of these products. They’ve balanced the portion size (a new area for them) with a product line that uses better ingredients than the products more widely available.
I see all three of these as great snacks for watching a movie. They’re large portions at two ounces, but still only $1.49 which is a more than respectable for indulging in the new Harry Potter. They’re not overly packaged, but each is bold and different enough to catch the eye, they’re easy to tear open and did a good job of protecting the product and kept it fresh.
If only they also made those Espresso Toffee Pillows in these bags, too.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Around Christmas Cost Plus World Market usually has an eclectic collection of candies for entertaining and gifting. Many of their products are brands that have very little presence in the United States but are really well priced.
I saw this package of mixed chocolates called Sorini Maxipiu Assorted Chocolate Pralines. It’s a big bag, 500 grams (17.63 ounces) but I was attracted to it even though it was on the bottom shelf because it just looked so different from the little novelty marzipan, torrones and panettone on the shelves. I didn’t recognize the Sorini brand name but the images on the package made the assortment look like a good bet.
The chocolates are nicely packaged and easily distinguished. They’re all in a bright gold mylar with clear print that says what’s inside. There’s also an inner paper-backed foil that just covers the candies and seems to cushion them and keep them from getting scuffed.
There were five varieties. Most of my assortment consisted of the Cereali and Arancia (well over half of the 42 pieces). The other three were Nocciola, Creme and Cocoa Beans.
The Arancia (Orange) is a dark chocolate piece. The chocolate shell is thin but has a nice sheen and crisp snap. The pieces are about an inch and a quarter long, so a nice piece to put in your mouth whole or take two smaller bites.
It smells a lot like orange, but more like orange extract than orange zest. It’s like sniffing a bottle of baby aspirin.
The chocolate center is soft but not creamy, it’s more like a Frango. However, it has a smooth melt once it warms in the mouth. The chocolate notes are strong enough to stand up to the one-note of orange. It’s a bit on the dry side and a little bitter but the chocolate also has a fair amount of sugar in it. It was better when eaten as an accompaniment, like with coffee or strong tea.
I was disappointed that I only got three of the Nocciola and used two in the photo shoot. (I should have been paying more attention.)
There’s a milk chocolate shell with a darker hazelnut paste cream filling. Inside was a half of a hazelnut. It was nutty and fresh but could have used more of a chocolate punch. I would have preferred more of these instead of all the orange ones.
The Cereali is a big milk chocolate ball filled with a milk chocolate cream and crisped rice. The size is similar to a Lindt Lindor truffle, about one inch in diameter.
These are fun because of the texture variations. They smell sweet and very milky. The chocolate shell is milk chocolate and very soft, the center is even softer but has a good sugary cocoa texture that’s extremely sweet but at least not as greasy as the Lindor. There are little crispy rice bits that provide a little hint of malt and salt.
I would prefer a bit richer chocolate, something that’s not quite so sweet.
The Creme piece is basically a milk chocolate truffle.
It smells milky and sweet with a little hint of cocoa (and a bit of a whiff of orange from the other chocolates). The milk chocolate cream center is soft and though not quite silky, it’s very smooth.
It’s a bit like eating a bit spoonful of chocolate frosting. I wasn’t that keen on them, but there weren’t that many of them (I think six), so it was easy to eat around them or just kind of grin and bear it until it was time to eat another variety that I preferred.
Cocoa Beans Crema Caffe was the most interesting of the bunch. Unfortunately all four pieces I got were slightly bloomed. It wasn’t a bad bloom that made the chocolate hard or chalky, just a very slight white haze on the spheres.
The dark chocolate shell has a good flavor profile balanced with woody and coffee notes and a light fruity plum note. The cream center is a mix of strong, sweet coffee and cacao nibs. There are toffee and caramel hints along with the crunchy texture of the cacao nibs.
I paid only $6.99 for well over a pound, so I thought it was a good deal for an assortment. They’re not really my style, I prefer chocolate that’s darker or with more powerful flavors. I wouldn’t say that they’re a great hostess gift, at least not in this bag, maybe if you put them in jar or basket. They do look nice though out of the bag and are an easy item to put into a candy bowl to share with folks for the holidays. They’re individually marked, which is a plus and they are different enough. I don’t know if Lindt fans would be satisfied with the milkier flavor and less slick texture but maybe if you’re looking for something to satisfy a larger crowd they’re a good choice. But if you like something like Ferrero Rocher, I’d say stick with those ... these aren’t for folks looking for nuts.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
My mother and I went downtown to a candy store called Jack’s Wholesale Candy & Toy before Halloween to pick up candy for the kids. They had an excellent selection of Mexican candies, including many tamarind and chili candies. But I was more interested in the cajeta and dulce de leche candies. They had lots to choose from, mostly in the form of little patties but also a few hard candies and lollipops. Since it was Halloween, we picked up this pound plus bag of Coronado Paletas de Cajeta to give out.
Cajeta is a Mexican specialty usually made with goat’s milk (leche de cabra). It’s slowly simmered with sugar until it forms a syrup so thick that a spoon stands straight up in it. It’s usually served as a spread or filling for other baked goods but sometimes boiled a little longer to create a more solid fudge-like candy. But there are are also other candies that use the caramel-like goo as a base. In the case of these lollipops, the caramel base was used to make a hard toffee type lollipop. Each was nicely mounted on a plastic stick and sealed to keep them fresh. I was attracted to the package mostly because the Coronado logo features a nanny goat picture.
Goat’s milk has both a different flavor profile and a slightly different nutritional one from cow’s milk. As someone who is quickly developing a lactose intolerance problem, I’ve been shifting over to goat’s milk products and finding them tasty, nutritious and more digestible.
I really didn’t think these were going to be very good, somewhere in the realm of the mediocre Tootsie Caramel Pops. They were far superior.
First, there are few ingredients: goat’s milk, sugar, corn syrup, sodium bicarbonate & potassium sorbate. The fact that the milk came before the sugar was encouraging.
The look of the candies was great. The mylar wrappers were a pretty mix of brown and maroon and well sealed to protect the pops (and give confidence to parents for Halloween hauls). The candy on the stick looked pretty much pristine. None that I had were chipped or broken or poorly formed. They’re about the size of Chupa Chups, or smaller than a Tootsie Pop but larger than a Dum Dum.
The flavor is smooth and creamy. I didn’t have a single void in the half dozen I’ve eaten so far (there were 40 pops in the bag and my mother didn’t get a lot of trick-or-treaters). The flavor is subtle, it’s not gamey or too tangy like some goat’s milk can be, but it’s definitely not the cow’s milk profile either. The caramel notes are true but without any bitterness that some toffee can have. It’s a very subdued sweetness.
They were quite dense and lasted a long time. Of course I like to crunch and eventually I would chip away at them with my canines. They’re actually quite crunchy without sticking to my teeth.
If you’re a fan of Werther’s Originals, these are very similar though less sweet and a little less oily.
The package didn’t say anything about nuts or gluten. It did say that there’s 23% of your calcium in every lollipop, but I think that’s some sort of math error. I’m definitely going to explore the Coronado brand more fully in the future.
Sera from The Candy Enthusiast tried a slightly different version of these.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Trader Joe’s has tried a few new things in the past two years or so with their single portions of candy that they sell near the checkout with the house label. First it was a gourmet version of candy bars with their Lumpy Bumpy Bar and PB&J (with potato chips). Earlier this year I tried Trader Joe’s take on consumer candies with their Classic Chocolate Bars.
The three new items are somewhere in between. Yesterday I covered the Dark Chocolate Tahitian Caramels. Today I have the Dark Chocolate Mints. (Later this week will be the Dark Chocolate Almond Toffee.)
If this looks a little familiar to you as a Trader Joe’s shopper, you may have tried the previous incarnation of the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Mints which were sold in a little tin.
I can’t say that my feelings on these have changed at all. They’re a firm, crumbly fondant center flavored with peppermint, then coated in a thin shell of dark (50%) chocolate with a crunchy candy shell to seal it all up.
The mint is mild and goes well with the sweet fondant and crackly shell. The chocolate isn’t a powerful element, but still it’s a good semisweet variety that sadly has butter in it otherwise this would be vegan. I could eat oodles of these.
This tin used to cost $2.99 and held 2.45 ounces. The new bag isn’t quite as cute or appropriate as a stocking stuffer, but it’s a far better deal at only $1.49 for 2 ounces. (And if you still have that tin, you can refill.)
The Dark Chocolate Caramels I reviewed yesterday were interesting because they filled a hole in the world. We really needed something that’s better quality than Milk Duds or Junior Caramels. But Dutch Mints aren’t that hard to find and I can’t say these are much better (or a better value) than Junior Mints or York Peppermint Patties. Still, sometimes I really want this kind of mint and for a Holland Mint (or whatever the generic name of this style of mint is) and being able to pick them up in a single portion size is something new.
The package says no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It’s also gluten free. May contain traces of peanuts or tree nuts (and of course has dairy and soy ingredients).
Monday, November 15, 2010
The little bite sized caramels come in a two ounce bag. I appreciate Trader Joe’s making more small single-serving packages available. The little tubs of candy are often a good value, but tough to portion. This one is a medium lavender and a simple design featuring a very accurate depiction of the candies on the front. The package describes them as Creamy vanilla caramels covered with premium dark chocolate. The ingredients appear to be all natural, though I never know quite what to think about “fractionated palm kernel oil” except that I’d probably like it better if it was spelled “butter.”
The ingredients also list two different kinds of vanilla, the advertised Tahitian Vanilla (Vanilla tahitensis) and Bourbon Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia). Both have different flavor profiles.
The pieces are about the size of a shelled hazelnut. The chocolate isn’t particularly dark, in fact when I was eating them during the photo shoot I thought they were milk chocolate because of the dairy flavors of the caramel.
The chocolate shell is nicely panned, thick and glossy with a snap upon biting. The caramel center is chewy and soft without being gooey. It has a good pull to it, which is the way I prefer my caramel, just slightly stiff. It’s a smooth chew, especially when combined with the creamy chocolate. The caramel has a lot of buttery notes to it along with a strong vanilla flavor, sometimes I even detected vanilla seeds in there. It’s a well rounded vanilla flavor, sometimes with extract notes (a bit alcoholic) and sometimes more on the raisin and banana side. The chocolate is very sweet but has an excellent slick melt.
Overall the texture combination is great and they look fantastic. The light salty hit and complex flavors aren’t quite enough to offset the overt sweetness of both the caramel and the chocolate. I found eating these slowly and with other items like nuts or pretzels was the way to go.
If you’ve ever hoped for a more decadent version of Milk Duds, these may be for you.
The package says no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It’s also gluten free. May contain traces of peanuts or tree nuts (and of course has dairy and soy ingredients).
Friday, November 12, 2010
In Japan (and everywhere else besides the United States), KitKats are made by Nestle. Nestle has the ability to make great chocolate and candy, but also possesses the ability and fortitude to make cheap tasting and inconsistent candy.
The first is the SemiSweet KitKat which sounds pretty boring. But just look at the package! It’s a beautifully done design in just black and red (except for the real-color image of the KitKat finger itself.) The bar is just a mellow semi sweet chocolate version of the standard milk chocolate KitKat.
The bars were perfect. I know I criticize the over-packaging of many of these Japanese items, but in this case it really did its job of both enticing me to buy and protecting the contents.
The chocolate smells wonderful, a little sweet but rich and bold. The first thing I noticed was the melt. There was a good snap to the chocolate but it melted quite readily. It’s a little sticky but has a lot of flavor, a combination of strong woodsy flavors, a hint of coffee and prunes. The wafers are crispy and don’t let the combination get too sweet or thick.
The KitKat Bitter Almond is what got me out to the stores in Little Tokyo. I saw Bitter Almond KitKat mentioned on Japanese Snack Reviews and thought it sounded right up my alley.
The ingredients say that it’s made with real dark chocolate (44% cacao), almond paste and almonds. While I’m not usually a big fan of the amaretto note in marzipan, I do love almonds. The limited edition KitKats have largely ignored nuts as a flavor, so this is a refreshing change.
The box had the logo for TBC on it, which I had to look up (thanks again to Japanese Snack Reviews) to find out it’s a cross promotion with Tokyo Beauty Centers. TBC is a chain of spas that offer all sorts of aesthetic treatments, make up and consultations. I haven’t the foggiest what that has to do with KitKats so I’m going to just make something up, like you can get marzipan facial treatments for a limited time when you present your empty KitKat box.
The chocolate is strong, slightly bitter and has a light acidic bite. The almond flavors come and go but are light and more on the side of nutty than amaretto. What struck me as so great, aside from the smooth and lightly dry finish of the chocolate itself was the freshness of the wafers. They were delicate and crispy. There was no cereal taste to them (not that I mind that), which allowed both the chocolate and almond to dominate. Every once in a while I got a little texture of some crushed almonds.
I loved this bar. I don’t know if the factory was just having a really good day and had exceptional ingredients converge in that moment in time on that particular bar but I felt like I was finally getting my money’s worth for these expensive imported KitKat bars. Texture, flavors and mouthfeel were simply exceptional. All other KitKats will disappoint me now. (And it’s always good to stop on a high note.)
But I’m left feeling that I should stop pursuing the fleeting perfection of limited edition bars (which are often less than perfect) and concentrate on quality candies that are available more reliably. Plus, the import premium I pay for these means that they’re over $30 a pound. If I’m willing to pay that much, I can get some really good chocolate.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.