Tuesday, August 30, 2011
A couple of months ago Jelly Belly announced a new jelly bean flavor: Candy Corn Jelly Belly Jelly Beans. Jelly Belly, which began as Goelitz Confectionery Company, has been making Candy Corn for over 110 years so I’d think that they know a lot about Candy Corn.
Candy Corn is a bit polarizing, since it’s a rather simple and cheap candy it becomes ubiquitous in the fall around Halloween and Thanksgiving. Some folks actually like it but I think most don’t have a feeling one way or the other about the candy itself, but might have some strong associations with the occasions attached.
So what is the essence of Candy Corn anyway? In my mind it’s a honey flavored firm fondant. So a jelly bean that’s Candy Corn flavored should have some aspects of that.
The bean has the requisite colors: orange, white and yellow. (In an ideal world though it’d be an orange background with white and yellow additions.)
The flavor is at first a little like fake butter but gets much better after that. I was afraid it was just going to be a honey toasted version of buttered popcorn. But it’s a bit more than that. The dominant flavor is actually a mix of the toasted marshmallow and honey bean. There is a butter note, but it goes away quickly.
Are they great jelly beans? Well, they’re interesting because they do in fact taste like candy corn. But part of what I like about candy corn is the layering. I like to bite off the crispy and dry white tips, then the orange layer, savoring the slightly moister and denser yellow base for last. The jelly bean has none of that interactivity. I can’t search through a handful of jelly beans looking for that misformed kernel that’s just orange or only two layers.
However, if you simply love the flavor of Candy Corn but have been wishing for a less pointy version of it, then Jelly Belly has the best solution.
Monday, August 29, 2011
In my recent travels abroad I picked up a lot of chocolate bars. Here’s a brief little run down of three of them:
As a little reminder, I went to Amsterdam and Cologne earlier this year. There are flavors there that just aren’t very well known in North America. One of the new flavor trends that I noticed was Absinthe (I’ve seen a little of it in the United States but its influence in The Netherlands was a lot more ubiquitous).
So when I spotted this bar from the Chocolatier Marc Antoine called Edelbitter Absinth Truffle, I though it would be a perfect item to pick up as it would probably travel very well.
The box was stiff and nicely designed with the sickly green swirls of anise & wormwood liqueur. Inside the bar was in a simple cellophane sleeve but remarkably unscathed by its journey.
The bar was big and the pieces were chunky. The dark chocolate was glossy with large reservoirs of the dark chocolate truffle filling inside. The truffle was smooth and creamy and very soft, almost like a caramel sauce. The scent was definitely on the grassy fennel side of things, even before I bit into it. The dark chocolate was smooth and bitter though had a lot of cocoa notes mixed with a sharp and tangy anise. The truffle center had a lot of licorice flavors, very soft and fluffy notes that were sweet along with a little hint of eucalyptus and some other botanicals.
I wouldn’t call it a hallucinogenic experience, but it was a wonderful, strong herbal bar that I enjoy quite a bit. There as a little alcoholic burn to it but it was more like tequila.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The package was a big, flat square, about 4.5 inches. The box was pretty and featured raised and gold embossed lettering for the logo and the image on the front of a clay oven. The chocolate is described on the front a little more puro ciccolato fondente con fichi affumicati or “pure dark chocolate with smoked figs” - so it’s the figs in it that are smoked, not the chocolate itself.
The back of the package is in a bunch of different languages and featured notices about recycling but most importantly that Cuorenero does not use any dairy products other other major allergens, that means no gluten, no eggs, no soy, no peanuts, no nuts with hard shell (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, etc.), no celery, no mustard, no sesame seeds, no sulfur dioxide, no lupines, no shellfish and no fish. On top of that, all their ingredients are GMO-free.
The ingredients were: cacao mass, sugar, cocoa butter, smoked fig pieces, sunflower lecithin and flavours.
The bar is beautiful, a thick circular slab sectioned into 16 wedges. The bar smelled like molasses, deep and sweet with a lot of notes of smoke, leather and pipe tobacco. The chocolate flavors were tangy and had notes of coffee and charcoal. The figs were little bits with the occasional seed. There were notes of dark rum, raisins and the grassy fresh notes of figs. The smoke flavors were like cognac and fine whiskey.
If you’re a chocolatier and looking for a new flavor combination, please try smoked, dried fruit in dark chocolate. Then let me know how I can buy some from you.
The bar was 60 grams (2.1 ounces) and I think I paid about $6 for it at the Cologne Chocolate Museum Gift Shop (I think it was 4 Euros). Cuorenero Website.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Zotter is a popular maker of fair trade candy bars in Austria. They’re crazy. If you think smoked figs are off the beaten path, you have not explored the uncharted wilderness of Zotter. I’ve had two of their bars before, Banana Curry and Zitrone Polenta. They’re fair trade and organic.
This was another bar that I picked up at the Cologne Chocolate Museums Gift Store (which was a phenomenal chocolate store, if you hadn’t figured that out). It’s Zotter Mandel - Rosen which is almond and rose. (I passed up the Peanuts & Chocolate bar.)
The bar is about 4.5 inches long and about 2 inches wide and weighs 70 grams (2.47 ounces). It’s thin, for a filled bar but rather dense.
Inside there are two fillings layers. The base is a creamy but rather solid almond paste and sandwiched in between two layers of that is a rose petal jelly (which seemed to have a touch of raspberry in it). This was a great flavor combination, classic and sure, a bit Victorian in sensibilities. I liked the delicate almond flavor (no screaming Amaretto here) and even the rose was light and had less of a soapy taste than some other floral flavors I’ve tried. It was fragrant and sweet with that light touch of berry to it.
It wasn’t as crazy bar but like the others I’ve profiled here, it’s unusual for American tastes. It’s not the kind of candy you can get addicted to, it’s hard to find and the flavors come in and out of production. Check out their website.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Friday, August 26, 2011
I picked up a couple of these little licorice ropes at Cost Plus World Market simply because I loved the package.
These little Gatos Licorice (Gatos Extracto de Regaliz) were pretty cheap for imported candies (these are from Spain), only 50 cents for a little .39 ounce bar. There’s slimmer and lighter than a Panda Licorice (Finnish) bar and perhaps a little drier.
The little bars are about 4.25 inches long and are actually thick tubes. They have a light anise and licorice scent with a few hints of charcoal and molasses. Each package has only 35 calories.
The texture is stiff, it’s a wheat base so I expected it to be like a Twizzler Nib. Instead it was dry though not completely crumbly. The flavor took a bit of chewing or dissolving to release but then I really enjoyed the strong licorice notes, which are soft and sweet, woodsy and herbal and a little acidic twang to it all. The molasses wasn’t strong, the toasted caramel flavors were mellow. It’s not a sweet candy at all, there’s even a bit of a bitter burnt note. There was a bit of a stale cereal vibe to the whole thing that I didn’t care for, but it was mostly at the start of the chew and dissipated as the licorice grew, sometimes wheat based products can be like that.
These are fun to pick up and keep tucked away in a pocket, since they’re so small. Of course the bold and distinctive wrapper with the yellow, red and grey tones were what attracted me (logo & more photos here), so it’s a bit of a conversation piece. I don’t think I’d buy them on a regular basis, but I’m curious to try some more of their products.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Chewy, fruity and soft red licorice is just the thing on a hot summer day. It travels better than chocolate and of course the tart and fragrant flavor can give a little burst of thirst quenching without all that pesky drinking.
I picked up this package of Halva Strawberry Finnish Soft Licorice when I was at the ISM Cologne candy far earlier this year. I knew that they sold it at Cost Plus World Market here in the United States, so the brand gets around. The Halva brand is widely sold in Finland and is generally affordable but not necessarily gourmet.
The package is nicely designed, the format reminds me of the classic box of raisins. The stark and modern design uses a lot of white space, a bold photo of the candy (that actually looks like the candy) and some brief descriptions.
Each strip is about one and a half inches long and are soft and pliable, quite shiny. They have a coating of beeswax and oil, so they’re a little greasy. They’re slightly translucent and a light shade of red.
They don’t smell like much, but once I bit into them I got a lot of other sensory input. The texture is soft and chewy, though a little gummy and doughy. The strawberry flavor is nice, it’s very smooth but mostly middle of the road, not deep and jammy like Panda Strawberry Licorice and not crumbly and artificial like Twizzlers either. It’s satisfying in the sense that it fills me up, but irritating that it sticks to my teeth. The red food coloring has no perceptible flavor, so I enjoyed that part. The light tartness kept it all from feeling like it was too sticky.
The base of the candy is made from glucose-fructose syrup and wheat flour. In case you’re wondering if glucose-fructose syrup is pretty much the same thing as high fructose corn syrup, it is except that it’s probably not derived from corn. Use of glucose-fructose syrup is quite rare in American candies, not because of some high standards candy makers have or any health reasons for shunning them. Simply put, many of the sugars that candy makers choose are because of the way they perform physically and chemically. In a soda, HFCS will sweeten and bulk just the same as sucrose. But in a caramel, the free fructose (it’s bonded to a glucose molecule in sucrose and isn’t unbonded until well into the heating process of caramelization) will not work at all as the sole sugar. In the case of a wheat based chew like red licorice, it turns out you can use glucose-fructose syrup quite nicely.
Monday, August 22, 2011
I’ve been on a roll with the Cookie Dough Bites line of products lately. This box of Cookies ‘n Cream Bites says it’s new, but the product was announced back in January 2010.
New! From the Makers of Cookie Dough Bites - Creamy White Chocolatey Balls with Crumbled Pieces of Cookie.
One of the wonderful things about the Oreo type cookies is the deep, charcoal flavor of the cookie itself. It’s not terribly sweet, crisp and with a sandy, crumbly texture that’s just had to beat either as a cookie or as the base of a cream pie. Crumble those cookies up and put them inside other things? Pure brilliance. Some ice creams put in the cream centers of the cookies, but this is completely unnecessary, the vanilla ice cream base takes care of the “cream” part of the Cookies ‘n’ Cream name.
Another dreamy component of the mix of ice cream and cookie pieces is the chaos of it all. In any bite you might get grainy crumbs or a large, dry piece of cookie, so big you can actually crunch it. The texture is inconsistent in the best way possible.
Now that you can see the cross section of these nuggets, you can see where this review is going to go. The center of the candy is a dough ball made up of a white “cookie” base with a few grains of the chocolate cookie. Then it’s all coated with the palm oil, sugar and milk “cream” along with a smattering of cookie bits.
What should have happened was the center should have been the dark cookie and the outside the mix of the cream and more cookie bits.
But I have to review what’s in front of me.
The Bites vary in size, from the size of a Milk Chocolate M&M to the size of a Peanut M&M. They’re kind of grey with little speckles of black from the cookie bits. They smell sweet and milky. The cream coating is fudgy and sweet, but with very little in the way of “melt in your mouth” qualities. The center of the bites are a little on the dough-side, not moist and with a light taste of raw flour. The center isn’t as sweet as the outside and sometimes I detect a little salt in there. The hint of cocoa and true cookies is completely missing. Sometimes I’d get a little sense of them, but only as some sort of rest from the overt sweetness of the cream.
I can say with confidence that these aren’t the worst thing that I’ve had in the Cookie Dough Bites line. But they’re also far from the best. The center of the Brownie Bites would have been far better in this instance. If you’re looking for a chocolate cookie candy without all that pesky chocolate flavor, then step right up. These are sweet and have only a smidge more flavor than the Cupcake Bites (and no artificial colors) so they get a 4 out of 10.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.