Monday, October 31, 2011
Here’s what I’m giving out for Halloween this year. I decided that it was more important to take a stand against child slavery in West Africa than give out the most loved objects of Halloween, such as Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars have had more than 10 years to assure consumers that they’re not buying from growers that enslave children on their cacao plantations. When they have, then I’ll start giving it out to children.
So to avoid this issue completely I bought sugar candy - that is, candy made without chocolate.
Airheads - multiple flavors of chewy fruity flavors. Made in Kentucky, USA.
What I lack in chocolate, I’ll likely make up for with quantity and variety. We usually only get between 25 and 40 visitors. With more than 300 pieces of candy, each kid gets a heaping adult-dispensed handful. And it won’t melt. (Yes, it’s still in the 80s here this week in Los Angeles.)
So what are you giving out for Halloween this year?
Friday, October 28, 2011
I regularly watch the eBay candy auctions. And when I say regularly, I actually check the pages several times a day during the week. Partly to spy new candy products, partly to find international candies that are hard to get in the US, partly to find deals and partly to squash folks who like to use Candy Blog photos for their auctions without asking.
About a month ago I saw a new auction pop up for someone selling 13.2 pounds of Felchlin Swiss Couverture chocolate coins of Grand Cru Arriba 72% Cocoa (conched 72 hours).
The auction was priced at $95 and included local Los Angeles delivery. I bid. I won.
Because it’s for use as an ingredient, it’s packaged modestly. The mini case holds three bags. Each bag is 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds). I pulled out one bag for immediate enjoyment and put the other two, inside the box, into the bottom of my wine fridge. (Okay, I’d probably call it a chocolate fridge, which keeps everything at 58 degrees.)
Each little coin is about 3/4 of an inch around and has a set of embossed cacao pods on it. They’re kind of scuffed up, as they come in a bag like chocolate chips. They work as extra large baking chips but function better as eating chocolate. At this writing I am finishing up the first bag. I’ve made one batch of chocolate pudding, one small batch of Chocolate Hazelnut Rocher (meringues from a recipe from Tartine) and the rest has simply been eaten.
The disks fit in the mouth wonderfully, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes to let their chocolate melt. (Put two together to create an oblate spheroid and they’re doubly good.) The flavor is exceptionally well rounded, there is no dominant flavor though I get notes of molasses, honey, coffee and raspberry jam sometimes.
As noted above, this is a 72 hour conch. Conching is the process of both mixing and grinding chocolate over low heat. The longer the processing the smaller the grain size of the cacao bits and the more emulsified the chocolate becomes. This process varies in time depending on what the cacao is like and the necessities of the final product. It can be anywhere from 24 hours to 100 hours. The grinding part is done with either stones or metal rollers.
This long conch also allows Felchlin to make an uncompromising chocolate without emulsifiers. So all that’s in there is cacao mass, sugar and vanilla. (So if you must avoid soy, try this.) It’s also creamy without cream. (So if you’re a vegan, try this.) It’s made from Criollo beans from the Los Rios area of Ecuador.
Earlier this year I got to try a great example of how important conching is. When I was in Germany at ISM Cologne, one of my favorite chocolate companies, Coppeneur gave me this box of two chocolate bars. They were both made from highly prized Chuao beans (review of those bars here) but inside this box were two versions - one that was conched 70 hours and one that was conched 100 hours. The difference is quite remarkable. The longer a bar is conched, the silkier it becomes.
What I’ve learned is that I love long conched chocolate. It’s so smooth that the texture itself becomes like a flavor because it’s simply so forward in the experience.
I’m not sure why the local gal was auctioning the bulk lots of chocolate, but I did find out that she runs a local chocolate catering company called Chocolate by M. She was kind enough to leave me with these huge nonpareils along with the delivery. The photo might make them look small, but they’re huge 3 inch platters of dark chocolate (I don’t know if it’s the same as the Felchlin 72%) with a dense sprinkling of nonpareils on the bottom.
It’s just one easy idea of what I could do with my bevvy of chocolate.
Mostly what I think I’m going to do with my chocolate stash though is eat it. It’s incredibly munchable but also exceptionally intense. I’ve found that I can’t make it an evening snack as there are too many caffeine-like compounds in there that keep me up at night. But I’ve found that it’s a great treat during the day while I work, I’ve been keeping a little dish of them on my desk and probably eat about an ounce of them a day. They’re filling and sustaining.
But maybe the last bag will make it to December and I’ll end up making chocolate truffles for Christmas.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Inside the box, which has an oddly angled end (which does make opening and closing the box a bit easier) is a mylar pouch with the candy inside. It’s well sealed and fresh. The package shows three shapes and colors, but makes no mention of the flavors inside.
The gummis are tiny, similar to the scale of the Easter variety, and the shapes are hard to make out.
I found a witch’s head with a hat, a jack o lantern, a ghost, a hissing cat and a crescent moon.
They’re all soft and squishy with very little greasy coating and yet they don’t stick together much.
The flavors are identical, I think, to the standard Life Savers Gummies mix these days:
Watermelon is light green. It’s soft and tart and kind of unripe tasting.
Overall, I didn’t think much of the shapes, they’re too difficult to discern. The size is strange, considering the standard shape and size of Life Savers’ large hoops. The flavors don’t taste as bold as I’m accustomed to the hard candy version. I also miss tangerine. The colors feel like the season though.
As a Wrigley’s product, which now includes Skittles and Starburst, this marketing and product design feels a little out of step with current trends. But maybe a little nostalgic “lack of polish” is refreshing. Still, it’s cheaper to just get the all year round version in the peg bag. Just pretend the Life Savers are O’s and they’re haunting you.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
I saw these little candies making the rounds as a meme, but I didn’t see them in person until I went to Germany.
It’s a Swiss hazelnut chocolate confection shaped into a pocket knife and wrapped in red foil to look like a Swiss Army Knife.
The Mindestens Swiss Chocolate Knife is a pretty simple little candy. The center is soft gianduia (chocolate hazelnut paste) and covered with milk chocolate. It’s sweet and soft, nothing spectacular, as I’ve had much better gianduia before. But it’s hard to quibble with the design, as both the foil and the molding of the chocolate is so attentive to details. Seek them out if you have a Swiss Army Knife fan in the family.
Monday, October 24, 2011
I picked up this cheap box at Rite Aid a few weeks ago because it was on sale for 75 cents but it’s not the first time I’ve purchased them. I picked them up on sale before, about three years ago when I took these photos. No, the packaging hasn’t changed. In fact, the copyright on the box says 1999 (but the expiration date for this box was December 2011).
I’ve never heard of the brand La Pone which is a division of Kings Candy Company. But I figured Jordan Almonds are all kinda the same.
I was encouraged that these were Thin Shell, as sometimes the sugar coating is so thick as to scare me that it’s really a candy encased rock.
The sugar coated almonds come in a variety of soft pastel colors: pink, yellow, orange and green plus a bright pink. They’re shiny and huge. At first I thought it was because the almonds were really big, but it turns out that the shell is really thick. So thick that I have to wonder what their regular non-“Thin Shell” version is like.
They were hard, definitely not something to just mindlessly crunch away at. The shell is sweet, but not sticky or sickly. The nuts are fresh and chewy but not quite crunchy. I didn’t get any fake flavors like a lot of vanilla or almond extract, though an unnamed artificial flavor is on the ingredients.
The shell made me nervous, and I’m not good at sucking on things until I can crunch them. They’re pretty cheap, even at regular price which seems to be about $1.25 when I’ve seen them. It’s a nice snack that cuts down on the overall calorie load of plain nuts (almonds area bout 160 calories per ounce, these are 127 calories per ounce). The shell definitely kept me from gobbling them up too quickly.
The colors are inoffensive. This sort of packaging isn’t quite right for weddings or favors, but as a sort of way to bring back that wedding feeling they’ll do in a pinch.
(Also of concern in the ingredients is flour, so this is off limits for gluten free folks. They’re Kosher and otherwise vegan as long as you’re good with artificial colors and titanium dioxide.)
Friday, October 21, 2011
So I’ve tried the Zachary Thick Mints and the Zachary Mini Mints. Today I have the Zachary Thin Mints. This is probably where I should have started, as this is the standard set of ratios that all other peppermint fondant and chocolate candies should be judged against.
The Zachary line of candies are very well priced. They’re often sold at dollar stores and other discounters. I happened to find my set of both the mini mints and the Zachary Raspberry Thin Mints. They were on sale for 79 cents for a box that holds 3.5 ounces. That’s the same price as a regular York Peppermint Pattie. Kind of a crazy comparison.
The boxes are small and rather nicely designed. Spare but they provide the essential protection of the stuff inside and have a bunch of information on them that they’re obligated to carry like ingredients, and nutrition facts and include the notation that they’re made in the United States (which York Peppermint Patties can no longer say).
Inside the Thin Mints are in a little tray. It has two sections, kind of misleading about the amount of candy, especially when compared to the similarly priced Haviland Thin Mints that have 5 ounces in a box and all natural ingredients.
There were 12 mints in my packages. Yes, the two sections are uneven. One holds 5 patties and the other 7 patties. I have no idea why it’s formatted that way.
The Peppermint Thin Mints are rather ordinary. They’re small, about 1.25 inches in diameter, like little coins. My mint ones were in good condition with very few scuff marks.
The fondant is soft, almost chewy. It’s like a cross between the gooey center of a Junior Mint and the softer center of the Haviland. They’re not strong, just an all around inoffensive mint. The peppermint is clean and doesn’t really overpower the mild semi-sweet chocolate. It’s like eating a handful of baking chips. It’s not extraordinary chocolate, a little on the gritty side but real.
The second version is the Raspberry Thin Mints which I thought were going to be just raspberry flavored fondant. Nope, there’s mint in there, too.
These were horrid. The raspberry was fake and floral and tasted like the purple coloring. Then there was the slight tangy, jam flavor in there ... all capped off with a refreshing burst of mint. The chocolate coating was mercifully stronger here, perhaps picking up on the woodsy notes of the raspberry. It was just a terrible mix. I don’t think mint goes well with berries or even citrus (I know, Mojitos are a mystery to me).
They’re not for vegans - there’s milk and eggs in there. There’s no gluten statement on the package but no actual wheat ingredients - proceed with caution.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
This new version is amped up in size and has another twist, actual flavors to the candy buttons (the classics may be flavored, but it’s not perceptible). They’re called Candy Sweet Spots and they’re made in China by Greenbrier International, Inc.
The package is big. The strips are 11 inches long and 4.25 inches wide. There are three strips inside, which provides a full 2.4 ounces of candy - I paid a buck for it.
I’ve never seen a package include, perhaps even advertise, the word artificial so much. The name of the candy might actually be Candy Sweet Spots Artificially Flavored. Then at the bottom there’s a little arrow that points up to the candies themselves that also exalts, “Assorted Artificial Fruit Flavors!”
The package goes on to list all of the flavors, right there on top of the actual candies in the see through package. I appreciate the information.
Yes, they are bigger than the traditional paper buttons. For the most part they’re 1/3 to 1/2 of an inch in diameter. The old style buttons are a little less than 1/4 of an inch.
They come in four flavors: Artificial Cherry, Artificial Orange, Artificial Lemon and Artificial Raspberry. There are fifteen Sweet Spots of each flavor on each sheet.
The Sweet Spots are pretty much regularly sized and shaped. The bonus over their traditionally sized cousins is that these come off the paper rather easily. I had no trouble getting them off, no bits of paper stuck to the bottom. But they do leave a little residue of color/candy on the paper (so you can’t reuse the paper for notes or anything).
Cherry (red) is sweet and mild, it has an actual authentic artificial taste to it and even a little note of Red #40.
They’re really not that good as candy, but as something to amuse a small child for a while, they’re okay. They’re also made in China and contain gelatin and artificial flavors and colors.
I would say that they’re a good accent item, but the original Candy Buttons are too. You can peel them off the paper and put them on a decorated cake or cupcake, which is especially useful if you just want to do a plain uncolored frosting and not have to mix anything else. (And easy for kids to do.) Unless you’re looking for something in a larger scale, I’d say move along to some candy that’s actually good. But if you can’t resist the look of these, well, the price is good and the quality of the colors makes them at least a good deal as decorations. Other party ideas include hanging a strip on the wall to make “lickable wallpaper” or as an accent behind a candy buffet.
There’s another version of these called Mega Candy Buttons which are actually even bigger and are Kosher (so probably don’t have gelatin in them).
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
I bought these Bubble Gum Cigars while on vacation last month, mostly because it’d be so longer since I’d seen the full array of the flavors in quite a long time. They’re made by Concord Confections in Canada which is now owned by Tootsie. (They also make Dubble Bubble Gum.)
I picked out three of them, in a standard array of colors orange, green and yellow. Each has a special name on the band, which is smaller than the standard cigar band (so I can’t wear it as a ring, even on my pinky). The wrapping is simple, just a clear cellophane sleeve, all were fresh and pliable (though if you’ll notice I dropped the orange one and it broke into pieces).
Cigars have faded a bit from pop culture, but starting sometime in the early 20th century it was common to celebrate a new baby with a gifting of cigars to friends (mostly by the father to friends, coworkers and contacts). As something that children today are aware of, it’s kind of an anachronism, as I know I can go months without even catching a whiff of the scent of a cigar, much less actually seeing someone smoking one. The relationship between real cigars and bubble gum ones is so far removed, I don’t think anyone can say that they actually improve the opinion folks have of tobacco. The reverse is probably true, the shape and association of a cigar with a children’s chewing gum is more likely a hindrance to sales.
El Bubble is green and Apple Flavored. I admit that I’m kind of a gum purist. Chewing gum should be mint, cinnamon or that Juicyfruit flavor ... and bubble gum should be bubble gum flavored. None of these cigars is actually bubble gum flavored (I couldn’t find a pink one). The apple is actually rather more on the actual apple juice flavor side of things than tangy green apple. It’s sweet and light. Even after the sugar fades, it’s not offensive or even very strong at all. I don’t think anyone sitting near me would recognize the flavor.
The gum is soft and easy to chew. It’s gets very soft and grainy quickly, kind of made my mouth fill up with saliva. But a little chewing and the gum firms up into a stiff enough piece that makes decent bubbles.
Gold Dragon is yellow and Banana Flavored. Banana is a rare flavor of gum in general, so it’s nice to find. I’m sure there are some sort of Freudian/Mae West jokes about cigars and bananas, as well. The chew is soft and sugary with a mild and sweet banana flavor. Eventually as the sugar fades the flavor is much more artificial and caustic. Bubble blown at this point end up filled with noxious vapors like walking into a poorly ventilated nail spa.
Wild Tiger is orange and Orange Flavored. It’s a purely sweet affair here, sickly sweet with only a touch of orange flavoring. Don’t worry, it’ doesn’t taste like Aspergum, that would be too intense. Instead it’s more like some sort of sugar paste that was next to something orange flavored at one point.
They’re a fun little piece of gum, mostly inoffensive and colorful. They could easily just be little rods of gum or tubes ... but the idea of the little bands and their colorful names is the one bit of novelty here I enjoyed. The gum itself was passable, but I’m sure something that kids would chewy like I do ... just long enough to get the sugar out, then blow a few bubbles and move on.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.