Friday, December 9, 2011
The best known American marshmallows are Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows which are big, airy cylinders of fluffed sugar and gelatin. Lately there’s been a movement in the United States for more artisan marshmallows, flavored and in different shapes and often with less chalky corn starch on the outside. In other countries marshmallows are usually flavored (France and Japan have wonderful marshmallow offerings that are rather grown up, while the United Kingdom and Netherlands still have a large selection geared towards kids).
Kraft’s Jet-Puffed brand has a large selection lately that go beyond the unflavored white version. I picked up all that I could find over the past month for comparison and review.
I’m often conflicted about whether Marshmallows are candy. Part of the confusion might be the fact that the most popular marshmallow brands in the United States are not sold in the candy and snack aisle but in the baking section. They’re used to make Rice Krispie Treats and S’mores, but I rarely see people just eating them.
The marshmallows are simple and cheap. I picked up most of the bags in this review for only a dollar - this bag was 10 ounces and nearly the size of an airplane pillow ... a lot of candy for a buck.
Jet-Puffed are large, they’re about an inch and a third tall and about an inch in diameter. Each is about 7.5 grams (about a quarter of an ounce). Marshmallows are pretty low in calories, as there’s no fat in them - they’re just sugar with a little protein (gelatin) to keep them fluffy. Only 100 calories per serving of 4 (one ounce).
They’re chalky on the outside, coated with a light powdering of corn starch to keep them from sticking. They’re puffed, pliable but still firm. They’re a little latexy, like memory foam - squish it and it bounces back eventually.
The flavor isn’t quite vanilla and not a strong as pure sugar. They’re, well, marshmallows. Not much to write home about and not a candy I’d eat on its own. They toast up very well, with more of the burnt sugar flavors. The large size means that the center of mine usually cool while the outside is crunchy and the mantle is molten.
They’re very soft and moist when fresh, but I don’t mind a slightly stale marshmallow either. They get a little stiff and chewy on the outside, providing a little more textural interest.
What started this whole marshmallow episode was this bag of Jet-Puffed SnowmanMallows I spotted at Target. They’re French Vanilla flavored, which sounded good, like a custardy version of the traditional American marshmallow.
They’re called mini-marshmallows on the bag, but they’re actually about the size of two of the standard mini-marshmallows.
I prefer the format of the little one inch tall and half inch wide Man. He toasted up well, the smaller size meant that the center became molten as the outside crisped. Of course it was ridiculously easy to catch him on fire.
They’re pink and remind me of the French guimauve, which often come in long ropes. The color is soft and pleasant. The scent is like Frankenberry Cereal. The flavor is a mild, floral and artificial strawberry. It was like a very watered down Strawberry Quik.
I toasted it hoping it would taste like cotton candy, but it just tasted like hot Strawberry Quik. Like many of the candies that I eat with Red #40 food coloring, I taste a weird, metallic bitterness towards the end and for a few minutes after.
This was the first variety that struck me as seasonal, obviously, but also the first one that I felt like achieved its goals of being an actual good candy. I recognize that not everyone likes gingerbread, so a gingerbread flavored marshmallow will not be as popular as strawberry or vanilla.
They’re shaped like little men. The get squeeze and deformed in the bag, so their little arms point in different directions. They’re about an inch and a quarter tall and about a half an inch thick and an inch from fingertip to fingertip.
They smell rich and spicy. And they taste that way too. If you’re fond of the gingerbread spices: ginger, cinnamon, clove and pepper, you will probably dig these. The overriding flavor is actually ginger but there’s a little cinnamon and pepper warmth to them. It doesn’t taste artificial at all - just like a spicy marshmallow. It’s absolutely like eating a foamy cookie.
I tried toasting them and liked the result, but prefer the soft and foamy texture of them at room temperature.
This bag was slightly smaller, for some reason, with only 8 ounces in it. The mallows were also smaller, which was fine with me as I like to pop a whole one in my mouth. (The back of the package actually has a warning that says to eat only one at a time and supervise children plus cut them up for smaller children.)
They’re cute as foamy sugar buttons. They smell good, not that different from the Gingerbread, but definitely on the sugar and cinnamon side of things.
The flavor is like cinnamon the spice, not the hard candy. The corn starch coating kind of pushes that along with the slight chalky texture before it dissolves away. It doesn’t taste overtly artificial, but it’s also not as fun and nuanced as the Gingerbread. I expect they’d go great in hot chocolate. Toasted they were quite nice, but tasted much more sweet when hot.
The Kraft Jet-Puffed Chocolate Royale was a problematic flavor. First, it’s a chocolate flavored marshmallow. There is no actual cocoa, let alone chocolate in there. The scent is ghastly. It was like wet cardboard. It was so bad that after I took a picture of the package and opened them, I had to sequester them.
The problem is that I don’t remember where I put them (I admit the Candy Blog Studios are pretty messy right now) but I can still smell them even though I stuffed them inside another bag first.
Overall, I’m inclined towards the generic American marshmallow and enjoyed the different flavors. I prefer the corn starch coating to the sugar sanding of Peeps. They’re a great candy to share and versatile to keep on hand as an ingredient. If you’re watching your calories, they’re very low stress - I can’t eat that many because their airy texture makes me feel full very quickly. But they’re also all sugar and the texture can be bland (but that’s why folks invented Rice Krispie Treats, Rocky Road and S’mores).
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Single origin chocolate and single origin coffee sound like an excellent fit. Askinosie Chocolate, one of America’s few (but growing) number of bean to bar craft chocolate makers has paired with Intelligentsia one of America’s fair trade, artisan and single origin coffee roasters.
As with all of Askinosie’s creations, the bar is thoughtfully packaged. It comes in a glassine sleeve that’s tied shut with a little loop of twine from the bags that the cocoa beans arrive in. Inside there’s a folded sleeve label over the cellophane sealed bar. It all fits back together pretty well, which is good because I can’t eat this bar in one sitting.
It’s three ounces and cost $9.50, which is a bit steep, except compared to everything at Intelligentsia. I’ve only had their coffee twice, both times was a dry cappuccino and both times it was intense but brewed nicely - not burnt, not too acrid or acidic. (I don’t go for the darkest roast of the day, either.)
The bar has 18 squares, spelling out Askinosie Chocolate. The color of the bar is exceptionally dark, glossy and has a clear snap to it.
The scent is quite strong with more of a woodsy, coffee grounds scent than a brewed note. The texture of the bar is noticeably stiffer too. The melt is smooth but slightly chalky and dry at first. There’s plenty of cocoa butter to thin it out after a few moments, kind of like the crema on a cup of espresso.
The coffee flavors are strong, bitter and rather overwhelm the chocolate. The ingredients are cocoa beans, cane juice, coffee beans and cocoa butter. So there’s no vanilla in there, no emulsifiers.
I found myself returning to bar, even though I had to be very restrained in my portions because of the strength of the coffee. I appreciated how well blended it was, that the bar wasn’t just a superior chocolate bar with a bunch of coffee grounds thrown in like so many other companies seem to do. The flavors linger, with more mild notes of licorice, apricot, fig and molasses.
The package says there are two servings, I was much happier with six pieces over the full nine, but I’m the kind of gal that just has a small cup of coffee in the morning (an actual 8 ounce cup). Lest you feel bad about the calories (154 per ounce), there’s also almost 4 grams of protein, 4% of your calcium and 14% of your RDA of iron in that ounce. I can’t hazard a guess on the caffeine.
It’s not an every day bar, which is fine because it’s hard to get a hold of (at Intelligentsia cafes or their website) and pretty expensive. But as a substitution for three coffee drinks, it’s mighty fine, just as satisfying, far more portable and ready when I am. Now ... when is a white chocolate/coffee bar coming out?
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
The combination of sweet and savory is nothing new. Peppers and chocolate were traditionally mixed together in Central America. Here in North America we’ve come full circle again with the new craze of adding spicy peppers to everything.
One of the classic hot pepper sauces is McIlhenny Company’s Tabasco sauce, made in Louisiana from tabasco peppers. Tabasco sauce was first produced in 1868, so it’s a wonder that it’s taken this long for it to be combined with chocolate. (Though I do recall a strange hot pepper chocolate fudge someone gave me in the 90s.)
I picked up this little tin of McIlhenny Co Tabasco Brand Spicy Chocolate that holds 1.75 ounces at Cost Plus World Market. Right now they’re featuring it in their Christmas area with the stocking stuffers, but I think they carry it year round.
Like other Chocolate Traveler products, it’s a disk of chocolate divided into eight “slices”. The circle of pieces is about three inches in diameter, so each little slice is about 1.5 inches long and about one inch wide.
The portioning is great, each piece is only 30 calories and less than seven grams.
The pieces are thick, easy to grasp and pull out of the tin and bite. The chocolate is semi-sweet (55% cacao), not terribly smooth and any graininess I noted was probably from the peppers. There are no milk products added, so this can be considered a vegan product (though it’s processed in a shared facility with dairy, peanuts and nuts if it’s an allergy issue).
The sweetness is a little distracting, but gives way to a well rounded woodsy chocolate flavor. The spicy burn of the red pepper comes in slowly but is quite noticeable, especially as a cumulative effect over several pieces. The pepper has a distinctive and notable Tabasco note to it, as there is a little bit of distilled vinegar in there.
As someone who’s not overly fond of Capsaicin heat, this was probably about as hot as I can take. So if you’re craving something really hot, this is probably not going to do much for you. The tin is absolutely lovely and would probably be useful to hold small things like jewelry, maybe some earphones or sewing items. It’s a great gift item for less than $5 mostly because of the packaging, but since Christmas can be a hard time for gift giving, this might fit the bill for a gift basket for a pepper fan or a stocking stuffer.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Mars has finally hopped into the white chocolate game with both feet. Their new Dove White Chocolate Silky Smooth Promises stand alone as the only mass-market true white chocolate in bite size pieces.
I don’t know if this is a regular item or a seasonal offering from Dove. They’ve already proven that they can make a good white chocolate, which has been their base for their rich Peppermint Bark offerings for the third year in a row.
The package is a stylish amber and gold design with the Dove logo featuring most prominently. The see through part reveals the pieces are foil wrapped in two different shades of gold with white snowflakes.
Hershey’s has their White Chocolate Meltaway Bliss, but that’s a filled candy, with some sort of palm oil & cream inside. The Dove White Chocolate is truly a white chocolate product, in that it contains only cocoa butter and dairy as its fat base without any other vegetable fats.
Still, it’s pricey stuff. The bar was just shy of 8 ounces while the true chocolate varieties at the same price are over 9.5 ounces.
The flavor is oddly buttery, as in milky with that sort of churned flavor to it. However, there’s more of an aged dairy taste than a fresh milk flavor. There’s a light hint of salt (45 mg per 5 pieces).
The texture is firm but has a smooth melt, not nearly as silky as the regular Dove Promises but still decadent. It’s sweet, and that sugary quality does give it a but of a thick and sticky quality as it dissolves. Sometimes though it tasted a little on the rancid or perhaps slightly stale side of things. This could be because it picked up some flavors from other items (such as some chocolate flavored marshmallows), but considering the fact that they’re tightly foil wrapped and then in a heavy plastic bag, they shouldn’t be doing that.
White chocolate is definitely a tough item to do well. These are good, and true white chocolate is hard to find, especially in the grocery or drug store these days. The ingredients are pretty good: sugar, cocoa butter, skim milk, milk fat, soy lecithin, salt, natural flavor and PGPR. They’re made in a facility that processes peanuts and tree nuts. There’s no mention of gluten. They’re Kosher.
It’s a good quality product for the price, but it’s not going to be my go-to white chocolate. I’ll still opt for Green & Black’s super-vanilla infused White Chocolate which is also fair trade. But if I needed something festive and foil wrapped, I’d grab a bag of these.
Monday, December 5, 2011
R.M. Palmer makes charming and cheap candy for the holidays. Their Christmas candies are never as appealing as their Easter goods but I was intrigued by their new RM Palmer Giant 1/4 Peanut Butter Cup.
Giant candy is pretty common as a holiday gift, especially as a stocking stuffer or Secret Santa item. This one isn’t quite as amazing as the Snickers Slice n’ Share or 1 Lb Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but it’s certainly affordable at only $1.00.
The package is simple. There were two designs, the red wrapper I picked out features an elf on a snowboard. There’s a green version that had a Santa on it.
The packaging is spare, it’s just a plastic sleeve, there’s no cardboard tray or even a fluted cup. However, this was more than sufficient, my cup came out the wrapper looking nearly flawless.
Like nearly all R.M. Palmer candies, this is a very nicely made product. The mold is well designed and attractive. The large cup has some attractive design details, including a little inset bevel and texture on the bottom of cup. The fluting is crisp and the mockolate coating is shiny.
The cup is three and a half inches in diameter and just a smidge over a half an inch thick. The package says that it’s four servings, which would be one ounce each. It’d be pretty easy to divide this up, it cuts easily with even a butter knife. However, one ounce is a rather small portion for candy. The typical is about 1.5 (which is what a pair of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are).
The first ingredient on the list is sugar, which I fully expected. The second is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil made from palm kernel and/or palm oil. It’s pretty widely known now that partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats. And trans fats need to be reported on the nutrition facts panel. However, if it’s less than a half a gram of trans fat, it can be listed as zero. So it’s entirely possible that a “truer serving size” of 1.5 ounces would have a measurable amount of trans fat. Or it could be that RM Palmer figured that people could quarter things easily but probably couldn’t cut them into 3/8 as easily. (Well, you’d just cut it into 8 pieces and take a serving of three of those, but I don’t think they’d be structurally sound.)
The cup smells good, like sweet peanut butter. The bite is soft and the peanut butter is smooth. It’s an odd cup, I was fully willing to hate it based on the ingredients. However, the peanut butter center is really good. It’s soft but not greasy, smooth but not quite silky. There’s a slight coolness to both the mockolate and the peanut butter on the tongue. The flavor of the peanut butter center is sweet, not quite as salty or crumbly/dry as a Reese’s, it’s more like eating peanut butter cookie dough.
For kids or the not-too-picky, it’s a fun little treat. It’s far from gourmet, but it fits in as affordable and over-the-top little gift.
Friday, December 2, 2011
Did you notice the theme this week was all Trader Joe’s candy for the holidays? Here’s a roundup of what’s at Trader Joe’s this season.New for 2011
Trader Joe’s Classic Holiday Candy Mix - classic hard candy straws & pillows made with all natural ingredients. $1.99 (read review - 7 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Eggnog Almonds - $3.99 (read review - 9 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Minty Melts - it’s peppermint bark for people who don’t like the crushed candy canes in it - $4.99 (read review - 7 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Mosaic of Chocolates - squares of different kinds of bar - $3.99
Trader Joe’s English Toffee with Nuts (Tall Can) $7.99 (previously in a box like this? It’d call it a step above Almond Roca)
Trader Joe’s Chocolate Liqueur Cherries - the name says it all - $4.99
Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Coal - dark chocolate covered candy cane bits - $1.99
Trader Joe’s Merry Mingle - caramel with pecans and cranberries dipped in dark chocolate -$7.99 (read review - 8 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Peanut Brittle - $2.99 - I haven’t tried this yet, mostly because Los Angeles tends to be very humid in the winter and brittles just don’t do well when they get sticky.
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Minty Mallows $2.99 (2010 review - they’re quite moist and dense 7 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Chocolate Palette (a beautiful stack of single origin bars - they’re only okay, but a beautiful introduction to the idea of single origin at an excellent price) $9.99
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate After Dinner Mint Thins $2.99 (made in England)
Trader Joe’s Brandy Beans - these have been coming back on and off for years, they tend to sell out really early - $2.99
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels $4.99 (2007 review - more of a flowing caramel than the chewy style of the Fleur de Sel - 6 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Cocoa Truffles - inexcusable fat bombs - (Imported from France) $2.99 (see my review - I gave them a 3 out of 10, though I think the ingredients have changed a little bit, they’re still quite thin tasting yet stupidly fatty)
Trader Joe’s 9 Rabitos Royale $6.99 (2010 review - quite decadent and elegant but doesn’t use all real chocolate - 7 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Assorted Chocolates - I have no idea about these, the boxed items from Trader Joe’s are hit or miss with me, at this price I might stick to See’s - $9.99
Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel Caramels (wood box) $6.99 (2006 review, still the same packaging. Classic, nicely done but a little pricey for boiled sugar. 7 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Old Fashioned Sweet Sticks - barber pole candy sticks in classic and new-agey flavors - $2.99
Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate & Dark Chocolate Oranges $2.49 (Reviewed in 2009 as Florida Tropic Oranges. Good quality & price plus always charming package and dark is vegan 7 out of 10 & 8 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Chocolate Rings with Sprinkle - they’re just little disks of dark chocolate with sprinkles, like giant SnoCaps - $1.99
Also returning are the chocolate covered Peppermint JoJos and a variety box of other chocolate covered flavors. Though I reviewed the JoeJoe’s before, I can’t really call them candy.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
The Trader Joe’s Classic Holiday Candy Mix qualifies as classic solely in its looks. They’re cute little pillows and waffle pieces of hard candy but come in a curious array of flavors that are as much tropical as they are wintery. Pomegranate, Cherry Cream, Passion Fruit, Cranberry Orange and Lemon Ginger. The flavors are all natural and the colors are created with vegetable and fruit extracts.
The packaging is simple, the box is a little smaller than a box of raisins or prunes. Inside is a half pound of hard candy in a simple cellophane pouch.
The pieces have that classic Holiday Mix look to them. Most are the standard pillow style of hard candy. The hard candy is briefly pulled (either by hand on a hook or by machine) to add air and a silky shine to it. That is then wrapped around a slightly aerated but not as attractive center. The the log is then rolled down into a rope which is then put into a cutter that gently squeezes the candy as it cuts it. Other pieces are rolled through a mold that give the waffle weave before they’re cut.
Cherry Cream is deep red with amber stripes. The cream flavor is a little artificial, like a butter flavor instead of a real creamy note. Kind of like a cream soda. The cherry flavor is good, like a black cherry but with a sort of burnt berry pie note to it. Sometimes I thought that it tasted like Dr. Pepper.
Cranberry Orange (orange and dark red) was easy to spot, as the pieces were mostly half orange and half red. The orange flavor was front and center, the cranberry was just a tartness in the background with a little strawberry floral note.
Pomegranate (pink, white & deep red striped pillow) It’s enchanting to look at an a nicely rounded pomegranate flavor with a lot of raspberry notes.
Lemon Ginger (yellow and white) were the easiest to figure out. This one tasted a little sparkly. Most of the pieces were the flat waffle but there were a few short straw ones too. The lemon is quite zesty and the woodsy ginger has a very slight warmth to it.
The candies are made in Mexico. I believe this is the same facility that also makes the Trader Joe’s Old Fashioned Sweet Sticks and the Life Savers all natural knock-off Sweet Story (and probably also the Organic Lollipops which are also sold as Yummy Earth). They’re made with glucose syrup which is from wheat, so they may not be suitable for gluten-free folks. There’s no other statement about allergens such as nuts or dairy products. They’re made with cane sugar but no other animal products so it’s up to you if you think they’re vegan. Kosher.
It’s a good price for all natural hard candy. It’s not extraordinary candy and probably only suitable for someone who actually like hard candy. The charming homespun quality does present a beautiful tableau in a dish and would probably be great as a decorative element on a Gingerbread House.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.