Tuesday, January 31, 2012
This Zotter Scotch Whisky bar has everything that I would want in the perfect decadent candy bar. It’s made by Zotter in Austria from fair trade, bean to bar chocolate. The ingredient list is mercifully short and virtually all organic with more than a smidge of Scotch Whisky (9%).
The things that make it hard to give the bar my fullest recommendation would be how difficult it is to actually buy it (I picked mine up while in Germany) and when purchased in the US, it’s rather expensive at about $6 to $8 for the 2.47 bar. (There’s also a little bit of a question about one ingredient, fructose-glucose syrup, which sounds like high fructose corn syrup, though since it’s organic it’s not from GMO sources.)
I’ve had a few Zotter bars over the years and have read plenty more reviews of their products as well. They have a weird twist to a lot of their flavors, some that I think work well in unexpected ways, and others that seem strange simply for the sake of it. I’m talking about combinations like Coffee-Plum with Caramelized Bacon or Cheese-Walnuts-Grapes to just a little unorthodox like Pear Cardamom to the downright unthinkable like Cornelian Cherries and Pig’s Blood. Think of them as the Jones Soda of fair trade candy bars.
The bar is the same format as all the others I’ve ever had. It’s about 5 inches long and about 2.3 inches wide. It’s not a thick bar but it is filled. They call them hand-scooped bars but they’re rather angular and always rectangular. This bar is enrobed, which is my preferred construction method. (My second favorite is panned, third is molded - that’s the kind of lists Candy Bloggers keep.)
The full name of the bar on the front is Scotch Whisky “Highland Harvest”. There’s no other information on what kind of Whisky it is. The bar is glossy and has the slightest ripples across the top. The chocolate is 70% for the shell, the center uses the same but with he addition of the whiskey, milk, cream and fructose-glucose syrup.
It smells a lot like Scotch, leathery and smoky with notes of vanilla, tobacco and of course the deep cocoa flavors.
The coating is thin, but still has a bold flavor, a smooth melt and woodsy flavor profile with a touch of coffee notes. The center is like a truffle, soft and with a silky melt. It’s barely sweet, with more than a touch of salt to it as well. The whiskey is quite evident, with a light burn on the tongue and throat. There’s a dryness and sort of acidity to the filling that’s unlike the profile of the chocolate in the coating. The leathery and smoky notes are strong and for some, probably, repulsive. I enjoy the pipe tobacco flavors to it, the mix of vanilla, red berries, oak and a touch of black walnut.
I loved the bar. It’s completely decadent and I found it difficult to eat more than a third in one sitting. The 9%alcohol is pretty intense, too. I would buy this bar again, most definitely. I think I prefer Zotter’s more traditional formulations. I like their spirit though I don’t care much for the pork products in my chocolate, even if they’re not in this particular bar. (I know, I’m a hypocrite since I eat gummis, which also contain gelatin.) I haven’t been able to find Zotter bars in Los Angeles, so there’s little hope of these becoming my weekly habit.
Monday, January 30, 2012
On my trip to Europe last month I was eager to see what sort of interesting candies were at the airport shops. I departed from Stuttgart, Germany late enough in the morning that the stores were open. (My layover in Paris was a bust, as I had barely enough time to get from one terminal to the other, go back through security and only glance at the Maison du Chocolat kiosk and buy two macaron at the Lauderee cart.)
Even though I was in Germany, there were quite a few varieties of Fazer confections. Fazer is a huge Finnish brand that’s also available in the United States. The sets there were rather reasonably priced boxes for 5.95 Euro (a little less than $8.00) that held about 11 ounces. They had a mix called Geisha, which was themed with lots of Japanese elements but had little milk chocolates with various hazelnut and almond fillings. The other mix was of the classic Fazermints and the third was the one I chose to buy for review: Fazer Liqueur Fills Vodka. I figured Finland is known for Vodka, so this should be something they do well.
It’s a long box that was nicely textured and looked like a good size and shape for gifting but easy enough to tuck into my carry on luggage (I left lots of room in case I saw things at the airport.)
The box has a lid to it that lifts to reveal a perforated opening sealed with plastic, so they’re well protected from evaporation. It’s kind of like poking out that little piece of cardboard on a tissue box. The pieces are individually wrapped in color coded mylar.
The Vodka Liqueur Fills Chocolates come in three flavors: Original, Cranberry and Lemon-Lime.
Inside the mild dark chocolate shell is an inner grainy sugar shell and then a full liquid vodka syrup filling.
Each piece is long and nicely formed. They’re not quite shiny but still well tempered and all were in good condition. However, I noticed the longer I went after opening the package the more likely it was that the underside would be a little dented as the alcohol filling had evaporated.
It’s like a little geode. The chocolate shell cracked well, usually uniformly where I bit it. I liked to bite off a little bit of the end, keep it tipped up so that I could sip out the vodka instead of eating it all at once. The inside of the chocolate was lined with large sugar crystals.
The vodka filling is not very strong, though certainly the real thing. The sugar lining keeps the vodka from leaking out.
Cranberry is sweet and fragrant without any hint of tartness of actual berries. The sugar inner shell is grainy and extremely sweet. The vodka is a little syrupy but also doesn’t have the throat burning bite of full proof alcohol. I liked this one least of all.
Lemon-Lime is mild. It doesn’t have a lot of zest or any bitterness, it’s just lightly citrusy and vaguely generic.
Original is slightly medicinal, like there’s a touch of gin in there. It’s okay, sweet but at least in this version the chocolate flavors come through. I liked this one best, though it seemed I had the fewest of these in the assortment.
For the most part, I found the sugar shell to be far too prominent. It was grainy and sweet and distracted from the other textures and flavors. I’ve had plenty of other alcohol filled chocolates, and I don’t think any had this much sugar by proportion. I’ll finish the box, but I don’t see myself buying these again. It might that I prefer an liqueur that’s more distinctive than vodka, as I do enjoy brandy beans and other flavored liqueurs. I also wanted better quality chocolate. As you’ll see in the other reviews this week, what alcohol does well is help reveal the flavors in good dark chocolate. It does nothing for mediocre chocolate.
As a little bonus review, I picked up a handful of Fazer’s classic Fazermint while at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, since I’ve never reviewed them before. They’re a simple candy. It’s a dark chocolate shell with a flowing fondant with a light touch of peppermint. I had six of them and tried photographing all of them by biting into it and taking a photo. In all instances I only ended up cracking the thing into sticky pieces. So take my word for it, there’s a flowing white filling, like a Junior Mint. The chocolate is better than a Junior Mint though not fantastic either. The mint is fresh and it’s not all too sweet. It’s really only a one bite item, so it’s a good little treat after a meal or with coffee or tea.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Valentine’s Day is all about red. Red is the color of love and passion; candies for Valentine’s Day play upon the flavors that follow with red: cherry, strawberry, raspberry and cinnamon. The fruity flavors are usually easy to find, but cinnamon is a little less common.
I was excited to see this small bag of Ferrara Pan White Hot Red Hots Jelly Beans for sale at Walgreen’s in their Valentine’s candy display. What does White Hot Red Hots actually mean? The package doesn’t say, but the little window shows that the small jelly beans come in two colors: red and a red speckled pink. Any additional questions could be answered for a mere buck.
The beans are pretty and well made. They’re glossy, consistently shaped and I appreciated that the bag was sized appropriately for the amount of candy actually in it. (Sometimes bags are absurdly large but have very little candy in them.)
The white hot part, I think, means that these are very spicy cinnamon. Red Hots is just a brand of cinnamon imperials made by Ferrara Pan.
They’re a little larger than a Jelly Belly but smaller than the classic pectin bean. (Shown above with a Tic Tac.)
They are actually very spicy. I just ate a bag of Hot Tamales last week and I can confirm that these are just slightly hotter than those. The shape is good, it’s small and packs a powerful cinnamon punch. There’s a slight clove note to them and every once in a while I also got a little whiff of artificial watermelon, which may just be a manufacturing thing.
I liked them. It was easy to just pop a few as both a pick-me-up and a little breath freshener. They go well with coffee or tea. I’d definitely pick these up again especially because I like the smaller sized bag. Ferrara Pan already makes Lemonheads & Friends Jelly Beans but I would be curious to try a standard spice flavor array or maybe a mint blend. (Ferrara Pan is known for their Lemonhead and Atomic Fireballs, but they also do a lot of contract manufacturing for house brands and other major candy companies, so chance are you’ve had their jelly beans before.)
They’re made with confectioners glaze, so they’re not considered vegetarian (though there’s no carmine in there). They’re made in equipment that also processes dairy, soy, tree nuts and peanuts. No mention of wheat/gluten but “modified food starch” is listed as an ingredient without any indication of the source.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Trader Joe’s has its own version of a lot of standard food items. One that’s quite popular are the Trader Joe’s Joe’s O’s Cereal. I’ve never had it. It’s probably been 20 years since I’ve eaten Cheerios as well. I’m not a breakfast cereal sort of person, I prefer eggs and other more savory and protein heavy items in the morning. But I’ll go for some chocolate covered breakfast cereal, so that that’s exactly what Trader Joe’s did, with their Milk Chocolate Covered Joe’s O’s.
They come in a tub, which is rather light at only 6 ounces as it has lots of the airy cereal in it.
They’re really shiny.
They smell like milky and a bit like sweet breakfast cereal.
The chocolate has a light glaze on it, so it doesn’t melt immediately, but I’m a cruncher so that didn’t bother me. The chocolate is sweet and does have a creamy texture once it starts to melt. The Joe’s O’s are a little malty and not too sweet or salty. It’s a good snack, but it didn’t quite rise to the level of candy for me, even though there was a enough fat in it to bring the calories per ounce up to 131 (more than a 3 Musketeers, not as much as straight chocolate).
I’m enthusiastic about trying everything covered in chocolate at least once, but this wasn’t quite it. I’d eat them if you put them in front of me, I certainly had no trouble finishing the tub. But looking back on it, I didn’t find it a notable experience. Maybe some Chex style cereal (especially one of the gluten free varieties) would work better. The ultimate cereal and chocolate is still chocolate covered Corn Flakes.
The Joe’s O’s use a confectioners glaze, so are not vegetarian. They may also contain traces of wheat, peanuts and tree nuts plus contain dairy and soy and GMO ingredients. There is no indication of the ethical sourcing of the chocolate or other ingredients on the package or Trader Joe’s website.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
I’ve been waiting for a new variety of Skittles to come along to blow me out of the water. Something that really turns expectations about Skittles on their ear, like the Skittles Carnival limited edition version a few years back. Mostly I’ve been hoping for Skittles Soda Pop: cola, root beer, lemon-lime, orange and grape soda. But that doesn’t look likely. Instead I picked up this teal blue bag of their newest called Skittles Riddles.
The newest version of Skittles have a new set of flavors and a new twist. The riddle is that The Colors Don’t Match the Flavors. There are the standard set of five colors, in this case aqua, light green, blue, red and pink. The flavors are apple, strawberry, punch, watermelon and raspberry. And as they note, they won’t necessarily match up with their colors. Some of the flavors aren’t actually that new, raspberry, strawberry and punch are found in other mixes.
My big curiosity was whether or not the color swap would be consistent throughout the bag. Would all blues be the same flavor, or would it be completely randomized? My initial observation is that they’re randomized. (Though limited, I found one flavor in three colors at most.)
Watermelon was unmistakeable. The first time it was a dark red, another time it was aqua. It was like a Jolly Rancher in chew form. The flavor dissipates fast, but comes on strong.
On the whole, I like the idea of mixing up expectations. But one thing that I like about Skittles is how I eat them. I like to line them up, grouped by color and then eat them in matched pairs. When I get to the end with the singles, I like to keep my citrus flavors together and mix my grape with strawberry. With this version, I simply can’t do that. I can’t ever be sure I’m putting two of the same flavor together, and not all of the flavors actually go together well. I didn’t like watermelon combined with anything else and strawberry probably would have gone well with raspberry.
It’ll be fun for folks who don’t actually look at the colors and it is nice to see new flavors. But I’m still waiting for my Citrus Mix or Soda Pop. The novelty flavors like Crazy Cores and Fizzl’d Fruits are wearing thin and I don’t even want to talk about the poor execution of the Chocolate Skittles.
Skittles are gelatin free now and labeled as gluten free. There’s no statement about other allergens like nuts, eggs or gluten.
UPDATE 11/28/2012: Wrigley’s in the UK will be introducing a version of these called Skittles Confused (I believe they were a Sainsbury exclusive limited edition back in 2008.)
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
In the candy aisle at the 99 Cent Only Store they always seem to have a lot of boxed items filled with sugar and labeled as Snacks. When I go into Target or a grocery store these same items are shelved with the granola bars, not far from the cereal, as if they’re real food.
I picked up this box of SpongeBob Squarepants Mini Chocolate Peanut Butter Filled Snacks made by Frankford Candy. They also make Disney licensed candy, including a similar set for the Cars characters.
But again, I puzzled over what made these snacks instead of candy.
Inside the box are 6 packets, each are .53 ounces each and hold what must be a child’s portion of teensy little milk chocolate character shapes.
The ingredients are:
It’s not so different from the ingredients for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. So, let’s just stop calling these snacks, unless all foods designed to be eaten outside of a meal are deemed snacks. They’re candy. Teensy little bags of candy.
They come in three shapes: SpongeBob, Patrick and Mr Krabs. There are about 15-16 pieces in each little pouch. The pouches feature the full ingredients list and calorie count and a large portion of the front of the wrapper is dedicated to the face of SpongeBob.
It’s hard to imagine that something this small is actually filled, but they are. They’re about a half an inch across (except for Patrick’s spiky arms, which give him another eighth of an inch) yet still have a thin reservoir of peanut butter in the center.
The pieces are waxy and smell like Easter. The chocolate doesn’t really melt, but it dissolves well enough and they’re not as greasy as some peanut butter candies can get. They’re sweet and have a strong roasted peanut scent. The but the peanut butter flavor is lacking. The sweet and marginal chocolate is barely smooth and the slightly grainy peanut butter center is rather bitter. There’s a little extra salt in there but for the most part it’s a big old bag of failure.
These have been around for two or three years and Hungry Girl raves about them. My opinion is, if you really need a teensy portion of a snack, buy some really good candy. Even if it’s only a half an ounce, if you’re eating this as a treat, it’d better be good. If you love peanut butter cups, have two of the Reese’s foil wrapped minis - those are 44 calories each or even better, the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Cups. Or go for something fantastic like a beefy chocolate truffle or a set of very dark chocolate tasting squares. Something that you really pause and enjoy, not this stuff that is only good enough to shovel down your maw without chewing.
What I’m left with when it comes to licensed merchandise is the dismal reality that most of it sucks. My guess is that the candy maker spends a large sum of money securing the branding for the product and they don’t have much left for the actual ingredients and quality. There’s also no indication of the ethical sourcing of any of the ingredients. They’re made in the USA, but for those with allergy issues, it’s made on shared equipment with wheat, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts. At least these sea creatures have no shellfish present.
Monday, January 23, 2012
It’s as if Mars has a multi-year bulk deal with some coconut flavor supplier. They’ve added coconut varieties to their major brands over the years: Dove, M&Ms and Twix. The newest is 3 Musketeers Coconut.
3 Musketeers has been advertising that it has 45% less fat than average of leading candy bars. (This is true because the leading candy bars have more chocolate and/or nuts, which makes them more fatty.) This bar, which is described as Whipped Up, Fluffy Chocolate Coconut Taste says it has 40% Less Fat. This bar is also Canadian. There’s something strange about using our neighbors to the north to tropical-ize an American candy bar.
There are two bars inside, each about 2.25 inches long and 1 inch wide. They’re about .75 ounces each (for those keeping track at home, that’s the same weight as a single Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup).
The set of bars is 30% smaller than the classic (chocolate flavored) 3 Musketeers. The regular one is 2.13 ounces and this set of small bars is 1.49 ounces. Now, if you need help with portion control, not only does the separate bar format help, but the lighter weight means that this package is only 180 calories (90 per little bar) while the classic is 100 more at 280 calories. So while the value of the bar is in question, the moderation aspect is certainly a selling point.
I like the smaller bars, they used this style for the 3 Musketeers Mint. The coating is attractive and has little ripples and swirls on the top. The chocolate doesn’t look particularly dark, not very glossy but still in good condition. It sticks well to the foamed nougat center. The filling is fluffy and sweet but also a little salty. The coconut flavor is there ... but I’m never quite sure where. Is it in the chocolate coating? Is it in the nougat fluff? It’s more of a scent, like a candle is nearby or I’m wearing suntan oil or maybe someone’s baking macaroons. Whatever it is, it’s not in the actual candy bar. No toasted coconut flakes, no creamy coconut milk caramel stripe. Just this vague coconut scent adjacent to my candy bar experience.
That’s okay, I like the combination well enough. It’s extremely sweet, but mercifully small. I wish it was a dark chocolate coating instead, or maybe just better milk chocolate. But I actually enjoyed it more than the classic 3 Musketeers. My favorite would still be the Mini version they made about 5 years ago that were Cappuccino flavored. They should bring that back ... after they run out of coconut flavoring.
Mars still isn’t ethically sourcing their chocolate for the North American market. There’s hydrogenated palm kernel and/or palm oil in there. Of course vegans can’t eat it because of the milk and the egg whites. There’s no statement about gluten but it does say it may contain peanuts.
Friday, January 20, 2012
Napoleon hard candies are made in the Netherlands and at one time were just a simple lemon candy with a sour center. Later they started adding other fruity flavors and of course the salted Dutch licorice.
When I was in Amsterdam last month on a brief layover, I popped out to the grocery store to see what else was new and I found these Napoleon BonBon Cola candies. I was excited to bring them home and eat them, though probably not review them. Then on Tuesday I was in the Farm Fresh Market at the Ferry Terminal in San Francisco and I saw them there too, so they’re available (though probably rather limited) in the United States as well.
It’s great to see them here, because there’s really nothing else like them in American markets (though Japan gets pretty close).
The Napoleon construction of this candy is pretty easy to understand. It’s a sphere of nicely flavored and press molded hard candy with a little reservoir center of powdered sour lemon flavor with a slight fizz.
The cola hard candy is smooth and has a good even dissolve without sharp voids. The flavor is sharp and distinct, a spicy mix of cola nut, a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg and tart citrus. The sherbet center started to leak out as I sucked on the candy, giving a little pop of tart flavor and sometimes a slight fizz. The center also gives a slight cooling effect on the tongue along with the searing sourness when taken at full strength.
I liked them a lot, there’s a lot of interactivity considering the fact that they’re just a hard candy. Cola flavor is pretty rare in the United States in candy, which is too bad because it’s a great flavor that combines spice and citrus so well. I don’t drink soda, but I love the flavors that were created for them.
If you see these, give them a try. I don’t know if I’d special order them on the internet, but I’d certainly pick them up again if I saw them. They were especially good for the long drive back from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Hard candy is great for keeping me alert without too many calories.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.