Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Little Meiji Apollo chocolates are little mountains with a base of milk chocolate and a snowcap of strawberry flavored white confection. They’re cute, like the tops of an edible crayon.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
It’s exciting to see a new Cadbury product for Easter. The Cadbury brand is so inextricably tied to Easter is many American’s minds because of their iconic products like the Cadbury Creme Egg and the Cadbury Mini Chocolate Eggs.
This year Hershey’s in the United States is rolling out the Cadbury Chocolate Creme Egg. (I didn’t see that these are for sale in the UK.) They’re made by Cadbury Canada, not imported all the way from the UK by Kraft.
They’re only 1.2 ounces these days, but I think that’s actually a good size for such a thing.
If there’s one thing that Cadbury Creme Eggs mess with, it’s the definition of creme. I consider a creme to be creamy, something with a bit of fat in it, something that’s smooth. The traditional Creme Egg has a fondant which is actually smooth, but doesn’t rise to the level of something that’s actually creamy. It doesn’t melt in your mouth, it dissolves.
These eggs are not a ganache center, instead it’s a smooth fondant. I expect little from a Cadbury chocolate ingredient-wise; I know it’s a lot of sugar. But I was dismayed to see that the ingredients included things like palm oil and high fructose corn sweetener. (And it’s not easy to see those things, it’s printed on the foil but not on the website, so I had to carefully flatten the foil, then photograph it and zoom in to read it.)
The Cadbury Chocolate Creme Egg gets closer to that creamy ganache that I would hope it would be, but misses a bit. Basically, if you love chocolate frosting, you’ll love the Chocolate Creme Egg.
It was pretty good. Much better, in my opinion, than the traditional plain fondant version. The fudgy center has plenty of cocoa in it, and it is quite smooth, like a rich tub of frosting. There may even be a little salt in there, which offsets the sticky, sickly sweet milky chocolate The cocoa notes of the filling are more like a Tootsie Roll than a chocolate truffle, but that’s just fine for Easter.
I like this addition to the Cadbury Egg offerings.
There’s no statement about the ethical sourcing of the chocolate, though Cadbury is going Fair Trade with many of their UK chocolates. It’s made on shared equipment with peanuts and tree nuts. I couldn’t find a gluten statement.
Monday, February 27, 2012
Easter is my favorite candy holiday. It has a large number of candies that are unique to the holiday, so I tend to look forward to this time of year the most. Some of these seasonal candies aren’t exactly my favorite, but I know some other folks like them and I should probably give them a try.
I picked up Brach’s Chicks & Rabbits Marshmallow Candy which features their new logo and package design. It promises that this is An Easter Basket Favorite on the front and on the back of the package it says that This chewy, banana flavored candy is perfect for sharing with family and friends.
They come in two shapes and three colors: orange, yellow and blue. The Rabbits look like grey aliens, with their large vacant eyes. The Chicks (not pictured) look like some sort of fetal creature. At first I thought I just got a bad handful, but I dumped the whole bag out and they all looked like that. So I’ll stick with the Rabbits.
They’re Circus Peanuts. Pretty much the same shape and size as Circus Peanuts with the same artificial banana flavor (a cross between fingernail polish remover and yellow cake. They’re achingly sweet and only slightly “marshmallowy.” They’re airy and light, but not bouncy like most marshmallows, it’s like a cross between a mellocreme (candy corn) and nougat (3 Musketeers). There’s quite a bit of grain to the sugar and a chemical scent that I can only describe as “solvent” that has that same cooling effect on the tongue and lung choking caustic burn. You know, artificial banana. The orange ones had a horrible aftertaste, I’m guessing from the artificial colors, so I liked the yellow ones better.
These were soft and fresh, but I usually prefer my Circus Peanuts a little firmer and slightly tacky so they’re quite chewy. But my interest level in these is not high enough to invest in the preparation required (leaving them out with the bag open) to get them that way.
These marshmallow type candies are the pre-cursor to the marbits found in sweetened breakfast cereals, so you can always cut them up with some scissors, let them dry in a warm oven and add them to your plain Cheerios or Chex for an added boost. Otherwise, I recommend using the bunnies as decorations and possibly using the chicks for experiments (they’re just so ugly).
Friday, February 24, 2012
Jolly Ranchers probably single-highhandedly made hard candies cool for kids. The flavors are bold and fresh and more intense than most others available back in the seventies when they went national and really still to this day. The brand has obviously branched out with chews, gummies and jelly beans. But their core product remains their individually wrapped hard candies in flavors like green apple, cherry, blue raspberry and watermelon. (One of my favorites has always been the Fire Sticks, though they’re not made any longer.)
The candies come packaged in a variety of formats. They should be available as little packages in vending and convenience stores as well as this peg bag that holds 6.5 ounces. Each piece is individually wrapped. Instead of the twist clear wrappers, these have sealed ends. The new logo design is bold and appealing, but the color difference between the watermelon pink and the cherry pink is quite faint. (Though the names are also printed on there.)
They’re about 7/8ths of an inch. The construction is interesting, it reminds me of the Jolly Rancher chewy center lollipops. There’s a chewy center, kind of like a Starburst and a hard candy shell. The shell is different from the texture of a regular Jolly Rancher. It’s not transparent, it’s milky and doesn’t have that same smooth melt and light pliability.
Cherry (Dark Pink) is the flavor I wanted to get out of the way, as it’s usually my least favorite but a good time to concentrate on the qualities of the candy. The candy rod is pretty thick, though it’s called crunch and chew, I don’t recommend biting into it right away, I suggest dissolving it a bit. The cherry flavor is strong with both tartness and a sweet woodsy but artificial flavor. Crunching brings an interesting set of textures. The chew in the middle was quite sour but worked well with the crunchy bits of hard candy. I suppose you could be patient and let the hard candy dissolve completely ... but the product is called Crunch ‘n Chew.
Green Apple (Green) is the flavor that I most associate with Jolly Rancher. It’s good, it’s nicely rounded with both that artificial green apple plus a helping of apple juice and a little bit of dried apple. The center is chewy and much more mild, almost milky.
Watermelon (Pink) is quite artificial and reminds me of scented lip gloss. It’s tangy with a good dose of that fake watermelon. The chew inside is also tart and has a weird sort of plastic flavor to it, kind of like Play Doh smells.
Blue Raspberry (Blue) is rather berry flavor. It’s not quite as intense as the standard Jolly Rancher clear hard candy, but has a well rounded flavor that pulls in flavors of seeds and boiled jam all with a tangy backdrop.
They’re just not my style. The part I like most about Jolly Ranchers is their incredibly smooth dissolve, no voids and with a sort of syrupy thickness to the flavor. This was just another hard candy with a weird plasticy chew at the center. If I were 11 and someone gave this to me, I might like it. But as a grown up, I think I’ll probably just stick with the Cinnamon Fire or Wild Berry flavors.
Contains gelatin, so not suitable for vegetarians. Made in Brazil, no statement about gluten or peanuts/tree nuts but does contain corn starch, sulfur dioxide and soy.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Bees & Beans is a Portland, Oregon artisan candy bar maker. Faith Dionne says, “These are candy bars that you can feel great about eating.” I found the bar at BiRite Market in San Francisco’s Mission District, one of the best places I know to find artisan candy.
The Honey Bar is Honey caramel, salted filbert and honey nougat, hand dipped in dark chocolate with a sprinkling of sea salt.
Many of the ingredients are organic and, as much as possible, they are sourced locally in Oregon.
Based on the ingredients list, I believe this chocolate is sourced from Scharffen Berger. The Bees & Beans site says that they use both Theo Chocolate, which is fair trade, and Scharffen Berger, which is not, and is owned by Hershey’s. (Theo does not use soy lecithin.)
The construction of the bar is interesting, the caramel is on the bottom, the nougat on the top, then a coating of very dark chocolate sprinkled with sea salt. It looks just like a candy bar.
The nougat is almost marshmallowy. It’s soft and fluffy and has a bit of a pull when bitten, a silky sort of chew without any hint of sugary grain. The caramel is soft, not too chewy as to make the bar fall apart when bitten. There’s a sprinkling of salt on top, but also a fair amount of salt, as far as my tongue can detect, in both the caramel and the nougat. The filberts are only lightly toasted but have an excellent crunch, almost like a macadamia nut instead of like a hazelnut.
There is no perfect analogue to this in the mass-manufactured candy bar offerings in the United States. (Perhaps the European Nestle Nuts would be similar.) The textures are great and the ingredients are top notch. The prevalence of the honey flavors also sets this apart from so many other candies that might use honey but not enough to make it part of the texture and flavor profile to this degree. The short shelf life is an issue for folks like me who like to stock up (they sell the bars online in quad packs), but I was lucky to pick mine up a month ago and still eat it within its 2 month window of freshness. If I had to chose between this bar and the See’s Awesome Nut & Chew bar (which is all nougat and no caramel), it’d be hard. Bees & Beans makes several other bars that all sound fantastic, including a seasonal Malt Bar that I’ll have to order soon.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Ferrara Pan which is known for Lemonheads and Atomic Fireballs got into the chocolate business a few years back making very good domestic versions of segmented chocolate oranges (with Belgian chocolate) and panned nut treats. This new Ferrara Chocolate group is also creating some new holiday items, I was excited to see these fun speckled eggs called Candy Coated Chocolate Covered Almond Eggs at Walgreen’s.
The bag is priced pretty well, at $2.49 for a half a pound, it’s about what I will pay for Almond M&Ms on sale.
The eggs are a nice size, indicating that they either have a lot of chocolate in there or start with very large almonds. They’re a milk chocolate product with a lot of milk in them. The first ingredient in the chocolate coating is sugar, the second is whole milk. So, that’s some milky chocolate. The coatings are attractive. They start with a pastel base and have little speckles on them. Some are quite speckled, others have barely a burnishing of color.
The ratios are great, the chocolate is thick and the almonds are nicely sized and well roasted to a crunch. The milky chocolate is sweet, but not that Easter-cloying sweetness. The level of milk in it gives it a cool melt on the tongue and a light toffee and dairy finish. The other notes are a bit of smoke, either from the chocolate itself or the almonds and maybe a hint of cinnamon (they are the makers of Red Hots). The shell is a little thinner than M&Ms so it has a lighter crunch.
They’re good. Good enough that I ate the whole bag in three days. They’re different from M&Ms, the melt of the chocolate is less sweet and less fudgy and a little smoother, but the flavor isn’t quite as intense. I prefer the look of the Ferrera to M&Ms and the consistent shape of the candies.
The candies are Kosher and made in the United States with Belgian chocolate. No gluten statement. There’s also no statement about the sourcing of the cacao and ethical concerns on the package or their website.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
One of the earlier reviews I did on Candy Blog of a favorite Easter candy was for Wonka SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies. They were large SweeTarts in the shape of spring animals. At that time they came in Cherry, Lemon, Green Apple and Grape. Later, around 2008, the flavors were shifted to include the Blue Punch, Grape and Cherry only.
What I loved about the Easter edition was the flavor set, which really only had one flavor I didn’t like (Cherry) and the extremely dense and large pieces (over one inch across). See this photo from the 2006 package. They sounded like plastic poker chips and were so much harder that they required an entirely different eating method from the less dense tablets.
This year, not only has the flavor set been changed but the size as well. It’s a different product for those of us who loved the former. It’s more like the Valentine’s edition. They now have a more traditional set of flavors: Orange, Grape, Cherry, Blue Punch and Green Apple. (No Lemon.) They still come in the shape of chicks, bunnies and ducks, but they’re quite small now, less than half an inch across.
Orange and Grape are exactly like the tablets from the roll. They’re tart, almost to the point that they’re salty. The grape is completely artificial, like a grape soda. The orange is bland, like a more sour version of Kool-Aid. The Cherry is quite strong, more on the woodsy side than the medicinal version. It’s sour, like a sour cherry flavor, not a black cherry or wild cherry. The Green Apple is tasty, and quite sour with less flavor than some other green apple candies. The Blue Punch flavor came along after my obsession with SweeTarts waned, which is good, because I really don’t care for it, even though it is one of the more intensely flavored pieces in the mix and doesn’t get messed up with a red flavor after taste.
The little guys do actually stand up and they’re molded on both sides, I appreciate that attention to detail. The flavor set is now 3/5 in my wheel house, which are not great odds. I really only love the orange and grape and will eat the green apple. The cherry and blue punch are equally artificial in their flavoring, but just not to my liking. I could probably go back to giving these at 10 out of 10 if lemon was still in there. How could you have something called a SweeTart without the one fruit that actually is exactly that?
I’m disappointed that the special-ness of the SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies is now gone. They were different from all the other SweeTarts candies, they were large but also more substantial and really wonderfully pressed. There’s really nothing wrong with these, except that they’re missing the lemon ... which is a very nice pastel color that fits right in with the season plus the fact that little ducks and chicks are actually yellow. But there’s no need for me to stock up on these.
Friday, February 17, 2012
Double Dutch Sweets in Oakland, California makes an artisan confection called The Ramona Bar. Think of it as a Snickers made by hand.
The bar is set apart from other mass-manufactured fare at first glance. It’s wrapped by hand in foil with a lively printed sleeve that gives the simple description: layers of buttery caramel and honey nougat with roasted peanuts dipped in dark chocolate and finished with sea salt.
The tall and beefy bar is quite a portion for an artisan product. It’s 1.8 ounces packed into barely 3.5 inches.
The ingredients are mostly organic and all natural. The construction of the bar will seem familiar. A nougat base studded with peanuts, topped with a generous layer of caramel, then coated in Venezuelan origin dark chocolate with a sprinkling of maldon sea salt.
A Snickers bar is 2.07 ounces, so just a little larger and features a milk chocolate coating. There are so many other differences though, it’s hard to even compare the bars. The Ramona Bar has a similar bite, it’s thick and has a mix of textures. There are far fewer peanuts in the Ramona than a Snickers, and the nougat tastes more like a plain nougat while a Snickers has a peanut flavor to its nougat.
The caramel was really the star here; for me it was the ideal texture - chewy, stringy, smooth and with a dark toasted flavor and notes of salt. The addition of the salt on top of the chocolate though was sometimes just a little too much. The nougat was not as good for me. It was less of a French style nougat or Italian torrone, which has a mostly smooth texture, kind of like a dense marshmallow. This was more like the fluffed stuff of Snickers or Milky Way fame. It was like a fluffy fondant. It did have a less-grainy texture that was almost cool on the tongue as it dissolved. The textures worked well together, just as they do in a Snickers, but I was missing a flavor component from the nougat and the strength of lots of peanuts. (Or Almonds, if they wanted to go that way.)
The bars cost $6.00, which is about a little more than $53 a pound. (A Snickers bar, at $1 a bar would be about $16 a pound.) Is it six times better? Well, I feel better because the ingredients are great and someone really cared about the bar and it’s made with Venezuelan chocolate, so I wouldn’t be worrying about child slavery. But it’s not my perfect candy bar. For $6, I want my perfect candy bar. For $1, I can accept less than perfect. But it might be your perfect candy bar, and you might not know until you try. (I’m still happy to try all other bars that Double Dutch Sweets comes up with.)
The bars are gluten free.
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