Monday, December 31, 2012
The gummis are a tropical flavor mix, as you’d expect. The shapes are that of pineapples, toucans, bananas and palm trees. In addition, the texture is a little softer and less chewy than the more rubbery gummis.
I picked up my bag at Cost Plus World Market. It was $1.89, but sometimes they have sales for $1.25 a bag or so if you’re a bit Haribo fan it’s worth waiting for. This particular gummi candy is made in Spain, unlike most other Haribo gummis available in the US, which are made in Turkey.
What’s most interesting about these gummis is not the flavor variety but the style of the gummi itself. It’s very different from the tough and clear version of the Gold Bears. These are muted in color and have a sort of chalky exterior. They not shiny or terribly translucent. The coating is a little like a jelly bean, it has a small crunch to it, but not the same graininess. The interior is also not as chewy as a regular gummi, it’s a cross between a jelly and a gummi. It’s soft, pliable, sticky and juicy.
Banana (Yellow) - this is an exceptionally uncommon flavor for a gummi, so I relished trying it. It’s a good flavor, it’s a little like a slight unripe banana, in that there’s a light tartness to it. But what’s missing is that overly fake banana note that comes with the too sweet artificial banana candies.
Currant (Darker Red) - has an interesting balsam note to it, it’s less about the florals and more about the woodsy seed flavors. It’s definitely not what I would consider a tropical fruit.
Watermelon (Green) - It’s lightly tart with a well rounded juice flavor and a little dash of artificial Jolly Rancher to it.
Pineapple (Clear) - this is one of my favorite flavors, especially in Haribo gummis. This did not disappoint. It’s sweet, had a strong floral note and a distinct tartness.
Orange Mango (Peach) - tastes a bit bland, like a punch drink. It’s more citrusy than mango, but barely either.
Strawberry (Pink) - smells like cotton candy, it’s light and barely flavored, but so are many strawberries.
I like the change in texture and thought the Pineapple and Banana were really good, but the vibrant flavor profile I’m accustomed to with many other gummis was missing. So maybe this is for people who don’t like a lot of flavor ... like the Haribo equivalent of jelly beans.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Liddabit Sweets is based in Brooklyn, New York and makes candy bars with a gourmet twist. They’re made by hand with premium ingredients and a bit more flair for decadence than the normal factory churned fare.
They’ve made a name for themselves using locally sourced ingredients and a lot of creativity to the whole genre of candy bars. From the boxes to the innovative combinations, Liddabit feels like more than a handmade version of factory favorites, they’re original from the ground up. I picked up a selection of three from their stall at the New Amsterdam Market at the tip of Manhattan. They’re also sold in stores in New York and if you check their website, at some other gourmet shops around the country. Also, they have a webstore where you can order them to be delivered right to your door.
Liddabit Sweets The Snack’r Candy Bar is their bar that most closely resembles an existing favorite, the Snickers bar made by Mars since 1930. According to the package, This chewy delight features crunchy, roasted peanuts in a golden caramel atop our creamy chocolate nougat, all covered in dark chocolate.
The bar is formidable. It’s sold in a lovely box decorated with white flowers and a diagonal label that shows the premium ingredients (though they do also have gelatin, eggs, dairy, soy and peanuts in them, they’re made in a shared facility with wheat and tree nuts as well). It’s four ounces, almost twice the mass of a Snickers. I already find the Snickers to be too much for one serving, so this was at least three for me.
The bar is lovely, though a little bland to look at, lacking the swirls of milk chocolate on the top, it’s a simple enrobing. The bars are over four inches long, 1.25 wide and one inch high.
The star of this bar is the nougat. It’s really unlike any nougat you’ll find in a commercial bar. Unlike the Mars version of nougat, which is fluffed and grainy, the Liddabit is smooth, creamy and light. There’s a chewy pull to it, not quite marshmallow but a little more whipped than an Italian torrone. There’s a note of cocoa in it, which keeps it from being too sweet. The base of caramel is chewy and salty with few peanuts, but those that I did encounter were large and crunchy. The dark chocolate pulls it all together with a smoky note.
The bar had a real boxed chocolate vibe to it, the peanuts were really the only element that brought this back into the snack territory. I started this review with the bar because it’s by far the best example of an upscale bar I’ve had.
The Pecan Pie Candy Bar is actually a chocolate pecan pie. It starts with a flaky pie crust base, a homemade pecan dulce de leche with a bourbon ganache covered in dark chocolate.
The bar is interesting in that it’s actually more like a Pecan Bar Cookie than a candy bar in some ways. The construction is this: a flaky cookie base with a layer of chocolate ganache and pecans covered in dark chocolate. The result is a decadent treat.
The ganache center is quite soft, so it’s an easy bite even though it’s a pretty tall bar. The pecans are well distributed and form a generous ratio of the center. The ganache is interesting, first because it’s not overly chocolatey ... it’s more cheesecakey. There’s a noticeable tang to it, a little tartness that gives it that baked good note of sour cream instead of whipping cream.
As a candy bar, it’s too much. It’s too decadent to eat in several sittings, mostly because the cookie crust can’t take sitting around after it’s been opened. I enjoyed it, but I don’t see myself buying another one. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t well done, but it’s not what I want from a candy bar.
The Humbug is definitely on the unique end of the candy bar spectrum. It features a cocoa sable cookie, a mint chocolate ganache, a white chocolate coating and crushed organic peppermint candies.
The sable cookie base is salty and sandy and crunchy and not at all sweet. It is a bit of a mess though, often creating a lot of crumbs if I didn’t bite it perfectly. The minted chocolate ganache is just the right texture - soft enough to bite through with a quick melt but not greasy or oily. The cocoa flavors are light with the mint shining through for the most part and the white chocolate coating giving it another little hint of sweetness and milky flavors.
Liddabit makes about a dozen different bars, and some are likely seasonal (like the Humbug). I’m interested in anything that utilizes their excellent nougat and plant to try their other bars, such as The King which features peanut butter and banana. The bars are expensive, $8 each, but they’re also huge. That cuts down on the number of different flavors I can do at a time, but now that I found a local shop that carries them in Los Angeles, I can take my time.
As a side note, I can’t help but think of the song Give a Little Bit by Supertramp whenever I hear or read the name Liddabit. That could be just me ... or maybe this video will also get that stuck in your head.
Monday, December 24, 2012
I hope everyone is having a tasty holiday and enjoying all their favorite seasonal sweets and perhaps starting new traditions.
Keep safe, hold your loved ones tight and if all that togetherness pushes your buttons, take a candy break.
Are you getting or giving confections for Christmas this year? I’m in charge of the stockings this year, so there will be a nice mix of American favorites and a good sampling of German candy in there as well.
Friday, December 21, 2012
A few years ago Jelly Belly introduced a mix of jelly beans flavored like popular sodas under their Soda Pop Shoppe line. They’re sold as the pre-mixed flavors or in individual packages and even in little soda bottles.
Their newest addition to that brand is their Soda Pop Shoppe Gummi Bottles which are gelatin gummis.
Each little bottle shape is about 1.75 inches long. They’re flat and lightly dusted, perhaps with starch, to keep them from sticking together instead of being shiny.
The ingredients are quite interesting. They start with corn syrup but use potato starch instead of corn starch. They do contain gelatin, but it’s Kosher gelatin (so it’s not pork, but not otherwise identified). They also contain small amounts of coconut oil and caffeine and phosphoric acid. They’re gluten free and peanut free.
To emulate soda bottles, the shapes are “full” of color, though the flavor goes all they way to the top of the bottle. They’re soft but not quite a bouncy as many other gummis. They’re like a cross between a Swedish Fish texture and a gummi bear.
Grape is fun. There aren’t really that many grape gummis around, so it’s refreshing to see it included in a mix. It’s tangy and artificial but not quite as intense as a grape SweeTart which is pretty much my favorite.
Orange is ordinary. I only got one in my mix, so it’s hard to say more than it was just like Tang.
Root Beer is a star. It’s quite spicy and intense, much more than I expected from it’s rather muted appearance. They’re sweet, a little like wintergreen and bubble gum. It’s missing that little pop of nutmeg that sassafras often has, so it came off more like Birch Beer ... not that I object.
Lemon Lime is actually more lime. Lime soda is good, and this has a lot of zest to it and a nice tangy bite. But ultimately it’s just a piece of lime candy, which always ends up as one of the last flavors I pick when included in a mix. (Which is strange considering how affectionate I normally am towards citrus.)
Cherry Cola is, well, disappointing. It tastes to me more like Dr. Pepper, but my experience with actual cherry cola is absolutely empty. The cola flavors are mostly in the background, there’s no spicy cola bite and there’s no cherry tartness, it’s more of the maraschino flavor than a black cherry.
They’re not the first candy I’d pick up, but I love the concept and the execution is pretty good, better than the Trolli version. For folks looking for American-made candy that’s gluten & peanut free and fun for kids, this is a good mix. It’s too bad they didn’t go all the way and use natural colorings and flavorings.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
While I was shopping at Whole Foods outside of Philadelphia back in September, I spotted these Nectar Nuggets Peanut Butter Cups. I’d never seen the before, but there was a little tag next to them that said “They’re Back!” so I figured they must be a local favorite.
There were three varieties on the shelf, and I picked up one of each: Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup and Almond Butter Cup.
The name Nectar Nugget didn’t ring any bells for me, but with the little picture of a bee in the corner of the wrapper and the word nectar in the name, I thought perhaps these were honey sweetened. That would definitely be interesting!
The cups are of the same proportions that we’re all accustomed to, two inches wide at the top and only one half an inch high.
The chocolate used for Nectar Nugget is Rainforest Alliance certified, so it’s sustainably grown and audited to assure that no child labor or slaves are used.
It smells a bit grassy, like real peanuts but not dark roasted ones. The chocolate has a nice sheen. There’s a little bit of a cloudy spot on top of the center, but I forgive that with real peanut butter, as the natural oils tend to migrate.
The peanut butter in the Nectar Nuggets is extremely smooth but also quite thick. It has a nice melt, like chocolate or fudge. The salt is light and gives the peanut butter a sort of warm feel as it melts. The milk chocolate is quite sweet but has a much quicker melt than the peanut butter and creates a good backdrop. It’s not particularly milky, but also not very chocolately, just a nice sweet texture.
The package says that it’s Giant Size, which is 1.2 ounces ... a bit bigger than a standard Reese’s, but not what I’d call a King Size. The thick texture of the peanut butter makes it quite filling for me, so much so that I had to space out my review of this set of cups over several days (and I’ve been known to eat a lot of candy in one day).
The ingredients include milk, so it’s not a true dark chocolate (nor vegan) item. Like the other cups, the package says that there are 5 grams of protein in each cup. This makes them rather filling without that too-much-sugar crash later.
The dark chocolate cup is tough, but in a way it’s worth it. The dark chocolate is smooth and buttery, though it starts a little waxy and stiff if it’s cold. The peanut butter feels drier than the milk chocolate version. The melt of the dark chocolate is quick and really fatty, it rolls around on the tongue quite a bit. The cocoa flavors are very deep, nutty and on the bitter side. It brings a whole smoky flavor to the cup.
I was wondering if this actually was a nut butter or a marzipan, but it’s definitely nut butter.
The Almond Butter cup is interesting. Most notably, the nut butter interior is quite salty, especially compared to the sweet and smooth chocolate. It’s 80 mg of sodium (same as the peanut butter ones) which is actually less than a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Like the peanut butter varieties here, the nut butter is a little on the dry side, but not crumbly, quite smooth and fresh. Instead of the roasted and grassy flavors of peanuts, the almond butter is a bit less vivid. Instead, the textures were the focus and the milk chocolate was more noticeable.
It still lacked a pizazz for me, but that’s probably because I was indoctrinated as a child into the peanut butter culture of North America. Even so, since they’re made in a facility with peanut butter, they’re not suitable for those with allergies to peanuts.
They were good and I appreciate the attention to details with the ingredients and the portioning. The ratios are good. They’re not my ideal cup but the fact that they’re ethically sourced and have no artificial preservatives tip my opinion in their favor. So I think I might pick them up again even though they were pricey (I think they were $2.00 each or something close to that) but probably wouldn’t seek them out at a special store. (They contain soy, milk and peanuts or almonds but there’s no statement about gluten.)
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
One of the new items at Trader Joe’s candy section is a twist on an old fashioned favorite, a chocolate covered caramel. I’ve always wanted a better Milk Dud and Trader Joe’s as been doing a good job of providing some tantalizing options over the years.
The newest is Trader Joe’s Chocolate Covered Sea Salt Butterscotch Caramels which comes in a 7 ounce gusseted bag with a resealable top. They describe them as Soft and creamy, deeply flavored butterscotch caramels are tinged with sea salt and enrobed in dark, slightly bitter chocolate to offset the sweetness.
I was wondering if these were the same as the Dark Chocolate Tahitian Vanilla Caramels sold in the small, single serving lavender bags. The ingredients are remarkably similar, with one difference: the Butterscotch Caramels use tapioca syrup instead of corn syrup. So these are free of corn (or at least don’t have any stated corn ingredients).
The flavor is very, well, butterscotchy. They taste like a butter flavor, but not an overtly artificial one like some fake popcorn topping can but more like a maple, woodsy flavor with stronger dairy notes. Instead it’s just rich and a little less sweet than the Tahitian Vanilla variety.
The dark chocolate coating is mild, on the semi-sweet side but has a creamy melt with a little smoky and pipe tobacco profile to it, instead of a dried fruit flavor that some darks can have.
I had wondered when the Tahitian Vanilla Caramels came out whether they’d be available in a bulk bag for serving in a bowl (or creating your own snack mix). This is a pretty good value at $3.49 (which is about $8 per pound) and the ingredients are all natural. I hope these stick around after the holidays, they might make a great travel mix with raw almonds, pretzels and milk chocolate drops. For right now they might just be my go-to candy for sneaking into a movie theater.
There is no statement or any info I can find about the sourcing of the ingredients, specifically the ethical sourcing of the chocolate. They also contain palm kernel oil (though very low on the list). They’re made with milk and soy and may contain traces of wheat, peanuts and tree nuts.
Friday, December 14, 2012
The new flavor is an officially sanctioned Tabasco product, so it’s not just your ordinary spicy pepper jelly bean. The ingredients list Tabasco Brand Pepper Paste in the 2% or less part of the listing, which makes sense since it’s pretty concentrated stuff in its liquid form, a paste must be extra potent.
The do smell a bit like Tabasco, which has a bell pepper and tomato paste sort of scent. They are quite strong and spicy, not just in the sugary shell but clear through to the core. The peppery flavor is a good blend of the cayenne-style heat along with a hatch chili sort of green, earthy flavor with a little hint of a vinegar tang towards the end.
On the whole, very convincing. It does cause a bit of heat in my mouth ... a lasting one for me, so much so that I had to eat some crackers after the build up over about 10 of them. I’m a lightweight when it comes to chili heat though I’m fine with horseradish/wasabi and curry spices being cranked up, so some may find these tame. The only issue is really, are you the sort of person who would enjoy these? They’re not for me, they’re just not “candy” enough to eat one after another and not “snack” enough to be added to some other sort of mix. I don’t expect them to stay around very long, though they are well done for the goals they must have had. (In the sample package Jelly Belly sent me, they included some Citrus Mix ... I’ve finished that bag, but could barely get through five of the Tabasco.)
They’re currently sold as an individual flavor, not in the standard mixes, so no need to be cautious around Jelly Belly varieties. They’re made in a peanut free facility and are gluten free as well. Jelly Belly uses beeswax and confectioners glaze, so these are not a vegetarian product.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Every year I look forward to the post-Halloween emergence of holiday sweets at Trader Joe’s. There’s always a bit of a European flair to their selections, with an eye toward traditional confections with the occasional new age/artisanal candy. This year I perused three different stores in two counties to see what the offerings are this year. Here’s my roundup of what you might be able to find at Trader Joe’s to satisfy your (or a gift recipient’s) sweet tooth. (I may have missed something, so please chime in with your observations or reviews.)
New for 2012:
Trader Joe’s Sea Salt Butterscotch Caramels $3.49 - little nuggets of caramel covered in rich chocolate and more than a hint of sea salt. Gourmet Milk Duds. I picked these up (I’m not sure if they’re seasonal or not) and plan to review them, so you’ll probably be seeing that photo again.
Fruit and Nut Log $3.99 - a nougat center, covered in pistachios and pecans along with dried cranberries and apricots.
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Caramallows $2.99 - a layer of marshmallow on top of caramel, covered in dark chocolate. It’s no See’s Scotchmallow, but I suppose it will do in a pinch.
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Salted Caramel Truffles $3.99 - I reviewed these already, and though they’re fun, they’re not quite as good as some other seasonal items. (See review - 7 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Organic Peppermint Starlights $1.99 - yup, organic hard candies. Great if you’re looking for something corn syrup-free.
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Candy Cane Truffles $3.99 - kind of like individually wrapped Frangoes, as far as I can tell.
Returning Favorites for 2012
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 Cranberry Caramel Delights $7.99 - these were called Trader Joe’s Merry Mingle last year - caramel with pecans and cranberries dipped in dark chocolate (read review - 8 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Brandy Beans $2.99 - these have been coming back on and off for years, they tend to sell out really early.
Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate & Dark Chocolate Oranges $2.99 - the price went up 50 cents (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 Belgian Chocolate Shoppe $9.99 - I don’t have great luck with these, but they’re a nice hostess gift if you can’t get to See’s.
Trader Joe’s Cocoa Truffles $2.99 - inexcusable fat bombs imported from France. (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 Chocolate Liqueur Cherries $5.99 - the price is up on this one, I recall they were $4.99 last year. But dried cherries are insanely expensive, so perhaps their ingredient cost went up.
Trader Joe’s Peppermint Bark $9.99 a tin - a great bargain for a very well made product.
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 Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups $.99 - I have a serious problem with these (review from last year). When they’re not sold individually wrapped, they’re in tubs.
Trader Joe’s Chocolate Rings with Sprinkle - they’re just little disks of dark chocolate with sprinkles, like giant SnoCaps - $1.99
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Cashew Brittle with Sea Salt $2.99
Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Coal - dark chocolate covered candy cane bits - $1.99
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 Dark Chocolate Minty Mallows $2.99 (2010 review - they’re quite moist and dense 7 out of 10)
Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate After Dinner Mint Thins $2.99 (made in England) - they’re better than After Eight mints.
Also returning are the chocolate covered Peppermint JoJos and a variety box of other chocolate covered flavored Jo Jos. Though I reviewed the JoJo’s before, I can’t really call them candy.
Not Returning (unless you’ve sighted them):
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) These are made by Marich and I did see them at Sprouts in the bulk aisle labeled as Nutmeg White Chocolate Almonds.
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)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.