Thursday, September 22, 2005
Some people start their year in January, others start their year with the Fiscal Year, Rosh Hashana or maybe Chinese New Year. I like to start mine with the beginning of Candy Season. Candy Season starts in October with Halloween and goes through Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras and ends with Easter. On all of these holidays there are special candies and of course the extra-special half-off sales starting the day after the holiday at your local grocer and drug store. Stock up and save!
As a special treat today, if you’re curious about the new Halloween candies, check out this page with great photos and reviews of all the special Halloween treats this year:
Great reviews, taste tests and of course oodles of photos. (Thanks to the anonymous person who sent me the link!)
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Name: Extra Dark Chocolate (72%)
If someone told me that there’s a black hole at the center of these chocolates, I’d be inclined to believe them. I’d also wonder about the prowess of chocolatiers being able to implant a chocolate singularity at the center of each disk ... those Dutch, they’re really talented.
Anyway, these are the familiar Droste Chocolate Pastilles, which I used to (and still do) get in my Christmas stocking. Because Santa thinks I’m very good. I usually get the mixed Pastilles that are half milk and half dark chocolate, because I’m inclusive like that.
These are new to me, so I picked them up. I’m fond of very dark chocolate, though as a snack item they’re more difficult to eat a lot of because of the flavor density. Droste’s 72% Extra Dark Chocolate is super-duper dense. Unlike some super dark chocolates, Droste strikes the right ratio of cocoa butter so that the chocolate actually melts on the tongue. The scent is a wonderful nutty/smoky aroma. On the tongue the disk melts right away without a hint of grain. There’s a pretty immediate bitter bite to it though followed by a puckering dryness that’s at once intriguing and thirst inducing.
As a solo snack item, I’d probably pass on these, but the cool thing about the Droste Pastilles is that they’re in these wonderful little disks in an easily reseable foil package (just twist it shut and it keeps the air out and pop it back into the hexagonal cardboard tube for later). I think this would be paired really nicely with some red wine, maybe some dessert cheese or put it into a bowl of coffee or vanilla ice cream as a garnish ... or maybe with some nuts and dried fruits.
Rating - 7 out of 10 (I know, I’m giving out a lot of 7s lately)
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Yes, in the continuing quest to not only bring you the best and worst candies in the world, I’m going to educate you on the subtleties between our seemingly identical candy choices.
First, a little background (some of this I only know vaguely so feel free to correct me). M&Ms were originally developed as a candy for soldiers to give them quick energy in combat situations and be easy to carry. Some people wonder what M&M stands for, and many think it’s for the Mars brothers, but in reality it’s Forrest Mars, Sr. and Bruce Murrie. Murrie’s father was one of Hershey’s trusted partners at the company and provided the chocolate inside M&Ms until the 70s.
As with most UK treats under the Nestle name, they were originally made by Rowntree which was later swallowed up by the growing Nestle corporation. Developed several years before the M&M, Smarties are still one of the most popular candies in the UK. The UK version are purported to have orange chocolate flavored orange Smarties (and back when there was a brown Smartie it was mocha flavored) but I am using Canadian Smarties for this head to head.
First, Smarties are slightly bigger than M&Ms. An M&M is approximately 1 cm in diameter while the Smartie is 1.5 cms.
However, the Smartie is slightly flatter than the M&M. I didn’t weigh them.
The most noticeable difference between the two is the candy shell. The Smartie shell is much thicker and has a very pronounced crunch to it. It also seems to have a flavor. When I looked at the ingredients for the Smarties, I saw that there is wheat flour (and cornstarch & sugar) in the shell whereas the M&M shell is made only of sugar, cornstarch and color. The Smartie has a slightly graham cracker taste to it. It’s pleasant and perhaps a little cinnamonny (I know there’s no cinnamon in it). The M&M provides more chocolate punch. I guess geometry would tell me that even if the mass of the Smartie is the same as an M&M it still has more shell by virtue of being less spherical.
As appearances go, they’re both exceptionally pretty candies. Given a choice between the two, I prefer less shell and more chocolate. In reality I usually buy Almond M&Ms more often than the plain ones, but if someone puts a bowl in front of me, I can hardly resist. But I can see that there would be times that I’d crave the cookie-like taste of the Smarties.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Name: Kinder Bueno
I’m a little confused by the name of this bar. Maybe my language skills aren’t that good, but I’ve had a dabbling of German and took five years of Spanish. Kinder, as far as I know is Children in German. Bueno means good in Spanish. The package for this particular treat was in English and French.
All that linguistic stuff aside, candy is good in all languages. What we have here is a crisp shell filled with a hazelnut cream and covered in a very thin shell of milk chocolate. As with most candies, two pieces are better than one, so Kinder Bueno gives you two fingers. Each is further sealed inside a clear plastic sleeve to protect the crispy wafers from getting stale. The candy is basically a formed, crisp shell filled with a creamy, milky hazelnut paste and covered in a sweet and melty milk chocolate.
I know that all of the stuff in here is probably horrible for me, reading the ingredients in either language reveals copious amounts of palm kernel oil and 30% of my daily RDA of saturated fats (oddly enough no cholesterol). No matter, it’s really good. Hazelnut is such a wonderful complement to milk chocolate and the tasteless wafers, I’d probably accept a hit of 100% of my saturated fat.
It’s rich and creamy and the roasted flavor of the hazelnuts lingers. They were wonderful with my morning coffee. Even though they’re sweet the fatty texture spreads the goodness all over allowing all the notes of the nuts to come out. The filling is a little sticky, so keep some milk or coffee nearby to cut it. I would probably buy these again if I were to take a long flight or something where I really wanted an indulgence to go with bad airplane coffee. Even though they’re double packaged, these candies don’t travel well, so don’t throw an apple on top of them in your purse. I’m also eager to find some Kinder Eggs to try out sometime soon.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Friday, September 16, 2005
I know, you’re probably getting sick of me reviewing malt candies! But I’m not, as I’m on the search for the perfect malt candy in all markets. The description of Maltesers on the package is this, “Crisp, light honeycombed centres with chocolately coating.” In the States when a package says “chocolately” it means that the coating is not chocolate (it’s usually made with some other fat than cocoa butter). However, the ingredients list says Milk Chocolate in the first position, so it’s real chocolate (one of my pet peeves with Whoppers is that they use some sort of chocolatey wax).
What I noticed about these right away is that they’re small. About the size of a peanut M&M. The chocolate coating is rather thin, more like a shell than a dip. When you pop it in your mouth it’s rather easy to chip off 1/3 of the chocolate by chiseling it with the eye-teeth. At first I found the candy salty ... really salty for a malt ball. But then I came to really like the taste. The extra salt brings out the malt as a separate flavor from the chocolate. After chipping away most of the chocolate on many of them I let the malt honeycomb dissolve on my tongue. It’s a rather complex flavor, almost like a cereal flavor with good solid malty overtones along with some other notes that you’d find in a good hearty loaf of bread or kashi breakfast cereal.
At first I wasn’t wild about them, this exercise was more of an intellectual one, but as I ate more and more of them, I was trying to perfect removing the chocolate so that I could enjoy just the malted centers and found this to be a great activity while working tackling a rather complex project here at the office.
Next time in the UK or Canada, I’m definitely going to pick up more of these.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Thursday, September 15, 2005
If you’ve ever wished that your red vines were more packed with flavor, well, you can stop wishing. Twerpz are here and they come in more than red flavor, they come in orange, too!
They were introduced last year and only come in this paired flavor combo. They’re a slightly larger nib (short piece of a vine) with a larger center that’s filled with a tart and chewy center, simlilar to a Starbust (I know, a Mars product).
Upon opening the package they do smell distinctly of strawberry with a hint of Elmer’s glue (what is it with that glue smell?). The candies themselves are kinda cute and a really good size. I had fun photographing them. The outside is the typical bland and sweet vine and the inside is a really intense burst of sour and soft chew. I prefer the orange ones to the strawberry, but if you’ve been reading here for very long you’ll know that I eschew red things. (click the photo for a larger version)
I think they’re a nice addition to Twizzler line - more flavorful, really easy to eat at a movie or to share with others. I’d be fun to see other flavors, but I think that strawberry and orange are a natural start.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Twizzler’s Twerpz were discontinued, but the Jolly Ranchers Awesome Twosome (also made by parent company Hershey’s) may be an adequate substitute for some folks.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
I’ve always been a huge fan of Goetze’s Caramel Creams (often referred to as Bulls-eyes), not really because of the caramel, but because of the incredible cream.
The cream in the center of a caramel cream really isn’t creamy, it’s intensely sweet but very light and has this intense cooling effect in the mouth. I don’t see Goetze’s very often in Los Angeles but I do pick them up a couple times a year when I do.
Cow Tales (I don’t know why they’re Tales and not Tails ... though the website does tell part of the history) are very similar to the famous Caramel Creams. The main difference is the shape. Imagine a very long (about 7 1/2”) rope of caramel that’s actually a tube filled with the famous caramel cream. It doesn’t look like much when you take it out the wrapper. It’s soft and bendy and has a light dusting of corn starch to keep it from sticking.
The most interesting thing about Goetze’s caramel is that it’s nothing like any other caramel I’ve ever had. In fact, I hesitate to call it true caramel as the first ingredient is not sugar, butter or cream or even corn syrup, but WHEAT FLOUR. So really, the caramel is more like a cookie dough, which is a pretty cool flavor. It has a good chew without any stickiness. It’s sweet, but also pretty mellow. There are not carmelized sugar notes to it, just a consistent floury vanilla taste.
My favorite way to eat Caramel Creams is to turn them inside out onto my tongue so that I can eat the cream first and then I follow it with the caramel husk. The Cow Tales make that a bit harder, so I just ate it as the good candy-maker intended, biting off pieces and chewing. The combination of the mellow caramel and the sweet center is really nice.
Given a choice, I’m going to stick with the familiar caramel creams. They’re easier to share and it’s easier to choose how to eat each caramel. On the west coast I can usually find Goetze’s products at Rite Aid (which is based in Camp Hill, PA, only about one hour from the Goetze’s factory). On a slightly related note, Rite Aid usually carries Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, too.
Rating - 6 out of 10 (for the record, Caramel Creams are an 8 out of 10)
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
I don’t know if this bar is sold at this little candy shop at the Pittsburgh airport because it’s called Sky Bar or because they carry a lot of other hard to find nostalgia candies (they didn’t have Valomilks, but they did have Cow Tales). I’d seen these when I was growing up, but was never really interested in them, as I’d always assumed that they were the candy bar version of Whitman’s Samplers.
It turns out that it’s not far off from that. The bar is undeniably pretty. Four joined pieces of candy, with pretty domed tops, fluting up the sides and the Necco logo on top. Unlike Necco wafers, where you never know what you’ll get in the roll, the Sky Bar is consistent. The far left piece (if you set your bar like the package shows you) is caramel. Not a chewy caramel, it’s a sweet, sticky concoction with a nice salty hint and good carmelized sugar notes. The next one over is by far the least interesting to me, the vanilla cream. Slightly light, very sweet and rather bland, it simply brings out the rather cardboard notes in the milk chocolate. After that is peanut which I think is their masterpiece. This is not a peanut butter, like you’d think, it looks like caramel and is smooth but has the wonderful roasted taste of peanuts and a good hit of salt to balance out all the other sweets. The last section is fudge. Sweet and with that slightly cooling grain to it, the fudge is nice and not too sweet but suffers from the same blandness of the whole bar - too much sugar and not enough chocolate in the chocolate.
I can see how this bar was so successful for so long. Steve Almond talks about the history of the bar in Candy Freak (chapter 2), that it was one of the most popular bars on the east coast and had a prominent billboard in Times Square which was re-lit at the end of WWII. As a bit of nostalgia, it’s fun. But it’s not my nostalgia, I have not particular affinity for it, so it’s merely an experience for me. It’s probably a great bar to share with friends (as long as there actually is something for everyone) and probably speaks to people who really like variety in their candy.
Rating - 5 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.