Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Name: Max Brenner Chocolates: Dark Chicao, Waffle & Milk Chocolate Cubes
Here’s a little Hanukkah treat for everyone, some Israeli chocolates! The Max Brenner package says “Creating a New Chocolate Culture” and I’m inclined to hop on board this philosophy. Michal, a candyblog.net reader, sent me these wonderful treats and I’m very impressed by the combination of flavors, textures, the simplicity of ingredients and most of all, the playfulness of the packages and formats.
Dark Chicao: Dark chocolate thins with Ecuadorian cocoa bits. These are rather similar to the Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs I tried and loved recently. I was a little scared when I took them out of the tin because they looked a little chalky, but we can chalk that up to their trip half way around the planet to get to me. They were a little bruised but tasted phenomenal. Dark, dark chocolate with crunchy nibs. The chocolate is buttery with a strong woodsy essence and a slight dry finish. Because there’s so much cacao in there and not much sugar they don’t get me hyped up the same way a chocolate bar does. At 75% cacao though, they’re probably giving me some sort of theobromine high.
Waffle: Crispy Belgian waffle in milk chocolate praline. I’ve had many bars like this and they’ve usually ended up being too much cookie and not enough chocolate or too waxy or greasy. Here’s a wonderful balance of chocolate, soft flavors and crispy waffle with a hint of hazelnut. The box is fun (the size of a pencil box with a tray/sleeve to pull out and reveal the candies) and the size of the little drops is just right, two bites for me. The Max Brenner milk chocolate is very rich, with 52% cacao, it’s darker than many consumer dark chocolates.
Milk Chocolate Cubes: Michal was good enough to translate the boxes for these. They’re minitruffles I’m guessing, one set is “Milk Chocolate Cubes filled with Hazelnut Praline and Caramelized Pecan Bits” and the other is Milk Chocolate Cubes filled with “Caramel Hazelnut Praline and Roasted coconut” (well, those are not really cubes, more like spheroids). The hazelnut/pecan one is sweet and toasty, like a hit of toffee only in a milk chocolate with just a few flakes of crispy to it. They’re very rich and sticky and should probably be consumed with some strong coffee. (Or the Dark Chicaos!). The coconuts were amazing fun. Instead of soft coconut like you’d find in a Mounds of Bounty bar, this is crispy coconut that adds a bit of crunch and chew to the sweet milk chocolate. The boxes are cool because they’re designed to be a greeting card or favor of sorts. You can write a little message on the back like those Valentines boxes of candy that we used to exchange in junior high.
I’m digging Mr. Brenner’s new chocolate culture. Their packaging is interesting and not overdone. The little mylar packs kept everything fresh and the design on them is really inventive, slightly self-deprecating and sets it apart from a lot of other candy that I’ve seen that positions itself in this part of the upscale market.
Rating - 9 out of 10 (now I just need to find a source in the States)
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Stockings are one of my favorite traditions of Christmas. I’ve written before about my love of the stockings Santa brought us as children. They were eclectic mixes of little gifts, novelties, traditional American chocolates, gelt and international confections. These were candies that we didn’t get any other time of the year, not in Easter baskets and certainly not in Halloween trick-or-treat bags.
For the past few years I’ve also continued this tradition with my friends when I’m in town for the holidays. We often host a Christmas Eve dinner for friends and I give out a version of these stockings to my guests.
Our family tradition is that everyone has a stocking and it must be at my mother’s house in order for Santa to find it and fill it. Instead for my guests I put their goodies in fabric wine gift bags. They’re pretty and because they’re reusable they’re a gift as well. I found this excellent assortment in Chinatown much less expensive than at the wine store or Cost Plus. As this year was an all-couple affair, each couple got a stocking.
The cornerstone of a stocking is candy. The Santa of my childhood seemed to favor a mix of nuts in the shell (which were obviously pretty but were also intended to minimize the actual candy content). Those nuts were immediately sorted out of the candy mix and placed in a bowl on the kitchen table. My stockings skip right to the punch - chocolate. This year we picked up a mix of chocolate coins, Hershey’s Kisses (plain, thank you), Hershey’s Mint Miniatures Mix & Butterfinger Jingles, Brachs hard candy/toffees and the Trader Joe’s Torrones.
A stocking wouldn’t be much fun without some sassy little toys and additional candy. So I assembled a bunch of stuff, some from the 99 Cent Store, others I picked up here and there. Everyone gets a special big candy, usually just for their tastes: Toblerone bar, Jelly Belly Assortments, Bazooka bubble gum, mints (those round things are mints that look like roller blade wheels) and some grapefruit pastilles. The things that look like ice cream cones are scented bubbles (non toxic for those folks who have pets who like to play with bubbles like we do).
And there it is, all stuffed to the seams! (Okay, I have a problem with trying to stuff too much into them.)
Everyone goes home happy and if they have a long way to travel they’ve got a snack along the way. Of course you can scale up or down for finances and it’s always a good idea to keep your eye out year round to find the stuffers. Things like little notebooks, lip balm, ornaments or even CDs are good fun things to add.
(click on any photo for larger, yummier goodness)
Friday, December 23, 2005
Name: Italian Soft Almond Nougat
When I was a kid we got rather eclectic Christmas stockings filled with candy treats that we never got any other time of the year. Christmas candy was unlike any other in our house or for any other holiday, it was a trip around the world in an oversized sock. English hard candies, Swiss & Belgian chocolates and Italian Torrones. I’ve been having a hard time finding Torrones the past few years here in Los Angeles, I used to get them at Cost Plus World Market, but haven’t seen them for quite a while. This is why I was so excited to see that Trader Joe’s had these when I was there last weekend.
Torrones are soft nougat usually flavored Amaretto, orange, vanilla or
lemon. Most European countries have their own version of the Torrone, the French do nice nougats, in both the soft and hard varieties and the Swiss Toblerone bar has hard honey nougat bits in it and the Spanish are well known for their version, the Turron. The European nougat is rather different than what you find in the American candy bar trade. Trader Joe’s has carried nougat in the past in long bars, but I’d never seen these Christmas classics before. They’re individually wrapped pieces in its own little box and gives a little history:
There are 18 of these little individually wrapped packages, boxed together. The torrone is soft and pliable white nougat that is and is sheathed in an edible, tasteless wafer to keep it from sticking. The slice of nougat has a lot of nuts but is not as “fluffy” as some others, in fact, it looks downright flat. The pieces are ample, like one of those big block pencil erasers. The scent is very nice, sweet and with a good
dose of honey in there. It’s good and soft, so it’s not going to remove any dental work, sweet and it dissolves quickly and mixes with the delicate almonds. The flavoring is a little odd. Most Torrones are one flavor but this one seems to be a mix of lemon and amaretto. But neither is very apparent so it just ends up being a subtle essence.
Overall, they’re not quite satisfying my jones for a good Torrone, but they are fresh and here so they’ll do for now for the stocking stuffers. They’re certainly cheaper than some others I’ve bought but I miss the fanciful pictures of Italian royalty on the individual boxes. The biggest drawback of the overpackaging (plastic wrap, boxes inside bigger box) is that it’s quite obvious how many you’ve eaten when there’s a huge pile of torrone detritus next to you on the couch.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Name: Dolfin Chocolat: Noir au Gingembre Frais, Au Lait au The Vert Sencha du Japon, Noir aux Fuelles de Menthe
I thought on the eve of the start of Whalewatch Season here in Southern California it was appropriate to review something under the brand name Dolfin (we see more dolphins on whale watching trips than whales anyway). The Man bought these bars for me recently at a wine & spirits store in our neighborhood. The gentrification of our little ‘hood means that the former liquor store now carries a wider selection of wines, beers and of course Belgian chocolate.
What drew him to the bars wasn’t the reviews but the fact that the bars are packaged in these plastic cloaked paper envelopes that reminded him of tobacco pouches. It’s actually a pretty simple and successful idea, a long bag that you fold over several times to keep a good seal. The bars inside are additionally sealed in little plastic sleeves but at 2.47 ounces, I wasn’t going to eat them all in one sitting and I appreciated having a clean and crisp way of carrying them around until I do.
Noir aux Fuelles de Menthe (Dark with Mint Leaves): Instead of being your common dark chocolate bar with mint oils in it, this bar contains real spearmint leaves. This was the least successful bar for me. The mint was nice and it being spearmint was a nice change from the more common peppermint, but the bar seemed a bit more chalky than the others. At first I thought it had bloomed, but the sheen was right and the snap looked good. I can only assume that it’s the interaction of the real mint leaves in there. They also make the bar kind of grainy. The sugar balance is good though and the mint is smooth and has some good tannins in it that mix well with the rich dark chocolate.
Noir au Gingembre Frais (Dark with Fresh Ginger): I’m a ginger nut and many of the ginger/chocolate combinations that I find are with milk chocolate, so finding one that was in dark chocolate is exciting. The bar had a good woodsy mix of scents - the spicy ginger and smoky chocolate. The dark chocolate is only 52% cacao (as is the mint one) but it just felt really rich and dense. It was a little grainy but had a lot of flavors in the mix with a good buttery base to help the ginger and chocolate mingle.
Au Lait au The Vert Sencha du Japon (Milk with Sencha Green Tea from Japan): Wow, this bar smells like green tea ice cream. The wonderful lightly floral and woodsy tea blends wonderfully with the delicately dairy tasting milk chocolate. The bar is smooth and very sweet except for the green tea bits. It makes the bar better for doing a bit of chewing before letting it melt on the tongue instead of leaving a tab of it on the tongue first. This is definitely a bar that I could eat a lot of and I’m hoping that even though it only has 32% cacao, the benefits of both the green tea and chocolate will bring me good health in the new year.
Dolfin has a huge line of these “creation” bars, including Masala (hot spices), aniseed, pink peppercorn and Earl Grey tea. They have boxes with tasting squares that look like they would make for a fun evening.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
I’ve noticed that I get a lot of Google search hits on this blog for CraniYUMS. Well, that and Choxie. So it’s about time I gave folks what they’re looking for. This has got to be one of the more innovative candy formats I’ve seen. I got this as a sample at my Candy Warehouse visit over the summer. They hadn’t decided to carry the pops, so I didn’t want to blog about it until it was available then I forgot about it until I saw Candy Addict‘s post a few weeks ago.
What is it? It’s a hard candy lolly in the shape of a Tyrannosaurus rex skull then covered in a gummi “flesh”. The fleshy part is transparent, so you can see the skull shape at the center. It’s actually a pretty fun idea.
I wasn’t quite sure how to approach consuming it. A gelatinous skin does not lend itself to sucking, and of course it’s a bit big for putting in the mouth whole. So when I tried nibbling on the end of his snout, I kind of get the sense that there should be some growling involved. The gummi part is definitely gummi, but I guess that’s a good thing. You kind of have to rip it off the candy skull with your teeth. As a gummi it’s rather mild, not zesty orintensely flavored. The skin is cherry flavored and the skeleton is green apple. Once a corner has been started it’s pretty easy to nibble off pieces then to get to the center. The skeletal center is hard candy, but not quite hard, because I’m guessing the gummi softens it a little bit. The flavor overall was just bland, I wanted some zip to it all. Maybe mine was a little old, but I also think I’d prefer the lemon/cherry combo.
I’m obviously not the target market for this candy, but I can see it being a fun thing to pick up at a museum gift shop for my nephew should we go look at a dinosaur exhibit. But I can also see a kid getting kind of bored with it after a few minutes. It depends on the kid. I found myself eating all the gummi skin but I didn’t eat the center. They get big points from me on originality, but I see it as more of a special occasion candy than a regular one.
The package says it’s made in China, but it’s distributed by an Denver, CO company.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Dang if these aren’t the cutest candy with a shell to come along in years. Vibrant primary and secondary colors in that familiar Kiss shape only smaller and more “poppable.” When I saw the promo stuff on the internet at first they looked a lot like the tops of crayons and now that I have them in front of me I still think that. The shells aren’t quite as pretty and consistent as an M&M, but the vibrancy of the colors is pretty phenomenal.
Though Hershey’s Kisses are wonderful little candies, Hershey found out long ago that folks only buy them in large bags. Hershey tried for a while to launch smaller bags, but people just don’t buy them that way. Here’s an easier way to take Hershey Kisses to a movie (less unwapping, thankyouverymuch).
But let’s get to the eating, because convenience and color doesn’t mean diddly if it’s not tasty. These are tasty. I bought two bags - one to spill out in front of the unopened package (you actually get more than shown in the photo in the package, I ate or rejected about ten of them). The shell is a lot like the familiar M&M shell, it’s crunchy, sweet and has no flavor of its own like the UK Smarties do. The little fellows are about the size of chocolate chips instead of the large Kisses. The inside is Hershey’s chocolate - very sweet, a little milky and with an overall pleasant smoothness. The biggest issue I have with this is that I can’t eat them quite like M&Ms. When I’m eating a plain M&M, I’ll arrange the candy in my teeth on edge and crack it so that one half of the shell falls away and I get pure crunch, then mostly chocolate. These just don’t cleave that way. But maybe I’ll find some other interesting way of eating them, at the moment biting off the little tips seems pretty fun.
If you like M&Ms, you’ll probably like these. I don’t see Hershey’s coming out with a version with nuts anytime soon, as there’s just no room in there for one (well, maybe a sesame seed). Interesting fact: when M&Ms were first developed they contained Hershey’s chocolate. In fact, one of the Ms in M&M is for Hershey’s sales manager, William Murrie (or his son Bruce who was in business with Forrest Mars during the period they developed the candy-coated chocolate). They were made with Hershey’s up until the late sixties (I can’t find the exact date).
Other Reviews - CandyAddict gives it a positive, Accidental Hedonist’s musings on candy coated chocolates, JunkFood Blog points out that these are made without peanut traces, which M&Ms are not.
Rating - 8 out of 10
UPDATE 8/7/2008: Hershey’s reformulated Kissables sometime in 2008 and they are no longer made with real chocolate. Full review & comparison here.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Name: Jelly Belly Classic Candies - Jelly Belly jelly beans, Fruit Pectin, Jordan Almonds, JBz, Cinnamon Bears, Dutch Mints, Licorice & Berry Mix
At the beginning of December I took a trip to San Francisco and had to stop at the Jelly Belly factory (see that article with pics here). I was lucky enough to have a guided tour of the facility by none other than the publicist for the company, Tomi Holt. At the end of my factory tour she wanted me to try more of the Jelly Belly line than just the jelly beans. She picked out a few items including this box called Classic Candies which includes samples of many of the candy in Jelly Belly’s line (see my review of their Malted Milk Balls). A lot of it was surprising to me, I didn’t know they made pectin fruits or gummis and if you’re looking for some new tastes without buying a full package this is a good option.
Of course the box contains a good assortment of the most popular Jelly Belly flavors incuding Lemon, Sizzling Cinnamon, Cotton Candy, Licorice, Green Apple, Peach, Very Cherry, Buttered Popcorn, Blueberry and Juicy Pear. I have to admit that I’m not fond of all of them, but I appreciate the complexity of the flavors. The peach is a good example. While many “peach flavored” things get one or two notes of peach in there, somehow the Jelly Belly tastes like it has fuzz (I consider that an accomplishment). My favorites are Licorice, Sizzling Cinnamon and Lemon, but some others are growing on me like Cotton Candy and Blueberry. If you’ve never had a Jelly Belly, the first thing you should know is that they contain no gelatin. So if you’re a vegan, you can eat these! (Though the plant uses milk in some products and cannot guarantee that there aren’t traces.) They’re also Kosher.
The Raspberries and Blackberries were another pleasant surprise. I was expecting those German berries that I’ve had before that are nice, but a little sweet and a little chewy. These are tart and flavorful, with a complex combination of the sour, the crunchiness of the sprinkles that mimic berry seeds and then a good aromatic lingering aftertaste. This was much more pronounced in the blackberry, which was downright pungent.
I’m adding this little gem in here even though it wasn’t in the box. They’re called “Champagne Bubbles” and they’re very much like the Raspberries & Blackberries in that it’s a tart fruit jelly/gummi center with a crunchy shell of dots. The flavor here is a rather bubbly white grape juice that actually has a little sizzle. They’re not as aromatic as the berries but they’re easier to eat in large quantities that way. The sassy appearance makes them a good item to use for weddings and showers if you want a little change from Jordan Almonds.
I didn’t even know Jelly Belly made these! They’re gummi bears in a zesty cinnamon flavor. They’re sanded with sugar and not the same gummi we’re used to from Europe. They’re more of a jelly chew but they’re positively hot. I guess that’s why they call them Unbearably Hot Cinnamon Bears.
It’s odd that one of the things that started this Jelly Belly oddysey was an email I got from a former member of the marketing team at Jelly Belly. He complimented me on the blog and then suggested that I give JBz another try (pronounced Jay-Bees) since they’re reformulated them. I’m not really into trying things I didn’t like again, but I’ll have to admit that I wanted to like these and of course free samples never hurts. I’m going to guess, first of all, that the box I got at Bed, Bath and Beyond was probably a little old and perhaps suffered from sitting around with too many scented soaps. The JBz that I tried at the Factory and in this box were actually really good. The chocolate itself is still very sweet and lacks it’s own chocolate punch, but as a medium for delivering the other flavors, it’s very successful. I liked the capuccino and chocolate caramel ones best (but then again I got a lot of those in my assortment).
No company that does panning can call themselves that unless they make Jordan Almonds. I don’t know who thought up making an inpenetrable shell on a rather large nut, but there you have it. Perhaps you’re not supposed to bite them, but I can’t help it. The coating is smooth and crunchy and the almonds are large and top grade.
I reviewed the Jelly Belly Confections Licorice Bridge Mix some months ago and I was pleased by it, but not wowed. I have now found that my mix may have been a little stale (it was on sale), as this stuff was softer and more flavorful. At the time I gave them a harsh 6 out of 10. While I still like a little more licorice inside my pastels, these were very nice since they were soft and chewy. The colorful dots are just so joyfully pretty (I’ve since bought them at a Sweets Factory just because I liked the look of them) and the other black and white dots are nice and mild (think of licorice flavored candy corn).
Another fun thing that Jelly Belly makes is Dutch Mints. They’re a mint fondant-type center covered with a thin layer of chocolate and then given a candy shell. Instead of a high gloss, Dutch mints have a soft, matte finish that always makes them look so soothing. (It also seems to make them nearly impossible to photograph well.) The shell is cool to the tongue and kind of slick, then it releases a huge burst of mint. The chocolate is subtle, really barely noticeable, after all this is all about the mint. The centers are soft without being gooey.
Tomi and I also spend some time in the store while we were there since that’s the one place to see all the candies Jelly Belly makes, not just the ones being produced that week. One of the things she introduced me to were the Pectin Fruits. She pulled out a clear pineapple one for me to taste and can I just use the phrase “bursting with flavor?” It was seriously fruity and had many of the pineapple notes, not just the tart one, but those aromatics and that actual piney taste that a pineapple has. The only thing I was disappointed about was that there was no pineapple one in this box. I did get to try the raspberry and again I have to say that I am usually not a fan of raspberry flavored things, however this tastes like it’s got raspberries in it. The citrus ones are zesty and tart with a well-rounded flavor. The jelly is firm without being too sticky or crusty. I’ve always loved orange slices and spearmints leaves but since tasting these I may never go back. Even the lime was complex, with more than the “household cleaner” smell to it.
I didn’t photograph these, but you know what they look like: Candy Corn. After years of eating old, stale and waxy candy corn this was pretty good stuff. It’s sweet and slightly chewy. Not terribly complex but nice and all the little pieces were wonderfully consistent looking.
One of the newer products (also not in the box) is their Mint Trio. I’m glad Jelly Belly is finally putting out a contender for the pocket mint business. This sassy little trio has peppermint (Jelly Belly sadly discontinued the blue mint years ago), spearmint and wintergreen. I know that a lot of folks don’t like wintergreen but I’m a huge fan. All the beans have a huge boost of mint in them and will easily work as breath mints if you choose. They’re easy to share and I don’t know of many multi-mint breath mint options out there in one package. (Maybe those mint Skittles.) The only problem with them is that I haven’t seen them anywhere but the Jelly Belly store!
Last, I tried a few Bertie Botts while I was at the store. I’m not really into eating gross things, I generally want to like what I eat. But I did try a few that I actually liked and ended up buying a mix of. If you have the opportunity to just do a mix of the “tasty” Bertie Botts, I can recommend Grass (which is just a mellow, fresh flavor), Black Pepper (sweet and hot) and Soap (if you just think of it as a floral bouquet and not like soap it’s tasty).
Whew! That’s a lot of candy. Overall I give the Jelly Belly top marks for consistent quality, diverse flavors and innovation. They’re a little more expensive than most “sugar” candies out there, but I think you’re getting a lot for the money when you consider that you’re getting such consistency and flavor packed into those little beans. However, at those prices, unless you like all the flavors, go for a bulk pick-a-mix where you can get just the ones you like. I’m fond of their citrus flavors so when I was there I made my own mix which was Tangerine, Pink Grapefruit, Lemon, Lemon Drop, and Margarita. Not only are they zesty, saliva-gland-popping flavors, they go really well together. They even had a new flavor there that may not be in wide release yet called Pomegranate (the red one there). It was interesting, rather like a cross between raspberry and cranberry - good tartness but a lot of floral flavors to it. It didn’t taste like pomegranate to me, but it was certainly good.
Rating - 9 out of 10 for general Jelly Belly line of products
Friday, December 16, 2005
Name: Ribbon Candy
When I was a kid I used to buy ribbon candy for my mother for Christmas. It was pretty stuff but I never remembered it being very good. I think part of the problem is that most people put it in a dish or some sort of display for the holidays and it gets all sticky.
Ribbon Candy is simply hard candy flattened out into long ribbons and then folded up like little puffs and twists. They’re usually pretty colors and often flavored according to those colors. This box contains a mix of minty and fruity flavors. The box also has a beautiful photo of the candy on it. The stuff inside doesn’t look quite like that.
First, the ribbons are not uniform. The doubling of the candy strips to form the loops was rather inconsistent and the ribbons weren’t flat, so I’d set them out to photograph and they’d rock. Second, they were not glossy and luminous like the box. I know that they have been in the past. I know the stuff I used to get for my mother looked like it was spun glass. I don’t know if it’s because this is a bad batch or that it’s just not as good anymore, but mine looked milky and dull. Only one was broken, so I was pleased that the poor box wasn’t handled poorly.
The candy itself is kind of neat to eat. Messy, but pretty interesting. You can’t just break off a little loop, it seems for each loop that you want the other half is pulverized into shards as you break it off. We’re all used to the dense sugar of the hard candy, but the wafer thin ribbons rather melt on your tongue. The flavors are ordinary and sweet, no tartness in the citrus flavors. The plain white one was cool because it was vanilla. There aren’t that many vanilla hard candies out there. The oddest thing was that the red and green striped one was some sort of strange mint. A toothpaste mint, which I’m guessing is a blend of spearmint and peppermint but tastes a little too much like toothbrush for me.
You can read more about F.B. Washburn and Sevigny’s at their home page. But here’s the part I liked best:
Did you know that there’s a “ribbon candy business” and that it was so consolidated now?
The other interesting thing is how low in calories these are. A full ribbon, which is a little over an ounce and looks huge is only about 60 calories. So if you’re looking for a little holiday indulgence that won’t fatten you up so fast, a couple of ribbons instead of a piece of pie ala mode might save you about 300 calories. It’s actually kind of nice to have with a little tea and the calories probably end up being lower consider that much of it shatters into microscopic shards that you’re more likely to inhale than consume.
Rating - 6 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.