Friday, February 14, 2014
What’s in your candy bowl this year?
Thursday, February 13, 2014
One of my favorite candy combinations is milk chocolate and cereal. You’d think it would be great to live in the United States, then, which has two nationally branded crisped rice bars: Nestle Crunch and Hershey’s Krackel. But they are both pale versions of what a crisped rice and chocolate bar could be.
So, I’ve been hunting for a great crisped rice bar and at the moment my go-to is oddly the Ritter Sport Cornflakes Bar because the chocolate is actually good and the cereal flakes provide that salty, malty crunch component that keeps it all from getting too sweet.
Trader Joe’s has finally come to the rescue with their Trader Joe’s Crispy Rice Milk Chocolate part of their line of stacks of small Belgian made bars sold near the check out counter (review of the dark chocolate here).
The bars are well priced, you get three 1.4 ounce bars for $1.79. The whole stack is wrapped in cellophane and each bar is also individually wrapped and sealed for freshness. The bars are made in Belgium with high quality chocolate (for candy bars) which means 31% cacao content and 18% milk content. (And oodles of sugar, too.) Unlike the US counterparts, this is real milk chocolate (Krackel contains vegetable oil fillers while both also use artificial vanilla and lactose, a sugar filler).
The size of the portion is ideal, at 1.4 ounces it’s 220 calories - more than enough for a snack but no risk of eating more (unless you really can’t control yourself and open one of the other bars). It smells milky and malty with a little toffee note. The melt of the chocolate is silky, it’s buttery slick and though sweet, the crunchy rice moderates it well. The crisped rice is the manufactured kind - you know, the perfect little spheres, not the rustic kernels from a breakfast bowl. This means that they’re very evenly distributed and very even overall, but I miss that variation in the crunch.
This really meets nearly all of my requirements for the perfect crisped rice bar ... there just aren’t enough Trader Joe’s.
The bar contains milk, wheat and soy and is made in a facility that also processed tree nuts and eggs. (No notation about peanuts.)
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Though they’re called Sweet Treats Cupid Hearts, they’re also marketed and sold for folks looking for themed candy for baby showers. They come in mixes like pink and white and blue and white. I found mine at Jack’s Wholesale Candy in downtown Los Angeles, but I also saw them at Michael’s and some other party planning shops. I don’t know much about this Sweet Treats brand, the candy itself is made in China but the bag says that it’s packaged and distributed by Metro Candy Sales of Vacaville, CA.
The Cupid Hearts have one of my favorite ingredients list of all time:
So, the first ingredient is the bulk of the candy, and when I say bulk, I’m guessing that it’s more than 90%. Maltodextrin is a polyscaccharide made up of many molecules of glucose (it varies depending on the formulation - it could be as few as 3 or as many as 20). So it’s basically sugar but it’s not quite as sweet as the sucrose we’re accustomed to but has all the calories. There’s very little else to this candy. They’re made by pressing the powder under high pressure, like making pharmaceutical pills and then they’re dumped into a big rotating drum (a panning machine) to get a shiny, colorful coating.
My understanding is that these are vegan (though magnesium stearate can come from animal sources, it’s far cheaper to buy the vegetable sourced version).
The pieces are thick and well formed to look like hearts. The colorful glaze, however, is inadequately applied. The crotch of the hearts on the blue ones were predominantly unfilled gaps. I don’t see this as a feature, just lack of quality control. (They were all like that in the store, the pink and white ones also looked the same.)
The bag smells slightly floral, like a generic fabric softener sheet. The candies have a light crunch, the centers are firm but not too sandy but easy to bite. They are all sweet except for that floral flavor, there’s no tartness, no tang, nothing fruity or spicy that indicates they’re food and not toilet bowl cleaner.
As far as I’m concerned, they’re decorative. You can let people eat them, but I don’t recommend it. It’s not that they’re bad, but at 120 calories per ounce, there are far better things to do with your discretionary calories. At $4.00 for 10 ounces ($6.40 for a pound), I also thought they were darned expensive considering the fact that the same store was selling the far prettier Oak Leaf Hearts for only $2.40 a pound. Even the Wonka Heartbreakers are a better deal.
Update: It’s been suggested that they may be more like sachet beads than candy; they should be placed in little gossamer bags, tied with a bow and then left in the car to keep it smelling fresh.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Birthday Cake Milk Chocolate M&Ms are out on shelves even though Mars announced that they would be released in May 2014. The new cake flavor comes right on the heels of the Walmart-exclusive Red Velvet M&Ms that also came out this year.
The description is rather vague: Delicious milk chocolate infused with birthday cake flavor creates an exciting new treat worth celebrating. Part of my confusion comes from an actual non-standardization of birthday cake as a singular flavor. Is it yellow cake with vanilla icing? Is it devil’s food with chocolate frosting? Is it an ice cream cake with candle wax? I’m going to go with chocolate cake and white (vanilla) icing, since that’s what the red M is holding on the package.
It’s unclear if this is a new permanent addition to the M&Ms varieties, which currently include: Milk Chocolate, Peanut, Dark Chocolate, Dark Peanut, Peanut Butter, Almond, Dark Mint, Raspberry, and Pretzel plus other seasonal varieties. They currently come in two package sizes, the stand up bag holding 8 ounces shown here and the single serve version.
The candy coated chocolates are quite big and very bright in primary red, yellow and blue. I noticed that they had the same cracking and dusting problem I experienced with my Red Velvet M&Ms earlier this year. I don’t know if it’s because they’re bigger or that the specialty versions just get treated more roughly than regular versions. I polished them individually for their photo shoot. (Really.)
They do smell sweeter, with a little more of a vanilla note than regular M&Ms. They’re not that different from regular Milk Chocolate M&Ms, except that they’re bigger. They’re not that good though, the novelty of the flavor wears off after about five of them. They just seemed sweeter ... the chocolate certainly isn’t great. I’ve noticed that the quality of the chocolate is one item that Mars has not been focusing on over the years, instead it’s been the added flavors, colors or special printing you can get on the shell.
I did try them compared to the Red Velvet M&Ms, since they’re both based on cakes. What I noticed is that the Red Velvet tasted more like buttered popcorn but also had a bit more of a tangy note. The Birthday Cake, on the other hand, has an Angel Food Cake note of baked sugar and vanilla.
I’ll stick to the Almond M&Ms, just in case anyone was wondering which M&Ms to have at my birthday party.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Necco has taken some heat in the past few years regarding their changes to the flavor and recipe for their iconic Sweethearts Conversation Hearts.
The idea of creating individually flavored packages if the Sweethearts seems like a great way to sort this out. Necco released to single-flavor packages this year: Necco Sweethearts Hot Hearts and Necco Sweethearts Cool Hearts. They’re cinnamon and peppermint (respectively). They come in attractive mini gable boxes and for less than a dollar, I thought it was much more attractive, mature and sophisticated than the little boxes of the multi-flavor version.
The boxes are adorable, though frustrating to re-close. There’s a tab on the back, but it’s glued down and has nothing to tuck back into after you open it. You can slide the whole flap into the folded top, but it’s a bit of a trick and not something that can be accomplished with one hand.
Though they are nothing more than paperboard boxes sealed with glue, the candies were fresh and crispy. (Not that I know exactly what a fresh Sweetheart actually is supposed to be like.)
The cinnamon flavored Hot Hearts are truly hot. I found them quite spicy and a little more nuanced than a straight burn.
The pink hearts have flirty mottoes like: Kiss Me, Wow Me, Ooh La LA and Wink Wink.
The flavor is cinnamony, it has an immediate warmth to it, but there’s a note of clove and some of the other more woodsy flavors of ground cinnamon. The texture is smoother than an Altoid, but they that that same crispy texture that you can let dissolve or crunch.
I enjoyed them quite a bit, though eating a lot of them does lead to a lingering heat in the mouth.
The peppermint Cool Hearst are white with light blue-green lettering, though some of mine were blank. It’s obvious why these are sold in single flavors, as they’re very strong and would contaminate the flavor of anything placed in contact.
The mottoes for the Cool Hearts are also themed for the mint flavor: Chill Out, Frosty, Shivers, Icy Blast, So Fresh. There are other more puzzling ones, like an asterisk (which may be an homage to the romantic novels of Kurt Vonnegut or the Walmart logo) and the possibly insulting versions that say Got Onions? and Have a Mint.
The smooth texture and Altoid intensity was pleasant. They’re were definitely minty enough to be called mints instead of candy, but the price is certainly very good for this sort of product versus something like Altoids or Breathsavers (though they’re made with sugar, no artificial sweeteners like some breath mints).
I would buy either of these again, the packaging was pleasing but most of all the candy inside was surprisingly good for a Necco Sweetheart product. I feel like Necco has stumbled in their previous seasonal and pop culture tie ins (see Sweethearts Fire & Ice for Twilight) but these can definitely be called a hit.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.