Thursday, January 6, 2011
There are some candies that sound like fantastic concepts. Even new readers to Candy Blog know that I would favor any confection made of caramel, pecans and cinnamon. About five years ago Cinnabon, the little bakers of fresh cinnamon buns in malls, licensed their flavor and name for a line of candies made by Standard Confectionery Company. Standard is known for their GooGoo Clusters, so it’s no surprise that this line features various iterations of the ingredients all in the plopped cluster shape.
Back in 2006 I went to my first candy trade show, the All Candy Expo in Chicago. This was my first experience with “tasting everything”. This was an amazing time where I could keep an open mind and take small bites or samples of items that I probably wouldn’t consider buying for whatever reason. Most was exactly what I expected, but there were some surprises (both good and bad). I learned quickly that even in small bites there were things that demanded to be spit out. While there I spit three things out. The first was the Cinnabon Cinnamon Pecan Caramel Cluster.
What I didn’t know when I ate that sample was the actual description of this item: Rich Makara Cinnamon Caramel Topped with Crunch Glazed Pecans and Toffee Bits, Drenched in Milk Chocolatey Goodness. You already know where this description went awry ... in fact this might have been the item that mobilized me for the fight against anything that referred to mockolate “goodness”. I’d go so far as to call it “evilness.”
Years went by and I tried them again and had a similar reaction to the overly sweet, strangely grainy and waxy confection. Yes, the cinnamon notes were fantastic, but air freshener smells fantastic, that doesn’t make me want to eat it.
The Cinnabon Cinnamon Mousse Pecan Cluster says it’s Rich Makara cinnamon mousse topped with crunchy glazed pecans and toffee bits, drenched in dark chocolatey goodness. My spell checker knows that chocolatey isn’t a word, and I know that it isn’t chocolate.
The packaging is nice, it has an accurate image on the front and I actually liked the little swirly bun designs on the edges of the wrapper. The pieces are 1.5 ounces (about 2.5 inches in diameter), which I think is a nice portion for candy, in this case it clocks in at 180 calories.
My candy had a slight bloom on the top, not bad, just a light haze in some spots. The lumpy shape gave me hope that there were plenty of these glazed pecans.
I don’t know what Makara Cinnamon is. I’ve looked it up and can’t actually find that there is a real thing, it’s just like the Colonel’s 11 Herbs & Spices, a proprietary blend of some sort. Its mystery aside, the cinnamon does smell good. It’s a tantalizing blend of woodsy notes, a sort of heady volatile oil similar to menthol and a warm resin. The patties have a nice bite and texture. The mockolate coating is marginally flavorful, it’s overpowered by the cinnamon but the texture is smooth enough once it melts. The center of the patty is a sort of soft fudge that tastes kind of like the sweet center of a pecan pie, but a little more grainy. The pecans are nicely glazed with a sugary coating that gives them a salty crunch. Other than that hit of salt though, the whole thing is sickly sweet and quickly made my throat sore.
This version comes in a white wrapper and is easy to distinguish from the other versions. It also reminds me that Cinnabon has the flavor that warms the soul.
The description on this one is Rich Makara cinnamon cream topped with crunchy glazed pecans and toffee bits, drenched in white chocolatey goodness. Now, I get how the dark one can claim some sort of “chocolatey goodness” since it does have some cocoa solids in it. This product has not one gram of cocoa content whatsoever. It can’t be like chocolate because there’s nothing that’s even chocolate adjacent about it.
Even the color of the white confection coating is odd, it’s not at all like white chocolate, which has a yellow cast and a translucent quality. It’s opaque, like a primer coat.
It does smell smooth and buttery though, and I loved the way the fake butter smell combined with the Makara cinnamon, in that way that actual Cinnabon kiosks can draw you in.
Again I liked the glazed pecans - they were small but had a salty crunch. The white coating was sweet and had a less convincing melt than the truly chocolatey one. There are toffee bits advertised in both of these, but I noticed that they’re more like corn flakes (rice flour is listed as an ingredient)
Sweet, strange and unreal. I don’t mind candy that becomes fantasy - but this was just a poor imitation of real things that could be fantastic. Call it the uncanny valley of candy.
If you’re a fan of candles instead of candy, well this is the stuff for you. If you’re looking for something that emulates the fresh baked Cinnabon experience, I’d say stick to your memories of that and wait for the real thing.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The Wonka Exceptionals Line is brand new this year, so it’s a bit surprising that Nestle already has a holiday version of one of their sub-brands when it seems like it took them decades to make holiday Gobstoppers.
The line of upscale Wonka Exceptionals includes new chocolate pieces. They’re little rectangles that are individually wrapped and feature a little bit of a different take on the standard morsel. The first introductions were Scrumdiddlyumptious (cookie pieces in milk chocolate), Chocolate Waterfall (milk & white chocolate swirled) and Domed Dark Chocolate (milk & dark stack) In addition, Wonka came up with Marvels and Fruit Jellies with all natural colors and flavors.
The holiday Wonka Exceptionals Peppermint Shortbread Chocolate Pieces come in a tall box like the Jellies and Marvels. (The previous Pieces I reviewed came in a purple hologram emblazoned bag.) Inside the slim box is a purple mylar pouch with the Wonka Ws all over it. The box only holds four ounces of the foil wrapped chocolates and at nearly $4 for the package, that’s a dollar an ounce. That’s about what I pay for See’s by the pound. (There are approximately 12 pieces in the box.)
So, Wonka is trucking along, reinventing the brand. They’re going for quality and recapturing the imagination that everyone loves so much in the Dahl books ... and then this Christmas candy comes along. The previous candies in this Exceptionals line have been good, a little expensive but they also have a unique selling position - they’re made with all natural flavors and colors. So I bite into one of these new milk chocolate pieces that have peppermint candy pieces and shortbread cookie morsels.
There are red bits in there. They’re bright red. They’re kind of minty but they’re also kind of bitter to me towards the end, there’s something slightly off about them. They have artificial colors in them. Why? They’re inside! Why would you put coloring in something that’s not even meant to be seen?
That aside, the milk chocolate pieces are creamy. They’re very sweet and don’t have a huge cocoa punch, it’s quite mild and overshadowed by the mint and a bit of the milky flavors. The candy pieces are crunchy and then there are little bits of shortbread sometimes - they’re a kind of sandy and crumbly cookie crunch that has a light salty note to it. But they’re really sandy sometimes, like cornmeal sandy.
The whole thing wasn’t working for me. It was too sweet and though most of the texture components were right (except for the lingering sand, like that stuff in your jeans pockets after going through the wash). I was irritated that I paid $4 for a box of candy I didn’t want to eat. They’ve already shown that they can do better, so I want Wonka to do better next time around.
I got a handful of these as a sample from Nestle at first, but I didn’t get the box or label with it, so that’s why I went out and bought them, so I could find out how expensive they were for myself and see that there Red #3, Red #40 and Blue #1 in there. Bah, humbug.
Monday, October 25, 2010
So around Christmas sometimes I’ll pick up the Butterfinger Jingles, which are bells made of milk chocolate with Butterfinger crunch pieces. It’s been a while though, so when I saw these Nestle Butterfinger Pumpkins I thought it was great that I could pick up a modestly sized version instead of a big bag. They were on sale, two for a dollar but they also come in a tray of 6 which seemed to be priced higher per piece at Target.
The chocolate disk is nicely designed and molded. I liked the dimensionality of it and the fanciful face that incorporated not only the carving but the strong ribs of the pumpkin shape. It smelled pretty appealing too, like chocolate and roasted peanuts with a touch of toffee. So far so good.
After that first bite pictured there, I was tempted to spit this out. It was waxy and sweet with no chocolate flavor at all. But I thought maybe I was spoiled because I was also photographing some Ritter Sport at the same time (which naturally required a few bites as well). So I tucked away the rest and give it a few days.
With the second bite I still thought it was a mixture of greasy and waxy chocolate, but the cocoa flavors came through a little stronger. There’s a mix of toasted peanut flavors and a hint of bitterness along with the barely passable chocolate. The chips of the Butterfinger center save this candy from being completely inedible. They’re a little salty and have a mixture of molasses and peanut butter flavors.
While I’ve been finding that Wonka candies have been improving in quality, this Butterfinger Pumpkin doesn’t taste as good as the Jingles I remember. In fact, it’s pretty terrible and makes me wish I could find the Clark Wicked Mix in my area.
Monday, October 4, 2010
I can’t think of another candy that embodies the description humble American treat better than Mary Jane. First there’s the fact that they originated in Paul Revere’s house in Boston by the Chas. N. Miller Company. Second, they’re made from molasses and peanut butter, two hearty American flavors. The wax paper packaging has remained largely unchanged (undated old wrapper & advertisement from 1927).
The Chas. N. Miller Company was bought by Stark Candy in 1985, and Stark was bought up by Necco in 1990.
Necco has kept the traditional candy largely intact. When I was a kid Mary Jane were still a penny candy, sold out of tubs positioned near the cash register at convenience stores. These days they still go for pocket change, I’ve seen them for 10 cents each at retro candy shops.
The candy is simple, a rich and stiff molasses taffy rectangle with a small reservoir of peanut butter in the center.
I stopped eating Mary Janes about 15 years ago when it seemed that every time I bought them they were hard and crackly. But I’ve had better luck around Halloween when they’re fresh and packaged directly by Necco (beware of other repackagers like the generic drug store brands).
The chew is a little tough at first but softens with a bit of work and warmth. The taffy isn’t too sweet and has a toasted, earthy flavor from the molasses (the fourth ingredient). The peanut butter strip in the middle is undependable at best. Some pieces have a generous filling that gives the candy a beautifully balance of roasted nuts and burnt sugar. The chew is smooth and has a consistent flavor from start to finish.
I find them irresistible. So much so that I’m on my third bag since September.
The mix contains a four flavor variations: Peanut Butter & Jelly, Peanut Butter & Banana, Smores and Peanut Butter & Vanilla. What you might notice is missing from that list is the classic Molasses & Peanut Butter Mary Jane. Unlike the Clark Wicked Mix, which contains the classic milk chocolate Clark plus the Dark Clark and Coconut Clark, this mix doesn’t have the original. (Which is how I got into this messy Mary Jane addiction in the first place, I had to buy a bag to do this post ... and then I ate them so I had to buy another bag, and another.)
The little wrappers are similar to the original. They’re a thick waxed paper that protects the candy well and releases except when they get too warm. My bag was a little bit oily, which I blame on the peanut butter. The candies were all soft and easy to chew, but the wrappers were sometimes just a little bit greasy to the touch.
The wrappers have the same bold black bookface font for the Mary Jane logo and have the little cartoon of the Mary Jane character. They’re color coded for the flavors (they don’t have the flavors named on them) but don’t have the red stripe.
The version that immediately made the most sense to me is the Banana & Peanut Butter Mary Jane.
The yellow waxed paper looks brighter than the original because the taffy beneath is a pale yellow instead of a medium beige. It smells like fake banana and a little like peanut butter. The chew is soft and immediately reminiscent of Circus Peanut. The peanut butter, on the pieces that have a generous quantity, cuts the sweetness and artificiality to create a pretty good candy. It was definitely the one that I was reaching for in this mix.
The raspberry red wrapper gave me a little bit of hope on the Peanut Butter & Jelly Mary Jane, which is good because the idea of a grape taffy filled with peanut butter was not appetizing.
The taffy was lightly tangy and tasted a little like grape Pixy Stix. The chew was softer, so much softer than the rest that it was a completely different texture of chew. The peanut butter did a good job of covering the disappointing grape jelly effect, but not good enough to make me want to keep eating these after the review was over. Thankfully there were only a half a dozen of these in my big bag of 85 pieces.
I wasn’t quite sure what a Smore Mary Jane was supposed to be. I liked the look of the dark brown wrapper and I thought maybe it’d be a cocoa flavored taffy.
Sadly the flavor note they were going for here was toasted marshmallow with peanut butter. That’s a great idea, but I needed more darkness to the whole thing and less fake vanilla sweetness. A little cocoa would have been nice, too.
The Vanilla & Peanut Butter Mary Jane got me to thinking about another vanilla taffy filled with peanut butter, the Annabelle’s Abba-Zaba.
RiteAid always has Abba-Zabas, so I went by and picked up a bar to compare. (While I was there I bought bag #2 of the classic Mary Janes.)
The Abba-Zaba taffy is sweet but silky smooth in the chew, it’s almost warm and buttery. But it’s also sweet, a little sweeter than I’m keen on. The peanut butter is thick and has a strong flavor to it, the proportion or perhaps that there was so much of it in one place gave it a lot more prominence than in any of the Mary Janes.
The Vanilla Mary Jane is like a bleached out sea shell, missing all the beauty and character of the original. The fake vanilla taffy is okay and I admit that it does give the peanut butter more dominance. But the whole thing is just too sweet and bland. The Abba-Zaba wins based on its superior texture and better balance of peanut butter.
Overall, this experience has proved that the Mary Jane deserves to endure untouched for all these years (96 years!). I can see this variety being fun for kids who might be turned off by the smoky notes of the molasses original.
More on Mary Jane at the Bewildered Brit.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Most of what I love about Halloween is the tradition. But sometimes I do like to see a bit of novelty thrown into the mix. Earlier this year I saw that Whitman’s, makers of the famous Whitman’s Sampler boxed candies, started making holiday novelty candies. Their first entry for Easter was a series of pastel confection coated marshmallows. Their entry for Halloween is similar, a candy corn shaped Marshmallow covered in Halloween Pastelle.
The candies are sold individually wrapped, I found mine at RiteAid but I also saw them at Walgreen’s. Each piece is an ounce and comes in a simple cellophane sleeve with a decorative Halloween black & orange border. At fifty cents each it wasn’t hard to take a gamble on them.
The construction is simple. It’s a rounded triangle of soft, almost gooey marshmallow covered in a white confection. The coating is orange and yellow and frosted in the form of a piece of candy corn. Of course it’s missing a whole stripe, which was a bit disappointing. But the shades and ratios of the colors that they do have are dead on good mimics.
This is pure sugar with scant other ingredients to break up the sweetness. The “pastelle” coating has a good snap like a white chocolate but no other flavor - no milky notes, no vanilla. It’s smooth enough though that it creates a bit of a creamy container for the marshmallow. Since this was exceptionally fresh the marshmallow was moist and fluffy, though also a bit sticky. It melts into a fluffed cream instead of a latexy marshmallow. It’s less sweet than the coating, but on it’s own it’s still throat searing.
It’s cute to look at and of course quite economical as far as Halloween-themed edible decorations go. While I found the Easter ones a little off-putting because part of me wanted them to be flavored, this one actually reminded me a little of candy corn. Not enough to make me buy it again.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
South Africa Marshmallow Footballers are made by a company called Sweet Cred based in the United Kingdom, which sounds more like an casual clothing company than someone who makes confections. They specialize in gummies, sour ropes and marshmallows along with novelty shapes and holiday themes. The candies themselves are made in China.
Inside the package is a tray with eight little pockets to hold the Footballers. Yes, eight. Not eleven. Maybe it’s a metric conversion thing. You don’t get a whole team.
It’s only 88 grams (which means each candy is just 11 grams) but a huge package - about the footprint of a sheet of A4 paper.
The marshmallow figures are wearing the uniform colors of the South Africa national team. But that’s about as far as the resemblance goes. They’re mostly “peachy” looking guys, but a few are what I’d call “violet putty” color, certainly nothing like the real team. Did you look at the photo there? Yeah, none of them have green hair or huge, puffy noses.
As decorated marshmallow candies, there’s a lot more to them than just the ordinary sugar crusted Marshmallow Peep. These are frosted in several colors and then coated in a sugar crust. They’re a basic strawberry flavor as far as I can tell.
The marshmallow in the center is whatever color the footballer’s flesh is, but it’s all the same flavor after that. The hair, stripes, eyes, smiles and shoelaces are frosted after the sugar crust and are quite a bit more crunchy. The clothing is simply chewier than the marshmallow.
The texture is soft and latexy, it has a nice foamy chew to it but it’s very sweet, even when I took bites without the sugar crusting. Each piece feels like a lot of candy - it’s about three inches high and only a little over a third of an ounce. Kids will probably enjoy them, especially those fascinated with soccer (football).
The candy reminded me of so many other Chinese marshmallow candies I’ve had. It’s passable stuff and in the case of Sweet Cred, they’ve gone the extra mile and are sourcing beef gelatin, so these are Halal.
As with many of the novelty marshmallows I’ve had, I think they make better edible decorations than actual edible products. So for cupcakes or a cake or just a fun buffet in celebration of the World Cup, these would be great. They’re probably also great for giving to kids with vuvuzelas, if only to make them stop for the minute that it takes for them to gobble these.
These were sent to me by a wonderful reader (along with some other items I’ll get to reviewing, like premium nougat).
Friday, May 28, 2010
They come in a rather petite package, it weighs only 1.28 ounces, which is a pretty remarkable difference compared to the standard Butterfinger bar which clocks in at 2.1 ounces. Of course that does mean that there are fewer calories per serving, here a bag is only 170 calories (133 per ounce) while a bar is 270 calories (129 per ounce).
The package is a simple pouch, a little taller than a bag of M&Ms and in a bright yellow and orange with blue accents.
The Snackerz look every bit as appealing as the actual Butterfinger bar. They’re a bit chalky and smell like sugar and fake butter. They’re about 1.25 inches long and .75 to 1.00 inches wide. They’re decorated with little zags of orange icing confection. They’re an irregular puff shape, there’s a little pocket of Butterfinger creme in there.
The crunch is like a sweet version of Fritos or a breakfast cereal. Inside the sweets, salty and buttery flavored cream has a little hint of roasted nuts. The cereal and peanut butter combination is fun and different enough. The mockolate coating is a joke, it’s fresh so there’s no hint of rancid cocoa or anything that I get from Butterfingers now and then. But there’s no rich cocoa to go with it.
A few years ago I tried something called Butterfinger Stixx, which were a little wafer tube filled with a similar creme, but the difference there was that they were covered in real milk chocolate. That was a great idea. This is mediocre at best ... a smaller portion than most candies offer at this price but sub par ingredients.
After seeing what Nestle did with the Wonka line to create products with better ingredients, this is just plain disappointing. I know they can do better.
Made in Mexico, no Kosher statement on the package.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
You’ve probably noticed by now that I’m not a big gum chewer. But I’ve had to do a lot of thinking at work lately, and there have been studies that show that chewing gum enhances learning and reduces stress.
I found this bag of 75 pieces of Mike and Ike Fruit Flavored Bubblegum in my package of samples from the National Confectioners Association that arrived in advance of the Sweets & Snacks Expo later this month. I’ve seen these on store shelves already. They’re little bubble gum pieces in the same five flavors as Mike and Ike: strawberry, lime, lemon, orange and cherry.
The bag is an odd portion, it’s 4.25 ounces but a serving size is 2 pieces. Of course that’s just a recommendation. My mode of gum consumption is to chew it quickly until it loses its flavor, toss and start with a new piece/pieces. A portion for me is about 20 pieces for a session. (There are 5 calories per rod.)
The gum itself is made by Ford Gum under license from Just Born, makers of Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales and Marshmallow Peeps.
The rods are just about the same size as the classic Mike and Ike. The only differences are that they’re opaque and more regularly shaped. The outer coating was a light candy shell, not completely crunchy but it had a satisfying grain that created a good texture at the start of the chew and it also released a lot of flavor into the mix.
Orange was better than I expected. I was afraid it would be too tangy and reminiscent of Aspergum. It is a nice citrus flavor, tart at first but then a sweet orange flavor. It hangs onto the zest notes the longest, though it’s not as though it’s a long time at all.
Lemon started out sweet, then got a nice tangy lemonade vibe going on, then all the flavor just up and left.
Lime is all the things I love and hate about lime. It’s metallic and bitter but also zesty and tangy. The lime flavor is rather realistic but part of me is wondering why I’d want to chew lime gum.
Strawberry is fun because it’s sweet and a little like lemon with its tart bite. It seemed to be the one with the best bubble blowing, but that might have been because I chewed it the longest.
Cherry looked a lot like Strawberry much of the time, just a smidge darker. It was like a LifeSavers Wild Cherry gum rod. I liked it, even though it was medicinal, syrupy and rather bitter towards the end. It was also thin and soupy in parts and never really made good bubbles.
I liked chewing mine in pairs. Two pieces made a perfect portion for later bubble blowing. I was mostly a purist, but occasionally mixed the flavors together. Of course all citrus go together and strawberry with lemon is good.
I’d say I liked these better than actual Mike and Ike, but that’s not saying much as a I find the jelly rods a bit bland. Fruit flavored gum made with actual sugar isn’t that easy to find.
They also make a Hot Tamales version of the gum, but it’s made with artificial sweeteners, so I gave it away for a cinnamon gum fan.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.