Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Brach’s Ice Cream Conversation Hearts provide a conceptually different choice in the area of conversation candies. They’re flavored like ice cream, which is to say that they’re more mainstream than the original spice inspired flavors that Necco used to produce.
When I go to the store and browse ice cream flavors, the tops on my list of consideration go something like this (not necessarily in order): chocolate, coffee, mint chocolate chip, butter pecan, peanut butter cup and then maybe vanilla. I can’t remember the last time I bought strawberry ice cream (though I buy strawberry sorbet rather often) and orange sherbet is so far off my list of viable flavors, I can’t even recall seeing it in stores.
Strawberry (pink) was bitter and only a vague floral hint of berry. Mostly bitter from the food coloring.
Cherry (same shade of pink) was bitter and sweet with only a faint cherry flavoring note. Not tartness, just sweet. I’m still not convinced that there was any difference, except strawberry seemed even more bitter.
I had to take a break at this point because of the bitterness. A bit of water. Some crackers. I don’t know why I started with pink.
Vanilla (white) was expected to be flavorless, but actually does have a pleasant vanilla note to it. It’s like a marshmallow flavor. Really the only one I picked through assortment to eat. But it was really that I was actively avoiding nearly every other piece.
Chocolate was just horrible. Worse than the pink candies, because it was so lacking in chocolate and ended up tasting like a musty basement. You can tell just by looking at it that it can’t taste like chocolate, it’s not brown.
Orange was mild and did remind me of orange sherbet, except for the fact that it was missing that juice tartness. So it was more like an orange chapstick.
Now that I’ve tried their take on the classic ice cream flavors, I have no interest in their take on something more complex like butter pecan or mint chocolate chip. It’s best they failed at the easy stuff so I don’t get my hopes up.
Brach’s also has Heartlines Classic Conversation Hearts (I reviewed them when they were called small conversation hearts) on the shelves again this year. They’re better than the classic Necco (which are achingly hard to find) but still, not quite right.
Taken as a non-toxic and cheap decoration, there’s little better than conversation hearts. I paid only $2.50 for a full pound. Even if no one eats them from this cute jar on my desk, it was an inexpensive way to look like I’m observing the holiday. If you’re not eating them, it doesn’t matter which version you pick up. Choose based on the color combos, the sayings on them, or where they’re made. (These are made in Argentina.) There’s little point in choosing based on flavor.
Monday, November 12, 2012
Godiva Chocolate was founded in Belgium in 1926 and since then has become a worldwide sensation and perhaps even a synonym for chocolate indulgence.
I’m often attracted to Godiva, because their packaging is so lovely and the marketing evokes all the right elements of delectability and luxury. But then I’m disappointed by the actual product. I’ve come to learn that the adjective Belgian is no better at describing quality than saying the word quality.
A reader, Sherrie, suggested I try the new Cake Truffle collection from Godiva. I saw the box at Barnes & Noble, and found it enchantingly appealing.
Since I can’t have walnuts, I decided to visit one of their shops to make sure I only bought pieces I could eat and since I spotted it in the case, I substituted their Red Velvet Cake Truffle for the Butterscotch Walnut Brownie.
This truffle had a nice soft bite to it with a light cocoa flavor from the shell and the rustic sprinkles. It wasn’t as sweet as I expected, but didn’t really have the flavor profile or notes of actual cookie dough to satisfy me from its name alone. Other than that, it was just a not-quite-as-sweet-as-all-white-chocolate truffle.
I liked this one the best of the assortment. The flavors were mild and it was certainly a sweet truffle, but it did have a nice touch of pineapple. The milky white chocolate was a bit like coconut, so the whole thing was evocative of a Pina Colada.
I have to say that this was one of the most attractive of the set. I loved how they looked in the tray in the candy case. The reminded me of the ever-so-trendy cake pops right now. As far as birthday cake, I would say that this truffle, with this mostly white chocolate ingredients really nailed the yellow cake profile. It’s sweet and milky, but also a little greasy feeling on the tongue. There are more vanilla notes in this one but the one saving grace are the little crunches of the sprinkles.
I’m not fond of Red Velvet cake to begin with, but the key elements of the cake would be its light cocoa note to a buttermilk cake and a cream cheese frosting. What I found here was a weakly chocolate ganache center and a bland white chocolate shell. Sweet but lacking the tangy notes that buttermilk and cream cheese bring along. It was just a bland chocolate truffle.
I bought my truffles by the piece, saving myself a smidge of money. I got five truffles (the fifth is not pictured and was the 70% Noir, which was good but not intense) and spent over $11. The standard box of 8 truffles (5.25 ounces) is $25. That works out to about $76 per pound. Ultimately this purchase confirmed my current feelings about Godiva. There are so many wonderful local confectioners that use high quality ingredients to create fresh and scrumptious delicacies, I don’t need this sort of mass produced product any longer. If I’m going to buy boxed chocolates at the mall, I will go to See’s, where the price is around $20 a pound and there are always free samples.
Friday, June 22, 2012
But I realized that if I didn’t review them, I couldn’t get rid of them.
The marshmallows have a lot going for them in the concept department. They’re fruity marshmallows shaped and colored like the fruits they emulate. Green Apple is an uncommon flavor in marshmallows, so it has that unique selling proposition going for it as well. Plus, this marshmallow has a jelly filling.
The price wasn’t bad, they were $1.99 for a bag that was over 5 ounces and held about 18 marshmallows. They’re cute and great for decorating or garnishing any number of things. I was thinking these might be fun on the end of a long toothpick in an Apple Martini served in a lowball glass.
They smell slightly of old beer or hard apple cider. Of course it’s just my brain confusing artificial flavors with alcohol. Silly brain.
The sugary coating in this case is also tart, so there’s an immediate pop of flavor to go with the quite aromatic marshmallow. The fluff is soft and chewy, not quite latexy or overly gummy.
It’s really all over the map. The marshmallow is sweet and only lightly flavored, but the sour sugar coating gives it a strange texture and of course an unwelcome tartness. The jelly center is less jelly and more of a sap. It’s sticky and also strangely flavored, it’s a little tangy but also quite heavily flavored (and colored) with a less-artificial apple flavoring.
It’s just weird. They’re not as attractive, I think, as the Strawberry Mallo-Licious. The color is strange, a bit on the blue side and the jelly inside is overly colored, so much that I could taste it and it made my tongue blue-green.
It’s just not my thing, not that I’m opposed to fruity flavored marshmallows (the only ones I’ve found I like are the Japanese Eiwa ones sold in the US under the Hello Kitty brand). I’m still wondering if these can be toasted, though I have my doubts about the sour coating doing well near a flame. Right now, after eating only two, I’ve found I have a stomach ache.
Monday, June 11, 2012
American marshmallows are not as interesting as those that are found in Europe and Japan. It’s sad, because I would think that the United States has the capacity and the desire to eat really good marshmallows.
So I was surprised and pleased to find this bag of Mallo-Licious: Strawberry filled with Chocolate on display at the end of the candy aisle at Walgreen’s. They come in other flavors as well. I saw Green Apple (filled with green jelly) there and the package says they also come in Sour Peach.
I’ve had quite a few Frankford candies over the years, which is not a very well known brand. They make licensed candy and have another sub-brand called Kandy Kastle. Much of their candy is made in China, though Frankford has a small chocolate factory in Pennsylvania (where they started) that makes mostly novelty foil wrapped molded pieces. For the most part, their stuff is sub-par, some of it actually horrible. But I saw that this candy was made in Italy, so I thought it might be different.
They are shaped like real strawberries, and are actually sized like an average strawberry as well. They’re over two inches tall from the tip of the berry to the top of the green “stem”. It’s a standard marshmallow but instead of the campfire style, these are covered with fine granulated sugar. It gives them a little sparkle and in the case of the strawberry flavor here for review, it gives it a slight grainy crunch that vaguely mimics strawberry seeds.
The marshmallow berry is filled with a little dollop of what is called chocolate on the front of the package, but the ingredients are probably more on the order of sugar, palm oil, milk powder and fat reduced cocoa.
The ingredients as a whole are pretty substandard (though what I’d expect from Frankford). It starts with sugar and high fructose corn syrup. See, here’s what so surprising about that. There are a lot of people who assume that candy has a lot of HFCS in it, but in reality there are very few candies that do. This is, though, the second candy I’ve had in the past month that does, and marks only the fifth since I’ve been keeping the database that I’ve noticed it.
The marshmallow is soft and has a pleasant strawberry scent, a combination of toasted sugar like cotton candy and a light floral note of pineapple. The bite has the slight grain and the marshmallow is bouncy and melts quite easily, more like a meringue than some latexy gelatin-rich marshmallows. The chocolate inside is more like a soft paste that has a cake batter flavor to it and very little actual chocolate flavor.
It’s not horrible, but much better to look at than actually eat. Honestly, I think they’re charming and wouldn’t be afraid to use them to decorate a cake or put amongst some home baked cookies on a tray for dessert without ever telling people they’re edible. (Lest the eat them.) I’m sure children will enjoy them. I’m thinking about trying to toast them.
Thursday, May 31, 2012
The trio of bars represent some pretty popular cookies and great candy bar combinations. The bars are pretty small, they consist of two small wafer based bars that clock in at a mere 1.3 ounces for the whole package. At regular price they were $1.19 each at CVS, though you may be able to find them on sale at some point. Nestle and the Girl Scouts have been trying to whip up a fervor over these bars, so be prepared that they’ll never come on sale or be hard to find. (Or not. They were just sitting on the candy shelf at CVS, probably a week before they were supposed to be out for regular folks to buy them, I’d heard that they were internet pre-order only plus a week of exclusive purchase at Dylan’s Candy Bar in New York City.)
The bars are attractive and though the packaging is spare and kind of generic looking, it does a good job of protecting the bars themselves without out a lot of extras. The wrappers looked a bit like nutrition bars to me from a distance, and I almost didn’t notice them, but the line at the drug store was long, so I had plenty of time to stare at everything.
Samoas are a vanilla cookie base with coconut and caramel then a little series of mockolate stripes. I’ve had them a few times and found them to be a little too sweet and sticky for me, but definitely more on the side of candy than cookie.
The description of the candy bar on the wrapper was: cookie wafers, coconut caramel creme and chewy caramel topped with toasted coconut. Notice in that description there’s no mention of chocolate, because there isn’t any here, just a mockolate coating, and then some other orange striped stuff on top of that.
The smell is disappointingly artificial. There’s a note of fake butter that overpowers the coconut scent almost entirely. The wafers are definitely crisp, but the creme filling is grainy and has more of the fake butter notes to it. I couldn’t finish the second bar. I had to sequester it in the trash in another room because the smell was driving me crazy.
I know that some folks are going to be obsessed with these, but I found them completely disappointing. The fake flavor, the lack of real chocolate, the use of useless artificial colors and simply missing an opportunity to satisfy.
The Limited Edition Girl Scout Cookie Flavors: Peanut Butter Creme is based on the Tagalongs cookies. (For years I called them Tagalogs, some sort of a misreading where I thought they were inspired by a traditional Filipino peanut cookie, you know, because there were Samoas, I thought there was a series that was all themed for Pacific Islands.)
The package describes the candy bar as Cookie wafers and peanut butter creme topped with airy cripsies. Again, no mention of chocolate, that greasy coating on it because it’s not actually chocolate.
This bar was particularly messy, unlike the others. It was simply soft and sticky, even though the ambient temperature was 70 degrees or so. The bar is very peanutty smelling, roasted and really appetizing. The wafers are thick and airy with a good crunch. The peanut butter creme is salty and the mockolate coating is thin enough and just barely sweet enough to make this a candy. Though the coating made this a little on the greasy side, they’re good. Much better than the Butterfinger Crunch Crisp bars, which also have that fake butter flavor.
Again, Q.Bel makes a much better quality Peanut Butter Wafer Bar, though it actually doesn’t have quite the same proportions or salty peanut butter oomph that this does. Trader Joe’s also has a peanut butter wafer crisp bar that’s a fraction of the cost of this (only $1.99 for 7 ounces instead of $1.19 for 1.3 ounces) and has none of the crazy additives and lackluster ingredients.
On the whole, I’m underwhelmed. I’m sure Nestle and the Girl Scouts are going to make out well with their social outreach programs and strong brand identities. Maybe I’m just too old for this, jaded or suspicious of these sorts of stunts.
Friday, April 13, 2012
A few years ago I reviewed Twizzlers Chocolate Twists. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Hershey’s had changed the recipe and even the shape. There were many comments from fans of the classic version of the Chocolate Twizzlers who petitioned Hershey’s to return to that version.
So here it is, nearly four years later, and Hershey’s has heard the requests and responded with the new improved Now in the Classic Twist version.
We’re at a crossover period at the moment, where both versions are on store shelves, so I poked around and picked up both at different stores at different times. I also dug out the wrapper from my 2008 review so I could do a full comparison between the versions. The packages differ in very small ways. But if you’re looking for the return to the classic twist, look for the little blue dot that says Now in the Classic Twist.
First, the packages are virtually identical. The top is the Twizzler red with the blue outlined white Twizzlers logo. The clear center bit of the package shows the candy, which is the best way to tell them apart, as is the image at the top. The “Classic” Twizzlers have crimped ends. The revised formula, which is on its way out, has an open end.
The little diagram at the top of the package shows this and points to them with the text “totally twisted” with an arrow next to it. The thing of special note is that the 2012 version has a (r) mark next to it.
So I’ll start just with a straight review of the Classic Twist Chocolate Twizzlers. The expiration date is November 2012. Actually, nowhere on the package does this say that they’re Chocolate Twizzlers. It just says on the lower right of the front that it’s made with real Hershey’s chocolate. Otherwise, they’re just Twizzlers Twists. It’s as if Hershey’s thinks that saying “made with chocolate” is a flavor.
The twists are nicely made, glossy and consistent. There were exactly 20 twists in my package. They’re slightly flattened on one end, but otherwise a soft of oval tube with set of six twisted ribs.
The scent is mildly cocoa, a little on the woodsy side. They’re stiff but flexible. The bite is soft enough to cleave off easily without much pull. The base of the recipe is wheat flour (the second ingredient after corn syrup), so it’s a sort of doughy chew. The flavor is very clean, again it’s quite woodsy and not terribly deep. It’s like weak cocoa or slightly warm chocolate milk.
I found it pleasant enough though not satisfying as a chocolate candy, and not really compelling enough for a snack either texture-wise or with enough flavor intensity to hold my interest.
Now, I was on the fence about re-reviewing the rejected formula for Chocolate Twizzlers. But as I mentioned, I found the wrapper from the review from 2008. (Please don’t get the impression that I hoard my wrappers, I was cleaning out my studio because my roof was leaking and just happened to find it stuck in with some nice tins and boxes that I have been keeping.)
Inside this package there were only 15 twists, even though the packages weighed the same. They’re actually shorter, so I can only assume that they’re simply beefier than the other version.
They look just the same as the 2008 version. No crimped ends, slightly milkier color than the crimped end Classic.They’re soft, much softer than the other version.
They smell sweet but not much like chocolate or really much else. The chew is doughy and soft, the texture is kind of sticky but smooth overall. The chocolate flavor is bland and lacks the slightly bitter edge of the Classic.
Mostly it’s the texture that’s different here, globs of it would stick to the edge of my molars and gums. Probably a dental nightmare.
There are 20 twists in the new bag, 15 in the old bag. So the new twists are 25% lighter. But the portion size on the package is still the same. It says on all three that 4 twists weigh 38 grams and provide 130 calories. But how could that be? If Hershey’s is providing information that’s off by 25%, isn’t that causing problems with portion control? And which one is correct?
The ingredients from the version I reviewed in 2008, which were uncrimped, look more like the current crimped version than they do with the uncrimped 2012 version. How can that be explained?
Basically, it’s not like you have a choice. The people spoke, consumers said they preferred the old crimped twists ... whatever the ingredients happen to be ...with or without palm oil, with or without soy lecithin.
Given the choice between both versions ... I choose neither. I stick by my 4 out of 10 rating from four years ago. It’s a middling candy. If you want a cocoa-rich flour based product, have an Oreo. If you want a chewy strip of candy, have a real Twizzler. The chocolate versions are just lacking zing. The new ones are prettier, that’s about all I can say.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
A few years ago I picked up a Big Bite Gummy Bear. It’s not the biggest gummi bear available on the market, but they’re easy to find and pretty well priced for a novelty item.
This year the Big Bite family of gummis is expanding with holiday themed shapes. For Christmas they have three: a Tin Soldier (red cherry), a Christmas Tree (green apple) and a Rocking Horse (red cherry). I found the Big Bite Gummy Rocking Horse charming and well designed so I picked that one from the display at Cost Plus World Market. They’re not as big as the Big Bite Gummy Bear (which is 12 ounces), they’re about half that weight at 5.82 ounces.
First, as a Christmas tree ornament, this is a colossal failure. It’s weight makes it too heavy and big to put on a normal tree. But as a party favor, stocking stuffer or table decoration, it does pretty well.
The gummi is constructed of two molded halves that are bonded together. They’re packaged in a clear plastic form (which could actually be the mold) that works as an excellent storage container for the partially eaten candy and also as a more appropriate ornament when you’re done.
Even though it’s not as big as the original Big Bite Gummy Bear, it’s still pretty large for a single portion of candy. (Come on, this is at least three portions.) The texture is soft, the surface is smooth but a little greasy because of the carnauba wax coating.
Out of the package, the Rocking Horse stands well on its own, though she’s (yes, I checked) a little head-heavy and tips forward.
I was disappointed in the flavor selection, but I understand with novelty candies they have to go with what’s most popular. (I would have preferred raspberry or strawberry or maybe something truly holiday themed like cranberry or cinnamon.)
Once I cut off the head, the halves of the candy pulled apart quite easily. The texture is pliable with a smooth flavor. It’s cherry and though not the best cherry gummi I’ve ever had, it was passable. It was light, a little tart and had a nice overall balance. It wasn’t too dark, not black cherry or wild cherry but more of the stereotypical cherry of most candies. (I think Tootsie Pop Cherry is as close as I can think of.) However, the edges of the product were tough and leathery, while the center was a bit softer. I also got a bit of an aftertaste and slight burning in my mouth ... this could be my reaction to the red food dye or just simple paranoia.
The tag lists the ingredients (contains gelatin and not Kosher/Halal) as well as the nutritional information. It was printed so small I had to photograph it and blow it up. The serving size is the whole candy but the calorie count for the whole thing was a rather modest 592 calories. (That Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte with the whipped cream at Starbucks has 520 calories.) But the really surprising part is consuming the whole thing is 10.7 grams of protein.
The candies are imported by a company called Novelty Specialties and are manufactured in China. I’m not enthusiastic about candy (or any food product) made in China because of their lack of accountability when it comes to food safety, though the United States and United Kingdom have their share as well. If I weren’t writing this blog, I never would have purchased, let alone eaten this product (but that goes for a lot of the candies I’ve tried, and sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised).
The price was $3.99, which was the same price as the twice-as-big Big Bite Gummi Bear. $3.99 could buy some very nice, American or German gummis that you could put in a holiday themed package. Just saying. If you’re not planning on eating it and want to dispose of it in the garbage disposal, well, this is better than plastic.
Since writing the review of the Big Bite Gummy Bear, which seem to be widely available, the company’s website has disappeared. (Here’s the page I got when I went to NoveltySpecialties.com.)
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
This new version is amped up in size and has another twist, actual flavors to the candy buttons (the classics may be flavored, but it’s not perceptible). They’re called Candy Sweet Spots and they’re made in China by Greenbrier International, Inc.
The package is big. The strips are 11 inches long and 4.25 inches wide. There are three strips inside, which provides a full 2.4 ounces of candy - I paid a buck for it.
I’ve never seen a package include, perhaps even advertise, the word artificial so much. The name of the candy might actually be Candy Sweet Spots Artificially Flavored. Then at the bottom there’s a little arrow that points up to the candies themselves that also exalts, “Assorted Artificial Fruit Flavors!”
The package goes on to list all of the flavors, right there on top of the actual candies in the see through package. I appreciate the information.
Yes, they are bigger than the traditional paper buttons. For the most part they’re 1/3 to 1/2 of an inch in diameter. The old style buttons are a little less than 1/4 of an inch.
They come in four flavors: Artificial Cherry, Artificial Orange, Artificial Lemon and Artificial Raspberry. There are fifteen Sweet Spots of each flavor on each sheet.
The Sweet Spots are pretty much regularly sized and shaped. The bonus over their traditionally sized cousins is that these come off the paper rather easily. I had no trouble getting them off, no bits of paper stuck to the bottom. But they do leave a little residue of color/candy on the paper (so you can’t reuse the paper for notes or anything).
Cherry (red) is sweet and mild, it has an actual authentic artificial taste to it and even a little note of Red #40.
They’re really not that good as candy, but as something to amuse a small child for a while, they’re okay. They’re also made in China and contain gelatin and artificial flavors and colors.
I would say that they’re a good accent item, but the original Candy Buttons are too. You can peel them off the paper and put them on a decorated cake or cupcake, which is especially useful if you just want to do a plain uncolored frosting and not have to mix anything else. (And easy for kids to do.) Unless you’re looking for something in a larger scale, I’d say move along to some candy that’s actually good. But if you can’t resist the look of these, well, the price is good and the quality of the colors makes them at least a good deal as decorations. Other party ideas include hanging a strip on the wall to make “lickable wallpaper” or as an accent behind a candy buffet.
There’s another version of these called Mega Candy Buttons which are actually even bigger and are Kosher (so probably don’t have gelatin in them).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.