Friday, January 19, 2007
I’ve mentioned Frangos a lot on this blog, but I’ve never reviewed them before. So after Christmas when I stumbled on a 50% off sale, I picked up a variety I’d never had before, 62% Cocoa Dark Chocolate Frangos. They were regularly $20 a pound, but at $10 a pound, I thought it was time they made an appearance here.
But first, how about a little background about Frangos?
People in the Pacific Northwest and the Chicago area are most familiar with Frangos, as the history of the confection is closely tied to both areas.
The Frango confectionery line was first introduced by Frederick & Nelson department stores in Seattle in 1918. The Frango name was applied at F&N to a few confectionery products, but the Frango mint meltaway (which joined their line in 1927) is the one that struck a lasting chord with consumers. (Note: there’s some disagreement about the early name of the candy, which may have been Francos, but was changed after Francisco Franco and the Spanish Civil War gave the chocolates a less festive feel.)
A Frango is a small chocolate - currently they’re taller than they are about 3/4” high and 1/2” wide and deep. The center is a firm meltaway - harder than a truffle but softer than pure chocolate. The original flavor and still the most popular is Mint.
Frangos made their migration to Chicago in 1929 when Marshall Fields (now Macy’s) bought the store and started up Frango production right there at the flaship State Street store. Though the products are virtually identical they are packaged differently - the Northwest version are individually wrapped and the Chicago version are sold in a traditional candy box in little fluted cups.
I first had Frangos in the late seventies when my mother returned from a trip to Chicago with a box. I despised most of the flavors (Coffee, Raspberry, Cherry, Double Chocolate) but I rather liked the Lemon and of course was obsessed with the Mint. Boxes were sold with mixes of flavors and the ultimate gift was the “Foot of Frangos.” (The little paper cups gave a clue to the flavor, so there was no problem with little dents in the bottom from picky children.)
The 62% Cocoa Dark Chocolates are quite nice. They have a strong vanilla aroma mixed with the smoky notes of the chocolate. The centers are firm but the pieces are small and easy to pop into your mouth whole. The meltaway middle gets a little kick from a hit of salt (which I always loved in the mint version).
The worst thing about them right now though, is that they use partially hydrogenated soybean oil to get them “melty” in the center. This adds 1.5 gram of trans fats to a serving of 4 pieces (about 40 grams). Hopefully, they’re reformulating.
My interest in Frangos faded when I discovered chocolate truffles. It was nice to have some again and they do hold a strong place in American confectionery history, but probably not much of a place in my current candy-eating repertoire.
You can learn lots more from the Wikipedia article about Frangos (be sure to click through to the links if you’re really obsessed). I’ve glossed over most of the controversy about the Macy’s/Marshall Fields/Northwest bruhahah but feel free to weigh in about it here.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
I have my favorite candies, and I’ve been pretty faithful to them over the years. But there’s always this longing to experience new candies and how different cultures, countries and regions express their love of sweets. That’s part of the reason for Candy Blog, to help everyone overcome that fear of the new and different and embrace the new and different.
This is a story about my first “exotic” candy.
Sometime when I was a kid in grade school I was given Botan Rice Candy. I know I’d been exposed to foreign candy already (Torrones, Toblerone & other European chocolates), but this one was exotic because of the pictures on the box and that it had no associations with a holiday at all. It’s possible I had it at school as an observance of Lunar New Year, or just a show & tell from another child whose parents bought a box for them to bring into class. It came in a simple little box that’s pretty much unchanged today. At one end of the box was a little compartment that contained a little toy, like you would also get in Cracker Jacks back in the day. In the other 3/4 of the box were little cellophane wrapped jelly candies.
Things have changed a little since then. There is no longer a little toy in the box, but now a “Free Children’s Sticker” instead. But I guess this leaves more room for candy.
The candies are little cubes of jelly with a mild orange/lemon flavor wrapped twice. Though it seems like it’s not that different from those sugar encrusted jelly orange slices, these are less flashy. And this is what’s important about the Botan Rice Candy - the inner wrapper is edible. It looks like a slightly clouded cellophane, but it’s really made from rice and will dissolve in your mouth. (I was also fascinated with this ‘edible’ packaging in the classic Torrone as well, which have a starch wafer to keep them from sticking.)
What could be better for a kid looking to expand her horizons? A candy you could show to your friends and freak them out when you eat the plastic wrap plus a little toy!
Sometimes I like to pick the inner wrapper off as completely as I can. For no real reason of course. It’s not like it’s tasty. It’s kind of gooey, starts sticky and then becomes slippery on the tongue. Later when I had sake for the first time, it reminded me of yeasty rice candy wrappers. (Not really in a good way either, I don’t care for sake at all.)
As a candy, Botan Rice Candy is okay. It’s sweet and mild, though a little sticky sometimes. It has some of the barley sugar or millet jelly taste that I like, but the real appeal has to be the edible wrapper. There’s not much in the box either, at 3/4 of an ounce, there are only six pieces in there. With import costs, it’s usually about a dollar a box, even down in Chinatown where everything is cheap.
I went poking around the ‘net to see what else is out there and found another brand that also features the rice wrapper but looks like it could be of higher quality.
So, what was your first experience with Botan Rice Candy?
UPDATE: Several folks have mentioned White Rabbit in the comments since it also has an edible inner wrapper, here’s my review on that.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
We had a Secret Santa exchange at the office, and of course my Secret Santa knew my fondness for candy (who doesn’t?) and bestowed upon me a box of retro items. Inside was a string of Zotz in Apple.
I don’t know much about Zotz. They’re made in Italy and are composed of a fizzy sour powder center inside a hard candy shell. They currently come in three flavors: Cherry, Watermelon & Apple. They come in a string of four packages (though as a child I’m quite sure the strings were longer, like you could get a yard of lollipops). I also recall they came in Lemon, but I can’t find much chatter online about them.
They’re awful cute little candies. They’re pretty big as well. I have two methods for eating them. The first is to suck on them really hard. There’s a little hole or seam in one end and if you suck hard enough you can get the fizzy powder to come out. The other method is to skip that patience thing and just crunch into it, which is usually what I do.
There is a serious amount of fizzy powder inside, a lot more than I remember. The fizz is pleasant and froths up into a rather creamy fluff inside the mouth. They’re not quite as fun as I remember, the fizz was certainly plentiful, but the flavor (perhaps because it was apple) wasn’t really that compelling.
The grown up version of these are the Napoleon Lemon Sours (from Belgium), which I’ve been eating for years and have always cleaved open the candy hoping to find a huge reservoir of the fizziness (and have always been disappointed and then put another one in my mouth). There are also Japanese versions of Zotz that I’ve seen at the stores but haven’t tried yet, maybe that’s something to put on my New Year’s list.
What flavors do you remember Zotz coming in?
Friday, December 15, 2006
While at the All Candy Expo over the summer, there was some excitement over the new chocolate Pop Rocks to come out later in the year. I got a sample of them there, in a little cup, not a packet with the final design. In fact, when I saw the packet at the 7-11 last night, I didn’t even recognize it. The colors on the package look more orange than chocolatey brown (and I was actually interested in orange pop rocks).
The Pop Rocks Bubble Gum was a bit of a disappointment. I was expecting it to be like the bubble gum cotton candy I had earlier this year. Instead it was a little bits of white bubble gum mixed with even smaller bits of rather unflavored Pop Rocks in light orange and pink. The fun is gone in a matter of seconds. Either you chew up the gum part and all the pop rocks go off at once or you leave it in your mouth and have the gummy unreactive lumps at the end.
The gum itself is nice, soft but it takes about half the packet to create enough gum to make a bubble.
The Chocolate Pop Rocks are very light in color and look kind of like little crisped rice, but about the size of sesame seeds. In fact they remind me of Cocoa Krispies. The popping is light and refreshing, but not as pronounced as the Green Apple I’ve had recently.
But Pop Rocks are not the only game any longer. There is a Turkish company called HLeks that’s making carbonated candy as well under the name Shoogy Boom. They have a nice range of flavors, including lemon and cola. I picked up the comparable flavors: Chocolate Covered and Bubble Gum. They also have a freaky chinless clown as a mascot. Seriously, this cannot be endearing to children.
Shoogy Boom is a slightly smaller serving, at only 7 grams per packet instead of the 9.5-10.5 grams you get with Pop Rocks.
The Shoogy Boom Popping Bubble Gum had a similar format to the Pop Rocks, just a mess of little gum bits and some light orange popping candy pieces mixed in. I have to give it to Shoogy Boom, they deserve their boom name, the popping is definitely active, more than the Pop Rocks. However, the gum absolutely sucks. It was like when you decide to eat a piece of paper and eventually get that stiff unchewable piece of fiber. Only this had a light bubble gum flavor.
The Chocolate Shoogy Boom were darker than the Pop Rocks and a bit rounder. The chocolate tasted much more like chocolate instead of cocoa. The popping though was far and away better than the Pop Rocks. A slight tartness to the candy inside but overall a good noisy affair. They’re both a tasty and interesting change from the original.
I think what’s best about them is that they don’t have the same tendency to lose their pop over time because of humidity that the regular popping candies can.
An internet search revealed nothing about any retailers in the US carrying Shoogy Boom, so please leave a note here if you’ve seen them sold anywhere.
Other Reviews: Candy Addict (Chocolate)
Friday, December 8, 2006
This review is an attempt at disambiguation: there are two limited edition Hershey’s chocolate bars on the market right now, one with chocolate cookie bits and one with brownie bits.
I’d seen the Limited Edition Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Chocolate earlier this summer but didn’t pick them up because I was only seeing them in the large 4 ounce bar. Finally I found this single serving bar at the Dollar Tree. Lest I think I’m getting a freakishly old bar, I checked the date, which says that it’s going until 7D (April 2007).
The bar is composed of creamy Hershey’s milk chocolate with lots of little chocolate cookie bits in it. It is not unlike the Cookies ‘n’ Mint bar that I like so much, except that it’s missing the mint component.
The bar smells sweet and pleasant and on has a great crunch that gives a little additional dark cocoa hit to the bar.
The Limited Edition Brownies ‘n’ Chocolate bar is composed of creamy Hershey’s milk chocolate with lots of little chocolate brownie bits in it. The brownie bits are crumbly and more rustic feeling than the cookie bits. They add a sugary grain to the bar, and the whole bar seems slighly softer than the cookie bits one.
The expiration date is identical to the Cookies one, 7D.
As much as I hate to admit it, there is a slight difference between these two bars. The chocolate itself is the same though the Cookies one has more vanilla notes and the Brownies one has more fudgy chocolate taste. The Brownies one was crumbly and grainy tasting, like there were big sugar bits in it the way brownie batter does. The Cookies one tasted dry and crunchy, like Oreo tops.
Is one better than the other? Not really. They’re both kind of fun. They’re both way too sweet and made my throat hurt. They both contain my new pet peeve, PGPR.
The big thing I wanted to figure out was why they brought out these bars at the same time. The only thing that points to an answer is that the Cookies bar is made in Mexico. But I highly doubt that the Mexican factory making bars for the American market didn’t know that the Pennsylvania plant was gearing up for Brownie bars. Or maybe they knew that I’d buy both bars and sit down and do a side to side.
The only indication of superiority between the two is that I finished the Brownies one first.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I reviewed the Payday covered in real milk chocolate earlier this year. That was a limited edition item and was quickly replaced with this permanent offering called the Chocolatey Avalanche bar. Cuz you know, given a choice, no one wants real chocolate. They want chocolate-like products!
The Payday Chocolatey Avalanche is pretty good. It does have real chocolate in there, it’s just mixed with some other tropical oils (and that wonderful, ubiquitous PGPR that’s all the rage right now) so it no longer qualifies as chocolate . Under the mockolate, the peanuts have a good salty hit to them that balances out the sweet and soft nougat and the slight chew from the caramel. The bar tasted slightly of cinnamon, but perhaps it was stored somewhere close to a case of Atomic Fireballs.
The best thing about this bar was that it was fresh. Every last nut on there was crunchy and tasty.
The limited edition offering at the moment, however, is called Peanut Butter flavor Avalanche which also has no chocolate. It’s a peanut butter core, covered in caramel and rolled in peanuts then dipped in a peanut butter coating.
I’ve eaten two of these so far. The first one I wolfed down the night before my CNBC appearance because I wanted to prep myself properly. The bar was dry and though filling, it stuck in my tummy like a rock. The second one I ate (pictured above) was a bit more pleasant. I’m glad I gave it another try. Still, the crumbliness of the nougat center was just too much when combined with the lack-luster peanut coating. If I were a milk drinker that would have been the perfect accompaniment. But candy shouldn’t need to be consumed with a beverage in order to work.
I’m reverting to the regular old Payday. It never lets me down.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
If you’re of a certain age you may remember Tang, Astronaut Ice Cream and Space Food Sticks. All of these became famous because of the space craze of the sixties and seventies. As normal mortals we couldn’t go to the moon, but we could eat like an astronaut!
I’m thinking the major attraction to these is nostalgia. I’m not sure anyone who didn’t live through the landings on the moon and Skylab is going to be terribly interested in an early version of an energy bar.
I never had these when they first came out. (I did however, plop down my shekles at the Air & Space Museum in junior high for Astronauts Ice Cream ... you know it said ice cream in the name, not food. It was dang expensive at $1.00 a package and really cut into my gummi bear budget.)
Anyway, one to what I have in hand, which are the present day versions of Peanut Butter and Chocolate Space Food Sticks because the persistent Eric Lefcowitz of RetroFuture.com has brought them back into production after they’d become a quaint memory to many of us.
The format has changed slightly, from a pair of long wand to 10 small pieces. The wand shape was because the snack needed to be inserted into a little hole in the astronaut’s helmet. I actually kind of like the new format, they reminded me of protein-packed Starbursts!
The Chocolate ones smell kind of like Nestle Quik. Not creamy but kind of flat like cardboard or a Tootsie Roll. They’re soft and have an easy bite that might border on crumbly. Kind of like cookie dough and less chewy than a Tootsie Roll. The chocolate flavor is just that, more like flavor, though it does boast real chocolate and cocoa in there. I can easily taste the soy in there, which is a pleasant enough. They’re a bit on the salty side (200mg), which I find a little refreshing and if you’re an athlete probably a good idea. As a candy they’re not really that satisfying. As a snack item, I kind of enjoyed eating some with some mid-day pretzels and almonds.
The Peanut Butter ones were more promising. The peanut smell was pleasant with a touch of honey (though none listed in the ingredients). This had the same crumbly chew which reminded me of eating a slightly raw peanut butter cookie or just the flavor of the old Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch. The little pieces were great, because I could eat two or three and not have to worry about resealing the package to keep the rest. Just a little twist of the packet and they were safe for later.
As a candy I probably wouldn’t buy them again. As a snack item I appreciate the real ingredients in them. So often the label on a Power Bar or other meal replacement bar can be daunting - this is pretty simple with real ingredients. Of course with only “real” ingredients there’s no fortification with additional vitamins and minerals like you might find in an energy bar.
Cruftbox reviewed the original-style stick-version of them back in ‘04. The SpaceFoodSticks website also has some great old commercials from the Pillsbury product (and one from a competing PET product called Space Energy Sticks).
Old Time Candy sells them in singles (1.99 each) but if you decide you like them and want more, go straight to the source for the best price. It’s possible this will become the hot “stocking stuffer” item this Christmas, as I’m sure there are a lot of 40-50 somethings pining for the good old days.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I think I’ve reached my limit on KitKat varieties. The disorder is called KitKat Variation Fatigue. I think part of it may be because so many Limited Editions are not as good as the original. If I had my druthers, they’d bring back the Dark Chocolate KitKat which predates the invention of Candy Blog.
A few weeks ago I reviewed the nicely wrapped but less than stellar KitKat Cappuccino from the South Pacific. I may as well repeat that description here as it certainly applies to the American KitKat Mocha:
It’s a maple chocolate KitKat. Not coffee. Not espresso. Not cappuccino. Not mocha. In fact, I think the only coffee drink you could call this would be Maple Latte ... hold the espresso.
For no reason, I’m marking this one a notch down from the Malaysian variety. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t come in a cool box. Maybe it’s because this one is certified Kosher and not Halal. Maybe it’s because I find PGPR on the ingredients label. Or maybe it’s because my car now smells like pancakes.
So that’s it. I’m not buying anymore Limited Edition KitKats. (Really! Okay, maybe. But it’d have to be really good.)
Here’s the sum of everything I’ve reviewed to date:
KitKat Coffee (USA) - 9 out of 10 - LTD
KitKat Tsubu Ichigo (Strawberry) (Japan) - 9 out of 10 - LTD
American KitKat & UK KitKat - 8 out of 10 - PERM
Orange KitKat (Canada) - 7 out of 10 - LTD
KitKat Matcha (Japan) - 7 out of 10 - LTD
KitKat Mint (USA) - 7 out of 10 - LTD
KitKat Cappuccino (Malaysia) - 6 out of 10 - LTD
White Chocolate KitKat (USA) - 6 out of 10 - PERM
KitKat Bites - 5 out of 10 - PERM
KitKat Orange & Creme (USA) - 5 out of 10 - LTD
KitKat Milkshake (USA) - 2 out of 10 - LDT
For the record, the only ones that I have bought again were the Coffee KitKat and the regular old American variety. I’ve also tried the Extra Crispy and Extra Creamy but was so underwhelmed I didn’t feel like reviewing them.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.