Thursday, September 25, 2014
Salted Caramels were also a trend, but apparently every trend either dies out or simply becomes an everyday item. So, it has happened with Salted Caramel and so now they must be trendalized with the newest flavors of the season. These are Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels.
Trader Joe’s makes a version of these for Christmas with white flake sea salt. They’re sold in the same box with a different design. They’re wildly popular, as they’re returned to shelves for more than six years in a row. Since Trader Joe’s will pretty much make a pumpkin spice version of every product they sell at some point, it was just the salted caramels’ turn. (I could list all of the items, but suffice to say that they’ve done tea, coffee, macaron, granola, ice cream, and actual pumpkin pie spice. Here’s a taste test from Serious Eats from a few years ago.)
They’re described on the box:
The ingredients are all natural, but insanely long. The chocolates are made in Ireland (I suspect by Lily O’Brien). The filling isn’t just caramel, according to their list, but actually Sticky Toffee Caramel. There’s no list of what the spices are for their pumpkin spice.
They’re lovely looking caramels, they do well in their package and emerge very shiny and with most of the salt still attached to the squiggle of milk chocolate on top of the 55% dark chocolate.
Though I often find sea salt to be a bit over-hyped, as it’s used in such small quantities that it’s hard to tell different salts apart. In this instance I could tell it was Hawaiian Sea Salt ...and I did not like it. I can’t quite put my finger on it, a friend called it Spaghetti-Os flavored, I thought it was more like carrot, but there’s definitely an additional note to this salt. It was notable enough that for some of the pieces that I ate, I actually scraped the salt off completely.
The spice smell is quite clove-heavy, even before I bit into it. The chocolate is earthy and sweet with a very good bitter note towards the end. It’s smooth and wonderfully tempered. There were no cracks or oozing spots on any of the caramels. The caramel has a light grain to it, which is probably the spice. There’s also a cereal sort of wheaty flavor to it as well. The other spice notes are earthy, with some ginger and black pepper notes and some cinnamon. Not really the best combination for me, if it were a pie, but it goes well with the chocolate.
In the end, this was not a great combination for me, I didn’t like the plain version of these that much and the addition of the spice doesn’t do much for me either. I’ll stick to the individually wrapped Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel Caramels or the panned Butterscotch Caramels.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
One of the fun things about candy is that it makes a great gift. But it’s not terribly special to grab some pick-a-mix at the local candy shop and drop the twist-tie plastic bag on someone’s lap and consider it a present. Churchill’s Confectionery recognizes that half and sticks their candy in decorative tins.
The company offered to send me a sample of their line. I’ve actually had Churchill’s before, I have a little red London bus tin that doubles as a bank on my desk at work. So when they offered, I thought it would be good to have some fresh candy to try.
They sent two tins, one was this classic looking embossed Carousel tin that holds English Toffees and Vanilla Fudge and another tin that held three trays of biscuits (cookies). I don’t review cookies ... but I did eat them. The tin holds 14 ounces, which is separated into two 7 ounce bags of candy. So it’s not quite the lush look of a tin full of candy until you dump the cellophane bags into it, but they do stay fresh.
I’ve never quite understood fudge, and this version does little to help me out. Fudge is basically a mixture of sugar and butter ... though modern versions use more advanced ingredients. Many candies have the same ingredients; it’s the texture of fudge that differentiates it from caramel or toffee. Fudge has a slight grain to it, on purpose, which is reintroduced by carefully heating it to a precise temperature and then allowing it to cool partially before stirring. Stirring too soon will make the sugar crystals too large and not stirring enough just makes the texture incomplete. (More in this excellent and slightly technical explanation.)
The great thing about fudge is that it’s a wonderful blank slate for so many other flavors, including chocolate or pecan penuche. As this is Vanilla, it’s actually a blank slate. You can see that the ingredients are decent enough. The pieces are well formed and the color is of a camel-colored coat. Churchill’s has mastered the smooth texture style of fudge (I actually like mine a little grainy). It smells sweet and buttery but has no browned sugar notes (And has no brown sugar ingredients, either.)
The pieces are nice little rectangles, wrapped in silver mylar. This vanilla fudge is extremely sweet with only a slight note of actual vanilla bean. A little note of the woodsy bourbon would be nice, or some deeper toasted sugar notes would have pleased me. Overall, this is too sweet. And coming from a person who actually eats sugar lumps from time to time, that’s saying a lot.
I could really only eat these with a very strong cup of coffee or some salted nuts. They’re just too sweet straight.
Rating: 6 out of 10
One of the oddities in the confection world is how the same candy is called different things in different places. What’s even more vexing is when the new word means something else completely. Take toffee. In the United States we know toffee as a hard, crunchy, caramel brittle. But in the United Kingdom, for the most part, toffee is actually what we call caramel. However, I didn’t need anyone to tell me what this was ... I know a caramel when I see one.
They’re nice rounded pieces wrapped in gold mylar, with a soft milky scent. They’re about the size of Coffee Nips, and if Coffee Nips were chewable, that’s what they’d be like. They’re extremely smooth. The chew is stiff but not sticky or tough. The flavor is a bit salty with burnt sugar notes. It dissolves away to nothing with very little left stuck to my teeth.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Both recipes include milk and soy ingredients and may contain traces of nuts. The glucose syrup is also from wheat, so I don’t think it’s gluten free.
There are a wide variety of tin designs available from Churchill’s. They’re very traditional but do feature a few classic tourist items (like the double decker red bus). I don’t think it’s something I’d buy for myself, but with the right contents and design, I could see them as a good quality hostess gift or thank you item.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
DeMet’s may have invented the name Pecan Turtle, but they haven’t done much to exemplify the greatness of the combination. They’re mediocre, but at the very least, easy to find at many major drug store chains.
The bags are on the expensive side, mine was $3.79 for only 5 ounces, which is over $12 a pound.
My first bag, purchased at a Walgreen’s not far from my house was bloomed slightly, as you can tell. It didn’t seem to affect the texture, but after I saw heard from a neighbor that stopped by to pick up a prescription a week later that Walgreen’s was shut down by the health department for vermin infestation, I decided to source another bag. (I really wasn’t concerned, it was fully sealed, but figured the candy deserved a chance to shine - but I was pretty miffed about the condition of the chocolate from Walgreen’s, so I’m unlikely to buy chocolate from that location again.) I didn’t re-photograph, though, since it was oppressively hot in my home and just as likely to bloom the new bag.
Even the new bag with its well-tempered pieces was still scuffed, so they didn’t look that dissimilar.
They’re mini turtles, so it’s not a complicated concept. What I was hoping was that each turtle would be a single pecan.
They’re cute and bite sized, a great concept really when it comes to this type of candy, which can get flaky and messy when eating in several bites.
The chocolate is marginal, to the point where I had to re-read the ingredients several times to make sure it was real. It’s sweet and not overly smooth or with much of a chocolate intensity. That said, it’s a good companion to the caramel, which is nicely chewy without being too sticky. The caramel didn’t have much of a salty or toffee flavor pop to it, but held everything together. The biggest disappointment is the shortage of actual pecans in my turtles. It’s like the turtle had only two or three legs, not a full four plus a head and tail.
If given a choice, and no budget, I’d probably seek out See’s Pecan Buds. They’re about twice the price and slightly larger, but so obviously fresher with whole pecans and higher quality chocolate. But, if I were trying to find something a little more on the decadent side for watching a movie or perhaps traveling, these might fit the bill.
Turtles, of course, contain milk, tree nuts and soy ingredients. They’re also processed on equipment with wheat, other tree nuts and peanuts. There’s no information about the sourcing of the chocolate itself.
Monday, July 14, 2014
Ghirardelli has a very large and varied line of chocolate bars and individually wrapped squares. This year they also introduced a new line of Ghirardelli minis in five varieties: Milk & Caramel, Milk Chocolate Sea Salt Almond, Milk Chocolate Toffee Crisp, Dark Chocolate minis and Sweet Dark Chocolate Cookie Bits minis.
The package explains that “minis are the sweet way to share your love of chocolate ... anytime, anywhere.” The bag is rather slight at only 4.1 ounces but is priced comparably (per ounce) to the bars. I chose the Sweet Dark Chocolate Cookie Bits because it was a flavor I’d never seen in the bars or the standard squares before. Unfortunately the package doesn’t detail the cacao percentage.
The packaging is a beautiful matte, medium blue that I found very appealing. The wrappers are also easy to open, which I appreciate when spending a little more on my candy.
I have to say that I don’t understand the point of these. They squares are 7 grams each, while the regular Ghirardelli Squares are 10.75 - so they’re about 2/3 the size of the original version. They’re a little thicker, but not unwrapped like so many Bites and Minis are these days. (Not that I think they would fare well jumbled in a bag, they’d probably break and get scuffed up instead looking incredibly charming.
The little squares are about one inch on each side. The smell is odd for a chocolate product, it reminds me of frosting in a can, overly sweet with more of a cocoa and vanilla extract scent than the complex smell of chocolate.
The bite is easy, and the thickness of the chocolate means that the little cookie bits have space to stack up and provide some texture. The cookie pieces are crunchy and less than sweet overall, which is a welcome change from the chocolate itself. The chocolate is smooth, but like the smell, tastes a bit on the fake side. I know it’s not, that it’s probably the cookies giving off that smell, but it just turned me off from the experience. I was hoping for some sort of deluxe version of the Limited Edition Hershey’s that come out from time to time, but here I found it no better.
I’m still keen to try some of the other flavors, this minis line seems to be a bit more on the comfort candy side of flavor combinations than the regular line, which I think is fun. This one just didn’t work for me.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Equal Exchange, the cooperative that sells cocoa, coffee, tea and chocolate made with fair trade ingredients sent me some of their new candy bars. They really fit right into the candy bar sector, not the high end chocolate bars. They currently make three bars, I thought I’d tackle a review of the Equal Exchange Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Filled Bar first, since it’s the one with the widest appeal.
The bar is 1.5 ounces, which is a perfect single serving size. The wrapper is orange, lots and lots of orange, which is the universal color to represent peanuts, just like blue is supposed to represent milk chocolate. The bars are made in Peru with cacao from Peruvian cocoa co-ops.
The format of the bar is simple, it’s long and narrow with 7 segments. Inside the milk chocolate shell is a peanut butter filling. The ingredients are very simple: sugar, cocoa butter, milk powder, peanuts, chocolate solids, sea salt and soy lecithin. (Organic where possible.) There are not additional oils in there, which is a nice change. Many peanut butter candies use some vegetable oils to stabilize the peanut butter.
The bar smells sweet and a little nutty, but not terribly notable or enticing. The chocolate is smooth, rather sweet but overall has no real defining kick. The peanut butter center is firm, but melts well in the mouth. There’s no chalky grain like many American peanut butter candies. There’s a little hint of salt ... but it’s missing a roasted peanut oomph. I recognize this may be because the peanuts used for the peanut butter are not American (though the label doesn’t say their source). It’s a little grassy, but not much else. It’s kind of like Reese’s Pieces. The ratios are a lot more balanced, you can see there’s a lot of chocolate for the amount of peanut butter.
Overall, this is not a bar I would purchase. There are some good options out there in the peanut butter cup format for those looking for better ingredients and sourcing. For those in Canada, you can also find these bars under the Camino label. As far as Equal Exchange goes, I will still continue to eat the Milk Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt, it’s an excellent hybrid of high end chocolate and candy satisfaction.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
I don’t chew gum often, but when I do, I chew it a lot. It’s particularly hard to find gum that’s still sweetened with only sugar and not artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucarlose. I enjoy gum as a candy, which means that I chew all the sugar out of it and before the flavor has much chance to fade, I swap that piece out for a fresh one. (It’s probably a style of consumption that gum companies should welcome.)
I love chiclet style gum because primarily because it’s attractive, but also because it has texture to it; the crunchy shell has its own flavor and goes with the pleasing experience of chewing until the sugar is depleted. I can line up the pieces like Skittles or M&Ms on my keyboard. I got a huge sample bag of Oakleaf Refresh Triple Mint Chewing Gum from SweetWorks late last year and have been making my way through the bag. This is the kind of gum you’d find in a quarter twist vending machine, a little handful of pieces for some of the change in your pocket.
Wintergreen - these white pieces have little speckles of blue on them, some of the time. The flavor is clean and soft, with a good note of wintergreen. It’s not overpowering, but definitely strong enough that others nearby may think you’ve been rubbing lineament into your joints. There’s a little numbing tingle towards the end, as wintergreen can have that sort of effect. The flavor lasted longer than the sugar, but did taste a lot more medicinal after the sugar was gone.
Peppermint - is a nice medium blue. I don’t really need this much food coloring in my gum, as the point of minty gums is to act as a bit of a digestive but mostly to freshen my breath. don’t want my tongue looking blue when I’m done with it. It’s fresh, it’s not terribly strong but very sweet. I found it comforting but not challenging.
Spearmint is a pretty rare flavor in gum these days, so it’s nice to see it here. It’s green, for some reason spearmint is green and peppermint is blue (or red and white). The flavor is good, it’s peppery at first and quite strong, but mellows out after chewing and mixing with the sugar.
Of the three flavors, I preferred the wintergreen, but I’m usually mindful of not smelling like wintergreen in social situations or closed spaces. So the spearmint was my go-to flavor of the variety, especially since I can get peppermint chiclets in the form of actual Chiclets that don’t have blue food coloring. But since I already have these, they’re being consumed.
I did find that they stuck to one filling in my teeth (just that one old amalgam, even though I have other fillings). It’s hard to rationalize the large amount I have, but it works for my consumption style. It would be nice if they came in boxes like Chiclets or perhaps a tin like Altoids. The company that owns Oak Leaf, SweetWorks was recently purchased by the Swiss company called Frey which makes chocolate but also has their own line of gums, so maybe they’ll start doing some more gum packaging.
Friday, April 18, 2014
A classic item for wedding favors are little parcels of confetti. Confetti is a generic Italian term for panned candies such as Jordan almonds, coated nuts, mints and of course chocolate. Tradition is a little sachet of five pieces, symbolizing health, wealth, fertility, happiness and longevity for the couple and their guests.
Another style of presenting the panned sweets is to wrap the little pieces up and form them into flowers and other shapes. I’ve seen these for years, I remember seeing a display of them in New York City’s Little Italy in a deli by the counter. They were so pretty, I’m not sure I even understood that the petals were edible. This photos shows them made with Jordan almonds and tucked into crepe paper. I’ve seen them made with cellophane which can be clear or tinted as well as tule mesh, which can also be uncolored or tinted (but probably isn’t sanitary).
I picked up this little bouquet in London at Harrod’s in their Easter display. It was expensive for so little actual candy, £3.50 for about 15 little pieces (about $5.85 USD). It’s made by Confetti Pelino of Sulmona, Italy. They were established in 1783, in a region of Italy that’s well known for this traditional and painstaking method of confectionery.
This isn’t as much a review of the candy as it is a deconstruction of the assembly of the five stems of flowers.
The bouquet is held together by green floral tape and decorated with green crepe paper leaves of the same color. It’s pretty top heavy, as the candy petals are thick and will tip over the little bouquet when placed in a water glass or wine glass (so be careful if you’re playing with these at a wedding reception). Each little flower is on a stem of wire, held together with tape and string. Floral tape isn’t exactly sticky, so there’s no issue of excessive adhesive with these. It unravels quite easily.
Each little piece of candy is a small, circular disk covered in cellophane. The cellophane is twisted together, the pointed, twisted ends are then tied together with a bit of string, and then taped onto the wire stem.
The candy at the center of these isn’t a Jordan almond, just a little sugar disk. It’s kind of bland, and as far as I can tell, unflavored. It dissolves and tastes like, well, sugar.
As candy, it’s expensive and darned difficult to eat because of all the string and wire and tape and wrappers. As a favor or decoration is classically charming. There are a lot of different ways to achieve these with different colors of candy, different sizes, different tape and leaves or flower shapes. Harrod’s is a fine place to buy one bunch if you’re curious, but if you’re interested in using them as favors or centerpieces, do some research on which will suit you best.
Though chocolate candies could be used, I would advise folks to stick to centers that are more weather-tolerant. It’d be fun to make them with M&Ms or Reese’s Pieces, but I can’t imagine anything with a lot of oil in it would do well with the heat of being handled a lot or possibly sitting in the sun or a hot car. I looked around to find a tutorial for making these but didn’t have much luck (if you know of one, please leave a link in the comments). I can imagine that the same techniques could also be used to make candy wreaths, garlands and other styles of centerpieces.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Nestle Mini Smarties Filled Chick are little hollow chocolates wrapped in yellow foil. Inside is a small handful of mini Nestle Smarties. I kind of made up the name of the candy, the name on the sticker on the base of the foil is
Hollow milk chocolate figure containing mini Smarties. Seems like they could have named them something like Nestle Nestling.
The idea of a hollow chocolate figure filled with other treats is nothing new, but is a fantastic idea that’s utilized much better in Europe since these overprotective Americans think that we’ll all choke on the fillings. Nestle has many different sizes they do for Easter, as well, including a foil wrapped hen filled with Smarties as well, and often sold in a box that looks like a chicken coop with a bunch of the little chicks.
There were a lot of displays of these in grocery stores and drug stores while I was in London, so it was easy to pick up both. Most were priced at about two for one pound, which I thought was a bit steep for 30 grams (about 1.06 ounces) when you factor in that it’s Nestle chocolate.
The milk chocolate isn’t stellar, as it is Nestle; the ingredients are subpar. It wouldn’t qualify as real milk chocolate in the United States, as they use milk whey as a filler. However it’s 25% cacao content and they do use sunflower lecithin instead of soy, so if your kid has a soy sensitivity, you might want to seek the UK Nestle confections. The Smarties also use all natural colors for the shells and rice starch. Still, the label states that it may contain traces of soy, gluten, peanuts and other tree nuts.
For those of you not familiar with them, Nestle Smarties are little chocolate lentils. Unlike many of Nestle’s global brands, they’re not sold in the United States very often, as they have the same name as a pre-existing candy. Instead of renaming them, Nestle just doesn’t compete with M&Ms in the United States. (They do in Canada, though.)
The little chick is rather thin. The chocolate is rather soft, so it was easy to stick my thumb through it to break it up. Inside were 15 little Smarties lentils, far smaller than the regular Smarties. They come in pleasant pastel colors.
The chocolate is bland and sweet and sort of fudgy-thick. It doesn’t taste like something that should be eaten, more like packaging. The texture is decent enough, but I admit I’m spoiled from the Rococo Chocolate I had yesterday, so perhaps the proximity of the reviews is unfair. The Smarties don’t use the same chocolate. They taste nutty, like unroasted peanuts and porridge. The thin, crispy shell is fun. They’re about as good as Sixlets.
Even though I thought this was a marginal product, they’re inexpensive enough to buy and use as place settings for a dinner or give to a child. The interactivity of the candy inside is really what makes this special along with the attention to detail in the foil wrap and mold.
Milkybar is a Nestle white confection bar. It’s made with natural ingredients, but like the Smarties chick, it contains extra whey as filler and some vegetable oils ... but there is real cocoa butter in there. It does seem to have a mix of sunflower and soy lecithin. The other allergens listed on the label were traces of peanuts and tree nuts. While I may complain about the use of vegetable oils, this is 26% dairy, so they’re not kidding when they say milky.
This fellow clocked in a little shy of a full ounce, my guess is the difference in weight between the two is the little Smarties. (Why this one doesn’t get Smarties, I don’t know. They don’t make a white confection Smarties at the moment.)
It smells okay, very “dairy” though I’d also say slightly rancid or just not quite fresh. The texture is good, not as silky as, say, the M&Ms White Chocolate, but still not terribly grainy. The dairy flavors are thick and just unpleasant overall. The whole thing has a bit of a plastic note to it, as if I was eating a foam egg carton, not a white chocolate.
I’m not a white chocolate snob, I actually like the stuff, but this is not good white chocolate. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a Milkybar (I haven’t review them before) but it never impressed me since there are many excellent true white chocolate bars available these days. It’s still fun to look at, and for a child who doesn’t care for the milk chocolate stuff, if this is what they ask for, it couldn’t be cuter, and on top of that, the portion is already controlled.
Nestle has been doing a lot to source their cacao through verified sustainable sources, however, their Easter novelty line does not seem to have any of those certifications.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.