Thursday, December 5, 2013
It’s easy to think of Russell Stover as a stuffy boxed chocolate brand for old people, but I have to say that they are consistently on trend with their new flavors. Last year they introduced Red Velvet Santa, this year was a Pumpkin Pie Pumpkin and today I’m going to start my review with the Russell Stover Gingerbread in Dark Chocolate.
The packaging is simple, just a lump of Santa shaped candy in a sleeve with a Santa picture on the front. If there’s one unifying element with the Russell Stover Santa candies, it’s that they have a picture of a Santa on the front, but that the style will be different from the others. There’s really nothing cohesive in the branding.
They’re priced very well, at only 50 cents each for one ounce when on sale, they’re easy to find at most drug store chains. (I don’t see them at Target or KMart, though. Walgreen’s usually has the best selection, but RiteAid and CVS are pretty dependable for the most popular varieties.)
Like the Cookie Dough Egg, Pumpkin Pie and Red Velvet, the center for this piece contains flour. It’s like a cookie dough, in this case, more like a cake batter for gingerbread. It’s pretty mild, with more clove and ginger notes with a little hint of brown sugar. It’s not really fudgy, but more like a thick and chilled cookie dough. I liked it. It’s kind of weird, not at all like a high-end truffle, but just like a fun seasonal sweet.
Russell Stover Peppermint Cream Santa is similar to the Big Bite Mint Dream I ordered from them some years back. It’s a fluffed cream, not a fondant like Junior Mints or York Peppermint Patties.
The peppermint is clean and strong. The dark chocolate is bittersweet, glossy and crisp. The filling is light and frothy, though a little grainy and extremely sweet. It’s much sweeter than the Maple I tried later on. It’s a good peppermint product, and certainly very spare on the calories, a full piece is only 120 calories if you’re tying to indulge on a dietary budget.
The label doesn’t list any real sourcing information for the ingredients, specifically the chocolate. Since Russell Stover manufactures such a wide variety of confections there are lots of allergen warnings. The Gingerbread has flour (gluten) in it, the Mint and Maple have egg whites plus they all have soy and milk. Then there’s the peanuts and tree nuts warning.
All the Santa pieces are ill formed. I don’t know what the shape is supposed to be, but they’re enrobed, not molded so they’re rather amorphous. The Gingerbread piece (middle) is more dense than the Peppermint Cream and Maple Cream, so it’s not quite as high.
Russell Stover Dark Chocolate & Maple Cream is just a dark chocolate version of the milk chocolate version I reviewed a couple of years ago. It’s also available in the Easter Egg version, which I also reviewed ages ago and liked. (And also didn’t get a picture of the inside.)
The dark chocolate is glossy and pretty creamy. It’s not terribly rich in flavor, but its semisweet cocoa notes balance out the fluffy maple cream center. The filling is sweet and light with a hint of salt and a woodsy, pecan scent of maple.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Hershey’s has answered the call for a holiday candy bar. The bar is actually a candy they’ve been selling for quite a few years, just a new format. It’s a white confection flavored with peppermint and studded with crunchy nonpareils formed into the standard Hershey bar mold. It’s pretty simple and named that way, too, Hershey’s Candy Cane Bar.
The bar is available in two formats, the large 3.5 ounce king sized bar I picked up or a regular 1.5 ounce single serving bar. Both feature the simple packaging design of the white background with little striped fringes at the ends and the bold Hershey’s logo across the front.
Hershey’s is also offering their regular bars in this same 3.5 ounce size in Holiday packaging, so you can get the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with a snowman on the front and Cookies n Creme bar with a nutcracker on it. I’ve seen these on sale quite widely in both versions at Target, KMart and other drug store chains, so it shouldn’t be hard to find. Hershey’s did a Mint Miniatures mix years back that included a version of this. (I always though it would be good as a Nugget.) It’s also available as the Hershey’s Candy Cane Kiss (with less food coloring) as well.
The bar is 4 sections by 4 sections, and the package suggests that 6 pieces is a portion. The white confection is a creamy color, a little on the yellow side with lots of red nonpareil crunchies evident. The ingredients show that this is a hybrid confection, not quite true white chocolate, though it does have some cocoa butter in it, it also has some other tropical oil. However, there are no other fillers like whey.
The snap shows the crunchies and the texture of the bar. It’s a little soft, no hard snap of a high-cacao chocolate bar here. There’s lots of sugar and that’s fine with me.
The flavor is like a Smooth n Melty mint. It’s peppermint with a clean dairy flavor to it, it’s rather like eating a room temperature ice cream. It’s quite sweet, but not quite as cloying as I’ve experienced with the Cookies n Creme bar or the lesser quality RM Palmer white confections. I don’t care for the flavoring the red food coloring of the nonpareils imparts, but it’s far less than I notice on the holiday Smooth n Melty Mints which are also out on store shelves right now. (A white confection drop with red and green nonpariels on the bottom.)
I like it. I had no trouble eating the whole bar. It’s different from the slick smoothness of the real white chocolate Dove Peppermint Bark. It’s more candy than chocolate.
Monday, December 2, 2013
The hot flavor trend this season is gingerbread. Well, not as hot as pumpkin spice, which spans Halloween and Christmas holidays. There’s little difference between the spices in pumpkin pie and gingerbread, though the proportions of the actual spices are often different and gingerbread has a background of molasses or brown sugar.
The M&Ms Milk Chocolate Gingerbread are sold only at Walmart this season, though their companion Twix Gingerbread are sold at most stores stocking seasonal bagged candy.
The design on the front of the package looks like most of the other holiday M&Ms. In this instance the Red M&M is just holding a plate with a gingerbread cookie and pointing at it. Kind of lazy.
The Gingerbread M&Ms are a milk chocolate base with some spices added in. They come in three colors, red, green and brown. Not terribly exciting. The milk chocolate is the normal sweet stuff, creamy but on the fudgy and sugary side. The added spices give it a warm flavor but nothing distinct. Maybe there’s ginger, maybe some cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. They add a light chalky note to the texture but I didn’t specifically get any ginger or black pepper in there.
What would have been extraordinary would have been a real piece of gingerbread, in the format of the Pretzel M&Ms. Or Sugar Cookie, or Snickerdoodle. There are so many exciting seasonal variations on the cookie center that could be accomplished. Even just the Pretzel M&M with this flavored chocolate on the outside would have propelled this to another level of specialness.
Intellectually, I know they’re not the same as the Pumpkin Spice M&Ms from earlier this year, but they don’t feel that different - just swap out the orange ones for red and tone down the cinnamon. No, Mars still hasn’t come out with the Egg Nog White Chocolate M&Ms I’ve been longing for. I guess they’re just not into nutmeg.
Today is the day many blogs decided to review the new M&Ms Milk Chocolate Gingerbread. The Impulsive Buy and ZOMG, Candy! would be the two that I’ve seen so far and previously Junk Food Guy and Serious Sweets. I think most of us are agreed, it’s a nice idea but not really a great M&M.
Friday, November 22, 2013
Ritter Sport has been creating limited edition seasonal bars for a few years. More recently these are available in the United States at specialty retailers. I found my Winter Edition bars at Cost Plus World Market as imported bars (the packages are in multiple languages, but not English).
The Ritter Sport Winter Edition Caramelised Almonds is a returning flavor, I reviewed it as part of set of minis back in 2011 (as Ritter Sport Gebrannte Mandel). Toasted, sugar coated almonds are a common treat at the Christmas Fairs in Europe, kind of like Kettle Corn is here. It plays on may of the strengths of Ritter Sport’s product line, such as the solid milk chocolate and nut inclusions.
The chocolate is smooth and creamy, but exceptionally sweet. The almonds are also sweet and crunchy with a hint of a cereal taste to it. The bits are quite small, not full almonds, so it’s hard to really discern the almonds from the crunchy coating on them.
I love the idea of this bar but found it achingly sweet, perhaps even more sweet than the first time around. The textures are exemplary, the ratios are perfect, the chocolate is wonderfully smooth, the nuts are fresh and crunchy. But it’s all overpowered by the sheer amount of sugar covering up the cocoa flavors and nuances of caramelized sugar. Now ... do this in the dark chocolate or a dark milk, and I think I’d be howling about the unfairness of the limited edition.
Ritter Sport has published quite a bit about their cacao sourcing and plans for sustainability. Though I found it sweet, this bar is a far better value and much better quality than a Toblerone.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
A few weeks ago the internet excitement for new limited edition products spilled over into big media with the news that Frito Lay was introducing chocolate covered potato chips: Lay’s Wavy Potato Chips Dipped in Milk Chocolate. This news was apparently mind-blowing, as if USA Today and ABC News have never seen chocolate covered potato chips before.
The new limited edition packages are sold only at Target until the end of the year. The bag is small, something I’d call a “king sized” bag that you’d see at a convenience store that would hold two servings. This bag, however, holds five ounces and says it’s five servings. Chocolate is heavier than Potato Chips by volume.
The bag is pretty and it was easy to spot on the shelves (partly because Target devoted so much shelf space to them, I think it was three shelves about four feet wide in the holiday section).
The chips look an awful lot like the images on the bag. Most were whole or at least large with a consistent coating of chocolate ... on one side. Virtually all of the chips were coated with thick milk chocolate on one side. I don’t have an issue with this, as it was plenty of chocolate, but when saying that they’re dipped in milk chocolate, I have to wonder how that was accomplished without getting chocolate on one side.
They are the thick ridged chips, which hold up well to the chocolate coating. The potato notes come through quite clearly. The salty hint and the earthy tubers combine well with the creamy and sweet chocolate. But the ratios are a bit off, there’s still a lot of chocolate and the chocolate is really, really sweet. Like most chocolate covered potato chips, they’re on the greasy side. I enjoyed them, but found two or three were more than enough (4 chips were listed as a serving). There’s a filmy, greasy feeling on my tongue that followed that left me regretting eating them at all.
I might buy these again, but I think I’m more likely to enjoy potato chips as an addition to a bar or bark than as a chocolate coated item on their own.
As a comparison, I happened to have the Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips sitting around as well (similar expiration date). The Lay’s are far more consistent - the chips are more often flat, less often stuck together and since they’re coated on one side, more potato flavor. There’s also far less salt in the Lay’s. The Trader Joe’s variety has 140 mg in a 1.5 ounce serving and the Lay’s has 45 mg in a 1 ounce serving. The price difference is also noticeable. The Trader Joe’s is $3.99 for 6.5 ounces versus the Lay’s $3.49 for 5 ounces. The ingredients are nearly identical as are the calories per ounce.
There’s no statement about the sourcing of the chocolate. These contain milk and soy and are also processed on equipment with peanuts and tree nuts. There’s not statement about gluten on the package at all, but the Wavy Lay’s do not contain any gluten ingredients either.
Friday, November 15, 2013
Last year Mars announced a new season flavor for their Twix candy: Twix Sugar Cookie. Sadly, they never showed up in stores in this dimension. Then this year they made their announcements for the holidays with nothing noted for the Twix line, so I was blindsided to find out that there is in fact a holiday version of Twix this year: Twix Gingerbread. (There’s also seasonal Gingerbread M&Ms out, but they are a Walmart exclusive.)
The description is a short listing of the elements: cookie bars - gingerbread caramel - milk chocolate. So it’s not a gingerbread cookie; it’s the caramel that’s flavored like gingerbread.
What I’ve always loved about gingerbread, whether in cake form or crunchy cookie, is the wonderful base of molasses that gives a touch of sweetness but mostly an earthy base for the spices. Recipes obviously call for ginger but also include clove, cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, allspice and/or coriander. The ingredients for Twix Gingerbread doesn’t specify the spice array and does not list molasses at all.
The Twix minis are a little over a half an ounce each. They’re not quite as big as the regular bar you buy in pairs. The calorie count, though, is pretty low at 80 per piece and they’re about 2.3 inches long ... it’s a nice little snack.
They smell quite sweet and cinnamony, with a hint of woodsy but undefined spices.
The overwhelming flavor profile of the caramel is cinnamon and nutmeg with hints of black pepper and ginger. There is no molasses, it’s completely missing that earthy sort of beet flavor. The chew is great, the milk chocolate was creamy and fresh and the cookie has an excellent crunch and texture to offset the caramel. It’s a good iteration of the classic candy. It doesn’t really ring as a gingerbread item. I wish the cookie was different, was an actual gingerbread cookie, but I’ll forgive them for their manufacturing limitations.
My overall feeling about these seasonal flavors like Snickerdoodle, Pumpkin Spice and Gingerbread is they’re pretty much the same thing (we may as well throw Spiced Chai in there). It’s just a mix of those cinnamon spice flavors ... all pretty generic when the end up in a mass produced candy. The Pumpkin Spice M&Ms didn’t end up that different from the Cinnamon M&Ms and probably aren’t that different from the Gingerbread M&Ms. I like the infusion of new flavors into classic candies, but when they start thinking outside the box, I’d like them to be a little more faithful to the inspiration and allow for more differentiation.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
My European candy blogging friends latched onto a new product last year, the Peanut M&Ms Intense 65% Cacao which are made in France but sold in quite a few European countries. When I had the opportunity to do a candy swap with Kristian at CandyBrain.de, this was on my wishlist of items.
I have to admit that the United States has the most diverse selection of M&MS, and we’ve even had Dark Chocolate Peanut M&Ms in stores before. So, I was mightily surprised to see that France got 65% cacao M&Ms before we did.
The bag is pretty big, with 9 ounces in a stand up gusset package. Instead of the zip top that many snack sized packages are getting the US, this on has a little sticker on the back you can peel off to use to hold it closed after you roll the top down.
The color variety for these is interesting. I looked at the ingredient panel to check if these were all natural, and it appears that it’s nearly so. I looked up all the colorings and found the following listed:
e100 is Turmeric, a yellow-orange dye (derived from plants)
Here’s the weird thing about the coloring used on the shells. I could tell what some of the colors were without looking by the taste. The red one had a banana note and the orange one had a hint of curry.
The shell is quite the same as in the US version. It’s crunchy and not too thick but doesn’t crack easily. They smell nicely of cocoa and a hint of roasted peanuts. The chocolate inside is quite dark, with an immediate bitter note and a little bit of a dry undertone. It’s creamy and a little chalky but not in a grainy way. The peanuts however, were weird. I found most of mine were over-roasted, too dark, bitter and just plain ... well, not right. Maybe they’re not American peanuts, which I admit I’m quite acclimated to.
I wanted to like these more than I did, though I had no trouble eating them all. Of course the fact that they’re not available in the United States solves any issues I’d have if I did love them a little too much. Now ... maybe if they started putting Marcona almonds or Hazelnuts in there along with the dark chocolate ... then we might have something that would drive me to order from eBay regularly. I would be even better if the M&Ms World Stores would stock these international versions.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Hershey’s hasn’t announced much that’s new for Christmas this year, and it’s a little early for Holiday candy in some stores, but I did spy these new Hershey’s Peppermint Bark Bells at Target over the weekend.
As you’d guess with Hershey’s, the white confection is a quasi-mockolate like their Candy Cane Kisses. It’s made from sugar and a mix of vegetable oils including cocoa butter, palm, shea, sunflower and/or safflower. The ingredients list on the package is long, so long that it might account for why there’s no other marketing or propaganda on there. There’s the name of the product on the front and bag but nothing else ... no description, really nothing other than the obligatory ingredients and nutritional panel.
They’re pretty big, probably bigger than you’d think. A Hershey’s Kiss is about 4.75 grams while a Peppermint Bark Bell is 9.5 grams ... twice the mass. So a single serving is only 4 pieces for a total of 190 calories. The swirled foil is a mix of red, green and black (or maybe that’s brown) on silver.
The candy is simple structure: the top of the bell is a minty flavored white confection with nonpareil crunchies on top of a thin base of semi-sweet chocolate.
I can’t help myself, I like these. I like Smooth and Melty Mints even though I know they’re not real white chocolate. I don’t care. The white confection has a decent melt and mouth feel, it’s not quite silky-creamy but not completely grainy. There’s a good dairy note to it, it’s clean and fresh tasting with the peppermint addition. The dark chocolate base is dark enough that it balances out the sweetness of the bell. It’s a little on the dry side, but that’s okay.
It’s a very sugary confection, and one goes a long way (remember, it’s twice the size of a Hershey’s Kiss) but it’s just enough for me to get my white minty fix. I’ll probably still stick with the M&Ms White Chocolate Peppermint, since it’s all cocoa butter, but the foil wrapping on these would still be great in a candy bowl. The Dove Peppermint Bark is very similar, though quite a bit creamier but a bit more tame on flavors, and is still tops especially in ingredients.
Hershey’s is slowly rolling out its Rainforest Alliance certified line, starting with Bliss. I don’t know when they’ll get around to the holiday products but all of their chocolate is supposed to be ethically certified by 2020. Ingredients also include palm oil which should be RSPO certified by 2014. Other ingredients of note, artificial colors (in the nonpareils) and PGPR in the chocolate.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.