Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Sometimes I want a little more information on the package. I saw these at Trader Joe’s last Friday and I was intrigued. Trader Joe’s English Soft Peppermints. I liked everything I saw. Peppermint, good! English, yes, they know good candy. Soft, why yes, I like soft things. Even the blue tin was compelling. But what were they?
The back of the package didn’t tell me much more except that they were actually a product of The Netherlands (and not English as the name may have led me to believe). The ingredients were pretty simple: Sugar, Cream of Tartar and Natural Peppermint Oil.
What what manner of soft mint were they?
Open the package and it’s clear. They’re pillow mints. Lovely, king sized pillow mints (not those domestic throw pillow mints you get at the drug store!).
They smell of sweet peppermint and at first as light and cool on the tongue. Then the blistering peppermint kicks in. It’s like the word “English” is code for"Altoid” or something.
I enjoy pillow mints and their Butter Mint brethren, but the intensity of these doesn’t make for popping them one after the other very pleasant. Perhaps that’s a good thing, I could learn a little self control through negative feedback behavior modification. With fresh breath as a side effect whether I’ve learned anything or not.
As a breath mint, these are fine and dandy. As a candy, they’re not quite munchable.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I wrote about Sponge Candy a couple of weeks ago and Dom from Chocablog rightfully pointed out in the comments that I’ve never mentioned Cadbury Crunchie. This is true, though I’ve eaten a few of them before. Time to rectify!
I first bought a Crunchie a few years ago, thinking it was a Cadbury version of the Nestle Violet Crumble. They’re slightly different.
The Crunchie is a plank of dense honeycomb “sponge candy” covered in milk chocolate. While sponge would make you think that it’s somehow soft and yielding like marshmallow, this is hard and will shatter into shards when smacked. The honeycomb has an inconsistent texture, as shown in the photo. There’s a center stripe of sparkly, very crunchy honeycomb. The margins have a smaller bubble size. Still, it’s heavier than the other Sponge Candy from Parkside Candy and the Violet Crumble.
The flavor of the center is sweet with a light hit of salt and a strong note of burnt sugar, especially in the middle stripe.
I think the bar is nice, but in no way comes close to the experience of the Sponge Candy I recently had. The consistency of the center is just to, well, consistent and far too dense to have a quick melt-in-your-mouth quality. The chocolate is okay, it’s sweet but a little on the waxy side and doesn’t really lift up the experience as much as it could. I prefer the stronger taste and more textured honeycomb of this to the Violet Crumble, probably because the chocolate is a bit better, too.
I honestly don’t know why there isn’t some version of this made in the States by one of the major candy companies. I don’t have too much trouble finding Violet Crumble in Los Angeles (they carry it at many 7-11s near me) and I got another of these Crunchie bars at a Brit import shop as well. You’d think that Nestle or Cadbury would just sell them here themselves.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
I keep seeing this bar, but only in its jumbo form shown here. It clocks in at 4.5 ounces, no mere chocolate bar, this is a plank. Like the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Filled with Creamy Peanut Butter that’s also found in this size, I was hoping I’d run across a King Size or perhaps single serve size at some point. It’s like it barely exists. It’s never shown up on the Hershey’s official Hershey’s Milk Chocolate page.
But it’s clear it exists, not only because I have photos, but also independent corroboration from Nicole at Baking Bites with her review. For a while I saw the bar at the Dollar Tree so I though there must be something wrong with it, maybe it was old, maybe it was an import. But when I saw it at Ralph’s and flipped over the package to see that it expired in September 2008, it was made in the United States and it was on sale for a dollar, I figured it was time to give it a try.
It’s a lovely looking bar. It looks like a Hershey bar, a light caramely brown with 16 segments each with the Hershey’s name on them. It smells like, well, a Hershey bar. A little sweet, a little tangy. That Hershey’s tang isn’t quite as noticeable when you eat it though. What’s noticeable is a mellow malty note from the actual corn flake bits in there. They’re pretty dense and solidly crunchy. The malty corn flake flavors develop more as the chocolate dissolves away. I could use more corn flakes.
It’s in no way as good as the Ritter Sport Knusperflakes bar, but I ate the whole thing ... all 4.5 ounces of it (I got it on Sunday) so it has to be pretty good.
It’s a nice combo. It’s a terrible name for a candy bar though. I think they should have just called it an extension of the Krackel line and called it Corn Krackel. Or maybe Mr. Cornbar.
Thanks to Patti for being the first to alert me to this possible domestic contender for Ritter Sport Knusperflake’s place in my heart.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I’m still in a licorice mood and have been feeling more like “eating licorice” as it’s called. This means it’s soft and chewy and not too harsh.
I got a wonderful full sized sample of the Soft Licorice from Finnska at the All Candy Expo in September from the Gerrit J. Verburg Co. It’s just what I needed. I found the package charming, though every time I looked at it I wondered what an ostrich would be doing on a Viking ship.
The little twist are soft, perhaps a little sticky. They’re pure black and a bit glossy. They don’t smell like much, a little earthy, a little smoky.
They’re not super sweet, not very licorice-y either. In fact, there’s no molasses in there, which is one of the flavors I’m accustomed to in my wheat-based licorice chew. It’s also really low in calories.
It took me about a half a dozen of them before I figured out what they taste like. Beets. (Maybe beets baked in Ouzo.)
I know, it sounds horrible. But it’s great. It’s sweet and woodsy and a little bit like dirt or roots. It doesn’t feel cloying or sticky. It’s good munching candy. I’ve eaten the whole box. It’s rather different from Panda, which has a doughy texture to it sometimes and stronger anise and molasses tones.
This particular Finnska is also organic!
Monday, November 26, 2007
One of the regional candies that I haven’t reviewed here before is Sponge Candy. Sponge Candy is best known in the Buffalo, NY area. The history of Sponge Candy is kind of murky, but variations of it exist in in Australia (Violet Crumble or simply Honeycomb), Cinder Toffee (UK), Sea Foam (Pacific Northwest) and Molasses Puffs (St. Louis area).
Sponge Candy is basically a hard candy, just boiled sugar and corn syrup, but just as its taken off the heat some baking soda and vinegar is added to foam it up as it cools.
The resulting block of frothed sugar is mostly air. It’s a strange and very light hardened sugar that smells lightly of molasses or caramel (though there is is no butter or molasses in most versions). Think of it as the candy version of pumice.
The Sponge Candy I got is from Parkside Candy, which looks like a charming, classic ice cream shop in Buffalo. They a few versions of their Sponge Candy including milk chocolate covered and orange, but I chose the classic Dark Chocolate Covered Sponge Candy.
The pieces varied slightly in shape and size, but all were about two bites and 1.5” square. The chocolate enrobing was thin and in good proportion to the honeycombed sugar foam.
The sugar center had a nice smoky note to it with a little salty hit (even though there was no salt listed on the ingredients it might have come from the sodium bicarbonate). It melted nicely on the tongue or could be quickly chewed (though it gives off a strange sound like crunching styrofoam).
There were a few pieces at the bottom of the box where either there was a gap in the coating or it broke. This allowed moisture to get into the sponge, which deflated it. It creates a tacky, sticky texture and while I’d eat it, just out of curiosity, it’s not a selling point. I’ve also had Sponge Candy from a local shop in Los Angeles called Littlejohn’s. It’s a very different texture (and might actually be called Honeycomb), but similar burnt sugar flavor with a thicker chocolate coating.
Overall, I like the stuff. The one pound box is substantial. I felt satisfied after two or three pieces and I know that weight-wise that was a pretty small portion. I liked the texture and strong flavor much better than the Violet Crumble, and it doesn’t hurt that this was nice semi-sweet chocolate on the outside.
I paid quite a bit for my one pound box at The Candy Store, $25 actually. It’s only $16 on Parkside Candy’s website ... but I also didn’t have to pay for shipping. A smaller sized box would have also suited me better, but luckily I’ve had guests over the Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend to help me out with the box.
See G’s review of Fowler’s of Buffalo Sponge Candy.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
On my recent trip to San Francisco I was excited to check out the licorice assortments at both Miette Patissiere and The Candy Store, as both were known for their large variety for sale. I wasn’t disappointed at all! (The only sad part was that they were $12 a pound.)
Fruit Filled Rockies - these are gorgeous little nibbles. The dark licorice tube is filled with a firm fondant-style fruit creme. Not quite sweet, they do have a salty bite through and through. There are two different pinks there, one raspberry and the lighter one is, as far as I can tell, orange. The brown one is more smoky, with a strong salty component. 6 out of 10
Schoolkrijt by Venco (Netherlands) is a very common licorice in Europe, kind of like our Good & Plenty but much milder. It’s much like the Rockies, in that it’s a tube of licorice filled with a creme. Then the whole thing is panned with a crunchy mint shell.
The flavor combo is kind of medicinal, like a cough drop, but I rather like that. Peppermint, licorice and some molasses. I’ve had these a couple of times before, but this particular sampling was very fresh. The outside was crisp and the inside was soft and chewy.
UPDATE: Seems I couldn’t get these out of my mind and have bought at least two pounds (not at once) since this review for personal consumption. So the rating gets updated to a 9 out of 10
Griotten by Venco (Netherlands) were completely new to me. If I’ve seen these before I’ve completely blocked them out. They look like little raw sugar cubes, but pick one up and it’s too light for that. Why, it’s a little spongy too!
It’s like a cross between a marshmallow and a gummi. Soft and chewy, but not too dense or tacky.
The flavor is mild, with only a delicate hit of licorice and anise and not terribly sweet either with a mix of the grainy sugar coating and a little salt. 7 out of 10
The smoky molasses is a good background for the light licorice flavor. No salt here, just a light coating of sugar to pull it all together. Very soft, very chewy. Kind of chocolatey. 7 out of 10
The cute little buttons are nice and soft. While I like a hard glycerine-style licorice sometimes (Katjes), I really enjoy the chew of licorice as a feature. As a lightly salted licorice, it was very mild, but I was disappointed that it didn’t have a huge licorice kick.
There was a slight metallic tinge for me and a fleeting glimpse of damp cat-inhabited basements. 5 out of 10
Honey Tops (Netherlands) were the one piece that I thought was one that I’d had before, it didn’t look quite the same, not quite as amber and there is no bee on this hive. The flavor is a round with only the slightest honey tint, some mild licorice (no anise). They’re pretty firm. These and the Kokindjes were the last ones I finished. 5 out of 10
(I was guessing at the brands here based on who sells what. There could be other companies that make these same varieties.)
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
For at least a year I’ve been reading about Hotel Chocolat on Chocablog. The products seemed inventive, if a little over the top. But the company story, the fact that they’re bean to bar and pride themselves on sourcing their chocolate ethically is pretty compelling. While I love many of the fair trade chocolates that I try, I really want some chocolate candy sometimes.
Hotel Chocolat contacted me a couple of months ago with the news that they were opening a webstore in the US. So I could get my own taste of their product line. At first they offered to send me a sample package with their Peepsters, which were little slabs of chocolate with items mixed in. For some reason that wasn’t possible and they up and sent me the Crostini Fruit & Nut Slab and a bag of Macadamia Turtles. (Neither of these items are available on their website.)
The American website focuses on images of folks with great skin using chocolate as seduction (probably successfully since by the time you get to the Christmas chocolate there’s one image that shows the “couple” with a small child). Their products seem designed to entice with sensuality and abundance. Instead of teensy pieces with cute little images molded into them or imprinted on the top, Hotel Chocolat goes whole hog with clear plastic packages that show off vast real estate of chocolate. Images on the website reinforce this with couples sharing bites of bars of chocolate larger than their head.
While the marketing of their products doesn’t quite mesh with my demographic, I am certainly interested in quality and flavor/texture combinations. I also enjoy innovative styling and packaging.
The Slab of Chocolate comes in a black paper package with a clear plastic front and a carrying handle (though be aware that the package opens on the bottom ... so reseal it completely before swinging it around). A little longer than a size of A4 paper, this is a substantial piece of chocolate. Clocking in at 500 grams (17.5 ounces) the abundance is a selling point.
This beefy slab had some uneven distribution of the mix-ins. It includes: cranberries, sultanas, crunchy crostini, almonds and hazelnuts. (You can see in the photo that the corners are sadly lacking in inclusions. While this gives it an artisan quality, it also meant that sometimes I had to break off more pieces in order to get to the ones with the “stuff.”
At first I was disappointed that they sent me milk chocolate products, but this is pretty dark milk. According to the package it’s 50% cocoa solids and 20% milk. It has an authentic milkiness to it (none of that powdered dairy tastes). It’s middle of the road as chocolate flavors go, not terribly complex, just good chocolatey-chocolate. My candy dream! A nice melt, not too sweet and a good complement to the tangy sultanas & cranberries. The hazelnuts were great, the almond slivers were few and far between but the crostini were fun when I encountered them.
The retail on this product is $25 plus shipping. Not too bad for an upscale chocolate bar.
But wait a second ... these aren’t American-style turtles. There’s no caramel in there. Just a macadamia nut at the center and some crisps in the milk chocolate. The whole thing does look rather like a turtle though.
After I got over my resistance to them because of the name, they were fun. The same high cacao milk chocolate, a good bit of crunch and then the fresh macadamias. (I would probably opt for another nut in the future though.)
I’m certainly curious to give some of the other Hotel Chocolat items a try, their gift packages look especially interesting. (They’ve timed their launch for the winter Holidays.) I don’t know if I’d buy the slab though, it’s an awful lot of one thing and I gravitate more towards variety when trying a new brand. It’s certainly an impressive looking gift though! The shipping box was great, nicely packaged for the warmish weather, I have to mention that because some companies just don’t “get” how to ship chocolate products to Los Angeles.
The package says that the product is suitable for vegetarians and is alcohol free.
More on the Hotel Chocolat expansion into the US market here.
Friday, November 2, 2007
In the Autumn a candy lover’s fancy turns to Licorice. (Well, if you like licorice.) The cooler air and shorter days seem to beg for the earthy flavors of a good molasses-based licorice. I get that not everyone likes licorice. It’s like mincemeat and cloves ... not everyone gets it.
There are lots of different versions of licorice, but one of my favorites are pastels, which are little nibbles covered in a candy shell. (Just like candy covered chocolate like M&Ms are a great way to eat chocolate!) I’ve had at least a dozen different varieties, from Good & Plenty to Koppers to Jelly Belly. They’re all good ... but after Good & Plenty, they get kind of expensive. (I’m not sure why.)
I was pretty happy to find Kenny’s Licorice Pastels at the All Candy Expo. They do great things with licorice, including using real licorice extract and making their products affordable (you’ve probably seen them repackage and sold under house brands or in bulk bins before).
They’re made from a very thin piece of licorice, think laces chopped into little segments. Nothing wrong with that. But the coatings are irregular. Some are chipped, which may have been me treating the package like a bean bag in my travels. Still, the coating wasn’t complete on some, with little bits of licorice sticking out or appearing just below the thin veneer of sugar shell.
The color choice is interesting. White, Green, Mustard Yellow, Black, Purple and Hot Pink.
They were soft and fresh. The sugar shell didn’t have a sharp and crisp crunch like the ones I get in the little bulk tubs at Cost Plus World Market. I like that kind of shell, but this was okay ... more like the Good & Plenty side of things. The licorice inside is nice and chewy and has a good note of roasted molasses and real licorice and anise extracts. (The anise is detectable in the shell.)
The thing that spoiled it for me (and this is just me) was that there was Red #40 in them. It was absolutely detectable in the pink and purple candies. (I even did several blind tests to see if I was just being dramatic.) It made them bitter. I had to separate them out from the rest of the bag ... and not eating a third of them doesn’t really make them cheaper. (4 out of 10)
I love root beer barrel hard candies and the root beer Bottle Caps, which are pretty much the only candies that incorporate root beer well into their pantheon of flavors.
Kenny’s also makes a huge line of flavored Juicy Twists (I’m loathe to use the term “red licorice” which is like saying “unsweetened sugar”.) They come in watermelon, green apple, chocolate and of course, Root Beer.
The twists aren’t really that twisted (only a half twist per length), but have pleasant ridges. They’re shiny and rather firm (but not stale). They don’t have the firmly pinched ends that other brands like Red Vines have. But they are hollow (if you’re a straw person).
The root beer flavor is sweet and has a nice balsam quality, not as intense as some other more spicy candies, but still a good match for the flour-based twist. I’d love it if they were more intense, but this is often my problem with root beer in general. I want lots of flavor. But, as I mentioned before, I take my root beer enjoyment where I can. These are a fun change from hard candies. (7 out of 10)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.