Tuesday, June 26, 2007
One of the things that I was attracted to at the counter of the candy store were these pretty and classic chocolate bars. They came in four varieties: Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate with Almonds and Sugar Free Milk Chocolate (on a different display).
They’re all 1.8 ounces and the ingredients are promisingly short: sugar, milk, cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, soy lecithin and vanillin. They were all priced $1.25 each.
The other bar (not pictured) was the Milk Chocolate with Almonds bar (it looked just like the Milk Chocolate bar). It’s similarly sweet and has a wonderful scent of almonds. The almonds are whole, if a little small. Crunchy and a good counterpoint to the very sugary chocolate. The pieces are nice though, easy to break off a third and chomp it whole or maybe three bites.
The Mickey Dark Chocolate Bar was stunning when I took it out of the package. The glossy squares and nicely detailed relief of Mickey’s head definitely has appeal. It smells nice, a little more on the cedar side of woodsy than coffee. The ingredients on this one lists butterfat. It’s pretty smooth but very sweet for a dark chocolate. It’s kind of “watery” on the tongue, reminding me of the Royal Dark Cadbury Mini Eggs that came out this year ... kind of like a pleasant cup of hot chocolate.
The sweetness leads me to believe that some kids may enjoy this, and if they don’t their moms or dads won’t complain about having to eat the leftovers themselves.
I give the whole set of bars a passably good 7 out of 10, good portion control at 1.8 ounces, easy to share, decent price for a branded item and Kosher for those who are looking for that. I appreciate that the candy has the Mickey brand on the inside and the outside.
Much of the candy is rather mainstream fare, and though I couldn’t find any chocolate mint patties or minted chocolate, I did find the Mickey Mouse Creamy Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Patties. They were a little more than the other pre-packaged candies at $1.50, but they were also 2.7 ounces. The packaging is kind of retro, kind of islandy. The Mickey on the package is the old-fashioned Mickey who is all pupil and has no whites in his eyes.
Inside is a little plastic tray with two chocolate dipped coconut patties in the shape of Mickey’s head.
These are hefty huge patties! Each weighs approximately 1.35 ounces, a good sized portion of candy on its own. The chocolate doesn’t coat the top, but you can’t tell from the photo that it does cover the bottom.
The star here is the soft coconut pattie itself. It’s creamy and soft and of course coconutty. It smells like summer. The coconut is chewy and only slightly fibery, a bit smoother than a Mounds bar, but also a bit sweeter.
The chocolate takes a back seat, which is fine. It’s not great chocolate like that on the Chocolate Dipped Pretzels, but it makes the candy attractive and it’s real, which is always a selling point.
The package does say that they were made in a “nut free environment” (except for those coconuts, which I guess are technically a fruit). Not Kosher. I give them a 7 out of 10.
These little M&M-like candies are called Chocolate Spots and came in a peanut variety as well. I went for the traditional “candy-coated Milk Chocolate”. As I was looking for a package that wasn’t crinkled and sticky, I noticed that all the bags felt like the contents were “grainy” instead of smooth.
I did my best to pick one from the bottom that looked crisp and had the best feeling contents, but when I got home and dumped them out, it was quite apparent that my attempt was not successful.
I know that many small children aren’t particularly choosy about their chocolate, and bless them for that. If I were a child and told I could only pick out one item from this store and this is what I got, I’d be in tears. The chocolate tastes like the wrapper smells, like plastic. The candy shell is crispy, yes, but only masks the burnt flavors of the chocolate. Think of those awful burnt unpopped kernels of popcorn and maybe the filling of a futon that’s been stored in a damp basement for the past few decades. I should have known that they were going to be bad when I read the list of ingredients ... which included PGPR (granted, I still love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, which now include PGPR, but it’s certainly in spite of it that they’re good, not because of it).
Honestly, I think I’m going to package these up and send them back to Disney. I might accept such quality from the 99 Cent Only Store at a fifth of the price, but not from a big company that prides itself on the experience of the brand. 1.8 ounces. I’m giving them a 2 out of 10. Not Kosher.
How difficult would it be to simply have a Disney branded M&M? The candies would have little characters on them instead of Ms (like the Pirate Pearls had little skulls and swords). Or ... don’t bother with M&Ms and get some GOOD candy maker to do two different sizes and kids could make their own Mickey heads with large and small candy lentils.
I’d kind of hoped, as with the Disney Spots, that this Pecan-Caramel Cluster would have a cutesy name, like Lion King Paws or Chewy Manes ... But clarity is always a good thing. In fact, besides the image on the package of Simba and Nala, it doesn’t say a single thing about The Lion King. I guess in a few years these could be branded for a more popular Princess or perhaps some tie in with Ratatouille.
The package says they’re “Crisp Pecans drenched in Creamy Caramel, smothered in delicious Milk Chocolate.”
And so they are.
These were far better than the Nestle Pecan Turtles I had earlier this year. Fresh nuts, the right texture for the caramel. The chocolate wasn’t the best in the world, but at least it didn’t detract. A winner.
2 pecan clusters, 1.5 ounces total. Not Kosher. $1.25 9 out of 10
Overall, the packaged stuff was pleasant and by theme-park standards, a good value. Just stay away from the Chocolate Spots.
Monday, June 25, 2007
The first thing I was looking for at the Candy Palace at Disneyland was something unique. Why should I eat something that I can get anywhere? So I scoured the store to find something that was made only for sale at the Disneyland candy stores. Sadly, there really wasn’t anything there like that, so I settled for something that I thought I’d like that had a novel take ... the Dark Chocolate Pretzels in the shape of Mickey Mouse.
They were sold in a couple of different formats, a simple plastic baggie tied with a bow with a stack of four (mostly shopworn though), they had singles in the candy case for $1.25 each and then a nice box with 8 ounces of dark chocolate pretzels for $9.95. The box had all the classic Disney characters on it. Nothing from this century (the most recent characters on there are Beauty & the Beast and The Little Mermaid). The box looked like it protected the contents well (shaking it actually didn’t yield much in the way of sound, which is a good thing).
The pretzels are gorgeous! The dark chocolate is glossy, thick and with cute little scribbles to make it extra dense in spots. They’re in a deep tray, leaning against each other in little slots, eight pretzels total. (So that makes them 1 ounce each.)
Only one was broken.
The pretzels themselves are bigger than I’m used to, at first I thought they were stale but then I realized they were just really crunchy and a bit dense ... which kind of keeps them from being crispy in the way I’m accustomed to. The chocolate is good quality, not too sweet and with a good balance of smoky notes and a dry finish. The pretzel is only lightly salted, so this remains a sweet treat. Unfortunately this “dark” chocolate has milkfat in it, so it’s not for vegans. It is Kosher though (I don’t think anything in the candy case is). 8 out of 10
For the record I also tried a Milk Chocolate Pretzel out of the candy case, which I ate as I left the park. It tasted like, well, candy case. The pretzel was a little stale and the chocolate bland.
The candy case has a huge variety of chocolate treats in it. Nut clusters, caramel patties, peppermint patties, chocolate dipped crisped rice treats, chocolate marshmallow bars on sticks, little cups with white chocolate mixed with cookie bits, milk chocolate with M&Ms, chocolate haystacks, toffee, and of course the chocolate covered pretzels mentioned above.
I was drawn to the Milk Chocolate Caramel Marshmallow Bar. It’s about the size of a Snickers bar, though not quite as dense in hand. I was hoping for something to approach the See’s Scotchmallow.
Inside the bar the caramel and marshmallow are in equal proportions. The caramel is thin, though chewy and smooth (but lacking some deep burnt caramel flavors). The marshmallow is moist and springy and not too sweet. The milk chocolate is okay, sweet and milky and pretty smooth. It’s a sweet bar, but the marshmallow makes it feel both satisfying and light at the same time. $1.95 ... I give it a 7 out of 10.
I had very low expectations for the Small Mickey Turtles. The large ones in the case, though attractive in shape and size were a bit bloomed. The little ones weren’t quite as pretty, but the price was certainly better for someone who was looking for variety.
My expectation for something called a “Turtle” is this: caramel and pecans covered in chocolate. I like my caramel to be soft and chewy, but also flavorful to provide more than a textural counterpoint to the nuts. Pecans are a strongly flavored nut, so a good caramelized caramel is important.
The Mickey Turtle is a huge disappointment. The nuts didn’t taste fresh. The chocolate had more of the flavor of the refrigerator case than of chocolate and the caramel was less like caramel and more like a fudge or pecan praline (a chocolate covered pecan praline would be delightful, too).
Oddly enough the “turtle” pictured here with the white stripes wasn’t a turtle at all. I think it was supposed to be a truffle, but it tasted a bit more like a piece of fudge covered in chocolate. Again, it tasted like refrigerator more than chocolate.
The large (bloomed) Turtles were $3.00 each. The mini versions were 94 cents. Not bad as price goes, but it’s certainly not worth it. I give these (even the accidental “truffle”) a 5 out of 10.
If you’re coming to California and want a special candy treat to take home, go to See’s. The prices are better, the candy fresher and of course it just tastes better. (And I’ll wager you won’t stand in line as long ... most California airports even have a See’s kiosk.)
Next, I’ll try some of the prepackaged candy bars!
Friday, June 22, 2007
After a recent writing session on a new play (for Script Frenzy) I stopped at the 7-11 near the coffee house where I was holed up to see what they had. I didn’t see much new, except for these gargantuan Tootsie Pops.
I picked up two, in my favorite flavors, Orange and Grape and thought I’d compare them to the classic sized ones.
The big ones are .85 ounces and regulars are .60 ounces.
I did try to compare the center of the Tootsie Pops, in case the hard candy proportion was the only difference. As far as I could tell, there was a slightly larger amount of Tootsie Roll at the center of the .85 ounce one but it was consistent with the larger amount of hard candy ... so they got the proportions right.
But here’s the thing ... there’s nothing wrong with the size of the regular Tootsie Pop. In fact, it’s darn near perfect. It actually fits inside my mouth. Not that the .85 ounce one doesn’t, but the problem is that I can’t put it between my cheek and my teeth. Maybe with some careful, long-term stretching, but then I’ll probably be left with Tootsie-Jowl. The other complaint is that the jumbo pops are wrapped in some sort of plasticized paper instead of the classic waxed paper. While this may provide a better seal on the candy (I think they hot melt it to the stick or something) this makes it frustrating to open and the wrapper simply cannot be used to wrap back around the partially eaten pop ... it just pops open unless you use some tape on it. (I usually save the wrapper to wrap up my stick that may be, well, sticky, and put it in my bag until I can dispose of it properly if need be.)
I love Tootsie Pops, they’re an ideal summer candy, as they have no melting issues but still offer a sightly chocolatey flavor.
My ranking of the current flavor offerings:
Your mileage may vary. I give the traditional Tootsie Pops a 9 out of 10 ... the new jumbo sized ones get a 7 out of 10 ... yeah, size matters. Tootsie Pops also come in miniatures, which look about the size of a Dum Dum pop. I’ve had them before, I tend to pull the stick out right away and crunch it up (rather like the old Tootsie Pop Drops). Read more about the history of the Tootsie Pop at their site and their TV spots.
Here’s the classic one:
Here’s the new one:
Which do you prefer?
Thursday, June 14, 2007
I went to Toys r Us yesterday to pick up a booster seat in preparation for the arrival of my niece, nephew, brother and sister in law this weekend. Of course after completing the mundane safety-oriented task I browsed the candy aisle, which is conveniently the entire section in front of the registers. There were lots of novelty items, but the one that caught my eye was the Gummy Fishies, which looks like a purple sardine can and has a little key on the top and everything.
I was a little annoyed with the price, $1.29 for .67 ounces of what I figured were Swedish Fish. But I was already there and though the folks in the car seat section were super helpful, the two cashiers were strangely hung up (one registering someone for the birthday club and the other didn’t give the right change and had to call a manager to open the cash drawer). The longer I waited the more it meant that I had to make this trip more productive. So the Fishies were purchased.
The little plastic box is shaped like a tin of fish, right down to the little flutes on the side. The key is anchored at the top in a little holder, when inserted into the hole on the bottom side of the box, it meshes with the little grooves like a cog. Turning the key moves the lid of the box smoothly. The first time it needs to break the little perforations on the label, but that happened just like it should.
I think the Fishies are made by Albanese, they have an A on their sides, which is the same way Albanese brands their gummi bears (but the package says Made in China ... but they might be referring to the box). The first ingredient is not sugar, it’s pectin ... it also has gelatin in it, these are some seriously gummy fishes. Soft but super springy. The flavor of the red one was rather like raspberry, not like the strange Swedish-berry that’s so distinct. I have no clue what the green one was. It tasted fresh, but kind of like cucumber.
The price is stupid at Toys r Us, I know that you can get these at a better price elsewhere and for under a dollar I think it’s a fun little toy to give to a kid that also has candy. The good part is that the little box is really well made, so you can buy a big bag of Swedish fish or gummi bears or anything else you like and keep refilling it for your kid. Because it holds less than an ounce, that does mean controlled portions. (Or let them use it as a bank ... it’s got a KEY!) The key system actually works, I really couldn’t budge the lid without it unless I wanted to actually break it. (Of course it’s a universal key, so if you’ve given one to each of your kids they have keys to each other’s boxes.)
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Since the subject came up last with with the news that Mars was using animal-sourced rennet in their whey (and then they later rethought that and reversed it), I thought I’d address dietary restrictions and candy. There are a lot of candies that contain animal-sourced ingredients. Besides dairy products, one of the most common is gelatin. Gelatin is found in gummis but it’s also found in Altoids. So what’s a vegetarian to use to freshen their breath (besides just brushing their teeth)?
St. Claire’s Organics is an entire line of compressed sugar sweets in mint, herb, spice and tart flavors. Not only are they suitable for vegans, they’re also wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and fancy-free.
The St. Claire’s Organic’s line of Sweets & Mints aren’t really that attractive out of the tins, but they rather remind me of Brittany Spaniels: All peppy and speckled.
St. Claire’s Organics also come in Tarts. How many little candy tarts out there that are organic and free of all those other things? The ones in boxes are little spheres and the ones in the tins are small tablets.
Whew! That was a lot of different flavors!
I give the whole line a 7 out of 10 (could be a little zingier), but the winners in my book were the Licorice and Ginger Sweets and I found that I ate all the Lemon Tarts first out of all the tarts, so they get an 8 out of 10. I also really dig the Tummy Soothers and since they have slippery elm in them, I’ll probably use them for aching throats too because I liked the flavor better.
The little boxes of sweets are great for kids, a very small portion in flavors they’ll respond to. The other great thing about St. Claire’s is that they sell the sweets and tarts in bulk at better than half the price so you can refill your tin (so you could get a really cool little package for your kids to keep refilling). The commitment from St. Claire’s to the environment goes further, with 10% of their profits donated to the Ethno Medicine Preservation Project, which documents medicinal plant traditions with indigenous cultures. The only negatives I have is that I don’t care for the little boxes, I’m not quite sure why, I just don’t respond well to them. They’re hard to reclose securely (I might like a little waxed paper insert or something for extra protection). But the tins are great, simple, easy to open and close (and with a nice saying printed inside the lid). The other negative is even though there’s no gelatin in here, they’re not certified Kosher.
I see these for sale at Whole Foods, Erewhon and other natural food stores, prices probably vary and of course you can order direct from St. Claire’s Organics.
Monday, June 11, 2007
Music may be called ear candy at times, but it really doesn’t intersect with candy much. I’m not sure why, they’re easy to enjoy together, though candy always won out for my spending money as a kid. (I owned very little music as a teen, the only singles I remember buying were Blondie’s Call Me & John Lennon’s Starting Over, instead I just listened to whatever albums were in the house, hence my love of the Beatles and The Who.)
Besides the Charleston Chew, which is named after a dance and song, I don’t think there are many music-themed candy bars out there. Even though there’s not much proof of concept, Hershey’s has high hopes for their limited edition Elvis Reese’s Peanut Butter and Banana Cream Cups. The early announcement of them last year sent quite a wave of enthusiasm through the internet, especially blogs where people were searching desperately. They are slated to go on sale in advance of the 30th anniversary of his death on July 7th.
The cups showed up earlier this year on eBay, as merchants where were given preview cups to try before they buy sold them off for a quick buck or two. (Some were going as high as $5.00 a piece.) I’ll admit that I bid on a few. As luck would have it, the same contact at Hershey’s who sent me the Fresh From The Factory Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups came through last week with these beauties. A whole tin filled with the Big Cup (King Size!) Elvis-themed cups.
The packaging for this variety features Hawaiian Elvis, sporting sideburns and a purple lei. The back of the package features trivia about Elvis: “Priscilla Ann Beaulieu was 14 years old when she met Elvis Presley.” Ah, give the young girls something to aspire to. (Other packages mention his record sales and movie career.) None mentioned the King’s love of fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, the progenitor for this candy.
The cups smell like roasted peanuts with a slight sweet tinge of chocolate. Before biting into them, there’s really no indication that they’re different. The Big Cups are pretty hefty, and after eating the smaller-than-normal Fresh From the Factory Cups, I feel rather huge.
Once I bit into them though, the banana-ness was apparent. It’s a soft and floral banana taste in a “banana cream” that’s rather firm, kind of like a banana white chocolate, but not as smooth. The label lists banana flakes as an ingredient. (As well as artificial flavor and artificial color.)
I tried these several ways. I ate them fresh out of the package, I tried them frozen and I tried them a gooey melted mess after letting them sit under the hot studio light. Frozen the banana lacks zing, but of course the texture is great. At room temperature, the banana has a nice mellow flavor. At body temperature the banana cream gets really thick and creamy and tastes a lot more like banana.
I was kind of hoping that they’d use the model of the Caramel Cup and just make the caramel banana flavored. The cream is interesting and carries the flavor well over the very strong peanut butter. All I can say is that it works for me. I don’t know if I’d buy these instead of the regular Reese’s, but I’m curious what the miniatures are going to be like and I’ll probably give those a try.
For another preview of the Elvis Cups, check out Patti at Candy Yum Yum.
Now comes the time where I share the wealth. Yes, you too can be the first on your block to try the new Elvis King Size Reese’s Peanut Butter and Banana Creme Cups. I’ll do a drawing on Saturday, June 16th at Noon Pacific ... the grand prize will be FIVE fresh packages. Just leave a comment here with your favorite Elvis tune or Elvis Cup sighting ... I’ve heard that they’re already showing up in stores like Dollar General. Use a real email address if you’d like me to contact you if you win, and I’d advise not checking the box for notification of comments, cuz there may be a few. I also reserve the right to throw more candy into the winner package, depending on my whim and inventory at the moment. North American addresses only.
(Ooh, thanks to the comments, I found this on the Hershey’s Gift Site, you can order them right now, a tin of 16 packages of the King Sized cups is $25.)
UPDATE: We have a winner (Lisa!) ... but you’re free to comment. If you’re looking for tips on where to find Elvis Cups, check out this post called Elvis Spotting.
Friday, June 8, 2007
Father’s Day is Sunday, June 17th so I thought I’d throw something out there for the chocolate lovin’ fathers of America.
I had the opportunity this week to try two different personalized chocolate message services. They’re both great, if a little expensive for shipping because of the heat in summer months. But the originality can’t be beat. It’s like an edible greeting card.
First up is Chocotelegram. Based in Toronto, Chocotelegram was actually founded in Europe. You can order from their pre-fab messages or have them typeset your message using their letter picker. You can even decorate the blank spaces with icons (stars, smileys, trees, hearts & clovers).
The chocolate is made by Barry Calebaut. Each little square is about a third of an ounce, making a whole tray of 21 squares about 7 ounces. I only tried the milk and found it very creamy, if a little sweet, but super-smooth and satisfying. The package sent, as shown, is only $17 plus shipping. There are lots of options on their website, including an upgraded box and larger letter arrays. I really liked the molding on the letters, it was crisp, attractive and legible.
The second company that contacted me last week was ABChocolates that makes the Chocolate Dispatch. The Dispatch has a wonderful design flair, from the exterior packaging (wrapped in some corrugated paper with a seal) down to the sassy wooden box with the message printed right on the front in true telegram style. Even when the chocolate is gone, the message lives on.
Under the sliding top the chocolates are held firmly in place with foam underneath and some waxed paper filler on top. Pull that off and you get a personalized chocolate message. Each letter weighs a little less than a third of an ounce giving the box of 32 a net weight of 9.5-10 ounces . The letters are a little more homespun feeling than Chocotelegram’s. They’re a combination of white chocolate letters on a dark or milk chocolate square. The white is, you know, white chocolate. The milk is nice, creamy and not too sweet with a strong milky component. The dark is good, if a little grainy sometimes (but only as a counterpoint to the silkier/stickier milk chocolate).
While Chocolate Dispatch only comes in two sizes, they offer a lot of customized options with different labels on the front (Birthday Dispatch, Get Well Dispatch, Valentine Dispatch, etc.) which would mean that you could send out several of these over the course of the year and the boxes would all be keepsakes.
There’s a breakdown listed below. I liked both of the products a lot, though I don’t know that many people that I’d send something like this to. (Here’s a hint though, if you’re doing a wedding, see if you can do initials. “C & M” in little three character boxes, that’d be so cute!) Chocotelegram had the best tasting chocolate, but I really liked the box and whole top-to-bottom design aesthetic of Chocolate Dispatch. If you’re a mom helping your kid pick out their gift to dad, the letter-picking interface is a fun experience all on its own. (Chocotelegram has one too, but it’s just not quite as enjoyable.)
I give both services a solid 7 out of 10.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
After the reminder of how great Storck Chocolate Riesen are last week, I was happily educated that Storck makes a vanilla caramel.
And I was delightedly happy to find that the Dollar Tree carries Werther’s Original Chewy Caramels. So I left with a sassy little bag of them. I’d never had them before, but knowing the Riesen and the Werther’s Original Hard Candies, I thought they had to be good. Of course after I bought them and took the picture I started seeing them everywhere ... either Storck made a huge delivery to Southern California or I’ve been comfortably numb in my chocolate caramel bliss for a long time.
Taking them out of the wrapper they don’t look much different from Brach’s caramels or even Kraft’s. The little flat-sided rods are kind of uneven. At first they’re pretty hard, and a firm chew can be exhausting. But a few moments in a warm mouth (especially after coffee) and they softened up beautifully.
The chew is smooth and buttery with a good caramel taste and creamy consistency. It stays smooth all the way to the end, which is the mark of a caramel over a taffy or chew that will become grainy or just up and dissolve.
I wasn’t as keen on these as the Chocolate Riesen, part of it may be that the chocolate caramels are one of the few candies that seems to match up to the pictures on the wrapper, and the Werther’s Original Chewy Caramels just looked a little more weathered and worn than the images on the wrapper. I ate them all, but it took me a week instead of two days with chocolate version. They’re probably a better hot weather candy to keep on hand ... not that it’s been hot in Los Angeles in the past month or so.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.