Tuesday, January 30, 2007
There were quite a few caramels at the Fancy Food Show. Here are two vastly different caramel products.
Hammond Candies makes a product unlike all their other wonderful twisty/swirly hard candies, it’s a caramel covered marshmallow block called Mitchell Sweets. I have no idea why they’re called Mitchell, but hey, I guess if I had a great caramel and marshmallow product, maybe I’d just start calling it Mitch, too.
The Mitchell Sweet comes in two varieties - plain and chocolate. They’re pretty big, about 2 1/2” long, 1 1/4 inch square and weigh 3/4 of an ounce. They’re a bit messy, but not as messy as you might guess.
The caramel is soft and chewy without being too stiff. The marshmallow, on the other hand, is rather stiff and solid. It still maintains a lightness and bouncy texture which helps it stand up to the caramel.
The chocolate one didn’t smell any different but I have to say I was really pleased with how fudgy it was. The chocolate caramel was even a little salty and set off the otherwise sweet marshmallow really well. This is a real standout candy. I could use a little honey or extra vanilla hit in the marshmallow itself, but Hammond’s has been making these treats for a long time, so who am I to say they need an adjustment?
Notes: you can buy them direct on the Hammond’s Candies website for $17.00 a pound. These are very similar to the Littlejohn Caramel Marshmallows.
I give them a 7 out of 10
If I was looking for a candy that advertised its honey flavor, then Caramoos to the rescue. Caramoos aren’t quite the chewy caramel that we’re used to though they are indeed caramelized sugar. It’s more like a light fudge. They come in two flavors in the Caramel Crumble: Original & Honey and a bunch of others in their Creme Fudge line: Dark Chocolate, Mocha & Vanilla
They’re cute little square rods, perfect to pop in your mouth whole or do it in two bites.
They smell very buttery and have a very grainy texture. The sweetness is mitigated by a little hit of salt and of course the darker flavors of the caramelized sugars. The Honey one smelled like a sweet hand cream instead of a caramel. The fragrant candy grew on me so much that in the end I preferred it to the Original flavor.
The Creme Fudges are a little different. They don’t have the distinct crystallized structure to them. The Dark Chocolate one reminded me of a very good Tootsie roll. Soft, smoky tasting and a little salty. Mocha was rich and milky tasting with a wonderful flavor of rich espresso. The Vanilla one was also chewy and soft and had a nice milky taste to it but not the buttery flavors so apparent in the Caramel Crumble.
They’re an interesting new look at caramelized sugars.
Notes: Caramoos are made in Poland. There’s no ordering info on their website (I emailed but haven’t heard back) but you can get them on Amazon for $14 for 2.5 pounds ($5.60 a pound). Nicole from Slashfood was equally smitten with Caramoos. Quite a few folks also got samples of them from Amazon last year.
I give them a 7 out of 10
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Another Limited Edition item from Reese’s and again playing around with similar ingredients. This time they’ve taken the Big Cup with Nuts (which was also a limited edition item - review here) and added some caramel to the bottom of the cup.
I don’t have a cross section of the actual cup because I kind of trashed it taking it out of the package and though it was certainly edible, it was not photogenic. So have a look at the Big Cup with Peanuts (click to get a pop up photo) and imagine a smidge of caramel at the bottom there.
The cup itself is nice and meaty, with lots of room to explore the nuts and peanut butter and a good balance of chocolate. The center is a bit salty which is good because the milk chocolate is a bit sweet and kind of greasy (I know that’s the hazard with chocolate and peanut butter). The caramel blends in well, it has its own salty kick but it doesn’t detract from the crunchy nuts or add too much sweetness. I’d prefer a chewier caramel like you find in a Snickers, but that’s not Hershey’s way.
I actually liked this one a bit better than the Reese’s with Caramel, the caramel was distinctive and the roominess of the peanut butter/peanut stack let it all breathe.
Just to give you a sense, here are the previous Reese’s reviews: Reese’s Bites (soon to be discontinued), Reese’s Cookies, FastBreak, Reese’s Sticks, Nutrageous, Reese’s Snack Barz, Reese’s Pieces Peanut, Reese’s Easter Eggs (two versions), Reese’s Bars for those who don’t like their candy in cups or shaped like trees, and of course the less-than-comprehensive Reese’s Full Line, another Big Cup (with mixed nuts) and their new favorite child, the Reese’s Crispy Crunchy Bar.
Friday, December 29, 2006
Here’s another trend among cooks that’s filtered into the candy world: artisan salt. The most common place to find this in confections is in caramels. Sometimes it’s grains of sea salt sprinkled on top, sometimes it’s just a saltier caramel. It’s not like caramels didn’t always have salt in them. When I make my own caramels I usually use both salted butter and a pinch of salt because I think it brings out the caramelized flavors better.
But of course the gourmets weren’t satisfied with plain old table salt or the more upscale Kosher flake salt, now they insist on curiously-colored and super-expensive sea salt crystals from Hawaii, France or New Zealand. They like to remind us of the grand history of salt and how our word for salary comes from the same root and why that means we should pay oodles of money for dried sea water. Frankly, it all looks like the stuff that we used to throw on the sidewalk when it got icy.
All that said, I welcome the new attention to salt as a way to bring out natural flavors. And I welcome Trader Joe’s foray into the salted caramel market because it’s actually affordable. The Shaker-style box that they come in is cute. Inside the box are two plastic bags with 7 ounces of caramels each. Not really as pretty on the inside as I might have hoped for $6.99 a box (maybe a little wood shavings or excelsior?).
The caramels are beautiful. Luminous and even looking, they’re smell like butter and burnt sugar. They’re individually wrapped in neatly folded clear cellophane. They’re sizeable morsels as well, each is two bites in my estimation. They’re firm to the touch but easy to bite apart.
While some salted caramels have grains of salt sprinkled on top, these are completely incorporated (like the Charles Chocolates and unlike the Fran’s) The salt is very apparent on the tongue but the smooth chew and the buttery mouthfeel come through loud and clear.
I liked them. I’m not sure I really want to eat all 14 ounces of them (that’s what’s good about the two packets in there instead of a large single one), so I might come up with some interesting things to do with them, like making a hard sauce for bread pudding.
Friday, December 22, 2006
In case you haven’t figured out already with the irregular posting this week, I’m traveling. But here’s something fun you might want to pack (or pick up as a stocking stuffer) when you’re on the road. They’re called ChocoPods and are made by Chuao, the SoCal based chocolatier. ChocoPods come in two flavors, Nutmeg and Spicy Maya.
Each is a little disk of chocolate shaped like a cocoa pod featuring dark chocolate (60% cacao) and a mix of spices. The idea is you take a little bite of chocolate and a sip of your coffee for an enhanced flavor experience for both. After all, chocolate and coffee both come from beans. (They really are a great match.)
The ChocoPods are intended to be sold at coffee houses where you’d see them right by the register instead of some mints or a croissant. It’s not a whole bar size, just 11 grams, which is the perfect complement to a cup of coffee or cappuccino. With only 60 calories in the little portion, it’s something you can work into your diet as a little treat every once in a while. The suggested retail of $1.00 to $1.25 makes them cheaper than the actual cup of coffee at most places!
Spicy Maya is pretty bold. Eating it solo, there’s a solid cayenne pepper kick to it in addition to some other notable spice notes like cinnamon and cardamom. But where the throat burning is an issue eating it alone a little swig of coffee settles the flavors out considerably. The bars themselves are sweet, but since I take no sugar in my coffee, I found it to be just the right amount to cut through the coffee’s strong notes. The bars aren’t terribly buttery either, but again, the warmth of the coffee makes a big difference.
Nutmeg is really nice. Very woodsy tasting with lots of earthy notes with not just nutmeg but a touch of eucalyptus, cardamom and sandalwood. This would be great in the evening by a roaring fire.
As chocolate bars to eat solo, they’re pretty good, but I think that Chuao has hit on something for the coffee house set. Most of the time I don’t feel like a whole hot chocolate, but I do want a little something chocolate. I often bring my own, so it makes sense that the coffee house would also want to sell me that too. The fact that they have the unusual flavors makes the whole thing feel a little more like an indulgence.
For only a buck, I would certainly give these a go every once in a while. I haven’t seen them at any coffee houses yet, but maybe soon. You can order them at the Chuao website.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
I’m not sure what’s taken Reese’s so long to come out with a Butterfinger-like candy bar. Maybe when Hershey’s bought 5th Avenue they made some sort of a deal. But here it is, 2006, some 88 years after the introduction of the Reese’s Peanut Butter cup and they’ve done it.
Instead of being a clone of the 5th Avenue, Butterfinger or Clark Bar, this one has both that layered crispy peanut butter crunch in the center, a supposed stripe of peanut butter as well as a liberal sprinkling of crushed peanuts and then milk chocolate.
The effect is a rather creamy and very crunchy bar. The textured center provides that high-frequency crisp and the nuts provide the low frequency crunch. The center has a salty hit to it that also gives it a little zing along with a good dose of molasses, which always pleases me. It also has 5 grams of protein, which is a pretty good density for a bar that’s more candy than nuts.
The crispy center was also lighter than the dense and sometimes inconsistent Butterfinger bar. The biggest drawback here is that Hershey’s has again skimped on the chocolate on the outside and gone for the marginal stuff that has PGPR in it.
If there’s one thing that really turns me off for this bar it’s the promo they’re running with its introduction. You can vote on their website for Crunchy or Creamy? and win a car based on your vote. Crunchy people win a Hummer H3 (blech) and Creamy people are entered to win a Corvette Coupe (meh).
My preference for this type of bar is the 5th Avenue, but those are extremely hard to find. If Hershey’s is planning on making these as widely available as other Reese’s products, this might be a new bar added to my repertoire.
Monday, November 27, 2006
I went looking for Christmas candy of all sorts last week during the holiday break. I seem to have the best luck at Walgreen’s since they have dependable sales and a clean store (I also went to Target, but everything came in super-jumbo bags). As I expected Russell Stover’s has their assortment of single-serving goodies that are similar to the Easter and Halloween ones. I did, however, find one that I’d not seen before, the Russell Stover Coconut Wreath
They were on sale for 50 cents, so I could hardly pass it up. I’m a sucker for coconut haystacks which is what I expected this to be.
I wasn’t disappointed either. The plop of coconut and milk chocolate was shiny and smelled of coconut. The coconut was crunchy and well-toasted, giving it a much more chewy texture than something like a Mounds bar. The coconut bits were rather small, like little flecks instead of being little curls like you’d find in a bag of coconut shreds in the baking aisle.
It wasn’t too sweet at all, just a nice mellow mix with an interesting texture.
If I was disappointed it was at the shape. I expected something that looked like a donut, instead it’s just a plop. What’s like a wreath about this? Or was mine malformed and had a filled center?
I have to say that I’m pleased that Candy Blog has prompted me to give the Russell Stover holiday lines a chance. Their quality is excellent (no PGPR in the chocolate) and when on sale they’re about the same price as any consumer candy bar and usually feature less common flavor combinations.
Other Russell Stover holiday candy reviews:
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Things to be thankful for: I apparently rebound from weariness rather quickly! After my declaration that I will not try any other limited edition KitKat bars, I’ve been sucked back in. And by a Pumpkin version no less.
In honor of American Thanksgiving, I had to review them. So I met Santos, of The Scent of Green Bananas at the Farmers Market yesterday for some lunch and a huge and generous mess ‘o candy (like trick or treating for grown ups! - more on that in the coming week). I rushed home afterwards to photograph them so I could give them a try.
First thing to know about these is that they are Japanese. Second thing to know is that they are pumpkin flavored, not pumpkin pie or pumkpin pie spice or pumpkin custard. They’re pumpkin flavored. Ever eat a pumpkin?
They’re milk chocolate covering the normal bland wafers with a pumpkin creme inside. Lest you think that they’re subtle, they smell quite distinctly of pumpkin. In fact, when I opened the bag (not even any of the packets, just the bag that they were in) it smelled like baby food.
It takes a little getting used to, but the pumpkin KitKat has a nice toasted, caramelized flavor. It’s not as sweet as the usual grainy sugar cream, so it offsets the cheap and greasy chocolate quite well. I can’t quite put my finger on it, except to say that the flavor is Pumpkin (or perhaps simply squash). The package is all in Japanese.
There is a long and strange aftertaste to this candy, a pumpkin aftertaste and not something I’ve ever experienced in my life before. I kept walking around the house thinking of baby food. Baby food. Look at the package - there’s a family of pumpkins on there. Daddy pumpkin, Momma pumpkin and of course little baby pumpkin with his two front teeth just growing in. (Does he eat this pumpkin puree KitKat?) I keep thinking ... Babies with faces caked with strained squash. Smelling of squash, a smidge of fabric softener and of course that baby smell.
They are, in fact, strangely addictive. I don’t know how, because any gourd and chocolate has never sounded like a good combo to me, but here I am, eating another. I hesitate to give them a high score, but the fact that I continue to eat them means the have to get at least a 7 out of 10.
Final thought: thank you all for reading and commenting in the past year.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Premium Organic : Smooth Organic Dark Chocolate with Cherry (70% cocoa). Yes, it’s dark. The bar is gorgeously glossy and smells of tart fruit, smoke and coffee. For such a dark bar, it is sweet. It has a nice melt, but a slight chalky feel on the tongue. The black cherry comes across with all the floral fragrance, but without much of the tartness that characterizes the dried fruits.
Though I’ve professed that I don’t like cherry flavor, I have no problem with actual cherries, so this was an agreeable bar.
This bar is organic and fair trade.
Dark Chocolate with Raspberries (70%). This bar has an equally smoky taste to it, dark and floral with some woodsy notes. It’s not as sweet as the cherry bar, but has the same sort of grain on the tongue towards the end of the melt. There are real bits of raspberries in there (including the seed) which give a little tangy zap every once in a while. The infusion of raspberry flavor wasn’t really there, but the scent lingered over the whole bar. This went really well with coffee or a savory snack like salted almonds or pretzels.
This bar is ethically traded.
I went to Target last night and noticed a nice selection of the Premium Organic line right at the check out stand candy rack. So this brand is getting much easier to find. Have you spotted it anyplace other than the Whole-Foods-style markets?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.