Monday, August 5, 2013
Boiled candies, or hard candies, are considered kind of ordinary in most situations. They’re not most people’s first choice, in fact, in most lists of candies, they’re often down at the bottom along with raisins and toothbrushes (basically, not even qualifying as candy). It’s sad, because there are good hard candies and boiled sugar candies can be some of the most beautiful of all candies out there.
Cut Rock is a tradition of candymaking that goes back at least 150 years. It’s a simple concept, different colors of hard candy are layered together and then pulled or rolled out to shrink the design and then cut into easy to eat pieces. (To make swirled lollipops, the centers are plain but the ropes of candy are wrapped into a disk and a stick is inserted.)
Raley’s Confectionary in Florida is one of the new artisan companies to bring this tradition back, and their twist is to use natural colors, flavors and organic/fair trade sugar. (I’m not sure about the glucose syrup that’s mentioned in the ingredients label, but not on the website.) Since all he makes is hard candies, it’s vegan and gluten free (though he does make some nut items, so check before you order if you have an allergy).
If you want to see more about how it’s made, Raley did an educational video that addresses how scaling is important when creating the designs to make cut rock. And of course here’s a more generalized video that shows the whole process from start to finish:
Wes Raley (seen in action above) offered me some samples and since it’s summer, which I high season for hard candies, I accepted them. It then took a long time to get through the whole set: Emoticon Mix, Root Beer, Cappuccino, Pomegranate,
The SA Emoticon Mix is a good place to start because it demonstrates the array of forms and designs that can be created and also includes a wide variety of flavors. Of course I don’t know what those flavors were supposed to be, since there was no key, so I can only guess. I know one was lime, and another was blueberry. The interesting thing about this version was how the diameter varied.
The center, as you may have seen in the video, is an aerated hard candy. This makes it white and the pulling of the hard candy also allows Raley to incorporate the flavors. It makes it crunchy without any of those annoying sharp voids that some hard candies get.
Each piece is a mere half in across, yet the wire thin brown “steam” coming from the little mugs is perfectly proportioned to the little cups of coffee.
The flavor on this particular candy is a little milder than the vivid and fruity Emoticons.
The coffee flavor is a bit mild and thin for my tastes. It was toasty and less sweet, but more like a brown sugar candy than a true coffee with a bit of foamed milk experience. That said, it was one of the first bags I finished.
Grapefruit is one of several citrus flavors from Raley’s. The pieces are well made, a yellow rind and a pink sectioned interior sell the look. The outside is sweet and mild, but the aerated fruity center is tangy and nicely flavored. It’s a little zesty, only a slight hint of bitterness and quite tart at times.
Here’s the real gem of all the varieties I tried: Lemon. This piece was yellow with a shiny yellow rind, white pith and yellow sections. Unlike the grapefruit, which was flavored on the inside, the outside was also flavored. So the rind was a gentle and sweet lemon, but the inside was extremely tart, zesty and juicy.
These were absolutely adorable. The design is unlike most of the others that cut rock makers create, it has no jacket. Instead the flag’s stripes go right to the edge. It’s a complicated design, enough of the elements, colors and ratios are there for it to say “American Flag” even though it’s round.
The flavor is fun, the blueberry is sweet and has a good berry flavor and the strawberry is light and floral.
Root Beer was one that I was truly looking forward to, mostly because Raley doesn’t use artificial colors and one of my complaints about Root Beer Barrels is the aftertaste from the dye known as Red #40. This definitely did not have any aftertaste, but it didn’t have much of a forward taste either. It was exceptionally mild, like the Cappuccino. There was a hint of wintergreen bite, but not bite of tartness, no earthy ginger rooty flavors either. It was toasty but not like Root Beer.
But the candy was adorable, with the frosty mugs on a crunchy background. So I may have been disappointed that it wasn’t like I wanted it to be, but I still managed to eat the whole bag.
I give the fruity flavors a 9 out of 10 and the drink flavors an 8 out of 10 (they designs on those were especially good). The packages were stand up, zippered gussets. Each came with a little silica gel package inside, so even though I opened them (and resealed) they all stayed pristine. Some hard candies can melt and deform in the humidity or high heat, but these looked as good today as they did about a month ago when I got them.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Hello is a new sub-brand from Lindt Chocolate with a wide variety available exclusively at Target in the United States. (You can get some bars & products at the Lindt website and from Amazon.) Lindt calls it “a brand new collection of contemporary and sinfully delicious premium chocolate bars, sticks and boxes, inspired by classic desserts and treats.”
I’m not sure how it differs from some of their other bars before, but the packaging is certainly different. Instead of the stuffy but easily recognized Lindt package which featured a continental flair, these are certainly modern looking with a lot of flirty typography and forced casualness.
I picked out two bars for my first try (they were on sale, 2 bars for $4.00). Today I’ll review the Hello Crunchy Nougat.
The German style of nougat is a hazelnut paste, not the fluffy egg and honey confection. It’s a milk chocolate shell with a nougat filling and some little shards wafer bits (wheat flour is listed on the ingredients).
The bar is large and thick. At 3.5 ounces, it’s quite long but not as wide as their other tablets. For filled bars I enjoy this format, though it’s usually hard to get a bar that hasn’t been broken in transit or on display. (Since my bar was, this is a photo of the soon-to-be-reviewed Coffee Blast, which has the same mold.)
The milk chocolate is creamy and sweet, though a little sticky. The filling inside the little sections is far sweeter but has a warm roasted hazelnut flavor with a bit more of a milky, sticky note. The cookie bits are good, they add a touch of salt or at least a little malty flavor that cuts through all the sugar. I also caught a few shards of hazelnuts, which added a nice chew though not much crunch.
It’s a fatty, fatty bar, in a good way. At 156 calories per ounce it was easy to see that it was more than filled with sugar. Ground hazelnuts plus a lot of milk and some coconut and palm oil bring the saturated fat up to 7 grams per serving. I don’t know if I’d buy it again, as there are other hazelnut bars I like better, but mostly because I’d prefer a very dark shell on this to offset all the sweetness inside. I’ll keep looking through their range to see if there’s something that would suit me better, because it was a good deal for $2.00.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Last week I profiled the exceptional and hard to find gummis from Sugarfina. They also sent a second Bento box to me with chocolate items. They’re all panned candies but a far more diverse selection from the gummis. Most are made in the US, and like the gummis, Sugarfina doesn’t specify who makes them.
Vanilla Bean Malt Balls: The white chocolate coating is flecked with vanilla bean bits. The pieces smell strongly of vanilla with a hint of toffee and coffee in there. The coating is sweet and milky, but completely overwhelmed by the bourbon-y vanilla. There’s also a fair bit of salt in there, so it wasn’t as sickly sticky feeling as it could have been. There’s a layer below that, perhaps a dark chocolate but mostly it’s there to break up the sweetness. Below that is the crunchy center, which has a mild cereal flavor but not much in the way of malt.
The whole effect is satisfying, but in the sense that I didn’t need to eat more than two in one serving. So even though the package was small and had very few pieces in it, I never felt the need to gobble the whole thing up.
Single Malt Scotch Cordials: are a classic from Koppers. While I love the panned cordials, these raised my expectations a little too high. I’m good with a comforting rum flavored cordial without complaint. But these were labeled as single malt scotch. Though they have a little stronger note of leather or tobacco, they’re not terribly different from the ordinary flavored cordials. I’ll probably stick to the rum or cognac version in the future.
If you’ve never had them, there’s a liquid center, which is a little flavored syrup, then a sugar crusted shell then a layer of dark chocolate. The sugar shell makes it all very sweet.
The Espresso Caramels were very similar to the Trader Joe’s Butterscotch Caramels (which I suspect are made by Marich). They’re wonderfully proportioned with a fair amount of mild semi-sweet chocolate and a nugget of soft, chewy caramel at the center. The coffee notes were not particularly strong, but still created a satisfying candy.
The Marshmallow S’Mores are an extraordinary little construction. At the center is a little marshmallow, then a milk chocolate coating. What sets this apart is the dusting of graham cracker on the outside. The marshmallow is mild and also kind of tiny, so all it does is make the whole thing lighter and easier to chew without giving it the doughy puff of sugar that I usually associate with Smores. The milk chocolate is sweet and very milky which offsets the graham crackers slightly salty and cereal flavors. I didn’t really care for the graham notes, mostly because they seemed a bit on the stale side, for crumbs.
Pastel Malted Milk Eggs are a classic. It’s hard to not like them, even when they’re bad. There were only four of them in the little box, because they were each so big. The malt was good, crunchy and dense. The chocolate was okay, it didn’t add much to it, as is usually the case with pastel eggs because of the crunchy shell. I’d eat a lot of these if I had them.
Peanut Butter Caramels are not new to me. I tried them a few years back after hearing the concept and being intrigued. It’s a caramel center with a peanut butter coating then it’s rolled in powdered sugar. The whole effect is sweet, not peanutty enough and not chewy either. But I still find myself eating them all. I don’t know if they need chocolate or not, but I like the idea of a peanut butter confection that doesn’t have chocolate.
Rainbow Raisins were completely new to me. It makes sense, if a Peanut M&M is just a candy coated Goober, why can’t there be a candy coated Raisinet?
The colors are satisfying and lovely. The shells are crunchy and perhaps even a little floral tasting. The raisins were especially moist and chewy though sometimes I wasn’t sure there was any chocolate in there at all. They’re quite sweet, but the tangy bite of the raisins cuts that a little bit.
On the whole, the chocolates are quite fun and it’s easy to see how the hard to find combinations would make a special gift. They’re also expensive and though the bento boxes are a silly amount of packaging, the regular boxes are actually pretty efficient as they’re stuffed to the brim. The result of the packaging is that the candies don’t roll around a lot and get scuffed up.
I’m giving the whole roundup an 8 out of 10 rating.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Based in Southern California, Sugarfina brings a chic aesthetic to all their candy with their minimalist packaging in robin’s egg blue and square formats. The candy is sold in “bulk” that is, it’s repackaged by them and sold in an array of different weights. They have created a superb curated list of candies. Some you’ll recognize, but their biggest selling point is an array of exquisite European candies that I’ve never seen sold anywhere else.
Candy is sold in little boxes of different weights or in mixed boxes (they call Bentos) that make excellent gifts. Their team truly understand that candy should appeal first to the eye and then to the rest of the senses.
I still get plenty of offers for free candy samples, but lately it has to be something pretty special to get me to bite. But when you see this list of candies, you’ll see what got me interested. Today I’m presenting the assortment of gummis (and one jelly candy). All of the gummis are from Germany and most feature natural colors.
Bitty Berries is a mix of three different gummis. There’s a large raspberry looking gummi that has a rather raspberry flavor. Then there are three smaller berries, kind of like petite blueberries that are different colors and flavors. The light amber ones are like a white grape juice flavor, lightly tangy but with a black currant note to them. The pink version is and the purple is like a jammy raspberry. Blueberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Cranberry and Bilberry.
They’re just exquisitely beautiful. Even when I wasn’t interested in eating them, they were just too cute to look at.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Champagne Bears come in two colors: a soft peachy pink and a lightly yellow clear. The clear is like a clean apple juice flavor with a light peppery note. The peachy one is, well, much the same. I couldn’t really tell them apart except that sometimes the pink one seemed to be a little more raspberry flavored. They’re firm and intense. They’re well formed and held their shape well, even though they were jammed into their little cube.
I liked them, but didn’t think that they were anything better than the new juicy Haribo. But I do like the colors and think that for a special occasion, they’d be a nice favor.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Sugar Peach Sweethearts - I was pretty scared of these. They smelled strongly of peach, not in a bad way but in a strong way. They were so strong that I had to take them out of the bento box and sequester them by themselves so as not to contaminate the chocolate pieces they were co-mingling with. So I was afraid that they’d be overwhelmingly chemical tasting.
Quite the opposite is true. They’re little miracle pieces, on the tongue they actual feel for a moment like a real peach. The texture of the sugar sanding is velvety like the fuzz of the peach. The flavor is at once tangy and fruity and honey-sweet and floral and woodsy, like actual peaches. There’s no weird artificial coloring in there to give it a metallic aftertaste. They’re a bit more tart that I’d probably like if I were to eat them by the handful, but as a little refresher on a hot day when I have a dry mouth, these are unbeatable.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Queen of Hearts were billed on the website as three different flavors: pineapple, grapefruit and black currant. They’re also three different sizes of hearts. So it’s a lovely looking combination, although the largest heard gets folded over a bit inside the little cube.
Pink was indistinct, but reminded me enough of pineapple to make me think that’s what it was. Slightly floral with a tart bite and a crisp flavor to it. It was more like canned pineapple though not as syrupy.
Clear tastes like peach. I’m not sure what flavor it was supposed to be, I was hoping it was the promised grapefruit, but it was tangy and a little peppery. (I did notice that the peach mentioned earlier were very strong, I was wondering if the flavor migrated from the more delicate grapefruit.)
The dark one was definitely black currant. It was strong and had notes of wine and deep boiled cherry.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Cuba Libre is simply amazing. It’s a cola gummi, so far so good, with a little softer bubble of rum within. It’s stunning. The cola flavor is spicy and tart, a mix of nutmeg, cinnamon and perhaps a little warm kick of ginger but nothing overt and then the acidic bite of lemon. The rum is sweet and a little on the caramel side. I’ve never seen these anywhere else, and I can’t believe they aren’t being imported and sold in the US by the cargo container as it is. If there’s a reason to order from Sugarfina, it’s the Cuba Libre gummi.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Minty Polar Bears are downright weird and I’ll go ahead and warn you that they’re not mint. They’re like a bubble gum flavored mentholated chewy cough drop. The first note on the tongue is a little tartness then a huge whiff of what I can only describe as acetone (which I sometimes get confused with banana flavoring). Then there’s a menthol hit, a little more of a sort of mild lime flavor and the bitterness of that zest. It all ends with a slight queasy feeling.
I’ve had eucalyptus gummis before and liked them quite a bit, so I was hoping for something like that. I find them curious enough that I continue to sample them from time to time. But I never feel like I want to eat another one, just that I should.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Heavenly Sours are little stars, comets and crescent moons in fruity flavors. They’re sour sanded and come in lovely naturally tinted colors. They’re not actually gummis, they’re jellies. They’re made in the US, not in Germany like most of the other gummis from Sugarfina. They’re tart and have nicely distinguished flavors. Orange is a zesty and tart orange. Lemon is wonderfully sour. Blue is raspberry and a little overdone. Red is cherry and is, well, cherry.
Rating: 7 out of 10
As a thank you gift or something for someone who has everything, this is a great option. It’s not cheap, so it’s not something I’m likely to treat myself to very often. They also have lots of themed boxes and kits, so it’s easy to pick for Coffee Lovers, Licorice Aficionados, or Caramel Fiends. The large bento boxes with 8 x 4 ounce boxes of treats are $50. By the pound, the candy is $17.50.
They do a good job of labeling for allergies as well, even if they won’t tell me who make those Cuba Libre gummis.They’re currently only available via the web, but there’s talk of a store in the future here on the west side of Los Angeles.
Friday, June 7, 2013
I’ve visited the Eclat Chocolate shop in West Chester, PA a couple of times when I’ve been in the area. I’ve tried a wide variety of their truffles and a few of their hot chocolate sticks and other items. However, I’d never picked up their chocolate bars before.
When I placed an order with the PA Country Store back before Easter, I decided to rectify that omission by selecting the Eclat Chocolate Caramelized Hazelnuts 65% bar. The packaging is simple, a slim black paperboard box holding a mylar wrapped bar. Sadly it didn’t protect the bar from getting broken (but I was going to break it anyway).
Eclat Chocolate may be best known as the creator of one of the most expensive bars on the market filled with celebrity names, the Good & Evil Bar made from Peruvian Pure Nacional cocoa beans and retails for about $18 for 2.8 ounces. I’m not terribly interested in things that are notable for being expensive though I enjoy a good origin story. So I’ll stick with the Caramelized Hazelnuts for now. Here’s what the online description said:
The bar is attractive, a nice mold with well portioned segments. I prefer a thicker bar, especially when there are inclusions, but there’s something particularly stunning about such a large field of molded dark chocolate.
The scent is sweet, woodsy and a little buttery. The chocolate has a smooth and rather quick melt and an immediate sweetness. I don’t eat a lot of 65% chocolate, so I forgot how sweet it is. The inclusions are crispy and have a great deep toasted toffee and hazelnut flavor. I don’t know if I got the subtle difference of the Spanish hazelnut, but I liked what I was tasting.
I would have preferred slightly larger pieces, I found the ratios a little off, but then again, I think I would have preferred a bit darker chocolate, too. However, if you’re a milk person, this is a great munchable dark bar that doesn’t feel too dense or difficult. I had no trouble at all eating my way through it, especially because of the excellent melt of the chocolate and lack of overall bitterness.
I mentioned I’d been to the shop before. I’ve picked up bonbons there on two occasions, though they weren’t for review, just for eating. They’re well priced for an artisan confection. The boxes are well put together to highlight the chocolates and it traveled very well (first by car around Central Pennsylvania for several days and then flying back to Los Angeles).
I picked out varieties such as Beer, Star Anise and Single Malt as well as the classic 73% Dark Ganache and Dark Caramel. The flavor infusions were not overwhelming to the chocolate and the piece size, though on the small size, meant that I could eat quite a few pieces for maximum variety.
I believe my box was $25.00 in the store. I’ve also bought their hot chocolate sticks, which I find exceptional though expensive. I like making my own hot chocolate, because then I get to control the milk (lactose free, please) and these sorts of “melt it at home” products make for a far richer experience than the powders. At $4.50 each, it’s more than you’d spend at a Starbucks. But sometimes it’s nice for a splurge.
If I’m in the area, it’s a stop I’ll continue to make. It’s a great little pick me up before I get on the Turnpike and is a great place to pick up a few hostess gifts. I posted a few photos of the shop as well.
Monday, June 3, 2013
Dove is again expanding their line of foil wrapped pieces with Dove Mint & Dark Chocolate Swirl Promises.
Dove has done some wonderful things with white chocolate lately, the best thing is that they’re using cocoa butter instead of substitute oils. This is expecially noticeable in products like this one where chocolate and white chocolate are together. Dove did a great job with their Peppermint Bark for the holidays, it’s a great layered combination of chocolate, white chocolate and mint candy pieces.
I assumed that these new Promises would be similar to the Peppermint Bark but without the crunch. These feature a combination of the classic Dove semisweet chocolate swirled together with artificially-colored white chocolate flavored with peppermint.
Other than finding the color of them a bit unappetizing, I think these are great. They’re minty, but it doesn’t overwhelm the chocolate. They have an incredibly silky melt and just two or three are a satisfying treat. I don’t think they needed the coloring, in fact, I think it detracts from them. The foil does enough to denote the flavor inside, a white or off-white would have been just fine for most people.
I prefer them in the pieces, I don’t think I’d be up for eating a whole bar of this. I’m fond of Andes Mints, but these are much better ... better ingredients, better melt on the tongue, real chocolate ... and pretty much the same price.
Mars is moving towards using all ethically and sustainably sourced chocolate through Rainforest Alliance for their Dove line.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Lillie Belle Farms of Oregon has introduced the Lillie Belle Stella Blue Milk Chocolate which is a dark milk chocolate base of 50% cocoa solids mixed with Rogue Creamery’s Powdered Blue Heaven Cheese. Lillie Belle has been making a Smokey Blue Cheese truffle for some years, so the idea of a solid bar should not be a shock to anyone.
The bar’s packaging and name is a full homage to the Grateful Dead. The ingredients include organic chocolate, organic sugar, organic cocoa butter, powdered buttermilk, powdered nonfat milk, blue cheese (made from raw milk, salt and penicillin bacteria).
The bar is beautifully molded. It has an ideal set of ratios, though the bar is not segmented (which I usually prefer) - it’s thick but not difficult to snap apart, but it also has a small footprint so the bar doesn’t take up much space in my bag.
The bar is less smoky smelling than I expected, it really just smells like a chocolate bar with a strong woodsy and less sweet/milky note. The melt is excellent, the texture is smooth with only the slightest grain to the cocoa solids. After the immediate chocolate notes, there is a hit of sharpness ... I can’t quite say that it’s salty so perhaps it’s umami.
There’s no cheesy component to it, it doesn’t have that sort of moldy smell or sort of metallic note that some blue cheese have. Overall, it’s just a less sweet, slightly savory and dark milk chocolate bar.
I enjoyed it, especially since it was both a milk chocolate bar and pretty dark. I don’t know if I would reach for this regularly but I do have to say that it mixes well with nuts but not with other sorts of candy that has more berry notes to it.
Since the ingredients list is so small and it’s all bean to bar, I feel pretty good about the ethical sourcing. The bar is made in a facility that also processes nuts, soy and of course it contains milk.
Friday, April 26, 2013
One of my favorite items I picked up for Candy Blog review early on were some chocolate sticks from Japan. I thought their packaging was so clever and chic, I’ve been hoping to find them again. (Mostly I find they package their chocolate in little squares like the US.)
I was excited to see Meiji Dark Rum Milk Chocolate on eBay, so when my friends Robin & Amy were going to Japan, I put it on my wishlist. I got two boxes, which is good, because I ate the whole first box before even doing this review.
The box has a curious design, featuring a cut crystal goblet with rum as the main element below a medallion with the name of the candy. I’m not that familiar with how to serve rum straight, as I usually mix it, but in a goblet or even a more petite appertif size would still not be the way I’d go. (I’d probably serve it in a snifter or a lowball.)
Inside the box, each stick of chocolate is in a little individual wrapper. The box is not really full, they’re loosely packed in there and the whole thing weighs barely more than an ounce, so there’s no way to overindulge here.
Most of the package is in Japanese, so I can’t say for sure what the weight actually is but the figure 2.2% is mentioned on the front, I’m guessing that’s the alcohol content ... and there is real alcohol in here.
The sticks are three inches long and an ideal size (about 3.3 grams) for a very light treat.
One of my favorite candy bars is the Ritter Sport Rum Trauben Nuss, which also has real rum in it. This is a bit more pure, as it doesn’t have any fussy nuts or dried fruit in it. The sticks have a soft bite to them, this is not a dense or intense chocolate, though the rum notes are quite apparent when I opened it.
The chocolate has a quick and oily melt, a smooth and slick texture and a strange warm and cold sensation all at once. The oils in the chocolate (I suspect there are some other tropical oils in there) give it a cooling effect on the tongue, but the rum has a sort of warming effect on my throat. The chocolate isn’t very strong, it’s not terribly sweet and has a well rounded woodsy and milky profile.
I like my rum dark, I go for blackstrap because it has more of the smoky and toffee flavors. The rum here was more medicinal, more light, not quite smooth.
It’s not a candy for everyone, I find them pretty indulgent and a little weird, but I also enjoy rum balls.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.