Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Ferrara Pan which is known for Lemonheads and Atomic Fireballs got into the chocolate business a few years back making very good domestic versions of segmented chocolate oranges (with Belgian chocolate) and panned nut treats. This new Ferrara Chocolate group is also creating some new holiday items, I was excited to see these fun speckled eggs called Candy Coated Chocolate Covered Almond Eggs at Walgreen’s.
The bag is priced pretty well, at $2.49 for a half a pound, it’s about what I will pay for Almond M&Ms on sale.
The eggs are a nice size, indicating that they either have a lot of chocolate in there or start with very large almonds. They’re a milk chocolate product with a lot of milk in them. The first ingredient in the chocolate coating is sugar, the second is whole milk. So, that’s some milky chocolate. The coatings are attractive. They start with a pastel base and have little speckles on them. Some are quite speckled, others have barely a burnishing of color.
The ratios are great, the chocolate is thick and the almonds are nicely sized and well roasted to a crunch. The milky chocolate is sweet, but not that Easter-cloying sweetness. The level of milk in it gives it a cool melt on the tongue and a light toffee and dairy finish. The other notes are a bit of smoke, either from the chocolate itself or the almonds and maybe a hint of cinnamon (they are the makers of Red Hots). The shell is a little thinner than M&Ms so it has a lighter crunch.
They’re good. Good enough that I ate the whole bag in three days. They’re different from M&Ms, the melt of the chocolate is less sweet and less fudgy and a little smoother, but the flavor isn’t quite as intense. I prefer the look of the Ferrera to M&Ms and the consistent shape of the candies.
The candies are Kosher and made in the United States with Belgian chocolate. No gluten statement. There’s also no statement about the sourcing of the cacao and ethical concerns on the package or their website.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
One of the earlier reviews I did on Candy Blog of a favorite Easter candy was for Wonka SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies. They were large SweeTarts in the shape of spring animals. At that time they came in Cherry, Lemon, Green Apple and Grape. Later, around 2008, the flavors were shifted to include the Blue Punch, Grape and Cherry only.
What I loved about the Easter edition was the flavor set, which really only had one flavor I didn’t like (Cherry) and the extremely dense and large pieces (over one inch across). See this photo from the 2006 package. They sounded like plastic poker chips and were so much harder that they required an entirely different eating method from the less dense tablets.
This year, not only has the flavor set been changed but the size as well. It’s a different product for those of us who loved the former. It’s more like the Valentine’s edition. They now have a more traditional set of flavors: Orange, Grape, Cherry, Blue Punch and Green Apple. (No Lemon.) They still come in the shape of chicks, bunnies and ducks, but they’re quite small now, less than half an inch across.
Orange and Grape are exactly like the tablets from the roll. They’re tart, almost to the point that they’re salty. The grape is completely artificial, like a grape soda. The orange is bland, like a more sour version of Kool-Aid. The Cherry is quite strong, more on the woodsy side than the medicinal version. It’s sour, like a sour cherry flavor, not a black cherry or wild cherry. The Green Apple is tasty, and quite sour with less flavor than some other green apple candies. The Blue Punch flavor came along after my obsession with SweeTarts waned, which is good, because I really don’t care for it, even though it is one of the more intensely flavored pieces in the mix and doesn’t get messed up with a red flavor after taste.
The little guys do actually stand up and they’re molded on both sides, I appreciate that attention to detail. The flavor set is now 3/5 in my wheel house, which are not great odds. I really only love the orange and grape and will eat the green apple. The cherry and blue punch are equally artificial in their flavoring, but just not to my liking. I could probably go back to giving these at 10 out of 10 if lemon was still in there. How could you have something called a SweeTart without the one fruit that actually is exactly that?
I’m disappointed that the special-ness of the SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies is now gone. They were different from all the other SweeTarts candies, they were large but also more substantial and really wonderfully pressed. There’s really nothing wrong with these, except that they’re missing the lemon ... which is a very nice pastel color that fits right in with the season plus the fact that little ducks and chicks are actually yellow. But there’s no need for me to stock up on these.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Morinaga caramels from Japan are classics; they’ve been around for about a hundred years. They’re cute little cubes made with real milk in the traditional style. They come in seasonal and limited edition flavors. Some return like Black Sugar, Adzuki and Matcha. The new one I found this year is Morinaga Satsumaimo Caramels, which are sweet potato flavored. I know, it sounds weird, but bear with me.
They come boxed just like the other varieties. It’s sealed in cellophane to keep the caramels fresh, so once the box is open, it’s best to eat them within a few weeks. The little sleeve holds a tray with a dozen foil wrapped cubes.
It smells milky and a little earthy, like pumpkin or adzuki. The flavor is rather like squash or yam. The milky notes are caramelized and toasty with only a faint hint of bitterness. The sweet potato flavor is rooty and earthy without tasting like beets. It’s a wholesome and satisfying flavor that isn’t overtly sweet.
The chew is smooth, with a slight grain to it, not as distinct as fudge and certainly creamy and chewier than a Kraft caramel. It didn’t matter how long I chewed it, it maintained its texture instead of disintegrating into grainy bits. It was a slow and smooth dissolve.
I easily ate the whole package shortly after taking the photos, holding off on the last two in order to finish up the review. And then last weekend I popped down to Little Tokyo and found another box ... and promptly ate those within a day. (I also bought a Coffee Caramel version, which I started eating without photographing. All I can say on that is that I recommend them.) They’re expensive for just a plain old box of caramels, but they’re certainly distinctive and an easily afforded treat to share.
Monday, February 13, 2012
Over the past seven years or so I’ve been very hesitant to do reviews of toffees. I’m not certain why, because I love the stuff. But when it’s offered as a sample, I usually decline. Perhaps I know that I can’t be even slightly objective because it’s pretty hard to make bad toffee. And if you like toffee like I do, you probably don’t need a review. (It’s also possible that all toffee is actually good.)
So that brings me to Poco Dolce, an artisan style toffee maker in San Francisco. I’ve bought their toffee quite a few times. (The photo at the right here is from a package I picked up in 2008. I’m pretty sure I also picked up a similar box in 2009, and have certainly sampled their products at every Fancy Food Show they’ve exhibited at. Other mentions on the site here with a photo, here in 2010 and here in 2008.)
While in San Francisco at the Fancy Food Show last month, I sampled Poco Dolce’s Popcorn Toffee. There’s no better place to pick it up than at their store, which is in an area known as Dogpatch. (Also home to Recchiutti’s candy kitchen and Dandelion Chocolate.) I popped in and they had exactly what I wanted, a beefy tin jam packed with little toffee squares covered in dark chocolate.
Their Toffee Tile products are molded pieces with little toffee centers. They’re gorgeous and usually individually wrapped in glassine sleeves or tucked into boxes. Their regular toffee square are a bit more rough and tumbled, enrobed and maybe a little more scuffed.
Inside the tin the toffee was protected in a cellophane sleeve. But it was completely full, not like some packages. Yes, it’s expensive stuff, too. It was $16 for the tin which holds a half a pound. So $32 a pound.
The toffee construction is simple. A light toffee, with a good buttery cleave to it, with a few pieces of popcorn in each piece. The pieces are each about one inch square, though some aren’t completely square. The toffee pieces are a little lofted in the center, especially if there’s a big piece of popcorn in there. But most of the popcorn is smaller bits. The flavor is really popcorny, though still there’s not a l of the actual stuff in there. It’s quite amazing how the buttery, salty notes of the toffee combine so well with the toasted corn flavors of the popcorn. The chocolate is dark and silky and does a great job of sealing in all the crunchy toffee goodness so that it doesn’t get soft and tacky.
This is a brilliant idea, wonderfully executed. I love the size of the pieces, the chocolate is excellent quality. Their toffee tiles are also great, but feature a much darker toffee and more chocolate by proportion. I like the more rustic style like this, but still with plenty of chocolate. The tin is great for serving, I would be happy to serve this to friends over to watch either Downton Abbey or a football game.
They also make a sampler package of their different varieties, so you can find your favorite. (The Double Shot Espresso is great but too strong for me to eat in the evening, the Burnt Caramel Toffee are sure to please everyone in a crowd.) Poco Dolce uses Guittard’s fair trade and sustainably grown chocolate in their products and all natural, locally sourced ingredients (wherever possible).
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
One of the seasonal imported candies I looked forward to as a kid were Perugina Baci. They were one of my earliest recollections of hazelnut candies. It’s a simple construction, a chocolate cream filling with crushed hazelnuts, topped with a whole hazelnut and then dipped in dark chocolate.
They’ve been made since 1922 and were very successful from the start. The hook with Baci though isn’t just the hazelnut textures and chocolate, it’s the packaging. Each little chocolate is individually wrapped, and inside the wrapper is a glassine paper that has quotes about love, now in multiple languages.
I ate plenty of these as a kid. They used to come in larger boxes, I think they had either three or four chocolates in them. Now they’re only available in this duo box or in the larger gift size versions (which change depending on the season). They were first introduced to American consumers in 1939 when Perugina opened their own shop on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1939. But then they went away. Nestle bought Perugina in 1988 and the brand was less emphasized. Perugina concentrated their sales efforts on Italy and Europe. Baci weren’t as easy to find, though still turned up in Italian delis and import shops. When internet sales came along, it was a bit easier, but still, the impulse of buying a little tube of Perugina Baci was long gone.
That supposed to change now, as Nestle has an agreement with Colavita olive oil (not a Nestle product) to handle imports for Baci and other Perugina products. They made a big splash at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, so perhaps they’ll be easier to find now.
The pieces are about a half an ounce each and have about 75 calories in them. It’s a rich mix of dark chocolate on the outside, a filling of hazelnut paste and cream along with crushed hazelnuts. Then there’s a large, whole hazelnut on top.
The ingredients list for a complicated candy like this is very short: sugar, hazelnuts, chocolate processed with alkali, cocoa butter, milk, milkfat, soy lecithin and vanillin.
Baci are only for chocolate eaters who love hazelnuts. There’s a lot of hazelnut in there. The filling is jam packed with crushed hazelnuts (the chocolate was invented to make use of excess crushed nuts in the chocolate factory) but the real appeal here is the fantastic whole hazelnut on top.
They smell sweet and nutty. Bite is easy, the center is soft enough to give easily, but not sticky or syrupy. It all melts well together, with a lot of woodsy and roasted nut flavors. Personally, I like biting off the bottom and consuming that first, leaving only the chocolate covered whole hazelnut at the end.
One is satisfying, two is downright indulgent. I think a box of three would be the perfect serving and put a fourth in to at least create the illusion of sharing.
While Caffarel are still my favorite Italian hazelnut chocolates, I do love Baci and I’m glad they’re going to be more available.
There’s no statement about the ethical sourcing of the chocolate on the package or Perugina Italian website. (The US website hasn’t launched fully yet.) The product contains hazelnuts and possibly traces of other tree nuts, plus soy and dairy. There is no statement about gluten on the package.
Monday, February 6, 2012
Mint and Chocolate is a classic combination and one that M&Ms has brought back seasonally with their Milk Chocolate Mint M&Ms in the winter for the past few years.
This year they’ve introduced a new item with a little twist, Mint Dark Chocolate M&Ms. Like other Mars dark chocolate products, it’s not a true dark chocolate, just a semi-sweet chocolate with a bit of dairy fats thrown in.
I found them in this stand up bag, which was a bit pricey at $3.39 per 8 ounce bag at Target. I expect they go on sale often, so keep an eye out. But I’ve heard tale that they’re also available in single serve packages.
They come in two colors. Green and Green. Maybe there are three shades, it’s hard to tell. But they’re green, and they’re beefy. They’re much larger than regular M&Ms.
Because they’re bigger, there seems to be more chocolate than shell, so it felt like there was more chocolate flavor.
They’re lightly peppermint, not so much that it completely overpowers the chocolate. The chocolate is smooth and buttery, though a little grainy ... kind of hard to tell if you chew up the sugar shell though. Overall, a very nice rendition of minted chocolate in candy. It does remind me quite a bit of Peppermint Bark. It’s much less sticky tasting than the milk chocolate variety. I’d definitely chose the Dark Chocolate over Milk Chocolate. So much that I’d kind of like to downgrade the Milk Chocolate variety.
They’re also satisfying. M&Ms, by design, are engineered to be unsatisfying. You eat some, and then you want some more. Otherwise folks wouldn’t keep eating a whole bag and then buying more. The dark chocolate variety has a lot going for it with the textures, but the mint is light and reminds me (because I still taste it in my mouth) that I just had some and that I enjoyed them. So no need to keep shoveling them into my maw.
Mars made Premium M&Ms for a while, they were M&Ms without the shell, instead something more like a thick layer of latex paint (okay, it was really just food coloring and edible wax). The flavor that seemed to make it the longest on store shelves was their mint version, and this hard shell variety does emulate that flavor profile quite well.
Last week Mars introduced a new M&Ms character, Ms. Brown. She’s voiced in the current campaign by Vanessa Williams (Ms. Green is voiced by Cree Summer) and characterized as a bit brainy (because she has glasses) and chic. It seems odd that all the M&Ms are “candies of color” in name only, their arms and legs are actually rather pale and lead me to believe they’re Caucasians. None of this has anything to do with Mint Dark Chocolate M&Ms, I was just thinking about it over the weekend.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
While in San Francisco for the Fancy Food Show, I was introduced to Twice the Vice Spirited Chocolates at a PR event called Food Fete (photo).
The confections are made with Callebaut chocolate from Belgium with an extra helping of premium spirits. In fact, there’s so much alcohol in there that they can’t be sold to folks under the age of 21 and are prohibited in most states.
I got to try about six different varieties while chatting with the founder and chief chocolatier, Craig Boreth. The two varieties I have for review are from different chocolate collections.
The big selling point with these infused chocolates is the specificity of the spirits. For example, it’s not just Scotch, oh no, the Single Malt collection has The Macallan 12 Year, Glenlivet 15 Year, Lagavulin 16 Year and Tomatin 18 Year.
The Glenlivet 18 Year Single Malt Scotch is a lovely piece. I like that they’re clearly marked on the tops. (Well, they’re clear when you’re sober.)
They’re very large pieces, probably 1/3 larger than I’m accustomed to these days. (1.25” square and .75” high and about .7 ounces.) That’s not a bad thing, think of them as the generous pour.
The ganache is creamy and soft at room temperature. That helps the aromatics and volatiles come to the nose much quicker. The first notes I got were smoke and a lot of leather. There are also some rather unpleasant aspects of the smoke that I notice, a little like burnt broccoli. But that’s Scotch for you. There’s a lot of vanilla and a little touch of honey as well. It’s an intense piece of chocolate and really does warm my throat, without the searing medicinal heat that straight Scotch can provide.
The Chocolate Martini bonbon is from the The Chick Drinks Collection (gah, what a terrible name) and features vodka and chocolate liquor in the rich chocolate ganache. The Chicks collection is all about those sweet things that are so popular on Sex and the City and reality shows. The others in the box would be Cosmopolitan, White Russian and Margarita.
It’s a nice looking piece and as far as a chocolate it’s quite good. The alcohol was much more sedate and the filling had a lot of chocolate notes. Part of it was a strong vanilla as well as a sort of chocolate frosting flavor, like it was a flavoring (probably a chocolate liqueur) instead of the actual chocolate. The texture is wonderfully smooth and mercifully less sweet than an actual chocolate martini. There’s still the light burn of alcohol in the back of my throat from it.
They’re a little on the pricey side (the equivalent of $71 a pound for their small box) and I’d suggest that they have a short shelf life, since alcohol tends to evaporate even from chocolates within about 3 months. The source chocolate, Callebaut, can be purchased by chocolatiers with certifications about sustainability and ethical standards, but there was no indication on the website about that type of sourcing.
The other current collections are The Kentucky Bourbon Collection, Top Shelf Spirits Collection and The Classic Cocktails Collection. The cocktails don’t interest me much, but the idea of going with high quality chocolate and then infusing it with distinctive Bourbons and Scotch Whiskeys is quite intriguing. From my tastings at the event, I really could tell the difference between the flavor profile of a 16 and an 18 by different makers. If you’re looking for a gift for Valentines or really for anyone that enjoys the hard stuff, this might be the thing. Just be sure to check if they ship to your state.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Valentine’s Day is all about red. Red is the color of love and passion; candies for Valentine’s Day play upon the flavors that follow with red: cherry, strawberry, raspberry and cinnamon. The fruity flavors are usually easy to find, but cinnamon is a little less common.
I was excited to see this small bag of Ferrara Pan White Hot Red Hots Jelly Beans for sale at Walgreen’s in their Valentine’s candy display. What does White Hot Red Hots actually mean? The package doesn’t say, but the little window shows that the small jelly beans come in two colors: red and a red speckled pink. Any additional questions could be answered for a mere buck.
The beans are pretty and well made. They’re glossy, consistently shaped and I appreciated that the bag was sized appropriately for the amount of candy actually in it. (Sometimes bags are absurdly large but have very little candy in them.)
The white hot part, I think, means that these are very spicy cinnamon. Red Hots is just a brand of cinnamon imperials made by Ferrara Pan.
They’re a little larger than a Jelly Belly but smaller than the classic pectin bean. (Shown above with a Tic Tac.)
They are actually very spicy. I just ate a bag of Hot Tamales last week and I can confirm that these are just slightly hotter than those. The shape is good, it’s small and packs a powerful cinnamon punch. There’s a slight clove note to them and every once in a while I also got a little whiff of artificial watermelon, which may just be a manufacturing thing.
I liked them. It was easy to just pop a few as both a pick-me-up and a little breath freshener. They go well with coffee or tea. I’d definitely pick these up again especially because I like the smaller sized bag. Ferrara Pan already makes Lemonheads & Friends Jelly Beans but I would be curious to try a standard spice flavor array or maybe a mint blend. (Ferrara Pan is known for their Lemonhead and Atomic Fireballs, but they also do a lot of contract manufacturing for house brands and other major candy companies, so chance are you’ve had their jelly beans before.)
They’re made with confectioners glaze, so they’re not considered vegetarian (though there’s no carmine in there). They’re made in equipment that also processes dairy, soy, tree nuts and peanuts. No mention of wheat/gluten but “modified food starch” is listed as an ingredient without any indication of the source.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.