Monday, July 10, 2006
This review is in honor of the New York Times Magazine column yesterday, called Consumed and written by Rob Walker on the subject of limited edition candies.
This particular candy is the perfect example. It’s a good, tasty bar that probably has limited appeal and will therefore never be seen on shelves again. Oh, how I mourn for some of these here-and-gone bars.
When I was a teenager my mother got a hold of a tapioca pudding mix that was coconut and orange flavored. You wouldn’t think that’d be a good idea, and I’m not sure I even liked it at first, but here it is, some 25 years later and I’m still pining for it.
The Mounds Island Orange bar is as close as I’ve come to recapturing that taste. (Yes, my mother tried to make it from scratch last time I was at her house, but it just wasn’t the same - something about the proportions was wrong ... don’t get me wrong, it was still tasty and I had two helpings. I love tapioca.)
It’s a regular old Mounds bar from the outside, it doesn’t even smell any different. A strong chocolatey aroma but no trace of the orange burst that awaits inside. That’s right, the coconut is orange flavored. Zesty orange and coconut, which really cuts the sweetness of the filling and allows the chocolate to shine through. (This is a much better idea than last years Key Lime Almond Joy which had a white chocolate coating flavored with lime ... whereas I would have preferred a coconut center with some lime essence in it.)
The center is a freakish orange color, as if someone took the pulp out of a fresh orange. It’s rather unnaturally orange, and it seems pretty silly that they would color the inside of it like that. But the flavor feels natural - not chemical in the least and I really enjoyed how each of the flavors played off each other.
I bought two of these bars, mostly because I saw that Joanna loved them as well, so if you’re a Mounds fan and enjoy zesty flavors, pick it up before it’s gone.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 4:09 am
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Ritter Sport is going over to the dark side.
I picked up three new bars (or newish) while at the All Candy Expo and I have to say that they’re exceptionally good.
First, I found out that Ritter is the #2 imported chocolate brand in the United States. Who knew?
Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts - this bar is studded generously with hazelnuts. Not quite as many as the wrapper implies, but I’ll tell you there are plenty in there. The dark chocolate is a semisweet with good floral notes and a slightly smoky bite to it. A little dry, it highlights the nuts really well. Not at all sticky or cloying like the milk chocolate can be, this bar is incredibly munchable. Of the three that I brought back, this one was gone first.
Amargo Extrafino - Fine Extra Dark Chocolate - 71% Cocoa - this was a gorgeous bar (and featured in that page in the National Post, if I might gush). The scent is intoxicatingly rich. Smoke, tobacco, tea and dark berries all waft from its dark scored squares. It’s pretty quick to melt for such a dense bar and it’s very smooth. The berry and cherry notes are quite evident as well as a sharp immediate bitter/acidic bite that mellows quickly to its more roasted and alcoholic notes of cognac. For an inexpensive high cacao bar, this one is very good. Complex but still edible. It goes great with something with a salty/crunchy bite like dry roasted & salted almonds or pretzels.
Feinherb a la Mousse au Chocolat - the same dark chocolate that’s found in the hazelnut bar is in this one, except this has a softer filling inside the squares. Not a fluffy mousse, more like a firm, creamier center like a Frango. It’s nice, but after the intense, complex darkness of the 71%, this one tasted very sweet (and I tried it on a completely different day than the 71% day).
After the other not-so-tasty things I was eating earlier this week, the Ritter Sport dark bars were quite a treat. I can recommend all of the, but if you’re a dark fan and can find these inexpensively (less than $3), it’s quite a deal for chocolate of this quality (no wonder they’re #2).
Monday, May 22, 2006
It seems like some parts of the country are known for different confections. The South does wonderful things with pecan pralines, San Francisco has a wonderful way with dark chocolate, the Jersey Shore has its salt water taffy. Now I’m noticing that Colorado is attracted to toffee. My neighbor got this as a gift at the office from a co-worker returning from Colorado. It’s, apparently, the thing that people bring back from Colorado.
These thick slabs of almond toffee are described thusly on their website:
Instead of pieces of almonds dotting the toffee, this toffee has generous whole almonds. The slabs are extra thick and the chocolate coats both sides with an extra dusting of powdered almonds. The toffee has a crisp bite with a strong buttery taste to it. It cleaves well and melts on the tongue with a good salty bite and caramelized sugar flavor.
I can see why Enstrom’s is so highly regarded. This is tasty toffee. The only thing that bugs me about is the whole slab idea. I’d prefer my toffee to be in regular pieces that I can pick up and bite or pop in my mouth whole. But if that’s my biggest complaint, well, I don’t have much to complain about. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with any of the toffees I’ve had from Colorado (see Silver Bear).
Friday, May 12, 2006
This isn’t so much a review as a rewind. I’ve had Pixy Stix plenty of times before. I’ve been eating them for so long I don’t even remember when I first tried them.
My earliest memory of the Giant Pixy Stix was at Little Buffalo State Park in Pennsylvania. We went up there for the day for swimming and general summer amusement with another family who lived in the area. They had an awesome array of swimming pools. At some point we were given quarters and allowed to go to the snack bar where I bought the most amazing thing I’d ever seen - a Pixy Stix that might have been as tall as me (I was probably about six at the time and a tiny thing at that). Okay, maybe it wasn’t that big, but it seemed huge to me. It was grape.
It seems that Giant Pixy Stix are sold at swimming pool snack bars, because later when we moved back to Mechanicsburg, we had summer passes at the public pool and they had them there too. There’s something about chlorine that makes me crave fake grape and pure sugar.
Here’s a little history of the Pixy Stix:
Pixy Stix used to be made by Sunline which started in 1952 in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Pixy Stix started out as an accident really, with kids driving the development of the product. Originally it was a drink mix in the late 30s, sold as Frutola, but J. Fish Smith found that kids were eating the sweet & sour powder right from the package. He shifted the name to Fruzola and added a spoon. Later it was repackaged with a dipping candy stick as Lik-m-Aid and also sold in little straws ... Pixy Stix. It wasn’t until parents complained about the grainy, sticky powder that Sunline came up with a compressed tablet form, the SweeTart in 1963.
Sunline was sold to Roundtree Mackintosh of the UK, which was then bought by Nestle. Nestle maintained the Sunline brand for a while and only recently has rolled the SweeTarts, Pixy Stix and Lik-m-Aid into the Wonka brand, which already had a strong line of sugar candy, such as Tart ‘n Tiny, Nerds and Runts.
So, you’re wondering about the Giant Pixy Stix? I did my due-diligence research and can tell you that a Giant Pixy Stix has slightly more than three tablespoons of candy powder in it which weighs in at one ounce. The Giant Pixy Stix are approximately 21 inches tall. (They might have been taller when I was a kid.)
The most frustrating thing about them is that they’re hard to open. The traditional Pixy Stix is a paper straw and can be torn open, or unfolded. The Giant Pixy Stix are thick, flexible plastic and cannot be torn. I recall at the pool that they would snip it open for me, but there were times that I ended up just gnawing off the top.
Giant Pixy Stix currently come in four flavors: grape, Maui punch, cherry, and orange. The regular Pixy Stix also come in green apple (which used to be lime but was changed in 2001). The primary ingredient in Pixy Stix, not surprisingly, is dextrose. Dextrose is just a fancy way of saying glucose, which is a mono-saccharide. Dextrose is generally made from vegetable starches (corn syrup). Sucrose is what’s makes up cane and beet sugar - it’s a di-saccharide (it’s made up of two molecules - one of fructose and one of glucose). It has a slightly different mouth feel. Some folks can actually tell the difference between fructose, dextrose and sucrose. Often you can feel the “cool” feeling of dextrose on the tongue.
So how do they taste? Well, if you’ve never had a Pixy Stix (and I met someone on Tuesday night who hadn’t) it’s rather like eating unprepared Jell-O or drink mix. It’s sweet and cool on the tongue, with a tart bite and some flaky, grainy bits that seem to linger a little longer. There’s not much flavor, but enough to be able to tell the difference, especially if you inhale the dust (not like snorting it, you know what I mean).
I don’t eat Pixy Stix very often anymore; because of that dextrose thing they do go straight into the bloodstream and can cause pretty severe blood sugar crashes on an empty stomach to those of us who are sensitive to such things. But last night I responsibly had a nice, high protein dinner, and then ate my three tablespoons of Pixy dust out of the measuring cup. Yes, I just stuck my tongue in there. Yes, eventually my tongue had acid burns, but I kept eating. Yes, eventually I got a rather sour stomach, but I kept eating. I love my Pixy Stix. It’s a good thing I don’t buy them that often.
In the future, I think I’ll stick to the regular paper straw ones. A little easier on the portion control. But I loved it when Pixy Stix were bigger than life.
(Pixy Stix Box photo from CandyWarehouse.com)
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:46 am
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
It was a dark and stormy bar ... the 100 Grand (or $100,000 Bar as it was originally known) was always a favorite of mine. The smooth and chewy caramel with the crisped rice and sweet milk chocolate was such a good combo. I’m also a big fan of two small size bars packaged together. It makes it easy to share, easy to keep some for later; or you can eat them both at the same time. It’s flexible.
The 100 Grand Dark is just semi sweet chocolate instead of milk. It actually looks a little different than the regular bar, besides the color of the coat, the crunchies seem smaller. Take a look at this shot of a regular 100 Grand. Joanna at SugarSavvy had the first review I saw.
The less sweet bite of the dark chocolate really helps to highlight the salty/chewy caramel. The crispies are a nice texturizing element here.
I didn’t really want to like this bar and didn’t think that I did, but I ate it ... I mean gobbled it up. I took the picture and then instantly finished off that piece with the bite out of it. But usually I save the second half for when I am writing up the post ... not so here. I had lunch yesterday and then I ate it. I tried to linger over it like I do with the upscale chocolates, but instead I just enjoyed it on the purest level: without words. I have nothing but good feelings about my consumption of this bar and I’m a little disappointed it’s not a new addition to the line. And I want another one. It’s the kick that the 100 Grand has needed all along.
Now watch them let it fade into obscurity.
A last note, I’m a little irritated that they use High Fructose Corn Sweetener in there instead of sugar, but it’s pretty far down on the list of ingredients, so it might not be much more than a dash of it.
See other review on the Limited Edition 100 Grand with Peanuts.
Monday, May 01, 2006
Sometimes I think that I’m neglecting some of the best candy in the world just because it’s been around forever. Sure, CandyBlog is here to help me and you expand our candy horizons, but that doesn’t mean that we need to cast aside our tried-and-true friends. Like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
So I decided to revisit these old friends, and of course include whatever new and funky versions are out there.
First, there’s the classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. It got its first commercial media blast with a campaign in the 70s that featured two people - one eating peanut butter from a jar and the other eating a chocolate bar. They would collide and the chocolate bar would end up in the peanut butter and the chocolate eater would complain, “You got peanut butter on my chocolate!” The peanut butter eater would complain, “You got chocolate in my peanut butter!” Then they’d both taste it and it’d be pure love. Cue the jingle ... Two great tastes that taste great together, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
There ain’t a thing wrong with this candy. It’s simple and pure, the combination of two strong flavors. A milk chocolate cup filled with a slightly crumbly, dense peanut butter with a little salty kick. The proportions are spot-on. Enough milk chocolate to lubricate the sticky, thick peanut butter. Enough salt to balance the sweet chocolate. As candy goes, it’s not even as bad for you as you might think. Yes, half the calories come from fat, but for your 220 calories you’re getting 4 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber. Show me a nutrition bar that does that and tastes this good. Okay, maybe there are some. Show me one that costs $.75!
The Reese’s Double Chocolate was an oddity. First, let me say that Hershey’s has chocolated a couple of candy bars lately with good results. I liked the York Peppermint Truffle Pattie and the Almond Joy Chocolate Chocolate. So I was thinking this could be similar by adding a bit of fudgyness to the center.
What it did was mute the flavor of the center. I don’t know how else to describe it. It didn’t taste chocolatey, just less peanut buttery but just as dense and creamy. It’s not offensively bad and if there were no regular Reese’s around I wouldn’t be adverse to this, but it seems kind of unnecessary. It’s like someone said, “I’d like a less peanutty Reese’s” and this is the result.
I understand the rationale behind the Extra Smooth & Creamy, after all, the center of a Reese’s Cup does have some peanut texture to it. There are people out there who like creamy peanut butter and those who like chunky. The change in texture definitely changed the dynamic here. It made it ultra dense and actually melded a lot of the flavors together. The chocolate didn’t seem distinct from the peanut butter; the sweet didn’t seem distinct from the salt.
The latest addition to the Reese’s line is the Reese’s Caramel. The promotion for this new cup is all over the place. It seems like a natural extension of the candy cup and I was more than willing to entertain the notion that it would work. The commercials and even the packaging suggests that it’s flowing, gooey caramel that’s easily distinguished from the other primary ingredients - peanut butter and chocolate. It’s not. I mean, I could detect a bit of additional sweetness, and if I took the cup apart the caramel by itself had a flavor, but it just wasn’t distinctive enough to play with the big hitters - chocolate and peanuts.
Also, it suffers from some mess issues. Sometimes I’ll take a bite of my candy cup and set it down and do something at my desk and then have another bite. That’s not really an option here. Eventually the caramel will come flowing out. Sticky, sticky caramel. Maybe as a miniature I’d be more happy.
The White Chocolate Reese’s is not for me. But I’m not saying it’s a bad bar, it’s got a nice balance and for white chocolate, it uses real cocoa butter so it has a buttery, creamy quality. The saltiness of the peanut butter and the sweetness of the white chocolate balance well, but it lacks a dark and intense punch that the milk chocolate can provide. I reviewed this previously.
(NOTE: As of early 2008 this product is now called White Reese’s, as it doesn’t use real white chocolate with cocoa butter. It is not as good as it used to be, sweeter and with a waxier mouthfeel.)
As if all the iterations of the classic cup of peanut butter inside chocolate isn’t enough, they messed around with proportion and portion. Witness the Big Cup. Below, I’ve illustrated the size difference of the regular Reese’s Cup and the Big Cup.
The regular cup is approximately .75 ounces, the Big Cup is 1.4 ounces (basically double).
I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s something to be said for proportion. But it’s not just the amount of chocolate and the amount of peanut butter, it also has to do with proximity and how it blends in the mouth. There’s too much peanut butter here! However, if you’re a peanut butter lover and are looking for a bigger peanut punch, this might be for you.
The Big Cup with Nuts seems to understand the idea of “unique selling proposition”. It’s a cup but with whole nuts in there (well, maybe they’re peanut halves)! What’s nice is that the nuts have room to spread out, instead of being crammed into the flatter regular cup. The nuts have a great crunch and really seem to set off the ultra-peanutty butter. These have also been released in a miniature version, but I’m not sure how well that’s going to work (I haven’t seen them in stores yet).
Like its smaller brother, the White Chocolate Big Cup features white chocolate made with cocoa butter, not hydrogenated tropical oils. It smells like Easter and benefits from the bigger proportion of peanut butter. It’s still not appealing to me, though, but slightly better than the regular sized version.
The Reese’s line is certainly not limited to “cups” and I think I’ve reviewed most of the other items in the line: 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).
I could have held this review until I got a hold of the other new Limited Editions: Inside Out (which I think they’ve done before) and Fudge plus the Dark Chocolate Miniatures, but by then there’ll be something else on the horizon and this post will be REALLY long. I didn’t rate the candies individually but I give Reese’s a 9 out of 10 as a candy expression of peanut butter. There are some real misses in their line of candies (see previous reviews) but the new items like the cookies and of course the tried and true miniatures keep the average well above average.
Friday, April 28, 2006
Every once in a while I get an email with an offer for stuff to review. As much as I want to just accept every offer of free goodies, I had to develop a standard for freebies/samples. They have to offer something no one else does. Robert at Best Regards had me at “Cranberry Orange Craves.”
His line of chocolate barks feature his custom blend of chocolate and he recounts the discussion with his wife during his development of the treats this way:
I’ve never really considered dark chocolate to have an “aftertaste”, I always considered the dry, astringent or bitter carryover notes to be part of the experience. But I can see how the mellowness of milk chocolate alleviates both the good and bad lingering flavors.
Best Regards is located in the Kansas City, Kansas area, which is really one of the last places I would have expected good, distinctive chocolate to come from. Though the bulk of his edibles and gift baskets features cookies, the basket he sent has a large assortment of chocolate barks (called Craves) and even a fun variety of chocolate covered Oreos. So let’s dig in!
This is the star, the Cranberry Orange Craves - smooth dark chocolate flavored with orange essence and generously studded with dried cranberries. It’s an incredible combination and amazingly, I’ve never had it before. The zesty orange goes so naturally with the cranberry’s tart chewy bite and the smooth and mellow chocolate just brings it all together.
The best way for me to judge these sorts of things is to keep track of which package I finish first. This one was gone in the first weekend.
Orange and Oreo Chocolate Craves - the dark chocolate is smooth and creamy, but does lack some of the more subtle chocolate nuances. However, this is a combination bar, with orange essence added into the chocolate, so the rather homogenized background is actually pretty good as a foundation. Inside this thick bar are crushed Oreo cookies, which give it a nice crunch. Personally, I wasn’t fond of coming across the Oreo cream but the chocolate crunch was a good combo. My second favorite.
Premium Raspberry Chocolate - plain dark chocolate bark with raspberry essence in it. It’s not too sweet, ultra creamy and smooth. The raspberry has a good balance of floral nuances and there are bits of raspberry in there (including the seeds) which gives a little tartness and fruitiness to the whole bar.
Margarita White Chocolate - this was the only white chocolate offering and it was really good. I know, I’ve said I don’t like white chocolate and then I keep recommending white chocolate things. This was white chocolate that wasn’t too sweet and had lime essence in it. I would have called it Key Lime, because that’s what it tasted like to me. My third favorite.
Mint Chocolate Cookie - I’ve raved about Harry London Mint Cookie Joys before, and these are essentially the same. Minted dark chocolate with chocolate cookie bits in it. Heaven.
The final set in the basket were these two different kinds of chocolate covered Oreos, chocolate and mint chocolate. The plain chocolate ones had little sprinkles on them, and I have to say, as cute as they are, they’re not really that tasty. It’s fine for cake where you might want a little crunchy texture, but they just interfered with the chocolate and cookies here. The mint ones worked much better - a good, classic combo.
On the whole, the chocolate Craves were top notch. It’s hard to evaluate the whole custom blended chocolate part, because I never tasted the pure chocolate in any of these items, it was always in combination with other flavors and textures. While I really like a good dark chocolate, often the harsher bitterness can overshadow some of the more delicate flavors and textures. Of course that sort of intense flavor also keeps me from eating piece after piece. Maybe it’s the difference between fine wine and a good fruity sangria. Both have their place. So Robert at Best Regards has stumbled upon something - a really addictive dark chocolate that’s more “munchable.” Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I can assure you, it’ll be good for Best Regard’s business.
If I lived in the Kansas City area and needed a gift for someone, I’d absolutely take advantage of the gift basket idea (especially the mixed baskets of cookies) with local delivery and he has lots of options that are more on the savory side (and feature some of the local barbeque themes). If I had one suggestion for the sale of these, it’d be the ability to get a tin of them, maybe even a mixed variety. The packaging in the crunchy clear plastic bags wasn’t as resealable as I’d like. (I know, I rail against companies that have too much packaging, now I want more!) A tin of chocolate barks seems like it’d ship better anyway. However, he does offer some of the chocolate varieties as 8 ounce bars.
UPDATE: Wow! Robert is offering a special sampler package based on the products I reviewed here - at a huge discount off the regular $26.00 price, he’s offering it at only $15.99. Just go to the Sweets & Treats page and scroll down to see the “Cybele Special.”
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
One of the best things about going to New York City is I always know I can find great Halvah there, and often Turkish Delight. I know that it’s not everyone’s favorite candy, and I’ll wager that many candy aficionados haven’t even tried it before.
Let’s face it, traditional halvah as sold at the counter of a candy shop or deli is never very appetizing. I remember the first time I had halvah; my mother returned from New York City with some wonderful baked goods (including some sort of super decadent flourless chocolate cake from Dean & Deluca) and a slice of this stuff. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed at first. What was it? How do I eat it?
Halvah (also spelled halva or halwa) is basically a crystallized paste of sesame seeds (tahini) and sugar. There are often other additions, such as nuts, dried fruit or chocolate. It can be further dressed up and dipped in chocolate or rolled in nuts.
I’m rather fond of plain halvah with pistachios. The stuff that I get here in Los Angeles is usually prepackaged and who knows how old. This halvah that we picked up at Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side ($7.99/lb.) was fresh and crumbly and smelled wonderfully of sesame and vanilla. To eat halvah I usually break off a few small pieces (each about the size of a walnut) and put them in a little ramekin and then eat it with my fingers, sometimes breaking the pieces into smaller bits. Since there’s a crystalline structure that forms as the halvah cools, it cleaves better than it cuts.
The taste is hard to describe but it’s basically a sweet paste of sesame kind of like a light, sweet peanut butter. It’s not quite like marzipan, which doesn’t dissolve completely because of the almonds. Some folks don’t like the texture, some don’t like the smell of sesame (I can’t stand the smell of toasted sesame oil, so it’s a wonder that I like this stuff at all). It’s buttery and smooth as it melts on the tongue and is quite filling. The pistachios add a dash of nuttiness to it. Overall, halvah has a slight malty taste to it, which might be why I’m attracted to it.
It’s amazing to think that I’ve never had chocolate covered halvah before, but I guess I just don’t shop at the right stores. I found these at Economy Candy around the corner from Russ & Daughters. Outside is a sweet chocolate and crushed almonds and inside is a marbled chocolate halvah cube.
They’re quite messy to eat, as you can imagine. The halvah in these is a bit softer and a little oilier. The sweet chocolate and nuts make for a very filling treat, but quite addictive. I bought a half a dozen of these (they were 50 cents each) and proceeded to eat three of them that afternoon and had to make another trip to buy more because I promised to bring some back for my mother-in-law. Who knows how many will make it to the weekend when I am going to present them to her.
I know that there’s been a huge surge in interest in Turkish Delight (also known as Turkish Paste or Lokum) since The Chronicles of Narnia came out, and I wrote a bit about that here. I like Turkish Delight in most flavors, but I’m a little unusual in that I appreciate floral flavors in my candy. It’s rather hard to find good, fresh Turkish Delight in the United States. There’s the prepackaged stuff, but I’ve heard it’s a far cry from the fresh stuff you can get in the markets in the Middle East.
This Turkish Delight was new for me. I usually get the plain squares that are flavored rather traditionally with rosewater, mint, lemon, orange or orange blossom. This was pistachio and rosewater. Let’s face it, it’s rather unappealing looking. Just a slice of jelly with pistachios embedded in it and covered with powdered sugar. At the counter where I picked it out at Economy Candy ($8.99/lb.), it was displayed as a long log, spiraled into a rather odd looking white lump. But this trip was about adventure.
Turkish Delight needs to be eaten fresh, so I ate most of this while I was still in NYC, saving about four slices (there was a half pound minimum) for the photos when I got back. This is addictive stuff and I can see why Edmund got into so much trouble even with the un-nutted stuff. It smells like light flowers and of course sugar. Biting into it, the suspension of the rosewater jelly has made the pistachios soft and buttery. The mix of the nuts which are also known for their perfumy qualities and the lightly sweet rose jelly is quite stunning. I found myself chewing and swallowing quickly just so I could take another bite. Sometimes I’d hit a spot where there was a lot of jelly and got to revel in the fragrant stickiness and other times it was all nuts. Of course every once in a while you get a bad nut and that’s no fun.
I don’t recommend it for everyone. If you’re the type of person who likes Spice Jelly Beans or the more fragrant Indian spices like cardamom and star anise, you might like Turkish Delight.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.