Wednesday, October 18, 2006
As National Novel Writing Month approaches my mind turns to writing-friendly candy. This is a tough category. Not only does the candy need to be neat (no sticky bits to get in the keyboard) but it also has to support the work at hand. In years past I’ve nibbled on licorice vines, Reese’s miniatures (not really recommended as they are a two-handed candy), M&Ms and orange Tootsie Pops.
This year I think I’ve found my new writing candy. It’s a little expensive at $6.50 for 150 grams (about 5.25 ounces), but writing a novel in a month is an indulgence anyway and if a few hard candies can keep me on task and perhaps ingest a little less caffeine, I’m all for it.
The Apothecary’s Garden is a line of hard candies made by Sweet Botanicals of England. Infused with different herbs and spices, they’re all drop-dead gorgeous little morsels. Not only that, they’re all natural. No freaky sweeteners, they’re just sugar, corn syrup and some spices with a little juice for color. The come in a clear plastic container, which of course gives you full view of their mouthwatertingness. (The only bad thing about this packaging is that I found them to be positively DIFFICULT to recap.) Today I’ll tackle the spices:
Cinnamon & Clove - gorgeous red spheres with white stripes. They’re the size of marbles and smell of Christmas. I’m not usually keen on clove, as it reminds me of dental procedures, but this was more on the mild side. The cinnamon was spicy and has a pleasant and mellow burn with the slight floral note of the clove that was more on the violet end than the medicine side.
The candy itself is dense and sweet with few, if any, voids that can make for sharp edges to cut your tongue.
This candy would be appropriate for novels taking place on damp moors, alien infested swamp planets and anything set during the Civil War.
Chili (a useful digestive aid) - delicate little candies, no larger than a dried garbanzo (the smallest of all I tried). They’re lightly pink and have the disarming smell of cotton candy. On the tongue they start with a slight floral note of rose and are clean tasting. But after a moment the chili spice kicks in. It has a little burn, but something I feel on the tongue, nothing in the back of the throat.
This candy would be appropriate for writing time travel scenes, large spans of exposition in any style novel and of course anything set in the Southwestern US, Mexico or Central America.
Licorice & Anise (Helps Coughs and Catarrh) - beautiful large medallion-like pieces, they’re the largest of all the Apothecary’s Garden candies I tried. They’re also not a solid hard candy but a filled candy. The hard shell is a mellow licorice flavor with a liberal note of both anise and molasses (the ingredients lists brown sugar treacle). Inside is a soft, moist and grainy center of a rich brown sugar that soothes the throat (and tastes good!).
This candy would be appropriate for steampunk novels with characters involved heavily in action scenes, anything set in the middle ages, circuses or in cold climates and of course action-adventures that involve going places without proper vaccinations.
Ginger & Orange (Useful for Travel Sickness) - these are long hexagons that are squashed into rods. The smell slightly of orange and on the tongue they immediately get me tingly with a little tangy bite and the spice of the ginger. There’s a definite rooty flavor to these that overpowers any orange essence other than the color and tangy quality.
I can’t attest to their ability to stave off motion sickness, but I will in a few months when whale watch season opens and I hit the nearshore seas. I have, however, found that ginger is good for keeping the queasies at bay, so I’m looking forward to giving these a real test.
This candy would be appropriate for novels with sea voyages or taking place on spaceships with questionable inertial dampeners/artificial gravity. It is also good for consuming during scenes involving early pregnancy and dizzying passages describing architecture.
I have lots more flavors and I’ll be posting about those soon. At $6.50 a package, they’re a wee on the expensive side. But they’re also not a candy you gobble down, so they last a while. The flavors are unique and it’s obvious the attention that’s paid to their creation, so I’d be willing to pay a little more. Right now the only place I know to get them in the States is ArtisanSweets.com (they sent me the samples) ... but they also sell the Montelimar Nougat that I love so much, so you know, you could get some of that at the same time.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Hershey is hopping into the upscale chocolate venue with their new Cacao Reserve line.
Much creamier and less grainy than regular Hershey’s chocolate. They’re not kidding about the premium hazelnuts, they are fresh and crunchy with a wonderful malty/nutty flavor. It’s sweet but dense and satisfying. A 1.3 ounce portion is rather puny considering my desire to eat more.
Extra Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs (65% cacao dark chocolate) - the description from the website says, “Deep, rich chocolate profile with cacao nibs ‘the heart of the cacao bean,’ for a lively textural crunch.”
The bar has a deep smoky scent with berries and cherries as added notes. A little bitter on the tongue at first, it has a nice melt (65% is a nice compromise) with some strong charcoal and woodsy elements dominating. The nibs have an excellent crunch without the fibery chew that they sometimes add. This may be the first “consumer” nibby bar, and it’s pretty good at that.
The ingredients are a little odd for a “reserve” dark chocolate bar: Semi-sweet chocolate (chocolate, sugar, cocoa, milk fat, cocoa butter, organic soy lecithin, vanilla beans), cacao nibs, milk. What’s with putting the dairy in there?
Overall, Hershey has created a high quality product. I prefer these to the Extra Dark line. The portion size is smaller than a normal candy bar, and of course the price is a little high, but the quality of the bar is evident. There other two bars in the introductory line are plain milk chocolate and dark chocolate, which I wasn’t as interested in as these two, so I was glad these were the two that the 7-11 had in stock. I would definitely pick both of these up again as a quick, upscale treat, especially for traveling or to put in a lunch.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
The lovely folks at Endanged Species thought I should try more of their bars (well, so did the lovely Candy Blog readers in the comments section). They happily sent me a small selection to try, here are a couple of the milk chocolate bars.
Milk Chocolate with Peanut Brittle - there’s an elephant on the package! I’m guessing because elephants like peanuts. The base of this bar is a very dark, rich milk chocolate with 52% cocoa content. In fact, it’s so chocolatey that the sugar (made from water-filtered beet sugar) is third on the list of ingredients instead of first in most milk chocolates. That’s not to say that the chocolate isn’t sweet, but it also has an intense creaminess to it that I’ve found very rare in other milk chocolates. The dairy component is quite rich but it doesn’t feel sticky.
Sprinkled in there are peanut brittle chips. They have a nice salty bite and crispness and add a good peanut crunch. I’d argue that it isn’t really peanut brittle but toffee, since it’s so buttery, but I don’t feel that argument much matters.
This is a fantastic bar that may convert some folks who say they don’t like milk chocolate because it’s too homogeneous tasting but it still retains its munchability. I ate the whole bar in a matter of two days. 9 out of 10.
Milk Chocolate with Rice Crisp - this bar has a manatee on the front. I doubt manatees have a fondness for rice though as vegetarians I don’t imagine they’d be adverse to it. This bar contains the same dark 52% cocoa content milk chocolate. This bar has a slightly smokier taste to it, which I’m guessing is added by the crisped rice. The first third of the bar, I hated it. The crisped rice tasted bitter and burnt to me. But I thought maybe I just had a bad rice crisp or two. I waited a day and tried it again. The crisped rice still reminds me of those bits of barely popped popcorn that end up in the bottom of the bowl. Very toasted tasting and with a much denser crunch.
Though the second try was more successful, I just wasn’t keen on the rustic taste of the rice crisps. There weren’t enough of them to make it a really crunchy bar and the intense flavor they added didn’t thrill me. I’m a huge fan of grains and eat a lot of them (barley is my favorite, if you didn’t already know) but this just wasn’t my thing. 6 out of 10.
Endangered Species is now based in Indiana (they moved from Oregon last year) and the make ethically traded chocolate bars in a huge variety of flavor combinations. The cool part is that the commitment to the environment goes to all facets of the production and marketing. The packages are printed on recycled paper and with soy-based biodegradable inks. The 10% of all profits are donated to animal conservation causes. Each bar is branded with a different endangered animal and the inside of the wrapper has that animal’s story. There are often coupons as well and tips for making small changes in your life to lessen your impact on the environment.
Though the bars are all natural, these are not organic (though there are other bars in their repertoir that are). Some of the cocoa beans that they acquire are Fair Trade certified and others do not have the certification but are ethically traded. Their packaging and story helps them to appeal to kids moreso than other wholesome-branded chocolates.
Tuesday, September 5, 2006
I’ve avoided Cocoavia since it was introduced last year. There’s something disconcerting about selling candy as health food in my mind. I don’t disagree that things like chocolate can have beneficial elements in them, but the fat and calories and lack of other positive characteristics makes it seem like we’re kidding ourselves when we believe that chocolate is good for us.
But all things in moderation, eh?
I’ve only seen the bars at the store, so I wasn’t particularly interested in what appeared to be a Dove bar with a lot of health benefits. But then I found a product I hadn’t seen before, Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds. Inside this large but light box are five one ounce packets of dark chocolate covered almonds. I usually buy Trader Joe’s mix of dark & milk chocolate covered almonds, but these were in individual packets, which is a nice feature and a quick glance at the box showed that they were even fortified with extra vitamins and minerals.
Each packet has an ounce, which is about 13 chocolate covered almonds. The package is appealing, with luxurious dark colors and some sassy photos of the candy within. The chocolate is glossy and dark though it doesn’t really smell very compelling. It melts readily on the tongue and though the package says semisweet, it’s not sticky, sickly sweet at all and buttery smooth. It has a nice smoky and complex flavor without much acidity. There’s a little floral note to it that gave it a little lightness. The almonds are superb, crunchy and fresh and a decent size.
I was really surprised at how good these were. Though I still don’t subscribe to the whole “eat these for a healthy heart” thing, I will definitely finish the box. The packages provide a good degree of portion control and each bag is only 140 calories. It also offers 3 grams of fiber and protein, 20% of your calcium, 4% of your iron and 10% of your Vitamin E, Folic Acid, B6, Vitamin C and B12. The almonds contain essential fatty acids and of course the chocolate has cocoa flavanols that recent studies are showing can have a positive effect on cardiovascular disease risks. Even though there are all these things on the box and the marketing that are saying how healthy these are, I’d prefer to think that they’re at least not a detriment to your health when eaten in responsible quantities.
So, if you’re on a restricted diet and are looking for a little treat that won’t throw you off whack, I’m a huge believer in the nut and chocolate combo as a satisfying sweet. (Not nearly as bad for you as, say, a dish of ice cream.) The benefit over any old chocolate covered nuts is this proprietary Cocoapro (tm) process that’s supposed to pack more flavanols in there that can lower bad cholesterol levels. The price is, well, pricey (about $16 a pound) but try to find them on sale.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I’ve been a little depressed lately and I figured the thing to cheer me up would be some bouncy candy. So I headed down to Little Tokyo over the weekend to buy myself some candy. I was lucky enough to find the Juntsuyu that I love so much (they were out the last time I was in there) so I bought two packages. I also scoured the aisles for something new to lift my spirits.
I enjoyed the Strawberry Hi-CHEW I had last year and a friend at the office recently gave me some green apple ones that were equally lifting. I found a new variety I hadn’t seen before, Grapefruit!
Flavored with real grapefruit juice, I figured I couldn’t go wrong. They’d be like a super soft version of the Pampelmousse Mentos.
These did not disappoint. The chew is soft and smooth and has a sort of pleasant rubbery quality that I can only report as ‘bounce’. The flavor is complex, with sweet and tart notes and some of the grapefruit oil essence in there, too.
If you’re ever confused about Japanese candy, so far I can say that the Morinaga brand is one that doesn’t disappoint. The candy has always been of high quality, the flavors good and the packaging is great. So if you’re standing in front of a big display of Japanese candy, try something Morinaga. (I like Meiji, too.)
If you wanted to try the Pink Grapefruit Mentos but you’re a vegetarian, you’ll be happy to hear that there is no gelatin in Hi-CHEW, it’s all vegatable ingredients in there!
Friday, August 25, 2006
Equal Exchange has been at the forefront of the fair trade chocolate and coffee movement in the United States for twenty years. But I think they understand that it’s great to give people a living wage and all, but the important thing is to sell something of value to the customer to keep everything in motion.
At their launch, the Equal Exchange chocolate products were rather mundane. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice, but the selection wasn’t very exciting. They’ve remedied that with the introduction of three new bars: Mint Chocolate, Espresso Bean Chocolate and Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs.
The Organic Chocolate with Espresso Bean is made with a 55% cocoa solid chocolate (the lightest chocolate of the three new bars) with good reason. Coffee is a powerful flavor and needs a good balance in order for both flavors to shine though.
In general I’m not fond of coffee bars that have coffee grounds (or bits, whatever) in them. The chocolate itself is infused with the coffee flavors, which are dark and pungent, a little smoky and acidic. The beans are crunchy and crisp, which is better than some fibery ones that some companies put in their bars. But still, it’s just not my thing. The chocolate was wonderfully buttery but very sweet so that it can stand up to the espresso beans. Of the three bars, this is the one that I still have some left of. (7 out of 10)
Organic Mint Chocolate. This dark chocolate bar made with 67% cocoa solids was quite a surprise. I fully expected it to be dark, mint flavored chocolate. Instead, it’s a mint crunch bar. It’s not quite like a mint bark that has little pieces or starlight mints in it. Instead it has little sugary grains of mint in it. The grains aren’t large, like big sugar crystals. The chocolate itself is not as sweet as the espresso bar, and has a strong acidic quality to it with a complex chocolate profile. Then as you chew or allow the chocolate to dissolve on your tongue you come across these little crystals of mint. It made the bar much more fun than I expected.
The acidity of the bar still got in the way of the mint, it just wasn’t the ideal match for me. (8 out of 10)
Organic Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs. Now this is the bar for me! 68% cocoa solids make this a pretty dark bar. The acidity here doesn’t bother me a bit, because it goes right along with the blissfully crunchy and rich cocoa nibs. Every nib was great, no fibery ones, no bad ones. The crunch of the nibs isn’t quite like a nut, they’re not quite as fatty tasting, but crisp and of course flavorful, creating a new texture without interrupting the pure chocolate density of the bar.
If you’re a nib fan, you should really seek out this bar. I’ve tried the Endangered Species bar and the Scharffen Berger and this bar really wowed me. At about $3.50 per bar retail for a 3.5 ounce bar they’re a good value for high-end chocolate. Add in the social responsibility and you’re silly not to at least give this bar a try. (9 out of 10)
I’ve been spotting Equal Exchange at Whole Foods, so keep your eyes open. If you have a favorite store that you shop at that doesn’t carry them, ask. (They don’t know what you want unless you tell them!) You can order on the Equal Exchange website, but only in full boxes of 12 for the bars.
Equal Exchange bars are not only organic but Fair Trade certified ingredients are used whenever possible, including the sugar. I think the only part that isn’t fair trade is the organic vanilla bean.
William at Chocolate Obsession has a large review. Siel at GreenLAGirl had a tasting party, so you can see lots more opinions on the bars there. If you’re interested in anything that has to do with incorporating fair trade, social responsibility and environmentalism into your everyday life, she’s your girl.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
There’s a favorite candy here in the United States, it’s called M&Ms ... or maybe they’re called M&Ms, I’m never quite sure about how to make implied plurals singular.
M&Ms are not unique, they have a similar candy product in the UK and other former parts of the crown called Smarties. And of course there are plenty of knock-offs, including Hersheyettes, Jots, Rocklets, Sun Drops and Garfield’s Chocobites. There are quite a few legends about how M&Ms and Smarties were invented, but suffice to say that they exist and that’s the important part.
Milk Chocolate M&Ms
You’re not crazy, they were once called Plain M&Ms, but in 2000 they shifted their name to Milk Chocolate M&Ms.
A little bit of trivia and history. The Ms in M&M stand for Forrest Mars and R. Bruce Murrie. Forrest Mars left his fathers candy company and partnered with Murrie to create the M&M. It took some help, which came from Murrie’s father, who ran the Hershey Chocolate company at the time. The technology behind the manufacture of M&Ms and even the chocolate itself came from Hershey’s factories. In the 60s Mars starting making their own chocolate and no longer needed to order it from Hershey.
Red M&Ms were discontinued in 1976 because of a scare with a food dye called Red Dye #2 (which was not used in M&Ms). At that time the colors in the M&M pack were: Green, Orange, Yellow, Light Brown & Dark Brown. The Red M&M returned in 1985, at first as part of the Holiday color mix then in the regular mix.
Overwhelmingly consistent in size, which is a credit to M&Ms production line choosing peanuts that are all the same size. The crunchy candy shell and slightly smoky tasting nuts combine well but overshadow the chocolate a smidge. But the chocolate provides a mellow sweetness and a creaminess during the final stages of chewing. I do get a bad peanut every once in a while, but usually not one every bag.
M&Ms were not a blazing success when they were launched, though they were well received. The trick for Mars was to figure out how to reach both their intended consumers (children) and the decision makers (parents). M&Ms were initially sold to the military during WWII, but Mars thought they were the perfect kids candy. Kids loved them, they just couldn’t convince their parents to buy them. It wasn’t until they hit upon their slogan, “melts in your mouth, not in your hands” that parents caught on that it was a less messy chocolate candy for kids. The rest is history.
Really, this is the perfect M&M, as far as I’m concerned. They almonds might not be top notch as they’re often small, but they’re fresh and crunchy and provide a good backdrop to the very sweet and slightly grainy chocolate.
Peanut Butter M&Ms
These are very nice and satisfying, but I find them a little greasy and smoky tasting.
One of the interesting bits of trivia about M&Ms Peanut Butter is that there was a large lawsuit between Hershey & Mars when they first came out. Hershey accused Mars of trying to make them look like Reese’s Pieces - the packaging was the same color, the format of the bag, the type was in brown, etc. Now you’ll notice that the color is slightly shifted away from the Reese’s Orange (tm) to a reddish color.
The look of these is terribly inconsistent, which strikes me as a little odd since you’d think they’d have more control over how big the crisp centers are than peanuts. The colors also weren’t quite the same, the green was a little light and the red was a little thin looking. I wasn’t able to find the American Crispy M&Ms, so I bought some Canadian ones. So the chocolate on these is slightly more milky tasting, which is an interesting, malty complement to the crispy center. A little sweet, a little bland.
Dovetailing with the earlier issue with Reese’s & Peanut Butter M&Ms, you’ll notice that the Crispy M&Ms are positioned to rival the Nestle Crunch Bar, which is really all they are, a little Crunch bar in a shell. The light blue and use of the Red M&M echoes the Nestle Crunch colors.
Dark Chocolate M&Ms
These have a smoky and darker flavor than the milk M&Ms, but also a little note of coconut. The ingredients also list skim milk, milkfat and lactose, so I’m not sure how they’re considered “dark chocolate.” They’re gorgeously shiny and consistent, so consider me tempted when they’re sitting in front of me. There’s currently an additional reward of 2 million Dark M&Ms being offered for the return of The Scream.
White Chocolate M&Ms “Pirate Pearls” (Limited Edition)
Yup, white chocolate in a candy shell. They’re nice enough, but just too sweet for me. They’re okay when you eat them in combination with other M&Ms (especially the Dark ones), but I’m not sure I’ll buy these again and I won’t protest if they don’t end up as a permanent item.
Other versions of M&Ms over the years: Dulce de Leche (2001), Mega (still around), Minis (still around), Spec-tacular Eggs (seasonal), Mint (seasonal) and of course many color promotions and movie tie ins. Then there are other M’azing things done with them that I’ve never gotten on board with.
There has never been an M&Ms gum ... but I’m not saying it won’t happen.
Have you had enough of M&Ms? If not, check out these scans of knock-offs, Brad Kent’s wrapper collection (you’ll have to search for M&Ms to find them all), how they’re made, some more history, Candy Critic’s M&M Destruction Project, a Century of Candy Bars (there are pictures of M&Ms wrappers through the years) and if you’re still obsessed, join the M&M Collectors Club (they collect the merchandise, not the actual candies).
The product line gets a 9 out of 10. I might not like every variety, but they’re a great product and really do make snacking fun.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
There are many wonderful people who write into Candy Blog (either via email or comments) to keep me abreast of what’s going on out there in the sweet real world. As I’m mostly a hermit, these tips are invaluable and here are my follow-ups on the most recent tips:
Assorted Fruit Headline
I rushed off to the 99 Cent Only Store to find it’s true! I haven’t opened the bag yet, but I thought I’d share my delight with everyone else. I have no idea when Ferrara Pan decided to make this mixed bag or even if it’s because of that review. Yes, you can buy them separately in little boxes, but this is a much better deal.
Also, the bag is plastic, which means that the Fruit Heads are protected from the enemy of sugar candies ... humidity. (Many of you know the disappointment of a box of Lemonheads where the poor spheres are welded to the box and each other.) I should really follow up on my request for Grapefruitheads.
I give these a 9 out of 10! (Yummy)
Pop’ables Chocolate Crisps
Sandy wrote to me earlier this week to tell me that there was a malted milk ball at the Dollar Tree. Well, I don’t have a Dollar Tree nearby, but as I was already at the 99 Cent Only Store searching for the Fruit Headline, I caught a huge display of these in the peg bag section: Limited Edition Pop’ables Chocolate Crisps.
I’m not sure why they call them “chocolate crisps” because they’re malted milk balls and they’re a pretty well known segment of the American candy pantheon. These were ridiculously good and again upset me to an insane degree because they’re limited edition. The chocolate is sweet and smooth with a slight coconutty note to it. The crisp center is light and malty with only a hint of sweetness. The packaging is completely uninspired, but I suppose it doesn’t matter as it is not only a limited edition item, but Mars has hinted that they’re discontinuing the Pop’ables line anyway. These were made in Australia. Super-addictive ... I ate the whole bag at work yesterday.
I give these a 9 out of 10! (Yummy)
Lindt Baking 70% Cocoa Bitter-Sweet Chocolate
While I was poking around in the candy aisle at the 99 Cent Only Store, I also found this little gem: Lindt Baking 70% Cocoa Bitter-Sweet Chocolate.
I’ve become a recent convert to Lindt via their impulsive truffles and couldn’t resist giving this “baking” bar a try to see if it rivaled their regular Lindt Excellence 70% bar that I see for three times the price at Cost Plus. At 3.5 ounces for 99 cents, it’s a fabulous deal for high-quality chocolate. They also had a semi-sweet bar that didn’t list the cocoa content (but sugar was the first ingredient on the list instead of chocolate).
I was worried that the bar would be past its prime, but it’s glossy and dark and with a good snap. Perfectly fresh. Lindt still isn’t my favorite chocolate, but at this price, it’s hard to buy a Hershey bar. This bar was made in France.
I give this a 7 out of 10! (Worth It)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.