Tuesday, January 30, 2007
There were quite a few caramels at the Fancy Food Show. Here are two vastly different caramel products.
Hammond Candies makes a product unlike all their other wonderful twisty/swirly hard candies, it’s a caramel covered marshmallow block called Mitchell Sweets. I have no idea why they’re called Mitchell, but hey, I guess if I had a great caramel and marshmallow product, maybe I’d just start calling it Mitch, too.
The Mitchell Sweet comes in two varieties - plain and chocolate. They’re pretty big, about 2 1/2” long, 1 1/4 inch square and weigh 3/4 of an ounce. They’re a bit messy, but not as messy as you might guess.
The caramel is soft and chewy without being too stiff. The marshmallow, on the other hand, is rather stiff and solid. It still maintains a lightness and bouncy texture which helps it stand up to the caramel.
The chocolate one didn’t smell any different but I have to say I was really pleased with how fudgy it was. The chocolate caramel was even a little salty and set off the otherwise sweet marshmallow really well. This is a real standout candy. I could use a little honey or extra vanilla hit in the marshmallow itself, but Hammond’s has been making these treats for a long time, so who am I to say they need an adjustment?
Notes: you can buy them direct on the Hammond’s Candies website for $17.00 a pound. These are very similar to the Littlejohn Caramel Marshmallows.
I give them a 7 out of 10
If I was looking for a candy that advertised its honey flavor, then Caramoos to the rescue. Caramoos aren’t quite the chewy caramel that we’re used to though they are indeed caramelized sugar. It’s more like a light fudge. They come in two flavors in the Caramel Crumble: Original & Honey and a bunch of others in their Creme Fudge line: Dark Chocolate, Mocha & Vanilla
They’re cute little square rods, perfect to pop in your mouth whole or do it in two bites.
They smell very buttery and have a very grainy texture. The sweetness is mitigated by a little hit of salt and of course the darker flavors of the caramelized sugars. The Honey one smelled like a sweet hand cream instead of a caramel. The fragrant candy grew on me so much that in the end I preferred it to the Original flavor.
The Creme Fudges are a little different. They don’t have the distinct crystallized structure to them. The Dark Chocolate one reminded me of a very good Tootsie roll. Soft, smoky tasting and a little salty. Mocha was rich and milky tasting with a wonderful flavor of rich espresso. The Vanilla one was also chewy and soft and had a nice milky taste to it but not the buttery flavors so apparent in the Caramel Crumble.
They’re an interesting new look at caramelized sugars.
Notes: Caramoos are made in Poland. There’s no ordering info on their website (I emailed but haven’t heard back) but you can get them on Amazon for $14 for 2.5 pounds ($5.60 a pound). Nicole from Slashfood was equally smitten with Caramoos. Quite a few folks also got samples of them from Amazon last year.
I give them a 7 out of 10
Monday, January 29, 2007
So it looks like you want more of the regular old stuff and less of the artisans & chocolatiers.
Your wish is my command! I do have some chocolatiers to get through (because of gifts) but I’ll try to limit that to twice a month (or provide them as bonus weekend reviews). That leaves you with approximately 20 other limited edition, mass market, regionally manufactured, limited edition items each month!
I also have a HUGE backlog of candies, you can browse the ones that I’ve taken photos of here.
I have to admit that I’ve never been terribly fond of Twix bars. I know that they fill an important niche in the confectionery pantheon: a cookie, some caramel and a chocolate enrobing. I did quite like them when they were first introduced in 1979 in the United States but found that other crunchy caramelly chocolate candies (like the 100,000 Dollar Bar) fit my desires a little better.
I even gave the Classic and Peanut Butter Twix another try recently.
I decided that the cookie is too sweet for me. I like the combination of textures and I rather like how “sandy” the cookie is, but it either needs a hit of salt in the cookie (like a shortbread) or in the caramel. The Peanut Butter Twix is a little closer to what I like, but even with the mellow peanut butter, it still ends up being too middle-of-the-road. I rather enjoyed the Dark Chocolate and think that was a great bar but really thought the White Chocolate was a move in the wrong direction.
Enter Mars’ newest Limited Edition offering: Triple Chocolate. Yes, it’s all chocolate all the time with this bar. A chocolate cookie with a stripe of chocolate caramel covered in milk chocolate.
For such a chocolatey bar it didn’t smell much like chocolate. It smelled sweet and kind of like vanilla caramels. The bar as a whole has the familiar mix of textures with the crumbly/crunchy cookie bar, the soft and chewy caramel and then the smooth and sweet milk chocolate.
If it’s got triple the chocolate, it’s just not there for me. I wasn’t getting much in the chocolate realm at all (maybe I’m still on my dark chocolate high from the Fancy Food Show) ... just sweet. So sweet my throat hurt.
I wish they’d wrapped it in dark chocolate.
Note: Mars is now using PGPR in their chocolate as well (Hershey’s was the first company I noticed that changed their chocolate formulation). PGPR is an emulsifier like Soy Lecithin that’s usually derived from Castor Beans. The emulsifier keeps the chocolate smooth and flowing for the manufacture process and also replaces some of the cocoa butter.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Here’s what others observed at the show:
SFGate noticed the salty side of things, and I’m not just talking about the sea salts.
C(h)ristine has a great photo array that captures things far better than words (well, not better, but it sure takes up less space) as well as her observations. Pay careful attention to those “collagen marshmallows.”
Bay Area Bites covered the keynote by Eric Schlosser of Fast Food Nation fame (I think Michael was sitting in front of me at the keynote). Take special note of the mackerel in a tube photo later in the post. See, being so focused on candy means I don’t have to give those things a second thought!
Elise has a fantastmic photo of Mashti Malone’s Lavender Ice Cream ... love their stuff! She also profiles quite a few other items I missed and links to even more coverage.
Dvorak was even there, with some video of the Whiffle machine - which makes these puffed tortilla shaped waffley things. I didn’t eat them and the machine scared me (seriously, it SHOT those things out with a bang all day every day).
Anna’s Cool Finds mentions things on the savory end but covers the Monkey Treats which were frozen fruit covered with chocolate - I had the banana and it was very tasty, something I’d buy in the summer. YummySF covered the tea scene (there was a LOT of tea) and finally, as I mentioned on Tuesday, there’s a lot of trading and giveaways at the very end of the expo, Jalepeno Girl, who worked the show as a “booth babe” has the goodies to prove it (and some fun rules for attending food shows).
I have a huge pile of chocolate and candies and I’ll have lots to write about for the next month or so. Stay tuned.
Friday, January 26, 2007
I’ve been eying the stuff on the Oriental Trading Company website for years, just wondering if it was any good. I really have very little need for four dozen candy rings, but I just wanted them so much.
So I put together what I thought was a modest order of items that I knew I couldn’t get anywhere else (they do carry a lot of items you can find in the grocery store like candy bar miniatures):
(More on the Candy Shot Glasses next week!)
The Gummy Candy Band Bracelet came in four colors, each with a different inspirational word on them.
All of them were less than stellar looking. They looked and felt a bit dry to the touch, kind of like old Play Doh. They were each individually sealed in little clear cellophane sleeves (and those were all inside another sealed bag) so I don’t think it was a storage issue on my side. However, I did buy them on sale (they were normally $5.95 a dozen and I got them for $2.95, so maybe you get what you pay for).
Purple :: Faith :: Grape - very dark and pretty purple, and I only think it was grape flavored, it was hard to tell. Faith has a strong bitter aftertaste to it for me.
Yellow :: Strength :: Pineapple - pretty good! A nice floral fruity flavor with a good tangy bite and no weird aftertaste. Strength is good!
Green :: Hope :: Apple - tangy and fruity and actually pretty tasty. Hope is edible!
Orange :: Dream :: Orange - also rather tasty. It had a good rounded orange flavor with both the zesty notes and the tangy bite. Dream had a slight aftertaste to it, not a bad one, but a little like chemicals or artificial flavors.
On the whole, I liked the novelty of the bracelets, but as you can imagine the reality of wearing a gummi on your wrist isn’t that appealing after about five minutes. You can gnaw it off your wrist, but if it’s all about the taste and texture, these leave a bit to be desired. I think I’d prefer a clear gummi like Haribo makes instead of this opaque stuff.
They make other varieties for different holidays, there’s a Halloween set and I thought they had an Easter one (but I can’t find it on the site now).
It’s not something I’d order again and I’m kind of sorry I got two dozen now. 4 out of 10
The Everyday Candy Rings are just stunning to look at. Instead of the chunky ones that I used to buy when I was a kid that were impossibly thick and uncomfortable to wear. These are petite little compressed dextrose creations, rather similar to the Candy Blox I reviewed earlier this week.
The rings are small, or fit small fingers. I could only get them on the top of my smaller fingers or my pinkie (my ring finger size is an eight). The bands come in four differen colors:
Pink Band :: White Jewel - After eating this one, I’m not afraid of the pink ones. A light raspberry flavor, it has a little bitter aftertaste but overall I find it agreeable. This is the only one that made my fingers a little discolored.
Yellow Band :: Orange Flower - the candy is a soft lemon flavor, no sour tang to it.
Orange Band :: Pink Flower - this one was bad the first time I had it, a bit sour in an unpleasant “bad burp” way. Subsequent ones were just fine. They taste a little like Froot Loops.
White Band :: Yellow Star - I think this is pineapple. Again, soft with only a light flavor and no tartness.
I really liked these. They’re compact and even though they don’t really fit my fingers they’d be great for kids because they’re not too much candy and are less likely to make a big mess. They’re also darned attractive.
They’re individually wrapped and easy to stow in your pocket (so I plan on carrying them around to blogger events to hand out to my new friends). The flavors are okay - not quite as tasty as the Candy Blox, but they all arrived in great condition (only one out of the 4 dozen was broken). The price per item is only 10 cents each, so if you’re planning a theme party for a little girl (Princess!), this might make a nice addition to the favors.
I give these an 8 out of 10 ... definitely something I’m going to keep on hand as the Candy Blogger.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
For the most part I thought they were toys. That they were some sort of technically edible wafer with a toy or prize inside. (Shows how much I was paying attention.)
I’m certain I’m not alone in my confusion about what they are, so I’ll try to demystify them.
The wafers are made up of two disks of slightly foamed corn starch (kind of like communion wafers or that stuff that they put on the tops of Torrones). They’re dome shaped to hold a little reservoir of powdered candy. You can shake them and they make a light rattling noise. The powder is a slightly foaming white dextrose candy kind of like a Pixy Stix.
The brand on these is Astra and they’re made in Belgium. I get the impression that there are a couple of other brands out there, including Gerrit’s Satellite Wafers, which are also made in Belgium ... so maybe there’s just one factory out there in the Belgian countryside cranking away on these traditional European novelty sweets.
The wafer itself is rather delicate and can crack if it’s fresh (and just get soggy and bendy if it’s not). This would explain why there was some candy powder in my bag of 35 pieces. Only two, as far as I could tell, had let loose their contents. The wafer is ever so slightly sweet but basically unflavored. If there’s an acceptable style to eating these, I missed that indoctrination as a child and can only say that I take a bite out of the Saucer, eat the little wafer and then dump the contents onto my tongue.
The powder is uncolored and tastes a bit like green apple (again, there could be different flavors ... or not). Sometimes I tossed the other half of the wafer, sometimes I ate it. The powder inside has a slight fizz to it, not quite as strong as Zotz. In fact, sometimes it wasn’t fizzy at all, sometimes it was absurdly fizzy.
Now that I’ve had these I’m sorry I didn’t seek them out as a child. They’re basically disk shaped Pixy Stix only you can eat the container they come in. I’m guessing the wafer also somehow offsets the huge sugar rush you would ordinarily get from straight dextrose.
You can read more about Astra Sweets who made these here, but it appears that Astra Sweets took over Belgica TOP, the originator of the Flying Saucer some years ago.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
I tried the Honey Roasted Peanut Roca for the first time at the All Candy Expo in Chicago last summer. It took quite a while before I saw it in the “wild” and I was really surprised that my first sighting was at the 99 Cent Only stores.
I don’t have a photo of the innards, but I can tell you that it looks just like any other Roca. The foil wrapper on this one is coppery-orange but the little turd-looking candy is just like you’d expect.
The aroma was definitely peanutty with a strong initial crunch in the toffee. The toffee softens quite quickly to a firm chew and then becomes very buttery and a tad grainy as the sugar gives up its structure. I didn’t get much of the Honey Roasted Peanut vibe but the toffee was certainly competent (and I’ve eaten a lot of toffee this week.)
The faux chocolate coating on the candy was less than satisfying though. Rather greasy and soft, it was held in place by the peanut bits stuck to it. I appreciate that they’re experimenting, but this particular one was distracting for me. It didn’t add any “chocolate” flavor to the mix.
On a side note I did try the Candy Cane Roca while at the Fancy Food Show. The combination of toffee and minted chocolate was kind of odd, but overall nice. I don’t think I’d buy it, but I’d pop a few in my mouth if they were sitting in a candy dish.
I found the packaging for Honey Roasted Peanut Roca a little odd on this one as well. Perhaps it was that it was sold at the 99 Cent Store, but the incongruous 3 PIECES on the lower left kind of cheapened the whole thing. It also didn’t look like it belonged because of the font and it didn’t have the gold shadow the rest of it had. I know, I’m being super picky here. But I actually looked at the label rather critically when I first picked it up because I thought it was some sort of knock-off.
I think I’m going to stick with Almond Roca.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
I have to say that the vibe today on the floor was vastly different from yesterday. I picked up lots and lots to sample at home.
- Hammond’s Candy had their Mitchell Sweets on display. They’re a marshmallow covered in caramel. Tasty looking ... I’m looking forward to it! Their booth was awesome looking with racks and racks of their hand twisted candy canes and lollipops. They have both a regular line and a new natural line (no artificial colors or flavors).
- I stopped by les Anis de Flavigny booth and was enchanted by their new package design. (They candies themselves are a panned sweet, with a center of a simple anise seed coated with layer upon layer of matte white sugar - an ancient tradition in Europe.) They didn’t muck around with it too much, they’re still classic oval tins. I’ll take photos and talk about them more in the future. They also have a new line that’s certified organic in Europe.
- I tried Mademoiselle de Margaux, which I admired from afar the whole show. Their package is elegant and the confection itself looks like simple twigs of chocolate. I sampled the whole line in chocolate, orange, mint and coffee. I can’t say much else because it appears the flyers I picked up are in French.
- As trends go, and everyone’s been talking about them now that the show is over, the one that I noticed is folks talking about their product being “All Natural” for the most part indicating that they’re courting Whole Foods.
- Brown & Haley has a new limited edition Raspberry Mountain Bar. Sounds tasty. (I actually liked the Peanut Butter one best so far.)
- Melville’s Candies, which is known for their fantastic barley sugar candies in bright colors and fun shapes, was really pushing their Honey Spoons. They’re spoons shaped lollies with loads of real honey in there. You can eat them or stir your coffee with them. I picked up both Tupelo and Clover varieties.
- Guittard was showing some new chocolates, including a 90% cacao. It was definitely dark, but rather buttery with some interesting vanilla notes.
- I gave Haribo‘s gummi Root Beer Barrels a couple of tries this week. They’re certainly interesting and I do like Haribo quite a bit (their Happy Cola is very good) but I wasn’t thrilled with these. They were spicy tasting but too sour and tangy to ring true for me.
- I tried a really local line of fudge from John Kelly Chocolates. They describe their fudge as being more truffle than fudge. I enjoyed the orange flavored stuff quite a bit and soon I’ll try more of it. They’re based right in Hollywood!
- I have lots more tasting notes and of course oodles of samples, cards and press kits to go through, so I’ll keep tonight’s notes briefer (I just got home from the airport and the neighbors came over to make look at me while I tried to organize my samples on the dining room table). I did got back to both of the crabby booths today that ran me off before, just to give them another chance. One had a different person there and it was an entirely different experience. The second was a booth where I not only got a cold reception earlier this week but also didn’t have a good interaction in Chicago at the All Candy Expo. I’m not naming names, but I am saying that by giving everyone another chance, the whole show is battin’ 1,000 for a warm welcome.
- Finally, at the end of the show the booth folk were more interested in making their exit. The fascinating part is that they don’t want to take their own stuff home. Most of the open cases can’t be sold, so they were either extremely generous with the visitors to their booth or they would trade with other vendors. There were even signs on some booths that said “we will barter” ... I was rather suprised to see it on an upscale Belgian chocolate vendor and there was the staff loading fine chocolates into plastic bags. I wonder what they got in return. A wheel of cheese? A tub of fine olives? Maybe some honey ... I’m just glad it seems like everyone is going home happy.
I’m home. I’m happy.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.