Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I love lollipops in the sense that I love looking at them, I like buying them and I enjoying having them. But I’d have to guess that I only eat about half of the lollipops I ever have.
Part of it is that lollipops are simply hard candy. And I’m pretty sure that most people don’t actually like hard candy ... in the sense that they’d be willing to pay three times as much for it simply because it includes an inedible holder with it. But this is part of the amazing enigma of lollipops.
If I were a sculptor, I would probably wish to make things of spun, twisted & boiled sugar.
If I were to have my wedding all over again today, I’d probably just carry a bunch of lollipops instead of a bouquet of flowers. (Or maybe some of those wondrous flowers made from sugar.)
At the moment though I just take photos of lollipops when I get a hold of them.
Today, however, I’m also eating them.
I have a set of Hammond’s Candies All Natural Lollipops.
They’re made without artificial flavors or colors and are hand crafted. They come in a variety of flavors, I have six that I’m going to profile
These are the middle-sized pops - they’re one ounce each and about two to two and a half inches across. (Honestly, I think some of these were more than generously oversized.)
The pops feature thick wooden sticks and are wrapped simply in little cellophane bags with a sticker on the back that lists the flavor, ingredients & nutritional info. The front is all about the look of these hand-crafted medallions.
The ropes of candy are built in layers, at the center is a slightly aerated hard candy center. The outer layers are smooth and for the most part “clear” boiled sugar candy. The slight aeration of the core means that it’s very easy to crunch & chew it up and has no noticeable voids. It also means the the candy has a slightly lighter feel to it than I think I would have guessed just looking at it.
The flavor is light and bright - a touch of tartness but mostly a floral berry flavor like cotton candy.
Pomegranate - satiny cream background with pink/red stripes.
This had a very light floral flavor at first, all sweetness on the outside. The core, though, has a bit of a yogurty tang to it and a mellow cherry flavor with a stronger pop of sourness towards the end. It’s not a very intense flavor - just a light and rather nondescript berry note. It’s more like a fruit punch and is an overall positive.
This was a big test for me, because for the most part I don’t like cherry flavored candies because I don’t like the aftertaste of the most commonly used red food coloring, Red 40.
The outside was sweet and has a little toasted sugar flavor to it. The interior has a nice, zesty sour pop to it along with the cherry flavor. It’s not the dark, black cherry flavor - more like a cherry pie note. I’d call it positive and definitely has no weird poisonous aftertaste. Call it a win for cherry haters.
Peppermint - deep red with a series of amber stripes inside cream bands.
The coloring on this one wasn’t what I would have picked out of the bunch as the mint flavored one.
The mint flavor is clean and crisp - fresh and cooling with a long-lasting aftertaste. The texture of the candy is a little odd at first. The outside is smooth and with few voids, but can be kind of sharp if you break or crunch it.
Most of the pops at this point I was eating by breaking them first, eating the pieces and then whatever was left on the stick. For the Pear, which was just slightly smaller than the others, I ate it whole.
The outer layer was mild & sweet and had a light orchard fruit scent. In this case the center is the same ... kind of like an apple kissed toasted marshmallow. For the most part I love fresh pears but have never cared for pear flavored candies ... but this isn’t very “pear-flavored” so I give it a thumbs up.
Lemon - yellow bands with cream mini stripes
The outside is zesty but just a kiss of sweetness to it. The center is only slightly tangy. The whole thing reminds me of the flavor combination of a lemon bar. It’s not going to burn holes in my tongue, so I’ll definitely eat the whole thing.
The size of these pops was just a smidge too large for placing in the mouth whole. The texture and smoothness of the outside & inside meant that they were both interesting and pleasant from start to finish. In most cases the outside & inside also offered different flavor variations, which was a good feature to offer when selling at a premium price. They also come in a huge variety of sizes, from this one ounce version to a 4 ounce (saucer) to a full pound (dinner plate).
When not in “review mode” I found that these were definitely an all day sucker for me. The price is a bit steep - at about $2.50 to $3.00 per pop (depending on where you buy them). I’ve seen these at department stores around Christmas (in cinnamon!), at Cost Plus World Market (they also have Root Beer, but I don’t think it’s all natural) plus upscale candy shops and of course on the internet at CandyWarehouse.com, NaturalCandyStore.com and direct from Hammond’s.
Hard candy has its place, it’s durable and can be packed with flavor or just sweet comfort. Mostly it’s an amazing concoction because it can be beautiful.
To finish this off, have a look at how they make some of their hand-crafted creations:
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
As a kid I experienced many disappointments with candy that fell on both sides - candy that cost too much, but mostly candy that was no good (no matter what the price). I think the biggest candy category that has this issue is foil covered chocolates.
Think about how many times you’ve gotten a chocolate coin and thought it was far better just to keep it than to eat it ... because of all those times when you peeled back the beautifully stamped & shiny metal to find a piece of sweet & greasy mockolate.
Back when I started Candy Blog I discovered Madelaine Chocolate Novelties via their cute & tasty poker chips & mint meltaway playing cards.
Their entire line of chocolate confections is extensive, built on a strong foundation of stunningly pretty items as well as some interesting innovations like celebratory color palettes of malted milk balls and realistic looking chocolate coins.
All of their products are Kosher (made in Rockaway Beach, NY) and some are all natural: including the little milk chocolate pops pictured here.
In the case of these cartoon animal pops, they’re quite simple. They’re .375 ounces each, plain milk chocolate on a stick.
The flavor is mild and sweet. The chocolate is quite firm and has a good snap. This means an easy and crisp bite. It’s not a lot of candy, so it’s a decent looking treat for a kid but not so much that it’d spoil anyone’s dinner.
They have a huge selection, not just for Easter (and their rabbits & egg array is huge): hearts, daisies, coins, balls, stars, medals, bells, poker chips, crayons, fish, bees, beetles, cars, cigars, leaves & lips.
These Solid Milk Chocolate Butterflies are huge. Each is a half ounce and measures 1.5 inches across, 1 inch wide and a half an inch high. They come in a variety of colors (they package them in these little 35 piece tubs as well as smaller sleeves).
The molding is lovely, the detail on the little butterfly is quite nice, with a little depth to it (because it’s such a massive piece). They’re unlikely to chip or break because of the brick-like ratios.
The chocolate for these is not in the all natural line (because they use vanillin instead of vanilla). The melt is smooth & creamy, soft & silky on the tongue. There’s a bit of a malty overtone and some light European dairy flavors unlike the American style. It’s a little darker tasting and not quite as sweet as the all natural version.
I find the chocolate extremely pleasant, very munchable and of course beautiful to just have sitting in front of me before I eat it. The foil is nice and thick as well, easy to peel off (and fold too, if you’re one of those origami at the wedding reception people).
As a party favor or something to keep in an elegant candy dish, these are an excellent option. I’ve seen these sold at upscale delis, both as single pieces for about 75 cents each or in the little tubs for about $20-25. They’re a bit more expensive, but then again it’s the kind of chocolate that adults actually want to eat, so for that I consider them a very good value.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Long before Hershey’s got into the organic chocolate act by buying Dagoba in 2006, Mars bought a small organic & heritage seed company called Seeds of Change in 1999. Since then, Seeds of Change also became an organic food company (sauces, grains & frozen meals) and launched a line of organic chocolate bars.
Seeds of Change is dedicated to preserving food diversity and promoting organic growing techniques and food worldwide, and cacao is definitely one of those plants that needs that sort of nurturing. In addition to using organic ingredients they also donate 1% of their net sales to advance the cause of sustainable organic agriculture worldwide. I tried their bar called Isle of Skye last year, which I thought was an excellent and noteworthy crisped grain in milk chocolate bar.
This year, while browsing ExpoWest, a natural & organic products trade show in Anaheim, I found out that Seeds of Change has shifted their product line. They changed the names of their bars, dropped a few of them and added some more classic versions (a plain dark chocolate bar, for instance) and also redesigned all their packages. (I did love their previous wrapper images.)
I was excited to see the new package, which is a wallet style paperboard package with three individually wrapped bars inside. Perfect for portion control, great for keeping all pieces fresh and excellent for sharing. The three bars in a reclosable package may look familiar ... Dove introduced it last year.
The Seeds of Change version has little plastic wrapped bars instead of foil.
I picked their 61% Dark Chocolate with Mango and Cashew as the intro to this new look & product line.
The little bars are nicely molded, shiny and with a crisp snap. They’re scored into four pieces - the whole bar weighs only an ounce.
I like the thickness of it, as it allows a nice bite and a slow melt of the bar.
The dark chocolate is smooth and silky, it has a quick melt and a lot of cocoa butter feel on the tongue. Unfortunately it’s not a vegan bar, there’s milkfat in there.
The flavors are pretty simple. It’s rich coffee & woodsy flavored chocolate, a little bit of dark charcoal and then some grassy notes of the cashew pieces. The little dried mango bits are a little fibery but pack a powerful punch of tangy chew - kind of orangy-citrus with a hint of peach and green tea.
The little inclusions are rather small. The cashew pieces weren’t big enough to be crunchy, which is too bad, because I think the buttery crunch of cashews would really bolster this bar.
As it is, the shining star here is the chocolate followed by the mango notes. Aa good, fun taste combination.
The complete list of products in their line is now: Milk Chocolate (43%), Milk Chocolate with Puffed Grains (formerly Isle of Skye), 61% Dark Chocolate, Dark Chocolate with Cherries & Vanilla, Dark Chocolate with Coconut. It’s an interesting array because besides the plain chocolate, the flavors are different from the usual offerings when standing in the chocolate bar aisle. I’ve seen Seeds of Change at drug stores (Long’s Drugs in California). Oddly enough, Seeds of Change also just sent me some of the other new bars, so I’ll have reviews of those soon, too.
In recognition of Earth Day, Seeds of Change is running a contest (deadline July 21, 2009) - submit you video, photo or essay to tell the world what you’re doing to make a difference.
I buy their sauces and think they’re very tasty and usually well priced for organic products.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
This tall tub of Gourmet Gumdrops at Whole Foods simply looked too good. (Here’s a photo of an in store display.)
Part of it might have been because they’re huge. Over an inch in diameter and an inch high, these are mega gumdrops.
And the flavors listed were just as compelling: pomegranate, acai, grapefruit, Meyer lemon, key lime and tangerine.
The price, well, that had me vacillating. The 18 ounce tub was $5.99 ... a great price for an all natural chocolate product, but a bit much for an all sugar candy.
Oh, but the flavors ... grapefruit gumdrops! So I bought them.
The ingredients are pretty simple: Corn syrup, sugar, corn starch (modified - non GMO), natural flavors, malic acid, sodium citrate, citric acid, colored with vegetable extracts (red cabbage, paprika, turmeric), freeze dried acai powder.
I had trouble counting when I took the photo and didn’t notice the difference between the acai and pomegranate drops, so only one is represented here.
The texture of the drops is great. They’re very heavy for their size, quite dense. They have a soft give, but not quite the same bouncy texture of a gummi. The outside is a small grain sugar (not the larger grain that I think most of us are accustomed to with gum drops). Inside, the bite is smooth, the texture of the drop is even ... not super sweet but definitely more intense than most mass marketed brands.
They’re not as firm as something like Dots - more like Chuckles, so even though they do stick a bit in the teeth, it’s not a solid mass, they’re soft and a little drink of water washes away the bits. (Or you know, follow your dentists recommendation and brush after eating.)
Key Lime (colorless) - I have a word for this! It’s fresh. Biting into it is like rubbing the rind of a fresh lime. The flavor is both tart and sweet, not at all bitter. It’s not quite a key lime texture (which is a little dusty and dry) but the flavor is practically perfect.
Meyer Lemon (yellow) - very zesty, almost to the point of melting me with its caustic oils but still a really vibrant piece of flavor. I loved these, but they burned my tongue if I ate too many. And I kept eating too many.
Tangerine (orange) - though this one is the most stereotypical of the lot - it’s part Tang juice drink and part orange zest, it was still one that I pulled out to eat first.
Pomegranate (magenta/purple - not shown above) - raspberry and balsamic vinegar. Sweet, sticky with a low bitter afternote. A little high sour bite.
Acai (darkest purple) - cloying, dark and soapy. A little bit violet with a hint of concord grape. There’s no tang or tartness to it. My experience with acai is rather limited.
Each gumdrop weighs about 13 grams (.46 ounces) and has about 47 calories.
I found two different packages of these. The first, as shown above was a big tub. Then yesterday I realized that I didn’t have all flavors for review (I shared my big tub and friends picked out the citrus flavors) so I went back and bought some more. This time they were in the short tubs sold by weight with a generic deli label on them. At least I was able to just pick up a half a pound and compare the different packages to get ones that had fewer of the purples.
These are really great gumdrops. They have the smooth, soothing texture the gives flavor from start to finish. The texture is similar to Turkish Delight, but has a more full bodied flavor that includes more than the fragrance & zest. The colors and shape are appealing and of course the all natural thing is great - I like to taste my fruit flavors, not artificial colors. The price is steep, but then again the Pate de Fruit that I like to pick up every once in a while is more expensive, so these are a nice middle ground.
They appear to be vegan though not peanut/nut free and there’s no statement about gluten.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 8:55 am
Monday, April 13, 2009
When I first tried Scharffen Berger, years before I started Candy Blog, I didn’t like it much. Granted, all I’d tried was their Semisweet, but I found it rather bitter and acrid, a strong sourness that just didn’t have those qualities that I love about chocolate.
But over the years the Scharffen Berger product line has grown and I have found some superb products among their line that I really enjoy, such as their Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs.
For years I’ve spent time trying to love what other people love. But most of it is just not for me. Until the Nibby bars came along.
First it was the Nibby Dark Chocolate with Roasted Cacao Nibs (62%). I never reviewed it. The 62% base was rather sweet and melted a bit thin but the nibs are crunchy and have a great nutty and buttery crunch. I still prefer the panned nibs, which are much less sweet by proportion (they also use the 62%) and of course so spectacularly shiny and cute.
Then in 2007 I met the Milk Nibby Bar. This was a chocolate bar that was also food. Malty, mellow, caramel notes, a smooth and sticky chocolate background with the crunchy nibs. It was the perfect lunch.
I didn’t think anything ever needed to replace it, top it, or even compete with it.
Then at the Fancy Food Show in January I was walking by the Scharffen Berger booth. I’ve had mixed experiences there and usually just glance over things and move along to other booths. Instead I got a warm welcome and was urged to try their new Dark Milk 68% Cacao.
Oddly enough, it’s not a bar I would have been interested in if I were buying. I already liked the Milk Nibby. What I didn’t know was that the Dark Milk actually has nibs in it too! (Why that’s not really mentioned on the package is beyond me.)
Shown above is the Milk Nibby (41%) on the left and the Dark Milk (68%) on the right.
I wanted to compare it to the Milk Nibby and the Dark Milk. One of the things that the wrapper tells me is that the Dark Milk has more fat - 19 grams per serving over the 15 grams per serving from the Milk Nibby (that means 10 more calories per ounce). Sounds like a good start!
As you can see from the photo above, there’s very little difference in the appearance of the bars. The Milk Nibby is only slightly lighter, but if you just handed me one without the other to compare, I doubt I could tell on sight alone.
It doesn’t smell like a milk chocolate bar. It smells woodsy, dark and slightly tangy, a little bit of coffee and a little bit of toffee.
On the tongue though, the milk notes come out pretty quickly. The Scharffen Berger tangy is there, but the milk moderates it. There are some strong bitter elements, they’re dark roasted bitter flavors, like coffee and a sharp cheddar cheese. But there are other nice notes in there too, a sweet toffee, strong vanilla and oak. The malt is not as pronounced as the Milk Nibby bar, but it still makes an appearance.
This is not a morning bar, I think it’s an evening bar. Even though the bitterness lingered, I liked the complex notes and of course the texture. I found myself reaching for pieces of it until it was gone. Every once in a while I do get some bad crunching nibs, ones that seem more like shells than beans (but I find that with most nib products).
I’m still going to stick with the Milk Nibby bar (and just decided to , but this is an excellent high cacao bar for people who probably don’t like high cacao content. But if I can’t find the Milk Nibby, this one will be a more than adequate substitute. I had no trouble finishing the bar.
Monday, March 30, 2009
There are some candies I simply eat. Which means that I don’t review them here. This is what I’ve been doing for the past three years or so, eating Bequet Gourmet Caramels without so much as a mention here on Candy Blog. I usually pick them up at a gourmet shop singly but I’ve been given a few by friends and had some samples from trade shows. When Bequet sent me this sample package a few weeks ago, I took it as the signal that I finally needed to photograph & review them.
Bequet are classically made from all natural, fresh ingredients in Montana. They’ve stuck, for the most part, to the tried and true flavors of caramels and package them simply in clear cellophane wrappers. The pieces are about an inch and a quarter long.
Chewy (caramel tan) - they smell sweet and buttery. The chew is soft, easy to bite (as shown). The pieces can be eaten whole or bitten in half. I found a full one just slightly more than what I wanted at once. The flavor is dark and rich, as they use brown sugar as their base instead of white sugar. There’s no hint of grain to it at all.
Soft (caramel tan) - I can see the appeal of a soft caramel, but Bequet are already soft. This one was a little too soft for my tastes, I like a bit of a chew to mine. The flavor was very good though.
Celtic Sea Salt (caramel brown) - soft with a strong buttery scent. The salt is present in the form of small crystals that give the candy a bit of a crunch. I found the salt overpowering and far too strong. The caramel seemed a bit softer than the others (except the soft one).
Espresso (medium brown) - smooth chew, sweet and milky with a slight hint of coffee, which really just makes it less sweet than the others.
Maple (dark brown) - buttery and sweet with a definite maple flavor. A little softer but extremely smooth. I had to eat this one first, as it was infecting the whole bag with its scent.
Chipotle (caramel tan with flecks) - the smoked pepper flavors emerge slowly. At first it’s just a slight pepper burn, then the smoke emerges ... then the burn gets stronger. I think a more toasted sugar flavor would go better with the charcoal-like chipotle. As a hot pepper confection, it was spicy and flavorful without being painful for me. (I am a wuss when it comes to hot peppers.)
Chocolate (dark brown) - this one has a mellow cocoa scent to it, a little like brownies. The flavor is rather complex for a chocolate caramel, a little coconut, some hot cocoa flavors and the buttery smooth chew. I was surprised with this one, it’s definitely richer than I would have thought and not at all like the empty flavor of a Tootsie Roll.
Salt Chocolate (dark brown) - like the Celtic Sea Salt one, this had the little flecks of salt in it and like the Chocolate, it had some coconut flavors as well. It was too salty for me, but I recognize that my tastes are a bit off in that department.
Pomegranate (caramel tan) - I consider pomegranate to be a bit of a novelty flavor and though I like to eat the actual fruit, I realize that beyond a bit of juice now and then, it’s not really a great flavor when compared to something like wild blackberries. This one smelled a bit like raspberries and butter. The flavor has only the slightest bit of tang, a little like yogurt and strawberries with some caramel sauce.
Licorice (caramel brown) - this soft caramel smelled woodsy and fresh, like figs and molasses. The caramel flavors blended well with the light and sweet anise. I enjoyed the fact that these didn’t get the food coloring treatment that so many companies seem to think that licorice products need. This was definitely a star for me.
As far as caramels go, I prefer a slightly stiffer product, but that may be because that’s what I was raised on (see Grandma’s Caramels), and I like the texture of a tough chew. These are soft, pliable and provide an immediate release of flavors.
On the whole, they’re an excellent quality product. Though they’re fresh and artisan, they have a pretty good shelf life of 2-3 months. At about $18.00 a pound, they’re not cheap but they’re also very satisfying so they may last a while. They also have a flexible ordering system so you can get flavor mixes so you can try them all out and later just order the flavors you like in a custom mix.
Bequet Gourmet Caramels are Kosher, no artificial colors, flavorings or preservatives. There’s no statement on the package or their website about any allergens though it doesn’t appear that they make anything with nuts (but could be made in a shared space).
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Ever since I tried my first candy-coated chocolate sunflower seed, I was hooked. (And I wondered why these haven’t been around all my life.)
Kimmie Candy offered to send me their new varieties of All Natural Sunbursts, including their new dark chocolate version.
Kimmie Candy is rather new to the candy game, founded in 1999, they focus on panned candies. Based in Reno, Nevada (Free factory tours if you’re in the area.), they seem to have found a niche with some novel products and “better for you snacks.”
Their original Sunbursts come in a huge array of colors and are described as a candy coated, cocoa covered sunflower kernels. So yeah, it’s a mockolate product. I’ve had them, and they are pleasant, but I’ve been on the prowl for something that parents can really get behind for their kids.
All Natural Sunburst (shown above) fit that bill. They come in a mix of seven colors which are made from all natural colorings, plus the chocolate coating is real milk chocolate. At the center is a flavorful sunflower seed. Watch a video tour of how they’re made.
The colorings aren’t quite a vibrant as the unnatural varieties, but are definitely eye-catching and don’t feel muted and old like some candies can. The yellow, green and brown are especially nice. The pieces vary in size quite a bit, just like most nuts and seeds do. The shell is sweet and has a light crunch. The milk chocolate imparts a slight dairy flavor but not much of a chocolate punch, just a creamy background. The highlight is the sunflower flavor, which is bright and fresh - I didn’t come across a bad seed in the handfuls that I ate.
Their newest product (not even listed on the website) is Sunburst Natural Mix Dark Chocolate. This blend came with two colors in it, green and yellow. I really liked the combination, as it of course reminded me of sunflowers.
The smell upon opening the package was of brownies, toasty hot brownies.
On the tongue the candies have a slight bitter snap to them, but like the milk chocolate counterpart, the shell is sweet and crunchy. The dark chocolate coating is quite strong with smoke and coffee tones to it - they’re rather intense. The roasted nut flavors come through nicely. But the candy is really different from the milk chocolate variety.
The Kimmie Candy website sells direct to consumers and has some excellent prices (especially if you’re willing to take a chance on their “oops” items). They also make ChocoRocks and other panned candies. The original Sunbursts have a wide variety of package options (single serve to 8 ounce bags) at retail stores. I hope they’ll ramp up production of these and maybe do the snack sized portion package in large bags for Halloween. It might actually make them a trick-or-treat item that doesn’t break the bank but satisfies both picky parents and picky kids.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Amano introduced one of their most exotic single origin bars early this year with their Jembrana 70%. It’s made only from beans from the Jembrana regency of the island of Bali, Indonesia and surrounding areas.
I’ve tried Amano’s other bars: Madagascar, Ocumare and Cuyagua. I loved the Ocumare (in fact, I love just about every Ocumare bar I come across, the flavor profile of the beans just suits me) and really love the style of the bars & overall quality.
The ingredients are simple: Cocoa Beans, Pure Cane Sugar, Cocoa Butter and Whole Vanilla Beans. I was sampling lot number 3/4/97 with a best by date of October 2010.
No lecithin is listed (though those with soy, peanut & tree nut allergies are notified that this is a share equipment environment).
The bars are always packaged nicely. Amano just changed the boxes slightly, they’re a glossy coated paperboard & feature new artwork. (I preferred the matte stuff, but I understand the need to differentiate on the shelves.) Inside the bar is wrapped in a heavy gold-colored foil. This is great compared to the tissue-thin foil many high-end bar makers use that makes it impossible to re-close.
I found with Amano before that I liked the bars after they’ve aged for a little while. I picked this one up in January at Food Fete (a press event for food writers) but put it away for a month after photographing it.
The bar is wonderfully glossy and well-tempered. It has a slight reddish cast to it and smells of coffee, olive oil, beeswax and wood shavings.
I like the thickness of the bar, it means that the little pieces are thick enough to bite, but not so thick that I worry about hurting myself.
I found it melted quite easily once I popped a piece in my mouth. The immediate flavors were grassy, more notes of green olives and matcha. Then it turned darker, to roasted pecans, toffee, anise and cedar but on the tangy side with some hibiscus in there. There was a definite dry finish to it that brought things back around to the greenness of the flavors.
Overall it’s an intriguing bar. Though it’s dark and complex, it’s not hard to just munch - though the lingering dryness kind of begs for a glass of water or some crackers. This bar certainly keeps me engaged with Amano and I’ll keep trying whatever they put out.
Amano is now Kosher.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.