Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
This year Russell Stover jumped on the strawberry trend quite well. They already make a Strawberry Cream Heart for Valentine’s Day, but this year they’ve also added at least three new items with the strawberry theme. I picked up two. The first is the Russell Stover Strawberries & Cream Mix which the package says is strawberry and white pastelle hearts combine for a rich strawberry and cream taste.
The pink package sports lots and lots of hearts, including a few that show the size and shape of the candies. And it’s actually pretty accurate, they do look like little drawings of hearts colored in off white and palest pink. It’s a white confection version of the iddy biddy Santas and Bunnies they do in milk chocolate. (Though they mercifully sell those in little single-serve packages.)
The pieces do smell rather sweet, mild and with a decent strawberry note. They’re soft and matte and kind of strange because they’re very quiet. They’re light and have no candy shell, so pouring them from the package means more sound from the bag than the tumbling of the candy.
When Russell Stover says pastelle, they really mean a combination of sugar, fractionated palm kernel oil, partially hydrogenated palm oil, some milk solids & fats plus a few dabs of food coloring and flavor.
The effect is pretty much what you might think. Mostly waxy, rather sweet, a smidge milky and vaguely strawberry. The white pieces are supposed to be vanilla, but are really just less strawberry because of their proximity in the bag.
They’re not as sweet as I feared they would be. Mostly I’m disappointed that they’re so expensive when Mars was able to make actual white chocolate strawberry M&Ms for less for Easter this year. The one thing they have going for them is that they are pretty darn cute and would be great as a decorative element for a cake or cupcakes or just scattered on a dessert plate. Because they’re a mockolate product, not a coated candy, the colors won’t run and they’re not as likely to melt in most serving situations.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
There’s not much of a description on the package, just that the squares are filled with strawberry filling. The filling appears to be made from sugar, high fructose corn syrup, palm oil and freeze dried strawberries and colored with fruit and vegetable juice (very vague). It also has some added TBHQ as a preservative. There’s no indication of the cacao content of the chocolate itself, but I’d guess it’s somewhere in the low 60% range. Each square is 70 calories.
The squares are elegant and simple. They’re 1.75 inches square and sport the Ghirardelli logo in a beveled field. In my experience the packaging protects the pieces well and they usually look stunningly gorgeous.
If there’s an issue with the filled squares from Ghirardelli is that they temper their chocolate to be very crisp and snappy ... so the filled pieces can be messy to eat when the chocolate breaks apart upon biting and the filling dribbles out. So, make an effort to bite on the diagonal, or pop the whole thing in your mouth at once.
The chocolate is sweet but with a nice dry woodsy note to it, which goes well with the strawberry flavors. The strawberry filling is quite like a finely pureed strawberry sauce. It’s not overly sweet, has a strong tangy note and just a touch of seed flavor to it (and some actual seeds).
Because the edges are so thick and the chocolate in the center is so thin, there’s a large variation in the proportion of filling to chocolate in any given bite.
I liked them quite a bit, it was the best imitation of a chocolate covered strawberry that doesn’t spoil that I think I’ve had. Ghirardelli Strawberry Squares contain soy and milk and may also contain traces of tree nuts. There’s no statement about gluten.
Monday, January 25, 2016
The new Dove Milk Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake Crisp Promises are for Valentine’s Day. I picked mine up at Target (and they may be a Target-Exclusive item).
The shortcake part is a little odd, conceptually. For a real strawberry shortcake, berries (often in a sweetened syrup) are ladled over a biscuit type baked good. Some folks prefer a spongecake or poundcake but the key here is that they’re all soft and cakey. The cookie pieces in this case are made from tapioca starch, rice flour, sugar, palm oil, baking soda and some salt.
The other odd part of this is that there’s milk chocolate ... so if anything, this is an imitation of a chocolate covered strawberry with a few gluten free cookie bits (this is not, however, a gluten free product as it’s made in a facility that also uses wheat and peanuts and tree nuts).
The pieces are not a swirl of milk & white chocolate, like some other recent versions. Instead this is a solid milk chocolate piece, flavored with some strawberry and dotted with little cookie inclusions.
The strawberry flavor is very strong, but the milk chocolate holds its own with a creamy dairy note and a little toasty cocoa flavor. The strawberry is floral sweetness, no dried berry bits in this version. The cookie bits are odd, since they’re made with starch and not actual wheat flour, they are actually rather starchy, though they don’t get sticky-pasty like some gluten free cookies I’ve had. The overall effect of the crunchy cookie bit is really nice, it aerates the experience because you kind of have to chew it instead of just letting the chocolate melt away, which I think boosts the strawberry notes.
They’re pleasant. The strawberry isn’t too artificial or plastic (it does say natural flavor on the package, though it’s kind of vague). I don’t know if I would buy these again, but I appreciated the effort and novelty.
Friday, January 22, 2016
Moon Pies are a Tennessee treat, a little marshmallow sandwich featuring round graham crackers and then a thin mockolate coating. They’ve been around since 1917, though they’re a bit of a regional treat and sometimes hard to find. They’re something between a candy and a snack, because of the graham cracker element. They’re also pretty big, so I can see why it’s an appealing idea to morselize them.
Taste of Nature makes Cookie Dough Bites and a variety of other little morsel items sold in theater boxes. The Moon Pie Bites sound pretty good, “Delicious marshmallow & graham in a chocolatey coating.” Well, until you get to the coating part.
The pieces actually smell pretty good. They vary in size, but most are between the size of a pea and a garbanzo.
The the description says it’s marshmallow, it’s actually just marshmallow flavored and there’s no gelatin in the list of ingredients. So these are fine for vegetarians and they’re Kosher. However, it is a mockolate coating, which is made from sugar and palm oil and whey and some cocoa, among other ingredients. It looks decent, but doesn’t really add a chocolate component to this combination candy.
The overwhelming scent of the pieces is graham. It’s a pleasant cereal sort of smell, kind of like vanilla and digestive biscuits and maple syrup.
The pieces are a bit crumbly and dry inside. They’re grainy and have little crumbly graham cracker bits in them. The mockolate coating is neither waxy or greasy, so that’s kind of a blessing. It’s a little cool on the tongue but doesn’t really ruin the otherwise disappointing candy. All elements are equally bad. The center has little sugary bits, the vanilla flavor is overly fake, the graham bits have little of the crunch of real crackers and the chocolatey coating isn’t chocolatey.
Moon Pie Bites contain wheat, milk and soy. They area also made in a facility with peanuts, tree nuts and eggs.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
Hershey’s contacted me last month to introduce the new look of the Take 5 candy bar and offered me some samples. I’ve been following the Take 5, which is a rare candy bar, since it was introduced. It came out in December 2004, and since it’s survived over 10 years, it’s one of a handful of combination candy bar launches to go the distance since the Twix introduction. (I’m talking about a completely new bar brand, not one that falls under an existing product line, like a dark chocolate KitKat.)
If you’re interested in taking a trip with me through this decade or so, then follow along. If you’re more interested in the review of the current formulation hitting shelves, skip to the bottom.
In my first review in July 2005 I gave it the following review:
Sometime around 2008 Hershey’s made a change, replacing the milk chocolate coating with a milk chocolate compound, which contained cocoa butter, but also some other vegetable fats (to save money).
In the intervening years I didn’t actually buy them, but I did read the wrappers and found around 2008 or so, they substituted in high fructose corn sweetener and the list of possible oils used in the different components grew quite long (see lists of ingredients below)
2010 Take 5 (source)
2015 Take 5 (source: wrapper pictured in review)
2016 Take 5 (source: wrapper pictured in review)
The new ingredients look different, but that’s partly because of the formatting, they regrouped the ingredients based on the elements, so the coating is listed separately from the caramel and pretzels. It makes more sense from the standpoint of knowing what the ingredients are being used for, but muddies things when you want to know how much of the overall product is sugar. (But that’s what the nutrition panel is for.)
About a year ago Hershey’s announced a return to simple ingredients. Slowly their classic products, like Hershey’s Milk Chocolate have seen a tweak. PGPR is going away as an additional emulsifier. I was hoping that meant that the Take 5 would be a cleaner bar, made with more wholesome ingredients, not so much hydrogenated oil and not so many fillers. But the key here with the head to head is that Hershey’s has replaced the not-quite-chocolate coating with a real chocolate coating. Does it make a difference? Yes, yes it does.
The expiry on the two bars is very similar. The red package says May 2016 and new black package says September 2016. Obviously they both look great, they’ve been stored and transported responsibly. The packaging includes a little tray with sides that protects the pair of bars well.
The old red package in its most recent design barely mentions Hershey, there’s no brand on the front of the package, the only claim to who manufacturers it is in the small print sandwiched between the nutrition panel and the UPC code. The new bar in the black wrapper similarly disavows its maker. The black wrapper is more like a nutrition bar than candy. The package clearly shows the elements for the bar, the peanut butter, the pretzel, peanuts and chunks of chocolate (but no caramel, or maybe the peanut butter is caramel). I think it’s pleasant, but not compelling.
The Red bar (pictured left) is sweet, crunchy and salty. The combination is wholly enjoyable, but the chocolate flavor is lost. There’s a decent chocolate texture, but not much of a cocoa note to it.
The Black bar is actually less sweet, seems more peanutty and the chocolate, well, is, still only okay. I don’t know if anything is perceptibly different, since I was only testing one bar against another single package, and there are probably variations.
The new packaging is fine, but confusing. It looks like a snack bar, not a candy bar. It truly is a candy bar, adding a single savory element doesn’t change that. The design is clear and certainly more distinctive than the much-used red tones on the previous. In a perfect world, the bar would have lived in the Reese’s branding universe.
As for the current iteration of the bar: I’d prefer a better chew experience with the caramel element, I don’t know why there’s actually any “caramel color” in the ingredients. But aside from the expectations of the bar based on the elements on the list, I enjoy it. I will probably buy it again sometime, mostly because it’s the only sweet and salty bar that’s easy to find. The portion size is good and I’m hoping that Hershey’s will continue to work on making the ingredients list shorter.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
In these dark days of winter, we all need a little something to boost our alertness. Enter coffee ... in candy form. In this episode of Candyology 101, Maria and I discuss all the fantastic coffee candies that we’ve tried over the years. There’s more to coffee candy than chocolate covered espresso beans.
Monday, January 4, 2016
Early last year at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, I tried a new line of chocolate cups from the confectioners at Vosges. These sets of mini peanut butter cups are from the Wild Ophelia line of chocolates and come in a few varieties. The first one I picked up at the store, when I finally found them last month at Whole Foods are the Wild Ophelia Caramelized Bananas Peanut Butter Cups.
The packages look like a regular twin set of chocolate cups (though they’re actually 2.1 ounces) but inside is actually a try that holds a set of six little cups.
I call them cups, but there’s actually no paper fluting on them, just the cups on a tray inside a wrapper.
The cups are made from 41% cacao milk chocolate, which is from fair trade certified beans (the sugar is also fair trade). The bananas are not the typical Cavendish most of us eat, but a varietal grown on Kauai known as Williams. The bananas are actually caramelized with some cream and sugar and sprinkled on top of the cups. The filling is peanut butter, and as far as I can tell, more chocolate.
They’re almost savory. The milk chocolate has a good dairy flavor without tasting like powdered milk. The melt is smooth and buttery with a little toffee note. Once I bit into the cups the peanut butter is pretty evident as a scent, but the texture of the peanut butter is barely there, it’s quite smooth and mixed in. The banana notes were hard to tease out sometimes, it wasn’t a lot of banana and often just a little fresh caramelized and honey note.
Some cups had more banana bits, and some of the banana bits were a little toothsticky.
I liked the cups better than the bar version that I tired a few years ago. Part of is that I like the format of cups, and the ability to have a teensy but full-featured portion. They’re expensive, but the package holds more than a Justin’s or Theo PB cup, though it’s still more per ounce. I liked the inventive combinations and I welcome more products that play with these formats.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.