Tuesday, February 20, 2007
I’ve been more pleased with Russell Stover over the years. It could be that my tastes have mellowed or it may be that Russell Stover is making better quality product, but they’re still not a go-to brand for me. What really surprised me is their move into organics. So I picked up their Organic Pecan Delights just before Valentine’s Day. They come in a peg bag that’s all green and matte looking with a little burst of rich gold for the “organic” banner. It’s also heralded as “gluten free” which I would love to hear if I were someone who was hunting in the candy aisle for something I could eat.
Pecan Delights are a pecan cluster with caramel covered in milk chocolate. All ingredients are organic, except maybe the sea salt and it’s unclear if the soy lecithin is.
These are upside down. The caramel is on the bottom, the nuts (in pieces, not halves) are on the top and the whole thing is covered in chocolate. Don’t worry, it’s not that big of a faux pax as candy constructions go.
They’re a little small but a nice barely two bite piece of candy. The nuts are fresh and the caramel is decent. It’s chewy and not too soft or sweet. The chocolate on the outside is a little odd, it’s not quite the European powdered milk taste, but close, with a slight gamey quality to it. (It reminds me of the Thompson’s Organic Milk Chocolate.)
Overall they’re not my favorite pecan caramel cluster I’ve had, but I did finish the bag (it was only 3 ounces total), which is a testament to their freshness. The ingredients label is much more comforting than some other Russell Stover goodies, so there is that consolation. I wish they came in dark chocolate, but for a first step into organics they’re no-compromise. They also have their rather good coconut bar available in their organic line (also only in milk chocolate). If price is the object and not the organic status, stick with See’s.
On a completely side note, Russell Stover is having a big clearance sale on their Valentine’s candies on their website. So if you’re ga-ga over their Coconut or Strawberry Hearts, this might be the time to stock up.
Everybody has a different name for caramel nut clusters covered with chocolate. Sanders Candy, the Detroit-based candy and fudge sauce company, calls theirs Cashew Titans. Pretty good name, if you ask me.
These are compact candies with a nice layer of cashews on the bottom, a dollop of caramel and milk chocolate enrobing the whole thing.
The cashews are fresh and crunchy, though I could use a hit of salt on them and perhaps a few more. The chocolate was okay, very sweet but nice and creamy. The caramel has a good chew, soft and not too sticky but lacking a dark caramelized flavor that would match so well with the buttery crunch of the cashews.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Sanders also sent me some of their Caramels to try as well (and some other goodies that I’ll cover in a few weeks). This box of milk chocolate covered caramels were absolutely lovely. Yes, the plastic tray that anchors them in the box isn’t as classy looking as pretty little fluted cups, but I have admit that they looked glossy and flawless when I opened it.
It’s only your imagination that these look darker than the Cashew Titans, I think it’s the dark chocolate striping that makes it look darker. It certainly tastes like the same chocolate.
The caramel is smooth and without the cashews does hold up well on its own. The chocolate is sweet and I find it just a little too much for the caramel, but some careful nibbling around the edges creates a more ideal ratio (I do this with a lot of candies, as far as I’m concerned the coating on a Heath bar is disposable).
I can’t eat many of these at once, so far two has been my limit. But with a few pretzels as a crunchy and salty complement make for a tasty dessert. The price on these, for handcrafted candies is pretty good though and I’d certainly want to try one of their dessert shops if I were in the area.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Monday, February 19, 2007
I’m a little sick, just bronchitis, nothing to block my enjoyment of candy but I’m a little tired. I’m spending more time on the computer and just read an interesting article about some of the benefits of gum to help build memory or as a delivery method for supplements. (Link to LATimes.)
So I thought I’d profile a few gums today, just in short because, well, it’s just gum.
I picked this Cool Cola Hubba Bubba up at Munchies here in Los Angeles. I rather enjoy cola flavor, though I rarely drink soda. This gum is from Israel and I can’t tell you what the label says beyond the flavor.
The chew is soft like Hubba Bubba but has a really good rounded cola flavor, complete with a tangy lemon element and the spicy cola notes. The flavor doesn’t last very long, but as it peters out it does taste a bit like old cinnamon gum, which isn’t unpleasant at all. The bubble blowing is pretty good too. I can’t say that the color is as appealing as regular pink bubble gum, but the size of the bubbles can be impressive. While I wasn’t a huge fan of this, I really think it should be marketed in the US, it fills a gaping hole in the flavor range of our bubble gums.
(A little housekeeping note, I like to put on some lip balm before blowing bubbles to keep the gum from sticking to my lips.)
Rating: 6 out of 10
I bought this gum in a Family Guy tin with Stewie on the front last summer at Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. It mostly bought it for the tin and this one was the least offensive of the Family Guy sayings there. (Not that I don’t like Family Guy, but this is a family-friendly blog.)
The little gum pieces are as cute as can be, light orange and shiny. The flavor says it’s orange, but I’d call it a juicyfruit plus orange. It’s not very strong gum and not really that good. It sticks to my teeth (I have fillings) and doesn’t last very long. But I liked the tin and will find something to stuff in there at some point when I bring myself to finish the gum that’s probably all tacky and stuck to the bottom now.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Talk about your unimaginative names. Cafe Coffee Gum! Whee!
I picked this up because I was actually curious about the new Wrigley Kona Coffee gum, but I’m not gonna buy that, because it’s got artificial sweeteners in it. So when I saw this, and that it had sugar, I figured it was destiny. And though I make fun of the name, the package design was rather pleasing.
It’s not strongly flavored, but rather nice and mildly sweet coffee-flavored. The flavor doesn’t last very long and when it peters out along with the sugar it’s rather musty tasting. But swapping for another piece solves that problem. I can go through a pack of gum in a matter of an hour that way.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Saturday, February 17, 2007
I am hoping to make a new candy or candy themed recipe every month. And I admit that I did make this, but I haven’t a clue what it is and I certainly don’t recommend it.
I started with the desire to make the Rochers that I’ve had at Tartine in San Francisco. They come in two varieties there, Almond and with Cacao Nibs. I thought since I had more of that Candy Cane Sugar left, I should try a peppermint version. It’d be perfect for Valentine’s Day, after all, to have these delicate pink minty soft meringues.
So I decided to alter the recipe in the Tartine cookbook (written by Elizabeth M. Prueitt & Chad Robertson). The ingredients are supposed to be:
I thought I would swap out the sugar for my candy cane sugar and throw in a little corn starch for good measure. So my new recipe looked like this:
You can see where this is going.
Anyway, the directions said that the eggs, sugar and salt should be put into warm water bath and whisked together. Then put them into the stand mixer and whip the bejeebers out of them.
Well, after about eight minutes of whipping I had what I could only call “Pepto Batter”. It was a vile pink and not whippable. I’m not sure if some oil got into the egg whites or if the corn syrup present in the crushed candy canes will keep it from whipping, but it just wasn’t going to happen.
Not dissuaded from chucking the whole project, I lined a 13” x 9” pan with some parchment. I added the slivered almonds and then put it into the pan and popped it into the oven.
It puffed up nicely and got a crackly surface, but still didn’t want to “bake” entirely. The bottom seemed syrupy and wouldn’t firm up. So I left it in the oven. The Rochers were supposed to bake for 15-20 minutes at 350. I baked it for an hour and the bottom was still wet.
All that aside, it was tasty stuff. I ate all of the edges. It was crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside with a good minty flavor that wasn’t too overwhelming. I was surprised that the almonds went so well with it.
So, I’ll try again and next time I’ll just use the candy cane sugar as a garnish on the top, not as the sugar replacement. Well, next time I’m going to try the recipe as written before I go mucking around with it. Live and learn.
Friday, February 16, 2007
A long time ago there was a taffy called Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy. It was not Turkish and it wasn’t even taffy. But it was made by a family named Bonomo. Though the candy behaved like taffy (it was smooth and chewy) it actually contains egg whites like a nougat (Bonomo even referred to it as a “short nougat”) and was even baked. The Turkish part of the name made some sense, as Albert Bonomo did come from Turkey. But the family admitted that they used the name because it sounded good.
The taffy was a great all year treat because it didn’t melt like chocolate or caramel bars. Though it comes in a single large bar, a little chill and a smack on the edge of a table and it would shatter into bite sized pieces.
In 1980 Tootsie Industries bought the brand and then discontinued it in 1989 citing low sales.
Just as the Marathon caramel braid bar has its stand-in with the Curly Wurly, so does Turkish Taffy. It’s known as Doscher’s French Chew. It also comes in the same flavor array as Turkish Taffy did: Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry & Banana.
I don’t remember Turkish Taffy well enough to say that it’s an adequate replacement, so I’ll just talk about the chew on its own.
The bars are nice and big at 1.62 ounces each. You don’t have to chill the bars to break them but it helps. Sometimes I would just bend them in one direction slowly, then reverse direction quickly to cleave a good piece off.
They’re not quite as soft as something like Laffy Taffy or Airheads (totally different texture as well) but they’re less sticky than Salt Water Taffy. The egg whites and density gives it a lasting, smooth chew.
Vanilla - sweet and plain so it’s the texture here that’s the star.
Chocolate - tastes like eating chocolate cake batter. The chocolate isn’t very rich or creamy or deep.
Banana - a wonderful fake banana tastes that lasts all the way through the chew.
I definitely enjoyed this chew, it’s pretty smooth and not the least bit sticky on the teeth. I don’t see myself buying it very often but I liked the Banana much better than the Laffy Taffy version (which has a more latexy feel to it). Doscher’s also makes a Strawberry chew.
Doscher’s is a small factory in Cincinnati, OH. They also make candy canes and other chews. They’ve been around since 1871. They sometimes make seasonal flavors like Green Apple for Halloween.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
While I was at the Fancy Food Show last month I saw that Brown & Haley (who make those Almond Rocas) had a large booth. It was devoted to the Rocas, which is natural for the crowd there. But their display case on one side caught my eye because it had a large pile of a Limited Edition Raspberry Mountain. (I hesitate to call them bars, as they fit into my category of “plops” instead.)
I looked around for a sample bin (but did eat a sample of the Candy Cane Roca while on my search), but when I couldn’t find one, I asked and they happily handed over one!
It’s not easy to find Brown Haley’s Mountain line in Los Angeles. In fact, the regular Mountain (see below) was purchased at Dylan’s Candy Bar in NYC (even further from its spawning grounds). But I know that many Northwesters are in love with their indigenous candy, so it’s high time I covered it.
I have to admit that when the Raspberry Mountain came out of the package I had to giggle. It looks rather poop-like. However, it had the much more pleasant smell of raspberries and sugar. My first bite into it was all mockolate. It wasn’t until the second that I reached the raspberry center. It’s very berry, in fact one of the ingredients, after milk powder, is raspberries. There’s a little tang to the filling and it’s a rather smooth fondant type center that has a little gooey flow to it. The peanuts and mockolate weren’t doing much for it, so I confined my bites towards the end to getting as much filling as possible (yes, eating it from the bottom and leaving the peak).
As the Mountain line goes, this bar is a winner. It’s a flavor combo that you don’t often see and is far and away more satisfying than the regular Mountain ... however, the classic Mountain has very little going for it.
Before I finish this up I should say a little bit about the classic bar. Since the Mountain is made with partially hydrogenated fats instead of cocoa butter for the chocolate, it really never achieves a chocolatey texture or taste. It’s greasy and slightly slippery on the tongue as it melts. In the case of the classic bar, the center is simply a plain firm fondant (think of a flavorless York Peppermint Pattie). It is sweet though perhaps a little bland (but I enjoy that texture). The only thing that offsets the whole fakeness of it are the peanuts, which give it all a little crunch and texture.
There are two other versions of this bar, Peanut Butter (which I bought it was completely rancid and unworthy of even photographing) and Cherry (which we all know I’m not going to like). You can buy the Mountains via the Brown & Haley website (and at a really good price). As a regional bar with such a great history, I’d love to see them convert to real chocolate and really show us how good this combination can be.
Note: after this review I created a new category called “mockolate” so you can find all the fake goodies in one place.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Chocolove is the chocolate for lovers ... or the chocolate for chocolate lover, or something like that. Whatever or whomever you’re supposed to love, Chocolove has the tools. Each bar is wrapped like a mash note and a love poem inside the outer paper (this one was an excerpt from Dream Love by Christina Rossetti).
Nothing says deep infatuation than Chocolove’s Strong Dark Belgian 70% dark chocolate.
The bar itself is a wonderful testament to true love: it’s glossy smooth but has bumps. The scent is a heavenly mix of the woodsy and smoky chocolate flavors as well as a hint of rum. There’s no vanilla in this bar, it’s all chocolate and sugar. The melt on the tongue is smooth (the little domed piece fits really well in the roof of the mouth for maximum comfort during meltage).
It’s very buttery and has some nice dark notes to ... a little coffee but mostly just that quintissential chocolate flavor.
It’s an easy last minute gift for someone you care about ... already wrapped. They have a pretty large selection of bars, most are sold at Whole Foods, Cost Plus World Market and Target. Much better than a greeting card. They also have a limited edition Dark Chocolate with Cherries and Chilis that’s sold only at Whole Foods. I tried it at the Fancy Food Expo and though it was very interesting, the cherries weren’t really my friends. (But if you like cherries, it’s a worthy bar to give a try.)
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I knew you were a dark-leaning bunch, but I had no idea.
As for me, I think I’m an equal opportunity indulger. I like to think that dark makes me look intelligent and sophisticated, but sometimes I want the sweet, creamy rush of milk chocolate. And then there are those unknown cravings for the vapid indulgence of all sugar and fat in white chocolate. Good thing we have so many choices.
When it comes to fine chocolates such as truffles, there’s nothing like dark. But then as a block for plain old eating, milk fits the bill. I usually leave boxed chocolates covered in milk for last.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.