Thursday, March 23, 2006
What’s truly baffling in the whole confectionery world is that most sweets are made from the same ingredients. Yet the processes applied to them and the combinations can yield vastly different results. The Bunny Basket Eggs reviewed last week are an excellent example of sugar done wrong.
Konpeito (or Kompeito) is just sugar, and done so well. These little rocks, about the size of a pea and simply rock sugar with a little food coloring. And when you compare iit to those awful marshmallow Easter eggs, it makes no sense.
If you ever saw Spirited Away, you may have seen this candy. They’re little multi-faceted sugar crystal lumps that look like three dimensional stars.
There’s not much else to say about them except that they’re sweet and cute. If you’re looking for a special little something exotic for an Easter basket, these might fit the bill, the packaging is pink and pretty and of course the little pastel morsels of sugar are, well, rock candy. And rock candy rocks. You can even pick up a package and use it when you serve tea or coffee as a cuter version of the old sugar cubes.
See also: CandyAddict.com review, JunkFoodBlog has more on the cultural significance and limited edition versions and Wikipedia has a full entry including the references to Kompeito in media.
Monday, March 20, 2006
I’ve never known what to call SweeTarts as a candy category. In the industry they’re simply called “sugar candy” as opposed to “chocolate candy.” I think the best description is “chalk candy”, or “compressed sugar” because that’s what they are. There’s no cooking involved. Maybe they’re “raw candy”. NECCO wafers and Smarties would be considered a chalk candy too and perhaps Altoids and lots of other kids of mints.
It doesn’t really matter how they’re made, what’s important is that this time of year they come in some special shapes. I usually pick up the egg shaped ones, but these looked even cuter. Upon opening up the bag the powerful waft of sour and sugar is quite apparent, as well as the “grape” flavor. The Chicks, Ducks and Bunnies are three different shapes (obviously) and come in Cherry, Lemon, Green Apple and Grape (no orange or blue punch here).
What’s especially cool is the sound a big bag of these makes. It sounds kind of like a bag of poker chips - they clank a bit. In fact, it might be fun to use them in the place of poker chips. If you drop one, it can shatter but very few in my bag were broken. What I liked about my particular bag was the lack of red ones, which I don’t care for and the high ratio of purple and yellow ones. I’m not usually fond of grape flavored things, but grape SweeTarts are just plain great. I don’t miss the old lime flavored green ones either, I think the newer green apple is far superior.
I’m a chomper. I don’t suck on hard candies and I certainly don’t suck on my SweeTarts. What do, though, sometimes, is dissolve them using the quick-saliva method (skip to the bottom if you get grossed out). You put the candy in your mouth and put it against your front teeth, bracing it with the tongue. Then suck really hard (keeping your lips closed), which pulls your saliva through the candy, softening it. Then a few quick bites and it dissolves in an incredibly satisfying manner.
Chocolate Obsession also reminds readers to “Make Mine Chocolate”, which is an education program to discourage people from giving live rabbits (and while they’re at it, I suppose ducklings and chicks) as Easter gifts. Of course you don’t have to make yours chocolate, you can make them SweeTarts!
UPDATE 3/9/2007: It appears that Nestle has discontinued these! You might want to contact them to voice your support for their return.
ANOTHER UPDATE 3/16/2007: I found them! They’re on sale at Walgreen’s this week - the 12 ounce bags are $1.50 each. Sooooo ... they’re not discontinued, just not an official product any longer ... oh, and the green ones are gone completely. Or my two bags were freaks.
AND ANOTHER UPDATE 2/22/2008: It seems that Nestle has mucked with the colors/flavors again this year have removed the yellow/lemon in favor of blue/tropical punch. They color assortment is now: Red/Cherry, Purple/Grape & Blue/Tropical Punch. So sad ... only ONE flavor I’m interested in now.
Friday, March 17, 2006
I’m a malt lover. You know that already. I know some folks don’t like malt, and that’s okay. I’ve got lots of other posts you can look at, so I won’t be offended if you skip to something else.
When I was a kid I loved the Easter malted milk eggs because of the pretty shells. What was especially cool about them is that you could lick them and then use the coloring and smear it on your lips. Back then it was cool to have chalky-looking white or pink lipstick ... maybe if you were lithe had a nice tan and long blonde hair. If you were more macho you’d paint stripes on your cheeks as warpaint (pretty pink and blue warpaint!).
In the comments here, Tripp and Samantha both expressed their affection for these Mighty Malts from Necco. So I sought them out. I found them at Dollar Tree ... which might not be a good place to buy candy, but I found everything else I’ve gotten there to be fresh and palatable.
What freaks me out about them is their texture. Not in my mouth, but just looking at them. They’re matte, but not in a chalky way like the cute little Cadbury Mini Eggs are. The pink ones look kind of like erasers. Actually, the whole pile of them looks like something you’d pry out of a sticky toddler’s hand. Anyway, I had some Robin’s Eggs laying around (I got them from a bulk bag from CandyFavorites when I visited last month).
The Mighty Malts (right) are much smaller than the Robin’s Eggs. The coating, instead of being a hard, crisp candy shell and then layer of “chocolate” is a “candy” coating which can only be described as a combination of trans fatty acids and sugar. Fake white chocolate. Colored to look like PlayDoh.
The outside is at once waxy and sweet. I can carefully shave off the coating with my teeth to create a new naked morsel of malt with practice. (I probably don’t look very appealing with the egg trapped between my lower lip and teeth though as I do this.)
The malt inside is pretty good - crunchy and substantial, it has a good malt hit and a bit of saltiness to it. But that’s not enough for me to recommend these except as a last resort. I paid a buck for four of these little boxes, so I don’t feel cheated or anything. I doubt I’m going to eat the other two boxes, though. I found the malt to be good enough that I’m going to keep my eye out for another Easter version called Goose Eggs, which boasts real milk chocolate (and of course they’re larger, which would imply a greater malt ratio).
One of the candies of Easter that has always scared me has been the Russell Stover Cream Egg. Of course this all goes back to traumatic childhood experiences where I would get excited when my mother or grandmother would allow me a piece of candy from their fancy box of chocolates. I was allowed to pick only one, of course, and I always picked the foulest things (to my young palate). The Cream Eggs looked like a huge tease - all flash and style and no substance. I didn’t realize until I took this assignment that I was very wrong.
The unlikely first candidate was the Strawberry Cream Egg. It’s a milk chocolate egg with a frothy strawberry cream with real strawberry seeds! Kind of latexy looking filling, but it smells nice. Sweet, but with a nice smooth and fluffy consistency. The chocolate is good quality and not too sweet for the filling. The center is rather bland, I wasn’t detecting a lot of “strawberry” flavor to it. For my first try, this wasn’t bad. I think I’d prefer it with dark chocolate.
Next was the Coconut Cream Egg, which I expected this to be much too sweet. Just looking at it, it seemed to be more froth than coconut substance. I’m a huge fan of Mounds bars, and this is no Mounds bar. But putting aside the comparisons, it’s not too sweet, it’s fluffy and has really good coconut flavor without being oily. The dark chocolate provides the proper bittersweet balance to the whole thing. There were ample coconut bits in there, but not dense enough to make it chewy. These were pretty cheap when I picked them up, so if they’re even MORE on sale after the holiday, I might lay in a stock of them.
Finally there was the Maple Cream Egg, which is a dark chocolate egg with a whipped maple cream center. No maple trees were harmed in the creation of this treat as no maple ingredients were mentioned on the label. The maple flavor actually had a good woodsy quality to it, not just the high sweet notes. It reminded me more of pecan, but that’s a good flavor, too! Sweet, mellow and creamy, this is much better than I expected it to be. The understated bitterness of the dark chocolate really held this one together.
I have to thank the readers for suggesting these, I had no idea they were so fresh tasting. I was expecting a solid and bland fondant but instead it was quite a treat. Given a choice, I think I’ll always go for the dark chocolate ones. There are a few I didn’t try ... and now I’m looking forward to finding the coconut nests. There’s a huge assortment of flavors too, I didn’t see them all at the Rite Aid where I picked these up, but they also have a large number of “sugar free” varieties as well ... I’m not willing to try them myself, but if someone else can chime in on whether or not their good, they might make a nice treat for diabetic or dieting friends.
They’re also pretty satisfying as a single treat goes and because they’re mostly fluffed sugar, they’re much lower in calories than an all-chocolate candy, ranging from 130 to 150 calories for a single egg. If they don’t sell them near you, the web price for these nuggets by the case is pretty good, only $.49 cents per egg. I wish they sold a sampler case that had two of each in it. I’d really like to try the Pecan/Caramel one.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
The traditional icon for Easter candy has always been Jelly Beans. I’m not sure when they were invented, but they’re a great candy because they are their own wrapper. You can hold them in your hand and unless you’re exceptionally sweaty, they don’t melt. Back in the day jelly beans were like gumdrops and came in spice flavors. Sometime late in the last century this changed and spice beans fell out of favor and now just about all jelly beans are fruit flavored.
The Starburst Jelly Beans are really fruity flavored jelly beans. A little smaller than the old fashioned spice ones but not as small as a Jelly Belly. They come in Cherry, Strawberry, Green Apple, Orange, Lemon and Grape. Like Jelly Belly, the Starburst beans use both a flavored center and flavored shell to maximize the taste. The Starburst beans are zesty and fruity, with a nice ring of tart. The shell, though a little grainy at first when you chew it, dissolves nicely. The whole candy dissolves very well instead of sticking like the Jelly Belly tend to do. (Note: Starburst Jelly Beans are made in Mexico.)
Here’s the array to match up the flavors of (Jelly Belly) and Starbursts for my taste test. From top left to lower right it goes: (Green Apple) Green Apple, (Blueberry) Grape, (Orange) Orange, (Strawberry Daquiri) Strawberry, (Lemon) Lemon, (Very Cherry) Cherry.
I’ve already said lots about the Jelly Belly. I think they’re fantastic jelly beans. I don’t really care for the flavor mix boxes, I prefer to pick out my own jelly bean flavors. I usually go with a citrus mix of the various lemons, orange, tangerine and grapefruit and maybe a little pina colada.
What I prefer about the Starburst is that there’s just fewer flavors, and the colors are pretty easy to distinguish so there are no surprises. I found the cherry flavor okay and if I had to drop a flavor, it’d be the grape.
When I was at the store it was obvious that there’s been an explosion of jelly bean brands. Everyone is making them now. You can get Lifesaver branded ones, Ferrara Pan, SweeTarts, Starburst has several other flavor mixes ... I could go on and on. If you’re looking for value, well, the Starburst are FAR less expensive and with Easter candy half the fun is the insane quantity. Really, you can’t go wrong with jelly beans. What I always liked about jelly beans is that they were a candy you could leave out, unwrapped, in a bowl or in the grass of your Easter basket and as long as they didn’t get wet, they seemed to stay fresh forever. Well, I’ve never tested forever ... a jelly bean never lasted long in my house.
If you’ve tried these or one of the other brands of jelly beans, like SweeTarts or Lifesavers, what did you think?
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
One of the best things about the Cadbury Creme eggs is the commercial campaign they used to have. It was a white bunny that would cluck like a chicken and leave behind the eggs. The voice over, I believe, was done by Mason Adams who also did the Smuckers commercials. Of course, I loved bunnies (I even had two as a child) so it gave me a special fondness for the idea of the Cadbury Creme Eggs.
For those of you who are new to Planet Earth, a Cadbury Creme Egg is a milk chocolate shell in the shape of an egg filled with a fondant creme of two different colors - the outer layer is white and the inner glob is yellow (so they say).
The reality of Cadbury Creme Eggs is radically different. First, they never look like the commercials or ads. I’ve pulled apart a lot of Cadbury Creme Eggs in my life, and I’ve never found a glossy yellow yolk in the center. What I find is a dark patch in the white fondant. So all nostalgia and effective advertising aside, I have never been pleased by eating one. They’re too sweet. I’ve tried eating just the chocolate, but what’s the point in that? It’s just really sticky, the fondant doesn’t have enough flavor to it, or fat to give it a buttery consistency that I might enjoy. I’m not saying that these aren’t spectacular candies, but I really detest them.
While the Creme Egg has no non-Easter counterpart, the Caramel Egg does. This is a Caramello bar on steroids, a caramel mega-blister, a huge bubble of salty, flowing caramel inside a sweet, chocolate shell. Just as I discussed the aspects of ratio with the Reese’s Eggs, I don’t think that the Caramello bar can withstand so much tinkering with ratios. However, I liked this egg quite a bit more than the Creme Egg ... what I probably should have done is buy some of the mini-eggs, which might have a more satisfying ratio to them. (I’ll probably pick them up at the after-Easter sales.)
I think that these are great candies ... for people other than me. I’m not going to dish them the way I did with the Bunny Basket Eggs ... Cadbury Creme Eggs are a valid confectionery expression, just not one I’m capable of throwing my support towards. However, I would be very disappointed if they went away. I like seeing them, and I like the fact that they have so many fervent fans.
For more positive poetic waxings on the subject of Cadbury Creme Eggs, visit X-Entertainment or see the Writers and Artists Snacking at Work page devoted to the ovoids.
UPDATE: Cadbury has introduced the Cadbury Orange Creme Egg for Easter 2007.
UPDATED UPDATE: This review from 2006 documents the weight of the egg at 1.38 ounces. The 2007 eggs are 1.2 ounces.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
The standard of Easter themed “regular” candies has been the Reese’s egg for quite a while in my mind. It’s not really that different from a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup, yet it is.
The Reese’s egg has naked sides. Instead of sitting all snuggled in a cup with fluted sides to keep it protected, the Reese’s egg sits there on a little flimsy tray. And when you pull it out of its wrapper, you can see the whole thing, with no little bits and flecks lost during the unwrapping.
One of the things that’s different about the Egg is that it’s slightly skewed in the proportion of chocolate to peanut butter that we’re used to in the regular cup. Just look at how much of that is peanut butter. Reese’s peanut butter is interesting too. It’s slightly cool on the tongue and a little dry. It crumbles in the mouth and dissolves as well as melts. It has a good hit of salt, which makes the milk chocolate coating seem all the sweeter and smoother.
I’ll admit that there are some people who prefer a smoother peanut butter in their cups, but I like the crumbly texture that includes the bitty bits of nuts in it.
The Reese’s Eggs are nothing like the Hershey’s Eggs, except that they’re egg-shaped. These are little foil wrapped chocolate eggs filled with the Reese’s peanut butter found in the Peanut Butter cups. Honestly, I was worried that I’d end up with the stuff that’s inside Reese’s Pieces.
I’m not sure how they make these, but it appears that they create a half-shell of an egg and fill it with the peanut butter and then join it with another half-shell. There’s a bit of a void in the center of most of the ones I ate (and I ate quite a few just to see).
The proportions on this variety of Reese’s egg are probably one to one on the chocolate and peanut butter. The shell is very thick and with the void there’s not that much peanut butter in there. The combination in the mouth is nice, again, the salty hit and crumbly texture of the peanut butter blends well with the sweet and creamy milk chocolate. The chocolate shell feels just slightly oily to the touch, I’m not sure if it’s because some of the eggs seeped a bit of their peanut oil or they make them that way so they’ll come out of their molds ... or maybe it’s because I’m used to eating things sealed with carnauba wax.
I like both versions. Aesthetically I think I prefer the little foil wrapped ones, they’re easier to share and of course save some for later. I haven’t tried freezing them (I like my Reese’s Miniatures frozen) but I imagine they’ll do very well. These are definitely on my list of items to pick up on sale after the holiday. I think what’s interesting is that these plus the original Peanut Butter cup and the miniatures demonstrate what a difference proportion makes, even when you have, basically, two ingredients.
UPDATE 4/7/2009: Hershey’s has changed the formula on this classic egg. Not only that, there are several versions lurking in stores. There are packages like that reviewed above that say Milk Chocolate Reese’s Egg and then there are others that just say Reese’s Egg that may or may not have a real chocolate shell.
The new ingredients indicated that they’re really not chocolate (I know, the photo looks like all the other photos, but trust me, this is what the reverse says):
Peanuts, sugar, dextrose, vegetable oil (cocoa butter, palm, shea, sunflower and/or safflower oil), chocolate, nonfat milk, contains 2% or less of milk fat, lactose, salt, whey, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, corn syrup, soy lecithin, cornstarch, glycerin, TBHQ & PGPR, vanillin.
They look a little flatter than the milk chocolate eggs (labeled or not). As for the taste, well, this one seemed really salty to me, but maybe that’s what happens when I have peanut butter eggs for breakfast. (Hey, eggs are a breakfast food!)
The mockolate coating wasn’t bad, it wasn’t any worse looking than the current eggs. It has a similar melt and cool feeling on the tongue, it’s sweet but I didn’t taste any milky component to it.
I still don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know why they’ve have both on the market at the same time, why they’d make two versions and ruin something that was perfectly good and perfect. As for the ruining part, well, they’re not that bad but I’m not fond of eating palm oil when I could be eating cocoa butter. Read more about it here.
Monday, March 6, 2006
As part of this year’s Independent Food Festival and Awards sponsored by tasteEverything, I’ve been tapped as a jurist to give out an award for excellence in food. (You know it’s gonna be candy.) I decided after my mind-blowing experience touring candy factories in the Bay Area last December that it had to be something that really helped me to immerse myself in the true source of chocolate.
My 2006 Winner of the Independent Food Awards is The Best Things to Stick to your Marshmallow: Scharffen Berger Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs.
Cacao nibs are roasted cocoa beans, what all chocolate is made from. Scharffen Berger then pan coats them with 62% cacao semisweet chocolate. They’re complexly flavored little buggers, about the size of rice crispies - they’re crunchy, sometimes fibery, sometimes buttery and nutty ... always a surprise. Some flavors are like wine, raisins, coconut, coffee, oak, banana, apricot, sweet almond, grapefruit, cherry, cinnamon, clove ... I could go on and on. They’re like a blank canvas and a symphony all at once. They take over the senses and make you forget your train of thought. The coolest part is that each little morsel is independent of the others - it might have come from a different tree, might have been harvested weeks before or after its buddies in the tube. Eat one and get a sense of the particular, eat a palmful and travel the world.
So, what do you do with these besides just eat them like candy? You can bake with them, as I saw at Tartine in San Francisco, where you can get Rochers (like soft meringues) made with cacao nibs.
But I’m not really a baker. You can’t just serve an olive boat of these morsels to guests. Then oddly enough the answer came to me in the mail the same week. I was reviewing Plush Puffs, flavored, handmade marshmallows. With proximity being the mother of invetion, I tried putting things on my marshmallow. Actually, I tried mashing my marshmallow into things.
Now, given that I have the title of jurist, it was incumbent upon me to evaluate at least several other marsh-mashables. So I ordered up more Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs and a full array of Plush Puffs (Orange-Honey, Sam’s Sour Lemon, Maple Pecan and Vanilla Bean) and scoured my kitchen and a few stores for some options.
In the interests of trying to find the perfect thing to mash into my marshmallows, I pulled a few things out of the cupboard and ordered some others off of Chocosphere. Here are the results:
The definition of pure confection heaven has to be Orange-Honey Plush Puffs with Scharffen Berger Chocolate Covered Cacao Beans. This is the standard by which all other mashmallow-ables will be judged. (Really, why did I go on, how much better could I expect things to get?)
My second favorite thing to mash into my marshmallows has to be these Valrhona Chocolate Covered Orange Peels (Equinoxe Noir des d’ecorces d’oranges confites). They’re tiny pieces of lightly candied orange peel pan coated with 66% cacao dark chocolate. Smooth, sweet, crisp and with a great zesty orange taste. At $4.00 for 1.8 ounces, they’re even more expensive than the Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs, but as a little dash mixed in with the Cacao Nibs, it’s a welcome little burst of citrus energy. They go really well with both the Vanilla Bean and Maple Pecan ones but unlike the cacao nibs, they don’t work with everything.
It wouldn’t be fair of me to evaluate chocolate covered cacao nibs without trying out the naked ones. So I selected the Dagoba Cacao Nibs, which are also organic. The pieces are less consistent in size and shape than the chocolate covered brethren. They have a wild, alcoholic aroma. Smoky and woodsy to the nose, they provide a huge burst of flavor when eaten on their own but they’re also incredibly acidic and sometimes acrid, astringent and puckeringly dry. When pressed into the Vanilla Bean marshmallow, the sweetness and blankness allows the subtle cacao notes to shine while moderating the overt acidity.
With the success of the malted rice krispies squares, I thought I’d just go with the source materials. This wasn’t as pleasant. The malted milk powder is a bit salty and of course dry. The milk powder, I think, is part of the issue. Milk doesn’t really belong with marshmallow. In fact, it turns out that I don’t really care for the flavor of powdered milk.
I love molasses and my favorite sugar is Billington’s Muscovado. It’s got a sort of whiskey aroma to it, a complexity that you won’t find in refined sugars. I like to let it dry out in chunk and eat it that way. It doesn’t really stick to the marshmallows very well, and frankly, it makes it too sweet.
As a final confirmation about the Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, I brought the array of my top contenders to an Oscars (tm) viewing party Sunday night. At the end of the night the marshmallows were nearly gone and so were the CCCN while the plain nibs were largely untouched. On top of that, people were pleased with the fun combination of flavors. (And as a capper we got to taste some new regionally-sourced chocolate ice creams. Yum!)
There is one other company that I know of that makes chocolate covered cacao beans, called SweetRiot. I haven’t tried them yet, but I imagine they too are awesome.
If you’ve stumbled across this posting without first visiting the tasteEverything, have a look at all the other incredible finds from around the globe.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.