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.
There are currently three varieties of Goetze’s Caramel Creams. Each has a different name, which is kind of confusing. The plain vanilla variety is called Caramel Creams (though people often call them Bull’s Eyes). The chocolate ones are called Bull’s Eyes and the strawberry ones are called StrawberriCreams. I’ve never seen the chocolate or strawberry versions in the tray pack (which is usually how I buy my Goetze’s), but I did find them in the pick-a-mix at Baldinger’s in Zelienople.
They all have the same cool sugar cream center, but the caramel outside is a little different.
Original: The original Caramel Cream is not really what I consider caramel. It’s not buttery and smooth, but more doughy. It tastes kind of like a plain cookie dough with a plain, sweet icing. The caramel itself isn’t particularly sticky, what really sells the candy is the cream center. There really isn’t anything else like a Goetze’s Caramel Cream. The center is cool and soft and melts away almost instantly. I usually turn my caramel creams inside out when I eat them, popping the cream onto my tongue and waiting for that to dissolve before consuming the caramel O.
Chocolate - These are wildly different tasting than the original flavor. The chocolate dough is dark and smoky, not really a creamy chocolate experience, more like a really chocolatey Tootsie Roll. The caramel cream center stands out even more in this candy because of the darkness of the caramel. I would buy more of these as a companion to my beloved originals.
Strawberry - Gah! They smell like fake strawberries and taste like it, too. The dough nature of the caramel doesn’t really lend itself to this flavor, it’s kind of like a poor imitation of strawberry shortcake, a little tart, very sweet. I had to excise these from my pick-a-mix candy as the smell was rather revolting to me. I know some folks will like these (and probably do, since they’ve been around for a while), but I’m not one of them.
All of these flavors also come in a Cow Tales version as well. Generally I prefer to buy my Caramel Creams in the tray pack, as I think they stay fresh better that way than the twisted cello wrapped candies in the pick-a-mix. (I give the caramel and chocolate varieties a 9 ... the strawberri one is probably a 3 in my book.) All varieties contain both Hydrogenated Oils and High Fructose Corn Sweetener.
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
It’s coffee day here at CandyBlog.net. Yes, I’ve got jetlag and I need lots and lots of caffeine. So in between sips of the regular liquid kind and some Black Black gum, I thought I’d review some coffee flavored chocolate candies.
I found this bar at the checkout counter at Target. There are a few varieties of the new Mauna Loa foray into consumer chocolate, but I thought that they knew their macadamias and of course Kona is known for their coffee. How could I go wrong?
This is a smooth and sweet dark chocolate bar with macadamia nuts and coffee. The bar has four domed segments each with some nice small bits of macadamias scattered evenly on the bottom of the bar. In this form I get the macadamia taste, but the texture is more like coconut. That’s not a bad thing. Then the coffee kick comes in. It’s mostly a chocolate flavor, but when you hit the coffee grounds, it’s definitely a good mellow coffee flavor.
But here’s the thing, and I mentioned it yesterday when reviewing the Dolfin cafe tasting squares ... I don’t want the coffee grounds. I don’t put up with coffee grounds in my actual coffee, why do I want them in my chocolate? Well, they do add fiber. This bar has 3 grams of fiber. (It also has 9 grams of saturated fat.)
Overall, it’s too sweet for me. I want a little darker, richer chocolate with my coffee essences. The macadamias add a great nutty flavor and texture to it, and though I’d never drink a macadamia/chocolate flavored coffee, I will eat a macadamia and coffee studded chocolate. I’m vaguely curious about their milk chocolate and might pick that bar up at some future visit to Target. I do actually appreciate Target’s wide selection of candies at the check out that include more than the standard fare of Hershey’s, Mars and Nestle and at 99 cents, it’s only slightly more expensive than the regular bars.
Monday, February 27, 2006
Jolly Rancher hard candies were quite revolutionary when I first had them as a kid. They were full of flavor and came in varieties that other candies just didn’t have. Watermelon and green apple were the absolute best.
It’s about time Jolly Ranchers went chewy. I mean, Starbursts are good and have occupied their fruit flavored niche for years, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve a few options in the candy genre. Okay, these have been out for about five years and I’m a little late in trying them, but Starburst have been around for at least 30.
The good thing about Jolly Ranchers Fruit Chews is that they stuck with what they do best. They didn’t go all orange, lemon and strawberry on us. They went with their strong suit - green apple, watermelon and cherry.
These chews are slightly different from Starbursts. First, they’re larger. Not by much, but a little bigger in each dimension. Second, they’re a different chew. It’s hard to describe, but they’re chewy and have a soft give to them, but there’s a latex quality to them that allows you to chew and chew, almost like they’re gum and they give off lots of flavor, but they don’t seem to get any smaller. Starbursts tend to end up in a little bit of a grainy ball towards the end, these just melt away smoothly. This is a cool feature.
The other great thing about them is that the flavor is there all the way. You keep chewing and chewing and it doesn’t end up as a sweet blob, it ends up as a smaller piece of the same gland tingling flavor that you started with. They’re soft and easy on the teeth.
As an adult I’m less fond of watermelon and green apple than I used to be (and regular readers know I’m not a cherry fan). I don’t know if it’s because they’re a little chemical tasting or I probably used too many Bonne Bell Lipsmackers. I just associate the flavor with being a bumbling pre-adult, hanging out at the pool in the summertime with my bony knees and freckles, perhaps trying to cover up the fact that I always smelled like a mix of chlorine and salami (I worked in a pizza place).
My favorite flavor of Jolly Rancher was the Fire Stix - they were awesome - powerfully strong cinnamon in a smooth, sweet hard candy, and every once in a while you’d hit a fire pocket and get a little jolt. I wish they’d make some chews that tasted like that.
Note: this candy was manufactured in Canada and are not Kosher (those thoughts are not related).
Friday, February 24, 2006
I’m traveling this week, and when I was at Mitsuwa picking up some things I looked for something to take along that might be considered “traveling Pocky.” I did find some Winter Pocky, which is appropriate because it’s winter here in Pennsylvania. I’m guessing it’s the same as our Limited Editions that Hershey’s and Nestle have been playing around with, they just call it “Seasonal.”
This is a regular milk chocolate Pocky rolled in cocoa. The chocolate seems sweeter than the regular chocolate Pockies and have a slightly more “dairy” flavor to the chocolate than the Men’s or regular Chocolate. It came in four small packets and is a bit more expensive than regular Pocky.
Unlike all the other Pockies I’ve had, this one did not look like the picture on the package. The package made them look textured, but these were just more matte looking and no cocoa came off the sticks (none in the bottom of the little plastic wrapping even). The cocoa adds a nice little bitter and salty hit to the whole thing, which is nice because now that I’ve had Men’s Pocky, I think that regular chocolate Pocky is a little too sweet.
There’s no listing on the ingredients that it contains hydrogenated fish oils, but it does have “shortening” listed on the ingredients, which isn’t prefaced with “vegetable” so it might be in here. It also lists monosodium glutamate.
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