Wednesday, December 28, 2005
My site designers/programmers Susie & Travis (from Hop Studios) sent me a bag o’ treats a few months ago from their trip to Singapore. I don’t really have any specs on the candies since it was a mix, so here’s a sample of what they looked like:
It took me a while too steel myself for trying so many mysterious things, but I’ve finally plowed through most of the treats. Some were just variations on the candies we have available here, different kinds of mints (chewy, hard, soft), coffee hard toffees, ginger chews (made in Indonesia) and of course fruit hard candies. Some were rather normal, based on the ubiquitous citrus fruits but a good number were curious.
Durian and Tamarind top the list of scary candies. I’ve heard horror stories of Durian, which is rather common throughout Southeast Asia. It’s a sizeable and formidable looking fruit and I’m told an acquired taste for outsiders (and some who’ve grown up there have never been fond of it). It’s a divisive fruit, actually, as so many people can’t stand it because of its rather pungent odor, it’s not allowed on public transportation in many large cities.
The durian hard candy is probably just as much an acquired taste and not one I’m likely to accomplish. This hard candy tastes okay at first, a little sweet, a little tart and then rather like boiled shallots. Yes, onions or garlic or perhaps a little like Slim Jims.
The Tamarind, which I’ve never had and is surprising as I live in Los Angeles and it’s all over the place, was actually nice. It’s a little toasty, rather ordinary after all being so worked up about trying that.
The most curious one was the Creamy Corn. It tasted just like it sounds. Like creamed corn. Only in a hard toffee instead of running on my plate into my fried chicken. I have to say that it was very faithful to the name, and I ate the whole thing and was fascinated by it, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. It’s rather like eating the Buttered Popcorn Jelly Bellies. It’s a novelty, not a pleasure. At least not for me.
Mango was actually really nice, better than any other mango candy I’ve had, probably because they did more than make it taste like peaches. There were a few mango flavored ones, but the best overall were the ones branded Lot100 (the Blackcurrant was good, too). It had a nice pine essence to it, which is one of the things that I find so interesting about real mangoes, they have a woodsy flavor to them.
The best one was called Great Monster and I think was simply an orange hard candy. Simple, tart and zesty.
I had high hopes for those labeled barley sugar candies, but they didn’t really taste like the barley sugar I know of here in the states. They were nice, especially the lime torrone one (which was not at all like an Italian Torrone).
There are still a few I haven’t tried, but give me a few more days to get my courage back.
Rating - 6 out of 10 overall (some higher some lower ... it’s an average)
Name: Snickers Almond
Why didn’t someone mention that the Mars bar was quietly replaced with the Snickers Almond bar five years ago? I didn’t notice. Mostly because I was never a Mars bar fan. A Mars bar in the States used to be a nougat bar with almonds and a strip of caramel and covered in milk chocolate. A Mars bar in other parts of the world is like a Milky Way is here in the States: a nougat bar with a stripe of caramel covered in milk chocolate. In the rest of the world a Milky Way is like the American 3 Musketeers. I can go on and on, but suffice to say that Mars has a big old confusing name problem on their hands and all I can do is try to make a grid to display it. (Please correct me if I’ve got them wrong.)
USA….............. contents ..................UK/Canada
You know, there are a bazillion names for these candy folks to choose from, why do they have to confuse the globe-trotting candy lovers so? For some other attempts at disambiguation, have a look at this page comparing the old Mars and the Canadian Milky Way (with cross sections).
But I digress. I’m supposed to be reviewing the Snickers Almond bar.
But I don’t wanna review this bar because I didn’t like it much and it reminded me why I forgot about the bar entirely. It smells good, which is just a ruse. First, the nougat is nothing more than a flavorless grainy sweet blob. Good nougat has a flavor of some sort, an essence of honey or malt or, well, something. This is just sweet. The caramel is also sweet, but has a touch of salt to it which I fully support. The almonds are nice, but scant. The chocolate is sweet and passable as a chocolate cloak. As a whole combination it just didn’t wow me and didn’t satisfy me. I didn’t finish it.
There are other bars out there that do this better. The See’s Awesome Nut & Nougat Bar is one (but probably not a viable alternative as it’s not that easy to get a hold of). Frankly I prefer the plain old Snickers bar to this. There was a Mars Midnight for a while there in the nineties that I was rather fond of but gone now.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Name: Max Brenner Chocolates: Dark Chicao, Waffle & Milk Chocolate Cubes
Here’s a little Hanukkah treat for everyone, some Israeli chocolates! The Max Brenner package says “Creating a New Chocolate Culture” and I’m inclined to hop on board this philosophy. Michal, a candyblog.net reader, sent me these wonderful treats and I’m very impressed by the combination of flavors, textures, the simplicity of ingredients and most of all, the playfulness of the packages and formats.
Dark Chicao: Dark chocolate thins with Ecuadorian cocoa bits. These are rather similar to the Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs I tried and loved recently. I was a little scared when I took them out of the tin because they looked a little chalky, but we can chalk that up to their trip half way around the planet to get to me. They were a little bruised but tasted phenomenal. Dark, dark chocolate with crunchy nibs. The chocolate is buttery with a strong woodsy essence and a slight dry finish. Because there’s so much cacao in there and not much sugar they don’t get me hyped up the same way a chocolate bar does. At 75% cacao though, they’re probably giving me some sort of theobromine high.
Waffle: Crispy Belgian waffle in milk chocolate praline. I’ve had many bars like this and they’ve usually ended up being too much cookie and not enough chocolate or too waxy or greasy. Here’s a wonderful balance of chocolate, soft flavors and crispy waffle with a hint of hazelnut. The box is fun (the size of a pencil box with a tray/sleeve to pull out and reveal the candies) and the size of the little drops is just right, two bites for me. The Max Brenner milk chocolate is very rich, with 52% cacao, it’s darker than many consumer dark chocolates.
Milk Chocolate Cubes: Michal was good enough to translate the boxes for these. They’re minitruffles I’m guessing, one set is “Milk Chocolate Cubes filled with Hazelnut Praline and Caramelized Pecan Bits” and the other is Milk Chocolate Cubes filled with “Caramel Hazelnut Praline and Roasted coconut” (well, those are not really cubes, more like spheroids). The hazelnut/pecan one is sweet and toasty, like a hit of toffee only in a milk chocolate with just a few flakes of crispy to it. They’re very rich and sticky and should probably be consumed with some strong coffee. (Or the Dark Chicaos!). The coconuts were amazing fun. Instead of soft coconut like you’d find in a Mounds of Bounty bar, this is crispy coconut that adds a bit of crunch and chew to the sweet milk chocolate. The boxes are cool because they’re designed to be a greeting card or favor of sorts. You can write a little message on the back like those Valentines boxes of candy that we used to exchange in junior high.
I’m digging Mr. Brenner’s new chocolate culture. Their packaging is interesting and not overdone. The little mylar packs kept everything fresh and the design on them is really inventive, slightly self-deprecating and sets it apart from a lot of other candy that I’ve seen that positions itself in this part of the upscale market.
Rating - 9 out of 10 (now I just need to find a source in the States)
Friday, December 23, 2005
Name: Italian Soft Almond Nougat
When I was a kid we got rather eclectic Christmas stockings filled with candy treats that we never got any other time of the year. Christmas candy was unlike any other in our house or for any other holiday, it was a trip around the world in an oversized sock. English hard candies, Swiss & Belgian chocolates and Italian Torrones. I’ve been having a hard time finding Torrones the past few years here in Los Angeles, I used to get them at Cost Plus World Market, but haven’t seen them for quite a while. This is why I was so excited to see that Trader Joe’s had these when I was there last weekend.
Torrones are soft nougat usually flavored Amaretto, orange, vanilla or
lemon. Most European countries have their own version of the Torrone, the French do nice nougats, in both the soft and hard varieties and the Swiss Toblerone bar has hard honey nougat bits in it and the Spanish are well known for their version, the Turron. The European nougat is rather different than what you find in the American candy bar trade. Trader Joe’s has carried nougat in the past in long bars, but I’d never seen these Christmas classics before. They’re individually wrapped pieces in its own little box and gives a little history:
There are 18 of these little individually wrapped packages, boxed together. The torrone is soft and pliable white nougat that is and is sheathed in an edible, tasteless wafer to keep it from sticking. The slice of nougat has a lot of nuts but is not as “fluffy” as some others, in fact, it looks downright flat. The pieces are ample, like one of those big block pencil erasers. The scent is very nice, sweet and with a good
dose of honey in there. It’s good and soft, so it’s not going to remove any dental work, sweet and it dissolves quickly and mixes with the delicate almonds. The flavoring is a little odd. Most Torrones are one flavor but this one seems to be a mix of lemon and amaretto. But neither is very apparent so it just ends up being a subtle essence.
Overall, they’re not quite satisfying my jones for a good Torrone, but they are fresh and here so they’ll do for now for the stocking stuffers. They’re certainly cheaper than some others I’ve bought but I miss the fanciful pictures of Italian royalty on the individual boxes. The biggest drawback of the overpackaging (plastic wrap, boxes inside bigger box) is that it’s quite obvious how many you’ve eaten when there’s a huge pile of torrone detritus next to you on the couch.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Name: Dolfin Chocolat: Noir au Gingembre Frais, Au Lait au The Vert Sencha du Japon, Noir aux Fuelles de Menthe
I thought on the eve of the start of Whalewatch Season here in Southern California it was appropriate to review something under the brand name Dolfin (we see more dolphins on whale watching trips than whales anyway). The Man bought these bars for me recently at a wine & spirits store in our neighborhood. The gentrification of our little ‘hood means that the former liquor store now carries a wider selection of wines, beers and of course Belgian chocolate.
What drew him to the bars wasn’t the reviews but the fact that the bars are packaged in these plastic cloaked paper envelopes that reminded him of tobacco pouches. It’s actually a pretty simple and successful idea, a long bag that you fold over several times to keep a good seal. The bars inside are additionally sealed in little plastic sleeves but at 2.47 ounces, I wasn’t going to eat them all in one sitting and I appreciated having a clean and crisp way of carrying them around until I do.
Noir aux Fuelles de Menthe (Dark with Mint Leaves): Instead of being your common dark chocolate bar with mint oils in it, this bar contains real spearmint leaves. This was the least successful bar for me. The mint was nice and it being spearmint was a nice change from the more common peppermint, but the bar seemed a bit more chalky than the others. At first I thought it had bloomed, but the sheen was right and the snap looked good. I can only assume that it’s the interaction of the real mint leaves in there. They also make the bar kind of grainy. The sugar balance is good though and the mint is smooth and has some good tannins in it that mix well with the rich dark chocolate.
Noir au Gingembre Frais (Dark with Fresh Ginger): I’m a ginger nut and many of the ginger/chocolate combinations that I find are with milk chocolate, so finding one that was in dark chocolate is exciting. The bar had a good woodsy mix of scents - the spicy ginger and smoky chocolate. The dark chocolate is only 52% cacao (as is the mint one) but it just felt really rich and dense. It was a little grainy but had a lot of flavors in the mix with a good buttery base to help the ginger and chocolate mingle.
Au Lait au The Vert Sencha du Japon (Milk with Sencha Green Tea from Japan): Wow, this bar smells like green tea ice cream. The wonderful lightly floral and woodsy tea blends wonderfully with the delicately dairy tasting milk chocolate. The bar is smooth and very sweet except for the green tea bits. It makes the bar better for doing a bit of chewing before letting it melt on the tongue instead of leaving a tab of it on the tongue first. This is definitely a bar that I could eat a lot of and I’m hoping that even though it only has 32% cacao, the benefits of both the green tea and chocolate will bring me good health in the new year.
Dolfin has a huge line of these “creation” bars, including Masala (hot spices), aniseed, pink peppercorn and Earl Grey tea. They have boxes with tasting squares that look like they would make for a fun evening.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
I’ve noticed that I get a lot of Google search hits on this blog for CraniYUMS. Well, that and Choxie. So it’s about time I gave folks what they’re looking for. This has got to be one of the more innovative candy formats I’ve seen. I got this as a sample at my Candy Warehouse visit over the summer. They hadn’t decided to carry the pops, so I didn’t want to blog about it until it was available then I forgot about it until I saw Candy Addict‘s post a few weeks ago.
What is it? It’s a hard candy lolly in the shape of a Tyrannosaurus rex skull then covered in a gummi “flesh”. The fleshy part is transparent, so you can see the skull shape at the center. It’s actually a pretty fun idea.
I wasn’t quite sure how to approach consuming it. A gelatinous skin does not lend itself to sucking, and of course it’s a bit big for putting in the mouth whole. So when I tried nibbling on the end of his snout, I kind of get the sense that there should be some growling involved. The gummi part is definitely gummi, but I guess that’s a good thing. You kind of have to rip it off the candy skull with your teeth. As a gummi it’s rather mild, not zesty orintensely flavored. The skin is cherry flavored and the skeleton is green apple. Once a corner has been started it’s pretty easy to nibble off pieces then to get to the center. The skeletal center is hard candy, but not quite hard, because I’m guessing the gummi softens it a little bit. The flavor overall was just bland, I wanted some zip to it all. Maybe mine was a little old, but I also think I’d prefer the lemon/cherry combo.
I’m obviously not the target market for this candy, but I can see it being a fun thing to pick up at a museum gift shop for my nephew should we go look at a dinosaur exhibit. But I can also see a kid getting kind of bored with it after a few minutes. It depends on the kid. I found myself eating all the gummi skin but I didn’t eat the center. They get big points from me on originality, but I see it as more of a special occasion candy than a regular one.
The package says it’s made in China, but it’s distributed by an Denver, CO company.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
When I was a kid there was an amazing candy bar called the Marathon. It was made by Mars and came in a bright red wrapper and was almost ten inches long (the candy was only 8 inches). Inside was a braid of firm caramel covered in chocolate.
The Marathon bar came along at a time when I would guess I was particularly impressionable and it was a marvelous time in candy. New candies were being introduced that seemed to speak directly to my soul. It was at this time that things like Reese’s Pieces, Sprees & Starbursts came out and Pringles (okay, not a candy, but I’d buy them at the Stop ‘n Go). And let’s not forget Pop Rocks.
The Marathon bar was probably not marketed towards me. The commercial campaign I remember involved a square-jawed, white-toothed and practically perfect looking Patrick Wayne (son of John Wayne) who went by the name of Marathon John. This hero of little commerical stories did everything slow, like eating his Marathon bar. He had a nemesis in the commericals, a wirey fellow named Quick Carl. Quick Carl was careless and jumpy and was, of course, always foiled by Marathon John and his candy bar that you can’t eat quickly. (We didn’t have color TV back then, so the whole “red” thing was lost on me ... it’s not that I’m that old that I remember black & white TV, it’s just that we didn’t get one in my family until 1979).
My guess is that this long candy bar that came with a measuring stick on the back was aimed at adolescent boys. You know how obsessed they are with measuring things. And how often do you find yourself at lunch or hanging out at the park with your little paper bag of sweets and wanna measure something with your buds?
Anyway, the candy bar was introduced in 1973 by Mars and discontinued it in 1981. But of course once you discontinue a candy bar the fans come out of the woodwork. The bar has been gone for more than twenty years and still there are rabid admirers who insist that it be returned to the American Pantheon of candy bars. I suspect that one of the issues with it is its non-standard size. It just doesn’t fit on the shelves the same way and slotting is important for the big candy manufacturers. But Cadbury seems to be doing fine with the Curly Wurly ... but for all I know their biggest market may be the United States and these folks in their forties who insist that there is no other candy bar for them than an eight inch braid of caramel covered with chocolate.
A few years ago Mars resurrected the name Marathon but this time gave it to an “energy bar” type candy. I’ve never tried it.
If you’re looking for a fix now that you’ve waxed as nostalgic as I have, pick up the Cadbury Curly Wurly bar. You can find them in the UK or Canada or perhaps in the States at a shop that carries UK imports and of course online. Old Time Candy has a nice page about Curly-Wurly and the Marathon Bar Here’s my review of the Curly Wurly (I gave it an 8 out of 10). The only question that remains (and perhaps you dear readers can help) is who came up with the bar first? Was it a Cadbury product that was licensed by Mars just as Hershey licensed KitKat from Rowntree (well, now Nestle)? Or did Mars come up with it and it was successful enough in the UK to continue?
Dang if these aren’t the cutest candy with a shell to come along in years. Vibrant primary and secondary colors in that familiar Kiss shape only smaller and more “poppable.” When I saw the promo stuff on the internet at first they looked a lot like the tops of crayons and now that I have them in front of me I still think that. The shells aren’t quite as pretty and consistent as an M&M, but the vibrancy of the colors is pretty phenomenal.
Though Hershey’s Kisses are wonderful little candies, Hershey found out long ago that folks only buy them in large bags. Hershey tried for a while to launch smaller bags, but people just don’t buy them that way. Here’s an easier way to take Hershey Kisses to a movie (less unwapping, thankyouverymuch).
But let’s get to the eating, because convenience and color doesn’t mean diddly if it’s not tasty. These are tasty. I bought two bags - one to spill out in front of the unopened package (you actually get more than shown in the photo in the package, I ate or rejected about ten of them). The shell is a lot like the familiar M&M shell, it’s crunchy, sweet and has no flavor of its own like the UK Smarties do. The little fellows are about the size of chocolate chips instead of the large Kisses. The inside is Hershey’s chocolate - very sweet, a little milky and with an overall pleasant smoothness. The biggest issue I have with this is that I can’t eat them quite like M&Ms. When I’m eating a plain M&M, I’ll arrange the candy in my teeth on edge and crack it so that one half of the shell falls away and I get pure crunch, then mostly chocolate. These just don’t cleave that way. But maybe I’ll find some other interesting way of eating them, at the moment biting off the little tips seems pretty fun.
If you like M&Ms, you’ll probably like these. I don’t see Hershey’s coming out with a version with nuts anytime soon, as there’s just no room in there for one (well, maybe a sesame seed). Interesting fact: when M&Ms were first developed they contained Hershey’s chocolate. In fact, one of the Ms in M&M is for Hershey’s sales manager, William Murrie (or his son Bruce who was in business with Forrest Mars during the period they developed the candy-coated chocolate). They were made with Hershey’s up until the late sixties (I can’t find the exact date).
Other Reviews - CandyAddict gives it a positive, Accidental Hedonist’s musings on candy coated chocolates, JunkFood Blog points out that these are made without peanut traces, which M&Ms are not.
Rating - 8 out of 10
UPDATE 8/7/2008: Hershey’s reformulated Kissables sometime in 2008 and they are no longer made with real chocolate. Full review & comparison here.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.