Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Last year I was pleasantly surprised by Russell Stovers Cream Eggs. I still haven’t been eating their mixed boxes of chocolates, but the fact that they were making good quality product at a rather low price really captured my attention.
Now, I’m still not a boxed chocolates fan. See’s is probably the exception because I like just about everything they make, but I’ve been hesitant to try Russell Stover, especially after the middle of the road experience with the Whitman’s Sampler (RS & Whitman’s are now the same company). But this is All Valentines Week and it wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t have at least a little bit. So I picked up the smallest Russell Stover Assorted Chocolates I could find.
I figured the little cup here was a coconut and milk chocolate mix, similar to the Coconut Wreath I had last year for the Christmas season. The coconut is crisp and the milk chocolate is creamy and not-too-sweet. I rather like things that come in little cups like this, they’re more appealing that some plop shaped items and easy to bite off a bit and leave the rest in the cup.
The square chocolate is a firm caramel covered in milk chocolate. It’s nice, it could use more salt, but the texture is just perfect. Smooth, chewy and with a good buttery flavor.
The dark oval is a fudge center. It had a good caramel tone to it, but very little chocolatey taste.
Overall the assortment was fresh and looked very appealing. They were a little too ordinary to capture my tastebuds and compel me to pick up the next one (isn’t it the anticipation in a box of chocolates that’s supposed to be appealing?). If you’re looking for a little something to give as a gift or thank you (like coworkers or classmates, etc.), I don’t think people would be insulted by these. If you catch them on sale (as I did), they’re probably cheaper than a greeting card (and have a little “to & from” label on the bottom). These are definitely preferable to the Elmer’s I had yesterday (so splurge for the Russell Stover if you must buy these little boxes) and the label lists no trans fats.
Russell Stover also has an organic line. I picked up some pecan turtles (not wrapped for any particular holiday) that I’ll get to reviewing soon.
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this review. Sera, a longtime reader and sweet photographer, suggested when I mentioned the All Valentines Week that I should get a hold of these boxed chocolates from Elmer’s.
I’d never heard of Elmer’s before. But when I went into the store, I found it even more shocking that I didn’t know who they were, because the stores are just filled to the gills with their heart shaped boxes of chocolates.
Most are on the small side, as this four piece box was, which pleased me that I didn’t need to buy a huge box. The design on the boxes is also rather, um, traditional. Some have pictures of puppies or kittens but most have roses or flowers of some sort.
After bringing the box home I was curious what was inside but I didn’t want to dig right in. So I asked the internets. What I found out was rather interesting. Elmer’s Chocolate only makes five chocolates for their mixed boxes: creamy caramel, chocolate truffle, chocolate fudge, strawberry cream and orange cream.
Milk Chocolate Rectangle is Orange Creme which is a tangy cross between Aspergum and a chocolate covered creamsicle.
Round Milk Chocolate is Soft Caramel - kind of milky tasting, a little salty, a bit creamy and offsets the far too sweet and grainy chocolate very well.
Dark Chocolate Rectangle is Orange Creme - okay, maybe this was strawberry, because it was more pink than orange, but it didn’t taste that way.
Milk Chocolate Square is Chocolate Fudge - sweet, not terribly chocolatey but a pretty smooth and pleasing texture.
Overall, I wasn’t pleased enough with the intensity of the flavors or the quality of the chocolate to want to buy these on sale next week after the holiday is over. But I was pleased enough to now want to try the Heavenly Hash and Gold Brick eggs for Easter as those seem to be the items that made the company famous. I guess when you consider that the box of chocolates is less expensive than a greeting card, it’s probably not a bad way to go as a small token.
On a side note, while exploring the internet in search of info about Elmer’s Candy, I noticed that their website had a copyright notice of 2003, the most recent press release (well only one) posted was from 2002. Their motto on the website is “The Freshest Ideas in Seasonal Candy” ... uh, yeah. Of course they also say that they’re the oldest family run candy business in the US (since 1855).
Other Notes: this box contains 1.5 grams of trans fat.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
100 Grand was one of my favorite bars when I was a kid. Back then they were called $100,000 Bars and there was some sort of jingle that went with it that I’ve forgotten (and I know a lot of jingles). The bars when first introduced were one piece, a long log of caramel, crispies and chocolate. Later when the name changed they made it into two pieces, which I fully supported in theory, but didn’t try at the time because of the Nestle boycott (which I followed from 1983 until 1989 or so).
The 100 Grand was a bar I missed (and I have to admit that I had a few fun sized ones during that boycott period because they were around in office candy dishes or brought home as Halloween booty by someone). There’s nothing else like it on the market.
Of course it hasn’t been immune to the Limited Edition craze and has undergone at least two versions, the Dark (yummy) and the Peanut (shrug). What’s especially confusing is that this 100 Grand with Coconut is not a limited edition version of the bar. It appears to be an actual addition to the line. CandyAddict’s commenters spotted them a full year ago, yet there’s no mention of them on Nestle’s website (well, there’s very little mention of the 100 Grand bar on Nestle’s site, period).
I saw this on SugarSavvy.net a few weeks ago. Joanna got a hold of two new items from Nestle, the 100 Grand with Coconut and the Crunch Bar with Coconut. I have to say that I was skeptical about this version, but I had to pick it up when I saw it.
The bar looks the same as always. The difference is inside. Instead of putting the coconut shreds in the milk chocolate coating with the crisped rice, they put it into the caramel center. What this does, however, is ruin the texture of the chewy, stringy caramel. It’s now more solid and a bit grainier. (See the 100 Grand Dark photo for a better view of what the caramel is supposed to look like.) Joanna pegs it when she calls it a version of Brach’s Neapolitan.
The final curiosity of this bar is that it’s bilingual. It’s in both English and Spanish. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be marketed in Hispanic neighborhoods or if it’s for export and they’ve decided to carry it in the States as well.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
There were quite a few caramels at the Fancy Food Show. Here are two vastly different caramel products.
Hammond Candies makes a product unlike all their other wonderful twisty/swirly hard candies, it’s a caramel covered marshmallow block called Mitchell Sweets. I have no idea why they’re called Mitchell, but hey, I guess if I had a great caramel and marshmallow product, maybe I’d just start calling it Mitch, too.
The Mitchell Sweet comes in two varieties - plain and chocolate. They’re pretty big, about 2 1/2” long, 1 1/4 inch square and weigh 3/4 of an ounce. They’re a bit messy, but not as messy as you might guess.
The caramel is soft and chewy without being too stiff. The marshmallow, on the other hand, is rather stiff and solid. It still maintains a lightness and bouncy texture which helps it stand up to the caramel.
The chocolate one didn’t smell any different but I have to say I was really pleased with how fudgy it was. The chocolate caramel was even a little salty and set off the otherwise sweet marshmallow really well. This is a real standout candy. I could use a little honey or extra vanilla hit in the marshmallow itself, but Hammond’s has been making these treats for a long time, so who am I to say they need an adjustment?
Notes: you can buy them direct on the Hammond’s Candies website for $17.00 a pound. These are very similar to the Littlejohn Caramel Marshmallows.
I give them a 7 out of 10
If I was looking for a candy that advertised its honey flavor, then Caramoos to the rescue. Caramoos aren’t quite the chewy caramel that we’re used to though they are indeed caramelized sugar. It’s more like a light fudge. They come in two flavors in the Caramel Crumble: Original & Honey and a bunch of others in their Creme Fudge line: Dark Chocolate, Mocha & Vanilla
They’re cute little square rods, perfect to pop in your mouth whole or do it in two bites.
They smell very buttery and have a very grainy texture. The sweetness is mitigated by a little hit of salt and of course the darker flavors of the caramelized sugars. The Honey one smelled like a sweet hand cream instead of a caramel. The fragrant candy grew on me so much that in the end I preferred it to the Original flavor.
The Creme Fudges are a little different. They don’t have the distinct crystallized structure to them. The Dark Chocolate one reminded me of a very good Tootsie roll. Soft, smoky tasting and a little salty. Mocha was rich and milky tasting with a wonderful flavor of rich espresso. The Vanilla one was also chewy and soft and had a nice milky taste to it but not the buttery flavors so apparent in the Caramel Crumble.
They’re an interesting new look at caramelized sugars.
Notes: Caramoos are made in Poland. There’s no ordering info on their website (I emailed but haven’t heard back) but you can get them on Amazon for $14 for 2.5 pounds ($5.60 a pound). Nicole from Slashfood was equally smitten with Caramoos. Quite a few folks also got samples of them from Amazon last year.
I give them a 7 out of 10
Monday, January 29, 2007
I have to admit that I’ve never been terribly fond of Twix bars. I know that they fill an important niche in the confectionery pantheon: a cookie, some caramel and a chocolate enrobing. I did quite like them when they were first introduced in 1979 in the United States but found that other crunchy caramelly chocolate candies (like the 100,000 Dollar Bar) fit my desires a little better.
I even gave the Classic and Peanut Butter Twix another try recently.
I decided that the cookie is too sweet for me. I like the combination of textures and I rather like how “sandy” the cookie is, but it either needs a hit of salt in the cookie (like a shortbread) or in the caramel. The Peanut Butter Twix is a little closer to what I like, but even with the mellow peanut butter, it still ends up being too middle-of-the-road. I rather enjoyed the Dark Chocolate and think that was a great bar but really thought the White Chocolate was a move in the wrong direction.
Enter Mars’ newest Limited Edition offering: Triple Chocolate. Yes, it’s all chocolate all the time with this bar. A chocolate cookie with a stripe of chocolate caramel covered in milk chocolate.
For such a chocolatey bar it didn’t smell much like chocolate. It smelled sweet and kind of like vanilla caramels. The bar as a whole has the familiar mix of textures with the crumbly/crunchy cookie bar, the soft and chewy caramel and then the smooth and sweet milk chocolate.
If it’s got triple the chocolate, it’s just not there for me. I wasn’t getting much in the chocolate realm at all (maybe I’m still on my dark chocolate high from the Fancy Food Show) ... just sweet. So sweet my throat hurt.
I wish they’d wrapped it in dark chocolate.
Note: Mars is now using PGPR in their chocolate as well (Hershey’s was the first company I noticed that changed their chocolate formulation). PGPR is an emulsifier like Soy Lecithin that’s usually derived from Castor Beans. The emulsifier keeps the chocolate smooth and flowing for the manufacture process and also replaces some of the cocoa butter.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Another Limited Edition item from Reese’s and again playing around with similar ingredients. This time they’ve taken the Big Cup with Nuts (which was also a limited edition item - review here) and added some caramel to the bottom of the cup.
I don’t have a cross section of the actual cup because I kind of trashed it taking it out of the package and though it was certainly edible, it was not photogenic. So have a look at the Big Cup with Peanuts (click to get a pop up photo) and imagine a smidge of caramel at the bottom there.
The cup itself is nice and meaty, with lots of room to explore the nuts and peanut butter and a good balance of chocolate. The center is a bit salty which is good because the milk chocolate is a bit sweet and kind of greasy (I know that’s the hazard with chocolate and peanut butter). The caramel blends in well, it has its own salty kick but it doesn’t detract from the crunchy nuts or add too much sweetness. I’d prefer a chewier caramel like you find in a Snickers, but that’s not Hershey’s way.
I actually liked this one a bit better than the Reese’s with Caramel, the caramel was distinctive and the roominess of the peanut butter/peanut stack let it all breathe.
Just to give you a sense, here are the previous Reese’s reviews: Reese’s Bites (soon to be discontinued), Reese’s Cookies, FastBreak, Reese’s Sticks, Nutrageous, Reese’s Snack Barz, Reese’s Pieces Peanut, Reese’s Easter Eggs (two versions), Reese’s Bars for those who don’t like their candy in cups or shaped like trees, and of course the less-than-comprehensive Reese’s Full Line, another Big Cup (with mixed nuts) and their new favorite child, the Reese’s Crispy Crunchy Bar.
Thursday, January 4, 2007
This was a super-cute stocking stuffer that Santa gave me this year. I have to say that Whitman’s has never been of much interest to me. Perhaps it’s that I’ve found them a bit stale tasting. But it also might be the package, sure Whitman’s Samplers are retro looking, but that not-so-fresh appearance may have been affecting my taste.
But without the regular packaging, I have to say these looked pretty good. The tin has a Tiffany blue background and gold printing. It’s about the same size as a Sucrets lozenge tin, but a little deeper. Each piece of candy is nestled in a little perfect-shaped spot in the plastic tray.
The long milk chocolate rectangle was called Milk Chocolate Butter Cream, which was a kind of chewy sweet fudge. Very sweet, but a pleasant flavor combination.
The round dark chocolate piece was called Dark Chocolate Coconut and unsurprisingly had a coconut center like a Mounds bar. Fresh tasting and not too sweet, the real winner in the box.
The Messenger Boy was cute, with it’s little cross-stitch look. It was a small tablet of milk chocolate. Sweet and unremarkable.
The last one was the Milk Chocolate Caramel which was just the right consistency. Easy to bite but chewy with nice long strands of caramelized sugar and butter. It could have used some more salt to balance the very sweet milk chocolate.
Do they beat See’s (my touchstone for inexpensive boxed chocolates)? No, not even close. These were fresh tasting but a little too “middle of the road” for me. I wanted more zing, more flavor and less sweet. But I do love the tin.
I am curious to try their new Organic Sampler at some point.
Friday, December 29, 2006
Here’s another trend among cooks that’s filtered into the candy world: artisan salt. The most common place to find this in confections is in caramels. Sometimes it’s grains of sea salt sprinkled on top, sometimes it’s just a saltier caramel. It’s not like caramels didn’t always have salt in them. When I make my own caramels I usually use both salted butter and a pinch of salt because I think it brings out the caramelized flavors better.
But of course the gourmets weren’t satisfied with plain old table salt or the more upscale Kosher flake salt, now they insist on curiously-colored and super-expensive sea salt crystals from Hawaii, France or New Zealand. They like to remind us of the grand history of salt and how our word for salary comes from the same root and why that means we should pay oodles of money for dried sea water. Frankly, it all looks like the stuff that we used to throw on the sidewalk when it got icy.
All that said, I welcome the new attention to salt as a way to bring out natural flavors. And I welcome Trader Joe’s foray into the salted caramel market because it’s actually affordable. The Shaker-style box that they come in is cute. Inside the box are two plastic bags with 7 ounces of caramels each. Not really as pretty on the inside as I might have hoped for $6.99 a box (maybe a little wood shavings or excelsior?).
The caramels are beautiful. Luminous and even looking, they’re smell like butter and burnt sugar. They’re individually wrapped in neatly folded clear cellophane. They’re sizeable morsels as well, each is two bites in my estimation. They’re firm to the touch but easy to bite apart.
While some salted caramels have grains of salt sprinkled on top, these are completely incorporated (like the Charles Chocolates and unlike the Fran’s) The salt is very apparent on the tongue but the smooth chew and the buttery mouthfeel come through loud and clear.
I liked them. I’m not sure I really want to eat all 14 ounces of them (that’s what’s good about the two packets in there instead of a large single one), so I might come up with some interesting things to do with them, like making a hard sauce for bread pudding.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.