Monday, October 10, 2011
Russell Stover has epitomized Americana for as long as I can remember. They’re a safe and unassuming brand. Their boxed chocolates are dependably sweet and bland but have a nice flair for dependable and fresh holiday themed chocolate novelties.
I was a little surprised when I saw these new Russell Stover Day of the Dead Skeletons at the drug store.
They have two varieties, one chocolate covered caramel and one chocolate covered marshmallow - but what’s interesting about them is the South of the Border design on the package (bilingual as well).
I’ll start with the Russell Stover Caramel Covered in Milk Chocolate (Caramelo Cubierto en el Chocolate con Leche).
They’re large skeleton shaped caramel planks covered in milk chocolate, the package features a brightly clad skeleton. There are at least three different designs per confection. For the Caramel I chose this lady skeleton wearing a red blouse with poofy sleeves, a green full skirt, a yellow yat with dingleberries and holding maracas. It’s quite a sight, especially when designed with bright flat colors and accents of purple, orange and silver foil.
The pieces are large, about twice the size as the regular Pumpkin products they make. The Caramel was 2.5 ounces and about 4.5 inches long.
The design of the actual candy is not quite as impressive as the package. In fact, once I pulled it out of the wrapper, you could have easily convinced me this was a Halloween Saguaro Cactus. But shape aside, it’s a really lovely piece of candy. The chocolate is nicely tempered, it’s shiny and had very few scuffs and no leaks. The ripples were also nice to look at and gave a feeling that this was a piece of candy made by people.
The caramel is soft, but not runny. The bite is easy and the caramel has a good pull but not a lot of chew to it. It’s smooth and has a lot of toffee notes and very little grain. The milk chocolate is sweet and has a lot of dairy notes though not much going on other than that.
It’s a lot of candy - I couldn’t eat more than a third in one sitting, so it’s not an easy piece to have a little and then put it away.
It’s not an innovative piece, they make a similar product for Easter, but it’s fresh and I really loved the package.
The Russell Stover Marshmallow Covered in Milk Chocolate (Malvavisco Cubierto en el Chocolate con Leche) has an equally vibrant package design. I chose a skeleton wearing a sombrero and bright poncho beating on a magenta and yellow drum.
This piece is only 2.25 ounces, missing a quarter of an ounce because the marshmallow is so fluffy, but probably about 50% thicker than the Caramel version.
The shape is similarly blocky and poorly defined, but still has glossy rippled milk chocolate enrobing.
The Russell Stover marshmallow is always moist and smooth, fluffy but not too foamy. It doesn’t have much flavor, no honey notes but a good vanilla extract finish. It’s a clean tasting candy - everything tastes real - real sugar, real milk, real vanilla. It’s comforting and homey.
The Day of the Dead celebrations of Mexico are vibrant, social and life-affirming. It’s fun to see a confection here in the United States that feels like it’s appealing to those who want to join in the celebration without feeling like it’s exclusionary or pandering. I don’t know if these are going to be sold everywhere, I picked them up in the Echo Park neighborhood RiteAid, one of the denser areas of Mexican-Americans in the country and over 6 million people of Mexican descent in the Southern California metropolitan counties. Next, I’d like to see the inclusion of some real Mexican confectionery traditions.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Abdallah Candies was founded in 1909 by Albert Abdallah in Minneapolis. The company still run by the family using traditional recipes and focusing on classic candy products like caramels, dipped fruit and chocolates.
I picked up an assortment of Abdallah’s Wrapped Caramels while on vacation here in California. They’re cute little two bite pieces that I thought were reasonably priced at 60 cents each.
Their varieties go beyond the typical vanilla, chocolate and nut versions. They offer about a dozen different kinds. They’re wrapped in clear cellophane, which shows of the candy very nicely.
I tried three different varieties:
Vanilla Caramels I started with the classic, as this is the base of the other caramel candies. The color is a pleasing creamy brown. The pull of the caramel was good, stringy without being too tough or grainy. The flavor was sweet with milky notes ... I tend to prefer a little more salt in my caramel these days, but this was still a great classic vanilla caramel.
Pecan Caramel Nougat is, as you can probably tell from the photo, a layer of pecan nougat sandwiched between two layers of the vanilla caramel. The pecans were soft but crunchy with a woodsy maple flavor. The nougat didn’t do much for me in the way of actual flavor (no honey notes) but the chewy and denser texture was interesting compared to the softer, quicker dissolve of the caramel.
I wouldn’t call it a complete win for me, but I loved the addition of the nuts.
Pecan Alligator Caramels are another layered caramel. The top is a chocolate caramel and the bottom is a pecan vanilla caramel. It’s great. It’s soft and chewy, the chocolate gives it a little smoky and salty edge, the nuts are fresh and ample, the caramelized sugar notes are perceptible ... I loved this one. It was a little grainier, could have just been that I ate them last of my little set, so they might have gotten a little humid.
I’m absolutely intrigued by Abdallah now. I want to order more of their candy directly but I’m a little hesitant as I sent them an email with a question on Monday and they still haven’t responded. But their prices are very reasonable. I had no trouble plunking down 60 cents for each of these.
The other items on their website include other caramel and nut combinations called Alligators (completely chocolate dipped nut caramels) and Grizzlies (caramels with whole nuts and dollops of chocolate). The confectioner has a factory store in Burnsville, Minnesota that you can get fresh candy and even watch the factory floor where they dip their chocolates (photos on their facebook page).
Monday, September 26, 2011
While on vacation on the central coast earlier this month I made my regular stop at Sweet Earth Chocolates in San Luis Obispo to pick up some rations for our vacation rental.
I bought some turtles and some other items for immediate consumption and then a few items to bring back to Los Angeles for review. One item that I sampled in the store is their Fair Trade Certified & Certified Organic Bittersweet Chocolate Drops. Yup, I went on vacation and I brought back a bag of chocolate chips.
It’s 12 ounces of 65% dark chocolate with only three ingredients - organic cacao (liquor, cocoa butter & cocoa powder), organic sugar and organic vanilla.
I love the bag. It’s simple, the same sort of wax lined kraft paper bag with a wire-fold closure that you get fresh roasted coffee beans in. It has the same bean bag heft and satisfying crunch when squeezed.
The pieces are small, some as large as a dime but most the size of a flattened standard baking chocolate chip (2/3 of an inch). The smooth disk shape makes them easy to eat and melt in the mouth, no spiky top.
There’s a light tangy note to the pieces upon melting with a slightly dry finish. It’s much sweeter than I would have expected for a 65% chocolate. The flavors are woodsy and smokey with notes of figs and molasses, they’re on the coffee side of the rich flavors. In fact, the package was sitting on my desk one morning and a co-worker said “Your coffee smells really good today.” I didn’t actually have any coffee, it was the open bag of chocolate that smelled like that. On another day the smell was so distracting, I had to close the package up and put it away.
I’m sure this would be great for baking, hot chocolate or pudding. But I was content to just snack away on them. It was no compromise, in the sense that these were organically grown, fair trade certified and not overpackaged. It was $9.50 for the bag, but for 12 ounces, I thought it was a pretty good deal compared to some of the chocolate bars that I buy for the same price but only get 3.5 ounces.
They’re made without soy or dairy (so they’re vegan) but are processed in a facility that has both.
As more of a novelty item I tried their new caramels. They’re like gourmet milk duds. I picked out the Coffee Caramel. The little quarter pound bag is very simply done. A cellophane bag sealed with a little twist tie. (They had samples in the store, I tried the orange and chili one and found it a little too spicy for me, so I opted for the coffee.)
Instead of a glossy coating of chocolate on the house-made caramel nibs, these are coated in chocolate and then rolled in cocoa. They’re lumpy and mis-shapen, some are flat and others are rustically spherical.
The chew is smooth and sweet with some good flavors. The primary flavors are woodsy, a combination of the dark chocolate and cocoa coating plus a little note of coffee. The caramel itself is interesting, the toasted and burnt sugar flavors are missing, are are the butter notes, but still it doesn’t end up tasting like syrup. There’s a little note of cinnamon and coconut in there, but that could be my imagination.
As a gourmet Milk Dud, I was happy, though they are certainly more expensive, don’t have quite the shelf life and are kind of messy with the cocoa coating.
I will continue to visit the Sweet Earth Chocolate shops in San Luis Obispo when I’m in the area. It’s easy on and off the 101 if you’re traveling through the area. My previous review of the shop is here (with photos).
UPDATE: Sweet Earth changed the name of their company to Mama Ganache.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
When the classic Slo Poke Caramel was revived earlier this year, its chocolatey partner Black Cow was also on the slate for reboot by the Classic Caramel Company.
Originally released back in the 1920s by Holloway, makers of Milk Duds, the Black Cow was just a chocolate covered Slo Poke (not that dissimilar from the Sugar Mama which was a chocolate covered Sugar Daddy.) In this new version the Black Cow becomes an actual chocolate infused caramel.
The candy now comes in two formats, a large bar (in this case mine is 20% larger at 1.6 ounces instead of the standard 1.5 ounce) and the little individually wrapped pieces.
Unlike Tootsie Rolls which only have cocoa in them, Black Cow uses whole chocolate (cocoa liquor which includes cocoa butter) in their recipe.
The chew is quite soft. Though you can whack it to make bite sized pieces, I found I had to refrigerate mine. (And once I had broken it into pieces, they reformed into the bar after they came back to room temperature.)
The chew is not quite as smooth as the Slo Poke or even Tootsie Rolls. But the flavor is actually very well rounded - the chocolate notes are rich and woodsy thought not entirely chocolatey. It’s kind of nutty with creamy dairy flavors that are authentic without a greasy partially hydrogenated taste. Still, the ingredients aren’t exactly wholesome, which is sad because real caramel doesn’t really have a lot of expensive ingredients and is relatively shelf stable. This one has both high fructose corn sweetener and partially hydrogenated coconut oil in the list (though very far down, not as predominant ingredients).
For a really satisfying, very chocolatey caramel, you really can’t beat the Storck Chocolate Riesen, which is an actual real chocolate covered chocolate caramel. However, these are far and away better than a Tootsie Roll, which never ceases to bring chewable cardboard to my mind unless encased in hard candy and on a stick.
Friday, September 16, 2011
The Slo Poke Caramel Pop was introduced in 1926 by the Holloway Candy Company. It was a simple, firm, rectangular caramel lollipop. It was sold for the first time the year after the Sugar Daddy made its debut (as the Papa Sucker). As the name might imply, the Slo Poke was a candy to savor and enjoy over a long time. The sucker format meant that kids would either allow it to dissolve or nibble off bites to chew.
As with most candy products of this age, it’s been through many owners. MJ Holloway, also the maker of Milk Duds, sold out to Beatrice Foods in 1960. Beatrice later sold off their confectionery division to Leaf and Leaf divested its candy lines to several different companies. Milk Duds went to Hershey’s and Slo Pokes and their chocolate brethren, Black Cow, went to the Gilliam Candy company in 1998. For a brief time in this century, Slo Pokes stopped being made until the Warrell Corporation acquired the brand and recipe and began making them again last year under their new Classic Caramel Company (which also reintroduced Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy).
The new format of the revived Slo Poke is the 1.8 ounce bar. It’s a big plank of caramel. Like Turkish Taffy and other taffy/nougat candies, the simplest way to serve yourself is to whack the package on a hard surface to break it into bite sized pieces. I chose to eat mine in all of its chewy wholeness.
The texture is soft, much softer than a Sugar Daddy, which is the closest approximation to this candy. Like the Sugar Daddy, this is a true caramel. The first ingredient is corn syrup, followed by sweetened condensed milk and then more sugar. The color is dark and authentically toasted sugar. The flavor is quite sweet and the texture is mostly smooth. There’s a slight grain to it towards the end that I can only equate with a Sugar Baby or a poorly made fudge.
The flavor is almost exactly like the center of a Milk Dud (as you can imagine). It’s not quite as tough or smooth a chew as the Duds though.
The ingredients aren’t as pure as I’d like. Far down on the list is high fructose corn syrup, which an extremely rare ingredient in candy as well as partially hydrogenated coconut oil, calcium caseinate, distilled monoglycerides and artificial flavors. For something that’s labeled as Real Caramel I have to wonder what that actually means.
I liked the bar, mostly because it was soft and easy to eat. I don’t recall buying these much as a kid, I really was more of a Sugar Daddy fan, though those are certainly more threatening to teeth and dental work. I think my favorite easy-to-eat caramel is still Sugar Babies though, partly because they’re a bit neater and partly because they’re so cute but mostly because I prefer the mix of the smooth texture of the caramel center with the grainy jelly bean style coating. But if I was really going to satisfy my caramel cravings I’d have to go with Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffee.
The candies are no longer made in their original lollipop format. They’re sold in bars or the little, individually wrapped bite sized pieces. I don’t think those who loved the original are going to be disappointed with this resurrected version.
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Russell Stover makes a good selection of classic candies. It’s a step above mass-manufactured candy bars, but not quite to the level of fine chocolates. Their strongest area is in holiday specialty candies and they’re probably best known for their Easter Eggs. For the rest of the year folks just have to wait for them to come back or buy one of their sub-par boxes of chocolates.
Lately Russell Stover has come out with some of their favorites in individually wrapped pieces in bags. I picked up this bag of Russel Stover Marshmallow & Caramel in Fine Milk Chocolate at the drug store. Russell Stover already makes this candy in fun shapes for the holidays, like Hearts for Valentines Day, Eggs for Easter, Pumpkins for Halloween and probably something like a Tree or Santa for Christmas (I can’t seem to find that one).
Each piece is individually wrapped and a little larger than I think you’d expect for a candy in a box of chocolates. They’re just a bit shy of a half an ounce (.494 to be exact) and clock in at about 57 calories - so two of these makes a pleasant snack at a rather low caloric density for a chocolate product. They’re quite attractive too, with nicely rippled and thick milk chocolate. The packaging protected them well, with no scuffs or cracks.
Most of the pieces were about 1.75 inches long and 1 inch across. They’re not as thick as I would have hoped, I kind of wanted a lofty marshmallow center like the See’s Scotchmallow. Each piece is about two bites. The marshmallow is soft and latexy, spongy and only slightly sweet. There’s a vague cinnamon and cereal flavor to the whole thing. The caramel is sweet and has a little chew to it. The chocolate coating is sweet, milky and a little sticky in the melt but overall of good enough quality to hold up to the other flavors.
The whole effect was a very sweet product with distinct textures and some slight differences in flavors. The caramel didn’t have much of the smoky, burnt sugar flavors which is too bad because that really could have pulled it together. As a small indulgence, it meets some very basic needs. I think it would probably be more fun to pop this into a microwave and then between a couple of graham crackers for a caramel infused S’more.
For folks who miss the holiday version of these, now you can have it year round. I might prefer the Valentine’s or Halloween version because it has less chocolate and more marshmallow but go with whatever suits your needs.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Like the other bars, it’s a standard 3.5 ounce tablet bar in a bright purple holographic wrapper (I really captured the psychedelic feature in the photo this time). The bar is milk chocolate with a little flowing, salted caramel in each segment.
The front of the package says that it’s Truly amazing chocolate made with natural ingredients. But then it refers you to the list of ingredients which does actually have many that are considered natural, but a few others that I’d say aren’t, such as mono- and di-glycerides, TBHQ (a preservative that keeps oils from going rancid) and hydrogenated coconut oil.
The bar mold is wonderfully designed with a complex pattern that makes every segment a little different. The bar was also expertly poured, no strange voids and a pristine surface. I went to a lot of trouble to pick out a bar at the store that wasn’t broken, but somehow I managed to break it anyway. Makes me wonder if this bar should be in a box or have a piece of cardstock as a splint.
Each segment has a thin reservoir of caramel in it. The milk chocolate was soft, but not mushy (it is summer, so I expect this). It’s creamy, rather milky and very sweet. It wasn’t quite the buttery silk of Dove, but had a lot more character as well with some strong fresh dairy notes instead of a dried milk flavor. The caramel center was sweet and sticky with a bit of a salty note. The caramel flavor was a bit artificial and not quite convincing as actual caramelized sugar, but it was still a great counterpoint in both texture and flavor to the milk chocolate.
Think of it as a deluxe Cadbury Caramello bar. The chocolate is definitely better, it has more cocoa bite to it and a creamier, less greasy texture. However, there are far better bars out there for less money. May I direct you to the Trader Joe’s Caramel Sea Salt Bar? Only $1.99 and with the far superior dark chocolate. If you prefer milk chocolate, well, that’s no help. Also, the biggest problem with the Trader Joe’s bar was how messy it was, whereas the Wonka bar does have well contained segments.
The price was silly though for a Nestle product. I’d be much more inclined in this price range to sample Lindt or Green & Black’s (especially for the organic and fair trade aspects) or just go for the value of a mass quantity like Dove’s little caramel Promises.
Wednesday, July 06, 2011
See’s Candies has been adding limited edition flavors to the regular offerings. Sometimes I time it right when I visit one of their shops. This summer they have their new See’s Candies Double Caramel.
The package describes them as vanilla brown sugar caramel and chocolate butter caramel. So they’re a stacked product inside the milk chocolate shell - the base is the chocolate caramel then a layer of the brown sugar caramel.
They’re available in half pound boxes on the website or at the store in small boxes or in the custom mix. (I don’t think they’ve been added to the classic See’s Nuts & Chews.)
I bought this little box that holds 5 ounces, which is 6 caramels. Yeah, think about that, each caramel weighs over three quarters of an ounce. That’s a pretty dense caramel. The package says that two is a serving, which is just too rich for even me in one sitting (unless I’m sitting for a long time).
As I mentioned before, they’re huge. It’s about an inch and a half in diameter (tall and the base). I couldn’t eat them in one bite, they were definitely two bites. (You can bite them down the center or you can tip them with the bottom perpendicular and bite them so you get either a layer of chocolate caramel or the brown sugar caramel.)
The combination of the flavors is great, the ratios are spot on. The texture of the caramel is soft, smooth and chewy. Neither layer is too sweet. The chocolate one is a light woodsy and deep flavor that has a little touch of coffee to it. The brown butter caramel has a little note of honey and salt along with the light woodsy note of molasses. The milk chocolate has a strong milk flavor, though the melt wasn’t quite as silky as I’d hoped.
If I had one comment to improve these, it’d be less sweet milk chocolate. It’s really sugary, and with all the sugar in the caramel, I’d prefer a darker milk chocolate. But maybe that’d make we want to eat more at once, so I might be better off in the long run with it as is.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.