Thursday, September 25, 2014
Salted Caramels were also a trend, but apparently every trend either dies out or simply becomes an everyday item. So, it has happened with Salted Caramel and so now they must be trendalized with the newest flavors of the season. These are Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels.
Trader Joe’s makes a version of these for Christmas with white flake sea salt. They’re sold in the same box with a different design. They’re wildly popular, as they’re returned to shelves for more than six years in a row. Since Trader Joe’s will pretty much make a pumpkin spice version of every product they sell at some point, it was just the salted caramels’ turn. (I could list all of the items, but suffice to say that they’ve done tea, coffee, macaron, granola, ice cream, and actual pumpkin pie spice. Here’s a taste test from Serious Eats from a few years ago.)
They’re described on the box:
The ingredients are all natural, but insanely long. The chocolates are made in Ireland (I suspect by Lily O’Brien). The filling isn’t just caramel, according to their list, but actually Sticky Toffee Caramel. There’s no list of what the spices are for their pumpkin spice.
They’re lovely looking caramels, they do well in their package and emerge very shiny and with most of the salt still attached to the squiggle of milk chocolate on top of the 55% dark chocolate.
Though I often find sea salt to be a bit over-hyped, as it’s used in such small quantities that it’s hard to tell different salts apart. In this instance I could tell it was Hawaiian Sea Salt ...and I did not like it. I can’t quite put my finger on it, a friend called it Spaghetti-Os flavored, I thought it was more like carrot, but there’s definitely an additional note to this salt. It was notable enough that for some of the pieces that I ate, I actually scraped the salt off completely.
The spice smell is quite clove-heavy, even before I bit into it. The chocolate is earthy and sweet with a very good bitter note towards the end. It’s smooth and wonderfully tempered. There were no cracks or oozing spots on any of the caramels. The caramel has a light grain to it, which is probably the spice. There’s also a cereal sort of wheaty flavor to it as well. The other spice notes are earthy, with some ginger and black pepper notes and some cinnamon. Not really the best combination for me, if it were a pie, but it goes well with the chocolate.
In the end, this was not a great combination for me, I didn’t like the plain version of these that much and the addition of the spice doesn’t do much for me either. I’ll stick to the individually wrapped Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel Caramels or the panned Butterscotch Caramels.
Monday, September 22, 2014
See’s Candies is a classic American confectionery company that makes good quality chocolates. They’re sold almost exclusively at See’s Candies stores, which are mostly found in malls, and mostly in the Western US but they’re also available online and from the occasional educational fundraiser.
Though See’s is known for their chocolates they also make a unique line of lollipops that are like a hard caramel on a stick. Over the past five years they’ve created seasonal varieties with more trendy flavors like Pumpkin Spice and Orange Creme. I wasn’t at all surprised to see the announcement that in additional to their Pumpkin Spice and Orange Chocolate this fall, they were also bringing out See’s Caramel Apple Lollypops.
Their pops are available singly at the stores or in bags of 8 online. If you’ve never had a See’s lollypop, they’re about 3/4 of an ounce block of hard caramel with a stick. The shape is blocky, about 1 inch wide and 1.5 inches tall.
It smells like apples, not the green apples of Jolly Rancher, but more like apple cider.
The flavor is immediately caramel and a little dash of salt with a note of apple peels. There’s no tartness, no tang; the apple flavor is less of a caramel covered apple and more like an apple pie with caramel sauce. The wonderful part of these lollies is that the dissolve is so smooth and it feels a lot more filling that its 70 calories might have you believe.
I enjoyed them quite bit. The items that detracted are the same problems I always have. The paper stick gets soggy and more often than not, the caramel block comes off the stick while the piece is really too big to hold comfortably in my mouth. Often there is a series of holes within the candy running its length which makes sucking on the pop problematic because it’s more like a straw where you suck in air than speed up the dissolve of the candy. See’s makes mini versions of their classic flavors, but not of the seasonal, limited edition ones.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
One of the fun things about candy is that it makes a great gift. But it’s not terribly special to grab some pick-a-mix at the local candy shop and drop the twist-tie plastic bag on someone’s lap and consider it a present. Churchill’s Confectionery recognizes that half and sticks their candy in decorative tins.
The company offered to send me a sample of their line. I’ve actually had Churchill’s before, I have a little red London bus tin that doubles as a bank on my desk at work. So when they offered, I thought it would be good to have some fresh candy to try.
They sent two tins, one was this classic looking embossed Carousel tin that holds English Toffees and Vanilla Fudge and another tin that held three trays of biscuits (cookies). I don’t review cookies ... but I did eat them. The tin holds 14 ounces, which is separated into two 7 ounce bags of candy. So it’s not quite the lush look of a tin full of candy until you dump the cellophane bags into it, but they do stay fresh.
I’ve never quite understood fudge, and this version does little to help me out. Fudge is basically a mixture of sugar and butter ... though modern versions use more advanced ingredients. Many candies have the same ingredients; it’s the texture of fudge that differentiates it from caramel or toffee. Fudge has a slight grain to it, on purpose, which is reintroduced by carefully heating it to a precise temperature and then allowing it to cool partially before stirring. Stirring too soon will make the sugar crystals too large and not stirring enough just makes the texture incomplete. (More in this excellent and slightly technical explanation.)
The great thing about fudge is that it’s a wonderful blank slate for so many other flavors, including chocolate or pecan penuche. As this is Vanilla, it’s actually a blank slate. You can see that the ingredients are decent enough. The pieces are well formed and the color is of a camel-colored coat. Churchill’s has mastered the smooth texture style of fudge (I actually like mine a little grainy). It smells sweet and buttery but has no browned sugar notes (And has no brown sugar ingredients, either.)
The pieces are nice little rectangles, wrapped in silver mylar. This vanilla fudge is extremely sweet with only a slight note of actual vanilla bean. A little note of the woodsy bourbon would be nice, or some deeper toasted sugar notes would have pleased me. Overall, this is too sweet. And coming from a person who actually eats sugar lumps from time to time, that’s saying a lot.
I could really only eat these with a very strong cup of coffee or some salted nuts. They’re just too sweet straight.
Rating: 6 out of 10
One of the oddities in the confection world is how the same candy is called different things in different places. What’s even more vexing is when the new word means something else completely. Take toffee. In the United States we know toffee as a hard, crunchy, caramel brittle. But in the United Kingdom, for the most part, toffee is actually what we call caramel. However, I didn’t need anyone to tell me what this was ... I know a caramel when I see one.
They’re nice rounded pieces wrapped in gold mylar, with a soft milky scent. They’re about the size of Coffee Nips, and if Coffee Nips were chewable, that’s what they’d be like. They’re extremely smooth. The chew is stiff but not sticky or tough. The flavor is a bit salty with burnt sugar notes. It dissolves away to nothing with very little left stuck to my teeth.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Both recipes include milk and soy ingredients and may contain traces of nuts. The glucose syrup is also from wheat, so I don’t think it’s gluten free.
There are a wide variety of tin designs available from Churchill’s. They’re very traditional but do feature a few classic tourist items (like the double decker red bus). I don’t think it’s something I’d buy for myself, but with the right contents and design, I could see them as a good quality hostess gift or thank you item.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Shurms are unique in the candy world, at least in my experience. The company offered me a couple of samples and I was eager to try their Caramel Coffee candies, but also figured I should try their Caramel Apple because it’s the season for such things.
They came in a 10 piece box (3 ounces), which retails for $4.59. They’re sold on the web and locally in Michigan.
Since this is the season of Caramel Apple candies, I have to say that this is a unique item and deserves attention on its own. It’s amazing to look at, though kind of hard to capture with the camera. The green candy is translucent, perhaps even glowing in the dark. It’s very green (of course those are food colorings doing that) while the caramel part is the color of over-milked coffee.
The Caramel Apple consists of two layers. The green layer is a pectin based jelly candy on a base of traditional soft caramel. It smells, well, lovely. The caramel has a good toffee note to it and a little butter and then there’s the fresh scent of apple.
The candy is soft. There are a few ways to eat it: pop the whole thing in your mouth at once, eat the layers separately or bite through both layers. I opted mostly for the latter. The pectin layer is an fascinating candy in and of itself. It’s firmer than a jelly, chewier than a gumdrop and a bit on the sticky side by itself. The green apple flavor is mild but well developed with both juice notes and a sort of apple peel flavor in there as well. The texture reminded me of Botan Rice Candy. The caramel is soft and has a light salty note and excellent toasted sugar elements.
It’s an interesting textural experience. The sweetness of the pectin layer is offset well by the salt of the caramel. The sticky melt of the pectin is broken up by the fat in the caramel. It’s not a candy I ever would have thought of.
The Caramel Coffee are a little different, since there’s no fruity tartness to cut through the sweetness. However, there is the bitter note of coffee. The pectin layer here is a deep brown and glossy, but not transparent at all. It smells like caramel, there’s no hint of the coffee. The pectin layer is definitely coffee, but very sweet. There’s a light acidic hint to it. The caramel is sweet and salty but also has a rum vibe going on. The whole thing has a satisfying chew and textures, but is missing something for me.
I appreciate how different this candy is, but curiosity doesn’t fulfill me. It’s great that these are gluten free and I do admire the limited but appropriate flavor combinations they have. There’s also a cherry and caramel version. (Gluten free but contains milk and soy.)
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
DeMet’s may have invented the name Pecan Turtle, but they haven’t done much to exemplify the greatness of the combination. They’re mediocre, but at the very least, easy to find at many major drug store chains.
The bags are on the expensive side, mine was $3.79 for only 5 ounces, which is over $12 a pound.
My first bag, purchased at a Walgreen’s not far from my house was bloomed slightly, as you can tell. It didn’t seem to affect the texture, but after I saw heard from a neighbor that stopped by to pick up a prescription a week later that Walgreen’s was shut down by the health department for vermin infestation, I decided to source another bag. (I really wasn’t concerned, it was fully sealed, but figured the candy deserved a chance to shine - but I was pretty miffed about the condition of the chocolate from Walgreen’s, so I’m unlikely to buy chocolate from that location again.) I didn’t re-photograph, though, since it was oppressively hot in my home and just as likely to bloom the new bag.
Even the new bag with its well-tempered pieces was still scuffed, so they didn’t look that dissimilar.
They’re mini turtles, so it’s not a complicated concept. What I was hoping was that each turtle would be a single pecan.
They’re cute and bite sized, a great concept really when it comes to this type of candy, which can get flaky and messy when eating in several bites.
The chocolate is marginal, to the point where I had to re-read the ingredients several times to make sure it was real. It’s sweet and not overly smooth or with much of a chocolate intensity. That said, it’s a good companion to the caramel, which is nicely chewy without being too sticky. The caramel didn’t have much of a salty or toffee flavor pop to it, but held everything together. The biggest disappointment is the shortage of actual pecans in my turtles. It’s like the turtle had only two or three legs, not a full four plus a head and tail.
If given a choice, and no budget, I’d probably seek out See’s Pecan Buds. They’re about twice the price and slightly larger, but so obviously fresher with whole pecans and higher quality chocolate. But, if I were trying to find something a little more on the decadent side for watching a movie or perhaps traveling, these might fit the bill.
Turtles, of course, contain milk, tree nuts and soy ingredients. They’re also processed on equipment with wheat, other tree nuts and peanuts. There’s no information about the sourcing of the chocolate itself.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Twix Unwrapped Bites are exactly what they sound like, a bag of tiny little Twix bars (more like nuggets) all jumbled up, out of the wrapper and ready to eat.
Mars already makes bites which include the primary elements for the classic bar version, but have different ratios because of the miniaturization process. It’s an uneven transfer to the new format, in some case I prefer the new ratios, in others I think that one or more elements is lacking. So far I’ve tried: Milky Way, Milky Way Simply Caramel, 3 Musketeers, and Snickers.
The little lumps aren’t really that pretty, but they’re chocolatey, so that’s appealing. Like the other bites, they get scuffed up tumbling around in the package, so they don’t have the elegant, shiny ripples of the long fingers. They smell sugary and sweet, just like regular Twix bars.
They’re not as messy as I find regular Twix, as I pop the whole thing in my mouth at once. The crunch of the cookie is good, there’s a bit higher ratio of chocolate in this version, and a good caramel chew to bring the elements together. Sweet, milky, a mild sandy crunch ... a good blend of textures. Like the other bites, it’s easy to mix them in with other items to create a custom mix. I think this might be good with a Chex Mix if you’re a sweet & savory person.
I thought it was interesting to note that in the United Kingdom, Mars also introduced a morsel version of Twix last year. It’s a little different though. Since I knew that the Twix Unwrapped Bites were coming to the United States, I made sure to find the Twix Mix while I was in London back in March so I could compare them.
The format of Twix Mix is actually a mix of little nuggets of biscuit (cookie) and caramel. They’re slightly different shapes, so if you’d prefer to eat one or the other, or make sure you’re mixing them, you can pick them out. The caramel pieces are just little spheres of a firm caramel covered in a very milky, thin chocolate shell. The biscuit pieces are a little flatter.
The effect is actually quite nice. The ratios don’t match the classic Twix bar at all, and the milk chocolate is much milkier and the whole experience is a bit more on the malt side than the usual emphasis on the toffee/caramel notes. As a confectionery snack, they’re good and different enough from a bridge mix or something as traditional as Milk Duds.
The American Twix Unwrapped Bites have no notation on the packaging regarding the cocoa sourcing yet, though Mars promises that is coming in the next few years. They contain dairy, soy and gluten and may contain traces of peanuts.
Friday, March 14, 2014
The Lovely Candy Company is a new venture that says, “Enjoying candy is like riding a bike - everyone should be able to do it!” So, to take away any trepidation some folks would have to indulging, they’re making their line of individually wrapped chews and caramels from “cleaner” ingredients.
You’ll find they’re gluten free, no GMO ingredients, and they use rBST free dairy products. (However, even though they make no products with nuts, they are processed on shared equipment and may contain traces of peanuts, almonds, walnuts and pecans. They also don’t use soy, but again, may contain traces of soy as well as nutmeg.)
For my first experience with the Lovely Candy, I picked out their all natural Chewy Original Caramels. Unlike the ingredients list for Hershey’s new Lancaster Caramel Cremes I reviewed previously, this is a very short and easy to understand list of ingredients that you might assemble in your own kitchen:
The caramels are soft and have a wonderfully sweet aroma. What I liked best was there was not fake butter note to it that I’ve experienced with other packaged caramels.
The bite is soft and easy to chew. It’s chewy and smooth, but not silky in the same way the Lancaster Caramel Cremes were. It’s odd to compare these to the previous product, but I am since they’re hitting store shelves (they were only a few feet from each other at Target when I bought them) at the same time with similar price points, I think it’s valid to see how they size up. The flavor is robust, not very salty but not sticky or overly sweet. They don’t have the molasses or brown sugar notes I was hoping for, also, I’ve noticed that brown rice syrup can give confections a malty note, but I didn’t sense that here either.
Overall, a decent caramel. Easy to chew, easy to share and pop in your mouth. I’m disappointed to say that I prefer the Lancaster caramels, even knowing their less than ideal ingredients list. Not that I won’t finish this bag ... I’m fully committed to them.
I like that I found these at Target, a place that I know serves a huge portion of this country with an awful lot of heavily processed products. If someone is looking for a candy with more transparently sourced ingredients, this is a good option. However, it’s still sugar and fat, so it’s still not considered a healthy alternative to nutritious food ... it’s just better candy.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Milton S. Hershey is one of great entrepreneur stories of the 20th century. Hershey always wanted to be a confectioner. He was apprenticed to a candy maker as a child and then later tried several times to make it on his own. He focused on caramels and small wrapped sweets, peddling them on a cart pushed around the streets. While working in Denver for another confectioner, he learned a new recipe for boiled sweets, a caramel that was extremely stable as well as delicious because of the use of milk in addition to butter. However, even in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York City ... each of these companies failed. In 1886 he returned home, in debt but still convinced that his new caramel recipe he learned in Denver could succeed. He convinced family members to invest once again and this time was the right time. He created the Lancaster Caramel Company which flourished.
He built this little enterprise into a full factory business by the turn of century, employing over 1,300 people and then sold it off for a million dollars in order to fund his new venture, the Hershey Chocolate Company. Hershey’s is finally introducing their own line of caramels, under the nostalgic name of Lancaster.
The new Lancaster Caramel Soft Cremes’ package looks nostalgic. What’s inside, though, is unlikely to be anything close to what Milton Hershey used to make in copper kettles. The package says “His [Milton Hershey] original caramel recipe is the inspiration for Lancaster Cremes. The ingredients tell the story of a modern confection:
Though I was a little disappointed to see the use of things like palm kernel oil, tocopherols and high fructose corn sweetener, I was more disappointed at the price for such things. Kraft Caramels are usually about $2 a bag on sale and contain similar ingredients but not the premium price. But, I was willing to give these a try.
The little nuggets are glossy and soft. They don’t smell like much, but have a beautifully soft and chewy bite. The chew and dissolve is impossibly smooth and rich, with good flavor notes of caramelized sugar and butter. It’s like a soft version of Pearson’s Nips. (I could imagine these as fantastic in coffee flavor.) It’s not a completely stiff caramel chew, like a Storck Chocolate Riesen, but much smoother than the soft bite of a Kraft Caramel.
As much as I wanted to hate these for their divergence from Hershey’s original simple ingredients, they are quite good. The texture, the consistency and overall not-too-sweet profile is really ideal. I begrudgingly love them. They come in two other varieties: Vanilla and Caramel and Vanilla and Raspberry. Honestly, I plan to quit while I’m ahead. If they come up with chocolate or coffee flavored ones, I’ll give those a go.
Oddly enough, the Lancaster Caramels are made in Canada, not Central Pennsylvania. Also, they’re not Kosher and there are no other notations on the package regarding nuts, wheat or eggs though the ingredients list dairy and soy as ingredients.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.