Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Late last year I got these preview versions of the new Vote For Your Favorite Peanut varieties. The idea is that during the US Presidential Primary season, Mars would introduce a trio of flavors to choose from, and the public would vote. The three versions are Chili Nut, Honey Nut, Coffee Nut.
The Honey Nut M&Ms are a milk chocolate coating with a whole peanut in the center and a crisp shell. Somewhere in there is also a honey flavor ... in the shell, is it a honey roasted nut? I have no idea.
I pulled a few apart and didn’t find any evidence of honey roasting, but they do smell a little bit like maple syrup and vanilla. The shell on this variety also seems crisper. The whole effect is a rather clean, sweet flavor but basically a regular old Peanut M&M.
(Note that the packages I got were not final and the M&Ms were all the same color in each bag, in the final versions released to the public there are actually three colors for each variety.)
The Chili Nut M&Ms are probably the most daring of the bunch. Sure, spicy things are trendy, but the major candy companies have stayed far away from the chili heat, sticking to the pumpkin, ginger and cinnamon spices.
The combination of the peanuts, milky chocolate and mild cayenne pepper is very nice. The heat varies from time to time, but generally has a throat warming appeal that builds the more you eat. But it never gets too hot, which makes for a different experience without alienating folks who can’t tolerate a lot of pepper. (I’m afraid I’m one of those, I’m not great with capsaicin, the heat in red peppers, but I love all other spices like mustards, curries, black pepper and ginger).
Coffee Nut M&Ms is such a promising flavor. The roasted flavors of peanuts, coffee and chocolate should be an ideal combination. Added to that, I absolutely loved the winter 2015 Cafe Mocha M&Ms.
The shell is great, the peanuts are large and crunchy ... but the overwhelming flavor isn’t necessarily coffee, but it’s more of a buttery, woodsy flavor. I wanted to give the candy the benefit of doubt, so I bought a full 10.2 ounce bag at CVS just to be sure. Still, I’m getting this weird buttery coconut note.
I think it’s fantastic that Mars is paying a little more attention to the Peanut M&Ms, since most of the flavors we see are for the Milk Chocolate or white varieties. None of these varieties is something I plan to buy again before they disappear.
Monday, March 21, 2016
This new version, sold in bags of minis, is called KitKat Premium Hazelnut. Japanese confectionery has a successful track record of adapting French techniques and flavors for the Japanese market, so I was very interested to see how the global Nestle corporation did in this version.
The little minis are quite small. It’s not just a shorter, half sized version of the standard four fingered bar. These are two inches long and 1.2 inches wide.
The flavor is called hazelnut, but what’s most interesting about the picture on the package, is that it features feuilletine along with some hazelnuts. Even if you don’t recognize the word feuilletine, you’ve probably had a version of it before. Think of a very crispy crepe, or the flaky layers of a sugar cone. It’s a caramelized sort of cookie that’s usually crumbled and added to other things, like chocolate ganache or cream centers.
The ingredients for this version of KitKat unfortunately show that this isn’t a true chocolate product, as many Nestle chocolate items tend to be these days. The chocolate coating includes vegetable oil, though a lot less sugar than the usual chocolate coating, so part of what gives this a premium feel is that it’s not as sickly sweet as the standard milk chocolate KitKat.
These little bars smell like sugar cones and roasted hazelnuts. It’s quite appealing. The chocolate coating is rather slick and has a little bit of an oily melt, but also a good roasted coffee and woodsy chocolate flavor. The center looks light and crispy, just like the usual wafer layers, but it has the precise flavor and texture of feuilletine. It’s a little grainy and as a more caramelized crunch to it. Magic. Still, the oily and slick mockolate coating lacks the complexity and texture of real chocolate. In this context, it seems to work on a candy level, but I wouldn’t dare call it premium.
They’re extremely satisfying, or not, because I actually wanted to eat the whole package. Sadly, the package only has 12 little bars (a single serving is listed as 3 bars). It’s an expensive treat and the ingredients don’t live up to the price. But the end result was too tasty to keep from giving it a solid review.
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Mars has a few seasonal varieties of M&Ms available this year, including the White Strawberry Shortcake and Easter Sundae M&Ms (which are Target and Walmart exclusives, respectively). For the masses who can’t shop at those stores or don’t want a which chocolate product, there’s one other Easter version that’s new this year: Malt M&Ms Mini Eggs.
I was very excited about these by the name, since Mars already has a great line of malt products available in Europe under the Malteser name. This is not that, in any way.
The new Malt M&Ms Mini Eggs are Crispy M&Ms in their format and ingredients. The only difference is not the addition of malt in the center, but butter flavor.
I picked up both the regular M&Ms Crispy in their Easter colors and the Malt M&Ms Mini Eggs for comparison, when a reader alerted me that they were no different.
There are some small format differences. As noted in the name, the Malts are mini, and they are slightly smaller than the regular Crispy M&Ms, but not something that you’d notice right away. But then again, the Malts aren’t really egg shaped at all, they’re just inconsistent so that some of them are kind of egg shaped and others are spherical.
The candies on the left are the Easter colors for the regular Crispy M&Ms and the handful on the right are the new Malt M&Ms Mini Eggs. Slightly different colors, but similar irregular shapes.
The difference isn’t inside, either. The ingredients and the structure are the same. The crispy rice center is light and airy, but basically flavorless, it’s a little like cereal, a little malty. Outside there’s a little hint of chocolate, not much but with a bit of a milky note. The candy shell is crisp. But as I mentioned earlier, this Malt version is not malty, the outside has a butter flavor to it, and I have to emphasize that it’s just a flavor.
I’ve had these two bags for almost a month, I’ve finished the regular Easter crispy M&Ms but I can’t bear to even have the Malt bag open near me. The smell is disgustingly artificial. It’s not malt at all. I don’t know what Mars was thinking with this product version, but they should definitely consult with other parts of the company that actually make malted items in the future.
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Easter is a time for the iconic Cadbury Creme Egg. However, it doesn’t come in a lot of flavor variations. So it’s understandable that someone else wants to get into the cream egg marketplace.
I found these Minion Milk Chocolate with Banana Cream Egg at Cost Plus World Market. It was hard to find out who actually makes them, because it’s not Cadbury. The foil wrapper was hard to read, but eventually I was able to flatten it out to see that it’s made by a company called Treat Street, that mostly makes licensed novelty treats.
It’s a great idea, to make a cream egg with a different flavored filling, and in this case it’s brilliant that they’ve picked banana and partnered that with a Minion themed foil wrapping. They’re quite arresting when viewed in the full bin. But the most notable part of this design is that all of the eggs are Stuart, as they all have one eye (I suppose they could also be other one-eyed Minions, but it’d be silly to pay a licensing fee to make candies with a minor character).
My issue with only one design is minor, because the foil itself is quite adorable. The egg inside is completely ordinary looking. It’s the same as a Cadbury egg, except it’s missing a starburst.
The banana center is very yellow, in fact, one might call it Minion Yellow. Before biting the egg just smells like milky chocolate. After biting, well, it’s all banana. The filling is gooey, a little bit thinner than the Cadbury variety and a little less grainy. It is absolutely sweet and has a strong artificial banana flavor, though it’s also a little on the green side. Some banana flavors can have a lot of acetone notes, this one at least seems a little bit more unripe.
The most disappointing part of the egg construction is that there is not one cream compartment in the center. In the case of these knock off eggs, they’re obviously made in halves which actually have a full coating of chocolate that creates a chocolate septum when biting into the whole egg. This means more chocolate and less filling. It also means that there’s no “yolk”. Though the filling is extremely sweet and quite strongly flavored, there’s so much chocolate to balance it.
As far as a knock-off egg, this one is very good. The chocolate is passably good for a novelty item and the filling is distinctive. Since it adds its own twist with the banana as well as the foil design to go with the Minion character, I’d call it a win. However, I can’t imagine ever buying this unless I was specifically looking for a banana Easter item or something for a Minion fan. The price of $1.49 was a bit steep as well for the quality level.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
There’s not much of a description on the package, just that the squares are filled with strawberry filling. The filling appears to be made from sugar, high fructose corn syrup, palm oil and freeze dried strawberries and colored with fruit and vegetable juice (very vague). It also has some added TBHQ as a preservative. There’s no indication of the cacao content of the chocolate itself, but I’d guess it’s somewhere in the low 60% range. Each square is 70 calories.
The squares are elegant and simple. They’re 1.75 inches square and sport the Ghirardelli logo in a beveled field. In my experience the packaging protects the pieces well and they usually look stunningly gorgeous.
If there’s an issue with the filled squares from Ghirardelli is that they temper their chocolate to be very crisp and snappy ... so the filled pieces can be messy to eat when the chocolate breaks apart upon biting and the filling dribbles out. So, make an effort to bite on the diagonal, or pop the whole thing in your mouth at once.
The chocolate is sweet but with a nice dry woodsy note to it, which goes well with the strawberry flavors. The strawberry filling is quite like a finely pureed strawberry sauce. It’s not overly sweet, has a strong tangy note and just a touch of seed flavor to it (and some actual seeds).
Because the edges are so thick and the chocolate in the center is so thin, there’s a large variation in the proportion of filling to chocolate in any given bite.
I liked them quite a bit, it was the best imitation of a chocolate covered strawberry that doesn’t spoil that I think I’ve had. Ghirardelli Strawberry Squares contain soy and milk and may also contain traces of tree nuts. There’s no statement about gluten.
Monday, January 25, 2016
The new Dove Milk Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake Crisp Promises are for Valentine’s Day. I picked mine up at Target (and they may be a Target-Exclusive item).
The shortcake part is a little odd, conceptually. For a real strawberry shortcake, berries (often in a sweetened syrup) are ladled over a biscuit type baked good. Some folks prefer a spongecake or poundcake but the key here is that they’re all soft and cakey. The cookie pieces in this case are made from tapioca starch, rice flour, sugar, palm oil, baking soda and some salt.
The other odd part of this is that there’s milk chocolate ... so if anything, this is an imitation of a chocolate covered strawberry with a few gluten free cookie bits (this is not, however, a gluten free product as it’s made in a facility that also uses wheat and peanuts and tree nuts).
The pieces are not a swirl of milk & white chocolate, like some other recent versions. Instead this is a solid milk chocolate piece, flavored with some strawberry and dotted with little cookie inclusions.
The strawberry flavor is very strong, but the milk chocolate holds its own with a creamy dairy note and a little toasty cocoa flavor. The strawberry is floral sweetness, no dried berry bits in this version. The cookie bits are odd, since they’re made with starch and not actual wheat flour, they are actually rather starchy, though they don’t get sticky-pasty like some gluten free cookies I’ve had. The overall effect of the crunchy cookie bit is really nice, it aerates the experience because you kind of have to chew it instead of just letting the chocolate melt away, which I think boosts the strawberry notes.
They’re pleasant. The strawberry isn’t too artificial or plastic (it does say natural flavor on the package, though it’s kind of vague). I don’t know if I would buy these again, but I appreciated the effort and novelty.
Monday, January 4, 2016
Early last year at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, I tried a new line of chocolate cups from the confectioners at Vosges. These sets of mini peanut butter cups are from the Wild Ophelia line of chocolates and come in a few varieties. The first one I picked up at the store, when I finally found them last month at Whole Foods are the Wild Ophelia Caramelized Bananas Peanut Butter Cups.
The packages look like a regular twin set of chocolate cups (though they’re actually 2.1 ounces) but inside is actually a try that holds a set of six little cups.
I call them cups, but there’s actually no paper fluting on them, just the cups on a tray inside a wrapper.
The cups are made from 41% cacao milk chocolate, which is from fair trade certified beans (the sugar is also fair trade). The bananas are not the typical Cavendish most of us eat, but a varietal grown on Kauai known as Williams. The bananas are actually caramelized with some cream and sugar and sprinkled on top of the cups. The filling is peanut butter, and as far as I can tell, more chocolate.
They’re almost savory. The milk chocolate has a good dairy flavor without tasting like powdered milk. The melt is smooth and buttery with a little toffee note. Once I bit into the cups the peanut butter is pretty evident as a scent, but the texture of the peanut butter is barely there, it’s quite smooth and mixed in. The banana notes were hard to tease out sometimes, it wasn’t a lot of banana and often just a little fresh caramelized and honey note.
Some cups had more banana bits, and some of the banana bits were a little toothsticky.
I liked the cups better than the bar version that I tired a few years ago. Part of is that I like the format of cups, and the ability to have a teensy but full-featured portion. They’re expensive, but the package holds more than a Justin’s or Theo PB cup, though it’s still more per ounce. I liked the inventive combinations and I welcome more products that play with these formats.
Thursday, December 24, 2015
I’m a sucker for a nice bottle with a cork top, and even though this was $5.99, I figured it would be good for holding some freshly squeezed orange juice at home. Even with the large price tag, it is important to note that it’s a full pound of candy, not the skimpy 12 ounces like many candy bags have now.
The pieces are made in Spain, which is definitely not a country I think of when it comes to chocolate. (They do lovely gummis and nougats.)
The bottle itself looks like it holds more than a pint, less than a quart (but I’ll have to measure when it’s empty). It’s pretty thick glass and has the Trader Joe’s logo molded into it ... which makes me wonder if it will show up in the future for other packaged items. (Maybe we’ll see this again for Valentines with just white and red lentils with hearts and lips printed on them.)
The pieces, especially for a naturally colored product, are well made and lovely to look at. There are three colors: white, light red and muted green. Each piece also has a little printed icon. The white ones have Ts and Js and the green and red ones have a mixture of snowflakes, bells and stocking caps.
The lentils are a little larger and flatter than an M&M. They’re more like Nestle Smarties, though not quite that big.
The shells are very thick. Since they’re rather flat, there’s a sharper edge to the, which in this case with the bottle, means that they’re more easily broken and chipped. (Of course I also carried the bottle around for a full week back and forth to work while I was sampling them for review.)
The crunchy shell is very pleasant and has no flavor of its own, just a mildly sweet crunch. The chocolate centers have a very strong dairy milk flavor, a light hint of malt and honey and then some cocoa notes.
They’re inoffensive and pretty, certainly different from M&Ms with the packaging and natural colors. They don’t quite warrant the price tag on their own, but I wasn’t sorry I picked them up. Flavors might also be fun, especially if they could figure out a way to mix the flavors in the same package.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.