Thursday, September 3, 2015
I picked up the Pumpkin Spice Latte, though I admit I was a little confused about how different this was from the Pumpkin Spice Milk Chocolate M&Ms from 2013.
It’s always a little odd to pick up “seasonal” items when I live in Los Angeles. The package here shows the brown M&M all bundled up with steamy drink. It was 96 degrees in the shade when I got back to my car with the purchase (it’s also hot in a lot of other places around the country, it was still August when these hit the shelves).
The pieces are large, as all of the specialty flavors lately have turned out to be. They come in orange, cream and dark brown. (The earlier 2013 Pumpkin Spice were orange, green and dark brown.)
The ingredients list no specifics about the flavors, there are no lists of spices and definitely no actual pumpkin or coffee. What I expected to be different about this variety is more of the latte beverage experience. So, I’m hoping for creamy milk notes, maybe some espresso and of course the spice mix known as pumpkin.
The flavor combination here is immediately cinnamon with a touch of coffee and chocolate. The spices are warm, but not very evenly balanced, it’s almost all cinnamon and not much in the way of nutmeg or ginger. The coffee notes keep it from being as sweet as some others, though it’s a little inconsistent. The chocolate itself is grainy and not terribly creamy. In general the chocolate quality on M&Ms is disappointing as a chocolate item, but fine as a candy.
I’m a little confused how this whole coffee craze can come about and there are no coffee M&Ms, but some how a beverage that includes coffee can actually get the M&M treatment.
Monday, August 31, 2015
Lindt has expanded their friendly HELLO line of chocolates with a handful of panned products. The Lindt Hello Minty Bites come in a stand up bag that holds 5.3 ounces. They’re pretty much the most expensive chocolates you can buy at Target, but also a very reliably good brand of chocolate.
I picked up mine on sale for $4 a bag, though they’re usually about $4.50. The package does a good job of vaguely describing the product: Dark Chocolate Covered Mint Cubes (natural flavor). But the description on the front, the propaganda on the back, and the images do noting to show what the product actually is. I assumed they were a fondant center, like Junior Mints or York Peppermint Patties. Instead, they are unique, which is a good thing to set them apart from other offerings, but also took a bit to get used to.
The dark chocolate coating is glossy and creamy and pretty thick. The chocolate is not very dark, there’s no percentage on the package and does have added milk fat and milk. The pieces are not completely spherical; they’re more oblate like M&Ms. The centers are like a jelly. They’re made from sugar, apple, pineapple fibers, sodium alginate, green tea extract, dicalcium phosphate, citric acid and natural mint. Can you imagine that? Yeah, it’s a little weird.
The center reminds me a little bit of the Brookside fruit pieces, but they’re a little grainy. The flavor is only lightly minty and rather authentically like mint leaves. But there’s a tangy component ... so the effect is like a mojito, a little citrusy and a little minty.
I don’t know what to think of them. I didn’t love the, but I had no trouble eating the package eventually. The chocolate is ridiculously smooth and creamy, but after eating Brach’s & M&Ms chocolates for so long, sometimes I forget that chocolate in these types of candies can actually be really good. Of the three varieties of Hello Bites, these are the only ones with a dark chocolate coating (the others are Toffee Bites and Pretzel Bites), which is what I usually prefer. If you’re the type of person who likes the Brookside Fruits or Trader Joe’s Powerberries, these might be something you’d like.
Lindt’s new Hello Bites line is made in the USA. Most other Lindt products (at least the ones that I’ve reviewed) are made in Germany. Though the front of the package says natural flavor, there are artificial flavors (vanillin) and other ingredients like sodium alginate and dicalcium phosphate - they’re not necessarily “artificial” but not necessarily ordinary.
Monday, August 24, 2015
The Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Caramels (and their Milk Chocolate siblings) are a rather pedestrian extension of the Hershey’s brand. They’re sold in either a pair of caramels in a single package or a stand up bag of something less than a half a pound. The price point makes you think that this is a premium product, I paid $4.29 for 7.2 ounces.
The packaging looks nice and does a good job of protecting the freshness and attractiveness of the product, but it’s maddeningly hard to open. Each caramel is individually wrapped and of the 13 or so pieces in the bag, I was able to open two without the aid of scissors. I can only assume that this is to either help with portion control or help the consumer work off some extra calories wandering around the house trying to figure out where the good scissors went.
My frustrations with the wrappers were ameliorated by the fact that every single caramel was gorgeous. They’re lovely rounded squares with a lightly domed top of thick dark chocolate. (Well, I don’t know how dark it actually is, the ingredients only call it semi-sweet and it contains milk fat.)
They smell nice, a mixture of brownies and hot chocolate. The bite is easy and soft, but not a runny caramel like the Cadbury Caramello bar. The caramel has an excellent smooth texture and good stringy pull, but it’s not quite stiff enough to satisfy me. The chocolate is passable, smooth and not chalky, and not too sweet.
The whole experience is lacking something, perhaps I’m spoiled by my comparably priced Trader Joe’s Butterscotch which strike me as a far better deal both because the price is better, the ingredients are a bit clearer and of course they taste fantastic or the far easier to find Storck Chocolate Riesen. I don’t see Hershey’s new product line surviving in the long run, they’re just not distinctive enough.
These caramels are made in Mexico and are made on equipment that also processes macadamia nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts. Contains soy and milk. There’s no mention of gluten.
Monday, July 6, 2015
Brach’s has reintroduced their whole line of chocolate panned candies over the past two years. They’ve redone their classic Bridge Mix and now have several varieties of chocolate covered nuts. One of the surprising new items is Brach’s Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Bites.
The gussetted, resealable bag holds a half of a pound. Like most other Brach’s products, the description on the package is only contained in the product name ... nothing else to go on except the very long ingredients list.
The image on the bag shows some chocolate pieces, and then a cross section of the actual candies ... sitting next to that is a rustic pretzel nugget and a little square of caramel. That is really not what the product is.
The little spheres are a great size, about the same size as a garbanzo bean or hazelnut. The milk chocolate coating is shiny and the bag had a nice sweet scent, a little on the milky side. The pieces have a good crunch, the pretzel center isn’t too hard or crumbly. The pretzel flavor was good, not too much of the washed crust that can get kind of bitter, and no big bits of salt. But upon eating the pieces, this is where the caramel part comes in. The caramel is actually little shards mixed into the milk chocolate. So at first it’s just a pretzel with some milk chocolate, but after chewing, the chocolate melts away and the starchy pretzel dissolves ... and what was left was some sort of tacky residue of hard caramel. It was weird and kind of waxy and unpleasant.
So, after a while I took to letting the milk chocolate melt away instead of crunching them up, but that was unsatisfying because then my pretzel would get mushy before the caramel bits were all gone. I’ve had other confections like almonds, that had a little toffee coating before the milk chocolate, I’m not sure why that wasn’t the process here.
I’ll pass on these in the future, which is too bad because it’s a unique selling proposition in the rather crowded field of morselized products.
Monday, June 22, 2015
When I was in New York City earlier this year, I wanted to take advantage of the chocolate. I saw online that the Japanese chocolate company, Royce’, has several locations in Manhattan and offers tastings of the chocolate and Nama, truffle-like product. I don’t know that much about Royce’, but my experience with Japanese chocolate up until then was with mass-produced brands like Meiji, so I wanted to see what a single origin upscale brand might be like.
I stopped by a location on Madison Avenue, and was greeted promptly and offered some tastings. It’s a standard panel of tastings that focused on the Nama but also a few pieces of their plain chocolate disks. The chocolate was exceptionally smooth, flavorful but not intense. Since I was traveling and the fellow insisted that the truffles must be refrigerated, I bought a box of the Royce’ Pure Chocolate Venezuela Bitter & Ghana Sweet. This box contains two rows of rippled chocolate disks, one of 68% and one of 60% of two separate origins.
I wasn’t thrilled when I read the ingredients, finally after I left the store. I didn’t realize that a dark chocolate product would have milk in it, as if it were some Ghirardelli or Dove product. But it was really the artificial flavor that I thought was odd ... I can only assume them mean vanillin, in addition to real vanilla.
The little disks are individually sealed in cellophane. They’re a little over 1.5 inches across. It’s a nice, two bite piece.
The Ghana is quite sweet, very smooth and with a typical chocolate flavor profile. It’s brownies and chocolate milk and cocoa. There’s a little acidic note to it, but for the most part it’s woodsy and smoky and toasted. The melt is good, very smooth with an odd grit every once in a while.
The Venezuela has an immediate green note to the scent, a little like olives or boiled peanuts. The melt, again, exceptionally smooth. This is a bit more buttery though. The flavor is more acidic, less sweet with some stronger tannins. There are some red berry notes, more olives, black tea and tobacco.
I absolutely preferred the Venezuelan over the Ghana.
The box was price at $17 for only 7 ounces. The packaging is pretty spare looking, though the reality is there’s a lot of it. The paperboard box is wrapped in brown paper, but inside the box is a plastic tray for each of the chocolate disk rows. Then there was the individual wrappers. It all traveled well, and stores nicely. It’s been months and they’re still fresh and shiny, though there are only about 5 left.
Royce’ also makes chocolate covered potato chips, chocolate covered nuts, and chocolate bars with inclusions.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
The new Russell Stover Coconut Minis are exactly what you’d think. They’re unwrapped little morsels of poppable dark chocolate covered coconut.
They’re the antithesis of the Russell Stovers icon, there’s no box. It’s just the candy, miniaturized and thrown in a bag.
They’re a little pricey, I picked up mine on sale at $3.50 a bag, but the regular price ticket said they’re $4.29. But there’s 8 ounces in the bag, which makes them a pretty good deal at $7 a pound.
The image on the bag makes it look like these are little squares, but in reality they’re rectangular. They’re about an inch long and 3/4 of an inch wide.
Mine were a little scuffed up and appeared a smidge bloomed (but the Pecan Minis did not, which were purchased from the same shelf at the same time). However, the texture of the chocolate was just fine. They smell nice, like brownies and coconut.
The chocolate was soft, the coconut center was pretty tender and chewy. It’s not as sweet as I expected. In the ordinary Coconut pieces, from the wrapped bagged line, there’s a larger ratio of coconut to the chocolate. Here the chocolate and coconut seem well balanced. The chocolate has a good melt and stereotypical cocoa flavor. The coconut was very chewy and fresh without too much sticky sweetness.
I liked them quite a bit, and found them very munchable. They’re a little messier than some morselized candies, since they’re still enrobed, not panned and sealed. I think the ratios were much more successful here than the Pecan Delight Minis, which lacked pecans ... these are coconut and filled with coconut.
These candies contain soy and milk and created on shared equipment with wheat, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts.
Monday, June 15, 2015
Russell Stover is probably best known for the inexpensive boxed chocolates sold at drug stores. I happen to like them for their holiday novelty candies, but more recently they’ve tried to get into everyday snacking with their Big Bite pieces. At first these were just larger versions of the seasonal favorites, but more recent items are completely original to the format. The opposite spectrum of this trend is morselization ... and Russell Stover has introduced some teensy versions of their more popular items. I picked up their Russell Stover Pecan Delight Minis, which are nugget-sized pecan turtles.
These candies that have the word pecan as the first word in their name and they need more pecans. A lot more pecans. Currently they’re little pecan bits, where are nice, they’re a good textural element, but they’re not dense enough ... I need some crunch in my chewy caramel and creamy milk chocolate.
The size is good, they’re poppable. The vague sprinkling of pecans does give a woodsy maple note to the whole thing, the tough of salty is just about right. The caramel is a little too flavored and not authentically caramelized sugar and cream.
As a candy, they about as good as other morsel things at the same price. They’re certainly better than Brach’s. I can’t say that I liked these better than the Demet’s Minis, which also suffer from too few pecans, but I do think the chocolate is of better quality here. (And less expensive.)
Monday, June 8, 2015
Mars has been teasing quite a few new candy items lately, the first one to hit store shelves will be their Milky Way Marshmallow with Caramel Bar. The press release says it delivers a magnificent combination of fluffy marshmallow nougat covered with a layer of smooth caramel, enrobed in creamy milk chocolate.
Limited Edition bar should hit shelves in July or August ... when they’re gone, they’re gone. (Though sometimes Mars will bring back a limited edition item.) The Impulsive Buy readers have already spotted them in the wild.
The bar looks good. The fluffy white nougat is definitely different from the normal Milky Way nougat. The scent is also a change from the traditional Milky Way, it’s less malty, less milky smelling. There’s a slight vanilla note to it, even before biting.
It’s a very sweet but clean tasting bar. There’s no lingering malty notes, not as much of a salty hint either. It tastes fresh. So if the concept of the Milky Way bar appealed to you, but the fact that the nougat was malty was holding you back, this might be the bar for you. Is it marshmallowy? No, the texture of the nougat is not smooth, not as fluffy as actual marshmallow. However, if you’re a vegetarian, the fact that it’s a nougat (made with egg whites) and not a marshmallow (made with gelatin) might be a selling point.
The bar contains soy, egg and milk and also may contain traces of peanuts. There’s no statement on gluten.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.