Monday, December 23, 2013
A few years back I reviewed one of the classic candies that Brach’s has been making for years, their Peppermint Holiday Nougat. The Brach’s style of nougat is made with egg whites, just like the European recipes have been for hundreds of years. This version is more of a chew, kind of a hybrid between a taffy and a fluffy honey-sweetened nougat from France, Italy or Spain.
The fun part about the Brach’s Christmas Nougats Mix is that they come in three flavors: Cinnamon, Peppermint & Wintergreen.
These kinds of nougats are assembled, truly, by hand. Large logs of nougat are colored and flavored, then stacked together to form the image inside which creates a much larger log. That is then placed on a machine that pulls it into a smaller cord and then cuts the pieces.
I’ve reviewed the Peppermint version before, and find the same opinion to hold true today. It’s a soft chew, very smooth with a nice pop of peppermint. The nougat makes it a short chew, meaning it’s not gummy and dissolves pretty quickly without much grain. It has a bit of salt, which mellows out the bulk of the sugar.
The Cinnamon version has a pink background. The cinnamon scent is quite strong and this chew was very soft. It’s a sizzling cinnamon, I was surprised at its strength, there was a bit of heat. It’s a unique sort of candy, so I appreciate that it’s attractive and well made.
The Wintergreen version has a light green background. As much as I’m a fan of the flavor, I can’t say that this is the best use of it. Like the cinnamon, this is very strong. And like cinnamon, a lot of wintergreen at once can give a sort of warming “sports rub” sort of feeling. Wintergreen doesn’t go well with many other flavors, it’s not like this combines well with chocolate or wine, if you were snacking.
These make an attractive bowl of candy, though I think in the future I’d stick with either the Peppermint or the Cinnamon. Wintergreen is just to strange for a candy assortment for Christmas, but certainly something to keep in mind for that person on your list that does have a predilection for the stuff.
Note: the packaging on this predates the Ferrara and Farley’s & Sathers merger (the copyright said 2012) and Brach’s is planning on changing their packaging design and branding again next year. This bag was made in Mexico.
Friday, December 20, 2013
SweetWorks, which makes many flavors of the break apart chocolate orange and Sixlets, also makes a wide variety of foil wrapped chocolate pieces and figures for all occasions.
Their holiday range is quite diverse, featuring chocolate balls, disks and semi-solid figures. The company sent me a huge box filled with confections to sample before Thanksgiving, and I’ve finally made it through all of the items before Christmas.
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Ornaments are one of the classics. They’re just a little solid chocolate sphere wrapped in foil.
Foil Colors: Solid Hunter Green, Solid Red, Diamon Silver, Diamond Blue, Diamond Red.
Taste: The milky chocolate is very smooth and has a lot of dairy notes to it. It’s on the sweet side but also has a lot of vanilla notes to it.
Verdict: Very nice, easily munchable. This sort of piece will appeal to kids and adults.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Crisp Balls
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Silver & Red
Taste: The milky chocolate has a nice ratio of crisped rice. It’s creamy, a little softer than the solid chocolate bars but not quite as sweet.
Verdict: This is what I want from my candy in my stocking. It’s comforting and filling but still attractive.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Dark Chocolate Balls
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Gold & Red
Taste: These are extremely dark looking, almost black. I checked and noticed the ingredients list: sugar, chocolate, chocolate processed with alkali, cocoa butter, butterfat (milk), soy lecithin, and vanilla. So this chocolate contains alkalized cocoa, which makes it darker. It also has butterfat in it, so it’s not vegan, which is too bad, because it’s hard to find vegan holiday treats. The flavor profile is a little odd. It’s definitely not overly sweet, but the particle size of the chocolate gives it a slight grain and a dry finish.
Verdict: I liked them well enough to pick them out as something to eat in combination with other things, like nuts, but I didn’t like the dry afterbite.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Solid Milk Chocolate Bells
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Silver & Red
Taste: These are a bigger bite than the balls, about 2/3 bigger, so it’s a lot more chocolate at once. I noticed the smoothness of the melt much more in this shape.
Verdict: These are easier to peel and eat, though one piece is a little bigger than I prefer a bit of chocolate to be. But they don’t roll around, so that’s a plus.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Bells
Foil Colors: Green with Silver Trees & Red with Silver Trees
Taste: These didn’t smell like much in the package, but once unwrapped there was a nice fresh peanut scent. The milky chocolate is really smooth and the peanut center was part meltaway, part peanut butter.
Verdict: They’re not the same texture or peanut flavor profile as Reese’s, so as long as you’re okay with that, these are very satisfying.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Medallions
Foil Colors: White Snowman, Blue Santa, Green Teddy Bear & Red Reindeer
Taste: Milky, sweet and creamy.
Verdict: This was the most disappointing design as far as I was concerned. They seemed dated and missed an opportunity for something a little more splashy. A simple patterned foil or perhaps better artwork for the illustrations would have put these over the top. I like the format of the disks, as they’re easier to bite than bells and something that can be used in S’mores very easily.
Rating: 6 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Santas
Foil Colors: Dominantly Red with Green & Yellow Accents - 4 designs
Taste: Thin and long, it’s an easy two bite piece. They were exceptionally shiny.
Verdict: Like the medallions, the design of the Santa foil is a little dated. But in the case I found it utterly charming, especially since I could walk them around on my desk and set them up in little tableaus as if they were interacting. The bonus here is that the Santa is molded with quite a bit of detail, so even unwrapped they’re beguiling.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Santas
Foil Colors: Dominantly Red with Blue & Bronze Accents - 4 designs
Taste: This has a similar light peanutty flavor to the Bells. It’s not a deep roasted flavor, it seemed a bit saltier and a little thick/stickier in the melt.
Verdict: I didn’t like the ratios as much as the Bells, but I have to appreciate the cute little Santa expressions.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Hollow Foil comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. They have Turkeys in full feather, Santas, Nutcrackers and a Rocking Horse. (I think they also do a Teddy Bear.) These are very sturdy, the foil is thick and well designed. Instead of a bit piece that wraps around to the back, these are crimped. This means that there’s a full front and back design with a large seam where the two sides are pinched together.
The sizes vary, as you can tell from the photos. As an example, the SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Santa is a little shy of 6 inches and weighs 70 grams (2.5 ounces). The base of the Santa is thick, which makes it very stable when standing. They’re all very attractive designs and would be good as either stocking stuffers or as decorations on a cookie plate or as place settings at a table.
The SweetWorks Hollow Chocolate Rocking Horse is 3.5 ounces, so the same as a standard tablet bar, only in a fancier format. SweetWorks uses all natural milk chocolate for their hollow molded figures. The ingredients list only: sugar, cocoa butter, milk, chocolate, soy lecithin and vanilla. They’re also kosher and gluten-free though processed in a facility with tree nuts and peanuts. The SweetWorks Hollow Chocolate Nutcracker is the largest of the pieces they make for Christmas, at 4.5 ounces and is nearly 7 inches tall.
The SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Turkey is only 1 ounce, but seems like a far larger portion. The base, like the others, is mostly solid which keeps the figure upright whether it’s wrapped or not. The chocolate tastes milkier and smoother than the foil covered balls. (My guess is that the formulation is just a little different for the molded chocolate because of the production demands of filling the intricate molds.)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Like the others, the molding details are great, it really is a nicely sculpted turkey and completely recognizable when it’s unwrapped. I liked these much better than the Hershey’s or Dove versions found at Easter, but they’re not quite as rich as the Lindt foil figures. I really liked the Rocking Horse though, I thought its design set it apart from the other offerings on the store shelves. I saw the Turkeys at Dylan’s Candy Bar, and I think they were $2.99 but online they’re a bit less. I just wish they were easier to find. For Easter they make a 3.5 ounce Yellow Chick and 3 ounce sitting Rabbit. It makes me wonder if there are figures that could be more “year round” or generic for parties and decorations since the Teddy Bear seems like a natural item for a baby shower.
SweetWorks can be found in the bulk bins at Dylan’s Candy Bar (and probably other places). Their foil balls actually come in a dozen colors and are also available as hearts year round in a wide color and texture palette. You’re more likely to find these online (you can buy direct from SweetWorks.net) and usually for a pretty decent price for all natural chocolate that isn’t Hershey’s Kisses.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
To be honest, it sounds terrible, in part because I didn’t know there was something known as Gingerbread Flavor Cover in the confectionery world ... and then I probably wouldn’t have dreamed that the appropriate place to put that would be on top of pretzels. So curiosity trumped revulsion.
The DeMet’s copywriters don’t help the situation either, here’s the marketing passage from the back of the bag:
They’re standard mini pretzels with big salt crystals on them. Then they’re coated in this weird, artificially colored confection that’s supposed to look like chocolate. It’s made with sugar, palm oil and dried milk but natural flavors. The texture is pretty good - it’s creamy and kind of cool on the tongue without getting too grainy or greasy. It’s not chocolate-like, but still pleasant. The flavoring is interesting. If you gave it to me without the gingerbread description, I would have called this orange spice. I don’t know why, but I was getting a light and appealing orange zest note to it the whole time. There’s a gentle spice to it, maybe a bit of ginger but nothing too biting like cinnamon or clove. The salty crunch of the fresh pretzels keeps it all from getting too sweet.
I like them. I ate them. I wouldn’t have believed it if it didn’t happen to me.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
The Ritter Sport Winter Editions are more prevalent in the United States than they used to be. Webstores like German Deli and Chocosphere have been stocking them and I even found the complete set of the three special bars at Cost Plus World Market.
They’re $2.99 each, instead of the $2.00 or so that the regular non-seasonal bars go for. The Ritter Sport Winter Edition Caramel-Orange is a milk chocolate bar is filled with an orange cream. Like most other Ritter Sport bars, it’s 100 grams or 3.5 ounces and formed as a square with 16 individual sections.
Even though the bars travel pretty far and are packaged minimally, they’re always in great shape. I enjoy the format of the bar, as I like a thick piece, because of how long the melt may take, but I appreciate the deep trough sections that allow them to be broken into easy to eat pieces.
The milk chocolate in the bar is 30% cacao and 18% milk, so it’s a very milky but kind of chocolatey bar. The cream center is made of palm oil, sugar, milk products and actual orange powder (a mix of orange juice and orange pulp). It sounds kind of weird, but this also means that it’s different enough for all the other pumpkin spice and peppermint bar versions on the market right now.
The cream center is a bit darker and though not quite smooth or light enough to be a cream, it’s not grainy enough to be a fudge either. It’s orange, it tastes like orange juice - a little tart note now and then - and a bit like orange zest. There’s a slight grain to it, but it has enough fat in it to have a good mouthfeel without a greasy cling. The milk chocolate is robust enough to give it a cocoa note.
I’m finding that the more I have these cream filled bars, the less I like them. I love nuts and nut butters; I love crunchies and cereal bits; but emulsified palm oil and flavors just isn’t doing it for me any longer. These come in at 164 calories per ounce, which is a lot when those calories are not coming from cocoa butter, but from palm oil. Half a bar has 50% of my daily saturated fat intake. I think I’ll stick to the solid bars or the ones with nuts, but it’s nice to see oranges in a winter confection every once in a while. I’d like to see them do more with their marzipan bars, I liked the orange version they did as a winter edition and think that merits a revival.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Haviland Holiday Dark Chocolate Nonpareils come in a smart looking brown and red gable box, probably nice enough to tuck into a gift basket, stocking or take with a bottle of wine as a hostess gift. It’s just a little more upscale than a bag of chocolate chips, but pretty much the same thing in the end.
Haviland is a brand owned now by Necco. They’re probably best known for their mints, which are a cross between Junior Mints (a soft creamy center) and York Peppermint Patties (a crumbly fondant in a patty form). The nice thing about most of the Haviland line is that they’re available at drug stores and major retailers but usually use good ingredients without too many artificial things in there.
The chocolate is quite nice, but better than something like SnoCaps (which are more candy than chocolate) or Flicks (which have no sprinkles). The flavor has a little bit of a dusty quality to it, it’s not bitter, just kind of deep. It’s mostly a woodsy chocolate profile, with pretty strong notes of vanilla.
The chocolate contains butterfat, so it’s not considered vegan, there’s also no sustainability or sourcing statement on the box or the Necco website for their chocolate. As far as I know they don’t make their chocolate from bean to drop, so the sourcing is probably done by one of the big agrichocolate companies like Callebaut, Cargill or perhaps Blommer or Guittard.
I plan on setting them out in a bowl and I expect that they’ll be eaten up by some guests without complaint. But I’m more likely to just buy a bag of the Guittard or Ghirardelli chocolate baking drops and set those out instead in the future.
The big problem I have with the colorful sprinkles is a rare one, the red food coloring is extremely bitter. In this case, it was really unpleasant when I would put the disks in my mouth with the sprinkle side on my tongue. The bitterness was lost in the chocolate if I chewed quickly. But that’s no way to enjoy what’s supposed to be a treat. All white sprinkles solve that problem.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
One of the surprising finds in the Christmas candy aisle this year was Pearson’s Mint Patties Creamy Candy Cane. They were expensive at $3.99 for only 6.4 ounces at KMart, but I was really curious to try them. But what are they?
The package says: A stick of creamy peppermint with a layer of candy cane flavored mint covered in delicious dark chocolate. I really don’t understand that, but I’m along for the ride.
The dark chocolate is 66% cacao and aside from the artificial colors, the ingredients are pretty good. Unlike York Peppermint Patties (which are now made in Mexico) which contain egg whites, Pearson’s are vegetarian, using soy protein instead of egg albumen in the fondant center. They do, however, contain milk fat in the chocolate so they’re not vegan. They’re listed as gluten free but may contain traces of peanuts or tree nuts.
The construction is simple enough, they’re a rod of two different layers of fondant covered in dark chocolate. The bottom layer is the same peppermint cream found inside the regular old Pearson’s Mint Patty. As far as that goes, Pearson’s makes a great peppermint patty. Some may say it’s better than York, they’re a little different in their ratios and textures but I’d definitely say they’re both excellent quality.
The bottom layer is smooth and lightly minted, the dark chocolate plays well with a bitter but woodsy cocoa note. The top, pink layer is definitely more minty and possibly a little moister or at least a little creamier on the tongue. It’s not that big of a difference. The stick is a big portion for something I’d consider an after dinner mint. They’re only 90 calories but about .8 ounces. A snack size (those foil wrapped ones) are about a quarter of an ounce - so it’s about the same as three patties. There seems to be more chocolate compared to the filling in the sticks, so that may be a selling point for some.
The price is prohibitive, even for a holiday item. I think I prefer the patties, which I bought recently for about 25 cents an ounce for a big 48 ounce bag (for the jar in my office) while this would be about 62 cents an ounce and look kind of sad in late January if no one ate them yet, even though they’re good until September of 2014.
Crunchies or a chocolate layer or something else to distinguish them more from the regular patties would push these over into a stronger recommendation. As it is, if you prefer a mint stick with a more crumbly fondant instead of the flowing style of After Eight, then go for these for the holidays. Otherwise, just grab the regular patties and call them ornaments instead.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
While other seasonal candies are chasing dessert and pastry flavors, 3 Musketeer’s winter flavor is all about the comfort of a hot cocoa. 3 Musketeers Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Minis were also available last year, but I didn’t realize I missed reviewing them until a Mars representative sent me a package that included them.
The 10 ounce bag holds oodles of the 3 Musketeers Minis, which are tiny cubes covered in chocolate with a frothy nougat center.
The little wrappers come in either silver or a light cocoa bronze. Each piece is about 25 calories, they’re about 124 calories per ounce, versus the 145 calories per ounce for a Snickers (nuts are more calorically dense). The little square are about 3/4 of an inch, though not quite that high.
The flavor is odd. It’s like they took the malt out of the nougat. So, the center is now cocoa flavored. Not chocolate flavored, actually more like cocoa and marshmallows. There’s that sort of empty flavor that cocoa has, a little dusty and unsupported and that has an added note of vanilla. They do remind me of cocoa flavored marshmallows, but not in a good way.
I’m not fond of these. The textures are good, but they’re extremely sweet and lacking the light salty, malted nougat flavor that I appreciate in 3 Musketeers. Other 3 Musketeers flavors have been more to my liking, so I’ll say that this is a personal preference. Other folks must be enjoying them because they’re back again, but I’ll take a pass. Someday we’ll get the Mocha ones back with more Mocha flavor in them.
Monday, December 9, 2013
One of the special items for the holidays would be what I consider the anchor item of a well-stuffed stocking. Usually, a good stocking has a mix of candy, perhaps some small gifts and then a specialty food item. Like the Chocolate Rabbit anchors an Easter Basket, a chocolate orange fills a similar role for Christmas.
There are a few brands out there, though the Terry’s Chocolate Orange is probably the most ubiquitous, it’s also probably the most disappointing for adults as the chocolate quality has declined over the years. It’s fun to see some more upscale versions, but also some that incorporate other flavors and new production techniques to achieve a unique experience.
I’ve reviewed quite a few of the Ovation chocolate oranges, which were also sold under the name Florida Tropics and made by SweetWorks. It’s an American company using all natural ingredients in their chocolate. Today I have two of the holiday versions: Ovation Dark Chocolate Mint Filled and Ovation Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice.
I’m starting with the Ovation Dark Chocolate Mint Filled because I was really excited about the construction. It’s mint filled. So not only is it a chocolate sphere made of 20 sections molded like orange segments, each one of those is filled with a minted white confection. That’s crazy!
The Ovation oranges are wonderfully structured. They’re a bit overpackaged, but it does pay off. All of my oranges were in excellent shape. Though the sticker exhorts the consumer to BREAK then OPEN, I usually choose to pry it apart. This means less chocolate dust, though it’s possible that some sections will still get broken.
This orange is a bittersweet chocolate base (though made with dairy fats) filled with a minted white confection. It smells lightly of mint once removed from the foil. Though there’s not listing on the package, I’d estimate that the chocolate is about 55% cacao.
The snap is excellent and the individual slices have a pretty consistent stripe of minted white confection in the center (not a true white chocolate). The melt is good, very smooth with a silky, cooling note from the mint. If you’re fond of something like Andes Mints, this is a similar product, except much cooler to look at. I wish it was real white chocolate in the center, but it is all natural. It’s made in a facility with peanuts and tree nuts, it contains milk and soy. There’s no statement about gluten. It’s also Kosher, which means it would be a great Hanukkah item as well.
The Ovation Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice is also very well made with all natural milk chocolate and flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cloves and natural pumpkin flavor. The pieces are like the dark chocolate version, 20 segments held together in a spherical form by a dollop of chocolate in the core. They’re easily broken apart by either smacking the whole thing on a hard surface, or just prying it in half.
These smell milky and sweet with a light spice note. The flavor is overly sweet with a lot of milk components and a warm hint of the pumpkin spices. Mostly I got the nutmeg and ginger, not as much of the cloves and cinnamon. It’s a lot sweeter than I like my chocolate, though didn’t quite arrive at the throat searing level. I’m finding now after a couple of years of these spiced chocolates that it’s not my preferred genre. My usual use for chocolate that’s too sweet to eat or bloomed is to make it into hot chocolate or chocolate pudding. I think this is an excellent candidate for that.
Their standard chocolate versions are also very good, and a great value for 6.17 ounces of all natural chocolate. If you have a Trader Joe’s nearby, you’ll also notice that their chocolate oranges are made by the same company under the Trader Joe’s holiday packaging. Ferrara Candy also makes chocolate oranges, which I’ve seen on sale at Walgreen’s.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.