Monday, December 24, 2012
I hope everyone is having a tasty holiday and enjoying all their favorite seasonal sweets and perhaps starting new traditions.
Keep safe, hold your loved ones tight and if all that togetherness pushes your buttons, take a candy break.
Are you getting or giving confections for Christmas this year? I’m in charge of the stockings this year, so there will be a nice mix of American favorites and a good sampling of German candy in there as well.
Monday, December 10, 2012
Let’s see, if I was going to make my own candy, what would be the most popular ingredients to include? Dark Chocolate. Peanut Butter. Caramel. So it’s not surprising that I bought this gable box of Trader Joe’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Salted Caramel Truffles.
The box holds about 15 individually wrapped bon bons filled with layers of caramel and peanut butter all covered in dark chocolate.
The front of the box says that there are no artificial flavors or colors, but that doesn’t mean that the ingredients are simple. There are things like malto-dextrin, fractionated palm oil (organic) and tocopherol (Vitamin E). But part of what makes the list so long is also how many of the items are preceded by “organic” such as the caramel (organic milk, organic sugar, etc).
The bronzy twisted mylar wrappers hold the bon bons well. They’re glossy and nicely domed, about 1.125 inches in diameter. They’re about 12 grams each, which is approximately the same size as a Lindt Lindor Truffle (though not spherical).
The shell yields easily to the soft interior. The burst of caramel comes first, as it’s more of a syrup than a firm chewy variety. The flavor is good, a little hint of burnt sugar but mostly a salted sweetness. The peanut butter base is very smooth with a smoky flavor for the most part and a light burst of salt as well. There’s a bit of chocolate in the filling as well, it looks like maybe a layer between the caramel and peanut butter - probably to keep them from mingling. The melt of it all is less than stellar, the chocolate is quite firm but the peanut butter is soft but slightly waxy (is that what fractionated palm oil is like?). Overall, it just never came together for me as a decadent whole. I’ll probably finish the package at some point but I’ve passed them over plenty of times when looking in my goody drawer over the past week, which is a rating in and of itself.
I still might consider these as a hostess gift, especially if you know the person is inclined towards the elements of caramel, dark chocolate and peanut butter. Even though they’re not as flashy, I prefer Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (which I’ve been eating by the tub-full for extra calories).
There is no ethical sourcing statement for the chocolate on the box, though the organic status of many of the ingredients bodes well for the attention the makers pay to sourcing ingredients. The truffles contain soy, peanuts and milk. They’re made in a facility that also processes wheat, eggs and tree nuts.
See also Rosa’s review at ZOMG! Candy.
Friday, December 7, 2012
The store shelves at the drug stores in my neighborhood are filled with Christmas candies, including the seasonal array of Russell Stover candies in Santa shapes. There’s a new one this year, the Russell Stover Red Velvet Santa in dark chocolate.
I have to say that I found the idea of a Red Velvet and Santa Claus combination intriguing. It seems like a natural fit and evokes the tactile elegance of a rich, deep red St. Nicholas coat and the traditional white ermine fur trim. But this was much better in my head than the actual execution. The wrapper doesn’t play upon that Victorian image, instead has a cartoon-style Santa on the front, holding a teddy bear.
I have very little experience with Red Velvet as a baked good. I’ve had the cake a few times, including several times baked from scratch as well as some high-end cupcakes. The cake is usually a buttermilk yellow cake with a dash of cocoa for light flavor along with either beets or loads of red food coloring. (Before the era of Dutched Cocoa, a little vinegar in the recipe would turn undutched cocoa deep red.) The selling point, for me, is the cream cheese frosting (but I usually satisfy that with a dense Carrot Cake sans nuts when given the chance).
In this case the candy is constructed of a cream center made from white chocolate (a lovely substitute for cream cheese) and actual Red Velvet cake mix according to the list of ingredients. (So this has wheat in it.)
The filling is a creamy red and a little grainy, probably because of the cake mix in there. It looks like it should be raspberry, but it’s not. The flavor is a little doughy, like a cookie dough bite, but better. The dark chocolate coating is just the right ratio - it’s not too thick or chalky and has a good, bittersweet counterpoint to the sweet center. It’s very filling.
If I had been given this lump (which doesn’t look like Santa, by the way) without any description, there is no way I could have guessed that this was a Red Velvet influenced object. I’m guessing it’s more like a cake pop (which I’ve never tried, either). I’m glad they went with dark chocolate and not white chocolate, but hypothesizing that it could have been worse is hardly a recommendation.
Monday, December 3, 2012
The Peeps Gingerbread are a little harder to find than the Snowmen and Christmas Trees. In my case I bought them at the overpriced FAO Schweetz because I was concerned I wouldn’t find them anywhere else. ($3.49 for a package of 6.)
The name pretty much says it all, they’re spiced cookie flavored marshmallows in the shape of a trio or conjoined gingerbread men. The package has two rows of cookies, all in a fancifully designed package that looks like a gingerbread house. I looked over the packages carefully, as they have the expected icing eyes and mouths, but some were not smiling. I chose the happiest looking set I could find.
A serving is a whole row of Gingerbread Men, which is about 1.1875 ounces and only has 120 calories. (They’re gluten free but may contain traces of milk. There’s no statement about peanuts or tree nuts.) Each Gingerbread Man is about 2.75 inches high.
They smell quite nice, like toasted marshmallows. The marshmen are coated with a brown sugar crust that has a light, spicy flavor that might described as “cinnamon.” The marshmallow center is a similar creamy brown color but has less flavor. It might just be a brown sugar flavor, which is fine with me, I like the slight toffee note to the usually overly sweet marshmallows. I wish they were a little more spiced, I’m not getting any hints of ginger or cardamom or even clove. But it’s a Peep, which is the mildest of all candies, so I shouldn’t expect too much from them.
Overall, it’s a great combination of flavor and form and makes far more sense as a holiday novelty than so many other Peeps. The only thing missing are the gum drop buttons and raisin eyes. My next step might be to try them in hot chocolate. (I often put a bit of spice in my hot chocolate, usually nutmeg and cardamom, so this may go very nicely.)
Friday, November 30, 2012
At the Michel Cluizel shop in Manhattan, I was enchanted by the look of these little chocolate spheres. Inside the chocolate and sparkly ones is dark chocolate and a little bit of crisped rice. The red ones are white chocolate inside. I loved the elegant holiday look.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Marshmallow Peeps moved on from just being fanciful shapes and colors for different holidays years ago. Now there are flavored and dipped Peeps. For Christmas this year Just Born created two new varieties: Sugar Cookie Dipped Peeps Chicks and Candy Cane Flavored Peeps Chicks Dipped in Chocolate.
I found the Sugar Cookie Peeps at Target at a modest price, but picked up the Candy Cane Peeps at FAO Schweetz because I was afraid I wouldn’t find them anywhere else (and actually haven’t seen them at any other stores, that still doesn’t make them worth the $3.99 I paid for the 1.5 ounce package).
The Peeps are beautifully crafted. They’re puffy and soft and creamy tan colored. The chocolate puddle around its bottom is nicely formed and in perfect condition. The Peeps smell like fake butter and amaretto. This is not an appealing combination to me, but I suppose I can give it points for originality. Each Peep is about a half an ounce in weight.
The bite is soft and plush, the sugar coating is not too grainy but does a good job of creating just a little texture to sell the sugar cookie experience. The flavor is sweet without a trace of that buttery thing, but still a touch of the amaretto. There’s also a note of toasted sugar, like a fresh cookie (or a vanilla marshmallow). The chocolate is sweet and creamy, not really terribly complex, and honestly doesn’t belong on a sugar cookie, but still didn’t hurt the experience.
Overall, they weren’t my favorite kind of Peeps. I wonder how different they are from the Caramel Peeps, I’m guessing the color and the amaretto note are the only differences.
The entire package has 160 calories, which is a pretty good sized treat with a very small caloric price tag. So if you’re looking for an indulgence that feels like the holiday but doesn’t go overboard, these are passable.
Back in 2007, Just Born introduced Peeps Peppermint Stars. I liked the flavor and the shape, but I wasn’t keen that they used artificial sweeteners in the little candy bits. Happily this newer version of Candy Cane Flavored Peeps Chicks Dipped in Chocolate has delicious sugar in it.
The simple construction is a peppermint flavored Peep chick with a light sprinkling of red candy bits. Then it’s dipped partially into semi-sweet chocolate. They’re packaged three to a tray and like the Sugar Cookie version, they’re each about a half an ounce each.
The Peeps hold their shape well and smell light and fresh, like peppermint toothpaste. They’re mercifully spared from much of the artificial colorings that I think muck with the flavor of a good, fresh marshmallow. (Ghost Peeps are probably the best Peeps for this reason.) The coolness of the peppermint flavor was a bit like mouthwash, but not in a bad way. It matched well with the lightly sweet and slightly smoky chocolate base to keep the whole thing from being too sickly sweet.
I did think that when they started dipping them in chocolate, they might stop making the eyes out of wax. Sadly, they’re still inedible and I have to spit those out. (I guess that’s how you know you have a real Peep.) Overall, a good effort. I don’t see why these can’t be a flavor that comes back with a green sparkle to them for St. Patrick’s Day. I much prefer this partially dipped version to the strangely wet fully dipped marshmallows (that are also over-colored).
Fans of the Peepsters, the little foil wrapped chocolates, will be happy to hear that those have returned in green and red foil for the winter as well.
Monday, November 26, 2012
See’s Candies has a seasonal line of truffles inspired by winter pies. I picked up a few of these limited edition pieces while at the mall over before the holiday shopping madness began.
See’s Cranberry Orange Truffle
This truffle was definitely citrusy and definitely cranberry. The little bits of dried cranberry in the center were sweet and tangy. The zest added a little note of bitterness and zing of orange. The dark chocolate gave it another not so sweet layer with a little smoky and bitter quality along with a creamy melt. This isn’t normally a style of boxed chocolate that I care for, but this works well. I wouldn’t eat it as a pie, but as a truffle, it’s quite refreshing.
See’s Pumpkin Pie Truffle
This milk chocolate truffle is overtly sweet. From the smooth but kind of sticky chocolate to the spiced buttercream of the center, it’s a lot of sugar. The milk chocolate notes are overpowered by the allspice and nutmeg of the cream. Since it’s a big piece, there were bites with more chocolate and some that were just filling. The filling also has a light sugary grain to it.
The other pie flavors available (though often sold out) are: Mincemeat, Apple Pie and Pecan Pie. Overall, the traditional flavors are done better and more consistently. If folks love See’s, chances are they have a favorite and you’re more likely to satisfy folks when you bring a gift of one of the standard mixes (Nuts & Chews is my favorite) than the more trendy, seasonal varieties unless someone specifically asks for them.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
One of my favorite styles of gifts (especially when I had much more modest capital than now) was the gift of beloved common items to delightful excess. This meant that it might a pretty jar filled with Atomic Fireballs or shoebox filled with Reese’s Peanut Butter Miniatures. The sheer volume in itself is a luxury, something most normal people don’t do for themselves, but they’re happy to relish it from a loved one.
Part of a newer trend from the candy companies is to pre-package this for you. You can buy something that looks like a Giant Tootsie Pop that holds a bunch of lollipops, or a giant box of Wonka Nerds. A few have gone so far as to create actual giant versions of their candies - Hershey’s has been making a 5 Pound Hershey Bar for quite a long time. A few years ago they also created the World’s Largest Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (each in the twin pack is a half a pound) and the 1 Pound Snickers Slice n Share has returned again this year.
The newest addition to this is the Giant York Peppermint Patties.
The package holds two half pound patties, so it’s one full pound of York Peppermint Pattie goodness. Unlike the normal Peppermint Patties on the market right now, which come as a single 1.4 ounce pattie or in the individually wrapped miniatures, these are not meant to be eaten as a single serving or portion of a serving. Each pattie is deemed to be 6 portions.
A regular pattie is about 2.65 inches across. The half pound patties are about 5.25 inches across. The ingredients are identical.
The trick with supersizing a filled confection is ratios. The 5 Pound Hershey Milk Chocolate bar is not substantially different from a 1.55 ounce one, since it’s a solid object. For a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup it might mean a different in the milk chocolate and peanut butter filling. For the Snickers Slice n Share, I found it difficult to get all the textures and flavors in a single bite because of the masses of each. In this case, the texture is dominated by the peppermint fondant.
The first thing I noticed was the color and texture of the fondant. It’s a bit more moist than the 1.4 ounce pattie. It’s smooth and has less of a crumbly break than the small ones. It’s pretty easy to slice, though a little stickier. The chocolate layer is thicker (and nicely rippled on the top) and provides a good, slightly bitter counterpoint to the sugary center. It’s lightly minty, as expected, a clean flavor. Overall, it still captures the essence of the York Peppermint Pattie without violating the ratios too radically. It’s difficult to eat, as you might expect. I sliced off pieces (but not actual slices) and ate them. The pieces from the center obviously got less chocolate than the edges.
An interesting difference with the Giant Patties is that they’re made in the United States. The other sizes of York Peppermint Patties are now made in Mexico. Still, the Mexican-made Patties are almost always a better deal. Even on sale at Target for $8.00, that’s eight dollars a pound. Most of the time you can get the miniatures in lay down bags for about five dollars a pound or less if you find a good sale. As a gift it’s a great idea, especially for a Secret Santa or for a child to give to a hard-to-buy-for-but-not-diabetic grandparent. The chocolate is not certified ethically sourced at this time. (Though if Hershey’s were going to roll out brands, it would be easy to make York Rainforest Alliance Certified since it contains so little chocolate. As a side note, the Bliss line will be Rainforest Alliance Certified by the end of the year.)
I bought this at Target, the only place I’ve seen them for sale. They’re not even mentioned on the Target website or even the Hershey’s website.
York Peppermint Patties contain dairy, soy and eggs. May also contain peanuts and tree nuts. There is no statement about gluten on the wrapper.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.