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.
Monday, November 19, 2012
Last year M&Ms introduced the first of their White Chocolate holiday M&Ms for Halloween called Candy Corn. Then earlier this year for Easter came the plain White Chocolate M&Ms in pastel colors. Proving that the Candy Corn was no fluke, the returned again this year. For Christmas this year we have the M&Ms White Chocolate Peppermint which are available exclusively at Target this season. (WalMart has another exclusive flavor, Milk Chocolate Orange M&Ms.)
I don’t know if they come in individual portion bags, the only size I saw at Target, in a large display on an endcap in the seasonal section was this 9 ounce bag. The design prominently features the Red M&M and a mostly red and white design (except for the brown of the M&Ms logo and the nutritional widget).
The pieces are larger than regular Milk Chocolate M&Ms, like all the other special flavor varieties. I’m not sure why they’re beefier, but they’re consistently that way. They’re made with real white chocolate, it’s the first ingredient on the package (made from sugar, cocoa butter, skim milk, milk fat, soy lecithin, salt and natural flavor). In this price range, it’s not easy to find real white chocolate, so that’s a big plus.
I’ve noticed from the comments here that some people are not fond of Mars style of white chocolate. It’s quite fatty, with a lot of cocoa butter in it (and probably a fair bit of milkfat) and has a pretty clean flavor but can be a little greasy. They’re high in calories - a single ounce contains about 157 calories, more than standard chocolate which is usually about 135.
They’re sweet but not sticky or cloying. The mint is strong enough to leave a fresh taste in the mouth, but not so much that it blasts my sinuses. The overall effect is like Guittard Smooth n Melty Mints, those pastel drops with nonpareils on the bottom of them. Except these are made from real white chocolate, even Hershey’s abandoned real white chocolate in their Candy Cane Kisses years ago. I liked that most of mine were white, with only about a third of them red. The red had a little bitterness to the shell from the Red 40 food coloring, so I was able to mostly avoid them. I think it’s a solid product and I’d like to see it return next year. (But I’m still hoping for Egg Nog M&Ms.)
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Their Limited Edition Egg Nog Nips variety caught me by surprise, mostly because I didn’t know they made seasonal versions.
The box is the same format and size as the standard Coffee Nips. It holds 4 ounces and sells for a little over a buck at grocery and drug store chains. I felt like the box could have held another ounce or two, but you know that whole “settling may occur during transit” may come into play. Each piece is individually wrapped, and the whole box is also sealed in a clear cellophane wrapper to protect the contents.
The pieces are large and nicely domed. They don’t smell like much, so it wasn’t until I popped one in my mouth that I got a sense of what was different.
They’re sweet and smooth with a slow and satisfying dissolve. The creamy flavor has a strong milky flavor mixed with notes of nutmeg and a touch of clove and cinnamon plus vanilla. The custardy candy is pleasant and isn’t too cloying. I might have preferred a little stronger kick of spice to it, as it is it’s not that different from the Butter Rum Nips. (Though a hint of rum might be nice, too.)
A gingerbread version probably isn’t that far behind.
Made on equipment that also processes peanuts. Gluten free. Contains dairy, soy and coconut.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.