Monday, December 20, 2010
I love Peppermint Bark and I’m kind of disappointed that it’s not available year round. There are a lot of different variations on the idea of peppermint bark, but most involves layering different kinds of chocolate (dark or milk with white chocolate) along with a peppermint flavoring and probably crushed peppermint hard candies.
This package holds a cardboard try with six individually wrapped Peppermint Bark Snowmen. I got them for $1.99 but I expect they’re on sale some places.
It’s a two tone mold, the base is dark chocolate and the top layer is white chocolate. The package notes in bold and all caps type on the back that its MADE WITH 100% REAL CHOCOLATE. This is what spurred me to buy it. There are so many minty holiday candies that aren’t made with all cocoa butter these days, like the Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses and even Andes Mints.
I can say that after eating these, it’s so obvious that real cocoa butter is superior to fractionated or partially hydrogenated tropical oils (and though all are high in calories, at least cocoa butter isn’t bad for your heart).
The fact that these “bark” snowmen are molded does ruin the rustic illusion of bark, but I have to say, I’m not really that fond of bark. I’m a believer in integration. If you want to put something in your chocolate bar, put it in there, get it all covered up. Don’t just let it float on top and get knocked off. Commit!
The base layer looks very dark, almost black. The ingredients mention that it’s made with chocolate processed with alkali, which often gives it that almost-black color. The flavor of the chocolate base reminded me of Oreos, it’s a toasted and smoky flavor. The melt is rich and smooth and though the chocolate flavor stands up to the others, it’s not overwhelming or bitter. The white chocolate is smooth and creamy, it has an excellent fresh dairy taste to it, more like butter than dried milk. Then there’s a light touch of peppermint. Though I think there are supposed to be peppermint candies in here, I didn’t get much. I ate three of the snowmen for this review and at first I thought that it was just a variation in the production run. But there were all rather sparse on the candy. This didn’t bother me.
It was like a good quality ice cream. Not too sweet, a good balance of flavors, clean and neat. I liked the portion and the molding was nicely done. I preferred the crispness of the flavors and clean distinction between the layers to the slightly more expensive Dove Peppermint Bark.
I really can’t find much fault with these at all. They’re not the most sophisticated candies in the world, but they were very well done. There are some artificial ingredients in there (there’s some red dye in the hard candy chips) but overall it tastes like a quality product considering the price (about 33 cents each). It would be nice if they can do other variations of the snowman for other holidays - I wouldn’t even mind seeing other flavor variations like strawberry for Valentine’s Day or Orange for Halloween. (I think Mint could return for Easter.)
Russell Stover really seems to shine with their holiday treats. These are easy to afford and stash in stockings or pass around at the office.
Friday, December 17, 2010
I found the Divine Milk Chocolate with Spiced Cookies while in San Francisco last month. It seemed like the perfect place to pick up a limited edition bar for the winter season, as San Francisco always seems to be cold when I’m there.
I usually like the Divine packages; I like the simplicity and flexibility of the icons on the solid color field. The designs are color coded so it’s easy to pick out your favorite on a crowded shelf at the store. This breaks with that tradition and the wrapper sports a shiny red ribbon and bow. Not a pretty hand tied bow, but one of those cheap stick on bows. The design is done with a bit of tromp l’oiel that just ruins it because of the violation of scale.
The bar is made of mostly fair trade ingredients (the chocolate and the sugar) and is all natural though not organic.
The bar is soft, both because the cookies are crumbly and the milk chocolate isn’t quite as crisp as some. The chocolate has a very strong yogurty-dairy flavor to it, a little on the side of cheese even. I’m not keep on this more earthy and grassy flavor of milk chocolate. The chocolate melt is also a bit thick and sticky but very smooth. The cookies are quite good and have a well rounded flavor profile with a hint of ginger, black pepper, a graham cracker base and a hint of salt.
I liked it and eventually finished the bar (with a little help) but I don’t think this is quite for me. It’s a good candy bar that uses fair trade chocolate, but it’s not what I’d consider a good chocolate bar. The spiced cookies are a nice change from crisped rice and plain ginger, but not quite enough for me to wish that they’d make this bar all year round.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
It’s hard to keep track of what’s new and what’s returning on store shelves for Christmas. I’ve found there aren’t that many new introductions, but there are plenty of tried-and-true favorites back again this year.
I think a lot of candy companies introduced limited editions as a sort of test marketing and found that bringing back fringe favorites on a regular schedule satisfies those who crave the special items but doesn’t detract from their regular product lines.
Here are a few candies that I’ve reviewed in the past and a few new ones I’ve spotted on shelves again this year. Just because something is not on this list doesn’t mean it’s not made this year, just that I haven’t been able to track it down.
• Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses (old review when they were made with real white chocolate)
• Peeps Chocolate Covered Peppermint Trees (Milk & Dark Chocolate)
• Paul Frank Nestle Crunch Bar (can be a greeting card - see above photos)
Mars & Wrigley’s
• Life Savers Tin - holds 7 rolls of three different varieties - comes in Butter Rum, Cherry or 5 Flavor package design
Farley’s & Sathers + Brach’s
• Brach’s Christmas Nougats (Peppermint & Wintergreen - no one has seen Cinnamon on shelves - review)
• Tootsie Roll Candy Cane Pop Drops (review)
• Ribbon Candy (I suspect this is just a repackage of Sevigny’s, as so few companies make this now)
• Swedish Fish (red & green) in bags or theater boxes
Other Items of Interest
• Giant Toblerone Bars
What are you looking forward to most? And what are you having trouble finding this year? What did I leave out?
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
The box says they’re Light and Fluffy Peppermint Marshmallows Drenched in Smooth, Dark Chocolate. They’re made in France and the box holds about 9 marshmallows (though the nutrition label says there are 10 in the package).
Last week I reviewed the new Peeps Chocolate Covered Peppermint Marshmallows and several people mentioned that I should try the new Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Minty Mallows. Believe me, I was right there with them. The first set of Peeps I bought, which was before Thanksgiving, were $1 each (1 ounce), so when I saw the price for the Trader Joe’s version was $2.99 (for 7 ounces), it made these a great value in comparison. I’ve since purchased additional Peeps at only 50 cents each, that’s still more expensive per ounce than Trader Joe’s.
Inside the trapezoidal box is a silver mylar pouch. The dark chocolate covered marshmallows are just tossed in there. So you can imagine that on their voyage from France they’ve gotten quite scuffed and tumbled. Some were cracked but all were intact and there was surprisingly little chocolate dust at the bottom of the bag.
Each piece is about 1.5 inches square (they’re really more rectangular, so maybe a smidge more than 1.5 on one side than the other) and about an inch high. They feel a bit heavier than I would have expected for a chocolate covered marshmallow.
It’s not that the photo above is lacking detail for the marshmallow. They’re not light and foamy like Peeps. They’re dense and quite moist, more like a cross between aerated gelatin and a gummi bear.
The texture, though not as meringue-like as I’d expected is still quite smooth. It’s like memory foam latex, chewy and lightly minty.
The chocolate outside is smooth and maybe little chalky but has enough dark chocolate punch to stand up to the strong mint. At 55% cocoa solids (and no milkfat) its strongest flavor component is woodsy and though not as creamy as I would have hoped, it still has a very smooth melt that complements the marshmallow. The chocolate also adheres nicely to the marshmallow, so even though it cracks a bit when biting, it sticks to the marshmallow to prevent messes and deliver every possible morsel of chocolate with the marshmallow.
For the most part I found these odd. One is rather rib-stickingly satisfying, so a box of 9 or 10 of these goes a long way. I didn’t try melting them for S’mores or in Hot Chocolate. I don’t know if I’ll buy them again, but I found them far superior in ingredients, satisfaction and even presentation from the Just Born Peeps. I can see these being a fun product in the future with alternate versions with different flavored marshmallows (orange, strawberry, cinnamon, licorice). I might like to see them packaged in trays, in little fluted cups or something that keeps them from tumbling around, because I bet they’re stunning right off the confectionery line.
Friday, December 3, 2010
Just Born introduced Chocolate Covered Peeps for Easter 2010. They also made an appearance in the pumpkin shape for Halloween. But the most interesting of their new chocolate covered version of the marshmallow shapes is the Christmas introduction of the Peeps Dark Chocolate Covered Mint Flavored Marshmallow.
The candies come individually wrapped and weigh 1 ounce exactly. (There’s also a milk chocolate version, but both that I bought were crushed & sticky so I’ll have to find more.) Like the other chocolate covered versions before, they’re not just a chocolate covered classic Peep, they lack the sugar crust so the chocolate is the cloak it gets instead of the grainy coating.
The tree shaped minty Christmas Peep is just shy of three inches long and pretty tall at about an inch thick. The dark chocolate shell contains a bit of milkfat but is otherwise has a pleasing dark sheen and makes a convincing tree shape. The package says that they’re gluten free, but of course aren’t vegan (gelatin & milk) and may contain peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and coconut.
They actually smell more like sweet dark chocolate out of the package than mint, which I thought was a good sign after the overly sweet and underwhelming Easter and Halloween versions.
Biting into it, I found what I expected, which was a bright green, soft and moist marshmallow flavored with peppermint. The marshmallow is interesting, it’s fluffy without being foamy or latexy. The mint flavor is appropriately strong - strong enough to have a distinctive taste but not so strong to overwhelm the chocolate chip qualities of the dark coating. The smooth dissolve of the marshmallow is better than the slightly grainy and chalky chocolate.
I don’t generally get an aftertaste from green food colorings (blue & yellow), so my repulsion at the color was aesthetic, not technical. It did go far to convince me that this was something flavored like Creme de Menthe.
The product idea is sound, a flavored marshmallow in a festive, seasonal shape covered in chocolate. There aren’t any other mass-marketed candies like that. I still question the necessity of the strong food colorings (and maybe some sprinkles on there would serve a similar purpose of the tree “decoration.” I’m still not much of a marshmallow fan, so these don’t suit me, but I’m sure there are some fans who will enjoy these. They could benefit from higher quality chocolate and eschew the strong colors.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Brach’s Christmas Nougats are classics. The disk shaped, mostly circular candies are wrapped in clear cellophane with green triangles on a red band at the edges where the wrappers are twisted. They’re about an inch and a half around. The style highlights the look of the candy, which features a green triangle (Christmas tree) in the center of the white chew. There are little red bands around the edge as well. To make the pattern, the candy is constructed like a giant burrito, the triangular green piece at the center, a little red piece for the “trunk” and then the mass of white nougat is wrapped around that with the strips of red added at the end. Then the whole thing is rolled out into a long rope and sliced to reveal the design.
The base of the candy is called nougat and I admit that there is some egg white in there, but the texture isn’t quite nougat as far as I’m concerned. It’s not as chewy as a taffy, but not as fluffy as most nougats. So I’m just going to call it a chew.
They’re soft and easy to chew, not stringy or particularly sticky but could be considered clingy. They’re strongly flavored with peppermint, but it’s a clean flavor. The texture is mostly smooth, though there were some grainy bits of sugar now and then. They dissolve pretty quickly, so I found it easy to eat them one after the other. There’s a little hint of salt to keep them from tasting far too sweet. They’re fresh, most definitely, I’m sure that old ones get tacky and stiff.
I can see why these are a classic for the holidays. They’re a little on the bland side for me, not quite enough like true nougats and I didn’t care for the aftertaste from the artificial colors. They’re quite pretty and easy to share.
They also come in Wintergreen and Cinnamon (I haven’t found those in stores).
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The Wonka Exceptionals Line is brand new this year, so it’s a bit surprising that Nestle already has a holiday version of one of their sub-brands when it seems like it took them decades to make holiday Gobstoppers.
The line of upscale Wonka Exceptionals includes new chocolate pieces. They’re little rectangles that are individually wrapped and feature a little bit of a different take on the standard morsel. The first introductions were Scrumdiddlyumptious (cookie pieces in milk chocolate), Chocolate Waterfall (milk & white chocolate swirled) and Domed Dark Chocolate (milk & dark stack) In addition, Wonka came up with Marvels and Fruit Jellies with all natural colors and flavors.
The holiday Wonka Exceptionals Peppermint Shortbread Chocolate Pieces come in a tall box like the Jellies and Marvels. (The previous Pieces I reviewed came in a purple hologram emblazoned bag.) Inside the slim box is a purple mylar pouch with the Wonka Ws all over it. The box only holds four ounces of the foil wrapped chocolates and at nearly $4 for the package, that’s a dollar an ounce. That’s about what I pay for See’s by the pound. (There are approximately 12 pieces in the box.)
So, Wonka is trucking along, reinventing the brand. They’re going for quality and recapturing the imagination that everyone loves so much in the Dahl books ... and then this Christmas candy comes along. The previous candies in this Exceptionals line have been good, a little expensive but they also have a unique selling position - they’re made with all natural flavors and colors. So I bite into one of these new milk chocolate pieces that have peppermint candy pieces and shortbread cookie morsels.
There are red bits in there. They’re bright red. They’re kind of minty but they’re also kind of bitter to me towards the end, there’s something slightly off about them. They have artificial colors in them. Why? They’re inside! Why would you put coloring in something that’s not even meant to be seen?
That aside, the milk chocolate pieces are creamy. They’re very sweet and don’t have a huge cocoa punch, it’s quite mild and overshadowed by the mint and a bit of the milky flavors. The candy pieces are crunchy and then there are little bits of shortbread sometimes - they’re a kind of sandy and crumbly cookie crunch that has a light salty note to it. But they’re really sandy sometimes, like cornmeal sandy.
The whole thing wasn’t working for me. It was too sweet and though most of the texture components were right (except for the lingering sand, like that stuff in your jeans pockets after going through the wash). I was irritated that I paid $4 for a box of candy I didn’t want to eat. They’ve already shown that they can do better, so I want Wonka to do better next time around.
I got a handful of these as a sample from Nestle at first, but I didn’t get the box or label with it, so that’s why I went out and bought them, so I could find out how expensive they were for myself and see that there Red #3, Red #40 and Blue #1 in there. Bah, humbug.
Monday, November 29, 2010
A couple of years ago Tootsie brought back their classic Tootsie Pop Drops. The package heralds them as Tootsie Pops without the stick! but they’re actually a mini version of a hard candy with a little filling of chewy, chocolatey Tootsie Rolls.
It only makes sense that they’d do seasonal versions, such as the Candy Cane Tootsie Pop in this smaller, sharable format. I believe these hit the shelves last year, but I didn’t find them until this year.
The 3.5 ounce box holds a thick foil/plastic pouch with the candies inside. I’m never keen on this “bag inside a box” package, but I do admit that all of the candies came out looking great, no chips or broken ones and it wasn’t just a bag of sugar dust.
I loved the look of them when I dumped them out of the bag. They’re thick and feel heavy and solid, like pieces of glass. The color of the candy is a very light and milky pink with red stripes. They’re smaller than a Starlight Mint but I find the size and shape excellent in the mouth.
The hard candy is smooth and has very few voids. The dissolve is good with a good mint flavor that has a few pops and sparkles of extra flavor on occasion. At the center is a small piece of a Tootsie Roll. I found the ratio to be a bit off, I’d like more Tootsie Roll, but still the chew of it is good. The flavor of the Tootsie Roll itself is always a bit disappointing, mostly because the chocolate flavor is often a bit musty and watery instead of woodsy and cocoa-ish. In this case there’s a hint of rum and less of the cardboard taste, probably because of the essence of Peppermint at play here.
There’s only the one flavor in the package, just like the old days when I would buy a roll of just Orange or Grape Tootsie Pop Drops. It would be fun to see these wrapped individually in wax paper and sold in rolls at least for the nostalgia value at Christmas. But the addition of seasonal flavors is a great touch that I hope Tootsie continues.
The new packaging advises that the Tootsie facility that made these is peanut free, gluten free, egg free and tree nut free. (It does contain milk ingredients and soy.)
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