Tuesday, November 29, 2011
I was pleased to see that Trader Joe’s managed to give this candy a name, as so many of their other holiday treats end up with nothing more than a functional description of ingredients or assembly.
The Merry Mingle is described as Cranberries, pecans and caramel don their dark chocolate apparel, creating a heaping helping of holiday candy. The box is large, holding 11 ounces, so it’s a good portion, and should be for the price.
The packaging is interesting, the box is sturdy and the graphics are clear and attractive. The inside is a little less posh: a plastic tray insert with four sections filled with four to five pieces each. While I may not have found the inside very nice to serve from, it did protect the pieces well, as they were all in very good condition when removed from the box. The chocolate was glossy and the pecans and cranberries were intact.
The pieces varied rather widely in size. Some were as small as one and a half inches while others were a full two and a half inches in diameter. The construction is interesting. The nuts and cranberries are held together with a little bit of caramel then they’re partially dipped in dark chocolate. There are a few zags and dribbles of chocolate on top of the pieces as well.
The base is mostly caramel, and it does a good job of keeping everything together. The caramel flavors (salt, burnt sugar) are lost in the toasty maple flavors of the pecans and the tart cranberries. The textures are great though, the caramel is smooth and chewy without being sticky or flowing. The chocolate, as the bottom, hits the tongue first, so it makes a bold impression on me as being deep and dark. There are coffee notes and probably some others but they’re lost in the flavor riot of the turtle.
Everything tasted fresh, each element was distinct (though the caramel a little lost). It also felt lighter then a traditional fully enrobed turtle (which actually do clock in at about 20 more calories per ounce). I get the impression from readers that they don’t look so good in the photos, but I thought they were great. If you’re a fan of Trader Joe’s trail mix but would like it dressed up for company, this might do the trick.
It’s Kosher but with so many ingredients, there are a lot of potential allergens: soy, milk, pecans plus traces of wheat, eggs, peanuts and other tree nuts.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Their new Trader Joe’s Minty Melts sound a bit on the classic side. Dark chocolate squares with a festive minty stripe.
The box holds 7.5 ounces and was $4.99. They’re Kosher and gluten free. There is no ethical statement about the origin of the chocolate.
The box is long (11.5 inches) but opens easily to serve. The inner box bottom is actually fully printed so you can pull it out and put it on the table or buffet if you don’t want to put them on a plate. The pieces are stacked, two high and two wide.
I was pleased with the ingredients, it’s real dark chocolate at the semi-sweet level of 56% cacao. The mint stripe is made of real white chocolate as well, with cocoa butter and real peppermint oil. There’s a touch of coconut oil in there, but it’s very low on the list, falling into the less than 2% area.
They’re almost perfect cubes, about 3/4 of an inch all around, though just a little shy on the height. The stripes aren’t equal. The base layer is thicker than the top and mint white chocolate middle. The appearance is a little rustic. They’re a bit scuffed on the edges and the sides aren’t always straight/square/plumb.
The dark chocolate is rich and has a good cocoa flavor. There are little gritty moments every once in a while. The white chocolate center is a little dry and chalky feeling, just not quite a fully chocolate smoothness that I was hoping for. The flavor is very well balanced, milky sweet but not throat searing, with an appropriate touch of peppermint that doesn’t overwhelm the dark chocolate.
The texture doesn’t quite hit it for me, but perhaps that’s because I was hoping for something a little creamier. However, I like the fact that it’s a Peppermint Bark without the crushed peppermint candies. While that’s a nice candy, too, I wanted to taste the smooth textures together. The name Minty Melts led me to believe that these were meltaways, but they’re not, they’re a solid chocolate product. Nothing wrong with that ...
These are sure to go over well in social settings, just the right size portion for guests or for snacking.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
I mentioned in an earlier Candy Tease that Lindt has some new holiday items. In addition to their new hollow chocolate figures of Teddy Bears, Snow Men and Santa they also have some holiday new Lindor Tuffles in Holiday Spice plus their usual holiday offering of Peppermint.
I also spotted this coppery bag of Lindt Holiday Spice Almonds.
It’s a tiny bag. It’s a cute bag, but it really is tin, especially when you consider that 1/3 of the height is just empty “flair.” But still, it’s dense. Jam packed with 3.5 ounces of roasted almonds in milk chocolate with holiday spices. Ah, the vague holiday spices. They’re so vague that on the ingredients list, they’re not even specified as holiday. They’re just spices.
The almonds vary widely in size, some as small as a Peanut M&M and some appear as large as a peach pit.
The candies are a little more complex that what was described. The almond at the center is lightly toasted. Then there is a little sugar shell on top of it. That is then dipped in milk chocolate and finally finished with a dusting of powdered sugar.
They smell a bit like amaretto and custard. The sugar on the outside is a little dusty, a little messy. The milk chocolate coating is smooth but quite sweet and with a strong dairy note. The spice flavor there is mostly the amaretto, but perhaps a little touch of cinnamon. The sugar shell on the inside is lightly crunchy but not thick at all. The almonds at the center were fresh and overall good quality. They work well either chewed for the combination of textures and flavors or slowly melted and dissolved through the layers.
I don’t usually care for amaretto, and in this case it wasn’t very strong. It’s a very sweet combination but also rather different from so many other chocolates and holiday items, I found it refreshing. I would have preferred a better, more specific description on the package though. Amaretto is not a spice and I don’t expect my real almonds to also be flavored with it unless we’re in the territory of marzipan.
While I may make fun of the packaging, I did like how efficient it was. There are two layers, an inner waxed paper and then the decorative metallic mylar. It had a sturdy, flat bottom and didn’t take up an excessive amount of space.
They’re made with wheat, dairy, almonds and soy plus they’re processed on shared equipment with peanuts and other tree nuts. Their cocoa is sourced responsibly and sustainably though not certified fair trade but also sourced from a wide range of locations (many not associated with slavery or brutal unrest). Read their statements here which specifically state that no supplier, anywhere in their chain can use forced labor.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
A few years ago I picked up a Big Bite Gummy Bear. It’s not the biggest gummi bear available on the market, but they’re easy to find and pretty well priced for a novelty item.
This year the Big Bite family of gummis is expanding with holiday themed shapes. For Christmas they have three: a Tin Soldier (red cherry), a Christmas Tree (green apple) and a Rocking Horse (red cherry). I found the Big Bite Gummy Rocking Horse charming and well designed so I picked that one from the display at Cost Plus World Market. They’re not as big as the Big Bite Gummy Bear (which is 12 ounces), they’re about half that weight at 5.82 ounces.
First, as a Christmas tree ornament, this is a colossal failure. It’s weight makes it too heavy and big to put on a normal tree. But as a party favor, stocking stuffer or table decoration, it does pretty well.
The gummi is constructed of two molded halves that are bonded together. They’re packaged in a clear plastic form (which could actually be the mold) that works as an excellent storage container for the partially eaten candy and also as a more appropriate ornament when you’re done.
Even though it’s not as big as the original Big Bite Gummy Bear, it’s still pretty large for a single portion of candy. (Come on, this is at least three portions.) The texture is soft, the surface is smooth but a little greasy because of the carnauba wax coating.
Out of the package, the Rocking Horse stands well on its own, though she’s (yes, I checked) a little head-heavy and tips forward.
I was disappointed in the flavor selection, but I understand with novelty candies they have to go with what’s most popular. (I would have preferred raspberry or strawberry or maybe something truly holiday themed like cranberry or cinnamon.)
Once I cut off the head, the halves of the candy pulled apart quite easily. The texture is pliable with a smooth flavor. It’s cherry and though not the best cherry gummi I’ve ever had, it was passable. It was light, a little tart and had a nice overall balance. It wasn’t too dark, not black cherry or wild cherry but more of the stereotypical cherry of most candies. (I think Tootsie Pop Cherry is as close as I can think of.) However, the edges of the product were tough and leathery, while the center was a bit softer. I also got a bit of an aftertaste and slight burning in my mouth ... this could be my reaction to the red food dye or just simple paranoia.
The tag lists the ingredients (contains gelatin and not Kosher/Halal) as well as the nutritional information. It was printed so small I had to photograph it and blow it up. The serving size is the whole candy but the calorie count for the whole thing was a rather modest 592 calories. (That Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte with the whipped cream at Starbucks has 520 calories.) But the really surprising part is consuming the whole thing is 10.7 grams of protein.
The candies are imported by a company called Novelty Specialties and are manufactured in China. I’m not enthusiastic about candy (or any food product) made in China because of their lack of accountability when it comes to food safety, though the United States and United Kingdom have their share as well. If I weren’t writing this blog, I never would have purchased, let alone eaten this product (but that goes for a lot of the candies I’ve tried, and sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised).
The price was $3.99, which was the same price as the twice-as-big Big Bite Gummi Bear. $3.99 could buy some very nice, American or German gummis that you could put in a holiday themed package. Just saying. If you’re not planning on eating it and want to dispose of it in the garbage disposal, well, this is better than plastic.
Since writing the review of the Big Bite Gummy Bear, which seem to be widely available, the company’s website has disappeared. (Here’s the page I got when I went to NoveltySpecialties.com.)
Monday, November 7, 2011
When I saw a tweet from The Impulsive Buy that there was a new kind of M&Ms, I was on the case. Marvo tracked them down, they’re called Cinnamon M&Ms and they’re an exclusive to Target stores right now (though some folks have them on eBay as well).
The bags are slight, with only 9.9 ounces compared to the standard 12 ounce bag of Milk Chocolate M&MS for the same price.
The package features the Green M&M in a white knit cap & scarf holding some cinnamon sticks. The illustration shows that the candies come in three deep red colors.
The pieces vary in size and slightly in color. The deep red and maroon are almost indistinguishable in lower light situations.
The pieces are larger than the regular Milk Chocolate M&Ms. The color is not quite as dense or shiny as the regular M&Ms. They’re a little dusty colored, like the color coating isn’t as thick or they aren’t as polished. It appears that the shade of brown and red are identical to the standard Milk Chocolate red and brown, but the maroon is new.
The flavor, as Marvo pointed out in his review, tastes like it’s concentrated in the shell of the candy, not in the milk chocolate. Some shells taste more cinnamony than others, but the red tastes the most like cinnamon. It’s not a “red hot” sort of flavor, it’s more of the ground spice flavor. It’s woodsy and rich with a slight heat to it, but nothing that’s too warm.
The largest pieces feel like they’re layered; as if they start out as a regular sized M&M, then get another layer of chocolate to supersize them. (They used to make Mega M&Ms, maybe this is just the same equipment being put to use.)
The flavor is different but not radical. It’s subtle and pleasant, but masks the also mild chocolate flavors from Mars very sweet milk chocolate. The candy shell is fun to crack and the textures work exceptionally well in this instance because of the ratios with the larger chocolate pieces.
I can’t say that I’ve been longing for these all of my life; and I can’t say, especially at this price, that I’d buy them again. Like the Coconut M&Ms, they’re only vaguely different but the cinnamon, like coconut, is a polarizing flavor. Either you like it or you don’t. So there will be folks out there that won’t.
I can say that these go very nicely with coffee, the cinnamon adds that fall, harvest essence to the whole event. So settle down with the morning paper and toss a few Cinnamon M&Ms onto your saucer for a little extra bump.
For traditionalist, the Milk Chocolate Mint M&Ms are also returning for Christmas.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Godiva Chocolatier has been moving into more stores lately - places like Cost Plus World Market and even drug stores like CVS. This holiday was the first time I saw them in my ordinary grocery store (Von’s). The mass-market fare isn’t quite like the stuff in their shops, it’s small bites (Gems) and bars along with their Chocoiste line of little pearls.
They’re still rather expensive, this bag of Godiva Gems Peppermint Truffles was selling for $6.00 before Christmas. Though the bag looks pretty big (similar to the stand up bags from Ghirardelli which holds nearly 3 times as much), it only holds 3.5 ounces. But after Christmas I snagged this for only $2.64 ... a fair price for a real white chocolate product.
The package says: White chocolate with creamy candy cane filling.
The package warns that some settling of contents may occur in shipping, and they’re not kidding. There are 10 individually wrapped Gems inside, making two layers - that’s a lot of empty space in the bag. Each sphere is wrapped in a candy cane striped mylar twist.
The truffles are about 1 inch in diameter. They’re not completely spherical, they’re slightly faceted, I’m guessing to go with the Gems part of the name. They remind me of well-used polyhedral dice.
They’re formed from two hemispheres, so there’s a distinct seam in the center. Sometimes with a little gentle pressure on opposite sides of the seam, I can pop the sides apart. They’re each filled with the pink cream and then joined together with some more white chocolate.
The pieces are soft, the shell yields easily when bitten. The center is a soft cream made of white chocolate, sugar alcohols, butter and some palm oil along with some red food coloring and peppermint flavor. There’s just a little dash of salt in there. The sorbitol and xylitol are used as sweeteners to good effect. Both of them are lower in calories but they also are less sweet and provide a cooling effect on the tongue. (Some folks cannot tolerate sugar alcohols, but I don’t think there’s much in here.)
They were good quality, I liked that the ganache filling wasn’t greasy and thin tasting like the Lindt Lindor Truffles, which I see these as competing with. But the flavor combo wasn’t really best for me, I wanted a rich, silky dark chocolate shell and the white chocolate, minty ganache center. White chocolate lovers may disagree though. They’re not too sweet, which is also refreshing.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.