Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Sometimes I want a little more information on the package. I saw these at Trader Joe’s last Friday and I was intrigued. Trader Joe’s English Soft Peppermints. I liked everything I saw. Peppermint, good! English, yes, they know good candy. Soft, why yes, I like soft things. Even the blue tin was compelling. But what were they?
The back of the package didn’t tell me much more except that they were actually a product of The Netherlands (and not English as the name may have led me to believe). The ingredients were pretty simple: Sugar, Cream of Tartar and Natural Peppermint Oil.
What what manner of soft mint were they?
Open the package and it’s clear. They’re pillow mints. Lovely, king sized pillow mints (not those domestic throw pillow mints you get at the drug store!).
They smell of sweet peppermint and at first as light and cool on the tongue. Then the blistering peppermint kicks in. It’s like the word “English” is code for"Altoid” or something.
I enjoy pillow mints and their Butter Mint brethren, but the intensity of these doesn’t make for popping them one after the other very pleasant. Perhaps that’s a good thing, I could learn a little self control through negative feedback behavior modification. With fresh breath as a side effect whether I’ve learned anything or not.
As a breath mint, these are fine and dandy. As a candy, they’re not quite munchable.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Sometimes I really want some malted milk balls. I’ve never liked Whoppers much though, the mockolate coating simply ruins it for me. On the other hand, their Robin’s Eggs at Easter are pretty good. The mockolate layer is minimized by being far thinner, covered in a hard candy shell and of course a larger center for more malt.
Those sorts of candy coated malted milk balls used to be limited to Easter availability, but like many other items that are becoming more common for the Christmas holiday season (Cadbury Mini Eggs & Creme Eggs), Whoppers has their Sno-Balls.
But I will.
First, on the package there’s a penguin in front of an igloo. There’s also a polar bear and walrus ... which is fine, they’re arctic animals. The penguin, however, is a southern hemisphere animal. Why not just put a lion on there or a kangaroo?
Second, mockolate. Why, oh why, can’t Hershey’s put some real chocolate on here? It’s not even that much of a chocolatey coating here. The good thing, though, is that the Sno-Balls have less fat in them than regular Whoppers. A 41 gram serving of Whoppers has 7 grams of fat ... all of them saturated. The Sno-Balls have 5 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of them are saturated. Okay, still not great, especially when it’s coming from Partially Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil. (Honestly, I can’t figure out how they both have the same 180 calories per serving though with 30% less fat in the Sno-Balls. Fat is twice as caloric as carbs or protein ... maybe there’s more fiber in regular Whoppers?)
But all that ranting aside, these are quite cute. The white spheres are speckled to various degrees with red and green. The crackly candy shell has a thin layer of mockolate below it. Both have a soft, cool effect on the tongue. The malt center is dense and crispy. It doesn’t have a huge malt or salt punch like some others, but a nice texture that melts in the mouth well.
I’d love it if they were a little bigger so I’d get more of the malt proportion I crave. What’s particularly nice about these over the Robin’s Eggs is that there’s less artificial coloring. I never cared for the pink Robin’s Eggs because they taste bitter to me. In this assortment there is no bad egg.
I’ve been eating them for a couple of days, and as long as I don’t think about how much I’d like them to be Chocolate Covered Malted Milk Balls, well, we’re getting along fine.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
As we head into December, I start looking at candy with an eye towards Christmas stockings. What makes good stocking candy? Well, small individually wrapped portions are a good start. Seasonal flavors, pretty packaging and some sort of exotic selling point also help.
When I was up in San Francisco, these little Caffarel Fig and Chestnut chocolates. I wasn’t quite sure what they’d be, they were sold at The Candy Store out of a pretty jar. There were several varieties (I think something walnut and a bunch of others that I’d tried before) so I went for these that were new to me. The pretty foil showed a green fig, a cut fig and a ripe fig bursting at the seams. Everything I got at The Candy Store was fresh and perfect, these were no exception.
At the bottom they have a little sticker with the Caffarel logo. The fig ones all say fico and the chestnut one says castagna. I was expecting a gianduia center with a fig flavor or chestnut flavor.
Upon biting into the first fig one for this photo, I found that it was not a chocolate or nut paste center. Instead it was a molded dark chocolate piece with a flowing fig filling. Kind of like a syrup with real fig in it, it’s a pretty intense fig flavor like a jam. A little like honey, it’s a fresh taste of raisins and similar in smell as sitting next to a fresh pile of firewood.
I never cared much for figs as a kid. I had to make a very concerted effort to “like” Fig Newtons. It really wasn’t until I moved to my present house that has a fig tree and I started eating them fresh off the tree that I understood the appeal of them. (And the fact that the tree is so wonderfully fresh and fragrant nine months out of the year.)
There were little bits of fig in there, a few seeds to really sell the fact that it’s figs. I love these. I really, really love these. I love the shape, I love the size, I love the foil wrapping and the fact that they come in three different versions. I’ve eaten them all. I didn’t love the price, but I’m trying not to think about that ... I’m trying to figure out where to buy more of these. (I don’t recommend them for kids who haven’t already expressed a strong desire for figs though.)
The chestnut one also had a flowing center, though not quite as thin and gooey as the fig. This one was slightly textured, like a caramel or dulce de leche (but no cream, per se). Sweet and a little roasted, it tasted like a marron glace but without that worry that it’d be a tough one. It didn’t really thrill me, but I’m not a huge chestnut fan.
Now I have to apologize to everyone who now wants to try these and is in the same position as I am ... outta luck! If you know of another place (The Candy Store does not do web orders) that sells them online, please post!
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
First, the description: Real Junior Mints (tm) made with a real candy crunch. Are there fake Junior Mints (tm) out there ... is this an issue? There are other dark chocolate peppermints out there, sure, but is there anything that’s trying to occupy the Junior Mints (tm) niche? What makes them Junior Mints anyway? Is it the dark chocolate and flowing fondant? Because the Junior Mints Deluxe had the Junior Mints name. So it’s not size or proportion.
The thing I have the real hangup on is the “CRUNCH!” that they advertise. The little image on the box shows what looks like a Starlight mint, which is basically a hard candy with peppermint flavoring ... they’re good crunched up and put in things (see my list o’ uses for Candy Canes). At first I though they were nonpareils, which are little spheres of sugar found on SnoCaps.
But on closer examination they weren’t. They’re too irregular. So I read the ingredients: Sugar, Semi Sweet Chocolate, Corn Syrup, Flaked Corn, Yellow Corn Flour, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Corn Starch, Confectioner’s Glaze, Modified Food Starch, Peppermint Oil, Invertase, Invert Sugar Syrup, Artificial Color (Red 40) and Corn Syrup Solids.
In an effort to figure out what these nibbles are, I’ve boldfaced those ingredients that are not found in regular Real Junior Mints (tm). Seems like we have some red polenta or something. Definitely not crushed Starlight Mints (like those little candy flakes on the Peeps Peppermint Stars). One thing I’m quite sure of, they’re not that tasty. They don’t dissolve like a bit of candy crunch should, but they do remain crunchy no matter how long you roll them around in your mouth!
They just don’t look that good. They look like they fell in something. I like traditional Junior Mints, they’re pretty! Usually so slick and dark, these are lumpy and malformed. The taste is pretty much the same but the crunch isn’t crunchy enough, doesn’t add any pep to the whole thing. If it was real candy (you know something that you’d actually buy and eat separately ... tell me you’d eat flaked corn, yellow corn flour, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and corn syrup solids!) then I think they’d have something. I haven’t been particular fond of the other versions of Junior Mints so far: Pastel, Inside Out or Heart Shaped (only because the red ones tasted weird). I think I’ll just stick with the Real Junior Mints from now on.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Marshmallow purists probably don’t think much of flavored marshmallows, in fact I don’t usually care much for them beyond the kiss of honey or toasted sugar notes.
But Peeps Peppermint Marshmallow Stars have changed that. They’re light, peppermint flavored marshmallows, just in time for Christmas.
The stars are very puffy and fluffy. The outer sugar coating seems to be well adhered, I’m guessing the flat surfaces have a lot to do with this. The whole marshmallow is peppermint flavored, rather strongly and the pink peppermint sparkle-flakes are also strong peppermint.
If I had any complaints at all about these it’s that they didn’t get stale very easily. I opened a package last week and left it open, but the marshmallow is still rather soft and only slightly tacky. It gives it a nice chew, but I was hoping for something a little drier.
I actually ate a whole tray of these.
And then read the ingredients to see that they contain Sucralose and AceK. Sigh ... artificial sweeteners. (It said less than .5% of the candy was composed of these, but when sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar, they don’t need to put much in and it did shave 20 calories off the total for a serving compared to a regular Peep.) I felt really betrayed, though I can only blame myself for not reading the ingredients completely before eating them. (I did have a stomach ache for the rest of the morning, but that could have been caused by, well, eating a tray of marshmallows for breakfast or the ibuprofen I’ve been popping lately.) I thought they were really tasty and I would actually buy these and eat these again if they didn’t have those artificial sweeteners. I just have to ask ... why?
I can’t figure out how to rate them now. I was all set to give them an 8 out of 10. For now I’m going to give them a 6 out of 10.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I’ve talked a lot over the years about Candy Season and the accompanying seasonal candies that go with each. Slowly the candy companies are seeing that those seasonal favorites can be re-purposed into other seasons. Just like M&Ms are found in color combos for every time of the year and Russell Stover is making a marshmallow-filled pumpkin, Santa and egg, it seems that Cadbury doesn’t want anyone to miss out on incorporating their egg-shaped candies into the major holidays.
This is where the Cadbury Ornament Creme Egg comes in. It’s just a Cadbury Creme Egg with a red foil wrapper.
It seems silly, but I’m going to re-review these, even though they’re no different than the Easter version. However, the last time I ate one was back in ‘06 when they were 1.38 ounces. This made for a very large reservoir of fondant ... which is not my favorite part of the Cadbury Creme Egg. (My favorite part of the Cadbury Creme Egg, for the record, was the clucking bunny commercial.) The more recent version is 1.2 ounces.
The egg has a wonderful sweet dairy chocolate smell to it that reminded me of powdered milk. Both of mine had a small sticky problem around the seam (and I tried to hard to pick good ones).
The nose cone of both seemed extremely thick, which gave a good dose of chocolate to the otherwise too-sweet fondant density.
The fondant creme center is sweet, it’s nice and smooth indicating its freshness (an old Creme Egg will have a slight grain to the fondant). But really, it’s just a big hunk of sugar, and while I often enjoy big hunks of sugar (rock candy anyone?), I still felt a little too much of a sugar rush aftewards.
I think I prefer the smaller one. I’d love it if they made a mint one (and I did find the orange one a bit better). That said, it’s still not a favorite of mine. But I’m sure fans of the Creme Egg will be happy to see it now as their stockpiles from Easter are probably long gone.
While I can fault them for doing nothing more than slapping a different color wrapper on it and the word “ornament” to make it a Christmas product, I did find that making the Mini Eggs into little spheres for their new Christmas thingies did actually muck with perfection.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
One of the most flexible things you can make out of old candy canes (or any hard candy) is candy cane sugar which can be used just like regular sugar in a variety of ways.
I made mine from a couple of humongo peppermint sticks by Spangler (each weighs 4 ounces). Two of these sticks will make 1 Cup of candy cane sugar.
There are a couple of ways to make it, I use the old fashioned method.
Put the candies into one of the ziploc bags and then into the other. Once you start pounding away the sharp pieces will cut the bag a bit and if you don’t want a powdery-sticky mess, it’s best to double bag.
Whack away. Break up the big pieces first, hitting them as best you can with the flat side of your mallet or hammer.
After breaking up the candy, dump it into a bowl. Shake the bowl gently to get the larger pieces to the top, scoop them off and return them to the plastic bag for further pulverization. Repeat until you get your candy sugar to the grind that you desire.
Break up candy canes into small pieces by hand.
Put into clean Coffee Grinder (or food processor).
Pulse grind to break up big chunks. Continue until you reach the desired consistency.
For best results:
When finished put into an airtight container. If you live in a particularly humid area keep it in the fridge to prevent it from reforming into a sticky pile.
Use single-colored candy. Multicolored candy canes (such as red and green stripes) will make for a rather muddy colored sugar once it’s pulverized.
Do not use plastic produce bags, they’re just too thin and you’ll end up with bits of plastic in your sugar.
Here you go, oodles of things to do with those leftover candy canes. (Or maybe you want to pick some up on sale.)
Use them whole:
Crush them lightly:
Use them in recipes:
So, what can you add to the list?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.