Thursday, December 05, 2013
It’s easy to think of Russell Stover as a stuffy boxed chocolate brand for old people, but I have to say that they are consistently on trend with their new flavors. Last year they introduced Red Velvet Santa, this year was a Pumpkin Pie Pumpkin and today I’m going to start my review with the Russell Stover Gingerbread in Dark Chocolate.
The packaging is simple, just a lump of Santa shaped candy in a sleeve with a Santa picture on the front. If there’s one unifying element with the Russell Stover Santa candies, it’s that they have a picture of a Santa on the front, but that the style will be different from the others. There’s really nothing cohesive in the branding.
They’re priced very well, at only 50 cents each for one ounce when on sale, they’re easy to find at most drug store chains. (I don’t see them at Target or KMart, though. Walgreen’s usually has the best selection, but RiteAid and CVS are pretty dependable for the most popular varieties.)
Like the Cookie Dough Egg, Pumpkin Pie and Red Velvet, the center for this piece contains flour. It’s like a cookie dough, in this case, more like a cake batter for gingerbread. It’s pretty mild, with more clove and ginger notes with a little hint of brown sugar. It’s not really fudgy, but more like a thick and chilled cookie dough. I liked it. It’s kind of weird, not at all like a high-end truffle, but just like a fun seasonal sweet.
Russell Stover Peppermint Cream Santa is similar to the Big Bite Mint Dream I ordered from them some years back. It’s a fluffed cream, not a fondant like Junior Mints or York Peppermint Patties.
The peppermint is clean and strong. The dark chocolate is bittersweet, glossy and crisp. The filling is light and frothy, though a little grainy and extremely sweet. It’s much sweeter than the Maple I tried later on. It’s a good peppermint product, and certainly very spare on the calories, a full piece is only 120 calories if you’re tying to indulge on a dietary budget.
The label doesn’t list any real sourcing information for the ingredients, specifically the chocolate. Since Russell Stover manufactures such a wide variety of confections there are lots of allergen warnings. The Gingerbread has flour (gluten) in it, the Mint and Maple have egg whites plus they all have soy and milk. Then there’s the peanuts and tree nuts warning.
All the Santa pieces are ill formed. I don’t know what the shape is supposed to be, but they’re enrobed, not molded so they’re rather amorphous. The Gingerbread piece (middle) is more dense than the Peppermint Cream and Maple Cream, so it’s not quite as high.
Russell Stover Dark Chocolate & Maple Cream is just a dark chocolate version of the milk chocolate version I reviewed a couple of years ago. It’s also available in the Easter Egg version, which I also reviewed ages ago and liked. (And also didn’t get a picture of the inside.)
The dark chocolate is glossy and pretty creamy. It’s not terribly rich in flavor, but its semisweet cocoa notes balance out the fluffy maple cream center. The filling is sweet and light with a hint of salt and a woodsy, pecan scent of maple.
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Hershey’s has answered the call for a holiday candy bar. The bar is actually a candy they’ve been selling for quite a few years, just a new format. It’s a white confection flavored with peppermint and studded with crunchy nonpareils formed into the standard Hershey bar mold. It’s pretty simple and named that way, too, Hershey’s Candy Cane Bar.
The bar is available in two formats, the large 3.5 ounce king sized bar I picked up or a regular 1.5 ounce single serving bar. Both feature the simple packaging design of the white background with little striped fringes at the ends and the bold Hershey’s logo across the front.
Hershey’s is also offering their regular bars in this same 3.5 ounce size in Holiday packaging, so you can get the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with a snowman on the front and Cookies n Creme bar with a nutcracker on it. I’ve seen these on sale quite widely in both versions at Target, KMart and other drug store chains, so it shouldn’t be hard to find. Hershey’s did a Mint Miniatures mix years back that included a version of this. (I always though it would be good as a Nugget.) It’s also available as the Hershey’s Candy Cane Kiss (with less food coloring) as well.
The bar is 4 sections by 4 sections, and the package suggests that 6 pieces is a portion. The white confection is a creamy color, a little on the yellow side with lots of red nonpareil crunchies evident. The ingredients show that this is a hybrid confection, not quite true white chocolate, though it does have some cocoa butter in it, it also has some other tropical oil. However, there are no other fillers like whey.
The snap shows the crunchies and the texture of the bar. It’s a little soft, no hard snap of a high-cacao chocolate bar here. There’s lots of sugar and that’s fine with me.
The flavor is like a Smooth n Melty mint. It’s peppermint with a clean dairy flavor to it, it’s rather like eating a room temperature ice cream. It’s quite sweet, but not quite as cloying as I’ve experienced with the Cookies n Creme bar or the lesser quality RM Palmer white confections. I don’t care for the flavoring the red food coloring of the nonpareils imparts, but it’s far less than I notice on the holiday Smooth n Melty Mints which are also out on store shelves right now. (A white confection drop with red and green nonpariels on the bottom.)
I like it. I had no trouble eating the whole bar. It’s different from the slick smoothness of the real white chocolate Dove Peppermint Bark. It’s more candy than chocolate.
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
It’s not a particularly new development to see giant versions of classic candies on shelves, but I have seen more than usual lately. Here’s a rundown of what’s available these days:
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (review)
Giant York Peppermint Patties (review)
Hershey’s 1 Pound Bar
World’s Largest Hershey Bar
Snickers Slice n Share (review)
Toblerone 14 ounces
Mike and Ike and Hot Tamales Giant Box
A better value when it comes to these is really the vending packages, which are 5 pounds, about the size of an airplane pillow and cost less, they’re usually available at places like Smart & Final or on the web. (Amazon link.)
Nestle Crunch 1 Pound Bar
Russell Stover 2 Giant Bars S’Mores (review of regular size)
Russell Stover 2 Giant Bars Pecan Delight (review of regular size)
RM Palmer Giant 1/4 Peanut Butter Cup (review)
Giant Tootsie Pop
Giant versions of standard candies are rarely better than the originals. They’re a novelty and play off the notion that more is better. But mostly more is fun, more is sharing and more is delightful. If someone doesn’t like the standard version, they’re unlikely to enjoy the giant, so choose carefully. But the good news is that these are rather inexpensive and make a fun item for a child to give to an adult in their life.
Have you seen any other giant versions of candies for the holidays?
Monday, December 02, 2013
The hot flavor trend this season is gingerbread. Well, not as hot as pumpkin spice, which spans Halloween and Christmas holidays. There’s little difference between the spices in pumpkin pie and gingerbread, though the proportions of the actual spices are often different and gingerbread has a background of molasses or brown sugar.
The M&Ms Milk Chocolate Gingerbread are sold only at Walmart this season, though their companion Twix Gingerbread are sold at most stores stocking seasonal bagged candy.
The design on the front of the package looks like most of the other holiday M&Ms. In this instance the Red M&M is just holding a plate with a gingerbread cookie and pointing at it. Kind of lazy.
The Gingerbread M&Ms are a milk chocolate base with some spices added in. They come in three colors, red, green and brown. Not terribly exciting. The milk chocolate is the normal sweet stuff, creamy but on the fudgy and sugary side. The added spices give it a warm flavor but nothing distinct. Maybe there’s ginger, maybe some cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. They add a light chalky note to the texture but I didn’t specifically get any ginger or black pepper in there.
What would have been extraordinary would have been a real piece of gingerbread, in the format of the Pretzel M&Ms. Or Sugar Cookie, or Snickerdoodle. There are so many exciting seasonal variations on the cookie center that could be accomplished. Even just the Pretzel M&M with this flavored chocolate on the outside would have propelled this to another level of specialness.
Intellectually, I know they’re not the same as the Pumpkin Spice M&Ms from earlier this year, but they don’t feel that different - just swap out the orange ones for red and tone down the cinnamon. No, Mars still hasn’t come out with the Egg Nog White Chocolate M&Ms I’ve been longing for. I guess they’re just not into nutmeg.
Today is the day many blogs decided to review the new M&Ms Milk Chocolate Gingerbread. The Impulsive Buy and ZOMG, Candy! would be the two that I’ve seen so far and previously Junk Food Guy and Serious Sweets. I think most of us are agreed, it’s a nice idea but not really a great M&M.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Kraft is always keeping up with special versions of marshmallows during different seasons. This year I spotted the Jet-Puffed Peppermint Mini Mallows at Target in the baking section. (I’m sure these have been around before.)
It seems like a pretty simple confection, which is largely the selling point. They’re pink swirled mini marshmallows, small enough for snacking or including in recipes
They vary a little in size, but most are half inch cylinders.
They’re quite fresh, bouncy and light. There’s a dusting of corn starch on them, so they’re not sweet immediately, but a little chalky. The mint is mild, but fresh. There’s a light hint of the red food coloring aftertaste, if you’re one of those folks who can detect it. But for the most part, I liked them very much. I threw a handful in some hot chocolate and liked how creamy they melted and added that little minty touch without too much sweetness.
They’re an exceptionally good value. It was $1.00 for a large 10 ounce bag. That’s less than $2 a pound. They’re pretty spare on calories, 2/3 of a cup is only 100 calories and seems like a lot of candy. It’s a nice ingredient, something to use on cupcakes or in hot chocolate or just throw in a small bowl to keep around for kids to snack on without filling up. (Please watch small children with marshmallows and any small candies, as they are a choking hazard.)
Friday, November 22, 2013
Ritter Sport has been creating limited edition seasonal bars for a few years. More recently these are available in the United States at specialty retailers. I found my Winter Edition bars at Cost Plus World Market as imported bars (the packages are in multiple languages, but not English).
The Ritter Sport Winter Edition Caramelised Almonds is a returning flavor, I reviewed it as part of set of minis back in 2011 (as Ritter Sport Gebrannte Mandel). Toasted, sugar coated almonds are a common treat at the Christmas Fairs in Europe, kind of like Kettle Corn is here. It plays on may of the strengths of Ritter Sport’s product line, such as the solid milk chocolate and nut inclusions.
The chocolate is smooth and creamy, but exceptionally sweet. The almonds are also sweet and crunchy with a hint of a cereal taste to it. The bits are quite small, not full almonds, so it’s hard to really discern the almonds from the crunchy coating on them.
I love the idea of this bar but found it achingly sweet, perhaps even more sweet than the first time around. The textures are exemplary, the ratios are perfect, the chocolate is wonderfully smooth, the nuts are fresh and crunchy. But it’s all overpowered by the sheer amount of sugar covering up the cocoa flavors and nuances of caramelized sugar. Now ... do this in the dark chocolate or a dark milk, and I think I’d be howling about the unfairness of the limited edition.
Ritter Sport has published quite a bit about their cacao sourcing and plans for sustainability. Though I found it sweet, this bar is a far better value and much better quality than a Toblerone.
Friday, November 15, 2013
I’m not usually a fan of R.M. Palmer candies (I can’t call their the vast majority of their products chocolate with any accuracy) but I do appreciate their packaging and design. I browsed their new Christmas offerings a few weeks ago and was actually excited by just the name of their R.M. Palmer Candy Cane Cups. Luckily at only $1.00 at the 99 Cent Only Store, the risk was low and possible rewards were high.
They kind of lost me at the description on the ribbon on the front of the package: Your Two Favorites ... Candy Cane Crunch in a Chocolaty Shell. I happen to know a lot of undiscerning people, but I can’t think of any of them that would call anything “chocolaty” their favorite thing. They might eat it pretty happily ... but most folks prefer the real stuff.
The ingredients include a lot of sugar and partially hydrogenated oils ... I’m not sure what will happen to these if the FDA bans artificial trans fats, though the nutrition panel lists that a serving of 4 cups contains 65% of your RDA of saturated fat, it doesn’t actually show any trans fats (though if it’s less than .5 grams, they can say there’s 0).
The cups are nicely designed. The foil is clean red & white stripes and easy to identify if you were to put them in a candy dish. The cup is a nice size, could be one bit or two small ones. (I always like to look inside.)
They smell quite pepperminty. The chocolate coating is oily but does have a melt-in-your-mouth quality because of all the tropical oils. It has a light cocoa note to it, but it’s barely discernible. The filling is firm but also has a melty but slightly grainy quality. There are little bits of peppermint candy in it that give a slight crunch and texture.
I was prepared to hate these, but it’s a great idea and though not executed with premium ingredients, they’re still passable. Now ... let’s see some real chocolate companies do better.
Last year Mars announced a new season flavor for their Twix candy: Twix Sugar Cookie. Sadly, they never showed up in stores in this dimension. Then this year they made their announcements for the holidays with nothing noted for the Twix line, so I was blindsided to find out that there is in fact a holiday version of Twix this year: Twix Gingerbread. (There’s also seasonal Gingerbread M&Ms out, but they are a Walmart exclusive.)
The description is a short listing of the elements: cookie bars - gingerbread caramel - milk chocolate. So it’s not a gingerbread cookie; it’s the caramel that’s flavored like gingerbread.
What I’ve always loved about gingerbread, whether in cake form or crunchy cookie, is the wonderful base of molasses that gives a touch of sweetness but mostly an earthy base for the spices. Recipes obviously call for ginger but also include clove, cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, allspice and/or coriander. The ingredients for Twix Gingerbread doesn’t specify the spice array and does not list molasses at all.
The Twix minis are a little over a half an ounce each. They’re not quite as big as the regular bar you buy in pairs. The calorie count, though, is pretty low at 80 per piece and they’re about 2.3 inches long ... it’s a nice little snack.
They smell quite sweet and cinnamony, with a hint of woodsy but undefined spices.
The overwhelming flavor profile of the caramel is cinnamon and nutmeg with hints of black pepper and ginger. There is no molasses, it’s completely missing that earthy sort of beet flavor. The chew is great, the milk chocolate was creamy and fresh and the cookie has an excellent crunch and texture to offset the caramel. It’s a good iteration of the classic candy. It doesn’t really ring as a gingerbread item. I wish the cookie was different, was an actual gingerbread cookie, but I’ll forgive them for their manufacturing limitations.
My overall feeling about these seasonal flavors like Snickerdoodle, Pumpkin Spice and Gingerbread is they’re pretty much the same thing (we may as well throw Spiced Chai in there). It’s just a mix of those cinnamon spice flavors ... all pretty generic when the end up in a mass produced candy. The Pumpkin Spice M&Ms didn’t end up that different from the Cinnamon M&Ms and probably aren’t that different from the Gingerbread M&Ms. I like the infusion of new flavors into classic candies, but when they start thinking outside the box, I’d like them to be a little more faithful to the inspiration and allow for more differentiation.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.