Monday, June 4, 2012
One of my favorite candies, especially lately, has been Hot Tamales. They’re incredibly simple, basically just spicy cinnamon jelly rods. They’re cheap and easy to find. I have been buying the five pound bags at places like Smart & Final and at Jack’s Wholesale Candy in downtown Los Angeles. They look great in a candy jar and are an excellent pick-me up in the middle of the day or during long car trips.
Just Born, makers of Hot Tamales, recently introduced a new twist to their standard box. It’s called Hot Tamales 3 Alarm and as you might imagine, has three different spice levels inside:
The Hot level is orange. It’s mild but still a good mix of spicy and sweet.
The Hotter level is red. It’s warming but it’s just in the shell and dissipates pretty quickly. The flavor is well rounded, the woodsy bark flavors of cassia (sometimes sold as cinnamon but with a slightly more floral note to it), the sweetness of the bark and then the burn. There’s some throat tingling, but pretty much the normal Hot Tamale experience.
The Hottest level is maroon. It’s hard to tell these apart from the Hotter level sometimes, unless they’re side by side. But make no mistake, there’s a difference in flavor. The hotness is obvious. It’s more than just cinnamon hot, I could swear there’s some sort of capsaicin (hot peppers) in there. It burned my throat quite a bit. If I ate it with another level of hotness, I could take it, but otherwise I found it unpleasant.
I like the Hot Tamales Fire and I like the Hot Tamales classic. But I’m not so keen on this Hottest level in Hot Tamales 3 Alarm and find the Hot level a little too tame. Seems like Just Born got it right the first time, so that’s what I’ll stick with. This is fun, but nothing that will become a go-to candy for me.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Valentine’s Day is all about red. Red is the color of love and passion; candies for Valentine’s Day play upon the flavors that follow with red: cherry, strawberry, raspberry and cinnamon. The fruity flavors are usually easy to find, but cinnamon is a little less common.
I was excited to see this small bag of Ferrara Pan White Hot Red Hots Jelly Beans for sale at Walgreen’s in their Valentine’s candy display. What does White Hot Red Hots actually mean? The package doesn’t say, but the little window shows that the small jelly beans come in two colors: red and a red speckled pink. Any additional questions could be answered for a mere buck.
The beans are pretty and well made. They’re glossy, consistently shaped and I appreciated that the bag was sized appropriately for the amount of candy actually in it. (Sometimes bags are absurdly large but have very little candy in them.)
The white hot part, I think, means that these are very spicy cinnamon. Red Hots is just a brand of cinnamon imperials made by Ferrara Pan.
They’re a little larger than a Jelly Belly but smaller than the classic pectin bean. (Shown above with a Tic Tac.)
They are actually very spicy. I just ate a bag of Hot Tamales last week and I can confirm that these are just slightly hotter than those. The shape is good, it’s small and packs a powerful cinnamon punch. There’s a slight clove note to them and every once in a while I also got a little whiff of artificial watermelon, which may just be a manufacturing thing.
I liked them. It was easy to just pop a few as both a pick-me-up and a little breath freshener. They go well with coffee or tea. I’d definitely pick these up again especially because I like the smaller sized bag. Ferrara Pan already makes Lemonheads & Friends Jelly Beans but I would be curious to try a standard spice flavor array or maybe a mint blend. (Ferrara Pan is known for their Lemonhead and Atomic Fireballs, but they also do a lot of contract manufacturing for house brands and other major candy companies, so chance are you’ve had their jelly beans before.)
They’re made with confectioners glaze, so they’re not considered vegetarian (though there’s no carmine in there). They’re made in equipment that also processes dairy, soy, tree nuts and peanuts. No mention of wheat/gluten but “modified food starch” is listed as an ingredient without any indication of the source.
Friday, December 9, 2011
The best known American marshmallows are Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows which are big, airy cylinders of fluffed sugar and gelatin. Lately there’s been a movement in the United States for more artisan marshmallows, flavored and in different shapes and often with less chalky corn starch on the outside. In other countries marshmallows are usually flavored (France and Japan have wonderful marshmallow offerings that are rather grown up, while the United Kingdom and Netherlands still have a large selection geared towards kids).
Kraft’s Jet-Puffed brand has a large selection lately that go beyond the unflavored white version. I picked up all that I could find over the past month for comparison and review.
I’m often conflicted about whether Marshmallows are candy. Part of the confusion might be the fact that the most popular marshmallow brands in the United States are not sold in the candy and snack aisle but in the baking section. They’re used to make Rice Krispie Treats and S’mores, but I rarely see people just eating them.
The marshmallows are simple and cheap. I picked up most of the bags in this review for only a dollar - this bag was 10 ounces and nearly the size of an airplane pillow ... a lot of candy for a buck.
Jet-Puffed are large, they’re about an inch and a third tall and about an inch in diameter. Each is about 7.5 grams (about a quarter of an ounce). Marshmallows are pretty low in calories, as there’s no fat in them - they’re just sugar with a little protein (gelatin) to keep them fluffy. Only 100 calories per serving of 4 (one ounce).
They’re chalky on the outside, coated with a light powdering of corn starch to keep them from sticking. They’re puffed, pliable but still firm. They’re a little latexy, like memory foam - squish it and it bounces back eventually.
The flavor isn’t quite vanilla and not a strong as pure sugar. They’re, well, marshmallows. Not much to write home about and not a candy I’d eat on its own. They toast up very well, with more of the burnt sugar flavors. The large size means that the center of mine usually cool while the outside is crunchy and the mantle is molten.
They’re very soft and moist when fresh, but I don’t mind a slightly stale marshmallow either. They get a little stiff and chewy on the outside, providing a little more textural interest.
What started this whole marshmallow episode was this bag of Jet-Puffed SnowmanMallows I spotted at Target. They’re French Vanilla flavored, which sounded good, like a custardy version of the traditional American marshmallow.
They’re called mini-marshmallows on the bag, but they’re actually about the size of two of the standard mini-marshmallows.
I prefer the format of the little one inch tall and half inch wide Man. He toasted up well, the smaller size meant that the center became molten as the outside crisped. Of course it was ridiculously easy to catch him on fire.
They’re pink and remind me of the French guimauve, which often come in long ropes. The color is soft and pleasant. The scent is like Frankenberry Cereal. The flavor is a mild, floral and artificial strawberry. It was like a very watered down Strawberry Quik.
I toasted it hoping it would taste like cotton candy, but it just tasted like hot Strawberry Quik. Like many of the candies that I eat with Red #40 food coloring, I taste a weird, metallic bitterness towards the end and for a few minutes after.
This was the first variety that struck me as seasonal, obviously, but also the first one that I felt like achieved its goals of being an actual good candy. I recognize that not everyone likes gingerbread, so a gingerbread flavored marshmallow will not be as popular as strawberry or vanilla.
They’re shaped like little men. The get squeeze and deformed in the bag, so their little arms point in different directions. They’re about an inch and a quarter tall and about a half an inch thick and an inch from fingertip to fingertip.
They smell rich and spicy. And they taste that way too. If you’re fond of the gingerbread spices: ginger, cinnamon, clove and pepper, you will probably dig these. The overriding flavor is actually ginger but there’s a little cinnamon and pepper warmth to them. It doesn’t taste artificial at all - just like a spicy marshmallow. It’s absolutely like eating a foamy cookie.
I tried toasting them and liked the result, but prefer the soft and foamy texture of them at room temperature.
This bag was slightly smaller, for some reason, with only 8 ounces in it. The mallows were also smaller, which was fine with me as I like to pop a whole one in my mouth. (The back of the package actually has a warning that says to eat only one at a time and supervise children plus cut them up for smaller children.)
They’re cute as foamy sugar buttons. They smell good, not that different from the Gingerbread, but definitely on the sugar and cinnamon side of things.
The flavor is like cinnamon the spice, not the hard candy. The corn starch coating kind of pushes that along with the slight chalky texture before it dissolves away. It doesn’t taste overtly artificial, but it’s also not as fun and nuanced as the Gingerbread. I expect they’d go great in hot chocolate. Toasted they were quite nice, but tasted much more sweet when hot.
The Kraft Jet-Puffed Chocolate Royale was a problematic flavor. First, it’s a chocolate flavored marshmallow. There is no actual cocoa, let alone chocolate in there. The scent is ghastly. It was like wet cardboard. It was so bad that after I took a picture of the package and opened them, I had to sequester them.
The problem is that I don’t remember where I put them (I admit the Candy Blog Studios are pretty messy right now) but I can still smell them even though I stuffed them inside another bag first.
Overall, I’m inclined towards the generic American marshmallow and enjoyed the different flavors. I prefer the corn starch coating to the sugar sanding of Peeps. They’re a great candy to share and versatile to keep on hand as an ingredient. If you’re watching your calories, they’re very low stress - I can’t eat that many because their airy texture makes me feel full very quickly. But they’re also all sugar and the texture can be bland (but that’s why folks invented Rice Krispie Treats, Rocky Road and S’mores).
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.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Taste of Nature has nugget-ized many favorite sweet snacks with their line of Cookie Dough Bites. One of their new offerings is Cinnamon Bun Bites which promises bite size cinnamon bun pieces in a white chocolatey coating.
The box for Cinnamon Bun Bites is eye catching, I spotted it quite easily at Cost Plus World Market as a new item that I was seeking. The front of the box says that they’re new and have fresh from the oven taste. It’s been quite a few years since I had a fresh cinnamon bun, but I admit that enjoy the hot ones with the white sugary glaze (though the pecan sticky rolls are still one of my favorites). The essential elements of a cinnamon bun would be the chewy, yeasty dough, the cinnamon and the sticky, sugary glaze that pulls it all together.
The nuggets vary quite a bit in size but most are disk-like and about a half an inch around. They do actually smell like sweet cinnamony rolls. The waxy and greasy white coating is made of sugar and palm kernel oil with some other stuff thrown in, but basically it’s nothing like real white chocolate or even a vague approximation except for the fact that it’s white. The doughy center has a slight texture of a batter with distinct undissolved sugar and the flavor of cinnamon and raw flour.
I found it much better than I expect. I fully thought they would be disgusting and inedible. I’m not saying that they’re great or something that I’m even interested in eating, but I found the cinnamon flavor and sweetness level (which was rather moderate) to be passable. The white coating is simply terrible though, a real white chocolate might actually make these into a unique candy. Since I reviewed these after the Cupcake Bites, they really couldn’t fare much worse by comparison.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Papabubble is an artisan candy shop that first opened in Barcelona, Spain in 2004. There are now shops in eleven cities around the world including Tokyo, New York, Hong Kong and Moscow. I visited the one in Amsterdam while I was in Europe earlier this year.
One of the conceits of the shops is that all candy sold there is made there. And all the candy they make is just plain old hard candy ... I say plain because the recipe and basic steps are quite simple. But the technique and craft is extraordinary. The centerpiece of the store is the candy kitchen, where the boiled sugar and glucose mixture is poured out onto heated tables to be flavored, colored and crafted.
The Amsterdam shop is tucked away on a narrow street (aren’t they all?) called Haarlemmerdijk a little to the northwest of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station. I took a tram over there then walked back to the station on my last morning in town.
This video features they New York store, but is still a great representation of how the candy is made at all the shops.
The shop, like many in Amsterdam, was narrow. (At one time property in the city was taxed on its width.) It’s quite deep and I was surprised to see at the back of the store area was a series of steep stairs, about five of them, that led down to the kitchen area. Like the video shown above, the work area for the candy makers is a long table with a clear glass backsplash so that customers can watch them do their work. There’s also the added advantage of looking down into the area from above as well.
The store is well stocked with previously made merchandise. All the items are hard candies, some are single flavors in a package, some are cut rock and others are pillow shaped confections.
When I visited at the end of January, the pair of candy makers was just finishing up their latest batch of heart shaped lollipops. Not much to photograph there, just bagging the glossy candies. They did look great though.
What I really wanted though was to taste the diversity of the candy flavors that they used, and hopefully find an assortment that showcased what was unique about the Amsterdam Papabubble, as each shop does things customized to their own culture. I found a mix called Pillow Fight.
The bags are a tough matte silver back with a clear pocket on the front. They held 160 grams and cost 4.95 Euros - about $7.00 at the time. I thought that was a lot for about 5.6 ounces. But then again, it was made by real people, right there, and probably recently.
Pillow Fight is a mix of classic herbal and spice flavors, all in the pillow shape, which is made by taking a long rope of the hard candy and crimping it to make the mouth-friendly shapes. The other style of candy they make is what most folks know as Cut Rock. This is the same basic rope but usually has a design on the inner core that’s revealed when the rope is cross sectioned (one variety in my mix was this cut rock, as you’ll see below).
The package didn’t look like it was going to do a great job of protecting its valuable contents. The little pillows already looked like they had a light sanding of pulverized brethren on them already. But my concerns were unfounded. The way they mix up the candy, the ends get a little worn and there is a bit of sugary dust at the bottom of the bag. But everything was quite dry (which keeps it from becoming sticky and losing its shine). All I needed to do when I got them home was pour them out on a paper towel and lightly roll around to shine them up.
The other style of packaging they have are little plastic jars. They’re great to look at and of course hold more candy and are probably easier to serve yourself from.
Lavendel (Lavender) - purple stripes - these were by far the prettiest little pillows. The lavender flavor is a lot like rosemary, a strong oily and mentholated flavor.
Anijs (Anise) - black & white stripes - this was a mild and flavorful anise drop. Sweet and with a great crunch ... I like to crunch my candies. The pillows seem to have a lightly aerated center. Basically, the warm candy mixture is pulled on a hook like taffy to add a little air into it which gives it a little bit lighter texture and smooth melt.
Bergamot - light orange with orange stripes - this was similar to the lavender, it’s aromatic and sweet but has a balsam note to it. I didn’t feel like it was quite bergamot, but it still had a citrus zest quality to it.
Beterschap! (Cough Drop) - This was the only cut rock in the bunch - round cream color with red cross in center - the word beterschap means “get well”. It tastes rather like a cough drop - part cola, part cinnamon and part menthol. It was one of the most strongly flavored candies in the bunch.
Cola - yellow & orange stripes - is rather bold. It’s tangy and has a strong lime and nutmeg note to it. I liked it, but that’s likely because I appreciate cola candy because it’s not that common in the States.
Mojito (Lime & Mint) - light green and yellow stripes on a clear background - this one was tangy and minty. Kind of like a cough drop. Mojitos aren’t a favorite drink of mine, but are more successful for me because fresh spearmint tastes so different from spearmint candy. This version had a lot of lime oils in it, which made it much more medicinal for me.
Scherpe Kaneel (Sharp Cinnamon) - magenta and green - the color didn’t say cinnamon, but it was most definitely sizzling cinnamon.
Lemongrass Gember (Lemongrass Ginger) - yellow & green - this was very bold, the ginger notes were strong and a little more on the side of extract than the earthy, fibery root is fresh. The lemongrass did feel authentic though, not too sweet and no hint of tartness.
Eucalyptus (aqua with white stripes) - wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped, but still smooth and soothing with a light freshness. It was so mild, for a while I wasn’t sure what it even was until I looked at the little flavor guide.
I would love to spend more time at the shop and to have seen them making candy from start to finish, unfortunately my schedule didn’t allow it. (They open at 11 AM and my train was departing at 12:20 PM and I just didn’t hit it right when I arrived a little after eleven and they said they wouldn’t be ready for more crafting for another 30 minutes.) Of course my dream would be to learn how to make candy like this from start to finish. It looks like a lot of work and care goes into it, along with a bit of personality - each shop has a slightly different offerings based on the artisans themselves and the culture of the clientele.
The candy is expensive, but it really is to notch, far and away better than the similar Christmas mixes I sometimes pick up at the drug store. Besides, candy that you saw being made always tastes better, just like kettle corn and cotton candy. I plan to visit the New York store for sure next time I’m in the city and if you’re traveling the world, check to see if there will be one near you.
I give the shop a 9 out of 10 and the candy itself an 8 out of 10.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
There are some candies that sound like fantastic concepts. Even new readers to Candy Blog know that I would favor any confection made of caramel, pecans and cinnamon. About five years ago Cinnabon, the little bakers of fresh cinnamon buns in malls, licensed their flavor and name for a line of candies made by Standard Confectionery Company. Standard is known for their GooGoo Clusters, so it’s no surprise that this line features various iterations of the ingredients all in the plopped cluster shape.
Back in 2006 I went to my first candy trade show, the All Candy Expo in Chicago. This was my first experience with “tasting everything”. This was an amazing time where I could keep an open mind and take small bites or samples of items that I probably wouldn’t consider buying for whatever reason. Most was exactly what I expected, but there were some surprises (both good and bad). I learned quickly that even in small bites there were things that demanded to be spit out. While there I spit three things out. The first was the Cinnabon Cinnamon Pecan Caramel Cluster.
What I didn’t know when I ate that sample was the actual description of this item: Rich Makara Cinnamon Caramel Topped with Crunch Glazed Pecans and Toffee Bits, Drenched in Milk Chocolatey Goodness. You already know where this description went awry ... in fact this might have been the item that mobilized me for the fight against anything that referred to mockolate “goodness”. I’d go so far as to call it “evilness.”
Years went by and I tried them again and had a similar reaction to the overly sweet, strangely grainy and waxy confection. Yes, the cinnamon notes were fantastic, but air freshener smells fantastic, that doesn’t make me want to eat it.
The Cinnabon Cinnamon Mousse Pecan Cluster says it’s Rich Makara cinnamon mousse topped with crunchy glazed pecans and toffee bits, drenched in dark chocolatey goodness. My spell checker knows that chocolatey isn’t a word, and I know that it isn’t chocolate.
The packaging is nice, it has an accurate image on the front and I actually liked the little swirly bun designs on the edges of the wrapper. The pieces are 1.5 ounces (about 2.5 inches in diameter), which I think is a nice portion for candy, in this case it clocks in at 180 calories.
My candy had a slight bloom on the top, not bad, just a light haze in some spots. The lumpy shape gave me hope that there were plenty of these glazed pecans.
I don’t know what Makara Cinnamon is. I’ve looked it up and can’t actually find that there is a real thing, it’s just like the Colonel’s 11 Herbs & Spices, a proprietary blend of some sort. Its mystery aside, the cinnamon does smell good. It’s a tantalizing blend of woodsy notes, a sort of heady volatile oil similar to menthol and a warm resin. The patties have a nice bite and texture. The mockolate coating is marginally flavorful, it’s overpowered by the cinnamon but the texture is smooth enough once it melts. The center of the patty is a sort of soft fudge that tastes kind of like the sweet center of a pecan pie, but a little more grainy. The pecans are nicely glazed with a sugary coating that gives them a salty crunch. Other than that hit of salt though, the whole thing is sickly sweet and quickly made my throat sore.
This version comes in a white wrapper and is easy to distinguish from the other versions. It also reminds me that Cinnabon has the flavor that warms the soul.
The description on this one is Rich Makara cinnamon cream topped with crunchy glazed pecans and toffee bits, drenched in white chocolatey goodness. Now, I get how the dark one can claim some sort of “chocolatey goodness” since it does have some cocoa solids in it. This product has not one gram of cocoa content whatsoever. It can’t be like chocolate because there’s nothing that’s even chocolate adjacent about it.
Even the color of the white confection coating is odd, it’s not at all like white chocolate, which has a yellow cast and a translucent quality. It’s opaque, like a primer coat.
It does smell smooth and buttery though, and I loved the way the fake butter smell combined with the Makara cinnamon, in that way that actual Cinnabon kiosks can draw you in.
Again I liked the glazed pecans - they were small but had a salty crunch. The white coating was sweet and had a less convincing melt than the truly chocolatey one. There are toffee bits advertised in both of these, but I noticed that they’re more like corn flakes (rice flour is listed as an ingredient)
Sweet, strange and unreal. I don’t mind candy that becomes fantasy - but this was just a poor imitation of real things that could be fantastic. Call it the uncanny valley of candy.
If you’re a fan of candles instead of candy, well this is the stuff for you. If you’re looking for something that emulates the fresh baked Cinnabon experience, I’d say stick to your memories of that and wait for the real thing.
Monday, August 30, 2010
For something that’s described as “Chew Mints”, Mentos fail on diversity of mint flavors. In the United States there is exactly one mint flavor available: Mint. In other countries there are Spearmint, Xtra (double strong Peppermint or Spearmint), Lime Mint, Ice Mint, Cool Chews Orange Mint, Pomelo Mint, Strong Mint, Barley Mint and Lakritz Mint.
The only other flavor in the current American repertoire that I think features Freshmaking abilities is the Cinnamon Mentos. They’re not easy to find, I rarely see them in stores but grabbed this roll when I saw them at Walgreen’s last week.
The package is hard to spot though, because it’s red and looks a lot like Strawberry at first glance.
The pieces don’t smell cinnamon-like. It’s not like having a package of cinnamon gum and having the scent of it waft through your purse or desk drawer. These are quiet and self-contained.
They’re smooth and have a good crunch to the outside. The inside is like a candy version of Big Red gum. They’re woodsy and a little warm from the cinnamon flavoring, but not overly hot. The flavor last through the whole chew and is in general satisfying. There’s a little hint of mint to it, but that may just be me imagining it.
Some of the fruit flavors of Mentos can have a weird aftertaste, but the Cinnamon ones have a fresh note at the end. They cut mid-morning coffee mouth without making me feel like I’ve eaten a wad of toothpaste.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.