Friday, March 27, 2009
It used to be that only Black Licorice jelly beans were sold in single flavor bags. Then Jelly Belly came along and let folks pick out just their favorite flavor and the whole world of jelly beans changed. But other than the gourmet beans, it still seemed like pre-packaged single flavors were pretty rare.
This year, as I was looking at the shelves at the drug store and grocery aisle, I was pleased to see so many different jelly bean flavor singles. (Gimbal’s also had color mixes that I might try to pick up on sale after Easter.)
Last year Nestle introduced the Nerds Bumpy Jelly Beans, this year I found a new jelly bean version of one of their classic candies, the Spree Jelly Beans.
What pleased me even more than the new product was that I could just buy the lemon ones. I found these only at Ralph’s (grocery chain) this year, not at any of my other regular Easter candy aisles. They also come in Green Apple (light green) and Cherry (pink).
The first thing I noticed about these beans was that they seemed more opaque. In fact, completely opaque. No vague translucence here. The second thing I noticed was that they’re very smooth and have no “bottom” to them like most beans.
The ingredients say dextrose first. Most jelly beans start with sugar (a disaccharide, dextrose is a monosaccharide which is also known as glucose). Dextrose is what Sprees are made of! (As well as most “chalk” candies.)
On the tongue the flavor is mild and slightly cool. Dextrose is a little lighter sweetness than sucrose. The shell dissolves pretty quickly but it’s definitely different from the usual jelly bean shell. It’s not grainy except at the margin between the jelly center and the shell.
The flavor is a very mild sweet lemon at first, then there’s a little burst of tangy flavor at the edge of the shell and center. However, it wasn’t consistent. Every once in a while I’d run across a bean that had a really good Lemonhead burst to it, but most were much milder. I’d say most failed on the Spree motto of a kick in the mouth, which is too bad, because when they got their kicks in, they were definitely sizzling.
The crunch of the shell, if I chewed them up, wasn’t quite M&Ms style or as thick as the Nerds Jelly Beans, but still closer to that than a traditional jelly bean. The centers were basically flavorless, but a smooth and firm jelly.
On the whole, these were a very nice changeup from a regular jelly bean. They’re not quite as fun as the Nerds version, but the fact that they come in the pretty standup bags in specific flavors sets them apart. But they are a bit more expensive than regular beans. I got these on sale for $2, which I still thought was a bit high for seven ounces of sugar candy.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
It’s not often that I’ll stop my fast forward through commercials to watch something. I definitely did when I saw the Reese’s: Perfectly Easter advertisement.
I’m not only a huge critic of candy (because I love it so), I’m also rather fond of breaking down advertising, but I’ll save that for another time.
The important takeaway I got on that advert was that Spring is in the Air and Reese’s Eggs are a chocolate covered peanut butter product.
Candy Blog reader, Peloria, has been wonderfully helpful in helping me track down these two versions by leaving comments on my original review of the perfect Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs (2006 version). I got a hold of eggs for 2009 from three stores with two different wrappers. For the most part single Reese’s Eggs are sold with the package that doesn’t say that they’re milk chocolate. But I also found the six pack that says Milk Chocolate above the Reese’s logo.
The classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg ingredients were (2005 source):
The current 2009 ingredients:
For reference, the standard Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup ingredients are (in 2009):
There are a few changes there, but nothing that definitively says that these aren’t a real chocolate product any longer. But they’re different enough to change the nutritional profile. There’s more salt (they’ve gone from 140mg to 150mg), and 11 grams of fat now instead of 10.
So I tasted them (after all, at this point I had 9 of them). The chocolate coating looked a bit chalky, not glossy (and some looked a little swirly and uneven in color). They’re soft and the peanut butter overwhelms any chocolate flavor anyway. The peanut butter center is crumbly and nutty, not completely smooth but not crunchy, just a little more rustic than the stuff in a jar. Salty, sweet and satisfying. The chocolate coating feels cool on the tongue and seems to melt pretty well, but it also melts in my fingers pretty quickly too. It’s a good time these come along in the spring because they’d never make it in a Los Angeles summer.
I’m not sure why Hershey’s has removed the Milk Chocolate part from some wrappers, I fear it’s because they’re planning something for next year ... kind of easing us into crappy candy instead of a sharp shift that causes an uproar like the true & mockolate Kissables being on the shelves at the same time. I still consider them a winner. The prices appear to have gone up. I got the six pack for $2 on sale, but buying the individual ones, the best sale I could find was 75 cents each.
Hershey’s has a bunch of other candies for Easter in the Reese’s line, too. There are Fudge Covered Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs and Reester Bunnies, which are just a molded version of the RPBC in various sizes. They’re more chocolate than peanut butter. Then there are the Foil Eggs, the Reese’s Pieces Eggs (in beautiful pastels),
Then there’s this strange monstrosity which is also called Milk Chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg but unlike the 1.2 ounce version, this one is molded. It’s also 6 ounces (so five times as big but twice the price per ounce).
The box is ridiculously oversized for the product - it’s 6.5 inches long. The egg itself is 4.5 inches long, 1.5 inches high and 3 inches wide at the broadest part. That means one inch of space on all sides ... feels like more than just protection, feels like a bit of fakery. (Though it’s easy to see the entirety of the product through the cellophane window.)
The ingredients are pretty much the same as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup - erring on the chocolate as the first ingredient, not peanuts.
I get the sense that these are supposed to be like those deluxe slicing candy eggs that have always puzzled me. Candy, in my opinion, doesn’t need any serving implements. It’s meant to be eaten with the fingers and needs no preparation or tools. Either I bite into this one and eat it all by myself, of I slice it up. Which I did.
Looking at the slices there, I think you can tell that this is not the same center as the 1.2 ounce egg ... it looks and feels a bit oilier (which is not a bad thing, just a different thing).
The interesting experience with these slices is that the amount of chocolate shell varies so much depending on where the slice comes from. The ends, of course, are mostly chocolate. But even in a center slice, the chocolate shell is especially thick, much thicker than any cup I’ve ever had from Reese’s, as thick as a regular Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar.
The chocolate flavor was completely lost on this product, it tasted like peanut butter fudge, though it was pretty smooth and sweet with a slight milky flavor to it. The peanut butter center was stellar. It was relatively solid, had the crumbly texture and didn’t taste as sweet as the regular eggs. I liked the clear distinction between the chocolate shell here and the peanut butter filling, instead of the unclear margins in the smaller egg. But sometimes the chocolate had a coconut flavor to it that I can’t quite explain nor say that I cared much for.
However, the silly over-packaging and price tag would certainly keep me from buying these ever again. But if you’re looking for something for a peanut butter obsessed person’s Easter basket instead of a pile of the small eggs or the standby bunny, it might be fun. Portion control was a lot easier than I thought, I sliced up rather logically into five pieces, though I can’t be sure that they were actually the same weight. The package says that it serves four (which means each serving is more than a single regular egg).
I feel like downgrading the 1.2 ounce Reese’s Eggs to a 9 out of 10, but maybe that’s an emotional response, a response out of fear, not one based on my actual tasting (though there was some throat burning from the sweetness I don’t remember from the past). As for the giganto one, it’s not something I appreciate, though I guess it’s okay. I give it a 7 out of 10.
UPDATE 3/30/2009: Thanks to Peloria’s continued documentation, I kept looking for these other non-milk chocolate labeled eggs. I finally found them at the 99 Cent Only Store near my house. The packages were 2 for a dollar.
Sure enough the ingredients indicated that they’re really not chocolate (I know, the photo looks like all the other photos, but trust me, this is what the reverse says):
Peanuts, sugar, dextrose, vegetable oil (cocoa butter, palm, shea, sunflower and/or safflower oil), chocolate, nonfat milk, contains 2% or less of milk fat, lactose, salt, whey, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, corn syrup, soy lecithin, cornstarch, glycerin, TGHQ & PGPR, vanillin.
They look a little flatter than the milk chocolate eggs (labeled or not). As for the taste, well, this one seemed really salty to me, but maybe that’s what happens when I have peanut butter eggs for breakfast. (Hey, eggs are a breakfast food!)
The mockolate coating wasn’t bad, it wasn’t any worse looking than the current eggs. It has a similar melt and cool feeling on the tongue, it’s sweet but I didn’t taste any milky component to it.
I still don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know why they’ve have both on the market at the same time, why they’d make two versions and ruin something that was perfectly good and perfect. As for the ruining part, well, they’re not that bad but I’m not fond of eating palm oil when I could be eating cocoa butter.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
This tray of Limited Edition Easter Mallows is huge. Even though it only weighs 5.29 ounces, the large tray made it look like there was a lot of candy in here.
The clear tray holds the 10 chocolate covered marshmallow domes. They’re cradled well, and though a few of mine were cracked (could have been me treating the package roughly), none of them were leaking.
The candy construction is simple. A round cookie (biscuit) base with a dollop of Jaffa orange jam, then a heap of marshmallow, all covered in Cadbury milk chocolate.
They’re about 1.75 inches in diameter and about .75 inches high. The bite is soft and the chocolate shell is crisp and adheres pretty well to the marshmallow.
They smell like dairy milk chocolate before biting, but after biting through to the jam center, it’s definitely orange. The flavor of the jam is rather like marmalade, with a strong zest component along with some sweet syrup and tangy juice to it. The cookie base is soft and crumbly, like a graham cracker. The marshmallow, though soft and passable didn’t do much for me one way or the other. The milk chocolate coating is very sweet and has a dried milk flavor to it.
On the whole, these are very appealing. I really liked the flavorful punch of the center much better than the filled marshmallows I’ve had from Asia.
They were expensive though, at $2.99 for the tray (but I felt like I’ve been leaving my UK reader friends out lately). I’m not quite sure what makes them an Easter candy (maybe if they were egg shaped) or if there’s a non-Easter version that these are based on. The Cadbury site was no help. (But I did find out that these are sold at Aldi in the UK.)
Each Easter Mallow has 65 calories.
The gelatin is made from pork, so these are definitely not Halal, Kosher or vegetarian.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Russell Stover offers a lot of Easter goodies, I’m most fond of their eggs, which are usually fresh and the perfect size at about an ounce for less than the price of a candy bar these days.
But I was mighty tempted by these Marshmallow Rabbits. They’re two ounces, and since they’re marshmallow they’re pretty big. The packages are 6 inches tall in vibrant metallic colors with a rather realistic rabbit illustration on the front.
They come in two varieties, the regular vanilla marshmallow covered in milk chocolate and a chocolate marshmallow covered in milk chocolate.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened the package. Some marshmallow shapes can be curiously amorphous. These looked, for the most part, like the outline of the image on the package. They’re about 4.5 inches tall and about 2.5 inches at their widest part.
I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be a rabbit face with extra huge cheeks/jowls, or the whole body with a big meaty legs. (Part of me also thought they looked like a Buddha with rabbit ears.)
The chocolate is wonderfully rippled and I was pleased with how well I’d picked my rabbits out, as they were practically flawless (though I ended up dropping the chocolate one and denting his ear as I was taking the photo).
Russell Stover Marshmallow Rabbit
The chocolate shell has a nice snap to it and an overall chocolate malt scent. The marshmallow center is soft and moist with a strong vanilla flavor. It’s not quite as fluffy as some I’ve had, but it’s also very satisfying and has a bit of salt to it (60 mg in the whole 2 ounce portion).
Though the package says that a whole rabbit is a single serving, I found just the ears was plenty satisfying. The problem with a very large marshmallow items is that it’s hard to save some more for later without it making a mess. Still, I found them pretty easy to slip back into their packages and pinch shut for later. (I wouldn’t save it for more than a day or two, or else they get hard and tacky.)
Russell Stover Chocolate Marshmallow Rabbit
The chocolate on this one looked slightly lighter than its vanilla counterpart, though that could have been all in my head (well, it’s all in my tummy now).
This one has a light cocoa scent that reminded me of cookie dough.
The chocolate has a similarly crisp snap but still doesn’t flake or crumble off of the marshmallow excessively.
The marshmallow is soft, though not as mushy as the vanilla. It has a very springy and latexy quality to it. The flavor is mild, like a cup of hot cocoa, definitely less sweet than the vanilla but also much saltier (210 mg per 2 ounce portion).
The chocolate on both was really flavorful and helped to make these some of the better chocolate marshmallows I’ve bought at the drug store. The novelty shape and price makes them a really good deal. But the large portion size and awkward shape makes them difficult to share (as I think traditional chocolate rabbits are). There are no artificial colors in them.
Friday, March 20, 2009
A few years ago, after trying a petite box of Valentine’s chocolates from Elmer’s Candy Company I decided to track down their two most famous products: Heavenly Hash Egg and Gold Brick Egg. Oddly enough last week I was contacted by Elmer’s as they were promoting their new introduction, a dark chocolate version of both of the flagship products (can there be two flagships?).
I requested that they send along some of the original, as I’d tried very hard to find them in my area and they had no webstore. Sadly, they didn’t include them so this review today is in a bit of a vacuum.
The packaging is rather bold, a black background with a fluffy blue and white cloud for the logo & description. (It does look like it belongs with the Hot Tamales Licorice Jelly Beans from yesterday’s review.)
The Dark Chocolate Heavenly Hash Egg is rich dark chocolate, tender marshmallow and roasted almonds. This is a pretty big egg, clocking in at 1.33 ounces. I’m guessing these are sold individually like the Russell Stover eggs are, though mine arrived in a tray of six. For reference the Toasted Marshmallow Eggs I tried a couple of weeks ago were just .75 ounces each.
The eggs are pretty big, though each was a little different ranging from 3.5 to 3.75 inches long and about 2 inches at the widest.
From the description, I assumed that the almonds would be crushed bits mixed in with the marshmallow. I don’t know why that was what I was expecting, but when I saw the candy out of the package, I thought it was really lovely. A marshmallow plank with four or five little lumps (almonds) covered in rippled and shiny dark chocolate.
The chocolate has a nice snap to it and adheres to the marshmallow well, I didn’t have any issue with flaking. The almonds, when encountered, provide a crisp crunch. They’re well roasted, most I came across had a good toasted flavor. And it was pretty easy to plan my bites so as to get some almond in each one.
The marshmallow is sweet and moist, but it’s a bit soft and forms little peaks when I bite it. (Vastly different from the Pete’s Gourmet, as you can imagine.)
There’s very little flavor to the marshmallow, though every once in a while I got a bit of a honey note from it (though none is listed in the ingredients).
The dark chocolate isn’t complex but is definitely less sweet than the milk chocolate from the Toasted Marshmallow Eggs, which is definitely a plus. However, since I still had a Toasted egg left, I tried one and much preferred the cotton candy flavor of that center to the rather plain Heavenly Hash. In the end, the textures and overall execution is much better with the Heavenly Hash.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The Dark Chocolate Gold Brick Egg package describes it simply as dark chocolate covered pecan melt-a-way.
The wrapper is similarly bold & dark, a black background with a bright yellow egg holding the logo.
This piece consists of a molded center, which is the melt-a-way which is then enrobed. Some of mine had big puddly feet, but the one I chose to photograph was more crisp looking.
There’s a slight rippling on the enrobing. They smell sweet, but a little more like fudge or hot cocoa than chocolate. It didn’t seem promising. Neither did the ingredients. It went like this: sugar, dark chocolate, partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, pecans, chocolate, skim milk ... and so on to list the less than 2 percent ingredients.
Instead of a soft and melty melt-a-way, what I had here was more of a waxy and fudgy center. The texture wasn’t quite crumbly, but it certainly didn’t have that mouthfeel of even some candies made with tropical oils (coconut oil is good for that).
The flavor is rather empty, a bit like cocoa but not at all like deep, rich chocolate. There were a few pecan pieces, but they only provided some scant texture and not much on the flavor front.
Rating: 4 out of 10
I’m interested to taste the original Heavenly Hash, but have no interest in the Gold Brick. But they do have something called a Gold Brick Malt Egg that seems to be tempting me against my better judgment.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
I was a little confused that this package says “new” since I saw them on sale last year, but the freshness date says best by 06/2010. I was also confused when I tried to find these via the Just Born website and it said they were carried by a handful of Albertson’s markets in Southern California ... but then I stumbled across them at the 99 Cent Only Store near my office. They also had the all-cinnamon Hot Tamales Jelly Beans and the Hot Tamales Spice Jelly Beans.
Before gourmet jelly beans came along, the only jelly bean I knew of that was sold as a single flavor was licorice. (It ranks among Jelly Belly’s top sellers.) I often felt like the beans were being segregated, like they didn’t belong in the regular mix of beans. I certainly had friends and family members that would sort them out of their mixes (and give them to me). But in this case, the Hot Tamales Spice Beans don’t actually include licorice, they are definitely sold separately.
The packaging is rather unusual. Though as far as I can tell the Hot Tamales beans are only sold around Easter, but they’re packaged as if they’re an all-year round item. No pastels, eggs, bunnies or baby animals on this package. It’s black and gray with the red Hot Tamales logo & fireball mascot.
The beans are attractive and very black. They’re rather tall and narrow - the same length & width of a Jelly Belly but much taller and boxier.
The bag smells a bit like licorice spice tea, but mostly like sweet beeswax (not unpleasant).
The beans are soft, they can easily be squished between my fingers (Jelly Belly tend to be firmer). The shell isn’t very thick so there’s not much grain to these beans.
The licorice notes are high on the anise side with a clean and sweet lingering aftertaste. It’s missing a lot of the darker woodsy notes that a licorice whip has but they’re definitely beans that I have no trouble eating, no sickly feeling of consuming too much sugar like those Bunny Basket Eggs can do.
Though the ingredients list pectin, they’re not a true pectin bean - they utilize modified food starch as the primary thickener. That said, it is a smooth flavor that’s not too sweet.
There’s a fair bit of food coloring in here, which meant that after a handful my tongue was greenish/blue. Licorice twists tend to be black because of the molasses ... it seems to me that licorice jelly beans sold separately could simply be uncolored and we could skip all that Red 40, Yellow 5 and Blue 1.
These may be Kosher, it’s hard to tell. It’s not mentioned on the package, but the Just Born website says that only their Peeps products are not Kosher. They are gluten free! (And made in the USA.)
Monday, March 16, 2009
Since starting Candy Blog I’ve found there is a wonderful world of marshmallows out there beyond the See’s Scotchmallow.
Pete’s Gourmet Confections does something that I haven’t seen very often: they offer gourmet marshmallows (mallows, as he refers to them) and other handmade confections that are certified Kosher. If you want to see Pete Coyle making mallows, check out this piece from the Food Network (it looks like sticky, sticky work).
I was definitely intrigued when they contacted me, so they sent me some samples of their most popular products.
This set of four was a good introduction, it’s their year round product, the Gourmet Assorted Dipped Marshmallows. Each piece is about a one inch cube.
But chocolate covered handmade marshmallows, that’s been done, right? What bowled me over was the look of the Easter version, these beautiful chocolate dipped eggs.
Pete’s Gourmet makes two different versions for Easter. The ones shown here are the Ukrainian Easter Eggs.
Ukrainian Easter Eggs (Pysanka) are a folk art tradition characterized by geometric & stylized patterns made in the process of wax-resist. As a kid I loved making ornate Easter eggs and learned to blow them (make a small hole in either end of a raw egg, take a long pin or needle to pierce the yolk and then blow into one end to force the “scrambled” egg out into a bowl). The empty egg was then ready to be decorated. The traditional Ukrainian style is quite involved. Designs are laid onto the shell using melted wax, then the egg is dyed, more patterns are put on with wax, so that the lines and shapes are different colors. The final background colors after many layerings of dye are nearly black.
Then the egg is carefully heated with a flame to melt the wax, and wiped off to reveal the colors beneath (and gives the egg a bit of seal and shine).
These marshmallow eggs bear some of those designs on dark and white chocolate transfers.
The Ukrainian mix of eggs come in Vanilla, Lemon and Strawberry. There was no key with them, and I think I gave away my lemon one, so I didn’t really get to try anything new here from the regular square version.
The Modern Chocolate Marshmallow Easter Eggs version is a spring pastel mix of flowers, waves and patterns. These are also white or dark chocolate - all over the classic vanilla marshmallow.
What I enjoyed, about this format was that they’re not nearly as thick as the squares. These varied but were generally about one half to three quarters of an inch thick. There was more chocolate per bite than the squares, so the marshmallow to chocolate ratio varied (depending one whether I was at an edge).
They’re also just stunning, everyone whom I’ve showed them to has admired them and also found them just as tasty as they look.
The other amazing thing is the price. For a handcrafted confection, I was surprised to see on their website that they were only $12.99 for a box of 12. Each marshmallow is about
one ounce and over two inches long.
One other item I have to mention is the lavender marshmallow. (I have a chocolate piece here much like the squares.) It’s available as a flower-shaped pop which must look as amazing in person as the eggs do.
The marshmallow has a wonderful dark floral flavor of lavender (which reminds me a lot of rosemary). It balances the roasted notes of the chocolate and the sweet marshmallow so wonderfully, it’s like it’s holding hands with both of them. I’m now driven to distraction thinking about all the other floral/herbal flavors that could be infused into marshmallows: rosewater, orange blossom, lemongrass, bergamot, pistachio and even violet.
Again, at $10.99 for 12 pops (less than a dollar each), they sound like an incredible deal and would make wonderful favors or party decorations.
The packaging isn’t as modern and chic as some other gourmet artisan folks, they’re simple foil-type boxes with either a similar lid or a clear plastic lid (like the one show at the top) with the company sticker on it. But hey, I don’t need fancy boxes if the candy is good and it does its job of keeping the candy fresh & whole. This was fresh, extremely well priced, attractive and for those seeking Kosher marshmallows, it’s just the ticket.
If you’re eager to order, there’s a random coupon deal right now if you click on the little logo at the bottom of the home page.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Jelly Beans are a rather simple sounding candy but are rather complex to make. They start with a boiled sugar, syrup and gelling agent mixture. Historically pectin was the gelling agent of choice. Pectin is a soluble fiber originally made from apple pomace (the stuff left over after pressing apples for juice) and later citrus rinds, it was easily available and previously regarded as a waste product.
Later, I’m not sure when as I’m not really a jelly bean historian, corn starch became more common for jelly beans (probably because corn products are so ridiculously cheap). But corn starch, as the name implies, is a starch, so it’s a carbohydrate. While corn starch may have taken over the jelly bean, at least it left our jellies & jams alone.
There are a lot of fans of pectin beans, though. They’re adamant that pectin makes the best kind of jelly bean. Smoother, milder and soothing. But pectin beans are becoming rather hard to find. I know of three brands at the moment: Jelly Belly (a special assortment, not their regular Jelly Belly), Brach’s (Peacock Eggs) and Russell Stover. I’ve been scouring the aisles of the drug stores & grocery chains and found this Russell Stover Pectin Jelly Bean mix.
They were a bit on the pricey side, on sale for $2.50 for a 12 ounce bag. As far as I could tell when purchasing them, they’re a fruit assortment. The package didn’t say what the flavors were. It also said “Made for Russell Stover” on the package, so they may be made by Jelly Belly or Brach’s for all I know. (But they’re not Kosher.)
They are big, beautiful, shiny beans. They’re about three quarters of an inch long (a Jelly Belly is about a half an inch), almost rod shaped.
I found nine flavors in the package:
My assortment seemed to be very heavy on the red and green.
Overall, I appreciated the mild flavor, consistent & smooth texture and ability to keep eating them without feeling full or regretful. The fruit flavor array wasn’t the best match for my sensibilities though. The only flavors I really liked were the orange and strawberry, though since they were so bland I found that I could eat any of them. I understand the appeal of these over a corn starch bean, which seem sickly sweet and sticky by comparison.
I really need to find these in the traditional spice flavors (besides the Hot Tamales Spice Beans I tried last year). Anyone have any suggestions of brands?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.