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?
Monday, March 9, 2009
Elmer’s Candy Corp is a very popular and inexpensive brand of boxed chocolates from Louisiana. More recently I’ve been seeing their Valentine’s heart assortments at drug stores and discount chains. For the price I’ve found their candies to be a decent value.
I also knew that they did Easter candies, though this was the first year I saw them at my stores here on the West Coast. The most famous products are their Gold Brick and Heavenly Hash Eggs, which are still devilishly out of reach.
What I did find at the Rite Aid was Chocolate Covered Toasted Marshmallow Eggs
The cartoon rabbits on the package are the product of Jim Benton, part of the It’s Happy Bunny (tm) series. (Official website here.)
Inside the tray the little packages come in either pink or powder blue mylar and have a different saying on them:
Each little marshmallow is about two and a half inches long.
They’re quite nice looking, especially for the price (I got my tray on sale for $1.50). The chocolate ripples on the top and for the most part they were in good shape. A few were cracked, but the marshmallow just seemed to seal any fissures. I was afraid they’d be like the Melster ones I got a couple of years ago, but the ingredients here looked decent. More importantly, these smelled sweet and toasty.
The marshmallow here is rather like what you’d get if you just toasted a real marshmallow, it’s very soft, almost runny. The chocolate shell is soft as well, but at least it doesn’t flake off. The marshmallow center has a strong single note vanilla flavor (like fake vanilla extract) but then there’s a second component that’s a little toasted sugar flavor.
The very soft texture of the marshmallow is a little different from other more foamy Easter concoctions, but it’s very smooth (no grain). I ate half of the candies in the package and was overall pleased with them but ultimately they’re too sweet for me to just eat without something to balance it. The little bunnies and their quips on the package was a nice change and would be a fun item to give to friends or pop in your kid’s lunch box. Each egg is about 80 calories.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Brach’s Robin Eggs are a beautiful version of this. They’re simply a solid milk chocolate egg covered in a crunchy candy shell. They’re light blue, about one inch long and speckled to look like a real robin egg.
I found mine on sale at Long’s for only $1.99 for the 7.5 ounce bag.
Upon opening the bag I found that they smelled a lot like most other sweet Easter candies - like sugar & milk, fake vanilla & cereal. Not much chocolate scent, but then again, a candy shell can do a good job of sealing in the chocolate goodness.
The ingredients didn’t really give me a lot of confidence though.
Mostly what I was disappointed about was how far down on the list of the chocolate ingredients the actual chocolate liquor was. But cocoa butter being ahead of milk (and whole milk at that) had me intrigued.
The shell is nice and crunchy, with a good snap to it. The chocolate inside is immediately sweet and has a slight nutty flavor to it, like peanuts or sunflower seeds. The melt of the chocolate is a bit grainy, as milk chocolate can often have that fudgy grain and this obviously has a lot of milk in it.
But it lacked a chocolate punch. I’m not saying that I didn’t find them edible and interesting, certainly better than the fake chocolate in the Whoppers Robin Eggs (made by Hershey’s) that I’ve been chowing down on for the past week.
My guess immediately was that I was expecting something else. And part of that is that my ideal egg-shaped candy shelled chocolate candy is the Hershey’s Candy Coated Milk Chocolate Eggs (original review).
As harsh as I am on Hershey’s as a brand, part of it is because I love some of the products so much.
So I picked up some of the Hershey’s Eggs, not just for this comparison but also to give them a check since Hershey’s has been mucking around with so many of their formulas & packaging.
The package is redesigned from the previous shoot that I did. I can’t say that it’s better, but at least they’ve finally given the candy a name. (Before they were just Hershey’s Eggs, but so were the foil wrapped eggs.)
The Hershey’s Eggs obviously come in an array of solid pastels and the Brach’s Robin Eggs are this blue with speckles.
In the package the Hershey’s Eggs smell like Kisses, a tangy, fudgy aroma. The Brach’s Robin Eggs don’t give away their chocolate insides.
Given a choice between the two, I’m going to have to go with the Hershey’s. The Brach’s just lack a distinct & pleasing flavor to them. I think they’re lovely, and the aesthetics of them certainly tips in their favor. The price is good, there are also certainly folks who would wish to purchase from someone other than Hershey’s at this time with the backlash over the Mexican move of some of the manufacturing. (The Eggs are still made in the US.) However the Brach’s Robin Eggs are made in the US and Canada.
I think it all goes to personal taste at this point. There are a few options for this type of candy (though Mars stopped making the Mega M&Ms which were rather close in size to the Hershey Eggs) so go with what you like.
Monday, March 2, 2009
I bought another molded Palmer Easter item. (A product which I generally consider a biodegradable decoration, not actually meant to be eaten.)
I have to hand it to R.M. Palmer. They do a great job of keeping their prices low and their designs contemporary.
Quax: The Yummy Ducky pretty much had me with the packaging. (It certainly wasn’t the description of Hollow Milk Flavored Candy Duck that sold me.) It looks just like a bathtub rubber ducky. But it was also on sale for only a dollar.
Quax is a bit smaller than the average toy duck. He’s about 3 inches from beak to tail and three inches high.
He’s well molded, with a seam through his head and down his sides. (I would have thought it would be constructed with mirror-image sides, but this way presents a flawless face.)
He sounds like plastic, looks like plastic but thankfully smells like an Easter basket. (Mmm, vanillin.)
The ingredients are what I’d expect from Palmer:
The packaging seems a bit excessive for such a tiny candy toy - it’s 4 inches wide and 6 inches tall. But it does have a little to and from tag area on the back for gifting.
So I got out a bowl of water and plopped my Yummy Ducky friend into it.
Sure enough, he floats. He floats just fine. But he’s not balanced, so try as I might, I couldn’t get him to bob like a duck should, upright (or even tail up like a feeding duck might). Instead he did the duck equivalent of belly up and rested on his side. What this duck needs is a keel. Or feet. Then I think we might have something, an edible decoration for a punch bowl.
At this point I was pretty happy with my one buck purchase. It was cute, it smelled better than some vinyl toy and provided at least 800 words for my review without even cracking it open.
But I have to actually eat some, don’t I?
So I bit off the top of his skull.
The milk flavored candy has a very strong vanilla flavor with a little bit of dairy/dried milk going on. It’s incredibly sweet, actually throat searing.
It’s not that bad! Since it’s not trying to be actual chocolate, it succeeds at being better than plastic. I don’t plan on finishing it, but it was a fun little novelty item. It might even be amusing if they made them in a few sizes. You know, because they’re really not for eating, just decoration.
For those of you who for some reason now want to watch Ernie sing Rubber Duckie, here it is on YouTube.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
The first version will premiere next Valentine’s Day in the shape of Peeps Chocolate Mousse Marshmallow Bears.
I’m not sure why there hasn’t been a bear shaped Peeps all along, they’re an ideal Valentine’s emblem (and really, why can’t we have Bear Peeps all year round?). However, this package is all about love, with its red wrapper & little hearts.
The packages I got were for evaluation purposes only, so I don’t have the complete nutritional info & ingredients list. I decided to open the Peeps Chocolate Mousse Marshmallow Bunnies for the purposes of the review.
They’re nice looking, medium brown. They’re sparkly with the light sanding of sugar. (I’ve often wondered what corn starch dusted Peeps would be like.)
They’re extremely soft, softer than regular Peeps are, if you ask me. They smell like chocolate breakfast cereal, like Cocoa Puffs.
But the big question, at least in my mind, was are these different from the Cocoa Peeps?
I just so happened to have a package of Peeps Cocoa Marshmallow Bunnies (left) for a direct comparison.
Though they looked similar in my memory, putting them side by side, it’s easy to see that the new Mousse Peeps are darker.
The cross section shows that the Mousse Peeps is cocoa through and through, where the only slightly creamy colored on the inside.
The difference in taste? Well, if you’re expecting some sort of decadent mousse-like product, you’re going to be disappointed. The new Mousse version are kind of like a fluffy, watered down Tootsie roll. Pleasant and less-sweet than the ordinary Peeps, but still, not a chocolate phenomenon.
They’re great with coffee but like the Cocoa version, it’s very hard to get them stale. I’ve had this package open for two weeks and they’re still pretty squishy.
However, these are awesome broiled. The center becomes frothy and runny and the sugar dust becomes a crunchy shell. I put them in the toaster over for 3 minutes. Be sure to have them on foil or parchment or else they run all over the place. You also might need a spoon to eat them. Microwaving also gets the same soupy center, but the outside doesn’t get crispy (so it’s the confectionery equivalent of trying to make pizza in a microwave ... it’s edible but it’s not the same).
In the end, I’m more inclined towards the Chocolate Mousse Peeps than any other Peeps to date, but that’s not necessarily a rave review.
For the record, the available shapes for Peeps are:
Valentines: Hearts and now Bears
Easter: Eggs, Bunnies, Chicks & new Tulips
Halloween: Spooky Cats, Pumpkins & Ghosts (love those, no dyes)
Christmas: Trees, Snowmen, Gingerbread Men & Stars + the new JOY letters
These should be in stores starting in January, but you can also buy many Peeps items all year round now directly from Just Born.
Monday, March 31, 2008
Amber, a dear reader from Toronto, came to Los Angeles over Easter weekend and was kind enough to run around to three stores before leaving Canada in search of a list o’ candies from the Great White North. Her timing couldn’t have been better for this one, the Cadbury Popping Mini Eggs which are pretty much what the name implies.
They’re Cadbury Mini Eggs (a creamy milk chocolate egg with a crunchy shell) with a little bit of carbonated candy thrown in.
They look just like their non-bubbly counterparts, except they don’t have the little speckles on them. They come in all the standard eraser colors: white, yellow, pink and turquoise.
I have to say that the bag is teensy and contains a rather small amount: 32 grams (1.13 ounces). The standard Canadian single serve bags are 39 grams. I guess instead of charging more for that special ingredient they just give you less.
Where the Pop Rocks Chocolate Bar had an odd texture because of the addition of Pop Rocks, these don’t have that jarring granularity, because we’re already accustomed to the crunchy bits of the shell.
After chewing a few times the chocolate melts away, it’s sweet, creamy and a little malty ... then the popping starts. It’s not a lot of popping, not as much as the Pop Rocks bar, but still a nice experience.
The regular packaging is purple, this is yellow, so it’s hard to mistake one for the other on the shelves. And once you pop it in your mouth, well, it’s the same sort of shocking difference.
I thought these were a bit of a novelty item, but I like it. I wouldn’t want to have a huge 11 ounce bag of them, but a little handful brought a smile to my face.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Here are a few combo candy-toy items for Easter baskets and beyond:
I thought this little M&Ms mini figure was pretty cute. He’s made of some sort of durable hard plastic, not that cheap thin stuff.
The little figure is full of mini M&Ms. They’re regular M&Ms, not the Easter pastel version, but I’m okay with that.
The most vexing thing about this is the little hat that twists/pops off to reveal the candy. It was like a frelling child safety cap without the insane instructions.
There were a few varieties, including Green, Red and Yellow. I liked the Blue because it felt most like Easter pastels even if he did have some sort of a goofy look on his face. I don’t know if the bunny hats are swappable for other non-holiday novelties.
It was expensive for the scant amount of candy involved, $1.99 regular price. But a fun grab next week on sale, perhaps.
When I was a teenager I had a thing for sheep items. (Well, in college we actually had a sheep living at a house I was renting a room at, but he was more of a lawnmower.)
My obsession caused me to rewrite passages of Shakespeare with sheep in mind:
I’ve kind of moved on from the sheep thing (though if I ever have one I get to name, he’ll be called Fleance).
While this little cheap plastic egg with sheep features was only 99 cents, it also only has give Hershey’s Kisses in them. (At least they’re pastel foil.)
Moving up in price, Candyrific recently expanded their toy/candy line with some M&Ms themed items.
They fall more in the realm of toys than candy containers and are pretty fun combinations.
The first is a set of fans. Candyrific came out with a really good candy novelty a couple of years ago, which is the fan that has little LED lights on it and a candy container in the handle. This new version has the M&Ms characters in various colors holding the fan. The central container at the base of the handle holds .7 ounces of regular M&Ms. (There’s supposedly a version of this for Easter, but I got the year-round version as a sample and haven’t seen the pastel ones with bunny ears in stores.)
The second is a miniature Etch A Sketch that holds a small fun-sized pack of M&Ms.
I have to admit that I enjoy these a lot. I don’t care about the candy inside. I wish that they lit up like the other versions do, but I’m guessing the money they spend on those LEDs in this instance goes to M&MS for the licensing of the characters. But at least they have real M&Ms in there.
They’re well made and even have a real battery compartment that can be opened and replaced for actual lasting play.
I really could have used a few of these last September during that blackout on Labor Day weekend where my house was over 100 degrees inside.
The fan blade is made of a soft foam, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t hurt myself with it. Maybe if I stuck it in my eye. (Please don’t try that, or if you do, please don’t blame me.)
The other fun item is this little Etch A Sketch with a couple of M&Ms on there. They come in a few different colors, but they’re pretty much the same. I had an Etch A Sketch as a kid and enjoyed it ... actually got pretty good at drawing on it. This one doesn’t work quite as well, the little stylus draws a very thin line, probably a little too thin on the first pass, so I ended up going over my lines twice.
The biggest drawback is trying to clear the Etch A Sketch, which everyone knows involves turning it over and shaking it wildly. With the M&Ms in the little container part it makes a lotta noise and to clear the EAS properly, I broke some of my M&MS.
There is an easy solution to this of course, just take the lid off (the part that has the EAS on it) and just shake that. Like my problems with getting the hat off of the Easter minis, I’m sure a child would figure this out much quicker than I did.
The last item is a bit of a re-review of one of my favorite candy novelties so far, an Easter version of the Gummy Lightning Bugs.
This version has little gummy rabbits and is called Lightning Bunny Candy by Kandy Kastle. They’re all one flavor, instead of a mix. I was worried when I saw that they’re all red, but it’s cool, they’re strawberry, not cherry.
For only 99 cents there are 9 little gummis and the cute purple light up tongs.
The package said that the tongs were redesigned. Actually, it says “New & Improved Tong Included” so they’re better than before and there’s only one. (Tongs, I’m guessing are like scissors and pants and are always plural.)
The tongs aren’t really improved, if you ask me. They’re just shorter than before, probably easier to grasp for little fingers and they don’t stay on as readily, which probably provides a lot more longevity.
This is the kind of exploratory toy that I think is good for kids. It makes them slow down and really look at everyday things in a different way.
I tried them on some other items, they don’t open as widely as they used to, so anything as large as say, a Spearmint Leaf is too big. But small items like jelly beans (awesome!) and chocolate covered coffee beans (boring) are the right size.
I think adding a little toy in an Easter basket is fun. (I think the best one I ever got was a kite, which me & my brother and sister took out to the field across the street behind the cemetery and promptly got caught in a tree within an hour.)
The Hershey’s one isn’t the best toy in the world, but the design is nice. The filled M&M is also nice and certainly well built, but doesn’t offer much opportunity for interaction. I can see it being collectible though. The fan & Etch A Sketch are the best of the bunch, but a little pricier for “candy” items at $3.99 retail, but still a good value for a small toy.
If parents are looking for a way to still have a bit of bounty in the basket, a novelty item that contains a small amount of candy (especially something that can be refilled on a regular basis) is a good compromise. I mean, I wouldn’t have felt cheated if I got one of these as a kid.
They all get a solid 7 out of 10. The Lightning Bunny was made in China, in all other cases the candy was made in the USA, but the toys were made in China.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.