Thursday, February 28, 2008
Easter is in full swing as the Valentine’s candies are gone from the shelves and replaced by a profusion of pastels. It comes a bit earlier this year, March 23rd.
I did my regular seasonal circuit of the major retailers to see what was returning, absent and new:
There’s a hoarde of new eggs this year. Notably from Russell Stover (who has always done the larger enrobed eggs). I’ll have a roundup of those later next week and even a new one from Princess for UK readers.
Wonka has again mucked up the classicly wonderful SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies. The first year I reviewed them they contained Grape, Apple, Lemon & Cherry. Last year the lemon were dropped. This year they replaced the Apple with Blue Tropical Punch. Yuck. I am official on the wagon and refuse to buy these any longer as the only ones I’m interested in now are the Grape.
I’ve seen some “bunny corn” but still no sightings of the spring mix MelloCremes from Brach’s. You can get a quasi-substitute from Jelly Belly though.
Hershey’s has plenty of Kisses to chose from, including the return of the Coconut Creme Kiss, Vanilla Creme, Orange Creme & Lemon Creme, Pastel foil versions of regular, caramel, almond and dark chocolate and Pastel Kissables.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
It looks good, but it’s always bad.
Why do I keep buying it?
For you, dear readers. It’s a public service that I’m obligated to perform.
The thing about Palmer is that they have so many other things going for them. They have cute designs, usually their packaging is nice, they’re Kosher and of course they’re made in the USA (Pennsylvania for locavores). But it’s like they go out of their way to disappoint once the stuff hits my mouth.
“Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Palm Kernel Oil and/or Palm Oil), Whey, Cocoa, Lactose, Skim Milk, Soy Lecithin, Vanillin, Artificial Colors (Blue #1, Blue #2, Red #40, Yellow #5, Yellow #6 & Red #3). May contain Peanuts/Nuts.”
Look how far the cocoa is down on that list, #4 ... I think it’s only in there for coloring!
The rabbit is admirably attractive. It has a nice dark sheen, it’s shiny and has little details like the winsome eyeroll and it’s holding a flower. It took me a while to figure out that the white blob at his belly is a little fluffy white chick ... maybe. It’s also pretty thick. It’s just a little shorter than the Russell Stover one and weighs and extra quarter of an ounce. The walls of the shell are a bit thicker.
But you know, the taste is not that good. It has a cool feeling on the tongue, it’s very sweet and has a fudgy grain to it. It tastes nothing like chocolate, more like milk powder and peanut shells. (Oddly, that’s not really a bad taste, just not chocolate and not as sweet as I’d have thought based on the ingredients.)
The serving size is the whole rabbit, which clocks in at 260 calories, with only 50% of that from fat. Yes, the rest comes from carbs (usually chocolate is a 60/30/10 mix of fat/carbs/protein ... with some room for movement depending on dark or milk varieties - some extreme darks I’ve had are 85% fat).
Sometimes I wonder if Palmer is doing the cocoa industry a service by buying beans that would otherwise be turned into compost or rot in the co-op storehouses. I don’t think I’d mind their products if they were sold as “biodegradable decorations” ... but sadly the appearance of a nutrition label seems to indicate they really do think people want to eat it.
Considering the fact that there are actually good real chocolate bunnies around at similar prices if you keep your eyes open (Russell Stover isn’t quite as cute, but there’s also a Hershey’s version, too), there’s no reason to buy these except for off-label uses: Easter dioramas, photo shoots or just buy them all as a public service to remove them from the shelves so that others may not be faced with similar disappointment.
R. M. Palmer Hollow Milk Chocolate Flavored Bunny ... the Easter equivalent of a lump of coal.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Russell Stover has often had a rather stale image as one of the drug store chocolate brands. They’re trying to push themselves a bit lately and I think it shows, at least it’s caused me to give them a second look and for the most part I’ve been pleased.
They’ll never replace upscale chocolatiers, but they’re dependable and consistent, especially for holiday specialties.
Their Hollow Milk Chocolate Bunny’s appearance is a rather ghastly caricature. The yellow foil wrapper with its green bow, blue eyes and huge eyelashes are trying too hard. (But I really like the touch of the pink inner ear.)
If the outside is akin to a drag queen, the inside is a fresh and athletic 22-year-old with clear skin and shiny hair. No need for any pasted on eyelashes here or colored contacts. The smooth sheen of the medium color of the milk chocolate is lovely, with its little curls of fur every once in a while for a bit of verisimilitude.
The shell is rather thin, as I expected when I picked it up. The thing is very light at 1.5 ounces (and rather similar is volume to the Lindt bunnies). The easy-to-break shell doesn’t detract from the appeal though, it just makes it easier to pick off a piece of your own chosing. Honestly, I don’t mind hollow bunnies. I was always rather stymied by solid bunnies as a kid, as they required whacking them on a hard surface or going to the kitchen and taking a meat fork to them. Hollow bunnies are easy to crack and munch.
I think this is the first time I’ve simply eaten Russell Stover’s milk chocolate. According to an article in Candy Industry magazine, they age their milk chocolate for 90 days (and dark for 150 days). I’m not sure who makes Russell Stover’s chocolate, an article mentioned that they’re using Callebaut for their Private Reserve line. No PGPR or milk solids in here, just real milk chocolate and fake vanilla.
The chocolate smells rather, well, sweet. More like fake vanilla and a little malty.
It has a nice quick and silky melt. It’s a little sticky and very sweet but has a lot of flavor packed into that.
The foil wrapping could be updated a bit without losing the appeal to children, but the product is rather good and an admirable value at 66 cents an ounce (probably less if you find them on sale).
They also come in 3 ounce and 6 ounce versions (and the website shows dark chocolate as well, but I had no luck in the stores).
Monday, February 25, 2008
I’ll admit that finding a palatable chocolate bunny at the drug store isn’t easy. Lindt has led the way over the past few years, virtually taking over the high-end bunny domain. Instead of depending on novelty, the Lindt Bunny is the same year after year.
This year was the first time I saw a dark chocolate version, so I scooped it up, even at regular retail of $3.49 for a 3.5 ounce bunny. (But then again a 3.5 ounce Lindt Dark Bar is often about $3 anyway).
The elegant gold foil and dark brown bow is part of the appeal of this confection - it feels timeless but not dated.
Lindt uses their 60% dark blend for this bunny which also features no added dairy ingredients like many other so-called “dark” chocolates from big manufacturers these days. However, it’s not all natural, instead the use vanillin, an artificial vanilla flavoring.
Even out of the wrapper the bunny is quite beautiful. The sheen was pleasant and I was fortunate to get one that hadn’t been nicked & dinged up on the shelf.
It may be billed as a hollow bunny, but this is pretty substantial stuff. The ears are nearly solid and the head pretty thick as is the base. Most other rabbits this size would probably weigh 30% less. (And require additional packaging to protect them.)
The chocolate is pleasant. I don’t think the 60% is Lindt’s best, but is creamy and has a nice robust flavor with some coffee & cherry notes. It has a slightly dry & chalky finish, which makes me feel like I’ve just had a cup of cocoa. Seeing how Easter is in March this year, cocoa is quite welcome.
The Reindeer, like the Bunny, is equally handsome and actually sports the Lindt name on the side (the Bunny doesn’t).
Like the Bunny, the Reindeer had nearly solid ears and a thick base.
Since it’s the same size and has the same recipe as the Lindt Gold Bunny, just substitute that mentally. (Besides, you want to be prepared for Christmas, don’t you?)
Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve ever had Lindt Milk Chocolate before this. I’ve had their Lindor Truffles, but this all milk chocolate, all the time and quite a change for me.
It’s very milky but still maintains a robust chocolate flavor and none of the “powdered milk” flavor that I don’t care for in many European milk chocolates. It has more than a hint of malt to it, which of course I gravitate towards. It’s quite silky on the tongue and not so sweet that it makes my throat hurt.
As chocolate animals go, they’re both real winners. The price is a bit steep ... but if you have a mind to start some sort of new tradition of Easter Reindeer, you could get away with buying them after Christmas (this one was good until 5/31/2008).
The German Lindt website lists all sorts of other versions of the iconic Bunny, including 1,000 gram versions (yowza! that’s almost three pounds!), white chocolate and minis.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Now it’s Easter season and time to trot out these cute little baby farm creatures. The package calls them Artificially Flavored Marshmallow candies, which doesn’t really explain them that well. Inside there are 10 little pouches that hold 9 or 10 candies in each.
The candies come in two shapes: Chick & Bunny (could you have guessed?). They also come in four colors: yellow, lavender, fuschia and turquoise.
They’re really cute. The colors are vibrant and actually go through and through, the insides are soft pastel versions of the exterior colors.
Each is about the size of a Flintstone’s Chewable Vitamin, but happily tastes nothing like it. They’re not a compressed dextrose candy (like SweeTarts), these are made of sugar and corn syrup (like marshmallows, actually).
They’re very crunchy and have a light marshmallow flavor. Marshmallow flavor? Well, it’s kind of like the lightest fake vanilla and light sugar. Kind of like a tasteless Altoid.
Not really something I want to eat as a candy, but they are really cute and the bags are really tiny, so it’s an appropriate size indulgence. (Heck, each bag has only 36 calories.) They’re probably better as decorations ... on cupcakes ... scatter them around on the table or maybe in a mix of other candies. I suppose you could also use them for a Peeps Mash Up. They certainly maintain the Peeps appeal as being one primarily of appearance.
Just Born raised a bit of a controversy last year when they introduced their Spooky Friends individually wrapped Halloween marshmallows. Instead of being manufactured in Bethlehem, PA, they were made in China. Though the company says that this is the first time they has outsourced their production, it’s not the first time that they’ve licensed their name. Flix introduced the Peeps Lollipop Rings & Slider Pops last year, which are also made in China, just as these are.
Just Born also added new Tulip shaped Peeps to their line this spring.
Friday, January 4, 2008
Last fall they introduced the seasonal Autumn Mini Mix that had Strawberry, French Vanilla and Mocha Cappuccino. I was quite surprised that I liked the Strawberry and was rather excited to hear of the new flavors coming out this year: Cherry 3 Musketeers for Valentine’s Day and Raspberry 3 Musketeers for Easter.
Like the new 3 Muskteers Mint (not a limited edition item), these are covered in dark chocolate.
I admit that I approached these with a bit of trepidation. I’ll also admit that my strong dislike of cherry flavored candies has dissolved into the “don’t prefer” column. I eat cherry things in service of my reviews and sometimes when no one is looking.
This little morsel is quite cute. They smell very strongly of maraschino, even before I bit into it. They center on this one is very strongly pink, almost fuschia courtesy of my nemesis Red 40.
The center is fluffy and has the slightest salty hit to it that offsets what is otherwise an ordinary cherry flavored fluff. The dark chocolate shell is pretty thin, but passably creamy.
There are a few varieties of the little wrappers for the individual candies. Some are pink, some are silver with little hearts. They also feature little “conversation” sayings like, “Hug Me”, “Be Mine” and “Crazy 4U”. Kind of fun, though until I read the package I didn’t realize they were there.
When I was offered this preview of the new 3 Musketeers flavors by some PR folks for Mars, it was the prospect of trying the Raspberry 3 Musketeers without having to search five or six stores to find them.
The format here is the same, dark chocolate covering a raspberry flavored fluff center.
The package here specifies that it’s a Limited Edition item and has some crocus on the front in addition to the freakishly glossy raspberry close-ups.
The individual pieces are also pink, though two different shades. They don’t have any sayings on them, as I don’t think Easter really lends itself to such things and usually sticks with symbols of spring like bunnies, chicks and eggs.
These do not smell quite as strongly as the Cherry ones, but are still sweet and fragrant. The scent is rather like flowers and a bit like berries with a little woodsy component that I can only say smells like raspberry seeds. It also smells like chocolate, hooray!
The interior fluff is only lightly lavender (Red 40 and Blue Lake 5 in here!). It has the same fluffy texture, very sweet but with a good airy melt on the tongue. The raspberry flavor is all on the sweet side, no tangy bite.
I preferred the Raspberry by a longshot, but I still think as a fruit 3 Musketeers go, I liked the Strawberry from last fall best. I think these work well as minis, but I doubt I would be able to stomach a full sized bar or even the pair of smaller bars like the Mint 3Musketeers in these flavors. The small size is ideal.
Honestly I would have preferred a mix of flavors like the Autumn Mini Mix. Strawberry, Raspberry and Cherry all in one bag would have suited me fine.
I’ve heard from readers that the Cherry ones are now appearing in stores with the Valentines merchandise, so keep your eyes peeled. The Raspberry should go on store shelves after Valentines (but you never know, I found Russell Stover Maple Eggs in with the Christmas stuff at Walgreen’s this year).
UPDATE 2/17/2009: The Cherry & Raspberry returned for 2009. Raspberry is on the shelves with the Easter merchandise.
Friday, April 20, 2007
The Snickers Creme Sports Egg is odd. I don’t know who told them they needed more sporty Easter candy and I wonder if anyone’s been fired over this. First, there was a perfectly good Snickers Egg last year. The change this year, by all outward appearances, was putting a sporty theme on the package. But no! Instead they mucked around with the innards.
It’s not that this is bad, but I don’t know where they got the idea that this stuff is “creme”. It might be syrup or maybe caramel, but it’s not cremey at all. It’s a caramelly goo with some ground peanuts in it ... I think.
I rather liked it, but not as much as the original Egg.
After tasting the suprisingly good Livesavers Jellybeans, I wanted to try the Lifesavers Jellybean Pastels. But I just couldn’t bring myself to pay the price. So I waited.
Red Raspberry (medium pink) nice and berry, much more vibrant than all the other flavors
The mystery here was the purple one. Sometimes it was tart and sometimes it was completely sweet. Is that Cotton Candy? Which one was supposed to be Mango Medley, are they also
Many of the colors are devilishly similar. Unless I looked at them in bright natural light, I couldn’t tell the peach and two pinks apart. As a mix, I found them all rather similar and didn’t dislike any of them enough to pick through it, so it wins on that front.
My final purchase I didn’t photograph. I stopped at Rexall by the Beverly Center and found that they had a nice display of 75% off goodies. It included two bags of Island Orange Mounds in the Fun Size. I wasn’t sure if they supposed to be part of the Easter sale. They expired last month but I’m okay with stuff on the cusp. When I got to the register they rang up at $2.00. I said I didn’t want it. The fellow shrugged and tossed in the 75% discount and I took them. They’re a little stiffer than the regular bar format I reviewed last year, but still quite nice. (Kosher)
The whole lot of stuff ... for only $1.24. At full price I wouldn’t love it ... at this price everything gets a 6 out of 10.
Monday, April 16, 2007
In my bargain hunting last weekend I was able to secure bags of the M&Ms Peanut Butter Speck-tacular Eggs and the Reese’s Pieces Pastel Eggs at rock bottom prices.
I picked up the M&Ms Peanut Butter Speck-tacular Eggs mostly because folks are still commenting on the Wonka Oompas (currently fruity) post lamenting the loss of the old Peanut Butter Oompas.
First, a rewind to the old Peanut Butter Oompas (see wrapper here) from Wonka. Introduced in 1972 after the film Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, they were larger than M&Ms but the same ovoid shape. The top half was peanut butter and the bottom half was mockolate then it was all covered with a crisp candy shell. (There may have been other flavor varieties.) The separation of the peanut butter and chocolate meant that you could cleave them in half in your teeth if you wanted, or suck the shell off and then melt away the chocolate creme to have only the stiff peanut butter left. I liked them and recall buying them rather often (there was no such thing as a Peanut Butter M&M at the time and Reese’s Pieces didn’t come along until 1978).
I was hoping that the larger format of the Speck-tacular Eggs would be similar to the old Oompas.
The normal M&Ms Peanut Butter have a core of peanut butter and a covering of milk chocolate then a shell. A little larger than a regular M&M, they average about the same size as a Peanut M&M. The Speck-Tacular Eggs are larger still and thus have a larger proportion of the peanut butter center since the chocolate coating seems about the same thickness.
It’s been at least thirty years since I’ve had the old Peanut Butter Oompas, so I can’t say that the Speck-Tacular Eggs are as good or even the same, but the proportions feel better to me. I’m going to say that this is the best modern day equivalent to the old Peanut Butter Oompas.
I don’t eat Reese’s Pieces much, though I do recall loving them as a kid. I used to buy bags of M&Ms and mix them with Reese’s Pieces. I could always pick the Reese’s Pieces out on my tongue by feel because their shells were ultrasmooth. (Ah, the ways I used to amuse myself.)
While the Speck-Tacular Eggs were rather uneven in size, the Reese’s Pieces Pastel Eggs are exceptionally regular. The colors are pretty much the same as the Hershey’s Pastel Eggs, though a little more egg shaped (with a pointier end).
The shells on the Reese’s Pieces Pastel Eggs are thicker than the regular Reese’s Pieces and provide a satisfying sharp crunch. The larger mass of peanut butter creme allowed me to really taste it. It has a slight floral taste to it and reminds me a bit of eating peanut butter cookie dough. Sweet with a little dash of salt. Pretty smooth and not as roasted tasting as the M&Ms Speck-Tacular Eggs.
I liked both varieties of eggs equally well. As appearances go, I preferred the Reese’s. But the freak-tacular price of only 52 cents for the Speck-Tacular Eggs is hard to argue with. They are both being added to my repertoire of Easter Candies to pick up at ridiculous prices.
Note: both products are certified Kosher.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.