Monday, March 26, 2012
I picked up one of the odder Easter offerings over the weekend at KMart: Mallow Pals Strawberry Squeezable Marshmallow from a company called Hilco. I’ve seen these before, I think they showed up a year or two ago, squeezed confections have been around for a few years now. (Though I also remember a bubble gum that came in a tube back in the early 1980s as well.)
The tube is themed for Easter, in a bright pink and completely shaped like a perched bunny rabbit.
The package is some sort of mylar, it’s flexible and has a foil-like quality to it. It doesn’t hold much, there’s 1.2 ounces and I paid a dollar for it on sale. But marshmallows are mostly air anyway.
The package has a little flat plastic bottom that allows it to stand up (it stands best if it leans against something though). There’s a plastic flip top.
The ingredients are interesting and reveal that this isn’t what I consider a true marshmallow.
Modern marshmallows are made with gelatin. The protein in gelatin will stabilize whipped sugar syrup to hold the airy foam. Egg whites also perform the same in fresh goods, but don’t usually do as well when exposed to air. But still, they’re found quite often in treats, such as the Schokokuss or Mohrenkopf that’s found in the German speaking parts of Europe. The upshot of all of this is that this product is good for vegetarians who have to avoid traditional marshmallow products. (It’s not Kosher though. There are no statements about allergens on the package. It’s made in China.)
The goo has that soft and sweet smell of cotton candy. It squeezes out pretty easily. It’s soft and gooey and slumps over instead of forming bouncy peaks like marshmallow does. It’s pretty sticky as well. The texture is smooth, though there are a few sugary grains in there from time to time.
The strawberry flavor is mild and floral with no tartness and a weird bitter aftertaste that I can only assume is contributed by the artificial coloring. It dissolves quickly.
It’s weird stuff. It’s hard to imagine eating it right out of the pouch, but if I were a kid, I probably would. It’s sticky and can easily get messy. The pouch is easy to grasp, so it’s easy to dispense, though not necessarily easy to control like a pastry bag. It’s very low in calories though and one tube, though it’s supposed to be a serving, could probably be stretched to two if you were looking to limit calories.
It seems like it would be more fun to use as a frothy frosting item to ice cream, cookies, crackers, fruit or maybe even on top of hot chocolate. Sucking it right out of the tube seems a little wrong.
It comes in a couple of other flavors, I saw Green Apple on the shelves and I’ve also seen it listed online in Blue Raspberry.
Friday, March 23, 2012
Divine Chocolate makes Fair Trade certified chocolate using cocoa from the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative in Ghana. For the most part in the United States we just get their bars, but for the past two or three years, I’ve seen some of their holiday items at stores like Whole Foods.
The Divine Milk Chocolate Praline Mini Eggs are described as milk chocolate eggs with hazelnut praline filling. The upright box comes in the palest pearl blue color with some very light icons in the background in the same style as their bars. The box only holds 3.5 ounces, which is about 8 foil wrapped praline filled eggs. At Whole Foods they cost $4.49 per package.
These remind me an awful lot of the fair trade Tony’s Chocolonely Easter Eggs available in Europe. So much that I’m wondering if there’s a common production facility in common.
The eggs are 1.5 inches long and about an inch at the widest. They come in two different foil colors: gold and pale blue. Inside the foil the eggs have an interesting shell pattern that reminds me of crocodile.
Each egg is about 13 grams or .46 ounces, so they’re quite a little morsel. The suggested serving is three eggs and I calculated that they’re about 70 calories each, which means 153 calories per ounce ... a rather fatty little chocolate egg. But there is one gram of protein per egg. The ingredients say that the chocolate is 27% cocoa solids and 20% milk solids. Also, the entire candy is 19% hazelnuts. The chocolate is fair trade certified, but that only makes up 67% of the ingredients.
The milk chocolate shell is filled with a thick and dense milk chocolately hazelnut cream. They smell deeply toasty and nutty. The milk chocolate is sweet and sticky and tastes pretty much the same as the filling. It’s soft and rib-sticking with a good mouthfeel and melt. It’s a little on the fudgy side, but barely grainy (the particles from the hazelnut). They’re really filling and though very sweet, it’s not to the point that it burns my throat.
Many fair trade sweets are more for adults, this one would definitely please children. It’s attractive, filling and well made. The price is a bit dear, but that’s what happens when you pay everyone involved a decent wage.
Friday, March 16, 2012
I found the Russell Stover Big Bite Pecan Delight Egg at Walgreen’s along with the other super-sized Easter classic, the Coconut Cream in the shape of a Big Bunny.
Pecans and Caramel covered in Milk Chocolate
Ah, a pecan turtle. What a fabulous candy. The roasted, maple flavors of pecans with their oily crunch go so well with the burnt sugar, sweet chewiness of caramel with it all encapsulated in creamy milk chocolate.
I’ve reviewed a few different versions of these in the past. The first one I tried was the Organic Pecan Delight, which were sold individually wrapped and bagged. They were good, but lacked a lot of pecans. The second one I tried was the traditional Easter favorite, the Pecan Delight Egg ... well, that one was even more parsimonious with the pecans. Then most recently I tried the non-organic version of the Pecan Delight and was similarly underwhelmed.
So, would scaling up make a difference?
They weren’t kidding about it being a big bite. It’s two ounces, so of course it’s big, but that’s the same size as a Snickers bar. It’s packed with 290 calories as well. What it’s not packed with is pecans. Those little lumps on the outside ... those are the pecan pieces. That’s it. No hidden nuts inside the caramel center.
I can sit around being disappointed that there aren’t more pecans in this. (I can also call it false advertising.) But the reality is that it’s still a good piece of candy if you adjust expectations. The milk chocolate is passable - it’s sweet and milky and though a bit fudgy and grainy, it still has a pleasant melt and mouthfeel. The caramel center is salty and though sweet, not overly cloying or syrupy. The caramel is smooth, without the slightest bit of grain. It’s pretty gooey, but not chewy. The small bits of pecans gave it a roasted nutty flavor, but not much texture overall.
Would this have been better with more pecans? Absolutely. Would it have cost a dollar? No, not possible. It was a bad year for pecans, the price went way up. The solution to this is for Russell Stover to not offer this candy at this price point, or to adjust our expectations by not saying that it’s the Pecan Delight.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Easter is the time of cream eggs. There are so many different versions and Russell Stover makes about half of them. From caramel and peanut butter to raspberry whip and strawberry cream, they go for variety. This year their newest introduction is not another egg, but a reshaping of one of their classic eggs into a different format. Behold the Russell Stover Big Bunny Dark Chocolate & Coconut Cream.
The package design is nice, I liked it quite a bit, with its bold illustration style. Though the wrapper is a bit flimsy, it seems to do a good job of protecting the contents. It says that it’s made with 100% real chocolate, which is great news and that it’s made proudly in America. They were on sale for $1.00, which is a pretty good deal for a 2.25 ounce candy bar these days.
The bunny is large, just as the package promised. It’s a little over 5 inches tall (though one of my ears was a bit broken off because I fumbled with it when I took it out of the wrapper).
The shape is only vaguely rabbit. I’m not even sure if it’s just a giant rabbit head or supposed to be a whole rabbit body. It’s enrobed though, which is my favorite kind of chocolate coating. If you’ve ever seen a chocolate enrober, you’ll understand part of my fascination with the technique. A center is pushed through a curtain of melted chocolate, which coats it and hardens as it moves along a conveyer that cools it. (Watch it here, it’s kind of mesmerizing.)
The chocolate is thick enough to create a bit of crunchy break when I bit into it. Because of the irregular shape of the rabbit, it also meant that the ratio of chocolate to coconut would change. The center was thick and had a large density of coconut cream. The cream is light and airy with a smooth sugary grain to it and not too much coconut. The coconut is in very small pieces, less like a Mounds or Almond Joy. There’s even a light hint of salt in there.
It’s a nice product, easier to eat, oddly enough, than the egg version that’s a classic. However, it’s quite large. The package says that it’s one portion, which is 280 calories. I’d prefer to consume it in two or three sittings, as I did. The package was pretty easy to open and fold over and tape closed between those portions.
It’s a good addition to the Russell Stover line of Easter goodies. It’s not overwhelming as a huge chocolate rabbit, but a little more precious than the chocolate covered coconut cream egg.
Though it’s made with dark chocolate, there’s plenty of dairy in there and may contain traces of nuts.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Schluckwerder Fancy Eggs - Fine Marzipan are featured at Cost Plus World Market every year around Easter. It’s a very simple, almost mousy looking package. A gold plastic tray with ten sections holds pastel candy coated marzipan eggs.
I’ve been stalking these eggs for years. I’ve even taken photos of them in the store, hoping to go back after Easter when they’re on sale. The only problem with that plan is that there’s never any left after the holiday for discounting. They’re a little on the pricey side, $3.99 for a package weighing only 5.29 ounces from a German brand I’ve never heard of. On the other hand, I have a lot of confidence in German marzipan, now that I’ve visited a few factories in Germany and tasted quite a variety over the years. Germany knows what it’s doing when they combine sugar and almonds.
Each egg is about a half an ounce, so two is a good and filling portion. The center is pure marzipan with a thin chocolate coating then a sugared candy shell. They use all natural colorings, however, they do also use carmine, so the product is off the table for vegetarians who draw the line there. (There’s also milk in there, so it’s a no for vegans.)
The eggs vary a bit in size and shape. Some were spherical and about 1.25 inches in diameter and the more ovoid ones were about 1.5 inches long.
Even though they’re kind of big, they’re easier to bite than something like a Malted Milk Egg or Marshmallow Hiding Egg. They have a slightly floral scent, nothing really overt, just a clean sort of orange blossom or fig perfume. The chocolate is thick enough to provide quite a bit of flavor. It’s not very dark but has a well rounded woodsy cocoa flavor and a smooth, silky melt. The center is soft and quite moist, which is nice because I don’t care for the chalky and tough marzipan.
The marzipan is a little doughy but not overly sweet. There’s a faint bit of amaretto flavor, but mostly it’s a clean rosewater and nutty almond flavor. They’re hearty without being sticky sweet. They’re easy to eat, though I usually ate mine in two bites instead of popping the whole thing in my mouth at once.
I’m glad I took the plunge and tried these. They’re definitely worth full price, especially if it’s something you had as a kid or in your travels. When you come down to it, the price works out to about 1.33 per ounce, which is far more reasonable than Caffarel. And I think I prefer this marzipan to the Caffarel version. I’ll still keep an eye out for them on after-Easter clearance.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
The bag is expensive. It was 3.5 ounces and cost $3.99. There are only 10 little eggs inside. However, I liked the spare packaging which did the job of protecting the foil wrapped eggs as they were all fresh and unmarred.
The package says that they’re Crispy bite size eggs smothered in milk chocolate with luscious cream. Each egg is about 1.5 inches long.
The chocolate shell is extremely light in color, the ingredients bear this out, with sugar as the first ingredient in the shell and milk as the second with cocoa butter and cocoa mass pulling up the third and fourth slots.
It smells extremely sweet, a little like pudding and nutella. The bite is soft, the construction is similar to a Ferrero Rocher. There’s a nearly liquid hazelnut cream center, a crisp cookie shell and then the chocolate coating on the outside. (There are no crushed nuts in this item.)
The creamy center is sweet, sticky and quite slick. The smoothness gives up the roasted hazelnut flavors easily, and matches the sweetness of the chocolate shell very well. The light wafery crisp of the inner shell is the only thing that breaks it up and gives a little malty corn flake note to it (it’s made with wheat flour).
Ferrero Cocoa Eggs are like Ferrero Rondnoir. There’s a dark chocolate shell, a wafery light shell under that and a creamy dark chocolate filling. There’s only a touch of hazelnut in there, according to the ingredients, and I really didn’t catch any of the flavors.
Like it’s hazelnut buddy, there’s also a bit of palm oil in the center, which is a little disappointing, but expected. The Ferrero group has pledged to sustainably source their cocoa and palm oil by 2015. They also say that they don’t purchase cocoa from slave farms, but don’t have a formal certification process yet.
The dark chocolate is well rounded, with a strong fudgy flavor like brownies. There’s even a slight bitter note to it that’s balanced out by the much sweeter creamy filling and more bland wafers.
I liked the Cocoa Eggs a bit better than the Hazelnut. They’re both different from their year round versions as well, which means that they are a little more “special” than just a reshaping and some pastel packaging.
They contain nuts, milk, soy and gluten. The only artificial ingredient was vanillin. They’re filled with fat (delicious fat) and clock in at 163 calories per ounce, on the very high side for candy.
I found them expensive for the amount and quality of the product. They were good, but not fantastic. For the same money, I’d probably be happier with See’s Scotchmallow Eggs.
Monday, March 5, 2012
Mars has introduced White Chocolate M&Ms a couple of times in the past, most notably the M&Ms Pirate Pearls tie in with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
This new Easter version of M&Ms White Chocolate is a little different in all the right ways.
The first thing is the appropriateness. White Chocolate is inextricably tied to my memories of Easter. The white confection works so well with pastel colors, it’s milky sweetness just embodies the sugary overload of the season.
I picked up this bag at Target, it’s over a half a pound but still a little pricey at $3.19 for the bag at regular price. Though they’re Easter themed, with the Red M&M wearing a furry white rabbit suit on the package, it’s just the colors. There are no little icons on them like M&Ms has done in the past with the holiday versions.
The morsels are larger than regular M&Ms. I’ve come to expect this with the limited edition M&Ms. The Dark Chocolate Mint M&Ms are also oversized and part of me wonders if they’re just using the former Mega M&Ms production line or the M&Ms Premium.
The large size and thick shell means that there are a lot of textures going on, and each gets to shine. The shell is crunchy and crisp. The light coloring means that there’s no perceptible off flavoring from the colors for me. The centers are smooth and creamy. When I say cream, it’s like it’s real dairy cream. Instead of tasting like frosting, these taste more like vanilla pudding. The white chocolate has both a lot of cocoa butter and milk solids in it. Cocoa butter is the second ingredient, so it’s quite light without being overly sweet or greasy.
While I wasn’t blown away by the earlier Pirate Pearls, this larger size and less sweet flavor is really quite good. Granted, you have to like white chocolate in the first place, but for a mass-marketed white chocolate product, Mars has addressed a lot of the confections shortcomings quite well.
The package lists possible allergens as peanuts, almonds and wheat and it’s definitely made with dairy and soy. Mars has not released any information about going fair trade or ethically sourcing their current American cocoa products, though they’re planning release of ethically trade chocolate products in Europe. (More on that here at Change.org.)
Friday, March 2, 2012
Brach’s has gone through a lot in the past few decades. Like many American candy companies, it was started by a real guy who put his name on the brand, Emil J. Brach, in Chicago, Illinois. In my lifetime though the company has been through many hands. It was owned by American Home Products, who sold it in 1987 to Jacob Suchard which was bought up by Callebaut in 2003. Callebaut sold off Brach’s to Farley’s & Sathers in 2007. Farley’s & Sathers have since tried to make over the brand to restore it to its roots and classic recipes.
The Fiesta Malted Milk Eggs of my recollection have always been pastel colored, speckled and the size of a small pecan in the shell. Last year I picked them up and they were white but more importantly, they actually used real milk chocolate which has become a rarity for an Easter malt product. Still, they weren’t great.
What makes the Fiesta Malted Milk Eggs different this year is the amazing size of them. They’re large: absurdly, ridiculously and tooth-dangerously huge. Most are about 1 1/2 inches long. The nutrition facts panel is exactly the same as last years, saying that each egg is about 0.275136903 ounces each. But I’m calling shenanigans on that, these ovoids are at least a third of an ounce, if not heftier. The nutrition panel does actually have one anomaly, it says that the suggested serving size is 39 grams and the calories are 160. But that works out to 113 calories per ounce, which is pretty low for a chocolate product.
I had to crack them on a hard surface first to eat them. The shell is very thick and trying to bite them was downright dangerous to my choppers. (And I often ended up with a slobbery and sticky mess, as well.) Think of them as an Everlasting Gobstopper that instead of having a SweeTart at the center, has a malted milk crisp. The shell with the real, but poor quality, milk chocolate coating comes apart from the malted milk crisp center quite easily. So I ate most of these in pieces. I’d pull off the shell and eat that, reserving the malted center for last. They were well protected by the shell, so they were dry, crisp and melted easily on the tongue. They’re milky and barely sweet with that inimitable malty flavor.
I love the fact that there’s so much malt inside, but the chocolate is just plain weak and the space-age strength of the shell was not exactly a selling point. I was actually wondering if one of those soft boiled egg cutters would be of use. (True candy needs no tools, assembly or dis-assembly.) I have to downgrade them to a 5 out of 10.
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