Wednesday, April 8, 2009
The dietary restrictions during Passover not only mean no grains, chometz, except for matzo meal but also no kitniot (legumes). This means a lot of the ingredients commonly used for candy preparation are forbidden during this festival. No peanuts is obvious, but also no corn syrup, no soy lecithin, no cornstarch, no soy or canola oil.
Most observant Jews I know simply go without candy during this time or stick to the tried-and-true holiday specialties like macaroons or chocolate dipped matzo. I know that it’s possible to make great candy that’s Kosher for Passover - something that goes beyond the mediocre Manischewitz molded chocolate items.
The Gelson’s Market near my house had a nice display of Passover items near the entrance and I was pleased to see a few more upscale and decadent items than the common jelly slices. I picked out these Chocolate Dipped Mint Cremes from Manhattan Chocolates.
The box was pretty, just green themed on white with chocolate drip along the top. Inside it was a little less upscale. The mint cremes are nestled in little cubbies in a plastic tray, which isn’t such a big deal, except that the candies were much smaller than their little nooks, so they rattled around quite a bit when I carried them home ... and is probably why they look a bit scuffed. (A piece of that fluffy, corrugated waxed paper would probably help.)
The ingredients look great: Chocolate (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, vanilla), sugar, tapioca syrup, natural and artificial flavors. (During the rest of the year there’s soy lecithin in the chocolate and corn syrup instead of the tapioca syrup.)
There are 15 pieces in the box, which holds 6 ounces (so each piece is .4 ounces).
They’re rather tall, more like a cream chocolate than a patty, a little larger in diameter than a quarter.
The chocolate shell is nicely done, no voids or little leaky spots. They smell sweet and a bit like toasty hot chocolate. There’s only a slight whiff of mint.
Once I bit into one, the cream revealed its mintness. It’s soft, the cream is quite silky with only a slight small grain to it. It’s not flowing soft like a Junior Mint and not hard and crumbly like a York Peppermint Pattie ... just a bit in between.
The dark chocolate shell is sweet and not quite bitter enough to offset the very sweet center. But overall it’s a very good post-Seder treat to refresh the palate after those bitter herbs.
I wouldn’t call these glorious or anything, but if I were in a week where I was limited in my choices, the Manhattan Chocolates seem very promising as a line. They’re also lactose free - all year round.
Carl at the National Confectioners Association also found that Oh Nuts! has a great selection (and there’s still time to order before Passover ends).
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
It’s a simple bar, described on the wrapper as dark chocolate with peppermint filling. I fully expected it to be like a molded York Peppermint Pattie.
Where this is different from the York Peppermint Pattie is fat. While a York is marketed as a lowfat food, it clocks in with a smidge from the dark chocolate coating, about 2.5 g per 39 g serving.
Ritter Sport Peppermint, on the other hand, has a liberal amount of fat in it, about 11 g per 38 g serving. At first I thought it was because there is more chocolate, ratio-wise, in the Ritter Sport. But looking at the ingredients, it lists palm kernel oil in there (which I’m guessing isn’t in the chocolate, since it does say it’s chocolate and not a chocolate flavored shell).
Some would find that disconcerting, or perhaps even a reason to eschew it. I, on the other hand, have often wondered what a fattier York Peppermint Pattie would be like.
The bar was lovely to look at. Glossy and dark, though not as dark as some dark chocolates. It smells mostly of peppermint, delicate and refreshing with a little acidic twang.
The snap of the chocolate was good. It broke along the segments easily and there was no sticky goo emerging from the margins. Biting into an invididual segment though, that was a very nice feeling. The chocolate shell keeps its shape well, not shattering into a bazillion flakes.
The mint filling is silky smooth, whatever fat is in there is doing a wonderful job of keeping it from becoming a fudgy blob or a crystallized chunk. Instead it’s almost like a white chocolate truffle - sweet and minty but not watery or milky. The chocolate is buttery smooth as well, and melts readily but without any sort of greasy tastelessness. It’s a little bitter, a little dry and the perfect balance for the sweet center.
I don’t know why Ritter Sport hasn’t sent this to the States before, it’s definitely not like other chocolate & mint fondant options here, so it’s allowed to occupy its own niche. I hope it’s not seasonal, because I think this is a perfect item for a crisp fall picnic. (I give these suggestions as if I live this sort of life, which I don’t, but go ahead and imagine it.)
Jim’s Chocolate Mission has been doing an awesome job documenting far more Ritter Sport than I’ve been able to. (Of interest to me are the Trauben Cashew, Neapolitan Waffle and the Voll Erdnuss.)
Friday, December 19, 2008
I’m buried in mints! So here’s a huge roundup of all the mint items in my queue that I wanted to get through before Christmas.
Like the Trader Joe’s Espresso Pillows I picked up a few months ago, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Mints come in a cute round tin and hold 2.45 ounces. Unlike the Espresso Pillows, these are not a very original product.
Inside the tin is a fluted liner that holds a large handful of soft, white candy-shelled mints. Each is about the size of a kidney bean. The tin says that there are no artificial flavors or preservatives. I think they shy from the “all natural” part because the white shell is created with titanium dioxide.
They reminded me of the classic Dutch Mints and luckily I had some of those around for comparison.
Jelly Belly makes a large variety of Dutch Mints. They come in different colors, these are all hot pink and individually wrapped, though you can also get them in the stark white, pastel mint colors or right now in the Christmas assortment of red, green and white. (And they’re Kosher.)
The Dutch Mint is the size of a garbanzo bean but my guess is the same mass as the TJ’s.
They’re both the same construction, a soft mint fondant with a thin layer or dark chocolate then a crispy candy shell.
Both are lovely and addictive. The Trader Joe’s retails for $1.22 an ounce. The Jelly Belly can go for anywhere from $.70 an ounce for the small 2.9 ounce bag to $.56 for a one pound tub (check out Cost Plus World Market).
Jelly Belly Dutch Mints get a rating of: 8 out of 10
These also closely resemble the York Mints that also come in a tin.
The previous are great for toting around and especially nice if a restaurant gives you a few with the check. But if you’re entertaining, you might want to provide some other more chocolatey mint morsels.
I’ve always loved After Eight Mints, which are a flowing mint fondant in an ultra thin square. I used to love how they came in individual glassine envelopes, like a little file box of deliciousness.
Of course After Eights are made by Nestle now and not nearly as good as I remember them on top of the controversies that they’re made from questionably sourced chocolate. The Fair Trade movement has been working to bring families and communities out of poverty through fair payment for goods & services.
Divine Chocolate has been doing this since 1998 in the United Kingdom and recently expanded into the United States. Not only do they have tasty bars they also have addition treats like these Divine After Dinner Mints.
The mints are nicely sized for two bites at about 1.5” square. The mild semi-sweet chocolate is crisp and cracks well. The mint fondant center is creamy and minted only slightly so as not to overpower the chocolate. The dark chocolate has some berry and fruity tones that combine well with the cool peppermint flavors.
I’ve seen these at Whole Foods (at an endcap display for hostess giving), so they should be pretty widely available this season.
Divine After Dinner Mints get a rating of 7 out of 10.
Creme de Menthe Altoids have been out for a few months, though it took me a while to find the variety that isn’t covered in chocolate. I realized that I might have seen them before, the green of the package is only slightly lighter than the Spearmint boxes. These were on sale for $1.50 to boot!
Basically the flavor of these is like a Peppermint TicTac. It has a powdery vanilla scent, softer than a harsh peppermint and perhaps just a hint of licorice.
But these are Altoids. Though they might start out mild, they do pack a much stronger kick later on. I like the flavor a bit better than the straight Peppermint if only because of the mix of aromas.
Creme de Menthe Altoids get a rating of 8 out of 10.
Quite a few folks have been lamenting that Trader Joe’s discontinued their English Soft Peppermints. I’m pretty keen on the generic & mild butter mints I find at the drug store, but those were some pretty good mints.
Around this time of year, however, I see a lot of these See’s Peppermint Twists in candy dishes around the office. It took me a while, but I think I found out who makes them. There were two contenders: King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy or Bob’s Sweet Stripes.
I saw this box of King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy at the 99 Cent Only Store and thought I’d give them a whirl. They were a dollar for 3.5 ounces.
I thought they were “butter mints” and read through this to see how I came to that conclusion:
So I was expecting a soft mint. Either crumbly soft or mushy soft.
These were neither. They’re soft as in rounded and smooth, but after that they were not butter mints until I sucked on them for a while. Which is kind of the opposite of “soft from the moment you open the box”. Annoyance aside, they’re peppermint candies. They are airy and dissolve nicely and of course none of those hard candy sharp edges. They’re sweet and a bit less intense than a starlight mint and really pretty to look at. Like those English Soft Peppermints that were really made in the Netherlands, King Leo are made in Mexico. Kosher.
King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy gets a 6 out of 10.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
A few months ago I saw Creme Drops at the 99 Cent Store, but since it was hot out, I didn’t pick them. Then I saw Robby’s review on Candy Addict of the Necco variety and I thought maybe I’d made the right decision.
But then I saw these on the website for the Vermont Country Store and made a mental note. Well, that mental note didn’t sit there too long because a couple of weeks later VCS wanted me to try some of their candy and I specifically requested their Assorted Cream Drops.
Since it’s finally gotten cool in Los Angeles, chocolate shipping produces less anxiety than the other 8 months of the year. (They’re packaging for shipping was great, too, by the way. Everything arrived in great shape.)
The rest of the description is rather vague. The name they use is Chocolate-Covered Cream Drop Assortment with 6 Luscious Flavors but the box never actually list the flavors by name (but digging around on the description page does yield the list).
And the drops all look exactly the same.
So I set about picking them out of the box and cutting them in half, like it was some sort of logic puzzle like mine sweeper.
After eight of them (three were Lemon and not in a row), I determined that they are randomly loaded into the box. The dividers in the box do a great job of protecting the candies without any fussy papers. (Eventually I found that sniffing them carefully did allow me to pick out orange or maple, but then again, who wants one that I’ve held up to my nose? I think I’m better off poking holes in the bottom.)
Yellow = Lemon: sweet and creamy but a little like a scented candle. The bittersweet chocolate shell set the mellow center off quite nicely. It’s not very zesty, just a light aromatic lemon. All of the pieces had sugar grains in it though, unlike the other flavors. I’m guessing this was just a manufacturing glitch.
Beige = Maple: I could often sniff this one out, the maple flavor was quite pungent. It combined well with the sweet and slightly stringy fondant center.
Orange = Orange: reminded me of a creamsicle. Sweet and with a good mouthfeel and a nice chocolate note that cut that almost-too-sweetness of it.
Pink = Raspberry: this interior was very bright pink, which alerted me that this was probably the one with the Red Dye #40. It was all about the floral and perfumey flavors, not much of the rich tangy berry in there.
Brown = Chocolate: this is the mellowest of the bunch. It’s not so much chocolatey as just less sweet and slightly creamier. The filling is not quite silky, but the gooeyness is more than pleasant.
White = Vanilla: tastes exactly like a Junior Mint without the mint. The fondant center is wonderfully smooth, the chocolate becomes the star. It melts easily though admittedly the whole thing is very sweet. I would recommend eating these with strong black coffee or black tea.
These are a quality product. The consistency of the fondant center was fresh and glossy, the chocolate was good. They’re not really something that I would eat on a regular basis, when I have a box of mixed chocolates, I usually leave the creams for last so actually buying a box of creams isn’t something I’m likely to do. I prefer the slightly fattier creams that Fannie Mae (we had a box of those at the office recently) or See’s make. But if you’ve always wished that Junior Mints came in other flavors or perhaps want a less chocolatey or dark chocolate version of a Cadbury Creme Egg, then this might be for you.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The description on the package says: Creme Filled Center with Smooth Chocolate Flavored Coating!. So yeah, it’s mockolate. (But at least their snowflakes have six points.)
I had hopes though, since it’s also a full 12 ounces ... for only a dollar? That’s quite a value there. A one pound box of sugar is about $1.19 at my local grocery store.
Because they’re bagged and not in a box with little partitions, they are a little more scuffed than the Vermont Country Store variety. (But again, the price difference is absurd - VCS are $1.25 an ounce and Zachary’s are 8.3 cents an ounce.)
They also only come in one flavor, plain. (Or perhaps I should call it vanilla, but there is no vanilla or vanilla flavor listed on the ingredients.)
The shell is mockolate but has a dark, toasted scent.
The bite of the Zachary candy (left) is vastly different from the soft and glossy VCS variety (right). This is a solid fondant, similar to the center of a York Peppermint Pattie.
The texture is smooth, but crumbly, kind of like an albino fudge.
I rather liked the center but the mockolate coating ruined it for me. It was sweet and had that stale Easter essence. It’s rather sad, I’d gladly take 1/3 of the quantity at twice the price if they were real chocolate because the centers are pretty good.
I can recommend these for people who already love them (and I shouldn’t quibble with folks who like what they like). I can recommend these for placing as a decoration on a tray of cookies or perhaps adding to a dessert plate when you’re really in a crunch and don’t like your guests (or know that they all have colds and would simply appreciate the fondant texture).
Rating: 3 out of 10
I kind of wish both varieties came in mint.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
When I was a kid and we’d go to the Halloween Parade in town (Mechanicsburg, PA, if you’re curious), both folks from the floats and those watching from the sidewalks would throw corn. (Not on the cob, silly! Just dried feed corn.) I don’t know why we did it, but I kind of likened it to the harvest version of throwing rice at weddings.
This fun little remembrance has nothing to do with anything. Except that I was recently in Mechanicsburg and that it’s National Candy Corn Day and it made me think of throwing corn.
I picked up this Giant Eagle Candy Place Harvest Mix in Ohio. I believe they’re made by Mayfair. Though the colors looked rather faded in the package and the already known-quantity of the Brach’s Halloween Mix was on the shelves, too, I really wanted to try it. At 99 cents, the risk was minimal.
The assortment was much more broad than Brach’s. First, none of the shapes were assigned a particular color/flavor. Second, there were a lot of different shapes and this mix included both candy corn and Indian corn.
The shapes I found were: owl, skull & bones, pumpkin, jack-o-lantern, cat, witch, ear of corn, bat and mellowcreme pumpkin. The colors were orange, tan, yellow and brown.
The whole bag smelled kind of like band-aids and maple syrup.
Orange mellowcremes tasted like marshmallows and honey. Soft, smooth, very little grain and an even and sweet taste.
The tan shapes had a slight maple flavor to them and were my favorite in the bunch even though they lacked the touch of honey that the orange had.
The brown had a caramel and cocoa note, but it wasn’t very pronounced and seemed much sweeter than the other flavors.
Yellow tasted just like orange, which wasn’t a bad thing overall.
The candy corn were exceptionally smooth and had that light kiss of honey ... really good stuff.
While I didn’t like them as much as the Brach’s, this particular variety had no gelatin in it (but did have egg whites) and was made in the USA so there are many reasons why folks might prefer it.
Even though the colors aren’t as vibrant and the flavors not quite as remarkable it is a quality product and certainly worth the 99 cents I paid.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
First thing I have to say about Brach’s Milk Maid Chocolate Caramel Candy Corn is that the name is too long. If the name takes up three lines, it’s too long. These are tiny little pieces of candy ... the name should not weigh more than the candy itself.
I knew this candy existed, but I was having trouble finding it. I was delighted not only to find it at Walgreen’s, but also in this 7 ounce bag (instead of the 9.5 ounce Caramel Apple Candy Corn a few weeks ago and the mondo 22 ounce bag I got of the the Caramel Candy Corn last year).
The package says that it’s made with real cocoa and real milk. I’d never really thought about candy corn being a dairy product. (Makes me think about creamed corn.)
My bag was exceptionally sloppy. There weren’t many well-formed pieces, some were missing a color but mostly they were just irregular. Part of the fun is the attractiveness of candy corn. This didn’t quite measure up.
The base flavor is the caramel. It’s a bit salty and has that fake butter flavor to it that I can handle in tiny doses. The middle section has a light cocoa flavor and the white top is, of course, unadulterated sweetness. They taste a bit richer than the typical orange & yellow candy corn, but I found the fake butter a little too artificial to keep me eating these.
It makes me wish they sold these in 1 ounce bags. That would have been enough to satisfy my curiosity.
The ingredients list salt above the actual milk in here. There’s also gelatin, so no good for vegetarians and it’s not Kosher.
This was the first Brach’s package I’ve seen so far that makes note of the new Farley’s & Sathers ownership.
The package joyfully tells me it’s America’s #1! (It’s also made in Mexico.)
Honestly it’s been so long since I had the Brach’s Mellowcremes, I didn’t remember whether they were flavored or not. (The Autumn Mix is not distinctly flavored.)
These little fondant nuggets come in four colors and eight shapes: crescent moon, black cat, pumpkin, jug, jack o’lantern, bat, corn cob and sheaf of wheat.
The flavors are determined by the color of the Mellowcreme.
Yellow = Banana - either you love fake banana or you don’t. As strong as my aversion is to fake butter flavor, my affection for artificial banana matches it. The flavor is mellow, with a touch of honey and salt. It’s soft and slightly grainy but melts easily.
Tan = Maple - this was the surprise of the package. I fully expected these to be the caramel flavor. Instead they have a nice woodsy/toasted taste to them, like a hunk of brown sugar.
Dark Brown = Cocoa - far more cocoa flavored than any Indian Corn I’ve ever had. But not really that good either, terribly empty and cardboard tasting, like a Tootsie Roll that’s been freeze dried, pulverized and smashed into a bat shape.
Orange = Candy Corn - the pumpkins are faithful to the Brach’s Candy Corn flavor. Sweet, bland and with a slight touch of honey. (Though there’s no honey in here.)
The package I picked has more yellow and tan ones, so I think I did well here as those are the ones I’m picking out to eat anyway.
The salt really helps these out. There’s 110 mg of Sodium in every serving, which is quite a lot for a candy (but an excellent stat if this was a canned soup). Consider it a boost to your electrolytes, maybe athletes will start carrying Mellowcremes as a recovery supplement.
I think the bragging rights are earned here. I now think that Mellowcremes are worth the search. (These also contain gelatin.) 7 out of 10
Monday, September 22, 2008
Brach’s is pretty much the gold standard for Candy Corn for me. There are other good quality makers out there too, like Jelly Belly and Zachary, but I prefer the Brach’s stuff because I can actually taste the honey and that’s what I prefer.
Brach’s has a pretty extensive line of candy corn products and they’ve returned to shelves for fall. I’ve seen the Autumn Mix, Indian Corn and regular Candy Corn on shelves. I picked up this newer version called Milk Maid Caramel Apple Candy Corn this year. I tried the other flavor introduced last year as well, Milk Maid Caramel Candy Corn which I found tasted more like buttered popcorn than caramel.
Unlike my experience with the Caramel Candy Corn, this didn’t smell at all before opening the package. Once I did, I found it a pleasant mix of apple, sugar and vanilla - exactly what I would have expected from the name.
Most of the pieces seem pretty big and dominated by the red center.
Like most candy corn, this bag had its assortment of not-quite-ready-for-primetime players. These were shorter pieces that were missing one or more colors. I rather like the variation and ability to eat just one of the flavor layers if I want, so I don’t hold it against them.
The red center has a light apple flavor, rather like apple peels not the sour green apple candy flavor. The brown caramel layer at the bottom has a light salty hit to it and a butter flavor that bugged me when I just at the brown bits alone. But as I’ve noted before, confections that use Red 40 tend to leave a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. So I enjoy these for about five minutes and then I regret eating them. Then I toss them in a drawer in my desk, go away for the weekend and come back and it’s like I’ve completely forgotten about the aftertaste (maybe it has some sort of short-term memory wiping properties?).
As a novelty flavor, I like these better than most. I wouldn’t mind it being added to the Autumn Mix, but I still prefer Indian Corn. Brach’s also makes a Milk Maid Chocolate Caramel Candy Corn which isn’t even mentioned on their website but I saw on ebay. I’m still looking for it.
This candy corn has gelatin in it, so it’s unsuitable for vegetarians and isn’t Kosher or Halal.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Long before Jelly Belly made jelly beans, they made all sorts of other kinds of candy including dozens of different fondant-type confections. The Goelitz Bros. Candy Company made buttercream candies which took many different shapes and flavors - the best known is candy corn.
One lesser-known version of those buttercreams were little treats like these Mint Cremes (there is no butter in there).
Looking at the through the cellophane wrapper they were exceptionally regular. About the size of a quarter they came in four colors: yellow, pink, white and green.
They’re smooth and firm to the touch (the hand crafted variety break easily).
But after biting into the first one it was clear, these are a very stiff fondant, flavored strongly with peppermint.
They’re all the same flavor.
The outer shell is glossy and seals in the flavor and scent and keeps them a bit softer than I think they’d be otherwise. It’s a combination of carnauba wax, beeswax and confectioners glaze.
Inside the center is dense, like a mello creme or candy corn but with a strong and heavy mint. Not as strong as an Altoid, but a bit more than a peppermint starlight. It’s pretty much the inside of a York Peppermint Pattie.
I was hoping they’d have a more “melt in my mouth” quality than I got. They’re a bit stiff and lacking some personality. But they’re very pretty and would make a different offering in a wedding favor mix or at the end of a meal at a restaurant with the check. I was hoping for a bit more creamy consistency, especially since they’re called cremes like the Romanego Fondants I had last year as well, but considering the price of these, I really shouldn’t have been expecting something that delicate. But it’s not as though these were cheap either. At $12 a pound I’m entitled to expect something.
In the end, I think I prefer good old fashioned pillow mints (after dinner style).
These have a confectioners glaze so may not be appropriate for vegetarians who don’t wish to consume shellac.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.