Monday, October 31, 2011
Here’s what I’m giving out for Halloween this year. I decided that it was more important to take a stand against child slavery in West Africa than give out the most loved objects of Halloween, such as Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars have had more than 10 years to assure consumers that they’re not buying from growers that enslave children on their cacao plantations. When they have, then I’ll start giving it out to children.
So to avoid this issue completely I bought sugar candy - that is, candy made without chocolate.
Airheads - multiple flavors of chewy fruity flavors. Made in Kentucky, USA.
What I lack in chocolate, I’ll likely make up for with quantity and variety. We usually only get between 25 and 40 visitors. With more than 300 pieces of candy, each kid gets a heaping adult-dispensed handful. And it won’t melt. (Yes, it’s still in the 80s here this week in Los Angeles.)
So what are you giving out for Halloween this year?
Monday, October 10, 2011
Russell Stover has epitomized Americana for as long as I can remember. They’re a safe and unassuming brand. Their boxed chocolates are dependably sweet and bland but have a nice flair for dependable and fresh holiday themed chocolate novelties.
I was a little surprised when I saw these new Russell Stover Day of the Dead Skeletons at the drug store.
They have two varieties, one chocolate covered caramel and one chocolate covered marshmallow - but what’s interesting about them is the South of the Border design on the package (bilingual as well).
I’ll start with the Russell Stover Caramel Covered in Milk Chocolate (Caramelo Cubierto en el Chocolate con Leche).
They’re large skeleton shaped caramel planks covered in milk chocolate, the package features a brightly clad skeleton. There are at least three different designs per confection. For the Caramel I chose this lady skeleton wearing a red blouse with poofy sleeves, a green full skirt, a yellow yat with dingleberries and holding maracas. It’s quite a sight, especially when designed with bright flat colors and accents of purple, orange and silver foil.
The pieces are large, about twice the size as the regular Pumpkin products they make. The Caramel was 2.5 ounces and about 4.5 inches long.
The design of the actual candy is not quite as impressive as the package. In fact, once I pulled it out of the wrapper, you could have easily convinced me this was a Halloween Saguaro Cactus. But shape aside, it’s a really lovely piece of candy. The chocolate is nicely tempered, it’s shiny and had very few scuffs and no leaks. The ripples were also nice to look at and gave a feeling that this was a piece of candy made by people.
The caramel is soft, but not runny. The bite is easy and the caramel has a good pull but not a lot of chew to it. It’s smooth and has a lot of toffee notes and very little grain. The milk chocolate is sweet and has a lot of dairy notes though not much going on other than that.
It’s a lot of candy - I couldn’t eat more than a third in one sitting, so it’s not an easy piece to have a little and then put it away.
It’s not an innovative piece, they make a similar product for Easter, but it’s fresh and I really loved the package.
The Russell Stover Marshmallow Covered in Milk Chocolate (Malvavisco Cubierto en el Chocolate con Leche) has an equally vibrant package design. I chose a skeleton wearing a sombrero and bright poncho beating on a magenta and yellow drum.
This piece is only 2.25 ounces, missing a quarter of an ounce because the marshmallow is so fluffy, but probably about 50% thicker than the Caramel version.
The shape is similarly blocky and poorly defined, but still has glossy rippled milk chocolate enrobing.
The Russell Stover marshmallow is always moist and smooth, fluffy but not too foamy. It doesn’t have much flavor, no honey notes but a good vanilla extract finish. It’s a clean tasting candy - everything tastes real - real sugar, real milk, real vanilla. It’s comforting and homey.
The Day of the Dead celebrations of Mexico are vibrant, social and life-affirming. It’s fun to see a confection here in the United States that feels like it’s appealing to those who want to join in the celebration without feeling like it’s exclusionary or pandering. I don’t know if these are going to be sold everywhere, I picked them up in the Echo Park neighborhood RiteAid, one of the denser areas of Mexican-Americans in the country and over 6 million people of Mexican descent in the Southern California metropolitan counties. Next, I’d like to see the inclusion of some real Mexican confectionery traditions.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Candy Corn is a sugar confection made by depositing different colored layers of fondant into the shape of a narrow triangle. The flavor of candy corn is muted but often bears notes of honey, marshmallow and occasionally butter. It’s created with starch molds and the most common color layering puts yellow as the base, orange as the center band and white as the small tip. It’s an American candy, originating in the 1880s with dozens of manufacturers now in North America. The molded fondant confection is generically called Mellocreams and can come in a variety of shapes, often lightly flavored and colored.
The first thing I noticed as a trend was Candy Corn appearing out of season with other names or color variations. As a kid, I remember there were two kinds of Candy Corn. The standard yellow, orange and white and then the Indian Corn variety that was brown (a little cocoa flavor), dark orange and white. But later on came Reindeer Corn which comes in red, green and white. There’s Bunny Corn that comes in pastels and sometimes I see Cupid Corn for Valentines that’s red, pink and white.
More recently Gourmet Candy Corns have come along. They’re not really superior in any way to classic Candy Corn, they’re just different color varieties and flavored like Egg Nog, Candied Apples, Green Apple, Tangerine, Cherry, Pumpkin Spice and Toffee.
Mars makes M&Ms White Chocolate Candy Corn. They’re white chocolate centers with a light, sweet flavor covered in candy shells in three colors: orange, white and yellow.
Level of Candy Corn-ness: 5 out of 10
Jelly Belly introduced Jelly Belly Candy Corn Jelly Beans earlier this year. Too bad they couldn’t get the stripes on them.
Level of Candy Corn-ness: 5 out of 10
Vidal, a maker of fascinating gummis in unusual shapes, created a rather unique take on Candy Corn with their Puffy Candy Corn. It’s a foamy gummi that’s actually more fruity flavored than generic sweet fondant is.
Level of Candy Corn-ness: 8 out of 10
For several years Hershey’s issued Hershey’s Candy Corn Kisses, a butter flavored white confection. The shape was a natural for Candy Corn treatment, too bad they didn’t go with the honey flavors and real cocoa butter.
Level of Candy Corn-ness: 8 out of 10
Last year was the first for Whitman’s introduction of the Candy Corn Marshmallow. It’s a large triangular marshmallow covered with “white confection” in two colors.
Level of Candy Corn-ness: 4 out of 10
Dots, made by Tootsie, have been a bit edgier and hipper lately. Their Halloween offerings are spot on, with Ghost Dots and Blood Orange Bat Dots. Of course their Candy Corn Dots also make this list. They’re just vanilla Dots, but cute as buttons.
Level of Candy Corn-ness: 9 out of 10
The level of Candy Corn-ness is evaluated on the basis of the following attributes: stacked color, colors, flavor, scale, and shape.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Mars has introduced a limited edition, limited distribution of a new variety of M&Ms for Halloween. M&Ms White Chocolate Candy Corn are appearing in WalMart stores exclusively across the United States. Since I’m not able to easily shop at WalMart (really not many in the Los Angeles area), some folks at Mars were kind enough to send me a bag for review.
It’s tempting when I hear about candies like this to write the review before I even get a hold of the candy. That would not only be a horrible disservice to the readers, it’s really unfair to the candy. I’m supposed to have an open mind. Luckily I kept mine open for this one. (In reality, I thought it sounded like a dreadful idea, and I blame the Hershey’s Candy Corn Kisses and Jelly Belly Buttered Popcorn candies for my predisposition.)
The M&Ms are larger than the regular M&Ms Milk Chocolate, though they vary a little bit in size and shape. They’re thicker and have a larger diameter. They come in three colors: white, bright yellow and bright orange. (The orange and yellow are actually different from the standard colors. The orange is darker and not as shiny and the yellow has a matte caste to it and a slightly neon note.)
Mars has marketed White Chocolate M&Ms before, in 2006 they introduced M&Ms Pirate Pearls in conjunction with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Unlike the other limited edition version of Dark Chocolate M&Ms (tie in with Star Wars), they were never added to the regular or seasonal offerings.
Mars has stuck to their Real Chocolate pledge here, it’s real white chocolate made with oodles of cocoa butter (cocoa butter is the second ingredient - sometimes white chocolate products have milk fat before the cocoa butter). There are no other filler oils.
The candies smell a bit like strawberries or cotton candy, very sweet but not in an artificial way. I was fully expecting the liberal use of diacetyl. Happily that was not the case.
Candy Corn M&Ms on the left and classic Milk Chocolate M&Ms on the right
The shells are crunchy and seem thicker than the standard Milk Chocolate variety sports. Some of the shells were cracked, I don’t know if that was because this was sent to me and got shaken up in transit or if they’re particularly vulnerable.
The center is soft and yielding. It’s sweet and buttery smooth, like a well made buttercream frosting. The flavors are only slightly milky, the sweetness is rather clean and again reminds me of Cotton Candy. I was hoping for the honey notes that good Candy Corn has, but this was all a pleasant surprise.
They’re quite rich, both in fat and in sugar, so I found that I couldn’t eat more than about a dozen without feeling a little overwhelmed by the sweetness. Ultimately though I didn’t feel like they rose to the level of an actual Candy Corn flavored candy. Still, they’re nice, and for white chocolate fans who have so few choices for real cocoa butter white chocolate, you might be pleased.
Now I’m waiting for Egg Nog M&Ms .... mmm, nutmeg white chocolate would be dreamy.
One other note I have about this packaging. I noticed on the nutrition panel that they’re giving better information. In the serving size it gives the portion in variety of formats. A serving size is 1.5 ounces, 42 grams or about 1/4 cup. So you really get a sense of how much they mean. The new green what’s inside block also breaks it out very clearly. One portion is 220 calories and 11 grams of total fat (17% DV) and 7 grams of saturated fat (35% DV).
UPDATE 9/11/2012: White Chocolate Candy Corn M&Ms are back for 2012. They’re available in all stores, in both the large bags as well as 1.5 ounce individual serving bags (with a variety of different designs on the front).
Sunday, October 31, 2010
What sort of treats did you pass out this year to the kids? What’s your favorite this time of year?
Monday, October 25, 2010
So around Christmas sometimes I’ll pick up the Butterfinger Jingles, which are bells made of milk chocolate with Butterfinger crunch pieces. It’s been a while though, so when I saw these Nestle Butterfinger Pumpkins I thought it was great that I could pick up a modestly sized version instead of a big bag. They were on sale, two for a dollar but they also come in a tray of 6 which seemed to be priced higher per piece at Target.
The chocolate disk is nicely designed and molded. I liked the dimensionality of it and the fanciful face that incorporated not only the carving but the strong ribs of the pumpkin shape. It smelled pretty appealing too, like chocolate and roasted peanuts with a touch of toffee. So far so good.
After that first bite pictured there, I was tempted to spit this out. It was waxy and sweet with no chocolate flavor at all. But I thought maybe I was spoiled because I was also photographing some Ritter Sport at the same time (which naturally required a few bites as well). So I tucked away the rest and give it a few days.
With the second bite I still thought it was a mixture of greasy and waxy chocolate, but the cocoa flavors came through a little stronger. There’s a mix of toasted peanut flavors and a hint of bitterness along with the barely passable chocolate. The chips of the Butterfinger center save this candy from being completely inedible. They’re a little salty and have a mixture of molasses and peanut butter flavors.
While I’ve been finding that Wonka candies have been improving in quality, this Butterfinger Pumpkin doesn’t taste as good as the Jingles I remember. In fact, it’s pretty terrible and makes me wish I could find the Clark Wicked Mix in my area.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
I’ve honestly been curious why I don’t see all natural or organic Candy Corn this time of year. But here’s something pretty close. I found this little container at Whole Foods. They call them Marich Cream Jellybeans but they’re really mellocremes or fondant.
They’re all natural and come in a delightful variety of colors and shapes. There are bats, crescent moons, witches on brooms, owls and cats. I picked out a mix that was as evenly randomized as I could detect. They came in little box like a take out container, only made of a clear polyester-plastic that’s easy to open and close.
The candy was on the expensive side for something that’s all sugar, $5.99 a pound (far less expensive than the other mixes that I’ve picked up). But they were cute and I haven’t bought much for Halloween this year because there have been so few new products.
The pieces are about an inch to an inch and a quarter at their longest. Some were particularly flat, like the Witch and Cat, which means that they were a little dryer and firmer than the thick ones like the Crescent Moon. They all stand up on their sides except for the moon, which naturally wants to be curve side down. (I held that one up with a little piece of sticky clay for the photo.)
Cocoa Brown - I hesitate to actually call this chocolate flavored because it doesn’t taste at all like chocolate, but cocoa is listed on the ingredients so that appears to be the intention. It’s a little woodsy and less sweet than the others. There are notes of honey, toffee, rum and coconut. This flavor also seemed moister than the others, no matter what shape it was, not sticky just not as dry.
Orange - a creamsicle sort of orange flavor, mostly zest but not intense at all. The color and the flavor wasn’t that different from the yellow.
Yellow - lemon in the softest and sweetest way possible. Just a hint of lemon peel and maybe a little note of honey.
White - was unflavored, I’d call them a light vanilla. They taste a bit like marshmallows, pretty clean overall but of course sweet.
The texture was a little firmer than Candy Corn, but very smooth with a fast dissolve. They have a strong sheen on them, some more than others. There’s a glaze on them (confectioners glaze plus beeswax and carnauba wax) which means that they don’t stick together but also don’t dissolve immediately.
The owl reminds me of those macrame owls from the seventies.
It’s expensive for sugar candy, as I mentioned, but for a small bowl of candy matched to a Halloween or even harvest theme, they’re a great choice.
They remind me of carved alabaster or soapstone figures. I can see that these are more sophisticated than brightly colored, strongly flavored kids fare ... but I can also imagine that there are kids out there would would love to play with these like edible chess pieces.
I’ve complained before that Marich’s excessive food colorings in their Easter Mix get in the way of my enjoyment of their holiday novelty candies, so it’s great to see that these are not only less expensive than those but also truer in their flavor profile. I’m in love with Marich’s all natural and organic lines. I’d still like these to have more intense flavors and maybe more variation (like maple, honey and better cocoa) but I could still pick up the Brach’s Halloween Mix for that.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Kraft Caramels are one of those products that transcends the definition of candy. Like chocolate chips, they’re also an ingredient in countless recipes. I’m more likely to see these bags in the baking aisle of the grocery store than the candy section.
Kraft Caramels were introduced in 1933, the same year Kraft brought Miracle Whip into people’s lives. In a strange twist, Kraft decided to sell their industry-standard caramels and spun them off with a few other brands to a new company called Favorite Brands. They made the caramels with the Kraft name for two years under the agreement, but after that they rolled them into their other candy brand, Farley’s and called them Farley’s Original Chewy Caramels. Well, I don’t know if you remember those years of not being able to find Kraft Caramels ... I’m not sure how brand aware I was at that time, but I think I considered myself confused and ended up buying Brach’s Caramels. Kraft got their caramels back in 2000 and I think they learned their lesson. (You can read more here.)
The caramels are packaged simply and perfectly. Each cube is wrapped in clear cellophane, like little gifts with the surprise spoiled with the transparent packaging.
The color is beautiful and mine were fresh, slightly soft and glossy. They smells sweet, like vanilla pudding. The bite is soft and easy, but not a stringy chew. It’s also not quite a fudge texture. This style of caramel is called a short caramel, the sugar and milk is completely emulsified so there are no sugar crystals. The sugar is caramelize, so it has a light toffee note to it along with the mellow dairy flavors of the milk.
The chew is interesting and flavorful, but lacks a bit of the stickiness that I desire in a caramel. I like a complex flavor and silkier texture. They’re sweet but at least have a salty note to balance that out. They stick in my teeth a bit, but don’t bind my molars together like some stale Sugar Babies can do.
The ingredients are decent enough for cheap candy: corn syrup, sugar, skim milk, palm oil, whey, salt, artificial flavor and soy lecithin.
I understand that one of the benefits to this style though is its versatility for recipes. They can be melted and added to other ingredients like swirled into brownies, drizzled on popcorn and of course their most popular use - caramel dipped apples.
There are 32 calories in each caramel cube and they’re still made in the U.S.A. Kosher.
Finally, an early TV commercial for Kraft Caramels:
While looking for Kraft Caramels these past few weeks, I stumbled on these smaller bags of Ferrara Pan Traditional Caramels. This little 6.75 ounce bag also included sticks for making the classic caramel covered apples.
Ferrara Pan is known for their panned candies (hence the company name) like Lemonheads, Boston Baked Bean and Atomic Fireballs. A boiled sweet like caramels is kind of out of place, but then again Ferrara recently branched out into chocolate, so why not caramel?
Turning over the bag to compare the ingredients I found something more substantially informative. Ferrara Pan doesn’t make these. They’re made by Embare in Brazil. Embare is a premiere candy maker in South America, known for their dairy-based confections like caramels and pudding mixes. Caramel has a fine tradition in South America, so why not go there for some great ones?
The cellophane seems a little heavier and is actually sealed at the ends. They’re soft enough to pinch. They don’t smell like much out of the wrapper.
The bite is much softer and chewier. They’re not quite a stringy caramel, but halfway between. They’re not as sweet as the Kraft variety, quite smooth and have a strong real vanilla flavor profile. The caramel notes are also great - a little toasty with just a hint or rum or molasses.
Each cube has 27 calories. I don’t actually mind that they’re made in Brazil and I appreciate Ferrara Pan saying exactly who is making the product.
On the left are the Ferrara Pan and on the right are the Kraft. They really do look the same.
The ingredient list on the Ferrara Pan version is longer: Sugar, corn syrup, skim milk, hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean, cottonseed and/or palm kernel), whey, milk, cream, salt, soy lecithin, mono- & di-glycerides, artificial vanilla flavor.
I can’t say which is better for recipes, but I preferred the texture and flavor profile of the Ferrara Pan. But I can’t say that I really loved either, if I really wanted a bite sized caramel, I’d probably go for Sugar Babies, pay a premium for See’s ... or make my own.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.