Friday, October 30, 2009
I was happy to see that Brach’s was expanding its Halloween offerings beyond candy corn. I love peanut butter and chocolate and though nothing really compares to the Reese’s products, a little foil wrapped sphere sounded good.
Brach’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins say they’re Rich Chocolaty Pumpkin With a Peanut Butter Center. There’s a companion product, the Brach’s Caramel Pumpkins. They’re both sold in 9.25 ounce bags and I was a little surprised to see that they weren’t even real chocolate. (The real shock came later, as you’ll see.)
The foil on the pumpkins comes in two different “faces”, one on each side of the sphere. There’s a happy one with its teeth missing (shown) and then on the other side is a triangle-eyed one. It’s an impressive look when they’re piled in a bowl. Each is one inch in diameter.
The foil is easy to peel off. At first I though mine were dented, but it turns out there’s a little divot in each where they’re molded. (But they are easy to dent as well.) The chocolaty ball inside doesn’t have any imprints on it, it’s just a sphere with a slight texture to it (like a miniature basketball).
The smell like wonderfully fresh roasted peanuts.
Biting into it, it depended on the temperature what the filling was like. When I first got these it was quite hot, so the ambient temperature was over 80 degrees and the peanut butter center was gooey and slick. It was quite nice, not quite a meltaway, but definitely a whole different experience from the dry and crumbly Reese’s peanut butter. When the weather cooled and I tried them again the peanut butter was firmer, a bit more dry but still quite smooth. The roast of the peanuts is dark with a slight bitterness to them. It’s salty and satisfying.
The coating is mockolate. Unlike mockolate products created by Hershey’s, these don’t have a trace of cocoa butter at all in them, It’s all partially hydrogenated palm kernel or palm oil. It’s quite cool on the tongue and has a bit of a greasy melt. It lacks all chocolate power, it’s more of a cardboard version of chocolate flavor. When it’s all chewed together it’s not as noticeable, but nibbled off separately it’s quite bad.
The Brach’s Caramel Pumpkins were even less appealing. (Well, the one thing they had going for them was 20 fewer calories per serving, but of course lacking all the nutrition that the peanuts provide.)
The foil wrapping is gold instead of orange but still has the same faces & green stem for hair.
They smell like butter flavoring and sugar.
The bite is similar, the chocolate-flavored-coating tastes grainier and of course lacks true chocolate flavor. The caramel filling is interesting, it’s a little like a pudding - sweet but not actually cloying. It’s smooth and not quite flowing but not stiff enough to be chewy.
The whole thing was a dreadful mess.
The worst part though was if you look closely at the photo above you’ll notice a tiny little logo on the sphere. It’s the R.M. Palmer logo.
These are just the R.M. Palmer Creepy Peepers! And Creepy Peepers are cheap - usually about a buck for a 6 ounce bag, these Brach’s things are over $3.00 a bag in stores.
I just don’t get it. Brach’s used to distinguish itself from the bagged candy as being just a little better ... this repackaging of something most of us wouldn’t dare touch is pretty creepy. I hope Brach’s gets its act together and goes back to its core value of quality candy.
If you like these, well, skip the Brach’s middle man and just get the R.M. Palmer. They sell them year round in sports shapes (I think that’s the basketball texture).
Monday, October 26, 2009
On my recent trip to Las Vegas I spent zero time in the casinos (except to traverse them to get to the chocolate and of course scanning the slot machines to find a candy-themed one) and all my time either walking or browsing fine chocolate.
Las Vegas actually has some very nice options for chocolate lovers and thankfully they’re liberally scattered around if you’re not into skipping from one casino-hotel-monstrosity to another. I went up to the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace to the Vosges Haut-Chocolat Boutique. Since it was barely a week to Halloween, I picked up a selection of their Skulls. (They’re a variation on their Easter Bunnies, which I attempted to review once before.)
There are three variations of the large skull shaped solid chocolates called Day of the Dead Skulls: Red Fire, Barcelona and Blanca. Each is 2.75 inches high, 1.75 inches wide at the widest and about 1 inch thick.
The Barcelona Skull is made of hickory smoked almonds, Maldon sea salt + deep milk chocolate 45% cacao.
The eyes are also filled with coarse Black Hawaiian sea salt to give them a bit more impact. They each weigh 2.2 ounces, so it’s more chocolate than a regular single serve bar, but it’s a hefty lump. They’re not really that easy to share, as biting into it is messy and difficult and once it’s cut up with a knife the allure of the skull shape is ruined.
Barcelona is available as a regular bar from Vosges, so I thought it would be fun to try in the novelty shape anyway. The color is quite deep and rich looking and I could actually make out the little almond bits near the surface.
As a milk chocolate it’s an easier bite than most dark chocolates. The deep milk chocolate is creamy with strong woodsy notes that are amplified by the mineral notes of the sea salt and the buttery crunch of the Marcona almonds.
I enjoyed the deep bites of the chocolate (yes, I just gnawed my way through the whole skull) more than I think I would a flat bar.
The Red Fire Skull is deep and shiny. It smells fruity and also very peppery. Like a bottle of Tabasco sauce, a hardwood smokebox and some other spice notes like cinnamon.
I was a little worried about the spice level. I’m good with horseradish, wasabi and curries, but capsaicin (the active ingredient in chili peppers) is unpleasant for me pretty often. Thankfully I think the chocolate is exceptionally well balanced. It’s hot (at least to me) but not uncomfortably so.
The woodsy notes have a definite tangy bent to them, like smoked peppers that have been re-hydrated there’s a bit of a spicy raisin feel. The cinnamon notes are also quite apparent. The bite of the chocolate is quite firm, there’s a distinct snap, but it is hard to just bite right into this thick skull.
The chocolate flavors aren’t overwhelmed by all of this, which is refreshing compared to some flavored bars. I felt that it was a good blend of flavors and intensity. The spices themselves lent a little grain to the chocolate which reminded me of the traditional stone ground Mexican hot chocolate I’ve had. I found the salt reservoir of the eye sockets to be far to intense and I felt really creepy digging out the salt from the second one.
This Skull was different from the Vosges bar, the Blanca is just high quality white chocolate, featuring 36% cocoa butter. (Catch me on a good day and I’m also about one third cocoa butter.)
The scent is rather odd, a little milky but not as sugary sweet smelling as some others and lacking a vanilla pop that I’ve had from Green & Blacks White.
The texture is a bit softer than the dark chocolate. It’s not quite as silky smooth, but still quite fatty with a good melt. The milky and dairy flavors are rich and thick and a bit on the sticky side. The vanilla has a good presence but not so much that it takes the center stage here. The Black Hawaiian sea salt, in this instance, is a wonderful counterpoint to the sweetness.
Still, it’s hard to just eat straight white chocolate. I found it was a nice way to offset the lingering throat burn of the Red Fire chilies.
They are rather expensive. The set of three is $21 and individuals are sold for $8 each. At 2.2 ounces they’re more expensive than the bars ... which are also on the pricey side (3 ounces for $7.50). If you’re looking for a more upscale and dependably tasty hostess gift for The Day of the Dead, well this will do the trick nicely. Part of me wanted more packaging (the Easter bunnies get little boxes) but then again this is spare and does the job.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Every once in a while I wander into a Gelson’s grocery store. If you don’t have this small upscale market chain in your area, perhaps you have a similar one. Regular food you see everywhere, only more expensive, but then they also carry hard to find and superior items. They do have a good produce selection, but charge a premium.
What I find interesting about the store is the candy. They have Twizzlers and 3 Musketeers but they also tend to have an odd idea (or maybe perfectly appropriate for their customers) of what Halloween is like. Their trick or treat selection tends to be a little upscale.
One of the items in their area was not a trick or treat item, but just a Halloween themed one: Jelly Belly Deluxe Halloween Mix. I got a similar mix a few years back for Easter, but this one seemed a little different so it was definitely worth a try. (Even though it was $3.99 for a 9 ounce bag.)
The mix likely offers something for everyone. There are mellocreme items, a few jelly beans, crisped rice milk chocolate balls and some licorice dots.
There aren’t that many jelly beans in there. As far as I can tell, they’re lemon, licorice and orange. All are definitely favorites of mine, so we’re off to a good start.
The story goes that the Goelitz family was making Candy Corn sometime around 1900, one of the earliest candy corn makers (and they made a lot of other mellocremes, which they called Butter Creams). They might not have been first, but they’ve definitely be doing it uninterrupted for over 100 years.
The Candy Corn in this assortment is the big stuff. It’s basically an equilateral triangle, but the tip is just a bit pinched. (Yes, they look a little breast-like to me.) The texture is smooth and the flavor quite mellow. Not as salty or honey tasting as the Brach’s/Farley’s stuff. There is a slight butter note to it.
Mellocreme pumpkins are cute. They’re quite squat and about half the height of the Farley’s/Brach’s stuff, but with a much more pronounced stem. They’re quite firm, but still have a smooth and not-quite-grainy texture. The flavor was surprising. It’s supposed to be orange, but it was just horribly bitter to me. I can’t fathom why, as they’re not that intensely colored, but I ate them several times over a week and each time they were just so bitter to me that I couldn’t finish a whole one.
The yellow ears of corn are the cutest of the bunch. Long and narrow, they’re a pretty big punch of pure sugar. The design on them isn’t very well defined so they didn’t photograph well. The flavor is lemon. It’s sweet and more of the floral lemon, now the tangy or zesty kind. Far too sweet for me.
To break up all that sweetness, I indulged in some of the foil wrapped chocolates.
The odd thing about the package was its vagueness. There was no inventory of the stuff inside. The ingredients were just a huge messy listing of all the ingredients of each element in one list (which I think is a huge disservice to customers).
I was careful to pick a bag that had a lot of the foiled chocolates, so I wasn’t disappointed here.
The balls are small and are the perfect single bite of milk chocolate with crisped rice. I wouldn’t call them the perfect milk chocolate and crisped rice though. It was sweet, perhaps a little waxy. The texture of the chocolate wasn’t quite creamy enough for me, but at least wasn’t grainy. Compared to the other items though, they were far from sweet. So at least they were a little counterpoint.
I wasn’t sure what these would be (again, no inventory), but I recall seeing these in the Licorice Bridge Mix years ago.
The flavor of the licorice is a little different from the Licorice Jelly Belly. It has more anise and a less watery flavor.
The issue for me again though was the bitterness of the artificial color from the nonpareil coating.
It’s a fun mix that everyone should find something in it they like. I found that there was too much I didn’t like for the price though. Jelly Belly also makes a Fall Festival Mix, which is all flavored mellocremes in different shapes. They also make three different flavors of the giant candy corn: traditional, chocolate and cinnamon.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Grave Grabbers from Flix Candy are billed as a handful of fruit flavored gummy! and they certainly do deliver on both the hand and the gummy part.
Maybe it’s that they’re not shaped like something I would normally want to eat. Maybe it’s that they’re made in China. Or maybe it’s that I have such a low appetite for flesh.
They come in three flavors, and each one is individually and uniquely designed. Each piece is 1.94 ounces, and though not as large as an adult’s hand (they’re only about 4.5 inches long), they’re still impressive to handle.
Green Apple is the left hand (hah-hah, the others are right hands!) in a dark green with black fingernails and knobbly knuckles. It also has a lightly textured skin that looks a bit like a lizard’s or snake’s. The gummy texture is soft, but not too soft and sticky that it makes a greasy mess when you play with the candy. The flavor is rather mild but an actual pleasant green apple flavor. Almost realistic with some apple juice notes.
Strawberry is the skeletal one in the center. It’s a light and creamy white with gray cartilage. The fingers are longer than the others, but the palm is also less fleshy. (And the attachment of the thumb makes me think this is chimpanzee hand or foot more than a human hand.) It’s a very mild strawberry flavor. A little light tangyness but it’s mostly the florally & berry fruity that we’re accustomed to.
Blue Raspberry is a strange thing to call this, since there are no blue raspberries, they’re just a made up flavor and this isn’t even a blue colored candy. Instead it’s more of a zombie hand, sinew & open flesh, even some bones and gory bloody bits showing. The flavor was pretty unremarkable. I lost the package for this one and had to muck around on the internet until I found someone else mention with a picture.
They’re obviously too expensive for Trick or Treat, with a recommended retail of $1.25 (though you may find them cheaper). They’re a fun candy for kids to play with or to use as a decoration for a Halloween spread. The one odd impulse I have with this is to smack someone on the face with them a la a glove for a good old fashioned challenge. Luckily I’m alone in a hotel room today and there’s no one to do that to.
Flix also makes giant insect versions in similar flavors (though bolder colors). I think they’re far more inventive & creative than some of the other Flix items I’ve had, though still nothing that appeals to me.
Monday, October 19, 2009
There are dozens of new version that are flavored, but by far the most popular and best selling is the classic stuff that comes in the Harvest Mix of mellocreme items.
Farley’s is an old company, making candy under the Farley’s name since 1891. They’ve distinguished themselves by making a huge variety of generic and popular candies such as gumdrops, candy coated peanuts and hard candies. In 1996 Farley Candy Company merged with Sathers Candy Company, a company with a strong distribution arm to become Favorite Brands International. In 1999, Nabisco bought up Favorite Brands and then within a year Kraft Foods purchased Nabisco. Then in 2002 Kraft Foods sold off Farley’s Candy Company and Sathers Candy Company which became Farley’s & Sathers Candy Company, Inc. Since then Farley’s and Sathers has swallowed up a few other candy companies, most recently Brach’s in 2007. Other brands include the classic Fruit Stripe Gum, Heide, Now and Later, Trolli Gummis, Super Bubble and Bob’s.
I found this Farley’s Harvest Mix at the Dollar Tree. The Harvest Mix (or Autumn Mix) is usually a combination of Candy Corn, Indian Corn and Mellocreme Pumpkins. This is no different. I found the bag a little odd. It’s a pretty big bag, and I think that 9 ounces for a buck is a good value, but the bar seemed barely half full.
Farley’s Candy Corn is made in Mexico, as is Brach’s ... which as I mentioned earlier (if you didn’t skip that paragraph) is now owned by Farley’s & Sathers, so I have to wonder if it’s just the same stuff. Both are made with honey and both contain gelatin (most other brands of fondant type candies are made with egg whites).
They look very much the same (well, most candy corn looks the same). I wouldn’t call the attention to detail fantastic, some were smudgy at the margins of the colors, others were of course shortened two color or one color versions. But the general flavor of them was a smooth and sweet dissolve. The texture is only slightly grainy and satisfyingly dense with a light moisture to it to keep it from being completely crumbly.
The honey note is noticeable as is a little hint of salt, which keeps the sweetness in check.
Instead of three color stripes, there are only two here. A deep brown base and an orange top.
The brown base has a light cocoa flavor but the orange top seems less like the traditional candy corn. It doesn’t have that little bit of salt or honey flavor. It’s just bland and sweet. There’s not enough of the cocoa to balance out all that sweetness, so this Indian Corn, though it has a nice texture, is just too sweet.
I also got a little bit of a bitter aftertaste from it, which I suspected was from the food coloring. (More orange means more Red #40.)
The green stem and deep creases give them a nicely stylized look of real pumpkins. (If real pumpkins were smaller than your thumb and had flat bottoms.)
Like most other Mellocremes, these are just a dense sugar fondant. The flavor isn’t as pronounced or salty as the corn, so it’s all sugar. The texture is extra smooth, as the centers are quite soft.
But the sweet is simply too electric for me. It shoots bolts straight through my teeth and into my brain, leaving me feeling weary and abused after eating a half. There’s also the orange aftertaste, a lingering metallic note.
UPDATE: I talked to a representative at Farley’s & Sathers who confirmed that the Farley’s Candy Corn & mixes are now the same as the Brach’s. (They kept the Brach’s recipe.) So there you go ... I just re-reviewed the same product.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Just Born announced some new mixes of their classic Mike and Ike jelly rods for different seasons. The first one on the calendar is the Autumn Medley which features four flavors in a fall color array.
The package, at first glance, looks like the Tangy Twister, but on closer inspection has some pumpkins on it and a little scarecrow. It also has a little pile of fruit to represent the flavors inside. They’re Strawberry, Orange, Lemon and Cherry. If you picked up a regular bag of Mike and Ike you’d get five flavors, four of which are in this mix. The only one missing is Lime. So if you’ve always wanted a lime-free Mike and Ike mix, this is your product.
Instead of a box that can let the jelly rods get stale, this sealed plastic wrapper keeps them fresh. If you’ve never had Mike and Ike, they’re basically jelly beans. Rod shaped jelly beans that are available year round in mixes of fruit flavors (except for Jolly Joes which are all grape).
My positive experiences with Mike and Ike up to this point have been with their more intensely flavored products like the Tangy Twister and the spice-flavored Hot Tamales and Jelly Beans. I know I’ve had the regular Mike and Ike before, but never thought much of them so I’ve kind of ignored them.
Cherry - It’s easy to spot the dark red rods in the batch. They taste pretty much like they look, a jelly version of a Black Cherry LifeSaver but without the satisfying tangy counterpoint to the woodsy medicinal flavors. So they come off as non-medicated Sucrets to me.
Strawberry - The lighter red rods are supposed to be Strawberry, but there’s very little here. There’s absolutely no tartness, just a sweet and slightly floral flavor. All I can say is it didn’t taste artificial to me ... it just lacked any taste at all. Not that I didn’t enjoy the blandness.
Orange - This one has a little sour note at the start in the grainy shell, but the flavor dissipates to just sweet jelly with a touch of orange oil. They’re actually quite nice, the zest is not too strong and the texture is rather like the classic Orange Slice jellies.
Lemon - I’m always up for a lemon candy, it’s hard for me to name a yellow candy I don’t like. Oddly enough, the lemon was not as tart a the orange, which is disappointing, because I know Mike and Ike can do a nice lemon because they made a whole product called Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
What I think would be a fun are real harvest inspired flavors: things like Mulled Apple Cider, Baked Caramel Pear, Cranberry Orange and White Grape. But as a simple repackage based on colors, I guess they’re fine for folks who like the classic Mike and Ike.
There will be a version for Christmas that will be styled in green & red and a version for Valentine’s Day in pinks & purples.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
The Russell Stover Dark Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Pumpkin is what it says. A marshmallow in the shape of a pumpkin covered in a thin shell of semi-sweet chocolate.
The wrapper follows the same design, a stylized colored pumpkin drawing ... this one features a darker background from the milk chocolate version. It’s also smaller than they used to be. My 2006 review showed them at 1.25 ounces, but as sugar & chocolate prices go up, either the candy increases in price or gets smaller.
It’s a big, rather flat and vaguely pumpkin shaped piece. About 2.5 inches across at the widest. Even though they’re just wrapped in a little mylar sleeve, they seem to take traveling pretty well. This one only has a crack from me trying to get it to sit upright for the first picture, not anything that happened in transit or at the store.
Breaking it in half is not advised. This is a candy that’s best bitten & eaten in one sitting. The marshmallow is soft, moist and bouncy. It has a good pull, it almost looks like caramel or latex when I tried to pull it apart. The flavor is only the lightest vanilla, it’s mostly about the fluffy texture and sweet melt. The dark chocolate is decent. The sticky marshmallow keeps it from flaking off, even when it cracks. It also keeps the whole thing from tasting too cloyingly sweet.
I definitely prefer them over the standard milk variety and hope they do the Marshmallow Rabbits in a dark version next year.
For those watching their calories, this is a nice, spare treat. It’s only 110 calories but feels rather filling. (Of course as a marshmallow product it contains gelatin. They’re not Kosher and are made on shared machinery with peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and wheat.)
Other traditional Russell Stover Easter treats are now restyled for Halloween. So if you can’t wait until spring you can get Solid Milk Chocolate Pumpkins, Sugar Free Marshmallow Pumpkins, Caramel Pumpkins, Milk Chocolate Marshmallow Pumpkins, Coconut Cream Pumpkins, Strawberry Cream Pumpkins, Orange Marshmallow Pumpkins, Coconut Buzzard Nest, Strawberry Cream Buzzard Egg, Vanilla & Chocolate Creme Buzzard Egg, Marshmallow & Caramel Creme Buzzard Egg, Peanut Butter Ghosts, Marshmallow Ghosts and Coconut Ghosts.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I went back to Target over the weekend in hopes of finding more new Halloween goodies. Though it was mostly the same items I found there two weeks ago, the seemed to have a bit more in the way of their Gourmet Candy Corn line.
They have a lot of funny flavors that seem incongruous with candy corn like Tangerine, Green Apple (plus Chocolate Covered Green Apple), Toffee (which I already reviewed) and S’Mores. However, Pumpkin Pie sounded pretty good.
It’s in the same style of stand up black shiny bag that the other gourmet treats were in. They’re all terribly overpriced, but the packaging is nice enough that you could probably bring a bag as a hostess gift for the right occasion.
I found the colors off-putting. The tip is soft orange, the center is bright yellow but the base is some unworldly fluorescent orange that just makes me think of faded vinyl tub toys. I really couldn’t capture the color in the photo.
The bag smells sweet and creamy when opened.
The texture is soft and has very little grain to it. They’re sweet and lack that touch of honey that true candy corn usually puts forward. The pumpkin pie here is just a light blend of spices. Cinnamon is the boldest, but it doesn’t rise to the level of spicy or hot cinnamon. There’s a slight twinge of woodsy nutmeg or allspice ... but that’s pretty much it.
I was disappointed. I hoped for some more nutmeg or even a note of clove but instead it was about as bland as generic canned pumpkin pie mix. I think I’m done tasting novelty candy corn, at least when the price is $2.99 per flavor. So if you’ve tried some of the others, chime in with your experience to help out other readers.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.