Hard Candy & Lollipops
Friday, October 10, 2014
There probably isn’t a store as pumpkinfused as Trader Joe’s around this time of year. They have a mix of actual pumpkin items and some that are just utilizing the pumpkin spice array. Happily here’s a new candy from Trader Joe’s that has a little of both: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Seed Brittle Dusted with Sugar and Pumpkin Pie Spice. See, it’s not pumpkin flesh that’s in there, it’s the pumpkin seeds.
The quaint box holds a simple plastic bag filled with a stack of roughly broken brittle pieces. The picture on the box does represent the contents well.
What I found most alluring was that this list of ingredients actually said which pumpkin pie spices they were using: cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom. (I find it interesting that cloves is plural.)
The smell of the brittle is dominated by cinnamon, but there’s a sugary, buttery component as well. The pieces vary in size, some as big as three inches long, others are just little shards. They’re coated in mostly-sugar dusting of spices. There are pumpkin seeds embedded in there, but not as many as I would have liked, it’s mostly candy.
The bite is easy, as the pieces are pretty thin. The sugar gets everywhere, though it does a good job of sticking to the brittle as well. The effect of the whole thing, probably because of the easy crunch and sanding is more like a cookie. It’s crunchy and sweet, with a nice balance of textures between the smooth toffee-like brittle (which contains dairy ingredients) and the chewy seeds and grainy sugar. The pumpkin spices are balanced, though it smells like cinnamon, the more nutty and woodsy flavors of the nutmeg and cardamom come through along with a light warmth from the ginger and cinnamon. The lemon keeps it all bright.
It’s simple to enjoy a piece, and it goes well with some nice strong coffee or a cup of tea, just like a cookie would. I would still like more pepitas in there.
The candy contains dairy, corn and wheat ingredients and may also contain traces of peanuts, pecans, almonds, cashews and coconut.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
The Jolly Rancher Caramel Apple Crunch ‘n Chew is available in large lay down bags and even this little individual portion size. The individually wrapped candies are quite different from the traditional Jolly Rancher hard candies.
In this case the candy features a hard candy shell in two flavors, caramel and apple. Then there’s a soft chewy filling in a caramel flavor.
Crunch ‘n Chew were introduced in 2012 and come in the standard Jolly Rancher flavors (green apple, blue raspberry, watermelon and cherry). As I noted in my original review, they’re interesting but lack some of the great features I love about Jolly Rancher hard candies, which is the smooth dissolve without any voids and the light pliability of the candy as it melts. All that Jolly Rancher brings to the table here is the name recognition that basically invented the green apple flavor.
The image on the front of the package isn’t quite accurate (it’s also enlarged to show detail). It shows that the candy filling is a large portion of the mass of the candy, and that the caramel and apple portions are equal. Cleaving a piece in half showed that the caramel is actually a thin layer on top of the apple (which is fine, really, because that’s the way actual caramel apples are), but it’s the relatively small amount of chewy filling that’s revealed here.
The brown layer is polite and has a sweet brown sugar flavor. The green part is green apple, which is tart and artificial and mostly tasty. The crunch takes a little while. I don’t feel confident crunching right away, I usually let the candy dissolve for about 30 seconds. The filling is quite stiff and hard to chew, though the work is worth it. The center isn’t really much, it’s sweet and has a note of butter flavor to it. But the combination of all the elements chewed together is, well, impressively original.
It’s probably not a candy I would buy in the large 10 ounce bag, but this little 1.55 ounces was fun and I’ll probably finish the bag. Of the three candies I’ve tried now: the classic flavor Crunch ‘n Chew, the Caramel Apple Lollipop and these Caramel Apple Crunch ‘n Chew, I think these are by far the most successful.
Like the Caramel Apple Lollipops, these contain no dairy ingredients, so they may be a good option for someone who wants a caramel experience but is lactose intolerant. (There’s no actual allergen statement though, so check with Hershey’s if you have any allergy issues.) The candy also contains soy and gelatin (so it’s not vegetarian). They’re made in Brazil.
Monday, September 22, 2014
See’s Candies is a classic American confectionery company that makes good quality chocolates. They’re sold almost exclusively at See’s Candies stores, which are mostly found in malls, and mostly in the Western US but they’re also available online and from the occasional educational fundraiser.
Though See’s is known for their chocolates they also make a unique line of lollipops that are like a hard caramel on a stick. Over the past five years they’ve created seasonal varieties with more trendy flavors like Pumpkin Spice and Orange Creme. I wasn’t at all surprised to see the announcement that in additional to their Pumpkin Spice and Orange Chocolate this fall, they were also bringing out See’s Caramel Apple Lollypops.
Their pops are available singly at the stores or in bags of 8 online. If you’ve never had a See’s lollypop, they’re about 3/4 of an ounce block of hard caramel with a stick. The shape is blocky, about 1 inch wide and 1.5 inches tall.
It smells like apples, not the green apples of Jolly Rancher, but more like apple cider.
The flavor is immediately caramel and a little dash of salt with a note of apple peels. There’s no tartness, no tang; the apple flavor is less of a caramel covered apple and more like an apple pie with caramel sauce. The wonderful part of these lollies is that the dissolve is so smooth and it feels a lot more filling that its 70 calories might have you believe.
I enjoyed them quite bit. The items that detracted are the same problems I always have. The paper stick gets soggy and more often than not, the caramel block comes off the stick while the piece is really too big to hold comfortably in my mouth. Often there is a series of holes within the candy running its length which makes sucking on the pop problematic because it’s more like a straw where you suck in air than speed up the dissolve of the candy. See’s makes mini versions of their classic flavors, but not of the seasonal, limited edition ones.
Friday, September 19, 2014
To backtrack a little bit, this category of candy is called Compressed Dextrose. Dextrose is just a fancy way of saying sugar, but not the regular table sugar we’re used to, which is sucrose. Dextrose is the dry form of glucose, the same stuff in corn syrup. Dextrose is the basis of a lot of compressed tablet candies, like SweeTarts, Spree and Runts as well as Smarties.
Glucose so bio-available that you can absorb it into your bloodstream sublingually. Many parents use Smarties as emergency glucose tablets because they’re readily available, easy to portion, inexpensive and not hard to get a child to eat. I’m quite fond of Smarties, but that straight glucose often goes straight to my bloodstream and the subsequent crash means I rarely buy a whole bag. The Double Lollies are preferable conceptually, then, because they’re only 8 grams each. Since they’re usually sold by the piece and more expensive than the rolls, this naturally limits my indulgence.
The regular sized lolly has been around for years, though I can’t say for sure that I was always eating the Smarties brand. The Smarties Double Lolly is two flavors. Though they’re probably in several flavors, I could only find orange and yellow.
They’re chalky and dry, but have a pleasant citrus flavor overall. They’re tangy and grainy, dissolve quickly but leave a powdery mess if biting the small pop doesn’t go well. I don’t find sucking on it goes very well. The chalk is absorbent, and while that’s fine for hard candies, I don’t like seeing my lollipop now darkened and cooled by my spit. (Hence my biting usually.)
Interestingly the website for Smarties says that the Double Lolly is free of gluten (from wheat, barley, oats and rye), milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts or soybeans. However, it does not say that for the Mega Lolly.
I bought two of the Mega Lollies, one was lemon and orange and the other was orange and grape. The grape smelled floral and soapy. The pop itself is too big to comfortably fit in the mouth, so even if I were the type who liked to suck my regular Smarties lollies, the Mega just wasn’t going to work. It’s too dry, too awkward. Biting produced a mess of powder.
The odd part about the ingredients is the Calcium Stearate. It’s a flow agent and keeps the powder from caking. But the side benefit to this ingredient is that it contains large amounts calcium - a single Mega Lolly has 6% of your RDA.
Too big, too dry, not a good value and not enough control. The classic size doesn’t have most of those challenges, but I’ll stick to the rolls of Smarties tablets.
Friday, April 18, 2014
A classic item for wedding favors are little parcels of confetti. Confetti is a generic Italian term for panned candies such as Jordan almonds, coated nuts, mints and of course chocolate. Tradition is a little sachet of five pieces, symbolizing health, wealth, fertility, happiness and longevity for the couple and their guests.
Another style of presenting the panned sweets is to wrap the little pieces up and form them into flowers and other shapes. I’ve seen these for years, I remember seeing a display of them in New York City’s Little Italy in a deli by the counter. They were so pretty, I’m not sure I even understood that the petals were edible. This photos shows them made with Jordan almonds and tucked into crepe paper. I’ve seen them made with cellophane which can be clear or tinted as well as tule mesh, which can also be uncolored or tinted (but probably isn’t sanitary).
I picked up this little bouquet in London at Harrod’s in their Easter display. It was expensive for so little actual candy, £3.50 for about 15 little pieces (about $5.85 USD). It’s made by Confetti Pelino of Sulmona, Italy. They were established in 1783, in a region of Italy that’s well known for this traditional and painstaking method of confectionery.
This isn’t as much a review of the candy as it is a deconstruction of the assembly of the five stems of flowers.
The bouquet is held together by green floral tape and decorated with green crepe paper leaves of the same color. It’s pretty top heavy, as the candy petals are thick and will tip over the little bouquet when placed in a water glass or wine glass (so be careful if you’re playing with these at a wedding reception). Each little flower is on a stem of wire, held together with tape and string. Floral tape isn’t exactly sticky, so there’s no issue of excessive adhesive with these. It unravels quite easily.
Each little piece of candy is a small, circular disk covered in cellophane. The cellophane is twisted together, the pointed, twisted ends are then tied together with a bit of string, and then taped onto the wire stem.
The candy at the center of these isn’t a Jordan almond, just a little sugar disk. It’s kind of bland, and as far as I can tell, unflavored. It dissolves and tastes like, well, sugar.
As candy, it’s expensive and darned difficult to eat because of all the string and wire and tape and wrappers. As a favor or decoration is classically charming. There are a lot of different ways to achieve these with different colors of candy, different sizes, different tape and leaves or flower shapes. Harrod’s is a fine place to buy one bunch if you’re curious, but if you’re interested in using them as favors or centerpieces, do some research on which will suit you best.
Though chocolate candies could be used, I would advise folks to stick to centers that are more weather-tolerant. It’d be fun to make them with M&Ms or Reese’s Pieces, but I can’t imagine anything with a lot of oil in it would do well with the heat of being handled a lot or possibly sitting in the sun or a hot car. I looked around to find a tutorial for making these but didn’t have much luck (if you know of one, please leave a link in the comments). I can imagine that the same techniques could also be used to make candy wreaths, garlands and other styles of centerpieces.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
While most hard candy is considered “old people candy”, Jolly Rancher really sets itself apart as an intense sweet for all ages.
Most of us encounter Jolly Rancher candies as little twist wrapped pieces in a bowl. So when I saw this little rectangular pack at Target, I thought it was an interesting way to format the iconic candy. Jolly Rancher Strawberry and Green Apple Hard Candy has 1.2 ounces and 9 pieces inside. Each is wrapped in a piece of clear cellophane, easy to carry, easy to share and with just two flavors.
The pieces are different from what I’m accustomed to with Jolly Rancher candies. They’re not little rods, they’re squares. The ingredients are also slightly different. The original Jolly Rancher hard candies are not aerated, there are no bubbles in them and they’re ever so slightly soft, like some sort of viscous solid. The ingredients list corn syrup first, then sugar. In these little squares, it’s sugar first, then corn syrup. Looking at the candies, they’re not glassy transparent either, so it appears they’ve been aerated slightly.
I started with Green Apple, because that’s the iconic flavor that Jolly Rancher is known for. It’s a tough flavor, because part of its profile is its artificiality. It was definitely tangy and caustic at first, like some sort of chemical peel for my tongue. That faded quickly into the familiar acidic green apple flavor. What was most surprising was the crunch ... I could crunch it. Because the pieces are small, you can crunch away immediately and there’s not tooth-cement issue. Still, the artificial flavor has a sort of of “sour but maybe bitter and salty at the same time” flavor going that was not as good as I recall the truly authentic version having.
Strawberry is quite tart at the beginning and reminded me immediately of sorbet (which often has an extra little pop of lemon juice in it). The flavor is bold and pretty well rounded and only has a slight note of metallic artificiality to it. It’s fresh tasting, overall. I like the crunchy, it’s not too much candy.
My roll had three Green Apple pieces and the rest were Strawberry, so the flavors are not evenly distributed. (Lifesavers always had an order to them, though you might not get a roll that started with the same flavor, they always went in the same progression once you started.) The way the package is made, you have to tear the outer wrapper to get to the inner pieces ... they seem to be glued in there.
I felt these were missing one of the key attributes of Jolly Rancher hard candies, the smooth, syrupy dissolve. Without that, the flavor was just passable, nothing terribly exciting. I might feel differently if they had the Fire Stix in this format, as there really is no other cinnamon hard candy roll out there (since Reed’s disappeared), even if they don’t have the same texture as regular Jolly Rancher. But they’re not a great value and difficult to unwrap.
These are made in Mexico. There’s no nutritional information on the wrapper and nothing, at this time, on the Hershey’s webpage for Jolly Rancher that lists it for this particular version of the product. There is also no statement about allergens, but does contain soy.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
The dill pickle is a favorite flavor in the United States. It goes beyond the brined cucumber and has made its way into potato chips, vodka, peanuts, and even toothpaste. It’s a small wonder we haven’t seen more pickled candies.
The folks at Barrels of Yum have created a unique array of hard candies shaped like barrels, but I thought I’d start with their Dilly Dally Candy since it’s their unique offering.
Their barrel shaped dill pickle pieces bring the flavors of dill, vinegar, salt, garlic and tarragon to hard candy.
They’re bright green, like that weird paste I get from the Indian restaurant that I can’t eat because it’s so green. I’m not a pickle adverse person, as a kid I was a huge fan both of the store bought versions and the kind my grandmother made with the gherkins she grew in her own yard.
The first flavor is sweetness, like a sweet pickle, which I actually don’t care for. But after there’s a strong and pleasant herbal dill note along with a weird sort of garlic flavor. The tartness that emulates vinegar comes in slowly. Overall, it’s a good likeness of a pickle in dissolvable form. I would have liked a little less sweet, which I understand is hard to do with candy, but perhaps a dash of salt. Mostly, it lacks the texture, that crunch, the coldness from the fridge that are elements I enjoy in my pickle. My mouth never quite watered during the experience like it does with some good, refrigerator-cold, fresh pickles.
As a novelty, especially if you’re theming a party, these are definitely unique, but not something I’d eat every day.
It really is time that hard candy got some upgrades, the new variety was created with David Klein, the fellow of brought us the idea of really great tasting jelly beans with the Jelly Belly.
The variety contains eight different flavors, though oddly enough, not the classic barrel candy root beer. They include: blueberry crumble, peach cobbler, apple pie, chai tea, sour watermelon, hot cinnamon, orange cream, and granny smith green apple.
They’re kosher and made in the USA, unlike a lot of hard candies these days. They’re for sale on Amazon, but at $5.99 they’re a little steep. They’re made with a combination of natural and artificial flavors. The colors are bright, though it’s a little hard to tell some of the apart at first glance, as the peach and orange are similar as are the two browns.
Apple Pie is the light brown color. It’s very apple, with a lot of tartness to it and a good flavor balance that has some cinnamon and something like graham or that emulates crust very well. The apple flavor is good enough that it almost taste like they didn’t peel the apples.
Granny Smith Green Apple is just a little darker in color than the Dilly Dally, not that they’re included in the same package. It starts out rather sedate but then develops. It’s not Jolly Rancher apple, this is a lot more full bodied with more of the apple juice flavors than that artificial note that many American apple candies have. If you gave this to me without saying where it came from, I would guess it was Japanese, as they have a much better approximation of true apple flavor in candy than we do.
Blueberry Crumble is over-blued ... it made my tongue blue and as an adult, it’s not really a feeling I care for. The flavor is good, a well rounded sweetness with a light tart bite of boiled berries with a sort of vanilla top note. It didn’t quite differentiate itself as actual blueberry, more of a generic berry flavor.
Orange Cream is the lightest orange didn’t really make any sense to me conceptually but it was well executed. Two of my favorite qualities of citrus are the acidic bite and the zesty balsamic note. Neither of those show up in this piece, as it’s all about the soft orange flavor without the zing of the peel or the juice. So what’s left? It’s like a creamsicle, sweet and mild with a very good creamy mouthfeel, though there’s absolutely no dairy in it.
Peach Cobbler is a medium orange color and rather weak. It was tangy but didn’t have that dough element like the crumble did. It was just odd, not peachy. I thought this was a miss.
Sour Watermelon was hot pink and definitely reminded me of Jolly Rancher. The flavor was very sweet at first, like a ripe but uninteresting watermelon, but then the sour pops up as you get further in. It’s not puckery, but has a believable quality to it.
Chai Tea is warm with immediate cinnamon notes. The other spices are quite mild and comforting, perhaps a little nutmeg and ginger. It’s not as strong as I could have liked, but the flavor is continuous instead of getting weak as the candy dissolves.
Hot Cinnamon was saved for last, in case it burned me out. It starts out with a good mix of the powdery woody flavor but then goes right into the searing heat of the cinnamon oil. It reminded me of Atomic Fireballs, except there’s no layering to grant relief after a few minutes. I had a little metallic hit from the artificial colors, I would have preferred colorings on these that didn’t interfere with the intense flavors.
Overall, the barrels fill a niche for interesting flavors in hard candy. I found the pieces just slightly large for my preference. Though the barrel shape is fun, I do prefer a disk as I think that fits better in the mouth. This particular flavor assortment didn’t fit my tastes perfectly, only about half are flavors I’d pick out of the mix. I am looking forward to what they do with Root Beer, as I would love to find a really intense, spicy root beer hard candy.
Monday, February 3, 2014
The pieces are small compressed dextrose centers with some layers of hard sugar on top with some extra flavors in there. Classic Gobstoppers had many layers and flavors, but Wonka doesn’t make those any longer because they can take weeks to create from a center the size of a sesame seed. So they use a large SweeTart type candy at the center and the coating changes flavors only a handful of times.
A lot of candies get revamped over time. As I’ve heard unofficial from a Wonka insider, the classic SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies changed size & shape because the original equipment broke and since it was used only for that product line, they decided to reformat the molds to be more consistent with the Valentine’s and Christmas shapes.
The Everlasting Gobstopper HeartBreakers shifted colors in the newly available version for 2014. It’s not a drastic change, but a small tweak.
Cherry is mellow, with a sweet cherry flavor. After the top layer dissolves away, the coating is yellow. It doesn’t take much then it’s crunchable and I can get to the SweeTart-style center. The interior flavor is pretty neutral.
Watermelon is sweet and fresh, a little unexpected for this type of candy. After the initial layer dissolves, the layer under that is also a medium pink. The center is lightly tangy, but not overly sour. The layer under the watermelon-pink is also watermelon-pink.
Pineapple is delicate and light. It’s only slightly floral and fruity, but not tart bite. After the flavor dissolves away, the next layer is yellow. It’s smooth and cool on the tongue.
The classic HeartBreakers (above) were more vividly colored, with yellow and magenta instead of white and pink. While I miss the original colors and really don’t care much for the watermelon, I still love these. The limited palette is still attractive. I’m hoping the Easter version will also be back.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.