Hard Candy & Lollipops
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Since starting Candy Blog my consumption of ice cream has decreased to nearly nothing. Two reasons: I simply can’t afford the calories given my candy habits and as I get older I’m less and less lactose tolerant (which really takes the enjoyment out of it). That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss it. One of the things I miss is the texture; the other is the flavor combinations. Mint chocolate chip just doesn’t work in the same way in any other format than ice cream.
Baskin-Robbins has a line of ice cream themed candies. I tried the chewy candies a few years ago and decided that they were not for me. But I did see these hard candies at the 99 Cent Only Store. Baskin-Robbins Smooth & Creamy Hard Candy. I decided to try the Pralines ‘n Cream because it sounded like a flavor that could be made into a hard candy well. The ingredients looked pretty good too: sugar, corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk, salt, natural & artificial flavors, soy lecithin, honey and soybean oil.
The candies are individually wrapped and well marked (in case you buy several varieties and want to mix them in a bowl). Each piece was a combination of two colors, a light milky caramel color and a darker toffee color. They smell sweet, toasty and rather like walking into an actual Baskin-Robbins.
The texture isn’t quite silky smooth, but they’re still quite slick. I prefer to crunch mine and these have a nice cleave to them (though some could also be tough and chewy - that could be that I left them in my car and it got a little hot). The flavor has a good blend of caramelized sugar notes, butterscotch pudding and a liberal dose of salt. They’re quite sweet, but so is Pralines ‘n Cream Ice Cream. I ate most of the bag in one sitting, so after three or four it got a bit throat searing - that’s a lot of sugar.
I was pretty pleased with these. They’re a little different from something like a Werther’s, more milky. The price was pretty good, too. I know the bag only had 3.5 ounces for a dollar, but that’s a decent deal for a very dairy laden candy. I don’t know why the package says “Value Size”, as I don’t know what other package sizes and price points are available. Usually value sizes are large ... I considered this two servings. (Though the package seems to think three is a serving.)
Each piece has 20 calories. They’re not really low calorie candies, just small. At 121 calories per ounce, there’s a fair amount of fat in there for a sugar candy, about 2 grams per ounce.
The hard candies also come in Very Berry Strawberry and Mint Chocolate Chip. I have my doubts about the success of those flavors in this format, so I’ll probably just quite while I’m ahead.
Friday, August 27, 2010
While in Illinois last month I visited Caputo’s Market, which boasts a huge selection of candies from all over the world. I tried some Polish candies and also picked up a few mixes of Italian candies from Cedrinca. I’m familiar with the brand as I’ve tasted a few of their mints and fruit candies at Italian restraurants when a handful is usually presented with the bill at the end of the meal. (Usually an Eastern US thing, on the West Coast they just have a bowl by the door.)
Caputo’s had a great selection of Cedrinca but I opted for a mix so I could get to know more of their items. This version is called Gran Mix and says Caramelle ripiene assortite which I took to mean assorted filled candies. And that turned out to be exactly what these are!
Cedrinca boasts that these are all natural candies, no artificial colors, flavors, additives or preservatives. Each candy was also individually wrapped and most were labeled to show what was inside.
The majority of the mix was a mix of little rod shaped candies. Most were marked on the wrapper what they were.
The first notable one was Menta Ripeno Al Cacao which were a light mint hard candy filled with a chocolate paste. I’ve had a lot of experience with those disappointing starlight mints with the chocolate (why would you finish an excellent meal with a piece of candy like that?) and this was nothing like that. The chocolate filling was a like a fantastic chocolate buttercream. It tasted fresh and creamy and like real cocoa.
Mandorlatte looked the same but was crunchy delight with almonds and milk. It was fascinating, like vanilla pudding distilled into a hard candy. The crunch was almost like the center of a Butterfinger bar, the flavor was sweet and milky but with a hint of lemon and almond. Some had a slightly soft creamy reservoir, others were just the crispy stuff. Either way, I loved them. Fascinating and like nothing else, so of course I pulled those out of the mix to save for later.
The colorful metallic wrappers with the gold swirls on them were fruity, Bonbon Fourre. The outside was softer than the other candies, it was a hard candy but still a little bit on the mushy side. Crunchy into them to get to the jam center was easy. Savored in layers, it was okay, but I preferred to chew the whole thing up to mix the stiff chew of the candy outside with the tart fruity goo inside. They were supposed to be different flavors, but I never really noticed much of a difference. They were all perfectly pleasant but not intense or distinct.
I don’t know what fruit they were supposed to be. These weren’t labeled, just color coded.
Caramella (peach wrapper) - a light, rather white large filled hard candy. It looked like the one above, but completely uncolored. The hard candy shell was lightly tart and vaguely fruity. The gooey jam filling was nondescript. It wasn’t citrus, perhaps it was peach. Tangy, very sweet but not very flavorful. I got another one that was in a purple wrapper that was also simply marked Caramella. It looked just the same (no artificial colors here, in fact, I don’t think they used any colorings on the candies themselves). The filling was a light yellow color and reminded me of red currant.
Espresso this was the variety of this format that I got the most of. The candy shell was the darkest of the three though it didn’t smell like anything at all.
Inside the candy was a thick coffee tar. It was a lightly grainy paste that tasted just like the sludge at the bottom of a coffee pot left on the warmer over the weekend. Yes, it was bitter and a little sweet, but also a bit burnt like charcoal. It was a curious candy, because it didn’t really please me, yet I kept eating them.
Cappuccino - the candy shell was crisper and had an excellent crunch. The candy shells was lightly coffee flavored, but mostly sweet. The filling was very interesting, it was a frothy sweet, slightly salty cream with little shards of bitter coffee hard candy. The combination of textures is fun and the light coffee flavor did give me the impression of a cappuccino with lots of sugar in it.
I’m a huge fan of assortments like this. It’s a great way to sample the whole line of products and narrow in on what you like before taking the leap of a full bag. The price is a little steep for sugar candy, but the fact that they’re all natural and that many were unique help to offset that. It’s a low-risk/medium-reward purchase. I think if I were to buy them again, I’d focus in on the Mandorlatte and Cappuccino. (Both were available at Caputo’s as single flavor packages.) I picked up a chocolate variety too, called Puccini that I’m still working my way through.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Ah, Mandy’s Old Fashioned Confections. Just look at that charming packaging, how it speaks of artisans stirring a copper kettle of gooey butterscotch with a wooden paddle. Why, I can just picture Mandy herself swooping in to affirm that the mixture was cooked to perfection before it’s dumped onto a generations-old marble slab to cool.
In reality Mandy’s is distributed by ASA Foods, a 16 year old Southern California importer. They also make candy under the brand Fusion Gourmet, their best known candies are the Bali’s Best Coffee and Tea candies. All of their candy (as far as I know) is made in Indonesia ... a place that certainly knows about coffee.
While I may make fun it, the packaging is nice. The Butterscotch Flavored Hard Candy was nicely priced; I picked up this package for a dollar at the 99 Cent Only Store. It says it has 40 individually wrapped pieces and weighs 5 ounces. The ingredients are decent too:
Each piece is individually wrapped. Sealed tight. Yup, no moisture getting in there. They’re a little tricky to get open, but having spent some time in high humidity areas recently I can appreciate how that would make these even more appealing.
The candies are cute little disks, they’re just shy of one inch around (about the size of a quarter). They’re smooth and have a satisfying clink when dropped on a hard surface (and an unsatisfying tendency to split into a bajillion pieces when dropped on a hard surface). The package calls them Rich, Creamy and Buttery and I’m inclined to agree. They are wonderfully smooth. The melt is slow and silky, though not sticky. The butter flavor is good, though artificially flavored it doesn’t taste like microwave popcorn. There’s a light note of salt and a milky background to it. They’re like little toffee pieces, easy to crunch. Far to easy to crunch. That’s the way I was eating them, just crunching them up. Sometimes they’d get stuck in my teeth a little bit.
The second flavor I found for Mandy’s Old Fashioned Confections was the Caramel Flavored Hard Candy. This package is largely identical to the Butterscotch. This one describes the candy as Rich, Smooth and Creamy and uses browns as the predominant background color.
The description on the back of the package also says that Mandy’s makes an Orange Soda variety.
The package depicts the candies as dark brown in color, like coffee and cream. But the reality is not quite that way (though really not disappointing either). I put the caramel and butterscotch ones next to each other. See if you can tell the difference:
I don’t remember which is which. The ingredients are pretty much the same, too:
Again, it’s ultra smooth. The lightly salty hard caramel is very satisfying, especially when I crunched them up.
Though the flavorings are supposed to be different, they really don’t taste much different. Buttery smooth, salty, slick and satisfying.
I enjoyed both quite a bit, especially as it’s extraordinary hot this week, I get to enjoy a creamy treat that can take the heat. They’re a good deal, a really nicely sized piece and don’t have artificial colors in them.
There’s no statement about gluten or nuts on the package. They’re not Kosher (nor Halal). The freshness date was “best by May 2012.” They’re pretty diet friendly - even though they have 125 calories per ounce (about the same as toffee or caramel) the little pieces are only 4 grams each and 16 calories each.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Nut brittle has to be one of the simplest and heartiest candies. It’s just a boiled mixture of corn syrup and sugar binding some nuts together. I’m rather keen on nut brittles, but they’re often difficult to eat and portion. A bar format solves most of that.
The Old Dominion Peanut Bar keeps it simple. There are only four ingredients: Peanuts, Sugar, Corn Syrup and Salt. That’s it, no preservatives ... not even any butter or cream, so it’s good for vegans. It’s a huge bar as well, 2.25 ounces for only 80 cents or so. Since it’s mostly peanuts there’s a lot of protein in there - 10 grams. Of course nuts also come with some fat, 8 grams in this case, but the sugar is actually pretty low for candy coming in at 20 grams ... and while we’re at it, 4 grams of fiber.
Technically I don’t consider this bar to be a brittle. A nut brittle has a little baking soda in it that makes the candy part bubble a little bit to create a foamy texture, easy crunch and lightly salty flavor. It’s different from a toffee coated nut as well, as toffee uses milk, butter and/or cream. So this is just a hard candy - a boiled sugar mixture that hardens and holds the nuts together while adding a sweet toasted sugar flavor.
As I’ve already mentioned, it’s dead simple. So the slab doesn’t necessarily look all that appealing. Unless you love peanuts. Then you’ll not only love the glossy abundance, but the wonderful fresh roasted scent.
The peanuts are also big. The crunch is very nutty, but the sugary coating has a nice toasted and salty flavor of its own. The fatty peanuts give it all a bit of a creamy toffee note even though there’s no dairy in there. The light color of the candy and nuts is a little deceptive, I though it’d be rather flavorless, but it’s quite deep. There’s a mix of the roasted notes of the peanuts which is sometimes grassy and sometimes quite dark like coffee. The bar is very filling. I honestly thought half of it was plenty for a little pick me up. While it tastes rather salty, it’s only 157 mg for the whole bar.
There are a few brands of these bars, the nationally distributed and easiest to find brands are the Mars Munch Bar (which has butter in it) and the Planters Peanut Bar. Since I found the Planters bar first, I thought I’d compare.
The Planters bar is 1.6 ounces and the same price at the Rite Aid. They’re distributed by Kraft, which now owns Planters nuts. The ingredients are a little more complex for a product where you get less: Peanuts, sugar, corn syrup, salt, peanut oil, TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness.
Aside from the size difference, they looked rather similar. The Planters bar had a bit more of a honey tone to the candy portion.
The taste of the Planters bar was a little more roasted and didn’t seem as fresh and crunchy as the Old Dominion. But it also had some darker toasted and charcoal notes that some folks might prefer.
The size difference and the fact that the Old Dominion doesn’t need any preservatives has me on their side for this one. The salt was more forward in the flavor profile, even though the salt concentration was similar. But in a pinch, I’d buy the Planters again.
These sort of nut bars are an excellent summer candy, they do well in the heat but still provide a powerful and satisfying mix of nuts with a sugary crunch and just the right hint of salt. They’re easy to carry around and even break up to share. They, however, don’t fare as well in damp conditions like high humidity unless consumed immediately.
So far I’ve been very pleased with the Old Dominion products I’ve been getting at the drug store. Very fresh and the fact that there are so few ingredients is actually refreshing.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Nestle is going full-tilt to reinvigorate their stagnant Wonka candy brand. Last year it was gummis (Sluggles, Puckerooms & Sploshberries), this year they revised their chocolate bar line under the new Wonka Exceptionals and now they’re introducing some new sugar candy items to the Exceptionals line. The first is called Fruit Marvels which are vaguely described on the packaging as hard candies with soft centers, delicately sugar dusted. They come in three flavors: White Grape, Pomegranate and Clementine Orange.
There are two formats for the packages. The first is the tins, which hold 1.9 ounces (14 pieces) and retail for $1.99. Though that’s a little expensive, there’s a second more cost effective option which is the 5 ounce box which retails for $2.99 (and you can refill the tin).
The box is imaginative and quite different from the holographic mylar/plastic of the chocolates. These stand up boxes come in two parts. There’s a tall tab top box with a dizzying purple/lavender design, over that is a sleeve. The sleeve is taped to the box and features little circular cut outs that reveal the patterned box underneath. Like the Wonka Exceptionals Chocolate Pieces, even the UPC code gets Wonka-fied.
Inside the box is another package, a long mylar pouch with the candy in it. They’re not marked for the individual flavor, as I discovered later on when I ditched the boxes and carried all three pouches around in a ziploc bag while I was tasting.
The front of the package states Made with Natural Ingredients* and then directs folks to read the list of ingredients to explain the asterisk. Flipping over the box the ingredients are really easy to understand. For the White Grape they were: Dextrose*, Sugar*, Corn Syrup*, Pear Juice Concentrate*, and less than 2% of Modified Corn Starch, Tapioca Dextrin, Natural Flavor*, Tumeric Color, Citric Acid*.
I find this a little confusing ... they’re saying it’s made with natural ingredients, but not saying that all of the ingredients are natural. (So just about all food products would qualify under this “Made with Natural Ingredients” thing.) I appreciate that they’re not saying that highly processed ingredients like modified food starch is natural, but I’d prefer if they just said “made with real fruit juice but no artificial flavors or colors” and left it at that. Both Clementine & Pomegranate have Carmine coloring, which is a natural coloring derived from insects but of course not considered vegetarian/vegan, may be an allergen for some sensitive folks and is not kosher/halal.
The Pomegranate Fruit Marvels tin is simple. Inside are tucked over a dozen little candies. The tin is about 3.5 inches in diameter and just shy of an inch thick - a little big to tuck in a pocket. There’s a piece of waxed paper cushion on the bottom and on the top. The tin is easy to open and close, but stays closed so I wouldn’t worry so much about this coming open in the bottom of your bag.
They’re about .75 inches in diameter with a sugar sanded coating and soft coloring. The candies are really a puzzle at first. I didn’t understand what they were by the description, but I guess that’s why they called them Marvels.
The outside is a hard candy shell, it’s made of dextrose like SweeTarts, but it’s not compressed like other powder candies, instead it’s panned (added as a liquid layer that forms a hardened glaze after many coats). Inside is a firm and flavorful jelly. It’s like a super jelly bean in a way but remember that the shell is very thick.
When I first popped it into my mouth I thought it would be like a Gobstopper, many flavored layers and then a jelly ball in the middle, but it is actually faithful to the scale on the package. I tried sucking on them first. The sugar sanding is rough at first but that dissolves away quickly to the shell. The shell is dextrose (glucose) so it has a slightly cooling effect and it has a kind of thinness to the sweet note instead of the round syrup sweetness of sucrose (sugar). Eventually there’s a little hint of the floral berry flavors of pomegranate. There’s a layer just between the jelly center and the shell that has a little burst of sour.
I pulled quite a few of the candies apart. I found I preferred biting them to letting them dissolve. It’s not advisable to just crunch them up at first until you gain some experience at it, I think letting them warm and dissolve a little helps.
You can see the thickness of the shell here and how it’s dense but kind of crumbly.
The jelly center is complex. It’s smooth and thick, it’s also nicely flavored without being too sweet or tangy. Though I don’t think any candies really capture pomegranate flavor well, these are still an excellent flavor no matter what it’s called. It’s more raspberry to me - floral and jammy.
The sanding isn’t messy, no sticky fingers, but there is a bit of sugar dust in the bottom of the tins or the bags which can get everywhere.
The Clementine Orange Fruit Marvels sounded really good. I love citrus and the less-common oranges often have wonderful notes that make things so much more interesting than just eating spoonfuls of Tang drink mix. Clementines are a tasty little citrus, they’re easy to peel and are usually seedless - they have the tangy profile and juicy taste of a tangerine.
The outside sanded shell doesn’t give much indication of the flavor inside, just a soft orange color.
The flavor is truly like a tangerine. There are bold juice and citric acid notes but there’s also a really good zest component that sets it apart from straight-laced orange. There’s no bitter or lingering orange peel aftertaste though.
The White Grape Fruit Marvels are nearly colorless on the outside but a little on the yellow side after cracked open. (They were devilish to photograph, but I think you get the idea with the other two.) White grape was always one of my favorite fruit juices as a kid, so I’m very familiar with the flavor. This is extremely faithful. There’s a concord grape note to it, but also a brighter and lighter feeling to it, a little like champagne.
All three flavors are distinct and faithful to their profiles. The candy itself is unique, I’ve never had anything quite like it before so I give Wonka high marks for not just regurgitating the ordinary with a frivolous name and funny packaging. I like the concept of the boxes and that they’re more cost effective than the tins but still $3 for 5 ounces of sugar candy is on the high side, even for something that doesn’t have artificial flavors/colors. Also, the amount of packaging is silly, the outer sleeve could easily disappear without losing the feeling of upscale decadence.
I’m a little unclear about the target market for these, I’m guessing they’re not for little children like many other Wonka products lately like Kazoozles. Perhaps they’re targeting young adults, especially since the tins are great for sharing. They might also appeal to folks who want an intense flavorful indulgence without too many calories. Since they’re all sugar there’s no fat and each piece is about 12 calories. The tin makes each piece feel rather special. (Honestly, it seems like the target market is for grown ups for never quite grew up, which would be me.)
I like where Wonka is going lately.
These are in limited release right now, they’re available exclusively at WalMart stores until June 2010 when they’ll start appearing at Target. The candies are made in Mexico.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
One thing that was missing in the Dove chocolate line was white chocolate. Well, Dove’s new Dove Peppermint Bark Promises are the first step to remedy that. This new holiday version of Dove’s foil wrapped bites of chocolate has special holiday tips on the wrappers from Martha Stewart.
I was a little hesitant to pick up this bag when I saw it at RiteAid last weekend. Of course I was excited by a real cocoa butter version of peppermint bark with white chocolate. As mentioned in our forum discussion about new holiday candy, I was hoping these would replace the Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses in my heart, which are no longer made with 100% cocoa butter. And of course I love that Promises are easy to eat and share. But they were priced at $4.99 for an 8.5 ounce bag. That’s pretty steep for drug store chocolate.
When I opened the bag I wasn’t blown away by a minty smell; actually I didn’t catch much of anything as far as scent. But that’s not a bad thing, it means that the foil wrappers are doing their job of not only protecting each piece but also keeping their mint out of other candies that you might throw in the same bowl. Each little foil wrapped piece is cute: silver foil with red and green polka dots. They’re definitely easy to spot in comparison to the existing Promises line.
There’s a dark chocolate base with a white chocolate topper. The white chocolate has bits of red and white peppermint candies mixed in.
The melt is great. The dark chocolate (not totally dark, there is some milkfat in there, like most Dove) melts a bit quicker than the white chocolate. It’s a silky and fatty melt, slick and with some decent woodsy cocoa notes, but there’s also a cocoa experience ... a dryness like eating cocoa powder. No worries though the white chocolate layer is sweet, also fatty and of course minty. There’s a slight vanilla note to it and a bit of a dairy milk flavor with a hint of salt. The creaminess offsets the dry bite, as long as you eat the layers together.
The whole effect is a mint meltaway with a really tasty chocolate punch to it. Far and away better than an Andes Mint. The candy bits provide a good crunch (though I don’t necessarily need them, but without them it’s not a very convincing bark product.)
Price aside, these are awesome. They really fit the holiday season with the mint and chocolate combo. It’s also available in an actual bark shape, but I haven’t seen that in stores.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
The most basic ingredients are sugar, corn syrup and baking soda. There’s no butter in it, like toffee and just about any kind of nuts or snack seeds can be added.
The crunch of brittle is provided by both the hardened sugar (which is made airy by the use of baking soda added just as the boiling mixture is removed from the heat) and the use of fresh nuts.
Most nut brittles are served in a rustic fashion. Big sheets of the candy are broken into little bits and planks.
I found Old Dominion brittle at the drug store and was intrigued. First of all, it’s all natural ... no coloring, no preservatives. Second, Old Dominion is a peanut company and they’ve been around for 95 years, so they must be doing something right. Third, the stuff was cheap.
I picked up two boxes. The Cashew Brittle was only 99 cents at Rite Aid and the Peanut Brittle was $1.69 ... but was twice the weight of the cashew.
The box seemed a little big for the amount of candy in it. But it was well packaged inside with an oversized & thick mylar pouch.
Inside the planks, slivers & pieces clank pleasantly, kind of like poker chips.
It definitely smells like toasted peanuts. Glancing at the pieces though they don’t have as many peanuts as I would have hoped, there’s a lot more brittle than peanut.
The candy has a fresh and crunchy bite - there’s a slight foamy lightness to it. It’s just a little salty, a bit buttery tasting. The nuts are small, like those Virginia Red-skinned peanuts. I ate about half the bag and got only one bad nut, and that one was just overtoasted. Yes, I would have preferred more nuts, but considering the price, it was a pretty good deal for a fresh & natural product.
I thought this would be a straight swap of cashews for peanuts but it’s actually not. The ingredients list butter (though rather far down on the list) and the color is just a bit lighter. It smells buttery and a little grassy like cashews often do.
I love cashews and all of these were sweet & crunchy. It’s fun to see someone making an affordable cashew candy.
The pieces were a little light on the cashews, but the candy part was still crunchy & fun without them. It tastes just a little saltier, which seems to offset the sweetness of the cashews themselves. I really can’t complain about it at all ... it’s a quarter pound of good quality candy for only a buck.
I liked the design of the boxes, classic and accurate in their depiction of the product ... well, maybe the pictures make it look like there are more nuts. I might have preferred a zip locked bag inside, but I usually have extras around and just tuck them into those to keep them from getting sticky from ambient moisture. It’s a little hard to see because it’s just emboss/stamped into the end of the box, but they do list a “best by” date.
The calories listed for the peanut brittle are 180 per 30 grams (a little over 1 ounce). This makes no sense to me, even one ounce of peanuts is only 160 calories ... so I think there’s a typo. The cashew package says 130 calories, which seems about right for a product that’s mostly sugar.
Old Dominion, based in Norfolk, Virginia, also makes Butter Toffee Peanuts, Peanut Squares/Bars and a “covered” version of the peanut brittle (which I steered away from because it was mockolate).
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
A week ago I went to one of those warehouse gourmet sales. Maybe you’ve seen them mentioned on sites like Chow - a wholesaler opens their doors for just one day so that normal folks can buy hard to find foods at near wholesale prices. I went to Gourmet Imports in Alhambra with the full intention of stocking up on nougat, honey and Valrhona.
This is what I came away with: just this little 8.8 ounce jar of Mas des Abeilles Boules de Miel which are candy drops made from French lavender honey. (It was a madhouse with far too many people and much of the chocolate/candy they had was hopelessly past its expiration.)
I didn’t even know how much it was until after we’d checked out. This little not-even-glass jar was nine dollars.
They’d better be good.
They’re rather large artisan styled spheres about 3/4 of an inch around. They felt a little light for their size.
It turns out that they’re pretty good - good enough that I’ve eaten them all.
They’re a firm honey center with a rough hard candy shell. I could easily crunch through the shell to get to the center - which was thick & chewy but completely smooth like honey. The flavor was a deep honey, buttery and malty. I didn’t catch any lavender essence to it, but it was still a good floral honey.
It has a throat coating & soothing feeling to it. There’s no weird aftertaste ... no real flavor. Just some honey in a less sticky format.
They’re the perfect thing to eat when your throat is aching from the burning of 125,000 acres of brush within 15 miles of your house.
(For the record, the other things I purchased there included French lentils, tomato paste in tubes, a gallon of really good olive oil and my prize was a big frozen tub of pureed Yuzu.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.