Hard Candy & Lollipops
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Hard candy has a bad reputation as being cheap and a candy of last resort. Oh sure, a little starlight mint after a garlicky meal is usually gratefully accepted when offered. But really good hard candy is out there.
As a kid I often got them around holidays, just a small handful included in my stocking candy. As I grew up I learned to find them on my own ... and was pretty shocked at the sticker price, especially compared to the more affordable Zotz.
I don’t know when or where I got this tin. I think it was sometime in the late eighties, I’m pretty sure I bought it in Philadelphia or New York and I was probably mortified to pay something like three dollars for a little tin of lemon drops.
They’re made in Belgium and the packaging features the image of Napoleon Bonaparte. I have no idea when the candies originated or their history. The tin simply says: Le Bon Bonbon Napoleon Sour Lemon. The more recent bag that I acquired through a photo shoot for Candy Warehouse says Made by Napoleon-Breskens-Holland.
So even though I can’t tell you much about their background, I can review what I’ve got:
Though I most often see the Lemon, they also come in Cherry, Tangerine, Lime and Pineapple.
The candies are devilishly simple. Hard candy outside, and then a strip of super sour powder in the center. The powder center is often mistaken for a liquid, it’s rather cool on the tongue and so fine that it melts away instantly. It’s only before putting then in the mouth that I could really tell. (Yes, as a kid I sometimes broke them apart to create a big pile of super sour powder.)
These are insanely expensive. The ones in the top photo I bought at Miette in San Francisco last year for 25 cents each. They’re spherical and a little less yellow, but still the same flavor profile as the disk shaped lemon. The bags that Candy Warehouse sells are $7.10 a pound, and come in 7 pound bags. (Yes, at one time I had 14 pounds of Napoleon Bonbons - one of just lemon and one of the mix. I’ve eaten about three pounds so far.)
I’ve really vacillated between giving these a nine or a ten. The price is a formidable obstacle to perfection, but then again, I know I bought that tin when I was in college and had staggeringly little money so they must be worth it. So there you are, another 10 out of 10.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
One of my favorite booths to visit at any food show is Melville Candy Company. Not only is their candy pretty, the guys that run the company are always really enthusiastic and seem to really love the products they make. (Which is what we all expect from folks who work in candy, but you’d be surprised at some attitudes I’ve run across.)
There’s always someone at the aisle handing out Honey Spoons (so I always have a stash at home). The spoon line at Melville’s is expanding. They have their honey varieties, and the flavored spoons and now they’re making actual tea spoons.
This spoon is a mix of tea and sugar and, I think, honey.
It can be eaten as is or mulled in some hot water to create a beverage! Instead of being an “instant tea” though, there are actual tea leaves in there.
Even though it looks a little weird, I found this to be a really tasty combination. Like a cup of sweet tea. The dark brewed flavors & tannins were there along with the light malty taste of honey.
The second variety I picked up was the Jasmine Green Tea Spoon. This opaque spoon is dark green with a strong freshly mowed lawn scent.
Though I prefer eating my candy, I decided to see what it would be like to make this into a beverage, as it’s actually designed to do. So I made up a cup of hot water and popped in the Jasmine Green Tea Spoon.
(Well, actually, I tasted the spoon first. It was sweet, terribly bitter and very grassy tasting, just like matcha powder.)
I let it melt for a while and then pulled out the spoon. It’d gotten stuck to the bottom of the cup and made a long, soft string of hard candy. It was fun to bend around and then stir into the hot water. It turned the water green pretty quickly, too.
I left it alone for five minutes and then stirred well again to get the pictured version here.
It smells quite grassy, a lot like henna or wet hay.
I found the beverage was far too sweet for me, but I’m also not a fan of sweetening my tea or chai lattes.
As a lollipop though it was a quite a refreshing change from the normal lemon & cherry variety.
They’re not featured on the Melville website just yet. But there are some other fun items that I saw at the show but haven’t tried yet that I thought I’d mention:
Melville’s has really been thinking outside the box lately. Though their honey spoons collections are expensive, they are unique and come in a huge variety of honey types & with added flavorings.
Their other new products include tea spoons made with real cinnamon sticks, for extra flavor.
The most innovative (and perhaps silliest) is their line of Cereal Flavoring Spoons. They come in Apple Cinnamon and Cinnamon & Sugar. I’m guessing if you’re not eating already-sweetened cereal, this is no worse than spoonfuls of sugar or honey. (I do like a heaping pile of lumps of brown sugar in my hot cereal.) Eating from a spoon made of sugar would mean sweetness & flavor in every bite, especially with a real cinnamon stick for a handle.
They’re still a bit expensive, but small batch candy often is. They’re not the kind of treat I’d buy often, but definitely a fun thing for guests or when you travel.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Usually for holidays they’ll have some other panned sugar candies. For Valentine’s Day this year the trend seems to be cinnamon flavor. So I picked up a bag of their See’s Hot Hearts and their Cinnamon Lollypops.
The Hot Hearts were a bit expensive, in my opinion, for a sugar candy. It was $4.50 for a 12 ounce bag of what are basically heart-shaped Hot Tamales.
But hey, the bag was pretty and included a real piece of ribbon on it and a thick plastic bag with pretty little red foil printed hearts.
While See’s makes their own chocolates and lollypops, I’m pretty sure they have their sugar candies specially made for them by an outside company. I was hoping my trip to the Fancy Food Show might shed some light on that, because, spoiler alert ... these were good and I think I might want some more after Valentine’s Day!
The candy shell is crisp and a little grainy. The jelly center is sweet and very cinnamony. The sizzle of these heart-shaped jelly beans is substantial.
The cinnamon flavor is both woodsy and fiery, capturing all of the great aspects of cinnamon.
Even though there’s a fair amount of food coloring in these (including Red 40), there’s no bitter aftertaste. Not that there ever is an aftertaste, since I don’t actually stop eating them.
Yes, I want to know how to get them all year long, or themed for other holidays, like Fiery Eggs for Easter or a Screaming Phoenix for Halloween.
See’s has been making their own Lollypops for years. The flavors change from time to time, but lately they’ve been adding in their seasonal flavors.
See’s Cinnamon Lollypops are the same rounded block shaped lolly made from a hard caramel base.
The scent is odd. It smells like caramel and cinnamon. But the scent and the flavors are never completely integrated. They just exist side by side.
Mmm, toasted sugar and butter flavors. Then, wow, a pop of hot cinnamon. Then the mellow and sweet caramel.
I liked them, but not quite as much and not in the same way as the Hot Hearts. They last a long time, but the combo of boiled sugar and butter with cinnamon never quite meshed for me. Plus there was a bit of a bitter artificial color aftertaste on these.
The pops are a great, reliable candy. They’re only 70 calories each, but be warned, they’re not fat free. Not that fat is a bad thing, it’s pretty much necessary for a caramel. Their Butterscotch lollypop is still the best (and the Root Beer is the best of their seasonal flavors). I’ve picked up the other flavors for review twice ... but ate them before I could photograph them.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Before Tootsie came out with their seasonal Candy Cane Tootsie Pops fans of peppermint and Tootsie Rolls were relegated to making their own. Though it was relatively simple to jam a Tootsie Roll on a chop stick and then smash a couple of starlight mints onto it, it just didn’t have the same classy, holiday flair as this store-bought version.
Candy Cane Tootsie Pops are a little different than other special flavor editions of Tootsie Pops. But not in remarkable ways. Yet I’ll list them for you anyway. First, the they’re in a clear cellophane wrapper. Second, the wrapper is done in a double twist at both the base of the pop and at the top of the pop. (Remember, the regular wrappers cover the pop and twist only where the stick meets the pop.) Third, the shape is not like the regular Tootsie Pop, which has a band that extends from the base up and around the top. Instead this band goes around the middle, just like a Charms Blow Pop. (Hmm, the wrappers are the same as Blow Pops too ... wouldn’t it be fun if they made mint Blow Pops?)
The wrappers are vexing. They’re sealed at the base, so hard to get off and not as easy to rewrap around the candy if you don’t finish it all at once.
The mint hard candy outside is peppermint. It has a pleasant swirl of red that goes through the white dominant base. It’s very smooth, in fact, smoother than a regular Tootsie Pop, fewer voids. Honestly, it made me wonder why Tootsie Pops aren’t all this smooth.
I’m a cruncher, so it didn’t take long before I was able to dissolve away enough of the hard candy outside to crunch into the Tootsie Roll center. Let me state that’s where this gets disappointing. A Tootsie Roll is just a chocolate flavored taffy. I like them well enough as a durable, all weather candy. But they’re really only good inside Tootsie Pops (orange). Because mint is rather one note (no tartness, just sweetness and cool mint) instead of complex like the fruit flavors (the flavor, the tart, the tangy all combined) the Tootsie Roll scent becomes very obvious. It smells like chocolate scented cardboard.
It smells like the box hot cocoa mixes come in after you take the packets out.
It’s just disappointing.
I think these are a fun idea, but there’s really no way to improve them without fixing the Tootsie Roll. The combo just doesn’t bring out the best that a Tootsie Roll has to offer and hide its shortcomings.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Long ago there were LifeSavers Sweet Story Books. They were just a folded box that looked like a book that had a bunch of LifeSavers rolls inside. They still make them, every few years the graphics and the rolls included inside change with fashion.
Trader Joe’s has their own house-branded version of this, called Trader Joe’s Sweet Story. There are six no-artificial-anything, vegan, kosher and gluten-free hard candy rolls inside.
The package design is pretty straight forward, it’s a box with a front flap that reveals a “story” on the inside, which is a little poem about the candies. (Probably not so fun for kids.)
The box is well constructed (and is even printed on the inside). The rolls aren’t revealed inside the box flap though, you have to open it at the top to reveal them, all sealed together inside a cellophane bag.
Each roll is about the size of a LifeSavers product, 1.1 ounces. The rolls themselves are a bit more demure, a color-coded monochrome array.
Opening them was a disappointment and exercise in frustration.
Though it was not humid on Sunday when I bought these and photographed them, the paper-lined foil was stuck to the candies.
I resorted to picking the bits of foil off the candies before consuming (though still got a fair bit of paper in my mouth). Some rolls were better than others, but all had some degree of issues.
Cherry - Sucrets. Without the throat numbing properties.
Orange - really zesty, to the point of being slightly bitter at times. Sweet and tangy.
Pineapple - mild, more like those “low acid” pineapples these days that have a nice floral and strawberry cotton candy flavor but not that tart.
Raspberry - pretty much tasted like raspberry flavoring. A lot of sweet floral “flavor” and some tangy berry notes.
Pomegranate - a combination of raspberry and those winterberry scented candles. It’s trying too hard.
The package was $1.99, which breaks down to 33 cents a roll. Not really a bad price. And the flavor assortment was better than the current LifeSavers array. For those who need something that’s gluten free or all-natural, yeah, it’s a nice way to go. But I sure hope yours aren’t stuck to the wrapping like mine were, because that completely ruined it for me. And bumped my fiber intake.
Other remembrances of the LifeSavers Storybook: The Joy Of ..., Jason Liebig has an actual photo of an old one with the rolls still in it, Candy Critic, and of course The Imaginary World has some (I like this one).
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Hillside Candy has been making sweets for nearly thirty years and are best known for their line of sugar-free candies called GoLightly. GoNaturally is their new line of hard candies made with all organic ingredients. It’s also Kosher, dairy-free, gluten-free and corn-free.
Their initial offerings come in six different flavors:
Quite mellow, there’s no strong pop of either the honey or the lemon flavors.
It’s not really that sweet either, which makes it a rather nice change of pace and more soothing to the throat.
The pieces are rather small, about as big around as a penny. I loved the small size of the pieces and found with this flavor especially, the mild and true honey flavor kept me coming back over and over again until I finished the bag one afternoon. (Though each bag only holds 3.5 ounces, there are a lot of pieces because they’re so small - so I had a large pile of wrappers.)
The funny thing, if you haven’t noticed already, is that none of these candies use any colorings. So while they vary slightly, they’re all a basic light amber color. Since the wrappers are opaque, there’s really no need for them to contain added colors to tell them apart.
Tangy and not terribly strong, it’s the typical cherry flavor. Not too much on the side of cough syrup, it reminded me of cherry popsicles instead.
This was my least favorite flavor, but mostly because I think that the malty dark flavors that the rice syrup gives the candy doesn’t go as well with the bright cherry flavors.
I wasn’t sure which way this flavor was going to go. Was it going to be Jolly Rancher Green Apple or the Japanese Mentos Fuji Apple? Well, it was a little of both. It had a definite acidic pop of the fake variety but also a good sprinkling of the apple peel flavors of real cider. I’ve always found the best thing about apples to be the wonderful crisp texture and crunch, so any candy that misses that aspect really misses with me.
I think kids may appreciate it this though, but it may not convert them from Jolly Ranchers.
The curiously bright pink here belies the subtle flavor of the candy. It’s tangy and fruity like berries. It does a decent job of capturing pomegranate, which isn’t easy because most of the pom candies I’ve tried could have been named black raspberry or cranberry and I wouldn’t argue.
There’s a deep woodsy flavor to this, kind of like some red grapes have or, well, eating pomegranates. The dark molasses hint from the pomegranate or rice syrup does make this different from other pomegranate candies.
This is one of the candies that looked exactly like I’d expect a hard honey candy to look like. A little golden droplet.
The ingredients list has only three items on it: evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup & honey. It tastes mellow, a little more mellow than a spoonful of honey but still a sweet little treat. Along with the Honey Lemon, this was my favorite.
I’m always looking for good ginger candies because of my tummy upset issues and love of all things ginger.
These have an immediate woodsy taste, a little bit of a burn but mostly a taste of grassy sticks and spice.
I don’t know how well they’ll work with my sea-sickness and I doubt I’ll have them until whale watching season starts in January, I can see myself finishing this bag by next week.
My strangest issue with these was that they got soft and sticky. Los Angeles isn’t that humid, so I don’t think it was some sort of atypically moist condition that caused this. They’re not bad when they get softer around the edges, but they certainly don’t look as good and don’t have that crunch.
With that in mind, I don’t think they’d do well in an open bowl of candy, like a dish on your desk. Maybe a sealed jar or a zip lock bag.
I’m wild about the honey ones but didn’t have much of a feeling about the other flavors one way or the other.
This is an especially good product for those seeking a hard candy made without corn syrup or just something without artificial colors. It’s also made in the USA. The price is a bit steep for hard candy at about $2.50 per 3.5 ounce bag (though it’s certainly cheaper in bulk) but they do have some unique attributes, so there are definitely folks out there who will be thrilled to find the product and pay for it.
Monday, October 13, 2008
With the discontinuation of Reed’s Candies by Wrigley’s, I’ve been searching for similar candies. Hammond’s Candies is based in Colorado and makes hard candies and caramels using traditional methods and equipment. They’re known for their stunning hand twisted lollipops, ribbon and pillow candies. But they also make all sorts of traditional boiled sugar sweets including a line called Pantry Candies.
Each comes in a cute tin with a little clear window on top. Inside they’re tucked into a plastic bag to protect them from moisture.
Cinnamon Drops - these are sizable pieces, bigger than my pinkie toe. They’re sanded with a bit of sugar and have a soft and grainy appearance. The hard candy is smooth and flavorful. Instead of being just straight hot cinnamon, this hard candy has a bit of a touch of the woodsy, powdered spice as well as the burning cinnamon oil.
They have a satisfying crunch or simply dissolve without many voids or holes. It’s not quite the smooth & transcendent experience of Reed’s Cinnamon though.
Sour Balls - these are teensy little drops, smaller than a regular marble but larger than a pea. They come in lemon, lime, orange and cherry flavors. They have the same sanded exterior and a smooth dissolve. The citrus ones are nicely tangy but with a good rounded zest flavor (orange is a bit more muted though). They’re an old-fashioned sour though, don’t expect anything approaching battery acid.
Butterscotch Waffles - these were gorgeous little candies. They’re flattened squares (though some were little rectangles) with a smooth surface and little dimpled waffle pattern on them. They were a creamy, buttery flavor but lacking that little dash of salt though they are the closest I’ve found to the old Reed’s Butterscotch.
Licorice Drops - these definitely look the part. The same format as the Cinnamon Drops, they’re big and black and sanded. They’re made with real licorice root, so it’s a more complex flavor than just “flavored”. The big gripe I have with these, and it’s a huge one, is the large amount of artificial colors in the candy. It made my mouth greenish-black with only one. Not appealing or subtle at all. As much as I liked the taste (and finding licorice hard candies isn’t easy), the bitterness of the Red 40 (to my tongue) added with the unappealing mouth just turned me off and I didn’t finish the tin.
Lemon Drops - for those who don’t want to pick the lemon drops out of the Sour Ball assortment, here they are all alone. These large drops are perhaps a little muted in flavor, but the flavor goes all the way through and has a nice barley sugar tone to it.
Root Beer Drops - as with the cinnamon, I was hoping for a Reed’s experience here. Instead it’s rather more like a Root Beer Float than a plain old Root Beer Soda. These two-toned drops have the mellow woodsy flavor of root beer along with a creamy vanilla component. They’re smooth and flavorful but not quite spicy enough for my desires. Well, I take that back. This was the second tin I finished. (Butterscotch was the first.)
Ginger Drops (not pictured) - these little opaque candies were kind of peach/flesh colored. They didn’t smell like much and really didn’t taste like much at first either. Then the longer it dissolved the warmer it got, a light woodsy and rooty flavor, it was definitely ginger.
The offering in this line also includes Horehound, which I refuse to believe is a candy flavor but also suffers from over-coloring like the licorice.
They’re expensive, but nicely crafted and packaged and make a nice hostess gift or something to keep on your desk for those moments where you just have to have something. I like them much better than their lollipops which are exquisite to look at but don’t have the density of flavor and smooth texture of these.
Friday, October 3, 2008
One of the classic and more distinctive products that See’s makes is their line of Lollypops. They’re made with cream and are more like a hard caramel than a normal boiled sugar hard candy pop.
The regular flavors shift around but right now they sell: Butterscotch, Chocolate, Vanilla and Caf? Latt?. I like all of them except for the chocolate. It tends to be grainier and if I have the option of actual chocolate right there at See’s, well that’s what I’m going to go for. But the one thing the pops have going for them is that they’re so darn durable. Summer-safe, creamy candy is pretty hard to find.
Every once in a while they bring out new flavors. This fall they have a limited edition Pumpkin Spice Lollypops that should be available until Thanksgiving.
The ingredients are pretty simple: corn syrup, cream, sugar, natural and artificial flavors, butter and yellow #5. I don’t know why they have to put artificial colors in there, but I guess I’m guessing that they’d look fine without it, maybe they don’t.
The packages are a little box that holds a bag of eight pops. Not a bad price either at only $4.80 for the set (60 cents each). Each paper stick pop is wrapped in orange mylar
See’s pops are big blocks. Kind of chunky and perhaps a little big for easy-to-eat suckers. (Sometimes I pull them off the stick and eat them as hard candies.)
These are rather light in color and don’t smell like much other than maybe caramel.
They’re very smooth and melt slowly. Extremely creamy and not overly sweet they’re also a bit bland.
I had the first one and thought maybe it was that my allergies were acting up and I couldn’t taste any of these pumpkin spices, so I waited a few days and checked my sinuses and had another. They sweet and creamy and taste a bit like creme brulee ... but I’m not getting any actual spices I associate with pumpkin custard like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice or ginger.
I wouldn’t call them bad, just nothing like the name would imply.
As a side note, earlier this summer they had a limited edition Root Beer. I got a hold of this while shopping with Sera of The Candy Enthusiast in July. She bought a whole package (the limited edition flavors are not sold individually like the classic ones are) and graciously shared two with me.
I loved them and went back in August to pick up a whole package for myself and was told they were all gone.
These pops were a wonderful mix of creamy smoothness, light sweetness and the spicy bite of root beer. It was kind of like a root beer float, but warmer. Root beer floats often suffer from tasting watered down when the ice cream mixes with the root beer, instead this had all the creaminess of ice cream and the intense flavor of root beer mixed together.
They’ll have Cinnamon Lollypops for Christmas. Each pop is 70 calories and they’re Kosher.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.