Hard Candy & Lollipops
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Sometime about a year ago I picked up some Root Beer Puffs, which were like buttermints but flavored like the soda. A few weeks later I got a note from a company called Red Bird Brand that makes candy puffs in a huge variety of flavors. It took me quite a while to find them, but I did pick up Soft Assorted Puffs at the 99 Cent Only Store that includes 15 different flavors. (Though perhaps not always in the same bag.)
The flavor variety is, well, extraordinary: Peppermint, Cherry, Lemon, Green Apple, Wintergreen, Strawberry, Orange, Grape, Peach, Blueberry, Butterscotch, Watermelon, Cream Penny, Cotton Candy, Passion Fruit. There’s a menu guide on the back that shows the key for the combination of colors and stripes. There are about 25 candies in the bag, but the flavors were not distributed evenly.
One of the differences between this style of Puffs and the traditional Buttermint of After Dinner Mint is the size. These are quite large, at about 1 inch across and all of them are individually wrapped. (No more candy dish with the stuck together.)
Cherry was bold and easy to spot. It’s a flavor that’s both heavily scented and with a light tartness to it. It was smooth and had a good melt, but overall, it’s not usually my favorite though at least this didn’t have a lot of red coloring in it.
The flavors not in my bag: Peppermint, Cotton Candy, Passion Fruit and Orange.
For the most part I didn’t like the fruity flavors. The others like butterscotch and wintergreen were more to my liking, even the unflavored Cream Penny were pleasant.
The puffs themselves are quite nice, I liked them more than the variety package. There’s a floral, sort of honey note to them. But they’re also quite cinnamony. I wouldn’t call them hot though, it was a nice heat but they never approached anything like the fire of an Atomic Fireball.
The cinnamon smell is strong, even when they’re in the package, so I had to keep them separated from other candies.
The package for the Assorted Puffs said it was Gluten Free, they’re also Kosher Pareve and appear to be vegan ingredients.
It was strange that I didn’t get the classic Peppermint in the Assorted mix, which is what Red Bird Brand is known for. Overall, the texture was good, they softened up nicely. The package mentions that they’re rather hard when they’re first made, but if you prefer a softer puff, to open the package and wait ... it was true. After a couple of months, mine reached the melt in your mouth texture that I was expecting.
Monday, October 21, 2013
After experiencing the lackluster Super Caramel Apple Blow Pop last week, it’s a wonder that I was still looking for the Candy Corn Super Blow Pop. An astute reader said that Walgreen’s was carrying them (which is where I found the Caramel Apple version) so I tried what I call the Super Walgreen’s in Hollywood. It’s near the Arclight Cinema/Cinerama Dome and Amoeba Music, so it was easy to find a reason to be over there this weekend. The store is like a movie set of what a Walgreen’s should be (and maybe it is used as a set for their commercials). The cosmetics have LED lights on each shelf, the aisles are wide and they have a snack bar and prepared sushi in a refrigerated section. And of course there’s a huge candy aisle that’s both clean and has a wide selection. It bears virtually no resemblance to the Walgreen’s where I usually shop in Echo Park, which isn’t even 5 miles down the same road. (Though the staff at both is quite good, no complaints.)
Their seasonal aisle had a good selection of the specialty Halloween items (though not as much bagged candy as other places like Target or KMart). I found the Super Blow Pops there on sale at 50 cents each, so I bought two. Instead of an opaque printed wrapper, this version of the Blow Pop uses a clear wrapper to show off the candy inside, something I’ve not seen them use on the Blow Pop line before. There are only two colors on this, orange and yellow ... there’s no white top on the layers.
The candy part of the Blow Pop is just like the flavor of the Charms Candy Corn Lollipops. It’s a mellow, salty sort of butterscotch without the creamy texture. I found these far brighter and more fun to eat, as the colors were sparkly, unlike the Caramel Apple version which was downright depressing with its brown and dark green. However, the sparkle in this case was created by adding some air to the hard candy, this can create sharp areas as it dissolves. Because the pop is so large, this meant I had a couple of sore spots on my tongue by the time I finished.
The gum at the center smelled terrible, just like the Caramel Apple version. There’s some sort of caustic chemical scent to it and the chew is stiff at first. Biting it sounds like tearing a phone book, a multitude of ripping layers all at once. It softens up and in this case, the flavor is pretty bland. It does become a bubble gum eventually, for a few minutes there’s a right balance between flavor and sugar before it all gives up and becomes like a wad of chewed paper. I’m not sure what flavor the gum is supposed to be, it’s not green apple, it’s not colorful ... it might have been butterscotch.
The initial experience was probably better than any other I’ve had with a Blow Pop this year, but that’s not saying much. But I’ll go ahead and give this a positive review, if you want a jumbo butterscotch Blow Pop, this would be the lollipop for you. It’s pretty, it’s pretty cheap.
Charms pops are made in a nut free and gluten free facility, but always check the labels or call the manufacturer if you’re in doubt.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Tootsie is always a go-to brand for Halloween candy, as they make the popular Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Pops and Charms Blow Pops. Though some adults like to rank them on the Worst Halloween Candy lists every year, they wouldn’t keep making them if someone wasn’t buying them and eating them enthusiastically.
Tootsie has two new Super Blow Pops out for Halloween this year: Charms Super Blow Pop Caramel Apple and Charms Super Blow Pop Candy Corn. I couldn’t find the candy corn version (though I did find the flat Charms Candy Corn Pops), so I wanted to go ahead with this review of the Caramel Apple version.
The Super Blow Pop line is a beefy version of the standard Blow Pop. The regular Blow Pop is .65 ounces, the Super Blow Pop is 1.125 ounces. As a point of reference, a single Starlight Mint is about 5 grams, so this pop is like eating 6 or 7 mints in one sitting.
The pop is structured in layers, the center is bubble gum, the middle layer is green apple hard candy and the outer layer is caramel flavored hard candy. It’s an odd combination and I’d say my initial impression was not good. The caramel flavoring was just that, flavoring with a heavy dose of artificial butter. There was a little hint of salt, so that was interesting. After getting to the apple layer (which was very dark green) I did start noticing a good combination of the two, the falseness of the butter combined with the reassuringly fake green apple flavors.
The texture was a little more ... sandy than I like in my hard candy. It wasn’t completely smooth, though the bubbles were minimal. The size of the pop means that there’s a lot of lollipop before you can crunch to the center.
The most surprising part is the center. It’s not pink bubble gum. It’s green. The texture was horrible, biting into it, it was like packaging material. When I bit off a piece, it sounded like I was pulling apart the paper stick. The smell was bizarre and I can only say that it reminded me of the Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnels. (Maybe it’s a mix of the smell of asphalt, gasoline, diesel and apple juice.)
I wanted to like this, mostly because I found the Tootsie Caramel Apple Pops to be quite fun. It just kept getting worse as I got closer to the center. I can only hope that the Candy Corn version was better.
Charms Pops are made in a facility that’s gluten free and peanut free.
Monday, October 14, 2013
If you like Charms Blow Pops and thought to yourself that you’d be happier with just the candy and not the gum, they make that. They come in rectangular foil packs called Assorted Charms.
There are five flavors: Cherry, Strawberry, Lemon, Lime, Green Apple, Orange, and Raspberry and 10 pieces in the package. They’re not necessarily distributed evenly among the flavors. I got three cherry and three lime while I only got one lemon, one green apple and one orange.
The fun things about Charms are that they’re square but have a little dimple in the center, and that they’re individually wrapped. So they’re less likely to end up as a sticky single piece like Life Savers. (Of course there’s no pineapple or tangerine in their flavor assortment.)
I’ve seen old candy ads that show that they used to come in single flavor packages, but the only way they sell them now is in the mixed flavors.
The pieces are just shy of 3/4 of an inch square.
I like the individual wrappers, as I’m the kind of person who likes to eat the flavor I want, not the one dispensed to me. It’s actually pretty easy to dump them out of the packet without tearing it, and then put them back.
Orange is nice, well rounded, a little tart but not very complex. Raspberry was good, it’s very floral with an overall soft flavor and a hint of tartness. The Cherry is like time traveling to the 70s for me. It’s not quite as “black cherry” as Life Savers, but of course has the same taste as the Cherry Blow Pop. Strawberry is interesting, as it’s pretty uncommon flavor for hard candy. I didn’t care much for it, it was more like a watery popsicle than jam. Lime is quite citrusy, though not very sour. There’s a lot of zest to it, and even a note of bitterness. Green Apple was nice, it was extremely mild at first, but then warmed up with a lot of juice notes. Lemon was a little too tepid for me, I was hoping for something like a sour ball but it had more sweetness than tart/zest notes.
There’s a lot to like here about the simplicity of the candy. The flavor assortment is different from Life Savers, though I can’t say that they’re better or worse. The packaging is truly charming and simple. The package holds only 1 ounce, so you can’t really feel too bad for chomping through all 10 pieces. There’s no nutrition label but hard candy is usually 95 to 100 calories per ounce ...so these are unlikely to be more than 100 calories per package.
There’s no info on the package about allergens, though other Charms products are gluten and peanut free (but please check before consuming).
Monday, October 7, 2013
I knew there were some new lollipops out these year, so I’ve been on the prowl in the Halloween aisles. I found the Charms Candy Corn Pops at Wegman’s in Mechanicsburg, PA. I didn’t necessarily want a huge bag of them, but they weren’t sold individually like the seasonal Blow Pops.
It’s a simple concept, they’re lollipops with three layered colors that tastes like candy corn. What does candy corn taste like? Something like buttered honey. Or honeyed butter.
If you’re a fan of candy corn but can’t eat it because it often contains gelatin or egg whites, you’ll be happy to hear that this may be vegan, as long as you’re good with processed sugar. The Charms lollipop line is also peanut free as well as gluten free, tree nut free and egg free.
I’ve always liked the size and shape of Charms lollipops. They’re wide and flat but rounded. They’re experts at combining flavors in the pops, I often enjoyed the Sweet & Sour pops as a kid. Though this one is different colors, I could detect no difference in the flavor for any of the three colors: orange, yellow and white.
For the most part this was a mild butterscotch lollipop. I welcome that, it wasn’t overly buttery flavored, it has a mild hint of salt and a dense texture without any voids that can create sharp spots.
They’re not the most exciting lollipops in the world, but quite good. I was disappointed that the layering was actually stacked, they were more randomly swirled. The one in the photo is about as close as I could get to the vertical stack of candy corn. (Well, if you stand it up on its end.) I hear there’s a Blow Pop version of this, too, but I’ve only been able to find the Caramel Apple Blow Pop (review soon).
Monday, September 23, 2013
In the ranking of Halloween candy, hard candies were usually pretty close to the bottom of the list. Unless it was Jolly Ranchers. A handful of green apple and cinnamon were welcome in my trick or treat bag, and even better if the home gave out the sticks.
It’s fun to see Hershey’s Jolly Rancher brand branching out a little bit for Halloween with their new Jolly Rancher Caramel Apple Lollipops. I found these at Target but saw them earlier at CVS and RiteAid (for at least a dollar more) so I think Hershey’s has given them very wide release.
It’s hard to believe that these will topple the current seasonal Caramel Apple Pop favorite from Tootsie.
The smell is confusing. I get a lot of buttery notes, but it’s like artificial butter flavoring or something. The flavor is immediately tangy and overly sour apple. But then again, this is a Jolly Rancher candy, so it I guess it just has to be mostly green apple. The green and caramel color swirls look like the flavor should vary, but I didn’t detect enough of a respite from the tartness of the green apple in the caramel.
The texture is good, I didn’t notice any voids or sharpness. The pieces were all perfectly formed and didn’t have any of that sticky/deformation/melting problem that the Tootsie Caramel Apple Pops have.
Overall, though, these are just too tart for me and don’t have enough actual caramel or toffee in them. However, they do seem to be free of actual dairy products, so if you’re looking for a caramel product without milk, cream or butter, this might be for you. I’m not planning on eating the rest of this bag, but I’m confident the neighborhood kids won’t be disappointed on October 31st.
Monday, August 5, 2013
Boiled candies, or hard candies, are considered kind of ordinary in most situations. They’re not most people’s first choice, in fact, in most lists of candies, they’re often down at the bottom along with raisins and toothbrushes (basically, not even qualifying as candy). It’s sad, because there are good hard candies and boiled sugar candies can be some of the most beautiful of all candies out there.
Cut Rock is a tradition of candymaking that goes back at least 150 years. It’s a simple concept, different colors of hard candy are layered together and then pulled or rolled out to shrink the design and then cut into easy to eat pieces. (To make swirled lollipops, the centers are plain but the ropes of candy are wrapped into a disk and a stick is inserted.)
Raley’s Confectionary in Florida is one of the new artisan companies to bring this tradition back, and their twist is to use natural colors, flavors and organic/fair trade sugar. (I’m not sure about the glucose syrup that’s mentioned in the ingredients label, but not on the website.) Since all he makes is hard candies, it’s vegan and gluten free (though he does make some nut items, so check before you order if you have an allergy).
If you want to see more about how it’s made, Raley did an educational video that addresses how scaling is important when creating the designs to make cut rock. And of course here’s a more generalized video that shows the whole process from start to finish:
Wes Raley (seen in action above) offered me some samples and since it’s summer, which I high season for hard candies, I accepted them. It then took a long time to get through the whole set: Emoticon Mix, Root Beer, Cappuccino, Pomegranate,
The SA Emoticon Mix is a good place to start because it demonstrates the array of forms and designs that can be created and also includes a wide variety of flavors. Of course I don’t know what those flavors were supposed to be, since there was no key, so I can only guess. I know one was lime, and another was blueberry. The interesting thing about this version was how the diameter varied.
The center, as you may have seen in the video, is an aerated hard candy. This makes it white and the pulling of the hard candy also allows Raley to incorporate the flavors. It makes it crunchy without any of those annoying sharp voids that some hard candies get.
Each piece is a mere half in across, yet the wire thin brown “steam” coming from the little mugs is perfectly proportioned to the little cups of coffee.
The flavor on this particular candy is a little milder than the vivid and fruity Emoticons.
The coffee flavor is a bit mild and thin for my tastes. It was toasty and less sweet, but more like a brown sugar candy than a true coffee with a bit of foamed milk experience. That said, it was one of the first bags I finished.
Grapefruit is one of several citrus flavors from Raley’s. The pieces are well made, a yellow rind and a pink sectioned interior sell the look. The outside is sweet and mild, but the aerated fruity center is tangy and nicely flavored. It’s a little zesty, only a slight hint of bitterness and quite tart at times.
Here’s the real gem of all the varieties I tried: Lemon. This piece was yellow with a shiny yellow rind, white pith and yellow sections. Unlike the grapefruit, which was flavored on the inside, the outside was also flavored. So the rind was a gentle and sweet lemon, but the inside was extremely tart, zesty and juicy.
These were absolutely adorable. The design is unlike most of the others that cut rock makers create, it has no jacket. Instead the flag’s stripes go right to the edge. It’s a complicated design, enough of the elements, colors and ratios are there for it to say “American Flag” even though it’s round.
The flavor is fun, the blueberry is sweet and has a good berry flavor and the strawberry is light and floral.
Root Beer was one that I was truly looking forward to, mostly because Raley doesn’t use artificial colors and one of my complaints about Root Beer Barrels is the aftertaste from the dye known as Red #40. This definitely did not have any aftertaste, but it didn’t have much of a forward taste either. It was exceptionally mild, like the Cappuccino. There was a hint of wintergreen bite, but not bite of tartness, no earthy ginger rooty flavors either. It was toasty but not like Root Beer.
But the candy was adorable, with the frosty mugs on a crunchy background. So I may have been disappointed that it wasn’t like I wanted it to be, but I still managed to eat the whole bag.
I give the fruity flavors a 9 out of 10 and the drink flavors an 8 out of 10 (they designs on those were especially good). The packages were stand up, zippered gussets. Each came with a little silica gel package inside, so even though I opened them (and resealed) they all stayed pristine. Some hard candies can melt and deform in the humidity or high heat, but these looked as good today as they did about a month ago when I got them.
Friday, November 16, 2012
It’s winter, which means it’s time for hard candies. Nothing is as soothing and easy to carry as individually wrapped hard candies. We live in a wonderful era in human development where not can hard candies be ubiquitous and cheap, they can also be devilishly hard to find and expensive. Something for everyone!
For the past few months I haven’t been feeling well, including a recent and prolonged medically-induced sore throat. So, some intense hard candies that are also free of allergens might be just what the doctor ordered. (They weren’t actually, I haven’t spoken to my doctor about my Candy Blog, just my dentist.)
Torie and Howard is a new line of organic hard candies that feature interesting flavor combinations as well as carefully sourced ingredients. I tried them back in January at the Fancy Food Show, and though I usually like to find candy on store shelves before writing about it, I was kind of keen on trying them so accepted a full array of samples from the company.
They’re made from complicated yet simple stuff:
No Artificial dyes, nut free, no GMOs, no corn syrup, wheat and gluten free, casein free, soy free and dairy free. (So, yes, vegan.) They currently come in four flavors. The cutest part of their packaging is the two ounce tin, which retails for about five bucks, which is steep. They also have a little “purse” mixed bag which can help you find your favorite because the five pound bulk bags they also sell online are the best value as long as you know you really, really like them.
I was really excited to find a Pink Grapefruit and Tupelo Honey hard candy. The flavor is tart but with a bitter note from the grapefruit oils. I didn’t catch the honey, but did notice that it wasn’t overtly sweet like some citrus candies can be to compensate for the sourness. The oily zest notes lasted for quite a while, not in a bad way, more as a kind of background freshness for about 15 minutes.
The pieces are quite small, about half the weight of a regular Starlight Mint. But they’re exquisite, imprinted with a little raspberry design and the company’s logo.
Pear & Cinnamon is an interesting combination, much like apple pie. The pear flavor is mild, as actual pears are, it’s almost a baked banana flavor with a light tang to it. The cinnamon is like the spice and not the hotness of a Hot Tamale candy or anything like that. It’s pleasant and unassuming, though a little evocative of a holiday candle.
Pomegranate & Nectarine is not a flavor combination I would have expected. It’s strong and deep. The nectarine notes are like a peachy flavor, a little fuzzy and tropical with that woodsy note that stonefruits can have. Then there’s the pomegranate, which is like a raspberry mixed with cranberry, a little tannic and floral.
Blood Orange & Honey was more like a strong tangerine flavor with a lot of zest to it. The honey came out a bit later, as the citrusy parts faded away, there was a malty, honey sweetness that had a bit more staying power than a simple sugar.
Overall, they’re quite tasty with grown up flavors. They don’t do much to soothe my throat, but did give me a flavor boost I was craving after consuming most of my calories for a week in liquid form.
They are really expensive, which is odd for a hard candy. The labor is the same for organic and conventional candies, it’s just the ingredients that differ. In this case the candy, even in the bulk bags, is $11 a pound with a five pound minimum. (The tins come out to $40 a pound.) For that price I’d like to know that it was made right here in America, but these are made in Mexico (which is not that uncommon with organic hard candies these days).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.