Hard Candy & Lollipops
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).
Friday, October 26, 2012
Astro Pops were introduced in 1963, a time of great excitement in the space race, by Nellson Candy Company in California. The design of the pop was a simple cone with three layered flavors to emulate the three stage space rocket of the time.
The shape and production technique for the pops was rather unique, as they were molded right in the wrappers and sealed at the ends with a small layer of food-grade paraffin wax. Astro Pops were discontinued in 2004 and after several years of work to both secure the rights to the product and re-innovate the production, Leaf Brand Candy got them back on shelves recently.
The style of the candy itself is a little different, as most lollipops are made from a stamped hard candy that’s usually slightly aerated before molding. This can lead to bubbles and voids. (Gourmet lollipops such as Linda’s Lollies and the Jelly Belly Lollibeans are also super-dense hard candy.)
It’s hard to eat an Astro Pop without creating a hazard. They’re already unbalanced, with a very short stick and a blunted point. Once you start licking it, the point becomes rather sharp. Add to that the stark ergonomics of consumption: it’s a hands-on pop. You can’t hold it in your mouth because it’s so bottom heavy and long (unless you clench it in your teeth, and that presents another problem because the candy style can become soft and cement your teeth together). You can’t put it down without having it stick to things because of the larger surface involved when it’s a rest (it’s not one point of contact like a sphere, instead it’s a plane/line of contact with the length of the pop).
So, all those physical things aside ... it is a fascinating confection, especially for someone like me who is a fan of Barley Sugar Candy. The flavor layers are Pineapple (top yellow), Passion Fruit (middle green) and Cherry (base red). The candy is dense and smooth with a slow dissolve. The flavor is mellow and all sweetness. Pineapple is floral, a little like strawberry with a hint of pina colada. The passion fruit layer was a little hard to distinguish, partly because it’s sandwiched between the more distinct flavor layers. It’s a little pine-like and kind of like a fruit punch. The cherry base is a little like a cough drop in that it’s syrupy and even though it’s an intense red, I didn’t have any metallic bitter aftertaste from the coloring.
The candy lasts for a long time, the density of the boiled sugar means that it’s not crunchable (like Jolly Ranchers) so you have to dissolve the whole thing, lick by lick. There’s no way, until the pop is shorter, to tuck it into your cheek and rot your teeth either.
Here’s a classic commercial from the Astro Pop heyday when they made a bunch of different flavor varieties.
What I found most amusing about this history is that the Nellson Candy Company sold the rights to the pop to Spangler Candy in 1987. A scant 9 years early Spangler made a name for itself by creating the SafeTPop, the little lollipop with the looped string for a handle instead of a stiff stick.
Overall, a fun candy but not necessarily an everyday confection nor for everyone. The version I tried is 1.5 ounces, larger than the one ounce size that may be more ubiquitous and perhaps easier to eat. It’s definitely expensive, I paid 2.99 for my little pop, something I wouldn’t plan on doing again.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
What compelled me was the window on the package that showed the shape and style of these hard candies was charming - they’re little flowers, and without any artificial colors at all. In fact, the ingredients list had only three things listed: Sugar, Glucose, Peppermint Oil.
They reminded me of Brach’s Sparkles, which were a dense hard candy that was discontinued some years ago. I was hoping this was similar. Sparkles where fruity flavors (though may have had a minty version), and this Silver Mint also came in a mixed fruit version - but the garish colors turned me off in the same way that the elegant lack of color attracted me to these. (But now I regret not buying them.)
Each piece is 6 grams (.21 ounces) but felt heavy and dense compared to a Starlight Mint (which are usually about 5 grams each). They’re one inch in diameter and it seemed really large when I ate it.
The flavor is not overly sweet but very minty. There are no voids or bubbles at all, so the dissolve is exceptionally smooth. The texture is similar to a Jolly Rancher, a little tacky and not at all “crunchable.” The peppermint flavor is clean, and has little pops of intense flavor (reminding me of Reed’s hard candies). All I can say is that when I was done with the candy, I didn’t feel like I was sticky sweet, I just had a clean freshness in my mouth. I found one exceptionally satisfying, probably because I can’t chew them up, so I have to let them dissolve.
These are made in Canada, and probably exist in other store brand versions around North America. The package states that they were made in a facility that also processes peanuts, tree nuts, soy, eggs, wheat and milk. Yay, they’re shellfish free!
Note: The original posting said that these were purchased at Wegman’s. I’ve since been informed that this is a Giant house brand (I don’t remember shopping at Giant, but it’s far more likely that’s what I did than Wegman’s carrying a competitor’s generic brand).
Monday, September 10, 2012
Werther’s Original Hard Candies are truly a classic around the world, a kind of standard for hard candy butterscotch. They’re made by August Storck and named for the town where the candy company was formed, Werther in the Westphalia region of Germany. The company was founded in 1903 and may have come up with a version of the Original Hard Candy around 1909 through the efforts of one of the company’s confectioners, Gustav Nebel.
The first branded name of the candy emerged in 1969 when they began selling them as Werthers Echte in Germany, and then in the 1980s they became a world-wide brand under the English name of Werther’s Original.
The ingredients are simple: sugar, glucose syrup (from wheat or corn), cream, butter, whey, salt, soy lecithin and vanillin. There are no partially hydrogenated oils in there, no filler oils. For the most part it’s sugars and dairy ingredients with a splash of salt (about 15 mg per piece). The calorie count is higher than other hard candies, because of the fat content that’s usually absent from pure sugar candy. So these have about a half a gram of fat per candy and less than 25 calories each.
Each is wrapped in a mylar and clear cellophane wrapper. The gold sparkle is hard to miss in a candy dish. For a hard candy, they do a good job of straddling the world of durability and decadence.
The pieces are about 1.2 inches long and .8 inches wide. They’re smooth and nicely domed with a small depression in the top. They fit the mouth nicely and dissolve smoothly and slowly. The flavor is very well rounded, a hint of salt, a creamy burn sugar note and little hint of vanilla. The texture is exceptionally smooth and dense, there are no voids at all. But in addition to the creamy melt, they are quite crunchy if you’re a chewer. (And I am.)
They’re easy to savor, and provide a little more substance than a straight sugar item like a Butterscotch Disk, which is really only flavored like scorched sugar. There are other candies like the Werther’s and companies like Life Savers and Hershey’s have tried to enter the same market. But there’s really no need to try others. The Werther’s are superb. They’re easy to find at drug stores and discounters. The ingredients are decent enough and the price is pretty reasonable. The only issue I have with them is that they can get sticky in humid or hot environments. It doesn’t ruin the taste, but does mar the lovely appearance of the pieces when unwrapped.
It would be nice if they’d make them gluten free, though. Contains milk, soy and wheat.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
As a kid I would eat brown sugar straight from the bag. I loved finding chunks of the stuff in my oatmeal. As an adult I discovered muscovado sugar and love finding new ways to use it in everyday food.
As a candy, this molasses rich sugar is quite popular in Japan, where Japanese prize their Okanawan Black Sugar. It’s mostly found in hard candies but sometimes used in caramels. I was excited to see the Meiji Chelsea line of hard butterscotch candies came out with a variety pack based on flavors of Kuro Sato called Chelsea Kokutou Black Sugar. The flavors are milk, black sugar and ginger.
The packaging is always charming. A stark black background with little calico inspired flowers dot the wrappers. In this case each wrapper is a different muted pastel with black flowers on it.
The candy comes in two different packaging styles. There are little flat boxes that hold foil wrapped pieces of butterscotch, then there are the bags, which often have assortments instead of a single flavor. The sealed wrappers are great because they keep the candies from becoming sticky. However, the candy is expensive. I think I paid 3.99 for this package that holds only 2.5 ounces. I’ve seen other packages for sale online for over $5 a package as well.
The light purple wrapper holds the Milk flavored piece. It looks like ordinary butterscotch but tastes like sweet, creamy rum. The texture of Chelsea is extraordinary. It’s smooth. The pieces always look and sound like glass. If you like to let your candy dissolve, these last a long time with consistent flavor all the way through. If you’re a cruncher, these are crispy and buttery.
The milk flavor mellows the strength of the black sugar, which can have bitter components to it. It’s fresh tasting, like a very mellow black tea.
The light red wrappers hold the best of all, the Black Sugar flavor. The pieces are very dark brown, glossy and hard. The flavor is dark and complex. It’s like that charcoal-like flavor of a toasted marshmallow. It’s more earthy and cereal-like than just molasses. It’s creamy and smooth, woodsy with a hint of toffee and coffee.
What’s so amazing about black sugar are all the flavors and nuances. It’s like chocolate, coffee or wine in that way.
The lightest looking piece of the set is the Ginger. This is less about the black sugar but an interesting combination of flavors. The ginger is woodsy and smooth with a warm component to it. The flavor is less of the tangy fresh juice flavor and more of the dried ginger with milk profile. The black sugar is lost, so the sugary notes are more like maple than molasses. Still, a great ginger candy, far and away better than most other toffee style gingers.
This was a great mix and I found it hard not to eat them all right away. I even tried going back to Little Tokyo to find more, but couldn’t find a single grocer that carried them still. I’m very sad, but hoping that Meiji will bring back the Black Sugar at least as a single flavor in the boxes at some point and I will stock up.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
After my niece’s lacrosse game but before my nephew’s baseball game we headed over to Bevan’s Own Make Candy in Media, Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia. It’s a cute little shop where nearly everything they sell is made right there in the store. The Bevan’s shop has been there for over 50 years, churning out local favorites and holiday treats. I was interested in the items that they were particularly well known for.
The store looks barely touched by the years. The interior is a simple set of shelves, a quaint window display and a large glass candy case. The gal behind the counter was happy to answer questions and even ended up checking in back for a dark chocolate mix for me.
We picked up three boxes of candy, one to eat with the family and two which I shared and then took the rest home with me. We picked out Milk Chocolate Covered Pretzels (which were gone within 24 hours), Peanut Butter Sticks and Molasses Chips. Each box was between $6.00 and $6.50 and I think had about a half a pound in it.
I love the idea of a Butterfinger, but have been disappointed over the years with the quality of the Nestle product. But stores like Bevan’s almost always have a house made version, Peanut Butter Sticks and they’re far superior. This version is a straw-style peanut butter crunch that’s then covered in a large helping of milk chocolate.
The peanut butter crisp is flaky and melts in the mouth quickly. The peanut butter flavors are strong and it’s not too sweet with just the right, light touch of salt. The milk chocolate is smooth, a little too sweet for me, but the right ratio for this version of the candy. It was hard to keep at least half a box for photographing when I got home.
The other item I love getting, especially from Pennsylvania candy makers, is Molasses Chips. Like the Peanut Butter Sticks, it’s a candy that takes a bit of work and skill to make, even though the recipe is quite simple. The center is just a boiled sugar and molasses mixture that’s pulled and folded to create the unique layered texture. Then it’s cut up and covered in dark chocolate. The bitterness of the mild dark chocolate goes well with the dark, toffee sweetness of the molasses. Crispy, melt in your mouth, definitely a keeper.
If you’re in the area and crave a little home-cooked flavor, it’s a good shop to experience. Around the corner on Edgemont Street is the actual candy kitchen, you can look in through the window and see their equipment and candy making tables.
Bevan’s Own Make Candy
Read more about Bevan’s at the local Media, PA website, Fig Media.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
So I was pretty excited when I heard that Target was going to make some curated shops within Target enlisting the help of Diane and Brian of the Russian Hill store. What I love about the store is that they have such an interesting collection of little tidbits from around the world. Sure, there’s some that’s completely common, but there were things I’d pick up there, especially licorice, that I have a hard time finding elsewhere.
Unlike Target’s house branded line of Choxie items, this is not a permanent addition to Target, when it’s gone, it’s gone.
The store at Target amounts to an endcap near the candy aisle in the food section at Target. The theme colors are black and white with a field of some sort of weird light green that I associate with government buildings, black and white. There aren’t really that many products and only three or four formats. There are lollipops and different candy in jars and then some tins of chocolate confections. The price points vary from $2.49 for the lollipops to $9.99 for the large tins.
The cornerstone, I would say, is the display of lollipops. The packaging is simple but the actual pops are clever and appealing. There are swirl pops and clear pops with little Necco wafers embedded in them.
The largest array of products, though, are the ones in the jars. This is where my disappointment originated. They’re $4.99 for 11 to 14 ounces of bulk candy. The candies themselves are underwhelming and expensive. I appreciated the harder to find items, like the sour sanded jelly stars, the gummi fried eggs and licorice scotty dogs. But $5 for less than a pound of Bit O’ Honey or Necco Wafers? That’s insane, the packaging is nice, but not like the tins for the chocolates. They’re just plastic.
The lollipop is double wrapped, which is a good idea. The outer wrap is loose and is closed with just a little twist tie that holds the bow on. Inside that, the pop itself is shrink wrapped. It was tough to get off, the shrink wrap had a big glob of melted plastic at the stick that took quite a bit of work with some scissors to remove.
The pop is 3.5 inches square and came in a variety of colors/flavors. I chose orange because I thought it would be a good representation of how flavors are handled.
The hard candy part of the lollipop is nicely poured. It’s a little uneven in spots but has only small bubbles in it. The tight shrink wrapping ended up creating creases and lines across the corners and edges of the pop. The Necco dots are lined up in the sort of pattern that might make some think of Lego blocks or perhaps a six sided die.
The flavor of the candy is very simple. It’s orange, just sweet orange. There’s a lot of zest notes in it, but it’s mostly a soft and sugary orange. The Necco wafers are crunchable with the candy, if you’re the type who chews their hard candy. I found the flavors (lemon and lime) of the Necco actually went well (except for pink). But still, it was just a big piece of hard candy on a wooden stick. It’s fun to look at, but really not for eating. The Necco Wafers contain gelatin, so this is not a candy for vegetarians, also contains soy.
I like the idea of a curated set of candy that’s hard to find and well priced. This has some of those elements, but I’m not their actual intended audience. This is for people who don’t realize that there are neighborhood candy shops in so many places where you can find this sort of thing, along with an enthusiastic person behind the register like Diane or Brian. If you’re stuck in big-box store land, this at least has more personality and is a better gift than a peg bag of Scotty Dogs.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.