Friday, May 02, 2008
There are a few candies still on my list of “I can’t believe you haven’t tried that before!” and chocolate covered gummi bears were one of them. Once I had the Japanese version, I realized I should try the original. They were invented over 30 years ago by none other than the ultimate “if it should be covered in chocolate, we’ll cover it in chocolate” company: Koppers Chocolates.
When I was in San Francisco I found not only Koppers Milk Chocolate Covered Gummi Bears, but also the White Chocolate Polar Bears at Sweet Dish on Chestnut Street.
I’m not sure why I’ve been reticent about trying them. It might be that I was expecting a Haribo gummi bear, which are rather firm. Instead Koppers uses Swiss gummis (I don’t know anything beyond that) that they are appropriately soft.
I got just a quarter of a pound each of mixed milk & polar bears to try. What struck me at first was the fact that all the white chocolate bears were the same milky yellow color. Even held up to the light, there was no indication what color the gummi bear beneath was.
What I found out later, after diligently sucking the chocolate off of enough of them for a scientific sample, is that they’re all the same color (whether milk or white covered)! Though they’re yellow, I’m hard pressed to say that they’re lemon flavored, merely that they’re a sweet & tangy mix.
The milk chocolate was pretty smooth, and very milky tasting. It melted well and didn’t have that light waxy glaze that many other panned candies have. The white chocolate was similarly milky in its taste, but not too sweet. As a combination goes, I still wasn’t completely on board with having chocolate with my gummi bears. They’re cute and easy to eat, but I think I might like them apart.
Rating: 6 out of 10
To be fair, even though Koppers invented the confectionery genre of chocolate covered gummi bears, the ones I see most often in drug stores, movie theaters & discount chains are called Muddy Bears and are made by Taste of Nature (who also makes Cookie Dough Bites) which I think is an awesome name for an unappetizing looking product.
The box features a yellow bear who is entirely too happy to be covered in chocolate. I’m not sure if he understands that once he’s sealed in his confectionery shell he’s doomed.
I’ve only seen them in the theater sized boxes. Inside the box is a cellophane pouch that holds the bears and keeps them fresh. (And makes for extra wrapper noises at the theater and probably scowly looks from me if I’m sitting near.)
As unattractive as the Koppers were, I think the Muddy Bears are even worse. But since they’re meant to be eaten at the movies based on the packaging, I’m going to guess that doesn’t matter much. (For the record, I like candy that looks the same after sitting unwrapped at the bottom of my purse, so that when I switch purses and find it down there, I know what it is ... and then I eat it.)
One of the big differences in the products is the gummi center. Muddy Bears use multi-flavored gummis. Of course being covered in milk chocolate there’s no way to know which flavor is which. It’s a benign chocolate-covered Russian roulette. Mostly I seemed to get green apple.
The chocolate coating seems a bit crumbly, not as smooth melting as the Koppers and very sweet without much of a “chocolate” taste. I can’t see myself buying these.
Candy Addict did a review last summer as well, interestingly, their photo of the box says, “The Original”, I’m guessing Koppers took issue with the accuracy and they’ve changed it to the version I have.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Meiji Gummy Choco set the bar too high. Their candies come in lots of different flavors, they’re packaged so nicely, the price is right even for an import and if you get a flavor mix, they’re color coded. But if you’re not able to get a hold of those, give the Koppers a try (you’ll probably see them in bulk bins), if the shop also carries chocolate cordials, they’re probably Koppers.
Friday, August 31, 2007
Last year I reported that M&Ms was pulling back on candy stores on the internet being permitted to sell M&Ms ColorWorks candies. This means that if you want single colored M&Ms, you’ve either got to trek out to a candy store that carries them or order directly from M&Ms and their website.
ColorWorks are wildly popular as a candy for special gifts, parties, wedding favors and candy buffets ... but they’re also rather expensive when you think about how much a regular mixed bag costs at the drug store or grocer. A pound of M&Ms usually costs about $3 to $4 (I can get them for about $2 on sale at times) a pound in their standard mix. However, the ColorWorks on the M&Ms website are $10 a pound when purchased in 5 pound bags (and $13.69 when purchased in the next smaller size, 7 ounces).
So what’s a bride to do when she wants pretty chocolate pastilles for her favors? Well, unless you want to buy the regular M&Ms in bulk and separate them yourself ... or stock up around a holiday such as Easter or Christmas ... or pick something like Kissables then I thought I would look at an alternative brand: Koppers.
I’m very fond of Koppers as a brand to begin with, not only for their variety but also their innovative flavor combinations (they invented the chocolate covered coffee bean and chocolate covered gummi bears!) but mostly because they’re just so darned pretty. It’s a quality product, made in the USA and is certified Kosher. They also have a wide selection of color variations.
A few weeks ago I did a huge photo shoot with a large selection (14 different colors) of the Koppers Milkies and I figured it was a sign that I should do a piece on them, more specifically in a head to head with M&Ms.
Colors: I picked up a pound of pre-mixed M&Ms at The Jelly Bean factory which features 21 different colors. Though Koppers makes at least 28 colors (and would probably do a custom color for you directly if you ordered enough) I think it’s safe to say that both have a great selection of colors.
Size & Shape: The candies are pretty much the same. The M&Ms are a little bit bigger around, but the Koppers are slightly higher in the middle. The Koppers are much more consistent in their size and shape and shell than the M&Ms. Of the Koppers that I sorted through, I found perhaps 3 or 4 “rejects” per pound. For the M&Ms I found at least 15 rejects in the single pound that I had to go on. I find at least one reject in a single serving bag as well (this would be a candy that is markedly out of proportion, has a problem with its shell in some way like bumpiness or missing part of it or irregular coloration).
Shell & Color - the M&Ms have a slightly thicker shell which appears to be colored all the way through. This gives it a consistent color depth. The Koppers has a white or colorless shell at its base and then a colored shell. I never encountered any that lacked a good coat of color on them. The color was more consistent and dense than the M&Ms, where sometimes had a slight mottled appearance, especially on the darker colors. M&Ms also have a little grey, lowercase M stamped on every one (including the grey ones, even though you really can’t see it). Koppers are unbranded and I like the look. I’m not sure I would if they weren’t so perfectly consistent.
The colors available for both are rather similar and it’s likely if you’re very picky for your occasion you should get some samples before you commit to large quantities. (I was able to buy a pound bag of the complete mix of colors at The Jelly Bean Factory.) Most of the colors in real life from both brands are remarkably consistent with those posted on their websites. Koppers has a larger variety of colors they produced, however, few stores carry all of them. (But might be willing to do a special order if you give them some lead time.)
Taste: M&Ms taste like, well, M&Ms. The shell is crispy and crunchy and the chocolate inside is mellow, sweet and has a slightly acidic milky flavor and maybe even a little hint of nuttiness.
The Koppers have a rather different chocolate flavor. In fact, they taste more like chocolate to me, especially since the shell is a bit thinner. The shell crackles at first but then dissolves away to leave only the chocolate. It’s a light milk chocolate which smells divine in large quantities.
The nutrition info on both was virtually identical (200 calories per 40 grams).
Price: M&Ms ColorWorks prices seem to be pretty carefully controlled. Buying on the internet you’re going to find very few shops that still have inventory left, and they’re probably not selling for much less than M&Ms direct. Just about every shop I go into that has M&Ms ColorWorks sells for $8 to $10 per pound. Koppers are sold at a variety of online stores (and not very many brick & mortars). I got mine from Candy Warehouse (because I do photos for them) but there are a few other online stores that are starting to carry the line. Most are about $8 to $10 a pound - even less if you buy in HUGE quantities. (Please check out any online retailer before you order something for a special event.)
Here are a few things I noticed:
It all comes down to what you want at your party, what you prefer, and perhaps even which brand has the colors that go with your motif best. Definitely give both a try (and check out the rest of the Koppers line ... I’m rather fond of their mocha lentils and licorice lentils). It’s fun to think outside of the normal Jordan almonds motif and the great thing is that the internet has made so many different kinds of candy available.
As mentioned earlier I have a lot of the Koppers Milkies and am planning a party for tomorrow evening where I intend to make all my friends eat pounds and pounds of the stuff. I’m going to create the ultimate “candy buffet” so look for some postings and photos in the future with ideas on how to make your own candy buffet.
The results of this head to head? I prefer the Koppers. I like the more authentic chocolate taste and they simply feel a little more upscale to me, mostly because of their high degree of consistency. However, M&Ms have a lot to recommend them. They’re pretty easy to get a hold of (and I’m guessing if you order direct they’ll be super fresh) and a known crowd pleaser, if a bit more “casual” in feel because of the branding.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
One of my favorite chocolate treats since I was a teen are Koppers’ Cordials. They’re little dark chocolate spheres, about the size of a hazelnut that hold a crystal sugar shell inside filled with a “cordial” of some sort. They’re just flavored, not real alcohol. The easiest flavor to find is Rum, but I’ve picked up Cognac, Mandarin Orange, Mint and Sambucca (Anise). In fact, Koppers has at least 40 different varieties.
Most of the time I find them at the chain bulk candy stores like Candy Station or Sweets Factory. They’re usually rather expensive (being a chocolate item and also rather difficult to make), most of the time approaching $20 a pound. But I was happy to see them at the Jelly Bean Factory over the weekend. They’re a great movie candy because they’re easy to eat and easy to savor, so that’s what I did with them.
The bonus to buying them in a pre-packaged bag is that you’re pretty sure you’re getting the flavor your want. The problem I have getting them in bulk sometimes if they have a large assortment is that they all look the same and can get jumbled up by a careless employee or a devilish customer. There are a few flavors that I find really unpleasant (Amaretto), so it’s no fun to get one of those by accident.
I’m positively spellbound by everything Koppers makes. They’re all so beautiful to behold. They’re always so shiny and perfect. It’s one of the things I’m looking forward to about the All Candy Expo ... that huge wall they do of all of their products with little spoons so that you can taste each and every morsel.
The dark chocolate is sweet and mellow. Not too bitter or complex. It’s really just there to hold the cordial. The sugar shell is crunchy if you like to bite yours in half or just chew the whole thing. The cordial filling is like a hit of rum extract. I felt very sophisticated as a kid when I’d go to the candy counter at the department store and get a quarter pound of these (and a half a pound of gummi bears).
It’s also kind of fun to dissolve the chocolate slowly to get to the sugar sphere. It’s pretty durable, until of course enough of that to dissolve and out comes the little trickle of the cordial center.
Rum Cordials are the easiest to find, but I have to say that I prefer the darker flavors of Cognac and Whiskey or the real flavor zaps of Mandarin Orange or Sambucca.
If you want to feel really sophisticated, you can try real cordials from K Chocolatier in Bevery Hills (I know I was kind of harsh about the price, but they were $40!) for a real vodka martini inside of a chocolate sphere. Now that’s a sophisticated indulgence.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
These malt balls are Maple flavored and from Naked Chocolate in Philadelphia, PA. I don’t know that much more about them. In fact, I’m not even sure that they are Maple flavored, there’s no label on them that says one way or another, but they taste maple-y (or maybe pecanish?) and that’s good enough for me.
They’re stunning to look at from the outside. Wonderfully glossy, these milk chocolate covered balls have a secret inside, a second inner shell of dark chocolate. This may be where the flavor is.
The malted center doesn’t pack the malty punch that I usually look for, but the woodsy smell and taste along with the crunchy center was pleasant enough for me to eventually eat the whole package.
These orange beauties are Pumpkin Spice. Again, I’m guessing here, because there were no labels. They definitely had a good pack of spice in them, some mellow nutmeg, a little allspice and a light hit of cinnamon & clove (not so much as to bother me).
The orange color took a while getting used to, as did the sweetness of the white chocolate (that looks orange). There were no pumpkin notes, but that’s okay with me (I’d already had my fill of Pumpkin KitKats before I got these).
I can’t say that I liked these as much as the maple ones, at least that’s what the evidence of me still having the Pumpkin ones around and no more Maple says. They do make my desk drawer smell fresh and woodsy. Perhaps it’s that the center of the ball isn’t malty but more like a graham cracker flavor. Which probably goes with pumpkin spices better but left me wanting my malt fix.
I’ve seen a lot of different flavored malt balls out there, peanut butter, espresso, toffee crunch, mint ... the list goes on and on. And though some of these iterations are good, they lack the malt delivery that I’ve come to expect in a sphere of chocolate with a crunchy center. So either I have to adjust my thinking about what I’m about to eat or I need to stop picking these up and hoping to get my malt on. Then they’re pretty good.
UPDATE: it looks like these are actually made by Koppers.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
I talk about Trader Joe’s a lot as a candy source; the store opening in Manhattan was big news. But on my trip to NYC, I found that they already have an extraordinary store, Fairway. We pretty much stumbled upon the market while walking back from the Upper West Side to our hotel in Times Square.
Like Trader Joe’s the store focuses on more gourmet, upscale or wholesome fare, with many items sold with their private label but at super-delicious prices. The best part, of course, was their candy section. They had a huge aisle of pre-packaged bulk nuts and panned chocolate goods, most of which made by Koppers.
The first thing that caught my eye were these little M&M sized dark chocolate goodies called Cayenne Pepper Savory. It was just what I was looking for all these years, a peppered chocolate in easy to eat morsels. But when they say Cayenne Pepper, they really mean it. It’s far too spicy for comfort. I might try putting them in cookies or something, but it’s too bad, the chocolate is really nice, but the afterburn is serious. ($5.99/lb)
Of course I have a hard time believing that they really were that hot, so after a couple of days I try another one. Same result ... whoo! I don’t know, it’s growing on me.
This was by far the best of the Koppers finds. It’s little cubes of dried apricot covered in dark chocolate. So simple. The chocolate has a nice smoky, dark bite. It’s sweet but doesn’t overpower the natural sweetness and tart chewy bite of the apricot.
It’s nice to find an affordable version of the glace apricots that I’ve seen at the upscale chocolatiers. Of course these don’t replace them, but they’re portable and high quality. ($5.99/lb)
Oh, I had such high hopes. Look at them, they’re gorgeous! Dark and glossy and sweet smelling. But there’s something so wrong about the taste and even though I’ve been sampling these for weeks, I can’t quite put my finger on it. They chocolate is sweet, but bitter. Smooth but a little waxy and it has this odd dairy taste to it, even though it’s dark chocolate. The malted center is not really malty or maybe the chocolate is overpowering it. I was just so disappointed. ($4.99/lb)
And here’s the big secret - Fairway sells Lake Champlain! Only it’s their house brand and it’s far cheaper. I picked up two 5 Star Bars and they were only $2.19 each! I picked up the Caramel one, just to make sure the Fairway house brand was truly the same as the Lake Champlain, and I also got this one, the Fruit & Nut Bar.
This stunning 2 ounce brick ‘o chocolate is dark chocolate on the outside, filled with a hazelnut praline (think Caffarel’s Guanduia) studded with pecans and dried cherries. Now I know I say that I don’t like cherry flavored things, but I have no problem at all with the real ones. This bar was really nice, the dark chocolate was bold and reigned in the thick flavor of the hazelnut praline quite nicely.
The nuts weren’t as numerous as I’d hoped, but the bite of the sour cherries and the chewy texture was a nice mix. I do like the inventiveness of mixing pecans and hazelnuts - two sadly neglected nuts in American candybars. Of the two that I’ve had now, I still prefer the Caramel bar, but this one is certainly interesting and I’m wondering how it compares to the 5-Star Hazelnut bar.
Fairway had a large selection of candies, both in their own packaged bulk items like the Koppers, upscale brands like Scharffen Berger and Valrhona. I also saw a huge variety of imported candies like European brands like Cadbury and Nestle (not the American versions).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.