Tuesday, December 31, 2013
I’ve had quite a few “mints” from Big Sky Brands over the years, and appreciate their approach to their candies even if their flavor combinations don’t align with my tastes. The Ginger Zingers line (called Ginger Delights on their website for some reason) come in four flavors: D’Anjou Pear, Mango, Chai and Blood Orange. I picked up the last two, as they were the most appealing to me.
The back of the tin explains the candy:
They aren’t kidding when they say it’s packed with ginger. The ingredients list pure cane sugar first, then ground ginger root.
The Blood Orange Ginger Zingers has a very faint orange cast to it but definitely smells like an orange gelatin dessert. The flavor on the tongue is immediately a sweet orange, but a little later this candy gets intense. The ginger is very warm and has a strong black pepper hotness. I found them too intense and the orange didn’t have any zest or tang, just the sweet juice note.
The Chai Ginger Zingers feature a full list of the spices on the package, which I really appreciated. Star anise (pictured on the box), cinnamon, cardamom, clove and black pepper are the chai to go with the ginger. This combination smells like vanilla at first, or more like a poundcake, with a sweet baked sugar note. The ginger is far from the intensity of the Blood Orange variety, but still warming. I caught a note of the anise, black pepper and a little clove, but it was a nice mellow blend. I found these very easy to eat one after another.
Each tin holds about 30 pieces of candy, about 1 ounce total. I picked mine up for $1.99 a package. They’re a bit pricy for mints, especially if I gobble them up. But the flavors were distinct and uncommon enough that I could see getting the Chai again, especially if I were looking for something to help with motion sickness. In the mean time, the tin is the ideal size for stowing my earbuds.
The package specifies that these are made with a vegetarian sourced magnesium stearate, but there’s no notation on whether the sugar is considered vegan. They are kosher and gluten free.
Monday, December 30, 2013
This fall Nestle announced it was launching Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups in January 2014. Butterfinger is an iconic American candy bar, combining peanuts and sugar and chocolate. The bar has been adapted into a half a dozen other formats and confections. There’s were Butterfinger BBs, Butterfinger Crisp, Butterfinger Snackerz, Butterfinger Stixx, Butterfinger Bites, Butterfinger Chocolate Bars and even the caffeinated Butterfinger Buzz.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before Nestle decided to take on the cup format and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Nestle plans to go big with their launch of the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups, with a full ad campaign including a commercial during the 2014 Superbowl.
There’s a couple of curiosities about these cups. First, they have no paper cups. They are fluted, but there’s no paper liner on the tray in the package.
The second thing is that they’re not round. The circular base is far smaller than the top, which is a rounded square. There’s quite an angle towards the top which means that the ratio of chocolate to filling changes at the perimeter versus the center.
The cups are described simply as Smooth & Crunchy on the package.
The filling is quite salty. There’s a creamy component that is very sweet, then the chunky, crunchy bits of Butterfinger centers. There’s a very strong artificial butter flavor to the whole thing, much stronger than an actual Butterfinger bar. The chocolate profile itself is overshadowed by the butter flavor of the center, so it’s hard for it to contribute anything other than texture. That said, it’s pretty smooth though sweet. It’s certainly better than the coating on a Butterfinger Bar.
The ingredients are interesting, notably that they’ve removed the artificial colorings from this candy. (Butterfinger Bars have artificial yellow and red food coloring in them.)
Contains milk, soy and peanuts, may contain nuts. No mention of gluten.
The package has the Cocoa Plan logo on the front. This is Nestle’s new initiative to bring sustainable practices to their cocoa growers through education programs. The programs are to help growers use better practices to increase yields, reduce losses as well as creating schools for the children in their communities. It’s an internal program that Nestle operates that does not, as far as I know, have any external audits or benchmarks, though they do also buy from Fairtrade and UTZ certified sources in quantities to match certain products so that they can bear their logo.
There are a lot of similarities between the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It’s probably not a coincidence. Each cup is .75 ounces, with the package holding two totaling 1.5 ounces.
From the above you can see the long and complicated ingredient list for the Butterfinger Cups. The Reese’s cups are far simpler.
Simpler does not necessarily mean better. Both cups have TBHQ in them, which is a preservative (keeps the peanut oil from getting rancid). But both are rather small in mass for a candy bar these days. A Snickers Bar or Butterfinger Bar is over 2 ounces. These cups are kind of puny.
But in the ingredients list, you’ll notice that the Reese’s have no added oils, no fractionated palm kernel oil or hydrogenated rapeseed oil. But I’ve got to admire the bang for the buck I get with the Butterfinger, it has 20 more calories from fat than the Reese’s. Here’s the comparison of the nutritional panels for both cups:
So, the Butterfinger is less salty and just slightly fattier - some of the protein grams of the Reese’s are fat grams in the Butterfinger. This is an odd observation, since the Reese’s Cups I know and love usually have a soft, greasy spot in the center of the chocolate on each cup where the peanut oils have migrated from the peanut butter into the chocolate. As far as I can tell, the Butterfinger Cups are far more stable and consistent.
They’re different candies. They share some of their format and the basic flavors but the textural experience is different. I still prefer the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but that’s probably because I’ve grown up with it. I don’t care for the fake, overly sweet butter flavor of the Butterfinger Bar or these Cups. But I do appreciate the variation in the textures. Overall, I usually go for the smaller ingredients list and I prefer my candy to have the innate oils from the flavor ingredients, not added ones. But it’s a good candy and I think they’ll probably last longer than Butterfinger Stixx.
Friday, December 20, 2013
SweetWorks, which makes many flavors of the break apart chocolate orange and Sixlets, also makes a wide variety of foil wrapped chocolate pieces and figures for all occasions.
Their holiday range is quite diverse, featuring chocolate balls, disks and semi-solid figures. The company sent me a huge box filled with confections to sample before Thanksgiving, and I’ve finally made it through all of the items before Christmas.
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Ornaments are one of the classics. They’re just a little solid chocolate sphere wrapped in foil.
Foil Colors: Solid Hunter Green, Solid Red, Diamon Silver, Diamond Blue, Diamond Red.
Taste: The milky chocolate is very smooth and has a lot of dairy notes to it. It’s on the sweet side but also has a lot of vanilla notes to it.
Verdict: Very nice, easily munchable. This sort of piece will appeal to kids and adults.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Crisp Balls
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Silver & Red
Taste: The milky chocolate has a nice ratio of crisped rice. It’s creamy, a little softer than the solid chocolate bars but not quite as sweet.
Verdict: This is what I want from my candy in my stocking. It’s comforting and filling but still attractive.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Dark Chocolate Balls
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Gold & Red
Taste: These are extremely dark looking, almost black. I checked and noticed the ingredients list: sugar, chocolate, chocolate processed with alkali, cocoa butter, butterfat (milk), soy lecithin, and vanilla. So this chocolate contains alkalized cocoa, which makes it darker. It also has butterfat in it, so it’s not vegan, which is too bad, because it’s hard to find vegan holiday treats. The flavor profile is a little odd. It’s definitely not overly sweet, but the particle size of the chocolate gives it a slight grain and a dry finish.
Verdict: I liked them well enough to pick them out as something to eat in combination with other things, like nuts, but I didn’t like the dry afterbite.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Solid Milk Chocolate Bells
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Silver & Red
Taste: These are a bigger bite than the balls, about 2/3 bigger, so it’s a lot more chocolate at once. I noticed the smoothness of the melt much more in this shape.
Verdict: These are easier to peel and eat, though one piece is a little bigger than I prefer a bit of chocolate to be. But they don’t roll around, so that’s a plus.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Bells
Foil Colors: Green with Silver Trees & Red with Silver Trees
Taste: These didn’t smell like much in the package, but once unwrapped there was a nice fresh peanut scent. The milky chocolate is really smooth and the peanut center was part meltaway, part peanut butter.
Verdict: They’re not the same texture or peanut flavor profile as Reese’s, so as long as you’re okay with that, these are very satisfying.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Medallions
Foil Colors: White Snowman, Blue Santa, Green Teddy Bear & Red Reindeer
Taste: Milky, sweet and creamy.
Verdict: This was the most disappointing design as far as I was concerned. They seemed dated and missed an opportunity for something a little more splashy. A simple patterned foil or perhaps better artwork for the illustrations would have put these over the top. I like the format of the disks, as they’re easier to bite than bells and something that can be used in S’mores very easily.
Rating: 6 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Santas
Foil Colors: Dominantly Red with Green & Yellow Accents - 4 designs
Taste: Thin and long, it’s an easy two bite piece. They were exceptionally shiny.
Verdict: Like the medallions, the design of the Santa foil is a little dated. But in the case I found it utterly charming, especially since I could walk them around on my desk and set them up in little tableaus as if they were interacting. The bonus here is that the Santa is molded with quite a bit of detail, so even unwrapped they’re beguiling.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Santas
Foil Colors: Dominantly Red with Blue & Bronze Accents - 4 designs
Taste: This has a similar light peanutty flavor to the Bells. It’s not a deep roasted flavor, it seemed a bit saltier and a little thick/stickier in the melt.
Verdict: I didn’t like the ratios as much as the Bells, but I have to appreciate the cute little Santa expressions.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Hollow Foil comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. They have Turkeys in full feather, Santas, Nutcrackers and a Rocking Horse. (I think they also do a Teddy Bear.) These are very sturdy, the foil is thick and well designed. Instead of a bit piece that wraps around to the back, these are crimped. This means that there’s a full front and back design with a large seam where the two sides are pinched together.
The sizes vary, as you can tell from the photos. As an example, the SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Santa is a little shy of 6 inches and weighs 70 grams (2.5 ounces). The base of the Santa is thick, which makes it very stable when standing. They’re all very attractive designs and would be good as either stocking stuffers or as decorations on a cookie plate or as place settings at a table.
The SweetWorks Hollow Chocolate Rocking Horse is 3.5 ounces, so the same as a standard tablet bar, only in a fancier format. SweetWorks uses all natural milk chocolate for their hollow molded figures. The ingredients list only: sugar, cocoa butter, milk, chocolate, soy lecithin and vanilla. They’re also kosher and gluten-free though processed in a facility with tree nuts and peanuts. The SweetWorks Hollow Chocolate Nutcracker is the largest of the pieces they make for Christmas, at 4.5 ounces and is nearly 7 inches tall.
The SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Turkey is only 1 ounce, but seems like a far larger portion. The base, like the others, is mostly solid which keeps the figure upright whether it’s wrapped or not. The chocolate tastes milkier and smoother than the foil covered balls. (My guess is that the formulation is just a little different for the molded chocolate because of the production demands of filling the intricate molds.)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Like the others, the molding details are great, it really is a nicely sculpted turkey and completely recognizable when it’s unwrapped. I liked these much better than the Hershey’s or Dove versions found at Easter, but they’re not quite as rich as the Lindt foil figures. I really liked the Rocking Horse though, I thought its design set it apart from the other offerings on the store shelves. I saw the Turkeys at Dylan’s Candy Bar, and I think they were $2.99 but online they’re a bit less. I just wish they were easier to find. For Easter they make a 3.5 ounce Yellow Chick and 3 ounce sitting Rabbit. It makes me wonder if there are figures that could be more “year round” or generic for parties and decorations since the Teddy Bear seems like a natural item for a baby shower.
SweetWorks can be found in the bulk bins at Dylan’s Candy Bar (and probably other places). Their foil balls actually come in a dozen colors and are also available as hearts year round in a wide color and texture palette. You’re more likely to find these online (you can buy direct from SweetWorks.net) and usually for a pretty decent price for all natural chocolate that isn’t Hershey’s Kisses.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
While other seasonal candies are chasing dessert and pastry flavors, 3 Musketeer’s winter flavor is all about the comfort of a hot cocoa. 3 Musketeers Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Minis were also available last year, but I didn’t realize I missed reviewing them until a Mars representative sent me a package that included them.
The 10 ounce bag holds oodles of the 3 Musketeers Minis, which are tiny cubes covered in chocolate with a frothy nougat center.
The little wrappers come in either silver or a light cocoa bronze. Each piece is about 25 calories, they’re about 124 calories per ounce, versus the 145 calories per ounce for a Snickers (nuts are more calorically dense). The little square are about 3/4 of an inch, though not quite that high.
The flavor is odd. It’s like they took the malt out of the nougat. So, the center is now cocoa flavored. Not chocolate flavored, actually more like cocoa and marshmallows. There’s that sort of empty flavor that cocoa has, a little dusty and unsupported and that has an added note of vanilla. They do remind me of cocoa flavored marshmallows, but not in a good way.
I’m not fond of these. The textures are good, but they’re extremely sweet and lacking the light salty, malted nougat flavor that I appreciate in 3 Musketeers. Other 3 Musketeers flavors have been more to my liking, so I’ll say that this is a personal preference. Other folks must be enjoying them because they’re back again, but I’ll take a pass. Someday we’ll get the Mocha ones back with more Mocha flavor in them.
Monday, December 9, 2013
One of the special items for the holidays would be what I consider the anchor item of a well-stuffed stocking. Usually, a good stocking has a mix of candy, perhaps some small gifts and then a specialty food item. Like the Chocolate Rabbit anchors an Easter Basket, a chocolate orange fills a similar role for Christmas.
There are a few brands out there, though the Terry’s Chocolate Orange is probably the most ubiquitous, it’s also probably the most disappointing for adults as the chocolate quality has declined over the years. It’s fun to see some more upscale versions, but also some that incorporate other flavors and new production techniques to achieve a unique experience.
I’ve reviewed quite a few of the Ovation chocolate oranges, which were also sold under the name Florida Tropics and made by SweetWorks. It’s an American company using all natural ingredients in their chocolate. Today I have two of the holiday versions: Ovation Dark Chocolate Mint Filled and Ovation Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice.
I’m starting with the Ovation Dark Chocolate Mint Filled because I was really excited about the construction. It’s mint filled. So not only is it a chocolate sphere made of 20 sections molded like orange segments, each one of those is filled with a minted white confection. That’s crazy!
The Ovation oranges are wonderfully structured. They’re a bit overpackaged, but it does pay off. All of my oranges were in excellent shape. Though the sticker exhorts the consumer to BREAK then OPEN, I usually choose to pry it apart. This means less chocolate dust, though it’s possible that some sections will still get broken.
This orange is a bittersweet chocolate base (though made with dairy fats) filled with a minted white confection. It smells lightly of mint once removed from the foil. Though there’s not listing on the package, I’d estimate that the chocolate is about 55% cacao.
The snap is excellent and the individual slices have a pretty consistent stripe of minted white confection in the center (not a true white chocolate). The melt is good, very smooth with a silky, cooling note from the mint. If you’re fond of something like Andes Mints, this is a similar product, except much cooler to look at. I wish it was real white chocolate in the center, but it is all natural. It’s made in a facility with peanuts and tree nuts, it contains milk and soy. There’s no statement about gluten. It’s also Kosher, which means it would be a great Hanukkah item as well.
The Ovation Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice is also very well made with all natural milk chocolate and flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cloves and natural pumpkin flavor. The pieces are like the dark chocolate version, 20 segments held together in a spherical form by a dollop of chocolate in the core. They’re easily broken apart by either smacking the whole thing on a hard surface, or just prying it in half.
These smell milky and sweet with a light spice note. The flavor is overly sweet with a lot of milk components and a warm hint of the pumpkin spices. Mostly I got the nutmeg and ginger, not as much of the cloves and cinnamon. It’s a lot sweeter than I like my chocolate, though didn’t quite arrive at the throat searing level. I’m finding now after a couple of years of these spiced chocolates that it’s not my preferred genre. My usual use for chocolate that’s too sweet to eat or bloomed is to make it into hot chocolate or chocolate pudding. I think this is an excellent candidate for that.
Their standard chocolate versions are also very good, and a great value for 6.17 ounces of all natural chocolate. If you have a Trader Joe’s nearby, you’ll also notice that their chocolate oranges are made by the same company under the Trader Joe’s holiday packaging. Ferrara Candy also makes chocolate oranges, which I’ve seen on sale at Walgreen’s.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Hershey’s has answered the call for a holiday candy bar. The bar is actually a candy they’ve been selling for quite a few years, just a new format. It’s a white confection flavored with peppermint and studded with crunchy nonpareils formed into the standard Hershey bar mold. It’s pretty simple and named that way, too, Hershey’s Candy Cane Bar.
The bar is available in two formats, the large 3.5 ounce king sized bar I picked up or a regular 1.5 ounce single serving bar. Both feature the simple packaging design of the white background with little striped fringes at the ends and the bold Hershey’s logo across the front.
Hershey’s is also offering their regular bars in this same 3.5 ounce size in Holiday packaging, so you can get the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with a snowman on the front and Cookies n Creme bar with a nutcracker on it. I’ve seen these on sale quite widely in both versions at Target, KMart and other drug store chains, so it shouldn’t be hard to find. Hershey’s did a Mint Miniatures mix years back that included a version of this. (I always though it would be good as a Nugget.) It’s also available as the Hershey’s Candy Cane Kiss (with less food coloring) as well.
The bar is 4 sections by 4 sections, and the package suggests that 6 pieces is a portion. The white confection is a creamy color, a little on the yellow side with lots of red nonpareil crunchies evident. The ingredients show that this is a hybrid confection, not quite true white chocolate, though it does have some cocoa butter in it, it also has some other tropical oil. However, there are no other fillers like whey.
The snap shows the crunchies and the texture of the bar. It’s a little soft, no hard snap of a high-cacao chocolate bar here. There’s lots of sugar and that’s fine with me.
The flavor is like a Smooth n Melty mint. It’s peppermint with a clean dairy flavor to it, it’s rather like eating a room temperature ice cream. It’s quite sweet, but not quite as cloying as I’ve experienced with the Cookies n Creme bar or the lesser quality RM Palmer white confections. I don’t care for the flavoring the red food coloring of the nonpareils imparts, but it’s far less than I notice on the holiday Smooth n Melty Mints which are also out on store shelves right now. (A white confection drop with red and green nonpariels on the bottom.)
I like it. I had no trouble eating the whole bar. It’s different from the slick smoothness of the real white chocolate Dove Peppermint Bark. It’s more candy than chocolate.
Monday, December 2, 2013
The hot flavor trend this season is gingerbread. Well, not as hot as pumpkin spice, which spans Halloween and Christmas holidays. There’s little difference between the spices in pumpkin pie and gingerbread, though the proportions of the actual spices are often different and gingerbread has a background of molasses or brown sugar.
The M&Ms Milk Chocolate Gingerbread are sold only at Walmart this season, though their companion Twix Gingerbread are sold at most stores stocking seasonal bagged candy.
The design on the front of the package looks like most of the other holiday M&Ms. In this instance the Red M&M is just holding a plate with a gingerbread cookie and pointing at it. Kind of lazy.
The Gingerbread M&Ms are a milk chocolate base with some spices added in. They come in three colors, red, green and brown. Not terribly exciting. The milk chocolate is the normal sweet stuff, creamy but on the fudgy and sugary side. The added spices give it a warm flavor but nothing distinct. Maybe there’s ginger, maybe some cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. They add a light chalky note to the texture but I didn’t specifically get any ginger or black pepper in there.
What would have been extraordinary would have been a real piece of gingerbread, in the format of the Pretzel M&Ms. Or Sugar Cookie, or Snickerdoodle. There are so many exciting seasonal variations on the cookie center that could be accomplished. Even just the Pretzel M&M with this flavored chocolate on the outside would have propelled this to another level of specialness.
Intellectually, I know they’re not the same as the Pumpkin Spice M&Ms from earlier this year, but they don’t feel that different - just swap out the orange ones for red and tone down the cinnamon. No, Mars still hasn’t come out with the Egg Nog White Chocolate M&Ms I’ve been longing for. I guess they’re just not into nutmeg.
Today is the day many blogs decided to review the new M&Ms Milk Chocolate Gingerbread. The Impulsive Buy and ZOMG, Candy! would be the two that I’ve seen so far and previously Junk Food Guy and Serious Sweets. I think most of us are agreed, it’s a nice idea but not really a great M&M.
Friday, November 15, 2013
I’m not usually a fan of R.M. Palmer candies (I can’t call their the vast majority of their products chocolate with any accuracy) but I do appreciate their packaging and design. I browsed their new Christmas offerings a few weeks ago and was actually excited by just the name of their R.M. Palmer Candy Cane Cups. Luckily at only $1.00 at the 99 Cent Only Store, the risk was low and possible rewards were high.
They kind of lost me at the description on the ribbon on the front of the package: Your Two Favorites ... Candy Cane Crunch in a Chocolaty Shell. I happen to know a lot of undiscerning people, but I can’t think of any of them that would call anything “chocolaty” their favorite thing. They might eat it pretty happily ... but most folks prefer the real stuff.
The ingredients include a lot of sugar and partially hydrogenated oils ... I’m not sure what will happen to these if the FDA bans artificial trans fats, though the nutrition panel lists that a serving of 4 cups contains 65% of your RDA of saturated fat, it doesn’t actually show any trans fats (though if it’s less than .5 grams, they can say there’s 0).
The cups are nicely designed. The foil is clean red & white stripes and easy to identify if you were to put them in a candy dish. The cup is a nice size, could be one bit or two small ones. (I always like to look inside.)
They smell quite pepperminty. The chocolate coating is oily but does have a melt-in-your-mouth quality because of all the tropical oils. It has a light cocoa note to it, but it’s barely discernible. The filling is firm but also has a melty but slightly grainy quality. There are little bits of peppermint candy in it that give a slight crunch and texture.
I was prepared to hate these, but it’s a great idea and though not executed with premium ingredients, they’re still passable. Now ... let’s see some real chocolate companies do better.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.