Monday, October 29, 2012
The Katharine Beecher Party Mints come in a theater style box. Of course that’s probably not the most likely place to find someone eating this type of candy.
The Katherine Beecher brand dates back to the 1940s. It was founded by a real woman named Katharine Beecher who made classic candies. The brand was acquired by Pennsylvania Dutch Candies in 1974 (now known as the Warrell Corp but it retains the brands of the individual units to this day).
The mints come in three colors: pink, yellow and green and one uncolored white version. They’re sealed inside a cellophane sleeve within the box to keep them fresh.
The soft and crumbly mints are about 1/2 of an inch in diameter. They’re a crimped mint, which is what gives them their pillow shape. They’re a pretty generous size, bigger than many that I see on the counters at hostess stations at restaurants.
This particular bag was very minty. The ingredients are very simple and boast real peppermint oil in addition to sugar, corn syrup, salt, oil of peppermint, artificial colors.
The texture is smooth and there’s a slight hint of salt on the outside, which is surprising and pleasant. They crumble easily when crunched or dissolve pretty well. I happen to like pillow mints, though I’m more fond of the butter mint style (which I’ll have to seek out now). The quality was very good, they’re consistent and a nice size. But in the end, they’re, well, just mints. A nice thing to have around, especially when you have guests over for a holiday meal or party.
(I was trying to find out who Katharine Beecher was, if she was anyone, and found out that perhaps she was a robot. Or at least a robot was named after her candy tin.)
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Mars doesn’t have much this year for Halloween, aside from the usual Harvest colors of M&Ms. I was interested to see that there was a new version of the Snickers Pumpkin from the previous time I tried it. (Review here.)
There are two package types for the Snickers Pumpkin. They come individually wrapped as seen here, or, more interestingly, in a 2 To Go wrapper like the King Size packages. It looks like a regular Snickers bar, but the background is black and has some pumpkins on it. It’s the same price as a King Size bar (which usually has 3.29 ounces in it), but has only 2.2 ounces in it.
The big difference that’s noticeable out of the wrappers is that this is a molded product. The Reese’s Pumpkin is enrobed (coated) where this one is build upside down, with the pumpkin shaped shell created first, then the fillings squirted in and the base of chocolate added last.
A regular Snickers bar is also a layered product, but ultimately is coated via a conveyer moving under a curtain of chocolate, enrobing the bar. The ratio of chocolate to filling on that bar is such that the filling is the star, the chocolate is a device that keeps it all together. In the Snickers Pumpkin, the chocolate shell is most notable.
It smells sweet, milky and nutty. The center is soft, but doesn’t have the same caramel chew or plethora of crunchy nuts that a standard Snickers does. It’s overwhelmingly milk-chocolatey, which is fine if you’re into Snickers bars because of the quality of the chocolate. I am not. I find it a bit grainy, overly sweet and lacking a strong cocoa punch. The light touch of salt is good, it’s the only thing balancing out the sugar blast.
I’ll probably stick to the Minis, which have very little chocolate on them (though not much in the way of nuts).
Mars is in the process of moving towards 100% sustainable and ethically sourced cacao, but they’re going with their higher end products first, like Dove. The Snickers Pumpkin contains peanuts, soy and milk plus is made on shared equipment with tree nuts and wheat.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Taza Chocolate makes their chocolate from bean to bar in Somerville, Mass. What sets them apart from the many other small batch chocolate makers that have sprung up in the last 10 years is that they stone grind their chocolate in the rustic, classic Mexican tradition. Taza sources their cacao through direct trade sources to assure quality and ethical practices.
They make a wide variety of products but the ones of most interest to me are the Mexicano Discs. They make 10 different varieties, but I got samples of two that I thought would represent the style best: Cacao Puro Chocolate Mexicano 70% and Taza Salted Almond Chocolate Mexicano. I also noticed recently that Trader Joe’s has started carrying a strikingly similar set of chocolate discs, so I’ll throw in some notes about that.
The Taza website describes the Taza Discs as Rustic, round dark chocolate discs with a distinctively gritty texture, some sweet, some savory, some spicy. The packages have two discs in them, 2.7 ounces total (1.35 ounces each).
The discs are either for eating straight from the package or making into a drink by mixing with a whisk (or molinillo if you want to be authentic) and some hot milk (or water).
The Cacao Puro Chocolate Mexicano 70% is organic, gluten free, soy free and dairy free plus Kosher and made with only two ingredients: organic cacao beans and organic cane sugar.
The process for making the chocolate is very simple. The roasted cacao is placed in the stone mills and ground, then ground a second time with the sugar added. As noted on their website, it’s not a lot of processing, no conching and no emulsifiers are used. The chocolate is then tempered and molded into the discs.
(My photos for the Puro turned out poorly, so just imagine this Salted Almond is the Puro. It really looks the same, just a smidge darker.)
The look of the bars is a little dusty, less than glossy. The snap is solid, these are tough and dense bars. The melt is, well, not very smooth. It’s described as rustic and rustic is what it is.
The overwhelming flavor note I had was green wood, it’s a little like black tea, with other notes of lemon peel, raisins and a hint of figs and leather.
The texture is grainy, there are grains of sugar, which are interesting because they dissolve quickly. Then the is the grit of the large cacao particles. This gives the overall flavor of the chocolate a sort of variation, there are parts where the flavors might start as citrusy but then after chewing (yes, later because of the grit, there is more chewing than a really smooth dark chocolate might obligate me) some other flavors come out, like the tobacco and tea.
The chocolate here is only 40% cacao, with a larger proportion of sugar plus the almonds and salt taking up the other 60%. I really expected the cross section of this one to look more rustic, with more bits of almond in there, but it’s really well integrated.
It’s quite sweet, the graininess is taken up with the sugary grains with a hint of salt. I didn’t catch much from the almonds, except that they gave it a more creamy and mellow flavor that moderated the bitterness of the cacao better than the sugar. The chocolate flavors were also evened out, so I just got a sort of fudge brownie flavor from the whole thing.
I tried making a hot chocolate with this, since that’s part of the appeal of the Mexican-style of rustic chocolate. I didn’t put a lot of chocolate into it - about half of a disc for about 6 ounces of whole milk, I’ll probably add more next time. It’s best to use a whisk for this, all I had was a fork, so there was a lot of stirring (and a good thing that I didn’t fill up the cup all the way). The flavor is much more nutty and the sugar dissolves completely. The grittiness of the cocoa part goes away (until you get to the sludge at the bottom which is then a mix of almond bits and cacao nibs, which is also great).
I prefer this as a hot drink to a bar for eating, but that’s just me. It’s a bit expensive and requires a lot more work than just dumping a powder into some hot water, but I appreciate good ingredients and can take that extra minute for the stirring. (And now that the weather is getting cooler, I need a sort of whisk that’s ideal for one cup of chocolate.)
The final one I have notes on is the Trader Joe’s special version, Organic Salt & Pepper. It has 54% cacao, so it’s a bit darker than the Almond version. The only real difference between this disc set and the Taza branded ones is the fact that there are no little letters T A Z A on the molded sections.
It smells dark and peppery with some rum notes. The salt is much more forward than the Salted Almond. The gritty texture seemed to go well with the rustic flavors of salt and pepper and the grainy sugar. The cocoa flavors were a bit lost though did remind me of brownie batter. Of the three that I tried, this was my least favorite, but mostly because of the overall sandiness. The heat of the black pepper takes a while to warm up, but lends some nice tones.
The style of chocolate is interesting and definitely different from the standard fare and novelty chocolates these days. Really, I think this chocolate will shine as a drinking product, not for straight eating. But that’s a personal preference. If you’re looking for a chocolate that’s easy to portion, made with vegan ingredients, that has no GMO ingredients, emulsifiers or gluten or added vanilla bean then this is a fantastic option.
Update 10/29/2012: Per the suggestions of readers that I should drink this as hot chocolate, I did just that with one tablet of the Salted Almond. I found it a little bland, but very rich. So for the remaining discs, I made chocolate pudding. The recipe was 1/4 cup of corn starch, 3 cups of milk and three discs (about 3.5 ounces) of chopped chocolate. I warmed the mixture on the stove over low heat while I used a whisk to completely incorporate the corn starch, then as the chocolate melted to emulsify it. Then turned it up to medium heat, stirred constantly until it just started to thicken and boil. I added some vanilla extract (optional). It’s very rich, not at all sweet.
For my mix I had one disc of Salted Almond and two of the Cacao Puro. I wasn’t interested in the Salt & Pepper as pudding.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
They say, “Combining the irresistible tastes of chocolate, rich and creamy caramel and apple, this new item brings a unique, new flavor to trick-or-treating, decorating and snacking.”
I had a tough time finding them in Los Angeles, but spotted them at CVS in Pennsylvania last week and managed to stash a bag in my luggage before leaving.
The Minis part of the Mars line is rather interesting. They’re far smaller than a snack sized bar, taken out of the mylar wrappers, you could easily tuck them in little fluted cups and put them in a candy box.
Each piece is .3 ounces (or 8.6 grams) and about 38 calories. They’re .8 inches square (a little shorter than a cube, about .7 inches tall). A suggested serving size is 5 pieces for 190 calories.
The big difference between the mini and the regular bar is the proportion of chocolate. The chocolate here is a thin veneer, just enough shell to hold the fillings.
The candies look no different inside than a normal Milky Way Mini. (Not like those Shrek Snickers which had green nougat.) This is comforting, as the candy smells more like apple pie a la mode than green apple Jolly Ranchers.
The scent has a light touch of milk and sweetness along with a hint of cinnamon and baked apple. The caramel and nougat are distinct layers. The nougat is a little on the mellow spice size, with notes of nutmeg and chai. The caramel seems to be where the apple flavors come from, more like apple cider and apple peels than an artificial apple flavor but it’s exceptionally mild.
Of all the formats for Milky Way, I prefer the mini, as it’s not too sweet and three can satisfy me quickly. I was not looking forward to this version, but was pleasantly surprised. That’s not to say that I thought they were transcendent and there are far better flavor combinations that I think would translate well to this, like Chai Spice.
For a Green Halloween for ethically sourced and clean ingredients, this candy doesn’t make the grade. Mars is making great strides towards using certified chocolate, starting in the US with their Dove line, but has not rolled it out in the Milky Way line in the US as yet.
Thursday, September 06, 2012
Right now the gumballs are sold in small bags of assorted flavors, a mix of fruits, mint and spice. It’s made with real sugar, no artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols (which can cause stomach upset in some people). Gum made with just sugar these days is particularly rare, and finding it in a fun and familiar shape is a big selling point.
The price for the bag was $1.59 on sale, but I see these on the internet going for about $3 for a 2 ounce bag, which seems a bit steep for gum, even if it is all natural. But when there are so few alternatives when you’re sensitive about ingredients, it’s the going rate.
The gumballs are nicely soft. The colors are consistent though not extremely strong or bright. The balls are a bit denser than I expected. I knew they were hollow, but each piece is a good sized chew and two are an appropriate portion, three a little too much for me.
Cinnamon Spice = Red tastes like those amazing hot toothpicks I was obsessed with as a preteen. The cinnamon is strong and has a woodsy note along with the spicy heat. It’s sweet and has a warming feeling on the back of my throat and a light note of cloves. It’s like a chewable Atomic Fireball, except there was no hint of bitterness from artificial colors, because there were none. I quite liked this one and would love to have more than three in my bag.
Tangerine Dream = Orange is soft and mellow. The orange flavor is more like a scent, there’s no tang but plenty of zest. Because there’s no sour note, it never verged into Aspergum territory (an orange flavored pain relieving gum with aspirin in it).
Orange Mandarin Berry = Pink was actually quite fruity and pleasant. I was expecting something more along the lines of Juicyfruit, instead it does actually have berry notes in it, like blueberry and raspberry and then a sort of citrus zest undertone. The flavor fades rather quickly, but still has a lingering freshness to it.
Peppermint T = Green is extremely strong. It’s truly like an Altoid gum, bold and natural. The flavor, like the others, fades, though the cooling effect of the peppermint lingers for quite a while. I liked these a lot and would like to just buy a bag of the green balls if possible.
Lemon E. Lemonade = Yellow was subtle. It was not at all tangy and has a light hint of fresh lemon or lemongrass. But that’s about it. It’s sweet and has a nice, soft but not sticky chew. Bubbles were appropriate after most of the sugar was gone, though never quite large.
I tried combining flavors, the orange went well with lemon or berry. The mint and cinnamon were both very strong and sort of fought at first before cinnamon won out.
The chew of the gum base is smooth, except for the sugary crunch from the shell. The chicle doesn’t stick to my teeth and stays soft and chewy without becoming stiff like a wad of paper like some gums can get. But it does lose flavor quickly and the bubbles are much stickier than the synthetic versions and can’t get very big. I wouldn’t recommend this for little kids, but older kids looking for something that appears mainstream might like this. Adults like me who like to chew the flavor out and refresh quickly will also like the variety.
The package doesn’t say where they’re made but did list that they’re gluten free, nut free, dairy free and Kosher, but they do contain beeswax so wouldn’t be appropriate for vegans.
Monday, August 20, 2012
Squirrel Nut Zippers were introduced by the Squirrel Brand Company in 1926 as a vanilla caramel with peanuts, part of a line of caramel candies. The name, which sounds more like a collection of nouns than an enticing candy, came from a local alcohol drink called Nut Zipper (this was prohibition).
The Squirrel Brand Company or Massachusetts was sold off to Southern Style Nuts in 1999 and moved to Texas. A mere 5 years later, Necco bought the rights to Squirrel Nut Zippers, and the lesser known Squirrel Caramel Chews, and moved production back to the Boston area. In case you’re wondering, the Squirrel Nut Zippers swing band named themselves after the candy (with permission from Squirrel Brand Company).
The candies are a simple format, a little bite sized chew wrapped in wax paper. They’re sold in bulk bins or pre-packaged bags. I found mine at Rocket Fizz, a small chain of candy & soda pop shops that started in Southern California.
Like Mary Janes (also made by Necco now), a good Squirrel Nut Zipper will be slight soft. Don’t be dismayed if you pick some up and they’re hard. The trick is to put it in your pocket or hold them in your palm for a few minutes or someplace slightly warm just before eating. That way the oils rise slightly to the surface to help the wrapper release from the candy and it’s soft enough to chew easily.
A SNZ is an easy to like candy, it’s quite simple. It’s a vanilla caramel with bits of peanuts in it. The flavor of the caramel is mild and sweet, not as earthy as a Mary Jane, which has molasses in it, and not as toffee like as a Sugar Daddy.
I’m sure I’ve had them before when I was a kid, but they didn’t make much of an impression on me. As an adult, well, there are other candies I’d prefer to have, such as a Mary Jane or some Sugar Babies.
I have no clue about possible allergens, but the ingredients show dairy, soy and peanuts.
Monday, August 06, 2012
The stand up bag has a little banner across the top that says “now more chocolate in every bag.” I did a little research and it appears that the regular bags used to have 5.25 ounces and now they have 5.58 ounces. Not exactly noteworthy, especially when they don’t spell out the exact amount.
Milk Chocolate with Hazelnut Crisp Filling sounds pretty delicious to me. I wasn’t sure what a hazelnut crisp would actualy be, though the front of the package shows a little bowl of crisped rice and a few hazelnuts. So in my head it was going to be a mix of some sort of hazelnut paste and the crunchies inside the milk chocolate squares.
The mylar sealed squares are actually aqua, one of those colors that doesn’t photograph well and turns out more like light blue. Even with the heat in Southern California, these were still looking fantastic right out of the package. The chocolate squares are glossy and perfectly molded with the Ghiradelli eagle on top.
The ingredients aren’t great. It’s not a simple hazelnut paste center, instead there are lots of extra ingredients I don’t much care for like palm and palm kernel oil, distilled monoglycerides (well, I ‘m not sure how I feel about those), partially hudrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed & soybean) plus TBHQ, a preservative. There’s no mention of gluten, other tree nuts or peanuts as possible allergens.
The squares smell very buttery, less sweet than I expected with a light hint of hazelnuts. The bite is soft, but it’s summer and the chocolates were still tempered well enough that they hadn’t bloomed. The milk chocolate is sweet and sticky but has a good milk and toffee flavor to it. The creamy center is also sweet with more of a milky and malty flavor to it and only a hint of the promised toasted hazelnuts. The crisped rice is in the form of little ball, like bbs. It’s a nice texture, the whole this in very satisfying though doesn’t have quite enough of an intense or defined punch for me. Overall, I liked them, but not enough that I feel like finishing the bag. (I’ve eaten five though, just to be sure.) Something in a darker chocolate might be better suited to me, but if you’re into a sweet that has a bit of texture, this might be your thing.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
I picked up the Dove Sea Salt Caramel Dark Chocolate Silky Smooth Promises about a month ago at Target. At the moment they’re a Target exclusive flavor, though I understand that when the flavors are popular they go into wider distribution.
The blue and white and brown package is summery and bright and caught my attention right away. But I was curious how different the flavor would be from the regular dark chocolate with caramel that Dove already makes.
The chocolates are expensive, at $4 for just a little over a half a pound. Mars is * still not using certified sustainable or ethically sourced chocolate for the vast majority of their products, this price premium at least prompts me to expect high quality ingredients, not things like hydrogenated palm kernel oil and potassium sorbate.
The Dove dark chocolate is quite smooth and has an interesting flavor profile. It’s quite woodsy and a little on the dry side. But the melt is quick and slick on the tongue, so the dry finish keeps it from feeling to sweet or sticky. The flavor overall reminds me of chocolate sauce, not quite buttery but still silky.
The caramel filling is like most of the other Dove caramels I’ve had. It’s thick and almost like a sauce or syrup without a chewy component. I’d call it a pudding or custard. (Or perhaps German Chocolate Cake frosting without the coconut.) It has the advertised touch of salt to it and a smooth slightly toffee note to it. It’s not as rich or butterscotchy as some others I’ve had from artisan styled companies like Fran’s, but still a nice desserty flavored chocolate.
They felt less sweet than the regular Dove Caramel Promises, though it’s not like they had a lot of salt, there’s only 30 mg per 5 pieces. Because I picked up Hershey’s Simple Pleasures on the same trip, I have to say that I preferred these by quite a large margin. They’re less caloric than a solid chocolate bar, but still more than the Simple Pleasures or a Peppermint Pattie. Dove is still not my go-to premium chocolate. I’ll eat them if they’re sitting around, but when I want a chocolate treat I find myself shopping for things like Green & Black’s (which I wish came in little bite sized pieces) or something like Trader Joe’s which have more intense or vibrant flavors and better ingredients.
* UPDATE 7/18/2012: A rep from Dove Chocolate called me to let me know that Dove is switching to Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa. This particular product is not Rainforest Alliance Certified, and still has unverified palm oil in it and preservatives. You can read more on their website, but the fact remains that Mars, the company that owns Dove, is far from converting their entire line of chocolate products to certified sustainable and ethical sources, but at least have a plan and are hitting targets. At this time they are sourcing only 20% of their cocoa from certified cocoa.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.