Friday, February 13, 2009
I have more candy than I will ever be able to review at my pace of 5-7 products a week. Here are a few items I’ve tasted recently and some notes on them (most gratuitous photos). So here are some small bites of a whole week’s worth of candy. Get ready to scroll!
I visited with Anne Hickey and the Plush Puffs’ crew when I was at the Fancy Food Show. At closing time they gave me a box of their Vanilla Bean Marshmallows. It’s new packaging for them, which I really like. It’s still spare and highlights the product well.
But what I liked best is that they’ve made the marshmallows a bit smaller. Now they’re 1” cubes instead of the larger version I tried several years ago. This means that when toasted the center gets molten before the outside catches on fire. (There are important physical laws that even marshmallows must obey.)
The box has been sitting next to my stove top and some evenings I’ll toast up two or three for dessert on the gas burner. It makes the house smell wonderful.
I visited a few times with Seth Ellis Chocolatier while at the Fancy Food Show. They had a lovely array of samples, but for some reason I eschewed their truffles and became obsessed with their Candied Lemons.
Perhaps it’s because of this little nugget from their website, “We candy the freshest organic lemon slices slowly, over twenty-five days, using a traditional European method to preserve the intense lemon flavors.”
The box contains one full lemon slice plus and extra quarter. Special bonus, the packaging is made with wind power (well, that and some tree pulp).
The candying doesn’t make the peel as soft as some others, but then again, sometimes that makes them gummy and flavorless. This definitely has a bitter bite and because the pulp is also still there, it’s quite tangy. The dark chocolate is creamy and also has a woodsy bite to it.
I must have been obsessed with lemon and lemongrass at the Fancy Food Expo because the other item I knew I had to bring home was L’Estasi Dolce Sweet Ecstasy Lemongrass Ginger Truffles.
Lemongrass is a bit of a strange flavor. I love it in Thai cooking (hot & sour soup especially). It imparts the zesty notes of lemon peel, but it has a soft side to it as well, that I can only compare to bubble gum.
These nicely sized truffles are a real ganache made with lots of real cream.
The center is soft and silky with an immediate soft flavor of lemongrass. Then there’s the warming power of the ginger. The woodsy ginger flavors never come forward, it’s just that little burn in the background. This all combines well with the slight dairy flavor of the cream and the mellow dark chocolate.
One of the Fancy Food Show items I mentioned in my show notes was Rubicon Bakery.
They not only make all natural, wholesome products right here in the United States, their mission is to help people in need by giving job training, jobs placement assistance to work their way out of poverty.
The package pictured here is a mock up used for the distribution of the samples, the real thing is much nicer.
They’re little meringue kisses, a little larger than a Hershey’s Kiss. The center is a crunchy fluffed egg white made flavorful by the addition of gobs of real freeze dried strawberries. To seal in the crispness, they’re dipped in bittersweet Guittard chocolate.
The freaky part about the whole combination is that it’s so tasty & satisfying yet so low in calories. They say that a serving of five is only 90 calories (about 100 calories per ounce, amazing for a chocolate product). So even if you ate a whole box of 15 bites, you’re still under the 300 mark of most king sized candy bars.
SFGate wrote about them last week too, those lucky dogs, it’s a local company for them.
These candies have single-handedly caused me to swear off of all Andes products except for the original Creme de Menthe.
The Mocha Mint Indulgence is a freak product. I don’t even know what it is. The pieces are ugly (sorry, no photo of the interior, this is supposed to be a tantalizing post). Putty brown mockolate over a layer of mint green confection like the center of the regular Andes.
It smells like minted cardboard. The texture is like grainy wax. The flavor is like musty Christmas candles found in a drawer at an estate sale.
To close is something to restore our confidence in nuts: Ococoa Nut Butter Cups made right here in Los Angeles by Diana Malouf. I picked them up from her in person before Christmas but never go around to posting the review.
More than just gourmet peanut butter cups, these are tall cups filled with exotic nut butters & fruits. The flavor array is: Classic Peanut Butter, Pistachio Date, Sesame Fig, Hazelnut Chocolate, Almond Cherry, Cashew Apricot, Marzipan Truffle, Macadamia Guava, and Sunflower Honey.
The box is elegant and substantial.
The cups are about an inch high with a cute ruffle of chocolate around the collar and an inch in diameter at the top.
They were a bugger to photograph the interior, luckily their website has the fantastic and accurate cross sections that you can peruse. This one is Guava jam & macadamia nut butter. Probably the best experience I’ve had with macadamias & guava, which aren’t really my fave, but done very well here.
I was attracted most to the Sesame Fig, which I gobbled up after taking a photo. The sesame paste is combined with chocolate to create a sesame Nutella of sorts, though quite firm. Inside the center was a reservoir of fig jam. The toasted & grassy flavors of the sesame went well with the fresh & slightly tangy notes of the fig. Sunflower Honey was next on my hit list. Sunflower seeds have such a distinctive taste. This center was like a creamed honey with sunflower flavors.
Cashew Apricot was really decadent, as the apricot’s pine-notes were offset by the deep toasted butter flavors of the cashews. The hazelnut was also stellar, the freshness of the nut butter was so different from many other guianduias I have regularly. (I shared some others and didn’t take complete notes on the rest.)
Unlike many nut creations that rely on salt to bring the nut flavors forward, Ococoa lets the sweetness of the nuts come through. The only problem I had with these, if it could be called that, was the construction. The chocolate cap on the top was very thick, so biting the pieces in half wasn’t very easy. While I don’t think it’s imperative that all chocolates be dissected, it meant that there was always a larger reservoir of chocolate at the end when sometimes I really wanted to end on a nut note.
They’ll set you back $22 for a 9 piece box.
Monday, February 9, 2009
I got a hold of the king size version (I don’t know if it comes in the regular size) via Nestle’s PR company who offered me some samples. I’ve been looking for them for about a month, as the Butterfinger Buzz Facebook page says they should be available at 7-11 and Walgreen’s.
The package is a little confusing. It says with as much caffeine as the leading energy drink. The whole package has 80 mg of caffeine (the same as an 8 ounce Red Bull). But the recommended portion is one half of the package which nets you 40 mg of caffeine. 40 mg is about the same caffeine as 3 ounces of brewed coffee.
The little bars are less than attractive. The mockolate coating isn’t very chocolatey looking, it’s much lighter than most milk chocolate and has a chalky, matte appearance instead of a silky & shiny look. It does smell a bit like cocoa and peanut butter with a small whiff of Cap’n Crunch cereal.
The crunchy peanut butter candy center is rather different from the regular Butterfinger. First, it’s an unnatural red/orange color (thanks to Red 40!). It’s also denser. I’ve eaten three of these bars, just in case it was just that one bar that was a little off from the norm. The middle half of the bar is more like a hard candy than the flaky peanut butter crisp.
Other than the color & texture difference, I can also state that there is a definite bitter bite to this. (Who knows if it’s just the caffeine or and added contribution of the detestable red food coloring?) The bitterness lasts as a slight metallic aftertaste for several hours, at least for me. I don’t have this problem with coffee, which also has caffeine and can often be bitter, but will fade away after I’ve swallowed it.
I know these will likely generate lots of interest, especially from students, gamers and long-haul truck drivers. It is nice to have the option to get a little candy boost with some caffeine. This integration didn’t quite make the cut for me, though.
Mars introduced Snickers Charged around this time last year, which was 60 mg of caffeine as well as B vitamins & taurine.
Honestly, if Nestle wanted to impress me, they should make a gourmet Butterfinger, with some of their real Swiss chocolate. And I can have that with a cup of coffee and really a buzz going.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
I first experienced it in candy with the Yuzu HiCHEW and have eagerly consumed anything Yuzu I can get my hands on since. (And am considering planting a Yuzu tree in my back yard.)
So the Yuzu KitKat was enough to get me to place a pre-Christmas order with JBox. However, they were pretty expensive. $4.25 for 150 grams.
These little minis are two short fingers in a package (66 calories).
They smell like tangerines, chocolate and Cheerios.
The chocolate is rich and creamy and the zesty notes of Yuzu, which include grapefruit, mandarin, lime and tangerine come across immediately. The crunchy and bland wafers give it a bit of crunch. Towards the end there’s even a little bit of a bitter aftertaste from the citrus zest.
One of my favorite Japanese KitKats ever.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Azuki beans are used to make many confections in Japan, including a thick and sweet paste filling for mochi and a dessert soup called Oshiruko. Oshiruko varies depending on where you get it, but the little picture on the box looks like a thin, sweet bean broth with azuki beans and a dumpling of mochi in the middle.
The first Azuki KitKat I had was a white chocolate version, so I was definitely curious to try the red bean and milk chocolate combo in the newest Limited Edition from Nestle Japan.
This is definitely the kind of KitKat that fits into my mantra of “open your mouth, expand your mind.” Before I started my candy obsessed website I was pretty content with my American and sometimes Italian candies. I stuck to flavors and combinations that seemed logical to me. Combining beans and sugar (besides perhaps molasses baked beans) didn’t seem very confectionery to me. But now that I’ve had a good amount of mochi and red bean caramels I can say that beans are a natural, earthy & textured base flavor for candy.
This KitKat comes in the lovely box that is common in the Asian KitKats. Each little portion holds a two fingered KitKat. The front of this wrapper also has the new style of nutritional labeling that includes the calories right there - 110.
They’re glossy and pretty out of the mylar wrapper.
They smell like dirt. There are notes of freshly sawn wood, beets, caramel and rusted iron. It’s quite a different experience.
The bite and textures are the same as other KitKats. The milk chocolate is sweet and pretty creamy. The wafers are light and crunchy. The flavor is just as it smells - beets, charcoal, a hint of milk chocolate and butterscotch pudding. The Azuki flavor doesn’t quite make it in there, in fact, if I didn’t know that it was a red bean KitKat I probably would have guessed beets.
It’s not bad, a little bitter at times (which I don’t usually experience with other red bean items) but overall a tasty experience.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
I checked through plenty of stores and found Walgreen’s had the best selection by the time the 75% off discount came around. This is when I jump on items I only eye at full price and then hem and haw over at half off. One was this Ghirardelli Squares Limited Edition Holiday Chocolate Assortment. Full price was $8.99, so $2.24 for over nine ounces of chocolate sounded like a great deal even if it was seasonally themed.
The assortment includes Peppermint Bark, Egg Nog and Chocolate Pecan Pie.
Ghirardelli, I think, is known for their Peppermint Bark. It’s one of the few brands that dependably makes the stuff and actually uses cocoa butter for their white chocolate.
The construction of the square is pretty simple. A milk chocolate base layer is covered with a minted white chocolate studded with little crunchies.
The scent isn’t overpoweringly minty, which probably saves the other chocolates in the bag from tasting like mint, too.
The texture of the chocolates is smooth and silky, very sweet but not achingly so. The little crunchies in the white chocolate aren’t crushed candy canes though, they’re corn flake bits (colored red). The crunch is a bit more cereal than hard candy but still puffy.
It’s kind of odd that this sort of confection isn’t available year round, but since Ghirardelli has been bringing it back faithfully each winter, I shouldn’t complain.
Of the three flavors in the bag, this was the one that sold me on it: Egg Nog.
It’s just extra vanilla-y white chocolate (with real cocoa butter) and a visible dash of nutmeg.
I love the flavors of egg nog, but never really cared for sweet or thick drinks so the idea of a solid, melt-in-your-mouth version of it is ideal for me.
The square is a creamy yellow color and smells like nutmeg.
The white confection is sweet but pretty smooth and has the woodsy blast of nutmeg and tastes, like, well, Egg Nog. It could use a little more vanilla and maybe a slight hit of rum.
A real winner, if only because no one else makes a plain old white chocolate with nutmeg bar. Truffles, yeah, but not just a block of white chocolate. Great idea, well done, bring it back next year and I’ll probably buy it before it goes on clearance.
One of the reasons I thought that this review, even at this late date, would still be of value is that the Chocolate Pecan Pie is not a limited edition item. It’s available now as an individual bar or in single-flavor bags of the Squares. (Also, I don’t think Pecan Pie has a season.)
This little milk chocolate square smells wonderful, like maple, hot chocolate and caramel.
The milk chocolate is smooth, though plenty sweet. Mixed in is a light crunch of toffee coated pecan bits. They have a little salty hit and of course the caramelized & buttery crunch of pecans.
(The photos make it look like the chocolate is bloomed, I don’t think it was, I think it was the fatty pecans messing with the sheen of the chocolate. Mmm, fatty pecans.)
Overall, the array is fun and something I feel comfortable eating out of season at the moment. Especially because I love individually wrapped squares. A bonus is that a sandwich of the Egg Nog & Chocolate Pecan Pie actually go pretty well together. (But the Peppermint Bark doesn’t work with either.)
The only thing that really bugged me was that the ingredients weren’t listed separately for each of the squares. I was able to get the ingredients for the Peppermint Bark because it’s sold separately, but I really like to know what’s in items that I’m able to choose from a dish.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
For years Sugar Babies were just plain old Sugar Babies.
Tiny little caramels panned with a sugar shell like a jelly bean.
Perfect just the way they are.
But Tootsie, like so many other companies, needed to expand the brand. So they covered them in chocolate and then some bitter green ogre skin (oh, wait, that was green apple flavor). Those were interesting extensions, because they actually built on the unique caramel of Sugar Babies and then added something else.
Now Tootsie has given us Sugar Babies Holiday Edition.
What’s different about these?
They’re white, red and green. That’s it.
I went out and bought a box of regular Sugar Babies just to be sure.
Even the original have artificial colors in them (why?) but the only addition to the list of ingredients for the Holiday Edition is titanium dioxide. (Mmm, like licking a lifeguard’s nose.)
Frankly, these Holiday Edition ones are downright ugly. They look like leftover nubs of erasers. The colors are dull but not muted enough to look like it’s on purpose. (And of course I can tell which ones are red by the bitter aftertaste that I get from Red 40.)
The other funky thing about these is the package design. I actually liked the blue and plain clip art style snowman. But I was extremely irritated by the little “snowflake” type decorative elements. Why? Because they have eight points.
Instead Holiday Edition Sugar Babies boxes are decorated with asterisks. And you know what asterisks make me think of?
If you have a Sugar Babies lover in your life and want to give them a little treat, make it a fresh box of the classic ones. The only reason to buy these is because you love Kurt Vonnegut.
Monday, October 27, 2008
The Kisses join the large array of Limited Edition Kisses. The Fall themed ones this year are the return of the Candy Corn Kisses and the new Pumpkin Spice Kisses. These are the only milk chocolate Kisses in the bunch.
Caramel apples are kind of fun, and a rather simple idea. An apple, on a stick, dipped into caramel. This candy is like dipping an apple into caramel and then dipping that into chocolate. (Well, it’s actually more like flavoring some caramel with apple and injecting that into a Kiss shaped chocolate mold. The wholesomeness of the actual apple is completely missing here.)
As usual, Hershey’s has created an appealing package. The foils are swirls of orange and red with flags that say Caramel Apple on them.
Since I picked these up right at the factory, they were fresh and stored well. Each Kiss was glossy and firm, nicely molded.
They smell mostly of chocolate. The caramel innards are soft and flowing, more like a sauce than a chewy caramel. It’s smooth and has an apple peel flavor to it along with the caramel flavor. The authentic caramel notes of burnt sugar are absolutely missing as is the butter flavor.
It’s pleasant though, but throat-searingly sweet after two or three. I can say that I appreciate them, and it’s a nice flavor combo without tasting overly artificial but lacks any of the experience of a true Caramel Apple.
Not the nicest looking list of ingredients, the chocolate wasn’t stellar and the combination of flavors was still way too sweet. I give them a 5 out of 10. (Kosher)
Bullseyes are a bit harder to find on the West Coast, but I ran across lots in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
As is often the case with Goetze’s, this is a repack of the individually wrapped product under the Giant Eagle “Candy Place” label. But they were also only a dollar, so I can’t complain about the house branding.
They’re rather odd looking, but only because I’m used to the mellow caramel color and the shocking white center.
Here it’s the same caramel donut shape with a filling of intense red. For some reason these are a little greasier on the surface than other Bullseyes that I get, but they were also soft, so maybe that’s a side effect of freshness.
They smell more like Green Apple Jolly Ranchers than caramel and sugar.
I didn’t know what to expect, so I what I got was a shock. The cream center is tart. It’s like a cream paste of apple SweeTarts. It’s soft and tangy and does have a nice artificial apple flavor. In a way this is more “authentic” to the experience of combining an actual apple with caramel. Apples are tangy. But here it’s a very tangy apple, soft and cool on the tongue.
I’ve eaten quite a few of them now and I’m still debating whether I enjoy them or not. The stick-to-your-ribs, cookie-dough-like caramel is satisfying and filling, but the chemical aftertaste of the apple cream center is very odd and it just makes me want a regular Bullseye (and the bitter aftertaste from the Red 40 coloring is never pleasant for me, but your mileage may vary).
I give them a 5 out of 10 as well. This may be my overall feeling about real caramel apples as well.
Friday, October 10, 2008
While I’m probably painted as something of an anti-mockolate crusader, I don’t hate all quasi-chocolate products. Things like Andes Mints and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chew are pretty good even though they’re not quite real chocolate candies.
So I thought I’d give the Andes Fall Harvet limited edition mix a try.
It includes three flavors: toffee, orange and cocoa. Each little plank of candy is individually wrapped and comes in a nicely designed bag with orange leaf outlines all over it. Instead of the usual Andes logo on each piece of candy, these have three random embossed harvest themed designs.
The ingredients aren’t promising: Sugar, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (palm kernel & palm), nonfat milk, cocoa, lactose, milk protein concentrate, cocoa processed wtih alkalai, corn syrup solids, soy lecithin, salt, baking soda, molasses, orange oil, natural and artificial flavors, artificial colors (yellow 5 & 6).
This piece is the only one of the set that’s not layered like Andes Mints. Instead it’s a milk chocolatey confection with toffee bits mixed in.
The toffee bits are very crisp and crunchy and remind me more of a brittle (which is often a bit foamy but not quite a honeycomb or sponge candy). The crunches are a little salty as well. The mockolate confection is very sweet but doesn’t have much cocoa flavor to it. A little on the waxy side at room temperature, it does okay texture-wise in the mouth.
It smells like orange confection, kind of like a cheap version of Terry’s Chocolate Orange.
It’s quite sweet and a little grainy on the tongue (kind of like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange). The orange essence is quite pronounced with a strong zest and slight bitterness to it. To balance that there’s plenty of sugar. But don’t expect any dash of chocolate flavor in there. It might be a cocoa colored confection on the top and bottom, but the orange flavor goes straight through.
It’s the same light colored mockolate confection as the other two, this time with a darker mockolate sandwiched in the middle.
It’s a little saltier than the orange one, which helps. It does taste a bit like hot cocoa, but also a little like cardboard and Tootsie Rolls.
Four pieces provided 50% of my daily intake of saturated fat ... and not even a good one like cocoa butter.
I think I’ll stick with the original from now on.
Friday, October 3, 2008
One of the classic and more distinctive products that See’s makes is their line of Lollypops. They’re made with cream and are more like a hard caramel than a normal boiled sugar hard candy pop.
The regular flavors shift around but right now they sell: Butterscotch, Chocolate, Vanilla and Caf? Latt?. I like all of them except for the chocolate. It tends to be grainier and if I have the option of actual chocolate right there at See’s, well that’s what I’m going to go for. But the one thing the pops have going for them is that they’re so darn durable. Summer-safe, creamy candy is pretty hard to find.
Every once in a while they bring out new flavors. This fall they have a limited edition Pumpkin Spice Lollypops that should be available until Thanksgiving.
The ingredients are pretty simple: corn syrup, cream, sugar, natural and artificial flavors, butter and yellow #5. I don’t know why they have to put artificial colors in there, but I guess I’m guessing that they’d look fine without it, maybe they don’t.
The packages are a little box that holds a bag of eight pops. Not a bad price either at only $4.80 for the set (60 cents each). Each paper stick pop is wrapped in orange mylar
See’s pops are big blocks. Kind of chunky and perhaps a little big for easy-to-eat suckers. (Sometimes I pull them off the stick and eat them as hard candies.)
These are rather light in color and don’t smell like much other than maybe caramel.
They’re very smooth and melt slowly. Extremely creamy and not overly sweet they’re also a bit bland.
I had the first one and thought maybe it was that my allergies were acting up and I couldn’t taste any of these pumpkin spices, so I waited a few days and checked my sinuses and had another. They sweet and creamy and taste a bit like creme brulee ... but I’m not getting any actual spices I associate with pumpkin custard like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice or ginger.
I wouldn’t call them bad, just nothing like the name would imply.
As a side note, earlier this summer they had a limited edition Root Beer. I got a hold of this while shopping with Sera of The Candy Enthusiast in July. She bought a whole package (the limited edition flavors are not sold individually like the classic ones are) and graciously shared two with me.
I loved them and went back in August to pick up a whole package for myself and was told they were all gone.
These pops were a wonderful mix of creamy smoothness, light sweetness and the spicy bite of root beer. It was kind of like a root beer float, but warmer. Root beer floats often suffer from tasting watered down when the ice cream mixes with the root beer, instead this had all the creaminess of ice cream and the intense flavor of root beer mixed together.
They’ll have Cinnamon Lollypops for Christmas. Each pop is 70 calories and they’re Kosher.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.