Monday, October 10, 2011
Russell Stover has epitomized Americana for as long as I can remember. They’re a safe and unassuming brand. Their boxed chocolates are dependably sweet and bland but have a nice flair for dependable and fresh holiday themed chocolate novelties.
I was a little surprised when I saw these new Russell Stover Day of the Dead Skeletons at the drug store.
They have two varieties, one chocolate covered caramel and one chocolate covered marshmallow - but what’s interesting about them is the South of the Border design on the package (bilingual as well).
I’ll start with the Russell Stover Caramel Covered in Milk Chocolate (Caramelo Cubierto en el Chocolate con Leche).
They’re large skeleton shaped caramel planks covered in milk chocolate, the package features a brightly clad skeleton. There are at least three different designs per confection. For the Caramel I chose this lady skeleton wearing a red blouse with poofy sleeves, a green full skirt, a yellow yat with dingleberries and holding maracas. It’s quite a sight, especially when designed with bright flat colors and accents of purple, orange and silver foil.
The pieces are large, about twice the size as the regular Pumpkin products they make. The Caramel was 2.5 ounces and about 4.5 inches long.
The design of the actual candy is not quite as impressive as the package. In fact, once I pulled it out of the wrapper, you could have easily convinced me this was a Halloween Saguaro Cactus. But shape aside, it’s a really lovely piece of candy. The chocolate is nicely tempered, it’s shiny and had very few scuffs and no leaks. The ripples were also nice to look at and gave a feeling that this was a piece of candy made by people.
The caramel is soft, but not runny. The bite is easy and the caramel has a good pull but not a lot of chew to it. It’s smooth and has a lot of toffee notes and very little grain. The milk chocolate is sweet and has a lot of dairy notes though not much going on other than that.
It’s a lot of candy - I couldn’t eat more than a third in one sitting, so it’s not an easy piece to have a little and then put it away.
It’s not an innovative piece, they make a similar product for Easter, but it’s fresh and I really loved the package.
The Russell Stover Marshmallow Covered in Milk Chocolate (Malvavisco Cubierto en el Chocolate con Leche) has an equally vibrant package design. I chose a skeleton wearing a sombrero and bright poncho beating on a magenta and yellow drum.
This piece is only 2.25 ounces, missing a quarter of an ounce because the marshmallow is so fluffy, but probably about 50% thicker than the Caramel version.
The shape is similarly blocky and poorly defined, but still has glossy rippled milk chocolate enrobing.
The Russell Stover marshmallow is always moist and smooth, fluffy but not too foamy. It doesn’t have much flavor, no honey notes but a good vanilla extract finish. It’s a clean tasting candy - everything tastes real - real sugar, real milk, real vanilla. It’s comforting and homey.
The Day of the Dead celebrations of Mexico are vibrant, social and life-affirming. It’s fun to see a confection here in the United States that feels like it’s appealing to those who want to join in the celebration without feeling like it’s exclusionary or pandering. I don’t know if these are going to be sold everywhere, I picked them up in the Echo Park neighborhood RiteAid, one of the denser areas of Mexican-Americans in the country and over 6 million people of Mexican descent in the Southern California metropolitan counties. Next, I’d like to see the inclusion of some real Mexican confectionery traditions.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Russell Stover makes a good selection of classic candies. It’s a step above mass-manufactured candy bars, but not quite to the level of fine chocolates. Their strongest area is in holiday specialty candies and they’re probably best known for their Easter Eggs. For the rest of the year folks just have to wait for them to come back or buy one of their sub-par boxes of chocolates.
Lately Russell Stover has come out with some of their favorites in individually wrapped pieces in bags. I picked up this bag of Russel Stover Marshmallow & Caramel in Fine Milk Chocolate at the drug store. Russell Stover already makes this candy in fun shapes for the holidays, like Hearts for Valentines Day, Eggs for Easter, Pumpkins for Halloween and probably something like a Tree or Santa for Christmas (I can’t seem to find that one).
Each piece is individually wrapped and a little larger than I think you’d expect for a candy in a box of chocolates. They’re just a bit shy of a half an ounce (.494 to be exact) and clock in at about 57 calories - so two of these makes a pleasant snack at a rather low caloric density for a chocolate product. They’re quite attractive too, with nicely rippled and thick milk chocolate. The packaging protected them well, with no scuffs or cracks.
Most of the pieces were about 1.75 inches long and 1 inch across. They’re not as thick as I would have hoped, I kind of wanted a lofty marshmallow center like the See’s Scotchmallow. Each piece is about two bites. The marshmallow is soft and latexy, spongy and only slightly sweet. There’s a vague cinnamon and cereal flavor to the whole thing. The caramel is sweet and has a little chew to it. The chocolate coating is sweet, milky and a little sticky in the melt but overall of good enough quality to hold up to the other flavors.
The whole effect was a very sweet product with distinct textures and some slight differences in flavors. The caramel didn’t have much of the smoky, burnt sugar flavors which is too bad because that really could have pulled it together. As a small indulgence, it meets some very basic needs. I think it would probably be more fun to pop this into a microwave and then between a couple of graham crackers for a caramel infused S’more.
For folks who miss the holiday version of these, now you can have it year round. I might prefer the Valentine’s or Halloween version because it has less chocolate and more marshmallow but go with whatever suits your needs.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Trader Joe’s has some great summertime themed candies in their tubbed goodies. The Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate Smashing S’Mores with graham cracker and marshmallow have been around for at least a year. I looked for them a few times and couldn’t find them and assumed that they were another one of those transient Trader Joe’s products. On my visit over Independence Day weekend though, there were stacks so I grabbed one immediately.
My tub held 12 Smashing S’mores and the label said that it was 7 ounces. (The nutrition panel said that a serving was 2 pieces and there were 8 servings in the package - I can understand there being one or so plus or minus in the average package, but I can’t understand how they could even cram 16 of these little S’mores into the tub at all.)
The ingredients are interesting. It’s real milk chocolate for the coating, the marshmallow uses Kosher gelatin (basically non-pork derived) and the graham cracker part is almost all organic (except for the vanilla and arrow root flour).
The little squares are about an inch to an inch and a half cubed.
The base is a rustic and thick graham cracker coated with a little milk chocolate then a square of marshmallow on top of that. The whole thing is then enrobed in milk chocolate with a decorative drizzle of dark chocolate.
The bite is soft, the marshmallow, which occupies most of the volume is soft, spongy and moist. It’s not that flavorful and not that sweet, so it offsets the other levels of sweetness well. The milk chocolate coating is creamy and better than average though very sweet on its own. The graham cracker was thick and more rough, like a digestive than the sort of grocery store graham cracker I’m accustomed to. The flavor was wheaty with a little touch of honey. The effect of all of it together is great, the pieces are not too big that an adventurous person couldn’t pop it all in their mouth at once, and the marshmallow grabs the chocolate well enough that it doesn’t all crumble apart when bitten in half.
The tub advises popping it into the microwave for 4 to 6 seconds for the traditional S’more treat. The effect of this is to create a completely gooey and soupy interior though the chocolate amazingly doesn’t melt completely. The thing I like best about toasted marshmallows is the toasted part. I could probably just eat the toasted outsides and leave the gooey stuff for someone else, so the microwave option doesn’t really do much for me, but I certainly can see others really digging it.
The big bonus here is that these are Kosher. It’s pretty rare to find Kosher marshmallows, and even harder to find Kosher marshmallow candy products.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Last week I reviewed the new Peeps Milk Chocolate Dipped Marshmallow. It’s a single Peep dipped partially in milk chocolate. Little did I realize that there were more in the family lurking at other nearby markets. (I went to RiteAid, Walgreen’s & CVS.)
Upon visiting Target over the weekend I found the other iterations of Chocolate Dipped Peeps. The first I’ll start with is the Peeps Dark Chocolate Dipped Marshmallow.
The package from Target holds only two Peeps and clocks in at an even one ounce and 110 calories. So it’s a very spare treat when it comes to calories but it looks quite decadent. The package is also $1.59, which I thought was more than steep for a mostly sugar candy. I’m sure they’re available on sale at some point, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try them.
The dark chocolate is sweet but has a potent bitter note as well with some basic cocoa flavors. The melt is smooth but with a dryness as well. Most of the time I ate around the edges, which meant that I was getting far more chocolate in the early bites in proportion to the marshmallow.
One of my pet peeves with Peeps is the eyes. Are they edible? Many times I find them in my mouth and think that there’s an errant piece of plastic in my candy. Lately I’ve taken to picking they eyes off before consuming. This also prevents Peeps peeking. It also leads to a pile of eyes.
At the end of my review of the plain Peeps I wished that they made a flavored version. (Really, the press release about these new products doesn’t actually mention this version.)
So, here we go, Just Born does make Peeps Milk Chocolate Dipped Chocolate Mousse Flavored Marshmallow. Wow, that’s a big name. But it’s also a pretty big morsel of candy. I like the fact that the Peeps are un-conjoined. Up until this introduction, I don’t think they ever sold separated Peeps before. We can now admire them in 360 degrees.
The Chocolate Mousse Peeps are usually found in the shape of Bunnies or during other seasons, Reindeer. I was hoping the fact that they were chocolate would mean no artificial colors, but for some reason the ingredients say there’s Yellow #5 in there.
In case you couldn’t tell from the first photos, the Peeps are just dipped at the very bottom. Though it doesn’t look like much from the side, the bottom is quite a large surface area of chocolate.
The Peep itself tastes like weak hot chocolate, sweet and though the sugar crust is grainy, the marshmallow is smooth and creamy. The milk chocolate base is sweet as well and without much of a chocolate punch but still has a good melt.
Two of these was a good treat. They took a little while to eat and enjoy, so for an indulgence that’s a little lighter in calories, it’s a good choice.
At this point I’m pinning all of my hopes on the Peeps Dark Chocolate Dipped Chocolate Mousse Flavored Marshmallow. It has several of the things I was looking for, a less sweet marshmallow and the dark chocolate.
I haven’t been fond of Peeps other chocolate covered versions, mostly because the marshmallow ends up becoming a gooey, syrup mess. Also, they were using artificial colors for the marshmallow centers, which didn’t make much sense to me at all - the sugar crusted Peeps are uncolored.
But based on the other versions of the dipped Peeps, we were off to a good start.
The dark chocolate is only slightly more intense than the milk chocolate variety, but is blessedly less sweet. This means that the sweetness level of the whole thing is brought down to a level where I could concentrate on the combination of textures instead of the throat-searing sugar. The chocolate melted quickly and with a light coolness. The dark flavors were even slightly bitter for a moment. The sugar crust gave a grainy crunch to the marshmallow, which was light and airy.
For the first time I feel like someone made Peeps that were actually meant to be eaten and not used for decoration or as a biodegradable toy. I can only applaud this effort by Just Born who seems to have had a few mis-steps in extending the Peeps brand over the past five years. (You can only do so much with novel colors and then there were the made in China Halloween version.) Here’s the thing though: A See’s Scotchmallow Egg is about the same price, ounce for ounce. Sure, it has caramel in it, and that’s hard to compete with. But there are lots of other excellent chocolate and marshmallow products out there, especially around Easter. I’m not going to kid myself that $1.59 is a great deal for cuteness ... though these definitely are the first and only Peeps I have actually eaten willingly. (All others were consumed with a sense of duty for the blog.)
I still might not buy these for myself, but I can recommend them and I like the direction this trend is going in.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Last year Just Born launched Chocolate Covered Peeps. It was a natural evolution, as Peeps were already made in a variety of shapes and colors and even flavors. But the one thing lacking in that new product was an essential part of the Peeps experience: the sugar crust.
This year we have another new version, Peeps Milk Chocolate Dipped Marshmallow. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A single Peep partially dipped in milk chocolate. They’re packaged in a tray of three, similar to the way the Sugar Free Peeps are sold. They come at a premium price, I paid $1.99 for my 1.5 ounces of new newness.
Each Peep is about a half an ounce. They’re fully formed, not formerly conjoined like the row of Peeps that usually come in a tray. They have a squat and wide base and just the very bottom of the base has a light coating of sweet milk chocolate.
They’re well protected by the overpackaging of the deep plastic tray. They’re also very fresh, though I prefer mine a little tacky and chewy. (I didn’t wait for some to get stale to post this review.)
The chocolate sticks well to the marshmallow, so even though it crunches when bitten, it doesn’t flake off easily. The flavor is quite milky and sweet and it’s passably smooth. The grain of the sugar crust would probably ruin any appreciation of a silky smooth chocolate anyway. The marshmallow is soft and chewy and relatively flavorless aside from the sweetness. They were probably some of the best Peeps I’ve ever had though I don’t care much for them ordinarily.
The proportion of chocolate to marshmallow was pretty good. Most of all I wanted something to cut the sweetness of the sugar crust and though the milk chocolate did a bit, it really wasn’t enough to warrant me buying these again.
I would love to try them with a really good dark chocolate dip. And I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing them in different flavors either. (Peppermint and dark chocolate? Especially if it wasn’t colored.)
UPDATE 3/28/2011: Oh, yes, they do make Dark Chocolate ones and Milk & Dark Dipped Mousse!
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
The box says they’re Light and Fluffy Peppermint Marshmallows Drenched in Smooth, Dark Chocolate. They’re made in France and the box holds about 9 marshmallows (though the nutrition label says there are 10 in the package).
Last week I reviewed the new Peeps Chocolate Covered Peppermint Marshmallows and several people mentioned that I should try the new Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Minty Mallows. Believe me, I was right there with them. The first set of Peeps I bought, which was before Thanksgiving, were $1 each (1 ounce), so when I saw the price for the Trader Joe’s version was $2.99 (for 7 ounces), it made these a great value in comparison. I’ve since purchased additional Peeps at only 50 cents each, that’s still more expensive per ounce than Trader Joe’s.
Inside the trapezoidal box is a silver mylar pouch. The dark chocolate covered marshmallows are just tossed in there. So you can imagine that on their voyage from France they’ve gotten quite scuffed and tumbled. Some were cracked but all were intact and there was surprisingly little chocolate dust at the bottom of the bag.
Each piece is about 1.5 inches square (they’re really more rectangular, so maybe a smidge more than 1.5 on one side than the other) and about an inch high. They feel a bit heavier than I would have expected for a chocolate covered marshmallow.
It’s not that the photo above is lacking detail for the marshmallow. They’re not light and foamy like Peeps. They’re dense and quite moist, more like a cross between aerated gelatin and a gummi bear.
The texture, though not as meringue-like as I’d expected is still quite smooth. It’s like memory foam latex, chewy and lightly minty.
The chocolate outside is smooth and maybe little chalky but has enough dark chocolate punch to stand up to the strong mint. At 55% cocoa solids (and no milkfat) its strongest flavor component is woodsy and though not as creamy as I would have hoped, it still has a very smooth melt that complements the marshmallow. The chocolate also adheres nicely to the marshmallow, so even though it cracks a bit when biting, it sticks to the marshmallow to prevent messes and deliver every possible morsel of chocolate with the marshmallow.
For the most part I found these odd. One is rather rib-stickingly satisfying, so a box of 9 or 10 of these goes a long way. I didn’t try melting them for S’mores or in Hot Chocolate. I don’t know if I’ll buy them again, but I found them far superior in ingredients, satisfaction and even presentation from the Just Born Peeps. I can see these being a fun product in the future with alternate versions with different flavored marshmallows (orange, strawberry, cinnamon, licorice). I might like to see them packaged in trays, in little fluted cups or something that keeps them from tumbling around, because I bet they’re stunning right off the confectionery line.
Friday, December 3, 2010
Just Born introduced Chocolate Covered Peeps for Easter 2010. They also made an appearance in the pumpkin shape for Halloween. But the most interesting of their new chocolate covered version of the marshmallow shapes is the Christmas introduction of the Peeps Dark Chocolate Covered Mint Flavored Marshmallow.
The candies come individually wrapped and weigh 1 ounce exactly. (There’s also a milk chocolate version, but both that I bought were crushed & sticky so I’ll have to find more.) Like the other chocolate covered versions before, they’re not just a chocolate covered classic Peep, they lack the sugar crust so the chocolate is the cloak it gets instead of the grainy coating.
The tree shaped minty Christmas Peep is just shy of three inches long and pretty tall at about an inch thick. The dark chocolate shell contains a bit of milkfat but is otherwise has a pleasing dark sheen and makes a convincing tree shape. The package says that they’re gluten free, but of course aren’t vegan (gelatin & milk) and may contain peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and coconut.
They actually smell more like sweet dark chocolate out of the package than mint, which I thought was a good sign after the overly sweet and underwhelming Easter and Halloween versions.
Biting into it, I found what I expected, which was a bright green, soft and moist marshmallow flavored with peppermint. The marshmallow is interesting, it’s fluffy without being foamy or latexy. The mint flavor is appropriately strong - strong enough to have a distinctive taste but not so strong to overwhelm the chocolate chip qualities of the dark coating. The smooth dissolve of the marshmallow is better than the slightly grainy and chalky chocolate.
I don’t generally get an aftertaste from green food colorings (blue & yellow), so my repulsion at the color was aesthetic, not technical. It did go far to convince me that this was something flavored like Creme de Menthe.
The product idea is sound, a flavored marshmallow in a festive, seasonal shape covered in chocolate. There aren’t any other mass-marketed candies like that. I still question the necessity of the strong food colorings (and maybe some sprinkles on there would serve a similar purpose of the tree “decoration.” I’m still not much of a marshmallow fan, so these don’t suit me, but I’m sure there are some fans who will enjoy these. They could benefit from higher quality chocolate and eschew the strong colors.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Most of what I love about Halloween is the tradition. But sometimes I do like to see a bit of novelty thrown into the mix. Earlier this year I saw that Whitman’s, makers of the famous Whitman’s Sampler boxed candies, started making holiday novelty candies. Their first entry for Easter was a series of pastel confection coated marshmallows. Their entry for Halloween is similar, a candy corn shaped Marshmallow covered in Halloween Pastelle.
The candies are sold individually wrapped, I found mine at RiteAid but I also saw them at Walgreen’s. Each piece is an ounce and comes in a simple cellophane sleeve with a decorative Halloween black & orange border. At fifty cents each it wasn’t hard to take a gamble on them.
The construction is simple. It’s a rounded triangle of soft, almost gooey marshmallow covered in a white confection. The coating is orange and yellow and frosted in the form of a piece of candy corn. Of course it’s missing a whole stripe, which was a bit disappointing. But the shades and ratios of the colors that they do have are dead on good mimics.
This is pure sugar with scant other ingredients to break up the sweetness. The “pastelle” coating has a good snap like a white chocolate but no other flavor - no milky notes, no vanilla. It’s smooth enough though that it creates a bit of a creamy container for the marshmallow. Since this was exceptionally fresh the marshmallow was moist and fluffy, though also a bit sticky. It melts into a fluffed cream instead of a latexy marshmallow. It’s less sweet than the coating, but on it’s own it’s still throat searing.
It’s cute to look at and of course quite economical as far as Halloween-themed edible decorations go. While I found the Easter ones a little off-putting because part of me wanted them to be flavored, this one actually reminded me a little of candy corn. Not enough to make me buy it again.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.