Monday, February 10, 2014
Necco has taken some heat in the past few years regarding their changes to the flavor and recipe for their iconic Sweethearts Conversation Hearts.
The idea of creating individually flavored packages if the Sweethearts seems like a great way to sort this out. Necco released to single-flavor packages this year: Necco Sweethearts Hot Hearts and Necco Sweethearts Cool Hearts. They’re cinnamon and peppermint (respectively). They come in attractive mini gable boxes and for less than a dollar, I thought it was much more attractive, mature and sophisticated than the little boxes of the multi-flavor version.
The boxes are adorable, though frustrating to re-close. There’s a tab on the back, but it’s glued down and has nothing to tuck back into after you open it. You can slide the whole flap into the folded top, but it’s a bit of a trick and not something that can be accomplished with one hand.
Though they are nothing more than paperboard boxes sealed with glue, the candies were fresh and crispy. (Not that I know exactly what a fresh Sweetheart actually is supposed to be like.)
The cinnamon flavored Hot Hearts are truly hot. I found them quite spicy and a little more nuanced than a straight burn.
The pink hearts have flirty mottoes like: Kiss Me, Wow Me, Ooh La LA and Wink Wink.
The flavor is cinnamony, it has an immediate warmth to it, but there’s a note of clove and some of the other more woodsy flavors of ground cinnamon. The texture is smoother than an Altoid, but they that that same crispy texture that you can let dissolve or crunch.
I enjoyed them quite a bit, though eating a lot of them does lead to a lingering heat in the mouth.
The peppermint Cool Hearst are white with light blue-green lettering, though some of mine were blank. It’s obvious why these are sold in single flavors, as they’re very strong and would contaminate the flavor of anything placed in contact.
The mottoes for the Cool Hearts are also themed for the mint flavor: Chill Out, Frosty, Shivers, Icy Blast, So Fresh. There are other more puzzling ones, like an asterisk (which may be an homage to the romantic novels of Kurt Vonnegut or the Walmart logo) and the possibly insulting versions that say Got Onions? and Have a Mint.
The smooth texture and Altoid intensity was pleasant. They’re were definitely minty enough to be called mints instead of candy, but the price is certainly very good for this sort of product versus something like Altoids or Breathsavers (though they’re made with sugar, no artificial sweeteners like some breath mints).
I would buy either of these again, the packaging was pleasing but most of all the candy inside was surprisingly good for a Necco Sweetheart product. I feel like Necco has stumbled in their previous seasonal and pop culture tie ins (see Sweethearts Fire & Ice for Twilight) but these can definitely be called a hit.
Friday, January 17, 2014
I found the bars at Walgreen’s on a dedicated display for Ghirardelli just before Christmas. They also come in Milk & Caramel, but that day I had a craving for something sophisticated and not-too-sweet.
The bar is square, which echos the little pieces, but a little thicker than their usual filled confections. It’s 1.3 ounces, so it’s right there as a single serving (it’s 170 calories) and I picked it up on sale for $1.00.
They’re about 2.75 inches square, and sectioned into four pieces. Each piece is well segmented, meaning that you can snap it apart easily and the reservoir of minty fondant is completely contained.
The bar has a rich cocoa smell, it’s a bit woodsy and herbal with a nice hint of fresh peppermint.
The fondant is creamy and flowing, but quite liquid. It’s very sweet but has a well rounded peppermint flavor that’s more like peppermint tea than straight peppermint oil. The dark chocolate isn’t too intense but has a bittersweet quality that keeps the whole thing from getting too throat-searing sticky. The wrapper doesn’t say what the cacao content is, but I’d put it at about 60%.
It’s not a revolutionary bar, but the convenience of a single serving for just a buck is nice. I like the big 3.5 ounce bars, but I don’t like the monotony of eating a whole one and it’s often hard to get enough consensus in this “too many choices” world for everyone to want that chocolate bar at that moment with me. I’d like to see this line expanded. I like the Ghirardelli style much better than Dove or Hershey’s at this price point, but sometimes I want a milk chocolate and crisped rice bar.
Monday, December 23, 2013
A few years back I reviewed one of the classic candies that Brach’s has been making for years, their Peppermint Holiday Nougat. The Brach’s style of nougat is made with egg whites, just like the European recipes have been for hundreds of years. This version is more of a chew, kind of a hybrid between a taffy and a fluffy honey-sweetened nougat from France, Italy or Spain.
The fun part about the Brach’s Christmas Nougats Mix is that they come in three flavors: Cinnamon, Peppermint & Wintergreen.
These kinds of nougats are assembled, truly, by hand. Large logs of nougat are colored and flavored, then stacked together to form the image inside which creates a much larger log. That is then placed on a machine that pulls it into a smaller cord and then cuts the pieces.
I’ve reviewed the Peppermint version before, and find the same opinion to hold true today. It’s a soft chew, very smooth with a nice pop of peppermint. The nougat makes it a short chew, meaning it’s not gummy and dissolves pretty quickly without much grain. It has a bit of salt, which mellows out the bulk of the sugar.
The Cinnamon version has a pink background. The cinnamon scent is quite strong and this chew was very soft. It’s a sizzling cinnamon, I was surprised at its strength, there was a bit of heat. It’s a unique sort of candy, so I appreciate that it’s attractive and well made.
The Wintergreen version has a light green background. As much as I’m a fan of the flavor, I can’t say that this is the best use of it. Like the cinnamon, this is very strong. And like cinnamon, a lot of wintergreen at once can give a sort of warming “sports rub” sort of feeling. Wintergreen doesn’t go well with many other flavors, it’s not like this combines well with chocolate or wine, if you were snacking.
These make an attractive bowl of candy, though I think in the future I’d stick with either the Peppermint or the Cinnamon. Wintergreen is just to strange for a candy assortment for Christmas, but certainly something to keep in mind for that person on your list that does have a predilection for the stuff.
Note: the packaging on this predates the Ferrara and Farley’s & Sathers merger (the copyright said 2012) and Brach’s is planning on changing their packaging design and branding again next year. This bag was made in Mexico.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
One of the surprising finds in the Christmas candy aisle this year was Pearson’s Mint Patties Creamy Candy Cane. They were expensive at $3.99 for only 6.4 ounces at KMart, but I was really curious to try them. But what are they?
The package says: A stick of creamy peppermint with a layer of candy cane flavored mint covered in delicious dark chocolate. I really don’t understand that, but I’m along for the ride.
The dark chocolate is 66% cacao and aside from the artificial colors, the ingredients are pretty good. Unlike York Peppermint Patties (which are now made in Mexico) which contain egg whites, Pearson’s are vegetarian, using soy protein instead of egg albumen in the fondant center. They do, however, contain milk fat in the chocolate so they’re not vegan. They’re listed as gluten free but may contain traces of peanuts or tree nuts.
The construction is simple enough, they’re a rod of two different layers of fondant covered in dark chocolate. The bottom layer is the same peppermint cream found inside the regular old Pearson’s Mint Patty. As far as that goes, Pearson’s makes a great peppermint patty. Some may say it’s better than York, they’re a little different in their ratios and textures but I’d definitely say they’re both excellent quality.
The bottom layer is smooth and lightly minted, the dark chocolate plays well with a bitter but woodsy cocoa note. The top, pink layer is definitely more minty and possibly a little moister or at least a little creamier on the tongue. It’s not that big of a difference. The stick is a big portion for something I’d consider an after dinner mint. They’re only 90 calories but about .8 ounces. A snack size (those foil wrapped ones) are about a quarter of an ounce - so it’s about the same as three patties. There seems to be more chocolate compared to the filling in the sticks, so that may be a selling point for some.
The price is prohibitive, even for a holiday item. I think I prefer the patties, which I bought recently for about 25 cents an ounce for a big 48 ounce bag (for the jar in my office) while this would be about 62 cents an ounce and look kind of sad in late January if no one ate them yet, even though they’re good until September of 2014.
Crunchies or a chocolate layer or something else to distinguish them more from the regular patties would push these over into a stronger recommendation. As it is, if you prefer a mint stick with a more crumbly fondant instead of the flowing style of After Eight, then go for these for the holidays. Otherwise, just grab the regular patties and call them ornaments instead.
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, November 25, 2013
Kraft is always keeping up with special versions of marshmallows during different seasons. This year I spotted the Jet-Puffed Peppermint Mini Mallows at Target in the baking section. (I’m sure these have been around before.)
It seems like a pretty simple confection, which is largely the selling point. They’re pink swirled mini marshmallows, small enough for snacking or including in recipes
They vary a little in size, but most are half inch cylinders.
They’re quite fresh, bouncy and light. There’s a dusting of corn starch on them, so they’re not sweet immediately, but a little chalky. The mint is mild, but fresh. There’s a light hint of the red food coloring aftertaste, if you’re one of those folks who can detect it. But for the most part, I liked them very much. I threw a handful in some hot chocolate and liked how creamy they melted and added that little minty touch without too much sweetness.
They’re an exceptionally good value. It was $1.00 for a large 10 ounce bag. That’s less than $2 a pound. They’re pretty spare on calories, 2/3 of a cup is only 100 calories and seems like a lot of candy. It’s a nice ingredient, something to use on cupcakes or in hot chocolate or just throw in a small bowl to keep around for kids to snack on without filling up. (Please watch small children with marshmallows and any small candies, as they are a choking hazard.)
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.