Thursday, January 14, 2010
This year they’re expanding their line with two new bars. Today I have the Mint Wafer Bars. In the compact package are two wafer bars with a mint creme filling sandwiched between crispy light wafers covered in dark chocolate.
It’s not a big package, though it has a sharp design that fits with the rest of their candy bars. They seem to have a color coding thing going on; as you’d expect this one is green for mint. Though there are two bars in there, it’s still pretty light, only 1.1 ounces. The ingredients are all natural and have no hydrogenated oils or preservatives (though honestly, few candies do use preservatives).
The bars are about three inches long and a little under one inch wide. The dark chocolate coating is glossy, rippled and rather thin, just enough to seal up the wafers and cream. The dark chocolate coating is made in Belgium, but the candy bars are manufactured in The Netherlands.
The wafers inside are light and mostly flavorless, there’s a slight hint of toasted rice (though they’re made with wheat flour). The cream center is white and slightly cool on the tongue. The mint is very light and fresh with a slight note of real mint leaves instead of just peppermint oil. It’s smooth for the most part with just a little bit of a tiny grain to it. The chocolate coating is deep and rich with a dry and bittersweet bite.
The combination is quite nice, not too sweet and refreshing. The portion size is insufficient though: I know, my Americaness is showing. I’d love the package to have three instead of two. But glancing at the teensy print of the nutrition label it is clear that each finger is about 95 calories. But that means that these are jam packaged with calories - that comes out to 173 per ounce. Mmm, crispy, minty and chocolatey fat.
The earlier Dark Chocolate and Milk Chocolate Wafer Bars featured crisped rice, while these just have the wafer planks and dark chocolate with cream. While this limits the crunch, it does mean that the cream and its flavors are more forward.
On the whole, they’re very tasty. My only hesitations with them are the price (usually $1.50 or so) and how hard they are to find. I’m told that they’re available at Whole Foods, but you know how WF likes to move stuff around to confuse their shoppers so I find it difficult to grab them on a regular basis.
The other new flavor is Double Dark Chocolate Wafer bars which feature 70% cacao chocolate and are actually vegan. I’ll review those in my upcoming Vegan Week.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
So far I’ve enjoyed my latest bundle of Aldi confections that my mother sent to me from Ohio. Two of the heftier items in the package are the long boxes of Choceur After Dinner Mints. I quite liked the Choceur items I’ve picked up before, especially since they’re nicely packaged into individual servings. (Each mint is 45 calories.)
The “mints” come in two flavors: Orange and Peppermint with the boxes handily color-coded in orange and green respectively.
I liked the orange box because it captures the holiday vibe without resorting to red and green. It’s just an orange box with brown accents and a variety of white & brown snowflakes around the edges.
Inside the box it’s rather like every other box of after dinner mints I’ve had, such as After Eight and the Divine After Dinner Mints (which was fair trade and also had a nice design). The Orange After Dinner Mnits box weighs a hefty 10.5 ounces, kind of like a narrow brick. Each piece is tucked into an open brown glassine sleeve. Each sleeve reminds me that it is the Finest Quality, as if there could be some little folders that didn’t have that notation that contained sub-standard quality candies.
They’re two inches long and one and a quarter inches wide. They’re have a nicely rippled top and a decent chocolate scent with a touch of orange. However, once I bit into it the orange flavor is overwhelming. The dark chocolate has a thin layer of soft & smooth fondant inside. It’s a “whole orange” flavor with both juice and zest notes and reminds me more of the Jaffa orange candies I’ve had from the United Kingdom. The chocolate texture is creamy has a touch of cocoa bittersweetness, but mostly the flavor here is orange and a pure blast of sugar.
It’s a welcome change from the traditional mint and the orange does leave a clean and refreshed feeling. I liked them better in memory, not in practice though. I felt better about them after I was done while the zest was still kind of lingering, not while I was eating them.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The ingredients are pretty clean: Sugar, Chocolate Liquor, Glucose Syrup, Cocoa Butter, Invertase, Soy Lecithin and Peppermint Oil. (However, this is also exactly what the Orange ones say, right down to the peppermint oil.) They’re made in Germany and feature the Aldi “Double Quality Guarantee” which means that if you don’t like it, they’ll give you your money back and another of the item. (You know, just so you can make sure you didn’t like it.) Honestly I had no issues with the quality of any of their items ... it’s often that they’re just not to my tastes.
While I found the Orange ones far too orangey, the mint ones were just right. I felt like I could taste the chocolate, which was dark and roasty as well as the clear peppermint flavor. The texture of the fondant was light and crisp. It was like they were flattened Junior Mints. With more chocolate by proportion than a Junior Mint but packing all the minty power.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Though I liked the design of the box from a graphics standpoint, it wasn’t actually substantial enough for something that holds so much candy. When the package is full and the stabilizing force of the shrink-wrap is gone, it was clear that the paperboard wasn’t built well enough. The single flap of the top and the simple folded over edges meant that the box had to be picked up carefully, best with two hands when full, or else the top would fold open and the candies spill out. Serving from it is good but putting them out in a large quantity inside their little sleeves is kind of problematic as they’re slippery.
Both are great hostess gifts and a really inexpensive item to include in a coffee when having friends over or easy thing to bring to an office to-do. (Note, I say they’re inexpensive but I don’t have the price info, so I can only guess that these are less than $4.00 for a box.)
These are not Kosher but are vegetarian and should be considered vegan (invertase is listed on the ingredients, which is an enzyme produced by bees, but for industrial food purposes is almost always made via yeast for cost savings).
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
It’s November, there’s a crisp chill in the air (yeah, it was in the fifties last night here in Los Angeles) which usually signals mint & chocolate combinations are in season. Last week I tried Dove’s new Peppermint Bark. This weekend my eye was drawn to this Fannie May Mint Meltaway in with the holiday candy at Walgreen’s.
First of all, I never see Fannie May all the way out here in the West Coast. Second, this was a drug store, someplace I didn’t expect to run across a boxed chocolate brand. I know many readers have been urging me to cover Fannie May, so into my basket they went without complaint.
Fannie May used to be a fine chocolate company, founded in 1920 and based in Chicago. In 2004 they declared bankruptcy and were bought up by Alpine Confections who already owned a similar Midwest confectioner, Harry London of Canton, OH. In 2006 they became part of 1-800-FLOWERS. So they’re not quite the tiny little boxed chocolate company any longer; this is what their website says:
So some of you caught that I said that they used to be fine chocolate. Well, read on and you’ll see where I take issue with including them saying they’re “fine chocolate” when they’re not using the “finest ingredients.”
The Mint Meltaway package is rather refreshing and easy to spot. It’s a rather clinical white with a little pile of the candies isolated in the middle of the wrapper. The top and bottom edges have simple evergreen boughs and pine cone trim. There’s actually only one piece in the package though the image shows three, but at 1.5 ounces, it’s definitely not skimpy. The package describes the meltaway as Rich chocolate mint center drenched in creamy pastel coating. Wow, creamy pastel coating, can you tell how much my
mouth is watering at that? What is creamy pastel coating? Here’s what takes up a portion of the back of the package:
You know what all that adds up to? 1.5 grams of trans fats. Most companies have mucked around with their serving sizes so that they can skirt in under the “you can say there’s no trans fats if you have less than .5 grams in a serving” but Fannie May, well, she’s bold. She’s out there with a huge 240 calorie portion (160 calories per ounce) that contains 49% of my daily value of saturated fats. And those actual trans fats.
The block is two inches square and a half an inch high. The soft, matte & dull green looks like a bar of soap or a vintage fireplace tile. It has a soft peppermint scent, not menthol nasal-passages-clearing-strong.
The white coating is rather smooth and not at all greasy. It’s not minty but also not really much of anything besides a texture and slightly salty. The chocolate center isn’t a soft meltaway, it’s a bit firmer, like a Frango. It melts quickly though, cool and chocolatey with a pleasant peppermint essence to it. After a while it gets a little greasy though, a little thin and watery.
The ingredients don’t warrant the $1.39 price tag when I can get the Dove Peppermint Bark made with real cocoa butter just a little further down the aisle. Or if you don’t mind the mockolate, just eat some Andes Mints.
Friday, November 13, 2009
If you’d asked me a year ago if there were any more mint flavors that Altoids could come in, I would have said, “Nope, it’s all been done.”
I know, this is a really short review but it has a really big picture. I spotted these new Cool Honey Altoids at Walgreen’s. I liked the prison stripes of yellow and black,oh wait, maybe they’re supposed to be bee colors. It’s distinctive enough I don’t think anyone will mistake this for Ginger or Licorice.
I liked the idea of cool honey, like a cough drop version of Altoids. (Honestly a eucalyptus version might be good.)
They’re lightly tinted, maybe a little yellow, I thought sometimes they looked a tad green. Perhaps absinthe! But the flavor? They’re minty and strong but other than that I wasn’t getting anything honey-ish out of them. They’re milder than a regular Altoid, but lacking the complex flavor combination that I enjoyed in the Creme de Menthe version.
It’s too bad, it was a nice idea. But at least the tin is cute. Gigi also reviewed them.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
One thing that was missing in the Dove chocolate line was white chocolate. Well, Dove’s new Dove Peppermint Bark Promises are the first step to remedy that. This new holiday version of Dove’s foil wrapped bites of chocolate has special holiday tips on the wrappers from Martha Stewart.
I was a little hesitant to pick up this bag when I saw it at RiteAid last weekend. Of course I was excited by a real cocoa butter version of peppermint bark with white chocolate. As mentioned in our forum discussion about new holiday candy, I was hoping these would replace the Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses in my heart, which are no longer made with 100% cocoa butter. And of course I love that Promises are easy to eat and share. But they were priced at $4.99 for an 8.5 ounce bag. That’s pretty steep for drug store chocolate.
When I opened the bag I wasn’t blown away by a minty smell; actually I didn’t catch much of anything as far as scent. But that’s not a bad thing, it means that the foil wrappers are doing their job of not only protecting each piece but also keeping their mint out of other candies that you might throw in the same bowl. Each little foil wrapped piece is cute: silver foil with red and green polka dots. They’re definitely easy to spot in comparison to the existing Promises line.
There’s a dark chocolate base with a white chocolate topper. The white chocolate has bits of red and white peppermint candies mixed in.
The melt is great. The dark chocolate (not totally dark, there is some milkfat in there, like most Dove) melts a bit quicker than the white chocolate. It’s a silky and fatty melt, slick and with some decent woodsy cocoa notes, but there’s also a cocoa experience ... a dryness like eating cocoa powder. No worries though the white chocolate layer is sweet, also fatty and of course minty. There’s a slight vanilla note to it and a bit of a dairy milk flavor with a hint of salt. The creaminess offsets the dry bite, as long as you eat the layers together.
The whole effect is a mint meltaway with a really tasty chocolate punch to it. Far and away better than an Andes Mint. The candy bits provide a good crunch (though I don’t necessarily need them, but without them it’s not a very convincing bark product.)
Price aside, these are awesome. They really fit the holiday season with the mint and chocolate combo. It’s also available in an actual bark shape, but I haven’t seen that in stores.
Monday, August 24, 2009
They feature dark chocolate and a fondant cream center, but the unique selling proposition here is crushed hard candy bits to give them a little crunch.
They come in a cute gable box. I liked it’s simplicity - it’s just a paperboard box, but looks cute and befits the classic contents. Inside the box is a cellophane bag with the chocolates ... not quite as elegant, but I’m sure much more efficient than the trays that Turtles usually come in.
I tried the Peppermint variety first.
They smell clean and minty with a little note of cocoa. While they’re called patties, they’re really not flat at all, they’re like a half-round candy.
The chocolate is very thick but nicely tempered with a good crack but doesn’t flake too much. The candy crunches are mixed in with the chocolate coating (pretty much just on the top).
The cream center is a mellow and smooth fondant - softer than a York Peppermint Pattie but firmer than the gooey version inside Junior Mints. The package shows that the center is pink, thankfully it’s uncolored.
The mint is quite powerful and lingering. Each piece is pretty sizable too - about 3/4 of an ounce. So it’s a good portion, it feels decadent and satisfying - and also comforting since it’s not terribly fussy.
The chocolate isn’t quite as creamy smooth as I would have liked, but it is real and if it weren’t for the egg white they used in the fondant these would be vegan.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The package is similarly themed with vertical stripes, this one obviously going with yellow. As an array the four varieties are quite attractive.
One of the issues of tossing enrobed chocolates into a bag like this is that they get a little scuffed up. These were shipped to me by Quality Candy, the company that runs King Leo these days, so they may be more bumped around than what you’d get in a store. (I haven’t seen these in stores yet but they’re supposed to retail for about $6.00 for a 6 ounce package.)
Unlike the Peppermint, these barely betrayed their cream flavor. They smelled a little like citrus oils, but mostly like sweet chocolate.
The centers of the lemon version were pastel yellow. The cream center is both tangy and sweet with a good pop of zest to go with it. The crunch in the chocolate and the comforting lemon flavor was pleasant and definitely different. The dark chocolate actually went very well with the lemon in this case - I got the distinct flavors of both without one winning out.
The cocoa flavors of the chocolate aren’t the most complex, but they stand well to the lemony notes.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I’m a sucker for orange and chocolate, especially orange and dark chocolate. But I admit that I was a bit dubious of the Orange ones going in, because I thought they were going to be more like an orange hard candy mash-up with some chocolate than a fine cream.
Opening the inner cellophane package, these smell like cocoa and a bit like peppery orange.
Like the lemon, the orange creams are tinted and slightly tangy.
The orange and dark chocolate goes well together and has a nice blend of both the citrus oils and the juicy orange notes. These were by far the crunchiest of the patties I had, which was quite refreshing.
I rather liked these two citrus varieties, especially as a summer chocolate treat because they didn’t seem as sickly sweet.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Quite simply, these smelled strongly of raspberry. It wasn’t so much that it felt artificial, it was simply that it was strong.
When I took the photos, I had a little dish of my sample pieces that I usually enjoy after dinner. In this case I had the little dish sitting by me in the living room. I ate the orange and lemon ones, but left this one sitting there overnight (the bitten one, I ended up putting the whole ones away for later). Well, the next morning I came down to the living room and couldn’t believe that one little candy could actually scent a room that size.
Scent aside, they’re cute and a little flatter than the others. The center also seemed firmer and crumblier than the others.
It has the same light tangy quality and the interesting combination of the creamy and bittersweet chocolate with the crunchy candy bits. Overall it was far too much raspberry for me, but I enjoyed the simulation of raspberry seeds with the hard candy.
Rating: 5 out of 10
King Leo was founded in 1901 and is thought to be the oldest trademarked candy brand in the United States. They were bought out by Quality Candy Company in 2000. At that time the brand was just a line of peppermint sticks (three versions), since then Quality Candy has expanded the flavors and variety of products. They’re made in state of the art facility in Tijuana, Mexico. (You can read more about it in this trade magazine article - warning PDF.)
Overall I liked them, but find the price point a little steep ... but then again looking over the ingredients they haven’t mucked it up with too many unwholesome things - yeah, artificial flavors, but it’s real chocolate and real vanilla. The initial offering of flavors is a good variety without being too weird so I expect them to do well.
Quality Candy sent me a huge box with one package of pretty much everything they make ... and I’m pretty sure they sent similar samples to other blogs, so expect to see a lot people talking about them for the next few weeks.
Candy Addict starts with their Choco-Crisps, Candy Yum Yum had some heat issues and put her Crunchy Patties in the fridge and is giving some away, Todo Candy has a great video that shows how humungo this box was.
Monday, August 10, 2009
I’ve been meaning to hit Robitaille’s Fine Candies in Carpenteria, CA for a few years now. They’re in a cute little seaside town just south of Santa Barbara known for its excellent beach. Of course no seaside town is complete without a candy shop. Robitaille’s makes their own fudge and some chocolates along with what they consider themselves most famous for, their Inaugural Mints.
The shop is much larger than I expected, perhaps because I thought that their 400 square foot candy kitchen included the store floor ... instead it’s a large open space that houses three full aisles of pre-packaged bulk candies.
I made a beeline for the mints and had several versions to chose from.
They sell two different sized packages of the mints, eight ounces and four ounces ... all standing on end like little record albums. I chose a box of the classic red, white and blue ones in the smaller four ounce size.
I wasn’t quite sure what they were, since the honor of an official mint for an inauguration made them sound exotic or perhaps even unique.
It turns out they’re not. It says on the website Do not let the colors fool you. These are all made from white chocolate. Sadly that’s not quite true. Maybe it was at one time, but the ones I picked up are sugar, partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil and then some cocoa butter followed by some milk products and other things like sorbitan monostearate that sound like they don’t need to be in there. So at least there’s some white chocolate in there. (And a heavy heaping of food coloring, as you might imagine.)
I admit, I was still enchanted with them. They look like glossy, patriotic tiddlywinks
Though they boast about being handmade, they’re really just little puddles of peppermint flavored white confection (see Smooth n Melty Mints) which probably taste just as good spewed out of a machine.
That said, I liked them! They’re smooth, they’ve very sweet and minty and have a good silky melt on the tongue. I appreciated that they weren’t covered with little nonpariels so at least there was something unique about them.
They come in a few different color variations - pastels, harvest colors and red, white & green for Christmas. I would probably prefer just plain white ones if I could.
The store itself has a huge selection of other candies, something for everyone. There is a whole display of items between the fresh fudge and the house-made candy case of sugar free candies. Then there are many aisles filled with shelf after shelf of items. There’s a good selection of licorice including salted from Europe and Australian style along with German (Haribo wheels) and American version of allsorts. There were flavors and flavors of salt water taffy, lollipops the size of your head. All colors of M&Ms (in single color packages), rock candy in all colors, compressed dextrose candies (Runts, pacifiers, little stars, little daisies) and then jelly beans and all sorts of chocolate coated things like pretzels, honeycomb, marshmallows & graham crackers.
The prices of the candies varied and were by and large decent. Some chocolate candies were $12.95 a pound and the sugar candies were usually about $5.95 a pound with others somewhere in between. Most prepacked items were 4-8 ounces, so the choice of sizes wasn’t that great.
There were also shelves and shelves of candy favorites especially hard to find independent companies like Annabelle’s, Necco and Tootsie. No vacation destination is complete without a selection of a few dozen candy sticks, which are right up by the check out counter.
One of the other items I picked up in the candy case was something I saw on their website and was even more impressed with in person. The Dark Chocolate Turtle (they also come in milk and white chocolate).
This sizable patty is 3.5 inches across and exquisitely formed in layers. A dark chocolate disk as a base, glossy caramel, then a few pecans then another dollop of dark chocolate.
The caramel had a nice pull, good chew and excellent burnt sugar & butter flavors. The dark chocolate was semisweet with good fruity & toasted flavors to go with the woodsy pecans. Some spots seemed to be mostly chocolate but the whole effect was a satisfying candy. The price was pretty decent as well, each piece was about $1.50 each and might I say they were just slightly too big for me. (I cut most of them in half and shared.)
Robitaille’s Fine Candies
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Instead salted licorice seems to produce awkward faces ... though not always an unpleasant reaction, I’m usually ready to eat more, but I’m not sure if I have that “oh I must gobble this and then find a source in bulk” reaction.
Perhaps it’s that most other salted sweets use either plain sodium chloride (table salt) or sea salt. But salted licorice usually employs other metallic salts such as aluminum chloride and ammonium chloride.
In an effort to give it all another try, I made sure to check out the licorice selections while I was in Solvang a few weeks ago. Solvang is a Danish-themed town near Santa Barbara which happily has many candy & chocolate shops. I picked out this mixed bag from Venco called Drop Toppers Salmiak & Mint. It was appealing, even though it was $8.25, because it had at least one tried and true favorite of mine: Schoolchalk.
The assortment is an attractive mix of black and white pieces in a variety of textures and combinations of salt, sugar, licorice and mint.
Schoolkrijt - I’ve reviewed before but I’ll recap it here. It’s a tube of mellow & rich licorice filled with a cream. Then the whole thing is coated in a crunchy, thin minty shell. I love them, I’m addicted. I buy them when I can and I pretty much pulled them all out of this mix and finished them within days.
Instead they were like a dense brown sugar & salt combination infused with licorice encased in a crunchy mint shell.
The salt is quite strong, but less metallic than many others I’ve had. The brown sugar & molasses notes helped me to overcome that electrical pop and of course enjoy the licorice.
I couldn’t really chow down on them like the Schoolkrijt, but I still found a way to appreciate these.
Drop Tikkel - looked like jelly beans. They were quite mellow and as far as weirdness factory, they were a little musty tasting, but otherwise not very salty. The licorice flavors were also rather muted.
The texture of the jelly bean center was more like a soft gummy than a jelly, so it had a nice chewy quality too.
Salmiakrondo - I avoided these for a while, because I figured if I could take a small amount of salted licorice, I probably couldn’t handle this much. The nuggets are about as big around as nickels. I didn’t know what was in there, so I carefully cleaved one apart for the photo with my teeth.
I found it’s pretty soft, happily. The black portion is rather smooth, kind of like a solidified taffy. The center is a softer, crumbly version of the Zwartwitjes. Still, it was salty ... and with no candy shell or minty backdrop to wash it away.
They’re also kind of bitter. But the salt wasn’t so strong or metallic that it turned me off. Still, not something I just wanted to shovel into my mouth mindlessly.
I like to dip my toe in the water sometimes when it comes to adventurous or exotic candies, so a mix like this is a nice way to ease into it. But it was pretty pricey ... but at least the package had some names & explanations for me to post here to guide others. The problem now is that I’ve eaten all the Schoolkrijt and my desire to eat the others since the review is over has evaporated. Luckily, I have a salted licorice friend.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.