Thursday, December 7, 2006
Part of the fun of Candy Blog is going around town buying sweets because it’s, you know, for the blog. But even with my wide travels, there are still things in my very own city that I’ve never heard of. And shame on me for not seeking them out! I got an email from a blogging friend of mine who wanted to hook me up with a candy making friend of his. (Any candy making friends of yours are always welcome as friends of mine.)
Thus I was introduced to Valerie Confections. I’ll skip right to the point. It’s freaktastically good.
I’ve been introduced to a lot of toffee and I wasn’t that keen on finding yet another toffee company, but they currently have a seasonal Holiday Nougat. The nougat is in the soft French style, with a mellow flavor, soft chew and intense orange flavor and then studded with crunchy almonds. It’s all covered in excellent bittersweet chocolate and dusted with some flakes of real gold.
The nougat is firm but very soft with small candied orange pieces that give a burst of zest to it all over again.
The pieces are large and generous (about 1.75” square) and drop dead gorgeous.
I was so excited at how beautiful and tasty they were that I invited over my neighbor who has been around the world and shared a piece with her, saying that it was “really, really, really good.” She instead corrected me saying that it was “really good, really good, no, really good.”
I shared half that box of Holiday Nougat, which is often the way I feel about great candy. Part of me wants to hoard it and gobble it up and part of me wants to give as many people as possible the same experience I’ve had. The latter usually wins out. The nougat experience, however, was also encouraging for the toffees that were still sitting in my studio.
Like the Holiday Nougat the toffees were just lovely. The packaging is amazing. The boxes are soft looking and the simple grossgrain ribbon give an air of sophistication that is seldom imparted to the pedestrian toffee.
The toffee assortment that engaged me most, of course, was the The Debut which was all bittersweet chocolate - Almond, Almond Fleur de Sel, Ginger, Mint, Orange and Classic Toffee.
Let me just say this about the the toffee itself. Imagine butter that’s been sweetened to the point that it’s crisp and caramelized. That’s this toffee. It cleaves in the front teeth in a way that almost crumbles, but without all those flecks that toffees sometimes leave.
The pieces are thin, unlike many rustic toffee planks out there. It’s incredibly buttery. Each of the toffee squares is a different flavor. They were all perfectly balanced with the Ginger as a special standout in my mind because of the way the earthy notes of the ginger blend so well with the burnt sugar flavors.
The Peanut Assortment was rather different from the toffee. It was crunchier and less obviously sweet. Half the pieces were milk and half dark, all were sprinkled with fleur de sal and topped with a single red-skinned peanut. The salt dominated here and brought out the very smoky and roasted notes of the peanuts. It was like a peanut brittle that was completely integrated (the nuts were crushed so it was more the flavor than texture). It’s little grainier than the regular toffee but very satisfying.
Valerie Confections also features a Milk Assortment which is more than just a milk chocolate version of the Debut, it features two flavors unique in this set: Hazelnut Toffee - plus Gianduja Rocher as well as the Almond, Almond Fleur de Sel, Mint and Classic. Nut fans may also be intrigued by the The Almond Assortment, Gianduja Rocher Assortment or Hazelnut Assortment.
High quality ingredients, attention to detail, freshness and spectacular presentation all mark these as premium candies. They’re expensive at $20.00 for a six piece box (96 grams) of Toffee and $50.00 for the insanely delicious Holiday Nougat. Great presents or hostess gifts. Also keep them in mind if you’re one of those people who are angling for a high-end wedding favor since they do custom orders and packaging. I can definitely see myself buying the Holiday Nougat again, but I think I’d only pick up the Toffee as a gift or for a special occassion ... unless I found a store that let me buy just one piece (then I’m in trouble).
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I reviewed the Payday covered in real milk chocolate earlier this year. That was a limited edition item and was quickly replaced with this permanent offering called the Chocolatey Avalanche bar. Cuz you know, given a choice, no one wants real chocolate. They want chocolate-like products!
The Payday Chocolatey Avalanche is pretty good. It does have real chocolate in there, it’s just mixed with some other tropical oils (and that wonderful, ubiquitous PGPR that’s all the rage right now) so it no longer qualifies as chocolate . Under the mockolate, the peanuts have a good salty hit to them that balances out the sweet and soft nougat and the slight chew from the caramel. The bar tasted slightly of cinnamon, but perhaps it was stored somewhere close to a case of Atomic Fireballs.
The best thing about this bar was that it was fresh. Every last nut on there was crunchy and tasty.
The limited edition offering at the moment, however, is called Peanut Butter flavor Avalanche which also has no chocolate. It’s a peanut butter core, covered in caramel and rolled in peanuts then dipped in a peanut butter coating.
I’ve eaten two of these so far. The first one I wolfed down the night before my CNBC appearance because I wanted to prep myself properly. The bar was dry and though filling, it stuck in my tummy like a rock. The second one I ate (pictured above) was a bit more pleasant. I’m glad I gave it another try. Still, the crumbliness of the nougat center was just too much when combined with the lack-luster peanut coating. If I were a milk drinker that would have been the perfect accompaniment. But candy shouldn’t need to be consumed with a beverage in order to work.
I’m reverting to the regular old Payday. It never lets me down.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
There were people who wanted me to do this. There were readers commenting that I should be covering Halloween goodies. So here goes. I went to the drug stores over the weekend and found all the pumpkins, most of them marshmallowy.
I did a roundup earlier this year of Easter eggs from Russell Stover and I was pleasantly suprised by the taste and quality of them, so it wasn’t hard to purchase these (though they were only on sale for 50 cents each).
This one really appealed to me because it reminded me of one of my favorite candies ever, the See’s Scotchmallow (always best in the dark chocolate single pieces, not the milk chocolate “bar” thing). The pumpkin shape out of the package is actually pretty good. It has some shape and definition, which I enjoyed quite a bit.
It smelled sweet and not a bit like chocolate. The caramel is soft and flowing and the marshmallow firm and bouncy but very moist. The combination of all the textures is nice, but the caramel doesn’t quite have that toasted sugar taste and it’s not quite salty enough to balance out all the other sweetness.
I have to say, after staring at the packaging for Russell Stover for the past couple of days, I’ve decided I don’t really like it. It has a sort of faux Peanuts feel to it that I find a little sad. Maybe it’s that the colors are too much like Easter and I feel like Charlie Brown and this might be the equivalent of getting a rock in my Trick or Treat bag.
This was certainly the best looking pumpkin of the whole bunch. It was thick and had a well-defined and easily recognizable shape. The bite was nice, with the soft and fluffy marshmallow center, but it lacked a vanilla punch. It just lacked flavor. The chocolate couldn’t carry it, because it didn’t have much flavor of its own, though it’s not like it was bad, just sweet and without any sort of dairy component to even give it a little kick.
I love the purple package. I really do, but it kind of confused me. Hershey’s is positioning purple as their color for dark chocolate (they use it on the Dark Kisses and those dark jewel tones on the Special Dark packaging). But no, this is milk chocolate.
I figured if I was disappointed with the lack of flavor in the Russell Stover marshmallows, Hershey’s would pick up the slack. After all, Hershey’s is known for their distinctive milk chocolate. This one was packaged nicely, a much bigger package than the Russell Stover even though it was slightly lighter. The marshmallow is nice and lofty and has a more firm latexy quality to it. Dryer and with a distinctive fake vanilla flavor, the marshmallow certainly had some personality. The chocolate on here was not really up to the challenge though. Too grainy, too sweet and just not creamy enough for me. I kinda scraped it off with my teeth so I could have more uninterrupted marshmallow. (This pumpkin was made in Canada.)
Everyone’s well aware of my love of Reese’s but this has to be the ugly duckling of the pumpkin bunch. It barely even looks like a pumpkin, it was difficult to extract from the wrapper and has a plain old greasy appearance and feel.
Now, all that aside, it’s a Reese’s Egg ... and I love Reese’s Eggs. They’re different from Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the ratios are different and though they tried to recapture this difference with the Reese’s Limited Edition Bars earlier this year, I think these unattractive lumps offer something compelling enough to warrant making them seasonally. The center is firm and a little crumbly, a mix of salty, grainy and sweet with a thin and sticky milk chocolate coating that adds a little more sweetness to the mix.
I’ve saved the best for last. Last spring I tried my first Snickers novelty item, it was a Snickers Easter Egg. I actually liked it quite a bit and found it different enough from a regular Snickers bar to put it in the same class as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg (ratios and all that). For some reason the Snickers Pumpkin might have a slight edge on the Egg. It might have been because I couldn’t easily re-wrap the pumpkin in its foil wrapper, I had to eat it right away. Well, it might not technically have been eaten ... it might have been gobbled.
There aren’t as many whole peanuts in the pumpkin, but there’s a definite nuttiness to it. The nougat seems moister and flavorful and the soft caramel is smooth and has a little toasted salty hit to it that helps out the whole thing. The chocolate is merely adequate, but smooth enough to support the whole (and of course give it the lovely pumpkin shell).
If you’d like more opinions on the other pumpkin shaped goodies, coincidence has it again that Rebecca has posted on the Hershey’s orange pumpkins and Joanna has both orange flavored ones that I couldn’t bring myself to purchase.
All of the pumpkins I listed were 50 cents each on sale. If you’re looking for stuff to throw into the Trick or Treat bags, stick with the tried and true candies, they’re less expensive (when on sale most fun sized bars can be 10 cents each). If you’re looking for a little treat for yourself, it’s not a bad gamble. Overall I’m giving them all a 4 out of 10. They’re benign ... they’re not the epitome of their genre, but they’re not embarrassments either.
Friday, September 29, 2006
I’m not quite sure what possessed me to do this array of bars, but here it is. Readers write in and ask what sorts of American candy they should take with them as hostess gifts or ship to friends overseas as quintessential American bars. The Milky Way is right up there, as one of the earliest bars that Mars developed (1923).
It’s a bar that I should love, after all, it’s supposed to be a malted milkshake in a bar.
There are several iterations of this bar both here and abroad. I got a hold of the American versions of both the milk chocolate and dark versions and the UK Mars (milk chocolate) and Canadian Mars Dark (dark chocolate).
The bar is called Milky Way in the United States but everywhere else on the planet it’s known as the Mars. (There was once an American Mars bar, but that’s since been renamed Snickers Almond ... there is a bar called Milky Way in the rest of the world too, but that’s like the American 3 Musketeers bar.)
I haven’t had a Milky Way bar in about 10 years. I’ve always thought they were too sweet, but after breaking one open the smell of malt was really compelling, making me doubt the wisdon of my embargo. The nougat here is the highlight, a medium color of fluffy, slightly grainy nougat covered with a stripe of caramel and covered in milk chocolate.
The flavors go nicely together and the caramel has a slight salty note to it that balances out the very sweet and only passably smooth chocolate. The malt is earthy and brings flavor to the bar.
The UK bar known as Mars has a similar cocoa colored and grainy, fluffed nougat covered with a stripe of glossy caramel and then milk chocolate. The caramel here was noticeably smoother, but the maltiness was much more subdued and replaced with a milky flavor.
The American bar is on the left and the British on the right. There was a difference in size, the British slightly larger at 62.5 grams over America’s 58.1 grams. The UK bar as slightly longer and a little taller.
Recently the standard bars started to appear in darker coats. Back in 1936, based on the success of the Milky Way bar, Mars introduced the Forever Yours bar. It remained in the Mars product line until 1979 when it was discontinued. Customers complained and the Milky Way Dark bar was introduced in 1989 and then the name changed to Milky Way Midnight in 2000.
Milky Way Midnight - beautiful dark bar with little folds of chocolate on the top. The dark chocolate has a little reddish tone to it. Inside is a fluffy white (with a yellow tone) nougat and a stripe of caramel. Smells slightly smoky and very sweet. The caramel dominates in this bar and its sweet stickiness isn’t completely offset by the smooth but otherwise flavorless dark chocolate.
Mars Dark - a stunning dark bar with glossy dark brown chocolate. Inside is a fluffy white nougat (with a slight yellow tone) and a stripe of caramel. The nougat on this one seemed slightly grainier but still sweet and only slightly less overwhelmed by the caramel. The chocolate, though pretty still doesn’t add much of a flavor counterbalance for the whole bar just a smooth texture.
The wrapper on the Mars Dark bar is a bit of a blunder, if you ask me, as it seems to indicate milk chocolate by its lighter, creamy color over the black package of the Mars bar.
So, you’re wondering what the difference is? The American one is on the left and the Canadian on the right. The Canadian bar is larger, by .1 grams. The ingredients list is virtually identical as well. The only difference on the labeling is that the Canadian one lists the true trans fat content at .1 grams (American food does not have to be labeled if it’s less than .5 grams).
The important thing to note is that the milk chocolate and dark chocolate versions differ in more than their coats. The nougat is markedly different. The dark bars are missing the malt component, and instead have the vanilla nougat (that’s found in the American Snickers Almond bar). The difference between the American and foreign bars isn’t that marked and I think that fans should be happy with either when they’re traveling. I give all bars a 6 out of 10.
Overall, I wish that the Milky Way Midnight or Mars Dark really was just a dark chocolate version of the Milky Way/Mars bar - I think the combo of dark chocolate and malted goodness would be great. But Mars must not believe that (I’m not sure if the Forever Yours had the malted nougat or not ... honestly I think it’s wrong to muck with too many ingredient variations and try to stick the same name on it). I might pick one of these out of a bowl of miniatures, but I’ll stick to the See’s Awesome Nut & Chew Bar as my favorite nougat candy bar for now.
Friday, August 18, 2006
My recent shopping spree at Mel & Rose’s has a little story attached to it. A commercial was recently shooting on our street and the production crew paid us $300 for the inconvenience of having other people park in our driveway and the fact that they were going to wake us up 90 minutes earlier than they told us. I vowed to spend $100 of that on import/upscale candies (I consider it an investment in Candy Blog!). So off to Mel & Rose’s while the crew was making a ruckus and fouling the air with their diesel generators.
I was very tempted to get the Nougat de Montelimar again, but they had quite a few other import varieties, so I thought since someone else was footing my experimentation bill, I’d branch out to other continents.
Massam’s Deluxe Nougat is about as far flung as I could find, made in South Africa. It’s a lovely chunk of nougat, about the size of half of a Snickers bar. The white inside wrapper on it is actually a potato starch paper that’s edible. The nougat itself is not quite hard and not quite soft. The almond distribution is a little uneven. I had two bars, the first one had a great balance of them, but the second one had a complete void of almonds on one half and then a nice amount in the other half.
The taste of the nougat is sweet and smooth and the starch of the potato wrapper gives it a rather cereal quality. It’s odd, as I get to the end of the chew it reminds me of Cheerios. The honey notes weren’t as rich as I’d hoped, but these bars are pretty good in their own right. I had a little trouble biting them, so for the second bar I started cutting it with a knife and it worked a bit better.
At a dollar twenty-five a piece for an imported nougat (they’re a little over an ounce each when I weighed them, but there’s nothing on the label) they’re pretty good. I might pick them up again, especially for the novelty of the potato paper.
For the record, I only spent $50 on candy that day, including a tasting kit of Michel Cluizel that I’ll have a review of soon. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I guess you should never go to a candy store AFTER lunch. I bought a new bike with the rest of the money.
This nougat is both Kosher (Parev) and Hallal.
Friday, August 4, 2006
I don’t know if I would have noticed, except that the Sav-on had both the old version of the bar (sans peanuts) and the new one side by side and I was curious why the packaging was suddenly different and what made the new one “more satisfying.”
So I purchased both and went off to the Candy Blog labs to do some analyses. First, the bars say they weigh the same, but when placed on the trusty postal scale the More Satisfying with Peanuts version came in at exactly 2.0 ounces and the Less Satisfying with just Almonds clocked in at 1.9 ounces. What’s even more puzzling about this is that the label says that they weigh 1.76 ounces ... at least Mars is generous.
The original version shown above was easier to slice and seemed more “solid”. There weren’t copious amounts of almonds, but a fair amount. The bar was rather bland, as I mentioned in my review before. But there is something missing here, a toastiness, some sort of flavor.
So the big thing I noticed right away was how difficult it was to slice this bar easily. It was kind of mucky ... not melted or anything, just not as structural. I think there may be more caramel now. Instead of just going back to a better tasting nougat, the Mars folks created the hybrid Snickers/Mars Frankenbar. It’s a Mars bar that tastes like a Snickers. Really, why buy this? It doesn’t taste like almonds ... if anything, it’s just a Snickers bar that’s a little smaller.
As a touchstone I went out and bought/consumed a standard Snickers bar. It really tasted no different except the Snickers Almond was a little crunchier because almonds are bigger than peanuts.
This got me to thinking about the ingredients, so here’s a run down of the top contents of the Less Satisfying Snickers Almond, More Satisfying Snickers Almond and the Satisfying Snickers (Peanut):
LS Snickers Almond…...MS Snickers Almond…..Plain Old Snickers
But let’s go back to that statement on the new Snickers Almond bar ... what exactly makes satisfaction?
Less Satisfying Snickers Almond: 230 Calories & 1.76 ounces (that’s 131 calories per ounce)
Could satisfaction be another word for caloric density?
While I find the More Satisfying Snickers Almond a little more tasty than before, its resemblance to the classic Snickers Peanut makes it superfluous. There are so few almond choices out there, why take this one away? I’m giving the Now More Satisfying Snickers Almond bar the same rating I gave the original.
(I’m also a little miffed that I consumed about 750 calories for this one review! I just hope none of them contained mouse droppings.)
Note: I looked at the Snickers website and they still list the old ingredients for the Snickers Almond bar.
UPDATE 9/2/2008: Well, the old new Snickers Almond is back. Here’s a brief revisit with the bar:
I like the bar (though I prefer the dark chocolate version) and I’m glad they brought it back.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
No, you’re not seeing double - I did post a review of something very similar this morning. Like the Golden Bonbon I picked up, these are smaller torrone-style nougats that are individually wrapped for freshness and easy snacking. If you think they look suspiciously similar and are confused because they have the same initials, it’s not by coincidence. Golden Bonbon used to run the Golden Boronia facility but sold it recently.
Trust me, Golden Boronia made a good deal. These are tasty candies that rival the Golden Bonbon ones. The biggest difference is the flavor set. Both have the standard Almond and Coffee (though I didn’t taste the Golden Bonbon version of that) but then they diverge. Golden Boronia are made in Australia - another country known for their nuts.
Almond - sweet smelling without a trace of amaretto notes. The almonds are fresh and the nougat is soft and smooth. Not as much of a honey hit as I like, but very pleasant.
Apricot - sweet and complex apricot aroma that highlights the honey flavors. Almond and apricot are wonderful companions and the light sweetness of the nougat combined for a very satisfying treat. Well, it was satisfying while I ate it. Now I want another one.
Green Tea - this was the one that stopped me dead in my tracks at the All Candy Expo. I love green tea and the delicate flavor seems a logical match for nougat. The nougat smells like sweet green tea and tasted like a sweetened matcha. The nougat is even a soft earthy green color. It’s a little grainier than the others, but the refreshing and lasting green tea flavor is really nice. There’s a slightly darker note of flavors in there, as match often has, but none of the bitterness that I sometimes find in matcha candies.
Cappuccino - it smells like sweet, sweet coffee. The color is a little darker, like it’s been toasted. The coffee flavor is more like espresso than a milky coffee. It tastes a lot sweeter than the others do, for some reason. The flavor is nice, not too strong but missing the honey notes that I love so much in my nougats.
All of the flavors (plus Peppermint) come in a crunchy version. The crunchy version tastes more like the crisped outside of a toasted marshmallow. They’re nice (the peppermint is very strong) but I prefer the soft ones.
Their website says they’ll ship anywhere and I tried making an order for a 1 kg mix (about $21 USD) but the shipping was going to be an additional $52 ... I made a request for where I can find them locally cuz I don’t like to pay more in shipping than for the actual product.
I’ve mentioned before of my love of French nougat and Torrones. Part of it nostalgia and part of it is that they’re a really terrific candy. While I was at the All Candy Expo, I was intent on finding a year-round supply of affordable Italian/French-style nougats.
Golden Bonbon is made in Canada with an Italian family recipe (I even met Mr. Mazzucco). They make both soft and crunchy nougats, but I concentrated my tasting efforts on the soft ones because that’s what I prefer. Golden Bonbon boasts of their family’s long experience (three generations) making nougats and use traditional copper bowls and say that half the weight of the nougat is just almonds. Let me tell you, those were some tasty almonds, too.
Almond - nice delicate almond scent and plentiful almonds both whole and pieces in the mix. Only a light touch of honey but very smooth and a slight hint of amaretto.
Orange - I can see the orange bits in the mix and it certainly smells orangey. The orange flavor brings out the honey notes, but the orange rind pieces can be a little tough. But the flavor combinations including the bold orange oils of the zest is really nice.
Cranberry - like the orange, you can see the large pieces of cranberry in here. It has a wonderful dark fruity aroma. The nougat is soft as are the cranberry bits. They add a nice floral, fruity and sour bite to the nougat, but I’m not that wild about it compared to the others.
Maple - the nougat on this one was slightly darker than the stark white of the others and smelled a lot like maple. Sure enough it tastes like maple, with its dark smoky tones and rich sweetness. It goes nicely with the almond and is certainly tasty, but it’s not really what I want in my nougat.
The company says that they have wide distribution in both the USA and Canada and I think I’ve seen them at Cost Plus World Market ... now I need to look closer. I don’t know about the pricing, but if I can find them for less than $20 per pound, I think I may have a new favorite. I would probably stick to the regular almond ... possibly the orange, but I’m kind of curious about the coffee flavor they have too that I didn’t get to sample.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.