Friday, February 29, 2008
Though the standard big item in an Easter basket is a chocolate bunny, there’s nothing in the books that says that is must be a bunny. In fact, many companies make things like eggs (often filled with other chocolate or confectionery items), chicks, ducks, filled baskets, geese and some folks even do crosses.
This week I looked at four different options that could be purchased at just about any drug store or discount retailer: R.M. Palmer, Wonka, Russell Stover & Lindt, though this isn’t the first time I’ve reviewed hollow chocolate items.
Two years ago I visited Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven, and if you were ever looking for a Tiffany-style experience for Easter baskets, that’d be the place. You can get a hollow chocolate bunny the size of a toddler. (Well, toddlers aren’t hollow.)
Oddly enough at this writing there’s nothing on the Jacques Torres website that mentions anything about the impending holiday (I always figured Lent was the classic time to display Easter goodies).
So I thought I’d wrap up the week with two other devilish hollow chocolate items, though they’re not exactly for Easter, they give a good sense of some more pricey items that are out there.
Milk Chocolate Gnome by Michel Cluizel with a white chocolate beard - I was sent this as a sample a few days before Christmas along with some other items that I’d already tried (the single origin tasting kit, being one of them).
Cluizel is known as one of the few bean to bar to bonbon companies in the world, so they have exclusive control over everything from the quality of the beans to the molding and packaging of the product. This fellow came in a flat bottomed clear bag and in perfect condition. He’s made with a dark milk chocolate that is tempered to perfection. It has a nice milky scent and perfect snap when I bit the top of his hat off.
The chocolate itself isn’t very thick at the top but moreso as I got down to his little feet. The chocolate is sweet, perhaps a little too much for me, but extremely creamy with a well balanced chocolate flavor.
I also had a white chocolate flat snowman with a candied orange peel scarf and a nose and buttons made from chocolate pearls. The white chocolate was indeed buttery and sweet with wonderful vanilla notes.
I don’t know what you can get from Cluizel in the States via the web, but a visit to their NYC shop or any of their French locations would probably be divine. The closest item I can find online right now is in the Chocosphere “Bargain Basement”.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Chocolate Penguin from Hotel Chocolat - again, just before Christmas I got a package of some items from Hotel Chocolate which included some things that I couldn’t eat because of walnuts (okay, I actually ate one of them and besides being very uncomfortable from a swollen throat I was mostly cross).
The mostly milk hollow figure is a bit thicker than the Cluizel. It’s nicely formed and decorated in the shape of a penguin with both dark and white chocolate accents.
The Hotel Chocolat dark chocolate is 40%, which is really high in cacao for a milk. It’s very creamy with a strong dairy component, good malty tones and a mellow chocolatey base.
Hotel Chocolat is new to the States, but has a strong following in the UK (see the coverage at Chocablog for more reviews). They source their chocolate ethically and use natural ingredients. They don’t actually have any chocolate bunnies here in the States, but a really attractive “engraved egg” that’s either hollow or filled with an assortment of their chocolates. Their UK assortment is much wider (and has a great mix of elegance and casual kookiness.)
Rating: 7 out of 10
My hollow chocolate adventures are not over, I’m still planning on getting some from See’s (which uses Guittard milk and dark chocolate), Vosges, L.A. Burdick, Lake Champlain among others.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
It’s the Wonka Chocolate Golden Egg. It’s Wonka because it’s made by Nestle. It’s chocolate because that’s what it’s made from. It’s golden because that’s what color the foil wrapper is and finally, it’s egg shaped.
It’s sold in a rather large box, which I suppose protects it well, but seems a bit of overkill for the amount of actual candy you get.
The whole confection clocks in at 4.5 ounces (the largest of my candy reviews in Hollow Chocolate Rabbit Week). What’s also different about this one is that it has something inside, a handful of SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies. The egg itself is 4.5” tall. The box that holds it is 7” tall.
The chocolate shell is woodgrained. Or maybe it’s supposed to look like a nut. I have no idea why it would be either. Eggs are smooth.
The chocolate itself is, well at least real. It’s very sweet, sticky and milky. It’s definitely not the wonderful Swiss milk chocolate that Nestle makes, but as novelty fare goes, it does pretty well.
Some pieces taste a little “fruitier” because of the SweeTarts.
My egg had eight SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies. Three red and five purple. I was spared the recent atrocity of the blue/tropical punch. I kind of hoped for more candy inside, but the amount matched the image on the box. Also, the candies rattle around inside and ding up the chocolate with little nicks and leave a SweeTart dust.
It’s fun, it’s well made (in Canada), but it’s a bit pricey at $7 to $8 retail (I haven’t found a store with them in stock, I got mine as a sample from CandyWarehouse.com). That ends up about $1.67 per ounce.
The Wonka Golden Egg is one of the few Wonka products that relates back to the 1971 movie adaptation. (And the best candy-themed musical rant ever.)
So if you have your own Veruca Salt at home, this might be the perfect featured item for an Easter basket.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
It looks good, but it’s always bad.
Why do I keep buying it?
For you, dear readers. It’s a public service that I’m obligated to perform.
The thing about Palmer is that they have so many other things going for them. They have cute designs, usually their packaging is nice, they’re Kosher and of course they’re made in the USA (Pennsylvania for locavores). But it’s like they go out of their way to disappoint once the stuff hits my mouth.
“Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Palm Kernel Oil and/or Palm Oil), Whey, Cocoa, Lactose, Skim Milk, Soy Lecithin, Vanillin, Artificial Colors (Blue #1, Blue #2, Red #40, Yellow #5, Yellow #6 & Red #3). May contain Peanuts/Nuts.”
Look how far the cocoa is down on that list, #4 ... I think it’s only in there for coloring!
The rabbit is admirably attractive. It has a nice dark sheen, it’s shiny and has little details like the winsome eyeroll and it’s holding a flower. It took me a while to figure out that the white blob at his belly is a little fluffy white chick ... maybe. It’s also pretty thick. It’s just a little shorter than the Russell Stover one and weighs and extra quarter of an ounce. The walls of the shell are a bit thicker.
But you know, the taste is not that good. It has a cool feeling on the tongue, it’s very sweet and has a fudgy grain to it. It tastes nothing like chocolate, more like milk powder and peanut shells. (Oddly, that’s not really a bad taste, just not chocolate and not as sweet as I’d have thought based on the ingredients.)
The serving size is the whole rabbit, which clocks in at 260 calories, with only 50% of that from fat. Yes, the rest comes from carbs (usually chocolate is a 60/30/10 mix of fat/carbs/protein ... with some room for movement depending on dark or milk varieties - some extreme darks I’ve had are 85% fat).
Sometimes I wonder if Palmer is doing the cocoa industry a service by buying beans that would otherwise be turned into compost or rot in the co-op storehouses. I don’t think I’d mind their products if they were sold as “biodegradable decorations” ... but sadly the appearance of a nutrition label seems to indicate they really do think people want to eat it.
Considering the fact that there are actually good real chocolate bunnies around at similar prices if you keep your eyes open (Russell Stover isn’t quite as cute, but there’s also a Hershey’s version, too), there’s no reason to buy these except for off-label uses: Easter dioramas, photo shoots or just buy them all as a public service to remove them from the shelves so that others may not be faced with similar disappointment.
R. M. Palmer Hollow Milk Chocolate Flavored Bunny ... the Easter equivalent of a lump of coal.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Russell Stover has often had a rather stale image as one of the drug store chocolate brands. They’re trying to push themselves a bit lately and I think it shows, at least it’s caused me to give them a second look and for the most part I’ve been pleased.
They’ll never replace upscale chocolatiers, but they’re dependable and consistent, especially for holiday specialties.
Their Hollow Milk Chocolate Bunny’s appearance is a rather ghastly caricature. The yellow foil wrapper with its green bow, blue eyes and huge eyelashes are trying too hard. (But I really like the touch of the pink inner ear.)
If the outside is akin to a drag queen, the inside is a fresh and athletic 22-year-old with clear skin and shiny hair. No need for any pasted on eyelashes here or colored contacts. The smooth sheen of the medium color of the milk chocolate is lovely, with its little curls of fur every once in a while for a bit of verisimilitude.
The shell is rather thin, as I expected when I picked it up. The thing is very light at 1.5 ounces (and rather similar is volume to the Lindt bunnies). The easy-to-break shell doesn’t detract from the appeal though, it just makes it easier to pick off a piece of your own chosing. Honestly, I don’t mind hollow bunnies. I was always rather stymied by solid bunnies as a kid, as they required whacking them on a hard surface or going to the kitchen and taking a meat fork to them. Hollow bunnies are easy to crack and munch.
I think this is the first time I’ve simply eaten Russell Stover’s milk chocolate. According to an article in Candy Industry magazine, they age their milk chocolate for 90 days (and dark for 150 days). I’m not sure who makes Russell Stover’s chocolate, an article mentioned that they’re using Callebaut for their Private Reserve line. No PGPR or milk solids in here, just real milk chocolate and fake vanilla.
The chocolate smells rather, well, sweet. More like fake vanilla and a little malty.
It has a nice quick and silky melt. It’s a little sticky and very sweet but has a lot of flavor packed into that.
The foil wrapping could be updated a bit without losing the appeal to children, but the product is rather good and an admirable value at 66 cents an ounce (probably less if you find them on sale).
They also come in 3 ounce and 6 ounce versions (and the website shows dark chocolate as well, but I had no luck in the stores).
Monday, February 25, 2008
I’ll admit that finding a palatable chocolate bunny at the drug store isn’t easy. Lindt has led the way over the past few years, virtually taking over the high-end bunny domain. Instead of depending on novelty, the Lindt Bunny is the same year after year.
This year was the first time I saw a dark chocolate version, so I scooped it up, even at regular retail of $3.49 for a 3.5 ounce bunny. (But then again a 3.5 ounce Lindt Dark Bar is often about $3 anyway).
The elegant gold foil and dark brown bow is part of the appeal of this confection - it feels timeless but not dated.
Lindt uses their 60% dark blend for this bunny which also features no added dairy ingredients like many other so-called “dark” chocolates from big manufacturers these days. However, it’s not all natural, instead the use vanillin, an artificial vanilla flavoring.
Even out of the wrapper the bunny is quite beautiful. The sheen was pleasant and I was fortunate to get one that hadn’t been nicked & dinged up on the shelf.
It may be billed as a hollow bunny, but this is pretty substantial stuff. The ears are nearly solid and the head pretty thick as is the base. Most other rabbits this size would probably weigh 30% less. (And require additional packaging to protect them.)
The chocolate is pleasant. I don’t think the 60% is Lindt’s best, but is creamy and has a nice robust flavor with some coffee & cherry notes. It has a slightly dry & chalky finish, which makes me feel like I’ve just had a cup of cocoa. Seeing how Easter is in March this year, cocoa is quite welcome.
The Reindeer, like the Bunny, is equally handsome and actually sports the Lindt name on the side (the Bunny doesn’t).
Like the Bunny, the Reindeer had nearly solid ears and a thick base.
Since it’s the same size and has the same recipe as the Lindt Gold Bunny, just substitute that mentally. (Besides, you want to be prepared for Christmas, don’t you?)
Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve ever had Lindt Milk Chocolate before this. I’ve had their Lindor Truffles, but this all milk chocolate, all the time and quite a change for me.
It’s very milky but still maintains a robust chocolate flavor and none of the “powdered milk” flavor that I don’t care for in many European milk chocolates. It has more than a hint of malt to it, which of course I gravitate towards. It’s quite silky on the tongue and not so sweet that it makes my throat hurt.
As chocolate animals go, they’re both real winners. The price is a bit steep ... but if you have a mind to start some sort of new tradition of Easter Reindeer, you could get away with buying them after Christmas (this one was good until 5/31/2008).
The German Lindt website lists all sorts of other versions of the iconic Bunny, including 1,000 gram versions (yowza! that’s almost three pounds!), white chocolate and minis.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
I wasn’t much for dolls as a kid. I never had a Barbie. Instead I played with things like microscopes, art supplies and Playmobile/Lego. Sure, I liked to dress up, but I never considered myself very feminine and wasn’t terribly interested in fashion, makeup or my appearance. (I admit that I liked to braid my hair though and collected rhinestone jewelry ... and often wore much of my collection at once.)
There were candy cosmetics when I was a kid, not that they did anything. You can still get the little lipsticks. Which weren’t actually meant to be applied to the lips, they’re just little cylinders of compressed dextrose in a lipstick container. (The most successful candy lipstick, as most kids know, would be Easter Malted Milk Eggs, which could be used to painting lips, faces and dog noses.)
So in two ways this candy is kind of lost on me. It’s based on the idea of cosmetics (I still rarely wear makeup) and the fashion dolls line called Bratz. But it’s candy ... and good candy should stand on its own!
All four of the candy products from Dracco in a licensing agreement with MGA Entertainment are related to lips. Or is that Lipz? Bratz are a group of girlz who love clothz. Their appearance is stylized, kind of like the Troll dolls from when I was a kid, except instead of being asexual, these are hypersexual.
It’s sweet. Not an overly sour bubble gum, just lightly tangy and fragrant. It has a nice soft chew, a little slick without much graininess, so bubbles were pretty much ready to go.
It really wasn’t that flavorful though. And it didn’t make my lips look any different.
(5 out of 10)
The only “makeup” I wear on a regular basis is tinted lip balm. But usually regular lip balm. When I was a pre-teen I did fall into the obsession with BonneBell Lip Smackers. But I was always disappointed that they had no real flavor, just scent.
This cute little Candy Lip Gloss Tube is much like a package of Blistex. It’s a gooey liquid in a clear plastic package. The applicator tip is angled and has a little hole. A gentle squeeze to eject a little drop and then press against the lips to apply.
I was expecting something sweet and sticky. And though it smelled like lipgloss often does, it tasted like a liquid strawberry hard candy. A little tangy and lacking in a deep flavor.
As for lip decor, it was a little runny at first, then when left on the lips it became dry and sticky. However, this did impart a glossy appearance. The light pink tone in the tube did nothing on my lips (well, they’re kind of that color anyway).
(4 out of 10)
It took has a light strawberry smell and light pink color.
I have less experience with bottles of gloss, but the ones that I’ve tried usually have some sort of spongy tip for precision application. This is just a plastic stick. (But probably slightly more sanitary. If licking a stick and putting it back in the bottle can ever be considered sanitary for candy or cosmetics.)
(3 out of 10)
This Candy Lipstick is the same as the others, only in solid form. A little smaller (more slender) than a real lipstick, but hard candy certainly doesn’t have the engineering problems that a semi-solid fat does.
This one was easy and satisfying to simply eat and not apply. The other goos just didn’t lend themselves to licking off the applicator. After numerous applications though my lips were actually a bit chapped ... hmmm. But they looked redder!
(4 out of 10)
I’m of two minds about candy lipsticks & glosses. First, lipstick is consumed. We think it’s for external application only when in reality it’s slowly eaten off the lips by the wearer. Some may be lost due to transfer to a cup or a kiss, but most of it is eaten. What’s in there? Here’s what’s in Lip Smackers. Try reading what’s in lipstick sometime. Definitely not something you’d slather on your toast every morning. So this is definitely safer for pretend play for kids than the real thing or even flavored lip balms. Second, imitative play is good, natural and healthy. Children have been “playing house” and aping their parents for thousands of years. But it may be training girls to eat the lip products! So, I simply don’t know.
Most of all, I’m not a parent.
This is a product that’s capitalizing on the licensing of the Bratz characters on the packages. If you’re already a fan of the Bratz brand, then these are probably a nice product, especially for the younger kids who want to experience cosmetics but really aren’t ready.
As a candy, these are marginal at best. But mostly harmless from the standpoint of a cosmetic item. (Well, they’re made in China, I can’t vouch for their safety.)
Friday, July 20, 2007
There are a lot of marketing tie ins between movies and candy. Some of them work really well and some seem rather strange. I’m going to put these little Ratatouille Rat Racers Pocket Slider Lollipops in that category.
Ratatouille is a new movie from Pixar/Disney that stars a rat (named Remy) who wants to be a chef. But, you know, he’s a rat. And in this world he can’t talk to humans. He has a brother named Emile, who is less discriminating about his culinary tastes. These little candy pops are simply a hard candy cylinder housed in a little slider topped with a toy. In this case the toy is a little plastic model of one of the characters with a wide steel wheel on the bottom for racing.
As a little toy, the racers are kind of fun. They’re slippery and move easily. The detail on them is pretty good, though I can’t figure out why they’re racing around on cheese or petit fours. But that’s simply my lack of imagination.
The two flavors I picked up were Blue Raspberry and Green Apple.
They’re both rather tart and have a good chemical, manufactured artifical flavor (kind of like computer animation!).
As a candy, I’ve certainly had better hard candy in better flavors. The little toy roller cars are certainly better than a Happy Meal (TM) prize, but limited in their appeal. The retractable lolly is a nice idea, especially for kids who may want to space out their enjoyment of this marginal treat.
The same company who makes these also did the similarly branded Peeps Pops. (I reviewed the ring ones and Jeanna at Wisconsin Candy Dish reviewed the slider pops that are pretty much the same as these.) They’re made in China, which at this moment doesn’t make me feel very good ... expect for the fact that I didn’t finish these. I just ate enough of each to get the flavor.
Friday, July 13, 2007
There are some candies that are placed very low on the shelves at drug stores and grocers for a reason, they’re appealing to little people. And until I started shopping the bottom shelf, there was a lot of stuff that never even entered my candy radar.
This little baby bottle filled with compressed dextrose tarts is one such candy. It’s made by a small company called Imperial Toy and they haven’t even bothered to name the product. So I’m just going to call them Baby Bottle Pacifier Tarts. Once I took off the clear plastic shrink wrap, there’s no branding on here at all.
The little bottle is an actual toy baby bottle, complete with a rubber nipple with a hole in it, so as to make a mess with your little baby doll that actually drinks, or maybe it doesn’t. (Here’s a tip, don’t put actual milk in your doll that actually drinks. It’s fun at first, but then your doll smells like spoiled milk.)
The bottle holds 1.5 ounces of candy, so it’s a nice size and of course refillable with candy or kids can use it as a toy bottle for their dolls.
The little compressed dextrose candies are cute, a great size an the pacifier shape is nicely done. The flavor isn’t very strong, certainly not as strong as SweeTarts. I’d liken these to Smarties, but perhaps a little harder and a little more flavorful (well, and a little more colorful).
I think these are called “Oh Baby! Pacifier Candy” and made in Canada by Concord Confections. I’ve seen them in bulk at candy stores and advertised as a favor-filler on sites that specialize in baby shows and the like. Since you can buy them in bulk, I suppose you can make your own little filled favors for parties. Since this was $1.09 at the drug store, it may be a less expensive way to go. (Concord also makes the super-fun Candy Blox.)
As a novelty item, this doesn’t really do much for me, but then again I don’t recall actually having a doll when I was a girl (I know I must have had one, but I don’t remember her ... I remember my sister had that doll that grew her long blonde hair when you pushed a button on her tummy). I see this as more of a “favor” item or stocking stuffer. As a candy container, it’s cute but of course once you take it out of its plastic wrap, it doesn’t work very well to keep moisture out because there’s a hole in the nipple.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.