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, October 13, 2006
Hershey is hopping into the upscale chocolate venue with their new Cacao Reserve line.
Much creamier and less grainy than regular Hershey’s chocolate. They’re not kidding about the premium hazelnuts, they are fresh and crunchy with a wonderful malty/nutty flavor. It’s sweet but dense and satisfying. A 1.3 ounce portion is rather puny considering my desire to eat more.
Extra Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs (65% cacao dark chocolate) - the description from the website says, “Deep, rich chocolate profile with cacao nibs ‘the heart of the cacao bean,’ for a lively textural crunch.”
The bar has a deep smoky scent with berries and cherries as added notes. A little bitter on the tongue at first, it has a nice melt (65% is a nice compromise) with some strong charcoal and woodsy elements dominating. The nibs have an excellent crunch without the fibery chew that they sometimes add. This may be the first “consumer” nibby bar, and it’s pretty good at that.
The ingredients are a little odd for a “reserve” dark chocolate bar: Semi-sweet chocolate (chocolate, sugar, cocoa, milk fat, cocoa butter, organic soy lecithin, vanilla beans), cacao nibs, milk. What’s with putting the dairy in there?
Overall, Hershey has created a high quality product. I prefer these to the Extra Dark line. The portion size is smaller than a normal candy bar, and of course the price is a little high, but the quality of the bar is evident. There other two bars in the introductory line are plain milk chocolate and dark chocolate, which I wasn’t as interested in as these two, so I was glad these were the two that the 7-11 had in stock. I would definitely pick both of these up again as a quick, upscale treat, especially for traveling or to put in a lunch.
Monday, September 18, 2006
One of the things I’ve always struggled with when evaluating fudge is that it’s so unappealing looking (I have this problem with toffee, too). You usually just buy it in lackluster chunks and then you have to figure out how to slice it up and how big is a serving supposed to be? How do you close it back up without the edges getting crusty?
Flippin’ Fudge contacted me a few weeks ago to tell me about their new fudge and I was kinda skeptical, mostly because I really didn’t want to take photos of amorphous lumps of sugar and chocolate. Well, when it arrived, I realized that Tim & Liz Young at Flippin’ Fudge has figured out how to make fudge look great.
First, the box it came in. It was a white lidded corrugated shipping box that had the logo on it, you open it (easily, not with a lot of struggle) and inside is the smaller box padded by some confetti colored packing shreds.
The real treat is inside, each piece of fudge is individually wrapped in a royal purple/magenta piece of foil and labeled with the flavor.
All the fudge has a very good “bite” to it. It’s soft without being limp, firm without being chalky. None of it is particularly sweet right out of the gate, instead the chocolate flavor predominates and there’s less milky mellowness to it.
Dark Secret - a plain fudge but with a bit more of a chocolate kick. The fudge itself is smooth and dense, without being the slightest bit sticky. It’s missing that crystalline crumbliness that I kind of like in cheap fudge, but where that’s lacking the signs of bad fudge you’ll find lots of flavor.
Wake Up Call - coffee and chocolate, what could be better in the morning? This was a nice mellow chocolate fudge, but I never really got the coffee flavor kick out of it. It had a slightly more acidic bite to it, but no really smokin’ coffee to wake me up.
Skippy’s Surprise - a layer of chocolate fudge, a layer or peanut butter fudge and then another layer of chocolate fudge. The peanut butter is ultrasmooth and creamy and has a strong roasted nut taste. A little kick of salt and you’ll be searching the assorted box for more of these. Very satisfying.
Fuzzy Bubble - this is peach champagne fudge, and I’m sure lots of folks think this is a good idea, but I just have to exempt myself from this one. I really don’t care for mixing peach with chocolate for some reason and this fudge is no exception.
Citrus Shot - It’s a rich orange, with more essence to it than tart juicy taste. I’ve always loved the combo of orange and chocolate. This could be kicked up a notch, but it’s still wonderful.
Toffee Crunch - A nice salty hit with a buttery smell and taste of caramelized sugar mixed in with the chocolate.
Island Retreat - Coconut and chocolate is a great combo. If you like Mounds bars but don’t want to be bothered with all that actual coconut to chew, is a great option. All the flavor is there, that sort of floral fragrance, nutty bite and of course the chocolate smoothness to wash it down. It seriously made me think of summer and walking around the boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ.
Overall the fudge is very different from what I’m used to. I looked over the ingredients and noticed that they all have
(I emailed with Tim and he said that there’s no peanut butter in the non peanut butter flavors, so his secret of how he makes it so smooth is his alone) without adding the milky-sticky texture that sometimes turns me off.
I did all this without looking at the price so as not to color my judgement one way or the other. The standard mixed box that I got is 12 ounces and contains 16 pieces. It costs $20.00 but the larger 28 piece assortment (about 21 ounces) is a better deal at $32. The site is well laid out with a good variety of product combinations and you can calculate the shipping before you check out, but all shipping is done through FedEx, which can cost a pretty penny for overnight but the ground shipping isn’t too bad.
UPDATE 10/14/2006 - you can win a $50 gift certifcate!
Thursday, September 7, 2006
How many hazelnut crispy bars does Ferrero make? How many of them have wacky names? So far I’ve had the Happy Hippos and Kinder Bueno. This one is called Tronky.
The package says, “lo snack leggero e croccante.” Which means something about it being a light snack. Which is odd, because I think it’s supposed to look like a log.
Tronky is a crisp shell filled with a chocolate & hazelnut cream with chopped hazelnuts. It’s pretty darn good. The shell is crunchy though a little bland, but the filling is rich with a slight chocolate flavor and a good crunchy from the fresh hazelnuts. The size is great, it’s easy to eat a whole one, you don’t want to eat half and save it for later, it’ll get stale very quickly. Besides, it’s very messy if you don’t just wolf the whole bar down in three bites. Each bar is less than 100 calories, so it’s a nice treat but not too much of an indulgence. (Of course you can buy them in six pack bags.)
If you’re traveling in Europe and are sitting around in an airport, pick one up and give it a try.
Wednesday, September 6, 2006
I’ve blogged about regional “vacation” candies before, and here’s yet another example of them: Texas Pralines. I first had Texas Pralines, which are chewy like a soft caramel instead of grainy like a fudge with pecans about three years ago when we got an assortment as a holiday gift. Since my husband was off to San Antonio for a business trip, I told him to keep an eye out for they chewy pralines.
These Texas Chewie Pecan Pralines are by Lamme’s, which has been making candies since 1885! The history of the company is rather interesting, so if you have a sec, go read it on their website. The company uses a lamb as part of their logo to help people remember how to pronounce the name, I’m sure it doesn’t help folks spell it though.
This gift box had six individually wrapped “plops” in it, each weighing about an ounce. They’re darker than the usual caramels you see and have a good woodsy, sweet smell to them. The caramel is chewy and a bit salty but surprisingly not that sweet. The smoky and dark caramelized sugar flavors go well with the fresh pecans. They’re a little messy, as you have to eat them either holding part of in the wrapper or get your fingers sticky. But I wouldn’t want the pieces to be any smaller because that would mean that the pecans couldn’t be whole and crunchy. These are definitely a winner.
The other assortment I was given were these individually wrapped ones from Monterrey Products Company. They were three different versions of a chewy praline, each with different proportions of caramel to pecans.
The first one, the “more caramel to pecan” was pretty and smelled nice, but was very grainy without a good balance of butteryness or crystallization. The pecans were fresh, but of course there were only three of them. I wasn’t wild about it.
The second one was “equal caramel to pecan” - wow, this was gorgeous. The scent was like maple sugar and the nuts were crunchy and infused with the buttery goodness of the caramel. The caramel itself was grainy but in a crystallized way that made it dissolve and support the other caramelized sugar and nut flavors. Fantastic, I wish all three were this variety.
The last one was “more pecans to caramel” and was shaped more spherically than the others. For some reason this one stuck to the cellophane wrapper and I had to pull the candy apart and off the cello in order to eat it. The pecans were large and whole and sweet, but as a candy this one failed. Some nuts were nicely coated in the soft caramel, but others were untouched. I loved the nuts, but the balance was off as a sweet treat. It might be nice pulled apart and thrown in with some salty popcorn though.
I think I prefered the Lammes but the Monterrey had an impressive ingredients list: Pecans, Sugar, Evaporated Milk and Corn Syrup. Lammes had a few more ingredients, including hydrogenated oils (which meant .5 grams of trans fat per plop). But they were both a treat I’m not likely to have again, but I’m happy to recommend them.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:23 am
Tuesday, September 5, 2006
I’ve avoided Cocoavia since it was introduced last year. There’s something disconcerting about selling candy as health food in my mind. I don’t disagree that things like chocolate can have beneficial elements in them, but the fat and calories and lack of other positive characteristics makes it seem like we’re kidding ourselves when we believe that chocolate is good for us.
But all things in moderation, eh?
I’ve only seen the bars at the store, so I wasn’t particularly interested in what appeared to be a Dove bar with a lot of health benefits. But then I found a product I hadn’t seen before, Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds. Inside this large but light box are five one ounce packets of dark chocolate covered almonds. I usually buy Trader Joe’s mix of dark & milk chocolate covered almonds, but these were in individual packets, which is a nice feature and a quick glance at the box showed that they were even fortified with extra vitamins and minerals.
Each packet has an ounce, which is about 13 chocolate covered almonds. The package is appealing, with luxurious dark colors and some sassy photos of the candy within. The chocolate is glossy and dark though it doesn’t really smell very compelling. It melts readily on the tongue and though the package says semisweet, it’s not sticky, sickly sweet at all and buttery smooth. It has a nice smoky and complex flavor without much acidity. There’s a little floral note to it that gave it a little lightness. The almonds are superb, crunchy and fresh and a decent size.
I was really surprised at how good these were. Though I still don’t subscribe to the whole “eat these for a healthy heart” thing, I will definitely finish the box. The packages provide a good degree of portion control and each bag is only 140 calories. It also offers 3 grams of fiber and protein, 20% of your calcium, 4% of your iron and 10% of your Vitamin E, Folic Acid, B6, Vitamin C and B12. The almonds contain essential fatty acids and of course the chocolate has cocoa flavanols that recent studies are showing can have a positive effect on cardiovascular disease risks. Even though there are all these things on the box and the marketing that are saying how healthy these are, I’d prefer to think that they’re at least not a detriment to your health when eaten in responsible quantities.
So, if you’re on a restricted diet and are looking for a little treat that won’t throw you off whack, I’m a huge believer in the nut and chocolate combo as a satisfying sweet. (Not nearly as bad for you as, say, a dish of ice cream.) The benefit over any old chocolate covered nuts is this proprietary Cocoapro (tm) process that’s supposed to pack more flavanols in there that can lower bad cholesterol levels. The price is, well, pricey (about $16 a pound) but try to find them on sale.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
I picked up a couple of little Choxie items at Target over the weekend while I was getting my new bike tuned up.
The first one was an impulse buy, the lines were very long and I was scouring all the checkout areas for limited edition items when my husband pointed out this bar. It doesn’t have a very sexy name: Choxie Peanut Butter Pretzel Bar, but the package was certainly cute and all the elements were compelling.
It’s like a combination of a peanut butter meltaway and a chocolate covered pretzel.
The bar is thick and has an ultrasmooth peanut butter filling. Mixed into that are pretzel bits and peanuts. The whole thing is cloaked in milk chocolate.
The pretzels and nuts are unevely mixed and the first two squares I ate didn’t have anything in them but peanut butter. The peanut butter filling is nice and as far as I can tell from reading the ingredients label it’s so freakin’ smooth and sweet because it’s blended with white chocolate.
The real distraction here are the pretzels. They’re stale. They’re not crispy, they don’t add a satisfying crunch. Color me disappointed.
I don’t have much to say about these Choxie Caramel Pecan Nesters. They’re basically milk chocolate turtles: pecans, caramel and chocolate. They came in a little box and there were only two of them, each individually wrapped.
I took the photo and I gobbled both of them up!
High praise, I’m usually the model of restraint. It’s not that they were so divinely delicious, but they smelled awesome, that sweet pecan smell and chocolate, I wish I could bottle it. Though the caramel wasn’t anything more than sweet and the chocolate was just ordinary, the pecans were fresh and tasty.
Even on clearance (are they discontinuing them?) they were $1.40 for this wee box that had only two in them (one ounce). If you’re looking to torture yourself with a very small portion, this might be the way to go. At the regular price of $2 a box, pass this up and go straight to See’s.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
There’s a favorite candy here in the United States, it’s called M&Ms ... or maybe they’re called M&Ms, I’m never quite sure about how to make implied plurals singular.
M&Ms are not unique, they have a similar candy product in the UK and other former parts of the crown called Smarties. And of course there are plenty of knock-offs, including Hersheyettes, Jots, Rocklets, Sun Drops and Garfield’s Chocobites. There are quite a few legends about how M&Ms and Smarties were invented, but suffice to say that they exist and that’s the important part.
Milk Chocolate M&Ms
You’re not crazy, they were once called Plain M&Ms, but in 2000 they shifted their name to Milk Chocolate M&Ms.
A little bit of trivia and history. The Ms in M&M stand for Forrest Mars and R. Bruce Murrie. Forrest Mars left his fathers candy company and partnered with Murrie to create the M&M. It took some help, which came from Murrie’s father, who ran the Hershey Chocolate company at the time. The technology behind the manufacture of M&Ms and even the chocolate itself came from Hershey’s factories. In the 60s Mars starting making their own chocolate and no longer needed to order it from Hershey.
Red M&Ms were discontinued in 1976 because of a scare with a food dye called Red Dye #2 (which was not used in M&Ms). At that time the colors in the M&M pack were: Green, Orange, Yellow, Light Brown & Dark Brown. The Red M&M returned in 1985, at first as part of the Holiday color mix then in the regular mix.
Overwhelmingly consistent in size, which is a credit to M&Ms production line choosing peanuts that are all the same size. The crunchy candy shell and slightly smoky tasting nuts combine well but overshadow the chocolate a smidge. But the chocolate provides a mellow sweetness and a creaminess during the final stages of chewing. I do get a bad peanut every once in a while, but usually not one every bag.
M&Ms were not a blazing success when they were launched, though they were well received. The trick for Mars was to figure out how to reach both their intended consumers (children) and the decision makers (parents). M&Ms were initially sold to the military during WWII, but Mars thought they were the perfect kids candy. Kids loved them, they just couldn’t convince their parents to buy them. It wasn’t until they hit upon their slogan, “melts in your mouth, not in your hands” that parents caught on that it was a less messy chocolate candy for kids. The rest is history.
Really, this is the perfect M&M, as far as I’m concerned. They almonds might not be top notch as they’re often small, but they’re fresh and crunchy and provide a good backdrop to the very sweet and slightly grainy chocolate.
Peanut Butter M&Ms
These are very nice and satisfying, but I find them a little greasy and smoky tasting.
One of the interesting bits of trivia about M&Ms Peanut Butter is that there was a large lawsuit between Hershey & Mars when they first came out. Hershey accused Mars of trying to make them look like Reese’s Pieces - the packaging was the same color, the format of the bag, the type was in brown, etc. Now you’ll notice that the color is slightly shifted away from the Reese’s Orange (tm) to a reddish color.
The look of these is terribly inconsistent, which strikes me as a little odd since you’d think they’d have more control over how big the crisp centers are than peanuts. The colors also weren’t quite the same, the green was a little light and the red was a little thin looking. I wasn’t able to find the American Crispy M&Ms, so I bought some Canadian ones. So the chocolate on these is slightly more milky tasting, which is an interesting, malty complement to the crispy center. A little sweet, a little bland.
Dovetailing with the earlier issue with Reese’s & Peanut Butter M&Ms, you’ll notice that the Crispy M&Ms are positioned to rival the Nestle Crunch Bar, which is really all they are, a little Crunch bar in a shell. The light blue and use of the Red M&M echoes the Nestle Crunch colors.
Dark Chocolate M&Ms
These have a smoky and darker flavor than the milk M&Ms, but also a little note of coconut. The ingredients also list skim milk, milkfat and lactose, so I’m not sure how they’re considered “dark chocolate.” They’re gorgeously shiny and consistent, so consider me tempted when they’re sitting in front of me. There’s currently an additional reward of 2 million Dark M&Ms being offered for the return of The Scream.
White Chocolate M&Ms “Pirate Pearls” (Limited Edition)
Yup, white chocolate in a candy shell. They’re nice enough, but just too sweet for me. They’re okay when you eat them in combination with other M&Ms (especially the Dark ones), but I’m not sure I’ll buy these again and I won’t protest if they don’t end up as a permanent item.
Other versions of M&Ms over the years: Dulce de Leche (2001), Mega (still around), Minis (still around), Spec-tacular Eggs (seasonal), Mint (seasonal) and of course many color promotions and movie tie ins. Then there are other M’azing things done with them that I’ve never gotten on board with.
There has never been an M&Ms gum ... but I’m not saying it won’t happen.
Have you had enough of M&Ms? If not, check out these scans of knock-offs, Brad Kent’s wrapper collection (you’ll have to search for M&Ms to find them all), how they’re made, some more history, Candy Critic’s M&M Destruction Project, a Century of Candy Bars (there are pictures of M&Ms wrappers through the years) and if you’re still obsessed, join the M&M Collectors Club (they collect the merchandise, not the actual candies).
The product line gets a 9 out of 10. I might not like every variety, but they’re a great product and really do make snacking fun.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.