Friday, December 9, 2005
Name: Plush Puffs Assortment
Yes, artisanal marshmallows. And why not? The stuff we’ve been getting from Kraft are not what marshmallows are capable of. And those things that you find in cereal? Please, let’s not even grace them with the name marshmallow. They’re not even marshy!
I was sent a generous sample pack from Ann of Plush Puffs, which is based here in Los Angeles (Sherman Oaks, to be exact). The weird thing is that until I started Candy Blog, I didn’t really think much of marshmallows. Besides the See’s Scotchmallows, there were very few marshmallow things that I would even try. Peeps were never on the menu, but I have been known to toast marshmallows, if only because they’re the only grillable dessert I know.
Instead of just plain marshmallows, Plush Puffs are flavored with intense combinations of spice, nuts and/or fruit essences:
Caramel Swirl - I think I’d rename this one to “sticky toffee” because it had a nice carmelized sugar note to it and it was sticky. It was very sweet and had a little bit of caramelly fudge topping on it.
Chocolate Chipetta - this is the only one that doesn’t feel “sweet” to me. It’s rich and toasty tasting with a good chocolate hit. One of my top three flavors.
Maple Pecan - holy moly! These were really good. The maple flavor wasn’t artificial or chemically like some candies can be. It was a good sweet woodsy backdrop to the sweet, chewy foam. It had almost a toffee-like flavor and I even had a few pecans in mine.
Peppi-Mint - it’s like a fluffy candy cane! Seriously minty, like someone’s made a foam Altoid or something. The color and texture looks more like a cake than a marshmallow but the intense flavor made me want to eat both but I settled for doing a mash-up with the Chocolate Chipetta which was really good. One of my top three flavors.
Toasted Coconut - this one smelled divine and tasted just a good. I love coconut and I love the nutty smell that reminds me of the beach and all the kids that could tan wearing that coconut oil suntan lotion. One of my top three flavors.
Sydney’s Cinnamon - this was not my favorite, though I had high hopes for it. It’s definitely cinnamonny, but it also has cinnamon oil, which gives it more of a candy hit than a spiciness (like eating a cinnamon hard candy). But where this puff really showed itself was in the toasting. (see below)
Vanilla Bean - I know, vanilla, kind of bland. It wasn’t really bland, a little salty and it just didn’t wow me. I think this would be good with something else, like maybe over pie or toasted or in s’mores.
Sam’s Sour Lemon - these had a gorgeous zesty lemon smell and pretty creamy and vivid yellow swirls in them. Calling them “sour” lemon doesn’t work at all for me (in fact, I would call them “zesty” lemon instead) but the flavor is really nice and mellow. I also didn’t care much for the mix of textures wtih the crunchy lemon sugar but it’s not a dealbreaker or anything.
There’s one more flavor on their list that for some reason I didn’t get in my grab bag, which is the one that sadly interested me most - Orange Honey. The honey flavor is not that noticeable in the other Plush Puffs but is one of the things that I’ve always found so intense about the See’s Scotchmallows. (I guess I’ll have to place an order.)
Per the recommendation of Ann at Plush Puffs, I tried some in my tea and of course toasted some of Sydney’s cinnamon:
I brewed a cup of Revolution Lavender Earl Grey tea and and dropped in about a quarter of a puff (I didn’t want to overload). As I took the photos I noticed the marshmallow dissolving into a beautiful aromatic foam. I enjoyed the combination of flavors, the creaminess of the marshmallow, the interaction of the botanicals of bergamot, lemon and lavender was really nice. And of course the sweetness of the puff was a nice change from my usually naked tea. Even after I’d slurped off the foamy dissolved puffiness there was still a nice lingering sweetness and lemony flavor. Definitely a cool way to decorate an ordinary after-dinner or afternoon tea. I still prefer my naked tea, because that’s just the way I am.
The drink marshmallows were invented for, of course, is hot chocolate. I got some amazing Mayan Hot Chocolate mix from Xocoatl from my sister-in-law at Thanksgiving which I made here at the office with some milk in the microwave. In went a half of a Sydney’s Cinnamon. Instead of dissolving in a bubbly foam and spreading across the surface like the lemon one in the tea did, this one hung together really well. But once I tried poking it with a spoon it melted completely. I scooped it up like some sort of dessert soup with some of the hot chocolate and enjoyed that until all I had left was my cocoa broth. The spice of the cinnamon went really well with the Mayan chocolate which already had a hit of spices in it.
I kept a few of the Sydney’s Cinnamon aside for toasting. I loaded one up on a carving fork because I know that a single prong really doesn’t do very well with a marshmallow. I put it over the open flame on the gas burner on my stove and it carmelized so beautifully and left the house smelling so good, I think I’ll just start toasting these like incense. Here’s a tip about toasting them. They’re huge. They’re actually too big to toast whole. There’s no way to get a fully molten center (I do not like medium rare toasted marshmallows) with a marshmallow this size. What is so intense about these is that they melt even at moderate heat, which turns them into this molten, intense foamy sauce with a crispy carmelized shell. In the future I think I’ll slice them in half and then have a greater surface area to center ratio.
I’ve been looking for a summer dessert to have after grilling and this just might be the thing. Everyone can choose their own flavor and I think it’d be really cool to make some grown-up s’mores and drinks with them. They don’t quite fit into the “candy” family for me for some reason. They feel more like food, maybe that’s because they’re so satisfying and slightly saltier (more savory) than an ordinary marshmallow.
I should go back and add them to the gift guide, especially since they have baskets where you can choose the selection of flavors. Also, if you’re dubious about them, you can try their “scraps” which are not quite perfect marshmallows. I love factory stores. Overall this is the kind of thing I’d like to offer guests at a party and I can see myself ordering them for a summer grill or maybe part of dessert a holiday cocktail party. I don’t see myself just ordering them to eat, maybe it’s because they feel kind of precious being handmade and all, I just can bring myself to just wolf them down like so many handfuls of M&Ms or Skittles.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Thursday, December 1, 2005
Name: Extra Dark with Cranberries and Macadamias
It took me a long time to actually like Hershey’s milk chocolate. I was never fond of their Special Dark, but I ate it quite a bit when I was younger because it was often the only dark chocolate I could get my hands on easily. Sometimes a girl just needs dark chocolate. Call it medication.
I was curious when I saw this at Target a couple of weeks ago. I know that all the major chocolate companies are into this whole “chocolate as a health food thing” (which by the way, I’ve been saying for about twenty years) so it’s only natural that they start packaging stuff with that sort of market in mind.
If I were to create the ideal fruit and nut bar, I would definitely start with dark chocolate and cranberries are a good choice. I think I’d prefer cashews or pecans over macadamias (especially if we’re going healthy - pecans have a load of good stuff in them). Check out the site I link to up there, they talk about the benefit of antioxidants, which can be found in many fruits (especially dried ones), wine, tea and of course chocolate.
The bar itself was nice. A good woodsy flavor, the nuts were barely perceptible for me as a flavor but added good texture. The cranberries were a good tart, chewy snap. The chocolate was crisp, not bitter with a decent creamy melty quality and good flavor. Not the best chocolate I’ve ever had, but if this were as available as a regular Hershey bar, I’d probably pick it up as a less-sweet snack with 60% cocoa solids. The price is just right as well, a good value for less than $2.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Friday, November 25, 2005
Name: Awesome Nut & Chew Bar
If you’ve ever had a box of Nuts & Chews from See’s or gone into the store and selected the Dark Nougat, you’ve pretty much had this bar. It’s a dense, chewy honey nougat with almonds covered in dark chocolate. I was reading the November issue of Los Angeles magazine, where they explain this new candy bar. Apparently the staff at See’s had been making these candy bars for quite some time, for their own enjoyment. I guess the See’s higher-ups decided the rest of us might enjoy them. (They’ve been selling the Scotchmallows in milk chocolate for as long as I can remember and to good success as far as I can tell.) The story should be up on their website next month, I’ll link to it then, as it was a great article.
The Dark Nougat has always been one of my favorite See’s candies and I often picked them up when I was at the mall.
This is a beautiful looking bar. Long and with glossy dark ripples of chocolate enrobement. It smells wonderful, chocolatey with a touch of honey. It’s jam packed with almonds. Crunchy, smooth, chewy and sweet with a good pop of semi-sweet chocolate.
Fabulous. Mmm. I wish I’d bought more. You can buy them singly or in a box of eight of them for $7.50, which brings them into the price range of plain old Nestle, Mars or Hershey bars. I think these might end up in some Christmas stockings this year.
Rating - 10 out of 10
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Name: Ghirardelli Squares - Milk Chocolate with Carmelized Almonds
I couldn’t resist picking up this bag of sweet treats. I was originally plowing through the clearance table at the drug store because they had Hershey’s cookies for 50 cents a package (and it was one of the few times I’d seen the York ones) and I was hoping for some Halloween finds but then I thought, $2 bucks for Ghirardelli? I’ll take it!
I suspect that this flavor is being discontinued because it has no page of its own on the site (well, there’s a link, but the page has a 404 error on it). Anyway, these are cute little 1.75” squares of milk chocolate with little crunchy almond bits in it.
The milk chocolate is smooth and creamy, not too milky tasting but a bit sticky. The almonds are nicely roasted and have a good carmelized bite to them. Mellow and a little bit zippy, there are really nice little sweets to have around.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Monday, November 14, 2005
Name: Snickers Cruncher
I thought this was going to be a different bar. I was expecting it to be a regular Snickers bar but instead of just a chocolate enrobing, I thought that it would have crisped rice mixed in with the chocolate. (I didn’t really read the wrapper.) It’s not quite like that, as you can see from the photo.
Instead it’s a completely different bar. It’s crisped rice mixed with crunchy peanuts with a stripe of caramel on the top and then covered in sweet milk chocolate. Think a Hershey’s Whatchamacallit, only with whole peanuts in it.
It’s definitely crunchier and less sweet than a Snickers bar. It has an overall toffee taste to it because of the caramel and the nuts are very good (not gamey tasting like I’ve found in some cheap candy bars from time to time). It’s not as filling as a regular Snickers (you know they’re all about that “satisfying” thing). It felt lighter and left me wanting more (could be that it has 50 fewer calories). In fact, I’m probably more likely to buy this one than a regular Snickers in the future.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Tuesday, November 8, 2005
Name: Ritter Sport Bars
I did a review of the teensy variety pack of Ritter Sport a few weeks ago, and it just so happens that Robin’s been helping me get more international sweets by having her writers traveling abroad pick up some candy for me to review. I have another half a dozen bars from this care package, so you can look forward to some other sweets picked up in Eastern Europe.
When I was taking the photos the first time around (above is my second stab at documenting these), the Rum Trauben Nuts (Rum, Raisins & Hazelnuts) smelled so incredibly good I all but two squares before realizing I had to take another picture.
Unlike other “rum flavored” chocolates, this is really rummy. If my German skills are good enough, I can tell you that this candy bar contains 2% Jamaika-Rum. The milk chocolate isn’t too sweet and the raisins are plump and tart. Combined with the ample crunch of the hazelnuts, I’m in love with this bar. I’m afraid that it’s not imported to the states, as I’ve never seen it before or maybe it is but I doubt it actually has that much rum in it when exported.
The Cappuccino is rather similar to the Jogurt bar. The filling is creamy and has a slight tinge of mocha to it, but also has a slight sour bite to it. Maybe think of it as a cappuccino cheesecake flavor. It’s pleasant, but doesn’t make me yearn for it like the Rum Trauben Nuss.
I like the Ritter Bars, they remind me a lot of Hershey’s. Every one of them has been dependably sweet and smooth, but not as complex as I’d want from a more high-end bar. But then again, this is candy and that’s what I want. Here’s their motto from their website, “Ritter Sport. Square. Handy. Good.”
Rating - Rum Trauben Nuss - 9 out of 10
Friday, October 28, 2005
I was really excited about doing this review. While I enjoy candy of all kinds, especially chocolate, it’s hard sometimes to balance that with not destroying the earth and human lives. Fair Trade is only recently developing as a mainstream option for many products. For those of you not familiar with the concept, first you have to remember that cocoa pods from which chocolate is made are grown in tropical regions all over the planet and require a large amount of space and time to cultivate. Those regions also happen to be ones where farmers are particularly poor and have fewer economic opportunities. I cannot claim to be an expert on this subject, but it seems to me that the folks growing cocoa, which is not necessary for life, should at least be paid a living wage for it and not be exposed to terrible working conditions. Since chocolate and candy is a luxury item, it seems to make the most sense to start with it and coffee and teas as a way of changing the lives of those in these areas.
Of course the most important thing about sending a message with your pocketbook is that the product be good. Good intentions are nice, but if the chocolate isn’t good enough for me to want more, I’m not going to buy it just because it’s the right thing to do because wasting food is also bad. (The next step, of course, is to have it easily accessible, too.) So, instead of skipping to the bottom for the verdict, I’ll say that these are worth the trouble of finding them.
The bars are not only fair trade, but made from all organic ingredients, including the sugar (which is organic raw and unrefined cane sugar) and nuts. Also, for those who are wondering, it’s certified Kosher. Inside the plain wrapper (which has some wonderful information inside about Fair Trade and Equal Exchange) the bar itself is sealed in a mylar like white plastic wrapper that seals out odors and keeps the chocolate fresh. The chocolate is made it Switzerland.
Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds: a wonderful aroma arose when I opened this package. The chocolate is shiny and smooth and has a great snap and smelled chocolately, a little sweet and perfumy. Inside are lightly crushed (chopped?) almonds. The chocolate itself is 55% cocoa mass and has some wonderful fruity notes like you’d find in a good red wine. Not overly smoky or dry, it has a nice smooth finish was the cocoa mass is exceptionally smooth. For me, this bar rivals the Chocovic Ocumare.
Organic Very Dark Chocolate: incredibly dense, with immediate earthy tones, this is a very dark bar with 71% cocoa mass. The bar has a good snap and an incredibly smooth melt. There’s a noticeable acid note as it yields on the tongue and gives up more fruity flavors like apricot and cherry. The finish is dry and not at all sticky or sweet. But like I experienced with the Chocovic Guaranda, there are no middle notes to round out the flavor.
Organic Milk Chocolate: for fans of dairy milk chocolates, such as Cadbury, you’ll be very happy with this bar. It’s very much in keeping with the traditional Swiss milk chocolate. The first ingredient is not chocolate (that’s 38% though), it’s Whole Milk Powder. So, this is milky stuff, kind of sticky and though not overly sweet, it’s not a good association for me. That aside, this chocolate is exceptionally smooth and has nice cocoa undertones give the whole bar a toasty feeling. I think what does that is that one of the ingredients is ground hazelnuts ... not a lot of it, but it’s a nice nutty complement.
Ratings: Milk & Very Dark - 7 out of 10
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Name: Ritter Sport
Ritter is a German brand of chocolate that offers these squares of chocolate (large and small) in 18 different varieties. I picked up this mini-assortment at Cost Plus because I haven’t been able to find some of the more obscure ones in the 100 gram size.
The little bars are about 1 1/2 inches square and sectioned into quarters. Overall, their chocolate is smooth, milky without tasting too much like powdered milk and the quality of the ingredients it top notch. They’re mass production candy, not frou-frou high-end stuff, but they offer some good variety to their line.
Here’s what I tried:
Marzipan - well, it’s sad that out of the 10 bars in the box, two of them were marzipan. I’m not fond of marzipan, but the texture was good and the almond paste fresh. The chocolate wasn’t the light dairy milk, but a mild semi-sweet. 6 out of 10
Jogurt - the other sad thing was there were two of these as well. Covered in the dairy milk chocolate, the center was a dense yogurt cream. A little sour, a little odd. Not unpleasant, but not really my thing. 6 out of 10
Knusperflakes - a corn flake crunch in milk chocolate. This is super, I will definitely buy this one again if I see it by itself. Better than a crisped rice bar because the corn actually has its own flavor to add. Rocks my world. You get the picture. 8 out of 10
Vollmilch - milk chocolate, rich, sticky and dairy-rich taste. Sweet and smooth. 7 out of 10.
Knusperkeks - a butter biscuit covered in chocolate. Simplicity. The biscuit is soft and crumbly, but not grainy like a graham cracker. Buttery undertones and lightly crumbly, it works well with the chocolate. 7 out of 10
Nugat - not really nougat in the sense of a whipped sugar, but more of a hazelnut paste. Sweet and very nutty. Not as smooth as a Baci. 7 out of 10.
Haselnuss - crushed hazelnuts in milk chocolate. Sweet dairy milk chocolate with good nutty crunch and flavor. 7 out of 10.
A fun thing to share with people. Each little bar is a nice snack, not as big as a whole candy bar and easy to section and share.
Rating - 7 out of 10 for whole package.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.