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.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Like Candy Corn, Peeps and Peanut Butter Kisses are one of those seasonal candies that people either love or hate. I’m gonna go ahead and say right now, I’m on the side of love here.
I don’t know if I’ve ever had “name brand” peanut butter kisses before, these are the first I’ve ever seen that have anything on the black & orange wax wrappers. Made by Necco, Mary Jane Peanut Butter Kisses are a molasses taffy with a little blurp of peanut butter in the center.
The molasses taffy is soft and flavorful, with a rustic taste of mellow molasses with a little smoke and woodsy maple in there. In the center (or somewhere near there) is a pocket of peanut butter, a little crumbly and of course nutty and roasty tasting. The salty hit of the fatty peanut butter is a great combo with the sweet taffy. I much prefer them to the traditional Mary Janes, which I find not only a little too hard but also not enough of a “concentrated peanut butter” dollop.
Since these are not a spectacularly popular candy, with their rather mousy wrappings and bland colors they’re easily found dirt-cheap in the remainder bins after Halloween, which is when I prefer to buy them. If they’re a little old and stale, a little warm-up in the palm of your hand will revive them.
Some other notes: Mary Janes were originally made by the Miller Company starting in 1914, which was later bought by another taffy company called Stark Candy Company that continued the Mary Jane tradition. In 1990 Stark sold out to Necco, who continues to make the traditional Mary Janes pretty much unchanged from its original format.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Every great candy has variations in size. Of course shrinking or enlarging a candy doesn’t necessarily make it better, in fact, it usually makes it different. Same components, just different ratios.
Trader Joe’s has gone and mucked around with their Peanut Butter Cups. These are made by the same manufacturer but are wee-tiny. Seriously, you can hardly call them cups. They look like knobs. Little peanut butter and milk chocolate knobs.
The little knobs don’t have flat tops, so they don’t sit quite right, they roll over easily. The easiset way to line them up is to have the top of the cup facing down ... which makes them more knob-like.
The ratio on these definitely leans towards chocolate over peanut butter. The chocolate is cool and sweet and slightly grainy, but matched well with the dash salty peanut butter.
It’s quite easy to just grab a handful of these out of the tub. And of course being chocolate they start to melt in your hand and you have to pop them in your mouth ... then you’ve got an empty hand and need to repeat. So the tub can go quickly. I know it’s tempting to want peanut butter cups with out the little fluted paper cup so that you can shovel them into your maw faster, but really no one needs anything to improve the efficiency of gobbling Trader Joe’s candy.
In the end I kept eating them because I wanted more peanut butter. I think I’ll stick to my Reese’s miniatures.
Note: Yes, I’ve been eating a lot of peanut-heavy candies lately, I credit it to the change in the weather. Some people think fall is all about spice, I think it’s all about nuts.
Monday, October 9, 2006
Ever want a Chick-o-Stick without the coconut? Well, Atkinson’s makes those, too, though they come with the rather boring name of Peanut Butter Bars.
They’re not really bars, either. They’re more like rods. About the size and shape of a cigar or pretzel rod, they’re a hard candy shell with a crunchy peanut butter honeycomb center.
The candy actually comes in a variety of sizes, I usually see a small “changemaker” size with little one bite, individually-wrapped morsels. I like the ratio on this rods quite a bit, it’s a lot more peanut butter honeycomb than it is a hard candy. It has a nice flaky quality with a good salty hit and nutty crunch. It’s really crunchy, which is a great plus and they’re not nearly as messy as the Chick-o-Sticks but also a good all-weather candy.
Atkinson’s also makes something called a Pico-o-Sito which is a spicy peanut butter candy. Sounds pretty good to me, why can’t I find them at a store near me? Atkinson’s does have a nice website where you can order all of their candy and at pretty good prices (and free shipping).
Interesting fact from the website: Chick-o-Sticks & Peanut Butter Bars are vegan - there are no animal products in there (however, it depends on how observant you are on the sugar thing, their site doesn’t say if they use cane sugar or beet sugar).
Friday, October 6, 2006
Around this time last year I barely knew what Fair Trade was and there really weren’t that many chocolate products out there that were Fair Trade Certified. Now you can not only get cocoa and plain dark chocolate, but also some pretty cool flavored chocolate bars. Endangered Species seems to be leading the way with the Fair Trade “candy” bars in their new Premium Organic line.
Each bar is a single serving and easy to pick up at the checkout of your favorite “wholesome” market like Whole Foods, Wild Oats or Zoo gift shop.
Along with the Fair Trade and organic certifications, this bar boasts high cocoa content of 52% (high for a milk chocolate). This wrapper has a giraffe on the label and everyone knows that the pattern on giraffes is known as the peanut shell. (Okay, I made that part up.)
The chocolate is buttery smooth and very sweet on the tongue. It has very strong smoky qualities with a slight bitterness at the start but a good nutty flavor. Once I start eating the bar, the unpleasant burnt quality goes away, but each time I stop and start I have to go through the process all over again. I’m afraid I can’t give it the highest marks because of that. Now, I’m one of those “supertaster” people, so I tend to be more sensitive to bitter, so your mileage may vary.
Interesting fact about giraffes from the wrapper: A giraffe’s neck contains seven vertebrae, just like ours.
Wednesday, October 4, 2006
These aren’t really called Peanut Butter Kisses ... I believe those are molasses taffy with a bit of peanut butter inside of them and are often wrapped in black or orange waxed paper with twisted ends. The real name of these is Hershey’s Kisses filled with Peanut Butter.
PB Kisses were introduced as a limited edition item but were quickly deemed popular enough to become part of the regular repertoire and were added in June 2006.
The PB Kiss sports a light gold wrapper with red wiggly stripes and the word Peanut Butter on the foil. The little red flags say Peanut Butter as well. The Kisses look a little different out of the wrapper, the shell is smoother. These Kisses are molded instead of being extruded, so they’re shiny.
Inside the milk chocolate shell is a little dab of peanut butter filling. It’s got a good roasted flavor with a little hit of salt. It’s not super-smoothed like a Reese’s Pieces, but more like the inside of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (but not quite as crumbly).
They’re very tasty and quite addictive. The only problem I have with them is they’re a little greasy feeling when you take them out of the foil - I know that’s because of the peanut butter.
I’m not quite sure why these needed to be created though ... how different are then from the Reese’s Miniatures, except that there’s only one wrapper on them instead of a cup and a wrapper? The ratio, which everyone knows is very important with peanut butter items, is different though - there’s less peanut butter to chocolate here. So if you’re a chocolate fan but not so keen on a giganto hit of peanut butter, this may be your new favorite candy.
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!
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
The lovely folks at Endanged Species thought I should try more of their bars (well, so did the lovely Candy Blog readers in the comments section). They happily sent me a small selection to try, here are a couple of the milk chocolate bars.
Milk Chocolate with Peanut Brittle - there’s an elephant on the package! I’m guessing because elephants like peanuts. The base of this bar is a very dark, rich milk chocolate with 52% cocoa content. In fact, it’s so chocolatey that the sugar (made from water-filtered beet sugar) is third on the list of ingredients instead of first in most milk chocolates. That’s not to say that the chocolate isn’t sweet, but it also has an intense creaminess to it that I’ve found very rare in other milk chocolates. The dairy component is quite rich but it doesn’t feel sticky.
Sprinkled in there are peanut brittle chips. They have a nice salty bite and crispness and add a good peanut crunch. I’d argue that it isn’t really peanut brittle but toffee, since it’s so buttery, but I don’t feel that argument much matters.
This is a fantastic bar that may convert some folks who say they don’t like milk chocolate because it’s too homogeneous tasting but it still retains its munchability. I ate the whole bar in a matter of two days. 9 out of 10.
Milk Chocolate with Rice Crisp - this bar has a manatee on the front. I doubt manatees have a fondness for rice though as vegetarians I don’t imagine they’d be adverse to it. This bar contains the same dark 52% cocoa content milk chocolate. This bar has a slightly smokier taste to it, which I’m guessing is added by the crisped rice. The first third of the bar, I hated it. The crisped rice tasted bitter and burnt to me. But I thought maybe I just had a bad rice crisp or two. I waited a day and tried it again. The crisped rice still reminds me of those bits of barely popped popcorn that end up in the bottom of the bowl. Very toasted tasting and with a much denser crunch.
Though the second try was more successful, I just wasn’t keen on the rustic taste of the rice crisps. There weren’t enough of them to make it a really crunchy bar and the intense flavor they added didn’t thrill me. I’m a huge fan of grains and eat a lot of them (barley is my favorite, if you didn’t already know) but this just wasn’t my thing. 6 out of 10.
Endangered Species is now based in Indiana (they moved from Oregon last year) and the make ethically traded chocolate bars in a huge variety of flavor combinations. The cool part is that the commitment to the environment goes to all facets of the production and marketing. The packages are printed on recycled paper and with soy-based biodegradable inks. The 10% of all profits are donated to animal conservation causes. Each bar is branded with a different endangered animal and the inside of the wrapper has that animal’s story. There are often coupons as well and tips for making small changes in your life to lessen your impact on the environment.
Though the bars are all natural, these are not organic (though there are other bars in their repertoir that are). Some of the cocoa beans that they acquire are Fair Trade certified and others do not have the certification but are ethically traded. Their packaging and story helps them to appeal to kids moreso than other wholesome-branded chocolates.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.