Friday, October 31, 2014
You might wonder why my Halloween review is of Bridge Mix. It’s because it’s actually the scariest candy on the market today. Every maker has a different set of what they include in their mix, and because everything is coated in chocolate, it’s a game of Russian Roulette if you’re a picky eater.
If I were to rank candies according to age demographics, most results would land where I expected. Super sour candies are targeted to tweens, dark chocolate to adult women and sweet and savory candies to men who love sports. And the sales data pretty much bears that out. Then there’s Bridge Mix. First of all, Bridge Mix doesn’t seem to have any sort of marketing campaign associated with it. But if you were to find out how old the average buyer is, I’m going to guess somewhere around 73.
I picked up the Brach’s Bridge Mix because the package made it look appealing and compared to some of the other chocolate bag offerings lately, it seemed like a good value. The package is vague, but it mentions that it’s a mix of all natural milk and dark chocolate. However, there was no listing on the back of the package as to what the actual items inside would be. The front just showed the coated pieces ... the ingredients were so long, all I could say for sure is that I could expect raisins, peanuts, sugar and Brazil nuts inside the chocolate.
My first impression upon opening the bag was good. It’s a resealable bag that holds a 8.7 ounces which makes for a full cereal bowl of candy. The pieces look good, they’re shiny and for the most part distinctive. I thought I could tell which were peanuts and raisins, though the larger spheres were a mystery.
The ingredients listed Brazil nuts and the picture on the front shows a piece that really looks like a chocolate covered Brazil nut. No such item appears in the bag. Maybe my mix was missing the Brazil nuts ... it was certainly not sufficiently randomized for my tastes.
Though it’s all natural chocolate, there are a lot of not-so-natural items in there, too. There’s also gelatin, which was hard to find on the list if you’re vegetarian.
Cherry Jelly Ball covered in Dark Chocolate were one of two that I could reliably pick out of the mix. It’s a big, very strongly cherry flavored jelly ball covered in dark chocolate. I was hoping there would be other flavors, but this was it. The jelly center is nice, dense and very floral. However, there’s a grainy sugar layer in there that messed with the texture and sweetness level. I don’t like cherry candies, but I thought this was a refreshing item to have in a mix ... and it was easy for me to avoid.
White Sugar Cream covered in Dark Chocolate - if you’ve ever wanted a York Peppermint Pattie without the mint flavor, this might be your candy. But the fondant in the center is hard and grainy ... so it’s not really a good texture combination at all. The dark chocolate outside is in a much larger ratio than most other mint candies, which is fine because that’s the only flavor you’re going to get out of this thing. I felt like about 1/4 of my bag was filled with these. I would bite them in half to see if it was a large peanut or something else and then toss the other half when I found it was the fondant ball.
Milk Chocolate Malted Milk Ball - I’d like to have a long and wonderful commentary here, but that photo of the one bitten in half is the only one I got in this bag. I’ve been searching for Brach’s Milk Chocolate Milk Balls for a couple of years, and found that this Bridge Mix is the only place I can find them ... and I got one lousy one. I didn’t savor it enough to be able to review it.
Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut - excellent. The peanuts have skins on them, which I enjoy. It highlighted the bitterness of the chocolate. The peanut had a light touch of salt, and though not large, they were crunchy and deeply roasted.
Milk Chocolate Covered Peanut - not as good as the dark one, the milk chocolate hides the peanut notes somehow, but after stumbling across so many of those fondant balls, I was happy to have these.
Milk Chocolate Brown Sugar Ball - I have no idea what this is. The center was not grainy, not smooth, not flavorful, not appealing. It tasted sweet, but also dusty. I just have no idea what the point was, except to fool me into thinking that I was going to get a Malted Milk Ball.
Milk Chocolate Covered Raisins - pretty good. The raisins were soft and chewy, not tough or tacky. The raisins dominated, the chocolate was sweeter than the actual dried fruit but didn’t contribute more than texture to the experience.
The one item that was easy to pick out were the little flattened bullets that came in both milk and dark chocolate.
Milk Chocolate Covered Nut Brittle - the chocolate coating isn’t as thick as the other candies, but that didn’t matter. The center of this little morsel is a nicely made, crispy nut brittle. There may be Brazil nuts in there, but definitely peanuts. It’s salty, it’s barely sweet and I’d like to just buy a bag of these.
Dark Chocolate Covered Nut Brittle - the dark chocolate version was even better, as it enhanced the roasted nut flavors.
I’ve come away with an appreciation for people who simply throw caution to the wind and pop a handful of candy pieces in their mouth. I’m not a Bridge Mix person. In fact, this bag of candy made me angry. There were good things in it, but too many horrible things. There’s no listing anywhere that I can find that says what kind of candy is even in the bag ... it’s as if Brach’s is evasive and doesn’t want to commit to what they might put in there on any given day. I ended up with a pile of half bitten candies on my desk after I determined what I did and didn’t like ... I spit out the other halves in the trash. It was, in the end, a bad value for me, since I ate so little of it, though, technically, I finished the bag.
I really just wanted some Malted Milk Balls.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
The Brach’s Milk Maid Royals candies were always quite special looking. I remember seeing them in the pick-a-mix assortments at the dime store as a kid. I was attracted to the bold foil wrappers that each little flavored caramel rod sported. The looked expensive and sophisticated. The are a lot more caramel choices in the stores now and it seems harder to find the Brach’s individually wrapped candies since the bins of the candy disappeared from many grocery store candy aisles.
Royals Caramels are a layered candy, a flavored center chew is surrounded by caramel. It’s a simple construction that’s helped by the fact that caramel goes with just about everything.
I’ve noticed that Brach’s has recently started repackaging their standard line of candy and sprucing up the flavor assortments to match current tastes. The new Brach’s Apple Caramel Royals come in a stand-up gusset bag and are positioned right next to M&Ms and the new morsel sized candies like York Minis and Snickers Bites.
The package is a lovely apple red but the candies inside are wrapped in neon green waxed paper. It’s kind of an odd, especially because I had two flavors sitting around at one time and I kept grabbing the wrong package. However, Brach’s did use red for their Caramel Apple Candy Corn, so the flavor colors do match on the outside at least.
Unlike the foil-wrapped ancestors, these candies don’t look like much in the wrapper. They’re the kind of candy that would probably sit around with the Tootsie Rolls at the end of Trick-or-Treat until I was desperate.
The look of the candies unwrapped is odd, the caramel looks good - an opaque medium brown color. But the green center is on the blue side, which makes it look a little more like a caramel filled with toothpaste than a green apple candy. Luckily the smell aligns everything again. It’s sweet and with a light apple peel and milk scent. The chew is soft, the caramel and sort of taffy center mix well. It could use a little bit of salt to bring it together. It’s never quite a smooth and creamy caramel, but much more satisfying than the Brach’s Candy Corn Nougats I tried last week.
The ingredients list actual apples plus buttermilk as an ingredient in these, which really makes them one of the closest candies on drug store shelves to actual caramel apples.
While caramel apple candies are quite trendy right now for fall, the general salted caramel rage is a year round thing and still going strong. It only makes sense that Brach’s, now owned by the Ferrara Candy Company, would expand into some of these mainstream trends.
While they say sea salt on the front of the package, the ingredients list only salt. The nutrition panel shows that there are 180 mgs of salt per serving of 6 pieces. As a point of reference, the Apple Caramel Royals have only 75 mgs.
The Sea Salt Caramel Royals are, well, quite nice! The chew is soft with a little difference between the caramel outside and the sort of pasty chew inside. They’re definitely salty, but it does highlight the brown sugar notes of the caramel. I wouldn’t be likely to buy these again, especially at the price when I can get some really good sea salt caramels from Trader Joe’s or just some Sugar Babies ... but I will finish this bag.
These candies are made in Mexico. The contain milk, soy and egg ingredients. There’s no notation about nuts or gluten, though.
Brach’s Milk Maid Royals have been made since the late 1920s (though I’m sure the wrappers have changed over the years). The flavors are probably also cyclical with changing tastes. The last time I had them I enjoyed the extra-sweet Maple and Butter Rum, but didn’t care for the sherbet flavored Orange. The Chocolate is softer than a Tootsie Roll but didn’t have the reliably long chew.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Dove Chocolate, a Mars brand, often skirts a line in their marketing and products between being a healthy indulgence and pure decadence. The new line of chocolate covered fruit goes for the former but still accomplishes the latter.
Mars sent me some of their new products, including this amazingly large bag of Dove Whole Dried Cranberries in Dark Chocolate. It’s 26 ounces of chocolate covered sugared dried cranberries.
The package makes it look like these are plump cranberries, but they’re the ordinary dried variety. There’s a little bit of sugar added, which is fine, because I’ve had unsweetened cranberries before and they were too puckery,even with a chocolate coating.
The pieces are quite large, and cutting them in half reveals why. They aren’t strangely large cranberries. Instead they’re covered with a lot of chocolate. Often chocolate covered cranberries are flat, but these are very appealing looking. These a plump and a little chew reveals that they’re pretty moist, not leathery. They’re tangy and have a sort of bitterness to them that cranberries are known for, but it’s offset well by the chocolate.
I often find Dove’s chocolate a little bland, but dark chocolate here has a lot of flavor. It’s a rich chocolate pudding vibe, a little woodsy. It’s creamy without being too slick, though Dove does use dairy fats in their dark chocolate, so this is not vegan. (There’s 5 mg of cholesterol in here, which serves as an indication of the level of dairy fats.)
They’re expensive. But there aren’t that many higher quality choices at grocery stores for chocolate covered cranberries. I did find Ghirardelli’s new Dark Chocolate Cranberries are just as good as these but are likely to be harder to find. Steer clear of the Nestle version in their Raisinets line as they’re just terrible.
Monday, October 27, 2014
I’ve often wondered why these isn’t an organic version of Candy Corn out there. A few years ago I got a mellocreme mix from Marich, but I haven’t seen in at Whole Foods for at least two years. You can get organic, fair trade peanut butter cups ... you can get M&M knock offs made with natural colors and less sugar ... why no Candy Corn?
Well, Sweet’s Candy Company of Utah has come through with an American-made, Kosher, non-GMO and gluten free Candy Corn.
The bag for Sweet’s Naturally Flavored Candy Corn certainly looks festive. But the little window reveals a bit of weirdness, which is fine if weirdness is what you like in your Halloween treats. The candy corn comes in three different colors. Not three layers in a single piece, three different colors. Yellow, white and orange.
The ingredients are as complex as they are simple:
Though they’re using all natural colors and flavors and plenty of sourcing information about the ingredients, the Candy Corn is not vegan since it contains egg whites, honey and confectioners glaze.
The pieces are normally sized and very well made. I guess when you don’t do the layering, there are fewer weak points on the candy, so there was no pile of the white caps at the bottom of the bag at all.
The Candy Corn smells sweet and pleasant, but more like orange sherbet than honey. I tried a few pieces and noticed right away that they were different from each other. Whether intended or not, the different colors are different.
White is nice, pleasantly mild with a sort of vanilla marshmallow note. It didn’t have the honey flavor that I’d expect from my candy corn, and was also missing that little note of salt I was craving.
Yellow is similarly mild, but has a sort of, well, root flavor to it, like a vague sort of boiled carrot thing going on in the background.
Orange is ever so slightly tangy and has an orange note.
I really missed the layers, I like eating each layer as a separate bite, as I imagine they taste different or sometimes have slightly different textures. The candies had a high gloss on them, the glaze kept them from being sticky but did mean that it took a moment for them to start dissolving unless I chewed them. The yellow one was the only one that seemed like it didn’t belong, the white and orange were perfectly acceptable as a natural alternative to the convention version.
Even though these are all natural and gluten free, they’re made in the same facility with peanuts and tree nuts. There’s no statement about dairy.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
What Theo Chocolate is offering in their new line of peanut butter cup are the following qualities: organic ingredients, ethically sourced chocolate, kosher, no palm oil or soy ingredients and free from genetically modified organisms. The new cups come in two varieties, milk and dark chocolate, and the dark chocolate is vegan. Though they’re Theo Chocolate branded, they’re actually made in Canada.
The Theo Chocolate Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups were $2.25 a package, I picked them up at the factory store in Seattle (I’ll have a write up about the factory tour after Halloween) but they should be available at stores that carry Theo Chocolate soon as well. The packages are 1.3 ounces, so they’re only .2 ounces smaller than the usual Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup packages. Theo uses peanut butter from CB’s Nuts, a small batch nut roaster and butterer.
They’re not your ordinary round cups, nope, these are little heart shapes. They’re .65 ounces each, a nice size with a more even proportion of chocolate to peanut butter than some cups with thinner chocolate shells. There’s no oily puddle on the top, but my cups were probably extremely fresh since I bought them at the factory store.
They smell very toasty, the chocolate is crisp and has a good snap to it. The peanut butter is not fatty or oily, but also not quite crumbly. The overall roasted notes of both the chocolate and peanut butter are very strong. For a milk chocolate product, this is only very barely sweet. If you’re a fan of the more savory elements of peanut butter and chocolate, this is probably a good match for you.
The texture of the peanut butter is similar in particle size to Reese’s ... it’s not whipped smooth, there are little crunchy bits and a dryness to it that keeps it from feeling to slick on the tongue. The chocolate is lightly bitter as well but has a milky note and smooth melt.
There’s no notation as to the percentage of cacao, but this photos shows that the milk chocolate cups are very dark looking compared to the dark ones.
The Theo Chocolate Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are packaged so similarly to the milk chocolate variety, the sales staff at the factory store would let each customer know as they rang up their order that they’d chosen a particular variety ... so I sense that there may be a change in the future to help distinguish them.
The cups are beautiful, again, a little smaller than the Reese’s Peanut Butter version, but lacking the little fluted paper cups. Instead they just sit on a little paperboard tray. The mold detail includes the Theo logo on the bottom of the cups, if you’re so inclined to actually look at them before you gobble them up.
These have the same deep roasted scent as the milk chocolate, but without the light dairy note to it. The dark chocolate is immediately bitter and creamy, with a very silky melt but a strong coffee flavor. The peanut butter balanced the intensity of the chocolate with a lightness, a little hint of salt and a comforting peanut flavor.
Just one cup was exceptionally satisfying.
These are much pricier than the traditionally produced peanut butter cups on store shelves, but have none of the additional ingredients that give many folks pause. However, they’re still made in a facility that processes wheat, tree nuts, egg and soy so they’re not for those sensitive folks.
Though Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups were first to market with ethically sourced ingredients, I think I prefer these for the texture and intensity. (But I’ll probably still hand out Justin’s for Halloween since they’re available in singles.)
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Brach’s makes a variety of holiday versions of their individually wrapped nougats, but this is the first year they’ve made a Halloween Candy Corn version. The bag holds 12 ounces of three different color varieties of the candies. They come in yellow, white and orange, just like the layers of candy corn and each features a little image of candy corn at the center. Like many of Brach’s other candies, these are made in Mexico.
Nougat is already very similar to Candy Corn in its ingredients. It’s basically sugar, glucose (sugar syrup), honey and a little protein (in this case egg whites, some candy corn uses gelatin). It’s a little different from taffy in that it’s usually a bit softer chew and has a mild honey flavor. Nougat is usually a smoother texture than fondant, but they should both have a clean and fresh melt on the tongue without much tooth-sticky.
It’s hard to say that these are bad when they succeed at being exactly what they’re supposed to be. They’re a soft nougat that tastes like candy corn. So that’s good.
The chew is soft, really too soft. They’re not quite foamy or puffy like a marshmallow, but not chewy like a taffy. They’re not quite melt in your mouth divine like a French nougat, either.
Monday, October 20, 2014
This is a pumpkin shaped candy that’s flavored like Apple Pie. This is really nothing new, as Russell Stover has more than half a dozen holiday shaped treats that are flavored like baked treats: Carrot Cake, Birthday Cake, Wedding Cake, Pumpkin Pie, Gingerbread, Cookie Dough and Red Velvet. The packaging looks pretty much like the other Russell Stover one ounce pumpkin shaped candies, so I had to look carefully on the shelves to find it.
The Russell Stover Apple Pie Pumpkin is an apple pie flavored fudgy center covered in milk chocolate. At only one ounce, it’s a small little treat.
Since there are two versions of the Apple Pie on shelves, I thought I’d compare them.
The milk chocolate pumpkin is compact and has a nice enrobed milk chocolate coating. It’s not overly sweet but is milky and creamy. It’s a nice balance to the fudgy, grainy filling. It’s like a spice fudge center. It’s mostly a spice blend of cinnamon and nutmeg maybe with a hint of lemon zest but there’s also an apple flavor that kind of floats above it all. There’s just enough salt to keep it interesting. Some of the other cake flavored pumpkins have actual cake mix in them (uncooked flour) but this is just a sugary, buttery center.
I enjoy these sorts of confections in small quantities and the chocolate kept it all together well, even if it kind of kept it from tasting like actual apple pie.
Russell Stover has started making year-round versions of some of their usual holiday items. The Big Bite line includes the Big Bite S’mores (which aren’t sold in any other format to date) and some Big Bite Caramel Apples. The Big Bite Apple Pie actually accomplishes an Apple Pie experience a bit better than the Pumpkin.
Like the Big Bite S’mores, this confection features a graham cracker base.
The Big Bite Apple Pie is twice the weight of the regular Pumpkin but features a large graham cracker base. The milk chocolate coating seems a little thinner, but the spiced penuche fudge filling is about the same. The addition of the graham cracker really brought home the pie notes, but the lack of actual apples and the anomalous existence of milk chocolate in an otherwise chocolateless pie kept this from being the best emulation ... but taking it for what it is, it’s a fun little candy. It’s different, it works.
In some other news, Russell Stover was purchased this year by Lindt & Sprungli, the same company that already owns Ghirardelli Chocolate. This makes Lindt the third largest chocolate company in the United States (behind Hershey’s and Mars, bumping Nestle out of third). It will be interesting to see what sort of changes Lindt will make, and I’m hoping they’re only improvements but they don’t lose this quirky little seasonal line.
Friday, October 17, 2014
The box is quite cute. Both the front and back feature Minion characters. (The back is formatted to stand on its end instead of the long side, and has a Minion holding up a banana.)
The mix is not very mixy, it’s just two flavors: Banana and Blueberry. The yellow and blue colors go thematically with the colors of the Minion worker overalls and their skin (?) color.
The blue Blueberry Mike and Ikes are blue. Very blue. The blueberry flavor is, well, a flavor. It doesn’t taste like blueberries, but it’s pleasant enough. It’s tangy and sweet.
The yellow Banana Mike and Ike are great. I don’t know if they’ve done a straight banana before (plenty of banana blends), so this was a pleasure since it’s such an uncommon flavor. It’s sweet with no weird acetone burn to it. It’s just, well sweet banana with a little toffee note like it’s very ripe.
This particular mix hit 100% for me, as I liked both flavors and didn’t need to do any picking. They combined nicely, but were good on their own. I can’t think of anything to improve it. It’s a quality movie tie in, instead of just throwing some movie logos on an existing product, they made something that had a fun little flair that goes with the show. (Kind of like the Jelly Belly mixes that have been coming out lately.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.