Tuesday, September 30, 2014
At first I wasn’t sure what these were. The back of the package says real dried cranberries! covered in rich Ghirardelli chocolate!. But the front says that it’s infused with raspberry juice and a touch of freeze-dried cherries.. A quick peek at the ingredients doesn’t show anything else, except that the cranberries have some sunflower oil in them (makes them more pliable). At first I thought they were like the Brookside fruit things, a little jelly center with some dried cranberries thrown in, but instead they’re actually dried cranberries with some other fruits thrown in.
The Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Cranberry are packaged like the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews I also picked up at the same time, expect this package is pink instead of light blue. The stand up gusset bag reseals after opening with a zip lock, which is common in these morselized treats these days.
The ingredients and other packaging don’t say how dark the chocolate is, they call it semi-sweet and it has dairy fats in it. I’d guess somewhere around 55-60% cacao.
They smell very fruity, like cooking jam or a baking pie. It’s alluring ... and they are darling little morsels. The sizes are irregular, but each is wonderfully panned with a glossy shine.
The bite is soft, softer than I would expect from a piece of dried fruit. The cranberries are plump (I guess plumped with the other fruit additions and a touch of tapioca syrup). It’s immediately tangy and with that light tannic bitterness that cranberries have. The chocolate is smooth, though not quite silky, it offsets the fruit very well and brings its own dry finish.
I found these very satisfying and preferred the texture of the centers to regular raisins or dried cranberries which can be grainy or overly chewy. Though there’s a lot less fat in here than many chocolate treats, with only 120 calories per ounce, that means there’s also more sugars, though some are obviously from the fruit and not as readily available. There’s also 2 grams of fiber, 10% of your vitamin C and 8% of your RDA of iron.
Friday, September 26, 2014
As if Circus Peanuts weren’t enough of an enigma, now they’re branching out into seasonal varieties.
If you’re not familiar with Circus Peanuts, they’re a fluffy, grainy, marshmallow shaped like a peanut, the same color as an orange creamsicle but flavored like bananas. Every once in a while you see other holiday shapes, like bunnies for Easter. Though I’m only a fan of Circus Peanuts by concept, because once I actually eat one I wonder what I was thinking. They have some sort of hypnotic amnesia field around them, and I often forget I don’t like them and eat them. (I think there’s a genetic component to this, there are some people who are immune to this and know they hate them and can avoid them, then there are others who actually like them so there’s no need for the amnesia.)
Melster Marshmallow Candy Corn Circus Peanuts are basically not banana flavored, but candy corn flavored ... and not just orange, but also yellow and white.
Here are the things that recommend them:
Here’s the top reason to buy them: You’ve always wanted to like Circus Peanuts but you were turned off by the flavor. Don’t worry, Candy Corn Circus Peanuts have no flavor. (I’m just going to call them CCCP now.)
If you’re a fan of marshmallows in your cereal, like Lucky Charms, these are actually a pretty good version of that as a candy. The original Lucky Charms marbits were Circus Peanuts, but I think these match the flavor better.
These were fresh and do smell lightly like vanilla and sugar. It’s comforting. Rather clean and bright. The bite is soft, but the texture is grainy. They’re like a marshmallow, but much denser ... but not quite a nougat. Really, they taste just like a very sugary marshmallow. If you’ve ever wanted Campfire Marshmallows with more sugar in them, this is for you.
These can even muster being divisive like the banana Circus Peanuts, that’s how ineffectual they are. That said, there’s a Peppermint version for Christmas ... Candy Warehouse (who provided these) also sent some of those, I can’t wait!
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Salted Caramels were also a trend, but apparently every trend either dies out or simply becomes an everyday item. So, it has happened with Salted Caramel and so now they must be trendalized with the newest flavors of the season. These are Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels.
Trader Joe’s makes a version of these for Christmas with white flake sea salt. They’re sold in the same box with a different design. They’re wildly popular, as they’re returned to shelves for more than six years in a row. Since Trader Joe’s will pretty much make a pumpkin spice version of every product they sell at some point, it was just the salted caramels’ turn. (I could list all of the items, but suffice to say that they’ve done tea, coffee, macaron, granola, ice cream, and actual pumpkin pie spice. Here’s a taste test from Serious Eats from a few years ago.)
They’re described on the box:
The ingredients are all natural, but insanely long. The chocolates are made in Ireland (I suspect by Lily O’Brien). The filling isn’t just caramel, according to their list, but actually Sticky Toffee Caramel. There’s no list of what the spices are for their pumpkin spice.
They’re lovely looking caramels, they do well in their package and emerge very shiny and with most of the salt still attached to the squiggle of milk chocolate on top of the 55% dark chocolate.
Though I often find sea salt to be a bit over-hyped, as it’s used in such small quantities that it’s hard to tell different salts apart. In this instance I could tell it was Hawaiian Sea Salt ...and I did not like it. I can’t quite put my finger on it, a friend called it Spaghetti-Os flavored, I thought it was more like carrot, but there’s definitely an additional note to this salt. It was notable enough that for some of the pieces that I ate, I actually scraped the salt off completely.
The spice smell is quite clove-heavy, even before I bit into it. The chocolate is earthy and sweet with a very good bitter note towards the end. It’s smooth and wonderfully tempered. There were no cracks or oozing spots on any of the caramels. The caramel has a light grain to it, which is probably the spice. There’s also a cereal sort of wheaty flavor to it as well. The other spice notes are earthy, with some ginger and black pepper notes and some cinnamon. Not really the best combination for me, if it were a pie, but it goes well with the chocolate.
In the end, this was not a great combination for me, I didn’t like the plain version of these that much and the addition of the spice doesn’t do much for me either. I’ll stick to the individually wrapped Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel Caramels or the panned Butterscotch Caramels.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Ghirardelli is one of America’s oldest chocolate companies, founded in 1852, and is known mostly for their chocolate bars and baking products. I was surprised to see they’re now making panned chocolates, but I definitely snapped up this bag of Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews at Target. It was on sale for $4.00 for the 5.5 ounce bag, which is a bit steep, but quality isn’t cheap and the costs for raw materials like cocoa, sugar and nuts are going up lately.
The package describes them as whole roasted cashews covered in rich Ghirardelli milk chocolate. Simple. The nuts are, as promised, whole, or at least halves (which are the same shape but a little flatter). The ingredients are all natural and include a touch of tapioca syrup (for the glaze, I believe) instead of something that might be corn or wheat derived (and more likely to cause allergic reactions). There’s more than a touch of sea salt, a whole 125mg per 40 gram serving.
They look stunning, they smell great. It’s a sweet, nutty smell with a note of dried milk. The nuts are crunchy and fresh, the salt is mixed into the milk chocolate and immediately pops. (It’s a little much for me, but I’m a known salt-sensitive in my circles.) The milk chocolate is creamy and thick and not too sweet. Overall, it’s a great iteration of an iconic confection.
Chocolate covered nuts are a decent enough treat, nutrition-wise. Yes, there’s a lot of fat in there, but most of it is good fat from cocoa butter and the nuts, plus a dash of cholesterol from the milk in the chocolate. But it does have 4 grams of protein to balance out the 14 grams of sugars along with 6% of your RDA of calcium and 8% of your iron.
If you’re craving a dark chocolate version, Marich already makes those and they’re fantastic as well. (In fact, since this is Ghirardelli’s first outing with panned chocolates, I have to wonder if they subcontracted the production out ... and Marich is nearby.)
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
The Jolly Rancher Caramel Apple Crunch ‘n Chew is available in large lay down bags and even this little individual portion size. The individually wrapped candies are quite different from the traditional Jolly Rancher hard candies.
In this case the candy features a hard candy shell in two flavors, caramel and apple. Then there’s a soft chewy filling in a caramel flavor.
Crunch ‘n Chew were introduced in 2012 and come in the standard Jolly Rancher flavors (green apple, blue raspberry, watermelon and cherry). As I noted in my original review, they’re interesting but lack some of the great features I love about Jolly Rancher hard candies, which is the smooth dissolve without any voids and the light pliability of the candy as it melts. All that Jolly Rancher brings to the table here is the name recognition that basically invented the green apple flavor.
The image on the front of the package isn’t quite accurate (it’s also enlarged to show detail). It shows that the candy filling is a large portion of the mass of the candy, and that the caramel and apple portions are equal. Cleaving a piece in half showed that the caramel is actually a thin layer on top of the apple (which is fine, really, because that’s the way actual caramel apples are), but it’s the relatively small amount of chewy filling that’s revealed here.
The brown layer is polite and has a sweet brown sugar flavor. The green part is green apple, which is tart and artificial and mostly tasty. The crunch takes a little while. I don’t feel confident crunching right away, I usually let the candy dissolve for about 30 seconds. The filling is quite stiff and hard to chew, though the work is worth it. The center isn’t really much, it’s sweet and has a note of butter flavor to it. But the combination of all the elements chewed together is, well, impressively original.
It’s probably not a candy I would buy in the large 10 ounce bag, but this little 1.55 ounces was fun and I’ll probably finish the bag. Of the three candies I’ve tried now: the classic flavor Crunch ‘n Chew, the Caramel Apple Lollipop and these Caramel Apple Crunch ‘n Chew, I think these are by far the most successful.
Like the Caramel Apple Lollipops, these contain no dairy ingredients, so they may be a good option for someone who wants a caramel experience but is lactose intolerant. (There’s no actual allergen statement though, so check with Hershey’s if you have any allergy issues.) The candy also contains soy and gelatin (so it’s not vegetarian). They’re made in Brazil.
Monday, September 22, 2014
See’s Candies is a classic American confectionery company that makes good quality chocolates. They’re sold almost exclusively at See’s Candies stores, which are mostly found in malls, and mostly in the Western US but they’re also available online and from the occasional educational fundraiser.
Though See’s is known for their chocolates they also make a unique line of lollipops that are like a hard caramel on a stick. Over the past five years they’ve created seasonal varieties with more trendy flavors like Pumpkin Spice and Orange Creme. I wasn’t at all surprised to see the announcement that in additional to their Pumpkin Spice and Orange Chocolate this fall, they were also bringing out See’s Caramel Apple Lollypops.
Their pops are available singly at the stores or in bags of 8 online. If you’ve never had a See’s lollypop, they’re about 3/4 of an ounce block of hard caramel with a stick. The shape is blocky, about 1 inch wide and 1.5 inches tall.
It smells like apples, not the green apples of Jolly Rancher, but more like apple cider.
The flavor is immediately caramel and a little dash of salt with a note of apple peels. There’s no tartness, no tang; the apple flavor is less of a caramel covered apple and more like an apple pie with caramel sauce. The wonderful part of these lollies is that the dissolve is so smooth and it feels a lot more filling that its 70 calories might have you believe.
I enjoyed them quite bit. The items that detracted are the same problems I always have. The paper stick gets soggy and more often than not, the caramel block comes off the stick while the piece is really too big to hold comfortably in my mouth. Often there is a series of holes within the candy running its length which makes sucking on the pop problematic because it’s more like a straw where you suck in air than speed up the dissolve of the candy. See’s makes mini versions of their classic flavors, but not of the seasonal, limited edition ones.
Friday, September 19, 2014
To backtrack a little bit, this category of candy is called Compressed Dextrose. Dextrose is just a fancy way of saying sugar, but not the regular table sugar we’re used to, which is sucrose. Dextrose is the dry form of glucose, the same stuff in corn syrup. Dextrose is the basis of a lot of compressed tablet candies, like SweeTarts, Spree and Runts as well as Smarties.
Glucose so bio-available that you can absorb it into your bloodstream sublingually. Many parents use Smarties as emergency glucose tablets because they’re readily available, easy to portion, inexpensive and not hard to get a child to eat. I’m quite fond of Smarties, but that straight glucose often goes straight to my bloodstream and the subsequent crash means I rarely buy a whole bag. The Double Lollies are preferable conceptually, then, because they’re only 8 grams each. Since they’re usually sold by the piece and more expensive than the rolls, this naturally limits my indulgence.
The regular sized lolly has been around for years, though I can’t say for sure that I was always eating the Smarties brand. The Smarties Double Lolly is two flavors. Though they’re probably in several flavors, I could only find orange and yellow.
They’re chalky and dry, but have a pleasant citrus flavor overall. They’re tangy and grainy, dissolve quickly but leave a powdery mess if biting the small pop doesn’t go well. I don’t find sucking on it goes very well. The chalk is absorbent, and while that’s fine for hard candies, I don’t like seeing my lollipop now darkened and cooled by my spit. (Hence my biting usually.)
Interestingly the website for Smarties says that the Double Lolly is free of gluten (from wheat, barley, oats and rye), milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts or soybeans. However, it does not say that for the Mega Lolly.
I bought two of the Mega Lollies, one was lemon and orange and the other was orange and grape. The grape smelled floral and soapy. The pop itself is too big to comfortably fit in the mouth, so even if I were the type who liked to suck my regular Smarties lollies, the Mega just wasn’t going to work. It’s too dry, too awkward. Biting produced a mess of powder.
The odd part about the ingredients is the Calcium Stearate. It’s a flow agent and keeps the powder from caking. But the side benefit to this ingredient is that it contains large amounts calcium - a single Mega Lolly has 6% of your RDA.
Too big, too dry, not a good value and not enough control. The classic size doesn’t have most of those challenges, but I’ll stick to the rolls of Smarties tablets.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
One of the fun things about candy is that it makes a great gift. But it’s not terribly special to grab some pick-a-mix at the local candy shop and drop the twist-tie plastic bag on someone’s lap and consider it a present. Churchill’s Confectionery recognizes that half and sticks their candy in decorative tins.
The company offered to send me a sample of their line. I’ve actually had Churchill’s before, I have a little red London bus tin that doubles as a bank on my desk at work. So when they offered, I thought it would be good to have some fresh candy to try.
They sent two tins, one was this classic looking embossed Carousel tin that holds English Toffees and Vanilla Fudge and another tin that held three trays of biscuits (cookies). I don’t review cookies ... but I did eat them. The tin holds 14 ounces, which is separated into two 7 ounce bags of candy. So it’s not quite the lush look of a tin full of candy until you dump the cellophane bags into it, but they do stay fresh.
I’ve never quite understood fudge, and this version does little to help me out. Fudge is basically a mixture of sugar and butter ... though modern versions use more advanced ingredients. Many candies have the same ingredients; it’s the texture of fudge that differentiates it from caramel or toffee. Fudge has a slight grain to it, on purpose, which is reintroduced by carefully heating it to a precise temperature and then allowing it to cool partially before stirring. Stirring too soon will make the sugar crystals too large and not stirring enough just makes the texture incomplete. (More in this excellent and slightly technical explanation.)
The great thing about fudge is that it’s a wonderful blank slate for so many other flavors, including chocolate or pecan penuche. As this is Vanilla, it’s actually a blank slate. You can see that the ingredients are decent enough. The pieces are well formed and the color is of a camel-colored coat. Churchill’s has mastered the smooth texture style of fudge (I actually like mine a little grainy). It smells sweet and buttery but has no browned sugar notes (And has no brown sugar ingredients, either.)
The pieces are nice little rectangles, wrapped in silver mylar. This vanilla fudge is extremely sweet with only a slight note of actual vanilla bean. A little note of the woodsy bourbon would be nice, or some deeper toasted sugar notes would have pleased me. Overall, this is too sweet. And coming from a person who actually eats sugar lumps from time to time, that’s saying a lot.
I could really only eat these with a very strong cup of coffee or some salted nuts. They’re just too sweet straight.
Rating: 6 out of 10
One of the oddities in the confection world is how the same candy is called different things in different places. What’s even more vexing is when the new word means something else completely. Take toffee. In the United States we know toffee as a hard, crunchy, caramel brittle. But in the United Kingdom, for the most part, toffee is actually what we call caramel. However, I didn’t need anyone to tell me what this was ... I know a caramel when I see one.
They’re nice rounded pieces wrapped in gold mylar, with a soft milky scent. They’re about the size of Coffee Nips, and if Coffee Nips were chewable, that’s what they’d be like. They’re extremely smooth. The chew is stiff but not sticky or tough. The flavor is a bit salty with burnt sugar notes. It dissolves away to nothing with very little left stuck to my teeth.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Both recipes include milk and soy ingredients and may contain traces of nuts. The glucose syrup is also from wheat, so I don’t think it’s gluten free.
There are a wide variety of tin designs available from Churchill’s. They’re very traditional but do feature a few classic tourist items (like the double decker red bus). I don’t think it’s something I’d buy for myself, but with the right contents and design, I could see them as a good quality hostess gift or thank you item.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.