Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Sometime about a year ago I picked up some Root Beer Puffs, which were like buttermints but flavored like the soda. A few weeks later I got a note from a company called Red Bird Brand that makes candy puffs in a huge variety of flavors. It took me quite a while to find them, but I did pick up Soft Assorted Puffs at the 99 Cent Only Store that includes 15 different flavors. (Though perhaps not always in the same bag.)
The flavor variety is, well, extraordinary: Peppermint, Cherry, Lemon, Green Apple, Wintergreen, Strawberry, Orange, Grape, Peach, Blueberry, Butterscotch, Watermelon, Cream Penny, Cotton Candy, Passion Fruit. There’s a menu guide on the back that shows the key for the combination of colors and stripes. There are about 25 candies in the bag, but the flavors were not distributed evenly.
One of the differences between this style of Puffs and the traditional Buttermint of After Dinner Mint is the size. These are quite large, at about 1 inch across and all of them are individually wrapped. (No more candy dish with the stuck together.)
Cherry was bold and easy to spot. It’s a flavor that’s both heavily scented and with a light tartness to it. It was smooth and had a good melt, but overall, it’s not usually my favorite though at least this didn’t have a lot of red coloring in it.
The flavors not in my bag: Peppermint, Cotton Candy, Passion Fruit and Orange.
For the most part I didn’t like the fruity flavors. The others like butterscotch and wintergreen were more to my liking, even the unflavored Cream Penny were pleasant.
The puffs themselves are quite nice, I liked them more than the variety package. There’s a floral, sort of honey note to them. But they’re also quite cinnamony. I wouldn’t call them hot though, it was a nice heat but they never approached anything like the fire of an Atomic Fireball.
The cinnamon smell is strong, even when they’re in the package, so I had to keep them separated from other candies.
The package for the Assorted Puffs said it was Gluten Free, they’re also Kosher Pareve and appear to be vegan ingredients.
It was strange that I didn’t get the classic Peppermint in the Assorted mix, which is what Red Bird Brand is known for. Overall, the texture was good, they softened up nicely. The package mentions that they’re rather hard when they’re first made, but if you prefer a softer puff, to open the package and wait ... it was true. After a couple of months, mine reached the melt in your mouth texture that I was expecting.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Their products come from numerous suppliers and in a way remind me of the now discontinued Choxie line from Target. The line includes cookies and trail mixes, but has an exceptionally strong presence in the candy aisle, especially in the larger Walgreen’s stores. They have large chocolate bars featuring Belgian chocolate (like Dark Chocolate, Pear & Almond), individually wrapped and bagged chocolate pieces (like Red Velvet Caramels) and gable boxes of caramels and of course this offering: Good & Delish Milk Chocolate Cornflake Clusters.
The package was on sale for $2.99 for 5 ounces, which seemed pretty fair to me since it was real chocolate. Some of the other products are made in Belgium, but this one is made in the United States.
Each piece is about a third of an ounce and 1.25 to 1.5 inches in diameter. They’re just plops of milk chocolate mixed with corn flakes. They reminded me of the Harry London Mint Cookie Joys that were minted milk chocolate mixed with chocolate cookie bits. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if these were made by Harry London under the Walgreen’s house brand.
The milk chocolate is sweet but quite creamy and sets off the crunchy, malty and slightly salty corn flakes very well. I found them a little on the sweet side at first, but I enjoyed the density of the corn flakes. The crunch made them feel more like a snack, but the sweetness made me set a limit of three in a sitting, otherwise it was just too overwhelming.
My go to treat for corn flakes and chocolate has always been the Ritter Sport Knusperflakes, which is about $2 to $2.50 per 3.5 ounce bar, which is still a better deal. I bought one just for comparison, and found the corn flakes a bit lighter but less malty. But I did like the portioning of the Good & Delish and the fact that a house brand is doing something that the big brands aren’t. I want to explore more of their unique offerings in the future.
Monday, October 21, 2013
After experiencing the lackluster Super Caramel Apple Blow Pop last week, it’s a wonder that I was still looking for the Candy Corn Super Blow Pop. An astute reader said that Walgreen’s was carrying them (which is where I found the Caramel Apple version) so I tried what I call the Super Walgreen’s in Hollywood. It’s near the Arclight Cinema/Cinerama Dome and Amoeba Music, so it was easy to find a reason to be over there this weekend. The store is like a movie set of what a Walgreen’s should be (and maybe it is used as a set for their commercials). The cosmetics have LED lights on each shelf, the aisles are wide and they have a snack bar and prepared sushi in a refrigerated section. And of course there’s a huge candy aisle that’s both clean and has a wide selection. It bears virtually no resemblance to the Walgreen’s where I usually shop in Echo Park, which isn’t even 5 miles down the same road. (Though the staff at both is quite good, no complaints.)
Their seasonal aisle had a good selection of the specialty Halloween items (though not as much bagged candy as other places like Target or KMart). I found the Super Blow Pops there on sale at 50 cents each, so I bought two. Instead of an opaque printed wrapper, this version of the Blow Pop uses a clear wrapper to show off the candy inside, something I’ve not seen them use on the Blow Pop line before. There are only two colors on this, orange and yellow ... there’s no white top on the layers.
The candy part of the Blow Pop is just like the flavor of the Charms Candy Corn Lollipops. It’s a mellow, salty sort of butterscotch without the creamy texture. I found these far brighter and more fun to eat, as the colors were sparkly, unlike the Caramel Apple version which was downright depressing with its brown and dark green. However, the sparkle in this case was created by adding some air to the hard candy, this can create sharp areas as it dissolves. Because the pop is so large, this meant I had a couple of sore spots on my tongue by the time I finished.
The gum at the center smelled terrible, just like the Caramel Apple version. There’s some sort of caustic chemical scent to it and the chew is stiff at first. Biting it sounds like tearing a phone book, a multitude of ripping layers all at once. It softens up and in this case, the flavor is pretty bland. It does become a bubble gum eventually, for a few minutes there’s a right balance between flavor and sugar before it all gives up and becomes like a wad of chewed paper. I’m not sure what flavor the gum is supposed to be, it’s not green apple, it’s not colorful ... it might have been butterscotch.
The initial experience was probably better than any other I’ve had with a Blow Pop this year, but that’s not saying much. But I’ll go ahead and give this a positive review, if you want a jumbo butterscotch Blow Pop, this would be the lollipop for you. It’s pretty, it’s pretty cheap.
Charms pops are made in a nut free and gluten free facility, but always check the labels or call the manufacturer if you’re in doubt.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Tootsie is always a go-to brand for Halloween candy, as they make the popular Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Pops and Charms Blow Pops. Though some adults like to rank them on the Worst Halloween Candy lists every year, they wouldn’t keep making them if someone wasn’t buying them and eating them enthusiastically.
Tootsie has two new Super Blow Pops out for Halloween this year: Charms Super Blow Pop Caramel Apple and Charms Super Blow Pop Candy Corn. I couldn’t find the candy corn version (though I did find the flat Charms Candy Corn Pops), so I wanted to go ahead with this review of the Caramel Apple version.
The Super Blow Pop line is a beefy version of the standard Blow Pop. The regular Blow Pop is .65 ounces, the Super Blow Pop is 1.125 ounces. As a point of reference, a single Starlight Mint is about 5 grams, so this pop is like eating 6 or 7 mints in one sitting.
The pop is structured in layers, the center is bubble gum, the middle layer is green apple hard candy and the outer layer is caramel flavored hard candy. It’s an odd combination and I’d say my initial impression was not good. The caramel flavoring was just that, flavoring with a heavy dose of artificial butter. There was a little hint of salt, so that was interesting. After getting to the apple layer (which was very dark green) I did start noticing a good combination of the two, the falseness of the butter combined with the reassuringly fake green apple flavors.
The texture was a little more ... sandy than I like in my hard candy. It wasn’t completely smooth, though the bubbles were minimal. The size of the pop means that there’s a lot of lollipop before you can crunch to the center.
The most surprising part is the center. It’s not pink bubble gum. It’s green. The texture was horrible, biting into it, it was like packaging material. When I bit off a piece, it sounded like I was pulling apart the paper stick. The smell was bizarre and I can only say that it reminded me of the Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnels. (Maybe it’s a mix of the smell of asphalt, gasoline, diesel and apple juice.)
I wanted to like this, mostly because I found the Tootsie Caramel Apple Pops to be quite fun. It just kept getting worse as I got closer to the center. I can only hope that the Candy Corn version was better.
Charms Pops are made in a facility that’s gluten free and peanut free.
Monday, October 14, 2013
If you like Charms Blow Pops and thought to yourself that you’d be happier with just the candy and not the gum, they make that. They come in rectangular foil packs called Assorted Charms.
There are five flavors: Cherry, Strawberry, Lemon, Lime, Green Apple, Orange, and Raspberry and 10 pieces in the package. They’re not necessarily distributed evenly among the flavors. I got three cherry and three lime while I only got one lemon, one green apple and one orange.
The fun things about Charms are that they’re square but have a little dimple in the center, and that they’re individually wrapped. So they’re less likely to end up as a sticky single piece like Life Savers. (Of course there’s no pineapple or tangerine in their flavor assortment.)
I’ve seen old candy ads that show that they used to come in single flavor packages, but the only way they sell them now is in the mixed flavors.
The pieces are just shy of 3/4 of an inch square.
I like the individual wrappers, as I’m the kind of person who likes to eat the flavor I want, not the one dispensed to me. It’s actually pretty easy to dump them out of the packet without tearing it, and then put them back.
Orange is nice, well rounded, a little tart but not very complex. Raspberry was good, it’s very floral with an overall soft flavor and a hint of tartness. The Cherry is like time traveling to the 70s for me. It’s not quite as “black cherry” as Life Savers, but of course has the same taste as the Cherry Blow Pop. Strawberry is interesting, as it’s pretty uncommon flavor for hard candy. I didn’t care much for it, it was more like a watery popsicle than jam. Lime is quite citrusy, though not very sour. There’s a lot of zest to it, and even a note of bitterness. Green Apple was nice, it was extremely mild at first, but then warmed up with a lot of juice notes. Lemon was a little too tepid for me, I was hoping for something like a sour ball but it had more sweetness than tart/zest notes.
There’s a lot to like here about the simplicity of the candy. The flavor assortment is different from Life Savers, though I can’t say that they’re better or worse. The packaging is truly charming and simple. The package holds only 1 ounce, so you can’t really feel too bad for chomping through all 10 pieces. There’s no nutrition label but hard candy is usually 95 to 100 calories per ounce ...so these are unlikely to be more than 100 calories per package.
There’s no info on the package about allergens, though other Charms products are gluten and peanut free (but please check before consuming).
Friday, October 11, 2013
Lindt has a new line called Hello, but I also noticed this array of single serving bars at several drug stores and Target over the past few months. I picked up a full set (or at least I think it’s all of them - at the time I wrote this, I couldn’t find them on their website).
The packaging is very simple with a color coding that made it easy to check that I had all of them. (I had to go to two stores.) They’re small portions, at 190-230 calories per bar, they’re not too filling.
The Lindt Wafer Bar is described on the package as Milk chocolate with wafer and creamy hazelnut filling.. The little picture shows that the wafer part is like a flattened tube inside the hazelnutty center.
The actual bar I got wasn’t as much like the picture as the others, which were exactly as depicted. In this case, the first section contained only hazelnut paste (so the photo is of the second section). The wafers do not take up nearly as much volume as I’d hoped, so the effect is milk chocolate bar with a lot of hazelnut (nothing wrong with that) and a little bit of wafer.
The wafers are malty and less sweet than the rest of the bar. The milk chocolate is very sweet as is the filling, so it’s kind of throat searing at first. The mix of textures and flavors is quite good though, I like the Lindt milk chocolate in small bites, it’s very creamy and though it has a dairy note to it, it tastes fresh, not like dried milk. Perhaps I’m looking at the wrong brand, but I wanted more hazelnut in there, it seemed more cream than hazelnut. (But maybe I’m just used to the Ferraro style.)
The bar is: Milk chocolate with hazelnut cream filling and pieces of almond brittle.
This bar is bigger than the first one, at 1.3 ounces. It feels hefty as well.
The milk chocolate bar looks the same as the Wafer bar, glossy and light milk chocolate. There’s a whiff of cereal about it and a hint of hazelnut but mostly it smells sweet.
The chocolate is smooth and has a milky melt to it, kind of like pudding. The center is very crunchy, with little bits of almond in the hazelnut cream. It’s not terribly nutty, but very sweet with just a hint of salt to it. Overall, the filling was good, the textures nice and the proportions very well done ... but I wanted it to be less sweet.
The package says that the bar is Dark chocolate with hazelnut filling and whole hazelnuts. And so it is.
It’s the biggest bar of the assortment I picked up, as well, at 1.4 ounces. It’s also the fattiest, at 164 calories per ounce. If I’m going to spend twice as much on the bar, I’d better be getting something high quality in there.
The bar is stunning. Three molded hazelnut sections in glossy dark chocolate. The dark chocolate looks great and smell a lot like roasted hazelnuts and coffee.
The chocolate is buttery and has a good melt, although like many Lindt chocolate, it might be a little too slick on the tongue and not enough chocolate flavor in there.
The hazelnut center is fantastic. The hazelnut paste is soft and has a great fresh flavor and though it’s sweet, it’s not too sticky. The whole hazelnut is crisp and crunchy and I believe blanched to remove the skin, which keeps away some of those bitter notes.
Of the three bars, this was my favorite, though it could benefit from darker chocolate.
I don’t see myself picking them up again, as interesting as I thought they were. They’re overpriced, though my guess is that perhaps in Europe they’re more economical. It’s odd, because the Hello Crunchy Nougat was a very similar bar to the Wafer, but twice the size for the same price. They also don’t use natural vanilla, it’s artificially flavored, which makes me wonder if there may be cut corners elsewhere. I think I’ll stick with Ritter-Sport’s Knusperflakes and Dark Chocolate Whole Hazelnut but if I feel like spending a little more, I’d step up to the Gardini Bitter Chocolate and Gianduia with Sea Salt.
Monday, October 07, 2013
I knew there were some new lollipops out these year, so I’ve been on the prowl in the Halloween aisles. I found the Charms Candy Corn Pops at Wegman’s in Mechanicsburg, PA. I didn’t necessarily want a huge bag of them, but they weren’t sold individually like the seasonal Blow Pops.
It’s a simple concept, they’re lollipops with three layered colors that tastes like candy corn. What does candy corn taste like? Something like buttered honey. Or honeyed butter.
If you’re a fan of candy corn but can’t eat it because it often contains gelatin or egg whites, you’ll be happy to hear that this may be vegan, as long as you’re good with processed sugar. The Charms lollipop line is also peanut free as well as gluten free, tree nut free and egg free.
I’ve always liked the size and shape of Charms lollipops. They’re wide and flat but rounded. They’re experts at combining flavors in the pops, I often enjoyed the Sweet & Sour pops as a kid. Though this one is different colors, I could detect no difference in the flavor for any of the three colors: orange, yellow and white.
For the most part this was a mild butterscotch lollipop. I welcome that, it wasn’t overly buttery flavored, it has a mild hint of salt and a dense texture without any voids that can create sharp spots.
They’re not the most exciting lollipops in the world, but quite good. I was disappointed that the layering was actually stacked, they were more randomly swirled. The one in the photo is about as close as I could get to the vertical stack of candy corn. (Well, if you stand it up on its end.) I hear there’s a Blow Pop version of this, too, but I’ve only been able to find the Caramel Apple Blow Pop (review soon).
Thursday, October 03, 2013
Original Beans is a small chocolate company that starts with carefully selected, direct-purchased beans and makes them into single-origin bars. They take special care with all aspects of the sourcing, manufacturing and packaging, as their name might imply. The bars are not easy to find in the United States, but luckily a very good chocolate source has developed walking distance from my office, so you’ll be seeing more of these interesting finds in the coming months and years.
The selection of bars from Original Beans is very small, but quite specific. I chose to review their Original Beans Piura Porcelana 75% as my first. You can read up on the Peruvian Porcelana beans on the Original Beans website and on other chocolate aficionado sites. The history of chocolate is fascinating and many people have become interested in the generic diversity of the trees and their distribution. The Porcelana beans, as a variety of Criollo, are characterized by their white color and distinctive flavor. They’re quite rare and grown in a few small areas in South America, so single origin bars are not common and often limited editions.
The bar features all organic ingredients and is made only exclusively with white Criollo cacao from the Pirua River Valley in the Peruvian Andes. The cacao is 75% and the package says that it’s a 22 hour conch. The ingredients list is simple and short: Direct-trade cacao beans, cacao butter, cane sugar. There’s no soy and it’s vegan and gluten free.
The tasting notes for the bar online are: Vibrant, luscious with kumquat, lime, apricot, raspberry flavours and notes of toasted pecan; wonderfully balanced acidity and lingering finish.
Though the beans are white, the chocolate is brown. The fermenting and roasting of the beans makes them indistinguishable at first glance from any other bean.
The bar is simply and beautifully molded. The segments have a great snap and neutral medium-brown color. The scent is mild, it has some smoky vanilla notes
The flavor is an interesting balance of acid like citrus and tannins, for the most part the flavors I got were black tea and roasted nuts. The texture was smooth and has and excellent melt and lack of grit. It still has a bit of a dry finish that’s sharp from the tannins.
I loved this bar, this is the third one I’ve eaten, I bought the first two over the summer but found they weren’t doing well in the heat so I ate them and waited for it to cool off to do a proper review. The flavor is not too intense but still very satisfying after three or four squares. The cocoa butter balanced out the clean but sweet sugar to make it very munchable for a high cacao bar.
The next bar I picked for review is Original Beans Esmeraldas Milk, which is a 42% cacao bar with a touch of fleur de sel. Like the dark bar, it’s made with organic ingredients. From the photo above you can see that it’s a dark looking bar for milk chocolate, but compared to many commercial milk chocolate bars, I’m inclined to call it a dark milk.
Original Beans is in The Netherlands, and the packaging is largely in Dutch (though the website also in English) while the chocolate is made in Switzerland.
The ingredients list is a little longer than the dark bar, but still short: direct trade cacao, sugar, cocoa butter, milk and sea salt. The tasting notes suggest: Exceptionally velvety with salted caramel, hints of summer red fruits and spice.
The Original Beans website has a feature where you input the batch code from your bar into their website that says:
Unfortunately that feature just takes you to the same page you could browse to based on the name of the chocolate bar. For true transparency and education, I kind of wanted specifics about the harvest that made my bar. What was that year like? Were there special issues that would distinguish that vintage from the previous year or the coming year? Or even just things like how many pounds of beans were harvested, how many bars were made in that batch.
The bar has a roasted, caramelized scent that has a bit of a cheese note to it, something a little more savory. The melt is great, it’s soft and fudgy without feeling too sugary or sticky. The flavor has molasses notes, maybe even a little fennel but a lot of milk. The hint of salt does keep it from tasting too much like sugar, but it doesn’t jump out. There’s a sharpness to the bar, again, that powdered milk cheese-ness that doesn’t quite satisfy me. I’m not a big fan of the powdered milk flavors in some milk chocolates; it’s a personal preference, not an indication of quality.
I also tried the Bolivian Beni Wild Harvest bar, as I was a big fan of Lillie Belle’s Wild Thing, also from wild beans, but found the 66% far too sweet for me.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.