Friday, September 27, 2013
Candy Corn broke out of its traditional flavor set at least 10 years ago. It’s only natural, since the fondant candies known as mellocremes were capable of so much more than just being different colors for different holidays: reindeer corn and bunny corn.
But Halloween has always paid host to the more interesting varieties. Lately we’ve seen caramel apple flavors, fruits like tangerine and green apple or toffee. Some candy companies have even taken to covering them in chocolate. Brach’s has a large variety these days, my favorite from their assortment is still the Brach’s Halloween Mix, which is not candy corn but little Halloween shapes like bats, pumpkins and maple syrup jugs. They’re lightly flavored and come in cocoa, maple, banana and whatever that honey flavor candy corn is.
The Brach’s S’mores Candy Corn straddles the summer and fall line, as S’mores are often a summer camp favorite but can easily be made in the fall around a crackling fall bonfire.
If I understand the point of these correctly, it should be a chocolate base, marshmallow middle and graham cracker flavored top. I have to say that they’re pretty ugly. The base is a dusty purple and bleeds into the white center.
They smell like a cross between the reliably over-sweet Candy Corn and graham crackers. The base is vaguely cocoa, but in the most watered down and flavored fashion. The middle layer is wonderfully vacant of flavors, kind of like a marshmallow. The orange tip has a distinct cereal and cracker note to it, like a graham.
The effect is something that’s very candy corn-like in flavor, but not very convincing as a S’more. I don’t see the point, really, especially since they’re not very attractive.
S’mores Candy Corn contains gelatin, no surprise as most candy corn does and certainly marshmallows do. It’s also made in a facility that processes everything else:peanuts, tree nuts, milk and eggs plus it contains soy and sesame.
As a side note, Brach’s has changed hands quite a few times in the last decade, and this has made some of their products a bit inconsistent. The company was owned by Farley’s & Sathers most recently and they have merged with Ferrara Pan and the whole company is now called Ferrara Candy. The Candy Corn manufacturing for Brach’s was moved off to Mexico at least two years ago and I’ve heard many reports from die hard fans that it’s not the same any longer (even though the ingredients list appears the same). I agree, it doesn’t seem as smooth and consistent as it used to be and I have switched to recommending the Jelly Belly Candy Corn if you’re actually going to eat it. Brach’s is still fine for decorative purposes.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Werther’s does an excellent hard caramel (or toffee) and the parent company, Storck of Germany, makes one of my favorite mass-produced caramels, the Storck Chocolate Riesen. But I was a little confused how these were different from the other caramels that Werther’s already sells.
The pieces are small, narrow and wrapped in waxed paper with a foil label around the center. They were easy to twist open and didn’t stick to the wrappers.
So, I also purchased the Werther’s Original Chewy Caramel for comparison. The bag looks nearly the same, and inside, the candies are wrapped identically. Opening them, though, it’s clear what the difference is.
The Chewy Caramel (on the right) is stringy and chewy, smooth and pleasant with a balanced milk and caramelized sugar flavor. The Caramel Creme (on the left) is what I would call a “short caramel”, a caramel where the sugar has been caramelized, but allowed to create a bit of a crystallized matrix instead of a silky but stiff chew. It’s sort of like penuche, or like the Krowki Cream Fudge from Poland.
The flavor is fresh, not like some fake buttery flavored toffees. The texture is chewy but still a little gummy. It dissolves well and though there’s a detectable grain, it’s not crystallized or gritty.
It’s pleasant, and I enjoyed eating them, but I preferred the Chewy Caramel version, especially since the bag I purchased for this comparison was especially fresh and chewy. I do prefer this to the flavor profile of Kraft Caramels, though I can’t attest to how they would perform in recipes.
Monday, September 23, 2013
In the ranking of Halloween candy, hard candies were usually pretty close to the bottom of the list. Unless it was Jolly Ranchers. A handful of green apple and cinnamon were welcome in my trick or treat bag, and even better if the home gave out the sticks.
It’s fun to see Hershey’s Jolly Rancher brand branching out a little bit for Halloween with their new Jolly Rancher Caramel Apple Lollipops. I found these at Target but saw them earlier at CVS and RiteAid (for at least a dollar more) so I think Hershey’s has given them very wide release.
It’s hard to believe that these will topple the current seasonal Caramel Apple Pop favorite from Tootsie.
The smell is confusing. I get a lot of buttery notes, but it’s like artificial butter flavoring or something. The flavor is immediately tangy and overly sour apple. But then again, this is a Jolly Rancher candy, so it I guess it just has to be mostly green apple. The green and caramel color swirls look like the flavor should vary, but I didn’t detect enough of a respite from the tartness of the green apple in the caramel.
The texture is good, I didn’t notice any voids or sharpness. The pieces were all perfectly formed and didn’t have any of that sticky/deformation/melting problem that the Tootsie Caramel Apple Pops have.
Overall, though, these are just too tart for me and don’t have enough actual caramel or toffee in them. However, they do seem to be free of actual dairy products, so if you’re looking for a caramel product without milk, cream or butter, this might be for you. I’m not planning on eating the rest of this bag, but I’m confident the neighborhood kids won’t be disappointed on October 31st.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Russell Stover is often up on flavor trends with their seasonal single serve shapes. Their most recent introduction was the Red Velvet, which is now available in a Halloween version.
I spotted the listing for the Russell Stover Pumpkin Pie on the Russell Stover website about a month ago and I went on the search as soon as the stores in my area started putting out their Halloween candy.
The package looks generally the same as all the other Russell Stover pumpkins, of which there are at least a dozen now. It’s a mylar wrapping with a generic pumpkin illustration on the front an simple lettering to depict the contents.
The pumpkin is interesting to look at. I like enrobed candies and this one looks rustic and handmade. The shape isn’t specifically pumpkin though, as it has no ribs, so I can imagine this being sold as an ornament in different packaging later this year. This is the first time, though, that I’ve found the shape of the candy to actually reflect the candy flavor. Note that this is pumpkin pie, not pumpkin spice. I wanted to know what made this different from a regular spiced cream center and the ingredients list brought the answer.
It’s like pumpkin pie, including the crust. There’s wheat flour in the ingredients. In fact the ingredients list “spice cake mix” which includes wheat flour, egg whites and nonfat milk in addition to the spices. So the center here is more like cookie dough than a cream, rather like the Red Velvet piece they’re also making now.
So, after I got my head around that weirdness, I just adjusted my expectations. This is like a chocolate covered cookie dough, but instead of those lackluster Cookie Dough Bites, these are actually made with pretty good milk chocolate and some nice proportions.
The milk chocolate is creamy, the center is a bit doughy and has a slight sugar grain to it. It’s dense but not too sticky. The spices are light, not overwhelming but also not terribly distinct. It’s a generic background of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg with a touch of clove.
I appreciate that it’s different from other sticky cream candies right now. I would have preferred a dark chocolate and maybe a little more powerful spice, but overall, for a 50 cent candy, it’s pretty good.
This pumpkin is a bit thicker than the Pumpkin Pie version. The glossy dark chocolate looks great, with robust swirls on top. It smells like dark chocolate with a hint of orange zest. The cream filling is actually something like a meringue. It has egg whites in it, though I ended up calling it a marshmallow, it’s actually okay for vegetarians. The texture is wonderfully smooth and though it tastes like it’s creamy, there’s far fewer calories in this treat than the other creams that Russell Stover sells. (120 calories per ounce, so this is a pretty slim little candy if you’re watching calories but want something fulfilling.)
The filling has a sweetness, but it’s not as cloying as some of the more fudgy creams. There are bits of orange zest and an authentic orange flavor to the whole thing (though some artificial coloring which I thought was unnecessary). The chocolate is thick and stands up well to the center and doesn’t fall apart as you eat it.
The center is coconut cream and the milk chocolate enrobing includes lots of crushed almonds on top. Think of it like an Almond Joy, but without the large lumps on top. This is also a new item, and unfortunately doesn’t seem to come in dark chocolate right now.
Russell Stover makes two coconut seasonal candies right now. There’s the Nest, which is just coconut and milk chocolate. They also make their coconut creams, which are covered in either milk chocolate or dark chocolate.
Each of these elements is well balanced. The coconut is soft and chewy, a bit sweeter than I care for, but still fresh and tasty. The almonds, though not spread evenly are crunchy and big enough to provide the added texture to the experience. The milk chocolate, though also sweet, is far and away better than the Hershey’s version on Almond Joy bars. This is a bit on the milky side, but creamy and fudgy. I would definitely buy this again, but what would put it over the top would be a dark chocolate version. It’s a good value at 50 cents for a one ounce piece made with real chocolate right here in the United States.
Monday, September 16, 2013
Russell Stover started releasing some of their favorite items in a new, larger format called Big Bites about two years ago. Most are sold year round and represent a cross over sort of candy. They look like giant box candy chocolates but are portioned more like a traditional single serving candy bar.
The new Russell Stover Big Bite Caramel Apple come in two versions. The first is a traditional caramel pattie, flavored with apple and covered in milk chocolate. The second goes further and gives it a coating of crushed peanuts.
The candy emulates a caramel coated apple, but in this case it should be easier to eat and probably has a better shelf life.
The package says naturally flavored, which was a bit of a surprise after eating some other, well, not-so-natural green apple candies lately. The piece is very attractive, it’s a caramel center covered in milk chocolate and then drizzled with dark chocolate. Even out of the rather flimsy package, it looked nearly pristine.
There’s a light apple sauce note to the sweet chocolatey scent. The bite is soft, though the chocolate is pretty thick. I was surprised at the smoothness of the caramel center. It has a pleasant apple peel note to it but not much in the salty or caramelized sugar family. The chocolate was passable, sweet and though note exceptionally smooth, it was creamy. The overall sweetness got to me about halfway through. Basically, a two ounce caramel pattie is just too much for me. A couple of small ones and I’m pretty happy, I don’t need quite this much at once, even if the shape is done well.
The crushed peanuts on the Russell Stover Big Bite Caramel Apple with Peanuts adhered pretty well. The package had a little pile in the bottom, though, about a third more peanuts. Though the no nuts version is 2 ounces, the peanutty one is 2.25 ounces, I’m guessing that’s the nuts and no dark chocolate stripes. Overall, the peanut notes overshadowed the apple flavors, but the whole thing seemed even sweeter, giving me a sore throat in about half the time as the straight one.
I like the Russell Stover caramel, and think they do a good job, especially for the price with these items. This is, by far, one of the best caramel apple candies I’ve had, but it’s still not my thing. I’d just like to see some flavors I’m interested in, like Coffee Caramel (maybe call it a Caramel Macchiato and shape it like a coffee cup) or perhaps Bananas Foster.
Friday, September 13, 2013
The Pumpkin Spice M&Ms are a Target exclusive this year (just as the Candy Corn M&Ms were also exclusive their first year at WalMart). The package is cute and was easy to spot at the store. It features the orange M&M character looking like a pumpkin.
The flavor is not pumpkin pie itself, but the spices used to turn pumpkin custard into a seasonal dessert. Traditional pumpkin spices are a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, and/or mace. The ingredients for these M&Ms are vague, just listing “artificial and natural flavorings” at the end of the list.
The pieces are, for the most part, the mega size. They’re larger than a standard M&M and come in three colors in the package: dark brown, orange and green.
The flavor is overwhelmingly cinnamon. Though they smell like chocolate, they taste like chocolate milk sipped in a room with too many Christmas-scented candles. The candy shell is crispy and the milk chocolate center is, well, a bit fudgy and grainy. I think I prefer the size of the regular M&Ms, since the chocolate is merely passable. In this format the amount of sugar easily overwhelms the chocolate.
I didn’t actually notice that much of a difference from the previous limited edition Cinnamon M&Ms from two years ago. Maybe a little more note of clove. I would have preferred more of the nutmeg and ginger spices than the Tic Tac notes of cinnamon candies.
Pumpkin Spice seems to be a pretty hot flavor these days (though the Hershey’s Kisses version has been around since 2008), a lot of seasonal candies are being released (see list below of previous reviews). If you like Spiced Chai or cinnamon in general, it’s a great time to pick up this twist on old candy favorites. If not, wait a few months and the Candy Cane and Egg Nog versions will emerge.
Finally, with all the crazy flavors of M&Ms that have come out over the years, I’m a loss to why they’d go with something like peanut butter and jelly before coffee.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
In the pantheon of candy bars, the simple combination of chocolate and peanuts dominates the most popular candies in the United States. Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are usually jockeying for the top positions with M&Ms. I’m always eager to see what other candy companies are doing with this duo, especially with premium ingredients. Jer’s Chocolates, here in Southern California, makes a line of peanut butter bars from all natural ingredients.
Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Original IncrediBar is all natural peanut butter mixed with crunch rice crisps covered in milk chocolate while Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Pretzo Change-O is all natural, peanut butter with salty pretzel bits covered in milk chocolate.
The Original IncrediBar is rather irregular looking, but for the most part about 4.5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide.
The milk chocolate coating is sweet and milky but with a good cocoa note to it. The filling is soft and crumbly, though not quite fudgy. It’s peanutty, like a peanut butter dough, almost. There are bits of crisped rice in it, which gives it a mild crunch and hint of malt, while there are also bits of crushed peanuts that give a heartier crunch. The salt is a nice touch to keep the whole thing from getting too sweet.
The bar is hearty, at only 1.5 ounces, I found it very substantial, as the 5 grams of protein would indicate. It’s not shy on calories either, at 230. The bars are very soft, and in warm temperatures, they turn to goo, as many peanut butter chocolates tend to. I made sure to keep mine stored properly and was pleased with the fresh taste of the peanut center.
The Pretzo Change-O sounds right up my alley, instead of the crispy rice bits of the IncrediBar, this one has pretzel pieces. This was also a milk chocolate bar (Jer’s makes two varieties with dark chocolate, I’ll review those soon) with the same flavorful and smooth coating. I didn’t really notice much of a difference between the two bars, the crunchy bits were a little larger and perhaps the overall effect was less sweet. Both are fine bars. I preferred them over the the Cadbury Wunderbar or Snickers Peanut Butter Squared (which has caramel) which were the closest thing I could think of to these.
One of the thing that vexes me about these is the packaging. The boxes are great at protecting the bars within, but I have a devil of a time opening them. They’re securely glued at both ends, but snug enough that I worry about smashing or poking the bars if I use scissors to open it.
Jer’s Chocolates also makes a mini version called Jer’s Squares of their popular bars. I like these quite a bit, partly because there’s a greater ratio of chocolate and partly because I like smaller pieces of things so I can moderate better. The big issue I have with them is that their list price is twice that of the bars but you don’t get twice the product. The pair of bars is about $4 (3 ounces, so it’s $21.33 a pound) and the gable box of about 10 pieces retails for $8 (4 ounces, so it’s $32 a pound).
Though all the ingredients are natural, there is no statement on the Jer’s Chocolate website about the ethical or sustainability sourcing for the ingredients.
Monday, September 09, 2013
Candy Corn is brilliantly simple and captures the essential nature of corn itself very well. Corn (I mean dent corn, not the fresh-eating sweet corn) is ubiquitous and exceptionally versatile; it can be used to create oil, sweeteners, cereals, starches, feeds and even plastics.
Candy Corn reflects that versatility well, in that it looks like food, but it is much better at boosting the appeal of other foods as a decoration or merely a side dish to more appealing things. Like corn in our everyday lives as North Americans, it’s everywhere at Halloween. Candy corn is a fondant, and fondant is basically a butterless, chocolateless fudge. It’s just sugar and corn syrup, sometimes flavored with a bit of honey and sometimes held together with a bit of gelatin or egg white.It’s kind of sad that candy corn has become some sort of punchline to jokes about reviled foods, but it must have lovers or at least likers, or else candy companies wouldn’t make so much of it.
Wrigley’s seems to have latched onto the seasonal quality of candy corn for their new Starburst Original Fruit Flavored Candy Corn but discarded most of the other qualities of candy corn. They’re brightly colored, fruitly flavored unlike normal candy corn. The only thing that remains is the triangular shape and layering of colors.
Each candy is three tiers of one of the Original Starburst flavors: cherry, strawberry, orange and lemon. All have white tips, light centers and dark bases.What’s particularly odd about them is that they’re flavored the same on all levels. At the bottom of the bag was a bunch of the little white tips that had broken off and they were absolutely just as flavorful as the colored bottoms. The other thing is they’re not a traditionally “flavored” mellocreme. The others that I’ve had are usually light - maple or cocoa flavored perhaps, or with mild fruit essences. The Starburst Candy Corn is going for true Starburst juicy flavor - sweet, fruity and tart.
Cherry was the darkest red. It tasted quite strongly of that artificial cherry that Life Savers and Starburst share. There’s a sharpness towards the end and an overall pleasant tartness. The texture is good, it’s soft and though it doesn’t quite melt in your mouth, it’s smooth. The flavor lingered, again, medicinal and artificial.
Strawberry was pink and had a similar sort of medicinal quality like the cherry. It wasn’t floral or jammy, just artificial tasting.
Orange was like a creamsicle, sweet but tart enough that it had a sort of aspergum finish to it. This too had a lingering aftertaste, kind of like yogurt or soured milk.
Lemon was probably the most successful, but that’s not saying much. The lemon had a hint of zest but mostly was like a lemon sherbet flavor.
On the whole, I found them a pleasant experience, but I was left wondering why I was eating them. I didn’t like the flavor variety, the aftertaste was odd and the tartness distracted from what is usually a very mild and comforting candy. I think to celebrate the season, I’ll just form my regular Starburst Chews into little triangles and enjoy them that way.
Starburst has really extended their fruit chew brand in a lot of ways. There are or have been jelly beans, lollipops, drinks, gummis and now mellocremes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Starburst gum, red licorice type chew or chocolately Tootsie Roll styled product. Only time will tell.
The ingredients do not list any eggs or gelatin, which I found surprising. It does list confectioners glaze, which usually means shellac so it’s not a vegan product.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.