Friday, October 21, 2011
So I’ve tried the Zachary Thick Mints and the Zachary Mini Mints. Today I have the Zachary Thin Mints. This is probably where I should have started, as this is the standard set of ratios that all other peppermint fondant and chocolate candies should be judged against.
The Zachary line of candies are very well priced. They’re often sold at dollar stores and other discounters. I happened to find my set of both the mini mints and the Zachary Raspberry Thin Mints. They were on sale for 79 cents for a box that holds 3.5 ounces. That’s the same price as a regular York Peppermint Pattie. Kind of a crazy comparison.
The boxes are small and rather nicely designed. Spare but they provide the essential protection of the stuff inside and have a bunch of information on them that they’re obligated to carry like ingredients, and nutrition facts and include the notation that they’re made in the United States (which York Peppermint Patties can no longer say).
Inside the Thin Mints are in a little tray. It has two sections, kind of misleading about the amount of candy, especially when compared to the similarly priced Haviland Thin Mints that have 5 ounces in a box and all natural ingredients.
There were 12 mints in my packages. Yes, the two sections are uneven. One holds 5 patties and the other 7 patties. I have no idea why it’s formatted that way.
The Peppermint Thin Mints are rather ordinary. They’re small, about 1.25 inches in diameter, like little coins. My mint ones were in good condition with very few scuff marks.
The fondant is soft, almost chewy. It’s like a cross between the gooey center of a Junior Mint and the softer center of the Haviland. They’re not strong, just an all around inoffensive mint. The peppermint is clean and doesn’t really overpower the mild semi-sweet chocolate. It’s like eating a handful of baking chips. It’s not extraordinary chocolate, a little on the gritty side but real.
The second version is the Raspberry Thin Mints which I thought were going to be just raspberry flavored fondant. Nope, there’s mint in there, too.
These were horrid. The raspberry was fake and floral and tasted like the purple coloring. Then there was the slight tangy, jam flavor in there ... all capped off with a refreshing burst of mint. The chocolate coating was mercifully stronger here, perhaps picking up on the woodsy notes of the raspberry. It was just a terrible mix. I don’t think mint goes well with berries or even citrus (I know, Mojitos are a mystery to me).
They’re not for vegans - there’s milk and eggs in there. There’s no gluten statement on the package but no actual wheat ingredients - proceed with caution.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Russell Stover has epitomized Americana for as long as I can remember. They’re a safe and unassuming brand. Their boxed chocolates are dependably sweet and bland but have a nice flair for dependable and fresh holiday themed chocolate novelties.
I was a little surprised when I saw these new Russell Stover Day of the Dead Skeletons at the drug store.
They have two varieties, one chocolate covered caramel and one chocolate covered marshmallow - but what’s interesting about them is the South of the Border design on the package (bilingual as well).
I’ll start with the Russell Stover Caramel Covered in Milk Chocolate (Caramelo Cubierto en el Chocolate con Leche).
They’re large skeleton shaped caramel planks covered in milk chocolate, the package features a brightly clad skeleton. There are at least three different designs per confection. For the Caramel I chose this lady skeleton wearing a red blouse with poofy sleeves, a green full skirt, a yellow yat with dingleberries and holding maracas. It’s quite a sight, especially when designed with bright flat colors and accents of purple, orange and silver foil.
The pieces are large, about twice the size as the regular Pumpkin products they make. The Caramel was 2.5 ounces and about 4.5 inches long.
The design of the actual candy is not quite as impressive as the package. In fact, once I pulled it out of the wrapper, you could have easily convinced me this was a Halloween Saguaro Cactus. But shape aside, it’s a really lovely piece of candy. The chocolate is nicely tempered, it’s shiny and had very few scuffs and no leaks. The ripples were also nice to look at and gave a feeling that this was a piece of candy made by people.
The caramel is soft, but not runny. The bite is easy and the caramel has a good pull but not a lot of chew to it. It’s smooth and has a lot of toffee notes and very little grain. The milk chocolate is sweet and has a lot of dairy notes though not much going on other than that.
It’s a lot of candy - I couldn’t eat more than a third in one sitting, so it’s not an easy piece to have a little and then put it away.
It’s not an innovative piece, they make a similar product for Easter, but it’s fresh and I really loved the package.
The Russell Stover Marshmallow Covered in Milk Chocolate (Malvavisco Cubierto en el Chocolate con Leche) has an equally vibrant package design. I chose a skeleton wearing a sombrero and bright poncho beating on a magenta and yellow drum.
This piece is only 2.25 ounces, missing a quarter of an ounce because the marshmallow is so fluffy, but probably about 50% thicker than the Caramel version.
The shape is similarly blocky and poorly defined, but still has glossy rippled milk chocolate enrobing.
The Russell Stover marshmallow is always moist and smooth, fluffy but not too foamy. It doesn’t have much flavor, no honey notes but a good vanilla extract finish. It’s a clean tasting candy - everything tastes real - real sugar, real milk, real vanilla. It’s comforting and homey.
The Day of the Dead celebrations of Mexico are vibrant, social and life-affirming. It’s fun to see a confection here in the United States that feels like it’s appealing to those who want to join in the celebration without feeling like it’s exclusionary or pandering. I don’t know if these are going to be sold everywhere, I picked them up in the Echo Park neighborhood RiteAid, one of the denser areas of Mexican-Americans in the country and over 6 million people of Mexican descent in the Southern California metropolitan counties. Next, I’d like to see the inclusion of some real Mexican confectionery traditions.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
I found this package of new Life Savers Gummies Collisions at the drug store. It’s not listed on their websites.
The concept is pretty simple, each piece has two flavors, divided longitudinally. There are three sets in the package: Raspberry Lemonade, Cherry Watermelon and Pineapple Punch. Two flavors in one gummi isn’t really new, gummi worms have been doing it for years. Here we have the worm eating its tail to form a hoop of gummi.
Each piece is just shy of one inch around. They’re easy to identify and all were nicely molded. Life Savers gummis are quite soft and pliable. They’re also pretty big, clocking in at about 4 grams each while most gummi bears (using Haribo as a standard) are about 2.2 to 2.5 grams.
Raspberry Lemonade is yellow and red. The raspberry flavors are really interesting, because I got a lot of the seed notes along with the floral overtones. But the lemon only gave up a smidge of zest, no actual tart lemonade vibe in there.
Pineapple Punch is half aqua and half yellow. It smells mostly of punch and unfortunately also tastes of fruit punch. I was hoping for some of that inimitable Life Savers pineapple flavor, and the yellow side did have a little hint of it, but it was dominated by the artificial punch flavor. There was a slight sizzling, effervescent intensity to the flavor. It was sweet and had a lot of guava notes with a little hint of mango, papaya and of course the pineapple.
Cherry Watermelon is light green and red. This one definitely had the strongest scent, which was the watermelon. The watermelon flavor was also strong in the candy, even when eating the cherry half. It reminded me of a slightly thinned out Jolly Rancher. Tangy, sweet and with a sort of rind flavor. The cherry gave the whole thing that slight woodsy flavor. Mostly I think they missed the boat on the cherry thing: Life Savers wrote the book on Wild Cherry, they own that flavor. It should be in here, if they have a cherry something, it should be the iconic Life Savers Wild Cherry.
There was a sameness to each of the varieties, I didn’t taste a distinction between the two sides. So that means instead of having six flavors in the bag, there were really only three. That’s not an amazing diversity, however, if you like all three flavors, that means you’re never going to be disappointed at getting any particular version. I didn’t care for the watermelon & cherry one, so a third of the bag would have been disappointing for me.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Russell Stover makes a good selection of classic candies. It’s a step above mass-manufactured candy bars, but not quite to the level of fine chocolates. Their strongest area is in holiday specialty candies and they’re probably best known for their Easter Eggs. For the rest of the year folks just have to wait for them to come back or buy one of their sub-par boxes of chocolates.
Lately Russell Stover has come out with some of their favorites in individually wrapped pieces in bags. I picked up this bag of Russel Stover Marshmallow & Caramel in Fine Milk Chocolate at the drug store. Russell Stover already makes this candy in fun shapes for the holidays, like Hearts for Valentines Day, Eggs for Easter, Pumpkins for Halloween and probably something like a Tree or Santa for Christmas (I can’t seem to find that one).
Each piece is individually wrapped and a little larger than I think you’d expect for a candy in a box of chocolates. They’re just a bit shy of a half an ounce (.494 to be exact) and clock in at about 57 calories - so two of these makes a pleasant snack at a rather low caloric density for a chocolate product. They’re quite attractive too, with nicely rippled and thick milk chocolate. The packaging protected them well, with no scuffs or cracks.
Most of the pieces were about 1.75 inches long and 1 inch across. They’re not as thick as I would have hoped, I kind of wanted a lofty marshmallow center like the See’s Scotchmallow. Each piece is about two bites. The marshmallow is soft and latexy, spongy and only slightly sweet. There’s a vague cinnamon and cereal flavor to the whole thing. The caramel is sweet and has a little chew to it. The chocolate coating is sweet, milky and a little sticky in the melt but overall of good enough quality to hold up to the other flavors.
The whole effect was a very sweet product with distinct textures and some slight differences in flavors. The caramel didn’t have much of the smoky, burnt sugar flavors which is too bad because that really could have pulled it together. As a small indulgence, it meets some very basic needs. I think it would probably be more fun to pop this into a microwave and then between a couple of graham crackers for a caramel infused S’more.
For folks who miss the holiday version of these, now you can have it year round. I might prefer the Valentine’s or Halloween version because it has less chocolate and more marshmallow but go with whatever suits your needs.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
I’ve seen Brach’s Maple Nut Goodies in stores for years. And for all that time, I not only didn’t know what they were, I really had no curiosity. But as the Candy Blogger, I felt it was my duty to pick them up and give them a try. So I bought some.
I got the package home, opened it up and the devils were hard as rocks. I must have gotten an old bag. So I kind of dismissed it mentally. About a year later a co-worker gave me a bag and I experienced the same issue - they were rock hard.
Brach’s is now owned by Farley’s and Sathers and recently did a complete re-design of their packaging earlier this year. So when I spied the new, bolder purple and pink wrapper at the drug store, I thought this was a signal that the candy was fresh. (The expiration was March 2012.)
I was still puzzled though, and part of it is because I have no awareness at all of this candy. There are plenty of candies, food, novels and movies that I’ve never tried but I’m at least able to identify. There’s nothing remotely familiar about this candy, probably because no one else makes a version of it. The package describes it as:
So the internet and friends will not solve this mystery for me, I had to open a bag for myself. Sure enough, this batch was not rock hard and it certainly did smell like maple and peanuts. So far so good.
The candy outside isn’t some sort of maple flavored white chocolate (though I’d actually love to try real white chocolate made with maple sugar ... someone, could you work on that?). The coating is like a dried fudge or frosting glaze.
The ingredients don’t really explain the candy very well either: Sugar, Peanuts, Corn Syrup, Palm Kernel Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Palm Kernel, Soybean and Cottonseed, Emulsified With Soy Lecithin), Modified Corn Starch, Maple Syrup, Gelatin, Salt, Artificial Flavor, Sodium Bicarbonate, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Blue 1. Freshness Preserved By TBHQ and Citric Acid.
So what I’m expecting is some sort of maple fudge covered peanut. What I got instead was a muddly wad of confusion. It was soft. I bit into it and it was like a peanut butter cookie, with a strong maple flavor to it. The center was more like a soft dough then a fudge. There’s gelatin in there and oodles of fat (from the peanuts themselves and the various added oils) but it doesn’t taste like it at all. It’s dry.
The other thing is that there is no whole peanut in there. Granted, I only expected there to be one because the shape of the candy seemed rather like a coated peanut. Instead it’s little ground up peanut bits, like a chunky peanut butter. I figure this can’t be right. I’ve gotten a batch that wasn’t cured properly or maybe one where they left out the peanuts inside of all of them. So back to the store.
So this is bag number four. This one also has a far off expiration date, January 2012 and the new package design. The cross section above shows the detail a bit better. There are chunks of peanuts in some sort of soft, not quite crumbly, doughy fudge.
The whole effect is fine, just not quite what I was expecting. For what it is, it’s certainly different. It’s sweet, but the robust peanutty-ness balances that pretty well. There’s a little hint of salt and the maple is a more defined sweetness that’s not as sticky, more woodsy. It’s more like a snack, more like a cookie than a candy.
Just about every other candy I’ve had that’s been made by a major company for at least 50 years has its imitators. For some reason no one else makes Brach’s Maple Nut Goodies
Here’s an old ad from LIFE magazine featuring the Maple Nut Goodies. It also shows Iced Jelly Cones and Chocolate Ripple Nougats, anyone else remember those?
Friday, July 8, 2011
A couple of years ago Mars introduced some new candy bars to the United States based on their popularity in Australia. They were called Fling and came in bright pink packages along with lots of marketing directed towards women. They came in three flavor varieties: Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate and Hazelnut.
About a year later the test marketing of Fling waned and a new bar came out nationally, the 3 Musketeers Truffle Crisp. The bar is described on the package as whipped-up chocolate truffle on a crisp layer enrobed in real milk chocolate.
The bars are narrow fingers, nicely domed with drizzled chocolate across the top. They’re light, literally - each weights a smidge over a half an ounce. (For comparison, a single Twix finger is about an ounce.) The package says that each one contains less than 85 calories. Well, that’s pretty easy since it doesn’t weigh much. In reality, the calories per ounce are quite high at 155 but the package limits your portion.
The bar snaps nicely with a light cracking sound. The construction is interesting (and this is where the bar is unique). The base is a plank of chocolate meringue. It’s crispy and airy with a light sweetness and hint of salt and cocoa to it. The truffle on top really isn’t - it’s a mix of cocoa and hydrogenated and/or non-hydrogenated palm and palm kernel oils. (In my world a truffle is made of actual chocolate and some sort of dairy fat.) The chocolatey cream is okay, fluffy but a little greasy and flavorless to my tongue. It’s all wrapped in a good amount of milk chocolate. The milk chocolate is sweet and creamy with a strong dairy note to it. It pulls it all together well.
The idea and execution of this is actually really good. I wish the truffle part was better and having had the Fling in dark chocolate, I know this is actually better in dark chocolate.
I actually like these bars, even with all my complaining about various elements of the promotion, packaging and ingredients. They’re unique and inventive, once consumers try them, I think the rest of the weirdness of the rest of it will be irrelevant. It would also be cool if Mars extended the use of the meringue crisp - I could see them as interesting centers for M&Ms, different flavored cream toppings for this bar (like coffee) and perhaps something berry with dark chocolate.
Though there are no wheat ingredients on the list, it is made on shared equipment with wheat (and peanuts) so it’s not technically gluten free, so try at your own risk.
Update 10/29/2012: I just heard back from Mars, they are discontinuing the Truffle Crisp bar. They just weren’t popular enough. My suggestion for those who love the bar is to write to Mars and propose that they bring them back seasonally. So you can stock up.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
I saw that there was a new Mentos flavor pack over a year ago, called Mentos Rainbow it featured seven flavors in a mixed package. None of the flavors are actually new, as far as I can tell, it’s just an opportunity to get the full assortment at once.
The package sports a colorful rainbow of stripes across it along with icons for each of the flavors. The pieces are actually lined up that way in the package, which is good because the colors don’t exactly match the hues on the wrapper.
I picked these up twice. The first time I found them at Mel & Rose Wine and Liquors last year (and I saw them in Europe earlier this year as well). I took some photos and ate them, but didn’t review them right away. Then I noticed that they were carrying them at the Rite Aid near my house, so I thought this was the time to try them again. So I picked up two new packages and did some more photos.
Strawberry (light purple-pink) is soft and floral with a light yogurt tang to it.
Pineapple (yellow) is rather like canned pineapple, very sweet with only the slightest balsam quality to it.
Grape (purple) is definitely not the American grape we’re all used to. It’s very concord-like with some strong tannin notes and something that tastes a little bit like cough syrup (in that way that it burns).
Cherry (medium pink) actually started tasting more like a berry but developed into a rather believable cherry juice flavor.
Raspberry (dark pink) is very sweet and lacks most of the things I like about raspberries, like a potent woodsy flavor with floral overtones. None of that here.
Orange (soft orange) is sweet and juicy with a little note of zest but very little citrus tang.
Watermelon (green) is weird and metallic at first. Then I got some of the melon notes but then it was more like eating sour paper. Not for me, thankfully there are only two in the package and the only green ones at that.
I like that the package has a large variety of flavors and has a dependable portion for each one (instead of something like Skittles, that’s random). The odd thing I noticed though is that the first package I picked up last year had a slightly different flavor assortment.
The European version (shown directly above) doesn’t have Cherry, instead it has Green Apple.
They’re not suitable for vegetarians, even though they removed gelatin from them. They use all natural colorings now, which includes Carmine. I still miss Pink Grapefruit Mentos.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
One of the classic elements of Easter candy is the fact that it’s egg shaped and isn’t usually individually wrapped. This nestling quality applies to jelly beans and marshmallow eggs (the candy shell version).
Back in 2007 I reviewed the pastel version of Brach’s Fiesta Eggs. The only difference between the original review and this one is that these are white with speckles and those were pastels. What prompted me to pick them up again is the fact that so many readers were commenting on the original review because Brach’s seems to have changed their formula.
When I first reviewed the eggs Brach’s was owned by Barry Callebaut, a global chocolate giant based in Switzerland. In late 2007, Callebaut sold the American candy company to Farley’s & Sathers of Minnesota. In the Callebaut days I was hoping that they’d make the chocolate products from Brach’s better. In the Farley’s & Sathers days, I’m just hoping that the chocolate products stay real chocolate instead of going to some mockolate substitute like they did with the bulk malted milk balls. (Supposedly they went back to the real chocolate coating, but I have yet to find them in stores, they angered so many people I’m guessing the buyers for the chain stores are afraid of them.)
I prefer the white eggs because they have less of the artificial colorings on the shell. Those can sometimes interfere with the desirable flavors. (Red is a problem for me often.)
The eggs are large. Some are over an inch tall though others are as small as 2/3 of an inch. They sound substantial and clack and clunk together well. All were nicely shaped and had no cracks or broken spots. The shells are thick and crunchy but the chocolate layer beneath is rather thin and unremarkable. The chocolate is sweet and doesn’t taste like much at all, probably more like malt than chocolate. It’s a little grainy and fudgy so it’s hard to say that it’s real except for the fact that the label tells me it is.
The center is what I’m after though, the crisp malted milk center. It’s a fine malt, not terribly grain with a moderate level of malty-ness. It’s not overly sweet or salty ... it could use just a little more punch for me, especially since the shell is so sweet.
I can’t argue with the construction, my only real complaint is that the chocolate is so lackluster, and perhaps even out of balance. With better chocolate that layer could be thicker.
As far as widely available Malted Milk Eggs for Easter, these beat out the Necco Mighty Malts and Whoppers Robin’s Eggs in my book. But that’s not much of a recommendation.
I’m picky about my malted milk balls in the sense that I want specific ratios, texture of the center and high density of malt, but I’m not so picky that I won’t finish any malted milk ball placed in front of me.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.