Thursday, December 5, 2013
It’s easy to think of Russell Stover as a stuffy boxed chocolate brand for old people, but I have to say that they are consistently on trend with their new flavors. Last year they introduced Red Velvet Santa, this year was a Pumpkin Pie Pumpkin and today I’m going to start my review with the Russell Stover Gingerbread in Dark Chocolate.
The packaging is simple, just a lump of Santa shaped candy in a sleeve with a Santa picture on the front. If there’s one unifying element with the Russell Stover Santa candies, it’s that they have a picture of a Santa on the front, but that the style will be different from the others. There’s really nothing cohesive in the branding.
They’re priced very well, at only 50 cents each for one ounce when on sale, they’re easy to find at most drug store chains. (I don’t see them at Target or KMart, though. Walgreen’s usually has the best selection, but RiteAid and CVS are pretty dependable for the most popular varieties.)
Like the Cookie Dough Egg, Pumpkin Pie and Red Velvet, the center for this piece contains flour. It’s like a cookie dough, in this case, more like a cake batter for gingerbread. It’s pretty mild, with more clove and ginger notes with a little hint of brown sugar. It’s not really fudgy, but more like a thick and chilled cookie dough. I liked it. It’s kind of weird, not at all like a high-end truffle, but just like a fun seasonal sweet.
Russell Stover Peppermint Cream Santa is similar to the Big Bite Mint Dream I ordered from them some years back. It’s a fluffed cream, not a fondant like Junior Mints or York Peppermint Patties.
The peppermint is clean and strong. The dark chocolate is bittersweet, glossy and crisp. The filling is light and frothy, though a little grainy and extremely sweet. It’s much sweeter than the Maple I tried later on. It’s a good peppermint product, and certainly very spare on the calories, a full piece is only 120 calories if you’re tying to indulge on a dietary budget.
The label doesn’t list any real sourcing information for the ingredients, specifically the chocolate. Since Russell Stover manufactures such a wide variety of confections there are lots of allergen warnings. The Gingerbread has flour (gluten) in it, the Mint and Maple have egg whites plus they all have soy and milk. Then there’s the peanuts and tree nuts warning.
All the Santa pieces are ill formed. I don’t know what the shape is supposed to be, but they’re enrobed, not molded so they’re rather amorphous. The Gingerbread piece (middle) is more dense than the Peppermint Cream and Maple Cream, so it’s not quite as high.
Russell Stover Dark Chocolate & Maple Cream is just a dark chocolate version of the milk chocolate version I reviewed a couple of years ago. It’s also available in the Easter Egg version, which I also reviewed ages ago and liked. (And also didn’t get a picture of the inside.)
The dark chocolate is glossy and pretty creamy. It’s not terribly rich in flavor, but its semisweet cocoa notes balance out the fluffy maple cream center. The filling is sweet and light with a hint of salt and a woodsy, pecan scent of maple.
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.
Monday, April 15, 2013
A couple of years ago Russell Stover came out with the Giant S’Mores Bar. It combined one of the best products Russell Stover makes, the chocolate covered marshmallow. I could only find it via web order at the time.
Here were are, two years later and I spotted them, now named Russell Stover Big Bite S’Mores at CVS. They come in a dark chocolate and milk chocolate version, so I picked up a couple of the Russell Stover Big Bite Dark Chocolate S’Mores.
The package is simple and fits into the Russell Stover design scheme well. I wouldn’t call it enticing or delectable, but mostly informative and easy to spot.
The construction is simple. Two square graham crackers (about 2.5” on each side) hold a dark chocolate covered marshmallow square.
The graham crackers hold together pretty well, though I noticed my other piece (I bought two) had more broken corners on it. Biting into the whole thing, it holds together passably well, so that all of the flavors and textures are included in just about every bite. However, the graham cracker makes a lot of crumbs. The marshmallow is moist and bouncy with a generic vanilla flavor though not overly sweet. The dark chocolate coating is thin but provides a good semi-sweet counterpoint to the fluffed sugar of the marshmallow. The graham cracker is nicely crunchy but still soft and crumbly with a cereal and grain flavor to it.
I feel like Russell Stover could do something to mitigate the crumb creation from the graham cracker, I was thinking a very thin coating of dark chocolate on the marshmallow facing side might do quite a bit to hold everything in place (and add more chocolate). As it is, it’s a rather “lean” confection, even though it’s 2 ounces, it’s only 230 calories. The cracker and the marshmallow keep it from having as high of a fat load as many other chocolate candies. But it still feels very filling.
I liked this version much better than the milk chocolate version and hope that it does make a strong appearance in stores. It is easy to eat and I expect rather easy to pop in the microwave or toaster oven (I didn’t try that). If you don’t have access to the seasonal Trader Joe’s Smashing S’Mores, these might be a good substitute.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
There’s rarely anything new to report in the world of chocolate rabbits for Easter. There’s plenty of variation: They come in flat styles and three dimensional. Sitting and standing poses. Hollow and solid. Milk, white or dark chocolate (and sometimes flavored solid confection). The chocolate can also have some inclusions. Until recently this was rather rare, and mostly crispy rice. This year Russell Stover, which already makes a white confection Cookies ‘n’ Creme version, came out with the Russell Stover Kris P. Pretzel Bunny.
I learned of the existence of this tasty sounding bunny on Rebekah’s Obsessive Sweets blog. I did find it at CVS but it was a full 7 ounces and four dollars, I just wanted to taste it. So off to the Russell Stover’s website I go and found out that there’s a 1.5 ounce version out there, so I checked out the 99 Cent Only Store. Success ... and only a buck. (Though the large version is a better value.)
The bunny, at only 1.5 ounces, is not particularly large, but compact. It’s quite thick through the middle, and if it were solid (without the pretzel bits), it would probably be more difficult to bite.
Suspended within the milk chocolate are little bits of pretzel. They’re not chunks, they really are teensy bits. My guess is that they have to be in order to get the molding process to work.
The bite is wonderfully grainy, there are a lot of little bits in there. They don’t create the dry crunch that a whole pretzel piece would. Instead there’s more the malty and salty flavors in there and of course the slight grit of a pretzel dust. The chocolate is creamy and sweet, with a light smoky note. Sadly, it’s very salty. There are 240 mg of salt in there, which the package says is 10% of your RDA, but I think, for me, it’s more like 25% since I eat so little salt. So it could easily be cut in half and I think most people would find it still has that zap.
I liked it and would probably buy this variety again. It’d be nice if it came in a dark variety, but the chocolate here was sufficiently strong enough to stand up for itself with the pretzel flavors and textures.
The packaging is excessive. It’s not a large rabbit, but the box is big and has a useless tray inside. I understand needing to box up hollow bunnies, but the solid variety shouldn’t need more than some foil and/or a box, not the tray as well.
Since this has pretzels in it, it’s not gluten free. The bunnies contain soy and dairy. It’s also made on shared equipment with peanuts, tree nuts and eggs. There’s no statement on the package or on Russell Stover’s website about the sourcing of their chocolate or other ingredients except that their chocolate sourcing partners are members of the World Cocoa Foundation.
Friday, March 15, 2013
Russell Stover is a fixture at American drug stores at Easter with their large variety of single serving Easter eggs. New this year is the Russell Stover Cookie Dough Egg.
This new egg follows the same sort of construction as the Red Velvet Santa first spotted for Christmas (also available as an egg). The center is an actual flour-based dough. Unlike other fondant centers which are just whipped up sugars, this one is a bit more complex. Here’s the ingredient list (forgive me for any transcription errors, it’s green printing on a cream background):
So, instead of a short list, this is long and includes lots of flour, so it’s not gluten free. It also contains high fructose corn syrup a few times, which is disappointing because Russell Stover, while not being top of the line, is usually filled with plain old sugar and corn syrup. This is what happens when candy makers start adding bakery items. Unlike actually cookie dough, this has no egg products.
The egg looks like many of the other milk chocolate Russell Stover varieties. It’s on the flat side, and has two rows of glossy ripples. It’s about two inches long and one and a quarter inches wide.
The bite is soft and the center is, well, doughy. It’s not dry but not quite as moist as I expect. It has a grain to it, with the sugar being noticeable and I might have detected a little salt as well. The flour taste is not noticeable (sometimes real cookie dough can taste like raw flour).
Unlike cookie dough nugget products, this has more of the satisfaction of eating a spoonful of dough. The chocolate chips didn’t do much for me, but the milk chocolate coating was smooth, creamy and a sweet complement to the dough. I’d prefer a dark chocolate version, as I put dark chips in my cookies. It’s similar to their Brownie Egg (which it turns out, I’ve never reviewed), but naturally less chocolatey.
It’s a good rendition of cookie dough as a candy. I don’t know if I’d grab this over something like their marshmallows or the Pecan Delight, but I know there are some folks who will really appreciate this.
Friday, December 7, 2012
The store shelves at the drug stores in my neighborhood are filled with Christmas candies, including the seasonal array of Russell Stover candies in Santa shapes. There’s a new one this year, the Russell Stover Red Velvet Santa in dark chocolate.
I have to say that I found the idea of a Red Velvet and Santa Claus combination intriguing. It seems like a natural fit and evokes the tactile elegance of a rich, deep red St. Nicholas coat and the traditional white ermine fur trim. But this was much better in my head than the actual execution. The wrapper doesn’t play upon that Victorian image, instead has a cartoon-style Santa on the front, holding a teddy bear.
I have very little experience with Red Velvet as a baked good. I’ve had the cake a few times, including several times baked from scratch as well as some high-end cupcakes. The cake is usually a buttermilk yellow cake with a dash of cocoa for light flavor along with either beets or loads of red food coloring. (Before the era of Dutched Cocoa, a little vinegar in the recipe would turn undutched cocoa deep red.) The selling point, for me, is the cream cheese frosting (but I usually satisfy that with a dense Carrot Cake sans nuts when given the chance).
In this case the candy is constructed of a cream center made from white chocolate (a lovely substitute for cream cheese) and actual Red Velvet cake mix according to the list of ingredients. (So this has wheat in it.)
The filling is a creamy red and a little grainy, probably because of the cake mix in there. It looks like it should be raspberry, but it’s not. The flavor is a little doughy, like a cookie dough bite, but better. The dark chocolate coating is just the right ratio - it’s not too thick or chalky and has a good, bittersweet counterpoint to the sweet center. It’s very filling.
If I had been given this lump (which doesn’t look like Santa, by the way) without any description, there is no way I could have guessed that this was a Red Velvet influenced object. I’m guessing it’s more like a cake pop (which I’ve never tried, either). I’m glad they went with dark chocolate and not white chocolate, but hypothesizing that it could have been worse is hardly a recommendation.
Friday, March 16, 2012
I found the Russell Stover Big Bite Pecan Delight Egg at Walgreen’s along with the other super-sized Easter classic, the Coconut Cream in the shape of a Big Bunny.
Pecans and Caramel covered in Milk Chocolate
Ah, a pecan turtle. What a fabulous candy. The roasted, maple flavors of pecans with their oily crunch go so well with the burnt sugar, sweet chewiness of caramel with it all encapsulated in creamy milk chocolate.
I’ve reviewed a few different versions of these in the past. The first one I tried was the Organic Pecan Delight, which were sold individually wrapped and bagged. They were good, but lacked a lot of pecans. The second one I tried was the traditional Easter favorite, the Pecan Delight Egg ... well, that one was even more parsimonious with the pecans. Then most recently I tried the non-organic version of the Pecan Delight and was similarly underwhelmed.
So, would scaling up make a difference?
They weren’t kidding about it being a big bite. It’s two ounces, so of course it’s big, but that’s the same size as a Snickers bar. It’s packed with 290 calories as well. What it’s not packed with is pecans. Those little lumps on the outside ... those are the pecan pieces. That’s it. No hidden nuts inside the caramel center.
I can sit around being disappointed that there aren’t more pecans in this. (I can also call it false advertising.) But the reality is that it’s still a good piece of candy if you adjust expectations. The milk chocolate is passable - it’s sweet and milky and though a bit fudgy and grainy, it still has a pleasant melt and mouthfeel. The caramel center is salty and though sweet, not overly cloying or syrupy. The caramel is smooth, without the slightest bit of grain. It’s pretty gooey, but not chewy. The small bits of pecans gave it a roasted nutty flavor, but not much texture overall.
Would this have been better with more pecans? Absolutely. Would it have cost a dollar? No, not possible. It was a bad year for pecans, the price went way up. The solution to this is for Russell Stover to not offer this candy at this price point, or to adjust our expectations by not saying that it’s the Pecan Delight.
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