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.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Easter is the time of cream eggs. There are so many different versions and Russell Stover makes about half of them. From caramel and peanut butter to raspberry whip and strawberry cream, they go for variety. This year their newest introduction is not another egg, but a reshaping of one of their classic eggs into a different format. Behold the Russell Stover Big Bunny Dark Chocolate & Coconut Cream.
The package design is nice, I liked it quite a bit, with its bold illustration style. Though the wrapper is a bit flimsy, it seems to do a good job of protecting the contents. It says that it’s made with 100% real chocolate, which is great news and that it’s made proudly in America. They were on sale for $1.00, which is a pretty good deal for a 2.25 ounce candy bar these days.
The bunny is large, just as the package promised. It’s a little over 5 inches tall (though one of my ears was a bit broken off because I fumbled with it when I took it out of the wrapper).
The shape is only vaguely rabbit. I’m not even sure if it’s just a giant rabbit head or supposed to be a whole rabbit body. It’s enrobed though, which is my favorite kind of chocolate coating. If you’ve ever seen a chocolate enrober, you’ll understand part of my fascination with the technique. A center is pushed through a curtain of melted chocolate, which coats it and hardens as it moves along a conveyer that cools it. (Watch it here, it’s kind of mesmerizing.)
The chocolate is thick enough to create a bit of crunchy break when I bit into it. Because of the irregular shape of the rabbit, it also meant that the ratio of chocolate to coconut would change. The center was thick and had a large density of coconut cream. The cream is light and airy with a smooth sugary grain to it and not too much coconut. The coconut is in very small pieces, less like a Mounds or Almond Joy. There’s even a light hint of salt in there.
It’s a nice product, easier to eat, oddly enough, than the egg version that’s a classic. However, it’s quite large. The package says that it’s one portion, which is 280 calories. I’d prefer to consume it in two or three sittings, as I did. The package was pretty easy to open and fold over and tape closed between those portions.
It’s a good addition to the Russell Stover line of Easter goodies. It’s not overwhelming as a huge chocolate rabbit, but a little more precious than the chocolate covered coconut cream egg.
Though it’s made with dark chocolate, there’s plenty of dairy in there and may contain traces of nuts.
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.
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.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Russell Stover makes a coconut version of the nest, which is kind of like a milk chocolate coconut haystack. This purple mylar package features a life sized image of the candy on the front, and I have to admit that this is one of their least attractive packages I’ve seen.
The ingredients are pretty clear that this is a pastel coating confection studded with crushed chocolate cookie pieces (a la Oreos). The first ingredient is sugar, the second is fractionated palm kernel oil and partially hydrogenated palm oil.
I went into this knowing that there was no real cocoa butter in here (which at least Hershey’s still uses as a portion of their white confection these days). The scent of the product smells a bit oily and a lot like Easter, sweet with just a touch of milk and fake vanilla.
The piece is exactly two inches around. Though I think it’s supposed to look hand crafted and random like the original Coconut Nest did, it’s molded, which gives it a glossy shine but an indistinct shape. I mean, if they’ve gone to the trouble to create a mold, I think it should look like a nest, not a lump.
The confection is pure throat searing sweetness. There’s a touch of milk flavor to it and a reasonably smooth melt. But mostly it’s a sticky sweet fake white chocolate wax. The cookie bits provided the only respite, but were far too few. They’re cheap enough that I think there should have been more of them.
I was glad to try their version of the cookies ‘n cream genre and I’m glad that I’m only out fifty cents instead of being forced to go for a couple of dollars for one of the flat rabbits made of the stuff.
If someone is a die hard oiled sugar fan, this might be a good option. I know that Russell Stover is capable of better when it comes to White Chocolate because they did a really admirable job with their Peppermint Bark Snowman last year. I think Hershey’s C’n'C is better, but I’m holding out hope that some day, someone is going to make a real white chocolate version of cookies ‘n cream again. (Green and Black’s would do a fine job of it.)
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Easter, along with most candy holidays, is a time to go big. Candies come in jumbo sizes like chocolate rabbits the size of real rabbits, filled chocolate eggs the size of ostrich eggs and of course larger than normal malted milk balls.
It was fun to see a micro about-face from Russell Stover with their new 42 Chocolate Mini Bunnies.
It’s just what it says, a bag of mini chocolate rabbits, at least 42.
I spotted the package at the check out stand at Ralph’s. In fact, I never would have spotted it and bought it if I hadn’t ended up making such a mess of my self-check out and had to get into a regular shopping line. (The self-check lines have no impulse buying area.) I was surprised to see it because I looked over the Russell Stover website at the beginning of the season to see what was new, but this doesn’t even exist there.
My bag had 47 Mini Bunnies in it. I don’t know if it’s because it’s by weight or because they just wanted to call them 42 Chocolate Mini Bunnies, as if the number 42 had some literary significance.
The smell sweet and little milky and perhaps a little musty (but chocolate can do that when left out in the air for a while, especially milk chocolate).
They’re quite small and cute. They do get a little scuffed up tumbling around in their bag, so it’s not a glossy molded bunny. Each is about three quarters of an inch.
The bunnies are soft and a little crumbly. At first they didn’t melt well, but it has been a bit chilly lately so it could have just been temperature. There’s a waxy feeling to them when I first chewed them. Letting them melt without chewing gave a pretty smooth melt though. It’s very sugary but has a strong dairy and roasted cocoa flavor to it. Honestly, they were quite tasty. I was surprised because I don’t really buy Russell Stover candies expecting good chocolate. It’s more on the candy end of chocolate but at least it’s real.
My biggest problem was how hard it was to just bite off the ears.
For parents looking for a little treat without artificial colors in it, this is a fun seasonal item. It also might be a good idea for Russell Stover to sell these in the baking aisle in larger bags for decorating cupcakes or as an ice cream topping for Easter Sundaes.
Monday, December 20, 2010
I love Peppermint Bark and I’m kind of disappointed that it’s not available year round. There are a lot of different variations on the idea of peppermint bark, but most involves layering different kinds of chocolate (dark or milk with white chocolate) along with a peppermint flavoring and probably crushed peppermint hard candies.
This package holds a cardboard try with six individually wrapped Peppermint Bark Snowmen. I got them for $1.99 but I expect they’re on sale some places.
It’s a two tone mold, the base is dark chocolate and the top layer is white chocolate. The package notes in bold and all caps type on the back that its MADE WITH 100% REAL CHOCOLATE. This is what spurred me to buy it. There are so many minty holiday candies that aren’t made with all cocoa butter these days, like the Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses and even Andes Mints.
I can say that after eating these, it’s so obvious that real cocoa butter is superior to fractionated or partially hydrogenated tropical oils (and though all are high in calories, at least cocoa butter isn’t bad for your heart).
The fact that these “bark” snowmen are molded does ruin the rustic illusion of bark, but I have to say, I’m not really that fond of bark. I’m a believer in integration. If you want to put something in your chocolate bar, put it in there, get it all covered up. Don’t just let it float on top and get knocked off. Commit!
The base layer looks very dark, almost black. The ingredients mention that it’s made with chocolate processed with alkali, which often gives it that almost-black color. The flavor of the chocolate base reminded me of Oreos, it’s a toasted and smoky flavor. The melt is rich and smooth and though the chocolate flavor stands up to the others, it’s not overwhelming or bitter. The white chocolate is smooth and creamy, it has an excellent fresh dairy taste to it, more like butter than dried milk. Then there’s a light touch of peppermint. Though I think there are supposed to be peppermint candies in here, I didn’t get much. I ate three of the snowmen for this review and at first I thought that it was just a variation in the production run. But there were all rather sparse on the candy. This didn’t bother me.
It was like a good quality ice cream. Not too sweet, a good balance of flavors, clean and neat. I liked the portion and the molding was nicely done. I preferred the crispness of the flavors and clean distinction between the layers to the slightly more expensive Dove Peppermint Bark.
I really can’t find much fault with these at all. They’re not the most sophisticated candies in the world, but they were very well done. There are some artificial ingredients in there (there’s some red dye in the hard candy chips) but overall it tastes like a quality product considering the price (about 33 cents each). It would be nice if they can do other variations of the snowman for other holidays - I wouldn’t even mind seeing other flavor variations like strawberry for Valentine’s Day or Orange for Halloween. (I think Mint could return for Easter.)
Russell Stover really seems to shine with their holiday treats. These are easy to afford and stash in stockings or pass around at the office.
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