Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I was at the drug store a few weeks ago and wasn’t really thrilled with the selection of candy. Well, it was a nice selection but I’ve tried all of that stuff before. Then I spotted the new display of Russell Stover & Whitman’s Samplers (they’re owned by the same company now) and was debating whether to review a full box of candy from them.
Instead I wussed out, blaming the heat that it was impractical to bring a large amount of chocolate into my 90+ degree home. So I got one of each of their little 1 ounce boxes - just as a teaser. I thought, here’s an opportunity for Russell Stover & Whitman’s to wow me ... they have two pieces to do it. For the opportunity to snare me, I gave them $1.25 for each sample sized box.
Russell Stover Private Reserve features two pieces of their premium assorted chocolates. The red foiled box is elegant and simple.
I have no idea what they are, the box tells me nothing specifically about them, well, it specifically tells me the combined ingredients and that’s about it. I only have the shapes go on. Inside is a little tray with spaces shaped like the candies.
The nut looking one was in fact a nut flavored paste inside ... perhaps a gianduia since far down on the list of ingredients were hazelnuts.
This was terrible. It looked great, I’ll grant you but had an odd waxy & greasy feel to it. The hazelnut paste as more of an amaretto flavor, which is fine with me ... though confusing because the nut shape was kind of like a walnut and kind of like a hazelnut but definitely not an almond.
The second one was a lovely milk chocolate covered caramel. The caramel was stiff & had an excellent pull. It had a good combination of toasted sugar flavors and a touch of butter. A little bit of vanilla. It was sweet, the milk chocolate was decent but didn’t really contribute much of a chocolate punch.
The Whitman’s Reserve was the same price, but honestly didn’t look as appealing on the box. It bills itself as a Premium mini collection as if a pair is a collection. Like the Russell Stover, it makes no mention on the box as to what’s actually in the box besides the ingredients. As far as the actual ingredients go - they both use vanillin (fake vanilla) but otherwise rather decent source materials.
The large and puzzling piece here was the white chocolate item with the stripes. It does look just like the one on the box - both pieces are pristine - so I’m satisfied right away with the appearance.
Sniffing it brought me no closer to discerning what it was (no nuts, that was certain, though). It smells simply sweet & milky.
The bite is soft and I decided it was either a poor excuse for a truffle or simply a chocolate cream. It’s a milk chocolate center - sweet and greasy but at least not as sweet as the white chocolate coating. It doesn’t do a thing for me.
Happily the second piece was identical to the second piece in the Russell Stover - a simple milk chocolate covered caramel. I couldn’t tell it apart at all and that’s not a bad thing.
For the $1.25 I spent, I got two pieces of candy. One I liked and one I didn’t. So for the future I’ll probably stick to the Russell Stover Pecan Delights, which are usually a better value and of course a good variety of textures & flavors. (They can now be found in a “candy bar” format for about the same price in stores.)
Am I missing something about the appeal of Russell Stover & Whitman’s boxed chocolates?
Friday, April 10, 2009
I bought it because Hershey’s has tweaked their White Reese’s Peanut Butter products. They were once a real white chocolate coating with cocoa butter, but now they’re a hydrogenated tropical oil concoction.
So I was careful to read over the ingredients on the Russell Stover white chocolate: White Chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk, soy lecithin, artificial flavor & salt), peanut butter (peanuts, hydrogenated vegetable oils, salt) sugar, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, tapioca dextrin, dextrose and salt.
It’s a pretty sizable rabbit, though it’s also over-packaged. The box is 4.5 inches wide and 7.5 inches high but the bunny is only 3.25 inches at its widest and 5 inches at its tallest. The rabbit is inside the sealed box in a little plastic tray.
It weighs three ounces and this one cost me $1.50 which I didn’t find at all unreasonable.
Opening the box, it smells like Easter baskets - milky sweet and fake.
It’s a nicely molded Rabbit with good details. The proportion of white chocolate to peanut butter varies greatly, depending on where I bit into it. The edges and creases were loaded with more white chocolate and the domed portions were mostly peanut butter.
The white chocolate is sweet and surprisingly smooth. But it was oddly waxy, not in a bad way, just in a fake way, like it needed an authentic dose of real vanilla beans or something. The peanut butter center is the crumbly peanut butter with the slight grain to it. It’s salty and nutty, but also rather sweet, too. The effect of the product is that it burns my throat. I think I might like it with more peanut butter and less white chocolate, perhaps a version of the peanut butter egg?
It just didn’t thrill me much. I ended up eating the whole thing, but it took me about three weeks of nibbling on it now and then. But if you’re a white chocolate & peanut butter fan and are disappointed with Hershey’s turn towards the oily side, it might be a good option ... especially if they’re on sale starting Monday.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Russell Stover makes so many chocolate eggs, it’s taken me more than three years to get through them. (Well, I tasted all of them, I haven’t necessarily photographed & reviewed them all yet.)
The Russell Stover Truffle Egg is a rather small one compared to the other whipped center eggs. Still it clocks in at a full ounce, so it’s just very dense.
It’s a molded egg with a shiny, rippled milk chocolate shell and a milk chocolate truffle interior.
It smells like a decent rich milk chocolate. Sweet and with some hints of vanilla and milky cocoa.
The bite of the shell is good and crisp. The center is soft and fudgy, but not the slightest bit grainy ... though it’s not quite a silky melt.
The immediate flavor I got was not of chocolate but of rum. It’s a bit sweet but also has a little salt to it.
Looking over the ingredients, I was expecting tropical oils and hydrogenated fats, but instead it was pretty clean:
Milk Chocolate (sugar, whole milk, cocoa butter, chocolate, soy lecithin & vanillin), whole milk, natural flavor, salt and invertase.
It’s very rich and rather satisfying, so much so that a single egg was more than enough for me (though it only clocks in at 140 calories, so it’s not even as fatty as some other real chocolate candy bars).
Rating: 7 out of 10
The Russell Stover Caramel Egg is also on the small side. This one is a squat little buddy with perhaps too much packaging around it.
It smells milky and malty.
The bit is smooth, the milk chocolate shell flakes only a little bit. The caramel is soft and has a slight chew to it, but for the most part is more on the saucy side (though it’s thick enough that when I left the half of it sitting for a while, the center didn’t ooze out).
The caramel is satiny smooth, no hint of grain at all. The toasted and boiled sugar flavors aren’t pronounced, nor is the butter, but the overall dark sugar notes are there and go well with the sweet milk chocolate.
As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer a stiffer caramel chew, but this was enjoyable and actually more appetizing to me than a Cadbury Caramello or Cadbury Caramel Egg.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The have other shapes for different holidays. Just a couple of weeks ago I reviewed the Russell Stover Marshmallow Rabbits. They’re available for Halloween as a Pumpkin (also in orange flavor), a Valentine’s Heart and these eggs come back as Footballs in the Autumn/Winter.
The nice thing about this version is that it’s an actual portion. The Rabbits are a bit big for one sitting, unless you’re voraciously hungry or sharing. And they’re bound to be around at deep discount after the holiday. But eat them quick ... I’ve found that the marshmallow items don’t keep as well as the Coconut Eggs.
2008 - Creme Eggs (like Cadbury Creme Eggs):
I think the only ones I’m missing in review are the Vanilla Cream Egg and the Chocolate Brownie Egg. I haven’t seen them this year at the stores I frequent. But that means there’s something to look forward to next year.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Russell Stover offers a lot of Easter goodies, I’m most fond of their eggs, which are usually fresh and the perfect size at about an ounce for less than the price of a candy bar these days.
But I was mighty tempted by these Marshmallow Rabbits. They’re two ounces, and since they’re marshmallow they’re pretty big. The packages are 6 inches tall in vibrant metallic colors with a rather realistic rabbit illustration on the front.
They come in two varieties, the regular vanilla marshmallow covered in milk chocolate and a chocolate marshmallow covered in milk chocolate.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened the package. Some marshmallow shapes can be curiously amorphous. These looked, for the most part, like the outline of the image on the package. They’re about 4.5 inches tall and about 2.5 inches at their widest part.
I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be a rabbit face with extra huge cheeks/jowls, or the whole body with a big meaty legs. (Part of me also thought they looked like a Buddha with rabbit ears.)
The chocolate is wonderfully rippled and I was pleased with how well I’d picked my rabbits out, as they were practically flawless (though I ended up dropping the chocolate one and denting his ear as I was taking the photo).
Russell Stover Marshmallow Rabbit
The chocolate shell has a nice snap to it and an overall chocolate malt scent. The marshmallow center is soft and moist with a strong vanilla flavor. It’s not quite as fluffy as some I’ve had, but it’s also very satisfying and has a bit of salt to it (60 mg in the whole 2 ounce portion).
Though the package says that a whole rabbit is a single serving, I found just the ears was plenty satisfying. The problem with a very large marshmallow items is that it’s hard to save some more for later without it making a mess. Still, I found them pretty easy to slip back into their packages and pinch shut for later. (I wouldn’t save it for more than a day or two, or else they get hard and tacky.)
Russell Stover Chocolate Marshmallow Rabbit
The chocolate on this one looked slightly lighter than its vanilla counterpart, though that could have been all in my head (well, it’s all in my tummy now).
This one has a light cocoa scent that reminded me of cookie dough.
The chocolate has a similarly crisp snap but still doesn’t flake or crumble off of the marshmallow excessively.
The marshmallow is soft, though not as mushy as the vanilla. It has a very springy and latexy quality to it. The flavor is mild, like a cup of hot cocoa, definitely less sweet than the vanilla but also much saltier (210 mg per 2 ounce portion).
The chocolate on both was really flavorful and helped to make these some of the better chocolate marshmallows I’ve bought at the drug store. The novelty shape and price makes them a really good deal. But the large portion size and awkward shape makes them difficult to share (as I think traditional chocolate rabbits are). There are no artificial colors in them.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Jelly Beans are a rather simple sounding candy but are rather complex to make. They start with a boiled sugar, syrup and gelling agent mixture. Historically pectin was the gelling agent of choice. Pectin is a soluble fiber originally made from apple pomace (the stuff left over after pressing apples for juice) and later citrus rinds, it was easily available and previously regarded as a waste product.
Later, I’m not sure when as I’m not really a jelly bean historian, corn starch became more common for jelly beans (probably because corn products are so ridiculously cheap). But corn starch, as the name implies, is a starch, so it’s a carbohydrate. While corn starch may have taken over the jelly bean, at least it left our jellies & jams alone.
There are a lot of fans of pectin beans, though. They’re adamant that pectin makes the best kind of jelly bean. Smoother, milder and soothing. But pectin beans are becoming rather hard to find. I know of three brands at the moment: Jelly Belly (a special assortment, not their regular Jelly Belly), Brach’s (Peacock Eggs) and Russell Stover. I’ve been scouring the aisles of the drug stores & grocery chains and found this Russell Stover Pectin Jelly Bean mix.
They were a bit on the pricey side, on sale for $2.50 for a 12 ounce bag. As far as I could tell when purchasing them, they’re a fruit assortment. The package didn’t say what the flavors were. It also said “Made for Russell Stover” on the package, so they may be made by Jelly Belly or Brach’s for all I know. (But they’re not Kosher.)
They are big, beautiful, shiny beans. They’re about three quarters of an inch long (a Jelly Belly is about a half an inch), almost rod shaped.
I found nine flavors in the package:
My assortment seemed to be very heavy on the red and green.
Overall, I appreciated the mild flavor, consistent & smooth texture and ability to keep eating them without feeling full or regretful. The fruit flavor array wasn’t the best match for my sensibilities though. The only flavors I really liked were the orange and strawberry, though since they were so bland I found that I could eat any of them. I understand the appeal of these over a corn starch bean, which seem sickly sweet and sticky by comparison.
I really need to find these in the traditional spice flavors (besides the Hot Tamales Spice Beans I tried last year). Anyone have any suggestions of brands?
Monday, March 3, 2008
A couple of years ago I was pleasantly surprised by the Russell Stover Cream Easter Eggs. Though I’ve never been much of a fan of the Cadbury Creme Eggs, I wasn’t surprised to see that Russell Stover is now making a similar product and knowing that they did nice things with the other eggs, I thought I’d give this array a try.
There are some striking similarities between the CCE and the Russell Stover. First, they’re all 1.2 ounces (yes, the Cadbury’s used to be larger, back in 2007 they were changed from 1.35 to 1.2). The Cadbury’s currently come in the classic Creme Egg, Caramel Egg and the newest version is the Orange Creme Egg.
The Russell Stover Eggs do not duplicate any of these flavors. Instead they’ve gone with slightly different versions.
The most promising in my mind was the Russell Stover Dark Chocolate Creme Egg. One of my major complaints with the CCE is that it’s far too sweet and lacking in flavor. I figured a dark chocolate egg with a chocolate creme might provide some, I dunno, flavor to balance the sugar.
It looks good, I have to admit. The dark shell holds a thick and glossy creme. It doesn’t smell like much, but the textures are pretty good. The shell is crisp and easy to bite but doesn’t shatter into a gazillion bits. The creme center is rather like a gooey frosting, it’s not very deep in chocolate-ness, but still pleasant. When eating around the edges and getting more chocolate than creme, it was pretty good. But the proportions towards the center began to make my throat burn it was so sweet.
Rating: 6 out of 10.
Russell Stover Chocolate Creme is the same as the dark chocolate egg, only with a milk chocolate shell. It’s not an overwhelmingly milky chocolate, so it doesn’t really do much to add a different flavor to the whole thing.
I found it much sweeter overall than the dark chocolate version. Still pleasant if you’re the type who eats frosting by the spoonful (which I admit to doing at times). The fudgy-ness of the creme center is more noticeable in this one.
Rating: 5 out of 10
I know you’ve probably wondered how they make these. Here’s what I think they do (and I’m just guessing):
If anyone actually knows how this actually happens, please pipe up in the comments!
The Russell Stover Vanilla & Chocolate Creme was the egg that I least wanted to eat. Milk chocolate with a white creme and a dollop of chocolate cream in the center, the most similar to a Cadbury Creme Egg. I’ll admit that I only ate half of this. The creme did have a strong vanilla flavor (though it verged on coconut sometimes). The chocolate shell was pleasant, but I really couldn’t tell when the chocolate creme kicked in.
It was better than my previous experiences with the Cadbury Creme Egg, but still not something I’m interested in eating again (or even finish the last bite of).
I give this one a 5 out of 10.
The Russell Stover Marshmallow & Caramel egg is a milk chocolate shell with a marshmallow center with a little dollop of caramel for the yolk. This one is actually lighter than the others, as you might guess, and only clocks in at .9 ounces.
The marshmallow is very moist and has more of a “fresh pie” meringue texture to it. It wasn’t very sweet, instead it was just a little foamy. The caramel had a little salty and buttery taste to it that set off the marshmallow and very sweet milk chocolate well. It’s not at all like a Scotchmallow, but had it’s own wonderful qualities.
This was a very different sort of egg from all the others that I’ve had and the one I enjoyed the most.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Overall, they’re interesting, and certainly attractive and compact. But none of them fit the bill as something I’m interested in indulging in. I’ll stick to what I think they do best, their enrobed eggs. Alicia at The Girl Tastes also found the full line and split them open and displayed their gooey glory as well.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Russell Stover has often had a rather stale image as one of the drug store chocolate brands. They’re trying to push themselves a bit lately and I think it shows, at least it’s caused me to give them a second look and for the most part I’ve been pleased.
They’ll never replace upscale chocolatiers, but they’re dependable and consistent, especially for holiday specialties.
Their Hollow Milk Chocolate Bunny’s appearance is a rather ghastly caricature. The yellow foil wrapper with its green bow, blue eyes and huge eyelashes are trying too hard. (But I really like the touch of the pink inner ear.)
If the outside is akin to a drag queen, the inside is a fresh and athletic 22-year-old with clear skin and shiny hair. No need for any pasted on eyelashes here or colored contacts. The smooth sheen of the medium color of the milk chocolate is lovely, with its little curls of fur every once in a while for a bit of verisimilitude.
The shell is rather thin, as I expected when I picked it up. The thing is very light at 1.5 ounces (and rather similar is volume to the Lindt bunnies). The easy-to-break shell doesn’t detract from the appeal though, it just makes it easier to pick off a piece of your own chosing. Honestly, I don’t mind hollow bunnies. I was always rather stymied by solid bunnies as a kid, as they required whacking them on a hard surface or going to the kitchen and taking a meat fork to them. Hollow bunnies are easy to crack and munch.
I think this is the first time I’ve simply eaten Russell Stover’s milk chocolate. According to an article in Candy Industry magazine, they age their milk chocolate for 90 days (and dark for 150 days). I’m not sure who makes Russell Stover’s chocolate, an article mentioned that they’re using Callebaut for their Private Reserve line. No PGPR or milk solids in here, just real milk chocolate and fake vanilla.
The chocolate smells rather, well, sweet. More like fake vanilla and a little malty.
It has a nice quick and silky melt. It’s a little sticky and very sweet but has a lot of flavor packed into that.
The foil wrapping could be updated a bit without losing the appeal to children, but the product is rather good and an admirable value at 66 cents an ounce (probably less if you find them on sale).
They also come in 3 ounce and 6 ounce versions (and the website shows dark chocolate as well, but I had no luck in the stores).
Monday, November 12, 2007
First, the package. It’s a 3 ounce bar in a pretty tab-top box. The printing is elegant, with a matte-gold background with a little wallpaper pattern and an embossed gold logo for their new Private Reserve line. The bar inside is wrapped in gold foil.
The Vanilla Bean Brulee with 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate boasts on the front that it contains Madagascar Vanilla Beans. (On the back in far smaller print it mentions additional artificial flavor in the filling.)
The bar consists of eight squares. It’s dark and shiny and really a stunningly lovely bar. It has a pleasant but not overwhelmingly sweet smell of chocolate, mostly the cherry fruit notes and some smoke with just a light wiff of bourbon once snapped in half.
Though the package shows the filling as being thick and rather yellow, it’s actually a creamy white and thin. The chocolate has a good snap and a creamy melt for a 70%. Not too bitter with mostly woodsy notes of sandalwood and smoke. Though not a lot of filling, the white chocolate and vanilla center is wonderfully buttery and smooth and does have a good vanilla note to it. It also has a little salt, which really makes it pop, giving each set of flavors and textures distinctiveness.
I was impressed! I ate the whole thing. The price is pretty good for something that you find a drug store. If faced with this and the more standard candy bar fare, I might dig deep for this more expensive bar. It still wouldn’t replace an exceptional chocolate bar, but as something to compete with Hershey’s Cacao Reserve or Ghirardelli, I think it holds its own. It also holds a distinct place, I don’t think anyone else makes a bar like this in this price range.
UPDATE: Since some others have commented about the little tasting squares, I’ve gotten a hold of some of those and have to agree, they’re not the same! They taste tired and weak and a little waxy.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.