Monday, April 21, 2014
While the classic Hot Tamales get their warm heat from the active ingredient in cinnamon, cinnamaldehyde, the twist with this new version features hot peppers. The active hotness in chili peppers is caused by capsaicin.
Hot Tamales Tropical Heat come in a mix of three flavors in the bag: Limon Fever, Mango Tango, and Pineapple Picante.
I bought this half pound peg at Cost Plus World Market for $2.99 ... I found that a bit steep for what are basically jelly beans, but I was very interested in Just Born’s entry into this segment. I’m quite fond of the original and keep them on hand in my candy jars in my office.
The pieces are beautiful and easy to differentiate from the regular Hot Tamales or Milk and Ike, if you happened to mix them together.
The Limon Fever is light green with a few green speckles on it. Though limón is lemon in Spanish, this has a distinct lime note to it. There’s a bitterness at the front, a nice zesty note of citrus peel, then a tart juicy flavor (which could be lemon) and a note of jalapeno. Though I get the spicy burst and the warmth, it’s not too much, not throat searing, just warm. Then after a while it’s just sweet and a little grainy.
Mango Tango is medium orange with red speckles. This seemed to be the dominant flavor in my package, which is too bad. As much as I love mangos, they’re rarely good in candy format. The flavor starts out with a mild tangy bite and the heat from the chili, then it gets sweet and taste like peaches. That’s pretty much it. It’s not terrible, but it’s not quite mango.
Pineapple Picante begins with a good mix of floral and lightly tart. The chili warmth comes in just as the whole thing descends into sweetness though the floral pineapple remains. It’s the freshest tasting of the three, though I liked the enduing zest of the Limon as well.
Though I found these a little strange, I actually liked them, and I don’t actually like chili peppers. They’re warm but not painfully hot. But if you’re someone who likes their spicy spices to burn, these will not do it for you.
Hot Tamales are gluten free, contain no gelatin but do have confectioners glaze so wouldn’t be appropriate for vegans.
Friday, April 18, 2014
A classic item for wedding favors are little parcels of confetti. Confetti is a generic Italian term for panned candies such as Jordan almonds, coated nuts, mints and of course chocolate. Tradition is a little sachet of five pieces, symbolizing health, wealth, fertility, happiness and longevity for the couple and their guests.
Another style of presenting the panned sweets is to wrap the little pieces up and form them into flowers and other shapes. I’ve seen these for years, I remember seeing a display of them in New York City’s Little Italy in a deli by the counter. They were so pretty, I’m not sure I even understood that the petals were edible. This photos shows them made with Jordan almonds and tucked into crepe paper. I’ve seen them made with cellophane which can be clear or tinted as well as tule mesh, which can also be uncolored or tinted (but probably isn’t sanitary).
I picked up this little bouquet in London at Harrod’s in their Easter display. It was expensive for so little actual candy, £3.50 for about 15 little pieces (about $5.85 USD). It’s made by Confetti Pelino of Sulmona, Italy. They were established in 1783, in a region of Italy that’s well known for this traditional and painstaking method of confectionery.
This isn’t as much a review of the candy as it is a deconstruction of the assembly of the five stems of flowers.
The bouquet is held together by green floral tape and decorated with green crepe paper leaves of the same color. It’s pretty top heavy, as the candy petals are thick and will tip over the little bouquet when placed in a water glass or wine glass (so be careful if you’re playing with these at a wedding reception). Each little flower is on a stem of wire, held together with tape and string. Floral tape isn’t exactly sticky, so there’s no issue of excessive adhesive with these. It unravels quite easily.
Each little piece of candy is a small, circular disk covered in cellophane. The cellophane is twisted together, the pointed, twisted ends are then tied together with a bit of string, and then taped onto the wire stem.
The candy at the center of these isn’t a Jordan almond, just a little sugar disk. It’s kind of bland, and as far as I can tell, unflavored. It dissolves and tastes like, well, sugar.
As candy, it’s expensive and darned difficult to eat because of all the string and wire and tape and wrappers. As a favor or decoration is classically charming. There are a lot of different ways to achieve these with different colors of candy, different sizes, different tape and leaves or flower shapes. Harrod’s is a fine place to buy one bunch if you’re curious, but if you’re interested in using them as favors or centerpieces, do some research on which will suit you best.
Though chocolate candies could be used, I would advise folks to stick to centers that are more weather-tolerant. It’d be fun to make them with M&Ms or Reese’s Pieces, but I can’t imagine anything with a lot of oil in it would do well with the heat of being handled a lot or possibly sitting in the sun or a hot car. I looked around to find a tutorial for making these but didn’t have much luck (if you know of one, please leave a link in the comments). I can imagine that the same techniques could also be used to make candy wreaths, garlands and other styles of centerpieces.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
One of the most popular luxury chocolate brands is Valrhona, which is made in France. Though you may not know the name or the label, chances are you’ve had their chocolate because they’re used so widely in the pastry and confectionery trade. Though I rarely buy their bars, I am fond of their feves, which are little oblong chocolate disks which are great for baking or simply eating.
Since it’s Easter, I thought I’d review one of the iconic confections of the season: White Chocolate. Valrhona introduced a new white chocolate bar last year called Valrhona Blond Dulcey 32%. It’s like a dark white chocolate, if such a thing could exist. It’s 32% cocoa butter, which is more cocoa butter than some chocolates have for all of their combined cacao content. The next ingredient by percentage (32%) is then whole milk (in the form of whole milk powder, skim milk powder, butter and whey), then there’s sugar and some vanilla, soy lecithin and salt.
If you think that sounds rich, it is. That’s 50% of your saturated fat in half a bar. When I calculated the calories per ounce, it came out to 195 (that can’t possibly be right). But it’s also 3 grams of protein and a full 15% of your daily RDA of calcium.
The bar is thick, which is nice considering that it’s only 2.46 ounces, smaller than the usual 3.5 or 3 ounce tablet that I’ve become accustomed to as a premium bar. The diagonals score the bar well enough that it can easily be broken into these irregular but perfect bite-sized pieces.
The color is just what you see here, a butterscotch color instead of the creamy yellow-white or most cocoa butter confections. The literature about the Blond Dulcey makes note of the biscuit flavors along with a touch of apricot. They’re not wrong, it does have a rich cereal note to it, along with some toffee and maybe a light hint of lemon.
The bar has a good melt, though I admit that it’s a little fudgy at the start. I’d say that’s more from the milk solids than any sugar-grain. It’s lightly salty at first, there’s over 100 mg of salt. It is like a digestive biscuit flavor, just lightly toasted, sweet but not so much that it hurt my throat. There was no slick or greasy coating in my mouth afterwards as many white confections made with tropical oils can leave.The vanilla note is overpowered by the sort of toffee and burnt sugar flavors, though I would have enjoyed some bourbon or tobacco in there.
I found my bar when I was in London, though they do sell them in the United States. It was about $8, which it’s pretty steep for a smallish bar like this. I’ll probably stick with the Green & Blacks or the Ritter Sport if I can find it.
This may be one of those white chocolate bars that converts people who don’t like white chocolate. Or just something for those who do like white chocolate to munch on. It’s a lot more satisfying than many other white bars that I eat, I didn’t feel the need to eat the whole thing. That may be a function of the high protein content as well.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
There was a time when the only choice for candy-coated chocolate eggs for Easter was Cadbury Mini Eggs. Times have changed and there are many versions, ranging from fair trade and all natural to tiny versions with Belgian chocolate to Hershey’s.
The the United Kingdom, there are also plenty of varieties available from store brands. I picked up some from Marks and Spencer, a department store with a chain of grocers. Marks and Spencer is already known for many unique confections, like their line of gummis featuring Percy Pig. I picked up the Marks and Spencer Chicky Choccy Mini Eggs.
They’re pretty bit eggs, at about one inch long. They come in three different speckled colors. The colorings used are all natural, derived from vegetable sources, making the end of the ingredients label look more like the contents of a green smoothie. The ingredients state that the cocoa solids make up 30% while the milk solids are 20% minimum. (The rest is sugar, you know, because it’s candy.)
The shells are quite thick and crunchy. Some natural colors can give a faint flavor to candy shells, but I didn’t notice that here. The shells are shiny and slick (not matte like Cadbury Mini Eggs).
The milk chocolate center is sweet and very milky. The melt is good, a little cool on the tongue with a mix of toasted cereal flavors, a little hint of malted milk and cocoa. The intensity of the chocolate is quite weak, though it’s still a pleasant profile. I found them very satisfying to eat, but definitely not high in chocolate content.
The allergy information is very easy to find. It contains soy and milk and is not suitable for people with nut allergies because of manufacturing methods. Suitable for vegetarians (not vegans) with all natural flavors and colors.
The #1 reason why I love Easter candy: the crunchy candy shell.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
One of the things that I’ve always been surprised about British confectionery is that they’re not terribly interested in malt. They do have one malted milk ball brand, called Maltesers made by Mars. But that’s it. No Easter varieties with pastel speckled candy shells, no snowballs, no jumbo double dipped. It’s just not in their list of classic candies. However, even though Mars hasn’t tried to extend their malted milk ball range, they have done some wonderful and unique things with their malted milk flavors. They make a hot cocoa mix and for Easter they make MaltEaster Bunnies.
There are two versions of the bunnies on the market. They come in the standard single serving size of 29 grams (1.02 ounces) and also in a mini version of 11.6 grams each (.41 ounces) that come in this bag of five. (I think I paid £1.50 for it, which is about $2.50 US.)
The little bunnies are, well, just the epitome of perfection. They’re about two inches high with tall ears and little round bellies with huge feet make them very attractive. The tiny size makes them about two bites each.
Though Mars prides itself on only using real chocolate in their candy in the United States, they’re not afraid to use “family chocolate” in the UK for their confections. Basically, it’s chocolate that contains fillers and cannot be called milk chocolate under the current USDA definitions of chocolate. In the case of MaltEaster Mini Bunnies, the ingredients include extra vegetable fat instead of cocoa butter and whey, which is a milk byproduct.
I’ve had Malteser malted milk balls before, and though I like the centers, I found the milk chocolate coating a little lackluster though certainly better than the Whoppers in the US (made by Hershey’s).
The center of the MaltEaster bunnies is actually a crunchy & creamy Maltesers center. I wouldn’t exactly call it creamy, it’s just a thick sort of malty fudge thing that holds the crispy bits together. The malty bits are crunchy and fresh and have a good malt note to them.
The chocolate is very sweet and matches the center. There’s a milky malt note to the whole thing and a sort of greasy aftertaste in my mouth. They’re a lot fattier than regular malted milk balls, as they do have about 152 calories per ounce compared to about 130 for regular chocolate malted milk balls.
Of the two versions I tried, the mini and the regular, I prefer the regular one. The mound of the bunny’s belly was a much larger reservoir of malt and cream, so the proportions change as you eat it. With the mini, there was a far greater proportion of chocolate, which would be great if I thought the chocolate was good enough to eat plain.
Even though I didn’t think these were as good as they could be if they were made with better ingredients, I’d still buy them again. They’re a unique item and suit my malt leanings very successfully. I’d be curious to see Mars bring this whole line to the United States, though I understand they’ve tried to compete before with existing brands. Back in the 80s they tried going head to head with Peter Paul with their Bounty Bars which are similar to Mounds and nutless Almond Joy.
Monday, April 14, 2014
In the list of candy holidays, Easter ranks at the top by creating more Candies You Can Play With than any other. The product name, Creamy Lemonhead and Friends JuJu Flowers, actually sounds weird. A lot of those words don’t seem to go together. The Lemonheads and Friends as a brand doesn’t work for me, as I don’t think that the friends are that identifiable. The word creamy before Lemonhead is absolutely jarring and the idea of Jujus are anachronistic enough but then adding the shape of them just makes for a string of “I don’t think I’ve had that before, have I?”
These pretty morsels aren’t shaped like eggs or rabbits, but simply like little six petal flowers. (For the record, I looked up jujubes, they’re in the same order as roses and do actually have five petals or multiples of five.)
The flavors sounded interesting: marshmallow creme, orange creme, strawberry creme, lime creme and banana creme. The last one, banana creme was the one that really got me. Banana is not a common flavor, so this pretty much was why I plunked down my dollar.
Marshmallow Creme is pretty much flavorless. Not that there’s anything wrong with sugar flavored candy. It was very clean with a light vanilla note. I liked using it as a palate cleanser between the other flavors.
Lime Creme has a rather interesting flavor profile. The creamy background gives this a key lime note, though there’s no tart note to it like actual citrus fruit.
Orange Creme is refreshing. It’s like a creamsicle without the zap of the orange juice. It’s just sweetness with the creamy smoothness of the jelly chew and a hint of zest.
Strawberry Creme , unfortunately, has some red dye flavors that just ruin it for me. It’s more strongly flavored that the other pieces, the strawberry is rather fake instead of clean and fresh, which is too bad. Since there’s no tangy component, a candy like this should taste rather like cotton candy, not a vinyl inflatable beach ball.
Banana Creme was not what I’d hoped. Instead of a creamy, sweet tropical banana flavor ... it really tasted like a bland lemon creme to me. It tasted do much like lemon that I have to wonder if the packaging label was a mistake. Now, as a lemon creme, it’s passable, actually good. It’s like the marshmallow but with the slightest hint of lemon.
All the flavors were mild, but the whole thing was, well, simply pleasant. They’re like Dots, except they don’t stick to my teeth quite as much (but they still stick).
I wouldn’t buy these again for eating, but they are really great looking. Their outside texture is smooth and dry, so they don’t stick together at all. The colors are bright enough that they could be used for something other than Easter, as well. I could see these as a nice jar of candy for a candy buffet for a wedding or shower. They’re certainly inexpensive, at $2 per pound, if you wanted to sort them to use only particular colors, that would be a viable option for many budgets. They’re not gummis, so there’s no gelatin in there. They’re made in a facility with peanuts, tree nuts, milk and soy.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Nestle Mini Smarties Filled Chick are little hollow chocolates wrapped in yellow foil. Inside is a small handful of mini Nestle Smarties. I kind of made up the name of the candy, the name on the sticker on the base of the foil is
Hollow milk chocolate figure containing mini Smarties. Seems like they could have named them something like Nestle Nestling.
The idea of a hollow chocolate figure filled with other treats is nothing new, but is a fantastic idea that’s utilized much better in Europe since these overprotective Americans think that we’ll all choke on the fillings. Nestle has many different sizes they do for Easter, as well, including a foil wrapped hen filled with Smarties as well, and often sold in a box that looks like a chicken coop with a bunch of the little chicks.
There were a lot of displays of these in grocery stores and drug stores while I was in London, so it was easy to pick up both. Most were priced at about two for one pound, which I thought was a bit steep for 30 grams (about 1.06 ounces) when you factor in that it’s Nestle chocolate.
The milk chocolate isn’t stellar, as it is Nestle; the ingredients are subpar. It wouldn’t qualify as real milk chocolate in the United States, as they use milk whey as a filler. However it’s 25% cacao content and they do use sunflower lecithin instead of soy, so if your kid has a soy sensitivity, you might want to seek the UK Nestle confections. The Smarties also use all natural colors for the shells and rice starch. Still, the label states that it may contain traces of soy, gluten, peanuts and other tree nuts.
For those of you not familiar with them, Nestle Smarties are little chocolate lentils. Unlike many of Nestle’s global brands, they’re not sold in the United States very often, as they have the same name as a pre-existing candy. Instead of renaming them, Nestle just doesn’t compete with M&Ms in the United States. (They do in Canada, though.)
The little chick is rather thin. The chocolate is rather soft, so it was easy to stick my thumb through it to break it up. Inside were 15 little Smarties lentils, far smaller than the regular Smarties. They come in pleasant pastel colors.
The chocolate is bland and sweet and sort of fudgy-thick. It doesn’t taste like something that should be eaten, more like packaging. The texture is decent enough, but I admit I’m spoiled from the Rococo Chocolate I had yesterday, so perhaps the proximity of the reviews is unfair. The Smarties don’t use the same chocolate. They taste nutty, like unroasted peanuts and porridge. The thin, crispy shell is fun. They’re about as good as Sixlets.
Even though I thought this was a marginal product, they’re inexpensive enough to buy and use as place settings for a dinner or give to a child. The interactivity of the candy inside is really what makes this special along with the attention to detail in the foil wrap and mold.
Milkybar is a Nestle white confection bar. It’s made with natural ingredients, but like the Smarties chick, it contains extra whey as filler and some vegetable oils ... but there is real cocoa butter in there. It does seem to have a mix of sunflower and soy lecithin. The other allergens listed on the label were traces of peanuts and tree nuts. While I may complain about the use of vegetable oils, this is 26% dairy, so they’re not kidding when they say milky.
This fellow clocked in a little shy of a full ounce, my guess is the difference in weight between the two is the little Smarties. (Why this one doesn’t get Smarties, I don’t know. They don’t make a white confection Smarties at the moment.)
It smells okay, very “dairy” though I’d also say slightly rancid or just not quite fresh. The texture is good, not as silky as, say, the M&Ms White Chocolate, but still not terribly grainy. The dairy flavors are thick and just unpleasant overall. The whole thing has a bit of a plastic note to it, as if I was eating a foam egg carton, not a white chocolate.
I’m not a white chocolate snob, I actually like the stuff, but this is not good white chocolate. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a Milkybar (I haven’t review them before) but it never impressed me since there are many excellent true white chocolate bars available these days. It’s still fun to look at, and for a child who doesn’t care for the milk chocolate stuff, if this is what they ask for, it couldn’t be cuter, and on top of that, the portion is already controlled.
Nestle has been doing a lot to source their cacao through verified sustainable sources, however, their Easter novelty line does not seem to have any of those certifications.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
While in London I made a point of visiting Rococo Chocolates. I’ve picked up quite a few of their bars in the United States before, I loved the packaging design and the molding of the bar in addition to their choice of Grenada Chocolate Company and Valrhona as chocolate sources. It’s not hard to find their products, they were sold in some of the grocery stores and in most of the food halls at the flagship department stores. But I wanted to see the store for myself, and pick out some individual pieces of their famous violet creams (not a whole box).
The Rococo Chocolate Shop on Motcomb Street is not far from Harrod’s and in an area with a large number of embassies. I mention this because I happened to walk past the Ecuadorian embassy, which I probably wouldn’t have given a second glance except for the demonstrators calling attention to the fact that Julian Assange was in there.
With my limited space in my suitcase, I wanted to bring back something special, something seasonal but also something that would travel well. The Rococo Easter Egg filled with a Selection of Ganaches seemed like an ideal item.
It was expensive, at £11.75 for only 70 grams, but something I wouldn’t find in the United States. The box is lovely, a heavy cardstock printed box with no other branding on it once I removed the product sleeve. The decoration on the box are prints from catalogues of old chocolate molds.
The egg is a common format I’ve seen in Europe for Easter. Some places call them Flame Eggs. It’s a hollow egg, made of two sections that are usually wrapped in foil separately and then filled with a selection of other chocolates, like little ganaches or just a pile of Cadbury Mini Eggs or Smarties. They can be small, like this one, or gigantic centerpiece items that can weigh more than a pound and are meant for a whole family.
Everything inside the box was also neatly wrapped. The egg itself was wrapped in tissue paper, in a print matching the box. Inside the two hemispheres of the egg were the little ganaches wrapped in another large piece of food-grade tissue paper. Even though this had traveled thousands of miles, it fared very well.
The egg piece are wrapped in a nice orange-gold foil that’s easy to peel off. The egg itself is about 3.25 inches high and 2.25 inches wide at the widest spot.
The chocolate egg was formed in two layers, as it kind of cleaves when bitten. The quality of the chocolate is excellent. The tempering is superb, as it looks great with its beautiful glossy sheen and silky melt. The flavor profile is very rich. The toasted notes of toffee and coffee are immediately forward with some bitterness along with a sort of brownie flavor. The shell is 65% cacao, but tasted far darker.
The ganaches inside were unmarked, the package only said that they were a mix of ganaches, so I’m not certain what I had. Here are my guesses:
Milk Chocolate - orange ganache with mango & passion fruit jelly. The light orange truffle center was sweet and tangy with a little note of zest. There was a layer of firm jelly with a wonderful tart and floral flavor, the mango was more forward with only a hint of the passion fruit.
Dark Chocolate - Valrhona Manjari Madagascar single origin. This was a wonderfully reliable piece with a nicely acidic ganache center with notes of cherry and raspberry (which means it might have been a berry ganache). Very good melt and very little sugary grain to the whole thing.
Coffee - Irish coffee white chocolate ganache in dark chocolate. This had a little sprinkling of coffee bits and turbinado sugar on the top. It was much sweeter than I was expecting, not as intense or as chocolatey as I’d hoped. As soon as the coffee flavors developed, it was gone. Maybe if I ate several of them in succession ...
I also picked up a few impulse items. The Honecomb Crunch bar is one of the Bee Bar line, which have a charming bar mold design (see that here). It’s organic milk chocolate with a bit of crushed cinder toffee (sponge candy). The bits of the candy were too small to appreciate properly, but provided a nice toffee note. The milk chocolate was dark and had a lot of cheesy dairy notes, rather in the Swiss style. It’s quite a munchable bar.
Rococo Carre squares are single origin pieces, probably about 7 grams each. They’re each a different color, depending on the source of the chocolate.
63% cacao from Peru’s Chanchamayo Province smells strongly of honey. The melt is quick and a little thin and sweet. It later develops with excellent cherry and raisin flavors: dark and jammy. A very nice munching chocolate, especially if you like those fruity flavors that typify Peruvian chocolate.
Finally, I also picked up four little chocolates from the candy counter while I was there to consume while I was in London. The key piece worth noting was the Violet Cream. This is something of a British traditional chocolate. I’m not adverse to floral flavors, I like them very much ... if I had to rank them, it would go something like this: orange blossom, jasmine, lavender, rose, geranium, elderflower and then violet. I don’t have photos, but they’re as you would imagine, a small dollop of sugary fondant covered in dark chocolate. The texture of the cream center was very nicely done, not grainy at all, not even too sweet. But the violet as overwhelming. There was scarcely a note of chocolate in the coating. They’re simply not for me.
I’ll continue to seek out Rococo Chocolates, the flavor combinations are a little more traditionally British, which is refreshing when so many other brands I’ve tried from the UK seem more in line with the Swiss/Belgian traditions.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.