Monday, January 14, 2013
Ritter Sport, the German chocolate company, has really stepped up its game in North America. Not only do we get a large array of their inventive and good quality bars, they’re also delivering some of the fun limited editions that were once just for their European consumers.
For winter this year they presented the Limited Edition Ritter Sport Amarena Cherry. The bar features Milk chocolate filled with cherry flavored cream and wafer pieces. The wrapper shows a vanilla and cherry ripple ice cream cone and a couple of ripe cherries next to it.
I’ve recently become more familiar with preserved cherries, as I’ve been introduced to Luxardo Maraschino Cherries. They’re quite good and don’t resemble those strange, translucent pink things that come on top of cheap ice cream Sundaes in the United States. These are tiny little nearly black balls of syrup saturated cherries. They taste like fruit, they taste like sugar and there’s a little alcoholic bite to them (well, that could be because I usually find them at the bottom of a Mahnattan). They’ve changed my mind about preserved cherries and even the origin of the fake cherry flavor.
While that’s all delightful fun, the reality was a bit less than enticing. The first ingredient is sugar (not chocolate) which is okay when there’s a lot of filling. But the second ingredient is palm oil. Somewhere down near the bottom of the list is real morello cherry puree and morello cherry juice concentrate, which is comforting.
The actual construction of the bar is rather like the ice cream on the wrapper - it’s a firm cream center that has a light cherry flavor to it and then some little freeze dried cherry bits (that are a bit tangy) and the wafer bits which are like a crumbled up wafer cone.
The bar smells an awful lot like cherry flavor. Good cherry flavor, but still ... not very chocolatey. The milk chocolate shell is smooth and creamy but very sweet. The cream center is less sweet, less smooth but much more cherry. The high point are the little crunchies, which might be the freeze dried fruit or the wafer. Either one is good.
The entire thing is just not for me. Too sweet, too much fat without feeling like it was creamy. Instead it was too cherry. If you’re looking for a very cherry bar, well, this might be yours. I’ll go back to my Espresso bar, which I also bought on the same trip.
Ritter Sport sources their cacao almost exclusively from Central and South America and has several initiatives regarding sustainability for their ingredients and energy usage in manufacturing. The bar itself may contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts and contains soy, wheat and dairy.
Monday, January 7, 2013
There have been over a dozen Skittles varieties over the years, and still the original flavor set remains the same in the United States, with good reason. It’s a great variety. But that hasn’t stopped Mars, and now Wrigley’s the present owner, from introducing new items to the market every 18 months or so. Most quietly disappear, but some make the cut and hang around.
I learned of the existence of Skittles Darkside on The Impulsive Buy and over the weekend searched stores for them. The heart on the front led me to believe that this item would be shelved with the Valentine’s Day candy. I did eventually find it at Target, but not in the seasonal aisle (as that was still occupied by a stubborn amount of Christmas decorations) but on an endcap in the frozen food section also populated with clearance holiday blends of coffee.
The flavor set of the new mix is intriguing. The tagline of “The Other Side of the Rainbow” is a little ominous but fits with the quirky branding of Skittles. The flavors are blood orange, forbidden fruit, midnight lime, pomegranate and dark berry. The pomegranate and blood orange were the flavors that really captured my imagination.
Pomegranate (Dark Red) has a deep flavor with a good cherry and berry flavor. It’s tangy, but doesn’t have that tannic bite that real pomegranates do. If I wasn’t told this was pomegranate, I’d just say blackberry. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good blackberry.
Dark Berry (Purple) is a lovely color, just a little more red than the grape in the Fruits Skittles. The flavor is good, it’s well rounded with a floral and berry jam mix of notes and maybe a little blackcurrant.
Forbidden Fruit (Blue) tasted a bit like melon and currant to me. A fruit punch, but less generic.
Blood Orange (Coral) is not a deep red like the juice is. Instead the pieces are more of a dark salmon color. The flavor is nicely juicy, more of the juice flavor of a tangerine than the traditional orange. But it’s missing a note, an orange peel flavor to give it a true roundness. It’s also not that intense.
Midnight Lime is a puzzle. I don’t know what makes it midnight-ish. I have some Fruits Skittles around, so I tried the lime ones as well. They’re lime Skittles. There’s very little difference. The color is a bit more on the medium green side instead of bright light green. There may be less zest, but I wouldn’t say that’s a selling point.
It’s not the best mix I’ve had, partly because it’s lacking the versatility of pairings. The combinations don’t zing like the classic Fruits do and the Pomegranate and Dark Berry are too similar while the Blood Orange and Midnight Lime are too bland for something billed as Darkside. I’ll probably finish the bag, but it appears that the regular Fruits that I picked up for comparison will disappear first.
I liked the idea there are more Skittles flavor varieties to explore. I’d like to offer up a few more suggestions:
Skittles Soda Pop - root beer, cola, lemon-lime, ginger ale, and whatever that flavor Dr. Pepper is. Other possibilities would be Mt. Dew, Squirt (grapefruit), cherry cola, cream soda. Of all of my flavor mixes I’ve been mentioning, I think this one has the strongest shot. It would depend largely on whether they spend the money on licensing the soda names (like Jelly Belly does) or if they go generic. With generic names they can play more with flavors and of course keep more of the profit for themselves.
Caffeinated Skittles - these would be sold in small packages only to prevent caffeine overdose. Flavors might be coffee themed, or maybe more like energy drinks. One package would equal to about 100 mg of caffeine, this would mean that the taste would be affected too much. There would be an instant outcry from parents about the inappropriateness of the product for children ... gamers and college students would hoard them.
Skittles Citrus Mix - I’ve mentioned this before, it’s not like they’ve never existed before, there was a version in Australia for a few years that had Lemon, Mandarin, Pink Grapefruit, Lime, Orange. I would tweak that a bit and have Yuzu, Pink Grapefruit, Tangerine, Meyer Lemon and Kalamansi. Yeah, that’s going to happen.
Skittles Spicy - this is a wide open area. It could be something like the popular combination of Mango and Chili, or more like the classic spice jelly beans: spearmint, peppermint, cinnamon, licorice and clove. I predict these would be a huge failure.
Skittles Intense - just more flavored than the regular Skittles. Not more sour, just 20% more flavoring.
Skittles Natural - all natural colorings and flavors. Or maybe just blank Skittles, with no colorings at all. Then you don’t know which flavor is which.
Skittles are gluten free and gelatin free.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Marshmallow Peeps moved on from just being fanciful shapes and colors for different holidays years ago. Now there are flavored and dipped Peeps. For Christmas this year Just Born created two new varieties: Sugar Cookie Dipped Peeps Chicks and Candy Cane Flavored Peeps Chicks Dipped in Chocolate.
I found the Sugar Cookie Peeps at Target at a modest price, but picked up the Candy Cane Peeps at FAO Schweetz because I was afraid I wouldn’t find them anywhere else (and actually haven’t seen them at any other stores, that still doesn’t make them worth the $3.99 I paid for the 1.5 ounce package).
The Peeps are beautifully crafted. They’re puffy and soft and creamy tan colored. The chocolate puddle around its bottom is nicely formed and in perfect condition. The Peeps smell like fake butter and amaretto. This is not an appealing combination to me, but I suppose I can give it points for originality. Each Peep is about a half an ounce in weight.
The bite is soft and plush, the sugar coating is not too grainy but does a good job of creating just a little texture to sell the sugar cookie experience. The flavor is sweet without a trace of that buttery thing, but still a touch of the amaretto. There’s also a note of toasted sugar, like a fresh cookie (or a vanilla marshmallow). The chocolate is sweet and creamy, not really terribly complex, and honestly doesn’t belong on a sugar cookie, but still didn’t hurt the experience.
Overall, they weren’t my favorite kind of Peeps. I wonder how different they are from the Caramel Peeps, I’m guessing the color and the amaretto note are the only differences.
The entire package has 160 calories, which is a pretty good sized treat with a very small caloric price tag. So if you’re looking for an indulgence that feels like the holiday but doesn’t go overboard, these are passable.
Back in 2007, Just Born introduced Peeps Peppermint Stars. I liked the flavor and the shape, but I wasn’t keen that they used artificial sweeteners in the little candy bits. Happily this newer version of Candy Cane Flavored Peeps Chicks Dipped in Chocolate has delicious sugar in it.
The simple construction is a peppermint flavored Peep chick with a light sprinkling of red candy bits. Then it’s dipped partially into semi-sweet chocolate. They’re packaged three to a tray and like the Sugar Cookie version, they’re each about a half an ounce each.
The Peeps hold their shape well and smell light and fresh, like peppermint toothpaste. They’re mercifully spared from much of the artificial colorings that I think muck with the flavor of a good, fresh marshmallow. (Ghost Peeps are probably the best Peeps for this reason.) The coolness of the peppermint flavor was a bit like mouthwash, but not in a bad way. It matched well with the lightly sweet and slightly smoky chocolate base to keep the whole thing from being too sickly sweet.
I did think that when they started dipping them in chocolate, they might stop making the eyes out of wax. Sadly, they’re still inedible and I have to spit those out. (I guess that’s how you know you have a real Peep.) Overall, a good effort. I don’t see why these can’t be a flavor that comes back with a green sparkle to them for St. Patrick’s Day. I much prefer this partially dipped version to the strangely wet fully dipped marshmallows (that are also over-colored).
Fans of the Peepsters, the little foil wrapped chocolates, will be happy to hear that those have returned in green and red foil for the winter as well.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
One of my favorite styles of gifts (especially when I had much more modest capital than now) was the gift of beloved common items to delightful excess. This meant that it might a pretty jar filled with Atomic Fireballs or shoebox filled with Reese’s Peanut Butter Miniatures. The sheer volume in itself is a luxury, something most normal people don’t do for themselves, but they’re happy to relish it from a loved one.
Part of a newer trend from the candy companies is to pre-package this for you. You can buy something that looks like a Giant Tootsie Pop that holds a bunch of lollipops, or a giant box of Wonka Nerds. A few have gone so far as to create actual giant versions of their candies - Hershey’s has been making a 5 Pound Hershey Bar for quite a long time. A few years ago they also created the World’s Largest Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (each in the twin pack is a half a pound) and the 1 Pound Snickers Slice n Share has returned again this year.
The newest addition to this is the Giant York Peppermint Patties.
The package holds two half pound patties, so it’s one full pound of York Peppermint Pattie goodness. Unlike the normal Peppermint Patties on the market right now, which come as a single 1.4 ounce pattie or in the individually wrapped miniatures, these are not meant to be eaten as a single serving or portion of a serving. Each pattie is deemed to be 6 portions.
A regular pattie is about 2.65 inches across. The half pound patties are about 5.25 inches across. The ingredients are identical.
The trick with supersizing a filled confection is ratios. The 5 Pound Hershey Milk Chocolate bar is not substantially different from a 1.55 ounce one, since it’s a solid object. For a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup it might mean a different in the milk chocolate and peanut butter filling. For the Snickers Slice n Share, I found it difficult to get all the textures and flavors in a single bite because of the masses of each. In this case, the texture is dominated by the peppermint fondant.
The first thing I noticed was the color and texture of the fondant. It’s a bit more moist than the 1.4 ounce pattie. It’s smooth and has less of a crumbly break than the small ones. It’s pretty easy to slice, though a little stickier. The chocolate layer is thicker (and nicely rippled on the top) and provides a good, slightly bitter counterpoint to the sugary center. It’s lightly minty, as expected, a clean flavor. Overall, it still captures the essence of the York Peppermint Pattie without violating the ratios too radically. It’s difficult to eat, as you might expect. I sliced off pieces (but not actual slices) and ate them. The pieces from the center obviously got less chocolate than the edges.
An interesting difference with the Giant Patties is that they’re made in the United States. The other sizes of York Peppermint Patties are now made in Mexico. Still, the Mexican-made Patties are almost always a better deal. Even on sale at Target for $8.00, that’s eight dollars a pound. Most of the time you can get the miniatures in lay down bags for about five dollars a pound or less if you find a good sale. As a gift it’s a great idea, especially for a Secret Santa or for a child to give to a hard-to-buy-for-but-not-diabetic grandparent. The chocolate is not certified ethically sourced at this time. (Though if Hershey’s were going to roll out brands, it would be easy to make York Rainforest Alliance Certified since it contains so little chocolate. As a side note, the Bliss line will be Rainforest Alliance Certified by the end of the year.)
I bought this at Target, the only place I’ve seen them for sale. They’re not even mentioned on the Target website or even the Hershey’s website.
York Peppermint Patties contain dairy, soy and eggs. May also contain peanuts and tree nuts. There is no statement about gluten on the wrapper.
Monday, November 19, 2012
Last year M&Ms introduced the first of their White Chocolate holiday M&Ms for Halloween called Candy Corn. Then earlier this year for Easter came the plain White Chocolate M&Ms in pastel colors. Proving that the Candy Corn was no fluke, the returned again this year. For Christmas this year we have the M&Ms White Chocolate Peppermint which are available exclusively at Target this season. (WalMart has another exclusive flavor, Milk Chocolate Orange M&Ms.)
I don’t know if they come in individual portion bags, the only size I saw at Target, in a large display on an endcap in the seasonal section was this 9 ounce bag. The design prominently features the Red M&M and a mostly red and white design (except for the brown of the M&Ms logo and the nutritional widget).
The pieces are larger than regular Milk Chocolate M&Ms, like all the other special flavor varieties. I’m not sure why they’re beefier, but they’re consistently that way. They’re made with real white chocolate, it’s the first ingredient on the package (made from sugar, cocoa butter, skim milk, milk fat, soy lecithin, salt and natural flavor). In this price range, it’s not easy to find real white chocolate, so that’s a big plus.
I’ve noticed from the comments here that some people are not fond of Mars style of white chocolate. It’s quite fatty, with a lot of cocoa butter in it (and probably a fair bit of milkfat) and has a pretty clean flavor but can be a little greasy. They’re high in calories - a single ounce contains about 157 calories, more than standard chocolate which is usually about 135.
They’re sweet but not sticky or cloying. The mint is strong enough to leave a fresh taste in the mouth, but not so much that it blasts my sinuses. The overall effect is like Guittard Smooth n Melty Mints, those pastel drops with nonpareils on the bottom of them. Except these are made from real white chocolate, even Hershey’s abandoned real white chocolate in their Candy Cane Kisses years ago. I liked that most of mine were white, with only about a third of them red. The red had a little bitterness to the shell from the Red 40 food coloring, so I was able to mostly avoid them. I think it’s a solid product and I’d like to see it return next year. (But I’m still hoping for Egg Nog M&Ms.)
Monday, September 10, 2012
Werther’s Original Hard Candies are truly a classic around the world, a kind of standard for hard candy butterscotch. They’re made by August Storck and named for the town where the candy company was formed, Werther in the Westphalia region of Germany. The company was founded in 1903 and may have come up with a version of the Original Hard Candy around 1909 through the efforts of one of the company’s confectioners, Gustav Nebel.
The first branded name of the candy emerged in 1969 when they began selling them as Werthers Echte in Germany, and then in the 1980s they became a world-wide brand under the English name of Werther’s Original.
The ingredients are simple: sugar, glucose syrup (from wheat or corn), cream, butter, whey, salt, soy lecithin and vanillin. There are no partially hydrogenated oils in there, no filler oils. For the most part it’s sugars and dairy ingredients with a splash of salt (about 15 mg per piece). The calorie count is higher than other hard candies, because of the fat content that’s usually absent from pure sugar candy. So these have about a half a gram of fat per candy and less than 25 calories each.
Each is wrapped in a mylar and clear cellophane wrapper. The gold sparkle is hard to miss in a candy dish. For a hard candy, they do a good job of straddling the world of durability and decadence.
The pieces are about 1.2 inches long and .8 inches wide. They’re smooth and nicely domed with a small depression in the top. They fit the mouth nicely and dissolve smoothly and slowly. The flavor is very well rounded, a hint of salt, a creamy burn sugar note and little hint of vanilla. The texture is exceptionally smooth and dense, there are no voids at all. But in addition to the creamy melt, they are quite crunchy if you’re a chewer. (And I am.)
They’re easy to savor, and provide a little more substance than a straight sugar item like a Butterscotch Disk, which is really only flavored like scorched sugar. There are other candies like the Werther’s and companies like Life Savers and Hershey’s have tried to enter the same market. But there’s really no need to try others. The Werther’s are superb. They’re easy to find at drug stores and discounters. The ingredients are decent enough and the price is pretty reasonable. The only issue I have with them is that they can get sticky in humid or hot environments. It doesn’t ruin the taste, but does mar the lovely appearance of the pieces when unwrapped.
It would be nice if they’d make them gluten free, though. Contains milk, soy and wheat.
Monday, August 6, 2012
The stand up bag has a little banner across the top that says “now more chocolate in every bag.” I did a little research and it appears that the regular bags used to have 5.25 ounces and now they have 5.58 ounces. Not exactly noteworthy, especially when they don’t spell out the exact amount.
Milk Chocolate with Hazelnut Crisp Filling sounds pretty delicious to me. I wasn’t sure what a hazelnut crisp would actualy be, though the front of the package shows a little bowl of crisped rice and a few hazelnuts. So in my head it was going to be a mix of some sort of hazelnut paste and the crunchies inside the milk chocolate squares.
The mylar sealed squares are actually aqua, one of those colors that doesn’t photograph well and turns out more like light blue. Even with the heat in Southern California, these were still looking fantastic right out of the package. The chocolate squares are glossy and perfectly molded with the Ghiradelli eagle on top.
The ingredients aren’t great. It’s not a simple hazelnut paste center, instead there are lots of extra ingredients I don’t much care for like palm and palm kernel oil, distilled monoglycerides (well, I ‘m not sure how I feel about those), partially hudrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed & soybean) plus TBHQ, a preservative. There’s no mention of gluten, other tree nuts or peanuts as possible allergens.
The squares smell very buttery, less sweet than I expected with a light hint of hazelnuts. The bite is soft, but it’s summer and the chocolates were still tempered well enough that they hadn’t bloomed. The milk chocolate is sweet and sticky but has a good milk and toffee flavor to it. The creamy center is also sweet with more of a milky and malty flavor to it and only a hint of the promised toasted hazelnuts. The crisped rice is in the form of little ball, like bbs. It’s a nice texture, the whole this in very satisfying though doesn’t have quite enough of an intense or defined punch for me. Overall, I liked them, but not enough that I feel like finishing the bag. (I’ve eaten five though, just to be sure.) Something in a darker chocolate might be better suited to me, but if you’re into a sweet that has a bit of texture, this might be your thing.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
I picked up the Dove Sea Salt Caramel Dark Chocolate Silky Smooth Promises about a month ago at Target. At the moment they’re a Target exclusive flavor, though I understand that when the flavors are popular they go into wider distribution.
The blue and white and brown package is summery and bright and caught my attention right away. But I was curious how different the flavor would be from the regular dark chocolate with caramel that Dove already makes.
The chocolates are expensive, at $4 for just a little over a half a pound. Mars is * still not using certified sustainable or ethically sourced chocolate for the vast majority of their products, this price premium at least prompts me to expect high quality ingredients, not things like hydrogenated palm kernel oil and potassium sorbate.
The Dove dark chocolate is quite smooth and has an interesting flavor profile. It’s quite woodsy and a little on the dry side. But the melt is quick and slick on the tongue, so the dry finish keeps it from feeling to sweet or sticky. The flavor overall reminds me of chocolate sauce, not quite buttery but still silky.
The caramel filling is like most of the other Dove caramels I’ve had. It’s thick and almost like a sauce or syrup without a chewy component. I’d call it a pudding or custard. (Or perhaps German Chocolate Cake frosting without the coconut.) It has the advertised touch of salt to it and a smooth slightly toffee note to it. It’s not as rich or butterscotchy as some others I’ve had from artisan styled companies like Fran’s, but still a nice desserty flavored chocolate.
They felt less sweet than the regular Dove Caramel Promises, though it’s not like they had a lot of salt, there’s only 30 mg per 5 pieces. Because I picked up Hershey’s Simple Pleasures on the same trip, I have to say that I preferred these by quite a large margin. They’re less caloric than a solid chocolate bar, but still more than the Simple Pleasures or a Peppermint Pattie. Dove is still not my go-to premium chocolate. I’ll eat them if they’re sitting around, but when I want a chocolate treat I find myself shopping for things like Green & Black’s (which I wish came in little bite sized pieces) or something like Trader Joe’s which have more intense or vibrant flavors and better ingredients.
* UPDATE 7/18/2012: A rep from Dove Chocolate called me to let me know that Dove is switching to Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa. This particular product is not Rainforest Alliance Certified, and still has unverified palm oil in it and preservatives. You can read more on their website, but the fact remains that Mars, the company that owns Dove, is far from converting their entire line of chocolate products to certified sustainable and ethical sources, but at least have a plan and are hitting targets. At this time they are sourcing only 20% of their cocoa from certified cocoa.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.