Thursday, February 5, 2009
The idea of a liquid burst inside a gummi candy is nothing new, but seems to have made a bit of a comeback lately. (Starburst GummiBursts & LifeSavers Fruit Splosions.)
Trader Joe’s has a twist on this in their new Trader Joe’s Gummy Tummies Penguins. The flavor array in the package is pretty small: Strawberry, Lime and Cherry. They’re made with natural flavors, have no preservatives and no artificial colors. (They also state that it’s pork gelatin in them ... so they’re safe to eat for non-vegetarian Hindus.)
They’re much larger candy pieces than other versions and are made in such a way that you can actually see the goo inside their tummies.
Oh, I’m sorry, did that scare you?
These things are freaky looking, and what’s worse, they smell. For a couple of days I thought there was an old apple core hiding somewhere in my office (I even crawled under my desk looking for it), turns out that’s what the combination of cherry, strawberry & lime Gummy Tummies smells like.
The shapes are nicely defined, though I wouldn’t call them nicely designed. I didn’t really get the whole “penguin” thing. I asked around and everyone pretty much agrees they look like Grimace from McDonald’s or one of the lesser ghost characters from Casper.
They’re very soft and have a bulbous belly that’s even softer to the touch. They remind me of blisters ... the cherry one (on its side up there) is even worse, because the gummis rather uncolored (like my skin) but has a dark red filling (like a blood blister). I’ll spare you the graphic photo of that and let you just imagine it instead.
Lime is easy to tell from the others, as it’s transparent yellow. The flavor is rather mellow, just a light touch of lemon/lime zest and then a mix of tangy & sweet. The filling is smooth and sticky and just a repeat of the above flavors in a form that needs no chewing.
Strawberry is the pink bellied one. (Though I had to hold them up to the light to tell them apart from the cherry.) The flavor is floral and tangy. The goo doesn’t do much for it and that’s probably a positive.
Cherry has the darkest belly and smells like wild cherry LifeSavers. The liquid center is a lot more flavorful, like a dense syrup of cough suppressant or Cepacol.
This whole tasting has made me realize that I don’t like goo filled gummis.
For those of you who have a Trader Joe’s nearby, you may enjoy this little video.
Friday, December 19, 2008
I’m buried in mints! So here’s a huge roundup of all the mint items in my queue that I wanted to get through before Christmas.
Like the Trader Joe’s Espresso Pillows I picked up a few months ago, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Mints come in a cute round tin and hold 2.45 ounces. Unlike the Espresso Pillows, these are not a very original product.
Inside the tin is a fluted liner that holds a large handful of soft, white candy-shelled mints. Each is about the size of a kidney bean. The tin says that there are no artificial flavors or preservatives. I think they shy from the “all natural” part because the white shell is created with titanium dioxide.
They reminded me of the classic Dutch Mints and luckily I had some of those around for comparison.
Jelly Belly makes a large variety of Dutch Mints. They come in different colors, these are all hot pink and individually wrapped, though you can also get them in the stark white, pastel mint colors or right now in the Christmas assortment of red, green and white. (And they’re Kosher.)
The Dutch Mint is the size of a garbanzo bean but my guess is the same mass as the TJ’s.
They’re both the same construction, a soft mint fondant with a thin layer or dark chocolate then a crispy candy shell.
Both are lovely and addictive. The Trader Joe’s retails for $1.22 an ounce. The Jelly Belly can go for anywhere from $.70 an ounce for the small 2.9 ounce bag to $.56 for a one pound tub (check out Cost Plus World Market).
Jelly Belly Dutch Mints get a rating of: 8 out of 10
These also closely resemble the York Mints that also come in a tin.
The previous are great for toting around and especially nice if a restaurant gives you a few with the check. But if you’re entertaining, you might want to provide some other more chocolatey mint morsels.
I’ve always loved After Eight Mints, which are a flowing mint fondant in an ultra thin square. I used to love how they came in individual glassine envelopes, like a little file box of deliciousness.
Of course After Eights are made by Nestle now and not nearly as good as I remember them on top of the controversies that they’re made from questionably sourced chocolate. The Fair Trade movement has been working to bring families and communities out of poverty through fair payment for goods & services.
Divine Chocolate has been doing this since 1998 in the United Kingdom and recently expanded into the United States. Not only do they have tasty bars they also have addition treats like these Divine After Dinner Mints.
The mints are nicely sized for two bites at about 1.5” square. The mild semi-sweet chocolate is crisp and cracks well. The mint fondant center is creamy and minted only slightly so as not to overpower the chocolate. The dark chocolate has some berry and fruity tones that combine well with the cool peppermint flavors.
I’ve seen these at Whole Foods (at an endcap display for hostess giving), so they should be pretty widely available this season.
Divine After Dinner Mints get a rating of 7 out of 10.
Creme de Menthe Altoids have been out for a few months, though it took me a while to find the variety that isn’t covered in chocolate. I realized that I might have seen them before, the green of the package is only slightly lighter than the Spearmint boxes. These were on sale for $1.50 to boot!
Basically the flavor of these is like a Peppermint TicTac. It has a powdery vanilla scent, softer than a harsh peppermint and perhaps just a hint of licorice.
But these are Altoids. Though they might start out mild, they do pack a much stronger kick later on. I like the flavor a bit better than the straight Peppermint if only because of the mix of aromas.
Creme de Menthe Altoids get a rating of 8 out of 10.
Quite a few folks have been lamenting that Trader Joe’s discontinued their English Soft Peppermints. I’m pretty keen on the generic & mild butter mints I find at the drug store, but those were some pretty good mints.
Around this time of year, however, I see a lot of these See’s Peppermint Twists in candy dishes around the office. It took me a while, but I think I found out who makes them. There were two contenders: King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy or Bob’s Sweet Stripes.
I saw this box of King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy at the 99 Cent Only Store and thought I’d give them a whirl. They were a dollar for 3.5 ounces.
I thought they were “butter mints” and read through this to see how I came to that conclusion:
So I was expecting a soft mint. Either crumbly soft or mushy soft.
These were neither. They’re soft as in rounded and smooth, but after that they were not butter mints until I sucked on them for a while. Which is kind of the opposite of “soft from the moment you open the box”. Annoyance aside, they’re peppermint candies. They are airy and dissolve nicely and of course none of those hard candy sharp edges. They’re sweet and a bit less intense than a starlight mint and really pretty to look at. Like those English Soft Peppermints that were really made in the Netherlands, King Leo are made in Mexico. Kosher.
King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy gets a 6 out of 10.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
When I was in Pennsylvania visiting my brother he took me to the Lancaster County Farmers Market as one of the stops on a candy adventure. There I found Nancy’s Candy Corner (not really a corner as it was in a center aisle). This vendor has everything covered in chocolate. Their specialty seemed to be pretzels. Pretzels dipped in chocolate. Pretzels dipped in chocolate and then rolled in things (toffee chips, chocolate chips, Oreo bits, sprinkles). Lots and lots of pretzel options. There were more traditional options like peanut butter straws. I bought a variety including some Milk and Dark chocolate covered German Spice Cookies.
They were fabulous. The cookies were dense and crunchy, the chocolate was sweet and creamy and then they were gone.
This is why I was so pleased to see these at Trader Joe’s, something I could buy locally, even if only temporarily. At 5.99 for the 10 ounce tin, it was one of the pricier confectionery items I’ve bought at Trader Joe’s lately.
The decription on the bottom of the tin makes my mouth water.
Molasses, ginger, cloves and vanilla ... these aromatic ingredients are the hallmark of gingersnap cookies. We’ve taken it one step further by gliding tiny gingersnap cookies with dark chocolate. For a sophisticated treat that mixes the creamy richness of chocolate with crunchy, spicy cookies.
Inside was a cellophane bag of shiny chocolate nuggets:
They smell of cloves, cinnamon and chocolate.
The pieces are irregular, ranging in size from a garbanzo bean to a hazelnut in the shell. The chocolate coating is glossy.
The chocolate is creamy and sweet, really has a silky mouthfeel. The spices of the cookie are overpowering, so the chocolate flavors aren’t as forward, but the texture makes a huge contribution here.
The cookies are fabulous. The woodsy molasses sets the stage for the immediate clove flavor and then the warming spices really kick in. I found they warmed my throat after two or three with both a gingery kick as well as a black pepper burn.
Trader Joe’s doesn’t have clearance sales after the holidays, so there’s no way to get these cheap or regularly. I can only hope they’ll sell them in the little tubs all year round and I don’t have to create a collection of these tins.
Monday, December 15, 2008
I first had Trader Joe’s Peppermint Joe Joe’s last year and thought they were tasty - a chocolate cookie sandwich with a mint cream filling, but like Hydrox. I had a bit of trouble with the fact that the cookie part wasn’t quite as good as the Oreo.
The regular Joe Joe’s come in a one pound package, which is pretty dangerous in my house. Though I’m not a cake or baked goods fan in general, I do have a cookie problem. (If Candy Blog were to ever expand, it’d be into cookie reviews.)
The cute tray was sealed in cellophane and protected every single cookie from any damage in transit.
There are ten in all. Each is dusted with a bit of crushed mint candies.
They smell very minty, to the exclusion of all other flavors, such as chocolate.
They’re also pretty hefty, clocking in at about one ounce each. (And 150 calories.)
The cookie is crumbly and has a dark toasted cocoa flavor. The chocolate is creamy and perhaps a little sweet. The cream filling is where this doesn’t go as well, it’s grainy, which is fine, but it’s also a bit greasy. If I eat it all as a sandwich together, it’s great. Eating just the filling is a disappointment.
The ingredients list was pretty clear. Real chocolate, no artificial flavors or colors ... the only item that gives some folks pause is palm oil. (But some of the sugar is actually organic evaporated cane juice.)
Overall, it’s super tasty and should be enjoyed like a candy and not a cookie. (If you’re wondering what the difference is, I’d say that a serving of cookies like Oreos is three, but for these, the serving size is one.)
Rating: 8 out of 10.
I had Nabisco’s Pure Milk Chocolate Covered Mint Oreo Sandwich Cookies earlier this year. I found them in a little package at a drug store in Santa Monica while picking up some items for a beach picnic. I ate them in the car on the way there. It wasn’t until I was shopping at Target last week that I found them in a larger package.
This is a dangerous thing. I like them a bit too much.
The Oreos come in a tray with individual slots. There are 12 cookies in the box instead of 10 in the Joe Joe’s (but this box weighs only 7.5 ounces instead of 9.4). I don’t know the regular price on these, they were $2.50 on sale so were less per ounce than the Joe Joe’s.
As I expected the ingredients list wasn’t quite as wholesome, but I’ve got to give credit to Nabisco for not coloring the cream centers pink or green. The chocolate is real, but there’s palm oil in there and way down on the list is a bit of high fructose corn sweetener. All the other ingredients are pretty much the usual stuff.
The tray protected the individual cookies well, each one was glossy and had wonderful little ripples of milk chocolate on top.
These also smelled strongly of peppermint, and a little bit of milk.
The cookie crumble of the Oreo is spectacular. It’s a little sandy and releases immediate salty and smoky cocoa notes. The soft crunch is punctuated by the smooth milk chocolate, which isn’t as sweet as I would have expected (especially after having the Joe Joe’s). The cream center is grainy, lightly minted but without any greasiness to the fatty cream.
Each cookie is 90 calories and weighs about .65 ounces.
Rating: 9 out of 10.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Long ago there were LifeSavers Sweet Story Books. They were just a folded box that looked like a book that had a bunch of LifeSavers rolls inside. They still make them, every few years the graphics and the rolls included inside change with fashion.
Trader Joe’s has their own house-branded version of this, called Trader Joe’s Sweet Story. There are six no-artificial-anything, vegan, kosher and gluten-free hard candy rolls inside.
The package design is pretty straight forward, it’s a box with a front flap that reveals a “story” on the inside, which is a little poem about the candies. (Probably not so fun for kids.)
The box is well constructed (and is even printed on the inside). The rolls aren’t revealed inside the box flap though, you have to open it at the top to reveal them, all sealed together inside a cellophane bag.
Each roll is about the size of a LifeSavers product, 1.1 ounces. The rolls themselves are a bit more demure, a color-coded monochrome array.
Opening them was a disappointment and exercise in frustration.
Though it was not humid on Sunday when I bought these and photographed them, the paper-lined foil was stuck to the candies.
I resorted to picking the bits of foil off the candies before consuming (though still got a fair bit of paper in my mouth). Some rolls were better than others, but all had some degree of issues.
Cherry - Sucrets. Without the throat numbing properties.
Orange - really zesty, to the point of being slightly bitter at times. Sweet and tangy.
Pineapple - mild, more like those “low acid” pineapples these days that have a nice floral and strawberry cotton candy flavor but not that tart.
Raspberry - pretty much tasted like raspberry flavoring. A lot of sweet floral “flavor” and some tangy berry notes.
Pomegranate - a combination of raspberry and those winterberry scented candles. It’s trying too hard.
The package was $1.99, which breaks down to 33 cents a roll. Not really a bad price. And the flavor assortment was better than the current LifeSavers array. For those who need something that’s gluten free or all-natural, yeah, it’s a nice way to go. But I sure hope yours aren’t stuck to the wrapping like mine were, because that completely ruined it for me. And bumped my fiber intake.
Other remembrances of the LifeSavers Storybook: The Joy Of ..., Jason Liebig has an actual photo of an old one with the rolls still in it, Candy Critic, and of course The Imaginary World has some (I like this one).
Monday, December 8, 2008
I’m kind of a truffle purist. In my world, a chocolate truffle is chocolate with extra butterfat added to it and sometimes, if you wish, egg yolks. My recipe for truffle ganache is pretty simple: combine 1 cup of heavy cream and 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler on low simmer. Allow to melt over the lowest possible heat, blend well - cool completely before refrigerating to solidify. (I usually double or triple that, but those are the proportions.)
Flavorings like mint extract or orange oil might be added. I usually make raspberry truffles by combining the ganache with seedless unsweetened jam or cognac ones by tipping in some cognac (then keep warm a while longer so some alcohol can evaporate to keep it from getting runny). But the list of ingredients is brief.
They can be rolled in cocoa or crushed nuts but I usually dip them, just because they keep better that way, are generally more attractive and are of course, neater than all that cocoa powder all over the place.
Trader Joe’s has been selling French Truffles for years (though the package changes design from time to time). I tried them once, many years ago and thought something was off about them and never touched them again. Even though they’re an impossible price, at $2.99 for 8.8 ounces. And French! Because, you know, if it’s imported, it has to be good! (That was sarcasm.) I still didn’t buy them and avoided them when offered.
But I was on the prowl this weekend for Trader Joe’s holiday offerings and decided it was time to give these their due on the blog.
Now, I understand how price and mass manufacturing techniques can change a time-tested recipe. So here’s what it’s done to the venerable French Truffle:
Ingredients: Palm kernel oil, sugar, low fat cocoa, whey powder (milk), cocoa powder, soy lecithin, natural vanilla flavor.
If you gave me this list and asked me what that was, I’d say that was mockolate. There is no chocolate in here. No cocoa butter. There isn’t even any milkfat in here. Just palm kernel oil. (And there must be a lot because these clock in with a caloric density of 177 calories per ounce.)
Now, to be fair, Trader Joe’s does not state on the box that they’re chocolate truffles. Nope, they’re just French Truffles. (In fact there’s nothing else on the packaging to describe them except for some little lines that say that it’s all natural and contains no preservatives. Oil is actually a good antioxidant.)
Inside the red box is a tough, gold mylar pouch. The French Truffles are just in there. No tray, no fussy packaging, just in an un-resealable bag.
The little domes of these French Truffles look like flattened spheres of pig iron we used to pick up on the railroad tracks when I was ateen. They look like little rusted bells.
They smell a little woodsy, a little like Elmer’s glue and a bit like cocoa.
The bite is smooth, they’re soft and yielding, but not at all chalky or crystallized like fudge can be.
The melt on the tongue is instantaneous. It becomes runny and slick. The sugar isn’t completely combined as it would be if chocolate was used, so there’s a bit of a grain to it. The cocoa flavors are mellow and rich with a strong smoky component.
They’re not terribly sweet, almost salty (as cocoa can taste sometimes) though there’s no additional salt added to them (the natural sodium is 30 mg per serving). The buttery texture is really compelling and they don’t feel greasy on the tongue or waxy.
All that said, after eating one or two, I don’t feel like I’ve eaten chocolate. I don’t get that same kick.
As a confection, they’re certainly worth the $3 for the box. But to get 80% of my saturated fat in five pieces, especially when that saturated fat isn’t of the non-lethal cocoa butter variety, I think I’ll give these a pass now and in the future. There are far better real chocolate products from France or Trader Joe’s.
Though it’s sometimes hard to tell who makes Trader Joe’s products, I’m quite convinced that these are made by CHOCMOD.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I think chocolate covered almonds but great and probably don’t need to be mucked around with. However, it’s 2008 and it’s not an innovative product unless it contains evaporated cane juice or sea salt. But wait, Trader Joe’s has it all wrapped up here with Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Almonds made with Belgian chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt and turbinado sugar. Could they be more on top of trends? I think not!
What’s turbinado sugar? That’s the large crystal unfiltered stuff you’ve seen before, often sold as Sugar in the Raw or in the UK, it’s called demerara.
They smell woodsy, a little astringent. I expected them to be messy like the cocoa rolled version of chocolate covered nuts, but these were mercifully neat, only bearing a scuffed appearance but not powdery residue.
Without the waxy glaze on the outside, the flavor and melt of the chocolate was readily accessible - and the chocolate was tasty and smooth.
The deep crunch of the nuts were balanced with the high pitched staccato interruptions of the salt and sugar crystals. Not knowing if that little nugget was going to be sweet or salty was kind of fun. But some nuts were extremely salty, to the point where the neighbors and I made faces from time to time. But it wasn’t so bad that we didn’t keep eating them.
I think I’ll probably stick to the plain ones from now on, the Russian Roulette is just to stressful, or if I need an additional salty pop, I’ll go for Sconza’s Toffee Almonds.
Monday, November 10, 2008
They come in two varieties: 100 Calorie Milk Chocolate Bars and 100 Calorie 70% Dark Chocolate Bars.
There are only five in the box, which I’m guessing means these are weekday treats. Priced at $1.99, on the surface it sounds like a decent deal for 3.17 ounces of chocolate that’s from Belgium. But you know what? Belgium is not a factory, it’s not a company, it’s not a brand. It’s just a country. Just because the country has a great history and a good reputation for producing good chocolate doesn’t mean that just because it’s Belgian that it’s better, or even good.
I have gripes with the packaging. First, the bars themselves are 4.75 inches long and 1 inch wide. But the wrapper is inexplicably 6.5 inches long though the box is just shy of 6 inches, so the little ends have to be tucked over in order to fit. The box is simply too big and useless. It could be half the size. Think of how much more shelf space they’d have.
After I got over the insane box and mylar wrappers, I had a small pile of chocolate bars (that traveled nicely intermingled in a zip lock bag with me).
The Milk Chocolate is made from 34% cocoa solids and 18% milk solids, leaving by my guess about 45% or more “sugar solids.” All my jests aside, the ingredients look impressive: real vanilla and for some reason they mention that they use beet sugar.
I liked the shape of the planks, easy to break into pieces for sharing or bite easily without melty crumbs.
The chocolate is silky and sweet. The chocolate flavor isn’t intense but pleasant. The dairy flavors were limited to an ordinary background complement of caramel notes ... no strong powdered milk element here.
It’s not like this is diet chocolate, it’s no less caloricly dense than any other normal chocolate, just molded into a piece that’s exactly 100 calories ... some sort of magic number for the calorie counters. (It does make the math easier, I’ll give them that.)
The 70% Dark is a true dark chocolate which also uses beet sugar and natural vanilla. So it’s extra safe for vegans (some avoid cane sugar which can be purified using bone char).
This bar looked dark and intense, like Italian roasted coffee beans. It smelled like freshly sawn wood. The melt on the tongue was rather slow and a little chalky (as high cocoa content bars can often be). The flavors were smoky and bitter with some coffee and charcoal notes.
Though it wasn’t as candy-like as the Milk Chocolate variety, the 70% was certainly satisfying in the sense that one was more than enough for me.
I like the portion control element and the flat stick shape. I don’t think I need more than 2/3 of an ounce (well, a bit less in this instance) as a little pick me up or treat with some coffee. The price compared to Trader Joe’s other house-branded chocolate offerings though is ridiculous. Even the little 3 Packs of Belgian Chocolate bars are half the price per ounce. And then the Pound Plus bar that goes for about $3.50 brings it down even more with far less packaging (but not an identical product as those are made in France).
I don’t think I’d buy these again simply because there are better values at Trader Joe’s. The Milk Chocolate was the nicer of the two, if I was going simply by which one I ended up finishing first.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.