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.
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.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
You would think that a candy as special as Sour Patch Kids, first introduced in the 1970s in North America, would be available all over the world by now. Sour Patch Kids are basically sour sanded Swedish Fish (also introduced originally by Malaaco but now made by Cadbury/Adams, now part of the global Mondelez/Kraft snack empire) and have become a sort of genre of candy all on their own. There are a dozen different varieties, from single flavor (watermelon), fruit & berry shapes and odd flavor combinations.
Back in 2012 Mondelez introduced Sour Patch Kids to the United Kingdom under the brand Maynard‘s, which was already known for its kid-friendly sugar candy lines. They weren’t a straight-up import though, the flavors were tweaked to include blackcurrant and instead of being a jelly candy, they were made with gelatin ... now they were gummis.
I actually wasn’t aware of this history before I went to London. All I knew was there were some new Sour Patch Kids flavors not sold in the United States: Maynard’s Sour Patch Kids Soda Popz. The flavors are Cola, Orangeade, Cherryade, Tropical and Apple Fizz. They were easy to find but rather pricey for the 160 gram bag (5.64); they retail for £1.48 or about $2.50.
What originally interested me was the cola. There are Haribo sour sanded cola gummis, but no vegetarian options as far as I knew. Well, if you read closely above, the Maynard’s version contains gelatin (though it’s bovine, so if you avoid pork products, you can still eat these though they’re not marked Kosher or Halal).
Cola was definitely the star here. It’s quite tangy at the start and though I was thinking these might have some sort of fizzy component, they’re just sour sanded. The cola flavor is well rounded with some spicy notes as well as a good lemon and lime zesty citrus bite. The flavor seemed a little more intense than the Haribo Happy Cola, but still didn’t quite rival the excellent Cuba Libre gummis I got last year from Sugarfina.
Orangeade was going to be my second favorite by its description, because I used to like orange soda. But this was strange. The sour start was good, but the flavor got strange after that. It’s sweet but not very orange and there’s a darker note in there, almost like there was a mix up and some tropical flavoring was dumped in there.
Cherryade is weird. At first it tasted like a medicinal cough drop, then it was pleasantly sour, then it went back to the cough drop. It’s almost like a Dr. Pepper, the cherry flavor is that far off from the wild cherry of Life Savers. Of course I’ve never had British cherry soda, so this might be a great imitation.
Apple Fizz is interesting, but only in a disappointing way. At first it tastes like a sour Jolly Rancher, with a little note of actual apple juice ... but then it tastes like I’m chewing on a vinyl children’s wading pool. It’s pretty awful.
Tropical actually tasted like blackcurrant, if that’s possible, with some guava thrown in for soupy sweetness. Definitely distinctive, definitely one I avoided.
For a late entry into the sour sanded gummi, these aren’t good enough to compete, at least in the US. Now, if Cadbury/Adams wanted to make a jelly version of these for the US, I’m absolutely interested. The flavors, however, should be more like our popular sodas: Cola, Cherry-Cola, Root Beer (or Grape if the sourness is an issue), Lemon-Lime and Dr. Pepper (or whatever that flavor is).
Maynard’s Sour Patch Kids Soda Popz are not gluten free.
For a local opinion, hop over to Grocery Gems for a review.
While I was pondering Sour Patch Kids, I saw at the store that there’s actually a new flavor in the current mix. Thankfully they didn’t boot a flavor out of the standard berry, lime, orange and lemon mix, instead they’ve just added in blue raspberry.
I picked up a box, mostly to compare the texture of the gummi version to the jelly version. But I figured I’d give the old blue a try, too. My initial impression without trying them was that blue raspberry was going to be too close to the Swedish red flavor and wouldn’t be distinctive.
The sourness of Sour Patch Kids is distinctive - it’s tart, it’s sandy, but the powder is actually less grainy in the North American version than the UK. It’s immediately sour, but not such a thick crust that it doesn’t dissipate quickly. Mostly I was tasting this for the new blue flavor, but I reminded myself why Sour Patch Kids are fantastic.
Blue is a light raspberry flavor, there’s a strong sweetness to the center with a light floral flavor ... but this is pretty much the profile of the red one (Swedish Fish flavor). It’s not quite as intense, but if you gave these to me with my eyes shut, I don’t think I could tell the difference. In fact, I separated out a pile of blue and red mixed, and at them without looking and really didn’t know the difference. The lime, lemon and orange are easy to pick out, even though they’re all citrus.
There’s no problem, as far as I’m concerned, to simply have another berry flavor in the mix, even if it’s not distinctive. I’ve always wondered why they didn’t have grape though. My favorite will always be orange, it’s zesty and soft and sour. All the right things in all the right proportions.
Monday, March 3, 2014
I’m traveling this week, picking up new colourful and flavourful things to review in the coming weeks.
Do you have a British favorite that I haven’t reviewed yet?
UPDATE: Thanks to everyone for your suggestions! I was able to find a lot of the items, plus a few more I’m looking forward to trying. I have to photograph everything, but they’ll be reviewed in the coming months.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The world of gourmet candy bars is not limited to North America. The United Kingdom has The Grown Up Chocolate Company which currently makes four upscale and unique candy bars. I was able to procure two of them on my trip to New York City late last year.
They’re packaged well in boldly graphic boxes with fun typography. Inside the box is a rather large candy bar, made with all natural ingredients. The bars are 65 grams, which is about 2.29 ounces. Inside the box the bars are held within clear trays and then sealed in cellophane. Each had expiry dates of late January 2013.
The bar that I found most intriguing was the Crunchy Praline Wonder Bar. The package said: Caramelised wafer enticingly slathered in sumptuous praline encased in real milk chocolate, a true wonder bar!
The package had two of these little bars, which is great for me, because a little over an ounce is a perfect portion especially for something that seemed so decadent.
The little bar has an interesting center. It’s a milk chocolate ganache filled with crunchy, flaky and malty bits of wafer. There’s a little hint of hazelnut paste in the filling, but there’s not much to it. It’s the kind of wafer that would make up an ice cream cone. The cereal taste to the bar and the milkiness of the chocolate makes the whole thing taste an awful lot like a chocolate ice cream cone.
One little bar is extremely filling. I liked this quite a bit and would likely buy it again if I ever saw it, even though it’s about $6.
The Glorious Coconut Hocus Pocus is a rather interesting bar. It’s not merely a retread of an Almond Joy, instead they’ve done quite a bit of work to create something a bit more uncommon. The description is: Creamy coconut ganache luxuriantly topped with an indulgent fruit and nut jumble enrobed in decadent milk chocolate.
The milk chocolate then has a little zig-zag drizzle of dark chocolate as well.
The first thing I noticed after biting into it, aside from the coconut flavors, was the lemon zest. It’s quite a different profile, it’s sophisticated and cuts the sweetness of everything else. The ganache center is dry, it’s not a chewy coconut but has a good balance of milky and coconut luxury. The jumble of nuts and fruits is truly that. I got a lot of almonds and a few pieces of zest as well as a piece of apricot at one point.
It’s odd and inconsistent. I wanted more of the fruit and for the nuts to be chopped up just a little more. Biting into a big almond just made a mess. The milk chocolate is sweet, but doesn’t have enough counterpoint for all the other sweet things. I would have preferred a little dark chocolate contrast and actual chocolate flavor. Still ... it’s a really promising bar. I had to pick the right time to eat it, late in the day the sweetness was overwhelming and made me sleepy. Mid morning seemed to work better for the second half of it.
According to their website they have mini bars, which are probably more my speed. I don’t know much about the sourcing of their cocoa or other ingredients, as they don’t say on their website or the packaging. The bars contain wheat, soy, dairy and nuts and may contain traces of peanuts.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
The Cadbury Wispa was introduced in 1981 in the United Kingdom. The Wispa was later reformulated and rebranded as the Cadbury Dairy Milk Bubbly Bar in 2003 (2005 review). Fans of the classic bar clamored for the original, which returned as a regular item in 2008.
The ingredients have nothing special in them that mentions the carbonation (extra nitrogen). It’s just the same ingredients as any Cadbury Dairy Milk bar in the UK: milk, sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, dried skimmed milk, vegetable fat, emulsifer (E442), flavouring. It’s the vegetable fat that sets it apart in the UK from Australia or the US.
Hershey’s recently introduced Air Delight (review) to the US, and wasn’t the first to bring aerated chocolate to the masses. It just doesn’t go over here in the States. I notice a consistent comment from consumers (even if it is from a minority) is that they think that the candy companies are making cheaper candy by putting air in it. The odd thing is that I don’t hear the same thing about marshmallows being filled with air, it’s just part of the texture of the product.
The Wispa bar is milky and a tad malty, slightly salty. It’s not as sweet or sticky as a traditional Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate slab. The aeration helps it melt quickly, but also gives it a drier feeling on the tongue. Often I find Cadbury to be a very soft bar, but this was more crumbly and less fudgy. The bubbles are smaller and denser than the Nestle Aero and many other bubbled chocolates that I’ve tried. It’s no better or worse as far as texture goes, just a slight difference.
The bar contains dairy and soy. No mention of gluten or any nuts. Some of Cadbury’s items are being ethically sourced, including their most popular Dairy Milk Bar in the UK, but the Wispa is not on that list yet. I’m not certain about what kind of vegetable fat is used in the bar, as UK standards don’t require listing it specifically, so there’s no word on its sustainability.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.