Friday, January 3, 2014
Red Velvet cake is made with buttermilk and vinegar plus some cocoa. It’s not a rich chocolate cake, just a lightly chocolate cake with a tangy note to it. The fact that it’s red is really inconsequential to the flavor. The color can be created naturally or using artificial food coloring. The cake is usually frosted with a cream cheese icing or browned butter icing.
I’m not much of a cake fan in the first place and Red Velvet is so low on my list that I’d probably prefer not to eat anything at all. Just to be really diligent about this, I went to Sprinkles, a cupcake bakery, and picked up a Red Velvet Cupcake to remind myself what the heck this is supposed to taste like. The Sprinkles website says that they’ve added extra cocoa to theirs and chose a cream cheese frosting.
The cake is moist and bouncy with a good crumb. The cream cheese frosting is what really prevails here. It’s wonderfully smooth and fresh, the only hint of sugary grain is in the crust, but the rest has a pleasant tangy note to the milky sweetness. The cake itself has a sort of corn meal flavor to it, it’s slightly floral, not terribly sweet and overall ... just nice. Not chocolatey, a little on the vanilla side. But nothing I’d get really excited about.
Now that I had something to compare it to, I figured I was prepared to complete my review.
The pieces come in three colors: maroon, red and white. They’re the larger, chunky M&Ms, which are inconsistent sizes. Some are the size of regular M&Ms, but most are super-sized.
The centers are milk chocolate with a light tangy note to them. They’re not more chocolatey, and as you can see from the ingredients above, they didn’t alter their milk chocolate recipe to include buttermilk. They seem like they have more of a vanilla note, like poundcake.
If someone just gave these to me without any clue about the special flavoring, I wouldn’t have picked Red Velvet. At this point I’m curious about how different this will taste from the upcoming Birthday Cake M&Ms. (I’ll set some aside for comparison when those come out in May 2014.) I think it’s a nice idea for Valentine’s Day, a little less run-of-the-mill, but if Russell Stover has had a Red Velvet seasonal piece on store shelves for two seasons, perhaps they’re not really on trend, just slightly behind it.
Red Velvet M&Ms contain milk and soy and may contain traces of peanuts, almond and wheat (in addition to listed artificial colors and unknown artificial flavors). Though Mars has a plan for certified sourcing of their cacao, M&Ms have not yet been added to that list.
Since Mars’ M&Ms team seems to be running out of flavors, let me see if I can make some suggestions: Milk Chocolate Cappuccino, Milk Chocolate Cookies n’ Creme, Milk Chocolate German Chocolate Cake, Milk Chocolate S’mores, Milk Chocolate Banana, Milk Chocolate Chai Latte, Milk Chocolate Creme Brulee, Dark Chocolate Chili Pepper, Dark Chocolate Amaretto, White Chocolate Peanut Butter, White Chocolate Strawberry Cheesecake, White Chocolate Lemon Meringue, White Chocolate Key Lime. All of my previous reviews for M&Ms that actually exist are here.
Thursday, January 2, 2014
Justin’s White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are a limited edition version of their dark and milk chocolate peanut butter cups. They’re available only at Whole Foods this winter.
What sets these apart from other white peanut butter cups is the fact that Justin’s not only uses real white chocolate, it’s also fair trade cacao butter.
All of the ingredients are organic except the sea salt,which is an inorganic item anyway. The palm oil is sustainably sourced and the cacao comes from Rainforest Alliance certified growers. Justin’s is gluten free as well.
Still, with all those qualifiers, they’re still a white chocolate candy, which has a pretty narrow band of fans.
The cups are beautiful, a creamy yellow white with a little dollop in the center. The white chocolate has a lot of milk in it (the third ingredient) and has a lot of dairy flavors to it. The peanut butter center is salty, with a grainy crunch but also a smooth roasted flavor to it. From my early taste tests of Justin’s peanut butter cups, they’ve really come a long way in balancing out the texture of the center without being too oily or too dry. The white chocolate bring a lot of creaminess and vanilla flavors, the overall effect is like eating peanut butter cookie dough.
I’m a fan of good white chocolate (and will eat bad white confections against my better judgement) and this is some very well made stuff. Since Reese’s switched to a white confection, as far as I know, these are the only nationally distributed white chocolate peanut butter cups available.
I did notice one odd thing on the package. The cups are 1.4 ounces total and it says that it’s 180 calories. But the rest of the nutrition panel does not support that. There are 16 grams of fat (9 calories per gram) and 19 grams of carbs (4 calories per gram) then 4 grams of protein (4 calories per gram) all tallies up to 236 calories, not 180. (Reese’s Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter cups are 210 calories for 1.5 ounces.) So if these calculations are correct, that’s 169 calories per ounce. Mmm, high fat density.
I like these and I’d probably pick them up again. But Justin, where are those dark chocolate hazelnut butter cups I’ve been longing for?
Monday, December 30, 2013
This fall Nestle announced it was launching Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups in January 2014. Butterfinger is an iconic American candy bar, combining peanuts and sugar and chocolate. The bar has been adapted into a half a dozen other formats and confections. There’s were Butterfinger BBs, Butterfinger Crisp, Butterfinger Snackerz, Butterfinger Stixx, Butterfinger Bites, Butterfinger Chocolate Bars and even the caffeinated Butterfinger Buzz.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before Nestle decided to take on the cup format and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Nestle plans to go big with their launch of the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups, with a full ad campaign including a commercial during the 2014 Superbowl.
There’s a couple of curiosities about these cups. First, they have no paper cups. They are fluted, but there’s no paper liner on the tray in the package.
The second thing is that they’re not round. The circular base is far smaller than the top, which is a rounded square. There’s quite an angle towards the top which means that the ratio of chocolate to filling changes at the perimeter versus the center.
The cups are described simply as Smooth & Crunchy on the package.
The filling is quite salty. There’s a creamy component that is very sweet, then the chunky, crunchy bits of Butterfinger centers. There’s a very strong artificial butter flavor to the whole thing, much stronger than an actual Butterfinger bar. The chocolate profile itself is overshadowed by the butter flavor of the center, so it’s hard for it to contribute anything other than texture. That said, it’s pretty smooth though sweet. It’s certainly better than the coating on a Butterfinger Bar.
The ingredients are interesting, notably that they’ve removed the artificial colorings from this candy. (Butterfinger Bars have artificial yellow and red food coloring in them.)
Contains milk, soy and peanuts, may contain nuts. No mention of gluten.
The package has the Cocoa Plan logo on the front. This is Nestle’s new initiative to bring sustainable practices to their cocoa growers through education programs. The programs are to help growers use better practices to increase yields, reduce losses as well as creating schools for the children in their communities. It’s an internal program that Nestle operates that does not, as far as I know, have any external audits or benchmarks, though they do also buy from Fairtrade and UTZ certified sources in quantities to match certain products so that they can bear their logo.
There are a lot of similarities between the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It’s probably not a coincidence. Each cup is .75 ounces, with the package holding two totaling 1.5 ounces.
From the above you can see the long and complicated ingredient list for the Butterfinger Cups. The Reese’s cups are far simpler.
Simpler does not necessarily mean better. Both cups have TBHQ in them, which is a preservative (keeps the peanut oil from getting rancid). But both are rather small in mass for a candy bar these days. A Snickers Bar or Butterfinger Bar is over 2 ounces. These cups are kind of puny.
But in the ingredients list, you’ll notice that the Reese’s have no added oils, no fractionated palm kernel oil or hydrogenated rapeseed oil. But I’ve got to admire the bang for the buck I get with the Butterfinger, it has 20 more calories from fat than the Reese’s. Here’s the comparison of the nutritional panels for both cups:
So, the Butterfinger is less salty and just slightly fattier - some of the protein grams of the Reese’s are fat grams in the Butterfinger. This is an odd observation, since the Reese’s Cups I know and love usually have a soft, greasy spot in the center of the chocolate on each cup where the peanut oils have migrated from the peanut butter into the chocolate. As far as I can tell, the Butterfinger Cups are far more stable and consistent.
They’re different candies. They share some of their format and the basic flavors but the textural experience is different. I still prefer the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but that’s probably because I’ve grown up with it. I don’t care for the fake, overly sweet butter flavor of the Butterfinger Bar or these Cups. But I do appreciate the variation in the textures. Overall, I usually go for the smaller ingredients list and I prefer my candy to have the innate oils from the flavor ingredients, not added ones. But it’s a good candy and I think they’ll probably last longer than Butterfinger Stixx.
Friday, December 20, 2013
SweetWorks, which makes many flavors of the break apart chocolate orange and Sixlets, also makes a wide variety of foil wrapped chocolate pieces and figures for all occasions.
Their holiday range is quite diverse, featuring chocolate balls, disks and semi-solid figures. The company sent me a huge box filled with confections to sample before Thanksgiving, and I’ve finally made it through all of the items before Christmas.
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Ornaments are one of the classics. They’re just a little solid chocolate sphere wrapped in foil.
Foil Colors: Solid Hunter Green, Solid Red, Diamon Silver, Diamond Blue, Diamond Red.
Taste: The milky chocolate is very smooth and has a lot of dairy notes to it. It’s on the sweet side but also has a lot of vanilla notes to it.
Verdict: Very nice, easily munchable. This sort of piece will appeal to kids and adults.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Crisp Balls
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Silver & Red
Taste: The milky chocolate has a nice ratio of crisped rice. It’s creamy, a little softer than the solid chocolate bars but not quite as sweet.
Verdict: This is what I want from my candy in my stocking. It’s comforting and filling but still attractive.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Dark Chocolate Balls
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Gold & Red
Taste: These are extremely dark looking, almost black. I checked and noticed the ingredients list: sugar, chocolate, chocolate processed with alkali, cocoa butter, butterfat (milk), soy lecithin, and vanilla. So this chocolate contains alkalized cocoa, which makes it darker. It also has butterfat in it, so it’s not vegan, which is too bad, because it’s hard to find vegan holiday treats. The flavor profile is a little odd. It’s definitely not overly sweet, but the particle size of the chocolate gives it a slight grain and a dry finish.
Verdict: I liked them well enough to pick them out as something to eat in combination with other things, like nuts, but I didn’t like the dry afterbite.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Solid Milk Chocolate Bells
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Silver & Red
Taste: These are a bigger bite than the balls, about 2/3 bigger, so it’s a lot more chocolate at once. I noticed the smoothness of the melt much more in this shape.
Verdict: These are easier to peel and eat, though one piece is a little bigger than I prefer a bit of chocolate to be. But they don’t roll around, so that’s a plus.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Bells
Foil Colors: Green with Silver Trees & Red with Silver Trees
Taste: These didn’t smell like much in the package, but once unwrapped there was a nice fresh peanut scent. The milky chocolate is really smooth and the peanut center was part meltaway, part peanut butter.
Verdict: They’re not the same texture or peanut flavor profile as Reese’s, so as long as you’re okay with that, these are very satisfying.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Medallions
Foil Colors: White Snowman, Blue Santa, Green Teddy Bear & Red Reindeer
Taste: Milky, sweet and creamy.
Verdict: This was the most disappointing design as far as I was concerned. They seemed dated and missed an opportunity for something a little more splashy. A simple patterned foil or perhaps better artwork for the illustrations would have put these over the top. I like the format of the disks, as they’re easier to bite than bells and something that can be used in S’mores very easily.
Rating: 6 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Santas
Foil Colors: Dominantly Red with Green & Yellow Accents - 4 designs
Taste: Thin and long, it’s an easy two bite piece. They were exceptionally shiny.
Verdict: Like the medallions, the design of the Santa foil is a little dated. But in the case I found it utterly charming, especially since I could walk them around on my desk and set them up in little tableaus as if they were interacting. The bonus here is that the Santa is molded with quite a bit of detail, so even unwrapped they’re beguiling.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Santas
Foil Colors: Dominantly Red with Blue & Bronze Accents - 4 designs
Taste: This has a similar light peanutty flavor to the Bells. It’s not a deep roasted flavor, it seemed a bit saltier and a little thick/stickier in the melt.
Verdict: I didn’t like the ratios as much as the Bells, but I have to appreciate the cute little Santa expressions.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Hollow Foil comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. They have Turkeys in full feather, Santas, Nutcrackers and a Rocking Horse. (I think they also do a Teddy Bear.) These are very sturdy, the foil is thick and well designed. Instead of a bit piece that wraps around to the back, these are crimped. This means that there’s a full front and back design with a large seam where the two sides are pinched together.
The sizes vary, as you can tell from the photos. As an example, the SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Santa is a little shy of 6 inches and weighs 70 grams (2.5 ounces). The base of the Santa is thick, which makes it very stable when standing. They’re all very attractive designs and would be good as either stocking stuffers or as decorations on a cookie plate or as place settings at a table.
The SweetWorks Hollow Chocolate Rocking Horse is 3.5 ounces, so the same as a standard tablet bar, only in a fancier format. SweetWorks uses all natural milk chocolate for their hollow molded figures. The ingredients list only: sugar, cocoa butter, milk, chocolate, soy lecithin and vanilla. They’re also kosher and gluten-free though processed in a facility with tree nuts and peanuts. The SweetWorks Hollow Chocolate Nutcracker is the largest of the pieces they make for Christmas, at 4.5 ounces and is nearly 7 inches tall.
The SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Turkey is only 1 ounce, but seems like a far larger portion. The base, like the others, is mostly solid which keeps the figure upright whether it’s wrapped or not. The chocolate tastes milkier and smoother than the foil covered balls. (My guess is that the formulation is just a little different for the molded chocolate because of the production demands of filling the intricate molds.)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Like the others, the molding details are great, it really is a nicely sculpted turkey and completely recognizable when it’s unwrapped. I liked these much better than the Hershey’s or Dove versions found at Easter, but they’re not quite as rich as the Lindt foil figures. I really liked the Rocking Horse though, I thought its design set it apart from the other offerings on the store shelves. I saw the Turkeys at Dylan’s Candy Bar, and I think they were $2.99 but online they’re a bit less. I just wish they were easier to find. For Easter they make a 3.5 ounce Yellow Chick and 3 ounce sitting Rabbit. It makes me wonder if there are figures that could be more “year round” or generic for parties and decorations since the Teddy Bear seems like a natural item for a baby shower.
SweetWorks can be found in the bulk bins at Dylan’s Candy Bar (and probably other places). Their foil balls actually come in a dozen colors and are also available as hearts year round in a wide color and texture palette. You’re more likely to find these online (you can buy direct from SweetWorks.net) and usually for a pretty decent price for all natural chocolate that isn’t Hershey’s Kisses.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
To be honest, it sounds terrible, in part because I didn’t know there was something known as Gingerbread Flavor Cover in the confectionery world ... and then I probably wouldn’t have dreamed that the appropriate place to put that would be on top of pretzels. So curiosity trumped revulsion.
The DeMet’s copywriters don’t help the situation either, here’s the marketing passage from the back of the bag:
They’re standard mini pretzels with big salt crystals on them. Then they’re coated in this weird, artificially colored confection that’s supposed to look like chocolate. It’s made with sugar, palm oil and dried milk but natural flavors. The texture is pretty good - it’s creamy and kind of cool on the tongue without getting too grainy or greasy. It’s not chocolate-like, but still pleasant. The flavoring is interesting. If you gave it to me without the gingerbread description, I would have called this orange spice. I don’t know why, but I was getting a light and appealing orange zest note to it the whole time. There’s a gentle spice to it, maybe a bit of ginger but nothing too biting like cinnamon or clove. The salty crunch of the fresh pretzels keeps it all from getting too sweet.
I like them. I ate them. I wouldn’t have believed it if it didn’t happen to me.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Haviland Holiday Dark Chocolate Nonpareils come in a smart looking brown and red gable box, probably nice enough to tuck into a gift basket, stocking or take with a bottle of wine as a hostess gift. It’s just a little more upscale than a bag of chocolate chips, but pretty much the same thing in the end.
Haviland is a brand owned now by Necco. They’re probably best known for their mints, which are a cross between Junior Mints (a soft creamy center) and York Peppermint Patties (a crumbly fondant in a patty form). The nice thing about most of the Haviland line is that they’re available at drug stores and major retailers but usually use good ingredients without too many artificial things in there.
The chocolate is quite nice, but better than something like SnoCaps (which are more candy than chocolate) or Flicks (which have no sprinkles). The flavor has a little bit of a dusty quality to it, it’s not bitter, just kind of deep. It’s mostly a woodsy chocolate profile, with pretty strong notes of vanilla.
The chocolate contains butterfat, so it’s not considered vegan, there’s also no sustainability or sourcing statement on the box or the Necco website for their chocolate. As far as I know they don’t make their chocolate from bean to drop, so the sourcing is probably done by one of the big agrichocolate companies like Callebaut, Cargill or perhaps Blommer or Guittard.
I plan on setting them out in a bowl and I expect that they’ll be eaten up by some guests without complaint. But I’m more likely to just buy a bag of the Guittard or Ghirardelli chocolate baking drops and set those out instead in the future.
The big problem I have with the colorful sprinkles is a rare one, the red food coloring is extremely bitter. In this case, it was really unpleasant when I would put the disks in my mouth with the sprinkle side on my tongue. The bitterness was lost in the chocolate if I chewed quickly. But that’s no way to enjoy what’s supposed to be a treat. All white sprinkles solve that problem.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
One of the surprising finds in the Christmas candy aisle this year was Pearson’s Mint Patties Creamy Candy Cane. They were expensive at $3.99 for only 6.4 ounces at KMart, but I was really curious to try them. But what are they?
The package says: A stick of creamy peppermint with a layer of candy cane flavored mint covered in delicious dark chocolate. I really don’t understand that, but I’m along for the ride.
The dark chocolate is 66% cacao and aside from the artificial colors, the ingredients are pretty good. Unlike York Peppermint Patties (which are now made in Mexico) which contain egg whites, Pearson’s are vegetarian, using soy protein instead of egg albumen in the fondant center. They do, however, contain milk fat in the chocolate so they’re not vegan. They’re listed as gluten free but may contain traces of peanuts or tree nuts.
The construction is simple enough, they’re a rod of two different layers of fondant covered in dark chocolate. The bottom layer is the same peppermint cream found inside the regular old Pearson’s Mint Patty. As far as that goes, Pearson’s makes a great peppermint patty. Some may say it’s better than York, they’re a little different in their ratios and textures but I’d definitely say they’re both excellent quality.
The bottom layer is smooth and lightly minted, the dark chocolate plays well with a bitter but woodsy cocoa note. The top, pink layer is definitely more minty and possibly a little moister or at least a little creamier on the tongue. It’s not that big of a difference. The stick is a big portion for something I’d consider an after dinner mint. They’re only 90 calories but about .8 ounces. A snack size (those foil wrapped ones) are about a quarter of an ounce - so it’s about the same as three patties. There seems to be more chocolate compared to the filling in the sticks, so that may be a selling point for some.
The price is prohibitive, even for a holiday item. I think I prefer the patties, which I bought recently for about 25 cents an ounce for a big 48 ounce bag (for the jar in my office) while this would be about 62 cents an ounce and look kind of sad in late January if no one ate them yet, even though they’re good until September of 2014.
Crunchies or a chocolate layer or something else to distinguish them more from the regular patties would push these over into a stronger recommendation. As it is, if you prefer a mint stick with a more crumbly fondant instead of the flowing style of After Eight, then go for these for the holidays. Otherwise, just grab the regular patties and call them ornaments instead.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
While other seasonal candies are chasing dessert and pastry flavors, 3 Musketeer’s winter flavor is all about the comfort of a hot cocoa. 3 Musketeers Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Minis were also available last year, but I didn’t realize I missed reviewing them until a Mars representative sent me a package that included them.
The 10 ounce bag holds oodles of the 3 Musketeers Minis, which are tiny cubes covered in chocolate with a frothy nougat center.
The little wrappers come in either silver or a light cocoa bronze. Each piece is about 25 calories, they’re about 124 calories per ounce, versus the 145 calories per ounce for a Snickers (nuts are more calorically dense). The little square are about 3/4 of an inch, though not quite that high.
The flavor is odd. It’s like they took the malt out of the nougat. So, the center is now cocoa flavored. Not chocolate flavored, actually more like cocoa and marshmallows. There’s that sort of empty flavor that cocoa has, a little dusty and unsupported and that has an added note of vanilla. They do remind me of cocoa flavored marshmallows, but not in a good way.
I’m not fond of these. The textures are good, but they’re extremely sweet and lacking the light salty, malted nougat flavor that I appreciate in 3 Musketeers. Other 3 Musketeers flavors have been more to my liking, so I’ll say that this is a personal preference. Other folks must be enjoying them because they’re back again, but I’ll take a pass. Someday we’ll get the Mocha ones back with more Mocha flavor in them.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.