Wednesday, January 24, 2007
I tried the Honey Roasted Peanut Roca for the first time at the All Candy Expo in Chicago last summer. It took quite a while before I saw it in the “wild” and I was really surprised that my first sighting was at the 99 Cent Only stores.
I don’t have a photo of the innards, but I can tell you that it looks just like any other Roca. The foil wrapper on this one is coppery-orange but the little turd-looking candy is just like you’d expect.
The aroma was definitely peanutty with a strong initial crunch in the toffee. The toffee softens quite quickly to a firm chew and then becomes very buttery and a tad grainy as the sugar gives up its structure. I didn’t get much of the Honey Roasted Peanut vibe but the toffee was certainly competent (and I’ve eaten a lot of toffee this week.)
The faux chocolate coating on the candy was less than satisfying though. Rather greasy and soft, it was held in place by the peanut bits stuck to it. I appreciate that they’re experimenting, but this particular one was distracting for me. It didn’t add any “chocolate” flavor to the mix.
On a side note I did try the Candy Cane Roca while at the Fancy Food Show. The combination of toffee and minted chocolate was kind of odd, but overall nice. I don’t think I’d buy it, but I’d pop a few in my mouth if they were sitting in a candy dish.
I found the packaging for Honey Roasted Peanut Roca a little odd on this one as well. Perhaps it was that it was sold at the 99 Cent Store, but the incongruous 3 PIECES on the lower left kind of cheapened the whole thing. It also didn’t look like it belonged because of the font and it didn’t have the gold shadow the rest of it had. I know, I’m being super picky here. But I actually looked at the label rather critically when I first picked it up because I thought it was some sort of knock-off.
I think I’m going to stick with Almond Roca.
Monday, January 22, 2007
I’ve seen these bars around, usually in big cities, usually in Kosher delis or Jewish neighborhoods. I’ve had Joyva’s products before, but always the halvah. The Joyva Joys is a long, flat and rather solid jelly bar covered in a thin shell of dark chocolate.
The jelly has a very strong floral scent and is raspberry flavored. It’s mostly sweet with a light tart bite to it. The jelly itself is medium pink, which I thought a little odd because the only way you’d know that is if you nibbled off the chocolate. For some reason I figured they colored it, but maybe not.
The chocolate is not terribly interesting, but I rather liked how it took a back seat to the jelly.
I enjoyed the bar for the most part. It wasn’t terribly sweet and it was different. The jelly was firmer and less sticky than something like a Chuckle or a Sunkist Fruit Gem - more like Jell-O. But Raspberry isn’t really my favorite flavor combo with chocolate. I think I’d enjoy an orange bar better, but I have no clue if Joyva makes an orange jelly. I get the sense that jelly candies like this are for old people or maybe I just think that because I’ve never seen anyone eating them. They’re probably a good candy to eat if you’re on a diet and want something chocolate, but not all that fat. They’ve got a pretty low caloric density for a candy with chocolate in it.
Note: Joyva Joys are thickened with agar-agar (made from seaweed), so they’re appropriate not only for those who keep Kosher, but also vegans (who don’t mind a little sugar), however, they are not Kosher for Passover as they contain corn syrup.
Friday, January 19, 2007
I’ve mentioned Frangos a lot on this blog, but I’ve never reviewed them before. So after Christmas when I stumbled on a 50% off sale, I picked up a variety I’d never had before, 62% Cocoa Dark Chocolate Frangos. They were regularly $20 a pound, but at $10 a pound, I thought it was time they made an appearance here.
But first, how about a little background about Frangos?
People in the Pacific Northwest and the Chicago area are most familiar with Frangos, as the history of the confection is closely tied to both areas.
The Frango confectionery line was first introduced by Frederick & Nelson department stores in Seattle in 1918. The Frango name was applied at F&N to a few confectionery products, but the Frango mint meltaway (which joined their line in 1927) is the one that struck a lasting chord with consumers. (Note: there’s some disagreement about the early name of the candy, which may have been Francos, but was changed after Francisco Franco and the Spanish Civil War gave the chocolates a less festive feel.)
A Frango is a small chocolate - currently they’re taller than they are about 3/4” high and 1/2” wide and deep. The center is a firm meltaway - harder than a truffle but softer than pure chocolate. The original flavor and still the most popular is Mint.
Frangos made their migration to Chicago in 1929 when Marshall Fields (now Macy’s) bought the store and started up Frango production right there at the flaship State Street store. Though the products are virtually identical they are packaged differently - the Northwest version are individually wrapped and the Chicago version are sold in a traditional candy box in little fluted cups.
I first had Frangos in the late seventies when my mother returned from a trip to Chicago with a box. I despised most of the flavors (Coffee, Raspberry, Cherry, Double Chocolate) but I rather liked the Lemon and of course was obsessed with the Mint. Boxes were sold with mixes of flavors and the ultimate gift was the “Foot of Frangos.” (The little paper cups gave a clue to the flavor, so there was no problem with little dents in the bottom from picky children.)
The 62% Cocoa Dark Chocolates are quite nice. They have a strong vanilla aroma mixed with the smoky notes of the chocolate. The centers are firm but the pieces are small and easy to pop into your mouth whole. The meltaway middle gets a little kick from a hit of salt (which I always loved in the mint version).
The worst thing about them right now though, is that they use partially hydrogenated soybean oil to get them “melty” in the center. This adds 1.5 gram of trans fats to a serving of 4 pieces (about 40 grams). Hopefully, they’re reformulating.
My interest in Frangos faded when I discovered chocolate truffles. It was nice to have some again and they do hold a strong place in American confectionery history, but probably not much of a place in my current candy-eating repertoire.
You can learn lots more from the Wikipedia article about Frangos (be sure to click through to the links if you’re really obsessed). I’ve glossed over most of the controversy about the Macy’s/Marshall Fields/Northwest bruhahah but feel free to weigh in about it here.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
I’ll save you from skimming to the end of the review. Yeah, that holds true in the case of American Value bars.
This is a long thin Milk Chocolate bar that clocks in at a respectable 1.4 ounce portion and mentions the price of “4 for a Dollar every day” in a ghastly yellow logo in the corner. The label couldn’t possibly be less compelling if you gave me a version of Microsoft Word 95 to make it in. The package says nothing to recommend it, it doesn’t get our hopes up, it doesn’t lend any expectation to the experience.
Inside the package things get a bit better. It looks like a chocolate bar (and the ingredients reveal it’s real chocolate as well). It smells a little nutty and a little like chocolate. Sweet and less that ultra smooth, it’s a passable chocolate bar to give a child that isn’t very finicky, has a short attention span or perhaps you don’t like that much.
Since the bars are rather attractive (probably more so if you don’t leave it at the bottom of your bag when traveling) I would be comfortable recommending this bar for craft projects like Gingerbread Houses in the style of mid-eighties cubicle farms.
Though the Milk Chocolate bar was plain, it wasn’t pretending to be anything it wasn’t. The Four Finger Wafer Bar is a KitKat clone. Instead of the simple declaration of the contents that the Milk Chocolate bar has, this one says that it’s “Crisp Wafer Fingers Covered in Smooth Milk Chocolate.”
Oh, now they’ve raised my expectations. I’m expecting some smoothiness and some crispiness.
The wrapper features more design than a lowly word processing program could handle. This does not make it any more attractive. It’s not your monitor either, there’s a strange green cast to the package as well.
There are, in fact, four fingers. They are, in fact, crisp. They do not taste like KitKat fingers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. These are a bit less flaky and light. Looking at the ingredients I see that maize flour (corn) is used instead of wheat flour of a Hershey’s or Nestle’s KitKat. I actually rather enjoyed the malty corn flavor of the wafers. However, the chocolate here was funky. It had an odd flavor to it, kind of like a new car smell.
This bar was made in the UK (the Milk Chocolate bar was made in the USA). Taquitos.net has a few of the other Dollar General candies reviewed. I get the sense that Dollar General just subs out the manufacture of all of their candy - the Rocklets they sell under their own name are made by Arcor in Brazil, this four fingered bar in the UK and the milk chocolate bar in the US ... so you wouldn’t expect them to be so consistent.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Another Limited Edition item from Reese’s and again playing around with similar ingredients. This time they’ve taken the Big Cup with Nuts (which was also a limited edition item - review here) and added some caramel to the bottom of the cup.
I don’t have a cross section of the actual cup because I kind of trashed it taking it out of the package and though it was certainly edible, it was not photogenic. So have a look at the Big Cup with Peanuts (click to get a pop up photo) and imagine a smidge of caramel at the bottom there.
The cup itself is nice and meaty, with lots of room to explore the nuts and peanut butter and a good balance of chocolate. The center is a bit salty which is good because the milk chocolate is a bit sweet and kind of greasy (I know that’s the hazard with chocolate and peanut butter). The caramel blends in well, it has its own salty kick but it doesn’t detract from the crunchy nuts or add too much sweetness. I’d prefer a chewier caramel like you find in a Snickers, but that’s not Hershey’s way.
I actually liked this one a bit better than the Reese’s with Caramel, the caramel was distinctive and the roominess of the peanut butter/peanut stack let it all breathe.
Just to give you a sense, here are the previous Reese’s reviews: Reese’s Bites (soon to be discontinued), Reese’s Cookies, FastBreak, Reese’s Sticks, Nutrageous, Reese’s Snack Barz, Reese’s Pieces Peanut, Reese’s Easter Eggs (two versions), Reese’s Bars for those who don’t like their candy in cups or shaped like trees, and of course the less-than-comprehensive Reese’s Full Line, another Big Cup (with mixed nuts) and their new favorite child, the Reese’s Crispy Crunchy Bar.
Friday, January 12, 2007
I’m a big lollipop fan. (No, not that I like big lollipops.) My favorite cheapo lollipop is the Orange Tootsie Pop (though I enjoyed the Limited Edition Tropical flavors last year, too). Blow Pops aren’t quite as good, mostly because the gum isn’t candy and they don’t come in orange.
While wasting time at the Pittsburgh Airport, I found these Blow Pop Minis. They herald, “It’s a Blow Pop with NO Stick!” Hallelujah! Now adults can eat their Blow Pops without being branded Rejuveniles.
While they say they’re Blow Pops without sticks, they’re also without mass. They’re wee little candies, about the size of a smooshed garbanzo bean. And they’re mostly candy. They come in four flavors: Watermelon, Blue Razz, Cherry and Sour Apple. (No, no grape, which is a classic Blow Pop flavor.)
I talk a lot about proportions when it comes to candy. Sometimes something can be coated in too much chocolate or not have enough of a particular element. Let me just say that the blow part of the Blow Pop Minis is sadly lacking.
First, the gum is hard and tacky. Some of the time it wouldn’t even chew, just sit in the crevasses of my molars until I picked it out or ate something to dislodge it. Second, if I got the gum to chew, it was a wee amount. We’re talking the size of a BB. It would probably take six candies to make the amount of gum in one Chicklet.
These are stupid. Why not make one large enough to hold a responsible amount of gum? These little candies are probably a third of the size of a Root Beer Barrel. And you’re wondering, why not just sell them has plain old unfilled hard candies? Well, then they’d just be Charms.
The gum ends up being tough and flavorless ... rather like chewing a stamp or a piece of paper.
The candy part isn’t bad but, of course, none of the flavors are favorites of mine.
This is just a bad idea.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
I’ve often said that you can cover garbage in chocolate and sell it as a delicacy. And we do, you can find chocolate-covered candied orange peels and even dead bugs. (I’m rather fond of the former, not so much with the latter.)
Of course potato chips are hardly garbage, they’re wonderful, wonderful things. I don’t eat them much any longer but I do admit that I miss them. But since my life is all about candy now, something had to go.
When I saw these in the 75% off post-holiday clearance section at Target I figured this was my opportunity to have some chips!
Let me start by saying it’s more chocolate than chip. Each chip is quite heavy but still bears the unmistakable shape and ripple of a potato chip. They even smell a bit of potato chips.
The coating on them smells sweet but not very chocolatey, it smells more like coconut and caramelized sugars. Some of the chips are stuck together, but hey, that happens in bags of chips anyway. There is an unmistakable crunch at the center and a nice hit of salt and an immediate potato chip flavor there.
But something is off about the chocolate. It felt greasy. It didn’t so much as melt as just slide around in my mouth. At first I didn’t know if it was because the chips imparted that but after looking at the ingredients I realized that it’s not chocolate.
Maud Borup’s recipe for milk chocolate goes something like this
So, I guess that’s why they’re called “Milk Chocolate Dipped” in quotes. When in reality it’s just the milk chocolate part that should be in quotes. I’m quite sure the dipped part is accurate. But real milk chocolate, at least in the United States must contain chocolate liquor (the slurry made from grinding up cacao until it’s a smooth paste that is often separated into cocoa powder and cocoa butter). Just putting in the cocoa powder does not make it chocolate. It makes it chocolatish or chocolate-flavored. The fat in chocolate should be cocoa butter ... not palm kernel and partially hydrogenated palm oils. (For the record, the partially hydrogenated amount must have been small since the trans fat content was marked as zero on the label, but who knows if the small print is accurate if they’ve already duped me with the milk chocolate claim.)
Anyway, I really wanted to like these because I am a huge fan of chocolate dipping, including savory items like pretzels. But the greasy texture of the not-chocolate coating and the weird buzzing feeling that the chips left in my mouth (I don’t know what that was ... maybe there were some traces of walnuts in there) just makes me wanna chuck these out the window. I’m really glad they were only two bucks and I didn’t pay the original $8 for them because then I would need to sweep up some glass.
(I’ve had other candies from the overlord company that owns Maud Borup and found them quite tasty, so I’m not going to write the company off completely, though I may email the company about my displeasure.)
Tuesday, January 9, 2007
Joseph Schmidt is a high-end chocolatier based in San Francisco and known for their stunningly beautiful sculptural creations of chocolate. I went to their shop and picked up the ugliest chocolates I could find, cuz I’m like that.
Okay, maybe they’re not the ugliest chocolates I’ve ever had, certainly some of my homemade creations have been pretty homely. The candy above is a strange disk of chocolate referred to as a Batik Slick. Sounds as good as it looks, eh?
It’s simply a very flat truffle. The disk has a little batik-inspired pattern on the top and a lightly flavored ganache in the center. It’s a lot of chocolate and very little filling.
They came in a box of four, weighed in at 3 ounces and had a strange design of bats made from artisan paper and gold googly eyes on the outside. (I bought them on November 1st ... they were from Halloween and 25% off). I have no idea what the different flavors are.
Dark Chocolate with Yellow Tulip may have been rum. Sweet and mellow, a bit creamy and with no real notable flavor except for maybe a hint of bubble gum. Milk Chocolate with Full Moon tasted a bit like coconut. Very sweet and a little greasy. Red-Centered Chocolate Blob had a nice milk chocolatey taste, smooth and creamy. Yellow Burst with Green tasted like lemon. How nice! I like lemon. The dark chocolate was very sweet but creamy and set off the zesty taste.
The truffles are a bit more traditional, except for the fact that they look like the nose cone of a missile. I’ve never been fond of molded chocolates, for some reason I prefer enrobed or dipped chocolates. I don’t know if it’s the rustic look or there’s actually some difference in the chocolate structurally. I’ve had Joseph Schmidt truffles before a few times but I’d never been able to pick them out myself. So at the store I picked the “mini” version because I thought the large ones were just so freakin’ huge that I’d want to eat them with a knife and fork ala Mr. Pitt.
This one is Raspberry Brandy and is nice and dark with a soft and flowing ganache. The shell cracks and falls apart quite easily but has a nice mellow and smoky taste to go with the raspberry infusion.
The other flavors were just as acceptable though nothing thrilling. Pecan Praline was sweet and woodsy, but more maple flavor than nutty. All Dark gave me a good sense of the chocolate, which is Belgian and smooth but the ganache was more buttery than chocolatey. Grand Marnier was ordinary, a touch of orange but it seemed lost in the butter and underwhelming chocolate.
I guess I just don’t understand the fuss about Joseph Schmidt. They’re interesting and certainly less expensive (about $25-$55 a pound) than some of the upscale chocolatiers out there makin’ noise. I have nothing against the tried-and-true flavors either (I’m a See’s nut, remember?) I just wasn’t satisfied after eating them.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.