Tuesday, October 31, 2006
I know it’s Halloween, but I’ve decided to cover chocolate covered fruit today. I’ve just had a craving for it, maybe it’s because it’s fall or maybe it’s because I’m lacking some micronutrients or something. I’ve also discovered that chocolate covered fruit is great for snacking on while writing. Especially when mixed with a few nuts like plain raw almonds and pretzels.
Trader Joe’s and their wonderful panned candy supplier have done it again. I just spotted Figments a couple of weeks ago and picked them up immediately. They’re dried black mission fig pieces covered in dark chocolate.
The pieces are quite variable, some as large as the tip of my finger and others the size a sunflower seed. The big ones, of course, were the best because there was a high density of both chocolate and fig. The figness got lost in the smaller pieces.
Dried figs have a wonderful earthy flavor to them, less sweet and tart than raisins. There’s the added bonus of the texture of the seeds, which some people don’t care for, but I think of as tree caviar.
Sometimes the chocolate overpowered the figness and sometimes the figness just wasn’t very powerful. This is definitely an excellent treat to have by your side when writing a novel. (Which I plan to start tonight at midnight, but have sadly eaten all my Figments already.)
Monday, October 30, 2006
I have only one gum that I consume regularly. It’s plain old Chiclets (peppermint). They’re not that easy to find (and I think made in Colombia now) so when I see the multipack at the 99 Cent Only store I usually grab one.
I then empty out the box on my desk and divide the pieces up into groups of three. I chew three pieces at a time and then spit it out when the sugar is gone. Rinse, repeat. A whole box of 12 pieces might last an hour.
Sugarless gum is great for freshening breath and calming a queasy stomach, but Chicklets are like candy to me. But let’s face it, they’re just white tiles ... sometimes I want something pretty to chew on.
So the 99 Cent Only store didn’t have the Chiclets last time I was in there ... so I bought these gumballs (hey, at 4 for 99 cents, how could I resist?). Made by Wonka, they’re plain old large gumballs with Nerds inside.
They’re big gumballs and have a pleasant rattle when you shake them close to your ear. The Nerds inside are confetti colored and have no relation to the outside color/flavor of the gumball itself. Some gumballs had lots of Nerds in them, with 12 being about average. However, there were two gumballs (I consumed two packages) that had four or less.
The gum itself was ordinary with a light fruity flavor.
Orange: orange - mild and pleasant. The tart bump of the Nerds was nice and combined well with the sugary graininess of the gum.
Purple: grape - it had that bitter initial taste to it, which I suspect is the food coloring. The flavor was floral and fruity though it faded quickly but went well with the Nerds.
Red: cherry - a light cherry flavor and a slight bitter tinge but sweet and pleasant after the flavor was halfway gone.
Green: apple - I’m not sure what flavor this was, it was sweet and fruity and had a slight sour bite which goes nicely with the grainy tartness of the Nerds.
Yellow: lemon - sweet and tangy and probably the most flavorful of all of them, not that it lasted very long.
I’m not going to switch to these. The flavor wasn’t very intense, though the gum was nice and soft and had a good sugar charge to it that was supplemented by the Nerds. If you’re one of those people who likes to eat saltines with your gum for a nice crunch, these might be perfect for you.
Friday, October 27, 2006
In my pumpkin roundup the other day I didn’t include an Pumpkin Peeps. I actually went to the store and couldn’t find them. But I did get the next best thing, which would be the Peeps Spooky Cats.
When they were in their little tray they didn’t look very scary, except for that fear I have for conformity. In fact, they didn’t even look like black cats to me, but that could have been the lighting at the Walgreen’s. But no, I got them home and they are most definitely purple.
I can’t really say much else about them. I think I covered my feelings for Peeps back at Easter.
The newish product I was looking forward to showing here were the Cocoa Cats, which are a cocoa dusted/infused Cat Peep. Unfortunately there were none to be had (what’s with Peeps this year?). Anyway, I still have the Cocoa Peeps left over from All Candy Expo.
They don’t taste like much either, maybe a slight hint of cocoa to them, like a watered down cup of hot cocoa. What I found most curious about them is that they’re much less likely to go stale.
I’ve had these since June. I opened the package, took some photos and then put them back into the package. I left them in my tasting drawer (yes, the Candy Blogger has a drawer full of things to taste and write about) and checked them about a month later and they were pretty much the same. I didn’t seal up the bag or anything. So I left them out. Really left them out. Still, after an overnight sitting with a paper towel covering them and they were still soft. Eventually I got bored (or moved offices or something) and packed them back up and they went back into the drawer in their loose packaging.
Today I took them out and they’re still not stale enough. I bite into them and they give. Okay, maybe they’re a little tacky ... certainly more texture than usual.
Still, not my thing. As bunnies they’re kind of cute ... especially since I had bunnies this color when I was a kid. As a scary cat for Halloween ... well, purple is kind of sassy, a brown cat for Halloween is just lame.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Even if you don’t like candy corn you have to at least appreciate it. It’s festive and as a candy it actually looks like corn kernels. (I know fewer and fewer people have actually seen whole silos filled with feed corn, but trust me - that’s pretty much what it looks like.)
Maybe you’ve even wondered how they make it. Candy corn is made by creating a mold in corn starch. A “positive” image of the finished candy corn is pressed into a tray of firmly packed corn starch to create the “negative” image of the corn shape with the tip a the very bottom. Then the tray has a layer of molten candy squirted into it. Then it goes to the next color layer until it has three layers built up. You can see that they kind of blend a little bit at the margins, which is good, because it helps the candy bond together as a whole. The recipes for each layer are slightly different (colors and sometimes flavors) but work as a whole.
After they’re layered properly they’re demolded, which usually means they’re dumped out of the tray and tumbled or shaken on a mesh screen to get the corn starch off. Then they’re tumbled again (usually) with a little glaze to give them their matte coats. Every once in a while you’ll get one that seems to be missing a layer, which I find kind of fun, because real corn is like that.
This process can be applied to any kind of shape but the layering thing is most often seen with the candy corn. Other “mallocremes” are made the same way but with different mold shapes (so the pumpkin ones would have the little green stem squirted in first and then the orange cream for the pumpkin gourd). What’s pretty cool about this process is that sometimes people think outside the box. This time they’ve created “Gourmet Goodie” which is flavored candy corn. I’ve seen them at Target, but didn’t quite want to pick up a whole jar because of my pre-existing candy corn consumption commitments.
The flavor that interested me most was Tangerine. The colors are funky, the bottom is orange, the middle yellow and the top is lavender. Not the most intuitive combo for something in the citrus family, but you know you can’t tell after it’s in your mouth.
The first thing I noticed about these was how beautiful they are. The color combos really are nice. In the mouth they’re ultrasmooth without a hint of graininess, yet there’s a pleasant soft crumbly texture to them. The next thing I noticed was a tartness. Being tangerine they’re not about the “essence” of the fruit, but more about the juice of the fruit.
The tangerine reminded me of a creamsicle. Sweet, mellow, a little creamy feeling and a sort of neutral tartness.
Next was the one that I dreaded, Cherry. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a stunning looking piece of candy. red on the bottom, pink in the middle and a yellow cap. It also had the same smoothness and not nearly the tangy-ness as the tangerine. But it also had the cherry flavor. It was strong cherry and had a bitter, medicinal note to it. (But of course I don’t like cherry, so you can completely disregard my dislike for this.)
Green on the bottom, yellow in the middle and orange on top, this one could easily be mistaken for the tangerine. Also tart and with a kind of artificial flavor, the apple grew on me. The mellow candy corn notes that we usually associate with the honey flavor kind of work here. I would be curious to taste one that was more in the apple pie family of flavors, with cinnamon notes and less of the green apple flavors.
They’re undoubtedly high quality, but I’m just not keen on the taste. The tangerine was passable, but the apple and cherry just repulsed me.
For another opinion check out CandyAddict’s review.
I am actually curious about Galerie au Chocolat, the manufacturer who sent me the samples. While I didn’t care for this product, I’d be willing to try some other stuff (especially if there’s some of that ‘chocolat’ involved). If you live in the Hebron, KY area (near Cincinnati, OH), you might be interested to hear that Galerie has an annual candy corn sale, the last day is Sunday, October 29th. (visit their site, click on “visit us”) ... they said 50 cents a pound!
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
There were people who wanted me to do this. There were readers commenting that I should be covering Halloween goodies. So here goes. I went to the drug stores over the weekend and found all the pumpkins, most of them marshmallowy.
I did a roundup earlier this year of Easter eggs from Russell Stover and I was pleasantly suprised by the taste and quality of them, so it wasn’t hard to purchase these (though they were only on sale for 50 cents each).
This one really appealed to me because it reminded me of one of my favorite candies ever, the See’s Scotchmallow (always best in the dark chocolate single pieces, not the milk chocolate “bar” thing). The pumpkin shape out of the package is actually pretty good. It has some shape and definition, which I enjoyed quite a bit.
It smelled sweet and not a bit like chocolate. The caramel is soft and flowing and the marshmallow firm and bouncy but very moist. The combination of all the textures is nice, but the caramel doesn’t quite have that toasted sugar taste and it’s not quite salty enough to balance out all the other sweetness.
I have to say, after staring at the packaging for Russell Stover for the past couple of days, I’ve decided I don’t really like it. It has a sort of faux Peanuts feel to it that I find a little sad. Maybe it’s that the colors are too much like Easter and I feel like Charlie Brown and this might be the equivalent of getting a rock in my Trick or Treat bag.
This was certainly the best looking pumpkin of the whole bunch. It was thick and had a well-defined and easily recognizable shape. The bite was nice, with the soft and fluffy marshmallow center, but it lacked a vanilla punch. It just lacked flavor. The chocolate couldn’t carry it, because it didn’t have much flavor of its own, though it’s not like it was bad, just sweet and without any sort of dairy component to even give it a little kick.
I love the purple package. I really do, but it kind of confused me. Hershey’s is positioning purple as their color for dark chocolate (they use it on the Dark Kisses and those dark jewel tones on the Special Dark packaging). But no, this is milk chocolate.
I figured if I was disappointed with the lack of flavor in the Russell Stover marshmallows, Hershey’s would pick up the slack. After all, Hershey’s is known for their distinctive milk chocolate. This one was packaged nicely, a much bigger package than the Russell Stover even though it was slightly lighter. The marshmallow is nice and lofty and has a more firm latexy quality to it. Dryer and with a distinctive fake vanilla flavor, the marshmallow certainly had some personality. The chocolate on here was not really up to the challenge though. Too grainy, too sweet and just not creamy enough for me. I kinda scraped it off with my teeth so I could have more uninterrupted marshmallow. (This pumpkin was made in Canada.)
Everyone’s well aware of my love of Reese’s but this has to be the ugly duckling of the pumpkin bunch. It barely even looks like a pumpkin, it was difficult to extract from the wrapper and has a plain old greasy appearance and feel.
Now, all that aside, it’s a Reese’s Egg ... and I love Reese’s Eggs. They’re different from Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the ratios are different and though they tried to recapture this difference with the Reese’s Limited Edition Bars earlier this year, I think these unattractive lumps offer something compelling enough to warrant making them seasonally. The center is firm and a little crumbly, a mix of salty, grainy and sweet with a thin and sticky milk chocolate coating that adds a little more sweetness to the mix.
I’ve saved the best for last. Last spring I tried my first Snickers novelty item, it was a Snickers Easter Egg. I actually liked it quite a bit and found it different enough from a regular Snickers bar to put it in the same class as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg (ratios and all that). For some reason the Snickers Pumpkin might have a slight edge on the Egg. It might have been because I couldn’t easily re-wrap the pumpkin in its foil wrapper, I had to eat it right away. Well, it might not technically have been eaten ... it might have been gobbled.
There aren’t as many whole peanuts in the pumpkin, but there’s a definite nuttiness to it. The nougat seems moister and flavorful and the soft caramel is smooth and has a little toasted salty hit to it that helps out the whole thing. The chocolate is merely adequate, but smooth enough to support the whole (and of course give it the lovely pumpkin shell).
If you’d like more opinions on the other pumpkin shaped goodies, coincidence has it again that Rebecca has posted on the Hershey’s orange pumpkins and Joanna has both orange flavored ones that I couldn’t bring myself to purchase.
All of the pumpkins I listed were 50 cents each on sale. If you’re looking for stuff to throw into the Trick or Treat bags, stick with the tried and true candies, they’re less expensive (when on sale most fun sized bars can be 10 cents each). If you’re looking for a little treat for yourself, it’s not a bad gamble. Overall I’m giving them all a 4 out of 10. They’re benign ... they’re not the epitome of their genre, but they’re not embarrassments either.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Like Candy Corn, Peeps and Peanut Butter Kisses are one of those seasonal candies that people either love or hate. I’m gonna go ahead and say right now, I’m on the side of love here.
I don’t know if I’ve ever had “name brand” peanut butter kisses before, these are the first I’ve ever seen that have anything on the black & orange wax wrappers. Made by Necco, Mary Jane Peanut Butter Kisses are a molasses taffy with a little blurp of peanut butter in the center.
The molasses taffy is soft and flavorful, with a rustic taste of mellow molasses with a little smoke and woodsy maple in there. In the center (or somewhere near there) is a pocket of peanut butter, a little crumbly and of course nutty and roasty tasting. The salty hit of the fatty peanut butter is a great combo with the sweet taffy. I much prefer them to the traditional Mary Janes, which I find not only a little too hard but also not enough of a “concentrated peanut butter” dollop.
Since these are not a spectacularly popular candy, with their rather mousy wrappings and bland colors they’re easily found dirt-cheap in the remainder bins after Halloween, which is when I prefer to buy them. If they’re a little old and stale, a little warm-up in the palm of your hand will revive them.
Some other notes: Mary Janes were originally made by the Miller Company starting in 1914, which was later bought by another taffy company called Stark Candy Company that continued the Mary Jane tradition. In 1990 Stark sold out to Necco, who continues to make the traditional Mary Janes pretty much unchanged from its original format.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Sometimes a candy is so gorgeous it stops me dead in my tracks. Not that it looks tasty, it’s just so darned photogenic. Intense colors, fun textures, inventive shape ... it’s all so compelling.
I’ve seen these bears in bulk bins all over the country and didn’t know who made them until I went to the All Candy Expo. Turns out Albanese Confectionery makes a lot of gummis, including the exotic flavors you’ll find at Dylan’s Candy Bar (banana was really interesting!) and the super cute Gummi Army Men. I even unwittingly had one of the huckleberry ones last year. An ‘A’ on a gummi bear’s tummy means Albanese (the best way to spot them in bulk bins), another difference is they’re also a little larger than a Trolli or Haribo bear.
The most freakishly beautiful candies of their line are their Krunchy items. Krunchies are soft gummis coated in little crunchy nonpareils. The mix of the soft bouncy texture of the gummi combined with a little sour bite of the “sticky” element and then the crunchy candies is just plain fun. (But you know, it’s functional too, the candy coating also keeps them from sticking together.)
They make other varieties of the Krunchy items such as gummi rings, worms and hearts and most come in different colors for different holidays.
These gummis come in six flavors: Cherry (red), Lemon (yellow), Watermelon (pink), Apple (green), Orange (orange) and Raspberry (blue). As usual, the citrus ones were my top faves, but the apple and raspberry were ranking pretty high, mostly because gummis in that flavor aren’t that common. But the weirdest part was the watermelon one, it just had a weird bitter aftertaste to me ... and the stranger thing is that I had the same experience with the Sandy Candy watermelon flavor too, so maybe there’s just something that reacts oddly with me.
If you see them in bulk bins, fear not! They’re as tasty as they are pretty.
(Albanese has a limited web store but the prices are FANTASTIC, usually you pay a premium when you order right from the company, like M&Ms or Hershey, but they have gummi bears for $2.29 a pound plus shipping. However, they ask some strange and personal details like age and gender. Let me know here if you ever order from them. They also have a factory store in Indiana, which I plan to visit someday.)
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Last night I watched The Secret Life Of ... on Food Newtork. The topic was Sweet and Sour and part of the episode featured the All Candy Expo in Chicago. Jim O’Connor covered Lemonheads (a special fave of mine), traced the development of America’s Sour Tooth and of course toured the Expo floor.
Then part of the episode took a turn towards a product line called Too Tarts, made by Innovative Candy Concepts. This post is not a product review, because I absolutely refuse to eat the products on purpose. They’re shamefully misrepresented.
The package I picked up at All Candy Expo was purely by accident. I was sitting in a seminar and they were in a bowl and both me and the other folks at my table idly grabbed a bag and dug in. I spit mine out and so did the fellow next to me. It was seriously foul - the chew was rubbery and the taste was instantly fake and had a strong aftertaste. The package says they’re Real Fruit & Honey with NO REFINED SUGAR ... “up to 5 times more natural ingredients than any other fruit candy snack” ...blah, blah, blah. What they don’t holler at you on the front is that there are TWO different artificial sweeteners in there ... Acesulfame Potassium and Sucralose.
Acesulfame Potassium is also known as AceK. It’s 180 times sweeter than sugar and is not retained by the body. It’s known for a bitter aftertaste so it’s often used in conjunction with other sweeteners. In this case it’s Sucralose (found in Splenda), which more than 500 times as sweet as sugar and is also not retained by the body. If you’re curious about artificial sweeteners and their possible cancer causing/nerve damage potential, cruise around the ‘net.
Now, you might wonder why I rage against artificial sweeteners. Yes, I have a bad reaction to aspartame, but I actually believe they have their place. However, their place is not in candies marketed for otherwise healthy children. Childhood is time of training our bodies to understand what we put into them and learning our satiety levels with different foods. Part of how our bodies and brains judge how many calories we’re consuming has to do with how sweet they are. They’ve done studies and have shown that there may be some connection between diet sodas and obesity because the body is no longer able to judge properly how many calories it’s taking in. If adults are messed up with this stuff, what will it do to kids who consume it from a young age? What’s worse is these candies are making it look like they’re sweetened with either honey or fruit juice. Sure, the package says “No Refined Sugar!” But it doesn’t once mention the complex chemical compounds called ‘sweeteners’ they’re putting in there except in the fine print of the ingredients.
There’s no reason to give kids fake candy ... there are other options for sweet treats out there. Please read the packages carefully. I’m irritated that this candy exists and further irritated that Food Network gave them such a huge feature without ever mentioning the presence of artificial sweeteners in the candy.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.