Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Candy is a microcosm of society and existence. I know this because there are certain candies that indicate the presence of the divine in every scrumptious bite. Then there is evidence of evil on this planet. The Easter “marshmallow egg” is one of the latter candies.
This candy has promise on the outside, as all temptresses do. It’s big, so of course it’s appealing to any foolish child who hasn’t learned that “bigger is not always better.” What’s more, it is an evil that has no name. Really, what are these things called? If I say marshmallow egg, you might thing of the satisfying marshmallow half-hemispheres that are drenched in chocolate this time of year. Or even something that resembles an Easter-themed Circus Peanut. Brachs has chosen to call their version of these Bunny Basket Eggs. I will hereafter refer to them as BBBE, which when pronounced as an acronym (as all good acronyms should be) it will sound like a stuttered bee-bee or a very cold person trying to say ‘bean.’
Part of their temptation lies in their beguiling size, which is made up entirely of sugar with a dash of artificial color and carnauba wax. That’s a Starburst Jelly bean there; it’s no match for the Mastodon known as a Brachs Bunny Basket Egg.
I hope you understand that Brachs probably makes the finest BBBEs there are. They’re generous with the color and they’re even flavored. The green ones are lime and orange ones are orange. I can’t tell you what the rest are. Please don’t make me eat more of them.
If you haven’t already guessed, these are horrid candies. It’s not like I’m against eating pure sugar, I have in fact indulged in full spoonfuls of honey or brown sugar as a treat quite often. The shell of a BBBE is similar to a jelly bean. It’s a rather grainy sugar coating that’s smooth on the outside and lightly flavored. The center of a BBBE is a fluffy, grainy sugar that really isn’t like marshmallow, but I call it that because the ingredients mention gelatin and corn starch.
I don’t think BBBEs can be made and delivered fresh, not to mention the fact that few people eat them right out of a pristine bag. They’re intended to sit in amongst the pastel cello grass of an Easter basket until all the other choice candies are consumed and a desperate sugar-toothed child is force to eat it. Then the last thing this child remembers of his Easter experience is this deplorable egg. The smell of these inside the bag is like a mess of flavored lipsticks or a bad candle shop. A combination of fake fruit flavors and of course airborne microfine sugar which is intent on giving you that satisfying sweet feeling on your tongue before you even eat one.
I realize that this candy has its champions, and that by no means makes you minions of evil. I can only surmise that the experience of eating these foul little fingers of pure sucrose is inextricably tied to a pleasant experience and these help you relive a little of it. If that’s the reason, then I completely support their continued, but limited, production as a therapy device. If you would like to read someone who might share your unending love of these, you might want to pick up Hilary Lifton’s memoir called Candy and Me: A Love Story (you can preview the chapter online).
I honestly did try to like these. I never cared for them as a child, but I did buy them, make them look pretty in the photos (they are actually very pretty) and of course ate TWO! That’s why they get a rating of two instead of one. (You may now commence in the comments section telling me how wrong I am.)
Monday, March 13, 2006
For a while Hershey’s made a candy-shelled chocolate candy called Hershey-ets. They’re still produced at Christmas and sold in inside little ornaments or plastic cane-shaped tubes, but they’re not a regular product. Then came Hershey’s Kissables. While they’re a wonderful addition to the Hershey’s line, they’re still not the same as Hershey’s Eggs. Like Cadbury Mini Eggs, these are an Easter Only Item.
There are a lot of egg shaped candies this time of year, and just calling something Hershey’s Eggs seems like a poorly differentiated name. But candy lovers know what we’re talking about. Forget that the packaging probably hasn’t change much in twenty years ... these are just a jolt of chocolate wrapped in hard sugar.
Hershey’s Eggs have it all going on. It’s a large egg of chocolate, bigger than the size of an M&M Peanut. They come in lovely pastel shades of blue, yellow, pink and green. The shells are thick and hard, and give each candy a rather substantial feel. They’re solid milk chocolate and each Egg weighs the same as a single Hershey’s Kiss (really! I checked). The shells are super-thick and crunch but often I find that my shells have cracks in them. As I don’t think you can get salmonella from chocolate eggs, I don’t reject the broken-shelled ones as I would with a carton of chicken eggs. I do find that I’m not able to cleave off the shell with my teeth like I can with an M&M, but the different type of crunch is wholly satisfying. If someone is eating these near you, unless they’re suckers, you’re gonna know it.
Where the bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs smells like sugar and milk, the Hershey’s Eggs smell like chocolate. That tangy milk chocolate from Pennsylvania that you either love or hate. Fortunately there’s enough room in my heart to give both Hershey’s Eggs and Cabury Mini Eggs a ten. And of course I’ll proceed to stock up on these when Easter is over.
Many other holiday candies are just different packaging for regular candies. Really, what’s so Christmassy about red and green M&Ms or Peppermint Patties in red and green foil? Cadbury Mini Eggs stand as one of those candies that aren’t sold any other time of year and as much as I’d like them to be, I treasure them when I see them in a way that I might not if they were as ubiquitous as M&Ms (whatever color they might be).
Cadbury Mini Eggs are unique. While there are plenty of other candy covered chocolates ala M&Ms, the Hershey’s Eggs, Kissables, Jots and other imitators. There’s nothing else like the Mini Eggs, Cadbury doesn’t make a candy covered chocolate bean. They’re even oddly shaped, irregular, more like little rounded cones than eggs, they’re just such satisfying shapes.
What sets them apart from other chocolate candies at this time of years, first and foremost, is that they contain Cadbury chocolate. Cadbury is rather milky tasting, and certainly very sweet. Then it’s all cloaked in this amazingly odd slightly sanded, matte shell. The shell is crunchy and has slightly cool feel in the mouth. You can dissolve it away to get to the chocolate centers, or you can crunch the whole thing together for a sweeter burst.
The colors are even a little less common. Because of the matte finish the yellow, pink, blue and white morsels look like chunks of colored chalk and even have a slightly chalky feel when you first put them in your mouth.
Here’s the big surprise, when I turned them over to see where they were made it said “manufactured by Hershey Foods Corp under license from Cadbury, Ltd.” How long has that been going on? Um, since 1988 ... jeeze, shows you how much I pay attention!
UPDATE: New for 2007! Cadbury Royal Dark Mini Eggs ... hmm.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:13 am
Friday, March 10, 2006
I’ve ignored these bars for years. Well, they’re not really bars, they’re lumps. Maybe that’s why I avoided them, they’re just plops, like something you’d make at home.
I can’t say that I see them very often, but after the pleasant Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll experience, I thought I would give these a try. So what is a Bun? It’s a nut and milk chocolate patty filled with a white fudge/fondant (vanilla or maple) or caramel. The Bun bar was originally made by Wayne Bun Candy Company back in the 1920s, which was based, oddly enough in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Later the bar was bought by Clark of Pittsburgh (the Clark bar) but when Clark was ailing they sold the Bun rights off to Pearson’s in 1998, which only makes sense as Pearson’s was already known for their high protein Salted Nut Roll.
The version that appealed to me most was the caramel, so I’ll start with it. The nuts are whole (or halves, actually) so they provide a huge boost of texture to the sweet milk chocolate. The center is a thick and soft caramel. The whole bar doesn’t smell like peanuts or caramelized sugar, instead it smells like coconut. It also has a tangy quality to it that I can’t quite put my finger on that kind of ruined the experience. It’s salty, but not quite in the right balance.
The chocolate on this one was glossier and I have to say, when it’s fresh, it’s a rather handsome looking candy plop. This one has the requisite nut and chocolate smell. The vanilla center is sweet and has a nice vanilla flavor (part artificial and part natural). The peanuts keep the whole thing from being too sweet. It’s not a bar I would buy again, but I appreciate that when it first came out, as a combination bar it’s filling and interesting.
What kind of confuses me about the whole history of the Bun and Pearson’s is that they already have a candy similar to this, called the Nut Goodie. The Nut Goodie came on the market a good ten years earlier than the Bun Maple, yet Pearson’s still continues to make this regional favorite. (I’ll need to get a hold of one and do a comparison.) Anyway, this is definitely the highlight of the Bun line. The center on this is a maple fudge. It’s smooth and soft and has a microfine crystalline structure that melts quickly in the mouth and mingles well with the nuts and milk chocolate. It’s quite a bit saltier tasting than the Vanilla one, but I think that’s what makes the flavors pop. Of the three, this is the one that was consumed first. I suspect that these are the hardest to find of the three varieties, so I can’t bump up the whole rating for the line.
If you’re looking for Pearson’s candy, look no further than their affiliate website. You have to buy in whole boxes, but their prices are excellent (less than $.65 a bar) and they offer assortments of Pearson’s and even retro candy boxes that include Rocky Road, GooGoo Clusters and Moon Pies.
(click on any photo for a bigger version)
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
See’s recently moved into the “candy bar” arena with their Awesome collection. They’re candy bars you can buy singly at their stores or in boxes of eight bars. They’re a buck a piece and prepackaged and a pretty good deal for a premium candy bar (unlike Lake Champlain’s 5 Star line).
See’s packaged an old favorite, peanut brittle into a compact bar and covered it with chocolate. It’s less of a nut brittle and more of a toffee though, in my opinion, but the recipe is absolutey for brittle (baking soda being the operative ingredient).
The bar is a little tiny, at only one ounce, it’s a little less of a candy bar than I’m used to. But the whole peanuts and salty brittle is a really great combination. It tastes really salty, but when I checked the sodium content, it’s not really any different than any other standard nut candy bar like a Reese’s or Snickers. The milk chocolate coating is sweet and smooth. The bar crunches and flakes easily with a slight foamy texture (that’s brittle for you). I liked the bar, but it’s not going to knock the Awesome Nut & Chew bar from that top spot in my mind.
I’m glad See’s created some more portable versions of their best candies. I’m just waiting for a Scotchmallow version in dark chocolate. I read in Los Angeles Magazine that the candy bars were actually created by the workers at the factory, who had been making them with short ends for themselves and as gifts when the corporate folks decided it was a really good idea. I know it sounds odd, but for dieters, these could be a good option. The bars are smaller than standard candy bars (this one is an ounce, the Nut & Chew and Walnut Brittle are 1.5 ounces) so you can feel indulgent without being tempted by a full box of mixed chocolates. I’m a firm believer in giving yourself what you crave, in moderation. Because there are a lot of nuts in all versions they’re very filling (the protein and all).
Monday, March 6, 2006
As part of this year’s Independent Food Festival and Awards sponsored by tasteEverything, I’ve been tapped as a jurist to give out an award for excellence in food. (You know it’s gonna be candy.) I decided after my mind-blowing experience touring candy factories in the Bay Area last December that it had to be something that really helped me to immerse myself in the true source of chocolate.
My 2006 Winner of the Independent Food Awards is The Best Things to Stick to your Marshmallow: Scharffen Berger Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs.
Cacao nibs are roasted cocoa beans, what all chocolate is made from. Scharffen Berger then pan coats them with 62% cacao semisweet chocolate. They’re complexly flavored little buggers, about the size of rice crispies - they’re crunchy, sometimes fibery, sometimes buttery and nutty ... always a surprise. Some flavors are like wine, raisins, coconut, coffee, oak, banana, apricot, sweet almond, grapefruit, cherry, cinnamon, clove ... I could go on and on. They’re like a blank canvas and a symphony all at once. They take over the senses and make you forget your train of thought. The coolest part is that each little morsel is independent of the others - it might have come from a different tree, might have been harvested weeks before or after its buddies in the tube. Eat one and get a sense of the particular, eat a palmful and travel the world.
So, what do you do with these besides just eat them like candy? You can bake with them, as I saw at Tartine in San Francisco, where you can get Rochers (like soft meringues) made with cacao nibs.
But I’m not really a baker. You can’t just serve an olive boat of these morsels to guests. Then oddly enough the answer came to me in the mail the same week. I was reviewing Plush Puffs, flavored, handmade marshmallows. With proximity being the mother of invetion, I tried putting things on my marshmallow. Actually, I tried mashing my marshmallow into things.
Now, given that I have the title of jurist, it was incumbent upon me to evaluate at least several other marsh-mashables. So I ordered up more Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs and a full array of Plush Puffs (Orange-Honey, Sam’s Sour Lemon, Maple Pecan and Vanilla Bean) and scoured my kitchen and a few stores for some options.
In the interests of trying to find the perfect thing to mash into my marshmallows, I pulled a few things out of the cupboard and ordered some others off of Chocosphere. Here are the results:
The definition of pure confection heaven has to be Orange-Honey Plush Puffs with Scharffen Berger Chocolate Covered Cacao Beans. This is the standard by which all other mashmallow-ables will be judged. (Really, why did I go on, how much better could I expect things to get?)
My second favorite thing to mash into my marshmallows has to be these Valrhona Chocolate Covered Orange Peels (Equinoxe Noir des d’ecorces d’oranges confites). They’re tiny pieces of lightly candied orange peel pan coated with 66% cacao dark chocolate. Smooth, sweet, crisp and with a great zesty orange taste. At $4.00 for 1.8 ounces, they’re even more expensive than the Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs, but as a little dash mixed in with the Cacao Nibs, it’s a welcome little burst of citrus energy. They go really well with both the Vanilla Bean and Maple Pecan ones but unlike the cacao nibs, they don’t work with everything.
It wouldn’t be fair of me to evaluate chocolate covered cacao nibs without trying out the naked ones. So I selected the Dagoba Cacao Nibs, which are also organic. The pieces are less consistent in size and shape than the chocolate covered brethren. They have a wild, alcoholic aroma. Smoky and woodsy to the nose, they provide a huge burst of flavor when eaten on their own but they’re also incredibly acidic and sometimes acrid, astringent and puckeringly dry. When pressed into the Vanilla Bean marshmallow, the sweetness and blankness allows the subtle cacao notes to shine while moderating the overt acidity.
With the success of the malted rice krispies squares, I thought I’d just go with the source materials. This wasn’t as pleasant. The malted milk powder is a bit salty and of course dry. The milk powder, I think, is part of the issue. Milk doesn’t really belong with marshmallow. In fact, it turns out that I don’t really care for the flavor of powdered milk.
I love molasses and my favorite sugar is Billington’s Muscovado. It’s got a sort of whiskey aroma to it, a complexity that you won’t find in refined sugars. I like to let it dry out in chunk and eat it that way. It doesn’t really stick to the marshmallows very well, and frankly, it makes it too sweet.
As a final confirmation about the Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, I brought the array of my top contenders to an Oscars (tm) viewing party Sunday night. At the end of the night the marshmallows were nearly gone and so were the CCCN while the plain nibs were largely untouched. On top of that, people were pleased with the fun combination of flavors. (And as a capper we got to taste some new regionally-sourced chocolate ice creams. Yum!)
There is one other company that I know of that makes chocolate covered cacao beans, called SweetRiot. I haven’t tried them yet, but I imagine they too are awesome.
If you’ve stumbled across this posting without first visiting the tasteEverything, have a look at all the other incredible finds from around the globe.
There are currently three varieties of Goetze’s Caramel Creams. Each has a different name, which is kind of confusing. The plain vanilla variety is called Caramel Creams (though people often call them Bull’s Eyes). The chocolate ones are called Bull’s Eyes and the strawberry ones are called StrawberriCreams. I’ve never seen the chocolate or strawberry versions in the tray pack (which is usually how I buy my Goetze’s), but I did find them in the pick-a-mix at Baldinger’s in Zelienople.
They all have the same cool sugar cream center, but the caramel outside is a little different.
Original: The original Caramel Cream is not really what I consider caramel. It’s not buttery and smooth, but more doughy. It tastes kind of like a plain cookie dough with a plain, sweet icing. The caramel itself isn’t particularly sticky, what really sells the candy is the cream center. There really isn’t anything else like a Goetze’s Caramel Cream. The center is cool and soft and melts away almost instantly. I usually turn my caramel creams inside out when I eat them, popping the cream onto my tongue and waiting for that to dissolve before consuming the caramel O.
Chocolate - These are wildly different tasting than the original flavor. The chocolate dough is dark and smoky, not really a creamy chocolate experience, more like a really chocolatey Tootsie Roll. The caramel cream center stands out even more in this candy because of the darkness of the caramel. I would buy more of these as a companion to my beloved originals.
Strawberry - Gah! They smell like fake strawberries and taste like it, too. The dough nature of the caramel doesn’t really lend itself to this flavor, it’s kind of like a poor imitation of strawberry shortcake, a little tart, very sweet. I had to excise these from my pick-a-mix candy as the smell was rather revolting to me. I know some folks will like these (and probably do, since they’ve been around for a while), but I’m not one of them.
All of these flavors also come in a Cow Tales version as well. Generally I prefer to buy my Caramel Creams in the tray pack, as I think they stay fresh better that way than the twisted cello wrapped candies in the pick-a-mix. (I give the caramel and chocolate varieties a 9 ... the strawberri one is probably a 3 in my book.) All varieties contain both Hydrogenated Oils and High Fructose Corn Sweetener.
Cotton Candy is an elusive sort of candy, you really can’t buy it prepacked and you certainly can’t make it at home (unless you buy or rent a cotton candy machine). If you live in a big metropolitan area you probably see it for sale by street vendors but most of us associate it with fairs and amusement parks. Dubble Bubble Fluff, I think, is trying to capture a bit of that special treat feeling, but they’ve got an added proposition ... it’s cotton candy and then it’s gum just like their cousin Razzles (also made by the same uber-corp, Tootsie).
This looks and feels just like cotton candy and smells like sweet strawberries and, of course, sugar. The texture is a little less airy than cotton candy, but then again, this is packaged stuff, not the “fresh from the carnival midway” candy floss.
I was afraid it would be sticky and heavy on the tongue, but it dissolves rather like regular cotton candy and then towards the end, instead of melting away completely it has a transitional period where it’s just a rather odd blob, but if you chew it, it turns out as gum!
That wad of fluff there that I took out for the photo (about a quarter of the bag) turns out to make a reasonable size piece of bubble gum. It looses its flavor and sweetness rather quickly, but the novelty factor and overall success of the transition from sugar floss to gum is pretty incredible. It’s not my chosen way to enjoy bubble gum, but they really achieved the cotton candy end of the proposition, so they get high marks for that. The gum part is a little disappointing, but then again, when I’m chewing Dubble Bubble, I usually just chew the sugar out and pop another piece.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.