Friday, December 30, 2005
The Man picked up some new stuff for the stockings this year. Besides the typical hard candies (Brach’s) and Hershey’s Kisses (in red and green foils) we got two new items:
Butterfinger Jingles (Nestle) - you know what’s great about these? They’re made with real milk chocolate. Instead of that waxy “chocolate coating” on the Butterfinger bar, Jingles start with real milk chocolate and then put little crunches of Butterfinger centers. They’re a bit bigger than a Hershey’s Kiss, which is a little too big in my opinion, but I’ll survive with a larger bite.
The other thing is, these made me realize is how clever Milton Hershey was when he decided how to wrap the Kisses with the foil wrapping “up” the Kiss, instead of putting the edges of the foil on the bottom. This is evident with the Jingles because all the foil edges are folded to the bottom of the Jingle so that it doesn’t have a flat bottom ... they wouldn’t sit straight for my photo.
The other new candy for us was the Hershey’s Mint Mix Miniatures. There are three different bars, Milk Chocolate with Mint, Semisweet Chocolate with Mint and White Chocolate with Mint and Candy Bits.
The Milk Chocolate with Mint is positively blasted with mint. Seriously minty. Not Altoid-level, but for a chocolate product, I’m surprised it was brown it was so minty. I had to sequester these bars from the rest of the stocking mix because they were contaminating the Jingles. No one wants minted Butterfinger Jingles. The dark one was nice, nothing to write home about and maybe a little sweet but I did actually enjoy the White Chocolate one. I know, white chocolate, most people go, “ew.” But I do have a fondness for misty mints and let’s face it, that’s all this is. The good news is that Hershey’s uses actual cocoa butter in their white chocolate, so at least it’s not jam-packed with trans fats. They are actually the best thing in this mix, smooth, not too sweet and not too artificially vanilla tasting.
If you see any of these on sale after Christmas, they’re well worth picking up to keep around for snacking. I really don’t care what my candy is dressed in, as long as it’s good.
Rating - 7 out of 10 (but if you can find them for 75% off, then it’s a 10 all the way)
I had no idea Ferrara Pan came out with a new candy. They’re best known for Lemonheads, which are the best lemon hard candies ever. I figured these would be like Skittles.
They’re about the same size, maybe a little larger but a bit harder feeling. There’s a candy shell with a bit of flavor to it and then a chewy center. The center doesn’t taste like anything at all, just sweet and the shell is tart and sweet and crunchy. The cool thing about the shell is if you bite it right, you can get just the shell to come off, which is where the flavor is. The center isn’t quite a gummy, not quite a jelly bean. It’s hard to describe and not really that good. If they really wanted to make everyone sit up and notice their first new candy line in 40 years, a combination between a Skittle type chew and the Lemonhead’s flavored shell would have been awesome.
Sadly, they did not consult me.
The flavor variety is nice: orange, lemon, grape, green apple and cherry but the colors are a little off. The grape is not purple as shown on the package but more like a navy blue. The colors were also not consistent or even, which is too bad because I’ve always liked the way Lemonheads looked. The name is cool, like marbles but with an N, only I don’t know what the N stands for. It also feels like the candy is trying to hard to be cool, calling them “slammers” and positioning them as “awesome” and “get narbleized”. But their website is a little odd when you click on “where to buy” it says you can’t find them in stores for your state ... but I did!
If Ferrara Pan wants these to be a big hit, I really think they need to add that Lemonhead layer, you know, the one under the candy shell that’s a little grainy and bursting with sour goodness. That fills a hole in the fruit chew market and would put these up on the list of candies that I’d buy. It’d not only make the candy tastier, it’d set it apart from other sours and chews because of the interactive element of waiting for the sour layer or trying to peel it with your teeth. I know it’s probably more expensive to pack that much flavor into them, but at over two ounces per package, I’d be willing to settle for 1.5 ounces of really tasty candy. For now, I’ll just keep picking up Skittles.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Thursday, December 29, 2005
It took me a long time to figure out what a chocolate donut has to do with Wonka (the books or movies), but after mulling it a bit it came to me that there’s a line in Veruca Salt’s song “I Want It Now” in the 1972 version of the movie:
Yeah, that’s a stretch, but there you have it, the donut Veruca was insisting on.
It’s okay, the Wonka Donutz has as little to do with the bakery donuts as they do the movie. They’re donut shaped. There’s no bready, fried dough in there at all. It’s chocolate, through and through except for the fun little colored nonpareils. But whew, these are chocolatey.
The Donutz is a plump, milk chocolate hoop with a firm, creamy chocolate truffle-like center. The outside chocolate is mild and sweet, like that found in a Nestle Crunch bar. A little on the grainy side, but pleasant. The inside of the candy is a sweet and melty filling of chocolate with a slight rum aroma to it. The sprinkles (half of which are guaranteed to not make it into your mouth) provide a fun little crunch.
I wasn’t really that interseted in this candy until Alexander, a reader, sent me his own review. Overall I was expecting something fudgier and sweeter (which would have been a bad thing). Instead it was just very mildly chocolatey and mildly sweet with some textures to mix it up a bit. I would probably eat it if you put it in front of me, but I don’t see myself buying them unless I’m going for a Wonka theme thing. This candy bar was made in Brazil.
Rating - 6 out of 10
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Name: Snickers Almond
Why didn’t someone mention that the Mars bar was quietly replaced with the Snickers Almond bar five years ago? I didn’t notice. Mostly because I was never a Mars bar fan. A Mars bar in the States used to be a nougat bar with almonds and a strip of caramel and covered in milk chocolate. A Mars bar in other parts of the world is like a Milky Way is here in the States: a nougat bar with a stripe of caramel covered in milk chocolate. In the rest of the world a Milky Way is like the American 3 Musketeers. I can go on and on, but suffice to say that Mars has a big old confusing name problem on their hands and all I can do is try to make a grid to display it. (Please correct me if I’ve got them wrong.)
USA….............. contents ..................UK/Canada
You know, there are a bazillion names for these candy folks to choose from, why do they have to confuse the globe-trotting candy lovers so? For some other attempts at disambiguation, have a look at this page comparing the old Mars and the Canadian Milky Way (with cross sections).
But I digress. I’m supposed to be reviewing the Snickers Almond bar.
But I don’t wanna review this bar because I didn’t like it much and it reminded me why I forgot about the bar entirely. It smells good, which is just a ruse. First, the nougat is nothing more than a flavorless grainy sweet blob. Good nougat has a flavor of some sort, an essence of honey or malt or, well, something. This is just sweet. The caramel is also sweet, but has a touch of salt to it which I fully support. The almonds are nice, but scant. The chocolate is sweet and passable as a chocolate cloak. As a whole combination it just didn’t wow me and didn’t satisfy me. I didn’t finish it.
There are other bars out there that do this better. The See’s Awesome Nut & Nougat Bar is one (but probably not a viable alternative as it’s not that easy to get a hold of). Frankly I prefer the plain old Snickers bar to this. There was a Mars Midnight for a while there in the nineties that I was rather fond of but gone now.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Friday, December 23, 2005
Name: Italian Soft Almond Nougat
When I was a kid we got rather eclectic Christmas stockings filled with candy treats that we never got any other time of the year. Christmas candy was unlike any other in our house or for any other holiday, it was a trip around the world in an oversized sock. English hard candies, Swiss & Belgian chocolates and Italian Torrones. I’ve been having a hard time finding Torrones the past few years here in Los Angeles, I used to get them at Cost Plus World Market, but haven’t seen them for quite a while. This is why I was so excited to see that Trader Joe’s had these when I was there last weekend.
Torrones are soft nougat usually flavored Amaretto, orange, vanilla or
lemon. Most European countries have their own version of the Torrone, the French do nice nougats, in both the soft and hard varieties and the Swiss Toblerone bar has hard honey nougat bits in it and the Spanish are well known for their version, the Turron. The European nougat is rather different than what you find in the American candy bar trade. Trader Joe’s has carried nougat in the past in long bars, but I’d never seen these Christmas classics before. They’re individually wrapped pieces in its own little box and gives a little history:
There are 18 of these little individually wrapped packages, boxed together. The torrone is soft and pliable white nougat that is and is sheathed in an edible, tasteless wafer to keep it from sticking. The slice of nougat has a lot of nuts but is not as “fluffy” as some others, in fact, it looks downright flat. The pieces are ample, like one of those big block pencil erasers. The scent is very nice, sweet and with a good
dose of honey in there. It’s good and soft, so it’s not going to remove any dental work, sweet and it dissolves quickly and mixes with the delicate almonds. The flavoring is a little odd. Most Torrones are one flavor but this one seems to be a mix of lemon and amaretto. But neither is very apparent so it just ends up being a subtle essence.
Overall, they’re not quite satisfying my jones for a good Torrone, but they are fresh and here so they’ll do for now for the stocking stuffers. They’re certainly cheaper than some others I’ve bought but I miss the fanciful pictures of Italian royalty on the individual boxes. The biggest drawback of the overpackaging (plastic wrap, boxes inside bigger box) is that it’s quite obvious how many you’ve eaten when there’s a huge pile of torrone detritus next to you on the couch.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
I’ve noticed that I get a lot of Google search hits on this blog for CraniYUMS. Well, that and Choxie. So it’s about time I gave folks what they’re looking for. This has got to be one of the more innovative candy formats I’ve seen. I got this as a sample at my Candy Warehouse visit over the summer. They hadn’t decided to carry the pops, so I didn’t want to blog about it until it was available then I forgot about it until I saw Candy Addict‘s post a few weeks ago.
What is it? It’s a hard candy lolly in the shape of a Tyrannosaurus rex skull then covered in a gummi “flesh”. The fleshy part is transparent, so you can see the skull shape at the center. It’s actually a pretty fun idea.
I wasn’t quite sure how to approach consuming it. A gelatinous skin does not lend itself to sucking, and of course it’s a bit big for putting in the mouth whole. So when I tried nibbling on the end of his snout, I kind of get the sense that there should be some growling involved. The gummi part is definitely gummi, but I guess that’s a good thing. You kind of have to rip it off the candy skull with your teeth. As a gummi it’s rather mild, not zesty orintensely flavored. The skin is cherry flavored and the skeleton is green apple. Once a corner has been started it’s pretty easy to nibble off pieces then to get to the center. The skeletal center is hard candy, but not quite hard, because I’m guessing the gummi softens it a little bit. The flavor overall was just bland, I wanted some zip to it all. Maybe mine was a little old, but I also think I’d prefer the lemon/cherry combo.
I’m obviously not the target market for this candy, but I can see it being a fun thing to pick up at a museum gift shop for my nephew should we go look at a dinosaur exhibit. But I can also see a kid getting kind of bored with it after a few minutes. It depends on the kid. I found myself eating all the gummi skin but I didn’t eat the center. They get big points from me on originality, but I see it as more of a special occasion candy than a regular one.
The package says it’s made in China, but it’s distributed by an Denver, CO company.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Dang if these aren’t the cutest candy with a shell to come along in years. Vibrant primary and secondary colors in that familiar Kiss shape only smaller and more “poppable.” When I saw the promo stuff on the internet at first they looked a lot like the tops of crayons and now that I have them in front of me I still think that. The shells aren’t quite as pretty and consistent as an M&M, but the vibrancy of the colors is pretty phenomenal.
Though Hershey’s Kisses are wonderful little candies, Hershey found out long ago that folks only buy them in large bags. Hershey tried for a while to launch smaller bags, but people just don’t buy them that way. Here’s an easier way to take Hershey Kisses to a movie (less unwapping, thankyouverymuch).
But let’s get to the eating, because convenience and color doesn’t mean diddly if it’s not tasty. These are tasty. I bought two bags - one to spill out in front of the unopened package (you actually get more than shown in the photo in the package, I ate or rejected about ten of them). The shell is a lot like the familiar M&M shell, it’s crunchy, sweet and has no flavor of its own like the UK Smarties do. The little fellows are about the size of chocolate chips instead of the large Kisses. The inside is Hershey’s chocolate - very sweet, a little milky and with an overall pleasant smoothness. The biggest issue I have with this is that I can’t eat them quite like M&Ms. When I’m eating a plain M&M, I’ll arrange the candy in my teeth on edge and crack it so that one half of the shell falls away and I get pure crunch, then mostly chocolate. These just don’t cleave that way. But maybe I’ll find some other interesting way of eating them, at the moment biting off the little tips seems pretty fun.
If you like M&Ms, you’ll probably like these. I don’t see Hershey’s coming out with a version with nuts anytime soon, as there’s just no room in there for one (well, maybe a sesame seed). Interesting fact: when M&Ms were first developed they contained Hershey’s chocolate. In fact, one of the Ms in M&M is for Hershey’s sales manager, William Murrie (or his son Bruce who was in business with Forrest Mars during the period they developed the candy-coated chocolate). They were made with Hershey’s up until the late sixties (I can’t find the exact date).
Other Reviews - CandyAddict gives it a positive, Accidental Hedonist’s musings on candy coated chocolates, JunkFood Blog points out that these are made without peanut traces, which M&Ms are not.
Rating - 8 out of 10
UPDATE 8/7/2008: Hershey’s reformulated Kissables sometime in 2008 and they are no longer made with real chocolate. Full review & comparison here.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Name: Jelly Belly Classic Candies - Jelly Belly jelly beans, Fruit Pectin, Jordan Almonds, JBz, Cinnamon Bears, Dutch Mints, Licorice & Berry Mix
At the beginning of December I took a trip to San Francisco and had to stop at the Jelly Belly factory (see that article with pics here). I was lucky enough to have a guided tour of the facility by none other than the publicist for the company, Tomi Holt. At the end of my factory tour she wanted me to try more of the Jelly Belly line than just the jelly beans. She picked out a few items including this box called Classic Candies which includes samples of many of the candy in Jelly Belly’s line (see my review of their Malted Milk Balls). A lot of it was surprising to me, I didn’t know they made pectin fruits or gummis and if you’re looking for some new tastes without buying a full package this is a good option.
Of course the box contains a good assortment of the most popular Jelly Belly flavors incuding Lemon, Sizzling Cinnamon, Cotton Candy, Licorice, Green Apple, Peach, Very Cherry, Buttered Popcorn, Blueberry and Juicy Pear. I have to admit that I’m not fond of all of them, but I appreciate the complexity of the flavors. The peach is a good example. While many “peach flavored” things get one or two notes of peach in there, somehow the Jelly Belly tastes like it has fuzz (I consider that an accomplishment). My favorites are Licorice, Sizzling Cinnamon and Lemon, but some others are growing on me like Cotton Candy and Blueberry. If you’ve never had a Jelly Belly, the first thing you should know is that they contain no gelatin. So if you’re a vegan, you can eat these! (Though the plant uses milk in some products and cannot guarantee that there aren’t traces.) They’re also Kosher.
The Raspberries and Blackberries were another pleasant surprise. I was expecting those German berries that I’ve had before that are nice, but a little sweet and a little chewy. These are tart and flavorful, with a complex combination of the sour, the crunchiness of the sprinkles that mimic berry seeds and then a good aromatic lingering aftertaste. This was much more pronounced in the blackberry, which was downright pungent.
I’m adding this little gem in here even though it wasn’t in the box. They’re called “Champagne Bubbles” and they’re very much like the Raspberries & Blackberries in that it’s a tart fruit jelly/gummi center with a crunchy shell of dots. The flavor here is a rather bubbly white grape juice that actually has a little sizzle. They’re not as aromatic as the berries but they’re easier to eat in large quantities that way. The sassy appearance makes them a good item to use for weddings and showers if you want a little change from Jordan Almonds.
I didn’t even know Jelly Belly made these! They’re gummi bears in a zesty cinnamon flavor. They’re sanded with sugar and not the same gummi we’re used to from Europe. They’re more of a jelly chew but they’re positively hot. I guess that’s why they call them Unbearably Hot Cinnamon Bears.
It’s odd that one of the things that started this Jelly Belly oddysey was an email I got from a former member of the marketing team at Jelly Belly. He complimented me on the blog and then suggested that I give JBz another try (pronounced Jay-Bees) since they’re reformulated them. I’m not really into trying things I didn’t like again, but I’ll have to admit that I wanted to like these and of course free samples never hurts. I’m going to guess, first of all, that the box I got at Bed, Bath and Beyond was probably a little old and perhaps suffered from sitting around with too many scented soaps. The JBz that I tried at the Factory and in this box were actually really good. The chocolate itself is still very sweet and lacks it’s own chocolate punch, but as a medium for delivering the other flavors, it’s very successful. I liked the capuccino and chocolate caramel ones best (but then again I got a lot of those in my assortment).
No company that does panning can call themselves that unless they make Jordan Almonds. I don’t know who thought up making an inpenetrable shell on a rather large nut, but there you have it. Perhaps you’re not supposed to bite them, but I can’t help it. The coating is smooth and crunchy and the almonds are large and top grade.
I reviewed the Jelly Belly Confections Licorice Bridge Mix some months ago and I was pleased by it, but not wowed. I have now found that my mix may have been a little stale (it was on sale), as this stuff was softer and more flavorful. At the time I gave them a harsh 6 out of 10. While I still like a little more licorice inside my pastels, these were very nice since they were soft and chewy. The colorful dots are just so joyfully pretty (I’ve since bought them at a Sweets Factory just because I liked the look of them) and the other black and white dots are nice and mild (think of licorice flavored candy corn).
Another fun thing that Jelly Belly makes is Dutch Mints. They’re a mint fondant-type center covered with a thin layer of chocolate and then given a candy shell. Instead of a high gloss, Dutch mints have a soft, matte finish that always makes them look so soothing. (It also seems to make them nearly impossible to photograph well.) The shell is cool to the tongue and kind of slick, then it releases a huge burst of mint. The chocolate is subtle, really barely noticeable, after all this is all about the mint. The centers are soft without being gooey.
Tomi and I also spend some time in the store while we were there since that’s the one place to see all the candies Jelly Belly makes, not just the ones being produced that week. One of the things she introduced me to were the Pectin Fruits. She pulled out a clear pineapple one for me to taste and can I just use the phrase “bursting with flavor?” It was seriously fruity and had many of the pineapple notes, not just the tart one, but those aromatics and that actual piney taste that a pineapple has. The only thing I was disappointed about was that there was no pineapple one in this box. I did get to try the raspberry and again I have to say that I am usually not a fan of raspberry flavored things, however this tastes like it’s got raspberries in it. The citrus ones are zesty and tart with a well-rounded flavor. The jelly is firm without being too sticky or crusty. I’ve always loved orange slices and spearmints leaves but since tasting these I may never go back. Even the lime was complex, with more than the “household cleaner” smell to it.
I didn’t photograph these, but you know what they look like: Candy Corn. After years of eating old, stale and waxy candy corn this was pretty good stuff. It’s sweet and slightly chewy. Not terribly complex but nice and all the little pieces were wonderfully consistent looking.
One of the newer products (also not in the box) is their Mint Trio. I’m glad Jelly Belly is finally putting out a contender for the pocket mint business. This sassy little trio has peppermint (Jelly Belly sadly discontinued the blue mint years ago), spearmint and wintergreen. I know that a lot of folks don’t like wintergreen but I’m a huge fan. All the beans have a huge boost of mint in them and will easily work as breath mints if you choose. They’re easy to share and I don’t know of many multi-mint breath mint options out there in one package. (Maybe those mint Skittles.) The only problem with them is that I haven’t seen them anywhere but the Jelly Belly store!
Last, I tried a few Bertie Botts while I was at the store. I’m not really into eating gross things, I generally want to like what I eat. But I did try a few that I actually liked and ended up buying a mix of. If you have the opportunity to just do a mix of the “tasty” Bertie Botts, I can recommend Grass (which is just a mellow, fresh flavor), Black Pepper (sweet and hot) and Soap (if you just think of it as a floral bouquet and not like soap it’s tasty).
Whew! That’s a lot of candy. Overall I give the Jelly Belly top marks for consistent quality, diverse flavors and innovation. They’re a little more expensive than most “sugar” candies out there, but I think you’re getting a lot for the money when you consider that you’re getting such consistency and flavor packed into those little beans. However, at those prices, unless you like all the flavors, go for a bulk pick-a-mix where you can get just the ones you like. I’m fond of their citrus flavors so when I was there I made my own mix which was Tangerine, Pink Grapefruit, Lemon, Lemon Drop, and Margarita. Not only are they zesty, saliva-gland-popping flavors, they go really well together. They even had a new flavor there that may not be in wide release yet called Pomegranate (the red one there). It was interesting, rather like a cross between raspberry and cranberry - good tartness but a lot of floral flavors to it. It didn’t taste like pomegranate to me, but it was certainly good.
Rating - 9 out of 10 for general Jelly Belly line of products
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.