Friday, April 17, 2015
Though the name of the new flavor is a little trendy, the idea is pretty solid. Maple is a great, distinctive but mild flavor. It’s an ideal addition to Jelly Belly’s line because it can be combined with other flavor beans. Though I didn’t have any on hand to try out, I would think that Banana and Strawberry would go well.
The packaging is fun, an aqua gingham motif on the bag gives it a homespun feel. The image on the front, though is not of Vermont maple trees with running sap and buckets, like I might have imagined, instead it’s more in line with what I see any neighborhood diner, a plate of pancakes with butter and a little pitcher of syrup. (Now, I love my little diner I go to, but I highly doubt they use actual maple syrup because their menu just says syrup.)
The beans are uniform looking, a medium caramel color, kind of like Sugar Babies. The bag does smell a lot like maple syrup, which is a sweet smell with notes of bourbon and vanilla with a little molasses or pipe tobacco.
The interesting things is that these are not just maple flavor but also pancake, so there are other flavor notes to the actual beans. Though the primary flavor is definitely, and perhaps over-the-top maple syrup, I also caught sort of buttery notes. It’s not the overwhelming buttered popcorn flavor, just a sort of salty and creamy flavor to it. (There are 25mg of salt per serving.)
So, there’s lots of maple-y flavor and buttery notes, but no actual pancake, which is fine, because just a jelly bean that tastes like pancake topping is good enough.
The fun part for many candy fans is that Jelly Belly are gluten free and peanut free. So if you can’t have actual pancakes because you’re gluten intolerant, you can have these.
I think the trendiness of these makes them appealing in the short term for buzz, but maple should stand the test of time. Of course the Honey jelly beans introduced a five years ago didn’t do so well and I think those did better in combination with other flavors than Maple.
Monday, April 13, 2015
It’s rare that I get to chronicle the demise of a candy on this blog, it’s even rarer to then be able to report of its return.
Tart n Tinys was a fringe candy to begin with back in the early 1970s. They were one of the early confections introduced by Breaker Confections, which also made other compressed dextrose candies like Wacky Wafers (more history on Collecting Candy). The innovation for the candy came around 1977 when they added a re-closable top that acted as a dispenser for the maddeningly small pieces. Later they were added into the Wonka brand in the 1980s, which Breaker licensed around the time of the movie premiere. But still, they were never headliner candies, they were never the centerpiece of the Wonka brand, and rarely included in other formats for the candies sold for Trick or Treat or in large lay-down bags.
Tart n Tinys were then discontinued around 2007, and even then, they were different from the original candy. They sported candy shells, like mini Spree candies, though they came in a larger box now and with the addition of a blue raspberry flavor. There was a chewy version, which again, might have been confusing for the existing Wonka brand which also included SweeTarts, Spree and Mini Chewy SweeTarts at that time.
Devoted fans bought up the last few cases of Tart n Tinys, I even held onto a few boxes (I have two or three, still). Then Leaf Brands started to buy up the old trademarks and research the recipes in order to revive the candies. (Leaf brought back Astro Pops in 2012 and is also promising a return of Wacky Wafers this year.)
The new Tart n Tinys are similar to the original packaging for the candy; a simple cellophane bag. They were expensive when I picked them up, at Dylan’s Candy Bar, for $3.49 for a 1.5 ounce package. Though they don’t have the candy coating of the version that was discontinued, there are blue candies in there. They’re made in America and a Kosher.
The wee little cylinders are 1/4 of an inch high. They’re about 3/16 of an inch in diameter. The candies were only slightly powdery within the package, which you can kind of see in the picture of the wrapper up there.
There are six colors and flavors: blue raspberry, grape, orange, lime, lemon and cherry. There’s no listing of the flavors on the package.
Blue Raspberry is sweet and tart with a pretty good floral berry flavor to it.
Grape is smooth and acidic but without much grape punch to it, though it’s hard to rival the SweeTarts grape.
Lemon is mild, a little tangy but not too much lemon in there either.
Orange is probably the best, a good mix of the juice flavor and tartness.
Lime is surprising, I was certain it was going to be green apple, so that was nice. It’s a good lime, not too artificial and not too much like a floor cleaner.
Cherry is pretty bold, sometimes it seemed like it was the most intense of the flavors in the mix. The black cherry flavors were well rounded, good deep notes and a puckery finish.
As a candy sold as tart, they’re not as sour as some of the modern Warheads or Toxic Waste type products.
The texture is generally smoother than SweeTarts, which tend to be a little crumbly and lumpy. However, the flavor is not as intense, so there’s plenty of tart but less actual defining flavor between them. This makes it easy to eat them together as a mix, but harder to chose over SweeTarts for flavor alone. However, I liked all of the flavors and didn’t have to pick any of them out, the fact that there’s orange, lime and raspberry in there makes this a unique mix among the sour dextrose candies.
The upshot of all of this is that, yes, they are very much like the original candy. However, the packaging is lacking the original flair with its recyclable dispenser box ... and the price (I admit that it’s probably not the normal price) is ridiculous. I’ll stick to SweeTarts until these come down to normal pricing. But, they really are fun to stack and arrange.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
One of the problems with Pixy Stix, when it comes to offering them as party favors, gift decoration or as part of a candy buffet, is that you can only buy them in the assorted flavors. No one sells them in single flavor packages. Enter YumJunkie’s Sassy Straws. They come in twice the number of flavors, have really cute colors and designs on the straws what’s more, they can be ordered as separate flavor packages.
The flavor offerings go like this: strawberry (pink), watermelon (med-pink), blue raspberry (light blue), blueberry (blue), grape (purple), lime (green), cherry (red), orange (orange), black cherry (black).
The design of the straws is attractive when seen as a bulk arrangement. It’s simple, just a repeated pattern of colored swirls. The straws don’t have any writing on them, or notations of their flavors.
I picked up a full set of flavors at the Fancy Food Show earlier this year.
There’s no secret recipe for these granulated candies, it’s the same thing that makes up SweeTARTS or Lik-M-Aid. It starts with granulated dextose, which is just glucose (the stuff in corn syrup). Dextrose isn’t quite as sweet as regular table sugar, so this formula take flavors really well without being overly cloying.
The flavors are actually pretty good. I’m not going to go through each one, but I can say for me the highlights were Strawberry, Grape (which is not quite Pixy Stix grape), and Orange. The dissolve is great, with a granulated start, cool feeling as it releases the flavor and a tangy note throughout. I didn’t like the Blueberry and found the Black Cherry and Cherry to taste exactly the same (which is just fine, it’s really about the straw colors, after all). I did wonder why there was no yellow (lemon, banana, pineapple, whatever).
Each straw is about 6 inches long. While the candy is 101 calories per ounce, there are only 8 calories per straw (only 2.25 grams of candy in there). It would take more than a dozen of these straws to make 100 calories.
Now, someone needs to convince Wrigley’s that they should sell Skittles in individual colors.
Friday, March 27, 2015
When I was at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January, I picked up a lot of little chocolate pieces, but not full sized bars for review. So here are a few thoughts on some items that are now in stores:
Perugina Baci are perfect little bites of dark chocolate and hazelnut. Of course they had to twist it up a bit and introduce a white chocolate version ... and now there’s Peugina Milk Chocolate Baci.
The wrappers are light blue instead of silver. They’re pretty and look the same in shape and structure as the standard dark. The milk chocolate does change the confection quite a bit. The hazelnut because more of the star, as well as the dairy notes from the milk chocolate coating and creamy filling. I still liked them, but I ate some classic dark at the same time. I still prefer the bittersweet coating because it brings out the roasted flavors. But these are still nice and probably something kids may enjoy more or supertasters who don’t like bitter things.
I enjoy BT McElrath’s Salty Dog bars (which it turns out I haven’t fully reviewed), which are a great sweet/savory mix of creamy chocolate, salt and crunchy toffee bits. So I was very excited to try the new BT McElrath Buttered Toast. It’s described as Toasted artisan breadcrumbs in our proprietary blend of 40% cacao milk chocolate.
It’s sweet and definitely buttery. There’s a soft bite to this and little bits that crunch like panko. There’s a light salt note along with a little toffee and malt to it as well. Even though it’s a very rich milk chocolate, it might be a little too thick and sticky for me ... maybe I’ll wait for the dark chocolate version to come along.
The BT McElrath Super Red is a 70% bar with little flecks of freeze dried fruit.
The tart notes of the berry bits with the rather dark chocolate combine for a lot more flavor intensity than something like a nut chocolate combo would give. The seeds also give a little bitterness, as does the chocolate and dark berry notes.
Vosges calls these Super Dark bars, though they’re only 72% dark chocolate. That’s because the super part isn’t modifying the chocolate, it’s modifying the inclusions, which are all deemed superfoods. It’s like they went out of their way to put bitter things in there. I picked up two samples (they look pretty much the same). Vosges Super Dark Matcha Green Tea features spirulina, matcha (pulverized green tea) and cocoa nibs. The grassy notes of the matcha are immediately forward. I enjoy a lot of green tea, though I don’t have matcha very often because it’s pulverized leaves, not just steeped tea. Though I understand that there’s more flavanol bang per gram in matcha than the brewed leaves, it’s just too intense for me. This bar brings out a lot of that experience, so if you’re a matcha fan, this is a fun bar, especially because there are some cocoa nibs in there for crunch. The bitterness was just too drying for me. I had to follow it with some Hojicha.
The Vosges Super Dark Coconut Ash & Banana features Sri Lankan coconut charcoal coconut ash and Hawaiian Banana. The bar does look much darker, blacker than a usual chocolate bar. It smells like coconut cream. The flavor is bizarre as well. There are the immediate chocolate notes, which are like crispy brownie edges, then the coconut flavors and something, well, umami that I can’t put my finger on. Then there’s the weird banana flavor, which is a little like fingernail polish remover, it’s not an integrated flavor, it’s like it escapes from the chocolate and evaporates immediately into the back of my sinuses - eventually within the chocolate I did come across a few tangy bits of dried banana, which were completely different on the banana taste spectrum. I wouldn’t call this a pleasant bar experience, though I do appreciate the attempt at the unique. The ash notes come out at the end, more as a sort of dry charcoal notes.
I actually love the little sizes of all the bars, and BT McElrath sells theirs in an array of sizes, some with mixed flavors so you can try more of choose to suit your mood. Vosges also sells some of their Super Dark pieces in boxes, but they’re about $80.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
I have very little to say about this product today. On Candyology 101, for our first Easter episode, Maria presented some Dollar Tree candies, as a sort of dare. Of course, once I said I might be interested in one of them, I felt compelled to actually follow through. So, off I went to the Dollar Tree to plunder their aisle filled with R.M. Palmer and Ferrara Candy found nowhere else.
The item I expressed I wanted to try was Melster Marshmallow Fluffies with limited edition Spring Flavors: Vanilla, Lemon, Cherry and Green Apple.
Melster is one of two American companies I know that make Circus Peanuts (Spangler is the other) and I always hope that I will find a version of the Marbits-style candy that I actually like. So, my optimism and one dollar got me this bag. Thankfully it’s only 6 ounces, which means there won’t be much waste after I try them and throw them away.
They’re absolutely ugly. The little cartoons on the package are great, but these just look like hammer-wrecked pastel thumbs.
Since I dreaded them, they were far more likely to impress me than not.
The Lemon Yellow one was pleasant enough. The texture of the marshmallow is firm. There’s a slight grain to the fluff, which is pretty dry but not stale. The sweet lemon flavor is light, giving the whole thing the vague taste and texture of an Italian nougat.
The White Vanilla was also nondescript, it had virtually no flavor aside from sugar, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The fact that it had no coloring also meant that there were no strange aftertastes.
Green Apple was mercifully bland, as I was afraid it would be Jolly Rancher-ish. Instead it had a vague note of “flavor” but nothing I could pin down.
Pink Cherry smelled like a new vinyl showercurtain. It tasted like a cross between an antiseptic spray and a generic fruity candle from the dollar store. There was such a bitter aftertaste that upon eating one while taking their photo, I made a mental note to make this the last of my tastings for review. Which is good, because this leaves a long and lingering bitterness.
So, the three decent flavors weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be, but that’s only because I thought they’d be as bad as bad could be. The Pink Cherry actually exceeds the expected horribleness.
For an Easter candy, these should be more attractive, not look like actual pre-hatched chicks and ducks or a roadkill bunny. Brach’s also makes a version of these for Easter, which are equally unattractive. This really isn’t a candy that’s likely to wow me, but if you’re a Circus Peanut fan, you might enjoy the variation on the standard Banana flavor.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
One of my favorite candies is malted milk balls. Easter brings the pastel version, which is egg shaped and has a candy coating. I rounded up four of the most popular versions in stores today for a little comparison.
I have various sized bags from Jelly Belly, Necco, Brach’s (Ferrara Candy) and Whoppers (Hershey’s).
Though there are some size differences in the eggs, and some other sizes available from these brands, pastel malted eggs are usually larger than malted milk balls and less focused on the milk chocolate coating.
They’re generally an attractive candy, but with a large variation on the look and texture of the shell and color palettes.
From left to right: Necco Mighty Malts, Jelly Belly, Whoppers and then Brach’s.
Name: Mighty Malts Speckled Malted Milk Eggs
Verdict: It’s too messy to eat around the awful coating, so I can’t recommend these at all for eating, only decoration.
Name: Speckled Chocolate Malted Eggs
Verdict: The shells are very thick, probably too much shell for me and the flavor was not a good mix for the other flavors. I still loved the colors and have eaten two full bags so far this season. However, they’re also very expensive ... about 5 times more expensive than the Necco Mighty Malts, though imminently more edible.
Name: Whoppers Robin Eggs
Verdict: The unappealing pink shells and less appealing mockolate layer just make these unbearable. I actually find myself doing the extra work on the Necco Mighty Malts instead of eating these, even though they have an excellent malt center.
Name: Malted Milk Pastel Fiesta Eggs
Verdict: Of the four, I prefer these, though they still don’t quite shine on their own merits, only in comparison. I’ve eaten two bags so far this season and do find them comforting, but I only keep eating them on the naive hope that I’ll find “a good one” as if that’s ever happened or will happen.
The result of this tour only confirms that I love the idea of a great Malted Milk Pastel Egg, but I haven’t found it yet.
Monday, March 23, 2015
Peet’s is another chain here in the West that I go to a bit more often. I was pleased to see their Easter themed items when I was there last week and picked up two bags, since I had a few co-workers with me and they were curious to try them.
The most beautiful of their assortment was the Peet’s Caramel Robin Eggs. They’re pastel blue with some small flecks. The bag was $5.95 for 7 ounces, expensive but not much worse than an extravagant drink.
I believe that these are made by Marich, also a California company. They also make an all natural version of these that are sold at Whole Foods as Quail Eggs.
The construction is simple: a soft caramel core is coated in chocolate and then given a beautiful matte shell. The shape is like a chocolate covered almond.
They’re just lovely to look at and have a great cool finish on them. If I dissolve them, the matte outside gives way to a slick and cool sugar shell. But I’m mostly a cruncher and found that the shell had a good texture that gave the right balance of crunch and not too much extra sweetness. The inner chocolate was interesting because it had a smoky, coffee flavor to it. The caramel center is chewy but not tacky at all. The flavor was a lot like toffee or maple, which went really well with the chocolate.
They’re just excellent, I couldn’t have enjoyed them more.
As I was ordering my cappuccino I noticed these. I recognized the Robin Eggs and realized these were Marich. This color reminded me of the Curry Cashews I had at the Fancy Food Show, which used real white chocolate, not some weird oily confectionery coating. From the name, Peet’s Citrus Shortbread Bites, they sounded like they might be good.
Like the Robin Eggs, they were also $5.95 for the bag. The bag is simple, the top is sealed but then has a twist tie featuring the little fabric ribbon bow. So, it can be resealed after you’ve taken a handful out.
The lemon flavored white chocolate is made with plenty of cocoa butter and whole milk. The melt is at first a little tentative, because of the confectioners glaze, but then it does give way very nicely to a soft, citrusy flavor. There’s actually a little pop of tartness in there from time time as well. The cookie center is crunchy and less like a shortbread and almost like a biscotti, it’s very firm and not as dense as a shortbread usually is.
They’re quite refreshing and go really well with cup of tea ... not so much with coffee. I would buy these again. I liked the chunky nuggets and unusual flavor combination for a candy but also the fact that it still used decadent ingredients like real butter in the cookie and cocoa butter in the white chocolate.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
There are now dozens of small-batch chocolate makers scattered around North America. One that caught my eye a couple of years ago won the Good Food Award in 2013. Raaka Chocolate is based in Brooklyn, New York and was founded in 2010.
The team at Raaka says,”We make virgin chocolate from unroasted cacao beans. Our unique process preserves each region’s wild flavors, bringing you closer to the bean.”
The unique style of their bars means that they use organic beans that have been naturally fermented and dried but not roasted. The result is a bar that is like the chocolate that we all know, but with some differences ... not necessarily things that make it better or worse, just different. The cacao is direct sourced while the sugar is organic and fair trade certified. Most of their bars are just beans and evaporated cane juice (no vanilla, no emulsifiers) but the bar I picked out for review was the Raaka Virgin Chocolate Bourbon Cask Aged - Belize 82%. This bar also has some maple sugar in it.
As you can guess from the name, the notable thing about this cacao is that it is first aged in oak bourbon casks from Berkshire Mountain Distilling. I’ve had chocolate that’s been aged in barrels before, but never chocolate made from beans that have been aged in barrels. For roasted cacao that wouldn’t work, because the roasting would probably remove the flavors the casks introduce, but remember Raaka is working with unroasted beans, the way the beans are treated before grinding will definitely affect flavor.
The bar mold is dead simple, just a 1.8 ounce plank with no scoring, no design. There’s a great snap to it, and glossy sheen on the outside, but a little rough looking inside.
The bar smells, well, a little like bourbon. There’s a vanilla note and some light peat along with some other more yeasty bread notes. The melt of the chocolate is not quite as creamy as some bars I’ve had, but certainly not gritty. It’s smoother than Taza, which is also stone ground. The yeasty notes are very strong along with an acidic bite and a light coffee and maple note. It’s undeniably chocolate, but with a kick that is a little more unformed, a little less refined. The bar also changed, as I nibbled on it over several weeks. The bitterness dissipated (oxidation can do that) and I found a few more berry jam notes to it.
For an 82% bar, it’s not as dense as you might expect. I’ve certainly had 70% bars that are more intense. This may be because there’s some extra cocoa butter added in, which counts towards the cacao percentage, but does help mellow its severity.
I appreciate the bar, and enjoyed it quite a bit. I kept in my purse for several weeks, but never felt the need for more than a little half inch square at a time. The rustic melt was not as decadent as bars I usually prefer, so sometimes this felt like it demanded more attention to enjoy, like the different between classic sonnets and some free verse.
Their facility and bars are vegan, nut free, soy free, gluten free and made from all organic ingredients.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.