Monday, September 22, 2014
See’s Candies is a classic American confectionery company that makes good quality chocolates. They’re sold almost exclusively at See’s Candies stores, which are mostly found in malls, and mostly in the Western US but they’re also available online and from the occasional educational fundraiser.
Though See’s is known for their chocolates they also make a unique line of lollipops that are like a hard caramel on a stick. Over the past five years they’ve created seasonal varieties with more trendy flavors like Pumpkin Spice and Orange Creme. I wasn’t at all surprised to see the announcement that in additional to their Pumpkin Spice and Orange Chocolate this fall, they were also bringing out See’s Caramel Apple Lollypops.
Their pops are available singly at the stores or in bags of 8 online. If you’ve never had a See’s lollypop, they’re about 3/4 of an ounce block of hard caramel with a stick. The shape is blocky, about 1 inch wide and 1.5 inches tall.
It smells like apples, not the green apples of Jolly Rancher, but more like apple cider.
The flavor is immediately caramel and a little dash of salt with a note of apple peels. There’s no tartness, no tang; the apple flavor is less of a caramel covered apple and more like an apple pie with caramel sauce. The wonderful part of these lollies is that the dissolve is so smooth and it feels a lot more filling that its 70 calories might have you believe.
I enjoyed them quite bit. The items that detracted are the same problems I always have. The paper stick gets soggy and more often than not, the caramel block comes off the stick while the piece is really too big to hold comfortably in my mouth. Often there is a series of holes within the candy running its length which makes sucking on the pop problematic because it’s more like a straw where you suck in air than speed up the dissolve of the candy. See’s makes mini versions of their classic flavors, but not of the seasonal, limited edition ones.
Friday, September 19, 2014
To backtrack a little bit, this category of candy is called Compressed Dextrose. Dextrose is just a fancy way of saying sugar, but not the regular table sugar we’re used to, which is sucrose. Dextrose is the dry form of glucose, the same stuff in corn syrup. Dextrose is the basis of a lot of compressed tablet candies, like SweeTarts, Spree and Runts as well as Smarties.
Glucose so bio-available that you can absorb it into your bloodstream sublingually. Many parents use Smarties as emergency glucose tablets because they’re readily available, easy to portion, inexpensive and not hard to get a child to eat. I’m quite fond of Smarties, but that straight glucose often goes straight to my bloodstream and the subsequent crash means I rarely buy a whole bag. The Double Lollies are preferable conceptually, then, because they’re only 8 grams each. Since they’re usually sold by the piece and more expensive than the rolls, this naturally limits my indulgence.
The regular sized lolly has been around for years, though I can’t say for sure that I was always eating the Smarties brand. The Smarties Double Lolly is two flavors. Though they’re probably in several flavors, I could only find orange and yellow.
They’re chalky and dry, but have a pleasant citrus flavor overall. They’re tangy and grainy, dissolve quickly but leave a powdery mess if biting the small pop doesn’t go well. I don’t find sucking on it goes very well. The chalk is absorbent, and while that’s fine for hard candies, I don’t like seeing my lollipop now darkened and cooled by my spit. (Hence my biting usually.)
Interestingly the website for Smarties says that the Double Lolly is free of gluten (from wheat, barley, oats and rye), milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts or soybeans. However, it does not say that for the Mega Lolly.
I bought two of the Mega Lollies, one was lemon and orange and the other was orange and grape. The grape smelled floral and soapy. The pop itself is too big to comfortably fit in the mouth, so even if I were the type who liked to suck my regular Smarties lollies, the Mega just wasn’t going to work. It’s too dry, too awkward. Biting produced a mess of powder.
The odd part about the ingredients is the Calcium Stearate. It’s a flow agent and keeps the powder from caking. But the side benefit to this ingredient is that it contains large amounts calcium - a single Mega Lolly has 6% of your RDA.
Too big, too dry, not a good value and not enough control. The classic size doesn’t have most of those challenges, but I’ll stick to the rolls of Smarties tablets.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Back in 2005 Hershey’s introduced Twizzler Twerpz which were little snips of Twizzlers (orange and strawberry) filled with a sour paste. They didn’t make it very long, but did have some strong fans who continue to post on that review hoping Hershey’s would revive them. More recently Twizzlers brought out Sweet & Sour Filled Twists which were full twist length in cherry and lemon.
In this case, the little Bites, or niblets, are about a half an inch long. They’re cut from the extruded strawberry twist and filled with more strawberry-flavored goo.
The packaging for this King Size bag is a little odd. I understand the goal is to create a candy bowl, but I don’t think it succeeds. The package is gusseted on both the top and bottom and the opening for the package is in the middle of the pleats on the top. That all worked fine when I opened it at first. However, later on I wanted to read the nutrition information, which was covered by a flap, I tried to lift the flap and ended up pulling the whole seam apart.
The packages also don’t sit well on the shelf, they look slumped and hard to read. It’s a great idea, and I really hope they’re able to overcome some of these challenges. I think cookies have really solved this with the snack and reseal flaps.
The pieces smell like strawberry - sweet and floral. The chew is like a regular Twizzler, but a little softer. The filling is lightly tangy and has no chew of its own, really no other properties except that it’s soft (I believe it’s a jelly made from pectin). The size of the pieces is good, it’s easy to eat one or two at a time. The chew has a little bit of a pasty quality towards the end, which is remedied by eating another.
I ate them all, but I don’t think strawberry would be my favorite flavor from Twizzlers. I can’t see them making this in black licorice (what would the filling flavor be?) but raspberry or chocolate might be fun. They’re easy to munch on and are a better format for movie sharing.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Shurms are unique in the candy world, at least in my experience. The company offered me a couple of samples and I was eager to try their Caramel Coffee candies, but also figured I should try their Caramel Apple because it’s the season for such things.
They came in a 10 piece box (3 ounces), which retails for $4.59. They’re sold on the web and locally in Michigan.
Since this is the season of Caramel Apple candies, I have to say that this is a unique item and deserves attention on its own. It’s amazing to look at, though kind of hard to capture with the camera. The green candy is translucent, perhaps even glowing in the dark. It’s very green (of course those are food colorings doing that) while the caramel part is the color of over-milked coffee.
The Caramel Apple consists of two layers. The green layer is a pectin based jelly candy on a base of traditional soft caramel. It smells, well, lovely. The caramel has a good toffee note to it and a little butter and then there’s the fresh scent of apple.
The candy is soft. There are a few ways to eat it: pop the whole thing in your mouth at once, eat the layers separately or bite through both layers. I opted mostly for the latter. The pectin layer is an fascinating candy in and of itself. It’s firmer than a jelly, chewier than a gumdrop and a bit on the sticky side by itself. The green apple flavor is mild but well developed with both juice notes and a sort of apple peel flavor in there as well. The texture reminded me of Botan Rice Candy. The caramel is soft and has a light salty note and excellent toasted sugar elements.
It’s an interesting textural experience. The sweetness of the pectin layer is offset well by the salt of the caramel. The sticky melt of the pectin is broken up by the fat in the caramel. It’s not a candy I ever would have thought of.
The Caramel Coffee are a little different, since there’s no fruity tartness to cut through the sweetness. However, there is the bitter note of coffee. The pectin layer here is a deep brown and glossy, but not transparent at all. It smells like caramel, there’s no hint of the coffee. The pectin layer is definitely coffee, but very sweet. There’s a light acidic hint to it. The caramel is sweet and salty but also has a rum vibe going on. The whole thing has a satisfying chew and textures, but is missing something for me.
I appreciate how different this candy is, but curiosity doesn’t fulfill me. It’s great that these are gluten free and I do admire the limited but appropriate flavor combinations they have. There’s also a cherry and caramel version. (Gluten free but contains milk and soy.)
Monday, September 15, 2014
Albanese Confectionery is a small family-run confectionery company in Indiana. They started in 1983 and though their candies encompass chocolate covered nuts, nut mixes and chocolates. But in the past ten years, Albanese has become known for their extensive line of gummis that not only come in a wide variety of flavors, but also in some innovative shapes.
I finally picked up Albanese Rainforest Gummi Frogs at Lolli & Pops, since I was able to select them from the bulk bins instead of buying a 5lb bag on the internet (there were probably other options in between). There are three different flavor combinations: blue raspberry & orange, strawberry & grape and, sour lemon & sour green apple.
The pieces are quite large, about the size of tree frogs I was familiar with seeing in Northern California. (One lived in the shower of a house I shared in Arcata Bay bottoms.) The gummis weigh about a half an ounce each. They’re two inches long and their armspan is 2.5 inches.
My first little buddy is the blue and orange one. The blue body is blue raspberry with orange legs. The flavor has a wonderful sour bite to it, and a good pliable chew that’s not too tough. The legs are juicy, like an orange gummi should be, and a little more sweet than the body.
The yellow and green one is sour lemon and sour green apple. The green apple legs are absolutely sour, and it seems to emerge the more you chew. The flavor goes on, all the way until it’s completely dissolved. The green apple flavor is very Jolly Rancher. The lemon is equally good, with strong zest notes as well as that metallic Country Time Lemonade powder flavor. (I used to eat lemonade mix as a kid because it was cheaper than Fun Dip.)
The final frog has purple legs and a red body. The red parts are strawberry. It’s nicely tart and chewy, but not too tough. The legs are grape, and those have the same tart note, the flavor takes quite a while to develop and is very mildly “grape soda.”
The pieces are quite large and two is more than a serving as far as I was concerned. I liked the flavor combinations and the molding and design is well done. I can see children and adults enjoying these. They’d also fit well in theme parties or as decorations. It might be fun if Albanese considered wrapping them individually for Halloween treating.
Note, I did not have the nutrition information for the Rainforest Frogs specifically, so I used the Gummy Army Guys. I think that Albanese should include the ingredients and nutritional information on their website, since so many of us buy their candies in bulk bins and do not have access to that information otherwise.
Friday, September 12, 2014
Wonka Laffy Taffy Caramel Apple (Limited Edition) is part of the new flavor craze for Halloween. The package is loud and strange, as are many Wonka designs. It features the purple Wonka branding around the sides, but the center is a banded swirl of browns on the top and greens on the bottom. It speaks more of wood grain than apples and caramel to me, but at least it did stand out on the shelves.
For those who have never had it, Laffy Taffy (once known as Tangy Taffy) is simply a taffy chew. Instead of the nuggets or rods that come in twisted waxed paper wrapers that you’d get on vacation, Laffy Taffy comes in little bars that form fit the candy. They come in a variety of fruity flavors, but the key aspect of Laffy Taffy is that it’s tangy. Instead of just sweet and flavor, there’s also a tart note to the chew.
The little snack sized bars are larger than a regular taffy piece, they’re really two bites. Each clocks in at about 35 calories and doesn’t take into account the energy you expend chewing. The wrappers feature bad jokes, usually two, depending on how well the wrapper is glued together.
The pieces are soft and easy to remove from the package, though you have to destroy the wrapper completely in order to do so. The color is strange, like hot chocolate and not at all what I would have expected.
It does smell sweet and creamy. The flavor on the tongue, though, is immediately tangy with a rather authentic, if overly tart, apple flavor. The caramel part comes in as the chew goes on and the sour fades as a real caramel note, a sort of toffee/toasted flavor.
What I was hoping for was a stripe of apple taffy and a stripe of caramel flavored taffy, and you’d mix them together as you chewed them. Instead it’s a fully mixed experience, like the kind a baby bird would get if momma birds at caramel apples.
The most successful candy I’ve had to date that emulates a caramel covered apple are the Tootsie Caramel Apple Pops - which are an apple flavored lollipop covered in actual caramel.
There’s no statement about gluten, nuts or peanuts, but the wrapper does say that the candy contains soy.
Monday, September 8, 2014
The candy comes in a few formats. I saw them in the stores as a full sized bag of Twizzler Twists and saw some photos online of the King Sized package. I found this Snack Size package at the grocery story and liked that they were individually wrapped pairs of twists. Each twist is about 2.25 inches long, and each package is about a half an ounce and 50 calories.
The color of the candy is quite striking. The pair of short twists are joined together, but easy to pull apart. The green twists are very green but slightly translucent and shiny. The filling is a creamy camel color, not gooey enough to spill out even when the pieces are cut or pulled apart. (So it’s not a real caramel, just a caramel cream filling ... sort of like an Oreo center.)
They smell like green apple Jolly Ranchers. The bite is very soft, the chew is also soft. The flavor is odd. After the smell, I expect a tangy bite to it, but it’s not. It’s sweet and tastes like fake apple with that light note of PlayDoh that red licorice often has ... but there’s no tartness to it at all. The caramel filling is grainy, like frosting with a little buttery toffee note to it.
Overall, it’s not a bad candy. It’s not as artificial as I’d expect, without any overtly weird green apple bitterness or too-much-fake-butter flavor. I question the need for a red licorice version of caramel apple flavors, but I think it’s a nice take on the idea.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
They source their chocolate from an organic, family run farm in the Dominican Republic and appear to take equal care after the selection of their beans. Cacao Prieto also uses centuries old technology to roast, and then has innovated some new machinery to winnow the cacao before processing it with reproduction melangeurs. (You can see the process with photos here.)
I’ve seen these bars around for the past few years but was scared off by the price. The time was right, perhaps because of the name of this bar: Cacao Prieto Pecan & Sour Cherry in 72% Dominican Dark Chocolate. The thought of dried sour cherries and pecans had my mouth watering right away.
The bars from Cacao Prieto even have interesting packaging. The whole package is in a cellophane sleeve, and the window on the back of the box shows the bar with its inclusions. Even with the little peek, the packaging protects it well as for the most part they’re displayed with the window facing down. The front of the package also features a little postcard with similarly charming artwork designed by Brooklyn artist Sophie Blackall.
The bar is a slab, rather like a bark. The inclusions are really just scattered on top of the bar, not mixed into the chocolate. Personally, I prefer mine mixed in. I think a full coating protects nuts and fruits from oxidation (so they don’t get stale) very well, and usually means that you get a consistent taste of chocolate and nut/fruit in each bite. But Cacao Prieto says that each bar is hand-created, so I trust that this means that each of those inclusions was placed their by an artiste ... so who am I to argue. I’ll just leave myself in their expert hands.
The bar is nicely thick and quite robust. It’s 5.5” inches by 3.5” inches and weighs in at 4.2 ounces. Of course, the larger size is welcome considering the price of the bar at $13.
The chocolate itself has a crisp snap but yields well to the tooth even though it’s rather thick. The melt is buttery smooth. The flavors are rich, with a lot of toasty brownie notes, woodsy coffee and a note of toffee and cherry (but that could be the cherries themselves). The pecans are expertly chosen and placed. Crisp, mapley and crunchy, they went very well with the chocolate. The cherries were very soft, chewy and tangy.
I loved the bar. Usually I get bored after about 2 ounces of intense chocolate, but this was so well done. The chocolate itself is dreamy, the nuts and cherries are absolute perfection. I noticed that Cacao Prieto actually sells couveture drops of the 72% Dominican ... which I’m pretty tempted by at the moment.
There are a few other interesting features for the bar, first is that it’s Kosher. That’s pretty rare for bean-to-bar chocolate. The bar is made from organic beans and contains no soy lecithin as an emulsifier. There are also no milk products and is considered vegan.
I picked up this bar at Lolli & Pops, a newer and still small chain of candy stores. I got a private tour of the shop before they opened one Sunday morning last month from one of their salesfolk, Jaz. It’s an interesting selection, very wide. They have the standard sugar candy offerings of gummi bears, Skittles and Jelly Belly by the pound. Those are pretty expensive at $15.00 a pound, which is standard mall pricing these days. But what sets Lolli & Pops apart would be their selection of lesser known candies. They have imported mass-produced bars, a good cross-section of Japanese gummis and chews and then they have chocolate bars. Their chocolate room has a lot of candy by the pound (that’s where I got the Chocolate Covered Banana Gummi Bears reviewed last week) but also bars.
They have chocolate from most of the fine bean-to-bar chocolate makers: Amano, Theo, Lillie Belle, Marou, Blanxart, Poco Dolce, Chuao, Scharffen Berger, Taza, Dick Taylor and Dandelion… just to name the ones that I can remember. Though the other candy was priced a bit high, the bars here were at about the same price as if I’d ordered them right from the chocolate makers themselves ... without the shipping. Now, all the chocolate is expensive, most bars are between $5 and $10 a bar, but that’s just the going rate for many of the small batch companies. I don’t know of any other shop in Glendale that carries such a wide variety, so it’s a nice addition to the area.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.