Tuesday, February 2, 2016
This year Russell Stover jumped on the strawberry trend quite well. They already make a Strawberry Cream Heart for Valentine’s Day, but this year they’ve also added at least three new items with the strawberry theme. I picked up two. The first is the Russell Stover Strawberries & Cream Mix which the package says is strawberry and white pastelle hearts combine for a rich strawberry and cream taste.
The pink package sports lots and lots of hearts, including a few that show the size and shape of the candies. And it’s actually pretty accurate, they do look like little drawings of hearts colored in off white and palest pink. It’s a white confection version of the iddy biddy Santas and Bunnies they do in milk chocolate. (Though they mercifully sell those in little single-serve packages.)
The pieces do smell rather sweet, mild and with a decent strawberry note. They’re soft and matte and kind of strange because they’re very quiet. They’re light and have no candy shell, so pouring them from the package means more sound from the bag than the tumbling of the candy.
When Russell Stover says pastelle, they really mean a combination of sugar, fractionated palm kernel oil, partially hydrogenated palm oil, some milk solids & fats plus a few dabs of food coloring and flavor.
The effect is pretty much what you might think. Mostly waxy, rather sweet, a smidge milky and vaguely strawberry. The white pieces are supposed to be vanilla, but are really just less strawberry because of their proximity in the bag.
They’re not as sweet as I feared they would be. Mostly I’m disappointed that they’re so expensive when Mars was able to make actual white chocolate strawberry M&Ms for less for Easter this year. The one thing they have going for them is that they are pretty darn cute and would be great as a decorative element for a cake or cupcakes or just scattered on a dessert plate. Because they’re a mockolate product, not a coated candy, the colors won’t run and they’re not as likely to melt in most serving situations.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
There’s not much of a description on the package, just that the squares are filled with strawberry filling. The filling appears to be made from sugar, high fructose corn syrup, palm oil and freeze dried strawberries and colored with fruit and vegetable juice (very vague). It also has some added TBHQ as a preservative. There’s no indication of the cacao content of the chocolate itself, but I’d guess it’s somewhere in the low 60% range. Each square is 70 calories.
The squares are elegant and simple. They’re 1.75 inches square and sport the Ghirardelli logo in a beveled field. In my experience the packaging protects the pieces well and they usually look stunningly gorgeous.
If there’s an issue with the filled squares from Ghirardelli is that they temper their chocolate to be very crisp and snappy ... so the filled pieces can be messy to eat when the chocolate breaks apart upon biting and the filling dribbles out. So, make an effort to bite on the diagonal, or pop the whole thing in your mouth at once.
The chocolate is sweet but with a nice dry woodsy note to it, which goes well with the strawberry flavors. The strawberry filling is quite like a finely pureed strawberry sauce. It’s not overly sweet, has a strong tangy note and just a touch of seed flavor to it (and some actual seeds).
Because the edges are so thick and the chocolate in the center is so thin, there’s a large variation in the proportion of filling to chocolate in any given bite.
I liked them quite a bit, it was the best imitation of a chocolate covered strawberry that doesn’t spoil that I think I’ve had. Ghirardelli Strawberry Squares contain soy and milk and may also contain traces of tree nuts. There’s no statement about gluten.
Monday, January 25, 2016
The new Dove Milk Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake Crisp Promises are for Valentine’s Day. I picked mine up at Target (and they may be a Target-Exclusive item).
The shortcake part is a little odd, conceptually. For a real strawberry shortcake, berries (often in a sweetened syrup) are ladled over a biscuit type baked good. Some folks prefer a spongecake or poundcake but the key here is that they’re all soft and cakey. The cookie pieces in this case are made from tapioca starch, rice flour, sugar, palm oil, baking soda and some salt.
The other odd part of this is that there’s milk chocolate ... so if anything, this is an imitation of a chocolate covered strawberry with a few gluten free cookie bits (this is not, however, a gluten free product as it’s made in a facility that also uses wheat and peanuts and tree nuts).
The pieces are not a swirl of milk & white chocolate, like some other recent versions. Instead this is a solid milk chocolate piece, flavored with some strawberry and dotted with little cookie inclusions.
The strawberry flavor is very strong, but the milk chocolate holds its own with a creamy dairy note and a little toasty cocoa flavor. The strawberry is floral sweetness, no dried berry bits in this version. The cookie bits are odd, since they’re made with starch and not actual wheat flour, they are actually rather starchy, though they don’t get sticky-pasty like some gluten free cookies I’ve had. The overall effect of the crunchy cookie bit is really nice, it aerates the experience because you kind of have to chew it instead of just letting the chocolate melt away, which I think boosts the strawberry notes.
They’re pleasant. The strawberry isn’t too artificial or plastic (it does say natural flavor on the package, though it’s kind of vague). I don’t know if I would buy these again, but I appreciated the effort and novelty.
Friday, January 22, 2016
Moon Pies are a Tennessee treat, a little marshmallow sandwich featuring round graham crackers and then a thin mockolate coating. They’ve been around since 1917, though they’re a bit of a regional treat and sometimes hard to find. They’re something between a candy and a snack, because of the graham cracker element. They’re also pretty big, so I can see why it’s an appealing idea to morselize them.
Taste of Nature makes Cookie Dough Bites and a variety of other little morsel items sold in theater boxes. The Moon Pie Bites sound pretty good, “Delicious marshmallow & graham in a chocolatey coating.” Well, until you get to the coating part.
The pieces actually smell pretty good. They vary in size, but most are between the size of a pea and a garbanzo.
The the description says it’s marshmallow, it’s actually just marshmallow flavored and there’s no gelatin in the list of ingredients. So these are fine for vegetarians and they’re Kosher. However, it is a mockolate coating, which is made from sugar and palm oil and whey and some cocoa, among other ingredients. It looks decent, but doesn’t really add a chocolate component to this combination candy.
The overwhelming scent of the pieces is graham. It’s a pleasant cereal sort of smell, kind of like vanilla and digestive biscuits and maple syrup.
The pieces are a bit crumbly and dry inside. They’re grainy and have little crumbly graham cracker bits in them. The mockolate coating is neither waxy or greasy, so that’s kind of a blessing. It’s a little cool on the tongue but doesn’t really ruin the otherwise disappointing candy. All elements are equally bad. The center has little sugary bits, the vanilla flavor is overly fake, the graham bits have little of the crunch of real crackers and the chocolatey coating isn’t chocolatey.
Moon Pie Bites contain wheat, milk and soy. They area also made in a facility with peanuts, tree nuts and eggs.
Monday, January 4, 2016
Early last year at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, I tried a new line of chocolate cups from the confectioners at Vosges. These sets of mini peanut butter cups are from the Wild Ophelia line of chocolates and come in a few varieties. The first one I picked up at the store, when I finally found them last month at Whole Foods are the Wild Ophelia Caramelized Bananas Peanut Butter Cups.
The packages look like a regular twin set of chocolate cups (though they’re actually 2.1 ounces) but inside is actually a try that holds a set of six little cups.
I call them cups, but there’s actually no paper fluting on them, just the cups on a tray inside a wrapper.
The cups are made from 41% cacao milk chocolate, which is from fair trade certified beans (the sugar is also fair trade). The bananas are not the typical Cavendish most of us eat, but a varietal grown on Kauai known as Williams. The bananas are actually caramelized with some cream and sugar and sprinkled on top of the cups. The filling is peanut butter, and as far as I can tell, more chocolate.
They’re almost savory. The milk chocolate has a good dairy flavor without tasting like powdered milk. The melt is smooth and buttery with a little toffee note. Once I bit into the cups the peanut butter is pretty evident as a scent, but the texture of the peanut butter is barely there, it’s quite smooth and mixed in. The banana notes were hard to tease out sometimes, it wasn’t a lot of banana and often just a little fresh caramelized and honey note.
Some cups had more banana bits, and some of the banana bits were a little toothsticky.
I liked the cups better than the bar version that I tired a few years ago. Part of is that I like the format of cups, and the ability to have a teensy but full-featured portion. They’re expensive, but the package holds more than a Justin’s or Theo PB cup, though it’s still more per ounce. I liked the inventive combinations and I welcome more products that play with these formats.
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Dum-Dums are pretty basic, kind of small lollipops. They’ve always come in a wide variety of flavors that have changed based on popularity. Only recently has Spangler, who makes Dum-Dums, come out with holiday themed product packages of the pops.
The Dum-Dums Limited Edition Holiday Pops is a bag of eight different flavors of individually wrapped lollipops. I believe they were available in 2014, but I just picked them up this year.
Green Apple Grinch - there’s nothing grinchy about this flavor, it’s straight up fake green apple. The pop is bright green, the flavor is rather thin but definitely sour apple flavor and not actual apple.
Apple Cider is one of the amber colored pops. The flavor is similar to the Green Apple, but less bright, more muted and it has a more apple sauce or honey note to it.
Sugar Cookie is an opaque cream color. It’s pleasant but bland, as are sugar cookies. The flavor is creamy without a heavy dose of butter flavor. It’s a little vanilla, a little marshmallow. Pretty much a good lollipop. If they added a little nutmeg, I’d call it Egg Nog (and I’d be pretty happy).
Sugar Plum is purple and very pretty, like a little gem. I don’t actually know what a real sugar plum is but I can tell you that this one is vaguely grape.
Hot Cocoa looks like the Gingerbread or Apple Cider pop, but it’s a little more milky or opaque. I was expecting this to be horrible, but it’s actually a passable chocolate marshmallow flavor. The cocoa smells a little musty and thin, but the flavor has a creamy vanilla note, like a marshmallow that holds it together.
Gingerbread is one of the beige ones. It’s sweet and has a light note of spice that features a little ginger, a little cinnamon. One of the things about gingerbread-the-baked-good that I like is the molasses, and there’s no note of that here.
Polar Punch is very blue. It’s a tropical punch flavor with a distinct raspberry note to it. There’s a long-lingering aftertaste of the berry flavor that isn’t necessarily unpleasant, but I also had a blue tongue for a while.
Merry Cherry is red. I haven’t had a cherry Dum-Dums for a while, so I can’t say if this is any different. It’s sweet and don’t really have a tangy fruit note to it. It wasn’t like a wild cherry Life Saver, it was more like a cough drop. I find cherry to be rather medicinal, and this was especially so. But I know some folks like the flavor.
I love this idea, and I’d like to see it with a few more specialty flavors, like an Egg Nog, maybe something Cranberry, Peppermint Stick, Rum Raisin. If they’re making things that are bacon flavor, they can absolutely go way out there with Speculoos and Bailey’s Irish Creme.
Each pop is about 25 calories, so they’re a petite treat that should fit into most regular diets. They last a little longer than a traditional hard candy because it’s on a stick and is a bit more interactive. Dum-Dums are made in the USA in a facility free from major allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat and gluten.
Friday, December 18, 2015
I have a soft spot for Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies. Mostly the soft spot is in my memory, because I don’t find the current day item meets my pickier standards. It shouldn’t be that hard to make a chocolate cookie with a minted chocolate coating.
So, if I can’t get my itch scratched with Thin Mints, perhaps I should turn it on its end and have something chocolate with cookies, instead of cookies with chocolate. Mars’ new Target-exclusive Promises for Christmas are just that: Dove Milk Chocolate Holiday Mint Cookie Promises.
The idea is simple, and certainly not original. They’re milk chocolate, lightly flavored with peppermint along with some crunched up chocolate cookie pieces.
The milk chocolate is fudgy and sweet, but definitely smoother than many other brands like Hershey’s and Nestle that are on the shelves at the moment. The little cookie bits are sandy and crunchy with a bitter note of charcoal and cocoa. Mostly they just sit in the crevices of my molars. The effect is a nice textural change from the smooth melt of the chocolate and a slight note of salt.
The ratio of chocolate to cookie is very good, definitely more chocolate, but they weren’t stingy with the cookie bits, they were in every bite. They were a little on the sweet side, which is really the profile of the Dove Milk Chocolate. Still, I’d love it if someone would do these in dark chocolate.
I hope Target brings these back next year and hopefully they’ll get wider distribution so everyone can enjoy them. But now I’d like someone to explain why I can’t have them all year, like the long gone Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Mint bar.
Monday, December 7, 2015
Target’s newest seasonal edition of M&Ms is a rather nonseasonal but welcome classic: M&Ms Milk Chocolate Cafe Mocha.
They’re far more expensive than regular M&Ms. At Target they were on sale 2 bags for $6, but the regular varieties were larger bags. Milk Chocolate M&Ms come in an 11.4 ounce bags. For Halloween picked up the Pumpkin Spice Latte in a 9.9 ounce bag. The same is true for the returning Peppermint White Chocolate M&Ms, they’re now in an 8 ounce bag.
They’re larger than standard M&Ms, basically puffier. If you eat them carefully by cleaving them in half you can tell that the milk chocolate center is created in two layers. It’s like they took a regular M&M and then gave it another chocolate coating and then a candy shell. I’m not sure why the Limited Edition flavors are all this shape, but they are. It’s interesting to note that the Walmart exclusive flavor of Hot Chocolate M&Ms does have a different center. I have to wonder if this is because the manufacturing process is re-purposed from the failed M&Ms Premiums line from 2008.
The shells are green or red. My bag contained mostly green, it was tough to find reds to populate the photos, they’re less than a third of the package. There’s no actual coffee listed in the ingredients.
They don’t smell like much in the bag, a little less like chocolate but not fully like coffee. The bite is not at all soft, the chocolate is a little chalky and fudgy. The melt gives off a lot of sweetness and a little note of bitterness at first as well as a good whiff of coffee. The chocolate is okay, not great but the bitterness of the coffee notes, the roasted and woodsy aspects kind of cover for the milk flavors. It’s not really a latte flavor, its more of a coffee with milk and cocoa. It might have been fun to see them try this with a dark chocolate, but I’m patient. This is their first try at coffee M&Ms since the Premiums line. (And there will be another version of coffee and peanuts next spring.)
Mars does a great job with their coffee flavors, it’s well rounded without too much of a fake flavor note to it (like some other buttery things they’ve done). I’d love to see these come back as a seasonal tradition, but at all stores. I’ll pick up more bags soon, just in case they don’t.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.