Friday, January 30, 2009
I check in with Valerie Confections from time to time, they’re about a mile from my house. The crazy little secret is that I go there for their teacakes. Especially in the summer, when I want something with a touch of chocolate but can’t bear a whole piece, the bottoms are dipped in chocolate. The cakes are moist, dense & lightly infused with flavors.
At the Fancy Food Show, however, Stan & Valerie were excited to show me their new Valentine’s collections. There are three:
The set called Pour Homme is for the gentleman. It has 11 pieces and comes in the dark brown box. Visually it’s dominated by large flat dark milk chocolate hearts that have fleur de sel and little almond toffee bits in them. It’s filled in with dark chocolate hearts with flowing caramel centers.
The set called Pour Elle is geared towards the gals and comes in the classic ivory box. This features large flat white chocolate hearts with rose petals and the small bittersweet chocolate hearts filled with rose petal and passionfruit ganache.
Both have 11 pieces and retail for $30.
For folks who want to share or prefer a different assortment there are boxes of various sizes (9, 18 & 36 pieces) that hold the bittersweet ganache hearts, gianduja rocher, and bittersweet chocolate with almond toffee bits.
I’ll just run down a few of the items I tasted:
Bittersweet Chocolate with Almond Toffee Bits (the smallest dark chocolate hearts shown above) - a simple pleasure. A mix of smooth bittersweet chocolate that has a glossy and smooth melt with little toffee chips and almonds. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t getting enough toffee ... but then again, if I wanted chocolate and toffee, I could just order the chocolate covered toffee, so this piece is more about chocolate.
Bittersweet Chocolate Hearts filled with Liquid Caramel - a little taller and wider than the other filled hearts, this one has a wonderfully thick and gooey caramel. Lightly salted, it has all the flavor of a toffee but the smooth texture of a custard. Lightly salted, the dark chocolate lends the perfect container and dark woodsy sweetness.
Bittersweet Chocolate Hearts filled with Rose Petal Passionfruit Ganache - a little petal graces the top of these pieces, but just sniffing it I could tell from the fragrance that it was the rose. The center is a white butter ganache with the tangy and tropical bite of passionfruit. The slightly soapy rose took some of the passionfruit earnestness away. There is a bit of a lingering aftertaste, kind of like jasmine. I suggest eating these last. Your dessert’s dessert.
Large Rose Petal White Chocolate Hearts (shown in a small version in the picture above) - this one was a little bland for me, and I did eat it first in my tasting session because I know that white can be a bit delicate and finicky. The white chocolate was smooth and not overly sweet, with a slight malty taste of cocoa. But the floral infusion didn’t quite hit me, but did leave a fresh aftertaste.
Gianduja Rocher - a sweet milky explosion of salt, buttery toffee chips and creamy sweet chocolate. It’s not a pasty, sticky gianduia. It’s a solid form that gives a soft and silky melt to the chocolate and a punch of roasted hazelnut flavor. It is sweet though, luckily the toffee chips and the salt cut through that.
Darkened Milk Chocolate Hearts with Almond Toffee Bits and Fleur de Sel - I want this in bar form year round. The “darkened milk chocolate” tastes like a cross between bittersweet and a European dairy milk chocolate. The dairy notes are complemented well by the toffee chips and the whole thing is set off by powerful zaps of salt in liberal reservoirs throughout.
Bittersweet Ganache in Bittersweet Shells Finished with 23 Karat Gold (the picture here is of a round version of the same truffle - the uneaten one is above). Delicate mix of flavors, as this is all about the chocolate. The ganache is soft and smooth. There’s an immediate acidic bite that gives way pretty quick to some dark charcoal and alcoholic notes like fine cognac and tobacco. The gold version has a bit more chocolate to it, because of the geometry ... the gold flakes do nothing for me, except distinguish it from the toffee chip dark heart.
The attention to detail in the items, with their perfectly placed decorations and well tempered chocolate is exquisite. No bubbles or voids, everything glossy and gorgeous. On the personal side of things, I go all weak in their knees for their nougat and am a little disappointed they don’t have it again this year for Valentine’s (as that’s what my Man gave me last year). But I like it when they try new things and enjoyed the darkened milk with toffee chips most of all. (So I guess I’d have to opt for the Pour Homme ... luckily the box doesn’t say anything about it being geared for fellas.)
I like supporting a local business and that everything is made fresh ... not last year and has been sitting in a warehouse. If you go to the store you can get the petits fours and the tea cakes by the piece.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Jelly Belly has had their own take on the ubiquitous Valentine’s Conversation Hearts for several years (introduced, I believe, in 2003). They’re called Conversation Beans.
They include the Sour assortment: Sour Apple, Sour Blueberry, Sour Cherry, Sour Grape, Sour Lemon, Sour Orange, Sour Peach, Sour Raspberry, Sour Strawberry & Sour Watermelon.
The sour family of flavors come in rather vivid, opaque hues, without any speckling. So they’re easy to tell apart as long as you can remember that raspberries are darker than cherries and apple is lighter than watermelon.
What’s special about these is that they’re sporting teensy printing on them.
I’d hazard the visibility of this printing is similar to that noise that only children & teenagers can hear. It’s quite small and rather faint on the lighter color beans (and nonexistent on others).
The words range from mildly flirty to downright benign. Think of it like a very limited version of magnetic poetry. Here are some three bean masterpieces:
Hi, like joy?
Overall, they’re fun. If you like Sour Jelly Belly or more importantly, if you can’t stand Necco Conversation Hearts but want to spend three times as much to make a sweet connection, this is the candy for you.
I liked most of the flavors. I picked out the Sour Peach ones, which tasted like they had Dr. Pepper added to them, and the Sour Cherry and was pleased with the rest of them. (Eventually I forgot I was supposed to be reading the words ... which I do with Conversation Hearts, too.) The highlight flavors for me were orange, lemon and grape (which was completely fun and artificial) while the blueberry and raspberry were much better than expected. As far as sour goes, well, they’re zappy compared to most regular Jelly Belly.
If puckering isn’t quite your speed for Valentine’s Day, a new item that Jelly Belly sent me to sample a few weeks ago is their Jelly Belly Love Potion. It’s a little re-closeable plastic bottle that holds an assortment of five flavors of Jelly Belly. (They use this same package for their Soda Pop Shoppe assortment.)
There’s no special printing on the beans besides the Jelly Belly logo.
The pink, red and white mix is rather attractive and might make a nice little offering in a gift basket. (Though if you really love someone with a sweet tooth, back up this little package with a big bag! Then they can refill it.)
The flavors are Strawberry Cheesecake, Bubble Gum, Coconut, Cotton Candy and Very Cherry. All the flavors went together pretty well (though I could have used a pink grapefruit instead of cherry) and the color combination is pleasing if a little feminine.
I don’t know the retail price on these, but the Soda Pop Shoppe bottles sell for about $1.50 to $2.00 retail.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Usually for holidays they’ll have some other panned sugar candies. For Valentine’s Day this year the trend seems to be cinnamon flavor. So I picked up a bag of their See’s Hot Hearts and their Cinnamon Lollypops.
The Hot Hearts were a bit expensive, in my opinion, for a sugar candy. It was $4.50 for a 12 ounce bag of what are basically heart-shaped Hot Tamales.
But hey, the bag was pretty and included a real piece of ribbon on it and a thick plastic bag with pretty little red foil printed hearts.
While See’s makes their own chocolates and lollypops, I’m pretty sure they have their sugar candies specially made for them by an outside company. I was hoping my trip to the Fancy Food Show might shed some light on that, because, spoiler alert ... these were good and I think I might want some more after Valentine’s Day!
The candy shell is crisp and a little grainy. The jelly center is sweet and very cinnamony. The sizzle of these heart-shaped jelly beans is substantial.
The cinnamon flavor is both woodsy and fiery, capturing all of the great aspects of cinnamon.
Even though there’s a fair amount of food coloring in these (including Red 40), there’s no bitter aftertaste. Not that there ever is an aftertaste, since I don’t actually stop eating them.
Yes, I want to know how to get them all year long, or themed for other holidays, like Fiery Eggs for Easter or a Screaming Phoenix for Halloween.
See’s has been making their own Lollypops for years. The flavors change from time to time, but lately they’ve been adding in their seasonal flavors.
See’s Cinnamon Lollypops are the same rounded block shaped lolly made from a hard caramel base.
The scent is odd. It smells like caramel and cinnamon. But the scent and the flavors are never completely integrated. They just exist side by side.
Mmm, toasted sugar and butter flavors. Then, wow, a pop of hot cinnamon. Then the mellow and sweet caramel.
I liked them, but not quite as much and not in the same way as the Hot Hearts. They last a long time, but the combo of boiled sugar and butter with cinnamon never quite meshed for me. Plus there was a bit of a bitter artificial color aftertaste on these.
The pops are a great, reliable candy. They’re only 70 calories each, but be warned, they’re not fat free. Not that fat is a bad thing, it’s pretty much necessary for a caramel. Their Butterscotch lollypop is still the best (and the Root Beer is the best of their seasonal flavors). I’ve picked up the other flavors for review twice ... but ate them before I could photograph them.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
The first version will premiere next Valentine’s Day in the shape of Peeps Chocolate Mousse Marshmallow Bears.
I’m not sure why there hasn’t been a bear shaped Peeps all along, they’re an ideal Valentine’s emblem (and really, why can’t we have Bear Peeps all year round?). However, this package is all about love, with its red wrapper & little hearts.
The packages I got were for evaluation purposes only, so I don’t have the complete nutritional info & ingredients list. I decided to open the Peeps Chocolate Mousse Marshmallow Bunnies for the purposes of the review.
They’re nice looking, medium brown. They’re sparkly with the light sanding of sugar. (I’ve often wondered what corn starch dusted Peeps would be like.)
They’re extremely soft, softer than regular Peeps are, if you ask me. They smell like chocolate breakfast cereal, like Cocoa Puffs.
But the big question, at least in my mind, was are these different from the Cocoa Peeps?
I just so happened to have a package of Peeps Cocoa Marshmallow Bunnies (left) for a direct comparison.
Though they looked similar in my memory, putting them side by side, it’s easy to see that the new Mousse Peeps are darker.
The cross section shows that the Mousse Peeps is cocoa through and through, where the only slightly creamy colored on the inside.
The difference in taste? Well, if you’re expecting some sort of decadent mousse-like product, you’re going to be disappointed. The new Mousse version are kind of like a fluffy, watered down Tootsie roll. Pleasant and less-sweet than the ordinary Peeps, but still, not a chocolate phenomenon.
They’re great with coffee but like the Cocoa version, it’s very hard to get them stale. I’ve had this package open for two weeks and they’re still pretty squishy.
However, these are awesome broiled. The center becomes frothy and runny and the sugar dust becomes a crunchy shell. I put them in the toaster over for 3 minutes. Be sure to have them on foil or parchment or else they run all over the place. You also might need a spoon to eat them. Microwaving also gets the same soupy center, but the outside doesn’t get crispy (so it’s the confectionery equivalent of trying to make pizza in a microwave ... it’s edible but it’s not the same).
In the end, I’m more inclined towards the Chocolate Mousse Peeps than any other Peeps to date, but that’s not necessarily a rave review.
For the record, the available shapes for Peeps are:
These should be in stores starting in January, but you can also buy many Peeps items all year round now directly from Just Born.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
After Valentine’s Day I picked up some discounted items from Target. I haven’t re-visited much of the Choxie line since my initial tastes on their launch, so I figured it was time to see what else they had.
The box they came in was a goofy flat affair, I think just this stack with a red ribbon is a fine gift (and I threw out that box pretty much as soon as I got home). The assortment contains two milk chocolate bars and two dark chocolate bars.
The one that interested me the most was the Milk Chocolate with Roasted Almonds & Sea Salt. True to its name, it was a nice dark milk chocolate with big almond pieces (they tasted buttery like Marcona almonds) and there were some pretty intense large pieces of sea salt in there (the picture on the box makes them look like little pieces of popcorn).
The milk chocolate is a very dark and smooth version, it goes really well with the crisp crunch of the almonds. The sea salt was quite apparent, but the mixing of it was a little off. Sometimes I’d arrive at whole reservoirs of the stuff, it’s a little offputting to get more than a few grains at once. But still, an addictive bar. Though I shared it, I ate most of it in a day and a half.
The second bar was the Milk Chocolate Cashew Almond Cherry Bar which I thought sounded terrible at first, especially when I saw that it also had salt in it.
However, it won me over. The cashews & almonds aren’t as plentiful in this bar and the salt is only a slight glimmer now and then. The cherries are soft and chewy with a bright tangy note that infuses those bites.
I was grateful to try my first Choxie single origin bar with the 62% Ghana Cocoa. I recently had another Ghana bar from Tcho, which I found to be a little too gritty for my tastes. This bar is smooth. The flavors are spot on “chocolatey” with some vanilla notes and a little cedar & tobacco. It’s a tasty bar, though not quite buttery enough for me if it’s going to be on the low end of the cacao percentage. But it’s also pretty sweet, so a nice started bar for those who don’t like the intensity of some of the higher cacao.
The box for the Dark Chocolate Espresso Bar showed the bar, like the one above, surrounded by coffee beans. I didn’t know if that meant whole coffee beans or fine grounds when I bought the assortment (I could only see the fronts of the boxes). The ingredients say “ground coffee” but I was still afraid that I was going to get coffee grounds in my chocolate.
The package smelled like the coffee aisle at the A&P where we used to grind our own 8 O’Clock coffee when I was a teen. Mostly coffee but also slight wafts of tea, cocoa and sweet sugary General Foods International Coffee flavors.
The grounds are palpable as the chocolate melts. The coffee flavor is mellow, not burnt or caramelized tasting, just a medium roasted vibe. And of course all those coffee beans integrated in. The chocolate has a good melt to it, is pretty smooth otherwise and stands up rather well to the otherwise overwhelming coffee. (Nicole at Baking Bites has a nice review of this bar, too.)
At the reduced price (expiration isn’t anywhere to be found on the packages, maybe I shouldn’t have thrown out the box), these were a great deal. I’m not sure if I would pay $4-5 for one of these in the future (well, maybe the almond & sea salt bar), but keep an eye out for their assortments (perhaps after Mother’s day?). The ingredients are all-natural and the dark chocolates have no added butterfat. They are not, however, Kosher.
Other recent reviews: The Girl Tastes has a lot of more recent Choxie introductions, Rosa tried the Key Lime Truffle Bar, Candy Snob tried the Espresso Truffle Bar, Secret Hideout thinks Choxie is better than Godiva (and I don’t disagree) and OffBeatEating tried the Coconut Truffle Bar.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
IIt has a simple name, Marshmallow Lollipop. t’s a pig shaped marshmallow pop, and it’s pretty big at 3.2 ounces of fluffed sugar and gelatin. They’re made by Confectionery Lane and actually come in some much more attractive versions such as decorated hearts. (Serious Eats has the Winnie the Pooh.)
While the idea of a pig shaped creature holding a little heart that says love may only be compelling to the Cute Overload fanatics, I can see that there may be a niche of people out there that perhaps enjoy food shaped like the ingredients (what is gelatin made of, after all?) or perhaps someone has a nickname of Piglet ... maybe they raise pigs or had one as a 4H project ... oh, maybe they have pink skin!
This sizeable puff has, well, its size going for it. The lettering on it is rather clumsy. The pig’s face is cute enough but the body is kind of hard to understand and of course it’s not really a three dimensional candy, the back side is simply flat.
It smells kind of like Fruity Pebbles. It tastes like, well, tangy latex.
The texture is actually rather nice, very moist and consistent. But the flavor is just awful.
So I thought I’d toast it. It’s already on a stick, so why not?
Since the marshmallow was so moist it became really runny on the inside rather quickly, but the outside toasted up nicely.
But a tart and flavored marshmallow is not the same as a regular marshmallow (certainly not like the lovely marshmallows from earlier this week). Really disappointing. I ate about three bites and threw the rest of it out.
Oddly enough the nutrition label says that a single serving is the whole pop and is 260 calories. (I guess you can’t really cut off pieces and save the rest for later.)
Confectionery Lane sounds like a quaint company, but really they’re just a brand name used by East-West Distributing Co., which is owned and operated by Walgreen’s. There are lots of other cute and thoughtful Valentines gifts you can pick up, even on February 15th. This isn’t even worth free.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
One of the few candies that seemed to be in our house regularly when I was a kid were Cinnamon Imperials. Perhaps it was because they were considered “baking products.”
Around Valentine’s Day each year they’re available in little heart shapes. (Actually, lately this is the only way I can find them unless I’m willing to buy the stupidly expensive packages from the cake decorating companies, teensy boxes of Ferrara Pan Red Hots or in huge quantities via the web.)
They’re the perfect little candy and a rather simple construction. The center is a tiny pressed hard candy in the shape of a heart. They’re then tumbled in a panning machine and given several coats of red flavored sugar syrup and then shined up with a little edible wax.
They’re not super hot, just a pleasant spicy cinnamon. These feature the devilish Red #40, but for some reason the cinnamon flavor masks it well enough for me to keep eating these. Of course everyone knows I’ve been eating them because my tongue has been red for the past week.
They’re a fun candy to share and great for putting in a covered jar for everyone to enjoy. Definitely something to put on your list of items to pick up when they’re wildly on sale after Valentines.
I’ve never noticed much difference between the brands. I’ve had Ferrara Pan & Necco and probably a bunch of other brands that I never managed to figure out. The Food Network’s Unwrapped show did an episode on Valentines candy last weekend and showed a company named Primrose in Chicago also making them.
I’m fairly certain these were produced after Brach’s was taken over by Farley’s & Sathers last fall. The coding on it is the Farley’s & Sathers style. This particular bag has a code of 7332CYP5, using a Julian date system for the first four characters which means that it was produced on the 332rd day of 2007. That’d be November 27th, 2007. I’m guessing that a panned hard candy like this is good for at least 12 months. Tasted pretty fresh to me.
Monday, February 11, 2008
If there’s an all-ages emblem of modern Valentines candy, it’s conversation hearts. The first “Motto Lozenges” were invented in 1860 based on Necco’s already popular Necco Wafers. They were shell shaped and then later assortments included both mottos and expressions of love and came in a variety of shapes such as horseshoes, baseballs and of course hearts. Eventually they were made smaller and thicker and had briefer messages evolving into the current Necco Sweethearts.
I’ve spent years avoiding a review of them. So I bought a couple of boxes this year (why not, they were on sale for 20 cents each).
I actually like Necco Wafers. I know that sounds odd, because they’re so dry and chalky. (I did not like the Necco Smoothies, though.)
It used to be that the Conversation Hearts were just like the wafers, only thicker and smaller, same flavor rotation. Even though the Necco Wafers have remained unchanged, at some point they mucked around with the Hearts (I don’t know when) and changed up the flavors.
In an effort to be exhaustive (and sorry if I exhaust you), I’ve fully documented a random box of Sweethearts. They weigh one ounce and mine contained 36 hearts (one rather crushed though). There are six colors and they broke down in the following assortment:
Each year Necco adds new mottos to the little hearts. They always seem to be a little out of step with the modern world, but I think we forgive that lameness and just call them classics. (I didn’t find any that said Fax Me this year!)
There were three others that I couldn’t figure out. This year featured an “eco” theme with the addition of the mottos like “Wild Life” and “Heat Wave”. What’s nice is that there is a wide variety of mottos. In the second box I opened I found others that I didn’t have in this box (IM Me, Real Love, Marry Me and Sun Shine).
I have to say, I think the quality control isn’t very good on these. There were quite a few that were intelligible, like having a conversation while the garbage disposal is on. Some are a little bumpy and irregular in shape as well. But hey, they were twenty cents and come in a box ready for your own personal message to give as a Valentine, cheaper than a card.
In the Necco Wafers the purple is Clove (I also find that bitter too, but in a more natural way), Pink is Cinnamon and Yellow is Lemon (and there’s a Brown Chocolate one and a Black Licorice one). The changeup in the hearts is understandable, but the Red #40 is probably what I’m tasting ... my husband can’t taste it, so your mileage may vary.
While I tend to lump Sweethearts in with the other “chalk” candies, they’re not compressed dextrose like many other mints and sour tablet candies are. They’re actually made from a real sugar-based wet dough (that also includes gelatin, my vegetarian friends). This gives it a bit denser feel and also a deeper sweetness than dextrose (a monsaccharide instead of a disaccharide).
Having these reminded me that I prefer Necco Wafers. I like the tablet shape and how they clink together and are easy to crunch or dissolve. There are too many flavors that I don’t eat in this mix as well ... so I’ll stick with Necco Wafers. But I still might pick these up every year ... especially on sale after Valentines. They also come in: Spanish , Sour and Chocolate (one version is just the chalky chocolate and they also have foil wrapped actual chocolate hearts on the website, but I’ve never seen them in person).
I was wishing I had a cute story about an experience with Necco Sweethearts ... but I bet some reader has a great one about these or some other conversation hearts.
It appears that Necco has changed the standard flavors (and some of the packaging) for their time-tested Necco Sweethearts. Prompted by some readers who commented here, I picked up a new bag. They are fruit flavors, no longer the classic fruits & spices. (Strawberry, Grape, Green Apple, Lemon, Orange and Blue Raspberry.)
Full review with pictures over here: Necco Conversation Hearts (Sweethearts) 2010
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