Tuesday, February 15, 2011
While in Germany a couple of weeks ago I scoured the store candy aisle for products that were either unique or perhaps just like ones we get in the United States. I was excited to find this boxed selection in an Aldi Süd market in Cologne called Die Besten von Ferrero. It’s a dark chocolate mix of the best of Ferrero, makers of the famous Ferrero Rocher. This mix contains a luxurious sampling of their dark chocolate items: Dunkel Kusschen (10x), Mon Cheri (10x) and Rondnoir (6x).
The exciting part for me was twofold. First, I’ve never had the European version of Mon Cheri (more on that later) and second, that I found the Küsschen in the new dark chocolate version.
The box was nicely organized and though it felt like a bit of over-packaging from the viewpoint of someone who had to lug everything back to the States on the train/plane, it did the job very well. Each little compartment held its pieces in place. The whole box was shrink-wrapped, each piece was individually wrapped and the Mon Cheri has an additional sealed, plastic sleeve. All emerged un-scuffed and shiny. The package says that it’s a limited edition item, but it’s just this assortment and format, each of the items are available independently.
A few years ago I reviewed the American version of the Mon Cheri. It was a little nugget of milk chocolate filled with crushed hazelnuts and a hazelnut paste. People loved it, but it was confusing because in Europe the Mon Cheri is actually a liquored up cherry in dark chocolate. Slowly the hazelnut Mon Cheri disappeared from American stores. However, I noticed overseas that there was a product that was like the American version, the Küsschen. The Küsschen was introduced in 1968 but this dark chocolate version is a little more recent.
The Küsschen wrapper is a light paper foil with the name clearly marked (though hard to tell from the milk version) and a little image of the candy on the front with some hazelnuts.
The Küsschen is a little piece, about the same size as the Mon Cheri or Pocket Coffee. It’s a hard chocolate shell filled with a thick, nutty chocolate cream filled with crushed hazelnuts and a whole nut at the center. It’s exactly one inch wide at the base and about 2/3 of an inch high.
The piece smells much sweeter than it actually is. The scent is a combination of hot cocoa and dark roasted hazelnuts. The bite is crisp; there are a lot of crunchy nut pieces in the filling. The filling, however, is not like I would have expected. I thought it would be a bit of a Perugina Baci clone. Instead the center isn’t sticky or sweet, just a bit of a firm ganache type filling. The nuts take front and center, and by center I mean the middle of the piece is one large, perfectly roasted hazelnut. It’s crunchy and has wonderful toffee and pecan notes with no fibery chew that I get sometimes with the Oregon variety. The filling is airy, which promotes the hazelnut flavors mixing with the dark chocolate shell. The chocolate is smooth with a light bitter trace to it.
Overall, a not-too-sweet and satisfying little nugget.
The Mon Cheri was a bit of a mystery to me. As far as I knew, it was a cherry centered chocolate candy. There was no need for me to try it, because I knew what it was, something that by its very conception and design was not something I could like.
Each piece is a similar format to the Ferrero Pocket Coffee (in fact, I think they use the same mold). It’s a whole cherry and some liqueur encased in a dark chocolate shell. They’re wrapped in foil and an extra piece of clear cellophane. (I bought them once before last year and was disappointed to find them either oozing a grainy syrup or looking a bit hollow so I never even bothered to photograph them.)
The pieces are messy if you’re the type who likes to bite things open, then place them on a table to shoot with a camera. In fact, I recommend not biting them unless the whole thing is in your mouth.
The cherry is firm and crunchy, with an authentic Bing or Rainier cherry flavor. It’s tart and sweet with some deep raisin or fig notes. But the part that sells it is the liquor. This isn’t just a dash of the stuff or something within a sticky fondant. This liquor syrup is, well, all liquored up. There’s a slight alcoholic burn with some light rum notes to it. (The package and Ferrero website don’t specify the alcohol type.)
I loved the combination, the cherry brings a fruity sweetness, the chocolate has a creamy and slightly dry finish while the liquor syrup give it a decadent appeal of a cocktail. I’m not a big fan of harsh spirits (though I love a really herby Gin and Tonic sometimes) but there’s something about what a liquor does when it infuses a piece of real fruit.
I reviewed the Ferrero Rondnoir when it was first introduced in the United States in 2007.
At its heart is a small dark chocolate pearl floating in a mass of chocolate paste inside a crunchy wafer shell. That is covered in a crispy chocolate sprinkling. They’re wrapped in an elegant, textured brown foil and packaged in a little fluted cup.
I see them sold in the US, unlike the other two components to this box, at drug stores and discount chains like Target or KMart. They come in a little single serve package of three or in full boxes and sometimes in mixes, especially around the holidays.
As I’ve already reviewed them, this is just a little review for myself to confirm that they’re not only a unique product, they’re also quite tasty. In fact, I think my original review pegged them as tasty (8 out of 10) but I’m upgrading them to yummy (9 out of 10). That could just be the liquor talking though.
I feel like Ferrero is preparing to release the Küsschen in the United States, though I have nothing more to go on than the fact that they discontinued the hazelnut Mon Cheri. The big issue would be to find a name for it that doesn’t require an umlaut or resonates more with Americans. The fact that it means little kiss might be a trademark issue because of both the Hershey’s Kiss and possibly the Italian Perugina Baci (also means kiss).
This was the perfect sort of box of chocolates for me. It contained adventure (I tried something new), tried and true comfort and a conclusion to the search for a replacement for a discontinued product. The fact that they’re also all dark chocolate and less sweet than some other Ferrero products was a bonus for me. Some of these assortments can be purchased online as well as in Duty Free shops at airports around the world - the family of Ferrero Rocher products are quite popular in Asia.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Brach’s makes a wide assortment of classic nougats. They’re probably best known for the little block of white nougat that has the jelly bits in it, but what I appreciate are the hand-crafted icon nougats. They make them for Christmas where the center of the nougat is a tree or snowman. For Valentines Day the Peppermint Nougats have a heart inside.
Also for Valentine’s Day Brach’s (now part of Farley’s and Sathers) makes a Cherry Cordial Nougat. The bag was quite a good deal, at only $1.00 for 12 ounces of candy. The package says that the candy combines two favorite tastes to create the perfect treat, chocolate and cherry.
Since I’m not a cherry lover, it’s hard for me to say anything more than this: If Hasbro made Cherry Play Doh, this is what would come out of the Fuzzy Pumpers Candy Shop. They smell like maraschino cherries that have been marinating in the ink that goes in Dry Erase Markers. The texture is soft and less grain than I imagine Play Doh actually is, but just as maleable.
They’re lovely to look at, but they smell disgusting and for me, they taste even worse. The cherry flavor combined with the faint hint of cocoa and the red food coloring aftertaste is just too much for me. I think the other nougats Brach’s make are great, but these are a huge miss for me.
With the news that Necco changed its classic Necco Sweethearts (more coverage here) in 2010, I found that Brach’s version more ubiquitous in 2011 on store shelves.
The package is bright red and easy to distinguish from the pastel-princess mess of the Necco reboot. I picked up the Brach’s Small Conversation Hearts at the Dollar Tree for a dollar for an eight ounce bag. The ingredients are similar, a sugar and dextrose (glucose) paste held together with a bit of gelatin and oodles of artificial colors.
The mottoes I noticed: Luv Me, You Rock, U Go Girl, Ask Me, Hello, Got Love? So Fine, Good Bye, I [heart] You, Be True, So Fine, E-Mail Me, Dare Ya and the ultra romantic, Hey You.
The pieces are well made, I found very few duds in the package - all thick and consistent. The printing was a little blurry on some but mostly readable, except for the low contrast pink on pink.
The flavors are pleasantly indistinct. I could tell the orange ones were a creamsicle orange flavor. The yellow ones might have been banana, but maybe a really bland lemon. The pink were slightly like the seashore (a mixture of cheap flip-flops and Old Bay crab boil and the burning taste you get when sunscreen gets in your eyes). The purple and green were too bland for me to tell apart in a dark room. The white was the comforting flavor of mint toothpaste you find in the corner of your mouth before lunchtime. The texture is smooth and not quite crunchy, though still very firm.
If you were a fan of the original Sweethearts and can’t find them, these are as close as you’re likely to find. But if you never liked either, there’s no reason to try these, they do nothing for the category except look cute. So basically, a nice decorative candy, but perhaps not for eating unless you’re trying to bring your blood sugar up.
They’re made in Argentina and produced on shared equipment with milk, egg, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts and soy.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Thursday, February 10, 2011
There appeared to be fewer new Valentine’s candy introductions in 2011, but many of the tried and true favorites are back on store shelves. Here’s a look at what I’ve been able to find:
In 2010 Necco introduced their new packaging, flavors and colors for the classic Sweethearts. (See the comparison of the two here.) This year the classic version was to return, though sold only at discount stores. The only confirmed sighting of the candy is at Family Dollar. Frustrated lovers of the classic version are turning to eBay and message boards to purchase the limited supplies.
Dove Promises are available in several different variety packages in both Valentine’s themes and the standard colors.
Heart Shaped Junior Mints (original review)
Nestle & Wonka
SweeTart Hearts (original review)
Reese’s Hearts (foil wrapped molded hearts filled with Reese’s peanut butter - original review)
Dark Chocolate Truffle Hearts (original review)
PEEPS Chocolate Covered Raspberry Flavored Hearts - I have not actually seen these in any store.
Conversation Beans (original review)
Heart Shaped Boxes (original review)
Other Items of Interest
See’s has Cinnamon Hearts and Cinnamon Pops again. (original review)
Elmer’s Chocolate boxes (original review) are back on store shelves
Lindt Lindor Truffles Limited Edition - Milk Chocolate with a Smooth White Filling
Ghiradelli Luxe Milk squares selection in Valentine’s packaging (original review)
Ferrara Milk Chocolate Strawberry Ball (original review) the twist here is that the segments have little love messages on them.
Gimbal’s Honey Lovers and Cherry Lovers jelly bean heart mixes - not strictly Valentine’s day, but certainly appropriate (Cherry & Honey reviews)
So what are you seeing on store shelves, or maybe not seeing this year? What are your tried & true favorites?
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
I’m not generally keen on cherry flavors, but I do love real cherries and I’m generally a fan of Gimbal’s products. This bag of little heart shaped jelly bean type objects boast nine different cherry flavors plus vitamin C and real cherry juice. Gimbal’s makes their candies in the USA in a factory that’s Kosher, peanut free, tree nut free, dairy free, gluten free, gelatin free and soy free. So for allergic folks these are pretty special. (Sorry vegans, though the colors are artificial they do use beeswax and confectioners glaze.)
They’re drop dead gorgeous. A riot of reds, pinks and purples they seem to go beyond the frilly satin hearts of the season. They’re a little rustic because each heart is unique and not quite perfect.
Wild Cherry - plain red - you know, cherry. Tart, sweet, floral and deep woodsy notes. But not quite that good. The medicine flavors are kept pretty faint here.
Cherry Vanilla - white with red speckles - like a cherry marshmallow, mostly a soft flavor with a strong fake vanilla flavor to it. Pretty much pleasant.
Black Cherry - deep red - tastes mostly like red. The cherry flavor is pretty intense as far as these hearts go, more on the woodsy side compared to the Bing Cherry.
Chocolate Cherry - brown - oh, this is quite a tragic flavor, not quite cherry and mostly empty cocoa flavors. It’s like a very bad Cherry Tootsie Pop.
Cherry Cheesecake - pink with red speckles - a tangier version of the Cherry Vanilla, this one had a yogurty twang to it and but still a marshmallowy flavor.
Cherry Daiquiri - deep pink with red speckles - this one was rather fun, kind of a lime and vanilla with a hint of cherry cough syrup. A little bit like aftershave though.
Bing Cherry - lighter red - Tangy and sweet, a well rounded cherry flavor. A little chemical aftertaste from the food colorings, but about as good as the Jelly Belly I usually avoid.
Cherry Cola - dark red - at first I liked the cherry cola, because it tasted like cola, even had a weird effervescent quality to it (maybe that was just the tangy part playing with my mind) but then the cherry kicked in and ruined it for me. But that’s just me.
Kiwi Cherry - pink with green speckles - this was just terrible. Maybe it’s because I had a recent run in with fresh Durian, but I just couldn’t get that out of my head when it came to this one. The kiwi flavors were more like melon and onions than kiwi, though the cherry seemed about average.
The didn’t do a thing for me. The colors were pretty, the shapes and distinctiveness of the flavors was actually pretty good. But I wouldn’t consider these a breakthrough candy so I found it odd that the National Confectionery Sales Association awarded Cherry Lovers best new Premium/Gourmet product:
Robby at Candy Addict had a better opinion of these. I’ll just consider them very pretty Valentine’s decorations in a bowl.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
If the statistics braniacs are correct, you’re less likely to receive chocolate this year than a year when Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday. This is because the major heart-shaped confectionery purchasers are men and when the holiday falls on a weekend the celebrations are more likely to be date-related than object-related.
I picked up this box of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Hearts with Rich Truffle Filling on a weekend (long before Valentine’s Day though). The box holds 7.05 ounces and 16 Belgian truffles. Well, the package calls them truffles, I’m not convinced as you’ll see in a moment.
The flat and simple box has a stylized cartoonish design on the front though the overall format is similar to the Belgian Fancies I bought before Christmas.
I like the overall design, it’s simple and spare and not so precious or frilly that it couldn’t work for either gender or as a gift between friends or family. The box does and excellent job of protecting the candies, which were all shiny and flawless.
The hearts are nicely sized for a single bite. They’re about one and a half inches at the widest, about three quarters of an inch high.
The ingredients list for these non-flavored bonbons is extremely long. In my perfect world the definitions of things like ganache and truffle are pretty strict. A truffle is chocolate mixed with extra dairy fats like butter or cream. That’s it. There can be flavorings, inclusions and maybe even nut butters but then it becomes a bonbon with a truffle ganache base filling. The Belgian maker of these has things in here like corn syrup (third ingredient) vegetable oils (fourth ingredient) and some other things like glycerin, crystalline fructose, mono & diglycerides and citric acid.
The result of those ingredients is not so much of a mock ganache but something that I think of as really good chocolate frosting. The thing is, the reason to put all that extra fat into ganache is to make the melting point lower, so that it actually melts in your mouth quicker than chocolate. (Cocoa butter has a higher melting point than dairy butter.) Putting all those different oils in there just isn’t the same and things like corn syrup add moisture, which makes it chewy and gives it an almost-caramel like pull when it’s bitten.
Now, all that aside, they’re not bad to eat. The chocolate shell is rather sweet but very smooth. The flavors are berry and a little bit on the woodsy spice side. The semi-sweet shell plays well with the very sweet center. There’s a slight fudginess to it, I hesitate calling it a graininess but it simply tastes sugary instead of chocolatey. For a store bought box of chocolates, they’re not bad, but at $5 for a box I expect a little better. In fact, I wouldn’t mind paying an extra dollar for fewer ingredients and a more intense chocolate punch.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Marich Confectionery is a California candy maker that specializes in panned items and novelty molded creams and fondants for all holidays. I’ve recently fallen in love with their extra dark chocolate panned items like 72% Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews and Dark Cacao Nib Toffee (which I’ve bought twice with the intention of reviewing but ended up eating).
Their new Black Heart Licorice items are all natural and instead of being wheat-based with molasses, these are more of a gumdrop style dense jelly candy.
I picked up my samples from the Fancy Food Show last month. They were showing off two versions: Black Licorice and Black Cherry Licorice.
The package design is nicely done. The six inch stand up box with the cut out window shows off the candy and is no bigger than it needs to be. The tab on the back folds into a little slot and keeps the candy closed and pretty fresh inside its inner cellophane bag. There’s a little story on it about a candy maker creating the candy to woo a woman, but I skipped right to the candy. (You can see a snapshot of the ad about it here.)
The Black Heart Black Licorice are darling little matte hearts. They feel a little rubbery, like they’re made out of silicone. The scent is only very lightly of anise.
The texture is a smooth and dense chew, a bit firmer than a Dot, but still easy to bite. The flavor is clean and clear - anise with some deeper woodsy licorice. It’s not very sweet, in fact, these have a bit of salt in them (75 mg per serving). Though they are colored, it’s all natural coloring so there are no strange artificial bitter flavors to get in the way of the real stuff.
They do stick in my teeth a little bit, so that’s a distraction. The flavor isn’t too strong to mean that I was constantly munching them without getting that overly full or burnt out feeling.
The surprising item for me was the Black Heart Black Cherry Licorice. I didn’t even want to take the samples, but figured they were red and would photograph well, I should at least try them. When I read the ingredients, it actually sounded pretty good. Again, all natural so no nasty Red #40 to give me a weird aftertaste ... but there’s also licorice root extract in there too. So it’s truly red licorice.
They don’t smell promising to me, like black cherry flavoring. However, the texture is quite dreamy ... it’s silky slick and easy to chew. The flavor is tangy and has a black cherry note to it. It’s woodsy and has an actual cherry pie flavor and then just a hint of the bouncy sweetness of licorice. The whole thin isn’t too sweet either, again, the benefit of the touch of salt in here. Wow, a cherry candy I actually like, because it actually tastes like cherries. For those who don’t like licorice, it’s not a bold anise flavor, just a different kind of sweetness that highlights the woodsy notes of the cherry flavors.
I don’t know if they’re in stores yet, I didn’t see them at Whole Foods, which is usually where I pick up Marich candies (though I also see them at Gelson’s in Southern California as well). I expect the price to be around $3.50 to $4 per package, so a little steep.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
A weekend trip to the 99.99 Cent Only Store meant a lot of decisions. There’s plenty there that I’m curious to try, and often do, but most of the time it’s my fascination with what may be very bad that gets me to buy something, not the hope that it’s good. (Examples: Beechies Force Chew Candies, Choco-Fudge Mallow Sundae, Skittles Fresh Mint and a roll of LifeSavers that were probably 10 years old.
When I found a little display in the Valentine’s aisle though with some edible body paints and these Decorated Chocolate Shoes I thought that they were actually a good score. The packaging is a little plain, but part of me suspected that these were part of a larger gift package (maybe a basket or box) that were broken up into separate items that could be sold off for a dollar ... and most likely they were from Christmas and still fresh. The expiry date on the shoe was April 2010.
The package is two components: an outer clear plastic box with the label affixed to it with the stretchy silver bow and an inner two part clear plastic “mold” for the shoe. This did a great job of both displaying the candy and protecting it. It was fully taped all around the seam between the two parts, so very well sealed.
There were two things that gave me pause about the purchase. First, it’s made in China. The company that distributes them is called Galerie and is based in Hebron, Kentucky. (They also make gourmet candy corn.) My confidence level in products containing milk from China is admittedly low since the melamine scandal. Second, the ingredients don’t look good. Technically this should not be labeled chocolate, as the milk chocolate contains whey as an ingredient, considered a “filler” by US FDA standards. But I was attracted by the price and size and figured some readers might be as well.
The shoe itself is about four inches long with a 1.75” heel. At 2.7 ounces it’s pretty hefty, so besides that well in the shoe for a foot, it’s solid chocolate. The molding is nice, the chocolate has a good sheen to it and the decorations, though modest at just four pink colored “white chocolate” hearts on each side are precisely painted. (I looked around and didn’t see any other varieties in the store, though I suspect that other versions exist.)
The chocolate smells a bit woodsy, sweet and milky. It’s pretty tough to bite, kind of like eating an Easter rabbit. The texture though is rather smooth. I was pleased with the fact that it wasn’t overly sweet (adding whey actually makes this possible - it helps maintain the texture without adding expensive cocoa butter or cocoa but not sweetness of sugar - in very small amounts it doesn’t influence the flavor).
As a molded novelty item for this price, I’d say it’s excellent. My interest in milk chocolate in the shape of a high-heeled shoe with hearts on it is extremely low, so I can’t say that this is a great gift for me. If you’re looking for a party favor or a little gift where the visual impact is more important than the actual chocolate, this is perfect. Out of the package it can be used for decoration, and as I showed above for scale, filled with M&Ms or Hershey’s Kisses or even a few small chocolate covered strawberries it’s great.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.