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
Friday, February 8, 2008
I’ve always loved Gobstoppers, especially the ones that came out originally that were more Everlasting (tm) than the current mini ones. They were the size of real jawbreakers (about the size of a walnut) and would actually last for an hour. I found the flavor layers a little more vibrant than the Ferrara Pan ones I was used to. It also seemed smoother and kind of cool on the tongue, great for a summer treat. Later they were reformatted to include a compressed dextrose sour center ... which is kind of nice too, because it means I can crunch it. I’m a cruncher.
The color variety is different here than the regular bright versions in the box and lacking a green/apple one. But they gain a pink/strawberry.
The heart shape is soft and rounded, about the same diameter as a penny. They’re shiny and have the added bonus that they don’t roll around and off my desk like the spherical non-holiday version.
I think I might prefer these to the round ones. The fit nicely in the mouth, it’s easy to roll my tongue around on them or simply tuck it into my cheek discretely if I have to talk.
The flavor is mild. The candy layers have a light sweet flavor of whatever layer, with the out layer being the strongest. There’s no tartness with the outer layers, it’s all sweet. The “SweeTart” center is also only mildly flavored and not terribly sour, just a little on the tangy side and of course grainy.
They also look fabulous in the little jar, which is half the fun of candy. Of course they don’t last long in the jar. These would also make a fabulous candy for favors and candy buffets.
I don’t miss the green ones and actually like the strawberry quite a bit. I found the price of $1.99 for 12 ounces to be a bit high for a sugar candy, but if I can find these on sale after Valentine’s they’ll probably keep for quite a while. (I know, this is strange coming from a woman who just wrote about spending $5 on a candy bar yesterday.)
These Gobstoppers were made in Mexico.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
I’ve been following Nina Wanat’s blog Sweet Napa for a couple of years now. Mostly because she was writing about making gourmet candy bars but the post that really got me was her details of making a Malted Caramel Bar. If I wasn’t already married, I’d be engaged to the recipe for that bar!
I was further excited when I saw that she’d moved to Los Angeles ... just within my reach. Oh, so close.
And finally, at the beginning of December she launched her company, called BonBonBar and webstore with her first gourmet candy bar creations. These are not knock-offs of consumer bars, these are unique combination bars with fresh ingredients. So fresh that it’s recommended that you eat your bars within two weeks of them leaving the kitchen.
I vacillated on whether or not to try them. (I know, it sounds weird.) The bars are not cheap, at $5 each the price makes me feel like I’m promised a transcendent experience. But she had only two items ... the Malted Ganache & Shortbread Bar (slightly different than the initial malt bar that caught my attention) and a Caramel Nut Bar which sounded fabulous all except for the walnuts. (Drat!) So I thought if I was going to go through the trouble of ordering, I should get an assortment ... I didn’t want to judge this nacent company on a single product.
Luckily I read that she was going to add a Valentines item (and I even voted on her blog) ... a Single Malt Scotch Bar.
I put my order in as soon as I saw it in her webstore. She even had a cool Valentine’s sampler package that included all of her bars: 3 Scotch, one Milk Malt and one Dark Malt plus the Caramel Nut Bar. I made a request to swap out the walnut-laden Caramel Nut Bar with another Dark Malt and they were made to order over the weekend.
Since we’re both in Los Angeles, it took only a day for the package to get here! (And of course the cool weather meant that they were in perfect conditions ... I admit that I get very nervous about chocolate deliveries, even in February.)
When I opened the box I though, this is it? The box is so teensy! But hefty, as I found when I picked it up. Inside were two layers, the top layer had the three Scotch Bars and the bottom layer had the three Malt Bars. (It’s like she planned out all these sizes fitting into things or something ... genius!)
The bars are each packaged in their own cellulose sleeve with a simple label. Through the clear plastic it’s evident that they’re perfectly formed, that the enrobing is well tempered. The only thing missing was the smell.
Honestly, I was happy to see that the bars were enrobed. Some of Nina’s earlier exploits on her blog showed molded bars, which are necessary with certain ingredients, but I prefer an enrobed bar, there’s something about the way the chocolate sits on the center, the way that it falls into place, like a blanket instead of walls.
Biting into the narrow bar, the ganache is soft and yields quickly until I got to the dense and buttery shortbread. Crispy, crumbly. The mix of flavors the immediate hit of dark malt, the cookie and the distinct saltiness ... it was all quite dreamy.
This is what I always wished a Twix would be, super smooth milk chocolate, strong cookie flavor ... well in this case instead of caramel it’s a ganache.
I tried both the dark and the milk chocolate varieties, and to be honest, I prefer the milk. I think milk chocolate and malt are just natural companions. Also, because the ganache and shortbread are a bit on the salty-sweet side, the milk chocolate’s sweetness really balances it all out.
In this bar the caramel is on top and the ganache is the base.
Upon first bite, the caramel is the perfect consistency of stringy and smooth but not too sweet. The first flavor is of a dark single malt scotch ... it’s kind of like tobacco and leather with that ultra-buttery base of deep chocolate truffle ganache. The chocolate shell is sprinkled with a little flaked salt, so it gave little additional hits of salt to the otherwise incredibly consistent experience.
The dark chocolate shell is creamy and not too dry or chalky for the rest of the bar.
Just to check my own opinion (and the fact that I still had three bars and that ticking clock of freshness) I took two bars over to the neighbor’s last night (it was just Robin, Amy’s out of town and will probably be quite mad to miss this as she’s the one I usually give the terrible candy to). Robin said, “This is one of the best things you have ever given me to try.” (The other thing that she really liked was the Nutpatch Nougat, so you know she has great taste.)
For the record, Nina did offer me free samples, but I really wanted the whole experience of knowing that I just ate a $5 candy bar so that I could report it authentically here. This is one of the reasons I didn’t have an early review like Serious Eats and Candy Addict (who both loved it too!). I did try a bite of the Malt Bar at the Fancy Food Show last month, as Chuck Siegel of Charles Chocolates had just met up with Nina and I guess Chuck remembered my prediliction for malt and shared. So it’s not like I was going into this order completely on trust & faith in my fellow bloggers.
Basically, they’re not candy bars at fine boxed chocolate prices. They’re fine chocolates in bar format ... which is why they’re named BonBonBar. Though $5 a bar sounds like a lot, the price per pound is about $51, which is on par with most other fine chocolatier. (And honestly, if these were in little bon bon sizes and I was in some haut chocolatier, I wouldn’t flinch at that price.) Right now you have to order online if you want some (her list of stores is rather short at the moment).
Many of her ingredients are organic and all are all natural (no high fructose corn sweetener either).
It’s not an everyday treat, but if I was given this set for Valentine’s Day, I’d know someone loved me.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
In general, it’s a great idea. Why not have pretty foil confections?
Hershey’s has a few heart-shaped chocolates this year, but they’ve also created a special mix called Heart’s Desire. It features Hershey’s Extra Creamy Milk Chocolate Hearts, Reese’s Peanut Butter Filled Hearts and Hershey’s Special Dark Hearts (natural source of flavinol antioxidants (tm))
I was actually kind of pleased that they weren’t completely pink and red and pink. Instead the color coding is a little more intuitive. The Special Dark employs the global-standard purple, the milk chocolate is in the typical pink and the Reese’s is in gold.
They’re about 1.25” wide and 1.5” tall and weigh about .29 ounces each. (A Hershey’s Kiss weighs about .16 ounces.)
Special Dark - I used to think that the Special bar was just that. Mostly because I thought that it was my mother’s favorite chocolate bar. Back when it first came out in the 70s there simply weren’t any mass-produced dark chocolate bars available at the corner store. (To get a dark chocolate fix I had to eat chocolate chips.) I didn’t care much for it as a child, I found it a bit waxy and bitter. As an adult I find it chalky, grainy, too sweet and lacking in real chocolate oomph. It contains 45% cocoa solids, which you would think would make it extra chocolatey, but it is simply middle or the road fare. It’s not true dark chocolate as it contains milkfat. They are pretty though.
Extra Creamy Milk Chocolate - this version is, I guess, Hershey’s answer to critics who said that their chocolate tastes weird. The “extra creamy” kick may come from extra emulsifiers, this one sports both soy lecithin and PGPR. This version of Hershey’s chocolate actually tastes quite a bit different than the typical Hershey’s bar or Kiss. It is sweeter and lacks those deep musky dairy notes. Instead this has a bit of a toasted marshmallow taste ... and very little chocolate-ness. (I did some calculations ... standard Hershey’s chocolate is 27% carbs, the extra creamy variety is 29% carbs. So there you go, it is actually made up of more sugar.)
Reese’s Peanut Butter Filled Hearts - this was the one that I bought the bag for. In fact, I looked around at all the bags and picked the one with the most gold wrappers visible. The outside was a little greasy but still smelled over wonderfully roasted nuts (I love a fresh Reese’s!). The inside wasn’t quite the soft crumbly version of Reese’s peanut butter, instead it still had the same “crumb” to it, but it was slicker, maybe a little sweeter or a little oilier. It didn’t quite satisfy me the same way that a peanut butter cup does, but still, it’s a Reese’s!
They’re a pretty assortment, rather traditional and in a rare, large bag (16.5 ounces.). I don’t think I’d buy them again for myself, but everyone at the office seemed pretty jazzed when I popped the remainder in the communal candy jar (but then again, all that’s been in the jar for the past week is Tootsie Rolls).
I don’t know how far in advance Hershey’s makes these, but the expiration date is June 2008 ... that doesn’t seem like a very long shelf life to me.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Since this is my third Valentines since starting the Candy Blog, I figured I should point newer readers to some almost-fresh reviews of Valentines products that can be found in stores today. (Lest you think that I haven’t been there, done that.) Just click on the teensy photo to be transported back in time to relive the glory.
Name: Raffaello & Rondnoir
Name: Assorted Chocolates (Heart Box)
Technically I never reviewed the Coconut Heart, but here’s the specs on the Egg version:
Technically I never reviewed the Nestle Cruch Dark Heart but here’s the review from oh-so-long-ago on the Limited Edition Bar:
There have been a lot of variations on the Hershey’s Kiss. Some of them good (I loved the original Candy Cane Kisses when they were made with cocoa butter) and some of them dreadful (Candy Corn Kisses). But through all of this, like the many variations of Pocky & KitKats, I’ve realized that the original was fine and I’d much rather have that. Except now when I look at the little foil wrapped friend I have a mix of associations. (If this were a movie this is where there’d be a montage of happy moments and then scary or unpleasant bits where I ate a Candy Corn Kiss or the horror of opening a drawer and finding a stinky bag of Candy Corn Kisses.)
I couldn’t bring myself to buy the big bag, so I was happy to see this pack of 5 mega Kisses.
The construction is as you’d assume. A milk chocolate shell and a “artificially vanilla-flavored creme” center.
Because they are packaged differently than the foil wrapped brethren, these are exceptionally shiny and pristine, which is an appealing aspect. They smell sweet and a little cheesy.
They’re a little smaller than the foil wrapped kind as well, but also come unwrapped ... so no little flags or bits of foil to roll into tiny spheres.
It was sweet and less chocolaty. The “creme” center was really creamy, more like smooth fudge.
It just didn’t excite me. I had them sitting around for a while and couldn’t be bothered to eat them. (I found the Bee Mine more compelling, at least with its overt badness.)
I think Hershey’s should just do what they do well and stop mucking around. Yeah, I know it’s hard after making Kisses for 100 years, they want to mix it up. But really, you don’t last 100 years when you go too far off the rails. (However, I know there’s a Cheesecake version out there that I’m still curious about.) These do not say that they’re a limited edition item, but they also have little tulips on the package (a spring thing?) and aren’t listed on the Hershey’s Kiss page.
Monday, February 4, 2008
I bought this one just for you, dear readers. I’m not sure why I thought you wanted to read about it, but here it is, the Palmer Bee Mine hollow milk chocolate figure filled with compressed dextrose candies.
This actually came in another variety, which featured a cow and some pun I can’t remember, like “you moo-ve me” or something like that. If they had a little train that said, I choo-choo-choose you, I would have bought a case even if they were made from mud.
But the Bee Mine features Yummy Honey Flavored Candy Bees Inside! and if there’s one thing I have trouble resisting it’s Yummy Honey Flavored Candy Bees (tm). (Well, I don’t really know what Yummy Honey Flavored Candy Bees (tm) are, but I figured I’d find out and then I’d know for sure if they’re irresistible.)
First, the box design is nice. It featured the choco-creature inside well, the cutouts are attractive. The box is a bit big, but I forgive that when it comes to molded chocolate items, as I know a little space tends to preserve shape. The foil design is also nice. It’s bold and endearing. It’s also a nice heavy foil that’s easy to unwrap and re-wrap.
The little guy inside was also nicely designed. He happend to be kind of cracked open already, but I think that might have been because I kept shaking the box. I figured yummy honey bees liked to be shaken before being set free. The little face molded in chocolate actually matches the foil design.
What’s more, it’s designed in 306 degrees. He has a little stinger and six little feet.
Like many Palmer chocolate products, he actually smells pretty good too. On the smoky side of the chocolate smell spectrum, but not overly sweet. He has a nice sheen and was pretty blemish free thanks to the packaging.
But first the chocolate. It’s Palmer chocolate. Basically, disappointing. Well, saying that I was disappointed means that I had expectations ... I have no expectations of tastiness when it comes to Palmer. But I do credit them for cute and attractive products. It was far too sweet, had a grainy melt and virtually no taste of chocolate or milk. It was like a Tootsie Roll flavor. (I did a little computation and Palmer chocolate has 12% sugar in it than Hersheys ... which is already pretty sweet stuff.)
My Yummy Honey Flavored Candy Bees (tm) are a compressed dextrose candy (like a SweeTart without the tart). They’re an attractive beige and smell like the Palmer chocolate. They’re shaped like a little bee, just like the package says they are ... in fact, the package has them at 100% scale. They’re okay ... I mean, who wants to eat compressed dextrose flavored like honey? It’s sweet and has a little dark honey flavor to it, but that’s about it. I give them points for originality though, I don’t know if I would have ever had a honey flavored compressed dextrose bee if not for this.
This was only $1.50 on sale, so it’s not like I paid a lot. (I think they’re $2.50 regularly.) The back has a greeting card layout “to” and “from” so you can just use a bold Sharpie and hand this to someone instead of a Hallmark card and have change to spare. But I’d say only give it to someone you want to confuse with your intentions ... bad chocolate does not say you care. It says, I was thinking of you ... but I wasn’t thinking nice things.
Oh, and for the record, I now have no trouble resisting Yummy Honey Flavored Candy Bees (tm).
Note: the logo on the back proudly states that this product is Made in USA but the Yummy Honey Flavored Candy Bees (tm) were made in Malaysia.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.