Friday, January 3, 2014
Red Velvet cake is made with buttermilk and vinegar plus some cocoa. It’s not a rich chocolate cake, just a lightly chocolate cake with a tangy note to it. The fact that it’s red is really inconsequential to the flavor. The color can be created naturally or using artificial food coloring. The cake is usually frosted with a cream cheese icing or browned butter icing.
I’m not much of a cake fan in the first place and Red Velvet is so low on my list that I’d probably prefer not to eat anything at all. Just to be really diligent about this, I went to Sprinkles, a cupcake bakery, and picked up a Red Velvet Cupcake to remind myself what the heck this is supposed to taste like. The Sprinkles website says that they’ve added extra cocoa to theirs and chose a cream cheese frosting.
The cake is moist and bouncy with a good crumb. The cream cheese frosting is what really prevails here. It’s wonderfully smooth and fresh, the only hint of sugary grain is in the crust, but the rest has a pleasant tangy note to the milky sweetness. The cake itself has a sort of corn meal flavor to it, it’s slightly floral, not terribly sweet and overall ... just nice. Not chocolatey, a little on the vanilla side. But nothing I’d get really excited about.
Now that I had something to compare it to, I figured I was prepared to complete my review.
The pieces come in three colors: maroon, red and white. They’re the larger, chunky M&Ms, which are inconsistent sizes. Some are the size of regular M&Ms, but most are super-sized.
The centers are milk chocolate with a light tangy note to them. They’re not more chocolatey, and as you can see from the ingredients above, they didn’t alter their milk chocolate recipe to include buttermilk. They seem like they have more of a vanilla note, like poundcake.
If someone just gave these to me without any clue about the special flavoring, I wouldn’t have picked Red Velvet. At this point I’m curious about how different this will taste from the upcoming Birthday Cake M&Ms. (I’ll set some aside for comparison when those come out in May 2014.) I think it’s a nice idea for Valentine’s Day, a little less run-of-the-mill, but if Russell Stover has had a Red Velvet seasonal piece on store shelves for two seasons, perhaps they’re not really on trend, just slightly behind it.
Red Velvet M&Ms contain milk and soy and may contain traces of peanuts, almond and wheat (in addition to listed artificial colors and unknown artificial flavors). Though Mars has a plan for certified sourcing of their cacao, M&Ms have not yet been added to that list.
Since Mars’ M&Ms team seems to be running out of flavors, let me see if I can make some suggestions: Milk Chocolate Cappuccino, Milk Chocolate Cookies n’ Creme, Milk Chocolate German Chocolate Cake, Milk Chocolate S’mores, Milk Chocolate Banana, Milk Chocolate Chai Latte, Milk Chocolate Creme Brulee, Dark Chocolate Chili Pepper, Dark Chocolate Amaretto, White Chocolate Peanut Butter, White Chocolate Strawberry Cheesecake, White Chocolate Lemon Meringue, White Chocolate Key Lime. All of my previous reviews for M&Ms that actually exist are here.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Brach’s Ice Cream Conversation Hearts provide a conceptually different choice in the area of conversation candies. They’re flavored like ice cream, which is to say that they’re more mainstream than the original spice inspired flavors that Necco used to produce.
When I go to the store and browse ice cream flavors, the tops on my list of consideration go something like this (not necessarily in order): chocolate, coffee, mint chocolate chip, butter pecan, peanut butter cup and then maybe vanilla. I can’t remember the last time I bought strawberry ice cream (though I buy strawberry sorbet rather often) and orange sherbet is so far off my list of viable flavors, I can’t even recall seeing it in stores.
Strawberry (pink) was bitter and only a vague floral hint of berry. Mostly bitter from the food coloring.
Cherry (same shade of pink) was bitter and sweet with only a faint cherry flavoring note. Not tartness, just sweet. I’m still not convinced that there was any difference, except strawberry seemed even more bitter.
I had to take a break at this point because of the bitterness. A bit of water. Some crackers. I don’t know why I started with pink.
Vanilla (white) was expected to be flavorless, but actually does have a pleasant vanilla note to it. It’s like a marshmallow flavor. Really the only one I picked through assortment to eat. But it was really that I was actively avoiding nearly every other piece.
Chocolate was just horrible. Worse than the pink candies, because it was so lacking in chocolate and ended up tasting like a musty basement. You can tell just by looking at it that it can’t taste like chocolate, it’s not brown.
Orange was mild and did remind me of orange sherbet, except for the fact that it was missing that juice tartness. So it was more like an orange chapstick.
Now that I’ve tried their take on the classic ice cream flavors, I have no interest in their take on something more complex like butter pecan or mint chocolate chip. It’s best they failed at the easy stuff so I don’t get my hopes up.
Brach’s also has Heartlines Classic Conversation Hearts (I reviewed them when they were called small conversation hearts) on the shelves again this year. They’re better than the classic Necco (which are achingly hard to find) but still, not quite right.
Taken as a non-toxic and cheap decoration, there’s little better than conversation hearts. I paid only $2.50 for a full pound. Even if no one eats them from this cute jar on my desk, it was an inexpensive way to look like I’m observing the holiday. If you’re not eating them, it doesn’t matter which version you pick up. Choose based on the color combos, the sayings on them, or where they’re made. (These are made in Argentina.) There’s little point in choosing based on flavor.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Just a few milk chocolate covered marzipan hearts from Niederegger.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
The new Valentine’s version of Peeps has a little decadence going for it. The Peeps Strawberry Creme dipped in Dark Chocolate come individually cradled in a tray, each just lightly dipped in dark chocolate, like a fresh strawberry.
The package is a bit small, each weighs only a half an ounce, so the whole package is 1.5 ounces and are priced around $2.00 if you can find them. However, if you’re watching your calories but still want a treat, it’s an appealing choice since the whole package has only 170 calories (or 57 calories each). Far less calorie-laden than a box of truffles.
I had my doubts about these. They are a rather unnatural shade of red. Well, I’ve seen camellias this color, but I’ve never felt the desire to eat them.
However, they smell quite appetizing; like strawberry shortcake, a sweet scent with a light creamy note to it. The dark chocolate dipped foot sets off the color well, but doesn’t smell of chocolate on its own.
The semi-sweet chocolate, when bitten so that its on the tongue, is quite strong and rich. It’s woodsy enough to stand up to the rather artificial notes of the strawberry. The big problem comes with the marshmallow’s grainy sugar coat. It’s sweet, I expected that, but the artificial colors have a very noticeable aftertaste for me that’s far too bitter to be outshone by the interior.
The center is also lightly and unnecessarily colored. (Regular colored Peeps are always uncolored in the center.) The marshmallow center is sweet and rather like a very mild strawberry ice cream.
If the artificial colors don’t bother you, these are actually a very good combination of chocolate and flavored marshmallow. I prefer this style to the completely coated version that Peeps are also coming in lately (those marshmallows are too moist and lack the visual appeal that the true Peep shape provides).
Friday, January 27, 2012
Valentine’s Day is all about red. Red is the color of love and passion; candies for Valentine’s Day play upon the flavors that follow with red: cherry, strawberry, raspberry and cinnamon. The fruity flavors are usually easy to find, but cinnamon is a little less common.
I was excited to see this small bag of Ferrara Pan White Hot Red Hots Jelly Beans for sale at Walgreen’s in their Valentine’s candy display. What does White Hot Red Hots actually mean? The package doesn’t say, but the little window shows that the small jelly beans come in two colors: red and a red speckled pink. Any additional questions could be answered for a mere buck.
The beans are pretty and well made. They’re glossy, consistently shaped and I appreciated that the bag was sized appropriately for the amount of candy actually in it. (Sometimes bags are absurdly large but have very little candy in them.)
The white hot part, I think, means that these are very spicy cinnamon. Red Hots is just a brand of cinnamon imperials made by Ferrara Pan.
They’re a little larger than a Jelly Belly but smaller than the classic pectin bean. (Shown above with a Tic Tac.)
They are actually very spicy. I just ate a bag of Hot Tamales last week and I can confirm that these are just slightly hotter than those. The shape is good, it’s small and packs a powerful cinnamon punch. There’s a slight clove note to them and every once in a while I also got a little whiff of artificial watermelon, which may just be a manufacturing thing.
I liked them. It was easy to just pop a few as both a pick-me-up and a little breath freshener. They go well with coffee or tea. I’d definitely pick these up again especially because I like the smaller sized bag. Ferrara Pan already makes Lemonheads & Friends Jelly Beans but I would be curious to try a standard spice flavor array or maybe a mint blend. (Ferrara Pan is known for their Lemonhead and Atomic Fireballs, but they also do a lot of contract manufacturing for house brands and other major candy companies, so chance are you’ve had their jelly beans before.)
They’re made with confectioners glaze, so they’re not considered vegetarian (though there’s no carmine in there). They’re made in equipment that also processes dairy, soy, tree nuts and peanuts. No mention of wheat/gluten but “modified food starch” is listed as an ingredient without any indication of the source.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
I found this box of Tootsie Chocolate Covered Raspberry Cremes in with the Valentine’s candy at Walgreen’s, but I don’t see why this is a seasonal item and it doesn’t say that it’s Limited Edition.
The box says that there’s Delight in each bite!. The design is, well, odd and out of place. There’s a little Tootsie logo in the corner, but I never really think of Tootsie when I think of Junior Mints, which is a similar product.
They look just like Junior Mints. They’re same size and shape and have the same deep dark chocolate shell with a glossy shine. They smell, well, like perfume made for fashion dolls. It’s a floral raspberry but has a soft fake vanilla note to it as well.
The chocolate is thin but has a crisp crunch to it and protects the gooey innards very well. The raspberry flavor is all sweetness and floral artificiality. It’s an interesting mix, the chocolate is not very strong, but has a decent cocoa punch. The fondant is sticky and sweet, and a little grainy like a frosting or glazed donut might be.
They were intriguing, but not compelling for me. The raspberry wasn’t overpowering but also didn’t wow me much. I like the idea of other flavored centers for Junior Mints, like orange or chocolate or maybe maple. I’m sure some folks are going to absolutely love these. If I were making them though, I probably would just keep them as a seasonal item.
Raspberry Cremes are made in a peanut free and gluten free facility. (The do contain soy, eggs and dairy.)
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.