Wednesday, March 19, 2014
I’m not surprised that Russell Stover is expanding its cake-themed candies, as they already have a Cookie Dough Egg and multiple holiday version of Red Velvet Cake. This spring they’ve introduced three new eggs all with cake themes: Carrot Cake, Birthday Cake and Wedding Cake.
The thing that’s so odd about them is that they’re eggs. None of these flavors are particularly Easter themed. In fact, I find the idea of a Birthday Cake flavored egg for Easter downright odd. Carrot Cake is the only one that makes a modicum of sense, since carrots are associated with rabbits, which are associated with Easter.
Russell Stover Carrot Cake Egg covered in White Chocolate is only one ounce. It looks the same as the other Russell Stover egg packaging, green foil and a white emblem on the front with a little bow and the Russell Stover logo. There are elements of an amber orange and a slice of cake featured on the lower right.
As with the other cake and dough eggs that Russell Stover started making, it’s an odd sort of bon bon. The filling actually contains cake mix. So inside is an unbaked cake mix that’s creamed together with some milk and butter to create a filling that’s then molded into an egg shape inside a white chocolate shell. Kind of weird.
It smells very sweet with a little note of cinnamon and nutmeg along with some sort of dairy milk. It’s a little flat, so it’s easy to bite. It’s extremely sweet, but the filling has a sort of cookie dough consistency. It’s a little grainy, as I can feel the sugar and the raw flour in the center. It’s not pasty, as there’s enough fat in there to let it dissolve and melt like a bon bon should. The carrot notes are a bit lost, it’s the spice cake flavors that really create the reality.
Overall, aside from its sweetness, it’s pretty good. I can’t say that I’ve ever really wanted a carrot cake bonbon, so this doesn’t fill a hole in my heart. I’d say that some pecans would enhance it, but they’re an unlikely addition at this price point.
Russell Stover Birthday Cake Egg in Milk Chocolate with Sprinkles doesn’t look much like a birthday item. Sure, there’s a bow on it, but there’s a bow on all of them, and they’re not for anyone’s birthday.
This egg feels bigger than the others, though the wrapper says it’s also one ounce. The cake featured in the picture is a yellow cake with a chocolate frosting. Just as the carrot cake version lists cake mix, this one lists Yellow Cake Mix in the ingredients (also white chocolate, even though it’s covered in milk chocolate).
The egg is not molded like the others, instead its enrobed, like the Cookie Dough Egg I reviewed last year. There are little sprinkles stuck to it, though I think there were just as many rattling around in the package when I unwrapped it.
I don’t care for sprinkles, they look pretty and all, but they’re a mess. They don’t taste good and they just leave evidence everywhere that you’ve not only been indulging, but indulging in something with sprinkles on it.
The egg itself smells a bit like dough, it has that uncooked batter note to it. The center is soft and easy to bite, the chocolate stays together, but the sprinkles rarely make it into my mouth. The milk chocolate is merely passable, it’s not strong but does have a sort of malty element that stands up to the otherwise bland battercream. Though I don’t have a cookie dough version right here, I recall this being much different except that the center is a little softer and less crumbly.
If you’re a cake person, sprinkle person or your birthday happens to fall around the time we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, this may be the perfect candy for you.
Russell Stover Wedding Cake covered in White Chocolate is an extremely sweet confection. (I didn’t get a photo of the package, or even a particularly good photo of the candy.)
It’s a white cake center with a white chocolate coating, so the notes are pretty much vanilla and sugar. The center is a bit softer than the Birthday Cake, though still has the sugary grain to it. It’s just slightly fluffed but has an overall milky sweet flavor and a hint of the raw flour.
It was far too sweet with no actual purpose to it. The idea of wedding cake that’s all white with white frosting and no note of raspberry or marzipan is actually kind of foreign to me. This taste more like grocery store sheet cake ... which is not something I think anyone strives to emulate. I’m sure there are some super-sweet-toothers who will enjoy this, but I think it as was just too sweet and one-note.
The cake thing is lost on me. I don’t mind when things go back to the source of why we made it a cake flavor in the first place, like taking the flavor elements of coconut and chocolate and caramel from a German Chocolate Cake ... but yellow cake can stay in the realm of baked goods from no on.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
The wrapper is pink and the launch of the product coincides with spring, so I’m going to call it an Easter candy even though there are no rabbits on the package, just a couple of pasty kids in chef’s hats making some sort of bowl of batter.
It weighs a quarter of a pound, which is giant compared to the mini foil wrapped peanut butter cups R.M. Palmer usually makes, but it’s not as large as the half pound peanut butter cups that Reese’s sells in pairs around Christmas. But this isn’t peanut butter, where most of us think more is better. This is cake batter, which is pretty much a room temperature cookie dough smoothie.
The cup is huge, at a quarter of a pound, it’s the size of a small saucer and weighs, well, four ounces. This is not R.M. Palmer’s first attempt at a quarter pound cup, they make a passable Peanut Butter Cup version. The package says that it’s two servings, but that’s a staggering thought when I looked at the ingredients:
The chocolate flavored coating looks like bad chocolate, but that’s about the only thing that it succeeds at. There are no chocolate notes in it, it has no chocolate texture, it’s filled with sugar, milk by-products and oils. The filling isn’t like the Russell Stover cake fillings, there’s no flour in there; it’s just more oil and sugar and fake vanilla.
I’ve never been much for eating cake batter, so the idea of a candy that re-creates this is not up my alley. Add to that, vanilla cake is the least interesting kind of cake. Why would I want to eat that batter? Spice cake, lemon pound cake, devil’s food ... these are interesting. Vanilla cake batter is not.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Necco has taken some heat in the past few years regarding their changes to the flavor and recipe for their iconic Sweethearts Conversation Hearts.
The idea of creating individually flavored packages if the Sweethearts seems like a great way to sort this out. Necco released to single-flavor packages this year: Necco Sweethearts Hot Hearts and Necco Sweethearts Cool Hearts. They’re cinnamon and peppermint (respectively). They come in attractive mini gable boxes and for less than a dollar, I thought it was much more attractive, mature and sophisticated than the little boxes of the multi-flavor version.
The boxes are adorable, though frustrating to re-close. There’s a tab on the back, but it’s glued down and has nothing to tuck back into after you open it. You can slide the whole flap into the folded top, but it’s a bit of a trick and not something that can be accomplished with one hand.
Though they are nothing more than paperboard boxes sealed with glue, the candies were fresh and crispy. (Not that I know exactly what a fresh Sweetheart actually is supposed to be like.)
The cinnamon flavored Hot Hearts are truly hot. I found them quite spicy and a little more nuanced than a straight burn.
The pink hearts have flirty mottoes like: Kiss Me, Wow Me, Ooh La LA and Wink Wink.
The flavor is cinnamony, it has an immediate warmth to it, but there’s a note of clove and some of the other more woodsy flavors of ground cinnamon. The texture is smoother than an Altoid, but they that that same crispy texture that you can let dissolve or crunch.
I enjoyed them quite a bit, though eating a lot of them does lead to a lingering heat in the mouth.
The peppermint Cool Hearst are white with light blue-green lettering, though some of mine were blank. It’s obvious why these are sold in single flavors, as they’re very strong and would contaminate the flavor of anything placed in contact.
The mottoes for the Cool Hearts are also themed for the mint flavor: Chill Out, Frosty, Shivers, Icy Blast, So Fresh. There are other more puzzling ones, like an asterisk (which may be an homage to the romantic novels of Kurt Vonnegut or the Walmart logo) and the possibly insulting versions that say Got Onions? and Have a Mint.
The smooth texture and Altoid intensity was pleasant. They’re were definitely minty enough to be called mints instead of candy, but the price is certainly very good for this sort of product versus something like Altoids or Breathsavers (though they’re made with sugar, no artificial sweeteners like some breath mints).
I would buy either of these again, the packaging was pleasing but most of all the candy inside was surprisingly good for a Necco Sweetheart product. I feel like Necco has stumbled in their previous seasonal and pop culture tie ins (see Sweethearts Fire & Ice for Twilight) but these can definitely be called a hit.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Hershey seems to have made everything in their current brand lineup into a Valentine’s version by making it heart shaped. Reese’s, York, Bliss, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, Special Dark… if they couldn’t make it heart-shaped, they jammed it into a heart-shaped box.
The Jolly Rancher Sours jellies have been around for at least 8 years (previous review). I don’t know when they started making the heart version, but they’re basically the same product. There are four different, very identifiable Jolly Rancher flavors. I tried them when they first came out, but I figured this was a nice opportunity to revisit them.
The jelly hearts are rather small and sanded with a mix of sugar and sour powder. They’re lightly colored and well made. Some jelly candies can get damp and sticky, but these didn’t get stuck together and are all of a consistent size and shape.
Green Apple is a light green. The flavor is that inimitable Jolly Rancher apple flavor. It’s juicy but slightly artificial. It’s not as tangy or as long lasting as I would have liked and has a lingering aftertaste, like it’s made of artificial sweeteners or something.
Watermelon is another flavor that’s highly identified with Jolly Rancher. The tartness is largely missing from this, but the floral and slightly musk-melon notes are there. It’s quite sweet towards the end, but in a pleasant way.
Cherry is almost spicy, it has more of a baked cherry pie flavor than I think I expected. The result is that I actually liked this quite a bit.
Orange is well done, it starts out tart and even the rough sugar sanding gives it an authentic fresh peeled orange texture. The sweet orange finish has just a light hint of zest.
Overall, for a product labeled sour I found them pretty weak. But without that expectation, they were quite nice ... not overly intense, much more like a movie candy that I could eat without worry about blistering my tongue. I just wish the flavor assortment was more of my style ... maybe for next Valentine’s Day they’ll make Cinnamon Fire Hearts. If you’re looking for some really intense sour sanded hearts, I’d make an effort to find Gimbal’s Sour Lovers (which are also sold under the Target brand this year).
Friday, January 17, 2014
I found the bars at Walgreen’s on a dedicated display for Ghirardelli just before Christmas. They also come in Milk & Caramel, but that day I had a craving for something sophisticated and not-too-sweet.
The bar is square, which echos the little pieces, but a little thicker than their usual filled confections. It’s 1.3 ounces, so it’s right there as a single serving (it’s 170 calories) and I picked it up on sale for $1.00.
They’re about 2.75 inches square, and sectioned into four pieces. Each piece is well segmented, meaning that you can snap it apart easily and the reservoir of minty fondant is completely contained.
The bar has a rich cocoa smell, it’s a bit woodsy and herbal with a nice hint of fresh peppermint.
The fondant is creamy and flowing, but quite liquid. It’s very sweet but has a well rounded peppermint flavor that’s more like peppermint tea than straight peppermint oil. The dark chocolate isn’t too intense but has a bittersweet quality that keeps the whole thing from getting too throat-searing sticky. The wrapper doesn’t say what the cacao content is, but I’d put it at about 60%.
It’s not a revolutionary bar, but the convenience of a single serving for just a buck is nice. I like the big 3.5 ounce bars, but I don’t like the monotony of eating a whole one and it’s often hard to get enough consensus in this “too many choices” world for everyone to want that chocolate bar at that moment with me. I’d like to see this line expanded. I like the Ghirardelli style much better than Dove or Hershey’s at this price point, but sometimes I want a milk chocolate and crisped rice bar.
Monday, January 6, 2014
Every once in a while candies get a revamp, so I like to revisit them. Here are a few that caught my eye.
Pretzel M&Ms were introduced in 2010 (original review) and have done well enough for Mars that they have continued as part of their regular repertoire, even getting seasonal color varieties for the holidays. I noticed a new version on shelves that advertised “now more pretzel taste.” Since I was able to find the previous version, I thought I’d taste them side-by-side. They have similar “best before” dates.
They look identical. The originals are on the left and the new version are on the right. Same colors, same shape, same size.
It is striking how much better the new ones are. The new ones are crunchier, taste lighter and airier yet have more of that malty, pretzel toasted coating. There was no difference I could see in the ingredients or in the new nutrition panel. They’re still a pretty low calorie candy treat, at only 150 calories per package, they’re pretty satisfying without being too fatty. (Of course the portion is only 1.14 ounces, but there’s a lot going on with the textures.)
The original rating stands at 7 out of 10. They’re not perfect and I still don’t think I’ve bought them since the first introduction (though I eat them when given a sample package, which happens once or twice a year). I still go for the Almond M&Ms when given the chance.
Hershey’s Rally Bar is a strange sort of candy bar in that it appears and disappears on store shelves with little notice. It’s a Hershey’s candy bar, first test marketed in the late 1960s, it was in wide distribution by 1970 across the country. The advertising theme was: Reach Me a Rally Bar, the Milk Chocolate Covered Nut Roll for the Man-Sized Appetite as well as the more gender-neutral The Crowded Candy Bar. This was one of the Hershey Corporation’s earliest attempts at advertising, before this they stood with the founder’s position that a quality product would sell itself. More about the Rally Bar on Collecting Candy.
The candy bar has no real package identity to adhere to in this reissue. This is what it looked like back in 2008 and this is what it looked like in 2004. The new one doesn’t even mention the name Hershey on the front. I picked it up at Walgreen’s as an exclusive item.
Though it was probably a chocolate candy bar when it was introduced, by the 2004 wrapper it was evident that this was a mockolate item. (Here’s my original review.)
This is smaller than the 2.2 ounce bar I tried back in 2008. This is 1.66 ounces (which is actually a good size for me). It smells like peanuts. The fudgy center is like a nougat, it’s soft and chewy with little flavor of its own. The peanuts are Payday-like, they’re crunchy, though not quite as salty. The chocolatey coating actually has a hint of salt, keeping it from being sickly sweet. Overall, it’s an okay bar but I don’t see it as that different from a Baby Ruth.
I stand by my previous rating of 6 out of 10.
There was a time when there were oodles of limited edition candies - not a month went by in the late Aughts that the major candy companies didn’t present a flavor twist on one of their tried and true candies. Snickers alone went through many iterations including: Shrek (green nougat), Indiana Jones (spiced nougat), Charged (caffeinated), 3X (chocolate nougat, chocolate caramel), Fudge (chocolate fudge instead of nougat), Xtreme (no nougat) and Nut n Butter Crunch (peanut buttery nougat).
The Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road changed up a few items in the standard Snickers Bar. First, they replaced the milk chocolate coating with dark chocolate. I approve. Second, they replaced the peanuts with almonds. I find this to be a good substitution. Third, they changed the lightly peanut butter nougat with a smoother marshmallow nougat. Definitively goes with the other two items. The structure is the same - nutty nougat on the bottom, caramel on the top and covered in chocolate.
I gave these an 8 out of 10 rating last time (full review) and I fully endorse them again this time. The nougat is smoother than the 3 Musketeers style and the crunch of the almonds is great. It’s more of a variation on the classic Mars Bar, but I won’t quibble with Mars if they want to bring this back. (In fact, I prefer it to the standard Snickers Almond, which replaced the Mars bar).
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Haviland Holiday Dark Chocolate Nonpareils come in a smart looking brown and red gable box, probably nice enough to tuck into a gift basket, stocking or take with a bottle of wine as a hostess gift. It’s just a little more upscale than a bag of chocolate chips, but pretty much the same thing in the end.
Haviland is a brand owned now by Necco. They’re probably best known for their mints, which are a cross between Junior Mints (a soft creamy center) and York Peppermint Patties (a crumbly fondant in a patty form). The nice thing about most of the Haviland line is that they’re available at drug stores and major retailers but usually use good ingredients without too many artificial things in there.
The chocolate is quite nice, but better than something like SnoCaps (which are more candy than chocolate) or Flicks (which have no sprinkles). The flavor has a little bit of a dusty quality to it, it’s not bitter, just kind of deep. It’s mostly a woodsy chocolate profile, with pretty strong notes of vanilla.
The chocolate contains butterfat, so it’s not considered vegan, there’s also no sustainability or sourcing statement on the box or the Necco website for their chocolate. As far as I know they don’t make their chocolate from bean to drop, so the sourcing is probably done by one of the big agrichocolate companies like Callebaut, Cargill or perhaps Blommer or Guittard.
I plan on setting them out in a bowl and I expect that they’ll be eaten up by some guests without complaint. But I’m more likely to just buy a bag of the Guittard or Ghirardelli chocolate baking drops and set those out instead in the future.
The big problem I have with the colorful sprinkles is a rare one, the red food coloring is extremely bitter. In this case, it was really unpleasant when I would put the disks in my mouth with the sprinkle side on my tongue. The bitterness was lost in the chocolate if I chewed quickly. But that’s no way to enjoy what’s supposed to be a treat. All white sprinkles solve that problem.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
It’s easy to think of Russell Stover as a stuffy boxed chocolate brand for old people, but I have to say that they are consistently on trend with their new flavors. Last year they introduced Red Velvet Santa, this year was a Pumpkin Pie Pumpkin and today I’m going to start my review with the Russell Stover Gingerbread in Dark Chocolate.
The packaging is simple, just a lump of Santa shaped candy in a sleeve with a Santa picture on the front. If there’s one unifying element with the Russell Stover Santa candies, it’s that they have a picture of a Santa on the front, but that the style will be different from the others. There’s really nothing cohesive in the branding.
They’re priced very well, at only 50 cents each for one ounce when on sale, they’re easy to find at most drug store chains. (I don’t see them at Target or KMart, though. Walgreen’s usually has the best selection, but RiteAid and CVS are pretty dependable for the most popular varieties.)
Like the Cookie Dough Egg, Pumpkin Pie and Red Velvet, the center for this piece contains flour. It’s like a cookie dough, in this case, more like a cake batter for gingerbread. It’s pretty mild, with more clove and ginger notes with a little hint of brown sugar. It’s not really fudgy, but more like a thick and chilled cookie dough. I liked it. It’s kind of weird, not at all like a high-end truffle, but just like a fun seasonal sweet.
Russell Stover Peppermint Cream Santa is similar to the Big Bite Mint Dream I ordered from them some years back. It’s a fluffed cream, not a fondant like Junior Mints or York Peppermint Patties.
The peppermint is clean and strong. The dark chocolate is bittersweet, glossy and crisp. The filling is light and frothy, though a little grainy and extremely sweet. It’s much sweeter than the Maple I tried later on. It’s a good peppermint product, and certainly very spare on the calories, a full piece is only 120 calories if you’re tying to indulge on a dietary budget.
The label doesn’t list any real sourcing information for the ingredients, specifically the chocolate. Since Russell Stover manufactures such a wide variety of confections there are lots of allergen warnings. The Gingerbread has flour (gluten) in it, the Mint and Maple have egg whites plus they all have soy and milk. Then there’s the peanuts and tree nuts warning.
All the Santa pieces are ill formed. I don’t know what the shape is supposed to be, but they’re enrobed, not molded so they’re rather amorphous. The Gingerbread piece (middle) is more dense than the Peppermint Cream and Maple Cream, so it’s not quite as high.
Russell Stover Dark Chocolate & Maple Cream is just a dark chocolate version of the milk chocolate version I reviewed a couple of years ago. It’s also available in the Easter Egg version, which I also reviewed ages ago and liked. (And also didn’t get a picture of the inside.)
The dark chocolate is glossy and pretty creamy. It’s not terribly rich in flavor, but its semisweet cocoa notes balance out the fluffy maple cream center. The filling is sweet and light with a hint of salt and a woodsy, pecan scent of maple.
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