Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Ghirardelli has really expanded their line of chocolate bars over the past five years. Not only that, I see their products everywhere now thanks to the expansion of higher end chocolate into grocery stores and drug chains. They even have a charming chain of ice cream stores.
But I’ve ignored them on the blog for a long time. Probably because my initial impression of them has been that the chocolate bars is waxy and bland. But they’re wildly popular and have been making chocolate since 1852 in the Bay Area, one of my favorite candy destinations, so I needed to put those impressions to the test.
That’s not to say that I don’t use their chocolate chips, I prefer them to Nestle’s Toll House Morsels or Hershey’s Baking Chips and they’re often on sale for a decent price.
So I picked up this assortment of tasting squares after Christmas when they were on sale. They feature the new line of Intense Dark in three different flavors.
The Espresso Escape wrapper says: dark chocolate with finely ground espresso beans in 60% cacao. As usual I was worried about the bits of coffee beans, but in thsi case they really were so finely ground as they matched the particle size of the cocoa solids.
Roasted brewed coffee flavors mixed with the woodsy taste of real beans. Very little chocolate flavor here, it’s all coffee but with a smooth chocolate texture. Good cocoa butter melt, very silky. Light vanilla overtones. But the cedar and smoke is quite tangy.
While I enjoyed the texture quite a bit, the flavor was just a little too, well, Intense (tm).
The Mint Bliss package says: dark chocolate with natural mint in 60% cacao. What the front of the package doesn’t mention is that there’s also some unidentified “artificial flavor” in this as well.
Nice buttery texture, but an incongruous tangy and musty taste along with the peppermint. It’s more of a fresh peppermint leaf taste, not a pure peppermint oil, which is a nice change of pace from their Peppermint Bark that I had over the holidays. But the combination of flavors still doesn’t quite jive for me.
It has a nice buttery melt with a light cool feeling but the flavor is a little thin. It’s a little fruity, on the raisin side of things.
It’s sweet, only the lightest trace of bitterness. Light dry finish.
Ghirardelli has some other versions in their Intense Dark line, including the Midnight Reverie that has 86% cacao, Evening Dream with only 60% cacao and two other flavored 60% called Citrus Sunset & Toffee Interlude. They also have some filled bars that I haven’t tried yet.
Overall, it’s nice stuff, certainly worth the price and a fun little pickup for coffee or after dinner, maybe a mid-day munch. I like the 10.6 gram squares, it’s a good size for a little taste of chocolate.
Note: the Mint Bliss & Espresso Escape have milk fat in them, so are unsuitable for vegans, but the Twilight Delight is milk-free (though made on equipment that processes dairy).
Friday, April 11, 2008
I’m hearing a lot of hatin’ on black licorice in the entries for the Red Vines Giveaway. Which makes me sad. I think a lot of folks are very attached to their favorite candies and I’m probably one of those people and maybe I take it a little personally when someone calls something that I appreciate disgusting. (But I’m not a converter or anything, I don’t like to force candy on people who say that they don’t like something.)
Licorice has a long and wonderful history as a confection and even a medicine. It’s also very flexible, used as a flavoring in hundreds of different sweet and savory items. It has some companion flavors as well, such as anise and fennel. One of the more commonly found licorices is the Red Vines Black Licorice Twists.
The most common kind of licorice here in the United States is the twist. It has a wheat base and is usually flavored and sweetened with molasses (and in this case, corn syrup too). Molasses is a great companion to licorice. While pure licorice is very sweet and soft on the tongue, molasses is deep and only mildly sweet with some interesting mineral notes.
The earthy combination and less sticky complexity to it all makes Red Vines Black Licorice Twists a nice treat. They’re not very licoricey, but that’s okay, they do have a nice texture and feel more like a snack than a candy sometimes. (Wheat-based candies can do that.) I think they’re best when they’re fresh, but stale is okay. I’ve revived stale licorice before by placing it in the microwave on top of a very lightly damp paper towel, covered with another paper towel and zap it for 10 seconds.
Licorice and licorice-like candies are increasing in popularity, probably because of their low caloric density and satisfying chew. As a grocery store purchase of licorice, I prefer Good and Plenty, but if you put Red Vines Black Licorice in front of me, I’ll definitely eat it.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I’d never had them until I started the blog. I picked them up two years ago to try and found the bag was so horribly stale that it wouldn’t have been fair. So again with full warning this time that National Licorice Day was approaching, I picked up another bag.
It’s mind boggling. I don’t even know where to begin with how confused, anxious and actually angry these make me.
First, I opened the bag and it smelled like sweet musk. Yes. Like the Australian Musk Lollies. And I know this smell because I recently bought a bag.
At first I thought I was crazy. I’ve had smell hallucinations and I’ve heard that simply coloring a food one way will make someone expect that flavor, so maybe I was just having some sort of synapse malfunction.
But it’s been a full week and I’ve checked with others. The reaction to the smell ranges from “It smells like my grandmother’s purse” to “that’s like a bad candle shop.”
None of it gets better. The colors are odd, like slightly bleached by the sun or perhaps rinsed in the colander with some fresh veggies and they’ve run.
The texture is like eating surgical tubing ... that’s been sitting next to leaking perfume samples for several months. They candy is made of little tubes of a similar wheat-based licorice vine (no twist to it) that is then coated on the outside with a candy shell (I can’t call it crunchy, only colorful). After chewing a bit the flavor does kind of warm up, after the musk has gone away it’s a little bit like licorice, but lacking the anise punch and the deep earthy molasses flavors.
The American Licorice Company explains them this way:
Maybe it’s just because I don’t like musk. But someone must like these candies or they wouldn’t be making them for those rabid fans. Or maybe people just use them for craft projects. They might make some decent kid-safe chunky beads for stringing on some embroidery thread.
I just ... don’t know what else ... to write about them. I can only assume that those people who hate licorice have tasted this and I can’t blame them for their hostility towards the stuff. (Go ahead and call me hypocritical for hatin’ on this stuff, I can take it.)
Rating: 2 out of 10
The Red Vines Giveaway closes on Saturday, April 12th, so enter if you want some! (Don’t worry, there will be no Snaps in the winner packages.)
Thursday, April 10, 2008
I was looking forward to this bar when I heard about it at All Candy Expo last September. It was teased, “Satisfy your taste for adventure! Rich chocolate. Crunchy nuts. And a cliffhanger kick of exotic spice and a hint of sweet coconut flavor.” That description doesn’t sound that gripping, but still a tasty combo.
The bars began showing up on store shelves in the past few weeks, along with the other tie-in items like the new color & icons in the Milk Chocolate M&Ms and Peanut M&Ms as well as the Mint Crisp M&Ms.
Here’s the obligatory and gratuitous cross-section:
It looks like a regular Snickers, it has the same milk chocolate coating and two layers inside. The top layer is caramel studded with peanuts and the bottom is a fluffed nougat.
There is a faint whiff of coconut, but I’m not getting any chai spices in there.
Still, all I’m getting is a bit saltier nougat and the coconut flavor mixed into the caramel.
It’s not bad, but certainly doesn’t live up to its name. If you’ve always wanted a coconut Snickers (and I know a few people mentioned a love of coconut in the Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Ideal Candy Bar question) this might be the bar for you. Of course it may also be a big disappointment for true coconut fans, as there is no actual coconut in there. You might just want to pick up an Almond Joy and smash it on top of a regular Snickers for a better effect (and a true mash up!).
While this may have disappointed me (and the Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bar didn’t), I’ve got to give them props for trying some new things instead of just using the same ingredients in different ways (like the Snickers Nut ‘n Butter Crunch) or taking away an element (like the Snickers Xtreme).
The package design is a bit better on this one, I think, than the Mint Crisp M&Ms. Don’t forget to check out the new colors of M&Ms, too.
The Milk Chocolate M&Ms are in a muted color palatte: Red, Brown, Amber and Cream.
They all have assorted new icons on them, integrated with the letter M in some way. I like the one that’s wearing the Indiana Jones hat and the map ordinal. There are also various pyramids and native masks. Some of them feel a bit like a retread of the Pirates of the Caribbean, including the skull. But I guess that’s the genre of movie. The Peanut ones rarely have a legible icon on them as well, but hey, that’s the hazard with using a real peanut center.
All of the Indiana Jones tie in Mars products are available in stores now. I found mine at CVS and Walgreen’s.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
They turned up at Walgreens, and on sale to boot (well, it was strange sale where they’d charge $2.99 a bag to mortals off the street, but someone with a coupon could get 3 for the price of 2 or something like that, but I was charged $1.59 after I gave them my best, “I don’t understand, the tag on the shelf says they’re a dollar each, but I don’t want to buy three.” and then they tried to explain it and I just kind of kept sweetly repeating that I should be able to just buy one and still get a sale price, even if it’s not the super-low price. Finally they just put a key in the register and that’s what I paid).
Each of these ropes is just shy of an ounce (.988 ounces), so it’s a satisfying portion and about 100 calories to boot.
They’re very soft, sometimes so soft that it’s hard to pull apart the ropes without breaking off pieces.
They’re fun to twist and roll, even tie in knots or probably do macrame. (I should have photographed the little scarf I made for a Peeps Bunny.)
And the taste? Well, it’s definitely a spicy cinnamon. It smells like Red Hots and has both a sweet flavor, a bit of a tangy bite and then after chewing for a bit, a low and pleasant cinnamon burn.
I don’t know what’s taken Twizzlers so long to make a really good cinnamon twist like this, but I’m glad they did. For those minding their calories, you may enjoy the interactivity and the low caloric density and overall satisfaction of the candy. I’m not sure when they’ll come out with these in single serving packages, but they should.
For some bizarro reason, these aren’t listed on the Hershey’s website even though they’ve been on shelves for at least three months.
These are made with a corn syrup and wheat base, so they’re not suitable for those who cannot have gluten.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
I really didn’t want to buy these; they couldn’t possibly be better than the Brach’s Bunny Basket Eggs (or worse, for that matter). Which I didn’t like, but have devoted followers. But I have to admit that it’s a valid confectionery expression: a grainy marshmallow covered in a lightly-flavored jelly bean-like shell.
What convinced me to get these though was the name: Hiding Eggs.
It seems obvious that Judson-Atkinson Candies is well aware that these aren’t for eating! They’re for hiding ... possibly without any hope of every finding. They’re all individually wrapped, which is great for throwing in Easter baskets or reassuring when you find one stuck in the sofa cushions in August and shrug and eat it anyway.
They come in the standard color & flavor variety of fruit jelly beans: Orange, Lemon, Grape, Cherry, Lime and Vanilla.
I’m not going to lie to you, this is not a comprehensive review, I didn’t eat all of them. I tasted the purple, orange and white ones and that was it. Read the Brach’s Bunny Basket Eggs review for my complete rant on the subject of these candy impostors (not that they’re BBBE impostors, but that they’re masquerading as edible confections).
The centers are soft and grainy, the shells are crunchy and grainy. The flavor layer is very mild, but the tastes distinct enough that you could probably tell them apart with your eyes closed. Each egg is a substantial hit of sugar, weighing in at a little over 13 grams each and about 50 calories (yes, that’d be 13 grams of carbs!).
So if you’ve been having trouble finding the Brach’s, or just want a brand that’s made in the USA (most Brach’s products are no longer made here), Judson-Atkinson Candies has your new favorite hiding egg. Added bonus, they were only $1.49.
The one thing that I find so enchanting about these is that they’re part of a rather extensive line from Judson-Atkinson that includes all different sizes of these eggs. Pigeon Eggs (small marshmallow eggs), Hen Eggs (medium marshmallow eggs) & Turkey Eggs (large marshmallow eggs). The Turkey variety tops out at about 1/3 larger than the Hen Eggs (which I think I’ve reviewed here ... it’s so hard to tell).
They’re an important part of Easter, I’ll grant you that. I’ve had mine for the year (just like I used to eat my bit of Pork & Sauerkraut for New Year’s as a kid ... for the record it was the pork that I didn’t like, I love sauerkraut), so I should be very lucky. Since they’re wrapped they may make good filler for pinatas, so pick some up on clearance next week.
These have a marshmallow center, so contain gelatin and are not suitable for vegetarians.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Just to make things clear, the package says, “Tangy Fruit Flavors” ... just in case people thought they were some other assortment of flavors associated with Smarties. They never actually say which fruits they are, though.
Actually, I think Smarties are an ideal Easter candy, with their pastel colors and light flavors. I like Smarties. I like their lack of flavor, the way they dissolve so quickly and smoothly. I like their tiny tablet size, their light colors and complete indistinguishableness from one another.
These jelly beans were about the same price as others are these days, retail of $1.99.
The shell is a dry and a little crumbly and cool on the tongue (as dextrose usually is). The shells have a tangy and flavorful layer. The flavors aren’t very strong or complex. Grape is the most vivid, in that grape soda way. Green apple is pretty mild. Blue tastes like ball point pen ink smells (I think it’s raspberry). Cherry is very tart and then very sweet but less bitter than most pink/red cherry candies. Lemon was probably the sweetest of the bunch.
What was missing was the white Smarties, you know, that one that we all think is pineapple and is by far the best. (What? You don’t think so, too?)
The colors are bright and opaque, rather like highlighter pens. The funny part is that Smarties actually makes their lack of color in their compressed dextrose tablets a selling point. From their website:
In the case of these little jelly beans, I think they’re using just as much dye as everyone else. Most of all I noticed the similarities between the Smarties Jelly Bean and the SweeTarts Jelly Beans.
So I gathered up an assortment of both and put them side by side. The SweeTarts Jelly Beans are on the left and the Smarties Jelly Beans are on the right. They are extremely close in colors, although the Smarties are missing the orange one completely.
The beans were essentially identical with the Smarties being slightly more flavorful, mostly in the tangy layer. The colors very little but the purple and the green are the easiest to tell apart by looking at them and the blue in the SweeTarts version is punch flavor, not raspberry.
I really don’t have a preference of one over the other. If you have a choice, I say go with whichever is cheaper or whichever brand you feel you prefer to support.
They’re both made in Canada and come in 14 ounce bags, though their ingredients label differs slightly ... so it’s entirely possible that this factory churns both out under contract with Nestle or CeDe Candy.
While all of the Smarties compressed dextrose products are gluten, nut and milk free, the Smarties Jelly Beans are made in Canada and are made in a facility that processes all the hit-list allergens: peanuts, nuts, milk products, soy products, wheat, eggs and sesame seeds.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Nerds just don’t appeal to me much, part of it might be that they’re kind of hard to eat (maybe they should be sold in straws like Pixy Stix?), but I love the idea of them. Enter the Nerds Bumpy Jelly Beans.
Where regular jelly beans lack texture, each Nerds Bumpy Jelly Bean has oodles of nooks & lumps on a crunchy candy shell.
Where regular jelly beans lack a flavorful punch, each Nerd has a tasty tart layer just below the candy shell.
Yes, they look like freakish confectionery mistakes or maybe wads of leftover acrylic paint. They’re hard and have uneven textured shells. But they’re also vividly colored, so there’s no confusing any muted colors (is this pink or magenta?).
The biggest contribution these beans have to the jelly bean pantheon is crunch. They’re really crunchy.
Orange: a nice mellow orange flavor, with a rather tart flavor layer under the shell.
Lemon: the tartest of the bunch, it does kind of lose its zazz when I got to the end of chewing it up when it was just a big wad of sweet.
Strawberry: I was afraid this was going to be cherry, it’s not quite the vivid red I photographed, just slightly on the pinker side of red. A nice sort of cotton candy delicate floral strawberry with a dose of sour power.
Green Apple: my mix seemed to have an inordinate amount of these, which is too bad, because they were my least favorite. They are sour and do taste just like artificial green apple.
Grape: fantastically artificial, like having a Grape Shasta (complete with a slight fizz mimicked by the crunchy shell).
It’s funny how excited I am about these. Let’s face it, there hasn’t been much innovation in the jelly bean world since Jelly Belly started adding more flavor by using both a flavored center and a flavored shell.
These are fun to eat because there are so many options. You can just pop them in your mouth and chew them up, or let them dissolve or nibble away at the crunchy coating.
The centers are clear and have only a light flavor and a vague tartness to them.
I think they’re a great change-up from the milder jelly beans out there and will definitely appeal to kids, but are still palatable for adults. I enjoyed all the flavors (though picked around the green ones after I finished my review). Still, I found that I couldn’t eat as many of them as I can eat jelly beans. The tartness gave me a tummy ache after about a quarter of the bag. (See the levels of testing at Candy Blog Labs that I go through?)
The interesting news though is that while I was shopping at Walgreen’s a few weeks ago, I also found this little bag of Giant Chewy Nerds. I bought them, at first thinking they were a clearance item, perhaps a test marketing. But the expiration is December 2008, so they were definitely fresh.
So, it looks like this is what they’re called in the “Non-Easter Season”. I can find no mention of either of these products on the Wonka site (does that surprise anyone?).
These have a variety of artificial colors in them as well as Carmine, making them unsuitable for vegetarians.
Friday, March 07, 2008
It’s funny how many different interpretations there are in the confectionery world for the word “creme”. In the case of Cadbury Creme Eggs, it’s simply a runny fondant. In the case of many of the Hershey’s Kisses it’s a firmer fat based ganache style and in Starbursts it’s just a flavor.
In the case of Nestle, it means “something softer than chocolate”. I picked up their Nestle Crunch Creme Egg with Caramel and Butterfinger Creme Egg at the drug store to complete my All Egg Week.
At 1.1 ounces, the Nestle Crunch Creme Egg with Caramel is virtually the same weight as a Cadbury Creme Egg, but slightly narrower and denser.
The outer shell looks almost like dark chocolate. It has a pleasant little squiggly design and the name Nestle on both sides of the egg.
It’s easy to bite without any mess. The chocolate shell is pretty thick and contains the fillings well (no sticky eggs for me). The base of each half of the hemispheres is filled with a firm and lightly salty chocolate creme studded with crisped rice. Each side is a little shy of full and that reservoir holds a scant bit of flowing caramel along with a rather large void.
The caramel is a bit salty, not very caramel flavored, but I don’t expect that from Nestle. The chocolate creme is still chocolatey without any greasiness or sticky-milk qualities. I wanted more crunches though, I really like crisped rice and think this would benefit from more of it.
It’s a very dense egg, I think I might prefer it in a slightly smaller form (maybe a half an ounce like the Canadian Cadbury Eggs I tried last year) but it’s a rare egg these days in the drug store that’s just going for chocolate (with that little bit of caramel & crunchies).
I give it a 7 out of 10.
Nestle also makes the Wonka Golden Creme Eggs, which are pretty much the same thing except there are graham cracker flavored bits in there instead of crisped rice.
The Butterfinger Creme Egg says it’s 1.15 ounces but I have my doubts with that huge void there. At first I thought it was just that one that was a little underfilled, but the second one (still wrapped in the photo) had a similar large cavern of nothingness.
It smells sweet chocolatey with a good roasted peanut butter undertone.
My major complaint with Butterfinger bars is that they don’t use real chocolate on the outside. In the case of these (and the Butterfinger Jingles), it’s real Nestle Milk Chocolate (which still isn’t spectacular) ... well, that’s what the foil says, “Butterfinger Pieces & Peanut Butter Creme in a Milk Chocolate Shell” but I’m kind of unclear when I read the ingredients that featured the second ingredient as “confectionery coating” but that may be a mock white chocolate base of the creme filling.
All that aside, it’s an enjoyable egg. The center has all the flavor of a Butterfinger. That buttery flavor with the little crunchy bits of peanut butter brittle (that don’t stick to your teeth!) a little bit of salt to even out the very sweet chocolate shell. It’s nothing like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg, but that’s okay, they’re both pretty inexpensive, get both.
A solid 7 out of 10 for this one as well.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.