Monday, January 25, 2010
I was a little dubious when Ferrara Chocolate entered the segmented spherical fruit made from chocolate market late last year. But I was impressed with the quality, availability and price. Ferrara Pan is best known for its other spheres such as Lemonheads and Atomic Fireballs. They used to be the importers and distributors of Toblerone, Terry’s Chocolate Orange and Cote d’Or chocolate, but when Kraft decided to handle that themselves, Sal Ferrara saw an opportunity to get that niche of sales for his company and moved into chocolate molding.
What’s most exciting about the new brand is the inventiveness of their “Chocolate Oranges”. The initial items were pretty much carbon copies of the existing Terry’s Chocolate Orange (Milk, Dark and Milk Chocolate Toffee Crunch). But now that the initial move into stores is over and hopefully folks sampled over the holidays they’re settling in and pushing the envelope a little more.
The Valentine’s Day version of the chocolate orange is part of the strategy to keep the oranges around for all holidays. This one is Strawberry Milk Chocolate and features a Valentine’s message on every segment.
There are 20 segments in the sphere. The red foil wrapper has a sticker that says Burst then Enjoy, but I do poorly at tasks that require just the right amount of force (watch me bowl sometime). So I just cleave it apart by wedging a knife between the segments.
There are ten messages on the slices, some are icons and others are little sayings. Be Mine, True Love, Only You and Hug Me. There’s no Marry Me but there are little pictures of a cupid, a set of kissing lips, a rose and the iconic Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture. (Well, it’s not quite the same icon, the O in LOVE is upright, not tilted.)
The scent is lightly floral, a mix of milk and strawberry. It reminded me of strawberry Nesquik. The chocolate is smooth but very sweet, has a good roasted chocolate note to it as well as the flavor of strawberry. There’s no tangy component, no freeze dried strawberry bits.
Each of the molded segments is nicely done. Mine were shiny and pretty much perfect - the only hitch was sometimes I broke off part of the design when separating it from the center.
The mix of strawberry flavor and milk chocolate isn’t exactly my favorite, but for what it is, it’s very well done. The chocolate is smoother than what I’ve been used to with Terry’s though absolutely still as sweet.
The idea of doing multiple designs on the segments is pure genius - it actually made me want to take apart the sphere to look at them all. Sharing it would certainly be in order, especially for Valentine’s Day. The price is certainly right at about $2.50 at most stores.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Ferrara’s expansion into the midscale chocolate market has been quick. The first items I spotted are their Belgian chocolate bars, conceived to compete with Kraft’s Toblerone products. For the holidays this year they have three initial offerings of chocolate oranges in the style of Terry’s Chocolate Orange.
They come in the standard Milk Chocolate Orange and Dark Chocolate Orange as well as the Milk Chocolate Toffee Crunch Orange. They’re well priced at $2.50 each, and I’m guessing that deeper discounts will be found with holiday sales. I found my set at Walgreen’s, but I’ve also seen them at CVS.
The package is pretty, though not ornate or really much of a standout. The gold foil is a nice touch and the color-coding of the base of the boxes makes it easy to spot the flavor you might be looking for. They’re quite hefty, clocking in at 6.17 ounces (a Terry’s orange is 6.0).
On the front of the box it says that it’s a natural orange flavor so I was hoping the product was all natural, but I found reading the ingredients that it also contains vanillin (an artificial vanilla flavor).
I’ve always found Terry’s Chocolate Orange to be very sweet and I’m grateful that the sections are small because I’m rarely able to eat more than one or two at a sitting. I was hoping the Ferrara would be a little richer.
I started with the Ferrara Dark Chocolate Orange because I’d already had the plain Milk Chocolate from Ferrara and was very eager to try their dark. The bronzy orange foil has a sticker that exalts me to Burst then Enjoy (compared to Terry’s which is Whack and Unwrap). Inside the foil is a sectioned sphere.
The first difference I noticed is that it’s shiny and smooth. Terry’s have an orange rind texture. The second thing I noticed was different from a Terry’s was how solidly crafted this American orange is. When they say Burst, they don’t give me much indication of how much pressure to apply. So it took three fairly substantial smacks on a flat and firm surface to adequately dismantle the thing. (There’s a very good reason there are no photos of the Milk Chocolate Orange sections in this review as my ability to duplicate my success on the dark one was, well, unsuccessful.)
Each section is nicely molded and has a pretty orange peel and pulp design along with a version of the F crest in the center. The other side is blank.
It smells mostly sweet and with a light touch of orange. I didn’t get a lot of cocoa-vibe even from the broken orange. The snap is good, in fact the whole thing is very nicely tempered. It’s immediately sweet and has a strong orange essence to it. The chocolate is a little chalky and dry at the same time it has a cool and immediate melt. The dark chocolate actually has whole milk powder and milk fat in it, so it’s hardly dark chocolate though not milky enough to call it dairy milk chocolate.
For me it was simply too sweet and without some sort of milk flavors or intense cocoa notes, it just bored me. It’s attractive to look at and fun to share, but I would probably be disappointed if I got this in my stocking year after year.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The Milk Chocolate Orange is probably the classic of the bunch. It’s handsome and just as expertly made as the dark version (though I was not able to expertly disassemble it - see the milk toffee version below for a reasonable facsimile of what yours would probably look like).
The orange scent from this version was sweet and had a slight milky and caramel note to it. I was looking forward to this one because I rather liked the milk chocolate in the Belgian chocolate bar. However, after eating a few slices, it didn’t seem quite the same. It’s not quite as creamy or milky, though sometimes tempering and flavors can create changes. But I also noted on the box that it didn’t say anywhere that it was made from Belgian chocolate, so maybe it’s not the same at all. (I’d consult the wrapper for the Belgian chocolate bar but I ended up using the box as an impromptu knife sheath on Thanksgiving). My guess is that the Belgian stuff was more expensive and those bars were 3.5 ounces ... this is over 6 ounces for only 50 cents more.
There’s a slight grain to it as it melts and I’m really missing the chocolate flavors. Still, I found it much more munchable than the dark version.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The final variety is orange shaped but not orange flavored. The Milk Chocolate Toffee Crunch is a milk chocolate studded with toffee bits. Reading through the ingredients it’s clear that they’re really toffee (made with butter and not cheap butterscotch hard candies. It looks pretty much like the milk chocolate one.
It has a slight cereal scent to it in addition to the milky sweet smell. It’s sweet and slightly grainy with a strong milky component. There are little chips of toffee with a good salty and buttery note. The chips, however, are very small, so there’s no additional texture of crunching them, just the little salty texture change. As with the other varieties, it was so very sweet that I found that two slices were more than enough to give me a sore throat and craving for pretzels or plain almonds.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Nope, I was wrong. Turns out the Trader Joe’s are made by SweetWorks who makes the Florida Tropic brand line. See more here.
Overall, I think the Ferrara products are nice quality and are certainly easy to find. I appreciate seeing a product like this that’s American-made (so often fresher and cheaper because they don’t have to import). They’re also Kosher. They’re not quite to my taste, but if I can’t get folks at the office to eat these I’m going to try making them into a decadent orange & chocolate pudding.
Coming up soon, the other chocolate oranges from Florida Tropic (photos of the varieties here).
Friday, December 4, 2009
A couple of month ago I reviewed the set of trio of Dots candies for Halloween: Bat Dots, Candy Corn Dots & Ghost Dots. For Christmas Tootsie can only muster one holiday version: Christmas Dots.
Christmas Dots are red and green with white snow caps. So they’re festive looking, but are they festive tasting? Well, they’re Cherry and Lime flavored with Vanilla tops. Neither Cherry nor Lime have ever been considered a Christmas or even Winter flavor as far as I’m concerned (though I think vanilla is a nice touch).
The smell like vanilla. In fact, they smell an awful lot like the Candy Corn Dots, which I thought were more like vanilla pudding Dots (in a good way). These are like Jell-O and Cool Whip Dots in my two least favorite Jell-O flavors.
The lime is tangy and has a good zest note to it, but it also has a severely bitter component. The vanilla offsets it well, kind of like a lime creamsicle.
The cherry is very strong though not as much on the tart side of things, so it’s quite sweet. It’s also bitter, but in a more artificial coloring note than an actual natural citrus oil way. The vanilla balances this rather well, though I still didn’t like them at all, I found eating the vanilla tops to be palatable enough.
It might have been fun to really mix it up with these with something like Spearmint and Cinnamon with Vanilla. As it is, these are pretty enough to eat, but prettier to just decorate with.
In an unrelated story (to Christmas candy), Tootsie and the Orthodox Union announced that Tootsie candies including Tootsie Rolls, Frooties and Dots will be Kosher, with items arriving on store shelves soon.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Russell Stover has a large assortment of holiday treats in Santa-themed packaging. What’s nice about them is that they’re always fresh and moderately priced (often on dramatic sale for three for a dollar but usually about 50 cents a piece). I picked up every variety I could find this year:
What I noticed first was that the packaging is inconsistent in its design. Sure they’re all a mylar wrapper, but beyond that the Santas are different drawing styles with the Maple Cream, Strawberry Cream & Coconut Cream sporting the same Santa holding a gift aloft as he sits in a chimney. But The Peanut Butter Santa is more streamlined, the Marshmallow Santa has some freaky bright red cheeks and insanely short arms and finally the Marshmallow & Caramel Santa is in the style of the European Saint Nicolas complete with staff.
What I also found out is that the definition of “Santa Shaped” is pretty loose in Russell Stover’s world. It’s not quite as egg shaped, and maybe the tapering ends can be a feet/boots and a head. But really, it’d be best to just call these Christmas Lumps or Snow Clods.
The Peanut Butter Santa is pure simplicity: a peanut butter bar covered in milk chocolate. The shape of it is kind of figure-like. It’s the smallest of the pack as well, clocking in at only .75 ounces. It smells nutty and sugary and a little bit like peanut butter cookies. The milk chocolate is quite slick and melts easily, it has a light cocoa flavor to it. Most of all the salty peanut butter center is grassy-tasting. It’s a strange green flavor more like edamame than roasted peanuts.
It was tasty enough for me to finish it easily, but being small didn’t hurt either. The center is moister and a bit oilier than the center of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Tree (or Egg or Cup). This wasn’t a bad feature, just different.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I thought perhaps I’d tried these before and looked up to find that I reviewed the Maple Cream Egg way back in 2006. But the Russell Stover Maple Cream Santa is actually different. While the Easter version is coated in dark chocolate, the Christmas version is Milk Chocolate.
The amorphous lump didn’t remind me of Santa’s silhouette in the slightest but the maple cream flavor is a bit more Christmassy than Easterish so kudos for that, Russell Stover.
It’s been a while since I’ve had the dark chocolate version so I’ll spare us all comparisons. What I can say is that this is ludicrously sweet. The milk chocolate is sugary and not terribly creamy and the center while moist and fluffy is also throat searingly cloying and sticky. The maple flavor was simply a flavor, not something that felt natural or integrated into the candy itself.
Rating: 5 out of 10
While the Strawberry Cream Santa is also milk chocolate like the Cream Egg, this one lacks the pretty little swirls and curls on the top. It does smell a little like berries, but mostly it smells like milky chocolate. It’s quite sweet and has only a faint hint of strawberry and is rather similar to a Nestle Strawberry Qwik shake. I know it was really sweet, but I like the texture of the cream center that Russell Stover uses for both this one and the Maple Cream. It’s rather like a marshmallow cream, quite smooth and fluffy and moist without being runny.
Rating: 5 out of 10
The Coconut Cream Santa is also unlike the Cream Egg in that it’s milk chocolate, not dark chocolate. In this case as well, I think the sugar-laden milk chocolate is simply over the top. I like the coconut flake texture of the cream filling and the nice size of the piece, but the sugary quality of the chocolate with its grainy and fudgy melt is just too much. It’s amazing what a difference dark chocolate can make, but it does.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Things were looking up when I found the Dark Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Santa. I didn’t really expect this to be terribly different from the Easter Rabbit version, except that one was huge at two ounces and only in milk chocolate where I shopped.
This one was by far the most attractive of my Santa set, a nicely detailed figure of Santa Claus scratching his head. Unfortunately I smashed him somewhere along the way and his face was a little worse for it (or maybe he wasn’t scratching his head, maybe he was holding his hand over his nose and cursing me).
The marshmallow is latexy and has a chewy pull. Not too sweet and with a faint whiff of vanilla flavoring.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Of course this one looks like it could be a Mummy or Generic Figure for Unisex Bathroom Door.
It’s smaller in dimensions from the Dark Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Santa, yet it’s actually heavier, it’s the same 1.25 ounces as the Cream Santas. I’ve had the Caramel and Marshmallow Pumpkin before and found it interesting.
This one seems to be more evenly balanced between the caramel and the marshmallow. It’s dense for a marshmallow product, the marshmallow is fluffy and has a light hint of vanilla to it with a smooth and velvety melt. The caramel isn’t runny nor quite chewy but has a good stringy pull to it.
It’s lacking a punch like the See’s Scotchmallow, but for 50 cents and in the shape of a clothes pin, well, I don’t want to sound too ungrateful for a decent piece of candy especially since this one seems to have the proportions just right. I wish the caramel was a little more chewy, a little more salty, but still a fun piece.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Monday, November 23, 2009
Last month I reviewed the new Ferrara Milk Chocolate with Almond Nougat, today I have the companion bar without the nuts and nougat bits. The new Ferrera chocolate line is to take the place of the chocolate products from Kraft that the company used to distribute from their Terry’s Chocolate Orange and Toblerone brands. They can be found at drug stores and discount retailers.
The Ferrara Belgian Milk Chocolate Bar is the same format as the faux-Toblerone, a long and domed trapezoidal shape with deep sections. The snap is good, though sometimes I had trouble cracking off just one segment and if I had a double I found it impossible to break that into two pieces. (So I had to eat two sections.)
The texture is quite smooth and creamy. It reminded me a little bit of Dove Milk Chocolate, but slightly sweeter. The silky melt and light caramel notes are pleasant. It’s a little sticky feeling in the mouth, but not overly thick. I prefer a less sugary bar but the fat in this one was a delightful mix of cocoa butter and whole milk.
The ingredients are all natural and the bar is Kosher. The package says the chocolate was made in Belgium but molded & packaged in the United States.
I was hoping for something a little deeper and richer, but for two dollars and the nice packaging I think it’s a good deal. I like the thick pieces compared to the flat tablet chocolate bars that are usually 100 grams, it makes the melt a little more interesting to have a chunky nugget. Since Toblerone doesn’t even make a nougat-less bar, it’s hard to even compare it. It’s not quite as satisfying as a Ritter-Sport which is in the same price category, but might make a prettier stocking stuffer in some instances.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I know some folks may have been worried that I wasn’t going to give Fannie May another chance after the disappointing Mint Meltaway yesterday. Well, no worries, as I also found the Fannie May Pixie at Walgreen’s on the same trip.
Again, it’s a pricey piece of candy - at $1.39 for a 1.5 ounce candy billed as Crunchy pecans in smooth caramel, drenched in rich milk chocolate. But a careful shopper might notice that Pixies go for $22.99 per pound on the Fannie May website yet these individually wrapped pieces work out to $14.83 per pound. (But they’re also available in dark chocolate on the website.)
Fannie May is famous for these turtle-like candies and I’m a huge fan of turtle-like candies. The ingredients look much better. There’s real chocolate, 50 fewer calories and no trans fats make it into the listing. (There is some hydrogenated vegetable oil on the list, but it’s very far down.)
Honestly, it’s a huge turtle. Far larger than I’m accustomed to. The ratios are a bit off from smaller ones, as far as I can tell. There’s a lot of caramel here and what seems like a lot of chocolate and not a lot of pecans.
The crunch of the pecans at the base is good, they’re crisp and fresh without that trace of fibery chew or rancid oily taste that some drug store turtles can get. The chocolate is creamy, not terribly milky but has a good snap to it and stays on the caramel center well. The caramel has a nice buttery flavor. It’s not quite a stiff chew but still has a good stringy pull and smoothness.
So while I thought it was a bit too large at first, I had no trouble finishing it (though I did it in two sittings).
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
It’s November, there’s a crisp chill in the air (yeah, it was in the fifties last night here in Los Angeles) which usually signals mint & chocolate combinations are in season. Last week I tried Dove’s new Peppermint Bark. This weekend my eye was drawn to this Fannie May Mint Meltaway in with the holiday candy at Walgreen’s.
First of all, I never see Fannie May all the way out here in the West Coast. Second, this was a drug store, someplace I didn’t expect to run across a boxed chocolate brand. I know many readers have been urging me to cover Fannie May, so into my basket they went without complaint.
Fannie May used to be a fine chocolate company, founded in 1920 and based in Chicago. In 2004 they declared bankruptcy and were bought up by Alpine Confections who already owned a similar Midwest confectioner, Harry London of Canton, OH. In 2006 they became part of 1-800-FLOWERS. So they’re not quite the tiny little boxed chocolate company any longer; this is what their website says:
So some of you caught that I said that they used to be fine chocolate. Well, read on and you’ll see where I take issue with including them saying they’re “fine chocolate” when they’re not using the “finest ingredients.”
The Mint Meltaway package is rather refreshing and easy to spot. It’s a rather clinical white with a little pile of the candies isolated in the middle of the wrapper. The top and bottom edges have simple evergreen boughs and pine cone trim. There’s actually only one piece in the package though the image shows three, but at 1.5 ounces, it’s definitely not skimpy. The package describes the meltaway as Rich chocolate mint center drenched in creamy pastel coating. Wow, creamy pastel coating, can you tell how much my
mouth is watering at that? What is creamy pastel coating? Here’s what takes up a portion of the back of the package:
You know what all that adds up to? 1.5 grams of trans fats. Most companies have mucked around with their serving sizes so that they can skirt in under the “you can say there’s no trans fats if you have less than .5 grams in a serving” but Fannie May, well, she’s bold. She’s out there with a huge 240 calorie portion (160 calories per ounce) that contains 49% of my daily value of saturated fats. And those actual trans fats.
The block is two inches square and a half an inch high. The soft, matte & dull green looks like a bar of soap or a vintage fireplace tile. It has a soft peppermint scent, not menthol nasal-passages-clearing-strong.
The white coating is rather smooth and not at all greasy. It’s not minty but also not really much of anything besides a texture and slightly salty. The chocolate center isn’t a soft meltaway, it’s a bit firmer, like a Frango. It melts quickly though, cool and chocolatey with a pleasant peppermint essence to it. After a while it gets a little greasy though, a little thin and watery.
The ingredients don’t warrant the $1.39 price tag when I can get the Dove Peppermint Bark made with real cocoa butter just a little further down the aisle. Or if you don’t mind the mockolate, just eat some Andes Mints.
Friday, November 13, 2009
If you’d asked me a year ago if there were any more mint flavors that Altoids could come in, I would have said, “Nope, it’s all been done.”
I know, this is a really short review but it has a really big picture. I spotted these new Cool Honey Altoids at Walgreen’s. I liked the prison stripes of yellow and black,oh wait, maybe they’re supposed to be bee colors. It’s distinctive enough I don’t think anyone will mistake this for Ginger or Licorice.
I liked the idea of cool honey, like a cough drop version of Altoids. (Honestly a eucalyptus version might be good.)
They’re lightly tinted, maybe a little yellow, I thought sometimes they looked a tad green. Perhaps absinthe! But the flavor? They’re minty and strong but other than that I wasn’t getting anything honey-ish out of them. They’re milder than a regular Altoid, but lacking the complex flavor combination that I enjoyed in the Creme de Menthe version.
It’s too bad, it was a nice idea. But at least the tin is cute. Gigi also reviewed them.
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