Friday, December 7, 2012
The store shelves at the drug stores in my neighborhood are filled with Christmas candies, including the seasonal array of Russell Stover candies in Santa shapes. There’s a new one this year, the Russell Stover Red Velvet Santa in dark chocolate.
I have to say that I found the idea of a Red Velvet and Santa Claus combination intriguing. It seems like a natural fit and evokes the tactile elegance of a rich, deep red St. Nicholas coat and the traditional white ermine fur trim. But this was much better in my head than the actual execution. The wrapper doesn’t play upon that Victorian image, instead has a cartoon-style Santa on the front, holding a teddy bear.
I have very little experience with Red Velvet as a baked good. I’ve had the cake a few times, including several times baked from scratch as well as some high-end cupcakes. The cake is usually a buttermilk yellow cake with a dash of cocoa for light flavor along with either beets or loads of red food coloring. (Before the era of Dutched Cocoa, a little vinegar in the recipe would turn undutched cocoa deep red.) The selling point, for me, is the cream cheese frosting (but I usually satisfy that with a dense Carrot Cake sans nuts when given the chance).
In this case the candy is constructed of a cream center made from white chocolate (a lovely substitute for cream cheese) and actual Red Velvet cake mix according to the list of ingredients. (So this has wheat in it.)
The filling is a creamy red and a little grainy, probably because of the cake mix in there. It looks like it should be raspberry, but it’s not. The flavor is a little doughy, like a cookie dough bite, but better. The dark chocolate coating is just the right ratio - it’s not too thick or chalky and has a good, bittersweet counterpoint to the sweet center. It’s very filling.
If I had been given this lump (which doesn’t look like Santa, by the way) without any description, there is no way I could have guessed that this was a Red Velvet influenced object. I’m guessing it’s more like a cake pop (which I’ve never tried, either). I’m glad they went with dark chocolate and not white chocolate, but hypothesizing that it could have been worse is hardly a recommendation.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Mars doesn’t have much this year for Halloween, aside from the usual Harvest colors of M&Ms. I was interested to see that there was a new version of the Snickers Pumpkin from the previous time I tried it. (Review here.)
There are two package types for the Snickers Pumpkin. They come individually wrapped as seen here, or, more interestingly, in a 2 To Go wrapper like the King Size packages. It looks like a regular Snickers bar, but the background is black and has some pumpkins on it. It’s the same price as a King Size bar (which usually has 3.29 ounces in it), but has only 2.2 ounces in it.
The big difference that’s noticeable out of the wrappers is that this is a molded product. The Reese’s Pumpkin is enrobed (coated) where this one is build upside down, with the pumpkin shaped shell created first, then the fillings squirted in and the base of chocolate added last.
A regular Snickers bar is also a layered product, but ultimately is coated via a conveyer moving under a curtain of chocolate, enrobing the bar. The ratio of chocolate to filling on that bar is such that the filling is the star, the chocolate is a device that keeps it all together. In the Snickers Pumpkin, the chocolate shell is most notable.
It smells sweet, milky and nutty. The center is soft, but doesn’t have the same caramel chew or plethora of crunchy nuts that a standard Snickers does. It’s overwhelmingly milk-chocolatey, which is fine if you’re into Snickers bars because of the quality of the chocolate. I am not. I find it a bit grainy, overly sweet and lacking a strong cocoa punch. The light touch of salt is good, it’s the only thing balancing out the sugar blast.
I’ll probably stick to the Minis, which have very little chocolate on them (though not much in the way of nuts).
Mars is in the process of moving towards 100% sustainable and ethically sourced cacao, but they’re going with their higher end products first, like Dove. The Snickers Pumpkin contains peanuts, soy and milk plus is made on shared equipment with tree nuts and wheat.
Monday, October 15, 2012
As a kid, a Toblerone bar was a special treat reserved for holidays, partly because they were expensive and partly because they were difficult to find year round. The bar was different from anything else on the market from the shape of the box and the exotic name to the interesting combination of flavors and textures.
The Toblerone company was bought from Jacob Suchard in 1990 by Kraft and is still made in Bern, Switzerland. The bars are much easier to find now, and easily located any time of the year. Their newest bar released in the United States is the Toblerone Crunchy Salted Almond and features Swiss milk chocolate with salted caramelized almonds and honey and almond nougat.
Rosa at ZOMG Candy gave the bar pretty high marks, so I was eager to find one in the wild. I spotted them at Walgreen’s over the weekend, though not on sale. It’s $2.99 for the 100 gram (3.5 ounce) bar, which is what I’d expect to pay for something from Kraft that’s in their Green & Black’s range of ethically sourced and all natural chocolate.
The serving size is 1/3 of the bar, and it would be nice if they just said how many peaks that is (there are 12 in the bar, so 4 is a serving). But I did like the packaging. The snug triangular box protects the bar, even though it’s just in a thin foil wrapper inside. I liked the color and the bold, simple design. The nutrition panel, otherwise, is really easy to read.
The look of the bar is the same as the classic milk chocolate bar. Inside I expected to see more almonds, as they’re both in the nougat bits and included as the salted pieces as well. The bar smells milky and sweet. The bite is soft and has a lot more crispy bits in it than I was accustomed to. The chocolate is fudgy and has a lot of milky flavors to it, mostly it holds together the inclusions. The nougat pieces are crispy ... unless they’re a little bigger which may mean that they’re a little tacky if chewed. The almonds are a little larger and have a nice, fresh crunch to them. As for the salt promised, I didn’t really taste it. There’s only 55 mg per serving, so it’s not a liberal dose. Though I can’t say that I perceived it, I will say that this bar seemed less sweet than the standard Toblerone. I actually prefer this to the Classic.
Kraft and Toblerone have scant information on the sourcing of their ingredients except to say that the chocolate is not Fair Trade on their website in the FAQ section and the the cocoa is sourced from around the world (well, at least it’s Earth chocolate). The bars contain milk, soy, almonds and eggs plus are manufactured on shared equipment with other tree nuts.
Friday, September 21, 2012
Brach’s has been around since 1904 and has been through a lot, especially in the past 20 years. The company, founded by Emil Brach, was bought by American Home Products in 1966. In 1987, Jacobs Suchard, a coffee & confectionery giant, bought Brach’s. By 1990, as Suchard was being swallowed up by the tobacco company of Phillip Morris, the Jacobs part of the company, Klaus Jacobs, retained Brach’s. Then in 2003 it was sold to Callebaut and only a few years later, in 2008, Brach’s was bought by Farley’s and Sathers. Just this year, Farley’s and Sathers agreed to merge with Ferrara Pan to become the Ferrera Candy Company.
Through all of that, the candy brand remained intact and the favorite confections in their repertoire continued. However, manufacturing changes happened, and the formulas, manufacturing techniques and quality was uneven. Farley’s & Sathers has been trying hard to resurrect the comforting and inexpensive brand by improving the quality for the past two years.
The clusters are made with simple ingredients, plain old milk chocolate and some peanuts.
The clusters vary in size, from little lines of three or four nuts to a full clump of a dozen peanuts. The overall flavor is fake vanilla. A soft and comforting sort of sweetness, like an angora sweater.
The chocolate isn’t particularly smooth, nor even noteworthy. As far as it being their best chocolate ever, well, it’s not the worst. It tasted fresh though not creamy. The cocoa notes are bland and the dairy is clean but not particularly buttery. What works here is the touch of salt and the peanuts. They’re fresh, small and crunchy. The ratios are heavier on the chocolate than the nuts, but once it’s chewed, it works well.
I don’t think I’d buy these again. In fact, I’ve had them sitting around for review for quite a while but felt no desire to eat them even though I love chocolate and nuts.They’re friendly candy and certainly well priced, but I’ll stick to the sugar confections Brach’s makes.
Friday, June 22, 2012
But I realized that if I didn’t review them, I couldn’t get rid of them.
The marshmallows have a lot going for them in the concept department. They’re fruity marshmallows shaped and colored like the fruits they emulate. Green Apple is an uncommon flavor in marshmallows, so it has that unique selling proposition going for it as well. Plus, this marshmallow has a jelly filling.
The price wasn’t bad, they were $1.99 for a bag that was over 5 ounces and held about 18 marshmallows. They’re cute and great for decorating or garnishing any number of things. I was thinking these might be fun on the end of a long toothpick in an Apple Martini served in a lowball glass.
They smell slightly of old beer or hard apple cider. Of course it’s just my brain confusing artificial flavors with alcohol. Silly brain.
The sugary coating in this case is also tart, so there’s an immediate pop of flavor to go with the quite aromatic marshmallow. The fluff is soft and chewy, not quite latexy or overly gummy.
It’s really all over the map. The marshmallow is sweet and only lightly flavored, but the sour sugar coating gives it a strange texture and of course an unwelcome tartness. The jelly center is less jelly and more of a sap. It’s sticky and also strangely flavored, it’s a little tangy but also quite heavily flavored (and colored) with a less-artificial apple flavoring.
It’s just weird. They’re not as attractive, I think, as the Strawberry Mallo-Licious. The color is strange, a bit on the blue side and the jelly inside is overly colored, so much that I could taste it and it made my tongue blue-green.
It’s just not my thing, not that I’m opposed to fruity flavored marshmallows (the only ones I’ve found I like are the Japanese Eiwa ones sold in the US under the Hello Kitty brand). I’m still wondering if these can be toasted, though I have my doubts about the sour coating doing well near a flame. Right now, after eating only two, I’ve found I have a stomach ache.
Monday, June 11, 2012
American marshmallows are not as interesting as those that are found in Europe and Japan. It’s sad, because I would think that the United States has the capacity and the desire to eat really good marshmallows.
So I was surprised and pleased to find this bag of Mallo-Licious: Strawberry filled with Chocolate on display at the end of the candy aisle at Walgreen’s. They come in other flavors as well. I saw Green Apple (filled with green jelly) there and the package says they also come in Sour Peach.
I’ve had quite a few Frankford candies over the years, which is not a very well known brand. They make licensed candy and have another sub-brand called Kandy Kastle. Much of their candy is made in China, though Frankford has a small chocolate factory in Pennsylvania (where they started) that makes mostly novelty foil wrapped molded pieces. For the most part, their stuff is sub-par, some of it actually horrible. But I saw that this candy was made in Italy, so I thought it might be different.
They are shaped like real strawberries, and are actually sized like an average strawberry as well. They’re over two inches tall from the tip of the berry to the top of the green “stem”. It’s a standard marshmallow but instead of the campfire style, these are covered with fine granulated sugar. It gives them a little sparkle and in the case of the strawberry flavor here for review, it gives it a slight grainy crunch that vaguely mimics strawberry seeds.
The marshmallow berry is filled with a little dollop of what is called chocolate on the front of the package, but the ingredients are probably more on the order of sugar, palm oil, milk powder and fat reduced cocoa.
The ingredients as a whole are pretty substandard (though what I’d expect from Frankford). It starts with sugar and high fructose corn syrup. See, here’s what so surprising about that. There are a lot of people who assume that candy has a lot of HFCS in it, but in reality there are very few candies that do. This is, though, the second candy I’ve had in the past month that does, and marks only the fifth since I’ve been keeping the database that I’ve noticed it.
The marshmallow is soft and has a pleasant strawberry scent, a combination of toasted sugar like cotton candy and a light floral note of pineapple. The bite has the slight grain and the marshmallow is bouncy and melts quite easily, more like a meringue than some latexy gelatin-rich marshmallows. The chocolate inside is more like a soft paste that has a cake batter flavor to it and very little actual chocolate flavor.
It’s not horrible, but much better to look at than actually eat. Honestly, I think they’re charming and wouldn’t be afraid to use them to decorate a cake or put amongst some home baked cookies on a tray for dessert without ever telling people they’re edible. (Lest the eat them.) I’m sure children will enjoy them. I’m thinking about trying to toast them.
Friday, June 1, 2012
All share the use of M&Ms chocolate candies and pretzels, but then have slightly different elements from there. The basic mix, based on the Milk Chocolate M&Ms is Milk Chocolate M&Ms Snack Mix Salty & Sweet.
The bags are eight ounces and I got mine on sale for $3 each at Walgreen’s, but I have to believe that they’re going to be priced less than that on a regular basis for them to catch on.
First I have to say that the packaging is well done. The stand up bag does stand up and the zip lock closes easily and securely enough to both keep contents from spilling and protect from moisture. The bag also will sit “open” well enough to serve from.
The items within the Milk Chocolate mix are: Roasted Peanuts and Crunchy Pretzels from the salty side and mini Chocolate Chip Cookies and Milk Chocolate M&Ms from the sweet side.
In the case of my bag, things appeared to be packaged in tiers, so all my peanuts were at the bottom and all my pretzels were at the top. So when I first dumped it out for photographing, I missed the peanuts entirely. (See below.)
The pretzels are barely an inch across and just lightly salted, which I thought was perfect. They’re not so big that they took up a whole bite, allowing me to combine elements for a customized flavor/texture profile.
The little chocolate chip cookies are like Chips Ahoy!. A bland vanilla cookie with teensy little chocolate chips. They’re about .8 inches around and reminded me of Cookie Crisp Cereal in shape, but actual chocolate chip cookies in flavor. They’re a little salty, very sweet and nicely crunchy.
The M&Ms are, well, Milk Chocolate M&Ms. They’re a bit dusty with crumbs or salt, but otherwise fresh and crunchy, the sweetest thing in the bag.
The peanuts, well, this is where things took a bad turn. I didn’t like the peanuts at all. I thought they were roasted too dark, they were bitter and sometimes chalky. Since everything else in the bag was perfectly fresh, it made very little sense to me why they were consistently so unappealing. (One or two bad peanuts are understandable, but they were all the same color, uniformly small in size and rather lifeless.) I have to wonder if they were a bit on the over-roasted side as a way to stabilize them, especially the fats in peanuts that can make everything greasy.
As long as I ate the peanuts in the same bite as something else, I didn’t mind the. But on the whole, I prefer a snack mix with a strong protein component (usually from nuts).
This bag features a mix of salted roasted almonds and pretzels along with mini shortbread cookies and Peanut M&Ms.
The little shortbread cookies are similar to the chocolate chip ones in size, but actually more successful in this application. The flavor is quite good, I got a great sense of the toasted shortbread cookie with its vanilla flavor. But what was really interesting was that the salt from the almonds had rubbed off on the, so there was an excellent contrast going on. They’re dense and crunchy and not too sweet.
The pretzels were again nicely layered in, a good crunch with a mild flavor.
The almonds were tiny, but roasted perfectly thought slightly over-salted for my tastes. (The overall sodium level for the snack mix is 125mg for a 1/3 of a cup portion which is about 190 calories.
The Peanut M&Ms were, well, exactly like Peanut M&Ms. They were big and had a lot of crackle going on and added a buttery element to the whole mix.
All of the items went with each other. An almond with a Peanut M&M was great. A cookie with a pretzel was also really satisfying. I was surprised at how much I liked this mix, though it does combine some of my favorite items. It was the cookies I was hesitant about, but they really did add to the satisfaction level.
The mix contains salted, roasted almonds and pretzels along with raisins and Dark Chocolate M&Ms.
This is the “healthiest” of the mixes, if you go by calorie load. There are 132 calories per ounce, slightly less than the milk chocolate mix with a half a gram less saturated fat but still 16 grams of sugars. But it does have a bit of iron at 6% of your daily recommended allowance and two grams of fiber.
Of course all of that relies on eating the exact proportions of each element in the mix. If you pick out the M&Ms and almonds, well, all bets are off.
The mix is attractive and has a good salty note to it from the pretzels and the almonds. The raisins were pretty big, soft and juicy without being sticky. The Dark Chocolate M&Ms pair well with any of the elements. Part of me would like to see a more interesting dried fruit in the mix, like dried cherries or cranberries (which do suffer from being sweetened) but this version does fit the bill by adding in a little tangy chew.
These are not candy. There’s very little candy in there, by most accounts, about 25% of it is actually M&Ms, the rest of snack foods. Mars has made a nice mix and chosen each element pretty well and balanced them expertly.
It’s a good mix for a lot of different purposes. Easy to share you can take it on an airplane, a car trip or a movie theater (of course you’d pay concession prices ... probably about $8 a bag). I prefer to make my own mixes, but if I have to grab something already made a store, this is a fair value.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Commercial peanut butter began in the United States, where about 6-7% of the world’s peanuts are grown in any year. Peanut butter was used heavily during war years as a cheap and relatively stable protein source for soldiers. The story goes that soldiers during World War II would eat sandwiches on stale bread with peanut butter for weeks on end, and to moisten the bread they would add jelly or jam. It didn’t hurt that it also made it taste better as well. When the soldiers returned home, they introduced their families to this cheap and easy food.
It seems kind of strange that for the most part candies are either jelly and chocolate or peanut butter and chocolate. There really aren’t any successful mass-manufactured chocolate, peanut butter and jelly candies. Maybe this new bar, all the way from Poland, will change that.
The bars are tiny, the box holds more than a half a dozen of them (8 to be exact), a little expensive for $1.99 but at least a unique item.
Each little bar is individually wrapped in a paper foil. The recommended serving size is three sticks, each is about 60 calories.
The bars are a little on the soft side, they smell like roasted peanuts and chocolate milk. The peanut butter filling is sweet and a little sticky. On top of the peanut butter is a thin layer of jelly. In this case it’s grape and though it doesn’t have much of intensity, it’s a little pop of tangy, juicy flavor. The peanut butter isn’t so much a paste, it’s far sweeter and has less of a roasted, salty and savory punch. Think of it like peanut butter cookie dough, sweet and thick.
The proportions are a little off for me. I’d like more jam, more peanut butter, but I think that’d mean a larger bar in general. The petite size makes them ideal for a small treat and I think the mild flavor set would be good for smaller kids. The two integral parts here, the peanut butter and jelly just aren’t good enough. It should be really intense peanut butter and great, all natural grape jelly, not some high fructose corn sweetener flavored like grape.
These are made in Poland and have all sorts of allergen notices on the package: made with soy, dairy, peanuts plus traces of wheat, tree nuts and eggs.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.