Monday, October 21, 2013
After experiencing the lackluster Super Caramel Apple Blow Pop last week, it’s a wonder that I was still looking for the Candy Corn Super Blow Pop. An astute reader said that Walgreen’s was carrying them (which is where I found the Caramel Apple version) so I tried what I call the Super Walgreen’s in Hollywood. It’s near the Arclight Cinema/Cinerama Dome and Amoeba Music, so it was easy to find a reason to be over there this weekend. The store is like a movie set of what a Walgreen’s should be (and maybe it is used as a set for their commercials). The cosmetics have LED lights on each shelf, the aisles are wide and they have a snack bar and prepared sushi in a refrigerated section. And of course there’s a huge candy aisle that’s both clean and has a wide selection. It bears virtually no resemblance to the Walgreen’s where I usually shop in Echo Park, which isn’t even 5 miles down the same road. (Though the staff at both is quite good, no complaints.)
Their seasonal aisle had a good selection of the specialty Halloween items (though not as much bagged candy as other places like Target or KMart). I found the Super Blow Pops there on sale at 50 cents each, so I bought two. Instead of an opaque printed wrapper, this version of the Blow Pop uses a clear wrapper to show off the candy inside, something I’ve not seen them use on the Blow Pop line before. There are only two colors on this, orange and yellow ... there’s no white top on the layers.
The candy part of the Blow Pop is just like the flavor of the Charms Candy Corn Lollipops. It’s a mellow, salty sort of butterscotch without the creamy texture. I found these far brighter and more fun to eat, as the colors were sparkly, unlike the Caramel Apple version which was downright depressing with its brown and dark green. However, the sparkle in this case was created by adding some air to the hard candy, this can create sharp areas as it dissolves. Because the pop is so large, this meant I had a couple of sore spots on my tongue by the time I finished.
The gum at the center smelled terrible, just like the Caramel Apple version. There’s some sort of caustic chemical scent to it and the chew is stiff at first. Biting it sounds like tearing a phone book, a multitude of ripping layers all at once. It softens up and in this case, the flavor is pretty bland. It does become a bubble gum eventually, for a few minutes there’s a right balance between flavor and sugar before it all gives up and becomes like a wad of chewed paper. I’m not sure what flavor the gum is supposed to be, it’s not green apple, it’s not colorful ... it might have been butterscotch.
The initial experience was probably better than any other I’ve had with a Blow Pop this year, but that’s not saying much. But I’ll go ahead and give this a positive review, if you want a jumbo butterscotch Blow Pop, this would be the lollipop for you. It’s pretty, it’s pretty cheap.
Charms pops are made in a nut free and gluten free facility, but always check the labels or call the manufacturer if you’re in doubt.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Tootsie is always a go-to brand for Halloween candy, as they make the popular Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Pops and Charms Blow Pops. Though some adults like to rank them on the Worst Halloween Candy lists every year, they wouldn’t keep making them if someone wasn’t buying them and eating them enthusiastically.
Tootsie has two new Super Blow Pops out for Halloween this year: Charms Super Blow Pop Caramel Apple and Charms Super Blow Pop Candy Corn. I couldn’t find the candy corn version (though I did find the flat Charms Candy Corn Pops), so I wanted to go ahead with this review of the Caramel Apple version.
The Super Blow Pop line is a beefy version of the standard Blow Pop. The regular Blow Pop is .65 ounces, the Super Blow Pop is 1.125 ounces. As a point of reference, a single Starlight Mint is about 5 grams, so this pop is like eating 6 or 7 mints in one sitting.
The pop is structured in layers, the center is bubble gum, the middle layer is green apple hard candy and the outer layer is caramel flavored hard candy. It’s an odd combination and I’d say my initial impression was not good. The caramel flavoring was just that, flavoring with a heavy dose of artificial butter. There was a little hint of salt, so that was interesting. After getting to the apple layer (which was very dark green) I did start noticing a good combination of the two, the falseness of the butter combined with the reassuringly fake green apple flavors.
The texture was a little more ... sandy than I like in my hard candy. It wasn’t completely smooth, though the bubbles were minimal. The size of the pop means that there’s a lot of lollipop before you can crunch to the center.
The most surprising part is the center. It’s not pink bubble gum. It’s green. The texture was horrible, biting into it, it was like packaging material. When I bit off a piece, it sounded like I was pulling apart the paper stick. The smell was bizarre and I can only say that it reminded me of the Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnels. (Maybe it’s a mix of the smell of asphalt, gasoline, diesel and apple juice.)
I wanted to like this, mostly because I found the Tootsie Caramel Apple Pops to be quite fun. It just kept getting worse as I got closer to the center. I can only hope that the Candy Corn version was better.
Charms Pops are made in a facility that’s gluten free and peanut free.
Friday, October 11, 2013
Lindt has a new line called Hello, but I also noticed this array of single serving bars at several drug stores and Target over the past few months. I picked up a full set (or at least I think it’s all of them - at the time I wrote this, I couldn’t find them on their website).
The packaging is very simple with a color coding that made it easy to check that I had all of them. (I had to go to two stores.) They’re small portions, at 190-230 calories per bar, they’re not too filling.
The Lindt Wafer Bar is described on the package as Milk chocolate with wafer and creamy hazelnut filling.. The little picture shows that the wafer part is like a flattened tube inside the hazelnutty center.
The actual bar I got wasn’t as much like the picture as the others, which were exactly as depicted. In this case, the first section contained only hazelnut paste (so the photo is of the second section). The wafers do not take up nearly as much volume as I’d hoped, so the effect is milk chocolate bar with a lot of hazelnut (nothing wrong with that) and a little bit of wafer.
The wafers are malty and less sweet than the rest of the bar. The milk chocolate is very sweet as is the filling, so it’s kind of throat searing at first. The mix of textures and flavors is quite good though, I like the Lindt milk chocolate in small bites, it’s very creamy and though it has a dairy note to it, it tastes fresh, not like dried milk. Perhaps I’m looking at the wrong brand, but I wanted more hazelnut in there, it seemed more cream than hazelnut. (But maybe I’m just used to the Ferraro style.)
The bar is: Milk chocolate with hazelnut cream filling and pieces of almond brittle.
This bar is bigger than the first one, at 1.3 ounces. It feels hefty as well.
The milk chocolate bar looks the same as the Wafer bar, glossy and light milk chocolate. There’s a whiff of cereal about it and a hint of hazelnut but mostly it smells sweet.
The chocolate is smooth and has a milky melt to it, kind of like pudding. The center is very crunchy, with little bits of almond in the hazelnut cream. It’s not terribly nutty, but very sweet with just a hint of salt to it. Overall, the filling was good, the textures nice and the proportions very well done ... but I wanted it to be less sweet.
The package says that the bar is Dark chocolate with hazelnut filling and whole hazelnuts. And so it is.
It’s the biggest bar of the assortment I picked up, as well, at 1.4 ounces. It’s also the fattiest, at 164 calories per ounce. If I’m going to spend twice as much on the bar, I’d better be getting something high quality in there.
The bar is stunning. Three molded hazelnut sections in glossy dark chocolate. The dark chocolate looks great and smell a lot like roasted hazelnuts and coffee.
The chocolate is buttery and has a good melt, although like many Lindt chocolate, it might be a little too slick on the tongue and not enough chocolate flavor in there.
The hazelnut center is fantastic. The hazelnut paste is soft and has a great fresh flavor and though it’s sweet, it’s not too sticky. The whole hazelnut is crisp and crunchy and I believe blanched to remove the skin, which keeps away some of those bitter notes.
Of the three bars, this was my favorite, though it could benefit from darker chocolate.
I don’t see myself picking them up again, as interesting as I thought they were. They’re overpriced, though my guess is that perhaps in Europe they’re more economical. It’s odd, because the Hello Crunchy Nougat was a very similar bar to the Wafer, but twice the size for the same price. They also don’t use natural vanilla, it’s artificially flavored, which makes me wonder if there may be cut corners elsewhere. I think I’ll stick with Ritter-Sport’s Knusperflakes and Dark Chocolate Whole Hazelnut but if I feel like spending a little more, I’d step up to the Gardini Bitter Chocolate and Gianduia with Sea Salt.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Russell Stover is often up on flavor trends with their seasonal single serve shapes. Their most recent introduction was the Red Velvet, which is now available in a Halloween version.
I spotted the listing for the Russell Stover Pumpkin Pie on the Russell Stover website about a month ago and I went on the search as soon as the stores in my area started putting out their Halloween candy.
The package looks generally the same as all the other Russell Stover pumpkins, of which there are at least a dozen now. It’s a mylar wrapping with a generic pumpkin illustration on the front an simple lettering to depict the contents.
The pumpkin is interesting to look at. I like enrobed candies and this one looks rustic and handmade. The shape isn’t specifically pumpkin though, as it has no ribs, so I can imagine this being sold as an ornament in different packaging later this year. This is the first time, though, that I’ve found the shape of the candy to actually reflect the candy flavor. Note that this is pumpkin pie, not pumpkin spice. I wanted to know what made this different from a regular spiced cream center and the ingredients list brought the answer.
It’s like pumpkin pie, including the crust. There’s wheat flour in the ingredients. In fact the ingredients list “spice cake mix” which includes wheat flour, egg whites and nonfat milk in addition to the spices. So the center here is more like cookie dough than a cream, rather like the Red Velvet piece they’re also making now.
So, after I got my head around that weirdness, I just adjusted my expectations. This is like a chocolate covered cookie dough, but instead of those lackluster Cookie Dough Bites, these are actually made with pretty good milk chocolate and some nice proportions.
The milk chocolate is creamy, the center is a bit doughy and has a slight sugar grain to it. It’s dense but not too sticky. The spices are light, not overwhelming but also not terribly distinct. It’s a generic background of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg with a touch of clove.
I appreciate that it’s different from other sticky cream candies right now. I would have preferred a dark chocolate and maybe a little more powerful spice, but overall, for a 50 cent candy, it’s pretty good.
This pumpkin is a bit thicker than the Pumpkin Pie version. The glossy dark chocolate looks great, with robust swirls on top. It smells like dark chocolate with a hint of orange zest. The cream filling is actually something like a meringue. It has egg whites in it, though I ended up calling it a marshmallow, it’s actually okay for vegetarians. The texture is wonderfully smooth and though it tastes like it’s creamy, there’s far fewer calories in this treat than the other creams that Russell Stover sells. (120 calories per ounce, so this is a pretty slim little candy if you’re watching calories but want something fulfilling.)
The filling has a sweetness, but it’s not as cloying as some of the more fudgy creams. There are bits of orange zest and an authentic orange flavor to the whole thing (though some artificial coloring which I thought was unnecessary). The chocolate is thick and stands up well to the center and doesn’t fall apart as you eat it.
The center is coconut cream and the milk chocolate enrobing includes lots of crushed almonds on top. Think of it like an Almond Joy, but without the large lumps on top. This is also a new item, and unfortunately doesn’t seem to come in dark chocolate right now.
Russell Stover makes two coconut seasonal candies right now. There’s the Nest, which is just coconut and milk chocolate. They also make their coconut creams, which are covered in either milk chocolate or dark chocolate.
Each of these elements is well balanced. The coconut is soft and chewy, a bit sweeter than I care for, but still fresh and tasty. The almonds, though not spread evenly are crunchy and big enough to provide the added texture to the experience. The milk chocolate, though also sweet, is far and away better than the Hershey’s version on Almond Joy bars. This is a bit on the milky side, but creamy and fudgy. I would definitely buy this again, but what would put it over the top would be a dark chocolate version. It’s a good value at 50 cents for a one ounce piece made with real chocolate right here in the United States.
Monday, September 16, 2013
Russell Stover started releasing some of their favorite items in a new, larger format called Big Bites about two years ago. Most are sold year round and represent a cross over sort of candy. They look like giant box candy chocolates but are portioned more like a traditional single serving candy bar.
The new Russell Stover Big Bite Caramel Apple come in two versions. The first is a traditional caramel pattie, flavored with apple and covered in milk chocolate. The second goes further and gives it a coating of crushed peanuts.
The candy emulates a caramel coated apple, but in this case it should be easier to eat and probably has a better shelf life.
The package says naturally flavored, which was a bit of a surprise after eating some other, well, not-so-natural green apple candies lately. The piece is very attractive, it’s a caramel center covered in milk chocolate and then drizzled with dark chocolate. Even out of the rather flimsy package, it looked nearly pristine.
There’s a light apple sauce note to the sweet chocolatey scent. The bite is soft, though the chocolate is pretty thick. I was surprised at the smoothness of the caramel center. It has a pleasant apple peel note to it but not much in the salty or caramelized sugar family. The chocolate was passable, sweet and though note exceptionally smooth, it was creamy. The overall sweetness got to me about halfway through. Basically, a two ounce caramel pattie is just too much for me. A couple of small ones and I’m pretty happy, I don’t need quite this much at once, even if the shape is done well.
The crushed peanuts on the Russell Stover Big Bite Caramel Apple with Peanuts adhered pretty well. The package had a little pile in the bottom, though, about a third more peanuts. Though the no nuts version is 2 ounces, the peanutty one is 2.25 ounces, I’m guessing that’s the nuts and no dark chocolate stripes. Overall, the peanut notes overshadowed the apple flavors, but the whole thing seemed even sweeter, giving me a sore throat in about half the time as the straight one.
I like the Russell Stover caramel, and think they do a good job, especially for the price with these items. This is, by far, one of the best caramel apple candies I’ve had, but it’s still not my thing. I’d just like to see some flavors I’m interested in, like Coffee Caramel (maybe call it a Caramel Macchiato and shape it like a coffee cup) or perhaps Bananas Foster.
Friday, March 15, 2013
Russell Stover is a fixture at American drug stores at Easter with their large variety of single serving Easter eggs. New this year is the Russell Stover Cookie Dough Egg.
This new egg follows the same sort of construction as the Red Velvet Santa first spotted for Christmas (also available as an egg). The center is an actual flour-based dough. Unlike other fondant centers which are just whipped up sugars, this one is a bit more complex. Here’s the ingredient list (forgive me for any transcription errors, it’s green printing on a cream background):
So, instead of a short list, this is long and includes lots of flour, so it’s not gluten free. It also contains high fructose corn syrup a few times, which is disappointing because Russell Stover, while not being top of the line, is usually filled with plain old sugar and corn syrup. This is what happens when candy makers start adding bakery items. Unlike actually cookie dough, this has no egg products.
The egg looks like many of the other milk chocolate Russell Stover varieties. It’s on the flat side, and has two rows of glossy ripples. It’s about two inches long and one and a quarter inches wide.
The bite is soft and the center is, well, doughy. It’s not dry but not quite as moist as I expect. It has a grain to it, with the sugar being noticeable and I might have detected a little salt as well. The flour taste is not noticeable (sometimes real cookie dough can taste like raw flour).
Unlike cookie dough nugget products, this has more of the satisfaction of eating a spoonful of dough. The chocolate chips didn’t do much for me, but the milk chocolate coating was smooth, creamy and a sweet complement to the dough. I’d prefer a dark chocolate version, as I put dark chips in my cookies. It’s similar to their Brownie Egg (which it turns out, I’ve never reviewed), but naturally less chocolatey.
It’s a good rendition of cookie dough as a candy. I don’t know if I’d grab this over something like their marshmallows or the Pecan Delight, but I know there are some folks who will really appreciate this.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
I mentioned a while back that Mars was going to convert all of their Dove Chocolate over to Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa this year. I saw the first bars in the store sometime around New Years and picked up this Dove 71% Cacao Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate.
The bar was on sale for $2.49, so it’s a pretty good deal for a 71% bar that’s 3.3 ounces. The nutritional panel lists that half the bar is a single serving. The 42 gram portion is 20 grams of fat. Good fat, of course… it’s made with cocoa butter which is supposed to be pretty good for your heart or at least not bad for it.
The bar looks like all the other Dove items these days. It’s seductively smooth with easy to break off domed pieces. The snap isn’t quite stiff, but not soft either. It’s, well, I can’t describe it any other way except fatty. See the above fat content for confirmation.
The Dove flavor profile is always a bit thin for my tastes, it’s like the chocolate is parallel to the cocoa butter instead of integrated. That may have something to do with Mars’ proprietary Cocoapro flavanol enhancement. Perhaps there’s some sort of process that it goes through that sanitizes it in this manner. The good news is that in this bar, that’s less of an issue. The melt is wonderful, buoyant and soft without a hint of grit. The cocoa flavors are lightly bitter, woodsy with a floral note that I don’t get from their regular dark. The melt is like a pudding, soft and creamy but still quite thick.
I had a few Dove Promises in the regular dark to compare. The regular dark is quite sweet and again, a little thin on intensity though a well rounded brownie batter chocolate flavor. I much preferred the 71% and didn’t feel like the lack of sweetness was a compromise. The deepness of the flavors was much more concentrated. I’ll be curious to see if these show up in the foil-wrapped Dove Promises line.
I know that in many stores this will be one of the few certified sustainably sourced bars, so it’s nice to finally have a choice when you’re at the drug store or a big box retailer.
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.
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