Tuesday, May 16, 2006
A couple of weeks ago there was quite a buzz in the sweets blogosphere ... everyone was talking about the new M&Ms Pirate Pearls. I was looking everywhere for them: Toys r Us, Ralph’s, Von’s, 7-11, Jon’s, RiteAid (x2), Target, Long’s and even Best Buy. I finally found them at a different 7-11.
Pirate Pearls are just a white chocolate version of M&Ms with a special theme for the release of the new sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. M&Ms did this last year with the final movie of the Star Wars saga and made dark chocolate M&Ms (which I saw at the RiteAid that didn’t have the current remix).
Before I go on to talk about these little morsels, let’s talk about what White Chocolate is and isn’t. It used to be that the phrase white chocolate meant nothing at all. It was any solid white or light confection that candy makers wanted. But in 2004 the American candy industry agreed on a series of parameters. At least 20% cocoa butter (by weight), at least 14% milk solids and at least 3.5% milk fat and less than 55% sweeteners (sugar).
Some argue that white chocolate doesn’t deserve the chocolate name, but it seems kind of silly. What makes a hunk of chocolate special is the fact that its base is cocoa butter. You can’t make a chocolate bar without it. Remove the cocoa butter and you can’t call it chocolate. So if you use cocoa butter as a solid for another confection, you should be able to put the word chocolate in there somewhere (but qualified of course).
So, the M&Ms Pirate Pearls are real white chocolate. The first ingredient is sugar but the second one is cocoa butter followed by skim milk, milkfat & soy lecithin.
As you’ve already figured out, after searching a ten stores I found them. And what was frustrating is that I almost missed them. Inside the display box there were several packs of Almond M&Ms ... yes, the packaging is quite similar - beige with blue and brown highlights.
Honestly, the package design is a mess. There’s a strange picture of Johnny Depp with a treasure chest of pearls and the Green M&M standing near him (but not interacting) with a little voice bubble, “Now I’m sweet AND rich!” Up in the corner above all this is the Pirates of the Caribbean logo.
Inside the package, things are far more consistent. The candies are shiny and have soft and appealing colors: white, pale yellow, peach and aqua. A few are cracked. I never experience this with regular M&Ms and I chalk it up to the fussiness of the white chocolate. The M&Ms also feature cute little imprints in pirate themes. A pirate ship sporting a large M on the sail, a skull with a little ‘m’ as the teeth or a spyglass.
Within the standard crunchy sweet shell there was white chocolate. Sweet, sticky ... so sweet it makes your throat hurt white chocolate. Now, recently I went and spoiled myself for any future in loving regular white chocolate by eating a Green & Black White Chocolate bar, so you can imagine my disappointment. They’re creamy, but they taste more of powdered milk than vanilla.
I’m not completely blown away by them, but I’m not repulsed or angry that Mars is giving them a go. I actually think a mix of these with some peanut, regular and dark chocolate ones might be tasty. But all on their own, well, they’re giving me a headache. I’ve eaten the whole package and have a second that I think I’m going to give away, if that’s any indication of my affinity for them.
There are three other products in this movie-tie-in which are basically recoloring of the standard M&M Milk Chocolate, M&M Peanut and M&M Minis (which change colors). The Pirate Pearls package is slightly lighter than the M&Ms Milk Chocolate, which are 1.69 ounces ... these are 1.5 ounces.
So, who else has tried them, and do you want them to keep white chocolate M&Ms on the menu?
Here are some other reviews: CandyAddict, Chocolate Obsession and Nicole at Slashfood reviews the Australian white chocolate M&Ms.
Monday, May 1, 2006
Sometimes I think that I’m neglecting some of the best candy in the world just because it’s been around forever. Sure, CandyBlog is here to help me and you expand our candy horizons, but that doesn’t mean that we need to cast aside our tried-and-true friends. Like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
So I decided to revisit these old friends, and of course include whatever new and funky versions are out there.
First, there’s the classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. It got its first commercial media blast with a campaign in the 70s that featured two people - one eating peanut butter from a jar and the other eating a chocolate bar. They would collide and the chocolate bar would end up in the peanut butter and the chocolate eater would complain, “You got peanut butter on my chocolate!” The peanut butter eater would complain, “You got chocolate in my peanut butter!” Then they’d both taste it and it’d be pure love. Cue the jingle ... Two great tastes that taste great together, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
There ain’t a thing wrong with this candy. It’s simple and pure, the combination of two strong flavors. A milk chocolate cup filled with a slightly crumbly, dense peanut butter with a little salty kick. The proportions are spot-on. Enough milk chocolate to lubricate the sticky, thick peanut butter. Enough salt to balance the sweet chocolate. As candy goes, it’s not even as bad for you as you might think. Yes, half the calories come from fat, but for your 220 calories you’re getting 4 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber. Show me a nutrition bar that does that and tastes this good. Okay, maybe there are some. Show me one that costs $.75!
The Reese’s Double Chocolate was an oddity. First, let me say that Hershey’s has chocolated a couple of candy bars lately with good results. I liked the York Peppermint Truffle Pattie and the Almond Joy Chocolate Chocolate. So I was thinking this could be similar by adding a bit of fudgyness to the center.
What it did was mute the flavor of the center. I don’t know how else to describe it. It didn’t taste chocolatey, just less peanut buttery but just as dense and creamy. It’s not offensively bad and if there were no regular Reese’s around I wouldn’t be adverse to this, but it seems kind of unnecessary. It’s like someone said, “I’d like a less peanutty Reese’s” and this is the result.
I understand the rationale behind the Extra Smooth & Creamy, after all, the center of a Reese’s Cup does have some peanut texture to it. There are people out there who like creamy peanut butter and those who like chunky. The change in texture definitely changed the dynamic here. It made it ultra dense and actually melded a lot of the flavors together. The chocolate didn’t seem distinct from the peanut butter; the sweet didn’t seem distinct from the salt.
The latest addition to the Reese’s line is the Reese’s Caramel. The promotion for this new cup is all over the place. It seems like a natural extension of the candy cup and I was more than willing to entertain the notion that it would work. The commercials and even the packaging suggests that it’s flowing, gooey caramel that’s easily distinguished from the other primary ingredients - peanut butter and chocolate. It’s not. I mean, I could detect a bit of additional sweetness, and if I took the cup apart the caramel by itself had a flavor, but it just wasn’t distinctive enough to play with the big hitters - chocolate and peanuts.
Also, it suffers from some mess issues. Sometimes I’ll take a bite of my candy cup and set it down and do something at my desk and then have another bite. That’s not really an option here. Eventually the caramel will come flowing out. Sticky, sticky caramel. Maybe as a miniature I’d be more happy.
The White Chocolate Reese’s is not for me. But I’m not saying it’s a bad bar, it’s got a nice balance and for white chocolate, it uses real cocoa butter so it has a buttery, creamy quality. The saltiness of the peanut butter and the sweetness of the white chocolate balance well, but it lacks a dark and intense punch that the milk chocolate can provide. I reviewed this previously.
(NOTE: As of early 2008 this product is now called White Reese’s, as it doesn’t use real white chocolate with cocoa butter. It is not as good as it used to be, sweeter and with a waxier mouthfeel.)
As if all the iterations of the classic cup of peanut butter inside chocolate isn’t enough, they messed around with proportion and portion. Witness the Big Cup. Below, I’ve illustrated the size difference of the regular Reese’s Cup and the Big Cup.
The regular cup is approximately .75 ounces, the Big Cup is 1.4 ounces (basically double).
I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s something to be said for proportion. But it’s not just the amount of chocolate and the amount of peanut butter, it also has to do with proximity and how it blends in the mouth. There’s too much peanut butter here! However, if you’re a peanut butter lover and are looking for a bigger peanut punch, this might be for you.
The Big Cup with Nuts seems to understand the idea of “unique selling proposition”. It’s a cup but with whole nuts in there (well, maybe they’re peanut halves)! What’s nice is that the nuts have room to spread out, instead of being crammed into the flatter regular cup. The nuts have a great crunch and really seem to set off the ultra-peanutty butter. These have also been released in a miniature version, but I’m not sure how well that’s going to work (I haven’t seen them in stores yet).
Like its smaller brother, the White Chocolate Big Cup features white chocolate made with cocoa butter, not hydrogenated tropical oils. It smells like Easter and benefits from the bigger proportion of peanut butter. It’s still not appealing to me, though, but slightly better than the regular sized version.
The Reese’s line is certainly not limited to “cups” and I think I’ve reviewed most of the other items in the line: Reese’s Bites (soon to be discontinued), Reese’s Cookies, FastBreak, Reese’s Sticks, Nutrageous, Reese’s Snack Barz, Reese’s Pieces Peanut, Reese’s Easter Eggs (two versions).
I could have held this review until I got a hold of the other new Limited Editions: Inside Out (which I think they’ve done before) and Fudge plus the Dark Chocolate Miniatures, but by then there’ll be something else on the horizon and this post will be REALLY long. I didn’t rate the candies individually but I give Reese’s a 9 out of 10 as a candy expression of peanut butter. There are some real misses in their line of candies (see previous reviews) but the new items like the cookies and of course the tried and true miniatures keep the average well above average.
Friday, April 28, 2006
Every once in a while I get an email with an offer for stuff to review. As much as I want to just accept every offer of free goodies, I had to develop a standard for freebies/samples. They have to offer something no one else does. Robert at Best Regards had me at “Cranberry Orange Craves.”
His line of chocolate barks feature his custom blend of chocolate and he recounts the discussion with his wife during his development of the treats this way:
I’ve never really considered dark chocolate to have an “aftertaste”, I always considered the dry, astringent or bitter carryover notes to be part of the experience. But I can see how the mellowness of milk chocolate alleviates both the good and bad lingering flavors.
Best Regards is located in the Kansas City, Kansas area, which is really one of the last places I would have expected good, distinctive chocolate to come from. Though the bulk of his edibles and gift baskets features cookies, the basket he sent has a large assortment of chocolate barks (called Craves) and even a fun variety of chocolate covered Oreos. So let’s dig in!
This is the star, the Cranberry Orange Craves - smooth dark chocolate flavored with orange essence and generously studded with dried cranberries. It’s an incredible combination and amazingly, I’ve never had it before. The zesty orange goes so naturally with the cranberry’s tart chewy bite and the smooth and mellow chocolate just brings it all together.
The best way for me to judge these sorts of things is to keep track of which package I finish first. This one was gone in the first weekend.
Orange and Oreo Chocolate Craves - the dark chocolate is smooth and creamy, but does lack some of the more subtle chocolate nuances. However, this is a combination bar, with orange essence added into the chocolate, so the rather homogenized background is actually pretty good as a foundation. Inside this thick bar are crushed Oreo cookies, which give it a nice crunch. Personally, I wasn’t fond of coming across the Oreo cream but the chocolate crunch was a good combo. My second favorite.
Premium Raspberry Chocolate - plain dark chocolate bark with raspberry essence in it. It’s not too sweet, ultra creamy and smooth. The raspberry has a good balance of floral nuances and there are bits of raspberry in there (including the seeds) which gives a little tartness and fruitiness to the whole bar.
Margarita White Chocolate - this was the only white chocolate offering and it was really good. I know, I’ve said I don’t like white chocolate and then I keep recommending white chocolate things. This was white chocolate that wasn’t too sweet and had lime essence in it. I would have called it Key Lime, because that’s what it tasted like to me. My third favorite.
Mint Chocolate Cookie - I’ve raved about Harry London Mint Cookie Joys before, and these are essentially the same. Minted dark chocolate with chocolate cookie bits in it. Heaven.
The final set in the basket were these two different kinds of chocolate covered Oreos, chocolate and mint chocolate. The plain chocolate ones had little sprinkles on them, and I have to say, as cute as they are, they’re not really that tasty. It’s fine for cake where you might want a little crunchy texture, but they just interfered with the chocolate and cookies here. The mint ones worked much better - a good, classic combo.
On the whole, the chocolate Craves were top notch. It’s hard to evaluate the whole custom blended chocolate part, because I never tasted the pure chocolate in any of these items, it was always in combination with other flavors and textures. While I really like a good dark chocolate, often the harsher bitterness can overshadow some of the more delicate flavors and textures. Of course that sort of intense flavor also keeps me from eating piece after piece. Maybe it’s the difference between fine wine and a good fruity sangria. Both have their place. So Robert at Best Regards has stumbled upon something - a really addictive dark chocolate that’s more “munchable.” Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I can assure you, it’ll be good for Best Regard’s business.
If I lived in the Kansas City area and needed a gift for someone, I’d absolutely take advantage of the gift basket idea (especially the mixed baskets of cookies) with local delivery and he has lots of options that are more on the savory side (and feature some of the local barbeque themes). If I had one suggestion for the sale of these, it’d be the ability to get a tin of them, maybe even a mixed variety. The packaging in the crunchy clear plastic bags wasn’t as resealable as I’d like. (I know, I rail against companies that have too much packaging, now I want more!) A tin of chocolate barks seems like it’d ship better anyway. However, he does offer some of the chocolate varieties as 8 ounce bars.
UPDATE: Wow! Robert is offering a special sampler package based on the products I reviewed here - at a huge discount off the regular $26.00 price, he’s offering it at only $15.99. Just go to the Sweets & Treats page and scroll down to see the “Cybele Special.”
Friday, April 21, 2006
One of the must-see chocolate places in NYC is Jacques Torres. Even if you’re not a fan of their chocolate or have little money, it’s still an event. There are two locations in New York, one in Brooklyn and one on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Billed as Chocolate Haven, it truly is a delight for the eyes. The factory is wide open to witness from the street as they craft their handmade chocolate bars and when I was there they were packaging all of their hand-cast Easter goodies. From inside the store you get more than a view, you also get the scents and sounds.
But the best way to appreciate the innards of chocolate making though is from the Chocolate Haven shop. The glass walls enclose this little slice of sweetness and there’s ample room to move around and stop for a cup of hot chocolate at the chocolate bar.
I had a cup of custom blended Wicked (spiced chocolate) and Orange. It was smooth and sweet but not at all sticky. However, it was so rich and the portion (the smallest) was far too much for me to finish. As much as I tried, I couldn’t manage more than half of it.
Again, a little cup of hot chocolate helps me to keep my wits about me in such a place, it satisfies the chocolate craving and keeps me from going nuts and buying everything or gobbling it up as soon as I get away from the cash register with my purchases.
These little bunnies are just cute as bunnies. They’re each a little bigger than my thumb (which is kinda small) and were a good sampling of the Jacques Torres chocolate. The package was very light and as I guessed, they’re hollow ... so the whole thing weighed about 1.4 ounces. It cost $5.
The Dark Chocolate bunny tasted much like the hot chocolate. Smooth and rich with a slight dry finish, it wasn’t terribly complex but had some good woodsy/smoky qualities. I’m guessing this was the house blend variety of their chocolate which is 60% cocoa. The Milk Chocolate was quite sweet and has the European flavor to it, it was also very smooth but with a more fudgy quality to it. It’s one of those milk chocolates that begs you to eat more of it. The White Chocolate was really quite nice too. It’s true white chocolate in the sense that it’s made with cocoa butter and not tropical oils. It smelled very sweet and in fact tasted that way too, but had a slight caramel/vanilla note to it that made it much better than a bowlful of sugar.
They were all very nice, but for the price, first, I’d want solid chocolate. At this rate a pound of little bunnies would be over $50. I understand that more intense products like truffles demand a higher price, but these hardly qualified for such a premium. Not when the single bars of 3.5 ounces sell for $4.
This was my favorite purchase. I almost missed these too, they were placed up at the register and if I hadn’t already picked out the bunnies, I wouldn’t have even bought anything.
These are candied slices of orange that are then dipped in dark chocolate. They are absolutely gorgeous confections. I just couldn’t resist buying them because I knew they would photograph well. Luckily I love candied citrus peel, so I was really looking forward to these. They were just as dense and rich as I’d hoped. The orange slices were soft and juicy and not too sweet. The rind carried strong orange essences without the slightest bit of bitterness. A well-candied citrus rind bears more fruit flavor than a marmalade, which often tastes of sugar syrup.
I’ve not tried the rest of the Jacques Torres line of chocolates, so I can’t comment on the truffles or other chocolate covered goodies. They’re pricey though, but the visit to their shop provides a bit more value to the brand. I give them higher marks than the sole merits of the chocolate in the bunnies, the orange was extraordinary and gives me the confidence to recommend the other chocolate covered goodies I saw. There were fun items like chocolate covered corn flakes, graham crackers and cranberries and traditional fare like apricots, ginger and pretzels. Where the Scharffen Berger line has always been rather traditional in its expression (and I love that) I don’t care so much for the chocolate, just for the filling. Here the chocolate worked as the perfect complement to the orange and I reckon it would make even pedestrian items like corn flakes tasty.
Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
I don’t know what came over me. I bought a bar of white chocolate. I know there are purists out there who don’t think that white chocolate is chocolate at all. But if the stuff that is called mockolate (cocoa solids and hydrogenated or palm oils) can’t be called chocolate because it’s lacking cocoa butter, then this stuff that has cocoa butter but not the cocoa solids can at least be called white chocolate.
Each year, as Easter gets closer, against my better judgment I want white chocolate. I don’t actually like white chocolate, it’s usually so sweet it makes my throat hurt and has some sort of electrical effect on my fillings so as to give me a jolt. But there it is, I get to craving it.
I know it has to do with those molded chocolates that my paternal grandmother used to put out on display at Easter. Little bunnies and molded white chocolate baskets filled with different colored white chocolate lollipops. It always smelled of vanilla, sugar and jelly beans ... far sweeter than anything had a right to be. It was like it was some sort of super-dense sugar confection. I’ve mentioned candy season before, and it’s important to note that Easter is the final holiday in Candy Season - so it’s probably the reason that I felt the need to gorge on the highest sugar content products available to me.
But I’d heard that the Green & Black’s Creamy Vanilla White Chocolate Bar was different. So, I bought one at Whole Foods. Rationalizing the whole time that I was doing it for you, dear readers. I was taking the white chocolate bullet for you, so that you might avoid it.
I opened the wrapper and instead of being greeted by something that looked like paraffin, it was creamy colored and flecked with real bits of vanilla. It smelled milky and sweet, but not sticky. A mix of cognac, butter and honey.
The first ingredient is still sugar (well, organic raw cane sugar), but it boasts 30% cocoa content and 28% milk. If you like the dairy milk flavor of European milk chocolates, like Cadbury, then I think you’ll like this bar. It’s sweet, but flavorful, with a good hit of bourbon notes in the vanilla. The bar melts smoothly and velvety on the tongue and leaves me wanting more.
I ate the whole bar yesterday at work, which is saying a lot. I don’t usually consume something this big in one sitting. (Even an eight hour sitting.) Something about a rainy day makes me want to snuggle up with a nice bar of sugar, dairy and fat. Mmmm.
This bar has done something dangerous, it’s changed my mind about white chocolate. Luckily, I’ve only come to the conclusion that I like Green & Black’s White Chocolate. I can’t give it a ten ... let’s face it, I’m prejudiced ... I just can’t do it. If I cave in and buy another one, I’ll come back here and update the rating. The true test is whether I want it after Easter is over.
Note: Though Green & Black’s is a UK company, the bar was made in Italy. Green & Black’s is now owned by Cadbury Schweppes. This bar is organic, but not fair trade certified.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
I haven’t the foggiest on the name on this one, so I’m gonna call these Chestnut Pocky and if anyone else knows what those alternating Japanese and French words add up to, please let me know. (I know that Mont Blanc means white mountain, but that’s not a flavor!)
This is Super Thick Pocky. There are two coatings, the bottom coat is a milky sweet, kinda caramelly coating. The zig-zaggy top coat is similar, but has more of a nutty taste to it, which I’m guessing is where the chestnut comes in. But after tasting it (well, by that I mean eating half the box) I checked with JBox which always has nice descriptions:
It’s been years since I’ve had chestnuts but I remember them being rather sweet and chewy, unlike other nuts.
These are rich and sweet and not as addictively snackable as many of the other Pocky that I’ve had. They’re nice and all, and maybe in a Pocky mix I’d find them a nice change, but I can’t give them the highest marks as a snack. But I can confirm that there are no hydrogenated fish oils in this ingredients list, so that’s a bonus.
(Sorry for any feed duplication today, I’ve been traveling and I scheduled these reviews to launch but something went screwy.)
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Sometimes I’ve just gotta buy something because of the way it looks. I saw someone posting photos of this candy on Flickr a few months back. If I hadn’t seen what was inside the box, I’m not sure I would have bought it. The box is 5” wide and 4.5” deep (and only .75” high). The little candies are depicted on the package as well as a diagram of them (in Japanese) on the back (see the website for the text if you’re curious).
I’ve always been pleased with Morinaga’s products. They’re one of Japan’s finer mass-market candymakers. Their ingredients are good quality and they have a fantastic way with packaging.
The candies are “white chocolate” (made with real cocoa butter) with green tea in it (matcha). They’re shaped into pretty little candies - a fan, a flower, a leaf.
There are two different kinds - a dark matcha shape with a chocolate base and then a version with a white chocolate outside with a green tea inside. Though they look different, besides the little bit of dark chocolate on some of them, they taste the same. If you’ve ever had green tea ice cream, that’s basically what this tastes like. Sweet, milky green tea in a solid creamy form.
Some matcha treats have a grain to them, but these are pretty smooth with a mellow, earthy flavor that has only a slight bitter note in the middle. The floral notes stay with you long after you’ve finished them, it’s a pleasant feeling, not like coffee breath. As white chocolates go, this is the way to eat them. They’re pretty, they have an actual flavor and they probably give you a good boost of antioxidants. These are the perfect little gift for someone. The packaging is sweet but they’re not too expensive (even for an import). They’d also be a nice finish to a Japanese-style meal. The package says that a single serving is the whole box, but at 167 calories per ounce, you’ll be doing your heart a favor if you share.
Note: You can order them online from JBox or scour the Japanese markets for them. They may be a seasonal item. This post is pretty much a blatant photography exhibition, they were just so ding-dang cute!
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
I get a lot of questions about Choxie here at CandyBlog.net. And with good reason ... there aren’t that many places to find out about Choxie. There’s certainly no info on the Target website. I haven’t spent much time with Choxie, but I have to say that the products I’ve tried are always good quality, nicely packaged and feature interesting flavor combinations.
I picked up a few things last week, including the highly rated Champagne-Flavored Truffles. (I actually hadn’t seen them before.) They’re stunning looking little baubles of chocolate. Shiny and dark, the package highlights their gorgeous sheen. They smell rather spicy - of chocolate and a hint of wine. The truffles are about the size of a hazelnut in the shell (smaller than a malted milk ball).
These truffles are panned chocolate. Panning is when you take a solid nugget and tumble it, adding layers of coating on it. Panned candies can range from jelly beans to Gobstoppers to chocolate coated nuts to Lemonheads. Panning is usually done in large turning pans that look like cement mixers and can hold hundreds of pounds of candy. The coating can double the weight of each candy as each successive layer is added and then the final “polish coat” to seal them and give them the high gloss shine. In this case it’s called “confectioners glaze.”
The centers are made of white chocolate (made with real cocoa butter, not hydrogenated oils). The chocolate outside is sweet and smooth, a little on the sweet side but it’s definitely buttery and has a good smoky quality to it. The center is smooth as well and has a raisiny hint to it. Not really a champagne flavor in my mind, just a nice “boosted” vanilla flavor. The small size of them and their glossy appearance makes them easy to pop and of course easy to share.
As Valentine’s gifts go, the Choxie line has some really nice, inexpensive options. At less than $10 a pound for many of their offerings, they’re a really good way of expressing yourself without breaking the bank. The “shareable” nature of them is also a bonus. They also make nice hostess gifts or just a nice treat for yourself. Choxie has done a good job of bringing upscale into the realm of affordable. Their variety is also pretty stunning and it always seems like there’s something new when I check out the Choxie section. The ingredients also appear to be top notch, using real vanilla instead of vanillin and cocoa butter instead of palm oils.
Interesting note from the box: confections made in the USA, packaged in Mexico.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.