Annabelle’s Rocky Road

Annabelle’s Rocky Road is a retro candy that’s easily distinguishable by its bright red wrapper. I first read about Annabelle’s, who also makes the Abba Zabba and the Big Hunk, in Steve Almond’s Candy Freak. The wrapper promises milk chocolate coated marshmallow with cashews, which I was excited about, as it’s hard to go wrong with chocolate covered marshmallows.

The Rocky Road’s flimsy wrapper did nothing to protect the bar inside. As you can tell in the photo below, the chocolate coating was broken into bits. They stayed adhered to the marshmallow for the most part, but enough tiny pieces of chocolate fell off as I unwrapped the bar to be an annoyance, mostly because such tiny bits melt easily and make a mess.

The cashews turned out to be miniscule bits mixed in with the chocolate that sat on top of the bar. They were hard to make out in texture or taste and didn’t add much to the bar. Then again, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, as I’ve previously found cashews to be too weakly flavored to hold their own in chocolate confections.

The marshmallow within the thin chocolate coating was nicely light and fluffy with a faint vanilla taste.  Unfortunately, that alone wasn’t enough to redeem this bar for me. An O for the Rocky Road. It was an excellent concept that could have been improved by using a stronger nut instead of cashews to add some oomph. Maybe roasted almonds would have been nice? In its current incarnation, I found it to be rather uninspiring.

Candy Filler

No especially notable candy news to report today. Yesterday I hosted a chocolate tasting in my residential college, but my notes from that won’t be ready for publication until at least next week. I shall also, at some point, post a guide to planning, hosting, and leading a chocolate tasting. For now, I have a couple of random tidbits.

I’m taking a food history class (Food and Cuisine in Europe and the U.S.), where my professor explained to me that all sugary candies started out as medicines to which sugar was added to make them more palatable. The hard candies, marzipans, nougats, caramels, halvahs, etc. of today all started out as lozenges and foul concoctions of herbs and spices and the like. Pretty cool, no?

And more on the history of chocolate from my chocolate calendar: “In France, chocolate was initially met with skepticism and was considered a barbarous, noxious drug. The French court accepted chocolate after the Paris faculty of medicine gave its approval.” As my food history professor explained, lots of unfamiliar foods that were beneath one’s standing were dismissed as being what Barbarians ate, so the crossover between class and candy calendar was neat to come across.

Finally, an early happy Leap Day to you all! Use it to eat lots and lots of candy. Because it’s a day that doesn’t usually exist, calories consumed on the Leap Day don’t really count. Or, at least, they shouldn’t.

Hello Kitty Compressed Sugar Candies

There are a surprising number of candies that carry the Hello Kitty brand. I found these adorable little plastic barrels of compressed sugar candies in a Sanrio store next to Sanrio gum, lollipops, and hard candies. Each barrel was $0.75, and they came in Hello Kitty (peach), Badtz Maru (cola), and Pandapple (apple).

The candies themselves were little tablets that were similar to Tart N Tinies in shape and size. They were made from a compressed sugar that was fairly soft, like the core of a Smartie after you nibble away the outside rim (everyone eats their Smarties that way, right?). The peach was a faint pink, the apple a pale yellow/green, and the cola a soft light brown.

The Hello Kitty peach flavor was lightly floral and completely different from that of a peach flavored Jolly Rancher. Though it still didn’t taste exactly like a real peach, it was also far from artificial tasting. I would call it reminiscent of the flavor of a peach Asian gelatin candy (you may be more familiar with the lychee jelly version, but they do come in peach as well). The Badz Maru had a dark cola taste that was almost fizzy, and the Pandapple candies had a lightly sweet apple taste that was more like a Fuji than a Granny Smith.

These compressed sugar candies get an OM from me. I found them to be tasty, addictive, and cutely packaged. My only wish is that the little barrels were resealable (they have little pop top pull tabs, like canned sodas do abroad), but I think a packaging change would probably drive up the price.

Ethel’s Chocolates Truffles

Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge is a chain of chocolate cafes owned by Mars. Think Starbuck’s but with truffles and hot cocoa and mocha lattes. For now, they’re only in Illinois and Las Vegas; I made it a point to track one down in the Fashion Show Mall on the Strip. I picked up four truffles at $1.50 each: a PB&J, a honey truffle, a cinnamon truffle, and a gingerbread tile. The stores are full of comfy couches, armchairs, and beautiful molded truffles in a huge variety of flavors.

I chose the PB&J (top right in below photo) because the girl behind the counter informed me that it was their best seller. Number two in popularity, if you’re curious, is cheesecake, which I tried on site (you get a free truffle for going into the store; the cheesecake was white chocolate, overly sweet, and could have been more cream-cheesy). The PB&J truffle was filled with grape jelly and peanut butter.

I like my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made with strawberry preserves on 12-grain bread, which skews heartier and darker than the peanut butter and grape jelly on Wonderbread classic that I felt this truffle was trying to emulate. Its grape jelly filling was way too sweet for my taste, and I wish the peanut butter were saltier and nuttier. An O.

Moving clockwise to the bottom right, next is the Gingerbread tile from Ethel’s holiday collection. There were actually two gingerbread truffles to choose from; the other was called a gingerbread gem. I went with the tile because I was told it would be more heartily spiced and more heavily ginger-flavored.

The tile was prettily decorated, as you can see. The thin chocolate shell surrounded a rather thin but still creamy ganache with a wonderful gingerbread flavor. The ginger flavor was present without being overwhelming, earning an OM for this truffle.

The bottom left truffle with the visible grains of sugar is a Cinnamon truffle. Like the gingerbread tile, the ganache was creamy but thin and encased within a thin chocolate coating that carried a nice snap. I found the ganache flavoring to be spot on, with the perfect amount of nice, spiced cinnamon. Overall, however, I found the truffle to have a too sweet finish. Another OM.

Finally, there is the Honey truffle (top left). The ganache on this one was smooth with mild honey notes and a buttery toffee finish, which I found to be quite nice. It, too, was on the sweet side, just shy of cloying, and yet another OM.

Overall, Ethel’s truffles are nice and accessible. I wish their ganache fillings were richer and thicker, which would make them more indulgent. As they are right now, there’s nothing spectacular about the Ethel’s line, and you could get better truffles for the same price.

Michel Cluizel Truffles from Viva Chocolato

I saw a box of Michel Cluizel’s Champignon truffles at Cafe Moka in the Houston airport but didn’t buy them because they were so pricey. It was a choice I regretted. Thankfully, Viva Chocolato opened in Austin, and they carry lots of truffles by Michel Cluizel, including Les Champignons. Hooray! I bought one of the Champignons and a 99 Cacaoforte (the first and fourth in the lineup).

Les Champignons (French for The Mushrooms, by the way) are gorgeous and adorable. The cap is made of chocolate and filled with a crunchy toffee-like almond nougatine. It’s sweet and delicious. The stem is made of a soft, sticky, and super chewy caramel surrounded by white and dark chocolate. The caramel itself is not terribly sweet and instead tastes strongly of butter. They get an enthusiastic OMG, with a letter off for being so pricey.

I was nervous about trying the 99 Cacaoforte because they are made of 99% cacao. I’ve tasted a 100% cacao bar from La Maison du Chocolat (it was bitter, creamy, and good, but I could only handle a tiny bit at a time), and I’ve eaten raw cacao nibs before. Neither were entirely pleasant tasting adventures, so I was afraid the 99 Cacaoforte would be too much for my palate to handle.

The truffle was super dark, of course, but surprisingly enough, I didn’t find it bitter at all. It certainly wasn’t sweet, but it was far more palatable than the pure cacao I’ve tasted. The ganache was super smooth, thick, and almost paste-like. It had no grain, but it wasn’t exactly creamy, probably because there should be no milk or cream added to the ganache. It tasted of smooth, pure cacao, and it was splendid. I found it sophisticated, intense, and ZOMG!-worthy. Next time I come across one of these, I’m definitely splurging again, as it’s worth every penny.

Edit: According to Sera, I was misinformed about the nature of the Cacaoforte. The enrobing is 99% Cacao, but the filling is a ganache made with the 99%, meaning that there is cream in there.

WashPost Peeps Diorama Contest

Last year, the Washington Post had a wildly successful Peeps diorama contest for Easter. It inspired me to create this centerpiece of Peeps playing soccer, hahvahd v. Brazil, for our final Yale Concert Band concert reception before we went to Brazil on tour.

I had a ton of fun making it, and if I had the time and resources, I would attempt a Peeps diorama. But alas, I do not, but maybe you do? Here’s the information about this year’s contest. Let me know if you decide to enter, and if the Wash Post won’t publish your photos, I will!

Newman’s Own Organics – Cinnamon Mint

Disclosure alert: These mints were samples sent by Newman’s Own.

I love the packaging on these Newman’s Own mints. They took the Altoid’s-like tin we’re used to and made it more exciting with the old fashioned circus advert. The top of the tin informs you that they’re made with organic sweeteners.

My first thought on opening the tin was, “Well, they certainly look organic. Instead of the bright pink Altoid’s cinnamon mint color, the Newman’s Own mints were a brownish-yellow that made them look quite wholesome and free of refined sugar.

The mints do, in fact, have a darker sweetness to them, as if they were made with molasses or brown sugar instead of refined white sugar. In other words, they taste as natural as they look. Unfortunately, they also taste rather unpleasant. The cinnamon flavor is present, but it’s too light to have any breath freshening properties. And the aftertaste! Ugh! The mints made me feel like I had just swallowed some nasty cough syrup or ginseng medicine. And while the cinnamon flavor was too light to linger as a mint’s flavor should, that medicinal aftertaste was stuck in the back of my throat and would not go away.

I left these in my common room, hoping that one of my nine suitemates would find them appealing, and they’re no longer where I left them, so someone either slipped them into her purse or threw them out. I’m just glad to be rid of them. An O, coupled with a wish that I had a lower ranking that I could assign it.

Prickly pear candy

My father really wanted to go to the Grand Canyon while we were on the West Coast this past winter. I wasn’t a huge fan of losing two days of trip time driving to see a big hole in the ground, but at least I got a package of prickly pear candy from Desert Gatherings out of it.

The prickly pear candy was an unexpectedly soft jelly candy, even softer than a fruit gem, and had no stickiness whatsoever. I was amazing at how giving the texture was. The granulated sugar that coated the prickly pear candy came in large, rather damp grains.

I couldn’t figure out how to precisely describe the taste of the prickly pear fruit. It’s lightly fruity, with a little bit of a berry quality to it. That makes sense, I guess, since prickly pear candy is made from prickly pear berries.

The candy was super sweet, but in a natural, fruity way rather than an artificial, gaggingly sweet manner. As good as it was, I believe it merits an O because once the novelty factor is gone, there’s really no reason to seek it out. I don’t see myself buying it again, but I wouldn’t turn it down if I were offered a piece.