Russell Stover Milk Chocolate Santa

Russell Stover Milk Chocolate Santa

When I see foil wrapped candy on a store shelf, I am instantly drawn to it. I have this weakness for great designs, colors and overall presentation or packaging of any candy. It's one of the reasons I love Madelaine chocolate. They have fantastic foil with great designs and fantastic packaging. In my opinion Russell Stover has created a really nice Santa design. It instantly drew my attention when I saw it sitting on the store shelf. I've had many, many Russell Stover candies over the years as they have a great outlet store we like to stop at and for the price, they are a great candy.

The milk chocolate mirrors the foil, which is a very nice touch. I can't tell you how many times I've opened a foil candy to find a plain old piece of chocolate inside, which is BORING. Why not create a mold and make your chocolate interesting? For me, it's the little things that make a difference in my candy. If you go that one extra step, I'm more likely to buy your candy in the future, or more importantly, buy it as gifts. This is better than any RM Palmer chocolate and you find plenty of that during the Holidays.

Russell Stover Milk Chocolate Hollow Santa

The milk chocolate this Santa is made from is good. It's not great, but at this price point, it can't be fantastic. When you first open the package you are greeted with a nice chocolatey smell. The melt is very nice and even and it coated my tongue nicely. The flavor was milky but had a woodsy and sort of a dark chocolate taste to it. My wife hated it, but my son and I thought it was pretty good. I think my six year old summed it up best when he said it tasted like hot cocoa. That is exactly what this tastes like. Overall, this type of candy really isn't about the taste, although this one wasn't bad. This type candy is more about looks and borders on the edge of novelty candy instead of great tasting candy. This would be perfect in a Christmas stocking or in a gift bag of other candy to give to friends or co-workers and for 99 cents, it is priced perfectly to give to many people in your life.

Taste: 3/5 Liked It
Calorie Counter: no information available
Price: $.99 purchased at our local Farm Fleet
Russell Stover Web Site

Tic Tac Holiday Twist - Cinnamon and Freshmint

tic tac limited editon holiday twist container.jpg

Tic Tacs have been produced by Ferrero since 1969. The very first flavor produced was Freshmint and the second flavor was Cinnamon. So, this Limited Edition Holiday Twist container on sale now at your local store is a combo of their earliest products.

Several flavors of Tic Tacs have come and gone but I've always loved the cinnamon (or "Winter Warmer" flavor if you are from the U.K.) flavor. Even though it's not a true "mint" flavor, it still gives you a fresh clean mouth feel to go along with the spicy flavor. According to Wikipedia, the cinnamon flavor is going to be discontinued in 2010. I'm not sure if this is true, but it would be sad if one of the original flavors were to disappear from the Tic Tac lineup. The cinnamon flavor reminds me of a spicy Mike and Ike Hot Tamale and less like the cinnamon round discs you see in bulk bins, as there is nothing sweet about this cinnamon flavor. This would be a great candy to keep in my drawer at work for a nice mid-afternoon pick-me-up. Just a hint of spicy and a clean mouth feeling really help me make it to the end of a work day.

I'm less enthused about the Freshmint flavor, but I'm not a huge fan of peppermint in general. Don't get me wrong I like mint, but I've never really liked the Tic Tac mint flavors. I do like them in this pack since they do provide a nice cooling flavor to go with the cinnamon. I wish this pack were for sale more often, but with a 75-25% ratio of cinnamon to Freshmint.  One piece of advice, DO NOT try to eat these in the dark, because mixing cinnamon and Freshmint is a horrible, horrible mistake!

tic tac limited editon holiday twist

I've said it a few times but I'm such a sucker for Limited Edition candy. I'm really glad I picked up this package because it's one of the nicer "twist" packs Ferrero has made for Tic Tac. This would make a perfect stocking stuffer or Secret Santa gift for any Tic Tac fan, and really, who isn't a fan of Tic Tacs?

Taste: 4/5 Really Liked It
Calorie Counter: 1 Tic Tac = 1 serving = 1.9 calories, 0g fat, 0g sugars
Price: $.99 purchased at our local Fleet Farm store
Tic Tac USA Web Site

King Leo Chocolate Peppermint Bark

King Leo Chocolate Peppermint Bark

I was taking a quick inventory of my candy stash the other day and I found this candy hidden away with some other free samples the Quality Candy company sent me. We were in the mood for some Christmas candy and I thought this would be perfect to review. There's nothing that says Christmas like peppermint and I love the King Leo brand of peppermint sticks. I reviewed the plain and chocolate covered ones and really liked both of them, so we were very interested to try the bark and see how it compared.

These squares are a really nice size. I'd say they are three inches by four inches. They are a darker chocolate, then white chocolate, then melt-in-your-mouth King Leo peppermint bits on the top. I've seen a lot of different kinds of "bark" candy for sale and this traditional combination is by far my favorite combination. The chocolate in this bark was firm and had a very nice snap to it. There was a slightly bitter aftertaste but the overall taste was sugary. The white was layered on the dark chocolate in what we thought was a great ratio of dark to white chocolate. The icing on all of this, or peppermint bits, were fantastic and they give a very nice and refreshing mint flavor blast and a whole lot of crunch that all blended together and melted into a fantastic flavor.

King Leo Chocolate Peppermint Bark squares

The packaging kept this bark in great condition and only a few pieces of peppermint had fallen off. There was a slight amount of crumble on the chocolate but overall this was in great condition thanks to excellent construction of the cardboard packaging. We really like the colors and felt like we could put a bow on this box and hand it out as a perfect Christmas gift to someone. We ended up moving this to a four in our rating because not only did we really like the taste, but we also liked the entire package...meaning, a great looking box that could be gifted as-is and also kept the candy in great shape. If you find this on the shelf, I highly recommend trying it.

Taste: 4/5 Really Liked It
Calorie Counter: 1oz chunk = 1 serving = 130 calories, 8g fat, 13g sugars
Price: Free Sample from Quality Candy
Quality Candy Web Site

Queen Anne Cordial Blueberries

Queen Anne Cordial Blueberries

Last May during the Sweets and Snacks EXPO 2010, I sampled this product and said it was one of my new favorite candies from the EXPO. I've been looking forward to finding this candy in stores for months. It's been a long wait, but it was completely worth it. We picked this box up at Walgreen's (okay, we actually picked up two boxes of these at Walgreen's) while checking out the new candy for Christmas 2010. The Queen Anne display is larger than previous years with the addition of this flavor and the peppermint flavor (which I  haven't tried yet).

Queen Anne Cordial Blueberries - in tray

These are packaged exactly like the cordial cherries, covered in stay fresh cellophane and packaged five per tray, ten total per box. The flavor of these was as great as I remembered it from the Sweets and Snacks EXPO. There is a very light blueberry flavor in the liquid that also slightly flavors the fondant.  The real blueberries taste fantastic. The blueberries vary in size and flavor for each cordial, much like the cherry cordials. It is one of the things I like about this candy. Every cordial has slightly different taste depending on the fruit inside. Sometimes the fondant is dominant, sometimes the blueberries are large, sometimes small. It gives this candy a home-made feel to it instead of a mass produced candy feel. For Christmas 2009, I did a three way candy taste test of Chocolate Covered Cherries and my opinion was that Queen Anne made the best of the bunch. These have the same great milk chocolate taste and I assume the fondant uses the same recipe as the cherry cordials. Since the Queen Anne brand won my three way taste test in the cherry cordials, it's nice to know that same great winning combination was carried over to this new variety.

Queen Anne Cordial Blueberries - inside shot

The photo above shows how wonderfully gooey the interior of this candy is. There's also the blueberry hiding in there with the liquid surrounding it. I don't think these will replace chocolate covered cherries as the go-to Christmas candy for our family, but they are a great addition to the line. I think the cherry version is better, but then again I have years and years of Christmas memories with Queen Anne Cherry Cordials. I think the Cherry Cordials have a better Christmas feel to them, but they also sell them year round. If they also sell the blueberry version year round, it might become my new favorite during the other 11 moths of the year.  I think the problem for this candy will be my father-in-law's reaction.  Here is a  guy who I have seen eat most of a box of chocolate covered cherries while opening Christmas presents.....and upon tasting the blueberry version, he says, "I don't like it as much as the cherry." and then pass up a second one (reaching instead for the Mint M& M's we were also tasting).  If people like him think of these as a replacement for the Cherries, I don't think they'll be hugely successful in the long run---but, if instead, people think of them as an additional candy, they should be successful in their own right.

Christmas Leftovers: when you should save your $.25

I was in a store recently and came across these Sugar Free candy canes from Bob's.  Bob's makes those great soft peppermint balls, so I thought I would pick these candy canes up for a review. The $.25 price was appealing to my budget, but the taste almost made me drive the 10 miles (20 miles round trip) to the store to get my money back.  This is one of those cases where inexpensive (and still for sale way after Christmas) mean's you should AVOID purchasing this item.  I feel badly for anyone that paid full price for these.  

I've never been a fan of fake sugar.  Splenda has a horrible aftertaste in my opinion and Stevia seems to have a licorice-like aftertaste for me.  I think after some time you get used to the taste but I'm not willing to put the time or effort into that to save calories.  A normal candy cane is around 50-60 calories, these candy canes are 30 calories. Which means you can eat 1 great tasting candy cane or 2 fake sugar candy canes.  My opinion is that saving 30 or so calories just isn't worth not eating a good-tasting candy cane. (fake sugar vs. real sugar is the only time I take the less quantity for candy approach, quantity vs. quality debate)  You only live once people, enjoy the real sugar candy cane! You can burn the extra 30 calories running to the trash can to throw away your sugar-free candy!! 

Taste: 1/5 Hated It
Calorie Counter: 1 candy cane per serving = 30 calories, 0g fat
Price: $.25 at local grocery store
Bob's Sugar Free Candy Canes

Chocolate Covered Cherries - Queen Anne vs. Brachs vs. Cella's

Chocolate Covered Cherries

I have a few reviews of Christmas candy that I would still like to publish. I'll probably skip a few (as we still seem to have a lot around) but I cannot skip my chocolate covered cherries review. Growing up, chocolate covered cherries were as important to the holidays as buying a tree to decorate. We've never gone a year without them for as long as I can remember. I decided I'd try to find all three major brands of chocolate covered cherries, which should be available everywhere in the U.S.

You can read about the history of chocolate covered cherries in the Making History Monday: Chocolate Covered Cherries article. As you can see in the photos below and above, each brand is packaged just a little bit differently. In the photo below from left to right, we have Queen Anne, Brach's and Cella's. The Cella's brand is definitely the prettiest with a swirl and very uniform looking chocolate outside. The other 2 designs are more freeform and do not look as nice as the Cella's. The Queen Anne brand was definitely the freshest of the group, with cellophane Fresh Seal packaging on top of every tray of chocolate covered cherries. Every package had the exact same number of cherries inside with either 2 trays of 5 or 1 large tray of 10.

Chocolate Covered Cherries

In the photo below you can see the Queen Anne on the left, Brach's in the middle and Cella's on the right. There is a very big difference in filling and taste between each chocolate covered cherry brand. While I always assumed the Queen Anne brand was purchased at our house because it was less expensive, the real reason is that it's the #1 chocolate covered cherry in the U.S. and has the best taste of these three brands.

The Queen Anne brand chocolate covered cherry had a nice crisp milk chocolate outside that melted very well in your mouth. This brand has the best ratio of fondant to liquid of the three brands we tried. Everyone in our taste testing panel (my extended family) thought the Queen Anne had the best ratio inside, best tasting chocolate and best tasting cherries.

The Brach's brand chocolate covered cherries came in 2nd place in our taste test. That is odd because I assumed Brach's were the best tasting (blame it on advertising), but I rated them in 2nd place too. I haven't had a box in a long time because they quit making them for several years. I don't think the Brach's brand cherries had been set aside long enough for the inside to liquify. As you can see in the picture below, the fondant was very very thick and filled the entire chocolate shell. There was little to no liquid inside this chocolate shell. At this point I'm guessing some people are wondering what I mean about "cherries sitting long enough for the inside to liquify", so I'll explain. If you study a chocolate covered cherry you'll note that there isn't a hole or seam on the chocolate where you could shoot the inside into it. To create a chocolate covered cherry you first take a cherry and coat it with an enzyme called invertase. This is usually in the fondant, which when cooled can be molded into any shape. It is this shape that is dipped in chocolate. As the chocolate covered cherries sit for a few weeks the enzyme slowly breaks down the outside of the cherry which creates the liquid inside the chocolate shell. As I don't remember Brach's being this thick and heavy feeling in the past, my only guess is that the enzyme did not have enough time to create a larger amount of liquid inside the chocolate. Everyone also thought the inside of the Brach's brand was very, very sugary sweet. No one hated this brand, but almost everyone thought the Queen Anne's were just better in every aspect.

The 3rd place chocolate covered cherry was one none of us had tried, even though it is the oldest brand in the U.S. As I said before, the Cella's were the prettiest of the group and very uniform in appearance. They had a wonderful crisp chocolate snap that gave way to an entirely liquid inside. No fondant inside at all, this candy is pure liquid. Which also led us all to agree this was the messiest chocolate covered cherry to eat. The cherry and liquid has a very nice flavor but we all missed the fondant.

If there's one thing we all learned in this taste test, it's that trying something new is always good. While I thought we'd bought a holiday favorite because it was cheapest, it turns out it really was the best tasting of the group.

Chocolate Covered Cherries
Queen Anne: Taste: 4/5 Really Liked It
Calorie Counter: 2 pieces per serving = 150 calories, 3.5g fat
Price: $1.50 at Walgreens

Brach's: Taste: 3/5 Liked It
Calorie Counter: 2 pieces per serving = 160 calories, 3.5g fat
Price: $2.50 at local grocery store

Cella's: Taste: 2/5 Did Not Like It
Calorie Counter: 2 pieces per serving = 120 calories, 4.5g fat
Price: $2.50 at Walgreens

Update: It's nice to see I'm not alone in my dislike of the Cella's brand of Chocolate Covered Cherries, The Bewildered Brit came to the same conclusion. Great history about Cella's in his article too.

Wonka Gobstopper Snow Balls

I picked up several half-price Christmas candies in after Christmas sales yesterday. One of the items I picked up was a box of Wonka Everlasting Gobstopper Snow Balls. I've never seen green or red snow balls, but at least these candies were round in shape, resembling a snowball.

The flavors on these Gobstoppers reminded me of another Wonka candy I reviewed earlier this month, Frosty Nerds by Wonka. The red is cherry, the green is watermelon, and white is a wonderful fruit punch flavor. Each one contains all three flavors in a different order. I know these have layers and each layer tastes different but I can't help but smash through and crunch gobstoppers. It is not just a lack of patience, they just taste better that way. I should point out that gobstoppers are gum in places like Australia so a better term to describe these would be "jawbreakers". Like most Wonka candy these had a very sugary flavor and a somewhat chalky consistency when you crunch them, but the flavors were great. My box had an overwhelming amount of cherry and watermelon with very few fruit punch "snow balls". I assume these are packaged randomly with flavors, because I see no reason to leave the fruit punch out. This is very different from the Frosty Nerds which had a ton of the fruit punch flavor, which was my personal favorite.

In reality this is a normal Gobstopper that is colored for the Holidays to sell more candy. These are great stocking stuffers and I'm sure most people purchased them for that reason. I rated them fairly high because I enjoy Gobstoppers and found these flavors appealing. The only downside is that it seems these Gobstoppers than I remember them. I also wonder what the snowman on the front of the box is smoking in his pipe, his eyes look a bit dreamy.

Taste: 4/5 Really Liked It
Calorie Counter: 1.77 oz pkg = 3 servings = 6 "snow balls" per serving = 60 calories per serving, 0g fat
Price: $.39 at Walgreen's
Wonka Gobstopper Snow Balls

Ferrara Chocolate - Milk Orange

I always buy a chocolate orange for my wife's Christmas stocking, it's her favorite chocolate. This year I bought a Ferrara Milk Chocolate Orange. Ferrara is a very mellow chocolate with a great orange flavor. The chocolate has a crisp snap to it when you bite into it. It is a smooth chocolate that coats your mouth, has a wonderful aftertaste, and smells great.

This is a great snack for sharing during a conversation with friends over coffee or while playing a board game. First, in order to serve it, you have to 'crush' the orange. This involves slamming it on the counter to "burst and enjoy" (according to the package). It's like popping open champagne--only with candy. How fun is that? Second, the orange breaks into 20 perfectly sized 2-bite pieces, great for a small group. It is a small pleasure and makes any snack time more special.

We only associate this candy with Christmas, but this year I resolve to buy it for my wife more often!

Taste: 5/5 Loved It
Calorie Counter: 6.17 oz pkg = 4 servings = 230 calories per serving, 14g fat
Price: $2.99 at Walgreen's
Ferrara Chocolate - Milk Orange

Making History Monday: Chocolate Covered Cherries

I hope everyone had a happy holiday season this year. We are back at home now, unpacking and winding down from visiting family. I was thinking of what to write about for this Monday history post and chocolate covered cherries immediately came to mind. Chocolate covered cherries have been a consistent gift at my family's Christmas celebration as far back as I can remember. We always wrap them for Dad. Then, he would open them, eat the first one and then pass them around the room for everyone else to enjoy. I can't say they are a favorite of mine, but I do enjoy all types of candy, so I'll usually end up eating a few.

I've had some time in the last few days to research a little bit about chocolate covered cherries. I can find 3 brands being sold at almost every store: Cella's, Brach's and Queen Anne. Cella's seems to be the oldest brand. Their boxes and webpage claim they started making chocolate covered cherries in 1864, with large scale production beginning in 1929. I could not find much information about the New York based Cella's Confections prior to their purchase by Tootsie Roll Industries in 1985. These chocolate covered cherries are easily recognizable because they are packaged in a single layer box, rather than a double layer like the other two brands. Cella's are also individually wrapped, rather than packaged egg-crate style with a single piece of cellophane over the plastic tray.

In the 1930's the Brock Candy Company started making chocolate covered cherries. They were an instant holiday hit across the United States. In 1994, the E. J. Brach Corporation bought a majority stake in the Brock Candy Company. I do not remember seeing Brock brand chocolate covered cherries, but the Brach's brand cherries have always been a favorite of my family. I had thought they quit producing these cherries in 2003 but they seem to have brought them back as this was the first year I've seen that brand for sale in our local stores. There's a lot of good information on the Brock Candy Company here, here and here. They were the first company to put candy in cellophane bags, which is an interesting bit of candy trivia.

In our area of the country, the most well known brand of chocolate covered cherries are made by Queen Anne. This is a company founded in 1921 on the south side of Chicago. They started making chocolate covered cherries in 1948. As their website points out, this quickly became their most successful product and they sell over three hundred million chocolate covered cherries in the United States each year. The Queen Anne company has changed hands a few times over the years, but has been owned by World's Finest Chocolate since 2006.

I do have these 3 brands of chocolate covered cherries purchased and will be doing a review very soon. I read that there are 5 large brands of chocolate covered cherry makers in the United States but I couldn't find the other 2 brands. If someone knows about the other two and could leave a comment below, that would be great!

Brock Candy Company in Chattanooga TN1952 photo of the Brock Candy Company in Chattanooga. Here chocolate covered cherries receive the bottom coat of chocolate.

Walgreen's - Rudolph Nose

I hate to be a Grinch, but this candy was terrible. I picked these up because of the low price, the fact that it was a "house brand" candy, and because chocolate with a surprise inside sounded appealing to me. There were two flavors, Rudolf's Nose (plain) and Peppermint Candy.

After cracking this chocolate open I found some very oddly colored candies inside (see picture below). The Rudolf's Nose package describes these as "Red Sugar Coated Chocolate Pieces" and the picture shows brightly colored candies. The peppermint version described small peppermint balls which was very misleading.

The candy inside was an odd, faded red color, not brightly colored as pictured, and it did not have any sort of flavor to it. The peppermint candies inside the second package had not even an hint of peppermint flavor.

There was no real snap to the chocolate shell of this candy. It was like bending a very green tree branch, it bends, bends, bends then finally breaks. It has an odd bitter taste to it along with a taste of a terribly weak and cheap hot cocoa that you mixed with water. I absolutely hate hot cocoa made from cheap chocolate mix and added to water and this chocolate tastes exactly like that. In my opinion, this candy was a complete waste of calories.

This candy is made in the U.K. for Walgreens and distributed by Riviera Brands LLC of Deerfield, Illinois and is sold under the Sweet Time brand.

I would not recommend this candy to anyone. It was an interesting concept and had a fun holiday appeal but was one of the worst pieces of chocolate I've had in a long time.

Taste: 1/5 Hated It
Calorie Counter: .70 oz pkg = 1 serving = 100 calories per serving, 5g fat
Price: $.39 at Walgreens
Tasty Treet - Walgreens - Rudolph Nose