The first contender out of the gate was a blood orange caramel wrapped in parchment from Meghan Olesen of Elemental Sugar. As I peeled open the wrapper, a fine brown powder fell from the pop like caramel dandruff. Not a good start.
Apparently the powder was a smoked salt & chili "Fun Dip" I was supposed to dip the caramel into. Unfortunately, I don't believe in the 5-minute rule when it comes to powdery substances on tables and floors. Too bad, because the caramel itself was perfectly textured -- soft with a slight bite -- and sugary sweet.
Next up was a pretty, elongated teardrop with a crunchy red coating akin to a candy apple. The slick coating and unique "tadpole" design made for a lovely presentation, though the caramel inside was very traditional. The coating was thin enough that it was easy to bite through without removing my dental work, and the soft texture and delicate vanilla flavor of the caramel appealing. A strong contender from Tammie Coe.
Cork's smoked sea salt caramel was so heavy on the "smoke" that it tasted burnt, while Tracy Dempsey's soy sauce variety was too heavy on the saltiness. Slade Grove's ginger caramel was dark and rich. I adore ginger, especially when candied, but the ingredient mix in Grove's caramel brought out the natural bitterness of the root, rather than playing up its sweetness.
Essence Bakery Cafe's macaron was lightly sweet, with a delightfully savory tinge that reminded me of the saffron-infused cream filling I've tasted in some Indian desserts. It was delicious, but I'd argue that something "caramel flavored" doesn't count as an actual caramel, especially when it's not sticky.
Speaking of sticky, while the Honeymoon Sweets entry had a scrumptious natural honey taste, it was so soft I had to use my teeth to scrape it from the wrapper. Brendan McCaskey's peanut butter and jelly caramel suffered from the same problem, though the child in me was squealing with delight at how much the tasty treat reminded me of the lunch box sammies of my youth.