Thursday, October 8, 2015
The Tasty Baking Company has been based in Philadelphia since 1914. Back in 1930 they introduced a new snack cake called the Tandy Take which was eventually renamed in 1974 to Kandy Kakes (to avoid confusion with the Tandy Company). These were the snack cakes of my childhood. I’m not sure if I had a Twinkie until I was in college,but Kandy Kakes, I’d had plenty of those.
Their most popular item is the Peanut Butter Kandy Kake (they bake a half a million a day as of 2014), which was also my favorite of their products. The Peanut Butter Kandy Kake is a disk of sponge cake (or maybe angel food cake) with a stripe of peanut butter covered in mockolate. Their second most popular item, the Butterscotch Krimpet is also a curious creation made of a sponge cake (sort of like a Twinkie) but with crinkle cut edges and a butterscotch frosting. (Pennsylvania is kind of known for butterscotch confections, see also the Boyer Smoothie cups.)
When I was growing up there was still regionalism for baked goods, Tastykake was really a local company, though recently they expanded south and also took over production of the Hostess brands including Twinkies. This year Tastykake announced West Coast distribution for their more popular items. (Though it says on their website they’re available at some of my local stores, I still haven’t found them on shelves.)
For those of you just discovering this nostalgic brand, you should catch up with this add for Tastykake, I’d say it’s from around 1975, starring Betty White:
First off, are Kandy Kakes even candy and do they belong on the blog? Well, I’ve debated about this for a while. For the past few years when I travel to Pennsylvania, I’ve usually come back with a box (or two) of the Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. They fit most of my rules for candy in that they’re sweet, portable, shelf stable and require no preparation to eat. However, they’re also baked (but then again so are Twix). I also have the same problem with chocolate covered pretzels. What pushed me over the edge with this review is the fact that Tastykake offered these new Fall flavors: Salted Caramel Kandy Kakes and Karrot Kake Kandy Kakes.
First off, Kandy Kakes is a strange name. Substituting letters in a standard word is usually an indication of lesser quality, just like chocolatey denotes something not-quite-chocolate. Not only that, Tastykake and their product line has a lot of Ks in it. A lot. It’s like they’re going for something wacky (this all predates the Kardashian ownership of the letter).
So, the name might be a bit juvenile, but maybe it’s also supposed to be delightful. Betty White said some nice things about the ingredients in her commercial in Tastykakes, but for reference here’s what’s in the Salted Caramel Kandy Kakes (yes, I transcribed all this, so forgive any spelling errors as many of these ingredients don’t come up in spellcheck):
The Salted Caramel are described as cakes with chocolate flavored coating and salted caramel filling (naturally and artificially flavored).
The large box (a half a pound) holds 6 of these packages of twin cakes. They’re actually a little weird out of the box because there’s no indication of which flavor it is. (So if I had the Peanut Butter version out of the box, I wouldn’t know ... that little BN initial on the package, what does that mean?)
There’s 90 calories per cake, so the pair is only 180 ... for 1.3 ounces, so not really a low calorie product, just its size helps with portion control.
They smell sweet, but not like anything in particular. The chocolatey coating is noticeably thin and fake. The bite is nice, the cake is soft and a little dry but that’s balanced pretty well by the caramel stripe on top. The caramel is quite salty, though there are only 95 mg per pair. The mockolate is terrible, far more noticeably terrible on the salted caramel version than the peanut butter. There’s no cocoa flavor and certainly no creamy cocoa butter experience. There’s not even any milk in that fake milk chocolate.
It’s pretty dreadful. Maybe I’m not a good judge of pastries, or petit fours or whatever category these should be in, but they’re not actually good candy.
The Karrot Kake Kandy Kakes sound good in theory. But in reality the white coating is suspiciously white. It’s not milky white, though at least this white konfectionery koating has nonfat milk in it. The coating has more titanium dioxide in it than soy lecithin.
However, they do smell good. They smell like a nice spice cake ... a little nutmeg, a little cinnamon, maybe a touch of clove and sweet milk. The bite is soft and a little more substantial than the Salted Caramel as this cake is actually carrot cake ... there’s actually carrot in there and even some raisin paste, orange puree and coconut. The white coating is filmy and there’s another creamy layer in there that’s kind of like cream cheese or perhaps unscented foot balm.
It’s a great idea but the coating completely ruins it for me. (Now, a salted caramel stripe in there and maybe an actual white chocolate coating ... but then we’re into actual petit four world, not cheap snack cakes.
The cakes are made on shared equipment with peanuts and tree nuts and contain milk, soy and coconut.
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
I found a new candy on eBay, they’re called Mentos Incredible Chew! and are available in Thailand and Australia (and probably other places). I picked up my packages on eBay from a Bangkok-based seller, so the packages are in Thai.
Mentos new chews Incredible Chew! are more like Morinaga’s HiCHEW than Wrigley’s Starburst. The package are 45 grams and have 11 pieces of the same flavor. They boast no artificial colors, but I can’t say whether the flavorings are naturally derived. I did notice that the ingredients for the Australian version has gelatin in it, but this package and the Aussie version are Halal (so the gelatin is not from pigs). The three initial flavors are Strawberry, Grape and Green Apple.
Mentos Strawberry Incredible Chew! is layered, a white outer layer with a pink center. The flavor also might be layered, though it’s hard to tell. The flavor is less of a jammy strawberry and more like a strawberry yogurt. There’s a creamy note, a sweetness and some floral notes and actually two tangy notes, one is a little bit like goat milk or yogurt and the other tartness is more like citric acid. The effect of this whole thing is only okay. It’s not as vibrant as HiCHEW and it doesn’t have the interesting texture that Mentos have.
The texture is a smooth and bouncy chew, rather like latex. It’s kind of like a chewing gum at first, completely smooth and sweet and flavorful, and then eventually it disappears.
Grape Incredible Chew! comes in a mostly purple wrapper, with big, round purple grapes on it.The pieces are white with a medium purple interior. The flavor is definitely concord and not the American SweeTarts grape. It’s a juicy flavor that has a lot of the notes I associate with actual concord grape skins. It’s a little tangy, mostly sweet with a smooth chew that starts bouncy but stays smooth.
Of the three flavors, this was my favorite. It tasted clean and the flavor lasted through the texture changes as I chewed.
Mentos Green Apple Incredible Chew! wasn’t even a flavor I was interested in, but when I ordered on eBay, half the cost of the initial package was shipping, so throwing in an additional package was purely an efficiency decision. The center is the same light green as the apples on the wrapper. The flavor is a cross between American Jolly Rancher Green Apple and the more subtle Japanese apple flavor. It’s tangy, and has a long chew but it’s also very artificial, especially towards the end when the sweetness that gave it an apple juice note dissipates and it’s just artificial flavor after that.
Overall they’re a decent candy, I just don’t understand why anyone would buy these instead of Morinaga HiCHEW, which are available in far more flavors and have a much better flavor profile in my experience.
Friday, October 2, 2015
This nondescript little bag showed up in the Trader Joe’s new products showcase last week. The simple flat bottomed cellophane bag holds tricolor chocolate morsels called Magic Beans. They’re described as chocolate covered nougat beans.
I’ve come to understand that the word nougat really doesn’t mean much as a description. Here in the United States, depending on the initial inspiration of the confection, nougat can be a hazelnut paste, a nut toffee or a whipped sugar, honey and egg bar. In this case, the nougat is a very dark nut brittle.
These Magic Beans come from France, which also makes some stunning whipped egg nougat as well. So, I can see that some folks might be more confused than bewitched by these.
The beans are about the size of Trader Joe’s chocolate covered almonds, though actually kidney bean shaped. They come in three colors, a mottled white, a mottled green and a stand milk chocolate. The coating is a little bumpy on all of them.
Inside the milk chocolate coating is a nugget of almond toffee, or maybe it’s nut brittle, it’s hard to tell from the ingredients label. (They candies may contain traces of hazelnuts, chestnuts, pistachios and walnuts. They’re made with coconut, almonds, milk, soy and wheat.) The nuts themselves are little bits, not whole nuts, and the sugar crust holding them together is very toasted, almost burnt.
The milk chocolate coating is very milky, it has some decent cocoa notes, but for the most part it’s just creamy and sweet. This is a nice counterpoint to the roasted and slightly bitter note of the crunchy center. They reminded me a little bit of the sesame snaps that I pick up at the health food stores.
If you go into these expecting something more like Nutella bites or Charleston Chews, you’re going to be disappointed. These are quite different from other nutty items, so that unique selling proposition is what got me. They’re not magic, but quite enjoyable.
As a side note, I bought something very similar earlier this year in New York City at Eataly. The food mall has an amazing selection of Italian chocolates and sweets, including one of the largest selections of Venchi I think I’ve ever seen outside of Europe.
This is called Venchi Nougatine and are pretty much the same thing as the Trader Joe’s Magic Beans, except they’re made in Italy and covered in 60% dark chocolate. This package of less than 2 ounces was actually the same price as the Magic Beans (7.2 ounces).
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
In this episode Maria and I host our first guests on the show, the crew from Let’s Talk TJ’s (Nathan, Sonia and Russ, who also run What’s Good at Trader Joe’s). We chat about the wide world of Trader Joe’s house branded candies.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Brach’s has a few new versions of their classic Candy Corn this year, in addition to the return of Apple Pie, Pumpkin Pie and Caramel Macchiatto. The Brach’s Sea Salt Chocolate Candy Corn says it’s made with real honey and comes from the same factory in Mexico that makes all the other Brach’s candy corn.
The image on the front of the bag shows what looks like chocolate truffles coated with far more salt than anyone should be eating. The good news is that it’s just an artistic representation, it’s there’s not that much salt on them and certainly none that’s visible.
Brach’s classic candy corn has 70 mg of sodium per serving of 19 pieces. The Sea Salt Chocolate version has 95 mg of sodium. The ingredients label lists both regular salt and sea salt as ingredients. The sea salt, which is the defining feature that the product leads with is way down at the end of the list after the first salt, after the palm kernel oil, after the natural and artificial colors and some extra dextrose. The only items lower on the list are gelatin, honey and the artificial colors plus sesame oil and soy lecithin.
So, back to that picture on the front of the bag, it took me a little while of eating the pieces in layers to realize that the picture is actually a code for the candy.
The base layer is sweet, though a little less sweet than a standard candy corn fondant. There’s a light cocoa note, like that feeling that you get when you go into the kitchen and realize that someone left a package of hot cocoa mix open. The next layer, the middle one, is pretty much the same, expect I think I caught some fake butter notes. Then the white top layer is not that “bland white tip of the candy corn flavor”, instead it’s actually salty. There are actually little crunchy bits of salt in there.
The whole thing tastes every so slightly less sweet than standard orange and yellow candy corn, but not actually chocolatey. It’s missing the honey notes and the weird butter flavoring really didn’t belong at all.
Of the recent novelty flavors, I think the Caramel Macchiatto was my favorite, but I’d love them to try an espresso or maybe affogato. This one seemed a little too late for the trend and not well executed.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.