Monday, June 30, 2008
The Nestle Crunch was introduced in 1938, invented in Nestle’s Fulton, New York factory. The bar combines milk chocolate with crisped rice, which adds a crunch as well as a malted barley flavor to it.
When I was a kid I was a Krackel girl. I don’t know if I preferred the crisped rice and Hershey’s chocolate combination, the color red or simply couldn’t find the Nestle Crunch bar as often.
Later when I moved to the west coast Krackels became pretty much impossible to find, so I sometimes picked up the Nestle Crunch bar.
But then something happened, I’m not sure when, perhaps ten years ago ... the bars were utterly inedible. Bland, tastesless, waxy and too sweet. The crisped rice became less rice shaped and more like little spheres. So I stopped buying those, too. The last time I had a proper Nestle Crunch was about two years ago when I was photographing a bunch of candy bars and I was so underwhelmed I didn’t even bother to finish the bar.
Then in late 2005 or early 2006 the Krackel disappeared and besides the fringe budget candy companies or a sack of Hershey’s Miniatures, Nestle Crunch became the only crisped rice and chocolate combination bar. It is still in the top ten candy bar list, year after year, though it’s been consistently losing traction against the other top brands.
So I was quite happy to see that Nestle may have improved the bar, or perhaps just restored it to its former glory.
Since the new formula just came out, I was able to grab both the old and new versions for a head to head test.
The bars look the same, the molding is identical, the ingredients are even identical.
It tastes sweet, but kind of empty. There’s no real chocolate punch, just a hint of it. The crisped rice is great. It’s well dispersed, crunchy and has a slight hint of salt. But it’s not enough to carry the bland chocolate or overcome the lack of creamy texture.
While the bar is attractive with the big words CRUNCH molded into it, I prefer the old bar which was segmented (and I believe slightly thicker to accomodate stacks of crunchies). This can still be simulated with the snack sized bars.
This flipped over bar shows the size of the crunchies. (As a comparison, this bar shows what the old Krackel looked like.)
It smells about the same, maybe a little maltier, but I had to allow for the fact that the new bar was, well, newer, so freshness could account for some of the differences.
The texture of the chocolate did actually seem creamier, not quite as sweet and just a bit more chocolatey.
Still, it’s not a great bar, it could be, but Nestle needs to use their premium chocolate that they’re so well known for in Europe to make it outstanding. It’s better but not enough to get me to start buying it, but I’ll certainly take it when offered.
Friday, June 27, 2008
You know what I love about Twizzlers? They call their licorice Twizzlers Licorice Twists. They don’t categorize it as a black licorice, which distinguishes it from the sad fruity red imitator. No, they just recognize that the word licorice is enough (and well, seeing the black twists in the package) to accurately describe this.
Twizzlers may not be innovative as a licorice twist product, but they’ve certainly been around for a while. Introduced in 1929, the Young & Smylie company was already around since 1849 making licorice flavored confections. Even as early as the 50s, licorice was considered a low-calorie alternative to other sugary treats. (Only about 30 calories per twist.)
Even if Twizzlers understands the classic appeal of licorice, it’s not that easy to find. I can find the Twizzlers Strawberry Twists in vending machines and convenience stores in a variety of sizes, including the bar of pull-apart twists. But the black stuff is hard to come by.
The twists are exceptionally shiny. They’re pliable, kind of like the plastic coating on copper wires, except of course that these bounce back.
The bite is pretty easy, and though they’re soft, they’re really not that easy to chew. They seem to get firmer as I tried to chew them up.
The flavor is only moderately licorice-y. It’s mellow and a bit woodsy, but lacks either a molasses & mineral complexity or even a pop of licorice or anise that lingers after swallowing. It also leaves a filmy bit of stuff stuck to my molars.
As drug store licorice goes, this is probably one of the least appealing I’ve had. I thought maybe I didn’t like it fresh, so I left the open bag out for a couple of days by a fan. It didn’t even get stale and it didn’t get better. It’s not horrible and I know it has its fans, but I’ve had this package for months and have actually had cravings for licorice but haven’t eaten it.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
On my way to San Francisco back in April I took a little detour off of 101 North in San Luis Obispo to gather some little organic and fair trade goodies from Sweet Earth Chocolates. They’re sold on the web and at Splash Cafe, which shares space with Sweet Earth’s confectionery kitchen. The two display cases at the cafe were well organized and kept the chocolate at a consistent temperature. (A little cold for immediate indulgence but perfect for storage.)
What attracted me to them is that they make candy not just fine chocolates. My curiosity was mostly about these candy cups that they feature on their website.
The little cups are about 1.25” at the base and 1.5” at the top. They weigh about .8 ounces with the wrapper on. (Bigger than the standard Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis.)
Turtle Cluster (the bronze wrapper - pictured unwrapped in the center)
This is the only milk chocolate cup in the bunch (they have other cups, but they have walnuts in them).
The one has a flowing caramel center with crisped rice in the milk chocolate.
The caramel is sweet but a little salty and rather buttery tasting. It’s a good consistency, not too much like syrup, though not chewy.
The whole thing was rather sweet and not creamy enough for me, but I have to say that the texture combo was great and really filled any craving I had for a fair trade & organic candy.
Dark Chocolate. It’s a solid cup with a little decorative flourish of a piece of candied ginger and a dried cranberry on top.
The chocolate is sweet and just a bit grainy from the inclusion of the crystallized ginger. It has a light spicy bite to it. I felt there was more ginger to it than cranberry. In the bites where it was just one of the other, it was fine too.
It was a tasty little piece, and interesting change from barks because it’s so chunky and the inclusions stay moist & chewy.
Both of the cups that I ate were absolutely gorgeous. The chocolate was shiny and the little flakes of coconut on top told me what was inside.
It smelled only slightly of woodsy, tropical coconut (not like suntan lotion).
The fondant center was both sugary and coconutty. It wasn’t as soft and chewy as a Mounds bar. It was a bit firmer, but not at all gritty. A bit cool on the tongue, it was like a cake of confectioners sugar and coconut bits.
There was a lot of chocolate to it, which kept it from being too sweet, but also drowned out the coconutiness a bit. So consider this a more subtle coconut candy than Bounty or Mounds.
Dark chocolate. This cup has a natural fondant (not bright white) with a light touch of peppermint. The overall effect is fresh and balances well with the semi-sweet chocolate.
There’s a lot of chocolate on top, maybe more than I’m used to as proportions go with these sorts of things, so don’t think of it as a peppermint pattie.
I liked this one a lot, I know it’s not a hard thing to do well, but they did it.
This was probably the most irregular looking of all the cups. The lumpy top hinted at large almond pieces below.
Not only is it loaded with them, they’re not just roasted ... they’re caramelized. Each almond bit has a bit or a crunchy sugar shell and then the chocolate around it.
Crunchy, much less sweet than the others and entirely satisfying.
I also tried a vegan turtle while I was there, made with coconut oil instead of butter. It wasn’t quite a “caramel” in my book as the coconut flavor was detectable ... but it was still very tasty and felt like a no-compromise treat for anyone avoiding dairy. Unfortunately they were out of their peanut butter cups (and they do have a vegan dark chocolate version).
I’m hoping that these candy cups will show up at more cafes and as impulse items at natural stores (heck, any kind of store). With a retail price of about a dollar (they’re much less when you buy a whole box though.), it’s more than most of us spend on a candy bar, but as a fair trade and organic product, this doesn’t have the feel of a charity compromise. All of the dark chocolate offerings are also Vegan. You can buy online (they even do wedding favors) and their website has an up-to-date list of where they’re sold in stores.
UPDATE: Sweet Earth Chocolate changed their name to Mama Ganache.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
As the temps are climbing here in Southern California, I need to eat up all my chocolate before it melts. So instead rolling these little goodies out one at a time, here’s a few bites in brief:
I picked up these cute little cubes at Lucca, an Italian deli/grocer in San Francisco a couple of months ago. The graphic design of the little wrappers with bold FIAT logo and variations was just irresistible. They’re made by Pasticceria Majani, founded in 1796 and one of the first confectioners to make actual solid chocolate in Europe. The Fiat line of chocolates were introduced in 1911 and actually named in honor of the Italian car.
They’re all layered. They’re a little shy of one inch on the longest side and about 3/4 of an inch tall and wide (so they’re not quite cubes).
FIAT Classico: two medium layers alternate with two light colored hazelnut paste layers. It’s extremely sweet, very hazelnutty. But really too sweet that it burns my throat. The only way to cut this is with a strong cup of coffee or espresso (which may be the way they’re intended to be eaten). I didn’t finish my second one.
FIAT NOIR: this is the one shown here, it’s a dark chocolate layer with a thick medium gianduia center. Even the dark chocolate layer is a hazelnut infused chocolate, but it’s the center that’s packed with a hazelnut punch. The combo is spot on perfect. A little difference in the texture, a little difference in the sweetness and nuttiness and a perfect bite.
FIAT CAFFE: the caffe looks a lot like the Noir, but has a darker center than the top and bottom layers. It’s sweet though, and has a light coffee flavor and a slight bitter tang. What sets this one apart from the other two is that it has almonds in it as well as hazelnuts. At first I thought it was too sweet, but once the bitterness and a dry finish kicks in, I came to appreciate it more, just as I did with unsweetened coffee as a teenager.
I give the line an 8 out of 10.
If I thought the Fiat cubes were a good deal, I guess I didn’t realize what a value my Caffarel find was.
I got these little Caffarel foil hazelnut flower buds at Chocolate Covered in San Francisco. The little package had five pieces for four dollars ... so eighty cents each (and Jack, who runs the store, also gave me one to eat while I was there).
I love Caffarel’s little bites, no matter what shape they are. These are rather small, they’re obvious built in halves and mushed together to create the three dimensional bud, I kind of like pulling them apart with my teeth.
The milk chocolate shell is sweet and milky. The center is creamy and thick, a little fudgy and has tiny crushed hazelnut bits. It’s super smooth otherwise and slightly cool on the tongue. If you’re a fan of Perugina Baci, consider these a tiny milk chocolate version.
They’re just so adorable. I don’t know where to find them for sure, but if you’re a hazelnut fan scoop a few up.
Rating: 9 out of 10
What clued me in that this was a hazelnut bar (since it’s not obvious) was that it was called a Smooth and intense MILK chocolate confection which is a coded way of saying, “there’s something else in this bar.”
The hazelnut paste is pretty far down on the list of ingredients, after the major chocolate ingredients and whey & milkfat but before the soy lecithin.
Like the dark bars I tried last week, the bar is big and thin, with the logo elephant on each segment.
It smells a little malty and very milky. It’s a softer bite than the dark bars (as is usually the case with milk chocolate). The bar has a smooth but fudgy consistency. The hazelnut flavors aren’t readily apparent, but there are some nice smoky and toasted notes to the bar.
It’s not too sweet, has a dash of malt and even a little burnt sugar bitterness to it that I find appealing. I can’t see myself buying one of these (I rarely buy milk chocolate unless it’s for a review) but knowing that Cote d’Or does a very mellow milk does intrigue me ... I may find myself experimenting with more of their product line.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
With a smidge of fanfare last month, M&Ms/Mars introduced their new M&Ms Premiums line. The inaugural product launch includes five flavor variations that are a delightful chocolate gem with a colorful outside and a rich scrumptious inside.
These are not to be confused with the Special Edition offerings M&Ms had last year which featured such combinations as Cherry Almondine, Vanilla Crisp, Orange Creme and a few others I can’t remember. Those sold for $6.00 in a bag that held less than 6 ounces. (That bag was also unremarkable, similar to packaging for the regular M&Ms.)
Instead the new Premiums have radically different packaging, jewel tone boxes and most of all, a new type of colored coating in iridescent and speckled shading.
The packages are narrow and tall, with curved waists. They look rather modern, but more like they have some sort of grooming product in them or perhaps even feminine hygiene products. (All joking aside, it’s rather cute how the boxes have little feet at the back that keep them standing up.)
The flavor variety is at once classic and adventurous. They use white, milk and dark chocolate in the line, often in combination with a layered effect and the only nut present in their initial offerings is the almond.
But the radical departure here for M&Ms is the loss of the crisp, candy shell. Instead these morsels have no sugar shell. They have a wash of mottled colors and then a confectionery glaze to seal it all in and give it a shine.
As comparison I picked up some regular M&Ms to contrast this. The standard Milk Chocolate M&M has a clearly delineated shell, created by coating the tumbling lentil several times with the sugar syrup which dries in layers and builds up the familiar crunch.
So what is this new covering? It can’t be described as a shell, instead it’s more like a skin. It’s made from colorings, a little dash of oil and confectionery glaze (which contains shellac, a natural product but probably not vegetarian) - so it’s rather like a coat of latex paint. It’s not exactly flavored, but dissolves quickly, but into rather unappealing waxy flakes.
Chocolate Almond M&Ms Premiums
This cobalt blue and dark blue speckled egg shaped candies are milk chocolate around an almond.
They’re really not that different from the M&Ms Almond or if the shell thing is a bother, then compare them to the Dove Chocolate Covered Almonds, because other than the coloring, that’s exactly what they are.
It’s milk chocolate and to be honest, I would have preferred dark, but I have to review what’s in front of me.
The almonds are rather puny, some are smaller than peanuts. But they’re fresh and the milk chocolate is sweet and consistent and the right proportion. I can do better for the price. (Trader Joe’s.)
Raspberry Almond M&Ms Premiums
If I was disappointed with the classic milk chocolate covered almond, I should have kept my mouth shut. Because the twist on that is the over-engineered and under-tasty combination of raspberry flavored white chocolate over almonds covered in dark chocolate.
They smell like lipgloss and look like fake fingernails.
The texture is quite smooth and creamy, the white and dark chocolate a velvety. The almonds are fresh and crunchy, but the raspberry flavor just goes and spoils it all. It’s that fragrant raspberry essence - all flash and no real depth. I had a bunch of these mixed together in a bowl and they just polluted all the other ones. (That’s a tip if you were planning on using these for an event ... do not mix the raspberry.)
Mocha M&Ms Premiums
This amber and bronze little beads are a milk chocolate base lightly flavored with coffee.
The milk chocolate is moderately smooth, a bit milky and tastes rather like a mocha with a light fudgy grain to it. They’re even slightly bitter.
I’ve always wanted coffee M&Ms. These are pretty good. Pretty pricey and probably much harder to find but a nice change of pace from plain chocolate.
Triple Chocolate M&Ms Premiums
This is where things get exciting for this new line.
The triple chocolate is not triple the size of the others, instead if offers the three different kinds of chocolate: milk, white an dark.
The dark outer layer is buttery smooth, only a slight bitter tinge. It’s pretty thin and gives way to the slightly salty and very sweet white coating. Then the center is the milk chocolate. Kind of typical milk, a little more on the dairy side that I recall regular M&Ms tasting.
I liked chewing them up, but they’re fun to let melt through the layers.
Mint Chocolate M&Ms Premiums
As a twist on the ordinary minted chocolate M&Ms that are available around the holidays, the Mint Chocolate Premiums have layers as well.
Here the center is white chocolate (and it’s real white chocolate with actual cocoa butter) and then a thinner dark chocolate coating, all in the crazy mottled green.
They’re fresh tasting, smooth and really enjoyable.
I have to say that after I got over the no-shell shock, I really liked the Mocha and Mint (and the Triple Chocolate were also nice). The pricing is far better than I expected for a product called Premiums. I picked up this set at Target for $3.99 per package. They’re six ounces inside a little reclosable cellophane pouch. They’re far less expensive than the 7 ounce packages of single color M&Ms that are sold on the M&Ms website for $7.99 a package.
These are likely to be popular with brides and other folks planning large parties. I can only hope that M&Ms will provide more efficient packaging for that purpose.
M&Ms are by no means the first to create this sort of product. Koppers Chocolates has been selling jewel-toned chocolate covered almonds (and these are huge almonds) for at least 18 months and little flavored unshelled chocolates called Savouries (I tried the cayenne one here) for years. Koppers has also been making Mocha Lentils & Mint Lentils at least since I was a kid. Madelaine’s Chocolate has also been marketing jewel looking Malted Milk Balls for a couple of years.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.