Tuesday, August 19, 2008
I was surprised at readers’ passion for Nips, so I thought I’d try a few more varieties.
I found Nips Caramel and Nips Dulce de Leche at the Rite Aid for only 99 cents (same price as the 99 Cent Only Store, see you don’t have to look far for a bargain).
Though the candy is described as rich & creamy hard candy on the front of the box, I don’t think it quite qualifies as hard since it’s not crunchable. It’s also not a caramel, because it’s not chewable. It’s just a Nip, I guess.
Caramel Nips look pretty similar to Coffee Nips, but just a smidge lighter in color. They have the same ultra smooth texture, light burnt sugar flavors and slow dissolve.
They’re creamy and milky without being cloying or sticky. They fit well in the mouth, too.
It’s taken me a while to retrain myself when eating Nips that they’re not like Werther’s Originals, I can’t crunch them, instead I’d end up cementing my teeth together.
Overall, not quite as good as the Coffee ones, but that’s a personal preference thing, these are still quite tasty and an excellent candy that belongs in everyone’s candy dish. (Except in really humid climates.)
Readers were lamenting that they thought that the Dulce de Leche Nips were possibly discontinued. I was quite happy to see a large inventory of them at Rite Aid, so I’m just guessing that they focus on regions where dulce de leche is a more recognizable. (Large Latino populations - I’m guessing because the packages for both of these are in both English and Spanish.)
I was a little nervous about these, I do remember having the chocolate parfait ones years ago and not caring much for the grainy and flavorless filling (but that could have been a bad or old batch). There’s no real description on the box either, just the banner that says dulce de leche (which means milk candy and is usually made from sweetened condensed milk boiled slowly to caramelize both the sugar and the milk sugars and served either as a sauce or fudge).
In this case it’s a shell like the Caramel Nip but inside is a layer of a sort of creme like the filling of an Oreo, a little grainy, sweet and chalky.
The overall flavor here is not really caramelized milk to me, instead it’s maple or pecan. It’s woodsy and sweet and nice, but doesn’t really enter into the dulce de leche zone for me. So if they’re looking for a way to make these appealing to other regions, maybe in New England they’d call it Country Maple and in the South they’d call it Toasted Pecan.
The cream made the candy disappear much faster, which wasn’t as fun either. They weren’t as consistent, some had a little cream sticking out of the sides. I’ll stick with the solid ones.
The other flavors still out there: Butter Rum, Chocolate Parfait, Peanut Butter Parfait and Mocha.
Monday, August 18, 2008
They’ve gathered up the best beans from the ends of the earth: Venezuela, Trinidad and Madagascar. The bar is 72% cacao and comes only in the 3 ounce tall tablet bar. As part of the celebration the package says that they will donation a portion of the bar’s proceeds to un-named “cacao non-profit organizations.”
I’ve always enjoyed Scharffen Berger’s packaging and design aesthetic. The package has a lightly striped paper outer wrap with a pleasing muted purple cacao pod design. Inside the paper wrap is a nice, heavy foil that makes it easy to save some of the bar for later.
A lot has happened for Scharffen Berger in the past 10 years. They’ve gone from a tiny facility in South San Francisco to their present factory in Emeryville (near Berkeley) and another plant in Northern California (anyone has toured the plant in the East Bay realizes they can’t possibly make it all there). Further, back in 2005 Hershey’s bought Scharffen Berger as part of their Artisan Confections line (which now includes Dagoba and Joseph Schmidt).
The bar has a wonderful reddish tone to the nicely tempered brown chocolate. It has a very rich and dark scent: raisins, olives, coffee, charcoal, cardamom and limes.
The melt is quite nice, creamy and smooth with a rather strong dryness to it without being chalky.
The flavors are intense and riotous. I was catching lavender, citrus, raisins and an overwhelming tanginess to it that I find in all Scharffen Berger chocolate. Though it’s a 72%, I find it rather sweet at the front and with a long and lingering mid-tone bitterness towards the end.
I know that I’m more sensitive to strong sour and bitter things than some other folks, so your mileage may vary. I didn’t find them unpleasant, but quite pronounced, so it’s a major part of the experience of this bar.
It was by far a more satisfying dark bar for me than the usual Scharffen Berger dark (there’s a reason the only thing I really eat from them is the Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs), but still an extreme bar and a nice way to celebrate their success.
Friday, August 15, 2008
On my continuing quest to try off brands of confections to see if saving a little money means sacrificing taste, I came upon this bar at the Walgreen’s, mixed in with the other upscale chocolate bars: Regal Dynasty European Chocolate. This bar was called simply Dark Chocolate. For $1.29 and clocking in at 6.3 ounces, I was more than curious how well it could compare.
The packaging is less than exciting, in fact it looks dated, like some sort packet of cheap stationery from the Office Max circa 1993. The paper is rather flimsy and the foil wrapper inside is similarly thin, though both seem to do their job of protecting the bar well enough. So I can look past that (especially since I’ve had some very expensive bars that I don’t think have very attractive or useful packaging).
The ingredients however are a big old red flag: sugar, cocoa mass, vegetable fat, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, flavor. It states that the cocoa solids are a minimum of 45%. But it never says what those vegetable fats are or if that flavor is natural.
The bar is lovely. It’s well molded and has a crisp snap.
It has a sweet and slightly cinnamon & cereal smell to it. It has a difficult melt though, but as it does soften, it is very sweet but at least not chalky or gritty. But it’s cool on the tongue, which usually means substitute fats or substitute sugars and always makes me a bit uneasy.
The chocolate notes aren’t deep or complex or satisfying. I would probably find this passable in a chocolate croissant, but standing alone as a piece of confection, it tastes watery and empty of nuance.
The simple fact is that it’s not chocolate. I’d hazard that since the vegetable fats come before the cocoa butter on the ingredients list that it wouldn’t even qualify under the laxer rules in Europe that allow veggie fats up to 5%. No, this is a plain old false label. It’s not chocolate. Not even close. But in an odd twist, it doesn’t have any dairy fats so can be considered vegan!
Even though I liked it a bit more than the Carlos V Chocolate Style Bar and it was cheaper, I can’t get past the fact that its downright false label.
Hopefully it will make passable brownies (which is what happens to many of the bars that I can’t bring myself to eat). Oddly enough, I can see myself buying this again though if I need a really nice looking, generic chocolate bar for a photo shoot. But if you’re looking for something you can actually eat that doesn’t cost too much, wait for a sale on something you know you like or just settle for a smaller package.
UPDATE November 3, 2009: Walgreen’s is discontinuing this bar. In it’s place you can buy an even more dreadful bar from R.M. Palmer called 2 Buck Choc, which has awful and unappealing graphics on the wrapper and of course doesn’t taste nearly as good as this (which I didn’t like but at least give it credit).
Thursday, August 14, 2008
The box is busy and a little confusing. When I hear term fruit snacks, I usually expect some sort of fruit puree candy, like a fruit leather or fruit roll up. But these go on to say that they have a Juicy Center made with Real Fruit Juice & 100% Vitamin C.
The first ingredient actually is fruit juice from concentrate (apple, cherry, grape, lemon) followed by corn syrup, sucrose and gelatin ... then some ascorbic acid and artificial colors later on the list. So really, they’re gummis made with real fruit juice. Which is cool, I love really intensely flavored gummi.
The little packages also say that they’re only 80 calories. Pretty easy really, considering they’re only .9 ounces and have no fat.
Each packet has seven pieces of candy in it. In my experience opening three of the packages, all were heavy on the green and each had only one. Lemonhead has a lot of friends! (And to be fair, the lemonhead on the box is singular and friends is plural.)
Each piece is both colored and shaped like the fruit it’s supposed to taste like:
Purple = Grape - though they may have put real grape juice in there, this tastes like Kool-Aid or grape soda. Tangy, sweet and completely artificial. Not that it’s a bad thing, pretty much like the old Alexander the Grape.
Green = Apple - as the most common one in my assortments, I tried more of these than any other. The apple flavor as really pleasant, kind of like a granny smith. The chew of the gummi part is kind of short and less bouncy than some other gummi, but the flavor center is similarly flavorful and less like a sugar goo.
Red = Cherry - he looked kind of like a pumpkin to me, except for the color. The flavor is pretty tangy cherry, very artificial and rather unpleasant for me.
Yellow = Lemon - nicely rounded, it has a lot of zest to it, a nice soft chew and a mellow tangy component.
As a comparison, I tried some Starburst Gummibursts again and found the Ferrara Pan to be moister plus far deeper and more intensely flavored. But of course the flavor assortment is different (cherry and lemon being the only ones in common).
My big beef here is that there’s no orange. Maybe Orangehead and Lemohead aren’t friends any longer. I also wanted more Lemonheads, because they’re my favorite.
As a healthy snack, well, they’re portion controlled and the worst damage you can do is eat the whole box which’d be 480 calories and of course be stocked up with enough vitamin C to last the week (well, if you were able to store Vitamin C for a week in your body ... a better way is to store it in these little candies and portion them out over a longer period of time). There’s nothing else redeeming about them, so I’m happy calling them candy. Really inexpensive candy.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
When I was a teenager I discovered Pearson Coffee Nips. Like my other favorite at the time, Andes Mints, they represented a sophisticated taste in an easy to share individually wrapped portion. I’d buy them by the box, usually for about a dollar and they’d last forever.
I wasn’t quite developed enough at the time to drink coffee straight, about all I could stand was coffee floats (hot coffee with vanilla ice cream in it) but I loved the taste of the stuff.
That’s what attracted me to Coffee Nips. They combine the rich coffee taste with a creamy texture and a long lasting hard candy experience. And they were pretty inexpensive.
Pearson Coffee Nips were known simply as Pearson Nips when they were introduced over 70 years ago. But now they’re made in a wide variety of flavors (and some even have flavored goo centers). The Pearson line of Nips was sold to Nestle back in 1989 and looking closely on the package, they’re not even called Pearson any longer.
Even though they’ve changed hands, they’re the same as they ever were. A lump of hard caramel, made from a combination of sugar, corn syrups and milk products and a few tropical oils ... boiled down with some real coffee to become a slow dissolving bit of concentrated coffee. It’s almost a toffee, but more of a hard caramel.
They’re smooth and creamy and not too sweet (though far sweeter than I like my liquid coffee). They’re impossible to chew, which makes them last a long time (though I caution you to not try to chew them as they will cement your teeth together).
They’re an excellent summer candy because they travel well but provide a rich creamy experience and mimic a hot drink that many of us eschew on hot days. (Okay, I only eschew hot coffee in the middle of the day, I pretty much always drink hot coffee in the morning.)
Refreshing. Classic. I’ve never tried the other flavors which include Butter Rum, Caramel, Chocolate Parfait, Dulce de Leche, Mocha and Peanut Butter Parfait. The coffee suits me just fine.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.