Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Today I’ve decided these are a candy, even though they’re not usually placed in the candy aisle. (Some stores keep them with the pretzels & chips, some near the nuts and others in with the candy.)
They’re called Snyder’s of Hanover Peanut Butter Pretzel Sandwich Dips. They say they’re made with real peanut butter (which I assumed by the fact that they’re called peanut butter pretzel sandwiches, but apparently it needed to be pointed out as a feature) and dipped in Hershey’s Milk Chocolate (which I don’t necessarily consider a feature unless the alternative is R.M. Palmer’s or Nestle’s mockolate).
They look like tiny chocolate dipped Oreos. They’re about an inch and a quarter around and nicely domed with a thick layer of milk chocolate.
The pretzels are little wheels with a grid pattern to them. Between two of these tiny pretzels is a bit of peanut butter cream. Then the whole sandwich is dipped in milk chocolate. The pieces are a bit scuffed up from tumbling around in the bag, but all were whole, so they hold up well.
The pretzels are crisp and though tiny, pack a lot of crunch. The peanut butter center isn’t very strong but at least says peanut butter upon introduction. There’s not a lot of peanut butter texture because there’s so much of the sweet milk chocolate coating. The chocolate is okay, it seals the pretzels well, which keeps them fresh, but doesn’t really have much of a chocolate flavor contribution. The texture is creamy and sweet but not too grainy.
Overall the snacks are very munchable, they’re filling but they don’t stick to the ribs like some peanut butter candies can. I found that I could eat lots of them, but I never quite enjoyed them. I wanted more crunch, more salt, more peanut butter and better chocolate. None of these wants kept me from finishing the bag, naturally. I know there are better versions of this product out there, but this would probably do in a pinch. Great for watching a movie or sharing with others during a football game. (Technically, all it needs is a little bit of caramel and some crushed peanuts and this would be the original version of the Take 5 Bar - which now features mockolate.)
Snyder’s makes several versions of the dips. Some are just straight chocolate dipped pretzels in Milk Chocolate and Special Dark. They also, supposedly, introduced a York Peppermint Pattie version earlier this year, but I still haven’t seen them in stores. To be honest, it sounds kind of bad, but I’m still fascinated with the idea of mixing pretzels, salt, minty fondant and dark chocolate.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
One of the new introductions that I saw on the shelves isn’t seasonal. It’s called Trader Joe’s Soft Peanut Brittle. At first I didn’t even know what that meant. Soft peanut brittle? Is it more like toffee, which means more butter than the traditionally less fatty brittle? The package simply says covered in milk chocolate, a flaky, crispy peanutty treat. The image looks like little mini bars of peanut brittle, but it looks like the peanuts are crushed instead of whole. So maybe that’s what makes it soft.
After opening the package and biting into one, I know what this is, and it isn’t “soft peanut brittle.”
They’re like Butterfinger or Clark Bars. Flaky layers of peanut butter crunch. It’s all covered in chocolate and striped with some darker chocolate.
I have nothing against Clark Bars (I love the new ones) but that’s not what I was expecting here.
The milk chocolate coating is a bit scuffed on all of them. The stand up pouch is economical, it holds a half a pound, but the bars aren’t well protected. Each little bar is about an inch and a quarter long and three quarters of an inch wide. It’s one big bite or two small ones.
The crispy layers are soft and have an kind of melt that’s like halva and a bit like cotton candy, with spindly & spiky shards of hard candy infused with the flavor of peanut butter. It’s a little sweet, a little salty and a lot nutty. There’s no molasses in there, which often helps to support the deep roasted flavors of the nuts and the woodsy notes of the chocolate. They’re quite munchable, definitely something I’d like to have while watching a movie.
The price is decent, especially because this version uses no artificial colors or flavors and has a real chocolate coating (unlike Butterfinger or Fifth Avenue). But Clark Bars are now all natural and come in milk or dark chocolate ... so I’m kind of torn. The back of the package suggests using it in desserts, like chopping it up and crumbling it on top of a cake or ice cream. No wrappers makes that infinitely simpler. But no wrappers also encourages endless munching. So just remember, you’ll have to control yourself once you open the bag (which has a zipper top).
The package says that they’re gluten free and Kosher.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
I’ve often made fun of R.M. Palmer as a maker of horrible candy. I do my best though to keep an open mind whenever I approach a candy from them that I’ve never had. Sometimes I’m rewarded.
I picked up their Peppermint Patties since they were on display as a “great value” at RiteAid. It was only $1.00 for a 5 ounce bag of individually wrapped patties. Each little pattie is about 1.5 inches in diameter.
They’re molded instead of enrobed, which is kind of odd. (More like the Russell Stover version I mentioned last week in construction than the Haviland.) The molding has ripples on it to make them look liked they’ve been enrobed, but it’s easy to tell around the edge that they’re made in a mold. (And they look nothing like the image on the package, which I seem to have lost.)
The big difference between these and most other peppermint patties is the coating. This is not chocolate, it’s mockolate. The first ingredient on the list is sugar and the second is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (palm kernel, coconut and/or palm oil). It’s really evident upon biting into them. The coating has a decent melt and the whole thing has a cool and fresh minty scent. The cocoa flavors are just that, plain old cocoa, like I’m eating that paste that you make with water and hot cocoa mix, not actual chocolate. The minty center is creamy and smooth and has a very subtle flavor, almost like peppermint bubble gum instead of a strong breath mint style.
Since there’s more coating than filling, these are very high on the calorie count for a peppermint pattie. York Peppermint Patties are about 115 calories per ounce, which is great for a product that contains real chocolate. These clock in at 152 calories per ounce. For that you can have an actual chocolate truffle (sure, it’ll cost more) and enjoy the real fats instead of this partially hydrogenated artery clogging crud.
They’re not horrible, they’re just not that good. I don’t plan on finishing the bag.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Last week I reviewed the new Haviland Signature Dark Chocolate Thin Mints. As I mentioned then, Haviland makes several other varieties, the Orange and Raspberry. While shopping I also found these Maxfield’s All American Raspberry and Orange Cream Sticks. Since they’re similar prices and similar candies, I thought I’d compare them.
The Haviland are patties and come in a long rectangular box of 21 that weighs 5 ounces. I paid $1.59 for one box and got the second half off. I’m going to hazard that the normal price for Haviland’s is going to be about $1.35. The Maxfield’s are sticks that come in a flat box with 13 sticks and weigh in at 3.15 ounces. I got both boxes for $1 on sale with a coupon. But let’s just say that these are normally about $1.00. So the price per ounce at my “regular” price estimates are 37 cents per ounce for Haviland and 32 cents per ounce for Maxfield’s.
Maxifield’s little book shaped box is just a sleeve. It’s covered in a clear shinkwrapped plastic that seals out moisture. Once that’s off though, the sleeve does a good job of protecting the little tray inside that holds the sticks (because it meets up with the box very well and has wide edges.
The tray holds 13 perfect looking sticks. I wouldn’t say that the flimsy brown tray is great for serving from, except in the most casual company.
I don’t know much about the Maxfield’s All American chocolates. This is the first year I can recall seeing them in stores at Christmas. I saw a lot of boxed chocolates on the shelves most a lower prices than the standard Russell Stover which was in the same aisle. Maxfield’s is based in Utah and is part of Dynamic Confections (which also makes Kencraft candy which creates those fanciful panoramic sugar eggs at Easter).
The Maxfield’s Raspberry Cream Sticks look great. I honestly didn’t expect much for the price and the fact that I hadn’t heard of the company before.
Each is nicely molded, fresh and looked like it just came off of the factory line. Each stick is about 2.75 inches long. They smell lightly of raspberry, like the seedy part of jam or perfume, not so much like the fresh berries.
The chocolate is smoky and pretty mellow, it’s not overly creamy or even sweet. The fondant center is moist and not quite crumbly, it’s softer than a York Peppermint Pattie but on the grainy side like the York. The raspberry flavor is all scent, there’s a light dash of pink food coloring in there.
The flavor was okay, not something I would just sit around eating. They’d be good, I suppose, to add to a plate of cookies or other desserts, but I wouldn’t just eat these without an accompaniment. They’re far too sweet for me without enough of a bonus of texture - the chocolate isn’t good enough and the fondant just lacks an authentic punch.
The Maxfield Orange Cream Sticks were a bit more promising, mostly because I think it’s easier to do a cheap but good orange flavor than it is to pull off rasbperry.
The orange sticks were just as lovely as the raspberry. The orange scent from them was an excellent citrus zest. The fondant was moist and had a gentle chew to it, or I could let it dissolve. The zest wasn’t too strong, not harsh bitter note to it. It overpowered the chocolate completely though, the only thing the chocolate did was give me a break from the throat searing sweetness.
Again, with some very bold coffee or tea, I don’t think I’d mind the sweetness quite as much. Each stick has about 28 calories.
The Haviland patties really do no better in the realm of packaging. The box is nicely designed and the tray certainly does its job of protecting the candy, but I wouldn’t serve from them. It’s also sealed in cellophane.
The patties in my fruity versions were in a little bit better shape than the Peppermint ones I mentioned last week. These had no sign of bloom and even fewer scuffs on the tops from shuffling around in the box. The box boasts that they’re 63% cacao and are all natural.
The Haviland Raspberry Creme Dark Chocolate Thin Mints box shows that the center is pink, but in actuality they were uncolored. That’s fine with me, I could tell them apart by smell alone. The raspberry scent is similar to the Maxfield’s sticks, like a puree that includes the woodsy notes of the seeds.
The patties are beautifully rippled and are about 1.33 inches around. The break is crisp but the filling is slightly flowing and has a little pull to it. The fondant is smooth with a light confectioners sugar sized grain to it The darker chocolate balances out the sweetness. The raspberry flavor is all scent and no tartness or true berry bits. It was a clean flavor and would go best with tea or perhaps some strong hot chocolate. The ingredients mention a touch of peppermint oil, and at first I thought that was a typo, but it’s true, there is a subtle minty finish.
The Haviland Orange Creme Dark Chocolate Thin Mints are strong. Even with my seasonal allergies, I could tell that these were orange. Biting into them it’s even more apparent that they’re too orange. Orange oil can be caustic at high concentrations and I think that may be pretty close here. The zest was overpowering, I got a hint of the chocolate texture and at the very least the change in the sweetness, but the orange oil too over everything else.
Each pattie has about 27 calories.
I like the change up of the standard thin mints or mint stick with these. Fondant is certainly a flexible element for a candy and I certainly support different flavors being combined with dark chocolate. In this case the sticks didn’t have the quality of chocolate that they should have and the fruity thin mints didn’t quite have the same balance of elements that the peppermint version had.
All were good values and in a situation where you just want to have something for folks who aren’t that discerning (perhaps drunk on your spiked wassail or have frostbitten tongues from screaming at a northern bowl game).
Monday, December 20, 2010
I love Peppermint Bark and I’m kind of disappointed that it’s not available year round. There are a lot of different variations on the idea of peppermint bark, but most involves layering different kinds of chocolate (dark or milk with white chocolate) along with a peppermint flavoring and probably crushed peppermint hard candies.
This package holds a cardboard try with six individually wrapped Peppermint Bark Snowmen. I got them for $1.99 but I expect they’re on sale some places.
It’s a two tone mold, the base is dark chocolate and the top layer is white chocolate. The package notes in bold and all caps type on the back that its MADE WITH 100% REAL CHOCOLATE. This is what spurred me to buy it. There are so many minty holiday candies that aren’t made with all cocoa butter these days, like the Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses and even Andes Mints.
I can say that after eating these, it’s so obvious that real cocoa butter is superior to fractionated or partially hydrogenated tropical oils (and though all are high in calories, at least cocoa butter isn’t bad for your heart).
The fact that these “bark” snowmen are molded does ruin the rustic illusion of bark, but I have to say, I’m not really that fond of bark. I’m a believer in integration. If you want to put something in your chocolate bar, put it in there, get it all covered up. Don’t just let it float on top and get knocked off. Commit!
The base layer looks very dark, almost black. The ingredients mention that it’s made with chocolate processed with alkali, which often gives it that almost-black color. The flavor of the chocolate base reminded me of Oreos, it’s a toasted and smoky flavor. The melt is rich and smooth and though the chocolate flavor stands up to the others, it’s not overwhelming or bitter. The white chocolate is smooth and creamy, it has an excellent fresh dairy taste to it, more like butter than dried milk. Then there’s a light touch of peppermint. Though I think there are supposed to be peppermint candies in here, I didn’t get much. I ate three of the snowmen for this review and at first I thought that it was just a variation in the production run. But there were all rather sparse on the candy. This didn’t bother me.
It was like a good quality ice cream. Not too sweet, a good balance of flavors, clean and neat. I liked the portion and the molding was nicely done. I preferred the crispness of the flavors and clean distinction between the layers to the slightly more expensive Dove Peppermint Bark.
I really can’t find much fault with these at all. They’re not the most sophisticated candies in the world, but they were very well done. There are some artificial ingredients in there (there’s some red dye in the hard candy chips) but overall it tastes like a quality product considering the price (about 33 cents each). It would be nice if they can do other variations of the snowman for other holidays - I wouldn’t even mind seeing other flavor variations like strawberry for Valentine’s Day or Orange for Halloween. (I think Mint could return for Easter.)
Russell Stover really seems to shine with their holiday treats. These are easy to afford and stash in stockings or pass around at the office.
Friday, December 17, 2010
I found the Divine Milk Chocolate with Spiced Cookies while in San Francisco last month. It seemed like the perfect place to pick up a limited edition bar for the winter season, as San Francisco always seems to be cold when I’m there.
I usually like the Divine packages; I like the simplicity and flexibility of the icons on the solid color field. The designs are color coded so it’s easy to pick out your favorite on a crowded shelf at the store. This breaks with that tradition and the wrapper sports a shiny red ribbon and bow. Not a pretty hand tied bow, but one of those cheap stick on bows. The design is done with a bit of tromp l’oiel that just ruins it because of the violation of scale.
The bar is made of mostly fair trade ingredients (the chocolate and the sugar) and is all natural though not organic.
The bar is soft, both because the cookies are crumbly and the milk chocolate isn’t quite as crisp as some. The chocolate has a very strong yogurty-dairy flavor to it, a little on the side of cheese even. I’m not keep on this more earthy and grassy flavor of milk chocolate. The chocolate melt is also a bit thick and sticky but very smooth. The cookies are quite good and have a well rounded flavor profile with a hint of ginger, black pepper, a graham cracker base and a hint of salt.
I liked it and eventually finished the bar (with a little help) but I don’t think this is quite for me. It’s a good candy bar that uses fair trade chocolate, but it’s not what I’d consider a good chocolate bar. The spiced cookies are a nice change from crisped rice and plain ginger, but not quite enough for me to wish that they’d make this bar all year round.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
While preparing for Thanksgiving I went to a grocery store near my home that I’d never visited. It’s called Golden Farms and it’s in Glendale which has a huge Armenian population (the third largest community in the world outside of Armenia). Golden Farms caters directly to this group, which makes up more than 25% of the population of the area. They have all sorts of fun things that I enjoy like dried fruits, nuts, interesting produce, fruit preserves and of course candy.
The candy that caught my eye, that I couldn’t wait until my next visit to purchase, was this Fard Cardamom Sugar Plum. I’ve already tried Fard’s Persian Nougat, which I liked quite a bit, so I felt confident about the brand even though the packaging is pretty plain. Fard’s website also calls this candy Abnabat and it comes in Lemon and Ginger varieties as well.
The ingredients are simple: sugar, citric acid and cardamom. Most hard candies also use corn syrup, which is pure glucose while sugar is sucrose. Pure sucrose candies tend to be sweeter, as glucose does not have the same mouth feel or sweetness level as sucrose.
The pieces are beautiful. They’re obviously hand formed, just scored and broken into little domed nuggets. They look like amber with little seeds trapped inside.
After opening the package, I was certain I made the right choice to buy it - it smells just like cardamom pods freshly crushed in a mortal and pestle. I’m a huge fan of cardamom and loved seeing the little seeds in the candy, I put it in a lot of things like chocolate pudding, bread pudding, jam and plain rice. It’s especially good for candy and I’ve always wanted a candy that was just cardamom flavored.
The pieces fit in the mouth well, though the irregular edges were tempting to nibble on to take off the sharpness. The dissolve is smooth and slow with a pleasant pure sugar flavor that’s just lightly toasted, kind of like Barley Sugar. There were no voids, just dense sugar and the seeds. The cardamom flavor is loud and impressive - it’s a nice mix of earthy root notes, eucalyptus and pine resin. The intensity of the flavor varied, depending on how much cardamom was in an actual piece. A few had no seeds, though still plenty of flavor. Others were just chocked full. I’m a cruncher, so candies that had a lot were a little harder for me to eat, because I wanted some cardamom and didn’t mind eating a few seeds. The seeds have a much stronger flavor and can be a little bit slippery. With pieces with a lot of seeds I usually ended up fishing the seeds out of my mouth as the candy dissolved.
The candy is refreshing and is probably great with tea or after a meal. I tended to eat it as a treat while working or just watching TV. This is something that I will probably buy again, especially if I’m going to be traveling and I imagine it will be great for my tummy on boats (cardamom is related to ginger). It’s a little rustic and of course not individually wrapped, so not appropriate for all situations.
It’s marked Kosher (Pareve) so it may also qualify as vegan, but email the company to be sure.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
It’s hard to keep track of what’s new and what’s returning on store shelves for Christmas. I’ve found there aren’t that many new introductions, but there are plenty of tried-and-true favorites back again this year.
I think a lot of candy companies introduced limited editions as a sort of test marketing and found that bringing back fringe favorites on a regular schedule satisfies those who crave the special items but doesn’t detract from their regular product lines.
Here are a few candies that I’ve reviewed in the past and a few new ones I’ve spotted on shelves again this year. Just because something is not on this list doesn’t mean it’s not made this year, just that I haven’t been able to track it down.
• Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses (old review when they were made with real white chocolate)
• Peeps Chocolate Covered Peppermint Trees (Milk & Dark Chocolate)
• Paul Frank Nestle Crunch Bar (can be a greeting card - see above photos)
Mars & Wrigley’s
• Life Savers Tin - holds 7 rolls of three different varieties - comes in Butter Rum, Cherry or 5 Flavor package design
Farley’s & Sathers + Brach’s
• Brach’s Christmas Nougats (Peppermint & Wintergreen - no one has seen Cinnamon on shelves - review)
• Tootsie Roll Candy Cane Pop Drops (review)
• Ribbon Candy (I suspect this is just a repackage of Sevigny’s, as so few companies make this now)
• Swedish Fish (red & green) in bags or theater boxes
Other Items of Interest
• Giant Toblerone Bars
What are you looking forward to most? And what are you having trouble finding this year? What did I leave out?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.