Friday, December 30, 2011
I’ve been having a ridiculous time with these Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. They’re not new, I believe they’ve been around for a few years in the tubs. But for some reason the masterminds of impulse purchases at Trader Joe’s headquarters decided to change the packaging.
For the past two months these little 3.5 ounce bags of the peanut butter cups have been priced at 99 cents and featured in barrels by the registers in all the Trader Joe’s I’ve been in. It’s hard to resist the sub-buck price for something that’s such a good value. About half the price of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup per ounce.
Not only have I fallen prey, so has everyone else in my office. So once my little supply (I’ll buy two or three bags and put them in a jar on my desk) has dwindled, someone else will come by and plop another bag on my desk to replenish.
Inside the simple packet are eight miniature sized dark chocolate peanut butter cups in foil. Each weighs about 12 grams (.42 ounces) and has 60 calories. The ingredients are decent, no partially hydrogenated fats in there. But there are milk products (milk fat in the chocolate and lactose in the peanut butter filling) so it’s not vegan and no good for those with dairy sensitivities.
The cups are classic, they come in little fluted paper cups and pull away easily from the candy. While some peanut butter cups will have leakage issues around the sides, the peanut butter was always completely enveloped in chocolate with every one I ate.
The chocolate is semi sweet (50% cacao), not terribly dark but still with a strong bitter note to it. It’s smooth and rather fatty, so it stands up well to the fats of the peanut butter center.
The peanut butter center is rather sweet and a bit on the fudgy side. It’s smoother than most, but not silken or whipped. It’s sweet but nutty, the roasting gives the peanuts a bit of a bitter and woodsy note to them that stands up to the dark chocolate. The peanut density though is a little thin, it was more like I was eating a peanut butter frosting than actual peanut butter. There’s a hint of salt in there. They’re Kosher but may contain traces of tree nuts, eggs and wheat (so they’re not gluten free).
It’s a good iteration of the peanut butter cup, though not my favorite treatment for the peanut butter center. I can’t argue with the price or the portioning. I don’t know if I’m going to pick them up in the big tub, even though it’s probably a better price per ounce, but I’ve got to hand it to Trader Joe’s for their inspired stealth marketing on this one.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
While cruising around for Christmas candy at the grocery store after a dentist appointment I spotted these Norfolk Manor Crunchy Nuggets. They’re British, I know this because there’s a Union Jack flag on the front of the box. (Which leads me to believe that this is not a product or brand that’s actually sold in England.)
The candy is similar to the Cadbury Crunchie or Violet Crumble bars, a chocolate covered nugget of sponge candy. I can find sponge candy at local candy shops that make their own candy, like Littlejohn Toffee, but they usually do big hunks of the stuff covered in either milk or dark chocolate. The appeal with this product is that they’re just little nuggets in various shapes and sizes, easy to grab by the handful and snack on.
The box says that they’re Milk Chocolate Covered Honeycomb Pieces but in reality the coating does not actually meet the American standard for chocolate, as there is whey in there (considered a substandard filler). So, it’s actually mislabeled.
Inside the rather large box is a much smaller packet of candy. I’d say that this is also misleading, there’s no need and no expected settling for this much candy, which took up about half of the volume of the box. Even if the cellophane pouch that held the candy was completely full, it wouldn’t have filled more than 2/3 of the volume.
The nuggets are cute and appealing. They’re shiny and well coated. None of them were left with little bald spots, which with sponge candy can allow moisture to deflate them.
The honeycomb or sponge candy texture was not as foamy or flavorful as I’d hoped. It was more like Violet Crumble’s dense texture than the Cadbury Crunchy’s pumice type of foam. The flavor of burnt and toasted sugar was missing for the most part, which is too bad because the mediocre, fudgy and milky chocolate-style coating isn’t good enough to make up for it.
I’d find these passable in a mix of other better candies, like some plain nuts, pretzels and chocolate covered nuts. The texture is definitely good but lacks the best qualities of sponge candy and actual good milk chocolate.
I’ve had the package for over month and only managed to finish them up while playing video games after Christmas. (Which is to say, mindless eating.) My opinion of Norfolk Manor isn’t very high after tasting their knock-offs of other iconic British standards like Wine Gums and Jelly Babies.
The package says that it’s made in a plant that processes peanuts and tree nuts. Contains soy and dairy. But it’s gluten free.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
You may notice a lot more about German candies on the blog in the coming weeks. I went there for a week of candy factory tours earlier this month and have lots of fascinating adventures to share. (I’ll try to focus on candies you can either get in the United States or are worth seeking out.)
Ritter-Sport is a large German chocolate brand with a unique selling proposition, its chocolate bars are square. Their standard 100 gram (3.5 ounce) bar comes in 23 varieties with another 3-9 promotional and seasonal variations throughout the year. In the United States there are about six core varieties on shelves, but some stores like Target will sell about eight. Even in Germany, I still only found about 14-16 of the versions at the stores (which included the Bio and Winter Kreation varieties). The best place in Germany to find everything Ritter Sport sells, naturally, is at their factory store.
The Ritter family started making chocolate in 1912, but didn’t introduce the Ritter Sport square bars until 1930. They’re becoming better known around the world as 35% of their total sales (over 20,000 tons of the 60,000 they produce) are now for export. (Russia is their number one customer, then Italy, then the United States.) The quality for a consumer bar (sold for less than one Euro) is excellent and the company prides itself on its innovation, ethical sourcing of their raw materials and quality of their products.
For the past two seasons in the United States I’ve actually been able to find the Ritter Sport Winter Kreations in stores. (Mel and Rose Wine and Liquors and a really good 76 gas station in Glendale on Glendale Blvd & Glen Oaks.) Last year the Winter Kreations limited edition set was Orangen-Marzipan (orange marzipan), Nuss in Nougatcreme (hazelnuts in gianduia) and Vanillekipferl (vanilla cookie cream). This year the Nougatcreme did not return but was replaced by Gebrannte Mandel (burnt sugar almonds).
The Ritter Sport Orangen-Marzipan bar is pretty special. When I got to Germany back in February of this year, this was one of the first bars I sought out and bought. After eating some of it, I bought the little assortment above plus an additional full size bar. Then when I was there earlier this month, I again bought a full size bar, since I think it’s the right proportion of chocolate and marzipan.
The bar is a little different from the classic Ritter Sport Marzipan bar in that it has a milk chocolate shell (sorry, it’s not vegan). It smells like fresh orange juice, almost like an orangesicle, actually, because of the sweet and milky chocolate. The chocolate is quite sweet and so is the marzipan center, but it all works swimmingly together. The orange flavors are both juicy and zesty, without being bitter. The marzipan is moist and sticks together like a cookie dough instead of being dry and crumbly. There’s a light hint of amaretto to it as well.
It’s terribly sweet, which is usually a turn off for me, but I enjoyed the decadent sticky quality, probably because it’s cold out and I usually want more sugar when I’m chilly.
I do wish that it was the dark chocolate shell though, but since this is the only other marzipan bar that they make regularly, I can understand wanting to hit the milk/marzipan market at least seasonally.
I don’t think I would have appreciated this flavor in the same way without my visits to the Christmas Markets in various cities. The Gebrannte Mandel stalls were ubiquitous (photo), sealing this confection as a definite seasonal fixture. It only makes sense that Ritter Sport would create a Winter Kreation that includes some toasted almonds with a caramelized sugar coating.
The base of the Ritter Sport Gebrannte Mandel is milk chocolate. Ritter Sport makes eleven different chocolate bases for its different bars, including several varieties of milk chocolate. This version has a cacao content of 30%, so a richer milk chocolate than most American consumer brands.
The bar is light in color, silky and smells much like the stalls at the Christmas Market, like toasted nuts and sugar. The nuts in this case are crushed (I’m not sure they’d fit well in the bar otherwise and might end up a little too crunchy). It’s sweet and the sugar coating on the nuts gives it more of a grainy crunch, but also adds more toasted flavor. There might be a hint of cinnamon in there as well.
Ritter Sport Vanillekipferl is based on the classic Austrian cookie called the Vanillekipferl or vanilla crescent. They’re rather like a Russian Teacake or shortbread cookie with nutmeal in it. (There are no eggs in the traditional recipe.)
The bar is like many of Ritter Sport’s, a milk chocolate shell with a cream filling. In this case the cream filling was slightly sandy with a very sweet vanilla flavor. I can’t say that I got much of the shortbread or nutty qualities out of it. It was decent, but not really different enough from Ritter Sport’s non-seasonal offerings.
The Ritter Sport Nuss in Nougatcreme was a 2010 flavor and was nicely done. It was a milk chocolate bar with a milky hazelnut paste center with a bit of a crunchy, crushed nuts. I didn’t think much of it one way or the other. Again, like the Vanillekipferl, it wasn’t that different from the regular nougatcreme bar.
All of the above bars, oddly enough, I bought at the grocery stores (Rewe and Aldi for the bars in February and Kaufhof for the most recent marzipan and candied almonds). Our tour group visited the Ritter Sport factory campus on our last full day in Germany on our way to Stuttgart. The factory is in the small town of Waldenbuch, which has less than 10,000. But it’s about a half an hour outside of Stuttgart (which has about 600,000 people and over 5 million in the metro area) which is the center of Germany’s auto industry.
The Ritter family created a museum on the factory campus. Not just a chocolate museum that shows how cocoa is grown, harvested and processed into chocolate, there’s actually an art museum there. The building houses four areas: an interactive chocolate museum (upstairs to the right), a cafe (in the back left), a factory store for chocolate (on the lower right) and the front half to the left is the art museum.
The exhibit while I was there fits well with the aesthetic of the square chocolate bars. They were selections from the Marli Hoppe-Ritter Collection in a variety of media. Most were paintings but a few sculptures as well.
All of the pieces had geometric elements and either bold use of color (in primary and secondary palettes) and rarely representational.
The space isn’t large, but is well laid out in four areas with tall ceilings and awash in light.
The Ritter Sport Factory Store is exactly what I want from a factory store. First, the prices are excellent. They are below the standard price for the bars (except for what you may find on sale) and they carry everything. There were no varieties or shapes that they make that I could not find on the shelves. The standard price for all 100 gram bars was .69 Euro (about 90 cents US). They were all fresh and in pristine condition and a pleasure to browse.
In the back corner was the spot that I love factory stores for. It was where the seconds and over-runs were for sale. If I lived in the area, I’d be sure to visit often to see what turned up. There were plenty of bulk items, such as the Schokowurfel in bags. Far off there in the corner were piles on the shelves of plain white wrapped bars. They were test bars of new flavors, so I picked up a few of those for later investigation and indulgence. They were only a half a Euro each.
The branded merchandise was nice. I liked the continuity of the themes, the colors and use of either the cross sections of the bars or the square shapes. However, the prices on these items were definitely premium retail. A little back backpack was 85 Euro. There were also large tins with the chocolate cross-section design - quite large and useful for only 7.50 Euro, but that largeness thing would have been an issue for getting them home. (But what a great gift idea to buy one of those tins, then one of the bulk bags of the minis and fill it up- the whole gag would be less than 20 Euro.) I picked up the coffee mug for my husband and filled it with minis for Christmas.
So, if you’re in Stuttgart and tired of looking around at the cars or just swinging through the area, it’s a worthy diversion to Waldenbuch. There’s also a Ritter Sport shop in Berlin (which I doubt carries the factory over-runs) that has its own merits for it’s interior design.
Maybe you’ll also catch sight of their company cars in the area: these were parked in front of one of the factory buildings. When we first arrived in our tour bus, there was a third. It was canary and said Knusperflakes on it.
Full Disclosure: My trip to Germany was sponsored by German Sweets, a government funded trade organization. While this provided me with excellent access to people in positions at the candy companies, in this case all of the products featured here were bought and paid for by me. Of course being at the factory store with its excellent prices which were a fraction of what I pay for the products in the United States probably prompted me to buy things I might not ordinarily. The Ritter Sport factory was not actually on the tour set up by German Sweets (though they’re members), but since it only took our tour bus 15 km out of our way on the last day of our travels, they agreed to stop at my request.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Smarties come in three sizes. The Classic roll is 7 grams (.25 ounces). The Giant roll is 28 grams (.99 ounces). The Mega roll is 63 grams (2.25 ounces). So one Mega Smartie is about 3.3 grams ... basically, two Megas are equal to a whole roll of Classic. Smarties used to come in one set of flavors, but now there are a few varieties, including Tropical and X-Treme Sour. The rolls for today’s review are the Mega variety, which are the largest that Smarties makes.
The twist for the new Mystery Smarties is that they’re completely mixed up rolls of all three flavor versions.
Not only are they a combination but the colors are completely mixed up and randomized, red is not always cherry, white is not always pineapple. The mystery here is that it’s not a one for one swap. One time I had a cherry green one and another time I think it was a blue one (but that may have been a sour).
The roll contains 19 tablets and two tablets are about 25 calories. They’re considered vegan. (The ingredients were hard to find, they’re on the twisted ends of the wrapper, not with the nutritional panel, so you can’t actually read the ingredients before you buy.)
Ingredients: Dextrose (Contains Maltodextrin and/or Corn Syrup Solids), Citric Acid, Calcium Stearate, Artificial Flavors, Colors (Red 40 Lake, Yellow 5 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Blue 2 Lake).
The classic and original size Smarties have always been my favorite. I’ve tried the X-Treme Sour and Tropical (and Bubble Gum) but they’ve messed with the unique quality of the standard, teensy, powdery and barely flavored tablets.
The Mystery Smarties come in yellow, purple, blue, green, pink and orange. The colors hardly matter, as they’re just to mess with you. The large tablets are smooth and soft and fit nicely in the mouth. The flavors vary widely, from intense and burning lemon to a mild and sweet pineapple. The X-Treme sour flavors were a bit too much for me in this size, I think if I were to eat them, I’d prefer the little tablets. The texture is a little crumbly and dissolves easily. They’re not quite cool on the tongue, like some dextrose candies can be, but definitely not as sweet as a pure sucrose tablet would be.
I didn’t enjoy the surprise of a very sour or a very cherry piece. After a while, I wouldn’t even finish the flavors I didn’t want. It made me long for the classics. But kids really dig this sort of thing, so give them what they want - a bit of variety and a few shocks. There are probably good lessons in there for children as well about not judging things by appearance, and maybe a more sobering one about never counting on anything.
It’s a fun experiment that ultimately taught me to treasure consistency and how nice it is when expectations are met. Still, I recognize that I still have a problem with Smarties, I really can’t stop eating them when they’re in front of me.
Smarties are free from most allergens: no milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat or soy. They are vegan (calcium stearate is plant based) but do feature many unnatural ingredients including the artificial colorings.
Monday, December 26, 2011
When I went to Germany last January to attend the ISM Cologne sweets trade show I spent about as much time shopping at the local stores as I did prowling the show floor for traditional, new and different candies.
One candy that I was actually on the look out for was the Haribo Ingwer-Zitrone gummis. They’re ginger and lemon flavored and perhaps a little less mainstream and kid-oriented than many of Haribo’s other offerings. I found them at a Rewe market and bought two bags. When I returned to the States I carefully moderated myself to make them last as long as possible. Sadly, they were gone by September.
When I went to Germany a few weeks ago, these were definitely on my list. I didn’t find them at the first Rewe (grocery store) I visited but did find them at Kaufhof in Berlin (a huge department store with a large food section) ... I bought everything on the shelf, six bags (they were only .99 Euros each).
The package says that they’re erfrischend scharf (refreshingly sharp) which would probably be because it’s made with real ginger and lemon.
The pieces look like medallions of candied ginger, complete with a sanding of sugar (well, it’s not exactly sugar, it’s a sweet and sour sanding mix).
The start out like an ordinary fruit gummi. They smell at a little like lemon peel and have a soft and flexible texture. They’re easy to chew and the sweet/sour sand fades away pretty quickly. The lemony flavor isn’t very sour, mostly a juicy flavor with a lot more zest in it than most of the other kid-oriented flavors. The flavor of the ginger is subtle at first, just woodsy and maybe even a little bitter. But then it kicks in with a slow and warming heat. The ginger lasts for a while, with a strong finish that kind of burns for a while. They’re barely sweet, I don’t feel sticky eating them at all - and perhaps the ginger is even good for my tummy.
I know this isn’t for everyone, you really have to like both the gummi texture and the spicy combination of citrus and ginger. It’s my ideal gummi, probably my favorite thing this year and will go on my list of all time favorite candies.
I even returned the next day to Kaufhof to see if they restocked, but it looks like these five packages I have left are going to have to last me a while. GermanDeli.com sells them, but they’re $2.99 a bag plus shipping and their $25 minimum order - that would average out to more than $4 a bag. I’m in love, but not that desperate ... yet.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.