Wednesday, November 2, 2005
Name: Fast Break
I’ve mentioned brand extension before. Mars has done this with M&Ms beautifully in the past ten years with the introduction of Almond, Crispy, Mint, Peanut Butter and now Megas. Reese’s is no exception (part of the Hershey family). The base of the Reese’s brand is Peanut Butter. You can’t make a Reese’s product without it, as far as I know.
I bought four of these new candy bars, this is the first of the reviews of them. The Fast Break. Yes, it’s like Breakfast, only backwards and two words. I’)m eating it for lunch. Hey! It does have a lot of protein in it for a candy bar! (5 grams.)
I’m a nut fan, as many of you know (except for walnuts, to which I’m sadly allergic) so Reese’s have always been a huge favorite of mine. The Fast Break bar package says that it has milk chocolate, peanut butter (duh) and soft nougats.
The soft nougats part confused me. Nougats? More than one? Apparently. The center of the bar is a crumbly log of salted peanut butter. Good roasted flavor and not too creamy so that it sets off the other textures well. The bottom of the bar is soft, bland, light colored nougat that might have a hint of cinnamon flavor in it (though it didn’t say so on the ingredients). Plain old vanilla nougat. The peanut butter log is on top of that, and then there’s a thin layer (you can’t see it in the photo) of a caramelly nougat that drapes over the two before the chocolate enrobement (I just like saying that word). It gives the whole thing a nice texture that things mix up well when you chew it. It has a little chocolately/caramelized taste to it.
It’s a good bar, really. I like the roasted flavors and how it isn’t too cloyingly sweet like a Snickers or Mars bar can be. It’s a good snack because of the salty taste, like a Payday bar is.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Tuesday, November 1, 2005
Name: Barley Sugar
Some folks look down their noses at hard candy. Like it’s not candy or it’s a last resort. What’s great about hard candy is that it’s incredibly portable and comes in huge varieties and is generally pretty cheap. And for the most part it’s pure sugar. While I don’t buy a lot of hard candy, I do enjoy it for particular tasks, like high-velocity noveling, whale watching excursions and long car trips.
When I was a kid we used to get barley sugar pops. They were lollipops shaped like old fashioned toys like trains, teddy bears, little dollhouses and animals. The flavors were delicate, not like a Charms sweet & sour pop, but more like a dreamy honey flavor with a touch of lemon or orange. Some have no flavor at all, like the Valentine’s hearts pops. For some reason most barley sugar candy seems to come in lollies. I have no idea why.
Barley Sugar is kind of like molasses, it’s a rather raw syrup made from germinated grains (usually barley) and is often used along with cane sugar and corn syrup to both add flavor and color to boiled candies.
These little sweets look a little like Clementine orange slices, a rich amber orange hard candy. The flavor is sweet with a nice touch of orange essence and no hint of sour. The candies are very solid and smooth with no voids or bubbles in them. The dissolve evenly and have a nice crunch if you’re one of those (I am, I can’t just let a candy dissolve in my mouth, I will chew it up).
They’re a little ordinary, but sometimes I like that ... sometimes I don’t want screaming green apple or supersour lemon drops. Sometimes I want a cup of Earl Grey tea and a few demure sweets. They’re not attention grabbers, but they’re a wonderful background music for my other pursuits.
Rating - 8 out of 10 (a little pricey for sugar)
Monday, October 31, 2005
I’ve mentioned the See’s Scotchmallow a few times as being the epitome of fine marshmallowyness. So I figured I should probably detail it for folks who have never had one.
First, there are two kinds. There’s the one you can buy pre-packaged like a candy bar, pictured above. It’s 1.5 ounces and clocking in at 113 calories per ounce, for a chocolate treat, it’s pretty low on the calories per ounce. I’ll credit the marshmallow for that. The second kind is the little round one that you can get at the counter by the piece or in the mixed boxes (comes in both the standard mix and the nuts & chews). Not only is it smaller, but it is also cloaked in semi-sweet chocolate, not milk chocolate as the bar is.
Second, See’s makes one of the best caramels available in stores. What is it about them? I think it’s that they actually have carmelized sugar in them. Caramels are rather time consuming and though the ingredients are simple (sugar, corn syrup, milk and butter), they need to be boiled slowly and brought up to temperature. If you don’t boil it long enough or to the right temp, you end up with gooey caramel without much flavor. If you go too long, you get toffee (which is good in its own right). Basically, a good caramel is a chewy toffee. The marshmallow though, is what makes this candy special. And the best thing about the marshmallow is that it has a flavor. It’s not just foamy, gelatinized sugar and egg whites. It has a wonderfully rounded flavor of honey in it which sets off the toasty taste of the caramel and sweet creaminess of the chocolate. Often I’ll eat off the chocolate and caramel and just be left with a honey of a marshmallow heap. Ahhhhh! (I wish the just sold the marshmallows, maybe they have a version of a Peep I should look out for at Easter.)
Third, they’re great quality. They use real ingredients (except for vanillin) and they’re not that expensive. I prefer See’s far and away over Godiva as boxed chocolates from the mall go. Though they’re antiseptic stores, which resemble the school nurse’s office more than a candy shop, they’re a plain old hoot. And when you go into the store, whether you buy something or not, they give you a free sample. (I had a raspberry truffle when I was there on Saturday.)
Stores are found only in the West and Midwest, but you can always mail order.
Rating - 9 out of 10
Friday, October 28, 2005
I was really excited about doing this review. While I enjoy candy of all kinds, especially chocolate, it’s hard sometimes to balance that with not destroying the earth and human lives. Fair Trade is only recently developing as a mainstream option for many products. For those of you not familiar with the concept, first you have to remember that cocoa pods from which chocolate is made are grown in tropical regions all over the planet and require a large amount of space and time to cultivate. Those regions also happen to be ones where farmers are particularly poor and have fewer economic opportunities. I cannot claim to be an expert on this subject, but it seems to me that the folks growing cocoa, which is not necessary for life, should at least be paid a living wage for it and not be exposed to terrible working conditions. Since chocolate and candy is a luxury item, it seems to make the most sense to start with it and coffee and teas as a way of changing the lives of those in these areas.
Of course the most important thing about sending a message with your pocketbook is that the product be good. Good intentions are nice, but if the chocolate isn’t good enough for me to want more, I’m not going to buy it just because it’s the right thing to do because wasting food is also bad. (The next step, of course, is to have it easily accessible, too.) So, instead of skipping to the bottom for the verdict, I’ll say that these are worth the trouble of finding them.
The bars are not only fair trade, but made from all organic ingredients, including the sugar (which is organic raw and unrefined cane sugar) and nuts. Also, for those who are wondering, it’s certified Kosher. Inside the plain wrapper (which has some wonderful information inside about Fair Trade and Equal Exchange) the bar itself is sealed in a mylar like white plastic wrapper that seals out odors and keeps the chocolate fresh. The chocolate is made it Switzerland.
Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds: a wonderful aroma arose when I opened this package. The chocolate is shiny and smooth and has a great snap and smelled chocolately, a little sweet and perfumy. Inside are lightly crushed (chopped?) almonds. The chocolate itself is 55% cocoa mass and has some wonderful fruity notes like you’d find in a good red wine. Not overly smoky or dry, it has a nice smooth finish was the cocoa mass is exceptionally smooth. For me, this bar rivals the Chocovic Ocumare.
Organic Very Dark Chocolate: incredibly dense, with immediate earthy tones, this is a very dark bar with 71% cocoa mass. The bar has a good snap and an incredibly smooth melt. There’s a noticeable acid note as it yields on the tongue and gives up more fruity flavors like apricot and cherry. The finish is dry and not at all sticky or sweet. But like I experienced with the Chocovic Guaranda, there are no middle notes to round out the flavor.
Organic Milk Chocolate: for fans of dairy milk chocolates, such as Cadbury, you’ll be very happy with this bar. It’s very much in keeping with the traditional Swiss milk chocolate. The first ingredient is not chocolate (that’s 38% though), it’s Whole Milk Powder. So, this is milky stuff, kind of sticky and though not overly sweet, it’s not a good association for me. That aside, this chocolate is exceptionally smooth and has nice cocoa undertones give the whole bar a toasty feeling. I think what does that is that one of the ingredients is ground hazelnuts ... not a lot of it, but it’s a nice nutty complement.
Ratings: Milk & Very Dark - 7 out of 10
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Name: Terry’s Chocolate Orange
When I was a kid, Santa used to bring Chocolate Oranges to us in our stockings. This bar is like that, but not sectioned and spherical, but a heck of a lot easy to stow in your handbag or backpack.
Like many holiday products, it’s the packaging and associations of the season that make them special. Most chocolate Easter bunnies I ate as a child were horrible waxy chocolate but as big as my arm; they were part of the holiday and any holiday that had a large container of candy involved was obviously good. Easter, as the last candy holiday of the year meant that all jelly beans and peeps must be eaten, because there will be no more candy until Halloween. I pretty much feel the same way about chocolate oranges, they’re not necessarily good when you look at them with the analytical eye of sophisticated adult tastes, but nostalgia makes up for a lot of that.
Here are the ingredients: Sugar, skimmed milk powder, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, butterfat, emulsifier (Soya lecithin), flavorings (orange oil, vanillin). See ... it’s sugar and some powdered milk ... then you get to the chocolate part. Terry’s is very sweet, very milky chocolate, and not milk in the sense of that deliciously smooth and creamy stuff, I’m talking that powdered stuff. You know, the stuff you drank when you couldn’t afford real milk. The stuff that reminds you of not being able to afford milk, let alone candy.
All that said, the taste of this is Christmas. It’s sweet and has the wonderful essence of orange (which is a really good complement to chocolate). The bar is delightfully shaped like a bunch of orange sections in a row and you can snap them off almost like the round orange. So just like I can’t help but gnaw on the waxy ears of chocolate rabbits, I can’t help but eat this whole bar even if it did make my teeth hurt.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Name: Choxie Chocolates
I was planning on making jokes about what Choxie meant, but then I saw a commercial for it and they said it was “Chocolate with Moxie.” Not to be confused with Mockolate. And it’s not Chalk that’s Toxic or as my neighbor pronounces it ... Choke-see. The other weird thing besides the name is that it’s not on the Target website. You search for Choxie and you get some CDs.
At the urging of several readers I went there this past weekend and bought a variety of the new chocolates. A little tub of Warm Spiced Caramels (9.45 oz for $5), a Hot Chocolate Bar (2.5 oz for $1.80) and a small box of the Artisan Truffle Tiles (3.5 oz for $5). There’s lots more variety there with round truffles and other chocolate covered goodies
Warm Spiced Caramels: I’m in love with these little buggers. They’re smooth caramel with a little spicy flavor. No heat to them, just a little bit like a spiced rum or mulled cider. Very fall-like. The chocolate is smooth and not the slightest bit waxy and not to sticky sweet or milky. I think I’d like them with semi-sweet as well.
Artisan Truffle Tiles: The tiles are all the rage, as far as I can tell. They have that retro styling to them, with the painted tops. The flavors in the 3.5 ounce box are: chili limon, jasmine tea, orange mango, key lime, lemon rose, apple pie, cafe latte and cinnamon praline.
I didn't try the truffles, but I can see the truffles having the advantage of a better ratio of chocolate to filling. Here the filling is about 1/4 of the total of the candy. The chocolate is smooth, but because all the flavors are in the same box, there's a weird sort of jumbled infusion in the chocolate shell ... chocolate is an excellent flavor absorber, and in this case it's absorbed all of them. Perhaps the wrapped truffles don't have this issue. The centers are pretty divine though. The flavors aren't quite as robust as I think I've had at some places like Boule, but for a pre-packaged candy it’s rather nice to have the option of something like Lemon Rose or Chili Limon. Some of the other flavors like apple pie and latte were a little ordinary, but the creaminess of the centers is really the star.
If I were decorating a cake or something, these could be a great, edible addition.
Hot Chocolate Bar: The last, and probably most cost effective pure chocolate candy I found were the bars (the caramels are cheaper by the ounce but not all chocolate). At 2.5 ounces, it’s not a bad deal as candy bars go. If you’ve ever had a Frango, the “truffle” center of this is very similar. Rather firm, but a good instant melt. The flavor is rich with a lot of cinnamon with a little heat from both ginger and chipotle. I wish there were more fire to it and less spice graininess.
Overall, as a hostess gift the packaging is super cute and the quality is good. As fine candy goes, I think I’d still stick with See’s Candies, as they’re quite a bit cheaper though lack those trendy flavors (but their key lime truffle is pretty awesome).
Rating: 7 out of 10
Note: I have a sneaking suspicion that Trader Joe’s ‘Slate of Bliss’ is made by the same people who make Choxie, so I’m digging for more info on that ... maybe I’ll have something later this week.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Name: Overload Peanut Butter Cups
In my mind, there is no more perfect melding of chocolate and peanut butter than the Reese’s Miniature (yes, the minis are better than the full-sized cups). I do not pursue anything above that, but in the interest of fairness, I’m giving these Overload thingies a chance to prove themselves.
Overload is three peanut butter cups, each a slight variation on the tried and true original. One with balls of Butterfinger crisps tossed on top, another with some sort of fake m&ms (called ‘candies’) and the last with Buncha Crunch, which are just chocolate covered crisped rice like a Nestle Crunch bar.
First, when I pulled the tray out of the package, I could see that there was some sort of industrial accident. There were little ‘candies’ in ALL of the peanut butter cups and the ‘candies’ one had some buncha crunches in it. So much for segregation.
The chocolate is smooth and sweet, if perhaps a little more of it than a standard Reese’s cup. The peanut butter center is a little smoother than a Reese’s which is neither a good or bad thing, it just is. I kind of like a little grain to my nut butters, but that’s me. It was salty and very roasty tasting. The Butterfinger mixed in with that is a really good combo, a nice variation of smoothness, sweet, a bit chewy later with the Butterfinger and a lingering salty tone. The Buncha Crunch also has a nice texture to it, but in my mind it’s not quite enough crisp to make it through the cup. The ‘candies’ one is just kinda silly - is it the color that’s suppose to impress me or the texture of the candy shells? It’s by far the most chocolately, but the peanut butter part gets kind of lost without a texture to set it off.
These don’t even come close to most other peanut butter and chocolate products for me. The variety was, however, a welcome change when you’re buying a King Size item.
Rating: 5 out of 10 for ‘candies’ and Buncha Crunch and 6 out of 10 for the Butterfinger
Monday, October 24, 2005
Name: Abba Zaba
Again, I grew up on the eastern seaboard, so some of the candies I see on the west coast are unfamiliar to me. Abba Zabas are one of them. I think we had something similar, but I can’t recall what it was. The website for Annabelle’s is quaint, circa 1996, and entirely sincere like the candy. It’s a little disturbing that the ingredients label on the candy spells it Palm Kernal instead of kernel, but I have to admit that many spelling mistakes have made to the screen in this site.
Abba Zabas are a white taffy with a stripe of peanut butter in the center. If you open the package and take it out, it looks like a white subway tile and kind of sounds like one if you whack it on the side of the table. They’re dangerous things, really, the taffy is firm and sticky, so if you have any sort of dental work (fillings, crowns, bridges, dentures) you’re liable to lose it or loosen it. If you have firmly planted teeth, you’re probably their target consumer.
I found the taste to be very nice, the sweet taffy is a really good backdrop to the peanut butter, but I have to admit that I prefer either a hard candy shell on my peanut butter or a molasses chew like Mary Janes or Peanut Butter Kisses. The dental destroying qualities are just too overwhelming for me, so I’ll leave this one to the kids.
Rating - 4 out of 10.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.