Wednesday, April 10, 2013
It’s great when friends go traveling and bring back candy. My friend Amy (who often spits things out and then gives me her opinion) went to Tokyo and Kyoto. She was lucky enough to be there for the start of Cherry Blossom Season, which means that the limited edition KitKat Sakura are also on store shelves.
Sakura is a popular flavor in Japan. What that flavor is, is kind of a mystery to me. It’s not cherry or the orange blossom equivalent of orange. It’s just a soft flavor that’s more like almond to me, if other candies I’ve had are indicative.
This particular Sakura Matcha KitKat package is a little different from others I’ve had. It’s kind of like a King Size. The box is a little longer, and on the back is a little “to and from” space where you can add a personalize message.
Inside the package are three individually wrapped pairs of KitKat fingers. They’re not large, a bit smaller than the American version, as a matter of fact. They’re only 68 calories each (sorry, I couldn’t figure out the exact weight since it was all in Japanese).
It’s a white confection outside that’s flavored (and colored) with green tea. It’s not a very good white confection, a little greasy and waxy and very sweet. The green tea notes are not as bitter as some earlier varieties of matcha candies I’ve had from Nestle Japan. In this version, the Sakura adds a bit of a cereal flavor to it, maybe a hint of cinnamon and brown rice and a much lighter vanilla note.
As a whole, it was okay. It’s not a KitKat I would buy for myself regularly, even if I was excited that the trees were in bloom. I’ve had a few other varieties over the years, earlier versions were just cherry blossom with no green tea.
This is also what I’d call a gift variety, as I highly doubt people just go out looking for Japanese horseradish flavored candies. I love wasabi, but it belongs in my mashed potatoes and on my tuna and avocado roll.
The box in this version is very presentational, with stylized block print wasabi roots on the front. The box opens up to reveal 12 small, individually wrapped finger pairs of the candies.
Like most Japanese KitKats, the packaging is exquisite.
The flavor is, well, sweet. For the most part it’s a bland white confection, equally greasy and waxy as most other Nestle white KitKats. In this version there’s a peppery bite to it, like arugula or horseradish. It’s mild but noticeable. It was too strange, but also didn’t add anything to the experience. I think wasabi works best with starchy foods (mashed potatoes or rice), not with fatty foods like chocolate (or mock chocolate).
This is a novelty, not an extraordinary new flavor combination. I’m all for the combination of sweet and savory (umami), but this isn’t it.
Monday, March 25, 2013
This year was, I felt, the best we’ve had so far this decade for Easter candy diversity. It was a nice mix of classic products, new flavor twists on existing items and then some exciting new diversions. The stores seemed well stocked, better than I saw them two years ago, for example. It’s an encouraging sign for the economy and for our tummies.
Just Born is celebrating 60 years of their iconic Peeps marshmallow candies. They’ve come a long way from the early years when they came in plain yellow. Now they’re available in all the colors of the rainbow and special flavors.
To mark the anniversary, they’ve created a 60th Anniversary version in Vanilla Creme flavor. They’re the individual Peeps (not a conjoined row) and feature little sparkly flecks of multi colored candies, like edible confetti.
I prefer an uncolored Peep, as I think the artificial colorings get in the way of the pure sugary flavor. (Ghost Peeps, for that reason, are the best.)
The Vanilla Creme is a soft flavor, artificial and lacking in the complexity of a nice Tahitian vanilla pod, but still it has a soft and comforting flavor that cuts a bit of the sugary sweetness. They’re bouncy and fluffy and grainy. The little confetti add a little bit of a crunch, but mostly they dissolve quickly on the tongue.
These would be a fun version available all year round. I also heard that they’re releasing Birthday Cake Peeps which are a turquoise blue and yellow cake flavored. (Which is also a great idea for a year-round Peep.)
Rating: 7 out of 10
They’re just egg shaped gumballs.
Smarties Bubble Gum Eggs are made by Ford Gum in the USA with real sugar, there are no artificial sweeteners in there. I bought them for $1.49 at Cost Plus World Market, but then I saw them at the 99 Cent Only Store for a dollar.
They’re passably good. They come in different colors, but I really didn’t get a sense that they were different flavors, all vaguely and pleasantly fruity. They were soft enough to bite but have a satisfyingly crunchy shell. Each piece is a good size for chewing, two make for a little too much. The sugar takes a while to be dissolved, so there’s no bubble blowing right away. Even after the sugar is gone, they’re a little too stiff and snappy to blow a good bubble with.
At other times of the year, they’re also available as plain old gumballs. I bought them before and feel the same way about them. They’re okay. Mostly I like them because they’re pretty. I just chew the sugar out, spit out the gum and start up with a new piece.
Rating: 5 out of 10
The concept is that the bunny is flat instead of dimensional, and pre-sectioned to break apart easily. The version I purchased, for a buck, is 2 ounces, or about the size of a King Size bar. It comes apart into five pieces. Each is a good size for dipping into peanut butter, which was always my favorite way to eat my Easter Rabbit.
This is one of those products that solves a problem you didn’t know you had. I’m sure if this were sold on infomercials, the first part would demonstrate all the frustrating things about a sumptuous solid chocolate bunny and how hard it is to eat, how children fight over it and what it should be named.
I don’t have much to say except that it’s a rabbit shaped Hershey’s bar. It’s made from Hershey’s marginally satisfying chocolate, the same stuff in Hershey’s Kisses, Hershey’s Miniatures and those addictive little Hershey’s Candy Coated Eggs. While I don’t think Hershey’s Milk Chocolate is good chocolate, it’s mighty fine candy. It’s fudgy, grainy and tangy and comforting.
It’s also made in Mexico. (The Candy Professor had a bit of a rant about Snapsy.)
Rating: 5 out of 10
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
The idea of caramel filled milk chocolate eggs is pretty appealing, too. There’s no dearth of choices at Easter, as I think that Cadbury may have the corner on that market with their mini version of the Cadbury Mini Caramel Egg that comes in a little egg carton. But the Nestle version, though not quite as charmingly packaged, were far less expensive. (The Cadbury’s were actually the same price, but only had 4.8 ounces in them, instead of 10 ounces in the Nestle bag.)
The little foil wrapped eggs come in two different colors: purple and a sort of pastel green. They helpfully have the candy contents printed on the foil; if you’re like me and like to mix your foil covered sweets, this is extremely helpful. Inside the foil the little eggs are nicely molded with the Nestle logo on two sides.
The eggs smell sweet and a little like cereal. The size is nice, I like to gently press along the seam to pull the eggs apart into little dishes of caramel. The chocolate is exceptionally sweet, a little grainy and on the fudgy side. The caramel is smooth and has a little bit of a salty and dark note to it, keeping it from being equally sweet. On the whole, they’re, well, cloying. I can have a couple, but then I’m done. They make my throat hurt. I’m still drawn to the look of them.
I’m hoping that someday Ghiradelli will do a dark chocolate salted caramel version (their new Easter eggs here) ... I’d definitely pay the premium for that.
Nestle also makes several other versions of their NestEggs. There’s a classic Nestle Crunch and a version of the Butterfinger that has milk chocolate mixed with Butterfinger peanut butter pieces. I’ve had the Jingle (Christmas bell) version, and they’re pretty good. Again, there are better versions if you’re willing to pay a premium.
Nestle has not given any information about the sourcing of the ingredients, though they are on track for more sustainable targets for the future.
Monday, February 18, 2013
Annabelle’s, the California company that now makes Abba-Zabas came out with a new flavor last year, the Abba-Zaba Strawberry & Peanut Butter. The little starburst on the side of the package says “PB&J with real peanut butter.”
The color of the package is extraordinary. The regular flavor is taxi-cab yellow and black ... for strawberry they went magenta and black. It looks like nothing else on the shelves.
I’m not a huge consumer of Abba-Zaba, I’m more of a Look or Big Hunk fan, as the Annabelle’s bars go. The concept is strong, but the flavor profiles & textures are just a little off for my tastes.
The Strawberry Abba-Zaba has a fruity taffy outside. It’s sweet, though not sickeningly. The bar is best if you smack it on the edge of a table before you open it to break it into easy to eat pieces. The taffy is flavored only with the scent of strawberries, it’s not a tangy taffy. So the idea of getting the flavor of a Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich is a little off ... because it doesn’t taste like jam. It’s more like a strawberry cake - all sweetness and not tart. The chew is good, not too tough, it’s soft and combines well with the peanut butter center. The peanut butter is smooth and creamy, but lacking a big salty punch or enough texture to differentiate it well from the taffy when it’s chewed together. I like the graininess of peanut butter in candies like Mary Janes.
Overall, it’s not my thing. It’s different ... but I’d be more inclined to go for a honey taffy or maybe even Banana if it was just going to be sweet.
Friday, December 7, 2012
The store shelves at the drug stores in my neighborhood are filled with Christmas candies, including the seasonal array of Russell Stover candies in Santa shapes. There’s a new one this year, the Russell Stover Red Velvet Santa in dark chocolate.
I have to say that I found the idea of a Red Velvet and Santa Claus combination intriguing. It seems like a natural fit and evokes the tactile elegance of a rich, deep red St. Nicholas coat and the traditional white ermine fur trim. But this was much better in my head than the actual execution. The wrapper doesn’t play upon that Victorian image, instead has a cartoon-style Santa on the front, holding a teddy bear.
I have very little experience with Red Velvet as a baked good. I’ve had the cake a few times, including several times baked from scratch as well as some high-end cupcakes. The cake is usually a buttermilk yellow cake with a dash of cocoa for light flavor along with either beets or loads of red food coloring. (Before the era of Dutched Cocoa, a little vinegar in the recipe would turn undutched cocoa deep red.) The selling point, for me, is the cream cheese frosting (but I usually satisfy that with a dense Carrot Cake sans nuts when given the chance).
In this case the candy is constructed of a cream center made from white chocolate (a lovely substitute for cream cheese) and actual Red Velvet cake mix according to the list of ingredients. (So this has wheat in it.)
The filling is a creamy red and a little grainy, probably because of the cake mix in there. It looks like it should be raspberry, but it’s not. The flavor is a little doughy, like a cookie dough bite, but better. The dark chocolate coating is just the right ratio - it’s not too thick or chalky and has a good, bittersweet counterpoint to the sweet center. It’s very filling.
If I had been given this lump (which doesn’t look like Santa, by the way) without any description, there is no way I could have guessed that this was a Red Velvet influenced object. I’m guessing it’s more like a cake pop (which I’ve never tried, either). I’m glad they went with dark chocolate and not white chocolate, but hypothesizing that it could have been worse is hardly a recommendation.
Monday, October 8, 2012
Last month I visited Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania, as I often do when I’m in the area. The themed space is open year around and adjacent to Hersheypark. It’s free to visit and is mostly a Hershey themed mall with a food court and a ride the includes the story of how Hershey’s makes their chocolate.
One of the new attractions at Chocolate World is Create Your Own Candy Bar. It’s a real, mini candy factory where you can customize a single, large candy bar from an array of options. It’s $14.95, so it’s not cheap, but it is an engaging way to spend 30 to 45 minutes, especially if you love to watch machines.
When buying the ticket, you’re asked for your first and last name plus your zip code. I didn’t realize that this was how the bar was customized as you go through the factory experience (though you’re only addressed by your first name and last initial, in case you’re visiting with your AA group). If I knew this, I could have given my name as CandyBlog as you’ll see later.
The tickets are for sale in the main lobby, patrons are given a ticket with a scheduled start time. Folks line up and are given hair nets and aprons, asked to remove all visible jewelry (rings and watches) and hopefully washed their hands. (You don’t actually come into contact with any of the equipment or ingredients.) I don’t know what the limit for a group is, but I would guess about 15-18 people.
The event starts with a quick video which shows you how each stage of the process will work. The basic steps are: choosing your formula, the production of the bar, the cooling of the bar, creating a custom wrapper and then the boxing of the bar.
The customizations are:
You simply scan your ticket’s bar code at the screen and make your selections.
Through a set of swinging doors, the set up is a real mini factory line with a continuous conveyer through a series of stainless steel machines. It extends along a long exterior wall, so it’s well lit and you can view it from the outside (though a real candy factory wouldn’t allow so much sunlight directly on the process). You can follow along and witness every step of the manufacture. Everything is well within view just behind a plexiglass divider and well marked with what’s going on at each step.
The process starts with a chocolate base. It’s like a little, short walled box of a bar. I chose dark chocolate and the suction arms picked one up and dropped it onto the conveyer to start. Along the conveyer are the six possible inclusions, when the bar arrived at an inclusion for your bar, the hopper or screw feeder opens up and drops in your items.
At each station, the items are marked and a little bit about the reasons for the type of dispensing is explained. Screw feeders work well for items that might be sticky, like toffee bits and gravity feeders are for dry items like nuts and pretzels.
Once my inclusions, pretzel bits, almonds and butter toffee bits, were inside the little chocolate box, the bar proceeded towards the enrober. All bars were coated in milk chocolate. No choice. My bar, though, was filled unevenly. The corners had nothing in them and the center had a too-high mound. I would have preferred that my bar go over some sort of vibrating bar that would level things before the enrober.
The enrober is a thick curtain of chocolate on an open mesh conveyer. The video above is short, but gives you an idea of the process. The chocolate that isn’t used gets filtered and recycled back into the system. (So do not eat these bars if you’re sensitive to gluten, tree nuts or peanuts, even if you didn’t pick those items.)
After enrobing, bars that get sprinkles will. I didn’t select those. Then the bars go into a cooling tunnel. The cooling process takes about 8 minutes, so it’s off to waste time in the design and marketing department.
Just off the “factory floor” is a room with more touch screens. Waving the little bar code on my ticket got a new series of options. First, I could design my wrapper. (Well, it’s actually a sleeve, it’s not well explained before you get in there that the chocolate bar comes in a box, which is then inside a tin which gets a customized sleeve.) The design options are not extraordinary. You can choose your background as either a solid or gradient of color or a pattern. Then there are the added items - Hershey Logos, Your Name and some icons (mostly Autumnal and Halloween). I made what struck me as a pretty ugly design and pressed print.
After that the screens give you marketing data about your candy bar. All sorts of different graphs that say how popular or common things are and what other people have done.
That process took me about three minutes, and I tried to rush through it since there were only five screens and plenty of people (including some kids which probably wanted more time on the design). Then it was back to watching the cooling tunnel ... which is a tunnel and only had a few little windows to check on the progress of the bars.
Once the bars came out of the cooling tunnel they were loaded into little slots and dumped into boxes. The boxes got a little laser printing on the end with everyone’s name, then went down to the wrapping stations. This was the only part of the process that was hands-on with any of the factory workers. They had already printed our labels and were waiting for the bars to come out. They popped the bars into a tin, closed the tin and put on the sleeve wrapper.
The factory experience gives people the ability to walk through with their own bar, but also enough time to go back and really look at the equipment if they desire. I don’t know how large the groups can get, but it appears that Hershey’s keeps the manageable so that you have enough room to move around and see everything. Photography is permitted. Children are welcome though everyone has to have a ticket (except toddlers under 2) and everyone makes their own bar. They are ADA compliant, and I saw no reason that folks in wheelchairs wouldn’t be able to get the full experience. (Chocolate World as a whole seemed to be very accessible and actually well attended by folks of all abilities.)
It’s extremely clean, as you’d hope. It’s very well run and each person you meet on the Hershey’s staff is eager and seem knowledgeable. (Especially once you get in the factory room.)
I was at the front of the line and ended up being the first bar (I already scoped what I wanted and was ready at the bar selection process). For me it was about 35 minutes, but if you’re slower or at the back of the line, this might be 45 minutes or more. So allow ample time, as well as the fact that once you get there and they issue the ticket, your start time may be more than a half an hour away.
So there’s my lackluster wrapper. Under the stiff printed sleeve, the chocolate bar is inside an embossed tin with the Hershey’s logo on it. It’s a nice tin, one that I can see myself keeping and using for storing small items.
The tin is 7.5” by 4.5” and 1.25” high with rounded corners. There’s a plastic tray inside that holds the boxed chocolate bar with the generic packaging.
The bar is pretty big. It’s 5 inches long and 2.75 inches wide and maybe 2/3 of an inch high. I don’t have an approximate weight on it, but it’s well over 6 ounces.
As I noted from the production line while watching it being made, the base is dark chocolate and though the chocolate tray had room, the inclusions didn’t make it into the corners. So it takes a while of biting to get to the interesting part of the bar.
I broke my bar open and just as I suspected, the contents spilled out. What’s more, I felt like I was missing the actual inclusiveness ... then enrobing didn’t actually cover my center. So I had my filling adjacent to chocolate, but not actually covered.
Aside from the physical mess, I didn’t like the taste. The fillings were dry and even though it was only a week later that I ate it, it was stale. The pretzel pieces weren’t crisp and were really small so had less crunch to them and were more of a grainy texture. The almonds were nice, small pieces but still fresh and crunchy. But what I was really disappointed about was the butter toffee bits. I was hoping for little Heath toffee chips. Instead I got some sort of artificial butter flavored thing that just stunk up the bar.
Though I chose a dark chocolate base, the majority of the chocolate in the bar is still the milk chocolate. It’s rich and sweet, but does have that Hershey’s tang to it. (Some don’t like it, but if you don’t ... why are you at Hershey’s Chocolate World?) The dark chocolate notes came in a bit, especially when I was eating the sides, but really didn’t nothing in the middle.
On the whole, I give myself 5 out of 10. I blame my inexperience and ingredients.
The problem with my fillings is that they’re dry. What I would suggest is either squirting a little chocolate in the base first and then putting the inclusions into it, or putting layers of chocolate into the center between the dispensing of the inclusions. Then do a little jiggling to get it all evened out and get the air out. This solves two problems.
The other thing I might suggest is that the “candy makers” get to try the inclusions first. There should be a little tasting table, maybe after you’ve bought your ticket before you get the “orientation” portion. That way we can really get a sense of what we’re putting in there instead of $15 experiments. The other thing I’d like to see is the ability to go through the process just accompanying someone who bought a ticket. I can see this being a huge expense for a family with many kids. It would be nice if the parents weren’t obligated to also get a ticket and bar.
Chocolate World is fun, and though it’s billed as free, there are some interesting attractions making this a good rainy-day destination for family, friends and couples who live nearby or are traveling through the area.
The stores there carry a huge array of branded merchandise and candy. The candy selection, though there’s a great quantity, isn’t really that diverse. For Hershey’s Dagoba and Scharffen Berger line they carry only three or four items. The prices are about what you’d pay at the drug store or grocery store when the items aren’t on sale, which is too bad. I heard more than one person lamenting that they could do better and not have to haul the stuff home if they just stop by Target or Costco. So I’d suggest focusing on the hats, tee shirts, playing cards, keychains and mugs.
What I would want from a “factory store” is a section where you can get special preview items, items out of season and of course super discounts on factory seconds. Something that I couldn’t get anywhere else. I’d also want better prices, after all, you’re buying direct so if there are no middle men, why are the prices so high? The only item I saw that rose to that level of specialness were green & red Hershey-ets.
Hershey’s Chocolate World
Free parking, free admission. Fees for most special activities. Wheelchair accessible. Their hours vary wildly, so call or check their website. Open every day (except Christmas).
More photos from PennLive of the Create Your Own Chocolate Bar.
Hershey’s Chocolate World gets a 7 out of 10 from me as an adult, I think kids would rank it higher.
My ticket for this experience was comped by Hershey’s. I have not done any of the other classes or movies at Chocolate World, only the free ride and shopped at the stores.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
It’s amazing the diversity of candy bars that are still available, many of the most popular bars we eat today have been around for over 70 years. One regional classic that started right near where I live now is the Christopher’s Big Cherry (original review).
The lump of a candy bar was introduced by the Christopher Candy Company, which started in 1887 in Southern California. (That company was later bought out by Ben Meyerson, who made the Sunkist Fruit Gems, who then sold out to Jelly Belly in 2006 who kept the Fruit Gems line but sold off the Christopher’s line to Adams & Brooks, keeping it in Southern California.)
More recently the folks at Adams & Brooks introduced the Christopher’s Big Cherry Dark. The wrapper is a rich brick red instead of the bright pink of the classic bar.
The bar looks terrible. It’s a big, golf ball sized mass. It’s lumpy and irregular but at least smells good, like roasted peanuts and hot cocoa.
The ingredients are, well, barely passable as an edible item, very high in partially hydrogenated oil:
The previous review I did of the classic Christopher’s Big Cherry didn’t have a cross section. So I wanted to be sure this review fully documented the innards of this candy. What does set it apart from all others (Cherry Mash and Twin Bing) is the fact that it uses a whole cherry in the center. That auspicious fact aside, it’s marginally satisfying.
The center is sweet and slightly grainy. The mararschino cherry is sweet and heavily artificially flavored and colored. The mockolate coating is supposed to be “dark” but still has milk products in it and really doesn’t do much for me except that it’s less sweet than the original version. The peanut bits in the mockolate are the shining star here, they’re fresh and crunchy and flavorful. The combination of flavors is odd, the peanuts come across as rather savory, the fudgy mockolate has a vague brownie flavor to it but at least isn’t sweet and the cherry center is a blast in the face of fake cherry and sugar.
It’s certainly not a candy for me. The fakeness on so many levels is disappointing, especially for $1.89 which I could spend on things with real chocolate and real cherries in it. But it’s unique, if that’s still a selling point. If chocolate covered bacon can be all the rage, I suppose this can find a home somewhere.
Monday, August 27, 2012
I picked up these Victory Bubble Gum Sticks which are also known as Bubble Gum Cigarettes at Rocket Fizz last week. They’re a nostalgic item, now made by World Confections, Inc. and probably not very popular with a lot of parents.
There are a few different package designs, with different names like: Kings, Lucky Light, Target, Round Up and Stallion.
There were two kinds of fake cigarettes when I was a kid. There were candy sticks, which were like a Necco wafer sugar stick with a red tip that was supposed to look like it was alight. Of course the sticks were much thinner than an actual cigarette, so the effect was weak. The second is of course the bubble gum cigarette. It’s a rod of gum a little smaller than an actual cigarette, but each is wrapped in a bit of waxed paper with a light brown end to mimic the filter. Each piece of gum was coated in a little corn starch and the wrapper is loose enough that you could blow on one end and form a little puff of powder like smoke. Of course it only worked once.
The box construction on this Victory design box is a little bland. It’s a flip top box, so there’s no tab top that tucks back in or a flip top like real cigarette packs have. The artwork is minimal, but it works in the most impressionistic manner.
There were three flavors in my box of 8 sticks. Orange, Lavender and Pink.
Pink is cherry and it’s just horrible. It’s sweet and crunchy at first, then softens up and gives up all of its sugar over the course of about 10 good chews. It’s then very stiff and bitter (from the food coloring). The slight medicinal flavor of the cherry disappears quickly as well.
Orange is orange. The flavor is vague to nonexistent. It’s quite sweet and sugary and tended to stick to a couple of my fillings until the sugar was gone. It didn’t get as stiff and difficult as the pink, but also did do much in the bubble department.
Purple is grape. There’s a strong grape flavor initially, plenty artificial but still exactly what I expected. But that fades quickly along with the sugar in the gum. This flavor also gets dense quickly so the bubble blowing window is very short. The piece of gum is also pretty small, so the size of the bubbles was always going to be modest.
The gum is marginally passable, but the packaging is quite cute. Really all I was looking for was that experience of blowing the little puff of starch out. The gum is made in Macedonia, I think my first Macedonian candy. I think the Bubble Gum Cigars are more successful overall as a novelty item that still maintains its candiness.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.