Thursday, December 22, 2011
Here’s a small selection of what I’d call Christmas chocolate bars. I’ve got to eat them up before the holidays - it may be too late for you to get them by Christmas, but there are some special ones that are worth picking up at the after-Christmas sales.
Hershey’s introduced their Golden Almond Bar in 1977. It’s a thick bar and clocks in at 2.8 ounces. The bar design and packaging has changed little over the past thirty five years. It’s still wrapped in gold foil with a gold sleeve. Bars are sold either singly or in gold gift boxes of five bars (see a 1984 ad here). They’re not that easy to find, I usually see them at the official Hershey’s stores at Chocolate World or the Times Square shop.
The bar is simple, it’s just milk chocolate with lots of whole roasted almonds in it. It differs from the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds bar as it’s supposed to be better quality chocolate. The ingredients do not differ from the Hershey’s standard milk chocolate which includes PGPR but is at least made in the United States and not Mexico as the other supposedly upscale Pot of Gold line is.
The bar is wonderful looking, it’s thick and has a great snap. It’s about 1.7 inches wide, 4.75 inches long and a beefy half inch high. There are some almonds in there though not as many as I feel are promised but they look like they’re fresh and of good quality. The chocolate looks a little darker than the standard Hershey’s but smells like I’d expect. It’s sweet with a slight yogurty tang to it.
The texture is smooth and fudgy, with a sticky melt and a light caramel and woodsy chocolate flavor. It’s not complex and it’s not extraordinary. But if you like Hershey’s chocolate and enjoy the decadence of a thicker piece, this is a good bar to choose. I liked the nostalgia of an actual foil wrapped bar, which is so rare these days. If there’s someone on your list that loves Hershey’s, this is a little bit more elegant way to give them what they desire.
Size: 2.8 ounces
I found this seasonal bar called Niederegger Marzipan Weihnachtsschokolade at the Niederegger cafe at Marktplatz in Lubeck. The front of the package says Saftiges gewurz marzipan mit vollmilch-schokolade. So it’s a spiced marzipan in milk chocolate. The image shows almonds, cinnamon sticks and star anise. The ingredients don’t specifically list anise, just “spices” though cinnamon is a separate item.
Inside the paper wrapper there’s a stiff card (advertising the company and their website) and the foil wrapped bar.
The packaging did a great job of protecting the bar. It was glossy and unscuffed.
The milk chocolate is very light in color (33% cocoa solids and 14% milk solids). The bar smells like milky chai, a little spicy and very sweet. The marzipan is moist and a bit like eating Snickerdoodle cookie dough. The chocolate is smooth, but doesn’t contribute much in the way of cocoa to this, it just nicely encases the marzipan. The texture of the marzipan is a little more rustic than the French style fondant type that’s used for creating figures and shapes. Niederegger is meant for eating and enjoying.
The ratios on the 100 gram bars from Niederegger favor the chocolate more than the enrobed little classic loaves. (I’ll get into that more in my master post.) If you’re looking for a starter marzipan that’s more about the texture and celebrates almonds as the source ingredient, Niederegger really can’t be beat. It’s not too sweet and doesn’t have any fake amaretto flavors to it.
I would prefer a version of this with dark chocolate, but I can’t argue with the traditional recipe they have. It’s a great balance of subtle spice, sweetness, milk and almonds.
Size: 3.5 ounces
I’m no stranger to the Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark. They’ve been making it for years and it comes in a clever little square that’s perfect for some afternoon tea or coffee.
I found this set of bars at Target last month on sale for $2 each. They’re heralded as limited edition and come in milk chocolate and dark chocolate.
I’m not actually a fan of barks. I like my inclusions fully immersed in the chocolate. So the bar version of Peppermint Bark is perfect for my strange fondness for things being hidden in the chocolate.
Unlike most Peppermint Barks, which combine white chocolate with crushed peppermint candies (like candy canes or starlight mints), the Ghiradelli version uses minty, artificially colored corn flakes. I haven’t the foggiest why they did it that way, but honestly, they created something unique enough to be a new genre.
The milk and dark vary a little bit in their coloring. The milk version is sweet and has a lot of dairy notes to it from both the milk chocolate base and the white chocolate top (made with real cocoa butter). The mint is clean and bright, the little cereal bits are crunchy and a little salty and keep it all from being too cloying.
The dark version has two kinds of bits, the red bits and some little dark brown bits, which I think are little chocolate cookie pieces. The dark chocolate has a little smoky note to it which overshadowed the minty layer a bit, which I enjoyed. There’s a definite difference between the Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark and the Dove Peppermint Bark, which can also be found for comparable prices at similar stores. Personally, I prefer the Dove version, because it’s a bit butterier. This one is about the crunch, a grown up sort of crunch.
Size: 3 ounces
The last item I have is not quite a full review. The Hachez Weihnachts Knusper Bar (Christmas Crunchy Bar) is a darling looking bar. The soft white paper wrapper has a classically illustrated scene of a child ice skating on a pond.
Feine Vollmilch-Chocolade mit Zimt, Mandeln und Nussen
My German was getting pretty good, even though I’d only been listening to German podcasts for a week and was only there for a day. The front of the package said Fine milk chocolate with cinnamon, almonds and nuts. The little image also showed all of the above -cinnamon sticks, milk chocolate blocks, almonds and a hazelnut in its shell.
So I was very excited when I got it home and put at the top of my list to photograph and review before Christmas. I took it out of the wrapper, snapped it in half ... it looked and smelled so good:
The bar was glossy and showed no ill effects from the long journey (about 750 more miles on a bus at that point then the 5,700 mile plane ride).
I broke off a little piece of it to try after the photo, I was greeted by wonderfully smooth and milky chocolate and amazingly fresh, crunchy and crushed nuts and a hint of cinnamon. I could taste the hazelnuts and something else ... it wasn’t pecans, it was walnuts. What I didn’t realize was that while Nussen might be a generic word for nuts, it usually meant walnuts. (Walnusse is the more specific word.) So technically, I didn’t eat any of the bar. I had to spit it out and rinse out my mouth (I still ended up itchy and with a sore throat all evening - my allergy has not developed beyond this irritation stage). But I’m going to go out on a limb after eating many of the other Hachez products in the past week (which I’ll have reviews for) and say that this really is a good bar.
Size: 3.5 ounces
Do you have a favorite winter flavor combination? Anything regional or something from long ago that they don’t make any longer?
Monday, December 12, 2011
When I was a kid and candy was hard to come by, there was always the old standby of cough drops. I grew to love Hall’s Honey Lemon Eucalyptus drops as if they were decadent candy. Of course they are, there’s little that’s nutritional or therapeutic about them. But sometimes it’s a small pleasure that lifts the spirits when you have a cold.
My favorite cough drops as a kid were Pine Bros, which were about as old school as they come. They weren’t like the standard hard candy lozenges, instead these were a glycerine pastille, similar to Grether’s or Dr. Doolittle’s. The ingredient they all share is glycerine, which is viscous and has soothing properties as it can coat irritated membranes.
Pine Bros Throat Drops and I were born in the same city, about a hundred years apart. Once I moved to the West Coast from Pennsylvania, I couldn’t find Pine Bros any longer. Part of it was that Pine Bros, which was made by Life Savers between 1930 and then Life Savers was bought out by Leaf (I believe they were manufactured outside of the US for a while and the formula changed) then when Leaf divested in 1998 a company called IVC picked up the Pine Bros name. By 2005 they were gone.
The word softish is perfect for these. They truly aren’t hard or soft, but have a great squishy quality. The pieces are nicely formed and comfortable for the mouth. The pieces are about three quarters of an inch long and have a little indentation in the bottom, which I believe is caused by the piece shrinking a bit due to evaporation as it cures in its mold.
The flavor is mild, a combination of a jammy wild cherry flavor and a little hint of honey (though there’s not actually any in there). The flavor is rather similar to blackcurrant with its deep wine notes. It’s more floral than many other cherry candies and because they’re colored naturally (with elderberry juice) there’s no weird aftertaste.
Most cough drops are hard candies, but these are soft, pliable yet tacky and stiff and pretty much impossible to chew up. They’re not quite bouncy like a gummi (which contains gelatin, which is a protein) but still have some of that firmness. The other great thing is because they’re so smooth, there’s little danger of sharp voids like some cough drops can have - so no little cuts or scrapes inside the mouth.
I picked up the Value Size not because of its value but because it was the only format available. It holds 32 drops for $3.49 (2.38 ounces) while a little tin of Grether’s of a similar quantity would be about $10.
If you always wished that Grether’s came in Wild Cherry and at a fraction of the price, Pine Bros may be the solution for you.
The package is new and sharp, but still has a classic feel to it. The color coding is similar to the boxes I remember as a kid. Cherry came in a deep red box, Menthol was in Blue and Honey was in a deep amber. The new packaging is a bit brighter, with more of a mustard yellow.
The ingredients are listed as a medicinal product, not a candy. My Pine Bros Throat Drops were also taxed, so were not considered food so do not have any nutritional/caloric information.
The pieces are beautiful little amber drops. They actually remind me of true amber. They sound like it when dropped and feel lighter than they look they should. But they’re a little weird. They’re not like I remember them.
The package smelled quite a bit when I opened it. Not just like honey but like roses, like a jam made from rose petals, so it’s a very sweet, syrupy rose scent. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s not the toasty and more cotton candy notes I was prepared for.
The texture is smooth, the melt is wonderful and they truly are soothing for a throat a bit raw from the drying and dusty Santa Ana winds. But the flavor, which I was hoping would be mild and sort of fleeting is rather stubborn. It tastes, well, old. Like old flowers, old tea ... not fresh. I actually found myself reaching for the Wild Cherry ones.
There are two other flavors that Pine Bros is hoping to bring back: Licorice and Honey Lemon. So here’s to hoping that it’s actually Honey Lemon that I love so much and that my favorite will be restored. But I also have high hopes for Licorice.
They are made in the USA in a facility that also processes peanuts and tree nuts. They’re not listed Kosher but the non-honey versions should be considered vegan (unless the glycerine was from an animal source, which is pretty rare because it’s so much more expensive).
I’m not planning on reviewing cough drops on a regular basis, but now’s a good time to ask: what cough drop do you eat like candy? (My other favorite is Thayer’s Slippery Elm, which also has a dreamy smoothness with the flavor of maple sugar considering it starts out looking like a small tablet of rabbit food.)
Sunday, December 11, 2011
When I was in Amsterdam, instead of seeing Altoids by the check out stand at the grocery, I saw Potter’s Original. The funny thing was, there was already one in my purse. Several months before my trip to Europe, I picked up a little tin to tuck into my bag.
It’s a cute little tin, light and narrow, it’s like a longer box of wooden matches. It has a pleasant rattling sound from the little candies inside. It was pretty cheap for licorice, too. They sell for less than 1 Euro, so about a buck and even in the United States I only paid $1.50. Of course there’s not much in there weight wise, it’s only .44 ounces.
In Holland folks call them simply Pottertjes. The flavor is a combination of licorice and menthol.
The tin has a clever dispensing set up under the lid. The second lid has a tiny hole that allows only one or two pieces to come out at a time. Each piece is about the size of a French lentil, though a bit square and pillowy.
I was fully expecting these to be strong and possibly salted. I was spared the latter, though they are quite potent not only in the licorice department but also have some sort of yin yang thing going on with some warming and some cooling.
The ingredients list a base of licorice and sugar then an addition of both menthol and capsathine. Capsathine is one of the constituents of hot peppers.
The flavors start bold and smoky, there’s a lot of molasses and woodsy licorice notes. Then the menthol gets things pepped up with a bit of nasal clearing ... then towards the end there’s a little burn, like a cayenne but without those green notes.
The texture is odd. Sometimes I thought I was chewing on a piece of paper, other times it was like slightly grainy gummi bear. They’re very small, but one does quite a bit. I’ve had the tin for nearly a year and do partake every once in a while. The overall flavors are on the medicinal side but much more interesting than the standard honey lemon variety.
Potter’s also makes a mild version, which I’ve bought but can’t bring myself to open until I finish (or get close to finishing) this one. They also make glycerine drops, similar to Pine Bros and Grether’s Pastilles. Hopefully when I have a layover in Amsterdam I can try to find some.
Monday, December 5, 2011
R.M. Palmer makes charming and cheap candy for the holidays. Their Christmas candies are never as appealing as their Easter goods but I was intrigued by their new RM Palmer Giant 1/4 Peanut Butter Cup.
Giant candy is pretty common as a holiday gift, especially as a stocking stuffer or Secret Santa item. This one isn’t quite as amazing as the Snickers Slice n’ Share or 1 Lb Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but it’s certainly affordable at only $1.00.
The package is simple. There were two designs, the red wrapper I picked out features an elf on a snowboard. There’s a green version that had a Santa on it.
The packaging is spare, it’s just a plastic sleeve, there’s no cardboard tray or even a fluted cup. However, this was more than sufficient, my cup came out the wrapper looking nearly flawless.
Like nearly all R.M. Palmer candies, this is a very nicely made product. The mold is well designed and attractive. The large cup has some attractive design details, including a little inset bevel and texture on the bottom of cup. The fluting is crisp and the mockolate coating is shiny.
The cup is three and a half inches in diameter and just a smidge over a half an inch thick. The package says that it’s four servings, which would be one ounce each. It’d be pretty easy to divide this up, it cuts easily with even a butter knife. However, one ounce is a rather small portion for candy. The typical is about 1.5 (which is what a pair of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are).
The first ingredient on the list is sugar, which I fully expected. The second is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil made from palm kernel and/or palm oil. It’s pretty widely known now that partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats. And trans fats need to be reported on the nutrition facts panel. However, if it’s less than a half a gram of trans fat, it can be listed as zero. So it’s entirely possible that a “truer serving size” of 1.5 ounces would have a measurable amount of trans fat. Or it could be that RM Palmer figured that people could quarter things easily but probably couldn’t cut them into 3/8 as easily. (Well, you’d just cut it into 8 pieces and take a serving of three of those, but I don’t think they’d be structurally sound.)
The cup smells good, like sweet peanut butter. The bite is soft and the peanut butter is smooth. It’s an odd cup, I was fully willing to hate it based on the ingredients. However, the peanut butter center is really good. It’s soft but not greasy, smooth but not quite silky. There’s a slight coolness to both the mockolate and the peanut butter on the tongue. The flavor of the peanut butter center is sweet, not quite as salty or crumbly/dry as a Reese’s, it’s more like eating peanut butter cookie dough.
For kids or the not-too-picky, it’s a fun little treat. It’s far from gourmet, but it fits in as affordable and over-the-top little gift.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Brach’s, now owned by Farley’s and Sathers has had its ups and downs. Lately I’d say they’re on the upswing. They have newly designed packaging and a new logo along with a return to their classic formulas.
One of Brach’s standard candies for many years has been their Brach’s Milk Chocolate Stars which are not only a favorite for candy dishes, they’re occasionally featured in cookie recipes. This explains why I spotted this bag not in the candy aisle at Target but with a special display of holiday baking items.
The pieces are large what I’d consider a big bite or two small bites. They’re a full inch across and weigh a little less than 4 grams each. (For comparison, a Hershey’s Kiss is about 4.5 grams.)
The front and back of the package make multiple mentions of the fact that the stars are made from 100% milk chocolate. Some Brach’s items stopped using real chocolate over the years (oddly enough some of that cheapening occurred while the company was run by Barry Callebaut, a Swiss company and one of the largest makers of chocolate in the world. (But they also make mockolate.)
The ingredients do actually qualify this product as milk chocolate, though the list is very long for what is usually a six ingredient product:
The stars a bit scuffed up but I was still pleased at how attractive they are. They vary a little bit, as they’re not molded but squirted out onto a line. The have a sweet scent, a bit on the caramel side of milk chocolate. The melt is pretty quick and very sweet but with a very mellow salty note to it.
Though the melt is passably smooth, it is quite sticky. I did a quick analysis of the chocolate compared to Hershey’s Kisses. There’s just a smidge more sugar in it and a little less fat. (Basically, my calculations put Hershey’s Kisses at 29.3% fat by weight and Brach’s Milk Chocolate Stars at 26.3%. So if there’s less fat there’s either going to be more sugar or more protein, in this case it’s the sugar with Hershey’s at 56.1% and Brach’s at 57.9%.)
The flavor is not complex or difficult. There’s a slight dairy twang to it, but nothing like the sour belch of a Hershey’s Kiss nor the powdered dairy taste of Cadbury. I suspect that they stand up well in the oven and probably get an even better toasted taste to the sugars that bring out the fudge notes. It’s a little too sweet and sticky for me to eat alone, but with some nuts or pretzels or really anything else like a tall glass of water or strong coffee to cut it, I’d find them passable.
If I were baking the only reason to use them would be for aesthetics. If I were going for taste, I’d pick up Ghirardelli or Guittard which are only slightly more expensive ... or if I needed something really stunning Valrhona.
They’re made in a facility with nuts, peanuts and wheat plus they contain soy and dairy. Not Kosher.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Taste of Nature has nugget-ized many favorite sweet snacks with their line of Cookie Dough Bites. One of their new offerings is Cinnamon Bun Bites which promises bite size cinnamon bun pieces in a white chocolatey coating.
The box for Cinnamon Bun Bites is eye catching, I spotted it quite easily at Cost Plus World Market as a new item that I was seeking. The front of the box says that they’re new and have fresh from the oven taste. It’s been quite a few years since I had a fresh cinnamon bun, but I admit that enjoy the hot ones with the white sugary glaze (though the pecan sticky rolls are still one of my favorites). The essential elements of a cinnamon bun would be the chewy, yeasty dough, the cinnamon and the sticky, sugary glaze that pulls it all together.
The nuggets vary quite a bit in size but most are disk-like and about a half an inch around. They do actually smell like sweet cinnamony rolls. The waxy and greasy white coating is made of sugar and palm kernel oil with some other stuff thrown in, but basically it’s nothing like real white chocolate or even a vague approximation except for the fact that it’s white. The doughy center has a slight texture of a batter with distinct undissolved sugar and the flavor of cinnamon and raw flour.
I found it much better than I expect. I fully thought they would be disgusting and inedible. I’m not saying that they’re great or something that I’m even interested in eating, but I found the cinnamon flavor and sweetness level (which was rather moderate) to be passable. The white coating is simply terrible though, a real white chocolate might actually make these into a unique candy. Since I reviewed these after the Cupcake Bites, they really couldn’t fare much worse by comparison.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
A few years ago Brach’s came out with Soda Poppers, which were licensed soda flavors (from the Cadbury Schewppes line) in hard candy form with gooey chewy interiors. Since Trolli and Brach’s are owned by Farley’s and Sathers, it’s no surprise that they’ve come out with a line of gummis called Trolli Soda Poppers.
Each piece is shaped like a little can with the name of the soda embossed on it: Cherry Cola, Root Beer, Lemon Lime, Orange and Cola.
Upon opening the bag I was greeted with a scent that reminded me of a box of cheap soap and aftershave. There are hints of lime and the soft powder smell of wintergreen but mostly it’s a soap and dated smell of the seventies.
One of the novelties I enjoyed as a child was the self serve soda fountain. Naturally, as a tween, I knew that I could design a better flavor than all the soda companies in the world with only their soda as a source material. Even at that time I was a frugal person, so all mistakes were consumed, even though there were free refills and I probably could have dumped that mix of lemon-lime, root beer and grape soda. Not all candy flavors should be mixed and since many candies have strong scents, they probably shouldn’t be in the same bag together.
Cherry Cola is quite subtle and a bit masculine. The cola flavor is pronounced enough that I could tell this wasn’t just straight ahead cherry. The cherry notes are woodsy and black while there’s a light tangy finish to the whole thing. I really didn’t like it at all, it was medicinal and too perfumey.
Root Beer in many cases is mistaken for Cola in candy mixes because of the similar caramel color. In this case they mark each candy with the name, and the fact that Root Beer is two words means that even poorly molded pieces are easy to distinguish. I love Root Beer flavor and one of my favorite all time candies are Root Beer Barrels. The hard candy version provides all the flavor of a whole glass of soda in one little piece of candy. In the case of this gummi, it’s really not that dense. It’s more tangy that rooty, with more cola notes than the soft sassafras and wintergreen.
Lemon Lime is the color of Gatorade instead of the refreshing colorlessness of Sprite or Seven Up. The flavor is a mere hint with less of a citrus tang than the Root Beer. The zest is missing so what’s left is rather like a bland cleaning product.
Orange is actually like orange soda. It’s completely fake and rather like Jell-O or Tang but still pleasant and different enough from a regular Orange Trolli Bear to make me believe that I’ve purchased a different product.
Cola is such an underrepresented product in candy, I was really hoping these would be a good. The flavor was bland and not enough strong enough to be considered watered down. There was a hint of lemon in there, maybe a little snap of cola nut, but mostly it was a let down.
There’s nothing that emulates sodas, such as effervescence or even a foamy texture (but there’s also no tooth dissolving phosphoric acid, so we can celebrate that). Though there was nothing offensive about the flavors, the combination of them in one bag was off-putting (and actually stunk up my candy drawer). So while I might have wanted more intense flavors, I can only imagine what sort of smell that would create. I don’t drink soda, so my only way to get those classic soda flavors is through candy ... this isn’t the candy that does that. I’ll stick to the hard candy version (which lacks a Cola flavor) or just Root Beer Barrels.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I consider myself an expert on candy, not just an expert on eating it, but actually what’s going on with candy and the people who make it. I’m on oodles of mailing lists and I read news feeds and trade magazines voraciously. So I’m always a little surprised and slightly disappointed to see a new candy on the shelves that I didn’t know was coming. Really, why would you sneak a candy onto store shelves without at least including it on your own website or a list that you publish in a trade magazine?
I was at Walgreen’s over the weekend (at regular circuit where I also stop at RiteAid and sometimes 7-11) checking to see if there were any new candies to review. Imagine my surprise when I found Limited Edition Twizzlers Pull ‘n’ Peel Grape actually hiding underneath the Watermelon Pull ‘n’ Peel. Not only was it on sale, but there was also a little coupon dispenser, so the regular price of $2.79 was ultimately $1.65.
The package is about 12 inches long, but the Twizzlers themselves are less than 9.5 inches long ... so there’s a lot of useless and deceptive space in the package.
The color is strange and matte, like the other Pull ‘n’ Peel varieties of Twizzlers. (The classic Twizzlers twists look like they’re made of some sort of pliable acrylic.)
Each cable of Pull ‘n’ Peel has nine strands and weights about an ounce. It’s also only 100 calories, so it’s a lot of candy to indulge in for a very low calorie cost. They’re soft and easy to pull apart (though every once in a while I’d break a string while peeling it from the others). The surface is soft and not at all greasy or sticky unless you get it wet, then it sticks very nicely to itself.
Imagine a product that takes the most memorable qualities from PlayDoh and Grape Pixy Stix. You’re thinking, “What fun! It’s candy you can play with!” But it’s not quite an even contribution from its parents, apparently candy genetics has some ideas about which traits are dominant. It has the mild and soft texture of a pliable molding clay but also some of the scent of it. (PlayDoh is also made of a wheat flour base.) But still, it smells like grape drink or Pixy Stix, but the flavor is less grape and more purple. There is some fake grape in there, but mostly the flavor notes come from the strong bitterness and strange inky qualities of the artificial colors. There’s no hint of tartness or anything else, just a mild sweetness.
The chew is good, though the lack of tang gives it a doughy flavor overall. Eventually it dissolves into a pasty puddle in my mouth along with some larger bits that stick to the sides of my molars. There’s a long-lingering aftertaste: a metallic, aluminum flavor.
American Licorice, the West Coast rival of Twizzlers recently re-issued their Grape Vines. I happened to have some sitting around to compare. The flavor of the Grape Vines is actually authentic, it tastes like raisins and concord grape juice, if only slightly. Even eating a few of those couldn’t push that aftertaste of the Twizzlers out of my mouth though.
Twizzlers did a great thing when they made the cinnamon-flavored Twizzlers Fire Pull ‘n’ Peel. Those need to come back and these need to be retired forever. (Except in cases where parents are trying to wean their children off of eating PlayDoh and need these as a positive substitution, but perhaps by prescription from a pediatrician only.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.