Friday, March 2, 2012
Brach’s has gone through a lot in the past few decades. Like many American candy companies, it was started by a real guy who put his name on the brand, Emil J. Brach, in Chicago, Illinois. In my lifetime though the company has been through many hands. It was owned by American Home Products, who sold it in 1987 to Jacob Suchard which was bought up by Callebaut in 2003. Callebaut sold off Brach’s to Farley’s & Sathers in 2007. Farley’s & Sathers have since tried to make over the brand to restore it to its roots and classic recipes.
The Fiesta Malted Milk Eggs of my recollection have always been pastel colored, speckled and the size of a small pecan in the shell. Last year I picked them up and they were white but more importantly, they actually used real milk chocolate which has become a rarity for an Easter malt product. Still, they weren’t great.
What makes the Fiesta Malted Milk Eggs different this year is the amazing size of them. They’re large: absurdly, ridiculously and tooth-dangerously huge. Most are about 1 1/2 inches long. The nutrition facts panel is exactly the same as last years, saying that each egg is about 0.275136903 ounces each. But I’m calling shenanigans on that, these ovoids are at least a third of an ounce, if not heftier. The nutrition panel does actually have one anomaly, it says that the suggested serving size is 39 grams and the calories are 160. But that works out to 113 calories per ounce, which is pretty low for a chocolate product.
I had to crack them on a hard surface first to eat them. The shell is very thick and trying to bite them was downright dangerous to my choppers. (And I often ended up with a slobbery and sticky mess, as well.) Think of them as an Everlasting Gobstopper that instead of having a SweeTart at the center, has a malted milk crisp. The shell with the real, but poor quality, milk chocolate coating comes apart from the malted milk crisp center quite easily. So I ate most of these in pieces. I’d pull off the shell and eat that, reserving the malted center for last. They were well protected by the shell, so they were dry, crisp and melted easily on the tongue. They’re milky and barely sweet with that inimitable malty flavor.
I love the fact that there’s so much malt inside, but the chocolate is just plain weak and the space-age strength of the shell was not exactly a selling point. I was actually wondering if one of those soft boiled egg cutters would be of use. (True candy needs no tools, assembly or dis-assembly.) I have to downgrade them to a 5 out of 10.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
One of the charming candies that I’ve sampled over the years from Japan is from Fujiya. Fujiya makes confections as well as running a series of cafes. Their mascot is Peko-Chan, little chubby cheeked girl in pig tails, which is now a well recognized icon around the world and appears on the Milky brand of chocolate candies.
Fujiya also makes a line of inexpensive chocolate candies more for adults under the Look line. These are usually little trays of individual pieces, often with multiple flavors in one package. I was attracted to this new introduction of single flavors. The Fujiya Look Crepe in Chocolate comes in a nicely sealed flat package and retails for less than $2.00 usually.
The tray inside holds 12 pristine and lovely little chocolate squares. They’re a little over 3/4 of an inch square and a half an inch tall. They’re shiny and fresh. So far, so good.
The English translation sticker on the back lists the ingredients and the nutritional panel. Instead of giving the calories for a serving, it says that one piece has 24 calories. So they’re kind of high in fat since they clock in at a calculated 158 calories per ounce. The other thing that the ingredients revealed is that this isn’t quite real chocolate. It’s made with cocoa butter, but there’s added vegetable fat. After eating them, I wouldn’t have needed to be told.
Again, they look great. They smell great. The bit is soft, the “crepe” inside is like an ice cream cone or feuilletine. It’s crispy and has a slight toffee flavor to it. It’s airy, you know, because there’s that big void in the middle ... a great mix of textures. But the problem becomes the chocolate coating. It looks great and even has a rich chocolate flavor, but the texture is just weird. It’s gummy, thick but without that smooth melt that real cocoa butter delivers. I’d call it waxy, but because it does actually melt, it’s hard to pin that on it.
The chocolate flavor, however, for a milk chocolate product, is especially rich, like a really decadent cocoa drink. It’s also not overly sweet. But still, since so much of the candy is made up of the chocolate, it’s just too disappointing to keep eating.
Like the blue packaged Crepe in Chocolate, the pink packaged Fujiya Look Wafers in Chocolate have it all going on in the looks department. The packaging is sharp and accurate. It’s bold and even has enough English on the wrapper to keep me from being confused.
This version is a little lighter, each piece has 22 calories. The construction is like a KitKat bar, a series of light wafers with cream between them. There are 12 little pieces in a segmented tray in the package.
The wafers are great, airy and crispy with a slight vanilla and malt note. The cream between them ... hardly noticeable. It’s all overshadowed by that same, weird, not-quite-chocolate stuff. It’s too bad, because I really wanted to love these, especially the Crepe since it’s such an uncommon combination in the United States. At least I know that I wasn’t imagining it or it was some anomaly with one package. Both had the same qualities, both were within the expiry and obviously were stored properly.
I might give Look another try, as they try new flavor combinations very often, but I’ll be careful to read the package first so I don’t get my hopes up for good chocolate.
Monday, January 9, 2012
Angry Birds Fruit Gummies were introduced late last year to tie into the popular video game of the same name. They’re made by a company called Healthy Food Brands which says on the front of the box that these are made with Real Fruit Juice, in addition to Natural and Artificial Flavors (plus a heaping helping of artificial colors).
They come in a theater style box. There are four “collector editions” of the box, each themed for a different main character of the game: Red, Yellow, Green and the Blue, which I chose.
The box is 7 inches long, 4.25 inches wide and .75 inches deep. The interior white packet is 5.5” long, 4 inches wide and the .33 inch thickness is that of the gummis themselves when they’re spread out (and don’t even fill the bag). So, it’s what I’d call a big box for a small amount of candy. There are 3.5 ounces in the box and I paid $1.69. Of course I bought them at 7-11, which is very expensive for candy. But still, it’s a poor value for sugar candy. Other sugar candy movie theater boxes give you at least 6 ounces for the same price (Dots, Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales, etc.). Chocolate candy is the only exception to that, but I expect there to be a price difference for nuts or chocolate, not licensed shapes.
Each flavor is a different color and a different character. They’re bright and soft and bouncy. They’re not terribly greasy, but do have a little waxy coating to keep them from sticking. They’re rather small and mostly round - a little less than 3/4 of an inch in diameter.
Cherry (red): The Red Bird - it’s cherry. It’s soft and has a strong chemical flavor to it, not very well rounded and has a slight apple juice note to it (but the fruit juice concentrate used is white grape).
Basically, these are serviceable but hardly improve upon other gummies out there. They’re expensive with the only thing to really recommend them, aside from the nicely designed box is the fact that they’re gluten free and nut free (if those are things you’re interested in). They’re made in Mexico.
My suggestion? Buy one box, you know, for the box, and then keep refilling it with something better. I suggest Albanese Gummi Bears, or any of the cute shapes they also come in like butterflies, army men, worms or flowers. Those are made in the USA, come in really great flavors and cost half as much.
Check out Jess’ review on Foodette Reviews.
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.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.