Thursday, February 26, 2009
Malley’s Chocolates is a Northeast Ohio favorite. They started in 1935 and currently produce their candy locally in Brookpark and distribute to 17 of their stores, plus many other shops that carry their products. In addition, they make a variety of bars that are sold by groups & schools for fundraising. Not as well known as the World’s Finest line, these bars have an additional local flair to them.
Last October I visited the factory with my mother while we were in the Cleveland area. There is a tour, which amounts to walking up and down a hallway with huge plate glass windows that show the factory in action along with little displays about the history of chocolate and the company. While it is unguided, the factory workers are quite aware that there are people watching and even made a few little signs and held them up to tell us what was being made on each line.
The factory has several enrobing lines, production lines, kettles, mixers and even sorts & roasts their own nuts. That is coupled with their packaging & assembly. It’s all free to watch, so if you’re in the area, especially on a rainy day, it’s a fun diversion especially with kids.
The store features the entire array of their production from the fine boxed chocolates, their marshmallow favorites, foil wrapped novelties, chocolate dipped pretzels & cookies (called Malley Ohs!), nut & caramel clusters (Billy Bobs), Buckeyes (peanut butter balls covered in chocolate), mint meltaways and their line of candy bars. The general prices of their candy is $16 to $30 per pound for their fine chocolates and $10 to $15 per pound for their enrobed snacks.
I bought a box of chocolates for myself & to share with family while I was traveling, but brought home an array of their chocolate candy bars for review. (Though, sadly, they don’t sell them on their website.)
The wrappers are bold and actually pretty thick. They’re mostly an advertisement on the back for their fundraising programs. The company’s colors are mint green and pink, which features heavily in their packaging.
The bars are big, 2.25 ounces each and only $1.00 each, so it’s a great value for a quality product. The chocolate is real (and may be Guittard, I saw some Guittard boxes on the factory floor and no other company’s chocolate there, but some companies use from multiple suppliers). The ingredients are pretty straight forward, their chocolate is made sugar, milk, cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, soy lecithin & vanillin. Their dark chocolate is similar and does use milkfat in it.
I picked up their Milk Chocolate Crunch Bar (crisped rice), Peanut Butter Cups, Milk Chocolate Pretzel Crunch Bar and Dark Chocolate Pretzel Crunch Bar.
Once I opened the package it became clear why. Inside is a tray to protect the little cups. Instead of the fluted paper lining this tray is the mold for the cups.
They’re only 1.5” across and a half an ounce each.
They may be small, but they are darn cute and practically flawless.
Since I saw for myself that Malley’s roasts their own nuts fresh, I can only guess that they make the peanut butter for this cup themselves. It’s nothing like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
The center is so smooth it feels like it’s whipped. It’s not just peanuts though, it has a (un)healthy tippling of additional oils in it like palm kernel and rapeseed, more peanut oil and some non fat dry milk, sugar and the requisite salt.
The chocolate cup is also silky smooth, a little sweet and sticky but it has a good chocolatey punch to balance with the roasted flavor of the peanut butter. The peanuts have a slightly bitter toasted flavor to them.
The presentation of them is really appealing and even though I bought these in October and ate them in February, they were absolutely fresh tasting.
Rating: 8 out of 10
My main interest in Malley’s, truth be told, was that I heard they made a line of pretzel bars. I love a chocolate covered pretzel and have been lamenting that Hershey’s has cheapened their once-stellar Take 5. I was so sure I’d love theirs that I picked up two of each of their pretzel bars.
The bar is long with four segments alternating with a molding of the Malley’s logo and “Quality since 1935” then some little pinstripes. Each little block segment is about a half an ounce, a nice little portion.
With a bar with inclusions, thickness is important so that the chocolate and crunchies can mingle properly.
The milk chocolate is wonderfully sweet and smooth, there’s a dairy component to it, but it’s not too strong. There are lots of little salted pretzel bits that provide a light crunch and slight malty/cereal flavor.
It’s a really satisfying combination. Nothing fancy about it, just good old fashioned comfort.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The Malleys Dark Chocolate Pretzel Crunch has a reversed package design featuring the mint green with pink and brown accents. If I wasn’t looking for the bar, I probably would have mistaken it for a mint product.
This bar is much bumpier on the bottom, which pleased me, since that indicated lots of pretzels.
It smells like cocoa, on the sugary side.
The shiny tempering means that it has a satisfying snap to it, which goes really well with the crispy and light pretzel bits. The chocolate is semi-sweet, not deep or complex. It’s like eating pudding with pretzels. A little bitter bite to it, but for the most part it’s typical mass-produced dark.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The final bar (but didn’t photograph for some strange reason) is the Chocolate Crunch Bar which is milk chocolate with crisped rice.
By the time I got to this bar, I realized that I really liked the milk chocolate that Malley’s uses. Sure it’s sweet and sure it lacks some of the complexity that fine artisan milk chocolates can have. But it’s addictively eatable.
The thick bar has loads of big crisped rice. Crisped rice is great, it’s like nature’s malted milk balls. This bar had the perfect ratio of crisps and chocolate. Still a bit sweeter than I’d like but for the price I don’t think you can find a better chocolate and crisped rice bar.
Rating: 9 out of 10
If a kid comes knocking on your door to do a little fundraising, you might think you’re doing them a favor by supporting their cause, but you really can’t go wrong for a buck with this purchase.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Years ago I toured the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, CA. At the end I was given a taste of their not-yet-introduced Pomegranate Jelly Belly, which boasts an infusion of antioxidants in addition to pomegranate flavor.
At the time I told them that I was hoping that someday they’d introduce a tangy citrus mix of Jelly Bellys with vitamins. (And then when I was done with the tour, I went and made my own custom mix in their store that consisted of all the citrus flavors.)
Three and a half years later, it’s here! I have no idea if they took my suggestion or realized it was simply something that had to be done.
At the Fancy Food Show Jelly Belly displayed this package (shown here in a rather dim photo taken by Emanuel Treeson). Over the weekend I got my first taste via a sample from Jelly Belly.
Though I like Jelly Belly, I rarely buy the pre-made mixes because there are just too many flavors that I don’t like and at the price of the product, it’s far too expensive to toss a third of them.
Jelly Belly’s Sunkist Citrus Mix is a blend of five jelly bean flavors all fortified with Vitamin C. Each 40 gram portion (1.41 ounces) provides 25% of the daily US RDA of Vitamin C. (Sorry, no other antioxidants - it would have been nice to sneak some beta carotene in there.)
The flavors are Sunkist Lime, Sunkist Pink Grapefruit, Sunkist Orange, Sunkist Lemon and Sunkist Tangerine.
I have no idea if these are actually the same flavor as the non-Sunkist varieties. I tried a one-for-one taste test with the pink grapefruit and found that the Sunkist one was definitely zestier, maybe a little tangier. But that could have been a freshness issue.
Of the five flavors, I preferred the ones that had a tangy bite: lemon, tangerine and pink grapefruit. All had a lot more zesty notes than most jelly beans but the orange was just too plain old sweet. The great thing is that I loved the combination of flavors, I liked picking through them but none of them was a “shunned” flavor that was left over.
Since I’ve been battling a cold, this was one candy that I’ve been indulging in. Even without a decent sense of smell on Saturday, the tangy notes were still welcome. While I don’t necessarily think that they’re the reason that I’ve gotten over the cold, they really brightened my day.
Jelly Belly are now listing their products as gluten free, dairy free and this one in particular is gelatin free. They would be vegan except for the beeswax used in the glaze.
They should be in store by Easter, they haven’t appeared on the Jelly Belly website yet.
Friday, February 06, 2009
One of the issues these days with candy bars isn’t the empty calories, it’s the ingredients. There’s a difference between bad for you (sound cue: giggle) and bad for you (sound cue: medical equipment).
I don’t usually feel bad about calories, fat or sugar. But I do feel weird about eating partially hydrogenated oils, artificial colors and flavors.
Enter Q.bel with their line of all-natural candy bars. No artificial colors, no artificial flavors, no hydrogenated oils, no high fructose corn sweetener and no preservatives.
The happy thing to report is that candy bars never needed any of the above to be good ... they just needed them to be cheap. So quality will cost you $1.39-$1.69 (but if you’re buying your candy at Whole Foods, that’s hardly a surprise).
Their inaugural line has six products. I’m going to review three of them today, their Crispy Wafer Bar which come in Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate and Peanut Butter.
The Dark Chocolate Crispy Rice Wafer Bar (purple wrapper) is a stack of three crisp, flavorless wafers filled with a chocolate cream, sprinkled with crisped rice and then covered in dark chocolate.
They come in a two pack of fingers. Each is about three inches long and three quarters of an inch wide.
If the photo and description sounds vaguely familiar to you, it might be because this is very similar to the Hershey’s Bar None. (Except there’s no peanuts in this version.)
The crunch is light and crisp, airy and a little like an ice cream cone. The chocolate is slightly bitter, creamy and sweet with a dry finish. The cream center is sweet and a little grainy but rather buttery.
The whole experience is extremely satisfying. It’s not really a chocolate bar, it’s definitely a candy. I am in love with this bar.
Rating: 10 out of 10 (as long as I can find it in stores)
The Milk Chocolate Crispy Rice Wafer Bars are just like the dark version except with 10 more calories.
They’re a lighter taste and seem to have more crunchies to them, but that just could be variations in the manufacture.
The scent is milky sweet with a slight cereal smell. There’s less of a chocolate punch here and more of a creamy, dairy milk chocolate event going on.
I was very pleased with it (and at first though this would be like Bar None, but it didn’t have the same punch).
Rating: 8 out of 10.
The Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Wafer Bars are a little different in that they don’t have the crisped rice. Instead of a chocolate cream filling they have a peanut butter filling between the wafers.
As I’m writing this I’ve been following the RSS feed from the FDA with all the recall warnings about peanut butter & peanut products. I’ve been assured by Q.bel directly and their website that they did not source their peanut butter from Peanut Corporation of America. (And it’s easy to believe them since these bars were manufactured in The Netherlands.
As with most nutty candies, this pair of bars clocked in with the highest calorie count: 190. (Don’t get the impression that these are dainty when it comes to calories, they’re dense in sugar and fat, clocking in on the upper range of the calories per ounce that I track.)
The bars are lovely to look at with their rippled coats of chocolate. They smell like fresh roasted peanuts.
The bite on these is very different. The peanut butter cream filling tastes unsalted and unsugared - so it’s a startling pop of real peanut flavor. But it’s very oily and soft, so when I bite into the bar, sometimes I’ve broken it because it’ll slide around (you can see the kind of crack it makes along the wafer line in the photo).
The peanut butter, while not crumbly or thick really sticks to my ribs. I found just one stick here to be very filling. The milk chocolate holds its own in this battle as well, giving a sweet and milky component to bring it all together.
Rating: 9 out of 10.
I’m so pleased that someone is making a quality product and I hope Q.bel becomes a standard in the confectionery industry. That you can make something with real ingredients and still make people want to overeat it. The packaging is compelling and appropriate. It protects the product inside, doesn’t take up too much space and gave me all the information I wanted to know. The images on the front are tantalizing and the bars actually look like that.
The portions may seem a little small, only 1.1 ounces, but they appear large because of the light wafers inside (maybe a little smaller than a KitKat bar). However, this also lowers the calorie count per portion, all are under 200 calories (which means those 100 calorie folks can just eat one). The price point is a little steep too, but if I were faced with an array of these and something like Nestle’s Crunch Crisp bar (which is a one-bar version of this filled with partially hydrogenated fats and covered with mockolate), I’d pick these at twice/thrice the price.
The other half of their product line is a series of Wafer Rolls in the same flavor array. (I’ll have a review of those soon.)
Q.bel did some liberal mailing of samples, so expect more reviews to pop up on the other food-oriented blogs. They did send me a silly-huge number of “samples” which were a box of each (20 bars) flavor. I’ve been very popular with my co-workers this week.
UPDATE: They should be available at most Whole Foods nationwide and online at Natural Candy Store.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Usually for holidays they’ll have some other panned sugar candies. For Valentine’s Day this year the trend seems to be cinnamon flavor. So I picked up a bag of their See’s Hot Hearts and their Cinnamon Lollypops.
The Hot Hearts were a bit expensive, in my opinion, for a sugar candy. It was $4.50 for a 12 ounce bag of what are basically heart-shaped Hot Tamales.
But hey, the bag was pretty and included a real piece of ribbon on it and a thick plastic bag with pretty little red foil printed hearts.
While See’s makes their own chocolates and lollypops, I’m pretty sure they have their sugar candies specially made for them by an outside company. I was hoping my trip to the Fancy Food Show might shed some light on that, because, spoiler alert ... these were good and I think I might want some more after Valentine’s Day!
The candy shell is crisp and a little grainy. The jelly center is sweet and very cinnamony. The sizzle of these heart-shaped jelly beans is substantial.
The cinnamon flavor is both woodsy and fiery, capturing all of the great aspects of cinnamon.
Even though there’s a fair amount of food coloring in these (including Red 40), there’s no bitter aftertaste. Not that there ever is an aftertaste, since I don’t actually stop eating them.
Yes, I want to know how to get them all year long, or themed for other holidays, like Fiery Eggs for Easter or a Screaming Phoenix for Halloween.
See’s has been making their own Lollypops for years. The flavors change from time to time, but lately they’ve been adding in their seasonal flavors.
See’s Cinnamon Lollypops are the same rounded block shaped lolly made from a hard caramel base.
The scent is odd. It smells like caramel and cinnamon. But the scent and the flavors are never completely integrated. They just exist side by side.
Mmm, toasted sugar and butter flavors. Then, wow, a pop of hot cinnamon. Then the mellow and sweet caramel.
I liked them, but not quite as much and not in the same way as the Hot Hearts. They last a long time, but the combo of boiled sugar and butter with cinnamon never quite meshed for me. Plus there was a bit of a bitter artificial color aftertaste on these.
The pops are a great, reliable candy. They’re only 70 calories each, but be warned, they’re not fat free. Not that fat is a bad thing, it’s pretty much necessary for a caramel. Their Butterscotch lollypop is still the best (and the Root Beer is the best of their seasonal flavors). I’ve picked up the other flavors for review twice ... but ate them before I could photograph them.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
It’s a simple bar, described on the wrapper as dark chocolate with peppermint filling. I fully expected it to be like a molded York Peppermint Pattie.
Where this is different from the York Peppermint Pattie is fat. While a York is marketed as a lowfat food, it clocks in with a smidge from the dark chocolate coating, about 2.5 g per 39 g serving.
Ritter Sport Peppermint, on the other hand, has a liberal amount of fat in it, about 11 g per 38 g serving. At first I thought it was because there is more chocolate, ratio-wise, in the Ritter Sport. But looking at the ingredients, it lists palm kernel oil in there (which I’m guessing isn’t in the chocolate, since it does say it’s chocolate and not a chocolate flavored shell).
Some would find that disconcerting, or perhaps even a reason to eschew it. I, on the other hand, have often wondered what a fattier York Peppermint Pattie would be like.
The bar was lovely to look at. Glossy and dark, though not as dark as some dark chocolates. It smells mostly of peppermint, delicate and refreshing with a little acidic twang.
The snap of the chocolate was good. It broke along the segments easily and there was no sticky goo emerging from the margins. Biting into an invididual segment though, that was a very nice feeling. The chocolate shell keeps its shape well, not shattering into a bazillion flakes.
The mint filling is silky smooth, whatever fat is in there is doing a wonderful job of keeping it from becoming a fudgy blob or a crystallized chunk. Instead it’s almost like a white chocolate truffle - sweet and minty but not watery or milky. The chocolate is buttery smooth as well, and melts readily but without any sort of greasy tastelessness. It’s a little bitter, a little dry and the perfect balance for the sweet center.
I don’t know why Ritter Sport hasn’t sent this to the States before, it’s definitely not like other chocolate & mint fondant options here, so it’s allowed to occupy its own niche. I hope it’s not seasonal, because I think this is a perfect item for a crisp fall picnic. (I give these suggestions as if I live this sort of life, which I don’t, but go ahead and imagine it.)
Jim’s Chocolate Mission has been doing an awesome job documenting far more Ritter Sport than I’ve been able to. (Of interest to me are the Trauben Cashew, Neapolitan Waffle and the Voll Erdnuss.)
Thursday, January 08, 2009
I first experienced it in candy with the Yuzu HiCHEW and have eagerly consumed anything Yuzu I can get my hands on since. (And am considering planting a Yuzu tree in my back yard.)
So the Yuzu KitKat was enough to get me to place a pre-Christmas order with JBox. However, they were pretty expensive. $4.25 for 150 grams.
These little minis are two short fingers in a package (66 calories).
They smell like tangerines, chocolate and Cheerios.
The chocolate is rich and creamy and the zesty notes of Yuzu, which include grapefruit, mandarin, lime and tangerine come across immediately. The crunchy and bland wafers give it a bit of crunch. Towards the end there’s even a little bit of a bitter aftertaste from the citrus zest.
One of my favorite Japanese KitKats ever.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Azuki beans are used to make many confections in Japan, including a thick and sweet paste filling for mochi and a dessert soup called Oshiruko. Oshiruko varies depending on where you get it, but the little picture on the box looks like a thin, sweet bean broth with azuki beans and a dumpling of mochi in the middle.
The first Azuki KitKat I had was a white chocolate version, so I was definitely curious to try the red bean and milk chocolate combo in the newest Limited Edition from Nestle Japan.
This is definitely the kind of KitKat that fits into my mantra of “open your mouth, expand your mind.” Before I started my candy obsessed website I was pretty content with my American and sometimes Italian candies. I stuck to flavors and combinations that seemed logical to me. Combining beans and sugar (besides perhaps molasses baked beans) didn’t seem very confectionery to me. But now that I’ve had a good amount of mochi and red bean caramels I can say that beans are a natural, earthy & textured base flavor for candy.
This KitKat comes in the lovely box that is common in the Asian KitKats. Each little portion holds a two fingered KitKat. The front of this wrapper also has the new style of nutritional labeling that includes the calories right there - 110.
They’re glossy and pretty out of the mylar wrapper.
They smell like dirt. There are notes of freshly sawn wood, beets, caramel and rusted iron. It’s quite a different experience.
The bite and textures are the same as other KitKats. The milk chocolate is sweet and pretty creamy. The wafers are light and crunchy. The flavor is just as it smells - beets, charcoal, a hint of milk chocolate and butterscotch pudding. The Azuki flavor doesn’t quite make it in there, in fact, if I didn’t know that it was a red bean KitKat I probably would have guessed beets.
It’s not bad, a little bitter at times (which I don’t usually experience with other red bean items) but overall a tasty experience.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
It’s also fun to carry around a little candy in your pocket that emulates that feeling.
I’ve been eating Coffee Rio since I can remember developing a taste for coffee sometime around the age of ten or so.
I think the first time I had one, I thought they were coffee flavored Tootsie Rolls and was a little startled to find a hard caramel (much like Pearson’s Coffee Nips).
Coffee Rio are made by Adams & Brooks, which is based right here in my home city, Los Angeles, California. While they may be hard to find elsewhere in the country, I see them just about everywhere around here.
The candy is pretty simple. A hardened caramel flavored with real coffee. Though it contains quite a bit of milk products, it tastes more like black coffee with a bit of sugar than coffee & cream (which is what Pearson’s Nips are like - but they’re also Kosher and Coffee Rio isn’t).
The little rods are wrapped in a simple twisted mylar. I got this jumbo bag at Trader Joe’s for $2.69 for the bag, which I thought was a pretty good deal. They boast on the package that there are no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. (But there is some lightly hydrogenated soybean oil rather low on the list of ingredients.)
The texture is very smooth. They dissolve nicely and soften a bit as well (yes, you can chew them at some point, but also risk cementing your teeth together). The flavor is rich and like a mellow mocha java. At the start sometimes there’s a hint or charcoal and bitterness, but that fades away as the other woodsy coffee flavors come in.
Rating: 8 out of 10
I have been to the Island of Hawaii (the Big Island) and toured some of the Kona Coast’s coffee roasters. The stuff was fabulous, but you know drinking a cup of coffee from beans that were just roasted is bound to be better than the stuff you get at home.
One of the things I noticed about Kona coffee was its extreme dark acidic punch, even when not given the Italian roast treatment.
As Kona coffee is extremely expensive, most is sold as a blend. In the case of the Kona Blend Coffee Rio it’s only 10% Kona coffee.
These seems to capture that molasses & tangy bite really well. It’s not as sweet but no more bitter than the original Coffee Rio.
I also noticed that these were a bit softer, so much so that I was able to chew them after warming them. I love that! Even better, I got the bag at the 99 Cent Only store for a buck.
Rating: 9 out of 10
There’s pillowy cloud on the front of the package that reinforces that these are soft.
The ingredients, oddly enough, are identical to the other Coffee Rio, so it must be all in the process to create this softer version.
The package outside looks similar, but once I dumped out the pieces I realized that these are a bit different.
First, they’re bigger. They’re the same length, but have a greater girth than their hard brethren.
Second, they’re wrapped in foiled paper. I’m guessing this is to keep them well sealed from moisture.
They have a wonderful sweet & woodsy scent, less milky than the others.
The chew is very soft, softer than a Tootsie Roll, more like a chewy fudge. It’s a little bit grainy and I realized that this is a “short caramel” instead of being a “wet caramel.” Short caramel is slightly grainy, crystals have been allowed to form. It keeps its shape really well and provides an easy “bite”. A wet caramel is stringy and smooth and lacks the crystallization and can be very sticky and possibly runny.
I’d hoped this was a slightly softer Kona Blend.
The chew is soft and pleasant, but the light grain to it interrupted the creamy notes from the milk products. The coffee flavor was slightly acidic and tangy and lacking the coffee punch of the other hard varieties. I give it a pass.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Now I realize that I’d really like Tootsie to make Coffee Sugar Babies with chewy centers like the Kona Blend Coffee Rio.
I don’t know if these have caffeine in them or how much, but I suspect so, since they used to offer a decaf version. I can’t imagine it’s very much though. I sent an email to Adams-Brooks asking about it and I’ll update if I find out.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
When I was in Pennsylvania visiting my brother he took me to the Lancaster County Farmers Market as one of the stops on a candy adventure. There I found Nancy’s Candy Corner (not really a corner as it was in a center aisle). This vendor has everything covered in chocolate. Their specialty seemed to be pretzels. Pretzels dipped in chocolate. Pretzels dipped in chocolate and then rolled in things (toffee chips, chocolate chips, Oreo bits, sprinkles). Lots and lots of pretzel options. There were more traditional options like peanut butter straws. I bought a variety including some Milk and Dark chocolate covered German Spice Cookies.
They were fabulous. The cookies were dense and crunchy, the chocolate was sweet and creamy and then they were gone.
This is why I was so pleased to see these at Trader Joe’s, something I could buy locally, even if only temporarily. At 5.99 for the 10 ounce tin, it was one of the pricier confectionery items I’ve bought at Trader Joe’s lately.
The decription on the bottom of the tin makes my mouth water.
Molasses, ginger, cloves and vanilla ... these aromatic ingredients are the hallmark of gingersnap cookies. We’ve taken it one step further by gliding tiny gingersnap cookies with dark chocolate. For a sophisticated treat that mixes the creamy richness of chocolate with crunchy, spicy cookies.
Inside was a cellophane bag of shiny chocolate nuggets:
They smell of cloves, cinnamon and chocolate.
The pieces are irregular, ranging in size from a garbanzo bean to a hazelnut in the shell. The chocolate coating is glossy.
The chocolate is creamy and sweet, really has a silky mouthfeel. The spices of the cookie are overpowering, so the chocolate flavors aren’t as forward, but the texture makes a huge contribution here.
The cookies are fabulous. The woodsy molasses sets the stage for the immediate clove flavor and then the warming spices really kick in. I found they warmed my throat after two or three with both a gingery kick as well as a black pepper burn.
Trader Joe’s doesn’t have clearance sales after the holidays, so there’s no way to get these cheap or regularly. I can only hope they’ll sell them in the little tubs all year round and I don’t have to create a collection of these tins.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.