Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Brach’s Ice Cream Conversation Hearts provide a conceptually different choice in the area of conversation candies. They’re flavored like ice cream, which is to say that they’re more mainstream than the original spice inspired flavors that Necco used to produce.
When I go to the store and browse ice cream flavors, the tops on my list of consideration go something like this (not necessarily in order): chocolate, coffee, mint chocolate chip, butter pecan, peanut butter cup and then maybe vanilla. I can’t remember the last time I bought strawberry ice cream (though I buy strawberry sorbet rather often) and orange sherbet is so far off my list of viable flavors, I can’t even recall seeing it in stores.
Strawberry (pink) was bitter and only a vague floral hint of berry. Mostly bitter from the food coloring.
Cherry (same shade of pink) was bitter and sweet with only a faint cherry flavoring note. Not tartness, just sweet. I’m still not convinced that there was any difference, except strawberry seemed even more bitter.
I had to take a break at this point because of the bitterness. A bit of water. Some crackers. I don’t know why I started with pink.
Vanilla (white) was expected to be flavorless, but actually does have a pleasant vanilla note to it. It’s like a marshmallow flavor. Really the only one I picked through assortment to eat. But it was really that I was actively avoiding nearly every other piece.
Chocolate was just horrible. Worse than the pink candies, because it was so lacking in chocolate and ended up tasting like a musty basement. You can tell just by looking at it that it can’t taste like chocolate, it’s not brown.
Orange was mild and did remind me of orange sherbet, except for the fact that it was missing that juice tartness. So it was more like an orange chapstick.
Now that I’ve tried their take on the classic ice cream flavors, I have no interest in their take on something more complex like butter pecan or mint chocolate chip. It’s best they failed at the easy stuff so I don’t get my hopes up.
Brach’s also has Heartlines Classic Conversation Hearts (I reviewed them when they were called small conversation hearts) on the shelves again this year. They’re better than the classic Necco (which are achingly hard to find) but still, not quite right.
Taken as a non-toxic and cheap decoration, there’s little better than conversation hearts. I paid only $2.50 for a full pound. Even if no one eats them from this cute jar on my desk, it was an inexpensive way to look like I’m observing the holiday. If you’re not eating them, it doesn’t matter which version you pick up. Choose based on the color combos, the sayings on them, or where they’re made. (These are made in Argentina.) There’s little point in choosing based on flavor.
Friday, September 21, 2012
Brach’s has been around since 1904 and has been through a lot, especially in the past 20 years. The company, founded by Emil Brach, was bought by American Home Products in 1966. In 1987, Jacobs Suchard, a coffee & confectionery giant, bought Brach’s. By 1990, as Suchard was being swallowed up by the tobacco company of Phillip Morris, the Jacobs part of the company, Klaus Jacobs, retained Brach’s. Then in 2003 it was sold to Callebaut and only a few years later, in 2008, Brach’s was bought by Farley’s and Sathers. Just this year, Farley’s and Sathers agreed to merge with Ferrara Pan to become the Ferrera Candy Company.
Through all of that, the candy brand remained intact and the favorite confections in their repertoire continued. However, manufacturing changes happened, and the formulas, manufacturing techniques and quality was uneven. Farley’s & Sathers has been trying hard to resurrect the comforting and inexpensive brand by improving the quality for the past two years.
The clusters are made with simple ingredients, plain old milk chocolate and some peanuts.
The clusters vary in size, from little lines of three or four nuts to a full clump of a dozen peanuts. The overall flavor is fake vanilla. A soft and comforting sort of sweetness, like an angora sweater.
The chocolate isn’t particularly smooth, nor even noteworthy. As far as it being their best chocolate ever, well, it’s not the worst. It tasted fresh though not creamy. The cocoa notes are bland and the dairy is clean but not particularly buttery. What works here is the touch of salt and the peanuts. They’re fresh, small and crunchy. The ratios are heavier on the chocolate than the nuts, but once it’s chewed, it works well.
I don’t think I’d buy these again. In fact, I’ve had them sitting around for review for quite a while but felt no desire to eat them even though I love chocolate and nuts.They’re friendly candy and certainly well priced, but I’ll stick to the sugar confections Brach’s makes.
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.
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.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
I’ve seen Brach’s Maple Nut Goodies in stores for years. And for all that time, I not only didn’t know what they were, I really had no curiosity. But as the Candy Blogger, I felt it was my duty to pick them up and give them a try. So I bought some.
I got the package home, opened it up and the devils were hard as rocks. I must have gotten an old bag. So I kind of dismissed it mentally. About a year later a co-worker gave me a bag and I experienced the same issue - they were rock hard.
Brach’s is now owned by Farley’s and Sathers and recently did a complete re-design of their packaging earlier this year. So when I spied the new, bolder purple and pink wrapper at the drug store, I thought this was a signal that the candy was fresh. (The expiration was March 2012.)
I was still puzzled though, and part of it is because I have no awareness at all of this candy. There are plenty of candies, food, novels and movies that I’ve never tried but I’m at least able to identify. There’s nothing remotely familiar about this candy, probably because no one else makes a version of it. The package describes it as:
So the internet and friends will not solve this mystery for me, I had to open a bag for myself. Sure enough, this batch was not rock hard and it certainly did smell like maple and peanuts. So far so good.
The candy outside isn’t some sort of maple flavored white chocolate (though I’d actually love to try real white chocolate made with maple sugar ... someone, could you work on that?). The coating is like a dried fudge or frosting glaze.
The ingredients don’t really explain the candy very well either: Sugar, Peanuts, Corn Syrup, Palm Kernel Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Palm Kernel, Soybean and Cottonseed, Emulsified With Soy Lecithin), Modified Corn Starch, Maple Syrup, Gelatin, Salt, Artificial Flavor, Sodium Bicarbonate, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Blue 1. Freshness Preserved By TBHQ and Citric Acid.
So what I’m expecting is some sort of maple fudge covered peanut. What I got instead was a muddly wad of confusion. It was soft. I bit into it and it was like a peanut butter cookie, with a strong maple flavor to it. The center was more like a soft dough then a fudge. There’s gelatin in there and oodles of fat (from the peanuts themselves and the various added oils) but it doesn’t taste like it at all. It’s dry.
The other thing is that there is no whole peanut in there. Granted, I only expected there to be one because the shape of the candy seemed rather like a coated peanut. Instead it’s little ground up peanut bits, like a chunky peanut butter. I figure this can’t be right. I’ve gotten a batch that wasn’t cured properly or maybe one where they left out the peanuts inside of all of them. So back to the store.
So this is bag number four. This one also has a far off expiration date, January 2012 and the new package design. The cross section above shows the detail a bit better. There are chunks of peanuts in some sort of soft, not quite crumbly, doughy fudge.
The whole effect is fine, just not quite what I was expecting. For what it is, it’s certainly different. It’s sweet, but the robust peanutty-ness balances that pretty well. There’s a little hint of salt and the maple is a more defined sweetness that’s not as sticky, more woodsy. It’s more like a snack, more like a cookie than a candy.
Just about every other candy I’ve had that’s been made by a major company for at least 50 years has its imitators. For some reason no one else makes Brach’s Maple Nut Goodies
Here’s an old ad from LIFE magazine featuring the Maple Nut Goodies. It also shows Iced Jelly Cones and Chocolate Ripple Nougats, anyone else remember those?
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
When it comes to classic American candies, the fruit slices are right up there at the top. They’re a simple mix of sugar, fruit flavors and a bit of thickener in the form of corn starch. You can even make them at home, but since the ingredients are so inexpensive they’re a great value as a store bought item.
Brach’s is currently updating their line of candies with new packaging and some new formulas. They’re also adding a twist to some old favorites, including the fruit slices with their new Brach’s Mandarin Orange Slices. In this case they’re calling them Mandarin Orange Jellies Made with Real Fruit Juice.
Personally, I’ve always loved Orange Slices, and their companion jelly candy, the Spearmint Leaves. I never really thought they needed much tinkering, though the best version I think I’ve had are the gourmet Gumdrops that Whole Foods sells that are made with all natural flavors and colors along with some more exotic flavors.
These fruit jellies are lovely to look at. They’re about the size of an actual mandarin section in this case, though a bit more stylized in their format with heavy little segments making them rounded and bulbous. The color is quite orange. I even noticed that the sugar sanding on the outside is colored. (Most jelly slices just have a plain, large grain sugar sanding to keep them from sticking together.)
These were obviously fresh, since they’re a new product. They’re soft but still firm enough to have a stiff bite to them. The smell was great, just opening the bag (or even re-opening the bag) was like peeling a fresh orange. As a jelly they’re smooth and dissolve easily in the mouth. (A gelatin based candy would be chewier and have a longer melting process.) The flavor has many different elements. There’s the typical orange juice note which has the distinct orange flavor and a mellow note of tartness. Then there’s a large hit of zest to the whole thing, a slight bitterness that pops in and then disappears. Incredibly there is something rather “mandarin” about the flavor that made it a bit different from the generic orange. The other item of note here is that the sugar sanding has flavor as well, just a hint of the zest.
They’re soothing. They’re not the most exciting candy in the world, but even with all of my choices (and believe me, at any given moment I have at least fifty different things to choose from), I still found myself eating these.
It’s hard to sell folks on a brand name item for a classic candy where there are so many different brands and generics available. I don’t know if I’d always reach for Brach’s when it came to Spearmint Leaves or Orange Slices, but if the price is the same or close enough, these are a step above.
Monday, May 2, 2011
Farley’s and Sathers bought Brach’s, the iconic pick-a-mix candy manufacturer back in 2007 from Barry Callebaut. For a while it seemed that the candy quality was getting worse, not better for the attention. But Brach’s is being rebooted, it appears. They’re getting a new look plus a new focus on their target demographic, women - especially mothers. So they’re focusing on quality and traditional favorites. One of the selling points is that they’re using real milk chocolate. Their newest product is Brach’s Peanut Butter Poppins.
They’re described as creamy peanut butter center coated in 100% milk chocolate.
It’s hard to discuss any chocolate and peanut butter product without referencing the most popular version of the combination, the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. There used to be a product called Reese’s Peanut Butter Bites. They weren’t extraordinary, but had the advantage of being a Reese’s product that didn’t have individual wrappers or fluted cups. Those were discontinued and replaced just recently with Reese’s Peanut Butter Minis, which are a molded product.
The new Peanut Butter Poppins are a panned chocolate. It’s a sphere of “peanut butter” covered in milk chocolate and then sealed with a little glaze to make them shiny and keep them from sticking together. I say peanut butter because I don’t think that’s what it actually is. While they’re boasting that they now have their best tasting chocolate ever, have a look at the ingredients for the peanut butter center:
In my world, the first ingredient in peanut butter would be peanuts. This is not a whole peanut product, but instead it’s like juice from concentrate, they took out some of the natural peanut oils and replaced them with palm kernel oil.
They’re really lovely looking morsels. Though they vary a bit in size, they’re all spherical and shiny. Some are the size of a garden pea and a few were the size of a garbanzo. The smell sweet, milky and like roasted peanuts or freshly baked peanut butter cookies.
The waxy glaze on the outside is a little difficult to dissolve and leaves a little film in the mouth. Though they’re advertising this new milk chocolate, it’s not noteworthy. It’s not creamy and not even that chocolatey. It does its job of containing the peanut butter candy center. The center is smooth with little crunchy bits that I can only describe as sweet crunches, not peanuts. It’s like there’s a sugar crust in there that creates these little crystals that give it texture. It took me a long time to figure out if it was in the chocolate shell or the center. The center is very salty, in fact a serving of 25 pieces has 160 mg of salt, a lot for a confection.
The center tastes a lot like peanut butter cookie dough, it’s a well rounded flavor that includes salt, nuts and sweetness along with a rather smooth and cool mouthfeel. I found them extremely salty, but I recognize that my low salt lifestyle makes me more sensitive to those things. That, of course, didn’t stop me from eating the entire 5 ounce bag in two days - what can I say, there was a new Doctor Who on.
Poppins is a trademarked word for Brach’s, so maybe they have other plans for this line of candy. A creamy mint fondant might be a good next step or other fruit creams like strawberry, raspberry and orange and of course coffee.
I think they’re a great idea that’s well executed. Yes, they’re salty and no the chocolate is not fantastic, but I’d venture to say that it’s better than the stuff on the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups these days. I’m looking forward to finding their Malted Milk Balls and seeing if they’ve successfully resurrected the classic real milk chocolate and crunchy malt center.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
One of the classic elements of Easter candy is the fact that it’s egg shaped and isn’t usually individually wrapped. This nestling quality applies to jelly beans and marshmallow eggs (the candy shell version).
Back in 2007 I reviewed the pastel version of Brach’s Fiesta Eggs. The only difference between the original review and this one is that these are white with speckles and those were pastels. What prompted me to pick them up again is the fact that so many readers were commenting on the original review because Brach’s seems to have changed their formula.
When I first reviewed the eggs Brach’s was owned by Barry Callebaut, a global chocolate giant based in Switzerland. In late 2007, Callebaut sold the American candy company to Farley’s & Sathers of Minnesota. In the Callebaut days I was hoping that they’d make the chocolate products from Brach’s better. In the Farley’s & Sathers days, I’m just hoping that the chocolate products stay real chocolate instead of going to some mockolate substitute like they did with the bulk malted milk balls. (Supposedly they went back to the real chocolate coating, but I have yet to find them in stores, they angered so many people I’m guessing the buyers for the chain stores are afraid of them.)
I prefer the white eggs because they have less of the artificial colorings on the shell. Those can sometimes interfere with the desirable flavors. (Red is a problem for me often.)
The eggs are large. Some are over an inch tall though others are as small as 2/3 of an inch. They sound substantial and clack and clunk together well. All were nicely shaped and had no cracks or broken spots. The shells are thick and crunchy but the chocolate layer beneath is rather thin and unremarkable. The chocolate is sweet and doesn’t taste like much at all, probably more like malt than chocolate. It’s a little grainy and fudgy so it’s hard to say that it’s real except for the fact that the label tells me it is.
The center is what I’m after though, the crisp malted milk center. It’s a fine malt, not terribly grain with a moderate level of malty-ness. It’s not overly sweet or salty ... it could use just a little more punch for me, especially since the shell is so sweet.
I can’t argue with the construction, my only real complaint is that the chocolate is so lackluster, and perhaps even out of balance. With better chocolate that layer could be thicker.
As far as widely available Malted Milk Eggs for Easter, these beat out the Necco Mighty Malts and Whoppers Robin’s Eggs in my book. But that’s not much of a recommendation.
I’m picky about my malted milk balls in the sense that I want specific ratios, texture of the center and high density of malt, but I’m not so picky that I won’t finish any malted milk ball placed in front of me.
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