Friday, January 22, 2016
Moon Pies are a Tennessee treat, a little marshmallow sandwich featuring round graham crackers and then a thin mockolate coating. They’ve been around since 1917, though they’re a bit of a regional treat and sometimes hard to find. They’re something between a candy and a snack, because of the graham cracker element. They’re also pretty big, so I can see why it’s an appealing idea to morselize them.
Taste of Nature makes Cookie Dough Bites and a variety of other little morsel items sold in theater boxes. The Moon Pie Bites sound pretty good, “Delicious marshmallow & graham in a chocolatey coating.” Well, until you get to the coating part.
The pieces actually smell pretty good. They vary in size, but most are between the size of a pea and a garbanzo.
The the description says it’s marshmallow, it’s actually just marshmallow flavored and there’s no gelatin in the list of ingredients. So these are fine for vegetarians and they’re Kosher. However, it is a mockolate coating, which is made from sugar and palm oil and whey and some cocoa, among other ingredients. It looks decent, but doesn’t really add a chocolate component to this combination candy.
The overwhelming scent of the pieces is graham. It’s a pleasant cereal sort of smell, kind of like vanilla and digestive biscuits and maple syrup.
The pieces are a bit crumbly and dry inside. They’re grainy and have little crumbly graham cracker bits in them. The mockolate coating is neither waxy or greasy, so that’s kind of a blessing. It’s a little cool on the tongue but doesn’t really ruin the otherwise disappointing candy. All elements are equally bad. The center has little sugary bits, the vanilla flavor is overly fake, the graham bits have little of the crunch of real crackers and the chocolatey coating isn’t chocolatey.
Moon Pie Bites contain wheat, milk and soy. They area also made in a facility with peanuts, tree nuts and eggs.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
Hershey’s contacted me last month to introduce the new look of the Take 5 candy bar and offered me some samples. I’ve been following the Take 5, which is a rare candy bar, since it was introduced. It came out in December 2004, and since it’s survived over 10 years, it’s one of a handful of combination candy bar launches to go the distance since the Twix introduction. (I’m talking about a completely new bar brand, not one that falls under an existing product line, like a dark chocolate KitKat.)
If you’re interested in taking a trip with me through this decade or so, then follow along. If you’re more interested in the review of the current formulation hitting shelves, skip to the bottom.
In my first review in July 2005 I gave it the following review:
Sometime around 2008 Hershey’s made a change, replacing the milk chocolate coating with a milk chocolate compound, which contained cocoa butter, but also some other vegetable fats (to save money).
In the intervening years I didn’t actually buy them, but I did read the wrappers and found around 2008 or so, they substituted in high fructose corn sweetener and the list of possible oils used in the different components grew quite long (see lists of ingredients below)
2010 Take 5 (source)
2015 Take 5 (source: wrapper pictured in review)
2016 Take 5 (source: wrapper pictured in review)
The new ingredients look different, but that’s partly because of the formatting, they regrouped the ingredients based on the elements, so the coating is listed separately from the caramel and pretzels. It makes more sense from the standpoint of knowing what the ingredients are being used for, but muddies things when you want to know how much of the overall product is sugar. (But that’s what the nutrition panel is for.)
About a year ago Hershey’s announced a return to simple ingredients. Slowly their classic products, like Hershey’s Milk Chocolate have seen a tweak. PGPR is going away as an additional emulsifier. I was hoping that meant that the Take 5 would be a cleaner bar, made with more wholesome ingredients, not so much hydrogenated oil and not so many fillers. But the key here with the head to head is that Hershey’s has replaced the not-quite-chocolate coating with a real chocolate coating. Does it make a difference? Yes, yes it does.
The expiry on the two bars is very similar. The red package says May 2016 and new black package says September 2016. Obviously they both look great, they’ve been stored and transported responsibly. The packaging includes a little tray with sides that protects the pair of bars well.
The old red package in its most recent design barely mentions Hershey, there’s no brand on the front of the package, the only claim to who manufacturers it is in the small print sandwiched between the nutrition panel and the UPC code. The new bar in the black wrapper similarly disavows its maker. The black wrapper is more like a nutrition bar than candy. The package clearly shows the elements for the bar, the peanut butter, the pretzel, peanuts and chunks of chocolate (but no caramel, or maybe the peanut butter is caramel). I think it’s pleasant, but not compelling.
The Red bar (pictured left) is sweet, crunchy and salty. The combination is wholly enjoyable, but the chocolate flavor is lost. There’s a decent chocolate texture, but not much of a cocoa note to it.
The Black bar is actually less sweet, seems more peanutty and the chocolate, well, is, still only okay. I don’t know if anything is perceptibly different, since I was only testing one bar against another single package, and there are probably variations.
The new packaging is fine, but confusing. It looks like a snack bar, not a candy bar. It truly is a candy bar, adding a single savory element doesn’t change that. The design is clear and certainly more distinctive than the much-used red tones on the previous. In a perfect world, the bar would have lived in the Reese’s branding universe.
As for the current iteration of the bar: I’d prefer a better chew experience with the caramel element, I don’t know why there’s actually any “caramel color” in the ingredients. But aside from the expectations of the bar based on the elements on the list, I enjoy it. I will probably buy it again sometime, mostly because it’s the only sweet and salty bar that’s easy to find. The portion size is good and I’m hoping that Hershey’s will continue to work on making the ingredients list shorter.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
In these dark days of winter, we all need a little something to boost our alertness. Enter coffee ... in candy form. In this episode of Candyology 101, Maria and I discuss all the fantastic coffee candies that we’ve tried over the years. There’s more to coffee candy than chocolate covered espresso beans.
Monday, January 4, 2016
Early last year at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, I tried a new line of chocolate cups from the confectioners at Vosges. These sets of mini peanut butter cups are from the Wild Ophelia line of chocolates and come in a few varieties. The first one I picked up at the store, when I finally found them last month at Whole Foods are the Wild Ophelia Caramelized Bananas Peanut Butter Cups.
The packages look like a regular twin set of chocolate cups (though they’re actually 2.1 ounces) but inside is actually a try that holds a set of six little cups.
I call them cups, but there’s actually no paper fluting on them, just the cups on a tray inside a wrapper.
The cups are made from 41% cacao milk chocolate, which is from fair trade certified beans (the sugar is also fair trade). The bananas are not the typical Cavendish most of us eat, but a varietal grown on Kauai known as Williams. The bananas are actually caramelized with some cream and sugar and sprinkled on top of the cups. The filling is peanut butter, and as far as I can tell, more chocolate.
They’re almost savory. The milk chocolate has a good dairy flavor without tasting like powdered milk. The melt is smooth and buttery with a little toffee note. Once I bit into the cups the peanut butter is pretty evident as a scent, but the texture of the peanut butter is barely there, it’s quite smooth and mixed in. The banana notes were hard to tease out sometimes, it wasn’t a lot of banana and often just a little fresh caramelized and honey note.
Some cups had more banana bits, and some of the banana bits were a little toothsticky.
I liked the cups better than the bar version that I tired a few years ago. Part of is that I like the format of cups, and the ability to have a teensy but full-featured portion. They’re expensive, but the package holds more than a Justin’s or Theo PB cup, though it’s still more per ounce. I liked the inventive combinations and I welcome more products that play with these formats.
Thursday, December 24, 2015
I’m a sucker for a nice bottle with a cork top, and even though this was $5.99, I figured it would be good for holding some freshly squeezed orange juice at home. Even with the large price tag, it is important to note that it’s a full pound of candy, not the skimpy 12 ounces like many candy bags have now.
The pieces are made in Spain, which is definitely not a country I think of when it comes to chocolate. (They do lovely gummis and nougats.)
The bottle itself looks like it holds more than a pint, less than a quart (but I’ll have to measure when it’s empty). It’s pretty thick glass and has the Trader Joe’s logo molded into it ... which makes me wonder if it will show up in the future for other packaged items. (Maybe we’ll see this again for Valentines with just white and red lentils with hearts and lips printed on them.)
The pieces, especially for a naturally colored product, are well made and lovely to look at. There are three colors: white, light red and muted green. Each piece also has a little printed icon. The white ones have Ts and Js and the green and red ones have a mixture of snowflakes, bells and stocking caps.
The lentils are a little larger and flatter than an M&M. They’re more like Nestle Smarties, though not quite that big.
The shells are very thick. Since they’re rather flat, there’s a sharper edge to the, which in this case with the bottle, means that they’re more easily broken and chipped. (Of course I also carried the bottle around for a full week back and forth to work while I was sampling them for review.)
The crunchy shell is very pleasant and has no flavor of its own, just a mildly sweet crunch. The chocolate centers have a very strong dairy milk flavor, a light hint of malt and honey and then some cocoa notes.
They’re inoffensive and pretty, certainly different from M&Ms with the packaging and natural colors. They don’t quite warrant the price tag on their own, but I wasn’t sorry I picked them up. Flavors might also be fun, especially if they could figure out a way to mix the flavors in the same package.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
In our latest episode of Candyology 101, Maria and I reviewed the sweetest products of the year. And a few that weren’t so great. Listen now right here.
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Dum-Dums are pretty basic, kind of small lollipops. They’ve always come in a wide variety of flavors that have changed based on popularity. Only recently has Spangler, who makes Dum-Dums, come out with holiday themed product packages of the pops.
The Dum-Dums Limited Edition Holiday Pops is a bag of eight different flavors of individually wrapped lollipops. I believe they were available in 2014, but I just picked them up this year.
Green Apple Grinch - there’s nothing grinchy about this flavor, it’s straight up fake green apple. The pop is bright green, the flavor is rather thin but definitely sour apple flavor and not actual apple.
Apple Cider is one of the amber colored pops. The flavor is similar to the Green Apple, but less bright, more muted and it has a more apple sauce or honey note to it.
Sugar Cookie is an opaque cream color. It’s pleasant but bland, as are sugar cookies. The flavor is creamy without a heavy dose of butter flavor. It’s a little vanilla, a little marshmallow. Pretty much a good lollipop. If they added a little nutmeg, I’d call it Egg Nog (and I’d be pretty happy).
Sugar Plum is purple and very pretty, like a little gem. I don’t actually know what a real sugar plum is but I can tell you that this one is vaguely grape.
Hot Cocoa looks like the Gingerbread or Apple Cider pop, but it’s a little more milky or opaque. I was expecting this to be horrible, but it’s actually a passable chocolate marshmallow flavor. The cocoa smells a little musty and thin, but the flavor has a creamy vanilla note, like a marshmallow that holds it together.
Gingerbread is one of the beige ones. It’s sweet and has a light note of spice that features a little ginger, a little cinnamon. One of the things about gingerbread-the-baked-good that I like is the molasses, and there’s no note of that here.
Polar Punch is very blue. It’s a tropical punch flavor with a distinct raspberry note to it. There’s a long-lingering aftertaste of the berry flavor that isn’t necessarily unpleasant, but I also had a blue tongue for a while.
Merry Cherry is red. I haven’t had a cherry Dum-Dums for a while, so I can’t say if this is any different. It’s sweet and don’t really have a tangy fruit note to it. It wasn’t like a wild cherry Life Saver, it was more like a cough drop. I find cherry to be rather medicinal, and this was especially so. But I know some folks like the flavor.
I love this idea, and I’d like to see it with a few more specialty flavors, like an Egg Nog, maybe something Cranberry, Peppermint Stick, Rum Raisin. If they’re making things that are bacon flavor, they can absolutely go way out there with Speculoos and Bailey’s Irish Creme.
Each pop is about 25 calories, so they’re a petite treat that should fit into most regular diets. They last a little longer than a traditional hard candy because it’s on a stick and is a bit more interactive. Dum-Dums are made in the USA in a facility free from major allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat and gluten.
Friday, December 18, 2015
I have a soft spot for Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies. Mostly the soft spot is in my memory, because I don’t find the current day item meets my pickier standards. It shouldn’t be that hard to make a chocolate cookie with a minted chocolate coating.
So, if I can’t get my itch scratched with Thin Mints, perhaps I should turn it on its end and have something chocolate with cookies, instead of cookies with chocolate. Mars’ new Target-exclusive Promises for Christmas are just that: Dove Milk Chocolate Holiday Mint Cookie Promises.
The idea is simple, and certainly not original. They’re milk chocolate, lightly flavored with peppermint along with some crunched up chocolate cookie pieces.
The milk chocolate is fudgy and sweet, but definitely smoother than many other brands like Hershey’s and Nestle that are on the shelves at the moment. The little cookie bits are sandy and crunchy with a bitter note of charcoal and cocoa. Mostly they just sit in the crevices of my molars. The effect is a nice textural change from the smooth melt of the chocolate and a slight note of salt.
The ratio of chocolate to cookie is very good, definitely more chocolate, but they weren’t stingy with the cookie bits, they were in every bite. They were a little on the sweet side, which is really the profile of the Dove Milk Chocolate. Still, I’d love it if someone would do these in dark chocolate.
I hope Target brings these back next year and hopefully they’ll get wider distribution so everyone can enjoy them. But now I’d like someone to explain why I can’t have them all year, like the long gone Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Mint bar.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.