Tuesday, September 13, 2005
I don’t know if this bar is sold at this little candy shop at the Pittsburgh airport because it’s called Sky Bar or because they carry a lot of other hard to find nostalgia candies (they didn’t have Valomilks, but they did have Cow Tales). I’d seen these when I was growing up, but was never really interested in them, as I’d always assumed that they were the candy bar version of Whitman’s Samplers.
It turns out that it’s not far off from that. The bar is undeniably pretty. Four joined pieces of candy, with pretty domed tops, fluting up the sides and the Necco logo on top. Unlike Necco wafers, where you never know what you’ll get in the roll, the Sky Bar is consistent. The far left piece (if you set your bar like the package shows you) is caramel. Not a chewy caramel, it’s a sweet, sticky concoction with a nice salty hint and good carmelized sugar notes. The next one over is by far the least interesting to me, the vanilla cream. Slightly light, very sweet and rather bland, it simply brings out the rather cardboard notes in the milk chocolate. After that is peanut which I think is their masterpiece. This is not a peanut butter, like you’d think, it looks like caramel and is smooth but has the wonderful roasted taste of peanuts and a good hit of salt to balance out all the other sweets. The last section is fudge. Sweet and with that slightly cooling grain to it, the fudge is nice and not too sweet but suffers from the same blandness of the whole bar - too much sugar and not enough chocolate in the chocolate.
I can see how this bar was so successful for so long. Steve Almond talks about the history of the bar in Candy Freak (chapter 2), that it was one of the most popular bars on the east coast and had a prominent billboard in Times Square which was re-lit at the end of WWII. As a bit of nostalgia, it’s fun. But it’s not my nostalgia, I have not particular affinity for it, so it’s merely an experience for me. It’s probably a great bar to share with friends (as long as there actually is something for everyone) and probably speaks to people who really like variety in their candy.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Monday, September 12, 2005
Name: Five Star Bar - Caramel
A few weeks ago I did a radio interview and on the show Steve Almond gave the host a Five Star Bar. Steve had also featured the bar in his book Candy Freak, so I was already aware of its virtues. Still, I’d not seen one in person. I did get a gift over the holidays though, of a little package of their milk and dark chocolate squares, which were very nice and smooth.
The bar has it all. It’s a hefty little log, about as wide as it is high and twice as long as that. At two ounces, it’s bigger than your normal candy bar, but smaller than a king-size. It’s not quite gourmet, but too good for the regular candy shelf.
Upon biting into it there’s an intense explosion of caramel. The first ingredient on the package is CREAM, so you know how fatty and smooth this bar has got to be. The caramel has a good carmelize sugar taste to it, without going too far into toffee land. It’s very sticky and smooth. Inside there are nuts and a few dark chocolate bits (not enough for me, but you know, who am I to quibble with something so positively reviewed).
One thing’s for sure, I’m going to try all their Five Star Bars. For the record, my husband also picked up the Java Truffle Bar and a Peppermint Bark (I don’t have the package in front of me and their website is down). The Java bar is really nice, with a good smokey coffee flavor to it and it’s not too sweet (and made with dark chocolate). The mint one is really smooth but not quite minty enough for me.
Interesting note - I give high marks to all candies with the word five in their name. Coincidence?
Rating - 9 out of 10 (they’re really expensive)
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Name: Curly Wurly
Upon reading Steve Almond’s Candy Freak (one of these days I’ll put up a comprehensive review), I found out that the discontinued bar from the 70s called Marathon is kind of available in the UK as Cadbury’s Curly Wurly.
The concept behind this bar is simple. A loosely braided caramel plank is covered in milk chocolate.
And they did it beautifully. The bar smells of carmelized sugar, very sweet. The caramel is soft but plenty chewy. I find it’s important to give the bar a good bite or else you’ll end up with little bits of chocolate flaking off on your clothes.
Now, with that out of the way, does anyone else know what curly wurly means? I’m familiar with it from the lyrics to Blinded by the Light:
Tell me, what is this curly wurly that Early Pearly is riding in?
Rating - 8 out of 10 (it’s gotta be easier to find for me to give it tops)
Friday, August 5, 2005
Name: White Chocolate Take 5
I own a lot of clothes with chocolate stains on them. However, I don’t think that’s enough of a reason to drive me to convert to white chocolate. In another revamp of a current candy bar with white chocolate, here is the Take 5 White Chocolate (limited edition).
What I noticed most about this bar was the peanut butter taste to it. Let’s face it, white chocolate is not a flavor. Chocolate is a flavor, but white chocolate is like deodorized chocolate ... and deflavored while we’re at it. All the fat and sugar and none of the tasty/healthy cocoa solids.
The good news is that Hershey is using real white chocolate - you’re wondering what that means? Well, in order for chocolate to be chocolate it needs to contain cocoa solids (basically cocoa) and cocoa butter (that fat that is solid at room temp and melts at body temp). White chocolate really has no definition, but purists prefer white chocolate that’s actually made with cocoa butter because it’s such a neat fat. Hershey is using real cocoa butter for their white chocolate and it shows in this bar (if they’d only use real vanilla, we might really have a winner).
The bar has an overwhelming sweet peanut smell and taste. I’m guessing that the milk chocolate Take 5 has more of a balance between flavors, but because there is no chocolate flavor here, only texture, the peanut butter and peanuts dominate (that’s not a bad thing, if you like peanuts). The pretzels really stood out as a flavor (they’re a bit lost in the regular Take 5) and the crisp and salt was a great contrast to the sweet, sticky caramel and white chocolate.
I was surprised at how good this bar was. It’s still not my thing but if you’re a nut lover and want something satisfying like chocolate without the actual cocoa, then this might be for you. Again, if Hershey’s really wants to win me over (okay, it’s not like I’m boycotting them or anything after the Twosomes Whoppers) they should make a dark chocolate pecan version of this.
Rating - 6 out of 10
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Name: Junior Caramels
What took the Junior line so long to expand? Apparently they’ve been around for a while, but not everywhere (I guess they’re sold in Canada?).
Junior is currently owned by Tootsie Roll. Junior Mints have long been a favorite of mine. For the record, I like them equally as well as peppermint patties - their fillings are rather different with the only similarities being they’re both white and mint flavored.
Junior Caramels are just soft caramel balls about the size of a garbanzo bean in chocolate. What’s good about them is that the caramel is actually soft and chewy, unlike Milk Duds, which I think must be subsidized by the dental care industry because they’re probably designed for pulling out fillings. (Don’t get me wrong, I love Milk Duds ... especially since they started using real milk chocolate on them, but Milk Duds don’t love me.)
You can pop more than one in your mouth at a time. But they’re kind of fun to bite in half, too.
The caramel in the Junior Caramel doesn’t have that good burnt sugar/toffee taste that Milk Duds do, but they’re still a good chew. They’re sweet and need a little something to counter that. I’ve been eating this huge box with some raw almonds and pretzels, I’ve found it’s a good combo. I haven’t tried them yet at the movies, but I’d think that they’re the perfect movie candy because each one takes a while to chew and actually goes well with popcorn.
Rating - 6 out of 10
Other resources - find a rerun of this episode of Unwrapped to see them made!
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Name: Nestle Toll House Candy Bars
If you’ve got a jones for sugar and something a little more satisfying than a candy bar, this might be the thing. Inside is a dense, crumbly cookie bar topped with caramel then a few chocolate chips and all enrobed in sweet milk chocolate.
The cookie part of the treat was least impressive. Because it was so thick it lacked that cookie feel and tasted more like a blondie and had no strong flavor of its own besides sweet. The caramel was non-existent, as it’d been absorbed by the cookie part and had no distinct chewy-ness to it. The occassional chocolate chip was a nice addition as it provided some actual flavor. The milk chocolate coating is all sweet and milky, but no real chocolate taste. What makes a Toll House cookie is the balance of the sweet and bland cookie to the complex pop of the dark chips.
There’s none of that here.
However, I still enjoyed the bar and found it rather satisfying. If I had anything to say about it, I think I’d suggest leaving the caramel out and maybe making the cookie just a smidge saltier. I’ll give the brownie bar a try to see if the flavor balance on that one is bit better. I’ve also seen that Hershey started selling cookies a while back (I’ve had the York ones and enjoyed them quite a bit) so I’ll have to check those out.
Rating - 6 out of 10
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Name: Take Five
If I were to create the perfect candy bar, a great snack bar that would give me energy and taste good, it would contain the following: chocolate, pretzels, caramel and nuts. It’d be a great mix of simple carbs, fat and protein so as not to overwhelm the bloodstream with too much sugar. In my world it’d be a super turtle with a pretzel base, chewy caramel then pecans all covered in semi-sweet chocolate.
On a visit to the Chocolate Homeworld, er, sorry, Chocolate World in Hershey on New Year’s Day, this was the sample they gave us at the end of the ride. I quickly bargained with the other people in our party for theirs.
Hershey’s is dang close with the Take 5 bar. It’s got a pretzel center covered with peanut butter then a layer of caramel, a few chopped peanuts and then it’s all enrobed in milk chocolate. (Maybe I got that order wrong, it’s hard to tell.) The proportions are solid and the pretzel has got a great salty kick. If anything, the milk chocolate is a little sweet, but the salt on the pretzels and the slight saltiness of the peanut butter (which tastes like the center of a Reese’s ... maybe sweeter) balances well. If it only came in dark chocolate I might be in heaven.
The packaging is good, there are two little pieces in a tray and sealed in a the plastic packaging so they stay intact and are easy to slide out. I really wish they could figure out how to make this without hydrogenated oils, though it’s pretty far down on the list of ingredients and doesn’t show up on the nutrition part. For now I’ll keep buying it when I need a little boost during the day. It’s especially good with a morning cup of coffee, as I’m having the second piece right now.
As far as I’m concerned this bar could have lots of versions. A pecan/maple version, a pecan/dark chocolate turtle one, maybe white chocolate and walnuts or macadamias (not really for me, but a solid combo - I know that a white version of this same bar exists but I haven’t seen it yet) then another version with mint cookies and almonds.
Rating - 9 out of 10 (just make a dark version or a pecan one!)
UPDATE 9/2/2008: Sometime when I wasn’t looking (I photographed it last summer again) the Hershey’s Take 5 left the list of chocolate candy bars and joined the growing list of Hershey’s Real Mockolate.
The package now says: made with chocolate & pretzels & caramel & peanuts & peanut butter. That “made with chocolate” part means that the coating may contain chocolate, but it has other additives such as vegetable oils that mean that it’s not pure chocolate. The actual chocolate as an ingredient comes far down on the list as the number 6 item, after vegetable oils and high fructose corn sweetener and before nonfat milk (you can imagine there’s not that much milk in there).
The bars actually still look quite fetching. Little rather rectangular lumps with a pleasant sweet & peanutty scent.
Mine were exceptionally fresh, the pretzel was good and crunchy, a nice salty complement to the sweet coating. The coating didn’t have much flavor but did add a creamy texture.
This one was passably good, but I’ve had others in the past few months (I picked them out of a mix of snack size in a bowl at the office a couple of times) and I didn’t realize why they were kind of empty tasting for what I remembered. I just thought they were stale ... turns out that they’re just not designed to be good any longer.
Hershey’s still has an opportunity to reverse this and make it real chocolate again.
Friday, July 8, 2005
Name: Green Tea and Black Sugar Caramels
I know, you must think me obsessed with caramels. But they are one of the most perfect expressions of sugar and fat. Soft, yielding, bursting with sugary flavor that lingers in the crevices of your mouth. They’re great for summer too, since they’re not subject to the temperature extremes of chocolate.
As promised, I’m ready to share my Japanese finds from my recent shipment.
First is Morinaga’s Kokutou Caramel. This is what’s known as a black sugar caramel, or probably what westerners know of as brown sugar or molasses. This caramel is darker than the milk caramels I’ve tried from Japan. It has a slightly rummy aroma and a definite molasses bite to it when chewing. It’s a really nice, smooth caramel with a good finish. There’s no molasses bitterness either. It’s not sticky, but plenty chewy with a good milky consistency.
Morinaga also makes a Matcha Caramel, which is a green tea flavored caramel. The nugget is definitely green. It smells of green tea and tastes just like green tea ice cream, with that same smooth roasted flavor and slight bitter tinge. Unfortunately after chewing for a while, it feels a little grainy and slightly bitter, like there are real ground up leaves in there. That aside, they’re quite addictive and both caramels complement each other well - so I can just alternate between the two all afternoon.
Rating: Kokutou Caramel - 8 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.