Friday, March 29, 2013
The world of candy bars has changed a lot in the past 100 years, since the first mass-produced combination bars appeared in stores. At first local candy companies made bars that were distributed regionally. Eventually, after World War II, candy bars became national brands. You could find a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, Snickers bar or a Butterfinger at most candy stores though there were still plenty of local brands.
Today the candy landscape is dominated by just a few international brands, and the new upstarts that are found on the fringes fit into a different niche now. They’re special interest bars. These are the bars that incorporate local ingredients, fit into special manufacturing concerns like allergens, or in the case of the Eli’s Earth Bars from Sjaak’s Chocolates, they’re vegan (made without any animal-derived ingredients).
The new line of bars is interesting, because they’re not quite versions of already-popular candy bars. The Celebrate Bar is A delicious coconut caramel topped with whole almonds surrounded by chocolate. That doesn’t sound like any other candy bar on shelves today.
How did they make it vegan? Well, here’s the pretty short list of ingredients:
I’ve had two of these bars now. The first one I photographed and ate. Then I searched months and months to find them in stores again. Both bars looked the same, a long chewy plank of coconut caramel topped with whole almonds and then covered in a vegan milk chocolate. The milk chocolate is made without any dairy ingredients (but in a shared facility, so not appropriate for those with allergies) but uses real cocoa butter.
The chocolate itself is chalky and has a soft cereal note to it. The cocoa flavor is lacking, but overall it’s a pleasant coating. It’s kind of like how I feel about hot cocoa made with water instead of milk; I’ll drink it but I wouldn’t choose it. The chewy center is quite good, a very dense coconut and caramel combination. The caramelized sugar notes are missing, but the texture is great.
It’s an interesting bar and I had to throw my expectations about the milk chocolate out the window. This is not really a vegan milk chocolate, it’s just a very mild chocolate - the rice milk makes it something different in both intensity (which is what milk does to chocolate) and texture (which is kind of sad). I would probably prefer this bar with a true dark chocolate coating, but I understand the goal here was to make it with a milder chocolate. It still doesn’t match up to the expectations I have for milk chocolate, but if I toss those out and just experience this, I was surprised at how much I liked it. (It’s similar to how much I like Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, even though they don’t use a real chocolate coating.)
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
I went to Hawaii last month on vacation and picked up a few locally made candies.
There aren’t many candies made on the Hawaiian Islands, but I found a few, including a set of four of the chocolate bars made by Wow-Wee “Maui’s Candy Bar”. All of the bars are made on the island of Maui by hand and include flavors and inclusions that reflect the flavors of Hawaii. The bars weren’t that expensive, I think I paid $2.50 each for them. They’re 1.75 ounces each. My bars were:
The packaging is simple, a foil wrapper with a paper sleeve over that. The bar molding includes a nice version of their logo. They’re not scored to break into specific portions, but breaking the thin and long bar was easy. Folding the foil back up and resealing the bar was also pretty simple (a lot easier than the plastic wrap that comes on most bars these days).
The Wow-Wee Dark Chocolate - Hawaiian Coconut is a simple bar that’s a very easy to eat treat. The dark chocolate is mild, on the semi-sweet level, like some nice chocolate chips. I found it a bit sweet, but it had a nice texture. The coconut flavor dominated the chocolate and the coconut shreds were quite dense. The coconut flavor was tropical but had a fresh grassy note to it that I enjoyed. It tasted real, instead of like it had been soaked in sugar.
The dark chocolate does contain some dairy products and the coconut has the preservative sodium metabisulfite in it. So it’s not appropriate for people with allergies to milk, soy, coconut (obviously) or sulfites.
The Wow-Wee Milk Chocolate - Hawaiian Macadamia Nuts is very simple, it’s just milk chocolate with chips of macadamias in it. The macadamia nuts are dry roasted, and though the ingredients don’t say they’re salted, I detected a little hint of salt in this bar (and the label confirms that there’s 48mg).
The milk chocolate is slightly grainy but pleasant in a fudgy way. It has a woodsy note to it that goes well with the sharp nutty flavor of the macs. It’s a tried and true combination and I can see this being a local favorite over the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds.
The Wow-Wee Chocolate - Kona Coffee - Caramel was the most interesting bar for me just by the listing. It contains real Kona coffee, which is always rich and flavorful. It also contains a different twist, with the addition of caramel.
Again, this is the semi-sweet chocolate, which has a bit of milk in it. The bar smells dark and buttery and whole lot like coffee, kind of like walking into a Starbucks in the morning at the height of the rush. The chocolate has bits of coffee beans mixed in. They’re crunchy and not at all fibery, but still bitter and a little on the oily side. Then scattered throughout the bar are long strips of caramel. The caramel is chewy and stringy and has a distinct toffee note to it. There wasn’t quite enough of it, for my tastes, but I loved the texture.
I’m not usually keen on the coffee beans being mixed into my chocolate, and this bar was no exception. I couldn’t eat much of it in the afternoon or evening because of the caffeine effects, but the balance of flavors and textures was good. It could benefit from darker chocolate, but sometimes you really want something sweet.
The Wow-Wee Maui Kitch’n Cook’d Potato Chip & Milk Chocolate is the last bar and a bit of comfort food. You can see from that cross section that the potato chips are thick crinkle cuts. The potato chips are made in cottonseed oil and have a little touch of salt on them (only 42 mg per serving). The bar does have that chip smell to it, kind of earthy.
The chips are crunchy and have a lot of potato flavor to them. The milk chocolate is very sweet but smooth and well balanced to the chip flavors and textures. I wanted more chips in my bar, but I think that’s how I am with inclusions. They definitely lend a lot of flavor to the bar even when you might not get a bit in every bite.
Wow-Wee Maui makes nine bars in total and all sound like they fit in well with the flavors of the islands. I think they’re a great, inexpensive gift for a friend and a nice treat to eat while you’re visiting.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
The idea of caramel filled milk chocolate eggs is pretty appealing, too. There’s no dearth of choices at Easter, as I think that Cadbury may have the corner on that market with their mini version of the Cadbury Mini Caramel Egg that comes in a little egg carton. But the Nestle version, though not quite as charmingly packaged, were far less expensive. (The Cadbury’s were actually the same price, but only had 4.8 ounces in them, instead of 10 ounces in the Nestle bag.)
The little foil wrapped eggs come in two different colors: purple and a sort of pastel green. They helpfully have the candy contents printed on the foil; if you’re like me and like to mix your foil covered sweets, this is extremely helpful. Inside the foil the little eggs are nicely molded with the Nestle logo on two sides.
The eggs smell sweet and a little like cereal. The size is nice, I like to gently press along the seam to pull the eggs apart into little dishes of caramel. The chocolate is exceptionally sweet, a little grainy and on the fudgy side. The caramel is smooth and has a little bit of a salty and dark note to it, keeping it from being equally sweet. On the whole, they’re, well, cloying. I can have a couple, but then I’m done. They make my throat hurt. I’m still drawn to the look of them.
I’m hoping that someday Ghiradelli will do a dark chocolate salted caramel version (their new Easter eggs here) ... I’d definitely pay the premium for that.
Nestle also makes several other versions of their NestEggs. There’s a classic Nestle Crunch and a version of the Butterfinger that has milk chocolate mixed with Butterfinger peanut butter pieces. I’ve had the Jingle (Christmas bell) version, and they’re pretty good. Again, there are better versions if you’re willing to pay a premium.
Nestle has not given any information about the sourcing of the ingredients, though they are on track for more sustainable targets for the future.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Mars announced some seasonal candies last year, including Sugar Cookie Twix for Christmas 2012. While they never appeared on shelves, what I did see last week that was a surprise and not included in their Easter announcement was the new Twix Egg.
They’re cute, little Twix bars just for Easter. They had different pastel colors on the the front, though they’re all the classic Twix flavor. (I didn’t see any Coconut or PB Twix versions.)
It’s a Twix! Instead of sticks, it’s one globby egg. It’s just a smidge over one ounce.
I’m not a huge Twix fan, which has always confused me because on paper it has everything I like. There’s a crispy, almost-shortbread cookie base, a dose of chewy soft caramel and it’s enrobed in milk chocolate. Of all the Twix that have been created, I preferred the limited edition Java Twix, which was coffee flavored. The Triple Chocolate Twix, that have also appeared a few times, which feature a chocolate cookie, chocolate caramel and dark chocolate enrobing were also good.
The standard Twix, however, usually leaves me disinterested. I do try them occasionally, as I often end up with a sample now and then and they do show up in Halloween miniature assortments. They’re sweet ... the cookie isn’t big enough and the caramel doesn’t have enough caramelized sugar notes.
None of my comments are intended to get Twix to change for me, there are millions of people who like it the way it is, so I’d say don’t mess with it. But like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, which can support many different sizes and shapes that rebalance the ratios of elements, the Twix can stand a few seasonal varieties.
This particular Twix doesn’t look enrobed, instead it looks like it’s molded, as it says, Twix right on the top and has a more glossy, smooth sheen to the consistent ripples.
The ratios are definitely different here. It feels like the cookie is more prominent. There’s more crunch, I taste the cookie now, instead of just knowing of its crispness. The caramel is also a distinctive part, instead of being mushed into the chocolate. Though the caramel isn’t as flavorful as I would have liked, it was salty and smooth and had a nice chew when combined with the sandy crunch of the cookie. The sweet milk chocolate is, well, far too sweet overall. The chocolate is much more dense on the ends, and it was on the last bite that I was overcome with the throat-searing sweetness. I’m sure if I balanced it with a strong drink like coffee or black tea, I’d be a little more in love with it.
The size is great, I find a one ounce bar to be just the right amount for a little break. It’s more than an individual stick (which are about .89 ounces) so it’s more substantial. The broad, flat shape also makes it feel like it’s more massive than it actually is. I bought three of them and fully intend to eat the final one that’s still in its package. But not today.
Mars did a great thing making a seasonal version. It’s not just a pastel wrapper on the every day item, it’s a special version just for Easter. (I expect there may be Halloween pumpkin ones, like the Snickers and Milky Way Simply Caramel get.)
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Trader Joe’s has an incredible knack for curating candies from all over the world. One of the other habits of Trader Joe’s, though, is to make certain candies seasonal, available only for the winter holidays. This was the issue with their Trader Jacques Fleur de Sel Caramels. They were originally sold in a round wooden box. That’s nice for gifting, but unnecessary for regular purchases.
So it was a happy discovery last year when I saw that Trader Joe’s is now selling the caramels in the little tubs year round (well, they run out from time to time). The price isn’t necessarily better, but at least you won’t have an embarrassing stockpile of wooden boxes that you can’t seem to throw out and only provides evidence for your obsession.
Original review here. (7 out of 10)
Thursday, January 24, 2013
The candies, most from Sweden, are made without artificial colors. You can buy from Sockerbit’s website but their best selection is in their store.
The candies are fresh and well marked in their bins. I made three different bags for myself. One was wrapped candies (not pictured), an array of fudge & chocolate items and the third mix was for marshmallow and fruity candies. I purchased about a pound total and as you can see from this posting, sampled a huge variety of candy styles and flavors.
Romrussin Fudge - say it out loud and it’s obvious that this is rum raisin fudge. Even though the pieces seem a bit dry and hard, they’re not at all once I bit into one. The rum note is light, like a butterscotch sort of flavor. The raisins are tangy and sweet and pretty chewy.
Fudge Duo is a stack of vanilla fudge and chocolate fudge. It’s a bit drier than the romrussin. The chocolate is mild, the vanilla is quite sweet and has a light toffee note. The texture is smooth, without the heavy buttered grain of some styles of fudge (which I rather like). This was a bit sweet for me and I think I would have to either limit myself to one piece or eat it with something like dark chocolate, nuts or strong coffee.
Licorice Fudge is quite black and rather formidable. The flavor profile is well done. It’s not as sweet as the other fudges and according to the ingredients list I found online, it has 2.3% licorice powder in it. Like the other candies sold at Sockerbit, there are no artificial colorings, in this case the licorice is made black by the use of carbon black (E153 - which may have animal origins, my vegetarian friends). It’s unusual to find this licorice product here, because E153 is not approved in the US.
Overall, the fudge was dry. I’m not a huge fudge person in the first place, but the thing I like best about it is the buttery, grainy texture of fresh fudge.
Polly are little nougat nuggets covered in milk or dark chocolate. A little larger than a Milk Dud, they’re quite a tasty morsel, something I would want to buy again. They’re a little egg-noggy, maybe a rum flavoring to them. They’re chewy, like a stiff nougat but there’s no sugary grain to them (kind of like a tacky marshmallow). The dark chocolate version has a decent semi-sweet coating on it, it’s not that rich but passable for something that’s more of a family candy. The milk chocolate is actually a bit better, with strong dairy tastes and possibly this is the only one that has the rum notes to it.
Nougat with Almonds - it’s a bit dry, though not at all sticky. They’re airy pieces, kind of a cross between marshmallow and the Italian torrone. There’s no essence to it, no amaretto or orange notes. It’s a clean flavor and easy to eat. I wouldn’t mind them coated in chocolate as well. The nougat works better as a “dry” candy compared to the fudge and I’d be happy to eat more if I found it.
The center is a fudge-like sweet paste with a light rum and possibly raisin flavor. It’s covered in semi-sweet chocolate and some cute little nonpareils for garnish. I didn’t like them quite as much as the Polly, they’re not quite as poppable. They’re a bit sweeter and the rum more pronounced ... maybe it needed a bit more of a creamy butter component for me.
Starting small, there are a few jelly berries in there called Skogsbär. There were three different colors, each a little different. The Swedish berry flavor is mild but smooth. The classic raspberries were jammy but still not very intense. When I first bought them they were smooth but after sitting in the paper bag they got a little harder and grainier.
I always enjoy banana marshmallows. The frothy texture of marshmallow goes well with banana flavoring. In the case of the banana marshmallows from Sweden, don’t get these confused with the American Marbits known as Circus Peanuts. The texture is far smoother and the flavor, though probably artificial is not caustic. There’s even a little tartness to it.
The second banana is called Banana Bubs, they’re half yellow banana flavor and the other half a mild caramel flavor. They’re foamy and soft, chewy and less tart than the bananas.
The large pink disk says Franssons on it. It’s strawberry flavored, soft and has a great berry flavor to it. The smooth dissolve of the marshmallow gives it a creamy texture without any actual fat. It’s a few bites, so it ends up being a lot of candy in one piece. Refreshing.
Skumsvampar are the little hat shapes came in two different flavors. The pink ones are the lingonberry flavor, they’re more sweet without that round tart note that the disk had. The tan ones are cola, they’re very mild but have a good caramel and light spice note to them.
Elephant Feet Licorice is the only licorice I picked up while I was there, though they had quite a bit. These are a pleasant variety. The base is foamy and has a light caramel flavor to it. The black licorice layer is a gummi with a mild anise note to it. They’re easy to eat with an almost creamy flavor to it, like the crema on an espresso.
The Red Car is Swedish berry flavor, whatever the Swedish Fish flavor is, probably something like the lingonberry version of Jolly Rancher green apple. But it wasn’t exactly a flavor retread, it was different. It was much strong, much more floral, the the point where I noticed an overwhelming note of violet in my candy bag only to find it was this single red car that was causing it. It’s a good flavor, but very ultimately very different from the masculine berry I was expecting.
Cola Car is spicy and bold, with a sharp tartness to it. These got stale more quickly than some of the other pieces I picked out.
The Malaco Gummi Cola Bottles were tangy and sharp, but not quite as spicy or as vibrant as I would have liked. However, the texture was quite nice, a little tougher and less sticky than Swedish Fish. I would eat these ... I might even prefer them over Haribo Gummi Cola Bottles.
The flavor is not straight menthol or mint. It’s more like a berry flavor, maybe lingonberry with a menthol kick to it. There’s a light tartness to it as well. They’re odd. I was expecting them to be a straight sort of gummi mint cough drop (smaller gummi eucalyptus drops are popular in South America), but they’re simply different from that. I can’t decide if I like them. They’re soothing and invigorating ... but I wouldn’t call them tasty. It’s like mixing Sleepytime tea with Red Zinger.
Some other items not shown in the photos:
Dumle are individually wrapped chocolate covered toffee pieces. The toffee style is really a caramel. It’s quite soft, but not oozy like Cadbury’s. It has a light, cereal flavor that reminds me of graham crackers, maybe even with a hint of coconut and cinnamon. I also tried the purple wrapped liquorice variety. Instead of being a goofy over-colored black inside, it looked just the like other toffee version. The licorice flavor is mild and earthy.
Hem-kola are little squares of firm hazelnut caramel. They’re kind of like a rich Now & Later. The hazelnut is more of a flavor, there’s no crushed nuts in there. It’s sweet and becomes a little grainy towards the end. They reminded me a lot of the caramel style of Sugar Babies.
Rollo are like Sugar Daddy, a tough caramel. It’s creamy and has a strong dairy flavor, more than a hint of salt and a smooth texture.
Tom’s Guld Karamel are good, like a Storck Chocolate Riesen. The caramel (toffee) center is smooth, salty but not chocolate flavored on its own. The chocolate coating though is rather dark and bitter.
Whenever I’m in New York, I will definitely make this a stop. I know that the inventory changes as well, so not all of these candies may be available right now. (Here’s a review of my recent New York City candy shopping spree.)
I give the Polly an 8 out of 10, the Banana marshmallows, Cola candies and Elephant Feet a 7 out of 10 and everything else a 6 out of 10.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Mars often teases new products months in advance, they announced the Milky Way Limited Edition French Vanilla back in August 2012. It’s supposed to hit store shelves in February, but last summer there were quite a few readers who reported it on shelves already (which could have been test marketing in select cities).
The wrapper is lighter in color, even lighter than the Milky Way Caramel bar, so it should be easy to spot on shelves. The bar is a little smaller, too, at 1.72 ounces instead of 1.84.
It does smell a lot like vanilla. Some of the vanilla notes are authentic, fragrant and round with a little alcoholic rum note to it. But part of it has a fake sweet note as well, which could be an artificial flavor in there.
The construction of the bar is the same as all the American Milky Ways, a nougat base with a stripe of caramel on the top and then a swirly coating of milk chocolate. I found the ratio of caramel and nougat a little off, I seem to recall more caramel than these had.
The vanilla flavor is potent but also seems to heighten the sweetness of the nougat, the caramel and the very milky milk chocolate. The whole thing is sticky and though I found it to be passable, it’s not a bar I might eat again. Cover it in dark chocolate and throw some almonds in there, and I think we’d actually have something great. I might be more satisfied with the ratios if these were the minis. Otherwise, with some strong tea, I thought it was a nice treat.
I’m still unclear if these are out in stores at the moment or if they’ll show up. Mars also said that they were introducing Twix Sugar Cookie minis over the 2012 Christmas holiday, but I can’t find anyone who actually found them in stores. This flavor is more distinctive than the French Vanilla 3 Musketeers that came out back in 2007.
Mars is working on ethical cacao sourcing, starting with their Dove line in the United States. The bar contains soy, eggs and dairy and may contain traces of peanuts. There was no gluten statement on the wrapper. The samples I got were made in Canada, I have no idea if the final version will also be made there.
(I apologize for not getting better shots of the bars. I got two as samples in October but both were smashed in transit. I did my best to find a good angle on the best looking bar. I didn’t want to wait for them to show up in stores, as Los Angeles seems to get limited edition Mars items much later than the rest of the country.)
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Liddabit Sweets is based in Brooklyn, New York and makes candy bars with a gourmet twist. They’re made by hand with premium ingredients and a bit more flair for decadence than the normal factory churned fare.
They’ve made a name for themselves using locally sourced ingredients and a lot of creativity to the whole genre of candy bars. From the boxes to the innovative combinations, Liddabit feels like more than a handmade version of factory favorites, they’re original from the ground up. I picked up a selection of three from their stall at the New Amsterdam Market at the tip of Manhattan. They’re also sold in stores in New York and if you check their website, at some other gourmet shops around the country. Also, they have a webstore where you can order them to be delivered right to your door.
Liddabit Sweets The Snack’r Candy Bar is their bar that most closely resembles an existing favorite, the Snickers bar made by Mars since 1930. According to the package, This chewy delight features crunchy, roasted peanuts in a golden caramel atop our creamy chocolate nougat, all covered in dark chocolate.
The bar is formidable. It’s sold in a lovely box decorated with white flowers and a diagonal label that shows the premium ingredients (though they do also have gelatin, eggs, dairy, soy and peanuts in them, they’re made in a shared facility with wheat and tree nuts as well). It’s four ounces, almost twice the mass of a Snickers. I already find the Snickers to be too much for one serving, so this was at least three for me.
The bar is lovely, though a little bland to look at, lacking the swirls of milk chocolate on the top, it’s a simple enrobing. The bars are over four inches long, 1.25 wide and one inch high.
The star of this bar is the nougat. It’s really unlike any nougat you’ll find in a commercial bar. Unlike the Mars version of nougat, which is fluffed and grainy, the Liddabit is smooth, creamy and light. There’s a chewy pull to it, not quite marshmallow but a little more whipped than an Italian torrone. There’s a note of cocoa in it, which keeps it from being too sweet. The base of caramel is chewy and salty with few peanuts, but those that I did encounter were large and crunchy. The dark chocolate pulls it all together with a smoky note.
The bar had a real boxed chocolate vibe to it, the peanuts were really the only element that brought this back into the snack territory. I started this review with the bar because it’s by far the best example of an upscale bar I’ve had.
The Pecan Pie Candy Bar is actually a chocolate pecan pie. It starts with a flaky pie crust base, a homemade pecan dulce de leche with a bourbon ganache covered in dark chocolate.
The bar is interesting in that it’s actually more like a Pecan Bar Cookie than a candy bar in some ways. The construction is this: a flaky cookie base with a layer of chocolate ganache and pecans covered in dark chocolate. The result is a decadent treat.
The ganache center is quite soft, so it’s an easy bite even though it’s a pretty tall bar. The pecans are well distributed and form a generous ratio of the center. The ganache is interesting, first because it’s not overly chocolatey ... it’s more cheesecakey. There’s a noticeable tang to it, a little tartness that gives it that baked good note of sour cream instead of whipping cream.
As a candy bar, it’s too much. It’s too decadent to eat in several sittings, mostly because the cookie crust can’t take sitting around after it’s been opened. I enjoyed it, but I don’t see myself buying another one. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t well done, but it’s not what I want from a candy bar.
The Humbug is definitely on the unique end of the candy bar spectrum. It features a cocoa sable cookie, a mint chocolate ganache, a white chocolate coating and crushed organic peppermint candies.
The sable cookie base is salty and sandy and crunchy and not at all sweet. It is a bit of a mess though, often creating a lot of crumbs if I didn’t bite it perfectly. The minted chocolate ganache is just the right texture - soft enough to bite through with a quick melt but not greasy or oily. The cocoa flavors are light with the mint shining through for the most part and the white chocolate coating giving it another little hint of sweetness and milky flavors.
Liddabit makes about a dozen different bars, and some are likely seasonal (like the Humbug). I’m interested in anything that utilizes their excellent nougat and plant to try their other bars, such as The King which features peanut butter and banana. The bars are expensive, $8 each, but they’re also huge. That cuts down on the number of different flavors I can do at a time, but now that I found a local shop that carries them in Los Angeles, I can take my time.
As a side note, I can’t help but think of the song Give a Little Bit by Supertramp whenever I hear or read the name Liddabit. That could be just me ... or maybe this video will also get that stuck in your head.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.