Thursday, September 22, 2011
When the classic Slo Poke Caramel was revived earlier this year, its chocolatey partner Black Cow was also on the slate for reboot by the Classic Caramel Company.
Originally released back in the 1920s by Holloway, makers of Milk Duds, the Black Cow was just a chocolate covered Slo Poke (not that dissimilar from the Sugar Mama which was a chocolate covered Sugar Daddy.) In this new version the Black Cow becomes an actual chocolate infused caramel.
The candy now comes in two formats, a large bar (in this case mine is 20% larger at 1.6 ounces instead of the standard 1.5 ounce) and the little individually wrapped pieces.
Unlike Tootsie Rolls which only have cocoa in them, Black Cow uses whole chocolate (cocoa liquor which includes cocoa butter) in their recipe.
The chew is quite soft. Though you can whack it to make bite sized pieces, I found I had to refrigerate mine. (And once I had broken it into pieces, they reformed into the bar after they came back to room temperature.)
The chew is not quite as smooth as the Slo Poke or even Tootsie Rolls. But the flavor is actually very well rounded - the chocolate notes are rich and woodsy thought not entirely chocolatey. It’s kind of nutty with creamy dairy flavors that are authentic without a greasy partially hydrogenated taste. Still, the ingredients aren’t exactly wholesome, which is sad because real caramel doesn’t really have a lot of expensive ingredients and is relatively shelf stable. This one has both high fructose corn sweetener and partially hydrogenated coconut oil in the list (though very far down, not as predominant ingredients).
For a really satisfying, very chocolatey caramel, you really can’t beat the Storck Chocolate Riesen, which is an actual real chocolate covered chocolate caramel. However, these are far and away better than a Tootsie Roll, which never ceases to bring chewable cardboard to my mind unless encased in hard candy and on a stick.
Friday, September 16, 2011
The Slo Poke Caramel Pop was introduced in 1926 by the Holloway Candy Company. It was a simple, firm, rectangular caramel lollipop. It was sold for the first time the year after the Sugar Daddy made its debut (as the Papa Sucker). As the name might imply, the Slo Poke was a candy to savor and enjoy over a long time. The sucker format meant that kids would either allow it to dissolve or nibble off bites to chew.
As with most candy products of this age, it’s been through many owners. MJ Holloway, also the maker of Milk Duds, sold out to Beatrice Foods in 1960. Beatrice later sold off their confectionery division to Leaf and Leaf divested its candy lines to several different companies. Milk Duds went to Hershey’s and Slo Pokes and their chocolate brethren, Black Cow, went to the Gilliam Candy company in 1998. For a brief time in this century, Slo Pokes stopped being made until the Warrell Corporation acquired the brand and recipe and began making them again last year under their new Classic Caramel Company (which also reintroduced Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy).
The new format of the revived Slo Poke is the 1.8 ounce bar. It’s a big plank of caramel. Like Turkish Taffy and other taffy/nougat candies, the simplest way to serve yourself is to whack the package on a hard surface to break it into bite sized pieces. I chose to eat mine in all of its chewy wholeness.
The texture is soft, much softer than a Sugar Daddy, which is the closest approximation to this candy. Like the Sugar Daddy, this is a true caramel. The first ingredient is corn syrup, followed by sweetened condensed milk and then more sugar. The color is dark and authentically toasted sugar. The flavor is quite sweet and the texture is mostly smooth. There’s a slight grain to it towards the end that I can only equate with a Sugar Baby or a poorly made fudge.
The flavor is almost exactly like the center of a Milk Dud (as you can imagine). It’s not quite as tough or smooth a chew as the Duds though.
The ingredients aren’t as pure as I’d like. Far down on the list is high fructose corn syrup, which an extremely rare ingredient in candy as well as partially hydrogenated coconut oil, calcium caseinate, distilled monoglycerides and artificial flavors. For something that’s labeled as Real Caramel I have to wonder what that actually means.
I liked the bar, mostly because it was soft and easy to eat. I don’t recall buying these much as a kid, I really was more of a Sugar Daddy fan, though those are certainly more threatening to teeth and dental work. I think my favorite easy-to-eat caramel is still Sugar Babies though, partly because they’re a bit neater and partly because they’re so cute but mostly because I prefer the mix of the smooth texture of the caramel center with the grainy jelly bean style coating. But if I was really going to satisfy my caramel cravings I’d have to go with Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffee.
The candies are no longer made in their original lollipop format. They’re sold in bars or the little, individually wrapped bite sized pieces. I don’t think those who loved the original are going to be disappointed with this resurrected version.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Russell Stover makes a good selection of classic candies. It’s a step above mass-manufactured candy bars, but not quite to the level of fine chocolates. Their strongest area is in holiday specialty candies and they’re probably best known for their Easter Eggs. For the rest of the year folks just have to wait for them to come back or buy one of their sub-par boxes of chocolates.
Lately Russell Stover has come out with some of their favorites in individually wrapped pieces in bags. I picked up this bag of Russel Stover Marshmallow & Caramel in Fine Milk Chocolate at the drug store. Russell Stover already makes this candy in fun shapes for the holidays, like Hearts for Valentines Day, Eggs for Easter, Pumpkins for Halloween and probably something like a Tree or Santa for Christmas (I can’t seem to find that one).
Each piece is individually wrapped and a little larger than I think you’d expect for a candy in a box of chocolates. They’re just a bit shy of a half an ounce (.494 to be exact) and clock in at about 57 calories - so two of these makes a pleasant snack at a rather low caloric density for a chocolate product. They’re quite attractive too, with nicely rippled and thick milk chocolate. The packaging protected them well, with no scuffs or cracks.
Most of the pieces were about 1.75 inches long and 1 inch across. They’re not as thick as I would have hoped, I kind of wanted a lofty marshmallow center like the See’s Scotchmallow. Each piece is about two bites. The marshmallow is soft and latexy, spongy and only slightly sweet. There’s a vague cinnamon and cereal flavor to the whole thing. The caramel is sweet and has a little chew to it. The chocolate coating is sweet, milky and a little sticky in the melt but overall of good enough quality to hold up to the other flavors.
The whole effect was a very sweet product with distinct textures and some slight differences in flavors. The caramel didn’t have much of the smoky, burnt sugar flavors which is too bad because that really could have pulled it together. As a small indulgence, it meets some very basic needs. I think it would probably be more fun to pop this into a microwave and then between a couple of graham crackers for a caramel infused S’more.
For folks who miss the holiday version of these, now you can have it year round. I might prefer the Valentine’s or Halloween version because it has less chocolate and more marshmallow but go with whatever suits your needs.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Like the other bars, it’s a standard 3.5 ounce tablet bar in a bright purple holographic wrapper (I really captured the psychedelic feature in the photo this time). The bar is milk chocolate with a little flowing, salted caramel in each segment.
The front of the package says that it’s Truly amazing chocolate made with natural ingredients. But then it refers you to the list of ingredients which does actually have many that are considered natural, but a few others that I’d say aren’t, such as mono- and di-glycerides, TBHQ (a preservative that keeps oils from going rancid) and hydrogenated coconut oil.
The bar mold is wonderfully designed with a complex pattern that makes every segment a little different. The bar was also expertly poured, no strange voids and a pristine surface. I went to a lot of trouble to pick out a bar at the store that wasn’t broken, but somehow I managed to break it anyway. Makes me wonder if this bar should be in a box or have a piece of cardstock as a splint.
Each segment has a thin reservoir of caramel in it. The milk chocolate was soft, but not mushy (it is summer, so I expect this). It’s creamy, rather milky and very sweet. It wasn’t quite the buttery silk of Dove, but had a lot more character as well with some strong fresh dairy notes instead of a dried milk flavor. The caramel center was sweet and sticky with a bit of a salty note. The caramel flavor was a bit artificial and not quite convincing as actual caramelized sugar, but it was still a great counterpoint in both texture and flavor to the milk chocolate.
Think of it as a deluxe Cadbury Caramello bar. The chocolate is definitely better, it has more cocoa bite to it and a creamier, less greasy texture. However, there are far better bars out there for less money. May I direct you to the Trader Joe’s Caramel Sea Salt Bar? Only $1.99 and with the far superior dark chocolate. If you prefer milk chocolate, well, that’s no help. Also, the biggest problem with the Trader Joe’s bar was how messy it was, whereas the Wonka bar does have well contained segments.
The price was silly though for a Nestle product. I’d be much more inclined in this price range to sample Lindt or Green & Black’s (especially for the organic and fair trade aspects) or just go for the value of a mass quantity like Dove’s little caramel Promises.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
See’s Candies has been adding limited edition flavors to the regular offerings. Sometimes I time it right when I visit one of their shops. This summer they have their new See’s Candies Double Caramel.
The package describes them as vanilla brown sugar caramel and chocolate butter caramel. So they’re a stacked product inside the milk chocolate shell - the base is the chocolate caramel then a layer of the brown sugar caramel.
They’re available in half pound boxes on the website or at the store in small boxes or in the custom mix. (I don’t think they’ve been added to the classic See’s Nuts & Chews.)
I bought this little box that holds 5 ounces, which is 6 caramels. Yeah, think about that, each caramel weighs over three quarters of an ounce. That’s a pretty dense caramel. The package says that two is a serving, which is just too rich for even me in one sitting (unless I’m sitting for a long time).
As I mentioned before, they’re huge. It’s about an inch and a half in diameter (tall and the base). I couldn’t eat them in one bite, they were definitely two bites. (You can bite them down the center or you can tip them with the bottom perpendicular and bite them so you get either a layer of chocolate caramel or the brown sugar caramel.)
The combination of the flavors is great, the ratios are spot on. The texture of the caramel is soft, smooth and chewy. Neither layer is too sweet. The chocolate one is a light woodsy and deep flavor that has a little touch of coffee to it. The brown butter caramel has a little note of honey and salt along with the light woodsy note of molasses. The milk chocolate has a strong milk flavor, though the melt wasn’t quite as silky as I’d hoped.
If I had one comment to improve these, it’d be less sweet milk chocolate. It’s really sugary, and with all the sugar in the caramel, I’d prefer a darker milk chocolate. But maybe that’d make we want to eat more at once, so I might be better off in the long run with it as is.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Trader Joe’s is usually right on target when it jumps on a trend. They seem to know when it’s too early to hop on (and customers will be too scared) or too late (customers will be weary of over saturation). Salt and caramel, salt and chocolate and of course, the combination of all three is right up there on the trend meter. Artisans and high end chocolatiers started the international push about eight years ago, and Trader Joe’s has introduced some fine salted caramels along the way.
Today I have one of their new bars, a 70% Dark Chocolate Bar - Caramel with Black Sea Salt. The design of the box is reminiscent of the Fearless Flyer’s clip art designs with fanciful sailing ships and airships and seaweed. The package mentions that the bar is gluten free.
The package describes the bar thusly:
Inside the box the bar is sealed in a tough silver mylar package. There’s no design flair to it, but something much more practical. There’s a little stamp that says not only when the bar was made, but also the best by date. (It’s pretty rare for a product to give you both pieces of information.)
I had two of these bars. The first, pictured here, I bought myself. The second was one my husband picked up, not realizing that I’d already procured one. This one was in good shape, glossy and unbroken. The color of the chocolate was a little dead - a little on the coffee ground brown side. The bottom of the bar is studded with sea salt crystals. They weren’t black, they were white and translucent. Some grains were small and well spaced, but others were clumped together or just downright large - like something you’d toss on an icy sidewalk.
The center of the bar is a gooey, near liquid caramel. It’s creamy and silky smooth with a light milky flavor with a strong salty note. The combination of salt from the dusting and the center was sometimes pretty intense. (The package says that there’s only 95 mg of salt here, but I think that’s a little off.)
The chocolate is a little bitter but strong with a fruity and woodsy note to it, kind of like smoked raisins. It’s quite decadent all together, sweet, salty, creamy and a little crunchy if you hit a salt patch.
My big complaint about this bar is the filling at times. The second bar was broken in one place, which unleashed the caramel into the package. Also, if you start the bar, you’re kind of obligated to finish it right away, because the caramel will escape within a half an hour of placing it horizontal. (I guess propping it upright might help.)
Trader Joe’s always makes a good quality product. The packaging was good, the label gave me all the info I wanted to know and the quality was excellent for the price. I don’t think this is my favorite bar, mostly because of the overly-salty spots and the mess factor.
There’s another bar in this set that I saw on the shelf, Trader Joe’s 70% Dark Chocolate - Toffee with Walnuts and Pecans - has anyone tried that as well?
Friday, June 17, 2011
I already reviewed the bars, called Heavenly Crisp, and today I’ll tackle their new Dreamy Clusters. The Dreamy Clusters come in dark chocolate and milk chocolate, but since I was buying a full box of these and they were $4.29 each, I only picked up one. (I’ve spent close to $15 on products for review this week, which is a bit steep for me when the average cost of a review item is about a buck.)
The package describes Dreamy Clusters as crunchy crisps and creamy caramel drenched in dark chocolate. That actually sounds fantastic. Kind of like a 100 Grand bar but in dark chocolate.
The box contains more than the wafer bars, there are six packets and each is just shy of one ounce. So the value is a bit better.
The ingredients start off pretty good for candy, but go a little awry after that:
Maltitol & erythritol are sugar alcohols. They are less sweet than glucose, fructose or sucrose but also have a slightly cool effect on the tongue and can have some side effects (such as intestinal gas and a laxative effect). They don’t make up a large portion of the candy itself, but their presence means that the flavor and satisfaction may be affected.
The pieces themselves are quite small. But that’s no big deal if you think of them as tiny chocolates from an elegant box. I got five pieces in my bag, and I opened two bags. So I’m going to guess that’s the norm. (I also felt the other bags in the box and they seem to be the same, maybe I need to invest in a Candy Blog ultrasound machine.)
The packet that holds them is senselessly large - it’s five inches by four inches and each piece is about an inch in diameter. It does protect them, none of them were smashed though all were scuffed up.
The pieces smell great. They’re bumpy and though they vary in size, they’re pretty consistent in their construction. Each piece is made up of a caramel center with a dark chocolate coating studded with a crisped rice product. The caramel has a good pull, though it’s not a large reservoir, it only provides a small amount of chew and a large hit of salt. The dark chocolate coating is quite sweet but of good enough quality that it didn’t seem chalky or overly bitter. The main notes were raisins and a generic woodsy flavor. The crisps were salty, light and crunchy. They were bigger than the strange new things that they put in 100 Grand bars these days, so I found them pretty satisfying as a textural element. They didn’t have much of a malty cereal flavor.
Five pieces was actually satisfying. The portion sounds small (about half the mass of a Snicker or 3 Musketeers) but the fact that there were five pieces and they had a lot going on (especially if you bit them in half instead of popping them in your mouth whole) might make these a decadent little treat.
I’m annoyed by the use of the sugar alcohols and exceedingly long ingredients list. In a chocolate candy, sugar is not what racks up the calories, fat is. However, instead of substituting the inimitable cocoa butter for something else, they left it in, and just added the crisps which are part air and part lower-calorie fiber/carbs. The nutritional panel for these is decent enough - there’s actually 1 gram of protein and it says 3 grams of fiber.
It’s hard to give these a resounding endorsement because of my misgivings about their marketing (emaciated cows are appetizing?) and their ingredients. Also, the price is needlessly precious - you get half as much candy as a 100 Grand, but somehow it costs four times as much? (I’m basing that off of a $1.25 package of 8 fun size bars of 100 Grand which weights about 6 ounces.) However, these are nicely done for a candy marketed to dieters. They do taste good and without knowing that it’s “diet candy” I’d still eat them.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Caramels are best when they’re made fresh with only a few ingredients. There are decent caramel simulations found in commercial stores, but the true stuff cannot be readily imitated with the shelf life necessary for large scale business.
These small boxes from Helliemae’s Caramels contain a half a pound each; they’re like little sugar and dairy bricks. The caramels themselves are made from the classic ingredients and nothing else - sugar, butter, cream, vanilla and sea salt.
Each caramel is a large square, about 1.3 inches across and a little less than an inch high. They appear to be molded instead of cut, because they have slightly angled sides, like ice cubes. The Classic Salt Caramels have a generous dusting of flaky sea salt on top.
When I first bit into them I was impressed by the smooth texture, firm chew that wasn’t too tough. They’re a bit sticky but when consumed with some hot tea or coffee that dissolves quickly. But the salt on top was too much for me. The caramel itself was perfectly salted to begin with ... a few grains up there would have done me fine, but it wasn’t a flurry, it was a blizzard with consistent accumulation.
I’m a bit more sensitive to salt than many of my pals, so I handed some off and found the same comment - far too salty. So for the rest of them I found myself scraping the salt off as completely as possible or eating from the bottom and discarding the crusty tops. 7 out of 10
I was also given a single sample of the Cardamom Caramels. Cardamom is a hard spice to use, especially with a confection like caramel which tends to boil away the intensity of flavors. In this case the cardamom is added as a coarse powder of the seeds of the pod itself. The cardamom has flavor notes of pine, bergamot, lemon, vanilla, nutmeg, cola and eucalyptus. In some candies I’ve had the cardamom seeds can be intense and distracting though still imparting an amazing flavor that still manages to make up for it by being so engaging. In this case the grain was smaller than ground espresso so it was virtually unnoticeable. The flavor was citrusy and really brought out the vanilla and toffee notes.
In this case there was no salt on top, so I was quite pleased. 9 out of 10
The final flavor I tried was another half pound sampling of the Coffee Caramels. These were pure perfection. The coffee flavors were intense but smooth, like a fine espresso with the perfect head of creama. They were bitter and had loads of toffee and roasted java notes but also an appealing tangy note of woodsy coffee that rounded it out.
Since there was no salt on top, I found this to be exactly how I like my caramels. 9 out of 10
Fresh caramels need to be consumed immediately. I ate and shared the majority of these within two weeks of getting them, but the few that I saved for review did kind of lose their mojo after about three weeks - getting sticky and grainy around the edges. I liked that the format that was easy to bite and that the wax paper was easy to unwrap. A chocolate coated version might be stupendous, especially if it was a super dark that offset the sweetness and salt.
They’re a bit expensive for me but for an impulse item if I lived in the area and saw one at the cash register at the store of a cafe, I would definitely go for one even at $3 a pop.
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