Friday, January 13, 2006
While up at the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, CA last month I discovered that there was another factory in the industrial park: Thompson’s Brands. I’d never heard of their chocolate before but Tomi, who gave me my tour at Jelly Belly said it was worth the stop. I realized when I got into the little shop that I’d probably seen and had their products dozens of times. They seem to specialize in foil wrapped chocolates and have a HUGE selection of them for all occasions at the factory store.
What caught my eye though were these cute little 1 ounce bars of organic chocolate. It’s getting easier to find organic chocolate these days, but it is pretty difficult to find them in smaller portions (most bars come in the 2.5-3.5 ounce size). They also had a large variety at 89 cents each I picked up one of each. I’m all about getting wholesome food that doesn’t pollute the planet. The big challenge has always been getting it at a price that’s reasonable (I’m willing to pay more, but not that much more) for a good quality product. Luckily Thompson has found a solid middle ground with price and taste.
70% Dark Chocolate: their darkest bar, this one has a nice sheen and good snap. The smell is chocolaty and slightly fruity. Upon tasting it there’s a distinct cherry note to it and some other woodsy qualities. A little bitter, but smooth. It also has a smoky charcoal note to it, that I detected in all the bars; it’s not an unpleasant taste, just a little different. Their website says that all their beans are from South America and I understand that a smaller variety of source beans can give chocolates a very distinctive taste (as witnessed by the single origin bars I’ve tried). It’s an exceptionally buttery chocolate and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
50% Dark Chocolate: this bar was very sweet, though had the same buttery quality of the others. The melt was a little less smooth with a more detectable grain. I didn’t care much for the “chocolateness” of it, it felt a little watered down by the sugar.
Milk Chocolate Almond: the Thompson milk chocolate is sweet, not terribly sticky feeling and has that European dairy flavor to it from using powdered milk. The combination of nuts and this style of chocolate gives it a rather twangy series of notes that are compelling and satisfying.
Milk Chocolate Caramel: this was the only bar that I think I could shovel down like “candy”. The caramel center isn’t terribly big, not a large reservoir like I’ve had in bars like the Caramello or Hershey’s with Caramel, but the caramel is nicely caramelized with a slight grain to it. Not runny but not quite chewy, it’s a nice balance for the milky bar because of the good hit of salt.
Milk Chocolate Truffle: when I think truffle, I think buttery smooth, soft centers. That’s not this. This is a firm truffle, more like a Frango. It’s not bad, smooth and lighter than the milk chocolate outside, but I prefer the plain dark, caramel or almond bar to this.
If you’re looking to indulge your children with chocolate but with an eye towards keeping organic, you also might want to explore their line of novelty items that include foil wrapped chocolates. Their pandas are pretty ding-dang cute. Unfortunately I don’t know what stores carry these items. Pop a comment here if you’ve seen Thompson’s in your stores. GroovyCandies.com seems to carry quite a bit of their traditional line. Thompson is also the company that makes the Adora Calcium Tablets.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
It looks like a bar of the future. Something that robots would eat. Or maybe robots would bring them to us. They’d enter the room through the shooshing automatic door with a tray full of snacks that we munch on while watching TV beamed directly into our optic nerve.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a Zero bar before, but I know I’ve seen them. They haven’t been a Hershey’s product for very long and if you go to the page on Hershey’s site you’ll see a long and detail history of who’s made the bar over the years.
It’s a fascinating bar, billed as “Caramel, Peanut and Almond Nougat covered with White Fudge.” But that really doesn’t describe it properly. The nougat is malted and there are peanuts and almonds and possibly soy nuts in there. But it was the malted part that surprised me. If you want me to buy this bar, you might want to mention that!
So, you’ve got this nougat that has an assortment of crunchy nuts in it with a dash of malt. On top of that is a caramel stripe and the whole bar is enrobed in “white fudge” which I’m guessing is like “white chocolate.”
It’s a very pretty bar.
And I was surprised to like it as much as I did. There must be a reason that it’s survived to this day and I’m guessing it’s partly its originality. I’m guessing the other reason might be its packaging and name. If you were to alphabetize your candy display, the Zero would be there with the Zagnut. The malt really stands out because there isn’t any chocolate to overpower it. I think I can taste the soy nuts in the nougat, which doesn’t upset me or anything, but it is a little odd for a “candy bar” (but expected in a nutrition bar).
If Hershey’s has a mind to improve the bar, I’d say a real “white chocolate” that has cocoa butter on it instead of the slightly chalky “white fudge” would make this one a real winner. (I just can’t get into all those hydrogenated oils.)
Friday, January 6, 2006
This candy bar irritated me from the moment I picked it up. First was the rich mustard color of the wrapper. A compelling “look at me!” color, but not one that makes me think of peanuts in a fond way. (In fact, it makes me think of a peanut butter and mustard sandwich, which probably has some fans out there, but I can’t count myself as one of them.) The second thing that rubbed me that wrong way when I read the package was the description, “pretzels, caramel, peanuts, peanut butter & peanut butter candy.” What the heck is “peanut butter candy” and how is that different than the whole thing being considered a “peanut butter candy?”
What I thought the peanut butter candy part meant was something like the inside of a Butterfinger bar (or a 5th Avenue if we’re sticking to Hershey’s products). And that actually sounds kind of interesting, have a layer of peanut crisp in there somewhere. What I didn’t realize is that this bar has no chocolate (poor reading comprehension on my part) ... and that’s what the peanut butter candy replaces. It’s basically a peanut butter-white chocolate. Like the insides of Reese’s Pieces! Of course this means partially hydrogenated oils. Bah! I don’t want partially hydrogenated oils in my candy!
Anyway, you get two bars in each package (which has a nice cardboard tray to keep them from getting crushed). The outside is a little odd looking as you can see the grains of peanut butter, but I got over that. It smells peanutty and is smooth, crunchy and has a nice hit of salt in it. I got no sense of the caramel at all. There was no chewiness to this bar at all, in the caramel sense. I suspect that the fats from the various peanut incarnations invaded the caramel and de-chewified it. If you’re a big peanut fan and are not satisfied with the bazillion other Reese’s branded bars, you can pick this up and argue with me about the glory that is a Peanut Butter Take 5.
Instead of mucking around with adding more peanuts to the Take 5 line, they need to start making my version with extra dark chocolate and pecans!
Interesting things: Take 5 bars are called Max 5 in Canada. The peanut butter version of the bar contains 2 more grams of saturated fat over the regular chocolate one, but twice the fiber. This is not a limited edition bar. Other Take 5 versions: Take 5 Chocolate (9/10) & White Chocolate Take 5 (6/10).
Tuesday, January 3, 2006
It looks like Nestle is finally going to go whole hog into the Limited Edition stuff like Hershey’s and Mars have been doing. I saw a few mentions on Junk Food Blog about new Nestle Limited Edition candies. I immediately ran out to my local 7-11 that seems to carry these things and was lucky enough to find it on my first try.
The 100 Grand with Peanuts is exactly what you’d think. A 100 Grand bar, which is caramel covered in milk chocolate and crisped rice. In this case the peanuts are mixed in with the caramel, not with the milk chocolate.
First of all, during the five year period of time when I faithfully adhered to the Nestle boycott, the one bar that I missed was the $100,000 Bar (as it was called at the time). There is no other bar like it; caramel, chocolate and crisps seems like an obvious combination, but Nestle seems to have “unique” as a selling point. (Yes, Steve Almond goes on about some bar called a Caravelle in Candy Freak which was similar but better, but I don’t think I ever had one.)
This new version is interesting. Even though there aren’t a lot of peanuts, because they’re whole and mixed in with the caramel, it really bursts with caramel flavor, but not a lot of actual caramel chew. The salty-ness of the caramel goes nicely with the peanuts but I’m not getting enough sticky caramel to give me the nice contrast with the crispy rice. But, I’m comparing it to the regular 100 Grand. I think a better thing to compare it to is the Snickers Cruncher bar, which it seems I liked much better. Snickers just knows the peanut/chocolate combo much better.
I’ll keep picking up the regular 100 Grand in the future. Unless they bring back the Caravelle, then you can expect a new review.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Name: Snickers Almond
Why didn’t someone mention that the Mars bar was quietly replaced with the Snickers Almond bar five years ago? I didn’t notice. Mostly because I was never a Mars bar fan. A Mars bar in the States used to be a nougat bar with almonds and a strip of caramel and covered in milk chocolate. A Mars bar in other parts of the world is like a Milky Way is here in the States: a nougat bar with a stripe of caramel covered in milk chocolate. In the rest of the world a Milky Way is like the American 3 Musketeers. I can go on and on, but suffice to say that Mars has a big old confusing name problem on their hands and all I can do is try to make a grid to display it. (Please correct me if I’ve got them wrong.)
USA….............. contents ..................UK/Canada
You know, there are a bazillion names for these candy folks to choose from, why do they have to confuse the globe-trotting candy lovers so? For some other attempts at disambiguation, have a look at this page comparing the old Mars and the Canadian Milky Way (with cross sections).
But I digress. I’m supposed to be reviewing the Snickers Almond bar.
But I don’t wanna review this bar because I didn’t like it much and it reminded me why I forgot about the bar entirely. It smells good, which is just a ruse. First, the nougat is nothing more than a flavorless grainy sweet blob. Good nougat has a flavor of some sort, an essence of honey or malt or, well, something. This is just sweet. The caramel is also sweet, but has a touch of salt to it which I fully support. The almonds are nice, but scant. The chocolate is sweet and passable as a chocolate cloak. As a whole combination it just didn’t wow me and didn’t satisfy me. I didn’t finish it.
There are other bars out there that do this better. The See’s Awesome Nut & Nougat Bar is one (but probably not a viable alternative as it’s not that easy to get a hold of). Frankly I prefer the plain old Snickers bar to this. There was a Mars Midnight for a while there in the nineties that I was rather fond of but gone now.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
When I was a kid there was an amazing candy bar called the Marathon. It was made by Mars and came in a bright red wrapper and was almost ten inches long (the candy was only 8 inches). Inside was a braid of firm caramel covered in chocolate.
The Marathon bar came along at a time when I would guess I was particularly impressionable and it was a marvelous time in candy. New candies were being introduced that seemed to speak directly to my soul. It was at this time that things like Reese’s Pieces, Sprees & Starbursts came out and Pringles (okay, not a candy, but I’d buy them at the Stop ‘n Go). And let’s not forget Pop Rocks.
The Marathon bar was probably not marketed towards me. The commercial campaign I remember involved a square-jawed, white-toothed and practically perfect looking Patrick Wayne (son of John Wayne) who went by the name of Marathon John. This hero of little commerical stories did everything slow, like eating his Marathon bar. He had a nemesis in the commericals, a wirey fellow named Quick Carl. Quick Carl was careless and jumpy and was, of course, always foiled by Marathon John and his candy bar that you can’t eat quickly. (We didn’t have color TV back then, so the whole “red” thing was lost on me ... it’s not that I’m that old that I remember black & white TV, it’s just that we didn’t get one in my family until 1979).
My guess is that this long candy bar that came with a measuring stick on the back was aimed at adolescent boys. You know how obsessed they are with measuring things. And how often do you find yourself at lunch or hanging out at the park with your little paper bag of sweets and wanna measure something with your buds?
Anyway, the candy bar was introduced in 1973 by Mars and discontinued it in 1981. But of course once you discontinue a candy bar the fans come out of the woodwork. The bar has been gone for more than twenty years and still there are rabid admirers who insist that it be returned to the American Pantheon of candy bars. I suspect that one of the issues with it is its non-standard size. It just doesn’t fit on the shelves the same way and slotting is important for the big candy manufacturers. But Cadbury seems to be doing fine with the Curly Wurly ... but for all I know their biggest market may be the United States and these folks in their forties who insist that there is no other candy bar for them than an eight inch braid of caramel covered with chocolate.
A few years ago Mars resurrected the name Marathon but this time gave it to an “energy bar” type candy. I’ve never tried it.
If you’re looking for a fix now that you’ve waxed as nostalgic as I have, pick up the Cadbury Curly Wurly bar. You can find them in the UK or Canada or perhaps in the States at a shop that carries UK imports and of course online. Old Time Candy has a nice page about Curly-Wurly and the Marathon Bar Here’s my review of the Curly Wurly (I gave it an 8 out of 10). The only question that remains (and perhaps you dear readers can help) is who came up with the bar first? Was it a Cadbury product that was licensed by Mars just as Hershey licensed KitKat from Rowntree (well, now Nestle)? Or did Mars come up with it and it was successful enough in the UK to continue?
Friday, December 9, 2005
Name: Plush Puffs Assortment
Yes, artisanal marshmallows. And why not? The stuff we’ve been getting from Kraft are not what marshmallows are capable of. And those things that you find in cereal? Please, let’s not even grace them with the name marshmallow. They’re not even marshy!
I was sent a generous sample pack from Ann of Plush Puffs, which is based here in Los Angeles (Sherman Oaks, to be exact). The weird thing is that until I started Candy Blog, I didn’t really think much of marshmallows. Besides the See’s Scotchmallows, there were very few marshmallow things that I would even try. Peeps were never on the menu, but I have been known to toast marshmallows, if only because they’re the only grillable dessert I know.
Instead of just plain marshmallows, Plush Puffs are flavored with intense combinations of spice, nuts and/or fruit essences:
Caramel Swirl - I think I’d rename this one to “sticky toffee” because it had a nice carmelized sugar note to it and it was sticky. It was very sweet and had a little bit of caramelly fudge topping on it.
Chocolate Chipetta - this is the only one that doesn’t feel “sweet” to me. It’s rich and toasty tasting with a good chocolate hit. One of my top three flavors.
Maple Pecan - holy moly! These were really good. The maple flavor wasn’t artificial or chemically like some candies can be. It was a good sweet woodsy backdrop to the sweet, chewy foam. It had almost a toffee-like flavor and I even had a few pecans in mine.
Peppi-Mint - it’s like a fluffy candy cane! Seriously minty, like someone’s made a foam Altoid or something. The color and texture looks more like a cake than a marshmallow but the intense flavor made me want to eat both but I settled for doing a mash-up with the Chocolate Chipetta which was really good. One of my top three flavors.
Toasted Coconut - this one smelled divine and tasted just a good. I love coconut and I love the nutty smell that reminds me of the beach and all the kids that could tan wearing that coconut oil suntan lotion. One of my top three flavors.
Sydney’s Cinnamon - this was not my favorite, though I had high hopes for it. It’s definitely cinnamonny, but it also has cinnamon oil, which gives it more of a candy hit than a spiciness (like eating a cinnamon hard candy). But where this puff really showed itself was in the toasting. (see below)
Vanilla Bean - I know, vanilla, kind of bland. It wasn’t really bland, a little salty and it just didn’t wow me. I think this would be good with something else, like maybe over pie or toasted or in s’mores.
Sam’s Sour Lemon - these had a gorgeous zesty lemon smell and pretty creamy and vivid yellow swirls in them. Calling them “sour” lemon doesn’t work at all for me (in fact, I would call them “zesty” lemon instead) but the flavor is really nice and mellow. I also didn’t care much for the mix of textures wtih the crunchy lemon sugar but it’s not a dealbreaker or anything.
There’s one more flavor on their list that for some reason I didn’t get in my grab bag, which is the one that sadly interested me most - Orange Honey. The honey flavor is not that noticeable in the other Plush Puffs but is one of the things that I’ve always found so intense about the See’s Scotchmallows. (I guess I’ll have to place an order.)
Per the recommendation of Ann at Plush Puffs, I tried some in my tea and of course toasted some of Sydney’s cinnamon:
I brewed a cup of Revolution Lavender Earl Grey tea and and dropped in about a quarter of a puff (I didn’t want to overload). As I took the photos I noticed the marshmallow dissolving into a beautiful aromatic foam. I enjoyed the combination of flavors, the creaminess of the marshmallow, the interaction of the botanicals of bergamot, lemon and lavender was really nice. And of course the sweetness of the puff was a nice change from my usually naked tea. Even after I’d slurped off the foamy dissolved puffiness there was still a nice lingering sweetness and lemony flavor. Definitely a cool way to decorate an ordinary after-dinner or afternoon tea. I still prefer my naked tea, because that’s just the way I am.
The drink marshmallows were invented for, of course, is hot chocolate. I got some amazing Mayan Hot Chocolate mix from Xocoatl from my sister-in-law at Thanksgiving which I made here at the office with some milk in the microwave. In went a half of a Sydney’s Cinnamon. Instead of dissolving in a bubbly foam and spreading across the surface like the lemon one in the tea did, this one hung together really well. But once I tried poking it with a spoon it melted completely. I scooped it up like some sort of dessert soup with some of the hot chocolate and enjoyed that until all I had left was my cocoa broth. The spice of the cinnamon went really well with the Mayan chocolate which already had a hit of spices in it.
I kept a few of the Sydney’s Cinnamon aside for toasting. I loaded one up on a carving fork because I know that a single prong really doesn’t do very well with a marshmallow. I put it over the open flame on the gas burner on my stove and it carmelized so beautifully and left the house smelling so good, I think I’ll just start toasting these like incense. Here’s a tip about toasting them. They’re huge. They’re actually too big to toast whole. There’s no way to get a fully molten center (I do not like medium rare toasted marshmallows) with a marshmallow this size. What is so intense about these is that they melt even at moderate heat, which turns them into this molten, intense foamy sauce with a crispy carmelized shell. In the future I think I’ll slice them in half and then have a greater surface area to center ratio.
I’ve been looking for a summer dessert to have after grilling and this just might be the thing. Everyone can choose their own flavor and I think it’d be really cool to make some grown-up s’mores and drinks with them. They don’t quite fit into the “candy” family for me for some reason. They feel more like food, maybe that’s because they’re so satisfying and slightly saltier (more savory) than an ordinary marshmallow.
I should go back and add them to the gift guide, especially since they have baskets where you can choose the selection of flavors. Also, if you’re dubious about them, you can try their “scraps” which are not quite perfect marshmallows. I love factory stores. Overall this is the kind of thing I’d like to offer guests at a party and I can see myself ordering them for a summer grill or maybe part of dessert a holiday cocktail party. I don’t see myself just ordering them to eat, maybe it’s because they feel kind of precious being handmade and all, I just can bring myself to just wolf them down like so many handfuls of M&Ms or Skittles.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Monday, November 28, 2005
Made by the same company that makes Malteasers, I thought this would something like bridge mix. And it is, except it’s all milk chocolate. Inside the package are an assortment of little chocolate coated spheres. The largest ones are Malteasers, which I rather like. There are also some little dense disks of pure milk chocolate and some chocolate covered raisins. After that it gets a little more curious. There are what I have to assume are caramels but they’re so hard, I didn’t dare try to eat them. The package also mentions two other surprise items: coffee and orange. I think I found the coffee one, which was a crumbly center with a light coffee taste to it. I don’t think I got an orange one.
The chocolate is milky but not creamy. Sweet but not chocolatey. The chocolate is good for the malt because it’s such a strong flavor itself, but for the rest of the mix, it’s rather cheap tasting. And the fact that you only get 35 grams (1.2 ounces) is pretty sad, too when you consider that M&Ms come in 1.7 ounce packages.
I will avoid this little packet as much as possible in the future.
Rating - 4 out of 10
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