Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Werther’s does an excellent hard caramel (or toffee) and the parent company, Storck of Germany, makes one of my favorite mass-produced caramels, the Storck Chocolate Riesen. But I was a little confused how these were different from the other caramels that Werther’s already sells.
The pieces are small, narrow and wrapped in waxed paper with a foil label around the center. They were easy to twist open and didn’t stick to the wrappers.
So, I also purchased the Werther’s Original Chewy Caramel for comparison. The bag looks nearly the same, and inside, the candies are wrapped identically. Opening them, though, it’s clear what the difference is.
The Chewy Caramel (on the right) is stringy and chewy, smooth and pleasant with a balanced milk and caramelized sugar flavor. The Caramel Creme (on the left) is what I would call a “short caramel”, a caramel where the sugar has been caramelized, but allowed to create a bit of a crystallized matrix instead of a silky but stiff chew. It’s sort of like penuche, or like the Krowki Cream Fudge from Poland.
The flavor is fresh, not like some fake buttery flavored toffees. The texture is chewy but still a little gummy. It dissolves well and though there’s a detectable grain, it’s not crystallized or gritty.
It’s pleasant, and I enjoyed eating them, but I preferred the Chewy Caramel version, especially since the bag I purchased for this comparison was especially fresh and chewy. I do prefer this to the flavor profile of Kraft Caramels, though I can’t attest to how they would perform in recipes.
Monday, September 16, 2013
Russell Stover started releasing some of their favorite items in a new, larger format called Big Bites about two years ago. Most are sold year round and represent a cross over sort of candy. They look like giant box candy chocolates but are portioned more like a traditional single serving candy bar.
The new Russell Stover Big Bite Caramel Apple come in two versions. The first is a traditional caramel pattie, flavored with apple and covered in milk chocolate. The second goes further and gives it a coating of crushed peanuts.
The candy emulates a caramel coated apple, but in this case it should be easier to eat and probably has a better shelf life.
The package says naturally flavored, which was a bit of a surprise after eating some other, well, not-so-natural green apple candies lately. The piece is very attractive, it’s a caramel center covered in milk chocolate and then drizzled with dark chocolate. Even out of the rather flimsy package, it looked nearly pristine.
There’s a light apple sauce note to the sweet chocolatey scent. The bite is soft, though the chocolate is pretty thick. I was surprised at the smoothness of the caramel center. It has a pleasant apple peel note to it but not much in the salty or caramelized sugar family. The chocolate was passable, sweet and though note exceptionally smooth, it was creamy. The overall sweetness got to me about halfway through. Basically, a two ounce caramel pattie is just too much for me. A couple of small ones and I’m pretty happy, I don’t need quite this much at once, even if the shape is done well.
The crushed peanuts on the Russell Stover Big Bite Caramel Apple with Peanuts adhered pretty well. The package had a little pile in the bottom, though, about a third more peanuts. Though the no nuts version is 2 ounces, the peanutty one is 2.25 ounces, I’m guessing that’s the nuts and no dark chocolate stripes. Overall, the peanut notes overshadowed the apple flavors, but the whole thing seemed even sweeter, giving me a sore throat in about half the time as the straight one.
I like the Russell Stover caramel, and think they do a good job, especially for the price with these items. This is, by far, one of the best caramel apple candies I’ve had, but it’s still not my thing. I’d just like to see some flavors I’m interested in, like Coffee Caramel (maybe call it a Caramel Macchiato and shape it like a coffee cup) or perhaps Bananas Foster.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
If I were to dream big and come up with attributes of an ideal candy bar, I’d probably start with real ingredients. Each ingredient should contribute flavor or texture. It should have real chocolate. It should be organic and fair trade, as ethical as possible. (And if this is a dream, it would be one dollar and sold everywhere.)
Sjaak’s Organic Chocolate has been doing just that, with their new line called Eli’s Earth Bars. They’re organic, fair trade and some are vegan as well as being made right here in California. The bar is a nice size, the portion is 1.5 ounces, which is what I prefer for a snack. I picked up all of their bars when they first came out, diligently took their photos, ate them and then tried to find more for the review. It took me 2 years to find them in a store again.
I finally found my Eli’s Earth Bars Dream Big Bar at Erewhon, walking distance from my office. The packaging design is good, it’s attractive but not too weird looking. It looks like there’s a candy bar in there, not some mush of seed hulls and dates.
Caramel and peanut butter topped with whole peanuts and coated in creamy ‘milk’ chocolate. Vegan
The bar looks great. The milk chocolate coating is actually made with rice milk, so it’s not technically milk chocolate since there’s no dairy in it. But the chocolate is still made with real cocoa butter (none of those palm oil fillers). I was thinking the bar was going to be kind of like a Snickers, but it’s actually a bit more like a Baby Ruth.
It’s about 3.5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide. The appearance of the outside looks like chocolate, but it tastes a little, well, odd.It’s smooth, but has a bit of a milky note without thinning out the flavor. Mostly I get a rice, or cereal flavor from it. The caramel center is stiff and a little tough to bite at first, which tears the bar apart. The peanut butter is the right balance of smooth and salty, the peanuts are fresh and crunchy. Aside from the tougher than normal chew of the caramel, the textures go well together. There’s the right amount of sweet, salt and fat going on.
The bar most certainly doesn’t taste like disappointment or shame. It tastes like a candy bar. It’s not healthier, it’s still a candy bar, but it doesn’t compromise on the core beliefs - it’s vegan and organic and ethically sourced.
Gluten free but made on shared equipment with dairy.
Monday, August 12, 2013
On my short vacation last month, I made on candy related detour on what was otherwise a cookie-fueled holiday. The Man and I swung through Bakersfield, CA to stop at Dewar’s Family Candy and Ice Cream Parlor.
I’ve tried Dewar’s Chews before, while on vacation I’ve picked them up at a candy shop in Cayucos. I was excited to go to their land or origin and try more of them. At the shop the outside temps were about 100, so I was eager to get our candy and stash it in the cooler in the back seat immediately. At the counter in the shop, which is mostly an ice cream parlor at their main location on Eye Street, the gal let me taste any variety I wanted. That was great, because I’d tried the five or six main flavors, but there were some interesting ones like Roasted Pecan and Chocolate Hazelnut that were of particular interest.
The taffy was $14.50 for a pound, which is a bit steep, but considering the fact that they use fresh local nuts and real dairy for the caramels, I thought it was worth it.
I chose: Pistachio Caramel, Peanut Butter, Almond, Pistachio, Roasted Pecan and Chocolate Hazelnut. I also got a 12 ounce box of the classic flavors to take to the office that included Peppermint.
All of the chews that I liked featured nuts. The plain caramel is good, don’t get me wrong, it’s smooth and soft and chewy. It’s not quite as decadent as some of the artisanal versions that are popping up, but they’re rich and dependable.
The Roasted Pecan was one of the few that featured lots of nuts mixed in. It’s a strongly vanilla taffy with pecans in it, that’s it. It’s great, a little salty, less sweet and satisfying with a maple and wood smoke finish.
The Chocolate Hazelnut was a bit sweeter, not terribly chocolatey but with a nice hint of hazelnut. It was one of my least favorite of the bunch, but I still ate all of them.
The Pistachio Caramel was just the caramel with some pieces of pistachio in it. Great.
The Peppermint is soft, it has a bit of a corn starch chalkiness on the outside, but the taffy is soft and chewy with a great, light mint flavor. Very clean, no graininess.
The exclusive or unique item though are their nut filled vanilla chews. They’re a plain vanilla taffy filled with ground nuts. The first one I tried was Peanut Butter, which is quite nice. I’m accustomed to a molasses chew with peanut butter, but this was much lighter, much more appropriate to summer. The vanilla taffy is soft and chewy, the peanut butter center is a bit grainy and quite salty without being sticky. The combination is really fantastic.
The Almond version is also very good, with a deep roasted flavor without the artificial almond extract that some might want to impose on it. The Pistachio was also very fresh tasting with only a hint of the green tea and floral notes of the pistachio nuts.
The most notable set though are the nut filled vanilla chews. There’s something about them that’s extremely enticing. They’re devilishly unsatisfying though, I would eat one, hoping that there’d be more nut filling and then eat another one, thinking that one would be the perfect ratio.
Dewar’s does a far better job of making a special taffy that’s worth taking home from vacation than any other candy shop I’ve seen. It’s good enough that I’ll likely make web orders in the future.
As a side note, the cookie part of my California Central Coast vacation was also great. The two great cookies of the Cayucos area are from the Brown Butter Cookie Company (I like their chocolate cookies, which are like buttery sand, they just fall apart in your mouth) and the Pecan Chews from Linn’s in Cambria which were like the toasty top of a pecan pie.
Monday, July 22, 2013
I’m taking a few days off. I’m on a cookie vacation. (No, that’s not a vacation from cookies, it’s a vacation with lots of cookies.)
I’ll be back later this week with more candy, but in the mean time, enjoy this photo of a Fran’s Almond Gold Bar which was “buttery caramel, toasted almonds and dark chocolate.” (Full package photo.)
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Last week I profiled the exceptional and hard to find gummis from Sugarfina. They also sent a second Bento box to me with chocolate items. They’re all panned candies but a far more diverse selection from the gummis. Most are made in the US, and like the gummis, Sugarfina doesn’t specify who makes them.
Vanilla Bean Malt Balls: The white chocolate coating is flecked with vanilla bean bits. The pieces smell strongly of vanilla with a hint of toffee and coffee in there. The coating is sweet and milky, but completely overwhelmed by the bourbon-y vanilla. There’s also a fair bit of salt in there, so it wasn’t as sickly sticky feeling as it could have been. There’s a layer below that, perhaps a dark chocolate but mostly it’s there to break up the sweetness. Below that is the crunchy center, which has a mild cereal flavor but not much in the way of malt.
The whole effect is satisfying, but in the sense that I didn’t need to eat more than two in one serving. So even though the package was small and had very few pieces in it, I never felt the need to gobble the whole thing up.
Single Malt Scotch Cordials: are a classic from Koppers. While I love the panned cordials, these raised my expectations a little too high. I’m good with a comforting rum flavored cordial without complaint. But these were labeled as single malt scotch. Though they have a little stronger note of leather or tobacco, they’re not terribly different from the ordinary flavored cordials. I’ll probably stick to the rum or cognac version in the future.
If you’ve never had them, there’s a liquid center, which is a little flavored syrup, then a sugar crusted shell then a layer of dark chocolate. The sugar shell makes it all very sweet.
The Espresso Caramels were very similar to the Trader Joe’s Butterscotch Caramels (which I suspect are made by Marich). They’re wonderfully proportioned with a fair amount of mild semi-sweet chocolate and a nugget of soft, chewy caramel at the center. The coffee notes were not particularly strong, but still created a satisfying candy.
The Marshmallow S’Mores are an extraordinary little construction. At the center is a little marshmallow, then a milk chocolate coating. What sets this apart is the dusting of graham cracker on the outside. The marshmallow is mild and also kind of tiny, so all it does is make the whole thing lighter and easier to chew without giving it the doughy puff of sugar that I usually associate with Smores. The milk chocolate is sweet and very milky which offsets the graham crackers slightly salty and cereal flavors. I didn’t really care for the graham notes, mostly because they seemed a bit on the stale side, for crumbs.
Pastel Malted Milk Eggs are a classic. It’s hard to not like them, even when they’re bad. There were only four of them in the little box, because they were each so big. The malt was good, crunchy and dense. The chocolate was okay, it didn’t add much to it, as is usually the case with pastel eggs because of the crunchy shell. I’d eat a lot of these if I had them.
Peanut Butter Caramels are not new to me. I tried them a few years back after hearing the concept and being intrigued. It’s a caramel center with a peanut butter coating then it’s rolled in powdered sugar. The whole effect is sweet, not peanutty enough and not chewy either. But I still find myself eating them all. I don’t know if they need chocolate or not, but I like the idea of a peanut butter confection that doesn’t have chocolate.
Rainbow Raisins were completely new to me. It makes sense, if a Peanut M&M is just a candy coated Goober, why can’t there be a candy coated Raisinet?
The colors are satisfying and lovely. The shells are crunchy and perhaps even a little floral tasting. The raisins were especially moist and chewy though sometimes I wasn’t sure there was any chocolate in there at all. They’re quite sweet, but the tangy bite of the raisins cuts that a little bit.
On the whole, the chocolates are quite fun and it’s easy to see how the hard to find combinations would make a special gift. They’re also expensive and though the bento boxes are a silly amount of packaging, the regular boxes are actually pretty efficient as they’re stuffed to the brim. The result of the packaging is that the candies don’t roll around a lot and get scuffed up.
I’m giving the whole roundup an 8 out of 10 rating.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Small and plentiful is the trend these days. Most of the top candy makers are creating unwrapped bites of your favorite candies if they don’t already exist. This isn’t new, they’ve come and gone as brand extensions through the years, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not a good idea.
The Mars Milky Way Unwrapped Bites are similar to the Snickers Unwrapped Bites I already reviewed. They’re little cubes, super tiny versions of the popular Milky Way bar. The base is a fluffy nougat, topped with caramel and coated in milk chocolate.
The little nuggets are 2/3 of an inch cubed. A serving is eight pieces, which comes to about 1.34 ounces. They clock in a bit lighter on the calories than the Snickers, mostly because they don’t contain peanuts, which are a bit fattier (but also contain 50% more protein).
They’re easy to eat, sweet smelling and have a soft bite and easy, aerated chew. There was a bit of a cereal note to the smell, but overall they were just sweet and tasty.
This is another interesting example of how ratios of different element can change a candy. I know that some die hard Milky Way fans will probably detest this, but I happen to like it much more than the bar. The bar was always too big, too filling and too sweet but also lacking in any distinct flavor element. In this version the malt of the fluffed nougat is the most forward; it also combines well with the slightly salty caramel to create a great balance.
My only complaint with the bites is that the thinner chocolate shell makes them more delicate. There were several clumps in my bag where one spilled its caramel and they got stuck together. I don’t see myself buying these regularly, but I can see them being great for recipes, especially as an ice cream topper perhaps inside cookies.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
The new trend is reducing packaging. Well, maybe that’s what the food companies want you to believe. The new line of Unwrapped Bites from Mars means you get lots of little miniature minis without all the wrappers that become evidence of how much you’ve eaten.
Hershey’s launched something similar a couple of years ago, so it’s no wonder that Mars is in on it as well.
The package, with a zipper closure, holds a half pound of teensy Snickers cubes. Easy to dump into a bowl, or just eat out of the bag. They’ll also be available in smaller single serving bags.
Mars is utilizing this new icon system on the front of the package for serving size and calorie counts. The serving here is 8 bites or 41 grams, which comes to 190 calories. (3 grams of protein from the peanuts.) Stacked up, the little cubes are cute and hold their shape pretty well. They do get scuffed up in the bag, so they’re not that glossy, swirled perfection found in the individual wrappers.
I can see these being very useful for recipes ... though kind of expensive at 2.99 for 8 ounces, but no worse than premium chocolate chips.
What they got right here is the ratios. Even though they’re not perfect large Snickers ratios, these strike an extremely pleasing balance of nougat, nuts and chocolate. By far the nuts take center stage. Instead of omitting the nuts or putting teensy crushed ones in there, they’re still big peanut pieces. (Though I did get on that had no nuts.) There’s a hint of salt in the nougat which balances the sweet chocolate and caramel. The caramel really doesn’t do much here, maybe it adds a little chew.
What I really enjoy though is the portioning. I like that I can eat only three or four at a time, then maybe three or four later. A full portion is eight pieces, which is less than a regular Snickers, but feels like a lot. Of course the bag is 8 ounces ... nothing keeping you from eating the whole thing in one sitting. These are pretty much the antithesis of the Snickers Slice n’ Share 1 Pound bar ... and actually a better value since a full pound of the Bites retails for $6 instead of $10.
Snickers are made with peanuts, dairy, soy and eggs. They’re also processed in a facility with almonds and I cannot find anything that says that they’re gluten free. Mars has not rolled over to sustainable, ethical sourcing for their ingredients, though they’re on track for 2020.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.