Monday, July 6, 2015
Brach’s has reintroduced their whole line of chocolate panned candies over the past two years. They’ve redone their classic Bridge Mix and now have several varieties of chocolate covered nuts. One of the surprising new items is Brach’s Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Bites.
The gussetted, resealable bag holds a half of a pound. Like most other Brach’s products, the description on the package is only contained in the product name ... nothing else to go on except the very long ingredients list.
The image on the bag shows some chocolate pieces, and then a cross section of the actual candies ... sitting next to that is a rustic pretzel nugget and a little square of caramel. That is really not what the product is.
The little spheres are a great size, about the same size as a garbanzo bean or hazelnut. The milk chocolate coating is shiny and the bag had a nice sweet scent, a little on the milky side. The pieces have a good crunch, the pretzel center isn’t too hard or crumbly. The pretzel flavor was good, not too much of the washed crust that can get kind of bitter, and no big bits of salt. But upon eating the pieces, this is where the caramel part comes in. The caramel is actually little shards mixed into the milk chocolate. So at first it’s just a pretzel with some milk chocolate, but after chewing, the chocolate melts away and the starchy pretzel dissolves ... and what was left was some sort of tacky residue of hard caramel. It was weird and kind of waxy and unpleasant.
So, after a while I took to letting the milk chocolate melt away instead of crunching them up, but that was unsatisfying because then my pretzel would get mushy before the caramel bits were all gone. I’ve had other confections like almonds, that had a little toffee coating before the milk chocolate, I’m not sure why that wasn’t the process here.
I’ll pass on these in the future, which is too bad because it’s a unique selling proposition in the rather crowded field of morselized products.
Monday, June 15, 2015
Russell Stover is probably best known for the inexpensive boxed chocolates sold at drug stores. I happen to like them for their holiday novelty candies, but more recently they’ve tried to get into everyday snacking with their Big Bite pieces. At first these were just larger versions of the seasonal favorites, but more recent items are completely original to the format. The opposite spectrum of this trend is morselization ... and Russell Stover has introduced some teensy versions of their more popular items. I picked up their Russell Stover Pecan Delight Minis, which are nugget-sized pecan turtles.
These candies that have the word pecan as the first word in their name and they need more pecans. A lot more pecans. Currently they’re little pecan bits, where are nice, they’re a good textural element, but they’re not dense enough ... I need some crunch in my chewy caramel and creamy milk chocolate.
The size is good, they’re poppable. The vague sprinkling of pecans does give a woodsy maple note to the whole thing, the tough of salty is just about right. The caramel is a little too flavored and not authentically caramelized sugar and cream.
As a candy, they about as good as other morsel things at the same price. They’re certainly better than Brach’s. I can’t say that I liked these better than the Demet’s Minis, which also suffer from too few pecans, but I do think the chocolate is of better quality here. (And less expensive.)
Monday, June 8, 2015
Mars has been teasing quite a few new candy items lately, the first one to hit store shelves will be their Milky Way Marshmallow with Caramel Bar. The press release says it delivers a magnificent combination of fluffy marshmallow nougat covered with a layer of smooth caramel, enrobed in creamy milk chocolate.
Limited Edition bar should hit shelves in July or August ... when they’re gone, they’re gone. (Though sometimes Mars will bring back a limited edition item.) The Impulsive Buy readers have already spotted them in the wild.
The bar looks good. The fluffy white nougat is definitely different from the normal Milky Way nougat. The scent is also a change from the traditional Milky Way, it’s less malty, less milky smelling. There’s a slight vanilla note to it, even before biting.
It’s a very sweet but clean tasting bar. There’s no lingering malty notes, not as much of a salty hint either. It tastes fresh. So if the concept of the Milky Way bar appealed to you, but the fact that the nougat was malty was holding you back, this might be the bar for you. Is it marshmallowy? No, the texture of the nougat is not smooth, not as fluffy as actual marshmallow. However, if you’re a vegetarian, the fact that it’s a nougat (made with egg whites) and not a marshmallow (made with gelatin) might be a selling point.
The bar contains soy, egg and milk and also may contain traces of peanuts. There’s no statement on gluten.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
It’s been a while since Mars has done something new with the Snickers bar. Sure, they miniaturized it, and brought back the Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bar, but nothing innovative has come along in a few years.
Mars announced last month that they’re releasing a new limited edition bar in November nationwide. It’s called SNICKERS Mixed Nuts Bar. They bill it as a satisfying mix of peanuts, almonds and hazelnuts combined with SNICKERS® Brand caramel and nougat, all coated with creamy milk chocolate.
Mars sent me some samples of their new candy bars, so I thought I’d give a preview. I think it’s an exciting concept to include so many different kinds of nuts in one bar.
This is a strange bar, because of its mixed status there’s not quite enough of any of its elements. It smells a bit like peanuts, but not as peanutty as a regular Snickers. The nougat is salty and the caramel chewy, all the nuts are crunchy ... the almonds are especially bold and I do recall at least two hazelnuts. If I sound disjointed, that’s the bar right there. It’s a stop and a start, I kind of got going with a nice almond and then there were some peanuts. I’m more mellow than Snickers, more bold than Snickers Almond.
In addition to the milk, eggs, soy, hazelnuts, almonds, and peanuts, the bars may also contain traces of other tree nuts. There’s no statement about gluten.
Monday, May 11, 2015
Like most Brach’s products, the package is vague about the product once you get past the name. There’s a list of ingredients, but other than that, I was kind of left to guess what was in my mix.
So, what do we have? Pretty much what the name says. There’s an assortment of two different shapes of chocolate covered nuts ... peanuts and almonds. Then there are some gumdrop looking things that are caramels and some oblong bits that are chocolate covered brittle.
The whole mix smells sweet, a little like peanuts and cocoa. The sweetness has a fake vanilla note to it that isn’t very encouraging, though the appearance of the mix is pretty attractive. The panning is good, everything is shiny and smooth.
Milk Chocolate Peanuts are satisfying. There’s not a lot of chocolate, but far better than Nestle’s Goobers. There’s a little hint of salt to make these much more of a snack than a sweet.
Dark Chocolate Peanuts also have a hint of salt and a noticeable bitterness to the chocolate which again keeps the whole mix from getting to sticky sweet.
Milk Chocolate Caramels were lackluster. The texture was excellent, the caramel was chewy but not too stiff and it had a smooth consistency. However, it lacked actual caramel flavor and didn’t offset the milk chocolate coating much.
Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut Brittle are easy to spot. They’re large and have a thick coating of chocolate. The brittle center may be big, but it crunches easily. The nutty flavor is not front and center, this piece is more about the textures of the crushed nuts, the dark chocolate and the sugary brittle. The nut bits are quite small, so it’s almost like the sesame brittle found in Kosher delis.
Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds are one of the larger pieces, though some are small enough to be mistaken for peanuts. The almonds have a light blanching, they’re not overly roasted. They’re crunchy and hold up well to the rather sweet dark chocolate.
This mix takes a lot of guess work out of what can be candy roulette. I liked all the pieces and didn’t really long for anything else that wasn’t in here. I thought the peanuts were great, and it all looked good in a little bowl. I certainly preferred it to the actual Bridge Mix that Brach’s sells.
The product contains milk, peanuts, almonds and soy and is made on shared equipment with other tree nuts, eggs and wheat.
Monday, March 23, 2015
Peet’s is another chain here in the West that I go to a bit more often. I was pleased to see their Easter themed items when I was there last week and picked up two bags, since I had a few co-workers with me and they were curious to try them.
The most beautiful of their assortment was the Peet’s Caramel Robin Eggs. They’re pastel blue with some small flecks. The bag was $5.95 for 7 ounces, expensive but not much worse than an extravagant drink.
I believe that these are made by Marich, also a California company. They also make an all natural version of these that are sold at Whole Foods as Quail Eggs.
The construction is simple: a soft caramel core is coated in chocolate and then given a beautiful matte shell. The shape is like a chocolate covered almond.
They’re just lovely to look at and have a great cool finish on them. If I dissolve them, the matte outside gives way to a slick and cool sugar shell. But I’m mostly a cruncher and found that the shell had a good texture that gave the right balance of crunch and not too much extra sweetness. The inner chocolate was interesting because it had a smoky, coffee flavor to it. The caramel center is chewy but not tacky at all. The flavor was a lot like toffee or maple, which went really well with the chocolate.
They’re just excellent, I couldn’t have enjoyed them more.
As I was ordering my cappuccino I noticed these. I recognized the Robin Eggs and realized these were Marich. This color reminded me of the Curry Cashews I had at the Fancy Food Show, which used real white chocolate, not some weird oily confectionery coating. From the name, Peet’s Citrus Shortbread Bites, they sounded like they might be good.
Like the Robin Eggs, they were also $5.95 for the bag. The bag is simple, the top is sealed but then has a twist tie featuring the little fabric ribbon bow. So, it can be resealed after you’ve taken a handful out.
The lemon flavored white chocolate is made with plenty of cocoa butter and whole milk. The melt is at first a little tentative, because of the confectioners glaze, but then it does give way very nicely to a soft, citrusy flavor. There’s actually a little pop of tartness in there from time time as well. The cookie center is crunchy and less like a shortbread and almost like a biscotti, it’s very firm and not as dense as a shortbread usually is.
They’re quite refreshing and go really well with cup of tea ... not so much with coffee. I would buy these again. I liked the chunky nuggets and unusual flavor combination for a candy but also the fact that it still used decadent ingredients like real butter in the cookie and cocoa butter in the white chocolate.
Thursday, March 5, 2015
You can download the file directly: MP3.
Here’s a quick review to go with the podcast.
In preparation for the episode, I picked up the 99 Cent Only Store version of the popular Mars candy bar array. The cross sections are shown in the image above. They’re all packaged by Momentum Brands in Turkey. Though the wrappers said that they were milk chocolate covered candy bars, the milk chocolate actually contained dairy whey, which is considered a filler in the United States and cannot be labeled chocolate here. In general whey is used in place of extra sugar in cheaper milk chocolate. Think about it, if you want to make an inexpensive chocolate, you’re going to use as little of the most expensive ingredient as you can. So the cacao content (not even listed) is probably not more than 20%. Then there’s milk, which is usually milk fat and milk powder (which includes both the milk proteins and milk fats) ...and sugar. Too much sugar and the chocolate is unappealing and too much milk fat and the chocolate won’t set. So, milk protein does nicely as a filler that has a slightly malty flavor but is generally benign.
Choco Coco (Bounty) are like Almond Joy without the almonds. The coconut was very firm, but thankfully not that sweet. The milk chocolate has an odd malty flavor to it and a sort of “vitamin” note. Overall, satisfying for a cheap candy ... there were three little bars in the package for 60 cents.
Choco Duo (Twix) - This was a smaller package instead of the king size versions of the others. The sticks smelled malty and sweet. The biscuit base was very hard with a sort of graham cracker or digestive note to it, instead of the exceptionally bland version in the US Twix. The caramel was quite stiff but ultimately chewy ... much chewier than a Twix. The texture of the whole was more within my preferences than actual Twix. But it still isn’t in my arena of candy bars.
Coco Nut (Snickers) were also a king sized package that had two not-quite-full-sized bars. Mine were bloomed (all others were shiny) and I noticed right away that they’re much flatter than Snickers. The ratios are completely off and the peanuts taste foreign, as if they’re a different variety from the US bars. It’s not very peanutty, the caramel and nougat had the same chew ... it was fine for eating, but did not scratch the same itch that a fresh Snickers does.
Coco Nougat (Milky Way) is not at all like a Milky Way. This is actually more like the Milk Munch (also make in Turkey) that I had years ago. Very malty, a little too stiff and not fluffy enough.
I’ll stick to paying full boat for my Mars family of bars, especially when for a similar price, the 99 Cent Only Store sells those snack package with 6 or 8 little bars for a dollar anyway.
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
At the Fancy Food Show last month I ran across another small-batch caramel maker. This one is called Suss Sweets. They’re based in New Hampshire and have a line of caramels with an interesting package idea - the caramels are sold in long logs, not individual pieces. So a standard roll is 1/4 of a pound. You slice off however much you want.
I found them at an Italian deli at Americana at Brand mall in Glendale. I had to go through the entire basket of caramel logs to find the only Maple Pecan one, since it was the flavor that I sparked the most with at the show.
There’s a lot of packaging for what looks so simple. The outside is a piece of baking parchment, twisted at the ends with a little sleeve with the label on it. Inside is a box, embossed with the logo (kind of a waste, I didn’t notice this touch until I was throwing it out). Then inside the box, the caramel roll is wrapped in wax paper.
The long log was easy to slice into appropriate pieces. The nuts were not as numerous as I’d hoped, so some slices were nutless. However, the maple and pecan flavor was throughout the entire bar. The chew of the caramel was smooth with excellent toasted sugar and fresh butter notes. The salt touch was quite light, enough to balance the sweetness but not so much to make me grab a glass of water. The nuts were fresh and the pecan flavors went very well with the woodsy and vanilla maple notes.
The bar was expensive at $7.50, but of course it was a quarter of a pound. But the fact that they’re not ready to eat meant we couldn’t just try them with our coffee at the store, we had to wait until we got home and got out a knife.
I did get to try the full range of flavors, including Pumpkin Seed and the straight Vanilla with Sea Salt. It’s a good caramel, just like I make at home when I have the time and the weather cooperates. It’s a fun item if you’re putting together a gift basket, especially if it’s a themed with coffee, cheese or other sweets. The fact that you can control the size of the pieces will appeal to some consumers, but I think I just want mine individually wrapped.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.