Friday, September 13, 2013
The Pumpkin Spice M&Ms are a Target exclusive this year (just as the Candy Corn M&Ms were also exclusive their first year at WalMart). The package is cute and was easy to spot at the store. It features the orange M&M character looking like a pumpkin.
The flavor is not pumpkin pie itself, but the spices used to turn pumpkin custard into a seasonal dessert. Traditional pumpkin spices are a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, and/or mace. The ingredients for these M&Ms are vague, just listing “artificial and natural flavorings” at the end of the list.
The pieces are, for the most part, the mega size. They’re larger than a standard M&M and come in three colors in the package: dark brown, orange and green.
The flavor is overwhelmingly cinnamon. Though they smell like chocolate, they taste like chocolate milk sipped in a room with too many Christmas-scented candles. The candy shell is crispy and the milk chocolate center is, well, a bit fudgy and grainy. I think I prefer the size of the regular M&Ms, since the chocolate is merely passable. In this format the amount of sugar easily overwhelms the chocolate.
I didn’t actually notice that much of a difference from the previous limited edition Cinnamon M&Ms from two years ago. Maybe a little more note of clove. I would have preferred more of the nutmeg and ginger spices than the Tic Tac notes of cinnamon candies.
Pumpkin Spice seems to be a pretty hot flavor these days (though the Hershey’s Kisses version has been around since 2008), a lot of seasonal candies are being released (see list below of previous reviews). If you like Spiced Chai or cinnamon in general, it’s a great time to pick up this twist on old candy favorites. If not, wait a few months and the Candy Cane and Egg Nog versions will emerge.
Finally, with all the crazy flavors of M&Ms that have come out over the years, I’m a loss to why they’d go with something like peanut butter and jelly before coffee.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
In the pantheon of candy bars, the simple combination of chocolate and peanuts dominates the most popular candies in the United States. Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are usually jockeying for the top positions with M&Ms. I’m always eager to see what other candy companies are doing with this duo, especially with premium ingredients. Jer’s Chocolates, here in Southern California, makes a line of peanut butter bars from all natural ingredients.
Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Original IncrediBar is all natural peanut butter mixed with crunch rice crisps covered in milk chocolate while Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Pretzo Change-O is all natural, peanut butter with salty pretzel bits covered in milk chocolate.
The Original IncrediBar is rather irregular looking, but for the most part about 4.5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide.
The milk chocolate coating is sweet and milky but with a good cocoa note to it. The filling is soft and crumbly, though not quite fudgy. It’s peanutty, like a peanut butter dough, almost. There are bits of crisped rice in it, which gives it a mild crunch and hint of malt, while there are also bits of crushed peanuts that give a heartier crunch. The salt is a nice touch to keep the whole thing from getting too sweet.
The bar is hearty, at only 1.5 ounces, I found it very substantial, as the 5 grams of protein would indicate. It’s not shy on calories either, at 230. The bars are very soft, and in warm temperatures, they turn to goo, as many peanut butter chocolates tend to. I made sure to keep mine stored properly and was pleased with the fresh taste of the peanut center.
The Pretzo Change-O sounds right up my alley, instead of the crispy rice bits of the IncrediBar, this one has pretzel pieces. This was also a milk chocolate bar (Jer’s makes two varieties with dark chocolate, I’ll review those soon) with the same flavorful and smooth coating. I didn’t really notice much of a difference between the two bars, the crunchy bits were a little larger and perhaps the overall effect was less sweet. Both are fine bars. I preferred them over the the Cadbury Wunderbar or Snickers Peanut Butter Squared (which has caramel) which were the closest thing I could think of to these.
One of the thing that vexes me about these is the packaging. The boxes are great at protecting the bars within, but I have a devil of a time opening them. They’re securely glued at both ends, but snug enough that I worry about smashing or poking the bars if I use scissors to open it.
Jer’s Chocolates also makes a mini version called Jer’s Squares of their popular bars. I like these quite a bit, partly because there’s a greater ratio of chocolate and partly because I like smaller pieces of things so I can moderate better. The big issue I have with them is that their list price is twice that of the bars but you don’t get twice the product. The pair of bars is about $4 (3 ounces, so it’s $21.33 a pound) and the gable box of about 10 pieces retails for $8 (4 ounces, so it’s $32 a pound).
Though all the ingredients are natural, there is no statement on the Jer’s Chocolate website about the ethical or sustainability sourcing for the ingredients.
Friday, August 30, 2013
I’ve only been to Amsterdam once, so I’m not certain whether the name of this chocolate bar is compelling in its native culture, but I found it a little odd: Droste Cookie Milkchocolate XXL Pastille. It’s also possible that in the year 2013, all the good candy bar names have been taken and now confectioners are just using random word sequence generators based on the elements within the bar.
Luckily the picture on the package does most of the communication. It’s a chocolate bar, made with milk chocolate, in the form of a sectioned circular disk, filled with cookie bits.
The bar is only 50 grams (1.75 ounces) so it’s a generous single serving or two petite portions.
The disk is three inches across, and if my math is sufficient, each section is about 7/16th of an ounce.
The chocolate smells very milky, quite sweet and has a hint of malt to it (my guess is from the cookie). The snap is good and the distribution of the cookie bits looks generous but well balanced with the chocolate.
The melt is nice, silky even. It’s a little sticky but the cookie dust cuts through that. The chocolate tastes a bit salty, which is odd because the sodium content isn’t alarming (55 mg). The cookie bits are like digestives, quite dry and crumbly with a little hint of salt and malt and barely sweet at all. On the whole, it was very munchable and it reminded me how much I loved Droste as a kid. It was the premium chocolate I remember getting the most (the pastilles in the hexagonal box) and helped me to appreciate dark chocolate.
The price as a little steep, $2 for a single serving. The Ritter Sport Biscuit bar, with 100 grams (twice as much) for only 50 cents more at Cost Plus is probably what I’d put in my basket next time.
The bar contains gluten and may have traces of peanuts and tree nuts. There’s no statement about sustainability or ethical sourcing, but the Droste website is mostly in Dutch and the English part isn’t very well written. There are other versions of this bar at Cost Plus World Market, so I might try some as the weather cools off. (The “feels like” temp here in the neighborhood is 119 today.)
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Ritter Sport is the brand of German chocolate bars that come in a square format and more than a dozen different varieties. The newest is Ritter Sport Coconut in milk chocolate. The package says it’s with tropical coconut flakes in a coconut and milk filling.
I like how inexpensive Ritter Sport is compared to other consumer brands from Europe, like Cadbury Dairy Milk or Lindt, and balances quality and munchability. No, it’s not exquisitely fine chocolate, but it’s fantastic chocolate candy.
I tried another version of a coconut bar from Ritter Sport a few years ago, a sample bar from their store in Waldenbuch, Germany called the Ritter Sport Kokosmakrone which also had some corn flakes in the coconut cream. The cream center is a common format for Ritter Sport, in fact, a lot of German candy bars like those from Milka also use this style.
The ingredients were a little disappointing. Ingredient #1 is Sugar and ingredient #2 is Palm Oil. This is similar to the Amarena Cherry I had earlier this year, which is also a filled bar. The saturated fat content is 45% of your daily RDA in 6 pieces. The other interesting ingredient, though far down the list, is hazelnut paste.
The milk chocolate is rich, sweet and smooth. The coconut center is interesting, because the coconut is actually crunchy and the filling with it is quite smooth and creamy, unlike the moist and chewy Mounds bar filling. I liked the filling quite a bit, and had no trouble finishing the bar. Coconut is not my favorite of all of their inclusions and I don’t usually like their white cream filled bars either. So I’ll probably stick to the Corn Flakes bar over this one.
Though Ritter Sport has a sustainability pact for their cocoa, there’s no mention of the source of their palm oil.
Monday, August 26, 2013
The Boyer Candy Company may be best known for their Mallo Cups, which they’ve been making since the 1930s which they claim is the first “cup candy”. (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were introduced in 1928, but were not actually sold in little fluted paper cups at first.)
It’s natural for there to be other versions of the chocolate cup with a marshmallow filling and coconut topping. The Boyer Dark Chocolate Mallo Cup is really just the same, even the simple packaging looks like they’ve been making this version for 50 years.
The bumpy top of the cup shows that there is actually some coconut underneath. Like every Mallo Cup I think I’ve had in the past 20 years, the bottom stuck to the wrapper (I think freezing them prevents this, but changes the textures). It smells a bit like coconut and of course chocolate with a strong whiff of vanilla.
The interesting thing to note about the Mallo Cups is that they’re not actually marshmallow. (Though the name is Mallo Cup, the description on the package says that the center is whipped creme.) Marshmallow, for the most part, is made with gelatin. The Mallo Cups are made with egg whites. That would mean that these are really a meringue creme. The center is a great texture, it’s soft and creamy without too much stickiness and no grain whatsoever.
The dark chocolate has a decent flavor to it, though not complex or overpowering, it has a nice chocolate candy contribution to the whole. The coconut flakes within give some texture ... overall, it’s a good modernization of the classic candy cups. I’d love it if they spent a little time fixing the production issue of the oozing and insufficient base.
Friday, August 16, 2013
A solid layer of crunchy peanut butter topped with caramel and coated in creamy ‘milk’ chocolate. Vegan
It’s made with dairy-free rice “milk” chocolate which can’t actually be called chocolate according to the FDA, which has strict standards about such things. However, there are no other fillers in it, just cacao, cocoa butter and some evaporated cane juice. It’s an actual vegan candy bar that’s also fair trade and organic. That’s a rare thing. Of course, feeling good before you eat the candy is nice, but not really very productive if it doesn’t actually taste good. Now that I’ve tried all three of Eli’s Earth Bars multiple times, I’m ready to say that they’re actually good, but a little funky.
There’s really no comparison for this bar to a commercial bar on shelves today. The center is like a crushed Butterfinger bar (or if you prefer, the vegan version would be an Atkinson’s Chick-o-Stick) mixed in with some peanut butter and then a layer of caramel then covered in chocolate.
It smells peanutty and sweet and a little like Cap’n Crunch. The rice milk chocolate coating is a little greasy and thin tasting, it’s more like a chocolate milk taste than an actual chocolate taste. The soft center is sweet peanut butter with a bunch of crunchy, peanut crisp lumps. Then there’s a stripe of caramel on the top that gives the whole thing a chew.
It’s odd, not quite successful but still compelling enough that I always eat the whole bar. (I’ve tried this bar three times now.) If you don’t or can’t eat dairy, this is a very tasty approximation of a dairy bar (but it’s made on equipment that does use dairy, so not for those with true allergies). But I’d prefer to just eat Chick-o-Sticks if I need a vegan peanut candy fix.
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.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
I often think of chocolate making as a northern activity, though the advent of climate control means it can be done anywhere. Still, it’s rare to hear about chocolate factories, even bean to bar establishments, south of the line of the Missouri Compromise. This is why I was so delighted to hear about Videri Chocolate Factory, based in Raleigh, North Carolina. It’s the kind of story that makes me think that small batch chocolate may become as common as small batch coffee roasting.*
Videri offered me some chocolate bar samples a few months back, and I’ve been munching on them ever since. They make bean to bar chocolate in their factory that also serves as a coffee bar and cafe. They make a small range of bars, about five at any given time, the varieties I got were Classic Dark, Dark Milk Chocolate, Sea Salt and Pink Peppercorn.
All the bars come in a small box that holds two stacked bars. Though the box packaging is color coded, the bars, wrapped only in foil, are not distinguished in any way from each other. (But once you get to know the product line, it’s easy to tell milk from dark from sea salt.)
I’m starting with the Videri Dark Milk Chocolate mostly because that’s the one that I have the best photos of from wrapper to bar. Each box holds two 1.5 ounce bars. This is genius. I don’t want 3 ounces at one time, even 1.5 ounces is a bit much when it comes to fine chocolate, but at least when you’ve eaten half, it wraps up better. The foil is thick, generous and durable.
Videri Dark Milk Chocolate is 50% cacao. They didn’t mention where the beans were sourced, they are organic and Videri does ethical sourcing and wherever possible. They plan to do more direct trade as they grow, but for now they buy through brokers within the Americas (no African beans were mentioned in their materials).
Videri Dark Milk Chocolate has an odd smell to it, more like a fine smoky cheese than chocolate. The flavor is immediately deep, with a pretty good melt, though it has some more fudgy moments that seem grainy but not chalky. The milk flavors are forward, toasted and toffee-like with the woodsy flavors of the actual chocolate rounding it out. It’s a little tangy, like a goat cheese; there’s a sharpness that lingers for quite a while.
Videri Dark Chocolate is a blend of American beans from Central and South America. It’s 70% and has a light red hint to the brown color. Their ingredients are simple, in the case of the dark chocolate, it’s: Roasted Organic Cocoa Nibs, Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Cocoa Butter. There’s no lecithin in their ingredients and everything is organic.
The bar smells lightly fruity, like raisins with a little woodsy note. The taste is immediately sweet on the tongue, which was a little odd for a 70% bar. It’s smooth but has a lightly dry and acidic finish. The overall flavor profile is similar to the smell, some raisin and berry notes with a more rounded oak flavor and a hint of vanilla. The melt is a little thin on the tongue, not at all sticky. It definitely had the notes of Peruvian chocolate for me, which is not a bad thing and I know that these are blends of beans anyway. It was good, but not extraordinary
I threw the pieces of the Videri Dark Milk Chocolate & Dark Chocolate together to show how close in color they are. After all, the milk chocolate is 50% cacao, as dark as a commercial semi-sweet chocolate you might use for chocolate chip cookies.
Both have interesting traits to them and both are pleasing. Yet even after months of sitting with these bars (I ate the first set of the pairs of bars back in March and April and the second set in July and August), I still don’t find myself drawn to these to.
Videri Pink Peppercorn is made with 60% cacao. The back of the bar is sprinkled with the crushed actually pink peppercorns. The scent is immediately forward with the peppercorn brightness - a sort of mix of balsamic pines and pencil shavings.
The woodsy notes of the beans Videri uses are complemented by the pink peppercorns. The small particle size of the peppercorns was appropriate, I didn’t find myself gagging or crunching on one and wondering about my teeth. They’re lightly spicy and warming with an earthy note without lighting up my throat or covering up the cocoa notes.
Videri Sea Salt Dark Chocolate is 60% cacao, so just a little less cacao and more sugar than the Classic Dark. And then it has the addition of a little sea salt mixed into the bar (it’s not sprinkled on, like the Pink Peppercorn). The flavor profile is similar to the Dark. It’s woodsy, though less fruity. The salt actually moderates the sweetness well. The melt is quite good, I preferred this bar of the set and found it the most munchable.
* Regarding small batch chocolate coming as common as small batch coffee ... I see the issues of scale and customer base within that statement. People generally drink one or two or even three cups of coffee a day, but rarely eat more than one chocolate bar a day.
I like where Videri is going, though I could use a bit more distinctiveness and richness in the bar. I don’t know if that’s the beans themselves, they way they’re roasted or the level of cocoa butter. But that’s just a personal preference, what I enjoyed about the bars was the fact that they were blends and tasted very accessible and easy to eat. I would love to visit their shop and watch the chocolate being made, as that sounds like half the fun of the chocolate being made in small batches. (My bars were marked Batch 134.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.