Thursday, February 13, 2014
One of my favorite candy combinations is milk chocolate and cereal. You’d think it would be great to live in the United States, then, which has two nationally branded crisped rice bars: Nestle Crunch and Hershey’s Krackel. But they are both pale versions of what a crisped rice and chocolate bar could be.
So, I’ve been hunting for a great crisped rice bar and at the moment my go-to is oddly the Ritter Sport Cornflakes Bar because the chocolate is actually good and the cereal flakes provide that salty, malty crunch component that keeps it all from getting too sweet.
Trader Joe’s has finally come to the rescue with their Trader Joe’s Crispy Rice Milk Chocolate part of their line of stacks of small Belgian made bars sold near the check out counter (review of the dark chocolate here).
The bars are well priced, you get three 1.4 ounce bars for $1.79. The whole stack is wrapped in cellophane and each bar is also individually wrapped and sealed for freshness. The bars are made in Belgium with high quality chocolate (for candy bars) which means 31% cacao content and 18% milk content. (And oodles of sugar, too.) Unlike the US counterparts, this is real milk chocolate (Krackel contains vegetable oil fillers while both also use artificial vanilla and lactose, a sugar filler).
The size of the portion is ideal, at 1.4 ounces it’s 220 calories - more than enough for a snack but no risk of eating more (unless you really can’t control yourself and open one of the other bars). It smells milky and malty with a little toffee note. The melt of the chocolate is silky, it’s buttery slick and though sweet, the crunchy rice moderates it well. The crisped rice is the manufactured kind - you know, the perfect little spheres, not the rustic kernels from a breakfast bowl. This means that they’re very evenly distributed and very even overall, but I miss that variation in the crunch.
This really meets nearly all of my requirements for the perfect crisped rice bar ... there just aren’t enough Trader Joe’s.
The bar contains milk, wheat and soy and is made in a facility that also processed tree nuts and eggs. (No notation about peanuts.)
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Birthday Cake Milk Chocolate M&Ms are out on shelves even though Mars announced that they would be released in May 2014. The new cake flavor comes right on the heels of the Walmart-exclusive Red Velvet M&Ms that also came out this year.
The description is rather vague: Delicious milk chocolate infused with birthday cake flavor creates an exciting new treat worth celebrating. Part of my confusion comes from an actual non-standardization of birthday cake as a singular flavor. Is it yellow cake with vanilla icing? Is it devil’s food with chocolate frosting? Is it an ice cream cake with candle wax? I’m going to go with chocolate cake and white (vanilla) icing, since that’s what the red M is holding on the package.
It’s unclear if this is a new permanent addition to the M&Ms varieties, which currently include: Milk Chocolate, Peanut, Dark Chocolate, Dark Peanut, Peanut Butter, Almond, Dark Mint, Raspberry, and Pretzel plus other seasonal varieties. They currently come in two package sizes, the stand up bag holding 8 ounces shown here and the single serve version.
The candy coated chocolates are quite big and very bright in primary red, yellow and blue. I noticed that they had the same cracking and dusting problem I experienced with my Red Velvet M&Ms earlier this year. I don’t know if it’s because they’re bigger or that the specialty versions just get treated more roughly than regular versions. I polished them individually for their photo shoot. (Really.)
They do smell sweeter, with a little more of a vanilla note than regular M&Ms. They’re not that different from regular Milk Chocolate M&Ms, except that they’re bigger. They’re not that good though, the novelty of the flavor wears off after about five of them. They just seemed sweeter ... the chocolate certainly isn’t great. I’ve noticed that the quality of the chocolate is one item that Mars has not been focusing on over the years, instead it’s been the added flavors, colors or special printing you can get on the shell.
I did try them compared to the Red Velvet M&Ms, since they’re both based on cakes. What I noticed is that the Red Velvet tasted more like buttered popcorn but also had a bit more of a tangy note. The Birthday Cake, on the other hand, has an Angel Food Cake note of baked sugar and vanilla.
I’ll stick to the Almond M&Ms, just in case anyone was wondering which M&Ms to have at my birthday party.
Thursday, January 30, 2014
It’s a great time to be alive as a candy eater. Though some folks lament the loss of the regionally made candy bars, there’s so much more diversity when it comes to sweets as long as you know where to look. There are artisanal versions of popular candies, crazy new flavors, and incredible combinations as well as candies that cater to specific dietary restrictions.
I’m pretty pleased to see that there are more options for organic and all natural candy bars than ever before with products from Justin’s Candy Bars, Ocho, Angell and Eli’s. The other new entry into this marketspace is Amy’s Organic, with their exhaustively long-named bars. Today I have the Amy’s Organic Andy’s Dandy Crispy Candy Bar which features rice crisps, almonds & caramel covered in chocolate. Though some of the bars in the Andy’s Dandy line are organic versions of existing bars, this one really has no match in the hypermegaglobal corporate candy world.
Like the other bars, this is actually a pair of bars. I like this approach, as it gives me the opportunity to save some for later or share. It also means that the chocolate coating is a more consistent ratio for more of the bites, since the bar is shorter. The dark coating is smooth and creamy, it has a nice flavor of it’s own that’s a little green (olive notes) but holds up well to the light, malty cereal flavors. The texture is not as airy as a Whatchamacallit and the almonds are just pieces in there, not an almond meal (like peanut butter) or whole nuts. The brown rice has less of a malt note than regular crisped rice, but it’s also barely sweet. It’s crunchy but gets a bit of a chewy texture of its own later. The caramel layer is barely perceptible, it does more to just hold it all together.
The effect of the bar is great, it’s crunchy but not too filling. It tastes more chocolatey than a Whatchamacallit, though I miss any sort of almond note to it, it’s really just there for an extra durable crunch.
The bars are free of GMO ingredients, gluten and preservatives. Made on shared equipment with other nuts, seeds and wheat. They contain soy, dairy and almonds.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
I was surprised that Dove hasn’t done these in the past, as it seems like a ideal flavor infusion for their marketing. They’re a Dark Chocolate piece infused with artificial hazelnut flavor. That doesn’t actually sound that good, but I was willing to give it a go.
The pieces are wrapped in dark brown foil and like all of the other Promises, the foil has a little affirming motto printed inside. At least three of mine said, “hug someone today.”
They’re beautiful to look at and smell alluring. It’s easy for artificially flavored candies to overdo the smell, especially with dark chocolate products, but this started with a good balance. It’s a toasty scent of maple syrup, coffee and hazelnut with a sweetness to it. The melt is very good, smooth but with a little bit of a dry finish to it. The hazelnut is just a flavor, a note of roasted nuts and a trace of toffee sweetness. It’s not overpowering or too fake. It would be great to have real crushed hazelnuts in there, like the Almond version, but I can see that the goal here is really about the texture.
They’re quite rich, in fact, they clock in at 156 calories per ounce, so there’s lots of cocoa butter and dairy butter fats in there. I found that two made an excellent treat, but were still a little on the sweet side for me as a dark chocolate product.
Back in July of 2012, I reviewed the Target exclusive Dove Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Promises and was later called by Dove (Mars) representatives to let me know that their Dove line was converting to Rainforest Alliance certified cacao, starting with the Dark Chocolate. To date, I’ve only seen the Dark Chocolate, there have been no subsequent roll outs of the certified sustainable cacao on anything but the plain dark chocolate. The Mars website still says they’re on target for all cacao sourced through traceable channels by 2020 and should hit 35% by the end of 2014.
Dove Dark Chocolate Promises contain soy and dairy and are made in a plant that uses peanuts and tree nuts. (Some Dove chocolates are made in nut free environments, so be sure to check the labels.) There’s no statement about gluten.
Friday, January 17, 2014
I found the bars at Walgreen’s on a dedicated display for Ghirardelli just before Christmas. They also come in Milk & Caramel, but that day I had a craving for something sophisticated and not-too-sweet.
The bar is square, which echos the little pieces, but a little thicker than their usual filled confections. It’s 1.3 ounces, so it’s right there as a single serving (it’s 170 calories) and I picked it up on sale for $1.00.
They’re about 2.75 inches square, and sectioned into four pieces. Each piece is well segmented, meaning that you can snap it apart easily and the reservoir of minty fondant is completely contained.
The bar has a rich cocoa smell, it’s a bit woodsy and herbal with a nice hint of fresh peppermint.
The fondant is creamy and flowing, but quite liquid. It’s very sweet but has a well rounded peppermint flavor that’s more like peppermint tea than straight peppermint oil. The dark chocolate isn’t too intense but has a bittersweet quality that keeps the whole thing from getting too throat-searing sticky. The wrapper doesn’t say what the cacao content is, but I’d put it at about 60%.
It’s not a revolutionary bar, but the convenience of a single serving for just a buck is nice. I like the big 3.5 ounce bars, but I don’t like the monotony of eating a whole one and it’s often hard to get enough consensus in this “too many choices” world for everyone to want that chocolate bar at that moment with me. I’d like to see this line expanded. I like the Ghirardelli style much better than Dove or Hershey’s at this price point, but sometimes I want a milk chocolate and crisped rice bar.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
The package describes the bar as Whipped Creamy Center with Caramel Covered in Chocolate. So, rather like a Milky Way Midnight bar.
The back of the package spends a lot of space telling you about what ingredients are in there, what ingredients may have been near the other ingredients and what ingredients are never in anything they make. It’s free from GMOs, preservatives, peanuts, eggs and gluten. Made from 99% organic ingredients (salt and water are the only non-organic items). It contains soy and dairy (made with rBHT free cows), but it’s also manufactured in a facility that processes tree nuts, wheat and seeds.
The two bars are a nice size. They’re one ounce each (a total of 2 ounces for the whole package). For comparison, a Milky Way Midnight bar is 1.76 ounces. The price for the bars is steep, I paid $2.49 for this, so twice as much as a regular Mars candy bar but actually larger. Inside the wrapper (which was devilish to open) the bars are set in a tray which protects them pretty well.
The bar just out of the package smells rich, like woodsy cocoa. Biting into the layers, it’s soft, not quite foamy but very forgiving. The fluffy center is less than creamy. It’s more like the nougat center of a 3 Musketeers. It’s airy and slightly grainy. It smells a little, well, cheesy. The caramel is unremarkable. There’s a malt note to the whole thing, but overall the center is quite sweet.
The dark chocolate is good, it’s at least bittersweet and cuts through some of the sweetness. The overall effect of the sort of the brewers yeast flavored center with the overt sweetness and lack of toasty caramel notes left me unimpressed. Granted, Milky Way has never been a huge favorite of mine, so the alternate versions I’ve had over the years are trying to measure up to something that I don’t care for in the first place. At this point, I’d say the other offerings in the Andy’s Dandy bar line are going to be more satisfying.
Monday, January 13, 2014
I knew from the first time I heard about this bar from Sweden that it was not for licorice haters. It’s called Marabou Black Saltakrits. It’s described (in English!) on the front as Milk chocolate with pieces of salty licorice.
When Swedes say salty licorice, they don’t mean sodium chloride, like the regular sea salt or table salt. They mean ammonium chloride which has a distinctly more metallic flavor profile and can give the licorice an ammonia note at times.
It’s marked as a king sized bar, and in Sweden that means 7.76 ounces ... they’re a unitary parliamentary representative democracy under constitutional monarchy, so they have a slightly more generous meaning for king-sized candy bars than we do here in our federal presidential representative democracy under constitutional republic.
This very big bar is about 8 inches long and 3 inches wide. As it traveled quite a distance to me (from its origin in Sweden to Kristian in Germany who packaged it up and sent it to the far side of North America) it was broken in several places, so photographing the whole was not very attractive.
Marabou is owned by Mondelez (Kraft) and this particular bar uses Rainforest Alliance certified cacao (30%). It doesn’t say anything else about the sourcing of the milk products or sugar. The bar contains soy and milk and may also have traces of almonds, other nuts and wheat.
The bar smells great, like sweet creme brulee and a hint of anise. The licorice was not at all what I was expecting. The bits are little little toffee shards, they’re crunchy, not chewy. There’s no molasses, so it’s a much more pungent licorice flavor than a mixed sort of Australian or American chewy flour-based licorice. If you’re familiar with cinder toffee or sponge candy, which has a note of sodium bicarbonate in it, you might find this familiar, too. The licorice has a sharp note that’s rather salty but sometimes taste more acidic. It’s sharp and sweet but overall pleasant in small bits, but large pieces are off-putting. The creamy and ordinary chocolate is great as a background, it balances it all out, though offers nothing in the way of actual cocoa flavors. It’s quite milky, which is also fine.
A few bites, and I like it. But more than a square and I definitely start getting an overabundance of the ammonia going and have to give it a rest. This is something I absolutely do not need a king sized bar of, I simple little one or two ounces would have sufficed. Still, it’s one of the best salted licorices I’ve had - I liked the crispy texture and quick dissolve.
Friday, January 10, 2014
A couple of years ago I was treated to a small tasting of a new line of candy bars. They’re from Amy’s Kitchen, which already makes vegetarian convenience foods. I finally started seeing them on store shelves at the end of last year, even at major grocery retailers like Von’s, not just Whole Foods or Mother’s Market. I’ll have reviews of all four of the bars, but I thought I’d start with their unique offering first, the Amy’s Organic Andy’s Dandy Chewy Candy Bar.
The package says Soft caramel with pecans covered in chocolate. Well, that not only sounds good, it doesn’t sound like any other candy bar on the shelves.
All the bars in the line are color coded and feature the name large and in the middle of each wrapper.
As you’d expect with an organic candy, they’re expensive. I didn’t see them selling for less than $2.29 a bar, and as high as $2.79.
They’re 3/4 of an ounce each, about 2.25 inches long and one inch wide.
The bite is excellent, it’s soft and chewy, with a stringy pull to the caramel that’s not too sticky. The pecans are small, but provide a lot of texture and maple-flavor. The milk chocolate is robust and stands up well to the rest of the ingredients. The whole thing isn’t too sweet, though it is rather milky.
There’s a lot of information on the wrapper. I love transparency. But it’s poorly organized. So here’s all the info provided, in order for people who read left to right, top to bottom. (I don’t, but I’ll list them that way.)
0 g of trans fat
So when I went looking for the peanut statement it wasn’t with the gluten free statement (which may or may not be contradicted by the wheat in the facility statement), it was on a separate line in different type. It’s a big old mess. Some are marketing statements, some are transparency statements, some are FDA mandated inclusions.
My issues with the back of the package aside, this is a no-compromise bar when it comes to taste and ingredients. It tastes like candy, but I feel like someone is putting a lot of thought and consideration into it behind the scenes. For this bar, the fact that it’s not even something that I can get in GMO form means that I’m more likely to reach for an Andy’s Chewy Bar in the future.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.