Friday, July 25, 2014
For many years I have chronicled the demise of once-great candies that were cultural touchstones for generations of Americans. The usual trajectory of a candy like this is that the company making it compromises too many times with cheaper ingredients and formulas until consumers lose interest in the product entirely and it is quietly discontinued. No one misses it much, because it broke their heart before it died.
It’s rare to see a reversal. I’m glad to be here to tell you about it. Hershey’s Krackel bar was one of the last candy bars that Milton Hershey personally developed before he passed away. It was introduced in 1938 (and had nuts in as well, for a time). When the Hershey’s Miniatures were developed, it was one of the bars chosen to represent the favorite of the Hershey bar assortment. The single-serving bar always stood out at the candy counter, in a bold red wrapper and large letter with a made-up word for the name.
In 2006 Hershey’s discontinued the single-serving, king-size and larger sizes of the Krackel bar. It was still included in the Hershey’s Miniatures ... but with a substantial change to the formula, it was now “made with chocolate” but also adulterated with other vegetable oil fillers. (What they were, I can’t say, because Hershey’s would not disclose the ingredients at the time, though later packaging did list each bar separately.) At the same time Mr. Goodbar continued to be produced in all sizes, though they did move to the mockolate recipe.
With some small fanfare Hershey’s announced the return of the Krackel bar, citing shareholders as part of the reason for the return. The change to real chocolate was made in miniatures early this year and the bars returned in May. The current ingredients are:
I can’t exactly recall the actual Krackel bar any longer. I know I liked it as a kid and I know that I preferred it in the miniature version, because the chocolate was thicker. But other than that, I’ll have to judge the Krackel on its current merits without any comparisons because I don’t have a time machine and if I did, I probably wouldn’t use it to taste old candy recipes.
The bar smells sweet and lightly milky. It’s not like the regular Hershey’s chocolate that has that yogurty tang. Instead it’s just sort of fudgy, like cheap frosting. The crunches are good, they’re spaced out a bit, so it’s not terribly airy, just crunchy. Crisped rice often has malt in it, as this does, which usually gives Krackel a sort of malted-milk-ball-in bar-form vibe. Sadly, there’s not much going on here, though the hint of salt keeps it from being too sweet.
It’s much better than the previous mockolate version, though a far cry from being a good chocolate bar. It’s simply a passable candy bar.
I did pick up a Nestle Crunch bar at the same time, which has gone through a few formula changes over the years as well. The ingredients are similar, they’re both 1.55 ounces, though the Nestle has 10 more calories.
The ingredients on the Nestle Crunch are actually a bit better, with no preservatives or PGPR. When I tried the bar last time, I found it much better than previous versions, but not something I was likely to seek out.
As you can see from the comparison of the bars, the Crunch is on the bottom and has a lot more crisped rice in it. I did prefer the airy texture and crispy rice, but the chocolate flavor was nearly impossible to discern. As a piece of candy, it was passable. As a chocolate bar with crisped rice, it was very disappointing.
The Hershey’s chocolate texture was a bit better, but that could be that there was just a slightly higher chocolate ratio, since there were fewer crisped rice bits.
Neither comes out a huge winner, really. I like both package designs. Both are made in the United States. Neither Nestle or Hershey’s are using ethically source chocolate yet. (Though Nestle does have a “Cocoa Plan”, its little seals are just to direct you to information about its plan, not as a notation that this bar is actually using traceable cacao.)
You can see more examples of classic Krackel wrappers here.
I’m still going to say that the Trader Joe’s Crispy Rice Milk Chocolate is my favorite. Though the ingredients don’t differ that much, there are no preservatives and no PGPR and it has 18% cacao content (about 1.5x the amount of Hershey’s). Still ... even though it’s made with Belgian chocolate, I don’t know the sourcing of it, but would like to see Trader Joe’s give some assurances about the ethical sourcing in the future.
Monday, July 14, 2014
Ghirardelli has a very large and varied line of chocolate bars and individually wrapped squares. This year they also introduced a new line of Ghirardelli minis in five varieties: Milk & Caramel, Milk Chocolate Sea Salt Almond, Milk Chocolate Toffee Crisp, Dark Chocolate minis and Sweet Dark Chocolate Cookie Bits minis.
The package explains that “minis are the sweet way to share your love of chocolate ... anytime, anywhere.” The bag is rather slight at only 4.1 ounces but is priced comparably (per ounce) to the bars. I chose the Sweet Dark Chocolate Cookie Bits because it was a flavor I’d never seen in the bars or the standard squares before. Unfortunately the package doesn’t detail the cacao percentage.
The packaging is a beautiful matte, medium blue that I found very appealing. The wrappers are also easy to open, which I appreciate when spending a little more on my candy.
I have to say that I don’t understand the point of these. They squares are 7 grams each, while the regular Ghirardelli Squares are 10.75 - so they’re about 2/3 the size of the original version. They’re a little thicker, but not unwrapped like so many Bites and Minis are these days. (Not that I think they would fare well jumbled in a bag, they’d probably break and get scuffed up instead looking incredibly charming.
The little squares are about one inch on each side. The smell is odd for a chocolate product, it reminds me of frosting in a can, overly sweet with more of a cocoa and vanilla extract scent than the complex smell of chocolate.
The bite is easy, and the thickness of the chocolate means that the little cookie bits have space to stack up and provide some texture. The cookie pieces are crunchy and less than sweet overall, which is a welcome change from the chocolate itself. The chocolate is smooth, but like the smell, tastes a bit on the fake side. I know it’s not, that it’s probably the cookies giving off that smell, but it just turned me off from the experience. I was hoping for some sort of deluxe version of the Limited Edition Hershey’s that come out from time to time, but here I found it no better.
I’m still keen to try some of the other flavors, this minis line seems to be a bit more on the comfort candy side of flavor combinations than the regular line, which I think is fun. This one just didn’t work for me.
Monday, June 2, 2014
Back in January Target introduced Dove Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Promises for Valentine’s Day. Instead of an actual gianduia product,which would combine hazelnut paste with chocolate, these were just dark chocolate with a hazelnut flavoring.
Dove hasn’t abandoned the idea to Valentine’s Day, instead they’ve released the new Target-Exclusive flavor: Dove Hazelnut Crisp Dark Chocolate Promises. The curious difference here is not actual hazelnut pieces, but little crispy bits.
The bits are made from tapioca starch and rice flour, so for those who avoid wheat, these might seem like a good option (sadly the full allergen disclosure says that they’re made on shared equipment with wheat, so those with extreme sensitivities should be aware).
The flavor of the Promises doesn’t disappoint. The chocolate is soft to bite, quick to melt and has a very dense, brownie batter flavor to it. There are a lot of toasted and woodsy notes to the chocolate and a light sort of chalky dryness towards the end, even though it’s exceptionally fatty.
The cookie bits are interesting, they remind me of the sort of Oreo-like bits found in the Cookies & Cream type chocolate confections. It’s a little sandy, very crunchy but less cereal-like than a corn flake bit or crisped rice.
The addition of the texture is successful. It’s just the sort of boost these needed to make me eat them one after another. It would be ideal if they actually were gluten free, since celiacs have been denied the wonders of cookies and cream for far too long.
A previous Target-exclusive flavor was Sea Salt Caramel, which is now widely available.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Twix Unwrapped Bites are exactly what they sound like, a bag of tiny little Twix bars (more like nuggets) all jumbled up, out of the wrapper and ready to eat.
Mars already makes bites which include the primary elements for the classic bar version, but have different ratios because of the miniaturization process. It’s an uneven transfer to the new format, in some case I prefer the new ratios, in others I think that one or more elements is lacking. So far I’ve tried: Milky Way, Milky Way Simply Caramel, 3 Musketeers, and Snickers.
The little lumps aren’t really that pretty, but they’re chocolatey, so that’s appealing. Like the other bites, they get scuffed up tumbling around in the package, so they don’t have the elegant, shiny ripples of the long fingers. They smell sugary and sweet, just like regular Twix bars.
They’re not as messy as I find regular Twix, as I pop the whole thing in my mouth at once. The crunch of the cookie is good, there’s a bit higher ratio of chocolate in this version, and a good caramel chew to bring the elements together. Sweet, milky, a mild sandy crunch ... a good blend of textures. Like the other bites, it’s easy to mix them in with other items to create a custom mix. I think this might be good with a Chex Mix if you’re a sweet & savory person.
I thought it was interesting to note that in the United Kingdom, Mars also introduced a morsel version of Twix last year. It’s a little different though. Since I knew that the Twix Unwrapped Bites were coming to the United States, I made sure to find the Twix Mix while I was in London back in March so I could compare them.
The format of Twix Mix is actually a mix of little nuggets of biscuit (cookie) and caramel. They’re slightly different shapes, so if you’d prefer to eat one or the other, or make sure you’re mixing them, you can pick them out. The caramel pieces are just little spheres of a firm caramel covered in a very milky, thin chocolate shell. The biscuit pieces are a little flatter.
The effect is actually quite nice. The ratios don’t match the classic Twix bar at all, and the milk chocolate is much milkier and the whole experience is a bit more on the malt side than the usual emphasis on the toffee/caramel notes. As a confectionery snack, they’re good and different enough from a bridge mix or something as traditional as Milk Duds.
The American Twix Unwrapped Bites have no notation on the packaging regarding the cocoa sourcing yet, though Mars promises that is coming in the next few years. They contain dairy, soy and gluten and may contain traces of peanuts.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
I’m not surprised that Russell Stover is expanding its cake-themed candies, as they already have a Cookie Dough Egg and multiple holiday version of Red Velvet Cake. This spring they’ve introduced three new eggs all with cake themes: Carrot Cake, Birthday Cake and Wedding Cake.
The thing that’s so odd about them is that they’re eggs. None of these flavors are particularly Easter themed. In fact, I find the idea of a Birthday Cake flavored egg for Easter downright odd. Carrot Cake is the only one that makes a modicum of sense, since carrots are associated with rabbits, which are associated with Easter.
Russell Stover Carrot Cake Egg covered in White Chocolate is only one ounce. It looks the same as the other Russell Stover egg packaging, green foil and a white emblem on the front with a little bow and the Russell Stover logo. There are elements of an amber orange and a slice of cake featured on the lower right.
As with the other cake and dough eggs that Russell Stover started making, it’s an odd sort of bon bon. The filling actually contains cake mix. So inside is an unbaked cake mix that’s creamed together with some milk and butter to create a filling that’s then molded into an egg shape inside a white chocolate shell. Kind of weird.
It smells very sweet with a little note of cinnamon and nutmeg along with some sort of dairy milk. It’s a little flat, so it’s easy to bite. It’s extremely sweet, but the filling has a sort of cookie dough consistency. It’s a little grainy, as I can feel the sugar and the raw flour in the center. It’s not pasty, as there’s enough fat in there to let it dissolve and melt like a bon bon should. The carrot notes are a bit lost, it’s the spice cake flavors that really create the reality.
Overall, aside from its sweetness, it’s pretty good. I can’t say that I’ve ever really wanted a carrot cake bonbon, so this doesn’t fill a hole in my heart. I’d say that some pecans would enhance it, but they’re an unlikely addition at this price point.
Russell Stover Birthday Cake Egg in Milk Chocolate with Sprinkles doesn’t look much like a birthday item. Sure, there’s a bow on it, but there’s a bow on all of them, and they’re not for anyone’s birthday.
This egg feels bigger than the others, though the wrapper says it’s also one ounce. The cake featured in the picture is a yellow cake with a chocolate frosting. Just as the carrot cake version lists cake mix, this one lists Yellow Cake Mix in the ingredients (also white chocolate, even though it’s covered in milk chocolate).
The egg is not molded like the others, instead its enrobed, like the Cookie Dough Egg I reviewed last year. There are little sprinkles stuck to it, though I think there were just as many rattling around in the package when I unwrapped it.
I don’t care for sprinkles, they look pretty and all, but they’re a mess. They don’t taste good and they just leave evidence everywhere that you’ve not only been indulging, but indulging in something with sprinkles on it.
The egg itself smells a bit like dough, it has that uncooked batter note to it. The center is soft and easy to bite, the chocolate stays together, but the sprinkles rarely make it into my mouth. The milk chocolate is merely passable, it’s not strong but does have a sort of malty element that stands up to the otherwise bland battercream. Though I don’t have a cookie dough version right here, I recall this being much different except that the center is a little softer and less crumbly.
If you’re a cake person, sprinkle person or your birthday happens to fall around the time we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, this may be the perfect candy for you.
Russell Stover Wedding Cake covered in White Chocolate is an extremely sweet confection. (I didn’t get a photo of the package, or even a particularly good photo of the candy.)
It’s a white cake center with a white chocolate coating, so the notes are pretty much vanilla and sugar. The center is a bit softer than the Birthday Cake, though still has the sugary grain to it. It’s just slightly fluffed but has an overall milky sweet flavor and a hint of the raw flour.
It was far too sweet with no actual purpose to it. The idea of wedding cake that’s all white with white frosting and no note of raspberry or marzipan is actually kind of foreign to me. This taste more like grocery store sheet cake ... which is not something I think anyone strives to emulate. I’m sure there are some super-sweet-toothers who will enjoy this, but I think it as was just too sweet and one-note.
The cake thing is lost on me. I don’t mind when things go back to the source of why we made it a cake flavor in the first place, like taking the flavor elements of coconut and chocolate and caramel from a German Chocolate Cake ... but yellow cake can stay in the realm of baked goods from no on.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
I heard about this new version of Annabelle’s Rocky Road bar last year and I’ve been hoping to find them in stores. It’s called Rocky Road S’Mores bar and the package describes it like this: Handmade Milk Chocolate Coated Marshmallow with Real Graham Cracker and Cashews
It’s absolutely obvious that the Rocky Road line of bars should have a S’Mores variety.
The bar comes in a bronzy mylar wrapper, it’s kind of hard to tell apart from the Dark Chocolate Rocky Road from a distance, so I almost grabbed the wrong one when I went out to find more.
The bar smells nicely of marshmallow (basically vanilla and sugar) with an hint of the cereal quality of graham crackers. The bar bends and pulls apart very easily. The marshmallow is pillowy and sticky and though the chocolate sticks well to it, it’s rather a thin coating.
The chocolate is very sweet, but melts quickly and gives a creamy component to bind the flavors together. The graham center is interesting, it’s more like a hearty digestive biscuit than a traditional grocery store graham cracker. It’s not sweet, though could use a little pop of salt. The marshmallow is soft and easy to bite, sticky but not really flavorful on its own. It’s so airy, it’s almost a meringue.
I wanted the graham cracker to be crunchier, crisper. It kind of hides in there, where I feel like it should have more of a texture contribution. The bars don’t travel well, they’re easily smashed, though really look no different even when pristine. The rocky part of the rocky road, the nuts, are small bits and don’t do much for me either. It’s unheard of for a commercial candy bar to even have cashews, which are expensive. So, I’ll accept that they’re subtle rocks. Overall ... my favorite of the Rocky Road line.
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.)
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.