Wednesday, June 12, 2013
The Bar None, originally made by Hershey’s, was a well-loved candy bar. It was launched nationally in 1987 (I believe I lived in the test market area in California in 1986 and became addicted to them early on). The bar was also introduced in Canada under the name of Temptation.
The candy bar boasted chocolate wafers with chocolate cream and then a layer of crushed peanuts all covered in real milk chocolate. It sounds like a giant KitKat, but the reality was a bit different. The wafers were more aerated, the cream layers were more chocolatey and the crushed nuts were, of course, never found on a KitKat. Later in 1992, in an attempt to overcome some manufacturing issues, the bar was changed from a single piece to twin sticks with the addition of caramel. The wrapper was also redesigned to predominantly yellow and sales fell until the bar was discontinued in the United States in 1997. (More about the bar here.)
The Iconic Candy Company of Carle Place, NY specializes in reviving extinct candies; they picked up the rights to the candy bar and are in the final stages of their planned reintroduction of Bar None. They previewed the Bar None at the Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago last month.
Indulge me for a moment for a little more history, or don’t and skip ahead to the review down there where the candy bar photos start. In addition to one of the early ad campaigns for the bar (which included commercials and the tagline “Tame the Chocolate Beasty”) I also found an intact wrapper online which revealed the original (circa 1990) ingredients for the 1.5 ounce bar (240 calories):
The new bar is 1.6 ounces and 240 calories:
The original bars were made by Hershey’s at their facility in Stuart’s Draft, Virginia (home of Reese’s Pieces). Iconic Candy is also making their bars in the United States.
The bar looks good, though I have to say that it doesn’t look as angular as I remember it. I thought it was a little flatter back in the olden days, but I could be wrong. I rarely took the bar out of the wrapper, instead when I ate it, I opened the end and just pushed out enough of it to take a bite because it was a very messy bar - both the fact that it would melt on the fingers and the fact that biting into it would sometimes scatter bits of the thin chocolate coating. I remember the chocolate coating as a soft chocolate, prone to melting even though I lived in the never-actually-warm Northern California area at the time. The original bar was also fatty, as the calorie count was about 160 calories per ounce, which is very high for a wafer bar.
It smells good, like chocolate with just a hint of roasted peanuts. Again, I don’t remember the peanut element from the original, which was really all about the taste of the milk chocolate and the cream filling between the wafers. The peanuts were for crunch, not flavor.
The bar has a gentle crunch to it. The chocolate gives way well without becoming a flaky mess. The wafers are crispy and light, quite aerated and different from the KitKat wafers, which are more dense. These are like an ice cream cone. Though I would want the wafers chocolate flavored, I think they’re rather flavorless, coming across a bit like malty foam.
The chocolate is sweet and creamy with a good milky flavor. The peanuts taste fresh and have a good crunch and consistent size. There’s a little note of salt, just on the crushed nuts. The wafer stack is good, though not as chocolatey as I would like.
There’s an alternate universe (if you subscribe to the multiverse theory) where Hershey’s didn’t pervert and destroy the original bar with the twin sticks with caramel. But in that universe, in which Hershey’s behaved otherwise identically, the bar would have fallen to the same pressures to use “safe and suitable vegetable fats” instead of cocoa butter like they did with the classic Mr. Goodbar which is no longer a good chocolate bar, or a chocolate bar at all. So even if there were a Bar None today, I doubt I would still like it. Hershey’s simply doesn’t make their products better over time, they just make the more efficiently. We’re lucky if that doesn’t effect the taste and nutritional profile of the product, but it usually does. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Good & Plenty are really their only remaining products that I still enjoy regularly.
So, in a way, I think it was a blessing that Bar None disappeared before it got bad. Because then people wanted it to come back. The new Iconic Candy version of it isn’t quite the same, but then again, the original had its issues. It often slid apart, because the creme between the layers wasn’t held together well enough by the chocolate coating. The sharper corners would get crushed. The chocolate would flake off. I don’t see those as issues with the revived bar. But it’s still lacking that fatty, slick chocolate texture that I remember. So, it may be an uphill battle with the die hard fans of the original. There’s also a case to be made that original fans may have had other qualities about the bar that they liked that are still served by this version.
Tasting this bar today, without the reference point of the original, it’s a very well done effort. It’s airy and light but still very satisfying. The peanuts are a nice crunchy touch that don’t veer off into peanut butter territory as a flavor. But my tastes have changed now, being exposed to fine and dark chocolate from around the world have made me demand more from my candy. Now I think I’d want this in a dark chocolate version over a milk one.
The cross section though did give me pause. It’s purple. Why are the wafers purple? Well, glance back up there at the list of ingredients and you’ll see five artificial colors. I’m not sure why it needed them, but they’re there.
I’ve emailed with Iconic Candy, and the bars aren’t in stores quite yet. I’ll have some more information on that, and of course they’ll have information at their website as they start shipping to wholesalers and stores. If you have a favorite spot for buying candy, you may want to mention to them that you’d like to try the bar so they’ll order it.
Here’s a newsletter from Hershey’s called Chocolate Town USA from back in 1990 that details the launch of the original chocolate bar.
Monday, June 10, 2013
KitKat Minis are unwrapped versions that are only 1 inch long. They’re also solo. Instead of “fingers” of KitKats served up in quads, these are like “pinky toes,” if you have those kind of pinkies that never quite fit in regular sandals and just hang out by themselves.
This isn’t the first time KitKat has attempted a bite sized version, there were KitKat Bites on the market about eight years ago. Those were smaller and more spherical as they were a panned chocolate (the centers were tumbled in a pan and then sealed with a little glaze).
The issue I found with the earlier KitKat Bites violating the interactivity I’d come to love about the KitKat bar is not an issue here. The miniature bars do have all the layers. This means that my process of eating them is the same. I cleave off the chocolate on each, making a melt-free spot to hold the bar while I peel off each layer of the cookie wafers with my teeth.
I enjoyed these, but not quite as much as I would have liked. The ratio of chocolate to wafers is higher now. I wouldn’t mind if it was good chocolate, but it’s not. It’s overly sweet, a little grainy and because it contains PGPR, I always think it has a rancid note to it.
I’m hoping these will come in the dark variety at some point. But the reality is that the Japanese Adult Taste Dark Chocolate KitKat (called Otonano Amaso) version is so untouchably superior, and actually comes in a nugget version, I don’t plan on buying Hershey’s again after this bag is gone.
The price is okay, I got mine on sale for $3.50 for the bag, which is a half of a pound. The wrapped candies can often be less expensive, but these may come down in price over the coming months as the economies of scale kick in. The stand up bag does have a zipper on it so they do store well. I can also see these being a good addition to ice cream or used as an ingredient in baking projects.
Though KitKat bars in the rest of the world, made by Nestle, are becoming fair trade certified, the American made KitKats from Hershey’s are not quite there yet. (Even when they do make it, that doesn’t mean they’ll taste better.)
Monday, April 15, 2013
A couple of years ago Russell Stover came out with the Giant S’Mores Bar. It combined one of the best products Russell Stover makes, the chocolate covered marshmallow. I could only find it via web order at the time.
Here were are, two years later and I spotted them, now named Russell Stover Big Bite S’Mores at CVS. They come in a dark chocolate and milk chocolate version, so I picked up a couple of the Russell Stover Big Bite Dark Chocolate S’Mores.
The package is simple and fits into the Russell Stover design scheme well. I wouldn’t call it enticing or delectable, but mostly informative and easy to spot.
The construction is simple. Two square graham crackers (about 2.5” on each side) hold a dark chocolate covered marshmallow square.
The graham crackers hold together pretty well, though I noticed my other piece (I bought two) had more broken corners on it. Biting into the whole thing, it holds together passably well, so that all of the flavors and textures are included in just about every bite. However, the graham cracker makes a lot of crumbs. The marshmallow is moist and bouncy with a generic vanilla flavor though not overly sweet. The dark chocolate coating is thin but provides a good semi-sweet counterpoint to the fluffed sugar of the marshmallow. The graham cracker is nicely crunchy but still soft and crumbly with a cereal and grain flavor to it.
I feel like Russell Stover could do something to mitigate the crumb creation from the graham cracker, I was thinking a very thin coating of dark chocolate on the marshmallow facing side might do quite a bit to hold everything in place (and add more chocolate). As it is, it’s a rather “lean” confection, even though it’s 2 ounces, it’s only 230 calories. The cracker and the marshmallow keep it from having as high of a fat load as many other chocolate candies. But it still feels very filling.
I liked this version much better than the milk chocolate version and hope that it does make a strong appearance in stores. It is easy to eat and I expect rather easy to pop in the microwave or toaster oven (I didn’t try that). If you don’t have access to the seasonal Trader Joe’s Smashing S’Mores, these might be a good substitute.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
It’s great when friends go traveling and bring back candy. My friend Amy (who often spits things out and then gives me her opinion) went to Tokyo and Kyoto. She was lucky enough to be there for the start of Cherry Blossom Season, which means that the limited edition KitKat Sakura are also on store shelves.
Sakura is a popular flavor in Japan. What that flavor is, is kind of a mystery to me. It’s not cherry or the orange blossom equivalent of orange. It’s just a soft flavor that’s more like almond to me, if other candies I’ve had are indicative.
This particular Sakura Matcha KitKat package is a little different from others I’ve had. It’s kind of like a King Size. The box is a little longer, and on the back is a little “to and from” space where you can add a personalize message.
Inside the package are three individually wrapped pairs of KitKat fingers. They’re not large, a bit smaller than the American version, as a matter of fact. They’re only 68 calories each (sorry, I couldn’t figure out the exact weight since it was all in Japanese).
It’s a white confection outside that’s flavored (and colored) with green tea. It’s not a very good white confection, a little greasy and waxy and very sweet. The green tea notes are not as bitter as some earlier varieties of matcha candies I’ve had from Nestle Japan. In this version, the Sakura adds a bit of a cereal flavor to it, maybe a hint of cinnamon and brown rice and a much lighter vanilla note.
As a whole, it was okay. It’s not a KitKat I would buy for myself regularly, even if I was excited that the trees were in bloom. I’ve had a few other varieties over the years, earlier versions were just cherry blossom with no green tea.
This is also what I’d call a gift variety, as I highly doubt people just go out looking for Japanese horseradish flavored candies. I love wasabi, but it belongs in my mashed potatoes and on my tuna and avocado roll.
The box in this version is very presentational, with stylized block print wasabi roots on the front. The box opens up to reveal 12 small, individually wrapped finger pairs of the candies.
Like most Japanese KitKats, the packaging is exquisite.
The flavor is, well, sweet. For the most part it’s a bland white confection, equally greasy and waxy as most other Nestle white KitKats. In this version there’s a peppery bite to it, like arugula or horseradish. It’s mild but noticeable. It was too strange, but also didn’t add anything to the experience. I think wasabi works best with starchy foods (mashed potatoes or rice), not with fatty foods like chocolate (or mock chocolate).
This is a novelty, not an extraordinary new flavor combination. I’m all for the combination of sweet and savory (umami), but this isn’t it.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
I went to Hawaii last month on vacation and picked up a few locally made candies.
There aren’t many candies made on the Hawaiian Islands, but I found a few, including a set of four of the chocolate bars made by Wow-Wee “Maui’s Candy Bar”. All of the bars are made on the island of Maui by hand and include flavors and inclusions that reflect the flavors of Hawaii. The bars weren’t that expensive, I think I paid $2.50 each for them. They’re 1.75 ounces each. My bars were:
The packaging is simple, a foil wrapper with a paper sleeve over that. The bar molding includes a nice version of their logo. They’re not scored to break into specific portions, but breaking the thin and long bar was easy. Folding the foil back up and resealing the bar was also pretty simple (a lot easier than the plastic wrap that comes on most bars these days).
The Wow-Wee Dark Chocolate - Hawaiian Coconut is a simple bar that’s a very easy to eat treat. The dark chocolate is mild, on the semi-sweet level, like some nice chocolate chips. I found it a bit sweet, but it had a nice texture. The coconut flavor dominated the chocolate and the coconut shreds were quite dense. The coconut flavor was tropical but had a fresh grassy note to it that I enjoyed. It tasted real, instead of like it had been soaked in sugar.
The dark chocolate does contain some dairy products and the coconut has the preservative sodium metabisulfite in it. So it’s not appropriate for people with allergies to milk, soy, coconut (obviously) or sulfites.
The Wow-Wee Milk Chocolate - Hawaiian Macadamia Nuts is very simple, it’s just milk chocolate with chips of macadamias in it. The macadamia nuts are dry roasted, and though the ingredients don’t say they’re salted, I detected a little hint of salt in this bar (and the label confirms that there’s 48mg).
The milk chocolate is slightly grainy but pleasant in a fudgy way. It has a woodsy note to it that goes well with the sharp nutty flavor of the macs. It’s a tried and true combination and I can see this being a local favorite over the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds.
The Wow-Wee Chocolate - Kona Coffee - Caramel was the most interesting bar for me just by the listing. It contains real Kona coffee, which is always rich and flavorful. It also contains a different twist, with the addition of caramel.
Again, this is the semi-sweet chocolate, which has a bit of milk in it. The bar smells dark and buttery and whole lot like coffee, kind of like walking into a Starbucks in the morning at the height of the rush. The chocolate has bits of coffee beans mixed in. They’re crunchy and not at all fibery, but still bitter and a little on the oily side. Then scattered throughout the bar are long strips of caramel. The caramel is chewy and stringy and has a distinct toffee note to it. There wasn’t quite enough of it, for my tastes, but I loved the texture.
I’m not usually keen on the coffee beans being mixed into my chocolate, and this bar was no exception. I couldn’t eat much of it in the afternoon or evening because of the caffeine effects, but the balance of flavors and textures was good. It could benefit from darker chocolate, but sometimes you really want something sweet.
The Wow-Wee Maui Kitch’n Cook’d Potato Chip & Milk Chocolate is the last bar and a bit of comfort food. You can see from that cross section that the potato chips are thick crinkle cuts. The potato chips are made in cottonseed oil and have a little touch of salt on them (only 42 mg per serving). The bar does have that chip smell to it, kind of earthy.
The chips are crunchy and have a lot of potato flavor to them. The milk chocolate is very sweet but smooth and well balanced to the chip flavors and textures. I wanted more chips in my bar, but I think that’s how I am with inclusions. They definitely lend a lot of flavor to the bar even when you might not get a bit in every bite.
Wow-Wee Maui makes nine bars in total and all sound like they fit in well with the flavors of the islands. I think they’re a great, inexpensive gift for a friend and a nice treat to eat while you’re visiting.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
There’s rarely anything new to report in the world of chocolate rabbits for Easter. There’s plenty of variation: They come in flat styles and three dimensional. Sitting and standing poses. Hollow and solid. Milk, white or dark chocolate (and sometimes flavored solid confection). The chocolate can also have some inclusions. Until recently this was rather rare, and mostly crispy rice. This year Russell Stover, which already makes a white confection Cookies ‘n’ Creme version, came out with the Russell Stover Kris P. Pretzel Bunny.
I learned of the existence of this tasty sounding bunny on Rebekah’s Obsessive Sweets blog. I did find it at CVS but it was a full 7 ounces and four dollars, I just wanted to taste it. So off to the Russell Stover’s website I go and found out that there’s a 1.5 ounce version out there, so I checked out the 99 Cent Only Store. Success ... and only a buck. (Though the large version is a better value.)
The bunny, at only 1.5 ounces, is not particularly large, but compact. It’s quite thick through the middle, and if it were solid (without the pretzel bits), it would probably be more difficult to bite.
Suspended within the milk chocolate are little bits of pretzel. They’re not chunks, they really are teensy bits. My guess is that they have to be in order to get the molding process to work.
The bite is wonderfully grainy, there are a lot of little bits in there. They don’t create the dry crunch that a whole pretzel piece would. Instead there’s more the malty and salty flavors in there and of course the slight grit of a pretzel dust. The chocolate is creamy and sweet, with a light smoky note. Sadly, it’s very salty. There are 240 mg of salt in there, which the package says is 10% of your RDA, but I think, for me, it’s more like 25% since I eat so little salt. So it could easily be cut in half and I think most people would find it still has that zap.
I liked it and would probably buy this variety again. It’d be nice if it came in a dark variety, but the chocolate here was sufficiently strong enough to stand up for itself with the pretzel flavors and textures.
The packaging is excessive. It’s not a large rabbit, but the box is big and has a useless tray inside. I understand needing to box up hollow bunnies, but the solid variety shouldn’t need more than some foil and/or a box, not the tray as well.
Since this has pretzels in it, it’s not gluten free. The bunnies contain soy and dairy. It’s also made on shared equipment with peanuts, tree nuts and eggs. There’s no statement on the package or on Russell Stover’s website about the sourcing of their chocolate or other ingredients except that their chocolate sourcing partners are members of the World Cocoa Foundation.
Friday, March 15, 2013
Russell Stover is a fixture at American drug stores at Easter with their large variety of single serving Easter eggs. New this year is the Russell Stover Cookie Dough Egg.
This new egg follows the same sort of construction as the Red Velvet Santa first spotted for Christmas (also available as an egg). The center is an actual flour-based dough. Unlike other fondant centers which are just whipped up sugars, this one is a bit more complex. Here’s the ingredient list (forgive me for any transcription errors, it’s green printing on a cream background):
So, instead of a short list, this is long and includes lots of flour, so it’s not gluten free. It also contains high fructose corn syrup a few times, which is disappointing because Russell Stover, while not being top of the line, is usually filled with plain old sugar and corn syrup. This is what happens when candy makers start adding bakery items. Unlike actually cookie dough, this has no egg products.
The egg looks like many of the other milk chocolate Russell Stover varieties. It’s on the flat side, and has two rows of glossy ripples. It’s about two inches long and one and a quarter inches wide.
The bite is soft and the center is, well, doughy. It’s not dry but not quite as moist as I expect. It has a grain to it, with the sugar being noticeable and I might have detected a little salt as well. The flour taste is not noticeable (sometimes real cookie dough can taste like raw flour).
Unlike cookie dough nugget products, this has more of the satisfaction of eating a spoonful of dough. The chocolate chips didn’t do much for me, but the milk chocolate coating was smooth, creamy and a sweet complement to the dough. I’d prefer a dark chocolate version, as I put dark chips in my cookies. It’s similar to their Brownie Egg (which it turns out, I’ve never reviewed), but naturally less chocolatey.
It’s a good rendition of cookie dough as a candy. I don’t know if I’d grab this over something like their marshmallows or the Pecan Delight, but I know there are some folks who will really appreciate this.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Easter is the season for foil wrapped chocolate eggs. They can be solid, they can be filled with things. They can be the size of a peanut or a football. The fun part is when they’re actually made with good chocolate.
I was excited to see Ghirardelli Milk & Crisp Chocolate Eggs at Target. Ghirardelli makes very good chocolate for the price, right here in California. I’ve been searching for the ideal crisped rice and milk chocolate combination, so this was the perfect item for me to pick up.
The yellow bag contains about 15 gold foil wrapped eggs. They’re a rich milk chocolate with crisped rice. They also come in a blue foil version that’s solid milk chocolate.
The bag is on the expensive side. The 3.5 ounces is about the same price as a chocolate bar from Ghirardelli, $3.49 ... one dollar an ounce. It’s a bit steep for chocolate that’s not marked as ethically sourced or organic but it is all natural. (The facility also processes tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and eggs. Contains milk and soy.)
The eggs smell dark and smoky, less sweet than many milk chocolates but still with a dairy note to it. The melt is soft and has that same sort of smoky note to it with a strong malt flavor from the crisped rice. There’s a hint of bitterness to it, but not much. Overall, it’s far less sweet than something like a Nestle Crunch chocolate and thought thick, not quite as sticky as Cadbury.
Overall, it was a bit more grown up than a Nestle Crunch NestEgg, but should probably be reserved for adults since the price is so much steeper. I would buy these again, and of course I’d prefer a half pound bag so I could put them out in a dish.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.