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, July 31, 2013
Hello is a new sub-brand from Lindt Chocolate with a wide variety available exclusively at Target in the United States. (You can get some bars & products at the Lindt website and from Amazon.) Lindt calls it “a brand new collection of contemporary and sinfully delicious premium chocolate bars, sticks and boxes, inspired by classic desserts and treats.”
I’m not sure how it differs from some of their other bars before, but the packaging is certainly different. Instead of the stuffy but easily recognized Lindt package which featured a continental flair, these are certainly modern looking with a lot of flirty typography and forced casualness.
I picked out two bars for my first try (they were on sale, 2 bars for $4.00). Today I’ll review the Hello Crunchy Nougat.
The German style of nougat is a hazelnut paste, not the fluffy egg and honey confection. It’s a milk chocolate shell with a nougat filling and some little shards wafer bits (wheat flour is listed on the ingredients).
The bar is large and thick. At 3.5 ounces, it’s quite long but not as wide as their other tablets. For filled bars I enjoy this format, though it’s usually hard to get a bar that hasn’t been broken in transit or on display. (Since my bar was, this is a photo of the soon-to-be-reviewed Coffee Blast, which has the same mold.)
The milk chocolate is creamy and sweet, though a little sticky. The filling inside the little sections is far sweeter but has a warm roasted hazelnut flavor with a bit more of a milky, sticky note. The cookie bits are good, they add a touch of salt or at least a little malty flavor that cuts through all the sugar. I also caught a few shards of hazelnuts, which added a nice chew though not much crunch.
It’s a fatty, fatty bar, in a good way. At 156 calories per ounce it was easy to see that it was more than filled with sugar. Ground hazelnuts plus a lot of milk and some coconut and palm oil bring the saturated fat up to 7 grams per serving. I don’t know if I’d buy it again, as there are other hazelnut bars I like better, but mostly because I’d prefer a very dark shell on this to offset all the sweetness inside. I’ll keep looking through their range to see if there’s something that would suit me better, because it was a good deal for $2.00.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.