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.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Mars announced some seasonal candies last year, including Sugar Cookie Twix for Christmas 2012. While they never appeared on shelves, what I did see last week that was a surprise and not included in their Easter announcement was the new Twix Egg.
They’re cute, little Twix bars just for Easter. They had different pastel colors on the the front, though they’re all the classic Twix flavor. (I didn’t see any Coconut or PB Twix versions.)
It’s a Twix! Instead of sticks, it’s one globby egg. It’s just a smidge over one ounce.
I’m not a huge Twix fan, which has always confused me because on paper it has everything I like. There’s a crispy, almost-shortbread cookie base, a dose of chewy soft caramel and it’s enrobed in milk chocolate. Of all the Twix that have been created, I preferred the limited edition Java Twix, which was coffee flavored. The Triple Chocolate Twix, that have also appeared a few times, which feature a chocolate cookie, chocolate caramel and dark chocolate enrobing were also good.
The standard Twix, however, usually leaves me disinterested. I do try them occasionally, as I often end up with a sample now and then and they do show up in Halloween miniature assortments. They’re sweet ... the cookie isn’t big enough and the caramel doesn’t have enough caramelized sugar notes.
None of my comments are intended to get Twix to change for me, there are millions of people who like it the way it is, so I’d say don’t mess with it. But like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, which can support many different sizes and shapes that rebalance the ratios of elements, the Twix can stand a few seasonal varieties.
This particular Twix doesn’t look enrobed, instead it looks like it’s molded, as it says, Twix right on the top and has a more glossy, smooth sheen to the consistent ripples.
The ratios are definitely different here. It feels like the cookie is more prominent. There’s more crunch, I taste the cookie now, instead of just knowing of its crispness. The caramel is also a distinctive part, instead of being mushed into the chocolate. Though the caramel isn’t as flavorful as I would have liked, it was salty and smooth and had a nice chew when combined with the sandy crunch of the cookie. The sweet milk chocolate is, well, far too sweet overall. The chocolate is much more dense on the ends, and it was on the last bite that I was overcome with the throat-searing sweetness. I’m sure if I balanced it with a strong drink like coffee or black tea, I’d be a little more in love with it.
The size is great, I find a one ounce bar to be just the right amount for a little break. It’s more than an individual stick (which are about .89 ounces) so it’s more substantial. The broad, flat shape also makes it feel like it’s more massive than it actually is. I bought three of them and fully intend to eat the final one that’s still in its package. But not today.
Mars did a great thing making a seasonal version. It’s not just a pastel wrapper on the every day item, it’s a special version just for Easter. (I expect there may be Halloween pumpkin ones, like the Snickers and Milky Way Simply Caramel get.)
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The world of gourmet candy bars is not limited to North America. The United Kingdom has The Grown Up Chocolate Company which currently makes four upscale and unique candy bars. I was able to procure two of them on my trip to New York City late last year.
They’re packaged well in boldly graphic boxes with fun typography. Inside the box is a rather large candy bar, made with all natural ingredients. The bars are 65 grams, which is about 2.29 ounces. Inside the box the bars are held within clear trays and then sealed in cellophane. Each had expiry dates of late January 2013.
The bar that I found most intriguing was the Crunchy Praline Wonder Bar. The package said: Caramelised wafer enticingly slathered in sumptuous praline encased in real milk chocolate, a true wonder bar!
The package had two of these little bars, which is great for me, because a little over an ounce is a perfect portion especially for something that seemed so decadent.
The little bar has an interesting center. It’s a milk chocolate ganache filled with crunchy, flaky and malty bits of wafer. There’s a little hint of hazelnut paste in the filling, but there’s not much to it. It’s the kind of wafer that would make up an ice cream cone. The cereal taste to the bar and the milkiness of the chocolate makes the whole thing taste an awful lot like a chocolate ice cream cone.
One little bar is extremely filling. I liked this quite a bit and would likely buy it again if I ever saw it, even though it’s about $6.
The Glorious Coconut Hocus Pocus is a rather interesting bar. It’s not merely a retread of an Almond Joy, instead they’ve done quite a bit of work to create something a bit more uncommon. The description is: Creamy coconut ganache luxuriantly topped with an indulgent fruit and nut jumble enrobed in decadent milk chocolate.
The milk chocolate then has a little zig-zag drizzle of dark chocolate as well.
The first thing I noticed after biting into it, aside from the coconut flavors, was the lemon zest. It’s quite a different profile, it’s sophisticated and cuts the sweetness of everything else. The ganache center is dry, it’s not a chewy coconut but has a good balance of milky and coconut luxury. The jumble of nuts and fruits is truly that. I got a lot of almonds and a few pieces of zest as well as a piece of apricot at one point.
It’s odd and inconsistent. I wanted more of the fruit and for the nuts to be chopped up just a little more. Biting into a big almond just made a mess. The milk chocolate is sweet, but doesn’t have enough counterpoint for all the other sweet things. I would have preferred a little dark chocolate contrast and actual chocolate flavor. Still ... it’s a really promising bar. I had to pick the right time to eat it, late in the day the sweetness was overwhelming and made me sleepy. Mid morning seemed to work better for the second half of it.
According to their website they have mini bars, which are probably more my speed. I don’t know much about the sourcing of their cocoa or other ingredients, as they don’t say on their website or the packaging. The bars contain wheat, soy, dairy and nuts and may contain traces of peanuts.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Ritter Sport, the German chocolate company, has really stepped up its game in North America. Not only do we get a large array of their inventive and good quality bars, they’re also delivering some of the fun limited editions that were once just for their European consumers.
For winter this year they presented the Limited Edition Ritter Sport Amarena Cherry. The bar features Milk chocolate filled with cherry flavored cream and wafer pieces. The wrapper shows a vanilla and cherry ripple ice cream cone and a couple of ripe cherries next to it.
I’ve recently become more familiar with preserved cherries, as I’ve been introduced to Luxardo Maraschino Cherries. They’re quite good and don’t resemble those strange, translucent pink things that come on top of cheap ice cream Sundaes in the United States. These are tiny little nearly black balls of syrup saturated cherries. They taste like fruit, they taste like sugar and there’s a little alcoholic bite to them (well, that could be because I usually find them at the bottom of a Mahnattan). They’ve changed my mind about preserved cherries and even the origin of the fake cherry flavor.
While that’s all delightful fun, the reality was a bit less than enticing. The first ingredient is sugar (not chocolate) which is okay when there’s a lot of filling. But the second ingredient is palm oil. Somewhere down near the bottom of the list is real morello cherry puree and morello cherry juice concentrate, which is comforting.
The actual construction of the bar is rather like the ice cream on the wrapper - it’s a firm cream center that has a light cherry flavor to it and then some little freeze dried cherry bits (that are a bit tangy) and the wafer bits which are like a crumbled up wafer cone.
The bar smells an awful lot like cherry flavor. Good cherry flavor, but still ... not very chocolatey. The milk chocolate shell is smooth and creamy but very sweet. The cream center is less sweet, less smooth but much more cherry. The high point are the little crunchies, which might be the freeze dried fruit or the wafer. Either one is good.
The entire thing is just not for me. Too sweet, too much fat without feeling like it was creamy. Instead it was too cherry. If you’re looking for a very cherry bar, well, this might be yours. I’ll go back to my Espresso bar, which I also bought on the same trip.
Ritter Sport sources their cacao almost exclusively from Central and South America and has several initiatives regarding sustainability for their ingredients and energy usage in manufacturing. The bar itself may contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts and contains soy, wheat and dairy.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Chocolate covered pretzels are nothing new. So Sanders Candy of Michigan has come up with a new twist. They’ve created Sanders Chocolate Covered Gretzels, which are cinnamon graham pretzels drenched in our premium Milk Chocolate.
I picked up my package after Christmas at Cost Plus World Market on the 75% clearance. So instead of the $5.99 price on the tag, it was only $1.50. I should have bought more at that price, even without tasting them. (I have tasted some of their other items at trade shows but not this one.)
The box is far larger than the contents would dictate. There’s six ounces in there, but the box is filled only halfway up (and if you understand geometry of volumes, that’s actually less than half of the possible amount since the box is a square frustum). The candy is protected in a mylar pouch, which is also too big, but at least the extra bag is folder over to give a bit of cushion to the pieces so that none were broken. I get that they have to use the same box for the entire line of confections and that they all have to be the same price point, but it still irked me.
The pieces are nicely coated and look like chocolate covered mini pretzels ... the only thing that’s different is that they actually feel heavier than a pretzel.
The graham at the center is crisp and dense with a light cinnamon scent. The milk chocolate is creamy and sweet and balanced by the salty graham (there’s 200 mg of sodium per serving). The crunch is fantastic. The satisfaction quotient is quite high, with only three or four satisfying my sweet tooth.
Sanders makes a few other varieties in their Snack Box line. They include Pecan-dy (Caramel Popcorn & Nuts with or without Chocolate Drizzle) and Chocolate Covered Potato Chips. On their website the boxes retail for $6.99, so even more expensive than the regular price at Cost Plus World Market.
As it is, I would buy this again if it were not more than $4 for the box or something that works out to about $10 per pound. Paying more for what is essentially chocolate covered cookies is absurd unless the ingredients didn’t contain partially hydrogenated oils. But still, I can’t help wishing that the box wasn’t empty.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
I was excited to see this Nestle Crunch Noisettes bar in New York at Zabar’s. I scooped it right up from the display basket by the cheeses (and looked in the same basket to see if there were any other exotic flavors).
The bar is made in Italy by Nestle and is a twist on the classic Crunch bar, which is a milk chocolate bar with crisped rice. The exotic twist here is the inclusion of noisettes ... hazelnuts.
This bar is very attractive.The mold design is inventive and practical. The sections break easily but instead of a typical grid they’re faceted polygons in a vaguely rectangular format. Even though I carried this all the way across the country, it still came out looking practically pristine.
The back of the bar reveals a bit more about the contents. The crisped rice is large and classic looking, unlike the newer cereal rice flour bb’s that are in the current American Crunch bar. There are also a far number of crushed hazelnut pieces.
The bar smells comforting, a mix of sweet milk, cereal and toasted nuts.
The snap is crisp and the melt of the chocolate is a little sticky but overall smooth. The texture is on the fudgy side with a lot of milk and a slight grain to it. The milk flavors predominate along with a hint of malt and the fresh and crunchy hazelnuts. The chocolate recipe is a little different from the American Nestle Crunch, this version has whey in it, which is not allowed in American chocolate (if it is to be labeled chocolate), but at least it keeps the mouthfeel similar and adds protein to the bar ... which keeps it from being overly sweet. I wanted more crisped rice, but feel like the ratio of hazelnuts was just perfect.
I liked it and had no trouble eating the whole bar over the period of several days. Given a choice, I’d probably opt for a Ritter Sport bar, as I prefer their milk chocolate profile and more transparent ethical sourcing though they don’t actually have a crisped rice bar (but an excellent milk chocolate with corn flakes will do).
This bar has wheat gluten in it, along with dairy, soy and tree nuts.
Monday, October 8, 2012
Last month I visited Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania, as I often do when I’m in the area. The themed space is open year around and adjacent to Hersheypark. It’s free to visit and is mostly a Hershey themed mall with a food court and a ride the includes the story of how Hershey’s makes their chocolate.
One of the new attractions at Chocolate World is Create Your Own Candy Bar. It’s a real, mini candy factory where you can customize a single, large candy bar from an array of options. It’s $14.95, so it’s not cheap, but it is an engaging way to spend 30 to 45 minutes, especially if you love to watch machines.
When buying the ticket, you’re asked for your first and last name plus your zip code. I didn’t realize that this was how the bar was customized as you go through the factory experience (though you’re only addressed by your first name and last initial, in case you’re visiting with your AA group). If I knew this, I could have given my name as CandyBlog as you’ll see later.
The tickets are for sale in the main lobby, patrons are given a ticket with a scheduled start time. Folks line up and are given hair nets and aprons, asked to remove all visible jewelry (rings and watches) and hopefully washed their hands. (You don’t actually come into contact with any of the equipment or ingredients.) I don’t know what the limit for a group is, but I would guess about 15-18 people.
The event starts with a quick video which shows you how each stage of the process will work. The basic steps are: choosing your formula, the production of the bar, the cooling of the bar, creating a custom wrapper and then the boxing of the bar.
The customizations are:
You simply scan your ticket’s bar code at the screen and make your selections.
Through a set of swinging doors, the set up is a real mini factory line with a continuous conveyer through a series of stainless steel machines. It extends along a long exterior wall, so it’s well lit and you can view it from the outside (though a real candy factory wouldn’t allow so much sunlight directly on the process). You can follow along and witness every step of the manufacture. Everything is well within view just behind a plexiglass divider and well marked with what’s going on at each step.
The process starts with a chocolate base. It’s like a little, short walled box of a bar. I chose dark chocolate and the suction arms picked one up and dropped it onto the conveyer to start. Along the conveyer are the six possible inclusions, when the bar arrived at an inclusion for your bar, the hopper or screw feeder opens up and drops in your items.
At each station, the items are marked and a little bit about the reasons for the type of dispensing is explained. Screw feeders work well for items that might be sticky, like toffee bits and gravity feeders are for dry items like nuts and pretzels.
Once my inclusions, pretzel bits, almonds and butter toffee bits, were inside the little chocolate box, the bar proceeded towards the enrober. All bars were coated in milk chocolate. No choice. My bar, though, was filled unevenly. The corners had nothing in them and the center had a too-high mound. I would have preferred that my bar go over some sort of vibrating bar that would level things before the enrober.
The enrober is a thick curtain of chocolate on an open mesh conveyer. The video above is short, but gives you an idea of the process. The chocolate that isn’t used gets filtered and recycled back into the system. (So do not eat these bars if you’re sensitive to gluten, tree nuts or peanuts, even if you didn’t pick those items.)
After enrobing, bars that get sprinkles will. I didn’t select those. Then the bars go into a cooling tunnel. The cooling process takes about 8 minutes, so it’s off to waste time in the design and marketing department.
Just off the “factory floor” is a room with more touch screens. Waving the little bar code on my ticket got a new series of options. First, I could design my wrapper. (Well, it’s actually a sleeve, it’s not well explained before you get in there that the chocolate bar comes in a box, which is then inside a tin which gets a customized sleeve.) The design options are not extraordinary. You can choose your background as either a solid or gradient of color or a pattern. Then there are the added items - Hershey Logos, Your Name and some icons (mostly Autumnal and Halloween). I made what struck me as a pretty ugly design and pressed print.
After that the screens give you marketing data about your candy bar. All sorts of different graphs that say how popular or common things are and what other people have done.
That process took me about three minutes, and I tried to rush through it since there were only five screens and plenty of people (including some kids which probably wanted more time on the design). Then it was back to watching the cooling tunnel ... which is a tunnel and only had a few little windows to check on the progress of the bars.
Once the bars came out of the cooling tunnel they were loaded into little slots and dumped into boxes. The boxes got a little laser printing on the end with everyone’s name, then went down to the wrapping stations. This was the only part of the process that was hands-on with any of the factory workers. They had already printed our labels and were waiting for the bars to come out. They popped the bars into a tin, closed the tin and put on the sleeve wrapper.
The factory experience gives people the ability to walk through with their own bar, but also enough time to go back and really look at the equipment if they desire. I don’t know how large the groups can get, but it appears that Hershey’s keeps the manageable so that you have enough room to move around and see everything. Photography is permitted. Children are welcome though everyone has to have a ticket (except toddlers under 2) and everyone makes their own bar. They are ADA compliant, and I saw no reason that folks in wheelchairs wouldn’t be able to get the full experience. (Chocolate World as a whole seemed to be very accessible and actually well attended by folks of all abilities.)
It’s extremely clean, as you’d hope. It’s very well run and each person you meet on the Hershey’s staff is eager and seem knowledgeable. (Especially once you get in the factory room.)
I was at the front of the line and ended up being the first bar (I already scoped what I wanted and was ready at the bar selection process). For me it was about 35 minutes, but if you’re slower or at the back of the line, this might be 45 minutes or more. So allow ample time, as well as the fact that once you get there and they issue the ticket, your start time may be more than a half an hour away.
So there’s my lackluster wrapper. Under the stiff printed sleeve, the chocolate bar is inside an embossed tin with the Hershey’s logo on it. It’s a nice tin, one that I can see myself keeping and using for storing small items.
The tin is 7.5” by 4.5” and 1.25” high with rounded corners. There’s a plastic tray inside that holds the boxed chocolate bar with the generic packaging.
The bar is pretty big. It’s 5 inches long and 2.75 inches wide and maybe 2/3 of an inch high. I don’t have an approximate weight on it, but it’s well over 6 ounces.
As I noted from the production line while watching it being made, the base is dark chocolate and though the chocolate tray had room, the inclusions didn’t make it into the corners. So it takes a while of biting to get to the interesting part of the bar.
I broke my bar open and just as I suspected, the contents spilled out. What’s more, I felt like I was missing the actual inclusiveness ... then enrobing didn’t actually cover my center. So I had my filling adjacent to chocolate, but not actually covered.
Aside from the physical mess, I didn’t like the taste. The fillings were dry and even though it was only a week later that I ate it, it was stale. The pretzel pieces weren’t crisp and were really small so had less crunch to them and were more of a grainy texture. The almonds were nice, small pieces but still fresh and crunchy. But what I was really disappointed about was the butter toffee bits. I was hoping for little Heath toffee chips. Instead I got some sort of artificial butter flavored thing that just stunk up the bar.
Though I chose a dark chocolate base, the majority of the chocolate in the bar is still the milk chocolate. It’s rich and sweet, but does have that Hershey’s tang to it. (Some don’t like it, but if you don’t ... why are you at Hershey’s Chocolate World?) The dark chocolate notes came in a bit, especially when I was eating the sides, but really didn’t nothing in the middle.
On the whole, I give myself 5 out of 10. I blame my inexperience and ingredients.
The problem with my fillings is that they’re dry. What I would suggest is either squirting a little chocolate in the base first and then putting the inclusions into it, or putting layers of chocolate into the center between the dispensing of the inclusions. Then do a little jiggling to get it all evened out and get the air out. This solves two problems.
The other thing I might suggest is that the “candy makers” get to try the inclusions first. There should be a little tasting table, maybe after you’ve bought your ticket before you get the “orientation” portion. That way we can really get a sense of what we’re putting in there instead of $15 experiments. The other thing I’d like to see is the ability to go through the process just accompanying someone who bought a ticket. I can see this being a huge expense for a family with many kids. It would be nice if the parents weren’t obligated to also get a ticket and bar.
Chocolate World is fun, and though it’s billed as free, there are some interesting attractions making this a good rainy-day destination for family, friends and couples who live nearby or are traveling through the area.
The stores there carry a huge array of branded merchandise and candy. The candy selection, though there’s a great quantity, isn’t really that diverse. For Hershey’s Dagoba and Scharffen Berger line they carry only three or four items. The prices are about what you’d pay at the drug store or grocery store when the items aren’t on sale, which is too bad. I heard more than one person lamenting that they could do better and not have to haul the stuff home if they just stop by Target or Costco. So I’d suggest focusing on the hats, tee shirts, playing cards, keychains and mugs.
What I would want from a “factory store” is a section where you can get special preview items, items out of season and of course super discounts on factory seconds. Something that I couldn’t get anywhere else. I’d also want better prices, after all, you’re buying direct so if there are no middle men, why are the prices so high? The only item I saw that rose to that level of specialness were green & red Hershey-ets.
Hershey’s Chocolate World
Free parking, free admission. Fees for most special activities. Wheelchair accessible. Their hours vary wildly, so call or check their website. Open every day (except Christmas).
More photos from PennLive of the Create Your Own Chocolate Bar.
Hershey’s Chocolate World gets a 7 out of 10 from me as an adult, I think kids would rank it higher.
My ticket for this experience was comped by Hershey’s. I have not done any of the other classes or movies at Chocolate World, only the free ride and shopped at the stores.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.