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.
Monday, August 6, 2012
The stand up bag has a little banner across the top that says “now more chocolate in every bag.” I did a little research and it appears that the regular bags used to have 5.25 ounces and now they have 5.58 ounces. Not exactly noteworthy, especially when they don’t spell out the exact amount.
Milk Chocolate with Hazelnut Crisp Filling sounds pretty delicious to me. I wasn’t sure what a hazelnut crisp would actualy be, though the front of the package shows a little bowl of crisped rice and a few hazelnuts. So in my head it was going to be a mix of some sort of hazelnut paste and the crunchies inside the milk chocolate squares.
The mylar sealed squares are actually aqua, one of those colors that doesn’t photograph well and turns out more like light blue. Even with the heat in Southern California, these were still looking fantastic right out of the package. The chocolate squares are glossy and perfectly molded with the Ghiradelli eagle on top.
The ingredients aren’t great. It’s not a simple hazelnut paste center, instead there are lots of extra ingredients I don’t much care for like palm and palm kernel oil, distilled monoglycerides (well, I ‘m not sure how I feel about those), partially hudrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed & soybean) plus TBHQ, a preservative. There’s no mention of gluten, other tree nuts or peanuts as possible allergens.
The squares smell very buttery, less sweet than I expected with a light hint of hazelnuts. The bite is soft, but it’s summer and the chocolates were still tempered well enough that they hadn’t bloomed. The milk chocolate is sweet and sticky but has a good milk and toffee flavor to it. The creamy center is also sweet with more of a milky and malty flavor to it and only a hint of the promised toasted hazelnuts. The crisped rice is in the form of little ball, like bbs. It’s a nice texture, the whole this in very satisfying though doesn’t have quite enough of an intense or defined punch for me. Overall, I liked them, but not enough that I feel like finishing the bag. (I’ve eaten five though, just to be sure.) Something in a darker chocolate might be better suited to me, but if you’re into a sweet that has a bit of texture, this might be your thing.
Monday, July 30, 2012
In the theater box section at the Big Lots I spotted this package of Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Flix Mix. At only a buck, I figured I should try it, though I was a little taken aback at the lightness of it, only 2.2 ounces, when many other theater boxes can be 6 ounces.
Flix makes a big deal on the back of the box that these are Made in USA. But a large part of the back of the box is also devoted to the extremely long ingredients list. This is explained by the fact that one of the macroingredients is a rice pillow which includes a large number of fortifications such as niaciniamide and thiamin mononitrate.
One I opened the box I understood why it was so light, there is a cellophane pouch inside that is the appropriate size for the box, these things are just darn airy, so constitute more volume than say, Mike and Ike.
The candy itself is very simple. It’s chocolate covered Rice Chex cereal (or a generic equivalent). The milk chocolate coating seems to have some peanut butter mixed in, though if you gave these to me without saying anything about the peanut butter, I might have missed that nuance. The whole thing is then dusted, unnecessarily, in powdered sugar.
The rice pillow at the center is crispy and has a large airy center. There’s a hint of malt and a little salt to it, so it give a savory base to the mix that’s sorely needed. The milk chocolate and peanut butter coating is sweet. There’s a mild milky flavor to it, but nothing that can stand up to the flavor of the rice cereal ... yup, the bland Rice Chex are more vibrant than this chocolate. Still, the combination works. It’s a bit on the sweet side but the crispy texture and mild contributions from the peanut butter and chocolate manage to combine well.
I don’t think I’d buy this brand again, but I have to wonder if there are better ones out there. I also have to wonder if someone could do a verified gluten free version of this, because I bet there are a lot of gluten free folks out there longing for a crispy candy mix.
The allergen list is pretty complete and includes soy, dairy, milk, peanuts and may contain wheat, tree nuts and eggs. There’s no indication of the ethical sourcing of Flix Candy’s chocolate. There is also palm oil in there, though very low down on the list.
UPDATED to ADD: Yes, there is a homemade version of this called Puppy Chow. Probably the best option if you want better ingredients.
Monday, June 18, 2012
I’m a huge fan of Oreos. I love them. For my 16th birthday my little brother gave me a package of Oreos, and though some people would think, “What a cheap gift!” It was in reality just what I wanted. My love of the cookies is all about the cookie part, not the cream filling. It’s salty and barely sweet, slightly sandy in its crunch and has a deep, dark chocolate flavor that borders on charcoal.
Now Kraft has their own Oreo candy bars, of course not in the United States, spawning ground of Oreos. Instead the best Oreo Bars came from Japan. So Americans have to eat Cookies and Cream candy (which is based on the awesome Cookies and Cream Ice Cream). It’s a white chocolate base with crushed chocolate. The thing about Oreos is that there is no substitute. People who like other brands of chocolate cream cookies (such as Hydrox) prefer them. I happen to prefer Oreos and find anything that’s like an Oreo but not an Oreo slightly disappointing. (But still usually delicious.)
The new Dove Silky Smooth Promises Cookies & Creme are the newest in Dove’s recent entry into white chocolate products. For a while everyone was going extra dark and all of sudden white chocolate is legitimate decadence. (Personally, I think we can have it both ways, they’re not mutually exclusive.)
I got a handful of these as a sample from Mars last month. I didn’t think it was the final packaging because of the rather generic looking black and white foil. (This wouldn’t be the first time I got samples from Mars in temporary packaging.) Well, when I opened the bag after picking them up at Target last weekend, it was clear that this was what the wrapper was supposed to look like.
I really wanted to love these, but as I mentioned before at the top, I love the cookie part of cream sandwich cookies. So I want a lot of cookie. The white chocolate Dove uses is very creamy, very smooth but also has a bit of a cocoa flavor of its own. It may not be deodorized cocoa (where the cocoa butter is filtered completely to remove any traces of cocoa solids or anything that makes it smell like chocolate). It’s not as sweet as some other white chocolates, especially those at this price point. But it’s still sweet and lacks that moderation that a larger proportion of cookie bits would bring.
The cookie bits themselves are okay, they’re crunchy, but missing a really dark and lightly salty note to them.
They’re okay eaten one at a time and with something else in between. I don’t find myself wanting more after I finish one.
I was on the lookout for the Dove Cookies & Creme but had no idea that Ghirardelli had their own new version. The Ghirardelli Sublime White Cookies Jubilee was far more expensive per ounce, at $2.79 for the 3.17 ounce bar.
The box is nicely made and protects the bar well, at paperboard sleeve over a foil wrapped bar. The price per ounce is 88 cents per ounce while the Dove is half that at 44 cents per ounce. So it should be twice as good. It should be all natural. It should be fair trade. It should complement my skin tone and make my eyes sparkle. (Candy doesn’t work that way, or so I’ve been told.)
What Ghirardelli does with there bar is actually different and sounds really good. They describe it on the front of the box as rich layers of chocolate with crunchy cookie bits..
The ingredients are weird and the photo on the package (and physical examination of the opened bar) looks like there’s a milk chocolate base then a white chocolate layer filled with cookie bits.
But what it smells like is chocolate cupcakes. Not good chocolate cupcakes but those cupcakes that people buy at the grocery store bakery, that smell of automation and mixes. The ingredients list cocoa butter as the second ingredient, so that’s not a problem, the chocolate content seems all good. The cookie though seems to be made from rice flour, tapioca starch and corn starch. There’s no wheat flour in there, not that I need it to be made with wheat flour, but this isn’t a gluten free product. (Or is it?)
The flavor balance is weird, it’s like fake buttered popcorn. The little cookie bits have a nice crunch, but little dark toasted cocoa goodness of their own. The chocolate layers are smooth, far smoother than the Dove. It was weirdly greasy at the end and melted too quickly to become thin and watery. It’s just weird and I found it really unpleasant. (For the record, I have liked a lot of Ghirardelli’s other white chocolate products.)
I love the idea of the Hershey’s and there’s so many things that are right with this bar, but the primary reason I can’t or don’t eat it is because of the ingredients. Instead of real cocoa butter the Hershey’s version uses, well, it’s hard to tell, because the ingredients list is vague. The second ingredient, after sugar, is vegetable oil. It says then, parenthetically, that it may include cocoa butter, palm, shea, sunflower and/or safflower. So there’s really no telling which or any of those are in there.
It’s extremely sweet and slightly grainy and I think not quite milky enough for a white chocolate style product. But then I get to the cookies. There are so many of them, they’re so consistently crunchy and salty and sandy and really exquisite. They balance out the sickeningly sweet white confection exceptionally well.
This purchase was the King Size bar, which was well priced, but far too much of this for me to eat and really, really smelly. The Drops version introduced more recently is a better portioning, though doesn’t have quite the same cookie density and satisfaction.
I have to say, after all these years, I still haven’t found a Cookies and Cream candy I actually like enough to keep eating. Dove is pretty close, it needs more cookies, it needs better cookies. Or Hershey’s could go back to a real white chocolate with cocoa butter and a little less sugar. Instead I’ll probably just keep eating Oreos.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Milka is an old German chocolate candy brand that dates back to 1901. The Milka brand fell under Suchard, a popular chocolate bar maker which also made powdered cocoa. The bar was their milk chocolate and named by combining the German words milch (milk) and kakao (cocoa). The earliest chocolate bars sported the lavender wrapper that is still one of the distinguishing marks of their branding.
Milka is now owned by multinational conglomerate Kraft, which also makes Toblerone, Marabou, Cadbury, Cote d’Or, Freia and here in the United States, Baker’s Chocolate. Milka bars are known for their high milk content, soft and sweet melt and favoring of hazelnuts.
They’re far more available in the United States in the past 5 years than I think any other time in history. I’ve been seeing Milka products reliably at discounters like Target. This particular Milka Chopped Hazelnut bar was purchased at the 99 Cent Only Store. For only a buck, for a 3.5 ounce bar. Not a bad deal.
Now I must state that Milka is not chocolate by current American definitions, because it contains additional dairy whey. But the coolest additive they use is hazelnut paste, which more than makes up for it.
The bar is soft and extremely sweet. The only thing that moderates that sweetness are the crushed hazelnuts. They’re well distributed though I’d probably want more of them (but I understand that this is a bargain bar). The nuts are fresh and crunchy. The dairy flavors are on the toffee and toasted sugar side, instead of tasting like powdered milk Cadbury sometimes can.
Overall, this is one of the more satisfying bars I’ve had from Milka. I prefer the use of palpable nuts in addition to the hazelnut paste and of course the price can’t be beat. Though Kraft and Milka may have sustainability and ethical sourcing plans, they’re not noted on the package or their website.
I’m a fan of good quality white chocolate. I like cocoa butter a lot and this bar does use the real thing. Again, the only reason it’s not considered true white chocolate in the United States is the use of additional dairy whey.
The bar is nicely sized and the little domed pieces are easy to break off.
In the world of white chocolate, this is probably the best deal you’re going to find for a dollar that doesn’t include other fats besides cocoa butter and milk products. The use of whey doesn’t actually bother me that much. I understand it’s a filler but it allows things like chocolate to maintain their texture without becoming overly fatty or too sweet.Of course I would only endorse it for “candy” type applications, not fine chocolates.
It’s a sweet bar, but not very complex. It’s a bit grainy and fudgy, not a lot of vanilla flavors and the even the fresh dairy taste isn’t that distinctive. I found this wasn’t very interesting eaten plain, but went well with other candy. It’s best with a good chocolate cookie (like an Oreo) or a salty item like nuts or pretzels. (Even tortilla chips.)
While in Germany last December I also picked up a few other Milka items, because of their novelty. One of them was this box of Milka Schoko Drops. I know I’ll probably never see these again, which is too bad because they’re certainly a distinctive product. I think they were about one Euro but the little box only has 25 grams (.88 ounces). It’s a rather different price point for a brand that’s usually dirt cheap.
The pieces are large, almost the size of a quarter in diameter and a beautiful purple or pearly white.
The center is Milka’s hazelnut milk chocolate, the outer layer is white chocolate and then a crunchy shell. The box didn’t hold much, but I didn’t need much. I liked them quite a bit. They’re not better than M&Ms, just different. BTW - why doesn’t Mars make Hazelnut M&Ms?
My favorite of the European Milka Bars was this one I picked up at a Kaufland grocery store (on a big sale display that I think was .59 Euro, or about 80 cents American) in Schmalkalden, Germany. It’s the Milka und Oreo which is a natural combination, since Kraft owns both brands.
If there was a disappointment with this bar, it was the use of that cream in the center instead of just more Oreo Cookies. The cream was okay, more on the yogurt side, though less sweet than the actual filling of Oreos. But without the filling, I suppose there’s nothing to distinguish it from regular Chocolate & Cookies bars.
I would buy this again, though I’m not sure if they’re sold in the United States.
I was pretty excited to see these Milka L’il Stars bags at the 99 Cent Only Store on a more recent visit. The reignited my interest in Milka, and spurred me to dig out these photos from earlier this year and finish this write up.
Again, for only a dollar, it’s a great deal for a chocolate hazelnut product. Think of them as giant, shell-less Crispy M&Ms.
The Milka L’il Stars Crispees look completely different than anything else on the American market and fill that hole I often have for a cereal and chocolate combination. The bag is a decent deal for a buck, it holds 3.88 ounces of little spheres of wheat crisps covered in Milka chocolate coating.
The pieces are a bit rugged and uneven. The good part about that is that they don’t roll around as well as a Malted Milk Ball would.
The crispy center is airy and light. It’s a little crunchier and less honeycomb/foamy than a malted milk ball. The flavor is also delicate and cereal-like. It’s a rice puff, made with rice malt and malted barley syrup. It’s not very malty, not like a malted milk, but has the hints like Corn Flakes do.
Of course there’s gluten in there and hazelnuts, dairy and soy. They’re made in Slovakia.
They’re just single, whole roasted hazelnuts covered in the Milka chocolate which has hazelnut paste in it.
This bag (also made in Slovakia) also has 3.88 ounces in it, though not as much volume as the Crispees because of the density of the nuts.
They’re crazily simple, but really well done. The nuts are well chosen, good quality and lightly roasted. The coating is soft and sweet, a little on the fudgy side but the dairy flavors come out more than I noticed them in the bar. The roasted hazelnuts are crunchy and satisfying.
Since chocolate covered hazelnuts are so hard to find, I can see myself picking these up again, especially if I wanted to combine them with the Crispees and some other savory items for a little bit of trail mix to create the perfect movie snack.
The touch of hazelnut paste in Milka products distinguished them from other dairy milk chocolate products like Cadbury. Though it’s not great quality chocolate, it is satisfying candy.
Friday, June 1, 2012
All share the use of M&Ms chocolate candies and pretzels, but then have slightly different elements from there. The basic mix, based on the Milk Chocolate M&Ms is Milk Chocolate M&Ms Snack Mix Salty & Sweet.
The bags are eight ounces and I got mine on sale for $3 each at Walgreen’s, but I have to believe that they’re going to be priced less than that on a regular basis for them to catch on.
First I have to say that the packaging is well done. The stand up bag does stand up and the zip lock closes easily and securely enough to both keep contents from spilling and protect from moisture. The bag also will sit “open” well enough to serve from.
The items within the Milk Chocolate mix are: Roasted Peanuts and Crunchy Pretzels from the salty side and mini Chocolate Chip Cookies and Milk Chocolate M&Ms from the sweet side.
In the case of my bag, things appeared to be packaged in tiers, so all my peanuts were at the bottom and all my pretzels were at the top. So when I first dumped it out for photographing, I missed the peanuts entirely. (See below.)
The pretzels are barely an inch across and just lightly salted, which I thought was perfect. They’re not so big that they took up a whole bite, allowing me to combine elements for a customized flavor/texture profile.
The little chocolate chip cookies are like Chips Ahoy!. A bland vanilla cookie with teensy little chocolate chips. They’re about .8 inches around and reminded me of Cookie Crisp Cereal in shape, but actual chocolate chip cookies in flavor. They’re a little salty, very sweet and nicely crunchy.
The M&Ms are, well, Milk Chocolate M&Ms. They’re a bit dusty with crumbs or salt, but otherwise fresh and crunchy, the sweetest thing in the bag.
The peanuts, well, this is where things took a bad turn. I didn’t like the peanuts at all. I thought they were roasted too dark, they were bitter and sometimes chalky. Since everything else in the bag was perfectly fresh, it made very little sense to me why they were consistently so unappealing. (One or two bad peanuts are understandable, but they were all the same color, uniformly small in size and rather lifeless.) I have to wonder if they were a bit on the over-roasted side as a way to stabilize them, especially the fats in peanuts that can make everything greasy.
As long as I ate the peanuts in the same bite as something else, I didn’t mind the. But on the whole, I prefer a snack mix with a strong protein component (usually from nuts).
This bag features a mix of salted roasted almonds and pretzels along with mini shortbread cookies and Peanut M&Ms.
The little shortbread cookies are similar to the chocolate chip ones in size, but actually more successful in this application. The flavor is quite good, I got a great sense of the toasted shortbread cookie with its vanilla flavor. But what was really interesting was that the salt from the almonds had rubbed off on the, so there was an excellent contrast going on. They’re dense and crunchy and not too sweet.
The pretzels were again nicely layered in, a good crunch with a mild flavor.
The almonds were tiny, but roasted perfectly thought slightly over-salted for my tastes. (The overall sodium level for the snack mix is 125mg for a 1/3 of a cup portion which is about 190 calories.
The Peanut M&Ms were, well, exactly like Peanut M&Ms. They were big and had a lot of crackle going on and added a buttery element to the whole mix.
All of the items went with each other. An almond with a Peanut M&M was great. A cookie with a pretzel was also really satisfying. I was surprised at how much I liked this mix, though it does combine some of my favorite items. It was the cookies I was hesitant about, but they really did add to the satisfaction level.
The mix contains salted, roasted almonds and pretzels along with raisins and Dark Chocolate M&Ms.
This is the “healthiest” of the mixes, if you go by calorie load. There are 132 calories per ounce, slightly less than the milk chocolate mix with a half a gram less saturated fat but still 16 grams of sugars. But it does have a bit of iron at 6% of your daily recommended allowance and two grams of fiber.
Of course all of that relies on eating the exact proportions of each element in the mix. If you pick out the M&Ms and almonds, well, all bets are off.
The mix is attractive and has a good salty note to it from the pretzels and the almonds. The raisins were pretty big, soft and juicy without being sticky. The Dark Chocolate M&Ms pair well with any of the elements. Part of me would like to see a more interesting dried fruit in the mix, like dried cherries or cranberries (which do suffer from being sweetened) but this version does fit the bill by adding in a little tangy chew.
These are not candy. There’s very little candy in there, by most accounts, about 25% of it is actually M&Ms, the rest of snack foods. Mars has made a nice mix and chosen each element pretty well and balanced them expertly.
It’s a good mix for a lot of different purposes. Easy to share you can take it on an airplane, a car trip or a movie theater (of course you’d pay concession prices ... probably about $8 a bag). I prefer to make my own mixes, but if I have to grab something already made a store, this is a fair value.
Thursday, May 31, 2012
The trio of bars represent some pretty popular cookies and great candy bar combinations. The bars are pretty small, they consist of two small wafer based bars that clock in at a mere 1.3 ounces for the whole package. At regular price they were $1.19 each at CVS, though you may be able to find them on sale at some point. Nestle and the Girl Scouts have been trying to whip up a fervor over these bars, so be prepared that they’ll never come on sale or be hard to find. (Or not. They were just sitting on the candy shelf at CVS, probably a week before they were supposed to be out for regular folks to buy them, I’d heard that they were internet pre-order only plus a week of exclusive purchase at Dylan’s Candy Bar in New York City.)
The bars are attractive and though the packaging is spare and kind of generic looking, it does a good job of protecting the bars themselves without out a lot of extras. The wrappers looked a bit like nutrition bars to me from a distance, and I almost didn’t notice them, but the line at the drug store was long, so I had plenty of time to stare at everything.
Samoas are a vanilla cookie base with coconut and caramel then a little series of mockolate stripes. I’ve had them a few times and found them to be a little too sweet and sticky for me, but definitely more on the side of candy than cookie.
The description of the candy bar on the wrapper was: cookie wafers, coconut caramel creme and chewy caramel topped with toasted coconut. Notice in that description there’s no mention of chocolate, because there isn’t any here, just a mockolate coating, and then some other orange striped stuff on top of that.
The smell is disappointingly artificial. There’s a note of fake butter that overpowers the coconut scent almost entirely. The wafers are definitely crisp, but the creme filling is grainy and has more of the fake butter notes to it. I couldn’t finish the second bar. I had to sequester it in the trash in another room because the smell was driving me crazy.
I know that some folks are going to be obsessed with these, but I found them completely disappointing. The fake flavor, the lack of real chocolate, the use of useless artificial colors and simply missing an opportunity to satisfy.
The Limited Edition Girl Scout Cookie Flavors: Peanut Butter Creme is based on the Tagalongs cookies. (For years I called them Tagalogs, some sort of a misreading where I thought they were inspired by a traditional Filipino peanut cookie, you know, because there were Samoas, I thought there was a series that was all themed for Pacific Islands.)
The package describes the candy bar as Cookie wafers and peanut butter creme topped with airy cripsies. Again, no mention of chocolate, that greasy coating on it because it’s not actually chocolate.
This bar was particularly messy, unlike the others. It was simply soft and sticky, even though the ambient temperature was 70 degrees or so. The bar is very peanutty smelling, roasted and really appetizing. The wafers are thick and airy with a good crunch. The peanut butter creme is salty and the mockolate coating is thin enough and just barely sweet enough to make this a candy. Though the coating made this a little on the greasy side, they’re good. Much better than the Butterfinger Crunch Crisp bars, which also have that fake butter flavor.
Again, Q.Bel makes a much better quality Peanut Butter Wafer Bar, though it actually doesn’t have quite the same proportions or salty peanut butter oomph that this does. Trader Joe’s also has a peanut butter wafer crisp bar that’s a fraction of the cost of this (only $1.99 for 7 ounces instead of $1.19 for 1.3 ounces) and has none of the crazy additives and lackluster ingredients.
On the whole, I’m underwhelmed. I’m sure Nestle and the Girl Scouts are going to make out well with their social outreach programs and strong brand identities. Maybe I’m just too old for this, jaded or suspicious of these sorts of stunts.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
There was a time when I was obsessed with Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies. I would buy boxes of them and gobble up what should have been months of rations in mere weeks. Somewhere along the way they lost their charm though. I found out that there were better cookies out there, cookies made with real chocolate and more importantly, cookies that were available consistently.
So when I heard that Nestle was coming out with a limited edition candy bar version called the Nestle Crunch Girl Scount Cookie Thin Mint Candy Bar, I knew that the internet would be abuzz. But I didn’t really care one way or the other. Q.bel makes a superb wafer bar with mint creme with real ingredients, why would I want a version made by Nestle?
But there I was at CVS last evening and I saw them at the check out, and I figured I should give them a chance.
So here’s one of the main reasons I stopped eating Thin Mints, the ingredients. It’s not real chocolate. The current ingredients, according to the Girl Scout Cookies website:
So no chocolate, barely even enough cocoa in there to even be considered an actual mockolate product. But then I was curious how one of the kings of mockolate, Nestle, would treat an already established mockolate cookie.
The Nestle bar is formatted like the Nestle Crunch Crisp Bar. Again, this bar has some wonderful attributes, a series of crispy light wafers filled with greasy chocolate cream and then covered in mockolate and some more little rice crispies. The change here is the darker mockolate product and peppermint. The ingredients are equally ghastly:
But hey, it’s candy. It’s a treat, and in this case, for $1.19 it’s only 1.3 ounces and 200 calories. It’s a limited edition production, so it’s not an every day thing.
The wafer layers are structurally sound and lightly flavored with cocoa. The cream between has a light minty flavor and rather smooth texture and though it’s sugary, it’s not overly sweet. The mockolate coating is firm and doesn’t flake off but doesn’t do much else. In cool temperatures, especially just slightly chilled, this is a pretty good bar. But in the warmth of summer, it’s a sticky mess. It’s not too sweet, the textures and proportions are excellent. Still, my interest level is low because of the sub-par ingredients and lack of an authentic chocolate coating.
Yup. I’ll stick with the Mint Q.bel Wafer Bars or maybe Mint Milanos. I can’t say I’m disappointed at Nestle’s take on the Girl Scout Cookie, it’s entirely consistent and I guess that’s the sad part. It could have been great.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.