Friday, October 15, 2010
Since this is the sixth Halloween I’ve covered on Candy Blog, it’s hard to find Halloween candies to feature that I haven’t reviewed before. So I thought I’d do a run down of what I’ve been seeing in stores again this year for the Halloween Season. These are just candies that are special to Halloween, not regular candy in large bags or with special wrappers.
FARLEY’S & SATHERS (BRACH’S)
NESTLE & WONKA
RUSSELL STOVER & WHITMANS
What have you seen in stores ... or what have you had trouble finding this year?
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
About 15 years ago Tootsie introduced a new lollipop. Like many of Tootsie popular lollipops it was a combination of two already famous candies. In this case the Tootsie Caramel Apple Pops combined a hard candy with caramel. It was a base of green apple flavored hard candy covered with a hard caramel (think Sugar Daddy).
Since they candy is meant to mimic a caramel covered apple, it only makes sense that other varieties of apples get their day in the sun. Last year Tootsie introduced their Assorted Apple Orchard Caramel Apple Pops. The bag has a variety: Green Apple, Golden Delicious and Red Macintosh.
I admit that I’ve had these before, well, I’ve had Green Apple pops in my possession before. I used to do product photography, so I’d get large quantities of candy to take pictures of and then I’d get to keep it. I had huge box of these and never actually ate one myself. They’re messy, the packaging doesn’t really highlight them well either. Worse, I saw them being made on TV (I think it was Unwrapped, but can’t find a mention of it on the Food Network website) and they look radically different when purchased than when they roll off the production line.
They’re puckered and irregular and often little bits of caramel poke out of the bottom of the wrapper. But I actually like Sugar Daddy and regular Tootsie Pops, so I should give these a fair shake.
The pops start with a hard candy disk, in this case flavored like green apple. Then the pop gets a coating of hard caramel and then a wrapper. During shipping and storage there’s some sort of glaciation that takes place and the pop flattens and takes on the shape of the wrapper. The hard candy gets marbled with the caramel.
The hard caramel is smooth and sweet with a light toasted sugar flavor with a hint of milk. The green apple candy is slick, without the painfully sharp edged voids of Tootsie Pops and Blow Pops. They’re not as intensely flavored as Jolly Ranchers, just a tart apple flavor. They’re comforting and mellow.
My main complaint is the width of the pop, it’s a little too wide for my mouth. The edges tend to be irregular, kind of rippled from the wrapper, this is uncomfortable when sucking on the pops after a while. The whole pop will eventually be soft and pliable and of course stick to the roof of my mouth if I’m not careful (I’m sure those impressions are like fingerprints).
The Golden Delicious variety comes in a mustard yellow wrapper. In the real fruit world, golden delicious are not on my list of favorite apples - I find them too sweet and often mealy. In the case of the candy version of the golden delicious, neither of those qualities was an issue. The scent of this pop was actually very apple like, it reminded me of peeling apples.
The apple flavor is muted and sweet and doesn’t quite stand up to the caramel as well. It’s almost like applesauce or apple pie a la mode (with caramel sauce).
I was glad that Tootsie didn’t go with red delicious on this one, instead it’s Red Macintosh which is a much more flavorful apple. The pop in this case is kind of in the middle of the flavor profile gamut - it’s not as intense or fake tasting as the Green Apple, but a little bolder than the Golden Delicious. The flavor of the red candy part was like an apple cider - notes of the apple peel and juice but still on the sweet side.
Getting over the messy look of these is a bit difficult, but the candy inside definitely has merits. I don’t see buying them for myself again but I love the idea and think that Tootsie did a great job of making the flavors distinctive enough. The pops are only 60 calories. The combination of textures and flavors makes these a good treat for those watching their calories.
Monday, October 4, 2010
I can’t think of another candy that embodies the description humble American treat better than Mary Jane. First there’s the fact that they originated in Paul Revere’s house in Boston by the Chas. N. Miller Company. Second, they’re made from molasses and peanut butter, two hearty American flavors. The wax paper packaging has remained largely unchanged (undated old wrapper & advertisement from 1927).
The Chas. N. Miller Company was bought by Stark Candy in 1985, and Stark was bought up by Necco in 1990.
Necco has kept the traditional candy largely intact. When I was a kid Mary Jane were still a penny candy, sold out of tubs positioned near the cash register at convenience stores. These days they still go for pocket change, I’ve seen them for 10 cents each at retro candy shops.
The candy is simple, a rich and stiff molasses taffy rectangle with a small reservoir of peanut butter in the center.
I stopped eating Mary Janes about 15 years ago when it seemed that every time I bought them they were hard and crackly. But I’ve had better luck around Halloween when they’re fresh and packaged directly by Necco (beware of other repackagers like the generic drug store brands).
The chew is a little tough at first but softens with a bit of work and warmth. The taffy isn’t too sweet and has a toasted, earthy flavor from the molasses (the fourth ingredient). The peanut butter strip in the middle is undependable at best. Some pieces have a generous filling that gives the candy a beautifully balance of roasted nuts and burnt sugar. The chew is smooth and has a consistent flavor from start to finish.
I find them irresistible. So much so that I’m on my third bag since September.
The mix contains a four flavor variations: Peanut Butter & Jelly, Peanut Butter & Banana, Smores and Peanut Butter & Vanilla. What you might notice is missing from that list is the classic Molasses & Peanut Butter Mary Jane. Unlike the Clark Wicked Mix, which contains the classic milk chocolate Clark plus the Dark Clark and Coconut Clark, this mix doesn’t have the original. (Which is how I got into this messy Mary Jane addiction in the first place, I had to buy a bag to do this post ... and then I ate them so I had to buy another bag, and another.)
The little wrappers are similar to the original. They’re a thick waxed paper that protects the candy well and releases except when they get too warm. My bag was a little bit oily, which I blame on the peanut butter. The candies were all soft and easy to chew, but the wrappers were sometimes just a little bit greasy to the touch.
The wrappers have the same bold black bookface font for the Mary Jane logo and have the little cartoon of the Mary Jane character. They’re color coded for the flavors (they don’t have the flavors named on them) but don’t have the red stripe.
The version that immediately made the most sense to me is the Banana & Peanut Butter Mary Jane.
The yellow waxed paper looks brighter than the original because the taffy beneath is a pale yellow instead of a medium beige. It smells like fake banana and a little like peanut butter. The chew is soft and immediately reminiscent of Circus Peanut. The peanut butter, on the pieces that have a generous quantity, cuts the sweetness and artificiality to create a pretty good candy. It was definitely the one that I was reaching for in this mix.
The raspberry red wrapper gave me a little bit of hope on the Peanut Butter & Jelly Mary Jane, which is good because the idea of a grape taffy filled with peanut butter was not appetizing.
The taffy was lightly tangy and tasted a little like grape Pixy Stix. The chew was softer, so much softer than the rest that it was a completely different texture of chew. The peanut butter did a good job of covering the disappointing grape jelly effect, but not good enough to make me want to keep eating these after the review was over. Thankfully there were only a half a dozen of these in my big bag of 85 pieces.
I wasn’t quite sure what a Smore Mary Jane was supposed to be. I liked the look of the dark brown wrapper and I thought maybe it’d be a cocoa flavored taffy.
Sadly the flavor note they were going for here was toasted marshmallow with peanut butter. That’s a great idea, but I needed more darkness to the whole thing and less fake vanilla sweetness. A little cocoa would have been nice, too.
The Vanilla & Peanut Butter Mary Jane got me to thinking about another vanilla taffy filled with peanut butter, the Annabelle’s Abba-Zaba.
RiteAid always has Abba-Zabas, so I went by and picked up a bar to compare. (While I was there I bought bag #2 of the classic Mary Janes.)
The Abba-Zaba taffy is sweet but silky smooth in the chew, it’s almost warm and buttery. But it’s also sweet, a little sweeter than I’m keen on. The peanut butter is thick and has a strong flavor to it, the proportion or perhaps that there was so much of it in one place gave it a lot more prominence than in any of the Mary Janes.
The Vanilla Mary Jane is like a bleached out sea shell, missing all the beauty and character of the original. The fake vanilla taffy is okay and I admit that it does give the peanut butter more dominance. But the whole thing is just too sweet and bland. The Abba-Zaba wins based on its superior texture and better balance of peanut butter.
Overall, this experience has proved that the Mary Jane deserves to endure untouched for all these years (96 years!). I can see this variety being fun for kids who might be turned off by the smoky notes of the molasses original.
More on Mary Jane at the Bewildered Brit.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Most of what I love about Halloween is the tradition. But sometimes I do like to see a bit of novelty thrown into the mix. Earlier this year I saw that Whitman’s, makers of the famous Whitman’s Sampler boxed candies, started making holiday novelty candies. Their first entry for Easter was a series of pastel confection coated marshmallows. Their entry for Halloween is similar, a candy corn shaped Marshmallow covered in Halloween Pastelle.
The candies are sold individually wrapped, I found mine at RiteAid but I also saw them at Walgreen’s. Each piece is an ounce and comes in a simple cellophane sleeve with a decorative Halloween black & orange border. At fifty cents each it wasn’t hard to take a gamble on them.
The construction is simple. It’s a rounded triangle of soft, almost gooey marshmallow covered in a white confection. The coating is orange and yellow and frosted in the form of a piece of candy corn. Of course it’s missing a whole stripe, which was a bit disappointing. But the shades and ratios of the colors that they do have are dead on good mimics.
This is pure sugar with scant other ingredients to break up the sweetness. The “pastelle” coating has a good snap like a white chocolate but no other flavor - no milky notes, no vanilla. It’s smooth enough though that it creates a bit of a creamy container for the marshmallow. Since this was exceptionally fresh the marshmallow was moist and fluffy, though also a bit sticky. It melts into a fluffed cream instead of a latexy marshmallow. It’s less sweet than the coating, but on it’s own it’s still throat searing.
It’s cute to look at and of course quite economical as far as Halloween-themed edible decorations go. While I found the Easter ones a little off-putting because part of me wanted them to be flavored, this one actually reminded me a little of candy corn. Not enough to make me buy it again.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Earlier this year I reviewed the resurrection of the Clark Bar from its zombie status as a neglected and poor quality peanut butter crunch bar. The extension of that is that Necco is also making the bars in snack size and are bringing back their Clark Bar Wicked Mix for Halloween in their new and improved recipes.
Necco sent this bag to me a few months back as I’ve had particular trouble finding Necco products for the Halloween. It’s pretty big and perfect for houses that get a lot of kids; it holds 24 ounces (about 68 pieces). The mix is Real Milk Chocolate Clark Bar, Dark Chocolate Clark and the very hard to find Coconut Clark.
The little bars are easy to distinguish and seemed to be properly randomized in my bag so that I had nearly equal amounts of each. Each piece is about .35 ounces, barely two bites (45 calories).
The classic Milk Chocolate Clark Bar fun size is in an easy to spot red wrapper. I loved them, I ate them. They were flaky and crispy with a good balance of peanut flavor, molasses and creamy sweet milk chocolate. The only weird thing I noticed was a smoke flavor in all the milk chocolate ones; I didn’t like it. I also noticed this with some of my full size bars earlier this summer and I can’t explain it.
For a while the Clark Dark was the one I was picking out of the mix. The bittersweet note of the chocolate coating played well with the toffee notes of the molasses. They seemed crispier for the most part (I know that all depends on how the folds are thick or thin).
The new part of the mix for me was the Clark Coconut. This is the weird part. Clark, when it was based in Pittsburgh, PA also used to make a coconut coated version of their bar called Zagnut. That’s been made by Hershey’s since 1996. They’re pretty hard to find here on the West Coast, so I usually go with a Chick-O-Stick, which is similar but doesn’t have that white chocolatey sweet coating that holds the coconut on.
The Clark Coconut is, to the best of my recollection, the Zagnut. The center is the classic Clark bar but the coating on the outside is a thin cream like a white chocolate but a little more caramel flavored. The little bits of coated and crispy coconut stick to that. You’d think that it’d be messy, but the coconut stays put. The coconut and peanut butter mixture is good. The coconut brings a tropical creamy nutty note and the peanut butter has that earthy, roasted legume note that really fills me up.
I don’t know if the Clark name has the recognition needed to impress Trick-or-Treaters but I’m pretty sure parents would be happy to relieve their kids of this fringe looking candy bar. It’s a classic and this mix of variations hits the spot. The packaging is spare and does a good job of keeping the little bars fresh and design is sharp and clear.
The candy contains all sorts of allergens: soy, milk, peanuts, wheat and barley. Also processed on equipment with eggs and tree nuts. No Kosher status mentioned. Though the large Clark Bar and Clark Dark are considered all natural, this is not (I’m guessing there’s some artificial flavors in the Coconut, and BHA is added as a preservative). That’s to bad, because an all natural option for Halloween from a major candy maker would be quite a find. (I guess you can always give out the full size ones!)
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
This mix has three different varieties, one for each of the main characters in Eclipse: Peanut Butter filled Milk Chocolate (Jacob), Chocolate Truffle filled Milk Chocolate (Bella) and Caramel filled Milk Chocolate (Edward). The bag contains 20 pieces and weighs 10 ounces. As the Halloween candy was just being placed on the shelves in stores over the weekend, I didn’t get this on sale, so yes, I paid $3.99 for less than a pound of chocolate candy from the drug store.
The package design is rather nice, I like the new deco style Sky Bar logo design, it’s not completely subservient to the Twilight logos & look, but does well in combination. The artwork on the package shows what’s inside very well, and describes the product accurately. It’s a peeve of mine when makers of licensed products just think they can slap a logo and movie key art on there and folks don’t care what’s actually inside.
The Bella themed piece is Chocolate Truffle filled Milk Chocolate. The shape is of a large heart with the Bella name on it. Each piece is a half an ounce, so it’s a pretty large bite of chocolate. It’s about an inch and a half long and over a half an inch thick.
Necco is very helpful on the back of the package and lists the ingredients and nutrition information for each variety, so I was able to see that the ingredients were actually pretty good. It’s made with real chocolate for the shell and the center “truffle” is also real chocolate with a small boost of partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil (not that much though based on how low it is on the list, right before soy lecithin).
The center isn’t quite crumbly, but is dry and has a melt like a Frango. It has some cocoa flavors, but mostly it’s a sweet balance of vanilla and the milk of the chocolate coating. There’s a slight grain to it, which is made of salt. This definitely gave it some interest and kept it all from being sickeningly sweet. It wasn’t very strong on the chocolate front and definitely didn’t have the vibe of an actual chocolate truffle.
80 calories each.
The Caramel filled Milk Chocolate piece for Edward Cullen is very nicely crafted. It’s the Cullen crest in milk chocolate.
I opened a few pieces and they were all in excellent condition, glossy and with nicely created details.
So for the vampire character, inside his family crest is a salty, caramelized sugar syrup. This was by far the saltiest piece of the set (though only 25 mg per piece). The milk chocolate smells sweet and milky. The piece has a good snap and gooey bite because of the syrupy nature of the caramel filling.
The first thing I got from the caramel was a salty hit, the second thing was a cereal flavor note. I can’t quite describe it, it’s like a combination of butter flavoring and Cheerios or Sugar Pops.
It’s very sweet, a little too much for me as it gives me a sore throat, but it is a mercifully appropriately sized piece.
Peanut Butter filled Milk Chocolate is the piece themed for Jacob, the werewolf. I guess peanuts are earthy and wolves are wild animals, so maybe that’s the connection.
The little medallion is cute, it’s a oval with a howling wolf relief and full moon.
The whole piece is soft. It has a good roasted peanut scent that has a light floral and grassy note. The filling however, disappoints. It’s missing something, it’s like it’s been watered down (or perhaps oiled up with some partially hydrogenated palm oil). The center is smoother than a Reese’s PB Cup and less crumbly, but it needs to melt a bit to get the flavor out. So it’s greasy and just unsatisfying. The only thing I can say is that the piece is balanced well on the sweetness and didn’t really need more salt in it.
80 calories each.
10 of the pieces in the package if 20 were Peanut Butter. The breakdown for the others as 6 for Caramel and 4 for Truffle. So it’s either random assortments, or the peanut butter is deemed to be the most popular (or possibly cheapest).
I’m not fond of the Sky Bar, but these strike me as much better than that. First, everything was fresh (and I’m pretty sure that every Sky Bar I’ve ever bought was three years old) - even when a candy is on the cheap side, freshness does wonders. I wasn’t keen on the use of partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, but I don’t think it comprised a large amount of the product. I like the choice of these flavor variations, the vanilla cream piece I tried last year was simply uninspired. These feel like they could stand on their own without the licensing tie-in. I would never spend this much on this quality of chocolate if I didn’t have this blog, so if you’re interested in these, I wouldn’t spend more than $2.99 - hopefully you can find them for $2.00 or so on sale.
I couldn’t find any statement about gluten on the package, though no wheat ingredients are mentioned. It has all the other allergens though - soy, dairy & peanuts plus processed on equipment with eggs & tree nuts.
Friday, October 30, 2009
I was happy to see that Brach’s was expanding its Halloween offerings beyond candy corn. I love peanut butter and chocolate and though nothing really compares to the Reese’s products, a little foil wrapped sphere sounded good.
Brach’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins say they’re Rich Chocolaty Pumpkin With a Peanut Butter Center. There’s a companion product, the Brach’s Caramel Pumpkins. They’re both sold in 9.25 ounce bags and I was a little surprised to see that they weren’t even real chocolate. (The real shock came later, as you’ll see.)
The foil on the pumpkins comes in two different “faces”, one on each side of the sphere. There’s a happy one with its teeth missing (shown) and then on the other side is a triangle-eyed one. It’s an impressive look when they’re piled in a bowl. Each is one inch in diameter.
The foil is easy to peel off. At first I though mine were dented, but it turns out there’s a little divot in each where they’re molded. (But they are easy to dent as well.) The chocolaty ball inside doesn’t have any imprints on it, it’s just a sphere with a slight texture to it (like a miniature basketball).
The smell like wonderfully fresh roasted peanuts.
Biting into it, it depended on the temperature what the filling was like. When I first got these it was quite hot, so the ambient temperature was over 80 degrees and the peanut butter center was gooey and slick. It was quite nice, not quite a meltaway, but definitely a whole different experience from the dry and crumbly Reese’s peanut butter. When the weather cooled and I tried them again the peanut butter was firmer, a bit more dry but still quite smooth. The roast of the peanuts is dark with a slight bitterness to them. It’s salty and satisfying.
The coating is mockolate. Unlike mockolate products created by Hershey’s, these don’t have a trace of cocoa butter at all in them, It’s all partially hydrogenated palm kernel or palm oil. It’s quite cool on the tongue and has a bit of a greasy melt. It lacks all chocolate power, it’s more of a cardboard version of chocolate flavor. When it’s all chewed together it’s not as noticeable, but nibbled off separately it’s quite bad.
The Brach’s Caramel Pumpkins were even less appealing. (Well, the one thing they had going for them was 20 fewer calories per serving, but of course lacking all the nutrition that the peanuts provide.)
The foil wrapping is gold instead of orange but still has the same faces & green stem for hair.
They smell like butter flavoring and sugar.
The bite is similar, the chocolate-flavored-coating tastes grainier and of course lacks true chocolate flavor. The caramel filling is interesting, it’s a little like a pudding - sweet but not actually cloying. It’s smooth and not quite flowing but not stiff enough to be chewy.
The whole thing was a dreadful mess.
The worst part though was if you look closely at the photo above you’ll notice a tiny little logo on the sphere. It’s the R.M. Palmer logo.
These are just the R.M. Palmer Creepy Peepers! And Creepy Peepers are cheap - usually about a buck for a 6 ounce bag, these Brach’s things are over $3.00 a bag in stores.
I just don’t get it. Brach’s used to distinguish itself from the bagged candy as being just a little better ... this repackaging of something most of us wouldn’t dare touch is pretty creepy. I hope Brach’s gets its act together and goes back to its core value of quality candy.
If you like these, well, skip the Brach’s middle man and just get the R.M. Palmer. They sell them year round in sports shapes (I think that’s the basketball texture).
Monday, October 26, 2009
On my recent trip to Las Vegas I spent zero time in the casinos (except to traverse them to get to the chocolate and of course scanning the slot machines to find a candy-themed one) and all my time either walking or browsing fine chocolate.
Las Vegas actually has some very nice options for chocolate lovers and thankfully they’re liberally scattered around if you’re not into skipping from one casino-hotel-monstrosity to another. I went up to the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace to the Vosges Haut-Chocolat Boutique. Since it was barely a week to Halloween, I picked up a selection of their Skulls. (They’re a variation on their Easter Bunnies, which I attempted to review once before.)
There are three variations of the large skull shaped solid chocolates called Day of the Dead Skulls: Red Fire, Barcelona and Blanca. Each is 2.75 inches high, 1.75 inches wide at the widest and about 1 inch thick.
The Barcelona Skull is made of hickory smoked almonds, Maldon sea salt + deep milk chocolate 45% cacao.
The eyes are also filled with coarse Black Hawaiian sea salt to give them a bit more impact. They each weigh 2.2 ounces, so it’s more chocolate than a regular single serve bar, but it’s a hefty lump. They’re not really that easy to share, as biting into it is messy and difficult and once it’s cut up with a knife the allure of the skull shape is ruined.
Barcelona is available as a regular bar from Vosges, so I thought it would be fun to try in the novelty shape anyway. The color is quite deep and rich looking and I could actually make out the little almond bits near the surface.
As a milk chocolate it’s an easier bite than most dark chocolates. The deep milk chocolate is creamy with strong woodsy notes that are amplified by the mineral notes of the sea salt and the buttery crunch of the Marcona almonds.
I enjoyed the deep bites of the chocolate (yes, I just gnawed my way through the whole skull) more than I think I would a flat bar.
The Red Fire Skull is deep and shiny. It smells fruity and also very peppery. Like a bottle of Tabasco sauce, a hardwood smokebox and some other spice notes like cinnamon.
I was a little worried about the spice level. I’m good with horseradish, wasabi and curries, but capsaicin (the active ingredient in chili peppers) is unpleasant for me pretty often. Thankfully I think the chocolate is exceptionally well balanced. It’s hot (at least to me) but not uncomfortably so.
The woodsy notes have a definite tangy bent to them, like smoked peppers that have been re-hydrated there’s a bit of a spicy raisin feel. The cinnamon notes are also quite apparent. The bite of the chocolate is quite firm, there’s a distinct snap, but it is hard to just bite right into this thick skull.
The chocolate flavors aren’t overwhelmed by all of this, which is refreshing compared to some flavored bars. I felt that it was a good blend of flavors and intensity. The spices themselves lent a little grain to the chocolate which reminded me of the traditional stone ground Mexican hot chocolate I’ve had. I found the salt reservoir of the eye sockets to be far to intense and I felt really creepy digging out the salt from the second one.
This Skull was different from the Vosges bar, the Blanca is just high quality white chocolate, featuring 36% cocoa butter. (Catch me on a good day and I’m also about one third cocoa butter.)
The scent is rather odd, a little milky but not as sugary sweet smelling as some others and lacking a vanilla pop that I’ve had from Green & Blacks White.
The texture is a bit softer than the dark chocolate. It’s not quite as silky smooth, but still quite fatty with a good melt. The milky and dairy flavors are rich and thick and a bit on the sticky side. The vanilla has a good presence but not so much that it takes the center stage here. The Black Hawaiian sea salt, in this instance, is a wonderful counterpoint to the sweetness.
Still, it’s hard to just eat straight white chocolate. I found it was a nice way to offset the lingering throat burn of the Red Fire chilies.
They are rather expensive. The set of three is $21 and individuals are sold for $8 each. At 2.2 ounces they’re more expensive than the bars ... which are also on the pricey side (3 ounces for $7.50). If you’re looking for a more upscale and dependably tasty hostess gift for The Day of the Dead, well this will do the trick nicely. Part of me wanted more packaging (the Easter bunnies get little boxes) but then again this is spare and does the job.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.